Hope everyone had a nice holiday. I had a chance to spend some time with my family and see some people I haven’t seen in a while, so I apologize for missing a couple games. And with a new Dawson Pens’ fan due in just over a week, I may miss a game or two. But know that I’ll make sure to keep posting until successful entrance of the newest hockey fan.

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The Penguins, over a four game period, seemed to show a gradual return to form. In Montreal, they gave up too many early in the 3rd, but got back within a goal. Against Boston, they successfully mounted the comeback to tie the game, but feel short in overtime. Against Toronto, in a game that was anything but a coach’s dream, they forced OT again and won in the shootout. Friday night, they righted the ship again got a 3-0 win over Tampa Bay. Saturday night, the Pens remained in Florida to take on the Panthers.

EVEN-STRENGTH OFFENSE: A-
They notched four, so it’s hard not give them a high grade. But until the 3rd period, they really didn’t generate many shots or chances. 21 even-strength shots would typically be a failing grade for an offense. But they were efficient and made those shots count. So four goals: A. 21 shots: not worth an A. But the scoreboard is where it counts.

EVEN-STRENGTH DEFENSE: B
In the same regard as above, the Pens defense didn’t give up a goal at even strength. But they allowed 34 shots, which is not a quality performance. Florida had quite a few good looks at the net in the 1st and 3rd periods particularly. If not for some solid netminding, the score could have been flip-flopped.

POWER PLAY: A
It’s hard to grade a power play accurately with only one opportunity. It’s even harder when they score on their only shot on goal on that power play. And in this one, it was a whiff of a shot from Kunitz that went in because Tim Thomas was grossly out of position. But still 1-for-1 is taking advantage of your only opportunity, and it got their first goal of the game, so they did their job tonight.

PENALTY KILL: B
They allowed a goal, which was the only blemish on the night for the Pens. But on the whole, they were actually stingier on giving up shots than at even strength. Only six shots on four kills, and aside from a rush that resulted in the goal, they really gave Florida very little.

GOALTENDING: A
Jeff Zatkoff had to be good early, because the Pens allowed Florida to get a lot of shots early and Florida had three power plays in the 1st period. But Zatkoff kept the Pens in it for the first 10 minutes before they were able to get two quick ones to give him the cushion. He finished with only one allowed on 39 shots – a definitive performance for him. Did not look like the same guy who Florida lit up earlier this season.

FINAL GRADE: A-
Again, a 5-1 win warrants a good grade, but this wasn’t their sharpest game. The difference was the guys between the pipes and the quality shooters, especially the Malkin-Neal-Jokinen line (more on them later). Against a better team, this could have had a different result.

AND FOR THE REST…

JOE VITALE: A
He’s been working hard this whole year, and has proven himself to be a quality 4th line center. It’s nice to see him finally getting rewarded with a goal. It was an ugly one, but that’s the kind you like to see your bottom line here and there.

EVGENI MALKIN: A
Wow, he was extra-stellar in this one. He was flying out there. His goal was an end-to-end play that he finished with a quick deke to freeze Thomas against the post. He won a puck in the corner that led to the feed to Neal to get the three-goal lead back just 29 seconds after Florida finally got on the board. He’s back, and that means bad news for the NHL.

CHRIS KUNITZ AND JAMES NEAL: A
These guys are apparently trying to see who can score more goals. It’s like anytime one of them scores, the other has to do the same I’m all for such a contest. Let them keep pace with each other.

CHRIS CONNOR AND ANDREW EBBETT
Just wanted to take a moment and mention that these two on Sutter’s wing has been the most competent the 3rd line has looked since Beau Bennett and Chuck Kobasew were on it. Connor and Ebbett both have good speed, they have sandpaper to their game and are willing to muck and grind. Ebbett was one very lucky save from getting his first as a Penguins (the replay of the save still didn’t make sense in terms of physics, but pucks have a way of doing that). This has given the Pens the ability to roll four lines much more effectively again. They are on a three-game winning streak, which isn’t a coincidence.

MOST OF THE PANTHERS’ LINEUP: U
As in “Unfortunate.” They definitely had the hardhats on tonight and played a blue collar type of game. They just didn’t have the finish tonight that the Pens do. They nearly doubled up the Pens on shots and found a way to lose by four. But there’s the old saying: You have to be good to be lucky, and be lucky to be good.

TIM THOMAS: F
What planet was he on tonight? He certainly wasn’t anywhere near this one, because he was awful. He was out of position all night and did not look engaged. The first goal from Kunitz dribbled in, Vitale’s goal was the result of an awful rebound combined with not securing the post while flopped on the ice…I could point to something on all the goals, I suppose. Ultimately, four goals on only 13 shots isn’t going to give your side much of a chance.