That Has Gone WellPosted: 16/03/2012
In the last two games the Penguins have defeated the top two teams in the Eastern Conference by a combined score of 10-4, not bad for a team that was considered an also ran at the Trade Deadline.
Last night marked the return of Sidney Crosby, Kris Letang, and Paul Martin, all of whom had really strong performances. Let’s take a look at them.
There is no doubt that Paul Martin has played his best hockey for the Penguins when he has been paired with Kris Letang. Last night Martin was a plus 3 and registered an assist on Pascal Dupuis’s goal. When Martin first came to town a lot of people (myself firmly included) believed that Martin’s reputation as a good skater and smart puck mover would make him a top-flight offensive defenseman. He did not have this reputation, or the numbers to prove it, but it was assumed that because he had played his entire NHL career in New Jersey, a team with a reputation for never activating its defense in the offensive zone, ever, that he was never given the chance, and that in the Dan Bylsma’s system he would really flourish. This was perhaps overly ambitious, playing with Zybnek Michalek and forced to accept the “puck-moving” role Martin has often struggled and looked uncertain with the puck, especially in his own zone, which is really bad. But in the 10 or so games where Martin has been paired with Letang he has been a new player, picking up plus ratings and points at the level we have always expected of him.
Speaking of defense, how good has Michalek been when paired with Brooks Orpik. Total shutdown pair, they play different games, but that just makes them even more effective. As we move towards the playoffs and matchups become increasingly important I’m sure happy those guys play for the team I root for.
Now let’s look at Kris Letang, who really had the most impressive return to the lineup. He registered a plus 5 (insane!), as well as an assist, and led the Penguins in ice time. Letang continues to prove that he very well might be the best defenseman in the league. I mean its not enough to say that he is just a good offensive defenseman, he is absolutely dominant in his own zone too. I just can’t wait to see what he can do in a fully healthy season. What else needs to be said?
And of course now the big one. Letang may have had the most impressive return, but the most significant return was undoubtedly Sidney Crosby’s. He had one assist and a plus 3 rating in 16 minutes of ice time. It was the return that Sid needed. It wasn’t nearly as flashy or as over the top as his first return this season (but then again this game wasn’t against a pathetic team starting an AHL goalie), but it was exactly what you wanted to see. Yes there was some rust, yes maybe Sid didn’t want to chase down every loose puck along the boards, yes the power play wasn’t any different than any other time you’ve stuck Crosby and Malkin out there together (although just saying, I’m pretty sure this happened, like I suggested it could, albeit several months ago). But it doesn’t matter, Crosby still brought so many intangibles to the plate and although he only recorded one point he was distinctly responsible for two other goals the Pens netted against.
The first goal of the game was undoubtedly due to Sidney Crosby. Tyler Kennedy (who did have his best game of the year, by a long shot) hunted down the puck in the corner, he was able to dish it out to a wide-open Matt Cooke, who fired a shot and then got his own rebound to make it 1-0. The reason why Cooke was so open was because the Rangers felt the need to put three players on Crosby who was lurking in front of the net. This was probably a mistake on the Rangers behalf, but it was a mistake created by the mismatch of having Sidney Crosby playing against weak defensive pairings who don’t often go head to head with the league’s elite players.
Crosby also played an instrumental role in Pascal Dupuis’s goal, which is where both Letang and Martin earned their assists. It is easy to forget how good Sid is at faceoffs, and that ability manifested itself several times last night. Crosby won the faceoff and the Pens never relinquished the puck until Duper had placed it squarely behind Martin Biron. If Sid can do as many little things as he did yesterday, the Penguins will be fearsome indeed.