Playoffs, here we come.
OFFENSE: A. The Penguins made the playoffs.
DEFENSE: A. The Penguins made the playoffs.
POWER PLAY: A The Penguins made the playoffs.
PENALTY KILL: A. The Penguins made the playoffs.
GOALTENDING: A. The Penguins made the playoffs.
OVERALL: A. The Penguins made the playoffs.
Okay, time to get serious now, as my loyal readers would expect nothing less.
OFFENSE: C. Only in the second period did they really put any heat on the Caps at even strength. But that was the deciding period. The forecheck was great and they basically bottled the Caps up the entire period. The goal was again the result of hard work down low by the Ã¢â‚¬Å“bigÃ¢â‚¬ï¿¾ line. How about Laraque getting a major and an assist on the same play? Overall, though, this was not a great game at even strength. They had no transition game all night, as the Caps stifled them with their defense-first approach. As I said, the second period was tremendous, and in the third, they just kind of backed off and played a solid defensive game. Kolzig didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t face too many tough shots at even strength all night. The Pens made it kind of easy on Ollie the Oldie.
DEFENSE: B. You average the putrid first 10 minutes with the stellar final 50, and this is what you get. The first two Caps goals were two of the worst defensive plays the Pens have made all year, and they were carbon copies of each other. In both cases, the left defenseman somehow ended up on the offensive LW boards, leaving a guy wide open in front. DonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t ask me how this can happen. Once it was Melichar, so that explains that. But the other time it was Eaton. That, I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t get. These goals were just hideous. On both of them, the two players closest to the front of the net were forwards. Explain that one! But after Therrien called the timeout, they really settled down and basically put the clamps on the Caps. The last goal should not have counted (more on that later), so basically the Pens shut them out the final 50 minutes. It was a great defensive job once they awoke from their slumber. As has become normal against the Pens, Ovechkin was basically invisible again. They certainly do shut him down. Looking at the shift chart, it looks like Therrien really didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t match anyone up against him, either. All the pairings combined to hold him in check.
POWER PLAY: A. When Brooks Orpik gets an assist on the PP, you know things are working very, very well. For the second straight game, the PP won it for them. You canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t do any better than goals on your first three chances. Two of the three were Ã¢â‚¬Å“dirtyÃ¢â‚¬ï¿¾ goals, the result of shooting the puck and driving the net. They absolutely need to keep doing this. On the two ugly goals, there were at least two Penguins banging away in front. While Roberts was only on for one of them, his presence in front certainly does open things up much moreso than RecchiÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s did. The other PP goal was the patented Whitney backdoor play. I guess the Caps donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t employ pro scouts. They must have been the only ones in the building not expecting that play. It certainly is good to see the power play clicking like this again, as they will need it come playoff time.
PENALTY KILL: A. Great job here, aided by them taking so few penalties. One of the keys to this game was them killing the Ruutu double minor just after they had scored their first goal. Up until the goal and the kill, they were lifeless. But the kill gave them energy, and they fed off that in the second period. They really gave the Caps nothing all night on the PP. Everything was to the outside, and for the most part, they had an easy time clearing the puck. Combined with the power play, they had a great special teams night.
GOALTENDING: A-. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s hard to give an A when you give up 3 goals, so Fleury gets dinged just slightly. But none of the goals was his fault at all. Two were bad defensive plays outlined above, and one was the result of poor officiating that will be discussed below. Fleury had a couple key saves here and there, but really wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t tested that severely. He did seem to be the only Penguin interested in competing the first 10 minutes. But the final two periods, he was rarely tested. It was a solid game by him and itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s great he was in there in the clincher. With some of his past struggles in key situations, anything that can pump up his confidence can only help him.
OVERALL: B+. The first 10 minutes were a joke, but after that they played a very solid road game. It was impressive the way they just settled down and kept chipping away. Then, once they got the lead, the defense was nearly impenetrable. While itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s understandable, thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s two games in a row where they came out flat against a bad team. They need to correct this, because it certainly wonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t work against good teams. If they can play a full 60 minutes the way they played the last 50, they will be just fine.
STRIPED BUFFOON BAFFLER OF THE GAME: Because I have grown weary of giving the striped buffoons an F every night, today we institute a new feature similar to Gollum of the Game. It wonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t necessarily appear in every writeup, only as required. But the way these guys are calling games, my guess is it will be a pretty regular feature. In this one, the easy winner was the CapsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ last goal. In what universe is a guy allowed to skate through the crease and upend the goalie, and yet the goal is allowed to stand? The buffoonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s apparent explanation that Fleury was out of the crease holds no water at all. Number one, he was not out of the crease when he got hit. Number two, if heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s out of the crease, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s still interference for tripping a guy who doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t have the puck. My guess is the ref was on cruise control at this point and was simply asleep when the play happened. But it was a horrendous non-call. Can you imagine the outrage if that had been the tying goal?
GOLLUM OF THE GAME: The Donald. Great tough guy there, Donald. Go after Orpik for checking you cleanly. But at least unlike Eric Boulton, he did stand up for his actions when Laraque challenged him.
GLEN HANLON: F. Are the Caps really that bad that The Donald has to skate a regular shift in the third when theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re down two goals? Or is Hanlon just an idiot?
GEORGES LARAQUE: A. Good job for sticking up for Orpik, even garnering an assist on the play. But another play stood out even more. The Caps were swarming and Fleury covered the puck. They were all over him. BGL skates into the fray. Suddenly, the scrum is 6 feet away from Fleury, who must have been smiling under his mask. Guys just kind of backed away when they saw who was coming.
SIDNEY CROSBY: A. Slump officially over. Ã¢â‚¬ËœNuf said.
MICHEL THERRIEN: A. The timeout call by him certainly seemed to change the momentum of the game. At that point, I was yelling at him to whack every single guy on the head with a stick, so morose was the team. But he did settle them down when they needed it. And they are 3-0 since he shuffled the lines and the power play, outscoring teams 11-4.
RYAN WHITNEY: A. Nice to see him rebounding from a tough few weeks. He went into the stratosphere for awhile there, but he seems to be back now.
BROOKS ORPIK: He had a couple of crushing hits against the boards. And they were part of the play, not something where he went looking for the huge hit.
PLAYOFFS: A. Did I mention the Penguins are in the playoffs after six long years? Go back as recently as the end of December. Who wouldda thunk it? Sa-weet.