10/29/10 , between 9:30 PM – 10:00PM – I sat in the CONSOL Energy Center feeling a bit stunned by what I had just witnessed. That game started in such a grand manner for a rivalry game with the Flyers. The Pens would go on to play an overall solid first period and then fielded a few sets of pylons for the 2nd and 3rd periods. The evening would end in a bitter 3-2 loss to the Flyers type of disappointment. I would have been fine with a loss had the Pens even looked interested in playing for more than 20 minutes but that clearly wasn’t the case.
I walked back to my hotel and much like when I watch at home, I turned on the postgame show. Now October was somewhat of an up and down month for the Pens and somewhat even into November, but once again I had heard the phrase “We have to find our game” and “We have to get back to our game”. These phrases were ok the first few times I had hear them and I even reserved my judgement at the time despite how angry I felt. I threw a lot of players under the bus in private even Sid Crosby (yes, yes I did). The Pens would flip flop on wins/losses over the next few games until the Boston Meltdown.
Fast Forward to 12/11/10, HSBC Arena, Buffalo, NY
The Pens rolled into town riding an 11 game winning streak. The Sabres had a little streak of their own on the line as well. One of my most notable observations from this win streak is Martin/Michalek becoming rather comfortable in the system (yes, I threw that under the bus too) and with each other as a pairing. At one time, when either one would pinch deep into the offensive zone, it seemed to set off another breakaway or odd man rush going the other way and with Fleury playing inconsistent as he had been playing…well, sphincters were getting sprained trying to “unclench”. Saturday in Buffalo was a bit on a different game for the Pens. As a Pens fan, I’ve seen the Sabre ideology before: “Hit Sid, get in his face, knock him off his game”. Well, the team before me on this night stood their ground, withstood all of the pressure that the Sabres seem to build in the 2nd period, and at no point backed down the the challenges laid out and then made the Sabres pay for their biggest mistakes. It did seem a tad closer most of the time due to a 1-2 goal advantage held by the Pens most of the game, and Jason Pominville’s goal in the 3rd made it almost appear that Buffalo was going to make it more of a fight to bring the game to 3-2 but Mike Rupp and Matt Cooke put it away in the third with a redirect and an empty netter, respectively.
There is a different mentality to the team and it shows on the ice. Players are staying accountable and supportive to each other. Where ever this team goes, and how they fare down the road will be less relevant to me if they show the same effort on a nightly basis. I’ll be disappointed with a loss like any other fan, but I’ll far less likely to drive the proverbial “Bus” over anyone if the efforts are there.
Other Observations from the evening:
Jordan Leopold was a -4 on the evening, a skewed stat sure, but it does make you think a bit.
The crowd in Buffalo was HEAVY with Pens fans, and the fellows from Erie next to me were some of the best to cheer with
Pens fans understood what jersey I was wearing, Sabre fans didn’t openly acknowledge it (Credit to Ashley and Kylie for relishing the moment with me)
Kudos to Dustin Jeffrey, 2 pts (1+1) in his 1st game up this year