Wednesday’s win over Lehigh Valley was satisfying for the Penguins for a couple of reasons.
For one, it was their eighth in a row and gave them a relatively cushy lead in the Atlantic Division. They are three up on providence with a game in hand and tied with the Phantoms in points, but have a gaudy four games in hand. Their lead over fifth place is nine points with two games in hand. So while it’s no reason to book those playoff tickets months in advance, this streak has certainly put the team in a comfortable position going into the second half of the season.
But as Zach Aston-Reese put it after the game, beating the Phantoms is reason enough to feel good.
Ignoring the rivalry aspect — although Wednesday’s game was pretty quiet in that perspective — Lehigh Valley has been a thorn in the Penguins’ side the past month. First, they couldn’t solve Dustin Tokarski. Once they did that, they couldn’t prevent enough big-play chances on defense. Then, they just couldn’t get the puck luck to go their way.
But that changed.
After a semi-sluggish first period, the Pens turned on the afterburners in the second period. The offense — with Gage Quinney on the top line — was clicking, the power play continued its roll (4 goals now in 5 games) and the defense completely smothered the Phantoms. It was a take-care-of-business performance, and that’s the formula that has worked so well the past eight games.
The win proved the Penguins can beat top-flight competition, and do it convincingly. It had the feel of a statement game. We’ll see if that’s the case moving forward.
- Another win for Anthony Peters. The man simply does not get rattled in net. He faced a couple of nice tests in the third period, but emerged unscathed.His importance to the team the last month-plus cannot be understated.
- Colin Smith had a noticeable jump, literally using it to spring Freddie Tiffels free en route to a power-play chance (and goal). Then he executed a great pass to Teddy Blueger on the 2-on-1 that gave the Pens their third tally.
- Aston-Reese is on fire. I know fans were excited about the goal-scoring potential, but his playmaking ability and physicality are absurdly improved since his short stint last season.
A few nights ago on Twitter, I asked for you to send me your favorite moments from the first half of the season. The reason is I’m putting together a Top 5 list for the upcoming Weekly page, and I wanted to take your votes into account.
Among the examples I received were:
- Dominik Simon’s OT tally sinks the Bears on Dec. 30
- All the events surrounding Jan. 3; the comeback win against Bridgeport, the signing of Sebastien Caron etc.
- Pat McGrath’s empty-net goal at Mohegan Sun Arena
- Jarred Tinordi’s beatdown of Springfield’s Ed Wittchow
Thanks to all who responded; you’ll see the list Sunday. I will say that my clear No. 1 best moment is not mentioned above, but some of these might be.
Sound of silence
Usually it’s not flattering when you wind up on Deadspin, but this is an interesting look at how the Charlotte Checkers played Wednesday in an empty arena. The team’s front office had to step in to play the mascot Chubby (get it … Chubby Checker …), cue the in-game music and all the other taken-for-granted tasks of the gameday experience.
The Checkers beat Bridgeport, by the way.