Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Where we welcome back Jordan Staal

If you're down 5-2 to the defending Stanley Cup champions in their barn with 15 minutes in the game you're probably not going to win. When the hole is 6-4 with less than 10 minutes to go, you might as well warm up the bus.

Except when the youngest player on the ice decides to play like the biggest. Jordan Staal's long shown flashes of brilliance and dominance but nothing like a performance tonight. The puck kept finding his stick and he kept burying it. Big time performance from a big time player.

As we mentioned in the post below, Marian Hossa earned his choice of team's to play for and still didn't pick a bad gamble in Detroit, the league's closest team to a sure thing. However, consider for a second that he turned down a multi-year offer to play on a team where the age of the regulation goal scorers were: 21 (Sidney Crosby), 24 (Max Talbot), 22 (Evgeni Malkin), 20 (Staal), 20 (Staal), 20 (Staal). We're sure Mr. Hossa sleeps just fine through the night these days, but who could blame him if it might take a second to fall asleep thinking "what could have been", not only for this season's run for a Cup but for the years to come.

Pens fans love to think of ex-players possibly returning, but don't count on it. This team has moved on, signing Brooks Orpik long-term and will have to keep using the other money on a rotating cast of supporting characters like Miroslav Satan and Ruslan Fedotenko to fill the gaps around the core. By rejecting the long-term offer from Pittsburgh--in effect what was the invitation to join the core-- Hossa cast his lot in a different direction. We won't know how it will work out in November, if Detroit is dancing with Lord Stanley in seven months time he'll obviously be a smart man (and have earned it). At this moment though, it certainly is satisfying to see such a marvelous comeback from this side. The grass isn't always greener, you know.

The Pens were aided by two penalties the Red Wings took within seconds of each other. This time posed with a crucial 5-on-3, Malkin buried the puck emphatically. It was like a demon was exorcised from the playoffs and the legendary kill Hank Zetterberg and the Wings pulled. At that moment, even though the score was cut to 5-3, one got the sense these Penguins finally were breathing easily, like when Rocky drew blood on Ivan Drago. These guys aren't a machine, they're just hockey players like any other collection on a roster. They can be beaten if you keep chopping.

Speaking of Malkin: if you're keeping track at home that's now an 11 game point streak for the big guy, who's jumped back into the top spot for the league's lead if only for another night.

When Rob Scuderi went down from blocking a shot, it's interesting that it was youngsters Alex Goligoski (team high 28:12 ice-time) and Kris Letang (second highest among Pens' defensemen with 23:19) that the team primarily turned too. And it wasn't all power-play team either, no one on the ice played more team at even strength than Goligoski (23:57)--and yes that includes Nicklas Lidstrom.

...And just imagine the next time these teams meet the Penguins might be able to lean on Ryan Whitney and maybe even Sergei Gonchar instead of two inexperienced players like Goose and 'Tang...But don't get too ahead of yourself, remember these teams meet again in Pittsburgh in February before any chance of another finals.

Mike Zigomanis just wins big face-offs when they count, doesn't he? It's surprising that he never fit in on an NHL team because he's working on carving a solid niche on this team that has no shortage of quality forwards.

Matt Cooke (2 assists, 6 hits) and Tyler Kennedy (no points or credited hits) deserve a nod for their relentless effort keeping the puck down low and those three did a lot to fuel the fire of the comeback. The boys down in the trenches have to do the dirty work and the Pens team just had more desire and effort over the last half of the game.

Michel Therrien doesn't usually receive much credit from the outside but the decisions he made , from personnel (like having Zigomanis out there late) to usage of timeouts were right on the button. Even if you're a fan with gripes about his style it's hard to argue that this man doesn't have the exact right feel for this team when it counts. It has shown time and time again.

We thought even before Staal's game-tying goal with :23 that the Penguins may be able to take some sort of minor emotional or psychological victory out of there, if only to show battling back out of those huge goal deficits. Sure, it would have been hollow, but the sense of dominating the Red Wings a little was there. Now with such a huge win the confidence is going to be sky high.

Pavel Datsyuk is the reigning Frank Selke trophy winner for the league's best defensive forward....Think he saw it coming when Staal--at the end of his shift mind you--stick checked him, put him on his seat, wheeled around and set up the winner? Bee-you-tee-ful. Can't wait to see the tears at kuklaskorner tomorrow.

In the end, as you can tell from this recap, some games on the schedule do mean more than 1 in 82. The Penguins will only take two points into the standings column, the same as any other game they win. But the mood coming out of this one has to be a lot higher than your average win. This a nice one to enjoy, if only for a night.

1 comment:

Doc Nagel said...

It was pretty amazing. Much needed inspiration.