After the emotional high of Sidney Crosby 's return to the lineup last game and a relatively easy 5-0 win, the Pittsburgh Penguins saw an unfamiliar Western Conference opponent in the St. Louis Blues Wednesday night.
Dan Bylsma's aggresive system sees the defense collect the puck in their zone, and move it quickly. Ken Hitchcock, the newly installed coach for the Blues, said he studied a lot of film in his time away, and boy it showed. St. Louis knew just how to defend the Pens breakout's and clogged up the neutral zone with the sense of a well coached team.
Pittsburgh had to battle back all night, and in the end, they dropped a 3-2 overtime decision when young defenseman Alex Pietrangelo shook free from Jordan Staal and gave Marc-Andre Fleury no chance at keeping the puck out of the net.
Some more thoughts on the game:
- Brooks Orpik was credited with nine hits on the game and boy did he earn it. At one point tonight "Brooks Orpik" was actually trending on twitter across the United States. He had a couple gems where BO44 actually took out two players at the same time. Easily the most physical we've seen Orpik all season and it was very effective.
- Sidney Crosby, he of the immaculate return, went pointless, but his impact was felt. 3 minor penalties were taken and he had some harsh words after the game for the refs. But nothing like Crosby mixing it up after the whistle with David Backes. Though Backes is big and strong, Crosby didn't back down including taking some fists to the head and losing his helmet. It was a breathless moment for Pens fans, but Crosby showed no concern and seemed no worse for wear.
- Crosby's willingnes to mix it up included the first Pittsburgh goal when he bumped goalie Brian Elliott just before the puck went in. It wasn't totally egrigious, though Elliott complained (and had a point) but the goal stood. To see Sid mixing it up so much, going in the high traffic areas was encouraging. Obviously from last game with four points we all knew he was back and OK. But tonight showed he's no different than before and totally unafraid to go into the danger areas of the ice and give (and receive) punishment and nastiness.
- The story of the game for the Pens was Evgeni Malkin. Two assists and the big guy was dangerous all night with the puck on his stick. Arguably he was the best skater on the ice for either team.
- Speaking of the Pens big forwards, Jordan Staal got 5 more minutes of ice-time than Malkin or Crosby. With the two stars back Staal is back in the shadows. But make no mistake, his importance to the team is still just the same.
- Another tough night for Paul Martin, who's quickly becoming a lightning rod for fan criticism. Martin turned the puck over for Scott Nichol 's game opening goal, and even worse when Martin went to block Nichol's shot, it deflected off his stick and gave Fleury no chance. And PM7 was on the ice for the second STL goal. There's no doubt Martin's skating is gold, but his confidence and decision making is very shaky right now.
- Perhaps lost in the Crosby/Malkin/Staal shuffle is James Neal. A team high six shots and a goal tonight. Neal is one of the more dangerous players on the ice still, and he's growing comfortable with Malkin and Steve Sullivan as linemates. And now as somewhat of a hidden gem, he's ready and capable to strike.
- Speaking of "Stevie" Sullivan, in the past two games he's gone from 1 goal to 3 goals. Goal scorers are streaky and if Sullivan keeps "feeling it", could be very good things in the future for depth scoring.
- David Backes is a beast. That is all.
- Great chess match all night long between Hitchcock and Dan Bylsma. Multiple quick switch line changes to get the matchups they wanted mixed in with neutral zone strategies and counters. Looked like a dance at up to 30 mph out there on the ice.
So, at the end of the day, a well coached team came in to Pittsburgh, played tough and didn't buy into the Crosby hype. Weird, huh? I didn't think that was allowed. Either way, the Pens get one point to go into the Thanksgiving break and they better get some rest, because they've got two games in two cities coming up on Friday and Saturday.