Pittsburgh Throttles Buffalo
Struggling was not the proper word for what the Penguins had been going through. They were flat out terrible in their last 5 games, that is until Ryan Miller came to town. There are always teams that you can count on for a boost. Beating teams like the Islanders or Hurricanes have been a great way this season to get back on track, but for the Pens, Ryan Miller is almost equal.
Against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Ryan Miller is terrible, and that is being nice. His save percentage is under .9 and his goals against is now 3+. Crosby used to be the biggest part of that, but last night, Malkin and the boys took it to him. Scoring three goals in the first ten minutes of the game, Miller was pulled. As Enroth entered the game, the Sabres took over. Too bad it was only for a few minutes. As many teams do, the Sabres scored quickly, but then allowed Malkin to score his first goal of the game. The period would end at a score of 4-1, but the surprises continued.
Miller, who was pulled earlier, was placed back in the game. His struggles continued as the Pens would quickly score again. Neal had his eighteenth goal of the season just 53 seconds into the period. Miller would again be pulled. The Pens would go on to win the game 8 to 3, Miller allowing five goals and Enroth allowing three. While the biggest storyline for the Sabres was the terrible goaltending decisions, the Penguins headlines simply read “Malkin”.
The enigmatic center of the Penguins had a 5 point night. A hat trick and two assists place Malkin in the top five in points this season. His point per game total is 1.38, only behind Claude Giroux and Sidney Crosby (although he only played 8 games). Malkin has simply returned to form. His puck handling and skating ability have him simply taking over games. In the collapse against the Red Wings a few nights back, Malkin was easily the best player on the ice. With six shots on net, Malkin was just about untouchable down low. The 25 year old center looks like he could be back in the MVP discussion after last night and his knee looks to be perfectly fine.
In somewhat equally big news, the Penguins call up Simon Despres has been excellent. The first round pick of 2009 is showcasing his natural ability to be an excellent two way defender. His skating ability has him joining the rush and his size and strength has lead to great defense in his own end. In his very first NHL game, Despres was a plus two with an assist. His job that night, however, was to help contain Alex Ovechkin; mission accomplished. Despres currently has just 3 points in 8 games, but is a plus three. He has already been placed on the second power play unit and is quickly staking his claim to be a continued starter. If this is true, the Pens now have an opportunity to do something at the trade deadline.
Last night the Pens were without Crosby, Martin, Letang, Michalek, Staal, and a multitude of others. With now over 170 man games lost, the pens are among the most injured teams in the league. Last night it did not look like it, but the last few games it certainly did. While a move would be nice, this club really needs health. Last night was a start for the Pens to find their identity, but with a tough schedule ahead in December, the Pens must find that identity quick. What was lost last night was Marc-Andre Fleury who continues to struggle. If Fleury can return to form, the Pens might be able to stay in the playoff race without some of these names, but if he can’t, this season might be too much to handle for the injury riddled Penguins.