Wednesday, March 11, 2009

FINALLY! PENS APPEAR BACK ON THE RIGHT TRACK AT MELLON ARENA


That was some onslaught that the Pittsburgh Penguins layed on the Florida Panthers last night as they pummelled goaltender Tomas Vokoun with 50 shots, 47 of which he stopped. But when the game morphed into overtime and finally a shootout, the exhausted goalie succumbed to two of the three Penguins shooters, first Kris LeTang and finally Evgeni Malkin. As usual, Marc-Andre Fleury was impeccable in both the overtime and the shootout as he slammed the door on the Panthers.

The Penguins had one of those games where even though they were thoroughly dominating play, but they were having difficulty finishing against Vokoun and were tied at one following the first period. In the second, the Panthers managed two tallies and held a 3-1 lead going into the third period.

Not to be deterred though, the Pens kept up the pressure in the third. First they scored on a shot that was deflected while in the air by Jordan Staal. Then, not to be outdone on the "weird goal" scale, a deflection off the goaltender by Sidney Crosby dropped to the skates of Vokoun and rolled in slow motion into the net. The final ten minutes saw intense, playoff-style hockey played by both teams with the goaltenders both standing tall in the nets.

Above: Some said last night that Malkin's parents came back to America to look for Evgeni's brother who was separated at birth, Nick Jonas, right.

In the first period, Evgeni Malkin scored on a shot that brought both of his parents, who are visiting from Russia, out of their seats. Malkin was looking very dominant last night with deft stick handling, skating and his usual booming slap shot.

The entire contest was an example of how important confidence is in the game of hockey. The Pens never panicked after falling behind and kept up the unrelenting attack that Penguins fans have long been wondering would ever return to Mellon Arena this season. In fact, not once last night was any fan heard yelling, "SHOOOOOT!!!"

Apparently the new system being employed by "interim coach" Dan Bylsma is one which places a far greater emphasis on putting the puck on goal versus setting up "the perfect play". In the last few years it had become almost routine for this team to be outshot while generally scoring more goals.

While there are many different ways to "skin a cat", this new plan of attack, though infinitely more entertaining for the fans may possibly backfire come playoff time when teams tend to focus on defense. But for now though, it's propelling them towards the playoffs.

But in the meantime, who can argue with Bylsma's results: an 8-1 record since taking over the team? The Pens currently occupy 6th place in the conference.

GAME NOTES: The Pens newcomers, Bill Guerrin and Chris Kunitz, continued their intense hitting while maintaining a presence in front of Vokoun... For the second year in a row it appears that Ray Shero may have struck gold at the trading deadline...Former Penguin Gary Roberts, 42, retired yesterday.

TV NOTES: Tonight, Robert Morris takes center stage as the Colonials vie for the Northeast Conference Championship and a trip to the NCAAs. The game will be shown on ESPN 2. Tomorrow the Pens visit at Columbus while Pitt will begin play in the Big East Tournament against either Notre Dame or West Virginia.

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