Add to Technorati Favorites

Friday, February 20, 2009

Pens Get Critical Win Over Habs

I'm just going to come out and say it now. I haven't felt like this during or after a game since Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals last year.

Speaking of last year's team. Everyone's favorite traitor, Judas, got into his first fight in two years last night. Someone might want to remind him to keep his jersey on next time, but I'd say he gets the slight edge for flailing around and landing a couple punches on Ryan Suter, who got the take down. See video of it here.

I had playoff jitters watching this game. There I said it. Yes, I know we're in 10th in the Eastern Conference right now, but if we have any chance of getting in we need to start putting some wins on the board. Especially against teams who are ahead of us in the standings.

Onto the game:

The Pens came out flying and with a lot more jump than I've been accustomed to seeing of late. Shockingly enough, the Pens shut the Habs down entirely in the first period. As a result, the Pens got on the board first on a rebound goal by Petr Sykora. Canadiens' goalie Carey Price made a good save on Bill Thomas' initial shot, but left a fat rebound for Sykora to chip into the cage.

The pace of play in the first period was rather slow, which surprised me a little bit considering that both these teams have fantastic speed and transition games. The Pens outshot the Habs 8-3 in the first period. I was pleasantly surprised to see the Pens hold an opponent to under 10 shots in a period for once. Holding them to three just doesn't happen.

The slow pace continue for only a couple minutes in the second period before both sides switched it into overdrive. Each side only registered eight shots, but the scoring chances were plentiful.

Montreal tied it up after Andrei Kostitsyn picked off an errant Matt Cooke pass to lead the Habs on a 3-on-2 the other way. Kostitsyn and Tomas Plekanec played keep away with some nifty passing up the ice. The passing forced Sergei Gonchar to attack the puck carrying Kostitsyn, who dropped it back to Plekanec, who beat Marc-Andre Fleury between the wickets to tie it up at 1-1.

Highlights Courtesy Of

Normally, this would have been the point in the game when the Pens would have folded and given up, but tonight was very different.

Just over one minute later, Ryan Whitney received a pass across the blueline from Mark Eaton and got every bit of the shot. Somehow Miroslav Satan got a stick on it to deflect it past Price to put the Pens back on top 2-1.

If you thought the see-saw action was done there, boy are you wrong. We're just getting started.

Now, here's where I about lost it tonight for the first time. Sykora takes an obvious hooking penalty to essentially save a good scoring chance from turning the red light on. I'm fine with that. On the ensuing powerplay, the puck goes behind the net. Rob Scuderi goes to play it and gets clipped with a stick in the face. The whistle blows, but there's no penalty called somehow.

Literally 15 seconds later, Max Talbot gets called for slashing which even had the CBC broadcast crew wondering why it was called. Thanks Paul Devorski.

Of course, the puck gets worked back to the point and Mathieu Schneider lets one fly and finds twine to knot the game at 2-2. Devorski with the assist and a half point in the Hal Gill Quotient. Jordan Staal set up a pretty nice screen for Fleury, so he gets the other half.

As the second period comes to a close, I can't help but wonder if the third period is going to be another nightmare or if Dan Bylsma whipped the boys into shape.

Turns out, the boys were ready to play and wasted no time in re-taking the lead. It only took 29 seconds for the following to transpire:

Ruslan Fedotenko gains the blueline and drops the puck back to Sidney Crosby who lead Evgeni Malkin a little too far, but it's no problem for Geno. Instead of peeling off and retrieving the puck on the half-wall, he lays out and fires a rocket of a one-timer past Price while diving. Poor Carey Price having two spectacular goals scored by the two top Russian players in the league. If you haven't seen Alex Ovechkin's goal last night, CLICK HERE.

Two and a half minutes later, the Penguins work the puck deep behind the net. A scramble ensues and somehow Talbot finds the loose puck and buries it behind Price to put the home team up 4-2.

I start thinking to myself, "where has this team been all season? They can clearly score goals at will as long as they put forth the effort."

Of course those were the words of almost certain death, as 13 seconds after Talbot's goal, Kostitsyn strikes back to cut the lead in half to 4-3. Right off the ensuing draw after Talbot's goal, Kostitsyn breaks into the Pens zone and fires a wrister to the shelf over Fleury who would love to have that one back.

Ok fine, we're still up 4-3. I can live with that. As long as they don't deflate, we can still pull this out.

Again I spoke too soon.

Just over three minutes after Kostitsyn's goal, Plekanec lets a slapper go from the left faceoff circle and beats Fleury over the glove to tie the game at 4-4. Eaton didn't do a great job of getting out of Fleury's line of sight, but even if he had I'm not so sure he would have stopped it. Hats off to Plekanec for picking a corner for sure.

Now that we're tied 4-4, I'm about to lose it again. I had all sorts of rants I was testing out in my head for this post until Gonchar silenced the angry voices in my head.

The Pens gained control of the puck in the Habs end and were able to move the puck around pretty well. Eventually, Fedotenko settles the puck and lays a soft pass over to Gonchar, who showed no ill-effects from the shoulder surgery that kept him out of the lineup all season.

Gonchar moved into the slot and uncorked a slapper through traffic to light the lamp and give the Pens a 5-4 lead. No chance for Price at all.

The goal marks five goals in just over six minutes of play. Are you kidding me? My blood pressure medication isn't refillable until April and runs out in June. I may have to invest in some Tums to get me through the rest of this season.

Minutes later, Fleury came up with a big save on a 2-on-1 to preserve the lead and the Pens bench seemed to feed off they should.

The rest of the period was played with end to end rushes and chances galore, but no more goals. Pens hold on to win 5-4. Welcome back Gonchar, you've been sorely missed.

This team showed me a couple things tonight though:

First, the new aggressive forechecking scheme that Bylsma put in place looks like it could be something other teams will lose sleep over. It took a little to see it in action and it's not quite perfect yet, but the Pens were attacking the puck with two guys at all times rather than pulling back and clogging the neutral zone hoping for turnovers.

Second, and more importantly, they showed a desperation tonight that should have kicked in three weeks ago at minimum. They have a team that can win hockey games. There's no business losing to teams like the Leafs and Islanders with the roster they have. Is the current roster a Stanley Cup contender? Not even close. Are they a playoff team? Absolutely.

Crosby was interviewed after the game and said that it felt good to be rewarded for the effort they put in tonight. Read that again. He said effort. I swear the team is reading these posts at times. No effort results in no success. Put the effort in and look what happens. It shouldn't be a difficult concept to grasp.

Hopefully the momentum they gained from this see-saw tilt will carry over into this weekend's big games against the Flyers on Saturday and Capitals on Sunday.

Here's the updated Hal Gill Quotient with how many games each has played since I started testing this hypothesis. I'm working out a few kinks and will have a better method to fully show these results in the coming weeks:

Kris Letang - 2.84 - 3 Games Played
Ryan Whitney - 2.5 - 4 GP
Mark Eaton - 1.83 - 4 GP
Marc-Andre Fleury - 1.83 -4 GP
Sergei Gonchar - 1.50 - 3GP
Hal Gill - 1.34 - 3 GP
Matt Cooke - 1.0 - 4 GP
Jordan Staal - 1.0 - 4 GP
Referee Paul Devorski - 0.5 - 1 Game Reffed
Bill Thomas - .33 - 4 GP
Pascal Dupuis - .33 - 4 GP

No comments: