Record: 4-1-0, 8 points
Metropolitan Division: 1st
Eastern Conference: 2nd
- The Fourth Line: Usually, the fourth line being in a list like this means the other three lines have put together a joke of a performance, but not here. Tanner Glass, Joe Vitale, and Craig Adams have blown us away with unprecedented production at the start of the season. As a line, they have 4 goals and 4 assists in 5 games. They had 17 points total in 48 games last year. For some added perspective, this line has a higher points per game average than every line on the Philadelphia Flyers while playing one less game.
- Sidney Crosby: With his league-leading 9 points, Crosby's inclusion shouldn't surprise anyone. At the same time, Crosby is traditionally a "slow" starter and doesn't heat up until a few months in. He's emerged with guns blazing and is showing no signs of slowing down. Maybe Crosby found a new level of dedication after the Bruins series. Or maybe he really wants to be prepared for Sochi. But should he stay healthy *knock on wood*, imagine what Crosby's numbers could be come December.
- The Olli Maatta - Robert Bortuzzo pairing: Despite their youth, this young duo has impressed on all counts. Often times a young defensive pairing is a disaster waiting to happen, and while these two aren't immune to mistakes, they've demonstrated their abilities to make good decisions in the heat of battle, good skating, and good support to the offense when needed. Penguins management has made it known that they're very happy with how these two have developed and performed thus far. With Deryk Engelland taking Bortuzzo's place against the Tampa Bay Lightning, we will most likely see these two in a rotation throughout the season. Maatta's future is much more uncertain. While many of us would love nothing more than to see Maatta keep his spot on the team, it's making more and more sense that he heads back to London. No clue what will happen.
What's Bad (Not-So-Good)
Boasting a 4-1 start, it's difficult to say the Pens have certain areas of their game that are bad (though the Florida game was a pretty big stinker), but rather, they had some expected breakdowns.
For example, the Pens penalty kill was perfect until the Pens' back-to-backs in Florida. Against the Panthers, the Pens had an extended 5-on-3 and were unable to kill either penalty. In just over a minute, the Pens were suddenly down by two. It didn't matter that it was only the second period, for all intents and purposes, the game was over then and there. As a whole, however, the penalty kill isn't doing too bad.
A big reason the game felt over after the Panthers' two power play goals is because until that point, the Pens weren't generating much of anything. They had drifted from their left wing lock style, they weren't sustaining enough offensive pressure to be a threat, and they weren't forcing the turnovers like they did at home. They must stay focused within their system, especially seeing how quickly a game can turn against them.
Highlight of the Week
Matt Niskanen's game-winning goal against the Lightning
(s/t to Mike Darnay for the gif)
The goal itself wasn't the prettiest, but it was a well-placed shot that the Pens needed in the dying minutes of a game. There's still a bitter taste in my mouth from the Boston series when the Pens had the opportunity to tie up a game but just couldn't get it done. This was a nice change.
Saturday's game in Tampa Bay brought us a very odd moment Pens fans have been discussing since its occurrence. During a Lightning power play, Steven Stamkos broke his skate and a referee pushed him to the bench where he was quickly replaced by Tyler Johnson. Seconds later, Alex Killorn redirects a pass from Richard Panik behind Marc-Andre Fleury and Johnson receives a secondary assist.
Pascal Dupuis let the refs have it, and Pens fans quickly followed suit, understandably so. While Johnson wasn't the goal-scorer, his ability to jump onto the ice was a significant factor that ultimately produced a goal. The goal negated the Pens' only lead (at the time) with three minutes left in regulation.
Luckily for the Pens, the play wasn't a gamechanger, but the incident brought up a lot of discussions regarding the referee's role when a player's equipment malfunctions. Unsurprisingly, the rulebook doesn't give any definitive answers, but here's what it had to say on equipment malfunctions:
14.1 Adjustment to Clothing or Equipment - Play shall not be stopped nor the game delayed by reasons of adjustments to clothing, equipment, skates or sticks.
The onus of maintaining clothing and equipment in proper condition shall be upon the player. If adjustments are required, the player shall leave the ice and play shall continue with a substitute.
So here, we see that the call was appropriately not blown dead, but nothing mentioned on who can or cannot help the player leave the ice.
Then there was this:
31.8 Players' Uniforms - It shall be the duty of the Referees to see to it that all players are properly dressed, and that the approved regulation equipment (including the approved on-ice branded exposure program) is in use at all times during the game.
Simple enough. Technically, a broken blade isn't approved equipment so could a ref "see to it" that the player is helped off the ice so he can quickly fix the problem? Seems a bit of a stretch.
History shows us that refs haven't been consistent with their actions in this situation. For example, in last season's Western Conference Quarterfinal, Mike Rupp lost his blade in overtime and had to crawl from the end boards back to his bench while play continued and with no assistance. He was even called offsides because he hadn't crossed the blue line by the time the Wild made it back to the offensive zone.
In a similar incident, Niklas Kronwall was killing a penalty when he broke his skate and the refs let him flop around until the play stopped.
And then you have this: Andrew Ference, like Kronwall, broke his blade while killing a penalty and once the Bruins cleared the puck, the refs blew the play dead so Ference and the equipment managers could tend to his skate. Now I'm not sure if the play was blown dead for the sole purpose of getting Ference off the ice (all I know of the clip was what YouTube showed me so if someone with GameCenter wants to verify what happened, please feel free), but if that's the case, then they're completely disregarding the rulebook.
The way I see it, a player's skate is no different from his stick. If a player breaks a stick while killing a penalty and can't make it to his bench to get a replacement, you will never see a ref go to the bench and grab one for him. Like the rules state: If a skater's equipment fails, that's his problem to deal with. It should not be a reason for a ref to interject himself into the game.
What do you think?
The Pens are heading into Philadelphia this Thursday for what will surely be an entertaining match up, per usual.
We can poke fun at the Flyers' start all we want, but it'll mean nothing once the puck drops. The Flyers always bring their best specifically for the Pens. However, the way Crosby is playing and knowing how much he dominates when boos and expletives are hurtled in his direction, he'll be up for the task.