I’ve taken up the helm of grading the games this year. It’s been a while since I’ve assigned letter grades to…well, anything really. So I hope to get into the swing of this whole thing quickly.

So without further delay…away we go!

EVEN-STRENGTH OFFENSE: A

When you score five, after games where you put four and three up, it shows the offense is not only potent, but picking up steam. Do this without James Neal and Kris Letang in the lineup against Cam Ward, and well…it really speaks for itself. The Pens’ offense has been very solid in their first three outings. They have gotten contributions up and down the lineup, with a goal from their blue line and another from their fourth line tonight. Oh, and someone else scored the rest (more on this guy later).

EVEN-STRENGTH DEFENSE: B

Tonight was the first game where a team was really able to get any sustained pressure on the Pens. While there were flashes of offense from New Jersey and Buffalo in the prior games, the Hurricanes had several very productive shifts, and seized the momentum for the 2nd half and the beginning of the 3rd periods. To their credit, though, the Pens’ defense blocked a number of shots and kept the puck along the perimeter for most of the game. A strange deflection goal from a prone Eric Staal and a heads up play by Nathan Gerbe were the lone blemishes.

POWER PLAY: B-

Ok, the Pens finally cashed in on the power play. Sure. They went 2-for-3 with the man advantage. Fine. But both goals came from Jussi Jokinen making tremendous plays that came off the rush. And while those goals help the percentage, it doesn’t mask the fact that the power play for the Pens still looks rather disjointed. Tonight’s efforts had numerous forced plays and turnovers. Still a work in progress, but one that needs to get on track.

PENALTY KILL: A

There were some who wondered what the loss of a penalty killer like Matt Cooke would do to the PK. So far, that hasn’t had any effect on it. They were only called upon to kill two tonight. The first saw virtually no pressure from Carolina. The second had a few chances, but they were taken care of by MAF. The kill has looked efficient to this point: they keep it simple, play good angles and take up the quality shooting and passing lanes. Can’t ask for more.

GOALTENDING: A-

The Staal goal was one that was lucky it even made it on net. Gerbe’s marker was a nice play by him and was one Fleury did have a chance at. But again, Fleury looked to be in top form for the third straight game. He made a few great saves, but as has been the case and worth noting, he’s made all the routine ones he should make. The all-business MAF is looking pretty good thus far.

FINAL GRADE: A-

It was another dominant effort. Just slightly less dominant than the last two. Still, I’d take tonight’s effort any game of the year.

AND FOR THE REST…

JUSSI JOKINEN: A+

Not only does this guy have a knack for scoring beautiful goals, he has the ability to make the sky rain hats. Still baffling. Heck of an effort tonight. He deserves to be flanking 71.

JIM RUTHERFORD: …

I’m not sure how to grade him. In terms of his own franchise, it would have to be an F…or a W or something…for parting ways with the guy just mentioned for next to nothing. Oh, and he is paying part of Juicy J’s salary on top of it. I guess from my vantage point, it’s an A.

OLLI MAATTA: A

Three games in, and this kid is making himself look like a regular in the lineup. Shero is going to be faced with a REALLY tough decision in…I’d say about six games.

TANNER GLASS: A

What a difference a year and a full training camp makes…This is the guy we were promised when Shero went out and got this guy to replace some departed role players. He drove the net all night, got a knockout in a fight, and scored a nice goal to give the Pens some insurance in the 3rd.

CAM WARD: D

Tough night for him. Made some exquisite saves against the Crosby line tonight, but lost track of the puck it seemed on the Martin and Glass goals. His reaction to Jokinen’s hat trick summed up his night.

MOST OF THE HURRICANES BIG NAME GUYS: F

They were on the stat sheet and registered a number of shots, but their quality chances were pretty minimizes by the defense. Did Alex Semin even play? Didn’t see him at all that I can remember…

FREE CANDY:

Tlusty got some cavities after that crunch in the 3rd.

SCUD MISSILE:

The best hip check in the game is back, and was on display tonight. Ask Drayson Bowman.