First off, I wanted to try something different in this View from Ice Level since a number of people have either commented, emailed or mentioned to me that they like being able to control the way you look at the photos in my stories.
So, starting with this View, I'll put the game's set of action photos at the top of the article so you guys and gals can click through them at your own pace and stare at this game's photos of Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang if you choose.
Let me know in the comments how this works for you. I know it's still not perfect for everyone until you can go full screen with images, but hope this is a good compromise for now!
If Saturday showed off a hype-worthy version of the Penguins and Malkin, if only for a period, then Sunday continued the hype against a lesser Rangers team and on a day the arena was filled with a younger, louder audience.
That first image you see up top isn't of Malkin or Letang -- both of whom netted a pair in the Penguins' 6-5 win. It isn't of any of the three other defensemen who scored a goal for the Penguins. It isn't of any of the penalty-killers who killed off Sidney Crosby's double-minor penalty which bled well into the start of the third.
No, it's of a young fan who made up the very vocal Sunday afternoon crowd who screamed "Let's go Pens!" as loud as his vocal cords would allow, as it echoed off the glass in front of him.
He did that as the crowd rose to their feet when Casey DeSmith corralled the puck and froze it moments after Crosby re-took the ice. The crowd was loud, but this small voice was so prominent that it prompted me to turn to my right and find him in the front row, just in time to take that photo.
In a game full of cold-eyed, fist-clenched Malkin celebrations, hugs for Letang and big-time fist-bump lines for Brian Dumoulin and Marcus Pettersson, this young voice stood out.
I did some hypothesizing during and following the Penguins' loss to the Flames Saturday ... most of that having to do with Malkin awaking from his slumber.
Totaling the weekend as a whole, it's still too small a sample size to know for sure, but it sure feels like the Malkin from season's start is back in action.
You guys will remember the Crosby scream I took much earlier in the season in Denver, and more recently Teddy Blueger's from his first NHL goal. Garrett Wilson's first NHL hug also stands out, as far as the celly photo is concerned.
My favorite from the year so far, however, has to be this new stone-eyed, fist-clenched stare from Malkin after he scored his first goal of the night. Dejan Kovacevicwanted something not Malkin for the top of his piece (since Chris Bradford was writing Malkin, and his spin in particular), but this was one of the rare games I refused that request and insisted on using -- what I deemed -- the best photo from the game.
Here's a look at that image again, and Dejan's piece where it appears atop the site:
[caption id="attachment_775768" align="aligncenter" width="1000"] MATT SUNDAY / DKPS[/caption]
If that didn't quite convince you, the way he stared into the fans behind the glass who stared back beside me with their arms up, then what he did two minutes and 31 seconds later might:
[caption id="attachment_775750" align="aligncenter" width="1000"] MATT SUNDAY / DKPS[/caption]
Yes, that's Malkin spinning through a blizzard of ice created by the steel beneath his feet. The puck flying from his backhand to victimize Alexandar Georgiev for the second time.
The Rangers called a timeout before the next faceoff as if they were a basketball team trying to end a game-clinching run, but it was too late -- Malkin's run was all the baskets the Penguins needed.
The fans and Malkin certainly carried the hype in this win.
HOCKEY HUGS ...
... because, honestly, there are never enough. And, honestly again, Letang deserved a spot in this View for himself.
The Penguins did something against the Rangers they haven't done since 1990, and it's something they've only done four times in franchise history -- four goals in a game by defensemen.
It's not a shock to see Letang in the score column this season, he's been in every column imaginable during one of his best seasons as a pro. It's really not a shock to see No. 58 score multiple goals this season.
Letang was rewarded with wonderful hugs for each of his two goals in the game. The first was an embrace from Jake Guentzel which filled out to include all five Penguins skaters who gained one in the plus column:
[caption id="attachment_775910" align="aligncenter" width="1000"] MATT SUNDAY / DKPS[/caption]
His next hug showed off the same smile, but Letang went on to boast a bit to media in the locker room about his snipe, as Dejan would tell me as we discussed the Norris Trophy candidate after the game:
[caption id="attachment_775909" align="aligncenter" width="1000"] MATT SUNDAY / DKPS[/caption]
Letang was oh so close to netting his first professional hat trick, too. It wasn't close in the sense that he hit a post or missed the net with the crease empty. But he was on the ice for what seemed like a dang long time with the goalie pulled.
And with the seconds winding down, Letang tapped his stick in the corner behind DeSmith, hoping for a final chance to fire a puck down ice. He did get the puck, teed up a slap shot from 200 feet and didn't score.
[caption id="attachment_775919" align="aligncenter" width="1000"] MATT SUNDAY / DKPS[/caption]
There wasn't enough time on the clock even if it had gone in, but it was still a fun moment to watch. Maybe next time, D-man with the great hair and smiling hockey hugs.