Big Lead Sports Bar



Last night was a big evening for the "playoff atmosphere" in pro sports. In Cleveland, Shaq, Lebron and the Cavaliers hosted Kobe Bryant and the defending champion Lakers. The atmosphere was electric, the crowd sensed the importance of the game beyond the regular season, and the home team won, meaning the vast majority of those in attendance went home happy.

Meanwhile, the city of Pittsburgh was hosting a big game for the second time in 48 hours, and just like the Pitt Panthers a night before, the home fans left their game disappointed. Alex Ovechkin and the Caps won this battle with the Pens, who famously won the war in the playoffs last season. But losing to Ovechkin stinks no matter what the stakes.

The final was 6-3, with Ovechkin netting the final goal on an empty netter at the 19:34 mark of the third, his second of the night. But this one went back and forth well into the second period, at which point the Capitals would score the game's final four goals and seal their 32nd victory of the season. Ovie was his usual ornery self, but the Pens managed to put him into his place several times with a few bone-jarring hits that delighted the Mellon Arena crowd to no end.

The difference in this game, however, might be boiled down to the absence of one man: Marc-Andre Fleury. Backup Brent Johnson has allowed nine goals in the last two games, and the Pens were lucky to win one of them. But Jose Theodore was just too much on the other end for the Caps, as he shut out the Pens for the last half of the game.

Beyond goaltending, the difference was power plays, where the Caps executed their two chances to perfection and the Penguins went 0-for-4 (although they did score a second after John Carlson's penalty ended in the second period). It was actually a surprisingly clean game, considering the history that these two franchises have with each other.

Evgeni Malkin continued to work his way out of a slump with three assists, Sidney Crosby scored the game's first goal, and Ruslan Fedotenko set up three for the Pens. They also got goals from Kris Letang and Nick Johnson, the first of his career.

As Ovechkin himself said, it's only one of 82 games. So no one should be getting too up or too down on either side, especially considering the absence of Fleury, Max Talbot, and Pascal Dupuis. The Penguins will have another shot at a rival coming up soon, when they travel to Philadelphia on Sunday. Maybe it will do one of these Pittsburgh teams some good to get on the road, because home turf hasn't been too friendly to them this week.

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BurressWithButterflywings said...

In Brent Johnson's defense, we play like @$$ in front of him. He is forced to come up with huge save after huge save and there is only so much he can do. He stopped a penalty shot the other night after making 2 ridiculous saves prior to it.

The goal that put them up 2 was definitely on him for giving up so much net, but we stood around and watched them walk right in.

Letang got undressed on their first goal and then get caught in way too deep on their 4th leaving a rookie winger in his first NHL game deep to cover a forward.

Orpik also put one in for them as well.

All in all just not our night. It's amazing that a thursday night game in January without 3 of our top 9 Fwds and our Goaltender is enough of a measure for some to declare the Caps SC Champs already.

Papa Eo said...

This is tough to say, but I think the Caps might be the better team right now. Their powerplay looked quick, confident, and effective, and Theodore was a beast (except for the miscue that led to Crosby's goal.) And while the Guins were without MAF & Co., Washington was also without Mike Green.

That's not to say Pittsburgh couldn't outlast them again in a playoff series, but Letang or McKee or someone needs to develop a bit more of a lockdown style on D like Scuderi and even Gill brought to the table in '09. Otherwise, it's tough to win consistently when you're getting into track meets with talented, explosive teams like Washington.

It will be interesting to see if Washington can keep up their momentum into May/ June. I think A.) their soft division inflates their point total a bit, and B.) their defense and goaltending (yes, I'm still not sold on Theodore or "Varley") are still a bit too suspect to make them a clear-cut favorite coming out of the East.

Either way, big game for the Pens on Sunday, both in the Eastern/ Atlantic standings and the momentum/ confidence department.

BurressWithButterflywings said...

Mike Green does bring a lot to the table offensively but you can almost count on him to give up as many opportunities going the other way.

With those 3 forwards we were missing, there is a lot of speed and grit removed from the lineup.

The Caps have a lot offensive firepower, but I will have to see more defensive responsibility from their forwards to be completely sold on them.

Papa Eo said...

Totally agree. I also think the key for the Pens is Evgeni Malkin. While he has six points in the last two games, he needs to return to form as a dynamic playmaker, or else the Pens are going to continue to rely on fluky, grinder goals (2 of their 3 last night) as opposed to the enter the zone, bob, weave, tic-tac-toe kind of stuff they usually rely on Malkin (and Sid) to pull off 2-3 times a game.

And is it just me or does he seem disinterested? He looks so reserved after goals, no emotion on the bench (not that he ever had that much), but maybe he's injured? Misses his mother's home-cooked bortsch?

BurressWithButterflywings said...

He is certainly not the Geno of last postseason, I have toyed with a number of reasons as to why I think that is and have settled on him having a minor, nagging injury that he fears publicizing will force the Pens to shelf him for the Olympics.

I wonder if moving him to Sid's wing for some extended time will help confidence wise. On the wing, he has less defensive responsibility and can focus on getting back to the offense.

We miss scoring depth, too. The top 6 forwards and Staal are performing well, but there isn't much coming from some other positions as of light.

Maybe I am too hard on him, but does Letang's inconsistency frustrate anyone else? He can change a game with his talent, but he seems to lose focus.

Steve said...

I'm not a big fan of Letang right now either. He had that goal last night but for a player as hyped as him and getting PP time he does now, he should have at least twice as many goals. He falls down way too easy anymore and is not improving defensively. Because defensemen like him are hard to find and he's still young with a lot of upside, I would think they can get a 20-30 goal winger for him from anyteam looking to rebuild/clear cap space.

Orpik looked awful on more than just the own goal play.

For a player as young and competative as Malkin, I think he's either got a serious personal issue (relationship/misses family, etc.), or an injury he's hiding. It's not a confidence issue, as we've seen him score HT's twice this season and then go right back to disinterested, mistake filled play.

I think it's going to be tough for the Pens this year to compete with the Washington and New Jersey in the playoffs. The Devils have their number and are probably in their heads about it and the Capitals are just to agressively talented up front for this current D and system to contain over 7 games.

Shero needs to make a key trade again to give the Pens the magic bullet they'll need to carry them over these teams in the playoffs.

Louis Lipps is my homeboy said...

I really think that the true story of this season will be told after the Olympic break.