This one looked like it would be easy and wound up being difficult. The important part is that the Pens earned two points when they were missing a laundry list of starters.
I think we'll look back and see how these games were instrumental in helping the role players to learn how they need to step up. It will pay huge dividends in the playoffs.
The Pens are in first place in the Atlantic by one point over the Devils and tied with the Habs for first in the conference. Both the Devils and the Canadiens have a game in hand on the Pens.
To the recap!
The Pens got a goal just 50 seconds into the game when the ref didn't blow the whistle. Lehtonen seemed to have the puck frozen, but there was no whistle. Ryan Malone went in there, grabbed the puck seemingly from between the pads and put it in on the backhand. Great to play to the whistle. Malone broke his personal goals record with his 23rd of the season.
Just about a minute late, Max (don't call him Maxime) Talbot made a great individual play to deke his way past McCarthey and then used a nifty backhand shot that came back across the grain, over the right shoulder of Lehtonen.
Of course, that set Steigy and Errey off on a conversation about how the Thrashers are disinterested, how the Thrashers are packing it in (except for Colby and Crusher, of course). You knew instantly that this was the sign that the game was far from over. Please, Mr. Announcers, if it's not the third period or a four goal lead, don't jinx us!
The Thrashers gradually started to turn the tide, and cut the lead to 2-1 on a fluke goal by Jim Slater. He was skating down the left wing and threw the puck at the far post. Fleury was not in proper position and the puck slid just inside the post. Bad goal by the Flower.
The good news in this period was the Pens started to show some ability to attack when short handed. The bad news was that they were short handed three times. I wouldn't really say the penalties were bad calls, either. They were some dumb plays by the Pens.
The Pens seemed to kick things back into gear a bit and turned this into a grind it out type of period. There was some end to end action, but mostly it was rushes generated from the trap in the neutral zone.
It's tough to watch Armstrong and Christensen in the colors of another team. Atlanta is becoming Pittsburgh South in a hurry, with Recchi, Armstrong, Christensen, Thorburn and Kwiatkowski all playing.
If Holik was still in the same division as the Pens, I think he would be someone everyone really disliked. As it is now, I get aggravated watching him and then forget about it until the next time we see Atlanta.
It was the curse of Fox Sports that struck next. They had no sooner finished showing a graphic that trumpeted the Pens success at home on the penalty kill that they gave up a goal on the penalty kill. That tied the score at 2-2.
The rest of the period was punctuated by good goaltending and bad officiating. The zebras put away the whistles with about 5:00 remaining and it showed. There were several obvious penalties that just weren't called.
Several nice rushes, but the goalies shut everything down. This game has to be a confidence booster for Fleury.
First, the end result was only Letang was able to score. The Pens won the shootout 1-0.
Crusher broke out a new move, shooting early on Fleury. There was an article in the Post-Gazette where Flower was saying how he knew three moves that Christensen used. Erik seemingly wanted to mix it up and try to take him by surprise. It didn't work.
The most satisfying part was Kovalchuk having no one to point at but himself. He had a chance to keep the contest going, but couldn't beat Fleury to the five-hole.
Atlanta continues to play Army and Christensen about 20 minutes per game. Are they really those kind of players? I don't think so... but I hope, for their sakes, that they prove me wrong.
Fleury shut down the Thrashers in the shootout. I think we'll see him in net on Tuesday.
Goligoski played well enough to not be noticed most of the time. That's probably in his favor while he gets his feet wet.
Next up: Three game road trip, and time to earn some points, starts Tuesday in Tampa Bay.