In which we level with the hockey gods...
Dear Hockey Gods,
We must talk, and I think you know what this is about.
It's not us. It's you. And maybe this latest thing you have with Evgeni Malkin. This little issue that he suffered against Calgary? The one that also kept him out of the Edmonton game?
Yeah, about that. Enough is enough.
Look, whatever the terms were from our previous deal were paid last year, or at least that's what we swore we agreed to. It's right here somewhere, amidst this pile of Dr. Collins's medical reports, Talbot's old bar and strip club tabs and We had a great first half and looked to be on our way back from that lackluster, sleepwalk-ish 2009-10 season (lest we remind you of THAT deal...we STILL have a hard time knowing Patrick Kane got to lift that Cup). Everything was clicking, man. Then you pulled the bottom out. Sid's concussion. Geno's knee injury. Half the Wilkes-Barre roster (God love them) in Pittsburgh for two weeks in February.
All for what? So you could make sure the Sedins and the Canucks got their moment in the spotlight. That was the deal. And we even agreed to that late condition of the city of Boston winning another championship. Because giving Boston sports fans another chance to crow is what we all wanted, right?
Here's the point, hockey gods.
Malkin is recovering from serious knee surgery. He's come back in less than a year, but we pretty much knew off-days - or, more accurately, days off - were going to be part of the equation for this year. But any extended absences? Let's not even contemplate going down that road.
We're paid in full. We're starting back at zero this year.
You are not Lord Vader. You don't get to alter the terms of this deal.
Malkin has a healthy season. Sid comes back at some point this year, also healthy. That's the deal.
Go pick on Chicago or Boston this year. Those pacts you made with Hossa and Tim Thomas have to be up soon, right?
Our best regards,
Pens fans everywhere
Some thoughts after the first three, dudes...
James Neal was absolutely flying during those first three games. I'm an unabashed Neal fan, but I don't recall seeing this from him last year. He was all over the ice, throwing himself into corners and playing a physical game much more reminiscent of what you'd expect to see from a elite power forward. Showcased some really good wheels as well. His goal against Vancouver wasn't exactly pretty or flashy, but then again, most of the ones Crosby gets from 10 feet in aren't flashy either. They never just ask how; they only ask how many, and if he keeps finding ways to dent the twine, we'll all be OK with it.
It's only three games in, but perhaps no Penguins player has been more impressive than Kris Letang. It's easier to see year-to-year improvement in someone like Crosby or Malkin because the results often show up in their statistics. It's tougher to see it with defensemen. You just need to watch Letang and you see evidence of a player who has made strides. Big strides, perhaps. He looks quicker than ever, which is saying something because he was always quick to begin with. He was incredibly physical in each game during that road trip, playing with a very decided snarl on the boards. That's something he's always had - he showcased it in his very first camp with the team. But it's been an element of his game that he's shelved in recent seasons because he was often paired with Orpik. Good to see him bring that back.
Best of all, he was skating and moving the puck with a comfort level and confidence normally reserved for a ten-year veteran. If he keeps this up this year and continues to get the puck to the net with better accuracy, that Norris Trophy talk will materialize a lot quicker than some may expect.
Sullivan seems like a player who could really create havoc for the Pens, especially on the powerplay once Sid and Malkin are back. One of his strengths was said to be the ability to find open spots on the ice, and he's certainly shown that to this point. Might take him a little bit of time to get acclimated to this lineup, but it's not tough to see why Shero sought him out.
You could probably make an argument for a few other names, but there may be not be another backup goaltender in the league more reliable than Brent Johnson.
Not that the league needs to cater to the Pens (anymore than they already do with rigged draft lotteries woooooo), but I'm not sure what kind of sense it made to start the Pens on a three-game roadtrip to Western Canada in which the Pens would serve as home opener draws for each opponent. Home openers in Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton were selling out and drawing television ratings no matter the opposition. Just seemed strange that the league chose to send one of their biggest draws to three cities that really didn't need them for those circumstances. Nevertheless, it's a testament to what the Pens were able to accomplish on that swing, and it's a good thing that they got that trip out of the way this early in the schedule.
The Pens opened the 2011-12 season like gangbusters. They took five of six points on a three-game road swing that took them into some very difficult places to play. They played three games in four nights. They ruined two home openers and nearly another in Edmonton, a game they lost perhaps mostly due to fatigue. They had their moments when they struggled, but that's to be expected of any team. It was really about as strong an opening performance as Pens fans could've expected to see from their team, especially given the fact that they played each game without one of their top four defensemen, and also some center named Crosby.
Tonight brings the home opener, one of the best days of our year. No more 10:00 PM starts. No games wrapping up after midnight. The 7:30 puck drop will be a welcome sight, and the fact that we're finally back home at Consol is all the better.
Our buddy Cy Clark is in the building, and for all the right reasons.
Whether you're in the arena, in a bar or on your couch, you better make sure he hears you tonight.
It's a Hockey Night in Pittsburgh.