- Obviously this night was all about Sidney Crosby and his return. Mike Smith almost upstaged it though. Tampa's newest goalie made several terrific saves on Crosby and Evgeni Malkin's chances (plus a Petr Sykora penalty shot) to hold his team in the game. Not to be denied, late in the 3rd period Crosby knocked down a hard Vinny Lecavalier dump and played the puck up to Maxime Talbot. Talbot advanced it up the ice, dropped it to Crosby and went hard to the net. Crosby threw a backhander at the net, the rebound popped out to Talbot and there you have the game's only goal of consequence.
- That shouldn't upstage Marc-Andre Fleury's 35 save shutout performance. When a goalie stops everything that flies his way, obviously he's done his job. Fleury's now on a personal 6 game NHL winning streak.
- In case Penguins fans forgot what it was like to see a center win the most of his draws, Sid won 12 out of 16 times in the faceoff circle. Very nice!
- No loss is without it's troubles though, Jordan Staal left early with what has initially been described as "bruised ribs". Staal hasn't produced goals like last season but he's been one of the team's best defensive forwards. Hopefully his injury won't keep him out an extended time.
- Brooks Orpik statline for the night: 20 minutes of icetime, 7 hits, 2 blocked shots and a +2. Pittsburgh will need these kind of performances from their most physical defenseman to continue to be a threat.
- Nice to see Geno at least get rewarded with the empty net goal for his solid play throughout the evening. His chances were there, but as we said, Smith was out of his mind. Malkin still logged 23:23 of icetime, lest you think Crosby is shouldering all the burden. These guys are now a Yzerman/Fedorov or Sakic/Forsberg option; if not better than that!
- Lest we not give credit where it's due: Kris Letang played awesome tonight, stealing pucks away, skating like crazy and making good decisions....And Jeff Taffe wasn't anything to watch tonight, but still keep half an eye on him.
- Ryan Malone kept it up, getting 5 shots on goal. Tyler Kennedy might have played his best game since returning from mono, playing with energy and getting 4 shots in 13 minutes of ice-time. Obviously neither hit pay-dirt, but both played their roles to a T, which is a good sign.
All in all it was awesome to see Crosby back, and back at 100% at that. His jump, vision, energy--if you hadn't known he'd missed a quarter of the season you would have never guessed. Fleury was stellar and even though the defense conceded 35 shots they played well. The only negative from tonight seems to be Staal's status, which may or may not be a big deal in the big picture.
And, as if the rest of the Eastern Conference wanted to know, we're now one game closer to seeing Marian Hossa and Gary Roberts back in the black and vegas gold.
After playing 10 games in the past 18 days, the boys get to enjoy a well deserved day off tomorrow in Florida before playing in Miami on Thursday....And then a rare Friday AND Saturday off before Sunday's prize matinee "away" game at Washington. Which, of course, your editor will be at.