The Penguins have literally been unbeatable on home ice thus far this season. The Vancouver Canucks were in town and brought a 3-1-0 record into Consol Energy Center, meaning that they were finding ways to win on the road. This was, at least through the first stretch of the season, the biggest test for the Pens – a team with a winning record. Here’s how things went down.

EVEN-STRENGTH OFFENSE: B
They didn’t get as many shots through as they had in prior games. The sustained pressure wasn’t there as much, either. They had a number of good chances off the rush and did get a couple, though. They weren’t even bad honestly. It’s the just that the bar is so high for them at this point that you have to say that this wasn’t among their best efforts.

EVEN-STRENGTH DEFENSE: C
37 shots through regulation is a lot to give up, especially when you had four power plays and only one penalty kill. A lot of even strength time, and not all of the shots were perimeter or low-percentage chances for the Canucks. Fleury had to come up with some big saves. Could have been the afternoon start time, could have just been a good approach by Vancouver. Three goals isn’t awful, but they were out of sorts on two of those goals and as a unit weren’t at their best.

POWER PLAY: C
They converted one of four chances on the day. They seemed to have settled in, but didn’t get many shots on the net. Set up is only useful if you can get chances through. Their best work was on the lone goal they scored. They did give up a shorthanded chance to the Sedins, but nothing negative came of it in the end. Still, two shots in four chances isn’t where you are trying to be.

PENALTY KILL: A
They only had one penalty to kill the whole game and they did. Little to expound upon there – a pretty quiet day for the PK, which is always welcome.

GOALTENDING: B
The first goal Fleury gave up in this one was a back luck, flukey kind of goal. It was the first time he gave one of those up the entire season. He was very strong the rest of the way and made a number of good saves throughout the game. He was calm and collected in the shootout as well.

FINAL GRADE: B
The Pens weathered the storm and got their first shootout win of the year. They maintained their perfect record on home ice. It’s only five games, but one thing about stacking wins in October is that, should you go through a tougher patch somewhere down the stretch, your position in the standings isn’t in as much jeopardy. You also build the confidence that you are good enough to win every night regardless of the previous game you played.

AND FOR THE REST…

CHRIS KUNITZ: A
This was the strongest game he played all season. He was a little slow out of the gate this year – he had trouble handling pucks, his passes were a little off and his physical game hadn’t arrived. But there was steady improvement each game. Yesterday, all those things were in mid-season form. He just had a jump in his step we hadn’t seen yet this year. Can only mean that line will somehow get better.

PAUL MARTIN: B+
This guy is a rock on the blue line, and I haven’t graded him yet because his game is basically the same every night – sturdy. He finished with a -1 for the day, but I liked his game yesterday in spite of the overall defense being a little lackluster. He created a few chances offensively and made good decisions with the puck all game. He and Brooks Orpik have an uncanny chemistry that really makes them one of the elite pairings in the league. The defense wasn’t amazing all game, but Martin had some noticeable moments where he was pretty strong.

OLLI MAATTA/SIDNEY CROSBY: A
They have gotten “As” pretty much every game since I’ve been doing this column. Yesterday they both had their A-games. And congrats to #3 for his first NHL goal – having a first-goal puck with the names Kunitz and Crosby is just that much more special.

KEVIN BIEKSA: B
Had three points in the game and was a +3. Had a pretty solid game all around really. The Vancouver defense was pretty good for most of the game, and he led the way. I don’t often give out high grades for the opposition, but have to give credit where it is due.

THE SEDINS: D+
This was a close game and, at times, a game that favored the Canucks more than the Pens. In situations where your supporting cast is matching or besting the opposition’s, your big guys have to be the ones who step up and make the difference. The Sedins didn’t do that yesterday. Head Coach John Tortorella is a guy who rewards effort in a game. Notice how these two guys weren’t in the shootout…

FREE CANDY:
He crushed Daniel Sedin along the boards. Keeps bringing the hits every game.

KUNIKAZE:
He laid Chris Higgins out in open ice.

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