PITTSBURGH (The Pengs according to the scoreboard...ECH!) 1
In a freaking shootout....
For those of us who have forgotten somewhat, the point is to win the game. You PLAY to WIN the GAME. We did tonight and it really would've felt bad otherwise. Not only because the game wasn't particularly spectacular, but because we seem to be really really solid in season openers and for a while I thought this one might not turn out that way. I must confess that despite our abundant offensive talent, the lack of scoring is starting to worry me some. It looked as if they were having a difficult time in the preseason, but I was thinking that wouldn't carry over. The Pens D wasn't THAT good was it? We had a really hard time getting anything into prime scoring territory most of the game other than powerplays.
Speaking of the Pens for a moment...Kris Letang is one heck of a player. Anything the Pens did tonight he seemed to be in on. Sure don't remember him being that amazing last time we played them.
For those who are interested in these things; they went light on the pre-game show this year, sticking with player intros and the like rather than freaky acrobats or strange music. I thought that was a solid choice. Not having Paul there to sing the national anthem just isn't the same; I don't mind Samantha King but I don't see her voice as even somewhat iconic, whereas Paul singing O Canada IS my national anthem.
In the first period we had a pleasant surprise...ORGAN MUSIC! I actually requested it on my survey. Combine that with the NO ACROBATS in bold letters and maybe they actually read mine and took a shot? hahaha
The game didn't start out with a lot of pop, which was kind of disappointing. If Ryan Smyth had managed to put his patented World's Ugliest Slapshot top shelf on the first real rush, it would've been something special. The reaction to his return was deafening and the fans made him tear up a bit. Allowing the first goal of the year on what looked like a pretty harmless play was unfortunate for Dubnyk, who was on his way to a simply excellent evening of goaltending. It was great to see him start on merit and play solidly without any signs of nerves. The crowd was dead at this point though. It was a game without a lot of flow and Renney didn't seem to be able to get his effective units on the ice in any kind of a sequence that would allow them to make a difference. I'm guessing he was frustrated. The combo that showed immediately that it will work is the 4-93-83 unit on the powerplay; they were very good from their very first shift and will terrorize opposing PK units if allowed to remain together. When Whitney returns to QB that, they're in the money. Speaking of the D...frightening...but to the home fans. We had some scary times behind our own goal line tonight.
In the second it became apparent that this season may include a lot more stickwork. I don't know if it was just the Pens but there was a ton of hacking and slashing tonight almost to the point of it looking like a university game. This occurs because fighting isn't allowed down there, but I'm wondering if toning down the amount of allowable hitting will result in more stickwork. It sure looked that way tonight. For anyone interested...they still have that stupid ESSO race promo...though less people cheered thank gawd.
The third period was a little bit better than the first two. We seemed to be getting more cracks 5-on-5 even if they weren't great ones, we tied the game and we killed off Smyth's "5 minute major" (which was an utter load of crap, I've just seen the replay now. No one in the building had any idea what happened) thanks to some excellent efforts.
SO was fairly predictable. They seemed to identify Johnson's glove and attack. Omark woulda made it three-for-three but the puck stuck to his blade a touch too long.
- He was excellent tonight. Calm, composed, positioned himself well and just let the play come to him. While the Pens weren't exactly buzzing, they did get some good chances and he shut them down. He'd better start the next one.
- Made at least three horrible plays tonight. One was an own zone giveaway in the second that nearly result in a goal, another was a terrible dump up the boards in his own zone to absolutely no one while he had time (this was in the third), another was an ill-advised pinch and I'm guessing there were more. The problem I see in Sutton's game that was evident tonight is that while he positions himself well initially, he is unable to use that position to his advantage through skating, power, or puck access. He just can't capitalize for whatever reason and I don't quite understand. Most guys can't set up and then try to chase the play to make up for it, but he seems to have a problem with the play. Also chases too much, but ALL the Oilers D were guilty of that tonight.
- While Tom didn't make glaring defensive mistakes in terms of missed coverages tonight, he did also give the puck away a couple times in less than pressured circumstances and managed to get away with it thanks to teammates and goalie. This was not the more confident Tom we saw late in the pre-season which was unfortunate. He didn't have a lot of offensive confidence and thus didn't make the difference we need him to on the opposition blue line. What Gilbert almost always manages to do though is be solid enough...losses are very rarely on him.
- The most notable thing from Smid tonight was the game-saving extra effort shift he gave right near the end of the long PK. He gave everything he had, succeeded and the crowd gave him a huge ovation for it. Also, despite taking a couple shots and a puck to a rather sensitive area, he forged on and finished what was a pretty solid and complete game. This could really be the year he shines.
- I was worried Barker wouldn't get away with the mistakes he was making in the preseason when the games mattered and I think I was proven right in my worry tonight. Barker just isn't disciplined enough with the puck or his positioning and that causes trouble many times over for him. It's very weird to watch because you know you're looking at a talented player, then he does something kind of incomprehensible with the puck or an attacker and you're just baffled. He also didn't push the play on the powerplay, which will need to be his main asset to this team. Hopefully he finds whatever he's looking for, but there were some times tonight when his play was downright scary.
- Fairly quiet game from Theo. The Pens were really hitting and sticking and I thought guys like Theo would respond with a big hit or six, but none were to be found really. He also tipped that puck into his own net...oops. I liked that he got the puck to the opposition net and created chances a couple times, which is something he needs to do more of (his shot is underrated). Theo will always be a bit of a chaser on the blue line, and it's all about how focused he is when we're talking about whether he has a good game or not. I'd rate him at medium tonight because of the aforementioned, and because he wasn't strong behind his own net.
- Had a great chance to win the game and rang it off the bar (which was even sadder because it was a beauty play, read and shot). He had what I'd describe as a very mature game tonight in that he sure didn't look like the least experienced member of the D-crew. He was in his position for the most part and fairly confident/aggressive most of the night. Whenever he stays confident he's a positive contributor to the games. It's never really a question of talent.
- Ales is still the best offensive player on this team. Tonight he made a number of excellent passes and reads to put his teammates in position to score, cashed in on the SO and probably should've opened the scoring on a nice little rush that ended in a stick lift. Ales made himself the rusher a few times tonight and that worked out. He also moved around on the powerplay and made things work from behind and in front of the net, which is where he's most effective. What Ales will have to get used to is having fast linemates who can think as quickly as he can. There were times tonight where Ales' natural reaction to slow down and wait for the slow-pokes who can't read offensive rushes kicked in, only to see 4 and 93 hurtling forwards. Once he picks that up, knocks off a little rust (he lost the puck a few times tonight and looked a little like he hadn't played enough yet) and locks in, that line is going to be tremendous. They're already elite-looking on the powerplay.
- He looked a little overmatched or nervous early on, getting knocked around a bit, making a couple defensive mistakes with the puck and taking a penalty (along with another play or two that could have been as well) but after that he settled in. I hope his goal (which at first it didn't look like he knew he'd scored) locks him in and makes him realize he just has to play his game. On the PP, you can see the magic, but it may take him some time to settle 5-on-5 and I'm not sure he's going to be able to play with strong linemates for that time because while Hall and Hemsky have strong shoulders, that could be a decent bit of carrying. I'm not saying I didn't like his game because you can certainly see a lot of skill and strength there (the goal, drawing a penalty, moving quickly on reads and being in the right places) but he will of course have to put in a bunch of work this year.
- Taylor is doing one of the things I find rather difficult to assess in that he's creating a bunch of chances but not taking advantage of them and not looking particularly dangerous when he attempts to. He's also shooting 5-hole far too much, which is apparently something Fredric Chabot told them last year (and a horrible piece of advice) and this is leading to harmless shots on net that also aren't generating rebounds. So...he's playing...well, but not actually creating goals. It's strange. What I do like is that he is making a point to attempt hits, get in people's faces a little bit and put others on notice that he won't be pushed around. This is something he's very capable of and needs to continue doing.
- Didn't see enough of him tonight. He should have either been out there early setting the tone or responding when the Pens upped their physical game. I don't really understand putting him on the bench when you're not going to play him. He could have been useful tonight.
- Kind of stuck under the 3 offensive lines tonight which is perfectly fine. You don't really want Lander to have to have a great game in order for us to win. I thought he was just a smidge off the NHL pace in terms of reads, but he made up for it with talent and positioning smarts. Renney trusted him with a late PK shift tonight and he didn't disappoint which was good to see. I was kind of surprised he didn't get a chance in the SO as I believe he has a reputation as a solid shooter there.
- Not bad and not great. He was chasing the puck more than controlling in, but also made some chances happen and wasn't too bad on the PK. Workmanlike effort and I liked that he got back to some of the hitting and agitating that sometimes go missing from his game.
- Where he makes the most difference seems to be on the PK. I didn't much like his powerplay line even if we finally have someone in front of the net, and his 5-on-5 was smart but not exactly dynamic, but on the PK he's so much better than the rest of our scrap that he probably helped in a big way to get the win tonight. You can imagine the terror we all felt when it was he who missed the 5-minute PK at the end of the game. I don't know what the refs thought they were doing...but they were inconsistent all night anyway and this is sadly par for the course. One thing that's completely true is that the fans love having #94 back...it also seems that he will help us win games...which is good for us who've been suffering for several years now even if we aren't exactly massive Ryan Smyth fans.
- I'm going to have to watch his game a little closer to get a read...I suspect he's kind of like a defensive defenceman in that if your main recollection is not really having noticed him then that's probably not a bad thing. Belanger got some offensive chances too; some that ended in ugly and sad attempts while others were okay, but he will be judged by his faceoff prowess and his D, and it appears he did okay with that as well as his PK tonight. I'd like to see a move to make him clearly 4th line C though, as he did seem to be holding back some of his offensively talented linemates tonight.
- He should have played more, pure and simple. His line also didn't seem to fit his game, either on the PP or 5-on-5. He was the main person I was thinking of when I said that Renney struggled some tonight. Eberle's a big moment guy and didn't really see the chance to grab many of them tonight. I hope he's on a line more suited to his talents shortly, and if not, I hope he starts getting double-shifted some. Did I miss any great chances he had or was there really not much of anything from him tonight? As always though, his "off games" are simply games where he's not excellent. He's almost never bad.
- I see he did really well on the faceoff dot tonight, which is of course great. Positionally he was solid and made a difference that way. He still cuts into the middle and messes up his offensive rushes though. I really don't know if he'll last with the Swedes as it's just such a different style of game. I also don't like Horcoff on the PK as he tends to misplay his position and that happened again tonight. Overall though, he was a positive force in the game. Is it possible we could use him only at 5-on-5 where he seems to succeed?
- Kind of like Eberle, he didn't get enough of a chance to show his game tonight. What time he did play was pretty solid, and it was interesting to watch how smoothly he and Magnus interchange positions on the PP, but he needs some time to work his magic during a game. His trademark board play was certainly on display, including a lovely sequence where he got knocked down, gloved it to himself and made the play anyway. Linus is almost at the stage where he could be added to a line above his weight class at strategic points during the game just to mix up the offensive look.
- I'm not a fan of him on the PP point and that didn't change tonight. This is because he's an up-and-down skater rather than a lateral movement guy and sometimes struggles to play the position because of this. Elsewhere, I can only really think to say he was solid. He didn't do anything flashy, but he was in position, held the puck, made passes and skated well. No complaints.
So, one down and we're undefeated. I would have picked us to win tonight with the Pens lineup as it was, but that doesn't make it any less satisfying.
Random tip - If you're looking for a solid new beverage to try, Jack Daniels Tennessee Honey has arrived in Canada; mixed with Coca-Cola (or Pepsi Throwback) it is tremendously delicious.
See you all next game! Sorry for the lateness today...actually went out for a bit after the game for a change.