After a short two-game stint away from their home barn, the Pens opened the doors of the Consol Energy Center to host the Edmonton Oilers. It was the first time that Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin would match up against Edmonton’s four first-round talents: Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov. Here’s how they did.

EVEN-STRENGTH OFFENSE: B+
The offense was excellent in the 1st period, rolling four lines without issue and taking it to the Oilers. After the first 20 minutes, however, the Pens’ 1st line was the only one that consistently brought pressure. The 2nd and 3rd lines both had trouble establishing themselves in the offensive zone, with the exception of a handful of chances for the 2nd line that were basically one and done. The 4th line did its job as usual and made life miserable for Edmonton.

EVEN-STRENGTH DEFENSE: B-
This was a game where each period looked different from the others. The Pens were smothering in the 1st, holding the Oilers to only four shots. The 2nd period saw Edmonton get 15 pucks on net and two goals. The Oil was pretty quiet in the 3rd and couldn’t get much going, especially after the third Penguins tally. The 2nd period has been tough for this team all year – something I’m sure the coaches have already noticed about their club.

POWER PLAY: A-
They got the game-winning goal for the second straight game. Their first chance was cut short by a penalty, which has also happened with some frequency. They are getting closer to what they want the man advantage to be. It’s now more a matter of refinement than improvement.

PENALTY KILL: A
They took care of the three power plays that the Oilers had, which included a 4-on-3 that became a 5-on-3. This kill saw Rob Scuderi take away a passing lane in front and Craig Adams sweep checking a puck that disrupted any flow the Oilers tried to create. This was a confidence boosting effort, especially coming off of shaky efforts down in Florida and Tampa.

GOALTENDING: A-
Only two goals against Flower, and both were goals scored during scrambles for the puck. Malkin was even in the crease for one of them. But Fleury made a number of great saves, especially in a frantic 2nd period that saw the Oilers pour on the pressure. The 3rd didn’t need him to do much, but he turned aside the three shots that got on net. 5-0 for MAF this year. Looking pretty darn good.

FINAL GRADE: A-
A good win tonight against the kind of team that gave the Pens so much trouble the last couple of seasons. The team is maturing and getting better at tightening up, bearing down on the opposition and insolating their net. The offense hasn’t suffered, and their puck possession and breakout game are already in full swing.

AND FOR THE REST…

SIDNEY CROSBY: A
He is just pretty much slotted in for an “A” every game. Three assists tonight. Just another day at the office for 87.

EVGENI MALKIN: B
Just as I was about to write about Geno’s game being off, he goes and scores a power play goal at a key time. A game-winner on the power play is, I hope, just the kind of thing that can get a guy like Malkin going and playing the dominant brand of hockey we know he can play. He still had moments where he wasn’t clicking, though, so there’s still some work to do.

BRANDON SUTTER: B
Not a lot is made of Sutter’s game. He is the quintessential 3rd line center. His defensive play tonight was great. He back checked all night and was active in his own end. He was great on the Pens’ third penalty kill. And, in spite of playing between Dustin Jeffrey and Harry Zolnierczyk, he still had a pretty good game. He is a valuable guy every night, even when he isn’t too noticeable – which probably is a sign he’s doing his job.

RYAN NUGENT-HOPKINS: E
He played nearly 20 minutes, but I honestly can’t recall seeing him do anything. Didn’t record a shot on goal and was completely invisible.

THE OTHER THREE BIG-NAME GUYS ON EDMONTON: B-
Hall played alright and had a point tonight. Didn’t do anything spectacular and seemed to force the puck a bit. Yakupov played like the stereotypical “selfish Russian” who doesn’t like playing without the puck. Had a couple bursts into the zone, but Scuderi and Brooks Orpik kept him very quiet all night. Jordan Eberle was active all night and created a few quality chances. He also chipped a goal in. Certainly was the best player on the Edmonton bench.

JASON LABARBERA: C-
An interesting call by the Oilers to start him again after his performance the night before in Washington. I thought that he was pretty much broken in the first when Pascal Dupuis deflected a puck on net that ended up wide of the goal. He did the familiar slouching shoulder and heavy sigh that says, “Are you kidding me? I let that get through?” But it didn’t, and despite a 12-shot edge in the first, LaBarbera kept the deficit at one. He was ok tonight, but the goalie at the other end of the ice was much better.

FREE CANDY:
Nail Yakupov received a couple of jawbreakers in this one.

KOBASLAM:
He laid out Taylor Hall big time. And if you have a better name for this, definitely submit it. This was all I could come up with shooting from the hip.

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