Some quick hits after covering my first game of the Penguins season, their 4-2 victory over Florida at Consol Energy Center:
= D Kris Letang is off to a wonderful start (6 points in 4 games), but as coach Dan Bylsma noted after this win, keeping a watch on his minutes – and those of fellow Ds Zbynek Michalek and Paul Martin – will be one of this staff’s great challenges as this month plays out. The Penguins are four games into an October during which they play 13 games, and with D Brooks Orpik looking like he’s not close to returning, the last thing Bylsma wants is to exhaust his team’s strength – and the defense corps IS this team’s strength – in the first month.
= Orpik hasn’t practiced since Saturday at Calgary, and him not being on the ice for the morning session before this Florida game was an eye-opener to this reporter. Orpik is as tough as the toughest, but this recovery from abdominal surgery – his second surgery of this variety in two years – feels like something that just isn’t working out the way it should. If I’m the Penguins, I’m thinking of recalling, say, Brian Strait, from the AHL, because the six defenseman currently on this roster and eating big minutes, and another body will be required sooner rather than later.
= RW James Neal doesn’t look anything like the player the Penguins had last season, and that’s the best compliment anybody can pay him. He is playing with intensity, attitude and aggression. I’ll admit I had my doubts about Neal, and I probably shouldn’t be making declarations based off four games, but this version of him definitely looks like a guy worth the sacrifice of promising D Alex Goligoski.
= Cs Mark Letestu and Joe Vitale won 16 of 24 faceoffs against Florida. Keep that up and they won’t need to do a whole lot more while Cs Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are out. That said, it must be of comfort for Bylsma to know both Letestu and Vitale have shown, albeit in spurts, they are capable of more.
= Not to keep harping on this point about possibly tired legs, but it will be interesting to see how these Penguins fare Thursday night against a Capitals club that, if nothing else, forechecks. (Sometimes it seems all they do is forecheck, but that’s another discussion for another day, or at least a post-game recap video somewhere on this web site.) My gut tells me G Marc-Andre Fleury will be required to be brilliant Thursday. The Penguins have to be close to being gassed.
= Without Malkin the Penguins are 1-for-12 on the power play, and they are on a 0-for-11 run. Tough to judge this unit without Malkin, and I’m not sure they weren’t doing some good things in an 0-for-4 performance against Florida, but difficult to envision are wins against Washington and Buffalo without something tangible from the power play.
= The ovations given to Crosby and Malkin tonight were heartfelt from those who comprised the 208th consecutive sellout at Consol Energy Center. They were also expected. What this crowd did for LW Matt Cooke, was just difficult to describe. A lot of people have a lot of opinions on the guy, and mine is certainly more favorable than most; but it is clear that Pittsburghers have taken to him.
In case you missed it, my story about Cooke from this summer: http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/sports/penguins/s_753051.html
I know the guy has no room for error, but so does he. If nothing else, these first four games have shown exactly what the Penguins missed without Cooke last season.
= Only five 7:30 p.m. starts the rest of this season. Thankfully. Game stories aren’t my strength to begin with, but that extra half-an-hour makes for a big difference. (I know: Shut up, Rossi! You’ve got the dream job.) Not disagreeing, but it was nice to actually watch the games while Josh Yohe covered the club on its Western Canadian trek.