Sunday afternoon Pittsburgh Penguins games tend to be a bit of a drag. Add to the fact that the Pens were playing the New Jersey Devils in Newark on Superbowl Sunday and you have the recipe for a long two and a half hours.
There have been instances where the Pens have man-handled the Devils from start to finish, but today was not one of them. The Pens started sluggishly and paid for it with a quick Ilya Kovalchuk goal.
You could immediately feel it was going to be one of those games.
Both teams played intense games last night and came out victorious, but the difference was the Devils didn't play as if this was a second of a back-to-back game. They were the hungrier team and their play reflected that throughout the game. Nothing feels right for the Pens when they play in New Jersey so the end result wasn't really a shock, but I hope the Pens will be ready for the next three weekends which consist of back-to-back games.
The upside is the Pens get decent-size breaks. Always a good thing when Sidney Crosby and Jordan Staal are working their way back into the lineup.
More thoughts on the game:
- Cal O'Reilly scored his first point as a Penguin *stick tap*. He's only played two games with the club, but he's been quick to impress. He plays a solid two-way game, has some slick playmaking skills and a great pass, as we all saw in his assist on Matt Niskanen's goal. As he becomes more acclimated to the team and the way Dan Bylsma runs the show, I expect we will continue to see good things from him.
- Missed calls had a interesting part in the game. Evgeni Malkin got away with a penalty at the beginning of the game and seconds later, Kovalchuk scores. Kovalchuk then got away with grabbing at Paul Martin during a Pens power play and Dainius Zubrus capitalized on the opportunity and put it in the back of the net.
- Marc-Andre Fleury allowed three goals on 12 shots before he told to cool his heels on the bench. The three goals weren't really his fault, per se, but you have to wonder how many back-to-backs Fleury will start. During pregame, Bylsma noted Brent Johnson will be starting a number of games this month and I'm all for it. Fleury needs a break and based on Johnson's play against the Toronto Maple Leafs and for the remainder of this game, he deserves more starting opportunities.
- Tyler Kennedy took a bad hit in the third period and looked to be favoring one leg as he skated back to the bench. Hopefully not a serious injury. Lord knows the Pens have seen enough of those this season.
- In the Pens' last five losses against the Devils, Pens have scored only six goals. In their last 11 games in Jersey, they have scored 14 goals. Crazy numbers.
- Joe Vitale has been superb since signing his extension with the Pens. I can't speak enough good things about him. He comes to play every game, works hard every shift and has very impressive defensive abilities. He was one of four Penguins who weren't on the ice for any goals against.
- James Neal, Malkin, and Chris Kunitz tallied 10 shots on goal, a third of the team's total. A pattern is forming: shut down the top line and you shut down the Penguins. Fleury has been able to steal a few games this season, but to be successful further along the season and playoffs, the Pens will have to find more consistency in their secondary scoring.