The buzz over the Olympics and Sochi is finally over! Thank God there was no terrorism at the Games and everyone made it out alive and well — except for the fifth Olympic ring. The Penguins can finally get back to the business at hand; beating the Montreal Canadiens at Consol Energy Center on Thursday night. One game at a time.
Matt Niskanen is going to hugely influence the Penguins’ results for the next month, perhaps even moreso than he already has. Look at the team’s top six defensemen. Who’s going to carry the puck up ice? Who’s going to man one of the points on the power play? Brooks Orpik, Rob Scuderi, Robert Bortuzzo, Deryk Engelland? The Pens have Niskanen, Olli Maatta and Simon Despres to carry the biscuit. Niskanen and Maatta will likely see the most power-play time.
I watched the Pens’ last game prior to the Olympics break Monday night. Here are some of my thoughts.
Maatta joined the rush numerous times, a sign of his growing confidence. He scored his first power-play goal from close range to the left of Henrik Lundqvist and just missed off an Evgeni Malkin feed, both in the first period.
Sidney Crosby is nothing if not smart. Crosby had a breakaway in the first 20 minutes against Lundgvist and got off a quick forehand which King Henrik easily stopped. He was then stopped in the ensuing shootout with a forehand, as well. Fast forward to the Olympics Gold Medal game. Sir Sidney stole a puck at his own blue line, raced up ice and deftly beat the Rangers goalie with a backhand off the netminder’s skate.
Malkin pretty much stunk in Sochi, but he was playing well before the break. He’ll probably have to play a point on the man advantage with Paul Martin out. The Pens will employ an umbrella in which one player at a time stays back at the blue line sometimes, but sooner or later Malkin will be at the point. Hopefully, opponents won’t get too many short-handed attempts.
Seeing Tanner Glass give up his body to block shots against the Rangers, it reminded me of Ryan Callahan’s performance in the Olympics. Callahan gave up the body blocking a shot with the USA down, 4-0, in the third period against Finland. The man is either crazy, stupid or so instinctive that that’s the only way he knows how to play. Stick taps to Callahan.
What would it take to pry Martin St. Louis from the Lightning. Pittsburgh probably isn’t Tampa Bay’s first destination choice for St. Louis – if, in fact, they decide to move him – but what would it take. The Lightning has forward prospects coming out the wazoo, so a defensive prospect would make better sense. Well, that and the fact the Pens don’t have any forward prospects. If I’m Tampa Bay, I’m holding out for Scott Harrington.
The Penguins have as many practice days after the Olympics (7) as they did for their entire training camp following the work stoppage last season.
Maybe because it’s the timing after the Olympics, but the Pens-Blackhawks game Saturday at Soldier Field seems like it’s flying under the radar compared to the other outdoor series games, such as the Kings-Ducks at Dodger Stadium.
I’m wondering what will change between now and the playoffs that will make me more confident about the Penguins’ chances against the Boston Bruins in a postseason rematch.