-There were overall solid efforts from the team in Anaheim and Phoenix. The team played hard and did their best to battle back from a 3-0 hole against the Ducks and overcame the Coyotes leads of 2-0 and 3-2. For a team that has been inconsistent, this is progress.
-C Sidney Crosby had 3g, 1a and a fight during this road trip. Big play from the team's top guy. He nearly single handedly brought the team back against the Ducks.
-Matt Cooke, Tyler Kennedy, Aaron Asham, and Chris Kunitz are playing very well. Cooke is hitting anything that moves and contributed a goal in the stale effort in Dallas. Kennedy did that as well, including a scrap. Asham is still getting his feet under him, but has brought good energy and smart play. Kunitz found the back of the net in Phoenix and seemed to surge being back out west.
-Speaking of Sid's fight...there are few times where you want your 50 goal scorer dropping the gloves, but I won't criticize him for doing his captainly duties. Stars F Brendan Morrow took liberties with D Kris Letang (nursing a hand/wrist/arm injury). It was clear that the team was ready to respond in kind sending Mike Rupp and Eric Goddard out for the next draw. Sid basically motioned Goddard off the ice, and dropped the gloves as soon as the faceoff went live. This was a big trip for Crosby on the score sheet, but you can bet his teammates (especially Tang) took note of this moment as much as the points he put up.
-D Zbynek Michalek returned to the lineup. Honestly, defensive play was not a strength on this trip, but seeing Z back in uniform is a good sign.
-Want to give credit to PensBlog for a really funny line about the controversy over Pittsburgh Police working the Winter Classic. And I quote: "If this can't get sorted out, we are volunteering our services. Give us nightsticks, radios, handcuffs, and Tasers. Anyone wearing red goes to an internment camp we're setting up in the Civic Arena."
-The presence of Pens fans at each of these games was very evident from the tv. I'm sure there are a lot of Burgh transplants out west, and they seem to be the only folks out there with jobs/interest in hockey so kudos to them. Seriously, I'll give Dallas and Anaheim a pass since they've won the Cup, but can the Phoenix expieriment end already??
-The 7-8 minute stretch that cost the team the game in Anaheim was BRUTAL. It's easy and popular to blame only Fleury (keep in mind I'm not saying he doesn't deserve blame), but I counted some sloppy play in the D zone, espeically by the forwards as paramount among the reasons this stretch went bad.
-Nearly everything in Dallas went wrong. This game wasn't as close as the final score indicated. Very tough to watch. Keep it in perspective though. During the course of a full season, any team will go through a giant flop like this one. At least they stuck together as a team and had each other's back when the game turned ugly.
-C Jordan Staal extended his black cloud for 6 more weeks, being the unlucky winner of a free hand surgery compliments of the Pittsburgh Penguins and an errant shot at practice. He was described by Rob Rossi (Tribune Review) as visibly angry when leaving the ice after the injury. Not upset..."angry". Gotta love that reaction at least. Can't wait for him to get back in the lineup and I'm sure he agrees.
-F Evgeni Malkin has been putting forth effort, and no he hasn't been pouting, but the team needs more from him on the scoresheet. It was good to see him put one in against Phoenix. Let's hope this is the start of a hot streak for him.
-Power Play looked pretty brutal at times, but is moving the puck better and has actually started to figure out how to gain the zone. I come back to my point from a few weeks ago...there was a late chance with the extra man in Phoenix that would have eliminated the need for OT. Not as big of a deal against a West foe, but still you'd like to see the power play overcome the Hack-a-Shaq.
-D Alex Goligoski stood out to me as having a particularly rough trip in the D zone. Also, I feel vindicated because on the way home from work the other day I heard Joe Starkey (93.7 The Fan) mention that he thinks trading him for a young winger makes a lot of sense and wouldn't cripple the team's blue line. Both of you that have followed this blog from the start know that I have long been advocating that, and those of you that discuss hockey with me in the real world know I've been saying this since the early exit in the spring.
-Hit the rewind button back to the Cup year, and we had a coach that was often criticized for his tendency to overvalue marginally talented players, play mind games with his top goalie, and switch his lines way too much. This eventually cost Coach Therrien his job. Fast foward back to present day and, well...I think it's fair to say we have the exact same thing (minus a strong French-Canadian accent). Somehow, Coach Byslma has escaped criticism from the fanbase during the start of this season. I think he's fair game, and here's a few of the reasons why.
For starters, you can applaud his efforts for making G Marc-Andre Fleury know that he's going to be held accountable for poor performance, but at what point does it become counter-productive? That point seemed to be Saturday night in Phoenix. The 2nd Coyote goal could have went either way. Yes, MAF did not stop the puck, but has the coach reached the point where he over-reacts to every goal scored against the struggling netminder? It can't go without mention, that Fleury sat on the bench with his mask on. I don't know the man personally and I won't pretend for one second to know his psyche, but it either was him hiding or a clear indication that he wanted back in the game. Like, now. At the very least at the intermission break. Many have called for the trade of MAF, but I can't imagine any situation where this happens in season. It's an off-season move, and not a very likely one at that. So with that thought, I do believe Fleury needs to have less of a short leash in the games he is in. I'm not saying he has earned the starting job back by any stretch. What I am saying is to stop playing games. Let him develop his rhythym. If it takes him a month or so, then so be it. Just don't have him looking over his shoulders when he's in there. Save that for when the lineup is decided behind closed doors.
Mark Madden (105.9 The X) has spent a lot of time on his recently discussing Bylsma's tendecy to over-value his medicore talent guys. You can look right at G Brent Johnson and F Mark Letestu for all the evidence you need on that. Combine that with the line juggling and you have a lot of players on the team that don't know their role. I think that knowing your role on a team is one of the most important facets to having a strong team. Take F Evgeni Malkin for example. He is coming off of a tough season. In the leadup to the year, he was told that he'd serve as a winger. Not once did he complain about this, saying that he'd do anything it takes to help the team. So he spent camp in the mindset of a wing. Now, due to the extended abscence of Jordan Staal, he is being moved back to center. That means he has to switch his mindset and awareness to a different set of responsibilities and a different role. He won't complain for a minute. But you wonder what it will do to his so-so season this far. Will it continue to be so-so or will he improve? Then when Staal comes back, do you switch him back to wing and deal with this all over again?
If the struggles continue in to the holidays, look for more attention to be paid to what Bylsma is doing behind the bench and in the room.
-Definite need to improve in the D zone, including not turning the puck over and making the simple play to get it out along the wall instead of botching something up the middle. The basics.
-Mike Comrie. No goals. Not a one of 'em.
-C Sidney Crosby is carrying this team right now. I'd hate to see what would happen if he was off his game at the moment.
-Paul Martin quitely goes about his business on the blue line. Would really like to see what he can do taking control of the Power Play.
-Both Brent Johnson and Marc-Andre Fleury had rough trips. If they both go in the tank, then what? Wilkes-Barre Scranton is undefeated this season, so John Curry would be glad to make the drive across the state.......................just kidding! That's the last thing needed is to inject a third head for this goaltending monster.