Igloo Insider: Pens reclaim Atlantic lead

Updated: March 19, 2010 at 2:58 pm by Patrick Davey

I think it’s safe to say that last night’s game against the Boston Bruins couldn’t have been better for Matt Cooke and the Pittsburgh Penguins. Any retribution that was expected from the Bruins after high media anticipation for this game was kept to an absolute minimum, as Shawn Thornton and Matt Cooke dropped the gloves just two minutes into the game, but that’s where the unpleasantaries for Cooke ended. After many expected to see more from Boston, it seemed that the team was content with this serving as their payback to Cooke for the hit that he gave to Marc Savard the last meeting that left Savard with a grade-2 concussion.

Marc Savard would be out for the season whether the Bruins brought it to the Penguins or not, but there’s no doubt that they could have done a whole lot more to let everyone to know that they still aren’t happy about the hit. Of course there are limitations to what they could have done with the rules as they are, any extra shots given would have put them at a disadvantage, (and Shawn Thornton got a game misconduct for punching Cooke when he was down), but they certainly didn’t give Pittsburgh all they could handle when it mattered and the puck was in play. Apart from the expected boos, and the fight with Thornton, Cooke went unchallenged for the rest of the game and had 12:25 of ice-time playing on the fourth line.

If there was anyone else on the Bruins bench that could send a message it would be Milan Lucic, but apart from 4 hits in 16 minutes on the ice, Lucic’s intensity was lacking, as was the case with the whole team. After Boston disappeared for most the first period after the fight, and then hearing boos in the 2nd for being trapped in their own end, Zdeno Chara decided was enough was enough as he fought with Mike Rupp for his first fight of the season. Worrying for Bruins fans was that this didn’t seem to change the energy-levels of their team, or the complexion of the game, as Alexei Ponikarovsky redirected a Kris Letang shot to score with just 15 seconds left in the second period, which effectively killed the game.

Mike Rupp said post-game in reaction of the Cooke fight that “I was just telling (Cooke) that from now on that if he wants to anything that there are other guys that can step up…”, and there really is no reason that Matt Cooke would have another fight this season, with Pittsburgh already having Mike Rupp and also Eric Godard coming back from injury to defend the team. Cooke can now just go about playing his game, even if that means stepping over the line with a hit, and I still find it laughable, but not in a good way, that Colin Campbell would turn up to the game last night. After all, the whole reason that this scenario of Cooke having to defend himself came about from the lack of suspension, and it was very hard to watch Campbell in an interview with Mike Milbury trying to defend his reasoning of being unable to suspend Cooke.

Apart from barely missing a Dennis Seidenberg open-ice hit, Sidney Crosby didn’t become a victim of a Bruins backlash. I’m sure that is something Pittsburgh fans are very relieved about after witnessing him narrowly avoid a horrific injury in Tampa on Sunday after getting tangled up with Steve Downie.  Crosby was on the re-united top line with Bill Guerin and Chris Kunitz, after playing with Ponikarovsky in New Jersey, and he had just an much space to free-roam on Thursday as any other night, if not more. He is starting to get some nice chemistry with Ponikarovsky on the top powerplay unit, and Poni’s goal last night came just as the advantage expired. Him and Crosby are making life difficult for goalies on the PP by getting to the crease, and Bill Guerin is capable of that role too.

The race for the Atlantic Division is tighter than ever, with the Pens reclaiming the No.2 spot in the conference with last night’s win, proving just how important it was to remain focused and get the two points. The Devils are only one point back after picking up a point in Toronto, and have one game in hand, and it looks like it will go down to the wire. The Penguins should be happy enough that they are still in contention for the division lead after being swept by New Jersey 6-0, and it was certainly a great time to bounce back against Boston after such a disappointing performance the night before.

PIT’s Next 5: CAR, @DET, @WSH, PHI, TOR

NJD’s Next 5: STL, CBJ, NYR, @MTL, @PHI

New Jersey would definately seem to have the easier upcoming schedule with a 3-game homestand against teams outside of the playoff spots including the struggling Rangers. Carolina is riding the solid play of Justin Peters and will be a tough opponent for Pittsburgh, but it will be difficult for Peters to repeat his 40-save winning performance agains the Pens last week if he has to face that amount of shots again. Detroit is always dangerous this time of the year and has won 3 in a row, and Washington will have Alex Ovechkin back for the game against Pittsburgh.

Fantasy Watch: Sidney Crosby is pointless in 2 games… Marc-Andre Fleury recorded the team’s first shutout of the season after being pulled in New Jersey. He improved his record to 4-2 since the Olympic Break with a 1.71GAA… Evgeni Malkin missed his second straight game. He is considered as day-to-day but is hopeful to return on Saturday against Carolina… Jordan Staal is playing on the second line but is pointless in 2 games… Pascal Dupuis is pointless in 2 games after having a 5-game point streak… Alexei Ponikarovsky has 2G, 2A and is -2 in 7 games for Pittsburgh… Bill Guerin hasn’t had a plus-rating since the Olympic Break and hasn’t scored in his last 4 games… Kris Letang has a 2-game point streak… Alex Goligoski hasn’t scored in 6 games….

Alexei Ponikarovsky, Boston Bruins, Colin Campbell, Evgeni Malkin, Marc Savard, Marc-Andre Fleury, Matt Cooke, Mike Rupp, Milan Lucic, New Jersey Devils, Pittsburgh Penguins, Shawn Thornton, Sidney Crosby, Zdeno Chara