Let Adam treat you to some smart Pens analysis as his boys host the Habs on Thursday night. It’s been a challenging week for Pittsburgh, a loss to the Jets and a loss of Letang to the Shanaban. Adam will put it in perspective and we look forward to a nice long season that showcases his keen insight and cheeky style.
“Back-to-back games are, in and of themselves, always a little bit tricky. Back-to-back games when you’ve already played more games than any other team, a little trickier. Back-to-back games when your IR is composed of two of the world’s best players, one of your top defensemen, and a guy who shoots a lot (sorry, Tyler Kennedy, I’m still kind of cool on you)? Oh, that’s just typical Penguins hockey these days. And if I sound a little flippant, sarcastic, acerbic, or annoyed in this inaugural post, know that it, too, shall pass. I think.
After a solid effort during a loss to Buffalo on Saturday, then Penguins made their first trip to the windblown prairies of Manitoba to take on the Winnipeg Jets. It was admittedly strange to see WPG on the scoreboard, and the Root Sports commentators definitely let the T-word slip when referring to the Pens’ opponents more than once over the course of the game, but it was a little heartwarming to see a type of enthusiasm these players clearly never saw in Philips Arena.
But my heart turned to ice around 2 seconds into the game when my shining star, Zbynek Michalek, straight-up bit it and fell to the ice, paving the way for the Jets to score the fastest goal the Penguins have ever allowed. In their history. Eight seconds into the game and you’re already thinking to yourself, “Oh, so that’s how it’s going to be.” And, frankly, things were just as awful for the better part of the first period and into the second.
For a large portion of the game, I suffered Yuengling-fueled flashbacks to last spring, cursing our sort for the injuries that decimated our lineup and forced us to think of Mark Letestu, the hockey equivalent of lukewarm water, coming back into the lineup as some twisted version of a blessing. Monday night, for the most part, really was no different.
The Pens did, however, start to get the ball finally rolling. They started actually hitting the net and sustaining pressure and momentum, and you got the sense that, you know, they might actually scrape something together. And then Kris Letang took a boarding penalty against Alex Burmistrov, and the entire city of Winnipeg threw up their arms in protest.
As Letang made his way to the penalty box, Penguins fans everywhere braced themselves for yet another star player sitting out of the lineup for a yet-undetermined period of time. In the end , Ondrej Pavelec and his goalposts carried the Jets to victory, and the Penguins peaced out in preparation for a game at Minnesota the next night.
Playing against the Minnesota Wild has, in the past, been about as exciting or thrilling as a box of cornstarch. The Penguins never seemed to do well against them, and after the previous night’s performance, you sort of just threw up a prayer that the Penguins would finally string together a decent effort against the Wild.
Luckily they did and they came out pretty strong, although the more time that went on without a goal, the bigger the pit in your stomach grew that the stars weren’t ready to align. That pit reached epic proportions when Brian Strait, the guy they called up to replace the now-suspended Kris Letang (more on that in a hot second), went down with an injury and didn’t return.
Oh, and Joe Vitale took a high stick and was also MIA for a decent chunk of time. But the Pens held it together and came out of St. Paul with a W.
James Neal has continued on his goal-scoring tear (which happens when a shot like that stops flying high and/or wide of the cage), Paul Martin has steadily held his own in our zone, and Brent Johnson basically dropped acid to keep the puck out of the net.
I think more than a few of us Pens fans breathed a sigh of relief when that one was all over. And I barely even noticed that Dany Heatley was on the ice for the Wild, so, I mean, it’s good to know some things have, along with Matt Niskanen taking at least 1 or 2 penalties, haven’t really changed all that much.
Some quick observations:
• Steve Sullivan is doing a really, really nice job with the puck and along the boards. What would be nicer? Shooting said puck more often.
• Kris Letang’s suspension was a little bit of a hoax in my book, but that’s alright. He was committed to the hit before Burmistrov turned and put himself into that position, but there’s not much you can do about it now. Besides, what’s yet another star player out of the lineup? Just join the club.
• Get off of Zbynek Michalek’s back. The reason his mistakes are so glaring is because there are so few. Cool it, yinz. You’ll thank me the next time he sacrifices his body yet again to block a shot or break up a pass to thwart a prime scoring opportunity.
• James Neal. Who knew he could produce even with Richard Park at center? This isn’t a knock on Richard Park, but…come on, now. He ain’t no Malkin.
• Speaking of Geno, as well as Sid, it’s almost hard to get fully excited about this season. I think there was so much buildup during the offseason telling ourselves that all of the terrible pain we endured because of injuries would finally be behind us and we could go back to good ‘ol Penguins hockey. And then this season started off the way last one ended with folks dropping like flies. It’s just sort of deflating at this point seeing the team and knowing just how much better we could be.
Knock the top two forwards and top defenseman off of any other roster in the league, though, and I’m not sure they’d be able to hold up as well as this team. Mad props, if you will, to Dan Bylsma and the players.
Back in action Thursday contre les Canadiens. I already know that Mike Cammalleri is going to make me want to punch something.”