Nothing like opening up the home schedule with a win huh? The Penguins got a win over a pretty bad Florida Panthers team 4-2. It was a pretty good win for the team and they were able to put the game away late for the first time this season.
The Penguins held a two goal lead for most of the game but Florida cut it to one in the third and everyone probably was looking for the collapse and shootout like we have seen a few times this season, but this time it was different. James Neal put the puck into the back of the let off a great feed from Jordan Staal to make the score 4-2 late and really give the Panther that dagger that they haven’t been able to give teams this season.
VERSUS also shoved down the fact that the Penguins got home really late the other night from its Canadian road trip and I am sure that was hard on them but it was great to see the energy the team had tonight. This was only Florida’s second game of the season and it was the fourth in six days for the Penguins so it would have been easy to get the mindset that you were going to be tired in the third but the Penguins gutted it out for a big regulation two points.
-For my money maybe the best player on the ice tonight for the Penguins was Joe Vitale. He was all over the place and set up a Matt Cooke goal and was a monster in the faceoff circle as well. Vitale earned his spot on the team during camp and as many people have said tonight he might have seen his final game in the AHL for the year, that is how good Vitale has been this season. On the Cooke goal he used some speed and went down the left wing and fed the puck through the crease to hit Cooke’s stick pretty much in stride. It was a beautiful goal and an even better pass and just one of the many things that Vitale did well tonight.
-I talked about how good Vitale was in the faceoff circle but so were the Penguins. They won 34 of 55 faceoffs and dominated that area of the game. Any time you can get 13 more possessions of the puck than your opponent you are going to have more chance for success and that is what you need to do to be successful when your best two players aren’t playing. Vitale won nine of his 13 fac offs and Richard Park also won nine of 15 attempts. Just a great job by the centers to win a ton of draws.
-MAF was pretty good tonight but didn’t look all that sharp. He made some really nice saves on the night and looked spectacular at times but then other times it seems as if he was lost and couldn’t really find the crease. On one of the goals he was on his back and couldn’t get up to give Florida pretty much an empty net goal and then on another chance he tripped on the back of the net and fell which almost set up another Panthers goal. Like I said he made some pretty big saves, including a few great ones early, but didn’t seem on top of his game. Overall he played a nice game though so I can’t knock him for that.
-Tyler Kennedy was largely ineffective tonight. On the power play he was playing the half wall and was not crisp with his passes and cost the Penguins a few scoring chances. Kennedy isn’t going to be confused with Sidney Crosby with is passing but he needs to be much better than that. On one particular pass Kennedy had Kris Letang wide open for a one-time shot but the puck at Letang’s feet and didn’t give him a chance. Just not a really sharp game for TK.
-On the other hand a guy that was absolutely outstanding tonight was Kris Letang. He was all over the ice all game and looked extremely comfortable handing the puck. It was mentioned during the game that Letang knows that he tries to do a little too much when Bing and Geno aren’t playing and it looked like he was able to play his game tonight. He is hitting the net with much more frequency tonight and was one of the best players on the ice tonight. He is logging big minutes with almost 26 tonight and he is the leader of the defense this season with Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek struggling a little bit. Good to see Letang continuing to improve.
-The Penguins PK has been something to watch this season. Last year they were the best unit in the NHL and somehow they got even better this season. They killed off five Florida power plays and even chipped in a shorthanded goal when Richard Park put a puck in off a Panthers defender for a goal. Park played a pretty great game tonight and his play on the PK is huge even though the Penguins already had a strong unit.