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Geno At Large

Geno seemed almost too excited to be back on the ice. He spent a good majority of this game trying to create scoring chances all on his own, and while he can do that as well as anybody in the league there were several instances where he would have been better served to seek the help of his teammates. The result was Frustrated Geno. You know Frustrated Geno. Overly aggressive, finding himself out of position, and taking bad penalties. Early in the second period last night Frustrated Geno manifested himself in the form of a bad elbowing penalty and several shifts afterward where he expended tons of energy and produced little.

But he played hard. He worked his ass off. You could tell how much it meant to him to be back on the ice after eight months. And for his efforts Malkin was rewarded with the second slot in the Pens’ shootout lineup, and I really loved this move by Bylsma. It’s no secret that Geno’s track record in the shooutout/penalty shot is lackluster for a player of his caliber. But after a night in which he grinded out shift upon shift only to fail to record a shot, he found himself with the game on his stick, and buried it, in the process making Roberto Luongo look like a beer-leaguer.

I don’t want to make too big of a deal about one shootout goal. Yes, it was the goal that iced the game and secured two points on opening night in Vancouver (and any time this team can get two on the west coast it’s a big deal, especially against the western conference’s best team of a year ago). But I think it’s important to consider what it meant for Geno to finally, after all these months, shoot a puck into a net and have it actually mean something.

Until Crosby returns, Malkin will be viewed as the de facto leader of the offense. The pre-season hype surrounding his training and performance in scrimmages has undoubtedly caught his attention. And of course we can’t forget the criticism he has received for his struggles to produce point totals over the past couple seasons consistent with his Art Ross pedigree. All of this is to say nothing of the fans, hungry and frustrated after a massively disappointing conclusion to last year, expecting the return of their beloved 71 to help make things all better.

Last night, after nearly 23 minutes of ice time with only a secondary assist and two penalty minutes to show for it, Geno got a chance to step up and win a game for his team, and he did. And now he knows he can do it. He can look back on the night and know that he was a chief factor in the victory. He netted that first puck of the new season at an absolutely crucial moment, and in the process cleared a major mental hurdle, and quieted Frustrated Geno at least for a night.

****

A few more quick thoughts

  • James Neal, who scored two goals for the Pens last year after being brought over at the trade deadline, cleared a major mental hurdle of his own, scoring on the power play just 5:04 into the game.
  • Yes! A power play goal! In fact there were two of them last night! Reformed Matt Cooke scored the other, batting a Pascal Dupuis no-look behind-the-back from-behind-the-net saucer pass out of the air and past Luongo in the second period.
  • Cooke, who was pretty much all over the place last night, smoked a wrister for another goal (this of the shorthanded variety) early in the second period.
  • Steve Sullivan can flat-out fly.
  • Fleury was brilliant. The Canucks lived in the Pens’ end in the third period, recording 15 shots with two minutes on the man advantage. Off the top of my head I can recall no fewer than 4 terrific scoring chances that MAF shut the door on. And of course we can’t forget his larcenous save on Henrik Sedin’s wraparound attempt  in the first period and his two tremendous shootout saves.
  • Flower had to be brilliant last night because the defense was spotty, to put it nicely. I don’t want to get too deep into it, but have a look at Daniel Sedin’s game-tying goal in the third period and ask yourself how any team could ever let a player that great have that much time eight feet in front of the goal. I think the absence of Brooks Orpik is a big deal here. The team knows how to play without Crosby. They’re well practiced in it by now. But Brooks is the main physical presence on that blue line and I’d like to think he’d have been there to take Dan Sedin’s head off had he been in the lineup last night. Let’s hope he’s back soon.
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Categories: NHL, Penguins
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