ON THE PENGUINS
— The Penguins success against top Western Conference contenders continued Friday night with a 5-2 win over the Anaheim Ducks. During the Dan Bylsma era, one notion from Western Conference teams had always been that the Penguins were so hard to play against the first time you saw them and than as Eastern Conference teams would likely say, so easy to game plan for once you got into a playoff series with the Penguins and saw them multiple times.
The Western Conference is more of a skating game which plays into how the Penguins want to play but some of the past matchups against the Blues, Ducks and others have shown, not facing a Henrik Lundqvist, Carey Price or Tuukka Rask type goaltending that they see in the East can be a blessing.
— When Evgeni Malkin is playing at the level he is right now over the last seven games, he’s arguably the most dominant player in hockey with his size and speed. This type of Malkin was around in 2009 and 2012. The problem has always been that he comes and goes. Malkin has moved into a tie for the NHL points lead with 67 points. After the West Coast trip, the schedule sets up very favorably for the Penguins where Malkin or Crosby are a good bet to win the Art Ross Trophy but both are unlikely to garner serious Hart Trophy talk and it’s hard to have a problem with that.
Carey Price has emerged as a clear front runner and in a league where goal scoring is down, Alexander Ovechkin with 43 goals and likely to top 50, deserves to be ahead of Malkin, along with Rick Nash.
— Derrick Pouliot is growing more and more confident on a game by game basis. His ability to carry the puck through the neutral zone and create offense is giving the Penguins that second defenseman behind Kris Letang who gives them that type of dynamic. It’s reaching the point where you take the miscues in the defensive end because he has the potential to win a game with the puck on his stick.
— Penguin coaches continue to look for the right fit with Daniel Winnik and Brandon Sutter. That player might be in Wilkes Barre in Scott Wilson, team sources say.
— Max Lapierre had 9 hits last night but doesn’t change the fact with him. With Nick Spaling center capable, the Penguins would be smart to give Spaling a look as the 4th line center.
— Playing his former team, Simon Despres was getting ripped on for being a -3 last night but last night was a perfect example of why plus/minus is such a garbage stat. Two of the goals against (Comeau goal, Hornqvist bank shot) were on all on the goaltending.
— The Canadiens (88pts), Islanders (87pts), Lightning (86pts), Rangers (85pts), Red Wings (83pts) and Penguins (83pts) are all within five points or less of each other for the top-seed in the Eastern Conference and the luxury of potentially playing the Bruins, Panthers, Senators or Flyers. Winning the conference rarely matters but this year it does with the East so strong. Playing one of those four teams is a gift from the hockey gods.
*Playoff % via Sportsclubstats*