Friday night, I thought that with the Penguins facing a pair of home games against a top team from each conference, I would be satisfied with two points, but I would prefer three or four. As it turned out, the Pens dropped a 4-3 overtime decision to Ottawa Saturday and then followed it up Sunday with a 2-1 shootout loss at the hands (fins?) of the San Jose Sharks. Two points gained, two points lost. A weekend that could easily have produced four points ended being a slight disappointment, as the Devils and Senators have respectively moved two and one points ahead of Pittsburgh for first place in the East. Considering the progress of this team, I believe the No. 1 seed in the conference playoff bracket is a worthy, and attainable goal.
Saturday, February 23, 3:05 p.m.
Senators 4, Penguins 3 (OT)
Upon watching the first 30 minutes of this one, I thought Ottawa was trying to throw the game. The Sens were taking penalties in succession while appearing to regard backchecking as a foreign concept; the Pens somewhat took advantage, sprinting out to a 3-0 edge in the middle of the second period. I say "somewhat" because if you watched this game, you know it could have been anywhere from 5-0 to 7-0 at the midway point.
A Ty Conklin stickhandling gaffe and a couple lucky bounces later, Cory Stillman had made it 3-1 with a tap-in. Dany Heatley then decided to own the game for the next 10 minutes, and by the early stages of the third, Heatley had a pair of goals and the game was knotted up. From there the chances evened up, until the OT, which the Pens dominated until the final 10 seconds. Give Sens captain Daniel Alfredsson grudging credit for fighting through the slot to his own rebound and slipping a backhander between ConkBlock's right arm and body for the heartbreaking GWG. I was extremely ready for the shootout; I don't hold Ottawa goalie Ray Emery in very high regard when it comes to one-on-one confrontations. That is, unless he's literally fighting the other guy.
That one hurt, since a win in regulation would have pushed the Pens ahead of the Sens for the first time since before the lockout. The consolation point wasn't consoling many after the game, even though Michel Therrien threw his team a rare bone when he complimented his players' efforts and noted they generated a season-best 30 scoring chances.
Sunday, February 24, 3:05 p.m.
Sharks 2, Penguins 1 (SO)
The second loser's point of the weekend was garnered slightly more honorably than the first. The Sharks got a 1-nil lead early in the third when former Richard Trophy-winner Jonathan Cheechoo powered his way to the goal and dashed one behind Conklin. If anything, it was nice to see that someone was going to score on this afternoon. The Sharks play a brand of hockey that some might call "defensive" or "responsible." I call it dull and uninspiring. It seems like all the top teams in the Western Conference play that way; that's why I'm thankful the Pens get to play games against the likes of Atlanta, Carolina, Ottawa, Montreal, Tampa Bay, Buffalo, Washington, and Toronto. Games against those teams are punch-and-counterpunch, up-and-down affairs that keep you standing and shouting, whether you're at the arena or on your couch.
Anyway, my official "boy," Erik Christensen, returned from five games out with a bruised shoulder to score the tying power-play goal in regulation and the first goal for the Pens in the shootout, but even though two out of three shooters scored for the home team, all three Sharks beat Conklin with wrist shots to silence the Mellon. Conklin was visibly upset after not playing to his capabilities in the shootout, but his performance during the game was a large factor in the Penguins getting past regulation with a point, so he shouldn't hang his head for too long. Besides, Marc-Andre Fleury is back on the roster and now Ty will have to play his best, I suspect, to create a goaltending tandem as we head into March.
Trade deadline is tomorrow. Until then.