image from espn.com
Another pretty game capped off with a shootout goal by Mr. Chris Kunitz as seen above (side note: the guy right above Chris’ head in the team Canada jersey…is he trying to put a hex on Kunitz? Seriously? Besides being something I might do when I was 8, you fail at witchcraft, sir.). Maybe that will take Chris out of his scoring slump (despite the best efforts of Mr. Voodoo in the stands). When interviewed after the game, Mike Rupp said “we still have some things to work on”. It’s hard to agree with that coming from the mouth of a guy with a 6-1 record, but I love the attitude (even if he IS just saying the right things), and I have a feeling I know what he means. Lets go through the good and bad from this game, and the season as a whole.
We dominated the time of possession. Aside from a bit in the 3rd, and maybe the first 5 minutes, the ice was definitely tilted our way. I love that. I’m a big puck possession guy. I think hockey’s a weird game where weird things happen, and the more you control the puck, the more those weird things will go in your favor. This seems to be a great trend through the season. We’re passing extremely well, and with a few exceptions not turning the puck over a tremendous amount. Everybody’s pinching the boards, and everybody’s able to handle the puck. That helps a lot.
Which leads very well into the next bright spot: the balanced play of this team. We’re a team dominated by its superstars, but everyone’s been getting into the scoring column as of late. That means that other teams are taking a risk by double teaming a superstar, and it makes us even more dangerous. You saw this again against Carolina with Mike Rupp scoring. Every line is dangerous. Every player can score the puck. That makes for a really dangerous team.
Not only are we dangerous scoring-wise. We’re pretty dangerous physically, too. We’ve been hitting guys a lot more this year, and you saw it no more so than in the Philly game. We racked up 32 hits against Carolina, and that’s been pretty low. I’m not a fan of the fighting and the outright dangerous headhunting in hockey, but you have to be physical to win. And we are.
Now, on to some negatives, unfortunately. Carolina put up a trap at the blue line. Hockey strategy says you dump and chase in that situation (because the defender has his back to the corner, you can throw the puck down there and beat him). We decided more often than not to try to stick handle through the trap. Now, granted, we have some of the best stick handlers on the planet right now, but why not take what the defense gives you? Doing it the hard way because it works some of the time is dumb. It turned into some giveaways yesterday, and if we don’t wise up, we’ll be seeing a lot more traps.
The penalty minutes have started to dry up (finally). We only had 6 of them last night. It’s still something to watch for, but it’s definitely becoming less of a problem. Now, I don’t expect under 10 every game, but it’s nice to see that every once and a while. Bravo and keep up the good work, Pens.
Unfortunately, we’re still not making other teams pay for their penalties. We haven’t had a power play goal since Saturday and we’re 5 for 28 on the season (17.8%). That’s not unreasonable, especially considering the penalty kill has an 83.3% kill rate (generally, if the two numbers add up to more than 100% you’re ahead of the game). But it can be higher for a team of this caliber. And the dry spell we’re in is a bit worrisome.
I’ve always heard that learers sandwich criticism in between compliments. So I’ll end with another nicety. Fleury is playing spectacular. He’s 6-0 with a .917 save rate. That’s insane. And another reason for our hot start. If he keeps that up, we’re going to have another really good shot at the cup.
I don’t expect that hot start to continue. It has to end at some point. This is too long of a season. But, you have to love how the team looks right now, warts (as small as they are) and all. I’m excited to continue watching them for the next few months (and probably deep into the summer if they don’t tail off too much).