Games: @ TOR (L 3-2 OT), @ NJ (L 2-1 OT), @ BOS (W 3-2 OT)
-4 of 6 possible points. Somehow, the Penguins find themselves only 2 points behind the Flyers for the Division and Conference lead. Currently, the Penguins have 84 points. Historically, you need between 88-92 points to be around the 8th spot. Even with a slump, the Penguins still have a better mathmatical show at finishing in the top 4 than in the bottom 4 or even outside of the playoff picture. Again, give Coach Bylsma credit for keeping the direction of the team moving forward, despite a definite lack in firepower.
-I'll give D Paul Martin a shout out in the highlights for logging a TOI of 35:26 against New Jersey. Somebody has to take the minutes when a defensemen is kicked out early on, but that doesn't make it any less important. He also made a nice stick check on Toronto D Dion Phaneuf to thwart a great scoring chance in a tight game.
-RW Craig Adams again gets a mention in the highlights. Just before Devils RW Ilya Kovalchuk scored in OT, he cranked up for shot that Adams got in front of. It's a tribute to the heart of Adams, that even in a game in early March, he will step in front of one of the hardest shots in the game and not give it a second thought.
-LW Tyler Kennedy scored his 15th goal of the season in the Devils game and added an assist on C Jordan Staal's goal against Boston. TK just keep making the most of his chances. Frankly, I couldn't find something negative to say about that if I tried.
-D Kris Letang had a very selfish/stupid ejection in the Devils game. After knocking Devils C Travis Zajac down, he stood over top of him for a few seconds instead of joining the team on the rush. This naturally lead to a fight between the two. After grappling for a bit, Zajac pulled on Letang's jersey, revealing that it wasn't tied down. That is an automatic ejection. At a point this early in the game, it just unacceptable for a defenseman to be tossed over something he can control.
-C Jordan Staal and LW James Neal both went to the shooter on the GWG by C Mikhail Grabovski in OT against Toronto. With both forwards out this high, the puck was sent to Grabovski in front of the net where there was little G Marc-Andre Fleury could do. Both guys were being aggressive, but you have to be aware of where all players are at on the ice. It is even more important when an accomplished goal scorer is the one that is wide open. They will make you pay more times than not.
-There is a vocal group of dolts/Steeler fans that are unable to comprehend a fast moving sport like hockey/Sidney Crosby haters that will tell anyone that has an earhole or two that Sid is a sissy and should "tough it out" when it comes to playing with his concussion. The long term affects of concussions are terrible. They have even been said to change those who have been afflicted's judgment. Why else would Hines Ward agree to do "Dancing With the Stars"??
Everyone is entitled to their opinions, of course. I do wonder if these people would say the same thing about/to the face of Arron Asham. He has now missed his 13th game due to a concussion and isn't exactly the kind of guy that has ever shied away from physical play.
I wouldn't consider myself the biggest Crosby fan out there, but I do believe in at least trying to be reasonably consistent in an argument on any issue. Much of this season, I've found myself harping on the head shot and concussion issue as it relates to hockey, and sports in general. To suggest that Crosby isn't tough for doing the medically prudent thing is ridiculous. Almost as ridiculous as it would be to accuse Asham of the same.
About 20 games ago, I discussed the growing concern over concussions in the sport, and introduced myself to the medical condition CTE. This past week, it was revealed that NHL legend Bob Probert (1965-2010) had died with CTE. To his credit, he seemed to know that he would not live to see old age and agreed to allow his brain to be studied.
Probert accumulated 3,300 PIMs in his NHL career, many of which were from trading blows to the head in one form or another. Anyone that grew up learning hockey in the 1980s has a special place in their heart for Mr. Probert. He was one of the toughest guys to ever play the game. That just isn't a question. If you say otherwise, chances are you never watched him play. The trouble is, all that toughness couldn't save him from a hell of a shortened life (due to heart failure) and CTE.
I guess that if pressed on the subject, I would concede that Sidney Crosby and just about anyone else isn't tough when compared to Bob Probert. If he couldn't survive it, what chance do they have??
-James Neal has yet to score a goal in his time with the Pens. While this surely can be considered a negative, because of Neal's contract situation we can give him some time to adjust. He likely will benefit greatly from playing on line's next season with players like Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin. Neal is a power forward. His game isn't based on handling the puck and skating with it. With the injury situation, that is often what he is needed for currently. With players such as Sid and Geno, he will be able to find space because players have to go them instead. Once open, they will find him the puck. If you watched any highlights of Neal's goals (I know I have), you see a hard shot. The kind of shot that can go right through a goalie, even from the high slot. Don't write him off just yet.
-RW Chris Conner chipped in his 7th goal of the season against the Maple Leafs.
-C Dustin Jeffery had both an up and a down in this stretch. His up was the 2 goals (6th and 7th) against the Bruins, including the game winner. A closer look also reveals the negative. In the Toronto game, his turnover near the defensive zone face off dot directly lead the C Phil Kessel's goal.
-Matt Niskanen took the blame for blowing the assignment on the winning goal in Toronto, but as discussed above I'm not buying it. Strong move on the part of a new teammate thought. Was pleasantly surprised at his seeing eye goal and the assist that sent Conner on a breakaway (for a goal) in in this game as well.
-Ben Lovejoy had an assist against Toronto and has looked pretty comfortable in the lineup recently. Playing time has allowed him to work some of the kinks out of his game.
-Marc-Andre Fleury had 17 saves against Toronto and had 29 saves against Boston. You could argue that he dramtically helped our cause against Boston and was just a participant in the Toronot game. I'm still anxious to see if he will be performing at the level he did for most of the month of February. MAF playing at that level will be the team's only realistic shot at advancing past the 1st round of the playoffs.
-Brent Johnson stopped 28 of the 30 shots tossed at him by the Devils. The first goal against was fairly weak, but you have to expect that a goalie will let in a soft one from time to time. Perfection isn't a realistic expectation every time a goalie is in the cage, let alone for one that had not played much in February.
-LW Nikolai Kulemin scored his 23rd goal of the season on some nice work with F's Clarke MacArthur and Mikhail Grabovski.
-C Phil Kessel had an assist and a nice tip in goal near the cage for his 27th of the season.
-The Devils have played at an astonishing pace. At the start of February, they had 35 points. By the start of March, they had 58 points. While it is still very unlikely the will qualify for the playoffs, they proved that they still have a strong enough roster to contend next season.
-In addition to a fight, Travis Zajac scored his 10th goal of the season.
-Ilya Kovalchuk's GWG was his 23rd goal of the season.
-D and Captain Zdeno Chara scored his 11th goal of the season.
-Mt. Lebo's D Matt Bartkowski has played 3 career NHL games. Each have been against the Pens.
-G Tim Thomas let in 3 goals against the Penguins, which is a "terrible" game for him this season. His GAA is 1.97 and if I had a vote for the Hart Trophy (MVP), he would have it.