Tonight represented the 9th game the Pittsburgh Penguins have played in eight different cities across North America in just 15 days. For professionals with first class accommodations, that's no real excuse. Being down to the 3rd and (arguably) 6th goalie on the organization's depth chart is a different story. If you look at some of the stats the broader story becomes more clear: just 11 hits, only 13 blocked shots and players not named Sidney Crosby won just 42% of their faceoffs. They didn't do the little things correct tonight, and credit to the Vancouver Canucks because they did.
Believe it or not, things started off well for the Penguins. 7:32 into the game Evgeni Malkin, mired in his scoring slump (though he's been playing hard) went to the net and was rewarded when the puck bounced off him and past Roberto Luongo. It was an ugly type of play you might not expect a scoring champion to have, but then again going to the net is the mark of a scorer.
Vancouver would turn the tables about seven minutes later when current NHL scoring leader Henrik Sedin threw a shot from the Lemieux/Gretzky area behind the net that beat John Curry. Unfortunately for the Pens, it would be the first of many frequent odd bounces for Curry. Late in the first, Vancouver got a penalty for too many men. On that PP, Alex "Hat trick/ref snitch" Burrows collected a bouncing puck all the way down the ice on a short-handed breakaway. Burrows finally was able to nicely settle the puck and beat Curry to give the Canucks a 2-1 lead after one period.
Down 2-1 is no prob for the defending champs, right?
Wrong. On this night at least.
Mason Raymond took a shot 1:22 in that Mikael Samuelsson deflected in for a 3-1 edge. After it came off Raymond's stick, puck bounced off the ice, off defenseman Kris Letang and then Samuelsson got a piece of it. Another tough and nearly impossible series of bounces about any goalie. Less than two minutes later the Canucks raced in the zone and Jannik Hansen easily tapped in a nice pass from H. Sedin to make it 4-1. Dan Bylsma tried to use his timeout here to settle things down but that didn't work either.
The very next shift H. Sedin fed a perfect pass to Willie Mitchell who drilled it by Curry. On this shift Curry looked like he was shrinking in his net; unsure of himself and not on his angles at all. It was beyond clear at this point the Pens needed a change, if only to bail Curry out.
And sitting on the end of the bench was a 19 year old kid that was a former 5th round pick, spoke no English, had been with the team for all of about 11 hours and has 6 WHL games for the whole of his North American club experience. What could possibly go wrong?
Alexander Pechursky (as his name is said to be correctly spelled in English) did hold the fort though. He stopped 12 of 13 shots in 35:31 of work. The only puck that eluded him was an unstoppable deflection from right in front by Ryan Kesler on a Vancouver power play. Matt Cooke would have scored in the interim, but the game's conclusion had long been known by then. Pechursky may have been holding on for dear life at times, but hey, he was still holding on.
- 3-2-0 on a road-trip in eight days that would see four teams in the tough Northwest Division is nothing to be ashamed of on the macro level.
- In a 6-2 game tonight, somehow Jay McKee skated 16:13 and ends up as a +2. Ben Lovejoy was a +1 in 17:21. On the other end of the spectrum, Sergei Gonchar was a -4 in 20:11, Crosby and Bill Guerin ended up being -3's.
- No doubt inspired to play the first game as an opponent in the city he spent the first 9 seasons of his NHL career, Matt Cooke was fired up. A goal and a team high 4 shots on net in 19:23 (and a +1) for the Cookie Monster.
- Alexander Perchursky was voted the #3 star of the game by the Vancouver media. Given how rarely hometown media votes for an away team player a nice and awfully classy gesture by them to recognize the kid who stepped up and filled in.
- Pascal Dupuis only played 8:02 on the night (well under his season average of 13:30). Dig deeper and you'll see Dupuis only played four shifts in the 3rd period, three of those shifts lasted 15 seconds or less. The coach's decision or just a coincidence of the game's circumstances?
- It was a tough night for John Curry. The puck was bouncing around like crazy (makes you wonder about the Olympics on this surface) and none of the bounces seemed to go Curry's way. It was obvious he lost confidence in his game and then Vancouver opportunistically pounced and delivered kill shot after kill shot.
- On a lighter note, 3 games in Western Canada and three people in wedding dresses proposing marriage to Sidney Crosby -- some of them were even women! Uhh yeah, it's time to head home now.
- A night like this shows you how screwed the Pens would be without Fleury. Crosby may have 30 goals, but I'd definitely vote Marc-Andre 3000 as the Pittsburgh MVP, even if he's had a few uneven starts along the way. Fleury, in my opinion, as the 2-time Eastern Conference champion, has earned the right to be considered the Money goalie in the East (apologies to Martin Brodeur and Ryan Miller). The Penguins need Fleury more than anyone else.
On the micro level, this night will be remembered for Pechursky stepping up to the plate and playing well. It'll be years before we know if this will be his only highlight at the NHL level, but the kid who got the call from the WHL stood tall and got the challenge of a lifetime tonight. Hopefully it springboards him to good things for the rest of the season and beyond.
For Pittsburgh, on the macro level, it has to be seen as a somewhat successful road-trip (pending availability of one Marc-Andre Fleury). Going 3-2 in such a short time over such a long distance against good teams is no joke.
Finally two days off to get back in the eastern timezone and prep for the upstart Islanders and offensively dangerous Capitals, both at the friendly confines. Pechursky won't be there, but hopefully Fleury will.