A few thoughts on a Pens-Sens series that has started to get interesting:
- It's weird to say this, seeing as it was a fairly heartbreaking loss, but Game 3 might have been my favorite game of the playoffs thus far. The Pens played an outstanding game, the terrible lapse on the Alfredsson goal in the final minute of regulation notwithstanding, and for the first time we got to see a true goaltending duel. Vokoun was great, and Craig Anderson was better. We knew that Anderson would likely steal at least one game, and the Pens deserve some kudos for almost stealing that one from the thief, Ocean's Twelve style. These games happen in the playoffs - in fact, they're what make the playoffs so great - and this is the kind of loss that you just pray won't shift the tides in the series. Certainly the Sens will get a little confidence boost, but the Pens shouldn't be hanging their heads. We'll see tonight if that extreeeeeemely long two days off stems the momentum that Ottawa might have seized.
- Speaking of that Alfredsson goal, it's been picked apart all over the internet, but boy, was it hard to watch the team play such a strong defensive game for 59-plus minutes, only to flush it down the toilet. I don't mean to pile on, and it's easy to criticize in retrospect, but it was hard to look at Bylsma's choice of line to protect a one-goal lead and not feel befuddled: Sutter (okay), Kunitz (um), and Malkin (zuh?). Pascal Dupuis, for one, simply needs to be out there.
- Malkin has shouldered much of the blame for the breakdown on that goal, but that should in no way overshadow the game he played. We shouldn't need reminding at this point, but when Geno is on his game, it is absolutely majestic. In a game like Sunday's, you notice early on that Geno is dancing, and you just sit back and appreciate. His double move in overtime was one of the most jaw-dropping I've ever seen, and the fact that he did it in overtime of a playoff game, while making it look effortless, only enhances the effect. Props to Anderson for making a huge save, because if he had scored on this play, I would have gone out myself and carved a statue of it:
- Another standout player in Sunday's game, and throughout the playoffs, has been Paul Martin. He received a lot of attention for his bounceback regular season, but I'm guessing I wasn't alone in feeling just a little bit nervous that he would falter in the playoffs. Exactly the opposite has happened, as Martin has been the best Pens defenseman, bar none. He is a completely different player than we saw last year, playing a completely different game. He's been full of surprises: just when you expect him to try and carry the puck past a forechecker, risking a pokecheck and a chance the other way, he breaks out a gorgeous spin move that puts him out of harm's way, and leaves his man checking air. Times last year where he would have forced an early, and dangerous, cross-ice pass to his partner in the defensive zone, he's now holding onto the puck, skating to open ice, and scanning the rink for the best pass. He's scoring a point a game and logging 27 minutes a game - including power play and penalty kill - against the best of the opposition. He's pulling a Gonchar, basically.
- The above paragraph is why we need to be throwing garlands at Ray Shero's feet. It's been overshadowed by his big trades but his decision before this season to keep Paul Martin (and instead trade Zbynek Michalek) was probably his ballsiest move to date. Pens fans were calling for Martin's head on a platter, and when the Michalek trade was announced, it was widely assumed that Shero had been forced to give Z away for next to nothing because Martin was untradeable. Instead, we learned that Shero had asked Martin if he wanted to be traded, and when Martin said no, Shero redoubled his investment in Martin - now he's reaping the reward. Meanwhile, we might never hear from Zibby ever again. Shero is one of the best GMs in the league not for the easy decisions he's made, like trading for Jarome Iginla, but for the unpopular ones.
- Word is that Jussi Jokinen will be back in the lineup tonight, which I think is good news for the Pens. Juice can be very useful against a team like the Senators: we need his help in the faceoff circle and on the power play especially. The Penguins struggled in Game 3 on the man advantage, not because they weren't generating quality chances, but because the Senators - and Craig Anderson in particular - seemed to know what was coming. Jokinen likely won't get much PP time skating with the second unit, but he's a creative playmaker who brings something different to the power play from the center position. Methinks he'll have us feeling kinda....
- Methinks also that the Pens bounce back and get a win tonight. The Sens simply haven't been able to produce offense consistently, and as I forecast in my series preview, the Penguins look absolutely comfortable playing this team. The defense - especially the top four of Letang, Martin, Orpik, and Niskanen - has been outstanding, and the collective seizure they seemed to have against the Isles has subsided in the face of a slower, more predictable opponent. And methinks that Crosby and Malkin methodically manhandle Methot en route to victory. And yes, I've been itching to make Methot puns all series long.