Sunday, January 22, 2012

Penguins Game 48 Recap - Penguins 4, Capitals 3 (OT)

Remember earlier in the year when the Penguins played like no overtime games and we could count on a game being completed in 60 minutes? Well, not anymore. The Penguins went to overtime today with the Capitals which marks the third time in the last four games where they gave the fans some free hockey. Instead of winning the game in a shootout they decided to end it in overtime when Evgeni Malkin beat Michal Neuvirth just a minute and a half into the extra session.

The Penguins got on the board in a fast way with a pair of goals 1:01 apart. Kris Letang scored a power play goal just eight seconds into a Dennis Wideman penalty and then James Neal sniped one past Neuvirth directly off a faceoff win by Evgeni Malkin. Honestly it looked like this was going to be a route with how the Capitals have struggled and how good the Penguins have been but that wasn’t the case. As much as the Penguins dominated the first period the Capitals controlled the second period and tied the score up with goals from Brooks Laich and Alex Semin while the Penguins only managed five shots.

Alex Ocechkin came out and gave the Caps the lead just 1:08 into the third and you would be kidding if you didn’t feel that “here we go.” The Penguins have been known to play great hockey at the onset and then let teams back into the game and lose games they probably shouldn’t but that wasn’t the case today.

The Pens bounced back and got a James Neal goal, his 26th of the season, with 13 minutes to go in the third on some great work by Malkin. He split three Caps players into the board to win the puck and then got it to James Neal who went top shelf on a pretty remarkable shot. Just a great all around play by that line.

The overtime was really just the Penguins toying with the Capitals and then putting them out of their misery. First it was Kris Letang skating with the puck for about 40 seconds with nobody able to take the puck off him then it was Malkin who did the same thing in the offensive zone which led Paul Martin keeping the puck in on a pinch and then getting the puck to James Neal who shot the puck wide of the net and Geno picked up the puck off the boards and ended it. What an ending.

When Neal struggled last season I think everyone kind of knew it might take some time and he would eventually get things going but I don’t think anyone had this in mind. He now has 26 goals and maybe getting to 40 isn’t so ridiculous after all. What might be more impressive about James Neal is the unreal chemistry that he has with Evgeni Malkin. Those two just know what each other is going to do and the most impressive play by those two came in the third but it didn’t result in a goal. Neal and Malkin were on a rush and Neal was at the blue line and gave a pass to Malkin who was pretty much directly in front of him and as the pass was coming from directly behind him Malkin was able to get a one-time shot on net. Most might not remember this but not a lot of players and teammates can do that kind of stuff and make it look so easy.

Talking about Malkin I probably shouldn’t need to say this but he is the best player in the league and I don’t really think it is close anymore. He had three more points tonight and the game winner, but much more than that he has been working his balls off to get loose pucks and put his teammates in positions to succeed.

Chris Kunitz might not have a ton of points on a night-to-night basis but he is just as important to the top lines success than Neal and Malkin. That might seem ridiculous to say but he is the one that is the grinder on that line and he is in front of the net which was huge on Kris Letang’s opening goal on the power play. Don’t overlook what Kunitz means to this team.

What is the best way to get over a six game losing streak? Go on a six game winning streak. Really nice job by the team as a whole to not go into full panic mode when they were on the losing streak and now they are pretty much back where they were before the streak. There is no panic in the team and that starts from the top with Disco and resonates through with the leaders of this team. Brooks Orpik stepped up and called out the team and Malkin put the team on his back and everyone is contributing. It is really fun to watch.

I guess I will touch on the Ovechkin hit on Zbynek Michalek. Here is the hit in case you didn’t get to see it:

I mean should we really be surprised that OV did something like this? Throughout his career he has made hits like this with nobody telling him that he couldn’t do it. It will be interesting to see if he gets slapped with a fine but I wouldn’t hold my breath. I think if Michalek got hurt this would be a different story but until that happens I don’t see this being made a big deal of. Luckily Michalek is OK (that we know of) but these are the kinds of hits that are supposed to be out of the game. It will be interesting.

The Penguins get a day off tomorrow before they take on a really hot St. Louis Blues team on Tuesday. That should be an outstanding game.

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