Sunday, October 31, 2010

Found (At Least for One Night): The Pittsburgh Penguins

The Penguins beat the Carolina Hurricane 3-0 Saturday night, playing by far their best game of the season. It wasn't perfect by any means, but it was the really solid team effort that hasn't been seen very often this season. Before getting too excited it is worth noting that the Hurricane play a wide open style, taking and giving up a lot of shots, rarely forechecking and, as far as I could tell, not tracking anyone in their own zone. But whether it was the ten minute players-only meeting after Friday's home loss or something else, every guy in the lineup contributed to this win.

Brent Johnson can't make a stronger case for getting more playing time. There is no question he is the better option in goal at the moment as he posted his fourteenth career shutout and first as a Penguin. Carolina missed an open net early in the third period which would have cut the Pens lead to 2-1, but Johnson was excellent throughout and looked sharp in turning away all 33 shots he faced. He lowered his GAA to 1.16 and his save percentage stands at .960, both second best in the league. It's also worth nothing that in posting his 5-0-1 record Johnson has made five of his six starts on the road.

Evgeni Malkin was out and Kris Letang left early in the second period with a hand injury so the Penguins were playing a bit shorthanded, but they responded with a great commitment to defense and killed seven penalties, including an extended 5-on-3 early in the third period. Pascal Dupuis scored twice and Max Talbot got his second of the season as the Pens broke a three game winless streak.

With Jordan Staal and Zbynek Michalek expected back Wednesday when the Pens begin a three game swing west, it will be interesting to see who Dan Bylsma decides to sit. Assuming Malkin is healthy, Eric Godard will sit and the other forward joining him in the press box will most likely be Tyler Kennedy or Mike Comrie. Both performed as if they knew that last night, playing some of their best hockey of the season in hopes of keeping their spot in the lineup. Ben Lovejoy and Derek Engelland will probably alternate as the sixth defenseman for the time being.

Expectations are extraordinarily high for this team. With the full roster available Wednesday for the first time all season (assuming Malkin and Letang can go), it will be interesting to see if the win in Carolina jump starts them and those expectations start being realized on a nightly basis.


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