The combination of a hectic weekend at home and a touch of the flu (alright, maybe it's more like an all-out slap to the face) has kept me from commenting on the last three Pens games. We'll make up for it in brief right now.
State of the Team
Montreal fell to the Sharks on the Left Coast last night, so that means your Pittsburgh Penguins are officially the first place team in the Eastern Conference. I don't have the Elias Sports Bureau's number in my cell phone, so I'm going to have to go ahead and guess that this is the first time the Pens are on top of the East heap this late in the season since the spring of 1996, when they ultimately fell in the conference finals to the trapping and grabbing Florida Panthers in seven games.
It truly is outstanding that this club could hold itself together considering all the injury misfortune that has been with them essentially every step of the way. Starting with Max Talbot's high ankle sprain in November, it's been a nonstop string of man-games lost. As it stands now, we are still awaiting the (hopefully imminent) returns of Sidney Crosby, Marian Hossa and Gary Roberts. Only once these guys get a couple of weeks under their belts in the lineup will we have a decent idea of the team's chances for a deep postseason run.
Which brings me to my final point: Marc-Andre Fleury MUST be given the chance to win back the No. 1 goaltending spot. I say this not because I doubt Michel Therrien will do it, but because I feel that the fans who've become enamored with Ty Conklin over the past three months may not accept the MAFer getting the lion's share of playing time between the pipes. Well, too bad. Fleury will be the man in net when the Pens eventually take Lord Stanley out dancing. You can mark it down. Conklin can and perhaps should be signed ASAP as Fleury's backup, both as insurance and as a little competition. But Conklin has been showing signs of wearing down in recent games (see: at Boston, at Ottawa last week), and Fleury deserves the chance to develop into the All-Pro goalie that he can be. Montreal has given the responsibility of starting playoff goaltender to rookie Carey Price, much like it has in the past with Hall of Famers Ken Dryden and Patrick Roy, and they both won Cups in their first playoff seasons. Fleury has the additional advantage of last spring's playoff ouster to learn from and build upon; I truly believe he is a Cup-capable netminder waiting to emerge.
7:08 faceoff tonight from the St. Pete Times Forum. Penguins at Lightning. Time to take advantage of the weak sisters in the Southeast Division.