While there were many great plays in last night's victory, one stands out in my mind as a both a crucial point in the game and a spectacular display of smart hockey.
At around 8:30 of the first, with the Pens up 1-0, Staal broke loose with the puck and Sykora joined him for a two-on-one. A goal at this point in the game would have sucked the life out of a Caps team battling back from giving up the early goal. Thankfully, the "one" was Karl Alzner.
He positioned himself perfectly, using his stick to deny the passing lane. If he hadn't maintained his gaps as well, he likely would have been forced to overcommit or leave his feet, making what happened next impossible.
With the pass denied, Staal skated toward Theodore to set up for a forehand-backhand deke. However, since Alzner maintained his positioning, he simply turned his hips and knocked the puck away with a poke check. It was simple and yet totally effective. It was the textbook definition of how to break up a two-on-one.
Alzner is 20 years old and occasionally it shows when he gets muscled off the puck. He's going to have bad nights like the games against Edmonton and Montreal. He's not flashy like Green, nor a physical force like Erskine. But last night, when it counted, he made a play that was spectacular in its subtlety. Here's hoping we get to keep him for the rest of the year. . .