Thoughts on a weekend that really couldn't have gone much better for Penguins fans…
Mailing it in this week like Tangradi's last shift (I kiiiiiid, I kiiiiiiid)…
– Evgeni Malkin. Brilliant. Just brilliant. All over the ice and making plays in all three zones. And he hasn't scored a goal yet, which probably makes the rest of the Eastern Conference feel absolutely great.
– Marc-Andre Fleury. Getting the nod in Philly, Fleury was walking into a potential buzzsaw and he had to know it. That start shook away any notion that last season's playoff series was still in his head outside of providing more focus and motivation. He got locked in early and kept a buzzing Flyers team out of the net save for one goal, and if Kunitz gets his stick down a half-second quicker, that pass never gets to Claude Giroux (to the Flyers' credit, that was a beautiful pass, too). Terrific, statement-type effort in a big game and a very hostile environment.
– Tomas Vokoun. He faced 34 shots but never seemed to break much a sweat until the latter half of the third period because he looked calm and collected in the net. This is the type of reliability the Pens need out of their backup goaltender this year and if he keeps this type of play up, it could translate into one of Shero's best signings as Penguins general manager.
– Brandon Sutter. One thing that stuck out? It took him all of about two powerplays against Philly to key on and anticipate that cross-ice pass that the Flyers like to throw to the top of the right face-off circle. That's a "bread-and-butter" play of the Philly powerplay and it was an absolute killer in the playoff series against the Pens. By their third powerplay, Sutter was looking for it, pressuring up in the zone and getting a stick in the lane every time.
– James Neal. Two games. Three goals. 37 more to 40. Best wrist shot in a Pens sweater since Kovalev.
– Sidney Crosby. The points will come. Relax.
– Chris Kunitz. Ten years from now, the Flyers and Pens will square off for the 2023 Winter Classic. During the Pens-Flyers Alumni Game, Kimmo Timmonen will be in his Flyers uniform, standing on the blueline during introductions. He's going to look across the ice, see Chris Kunitz on the Pens Alumni team and he will probably just start screaming.
– Paul Martin. Biggest difference from last year to this year? Too often last year, he wouldn't actively engage opposing puck carriers in the zone, not even with a stick-check. Through these first couple of games, he's stepping up on puck carriers while also practicing the ever-popular Bylsma mantra of stick on puck. Looks really solid paired with Orpik. What's behind the change in his play? Not sure, bur word is Shero threatened to use this as his 2013 media guide photo:
– One item of concern in regards to the defense? In the Philly game, Despres and Engelland each only about 11 minutes. By contrast, Letang saw 27 minutes, Martin 24, Niskanen 23 and Orpik 22. That's a lot for the top four, which could be a lot night-in and night-out in a condensed schedule. Against the Rangers, it began to even out a little more. Engelland was at about 12 minutes, while Despres was again just under 11 minutes. Nisky was just under 20, while Martin, Orpik and Letang settled in around 23-24 minutes.
– Eric Tangradi. The lockout cost the Pens the luxury of giving him fifteen or so games to see where he fits, but that's too bad. He needs to be better. He looked incredibly overwhelmed against the Flyers, which was surprising because he's got 180 games at the AHL level and a half-season's worth of NHL games to his credit now. Too much coasting – which means too much watching & not as much getting involved in the play. Too many misplayed passes. It got a little better against the Rangers, but not much. He's been OK on the boards. With Neal and Malkin, he doesn't need to be brilliant with the puck. Rather, he needs to stay in the play and take up space and to do this, he needs to keep moving his feet. He has the hands to convert chances. More skating will lead to more involvement in the play. We'll see if he can bring it.
– Simon Despres. Limited minutes, probably by design. Despres had his struggles at times with some one-on-one defense and zone coverages, but he's an excellent skater and made some nice, simple plays with the puck, too. It's going to be a learning experience for him this year. He's just a few months into his second pro season so the mistakes will be there, but much like we saw with Kris Letang very early in his NHL career, we'll probably see some flashes of brilliance as well.
All told, we couldn't have asked for much more. Two games against teams expected to be among the cream of the Eastern Conference crop, both on the road, and the Pens come home with four points.
Oh, and the Flyers are now officially 0-3-0. Schadenfreude Ale for everyone.
Bring on the Maple Leafs. Home opener city.
Who needs two?