ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s better to be lucky than good. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s best to be both.
OFFEENSE: A. What a forechecking job they did! It seemed like they spent most of the game in the ThrashersÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ end, and they generated numerous chances off an aggressive forecheck. The second and third lines were particularly impressive, bottling up Atlanta time after time. The forecheck in the last two minutes was astounding. They really never let the Thrashers out of their own end until it was too late. It was a thing of beauty.
The transition game wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t nearly as effective, but when you forecheck like that, who cares? The first goal was a direct result of forcing a turnover by Atlanta, then crashing the net. They just kept whacking away, which was about the only way they were going to get one by Lehtonen on this day. Okay, the only way except asking for the intervention of the hockey gods. The Staal goal was one of the oddest you will ever see. I had to watch it about three times to figure out what happened. I have no idea how it got past Lehtonen, who was otherwise brilliant. I will say they earned it with their hard work, but still. Totally lucky is the only way to describe it. The new line combinations seemed to click fairly well, except for the top line which was pretty much invisible.
DEFENSE: B. This would have been an A, but for the brain cramp by Ryan Whitney. What in GodÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s name was he thinking on that horrendous giveaway that gave Atlanta its only goal? Other than that, though, they pretty much shut down a high-powered Thrasher attack. Atlanta got very little in transition themselves, a testament to the PensÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ team defense. Thibault gave up some rebounds, but the defense was generally there to clear them. I thought Melichar in particular had a good game. But he, like all his Scudichareddine mates, was pretty much invisible. And thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a good thing. Neither Hossa nor Kovalchuk had a good game, so credit goes to the guys that shut them down.
POWER PLAY: F. Another woeful effort. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s become a broken record. The power play is a disorganized, disinterested mess. One reason is the coachÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s absolute refusal to play even a second of power play time without old man Recchi out there. While the struggles are not entirely his fault, he is awful out there and has no business seeing even a second of power play time. How he can end up with more power play time than Crosby simply boggles the mind. But, like I said, he wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t the only reason for the struggles. Crosby was so terrible on one PP that he got yanked after 20 seconds. Christensen was totally invisible, except for the cross-ice pass he failed to bury. They are not raising their work rate on the PP, either, allowing teams to outnumber them and take the puck. Maybe itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s time to put all grinders out there.
PENALTY KILL: A. They allowed the Thrashers virtually nothing. It was another yeoman effort from the four main forwards, who spent a good amount of time in AtlantaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s zone. They blocked a good number of shots. They kept Atlanta to the outside most of the afternoon. I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t recall Kovalchuk doing a thing on the PP, which is a testament to the kill. Other than a glitch here and there, the PK has been great the last month.
GOALTENDING: A. First, let me say this. There is NO goaltending controversy in Pittsburgh, Kelly Hrudey be damned. If you didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t hear what he said last night, he stated that Thibault might well get the playoff nod. To quote Colonel Sherman T. Potter: Ã¢â‚¬Å“Horse Hockey!Ã¢â‚¬ï¿¾ Fleury is the guy. Period. But right now, at this very moment, Thibault is outplaying him. He is giving them a chance to win every time he starts. He was great again in this one. He is very positionally sound right now, as a large number of shots are just hitting him. He is very confident, and looking bigger in the net than at any time in his Penguin tenure. As much as anyone, he won them this game today. Kudos to him for overcoming all the adversity of the lat several years to once again become a reliable goalie.
OVERALL: B+. Were it not for the fluky goal, this game likely goes to a shootout. But they played well enough to win, and only a few unbelievable saves by Lehtonen kept them from running away with this one. It was a much better effort than the previous two, start to finish. The even strength play was much, much better, and won them the game. They had lots of energy. They were solid in their own end. If they could only get the power play straightened outÃ¢â‚¬Â¦
SIDNEY CROSBY: F. This might have been his worst game of the year. For the rare time, he was almost invisible out there. I have to wonder if heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s hiding an injury. Remember last weekend when he took those two shots off the foot in the same game? Does he have a broken foot? He sure hasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t been the same player since then. Remember last year the same thing happened in the games after he hurt his foot, then he rebounded. LetÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s hope for the same this year. But he sure isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t playing well right now, for whatever reason.
EVGENI MALKIN: A. I ripped him after the last game, but not this time. He was all over the ice. As Steigy said, he went to the front of the net, which is where you score goals this time of year (unless youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re Jordan Staal). Malkin had a great game, and the line I was most worried about got the first goal with hard work.
MICHEL OUELLET: A. Great game by him, too. He got the goal, but more important, he was actually a force on the forecheck. He had a couple other scoring chances, too. Is he coming out of his trance? I loved how Steigy, who obviously reads Penguins online forums was trying to rebut all the criticisms of Ouellet during one sequence on the broadcast.
GARY ROBERTS: A. Once again, he was a force out there. I am hoping having him and Malkin together will give Geno more room. And he didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t even have a penalty.
BOB ERREY: A. Finally, finally, somebody has the guts to say what many have been whispering for weeks. Bibsy said out loud that the standards of enforcement have changed significantly lately, cough, cough. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m sure he will be hearing from the NHL front office goons for that remark. But we all know itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s true, even if idiots like Walkom and Campbell swear up and down with their usual lies that nothing has changed. WeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re not stupid, you know. Thank you, Bibsy, for finally saying something about it.
GOLLUM OF THE GAME: Eric Boulton. He might as well have been Michael Boulton. What a gutless puke he is. He Ã¢â‚¬Å“challengesÃ¢â‚¬ï¿¾ Laraque before skating meekly away, and then goes and picks on Orpik instead. Talk about a total gutless loser. He was only trying to goad BGL into a penalty because he knew heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d get his hideously ugly face improved by a BGL punch. But to back down, then go cheap shot Orpik speaks volumes about the type of cheap crap player he is. Oh, and thank God he has no talent, because he had two or three open shots and he was almost able to hit the back boards with one of them.
GEORGES LARAQUE: A. Unlike the aforementioned Boulton, BGL can actually play the game and had a great game yesterday. He was a monster on the forecheck, and he hit everything that moved.