I have been critical of our Penguins quite a bit this season. In fact, I have liberally spread my unfavorable opinions, up and down the Penguins line-up. However, today, after our favorite flightless fowl flattened the Flyers five to one, in all honesty and fairness, I must be equally generous in my praise. Last night’s game was if not the best game from drop of the puck until final whistle then the second best game our Black and Gold Birds played all season.
After last game, Riley Sheahan was a target of my poisoned pen (okay, computer key board, if you want to get technical). My voice may have been the loudest questioning why he was seen standing around on the ice so often. Last night, his skates never really stopped moving, except to take face-offs and Sheahan was rewarded with a couple of appearances on the score sheet with assists on what may have been the best and hardest working line of the game.
Ryan Reaves another frequent target of mine, not so much for what he has brought to the team, but for what he wasn’t bringing to team, also had a big game. Reaves bullied the boys from Broadstreet to pick up not only an assist but a goal by planting himself in Patric Hornqvist’s office and slamming a loose puck past a besieged Brian Elliot.
Tom Kuhnhackl rounded out that 4th line trio with his own contribution of a goal and assist. Kuhnhackl found himself the beneficiary of the hard work of Reaves by planting himself between the circles and lifting a shot up into the top corner after receiving a centering pass from his big linemate.
Conor Sheary, also broke out of his slump out-racing Flyers Defenseman Andrew MacDonald for a loose puck, chipped out of the Penguins’ zone by Ian Cole. The diminutive winger cut across MacDonald’s skating path to shield him away from the play with his body before whistling a wrist shot past Elliot.
My kudos are not just limited to those players I have been complaining about but also to some of the players who have always brought their “A” game all season. Phil Kessel and Evgeni Malkin each picked up 2 more points; Kessel a goal and an assist, Malkin, 2 assists.
Although Jamie Oleksiak only got the 3rd Star for his performance last night, behind Reaves (1) and Kuhnhackl (2), he continued to impress and in my book he was the number 1 Star. In his short tenure so far with the team, he is etching himself quite a mark. He beat, bruised, and bowled over opponents all night. Brandon Manning tried to stand up for his team, against the “Big Rig” but found out that was easier said than done. The Flyer Defenseman managed to block most of Oleksiak’s punches with his face and head, after losing his helmet. (Oleksiak was seen icing his hand in the “Sin Bin”. One of the announcer from NBCSN suggested he may have bruised his hand on Manning’s head from the number of punches he landed).
Oleksiak was rewarded for his body of work last night, getting ice time on the power play, the young Defenseman scored his first goal in a Penguins’ uniform. He truly did earn the goal, for just seconds before depositing a slick little pass from Malkin across the crease, into the roof of the net, the “Big Rig” ripped a heavy slap shot off of what looked like the back of the ankle of Flyer Penalty Killer Ivan Provorov, hobbling the defenseman. (Hopefully the Flyers Defenseman was only stunned and not seriously hurt).
I read or heard (not sure which) that it was Sergei Gonchar who put the bug in the ear of GM Jim Rutherford to pick up Oleksiak. If this is true, a big Thank You, Gonchar!
Perhaps my only complaint about last night’s game was the number of giveaways Kris Letang had in the first period. I am not sure how official scorers define a giveaway because Letang was only tagged for 1, but I saw at least 3. Fortunately, Tristan Jarry was equal to the task on all but one of the 17 shots he faced before getting injured.
Maybe the Flyers aren’t in much better shape than the Penguins right now, so someone may counter and say the win only came against non-contender, but the Flyers did just beat Tampa Bay and the Penguins just didn’t beat them by their usual 1 goal, they beat them by 4 goals, a pretty convincing number. It is still only one win. They need to string some of these wins together to claw their way back into contention. But the team skating for nearly a full 60 minutes. I only saw a vestige of the standing around the marked their futility of previous games. They may have ended 2017 on a sour note, but htat was last year. This year, they started off on the right foot. Let’s go Pens! You aren’t out of the woods but start building!
Odds and Sods
The Penguins victory wasn’t without cost, Tristan Jarry, Brian Dumoulin, and Carter Rowney all left the game with injuries. Jarry appeared to get cut on the hand. Brian Dumoulin took a shot to the head. Carter Rowney’s was listed as undisclosed.
Matt Murray after a less than spectacular performance New Year’s Eve, was perfect in his relief stint of Jarry.