Tuesdays With Stoosh: 12.21

So this is Christmas.
“Come onnnnnnnnnnnnn!” (3:21 mark)
The highest-scoring team in the league is the Colorado Avalanche.  The Atlanta Thrashers are currently the 2nd seed in the Eastern Conference.  The Devils are two points ahead of LAST PLACE in the entire league.  And if the playoffs started today, three of the Southeast Division teams would be in, and the Caps would be the lowest seed of all three.  There are 33 players in the league with more goals scored right now than Alexander Ovechkin, and one of them is Nikolay Zherdev.
What the hell kind of alternate NHL universe is this?   
Next thing you’re going to tell me that Eric Boulton got a hat trick or somethi…wait, what?  He did?  Someone stop this crazy thing!
Well, the Red Wings are leading the West, Toronto stinks again, and the Islanders are in last.  So there’s still some sense of familiarity out there as the season inches closer to its midpoint in a couple of weeks.  The Pens are 4th in the Eastern Conference right now, and it looks like it’s going to be a slugfest with Philly for the Atlantic Division title and one of the top three seeds all year.  That’ll keep the Pens on their toes, not that it seems like they need the added incentive this year (more on that later).
Florida tomorrow night, and then a huge game against the Caps on the 23rd that could ruin Ted Leonsis’s Christmas.
= Amazing how a win like this one over Phoenix can make people forget a subpar performance against the Flyers and a bad loss to the Rangers.  But that’s where this Pens team is right now, and this is what you get with a team that seems to have a good idea how to respond to bad losses.  Yes, it helped that the Coyotes were without Bryzgalov.  But in the same respect, the Pens have been without Staal all season and a subpar Evgeni Malkin for most of the season.  Speaking of the latter…
= Geno  Malkin now has 5 goals and 3 assists in his three games since returning from his injury.  It’s still too small of a sample size to tell, but over the last three games, he looks like a different player.  He looks like 2007-08 Malkin.  He looks like 2009 Playoffs Malkin.  He looks like “Watch Me Turn Joe Corvo Into A Stammering Pile of Poop for this Interview” Malkin.
= Then again, he’s still not Crosby.  Get Lombardi on the phone.  
= One thing that’s gone unmentioned because of so much other stuff going on – isn’t it nice to tune into the post-game shows, or sports shows or read c-blog or Twitter after the game and not hear any more references about flipping a switch?  No talk about whether the Pens are going to be OK.  They’re OK.
= That’s been the biggest change from last year to this year that I’ve noticed.  While no one wants to make too much of winning games in the regular season, it’s worth noting that the Pens are winning games by playing a style of hockey that’s also very conducive to playoff success.  They’re doing all the little things that teams that win in the playoffs do – winning battles for loose pucks, blocking shots, maintaining lockdown puck possession in the offensive zone.  They’re forcing turnovers in the neutral zone and converting them into scoring chances; it’s been Odd-Man Rush City out there many nights during this run.
= The turnaround started on Nov. 12, so it’s been almost six weeks now that the Pens have kept this up.  There have been nights during this run that it looks like they have ten skaters out there to the opposing team’s five.  It’s the same thing we saw from the Red Wings when they beat the Pens for the Cup in 2008, and then the same thing we saw from the Pens in 2009 when they turned the tables on the Wings. It’s what Pens fans DIDN’T see with anywhere near this kind of consistency last year.
= One thing that’s become even more fun to watch is this “blood in the water” approach that the team seems to be taking.  Up 5-0 last night against Phoenix, and the Pens are still finishing checks, still battling for loose pucks and still generating offense like it’s a playoff game.  Crosby and Malkin are scoring goals and laughing on the bench, then coming out and trying to one-up the last one.  They’ve also added a physical dimension to their game that wasn’t there last year.  I know much has been made of how often the team has been fighting, and there have been times where this has gotten them off their game.  But this doesn’t take into account how often guys are sticking up for each other, and there are times – see the Columbus game a few weeks back – where the opposition just wants nothing to do with it.
= To steal a term from Bill Simmons at ESPN, it’s almost like the team is playing in “Eff You” mode right now.  Not sure we’ve ever seen that from these guys before…not like this, at least.  And facing the Caps both this week and in the Winter Classic next week could take that to a whole other level.
How high was Mel Blanc when he recorded this?
= The Pomplamoose “Jingle Bells” Hyundai commercial doesn’t bother me as much as the Honda “Holiday…oh Holiday” crap.  Catchy song, that version of Jingle Bells.  And who knew Michael Cera could sing like that.
= The Phoenix Coyotes.  No matter how you dress them, they’re still the Winnipeg Jets.
= Imagine being a Coyotes fan, watching this game and seeing Zbynek Michalek playing against his old team like this, and knowing that your team had pretty much no chance of keeping him in Phoenix last year.  Welcome to “What It Was Like to Be a Pens Fan From 2001-04.”
= I always liked the old Winnipeg Jets.  Loved their jerseys.  Where there any home whites that were brighter than those Winnipeg ones from 1993-96?  I loved watching Teemu Selanne when he was a Jet.  I loved the old Winnipeg Arena, which was about as “hockey barn” as a major league arena could get.  One of the things that I always liked about the NHL as I was growing up was that it existed in cities where other major pro leagues didn’t.  It took you to cities like Winnipeg, Hartford, Edmonton and Calgary.  I get all the reasons why the league left some of those cities, but I always thought the league did so at the cost of some character that those teams provided.
= Rumors circulating today that Islanders goalie Rick DiPietro may be going on IR again.  On an unrelated note, Mike Milbury will arrive at the CBC studios this Saturday evening to find the five remaining Islanders fans standing outside the studio with crowbars in hand. 
= From the “Get That Guy In My Fantasy Hockey League” Department, George McPhee traded forward Tomas Fleischmann to Colorado for defenseman Scott Hannan.  Hannan has been a disaster, posting no points and a -9 in nine games since the trade.  Over that same span, Fleischmann has 5 goals and 6 assists, and has notched three powerplay goals.  Bang-up job so far on that deal by McPhee.
= By now, pretty much anyone who reads this has seen the first episode of 24/7 and it’s become clear that this thing is going to drastically surpass whatever expectations we all had for it when it was first announced.  Elliotte Friedman of CBC wrote in his blog yesterday that he wishes media types were given the kind of access the HBO cameras had for this.
= The most interesting things to me about the first episode?  The start contrast in the coaching styles of Bylsma and Boudreau.  Remember earlier in the season when the media and the fans were both openly wondering if Bylsma was in over his head?  Watch that first episode of 24/7.  This has nothing to do with the Pens being on a winning streak at the time of filming, or the Caps collapsing like a house of cards.  Bylsma comes off as organized and together, like an instructor teaching someone how a well-oiled machine works.  Boudreau seems like a father who got roped into coaching his 6-year old’s house league team at the last minute.
= The “grind these bitches down” scene with Bylsma addressing the Pens before the Toronto game in the locker room was epic.  The way he calls out the starting lineup and the cheers coming up from the team is awesome.  I’m sure other teams do stuff like that, too (maybe?), but that seemed cooler than all hell.
= Conversely, the scene with Caps assistant coach Dean Evason was almost uncomfortable to watch, and it had nothing to do with Evason dropping an F-bomb every other word.  Between Evason’s tirade and Bourdeau’s alternating between screaming at his team and pleading with them to play hard, the cameras didn’t even have to show the faces of the Caps players tuning them out.  Can you expect to win as an NHL coach when you’ve got two guys playing the “bad cop” routine?  I’m not sure.
= That said, it’ll be interesting to see how this week’s episode looks, as it will deal with the tables being turned a little.  The Pens will be shown in lieu of the Philly and Rangers losses, and the Caps win over the Senators will almost certainly be covered as well, so we’ll see how both teams react.  I’d be willing to bet Leonsis will weep openly when discussing the win over the Sens and Boudreau will talk about how they overcame adversity (as if three straight years of failing to get past the second round wasn’t enough incentive).  And I’m pretty sure we won’t see any red-faced, jumping-up-and-down tantrums from Bylsma.  Tyler Kennedy?  Sure.  But not Bylsma.
= Finally…