Saturday, December 31, 2005

Happy New Year

Happy New Year to all of you out there. Hope your holiday is happy and safe. The Wife and I will be heading to a party at a friends house - he has an indoor pool (woo hoo!)

Pens play again on Monday in Toronto.

Penguins 4, Rangers 3 (OT)

So the Pens win their second game in a row. It was a hard fought contest, and every time the Pens seemed to be poised to put the game away, the Rangers had an answer on the power play. Of course, when you get to OT, there is no time to answer a goal, so the Pens put it away, despite the amazing efforts of Henrik Lundqvist.

I do want to say that this game was the biggest example of "good 'ol Canadien" refereeing that I've seen so far this season. There were flagrant examples of "even it up" calls. For instance:
  • The Pens score (Ouellet's goal) and Kasper comes in and punches Leclair. A small fracas ensues (as you might expect). Somehow, Recchi ends up with the double minor (?!?!?!?) and Kasper gets just two minutes for roughing. You can't tell me that wasn't because the Pens were just coming off of a power play.
  • Shortly after that, Jagr blatantly hooks Tarnstrom in open ice and nothing is called. I'd like to propose a rule change - if a player is skating towards the offensive zone, and an opposing player (usually a forward) that is behind him touches him with the stick, it's an automatic two minutes. That would stop all the horsecrap we see with reaching out from behind to whack at the player carrying the puck. It's not needed, and it slows down the game. Have the trailing player bust his butt to get back into the play instead of just reaching out with the stick.
  • The tripping call on Surovy that allowed the Rangers to score late was even more horsecrap. Surovy was tangled up with another Ranger and as they were both going down, he reached out to play the puck. It was another even-up call by the wonderful refs.
  • Kasper put on an Oscar worthy performance in flopping on a hit from Crosby. Crosby somehow got called for boarding, even though Kasper was no more than six inches from the boards. Of course, this one is the least surprising, since we've seen this from Kasper (and loved in, in fairness) when he was here in Pittsburgh.
Anyway, I don't want to spoil the win with whining about the refs (too late, eh?)

The Pens won the battle at even strength overwhelmingly. They couldn't stop taking the silly penalties, and that's why the game was close at all. They also had several amazing chances that were stopped entirely by Lundqvist.

Defensively, after outshooting the Rangers 12-11 in the first, the Pens put the clamps down and allowed only six shots the rest of the game. The goals the Rangers did score were excellent shots (on two of the three goals for sure), pinpointed high in the corner of the net.

Surovy and Crosby continue to click (Palffy helps too, of course). Surovy had two goals and Crosby had the game winner (on the power play). The Pens also netted three power play goals, which is the first time they've done that in just about forever - the Pens had more than two PP goals only one other time this year, against Atlanta.

The biggest thing the team needs to work on is staying out of the sin bin, and if they do get an unfortuate penalty, they need to be able to come up with the big kill.

The last two games have been really encouraging, as the team has pretty well dominated two decent opponents (yes, I think they dominated the Rangers, except for the penalties). It bodes well for this team. If they can get two wins in the next three games on the road (in Toronto, Montreal and Atlanta), they could be well on their way to ressurecting their season... either that, or I'm waaayyy too much of a homer.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Game #37 - vs Rangers

New York Rangers at Pittsburgh Penguins

New York - 22-12-4 - 48 pts - Second in Atlantic
Pittsburgh - 9-19-8 - 26 pts - Last in Atlantic

The Rangers are coming off of a 6-2 win (sound familar?) on Wednesday night over the Islanders on the road. They scored four times in the third period to win the game (it was tied 2-2 going into the third). They have been struggling of late, going 5-4-1 in their last 10, but they've won two of their last three, losing only on the road at Ottawa.

The special teams for the Rangers have been hot and cold. The power play has been mostly cold, other than a three goal outburst before Christmas against Tampa Bay. Their penalty kill has been the opposite, mostly shutting down opponents, other than allowing three goals in their loss earlier in the week against Ottawa.

Individually, as Jagr goes, so do the Rangers. In the last 10 games, every game he has two or more points, the Rangers have won. Every game he has been shut out, or held to a single point, the Rangers have lost. Shut down Jagr, and you have a good chance to win the game. Hopefully the home fans at the Igloo will be able to get under his skin a little bit (as much as I hate to see that, because I think Jagr did a lot of great things in this city).

For the Pens, they need more of the same from Thursday against the Devils. Here are my keys to the game:
  • Get the opponent shots down lower than 46
  • Stay out of the penalty box
  • Win the battle at even strength, since the Rangers have a great PK
  • Shut down Jagr
It's a tall order, but if the Pens want to be one of the top teams in the second half (as outlined in my playoff article published earlier today), this is where they need to start.

Let's go Pens!

Playoffs? Who said anything about playoffs?

I was reading the Pens Q&A with Dave Molinari, and he came out and said that there's no way the Pens can make the playoffs this season... and that all they're really doing right now is playing for lottery position. So I decided to do the math and see if there's any way they can get into the playoffs.

If you extrapolate the current postion of teams in the Eastern Conference out to a full 82 game season, it looks like the cutoff for the playoffs will be right around 90 points. The Pens currently have 26 points (they're currently on track for 59 points this season). They have 46 games remaining. Can they get 64 points in 46 games?

The best team in the east this year so far is Ottawa. They have 55 points in 35 games, or an average of 1.57 points per game. For the Pens to get to 90 points, they would need to average 1.4 points per game for the remainder of the season, right about the level of what Philly has done in the first half. That would seem to be pretty difficult.

Let's look at this a different way (before I have to start breaking out my Star Wars references to the Kessel Run...) Say the Pens go on a little winning streak for the next five games (up to the halfway point in the season). Through 41 games, they would have 36 points. They would need 54 points in the second half to reach the magical 90 plateau. That's a much more makeable average of 1.32, or right around the success level of Carolina or the Rangers in the first half. Can the Pens make that? I think they could, but it has to start now.

So, the short answer is, I think the Pens can make the playoffs, but to do it, they'll have to finish up the first half on a winning streak, and then be one of the top three or four teams in the conference in the second half. I think they're capable... it's just a matter of how much they're willing to do for it.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Penguins 6, Devils 2

So it's a start. The Pens jumped out to a 2-0 lead at the end of the first. They had a 4-1 lead after two, and you can see the final score as the title of this post. The Devils threw everything they had at the Penguins. They had 22 shots in the second period alone. Fleury was up to the task, making big save after big save. Crosby and Surovy both scored twice, and Palffy had three assists.

Here are a few notes from the game, just to put things in perspective (I think this is a pretty big accomplishment tonight, and will get things rolling in the right direction)
  • This is the second-most shots the team has faced all year, which is saying a lot considering how porous their defense has been this year. I view that as more of a function of how the game was progressing than anything else, though.
  • It's the most goals the Pens have scored in a game since October (in their 7-5 win over Atlanta).
  • They stopped Gionta, and that wasn't due to a lack of effort on Gionta's part.
  • It's only the second time this year that multiple players have scored more than one goal in a game.
All in all, it was a great game. Now the team needs to develop some consistency. They need another win on Saturday afternoon against the Rangers. They also need to be able to keep the shots down when they get a lead, no matter how large. Fleury won't always be able to stop 44 of 46 shots, and they shouldn't need him to.

It's a good start.

Roster magic

Quick update, as I have to go make dinner (it's a taco night in Pittsburgh!)

The Pens have made a few moves in the last few days. They've recalled the following players:
Maxime Talbot
Colby Armstrong
Rob Scuderi

They sent Matt Hussey back to Wilkes-Barre.

They also have the following four players on injured reserve:
Brooks Orpik
Mario Lemieux
Ryan VandenBussche
Matt Murley

Game #36 - vs Devils

New Jersey Devils at Pittsburgh Penguins

New Jersey - 16-16-5 - 37 pts - Third in Atlantic
Pittsburgh - 8-19-8 - 24 pts - Last in Atlantic

Let's call this post "Back to Reality". The Pens face the Devils tonight at the arena. The Pens absolutely must win tonight and Saturday to get themselves rolling in the right direction. Getting one point and a moral victory is no longer acceptable. Here are a few fun facts about the team so far:
  • The Pens have the fewest wins in the NHL. They are also at risk of being the last team to reach double-digits in wins.
  • The Pens have allowed the most goals in the league (141 in 35 games).
  • The Pens have scored the third fewest goals in the NHL, and the fewest in the Eastern Conference.
  • The Pens have the worst penalty killing percentage in the league.
  • The Pens have lost a staggering eleven of their last twelve games (two in OT).
Is it nice that they're seemingly getting better? Yep. Is it good that they're staying with teams, having played four straight one goal games? Sure. But they need wins and they need them now.

I'm not even going to say anything about the Devils, because it doesn't really matter. The Pens need to get a win no matter who they're playing, and they need one now.

Okay, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the key to the game tonight for the Pens - stop Mighty Mouse!! If you don't remember who that is, I'm referring to the Devils rookie Brian Gionta, who has rung up five goals and seven points in three games against the Pens. He must be stopped! Don't allow him to save the day for the Devils!

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Maple Leafs 3, Penguins 2 (OT)

Another day, another good effort, another loss.

The Pens actually scored the first goal tonight, something they haven't done with any regularity so far this year. The Leafs then scored twice, with Sundin's goal being a pinball shot off of a Pens stick and off of Odelein's arm and into the net. Sidney Crosby had another fantastic individual effort to setup Ouellet for a goal to tie the score. The Pens then couldn't capitalize on an extended 5 on 3 power play. They honestly looked good on the power play during the 5 on 3, but couldn't get the puck in the net.

Overall, I'd say the team is continuing to improve. The game winning goal for the Leafs came on a defensive breakdown by the Pens, but that was caused more by the fact that Mats Sundin had the puck and drew two players to him. Fleury made several huge saves to keep the Pens in the game. The thing that killed them was that they couldn't score on the power play to get the lead.

A few interesting notes -
  • Do you know who led the team in minutes played at even strength? Gonchar and Crosby were second and third... it was Tomas Surovy. You could see that he was quite tired by the end of the game.
  • Boguniecki started to get more ice time in the third period, seemingly impressing Michel Therrien with his hustle and hitting.
  • For the most part, I didn't notice Melichar, which is to say that he probably played a good game.
  • Odelein isn't playing on the power play right now. More surprisingly, neither is Ryan Malone.
Next game is Thursday at home against the Devils.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Game #35 - vs Maple Leafs

Toronto Maple Leafs at Pittsburgh Penguins

Toronto - 19-14-3 - 41 pts - Third in Northeast
Pittsburgh - 8-19-7 - 23 pts - Last in Atlantic

I know it's becoming cliche, but it really doesn't matter who the opponent is lately. The Pens are their own worst enemy right now. They seemingly possess the ability to play with anyone, but not well enough to beat anyone. They've been in all three of the games under Michel Therrien. They were capable of winning any of those three games. They showed the most signs of improvement in the last two periods of the Flyers game. I'll let Michel Therrien assess the situation in a quote from this article on the Penguins website:

“Our penalty killing has to be better; our defensemen have to be better; our goalies are going to have to be better,” he said. “I think we’re scoring enough goals. I think we’re scoring around three or four goals a game and that should be enough to win hockey games, as far as I am concerned. Our offensive game should not hurt our defensive game. Offensively, I believe we’re all right. There’s times where we have bad coverage in our end or we don’t kill the penalty right and we give up a bad goal. Right now, I am looking for improvement from those aspects.”

So, in a nutshell, he's fairly happy with the offense. The goaltending, defense and PK need to clean their act up. Fleury isn't losing the games by himself right now, but he's not winning any of them either. He needs to get his game going, or he could find himself going back to the minors. It's just as easy to miss the playoffs without paying his $3 million in bonuses that he'll certainly qualify for by playing here.

How about a few words about Toronto?

They just played last night at home against New Jersey, winning 2-1. They've netted three power play goals in the last two games, but their penalty kill hasn't been anything special lately, especially yielding SIX power play goals against Ottawa recently.

Toronto is a different team on the road, with a record below .500 - they've lost three of their previous four road games, winning only at Atlanta.

This is another conference game where the Pens need two points. They haven't been too successful at getting those points lately. Let's hope that changes starting with this game.

Let's go Pens!

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Flyers 5, Penguins 4

The short version:

The Pens started out a little bit tenative and slow, took some bad penalties, and gave up the first three goals. They came roaring back to take the lead 4-3, only to lose the lead in the last five minutes of the third period. An exciting, yet depressing game.

The longer version:

First Period:
The Pens spent four of the first six minutes of the game short-handed. They continued to take bad penalties throughout the game. The team didn't seem to do well in puck possession early on. Of course, it's hard to establish much consistency when you're on special teams for much of the period. Of the two goals Fleury gave up during the period, one was on the power play, and the other was a nice deflection by Forsberg. The Pens really didn't generate much offense - they were outshot 14-6. The score at the end of the first period:

Second period:
The Pens continued to take bad penalties, especially Shane Endicott, who took two high-sticking calls. In fairness, both of them were plays where he was tied up with a Flyers player and working hard. That, however, doesn't change the fact that he put the Pens short-handed. The Flyers cashed in on the first one, scoring their second power play goal on another deflection. There wasn't much Fleury could have done to stop it. The score was 3-0 and things were looking bleak.

After that, the Pens started hitting. They outhit the Flyers for the game by a margin of 22-7. They also started to develop some consistency in their attack, spending time in the offensive zone in possession of the puck. Matt Murley was in a fight with Ben Eager... okay - Murley was basically a punching bag for Eager, but it was good to see someone stand up and not take the crap. Murley did look as though he was hurt (shoulder), and he didn't return. Brooks Orpik became a hitting machine. He led the team with five hits on the night. He absolutely flattened someone during the second period (not sure of who it was) in open ice. It really got the crowd going.

Anyway, the Pens got the puck to the net on a more consistent basis, and it paid off with Surovy's goal. After that, on the power play, Christensen walked out of the corner and snapped off one of his hard wrist shots, beating Niittymaki high to the far side. It was a great shot. The score at the end of the second:

Third Period:
The crowd really got into the game in the third. Sidney Crosby took over the game almost single-handedly. He was on the ice in a 4-4 situation and made a great individual play to score a goal to tie the game. After that, the Pens rolled a new line for about 40 seconds. As that line was coming off the ice, Brooks Orpik made a great play, keeping the puck in the offensive zone. He took the puck in deep behind the net, carrying it until Crosby (who had just jumped back onto the ice) came late. Orpik got Crosby the puck, and Crosby made another great shot, roofing a backhand over Niittymaki, and giving the Penguins the lead. The team received a standing ovation from the crowd, and the arena was briefly a great place to be.

After that, the Pens locked things down pretty well. The Flyers only managed six shots in the third period. Unfortunately, two of the shots were good scoring chances, and both of them went in. I can't imagine Therrien will be very pleased to blow a lead in the last five minutes of a game. I didn't think Fleury played badly. He made some really nice saves. However, he needs to make a save on at least one of those goals in the third. At the end of the game, the scoreboard tells the tale:

All told, it was an exciting game that with a very disappointing finish. After a slow start, the Pens clearly were playing more disciplined in terms of their offense and defense. I could see improvement, especially during the second and third. Unfortunately, improvement isn't going to get the team into the playoffs. It may be time to focus on development soon.

A few quick notes about the crowd at the arena:
With 20 seconds left, the goalie pulled, and a faceoff upcoming in the Flyers zone, people got up to leave when the Pens called timeout?!?!?!?! I couldn't believe my eyes. They really need to stop letting Steeler fans into the Penguin games.
The real reason the team lost tonight is that with over 10 minutes remaining in the third, some idiot started a chant of "Flyers suck!" I'll admit, I joined in (it was fun), but it was pretty dumb to be taunting a good team like the Flyers with that much time left.

Anyway, here are a few more pictures from the game for you to enjoy. Have a Merry Christmas, or enjoy whatever holiday you celebrate this time of year!

The zamboni between periods...

Just after the faceoff to begin the second period.

Iceburgh says "We'll get 'em next time!"

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Game #34 - vs Flyers

Philadelphia Flyers at Pittsburgh Penguins

Philadelphia - 20-8-5 - 45 pts - 2nd in Atlantic
Pittsburgh - 8-18-7 - 23 pts - Last in Atlantic

The Flyers beat Ottawa on Thursday night at home. They'll travel to Pittsburgh and play the Pens on Friday night. Simon Gagne returned and scored a power play goal for the Flyers. The team had lost their previous two home games prior to Thursday night.

The power play for the Flyers has been slumping a little bit of late. Before Thursday, they hadn't scored twice in one game on the power play since the day after Thanksgiving (they netted two last night).

The Flyers are led by Gagne with 23 goals in just 27 games. Knuble (17) and Forsberg (10) are their next leading scorers. Joni Pitkanen has eight goals from the blue line in 25 games.

For the Pens, it really doesn't matter who the opponent is at this point. There have been articles in the local paper all week talking about the rough practices that Michel Therrien has been putting them through. Nothing punitive, but very demanding. I think he's trying the nice guy approach before he has to really get nasty.

Ric Jackman will play in this one, and he has vowed to keep his game simple. He is still our leading point-getter from the defensive position, but that's not saying much at this point.

Obviously, Lemieux will be out of the lineup for a little while. Everyone else is expected to play (or, at least, I haven't heard that anyone is out for sure yet).

I'll be at the game, and I'll try to get some pictures. Check back over the weekend for some images.

Oh - one other thing - Fleury really should be starting in goal. No reason for anyone else at this point. The team is at the point where they MUST start winning consistently or the season is lost. We're less than 10 games away from the halfway point of the season. Time to get the show on the road.

Let's go Pens!

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

"We just want a place to play"

These were the words spoken today by Penguins President Ken Sawyer at the press conference announcing the Penguins partners in their quest for a new arena.

The lynchpin to the entire deal is the Pens partner, Isle of Capri, being awarded the slots license. If that happens, Isle of Capri will build a $290 million arena and turn it over to the Sports and Exhibition Authority, the agency that currently runs the Mellon Arena.

In conjunction with this, Nationwide Realty will oversee development of the 28 acre site where the arena and it's related parking lots now stand.

There are a few other important points to the article posted on the Pens website:
  • There will be no public money used for the arena construction.
  • The Penguins will hold no interest of any kind in the slots parlor. They are only receiving an arena as part of the deal (leading to Ken Sawyer's words that are the title of this entry).
  • For the city, the Hill District will be connected with downtown again by cross streets. If you're familiar with the arena area, it's a maze of one-way roads. It's not easy to get from the Hill down into downtown.
  • Both Isle of Capri and Nationwide are fairly experienced. Isle has about 28 total casinos, some land based and some on riverboats. Nationwide helped Columbus build their arena and develop the surrounding area.

So the first die has been cast in the slots license sweepstakes. There is only one to get in the Pittsburgh area (for a free-standing casino, that is), and the Pens plan is impressive. This will certainly put pressure on some of the other hopeful licensees. In fact, from where I'm sitting, the baseline has been drawn. If someone else wants to top the almost $300 million in private money, it will likely only result in good things for the Pens.

An important part of downtown will be revitalized, and the Pens would stay. All in all, it was a very good day. Just so we don't have unbridled optimism, the slots license isn't likely to be awarded for another year, and the Pens can start negotiating with other cities next summer. It will be interesting to see where this goes.

Update - arena press conference

The Penguins have called a 2 p.m. EST news conference where they are likely to announce the arena plan that was reported on this morning by Mark Belko in the Post-Gazette. Coverage to follow tonight (after the wife's Christmas party).

News and notes

Took a few days off from blogging. Nice to be away. Nicer to come back.

Not too much going on, other than the previous entry about the new arena. No official release on that one yet. I'll have an entry after the official press release.

Mario Lemieux is out indefinately following a recurrance of his heart problems. From what I've heard in the media, it'll be ten days to two weeks before he resumes skating. They're adjusting his medication currently.

There is a nice article on Shane Endicott in the Post-Gazette. Seems that his ankle sprain was pretty severe, and it will likely not be the same until next season. He says it shouldn't affect his play too much, but having had a bad ankle sprain, I can tell you that you're certainly aware of it in just about everything you do. He injured it when his right skate hit the boards behind the net back in training camp.

Bob Smizik writes a nice column on Michel Therrien. Basically, he says that the Buffalo games were all about evaluation (how much can you change in one practice?), and that we'll see some of the dividends of Therrien's focus on system and conditioning starting this Friday against the Flyers. Smizik has some nice quotes from Therrien in the article, including

"I like to pay attention to details. I'm really strict about where we're supposed to play. I know when a team plays all together inside the structure, that's a tool a hockey team can use to win some games.

"That's all I can do. I can put a system in place, I can bring some structure to the hockey team. I can bring conditioning. But the players still have to play."

I recommend checking it out.

Looking forward to more arena news, and especially looking forward to going to the game on Friday. I think I will take the camera and post some of the pics afterwards.

Penguins arena funding - announcement soon!!

The Penguins are unveiling their plan for funding for a new arena today. The most important point is that it is contingent on their partner (unidentified so far) being awarded the slots license. The proposal will be revealed today. The article I'm linking to out of the Post-Gazette has some details, but I'm going to wait for the official news release from the Pens before talking too much about it.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Sabres 4, Penguins 3

This score seems familiar...

I do have some thoughts about this game, but I'll let Pens coach Michel Therrien speak for me, via some quotes from the AP article.

"It's unacceptable to start a game like that on our heels," Therrien said. "That's not being professional to show up like that early in the game. For the rest of the game we were OK, but were behind the 8-ball. The guys need to become warriors, it's pretty simple, guys that will go in there and battle and battle and battle. That's all I'm asking.

"They know how I feel," Therrien said. "It's got to stop. If you keep doing the same thing over and over and over, there's going to be a consequence. I have a feel for who's the warrior, who wants to win. I've got a pretty good idea right now."

Sounds like there will soon be some unhappy campers in the Penguin's locker room. I'm wondering who will be the high profile scapegoat... you know there has to be one, right?

Back to the game review, already in progress.

The Pens did come out flat, and certainly weren't helped by Thibault allowing three first period goals. Yes, there were defensive breakdowns. Yes, he was somewhat screened on at least one goal. But for crying out loud, all of the shots were from 20 feet away. No one was near him jamming the puck in. There were no sharp passes across the ice requiring him to move laterally. They were all decent shots, but they were all saves that I think Fleury would have made. I'm not sure why he didn't play tonight. Biron was alert enough to play a second game in less than 24 hours. Fleury would have until Friday to recover too. In fairness, Thibault did settle down a bit, but the Sabres missed a wide open cage several times in the first and early second period, or the score would have been much worse.

Recchi missed the third period with a groin injury. This is becoming problematic, though I guess it's not a total surprise. I think we're witnessing a changing of the guard before our very eyes here in Pittsburgh. The goal scorers tonight were Crosby, Ouellet and Surovy. No Lemieux, Leclair, Palffy, Recchi... this could really help the team in the long run. If they get some positive contributions from the young guys, get the team on a roll, and allow the older guys to stay fresh and healthy, the team could be dangerous later. Of course, there needs to be a meaningful later to talk about, and right now it's not looking too good. The team is looking better, though, especially in the third period tonight.

Edit: Quick update - Tarnstrom must have been injured as well - he only played four shifts and logged three minutes of ice time.

On a side note, I just watched Friday Night Lights, a movie about giving everything you have no matter the outcome. I'm about to watch Slapshot. Which movie better typifies the Penguins? Hmmm....

Next game Friday night at home against Philly. I'll be at the game with the wife and her family! Maybe I'll get ambitious and take some pictures...

Friday, December 16, 2005

Game #33 - at Sabres

Pittsburgh Penguins at Buffalo Sabres

Pittsburgh - 8-16-7 - 23 pts - Last in Atlantic
Buffalo - 21-10-1 - 43 pts - Second in Northeast

This seems mighty familiar... maybe because the Pens just played the Sabres last night?

I think the best way to preview this game is to highlight where the Pens can improve on their performance:
  • Quit taking dumb penalties.
  • Use the speed you have (Hussey, Surovy and Malone were a good example of how to do this last night).
  • Quit taking dumb penalties.
  • Keep working hard on the power play - the team netted two goals last night with the man-advantage... something the Sabres hadn't given up in over a month as I noted in my preview
  • Did I mention about not taking penalties?
Michel Therrien agrees, according to the writeup in the Post-Gazette -
"We took some bad penalties," new coach Michel Therrien said. "Endicott took some really bad penalties."
Now that's refreshing. He also talked about the team being out of shape and needing better conditioning. We haven't seen this type of thing in Pittsburgh since Kevn Constantine was coach. That wasn't popular back then - it'll be interesting to see how it plays now.

No word on the goalie yet. Game time is early - 5:00. After this one, the team is off for five days until they play Philly at the Igloo on Friday. I'll be at that game (finally get to go to one!)

VandenBussche is still with the team. He cleared waivers and was a healthy scratch last night. Probably kept him around to see how Roy did.

Let's go Pens!

Sabres 4, Penguins 3 (OT)

It was an improved effort. It was an improved comeback. It wasn't an improved result.

The Penguins seemed to regain some of the resiliency they had earlier in the season in coming back from deficits against a team that is used to protecting them.

There were a lot of positives that could be taken from this game. Fleury was good, the effort was there, the line of Hussey, Surovy and Malone generated some offense (or at least possessed the puck)... but I'm not interested in talking about positives. The only positive that matters right now is a win. This team doesn't need any more moral victories. Yes, it is good that they got a point, but they need two points every game for several games in a row.

There were some interesting changes. Crosby was playing on the penalty kill. Christensen received extensive time on the power play. Ouellet played a big role on the power play AND on the penalty kill. Jackman was a healthy scratch. Boguniecki was also a scratch - that was a bit of a surprise.

Other changes include the activation of Andre Roy and Ryan VandenBussche clearing waivers and being sent to Wilkes-Barre. Roy received less than 5 minutes of ice time.

It will be interesting to read what Therrien had to say about the game. It will be even more interesting to see if he institutes any changes for tomorrow night. The man isn't used to losing this season.

I have a feeling we might see Thibault in net tomorrow, given that the game is less than 24 hours away. Let's hope the team keeps up the solid effort and this time has something to show for it.

Game #32 - vs Sabres

Buffalo Sabres at Pittsburgh Penguins

Buffalo - 20-10-1 - 41 pts - Second in Northeast
Pittsburgh - 8-17-6 - 22 pts - Last in Atlantic

Buffalo is a hot team right now. They have won four straight and 12 of their past 14 games. Time for a little speedbump in the form of a flightless bird, eh?

The power play for the Sabres hasn't been all that great, scoring only three times in the last five games. Their PK has been pretty great, though. They haven't allowed more than one PP goal in a game since November 5th.

The Sabres are also just about equal in their home and road records, though their most recent two losses have come at home.

The Pens are obviously sporting a new coach and a modified lineup. Lemieux and Palffy will both play tonight, though Leclair is doubtful. Ouellet has been called up from Wilkes-Barre and presumably will play tonight. Despite how things looked at the beginning of the season, we now have a large contingent of Wilkes-Barre players here in Pittsburgh, including Ouellet, Surovy, Christensen, Whitney and Hussey (not to mention Fleury). This is probably a good thing.

In short, throw out the records tonight, and throw out any previous any previous Pens stats. This is a new team, most likely with a new system. They get a tough challenge tonight and tomorrow night. Let's see if they can live up to it.

Let's go Pens!

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Player moves - Therrien makes his first moves

Mario Lemieux expects to play in tomorrow night's game at home against the Sabres. The team also recalled Michel Ouellet from the minors. To make room (since Lemieux was on the injured list), the team sent Lasse Pirjeta and Maxime Talbot to Wilkes-Barre.

I'm actually shocked that Talbot was sent down. I'm not sure what it is they want him to work on down there - I thought he was filling his role here quite well. I can only guess that Therrien isn't as enthused about his performance. Could be the strict adherence to a system that is the problem... at any rate, Therrien is the best one to be making those decisions. Have to attribute the recall of Ouellet to the same thing.

For better (hopefully) or worse, Therrien is making his impact on the team.

New Penguins arena update

As promised, here is a summary of where the Pens are at in their quest for a new arena, based on recent developments:

12/11/05 - an article in the Post-Gazette quotes Mario Lemieux as saying that there's only a slim chance the team can stay here and be viable. His main basis for this is that there has been a lack of progress towards getting a new arena. The team is slated to lose about $7 million this year, assuming they are near capacity for all home games AND get to the second round of the playoffs (which obviously isn't looking so good). To add to that, Fleury is playing really well, and it's doubtful the team will be able to send him down (ie, his bonuses will kick in). Add this shortfall to the depressing thought that an arena is likely 4-5 years away, and it makes Lemieux doubtful about a long term solution. This serves as a kick in the pants to the local politicians, especially County Chief Executive Dan Onorato.

12/13/05 - Dan Onorato jumps into action, saying that while there is no local money to be had for an arena (as the city is just coming out of bankruptcy and the county just laid off 500 people), there is $90 million in the state budget that could be used for a stadium (which is expected to cost near $300 million). Onorato says that he really wants to keep the team in Pittsburgh, and Mayor-elect Bob O'Connor is working with him on a plan to get funding for an arena.

12/14/05 - it is reported that the Pens have met privately with current Mayor Murphy, Mayor-elect O'Connor and County Chief Executive Dan Onorato. The local Sports & Exhibition authority is to vote next week on a plan put together by the team that would be implemented should the team get the funding for an arena (or the slots license). In the same article, Governor Rendell shows a lack of enthusiasm for building an arena, saying that there are a lot of important projects in Allegheny County and that he would take his lead from local government.

12/15/05 - Dan Onorato makes his most emphatic statement yet, saying that "I want to make it clear that we want to keep the Penguins here." He says that all of the $90 million in state money could be used, even if it's at the expense of other projects. Mayor-elect O'Connor, the primary voice that could cause problems, has only shown support for these statements from Onorato.

So, my reaction to this recent flurry of news...
  • When the Pirates and Steelers got their stadiums (with public money, by the way), the Penguins sat back and played nice guys, saying that they were comfortable that they would get what was needed when the time came. In looking back, that was probably a mistake - they should have jumped in while there was money available.
  • There is an undercurrent of resentment towards Mario Lemieux in the city. Largely, I attribute this to Steeler fans, who think that he's cold or distant or lazy (a 6'4" man on skates will never look like he's working the way a 240 lb running back dragging tacklers does). They also didn't like sharing the spotlight with the Pens through much of the 90s when the team was doing well and making regular trips deep into the playoffs.
  • Governor Rendell, who hasn't met a dollar he didn't want to spend, is a Philadelphia guy. His laissez-faire attitude towards all things Pittsburgh isn't helping. Fortunately, he needs help from southwest PA in order to get reelected. This might make him more attentive to what is going on here.
  • County Chief Executive Dan Onorato, who in my opinion is a pretty decent and fair-minded fellow, is coming out as a staunch supporter of the Penguins. This is critical. The Pens are an important part of the city, and losing them (much as the yinzer Steeler fans would love it) would have a negative economic impact on the city. Pittsburgh has been going through some difficult times, as the region gets older and older, more young people keep leaving. Anything we can do to keep the city on the map in a positive light is really important.
  • A new arena would be great for more than just hockey - it would be used for many other events. It would be the busiest of the three major sports venues in the city (the other two being PNC Park and Heinz Field). This has an impact beyond just the Penguins. The NCAA tournament was here a few years back - a new arena could help to bring them back. It would also make the city a better destination for more frequent big concert events.
  • The Pens can build the arena on their own if they are awarded the slots license. However, there have been repeated reports that the license for the Pittsburgh area is being awarded to the Station Square group to repay political favors done for Gov Rendell.
All in all, I think there's some more public sentiment coming out in favor of the Penguins. This can only help. Attendence is up sharply this year, which clearly shows that the public interest is there for the team. It's time to step up and make sure they stay here.

There's sure to be more news on this stuff in the coming weeks and months, as Bob O'Connor takes office and we get closer to the summer, when the team can negotiate with other cities. One way or another, this will be resolved soon. I just hope it's resolved with the team here in a new building.

Penguins replace Eddie Olczyk

According to multiple sources, the Pens have fired Eddie Olczyk and replaced him with Wilkes-Barre coach Michel Therrien. Joe Mullen and Randy Hillier were also let go, according to the reports. Therrien will replace them with members of his staff from Wilkes-Barre.

On the surface, this seems like a good move. A change of pace right now is a good idea. However, from everything I've read, they're bringing in a taskmaster who isn't afraid to embarrass his player. How well will that work on a team with a relatively large and distinguished group of veterans? How well will they like playing a system? Will Therrien still try to enforce the strict adherence to the system when you have players that are as skilled as some of the Pens?

At this point, it can't really get any worse... it's worth the chance for the sake of improvement.

Thanks, Will, for the heads-up in the comments last night. You're up much later than me. Trent, you have to be singing today - you got your wish. :)

Let's go Pens!

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Blues 3, Penguins 0

Short summary -

Road Game.

No offense.

Fleury plays great.

Second goal sucked - Gonchar let forward around him to get a good shot.

Goalie making games close - offense can't generate anything to save it's butt right now.

Nothing else to really say...

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Game #31 - at Blues

Pittsburgh Penguins at St Louis Blues

Pittsburgh - 8-16-6 - 22 pts - Last in Atlantic
St Louis - 5-17-4 - 14 pts - Last in Central

Tonight the Pens play the worst team in the NHL. The Blues have the fewest points in the NHL, the fewest wins in the NHL and the worst home record in the NHL. Having said that, here are a few fun facts showing that things aren't as bad as they seem for the Blues:
  • Three of their five wins have come in the last month, including a win at Detriot.
  • They had THIRTEEN power play chances on Saturday night against the Rangers (though they lost in OT).
  • In fact, in their last three home games, they've drawn double-digit penalties, scoring seven power play goals over those three games.
  • They've outshot their opponent in the last four straight home games.
  • Keith Tkachuk has returned from injury and has 13 points in his last six games.
The Blues just release Patrick Lalime. That means we'll probably see either Curtis Sanford, whose number don't look all that bad, but who hasn't been the same since winning at Detroit (good thing Fleury didn't win - he might have been slated for a tailspin too!), or Jason Bacashihua who was just called up from the minors when Lalime was released.

The Pens need to keep the energy high tonight after playing last night in Detroit. Getting a lead would be a priority. I'm just concerned that the fact that the Pens have seemed to have energy and hustle issues in the past, combined with playing the third game in four nights and St Louis improving at home will all stack up to a disappointing evening. Let's hope it doesn't turn out that way. Let's also hope that Fleury is in net again.

Let's go Pens!

Red Wings 3, Penguins 1

Easy summary for this one - the Pens were dominated. They were outshot 32-8 in the first two periods, and didn't score their goal until 30 seconds were left in the game.

Just as a quick aside, if I score with 30 seconds left and I'm now down by two, I might think about pulling the goalie for the faceoff to see if I can win it and get the puck into the offensive zone. You never know what can happen, and hey, it can't make anything worse.

Anyway, the only reason the Pens were even remotely in the game was Marc-Andre Fleury. I'm not sure how he wasn't the third star (especially since Osgood only made 16 saves), but he was incredible. Slowly but surely, the Pens are learning to stay in games, and most of the credit goes to the goaltender.

This obviously doesn't bode well for when the Pens go against the better teams in the East. They haven't played Ottawa yet (just as a quick aside - Ottawa destroyed the Avalanche last night, 6-2), and I'm not looking forward to seeing that one right now.

Tonight in St Louis to face the Blues. Preview up in a few hours.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Game #30 - at Red Wings

Pittsburgh Penguins at Detroit Red Wings

Pittsburgh - 8-15-6 - 22 pts - Last in Atlantic
Detroit - 20-8-2 - 42 pts - First in Central

This is a David and Goliath matchup if I've ever seen one. The Pens travel to Detroit to take on the Red Wings, who have been one of the best teams in the league this year so far.

The Red Wings are loaded with offensive talent, with seven players having scored nine goals or more this season so far. The names include Datsyuk, Williams, Zetterberg, Shanahan, Schneider, Holstrom and former Pens Robert Lang and Mikael Samuelsson (who is amazingly leading the team in +/- and has 21 pts in 30 games - maybe the Pens gave up on him too early?)

Now, I know what you're saying - the Pens just took care of the Avalanche! They can beat the Red Wings! Well, one of the biggest differences between the Avalanche, who are offensively talented, and the Red Wings is on the power play. The Red Wings are LETHAL. They have the best PP percentage by far in the NHL, clicking over 25% of the time. It is crucial for the Pens to stay out of the box.

The PK for the Red Wings isn't too shabby either. They've allowed only two goals in the last five games in short-handed situations. They do take penalties, though, allowing at least seven chances in three of the previous five games.

In goal, there is a drop from Legace to Osgood, but even Osgood still has a GAA around 3. Legace is currently out with an injury, so the Pens will likely see Osgood, or maybe the callup Howard.

For the Pens, Palffy won't play. He's not on the road trip. Neither will Lemieux or Leclair, though Leclair could play tomorrow. Lemieux was placed on IR to make room for a callup.

The Pens have recalled Tomas Surovy from Wilkes-Barre. He's a guy that has shown a knack for putting the puck in the net. He had 16 goals in 25 games in Wilkes-Barre. I'm not sure that Edzo is very fond of him, but he has said that he thinks Surovy will be able to help out on the power play. If memory serves me correctly, Edzo wasn't fond of Samuelsson either... but evidentally he's a different player now than he was then.

Anyway, the long and the short of it is that the Pens will have to play a near perfect game to win. No word on who is in net. Let's hope for Fleury.

Let's go Pens!

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Penguins 4, Avalanche 3

Wow. That was a great game. The Pens did what they needed to do to get the win.

They didn't have the most beautiful plays.
They didn't play like the team that is fantastically talented.

They DID work their butts off.
They DID finish their checks.
They DID stay after rebounds on both ends.

This is what the Pens seemed to be building towards before their hiccup against the Wild. They played a tight game, Fleury played well, and they came away with the win.

There are a few players I'd like to mention in particular:

Recchi - He was the first star tonight. I thought it should have been Talbot, but then I looked at Recchi's numbers - he had two points. More than that, though, he played just about TWENTY-FOUR minutes (including almost seven in short-handed situations), which is extremely high for a forward. He took 35 shifts (the next highest forward were Murley and Endicott with 26). He won 7 of 9 faceoffs. He was a +1 for the game. He was easily the MVP of the game for the Pens, and more than that, really led by example.

Talbot - I was surprised when I saw that he only played about 12 minutes. I think that's because you really noticed him when he was out there. He's really starting to use his speed, and he busts his butt going after every puck. He deserves a bigger role, based on his play tonight.

Christensen - He was the recipient of more playing time, and it paid off. He scored the third goal on a deflection early in the second period. He also had some time on the power play. You could see that his chemistry with Crosby was still there.

Bogunecki - He looked like he was shot out of a cannon several times tonight. He stepped right onto the power play, but I have to say I didn't really notice him there. Where I DID notice him was on the forecheck, and on his breakaway, where a superb effort by the Avs goalie (Kolesnik) on the first shot and the rebound kept the puck out of the net.

Fleury - This one is easy... the Pens don't win the game tonight without Fleury in net. The way Caron or Thibault have played this year, either one would have lost this game. Fleury rose to the challenge and continued his great play.

Congratulations to the Pens on turning the corner. It doesn't get any easier, with a game Monday night in Detroit.

Lemieux not playing in Olympics

Mario Lemieux has withdrawn his name from consideration for the Canadien Olympic team.

If you look at the transcript, he also talks about his heart ailment. He says that was part of the fatigue that he was experiencing so far this year, and part of the reason he didn't have any jump in his step.

If the medication helps him with that, then it can only bode well for the Pens.

Steve Poapst traded to Blues

The Penguins have traded Steve Poapst to the St Louis Blues in exchange for RW Eric Boguniecki. Boguniecki is a small, quick player. He's only played nine games in the NHL this season, but he was hurt earlier in the year. In his only full season in the NHL, he scored 22 goals and had 27 assists in 2002-2003. He's played on the power play as well. Seems like a good value for Poapst, who was a bit older and somewhat slow.

No word on whether Boguniecki will be in the lineup tonight, but I wouldn't be surprised.

Game #29 - vs Avalanche

Colorado Avalanche at Pittsburgh Penguins

Colorado - 16-10-3 - 35 pts - Third in Northwest
Pittsburgh - 7-15-6 - 20 pts - Last in Atlantic

First and foremost, Colorado is playing for the third time in four nights. They've won the previous two game, at home against Boston and last night against New Jersey. Last night's game went to a shootout. That's a lot of travelling and a lot of playing. This team should be more tired than the Pens, who have played once since last Sunday. There is absolutely no reason for the Pens to be outworked tonight.

Now that we have that out of the way... Colorado is an offensive juggernaut. They're tied for the second most goals scored in the league, behind only the untouchable Ottawa Senators. Their power play is 4-8 in the last two games. The Pens really need to focus on not taking bad penalties, and to be extremely dilligent in killing the penalties they do take.

The Avalanche also allow a large number of goals (though still over TWENTY fewer than the Pens have allowed so far this year). The PK for the Avalanche is pretty decent, so you'd have to figure that they allow a good number of even strength goals, since they don't even take that many penalties.

Up front, they Avalanche are led by Joe Sakic and Alex Tanguay. They also have Pierre Turgeon and Milan Hejduk. These guys have most of their scoring done at even strength, so expect special teams impact to be a little bit minimized.

On the blue line, Rob Blake is king. He leads the team in minutes and, surprisingly, shots. That's right - a defensemen leads the Avalanche in shots. That means they get the puck to the net with traffic in front. Blake also has a team worst -9 rating, and unlike his teammates, most of his scoring IS done on the power play.

For the Pens, Palffy is out tonight. Leclair should play, and Talbot will probably play as well (he evidentally injured his foot against the Wild). I haven't heard anything on the goalie, but hopefully it will be Fleury.

Let's go Pens!

Friday, December 09, 2005

Not much going on...

Not much news about the Pens today.

Lemieux's accelereated heartbeat was the reason for missing the Tampa game (they had said it was the stomach flu). He's had it a few times since midsummer. I can speak from experience in saying that the accelerated heartbeat thing, if he has the type that I'm familiar with, is not life-threatening. It's really more of a nuisance, and can be fixed with medication and / or surgery.

Nobody seems really upset by the recent losing streak, just disenchanted. I'm not sure where to go with it myself. I still believe that the Pens will get better, and will make the playoffs. I think all they really need are a few bounces to go their way offensively and they'll be on a roll. Unfortunately, I've felt that way for about two months now... and it hasn't happened yet. Hopefully, when we're shivering through late January and February, this will all seem like a bad memory.

I continue to think that Fleury should be in net. I hope he plays tomorrow. If the team plays a better game (or, better yet, somehow finds a way to beat Colorado) tomorrow night, Fleury should then play every game - forget trying to get Thibault on track for now - just ride the hot hand for as long as you can.

Oh yeah, and Christensen should be playing more (another one of my favorite drums to beat lately).

If I were Edzo, I'd seriously consider giving serious ice time to Talbot, Murley and Hussey. They're not going to score a ton of goals, but they'll hustle, hit, and forecheck. That needs to be the model for the Pens until they can get the offense in gear.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Wild 5, Penguins 0 - Have we hit bottom yet?

I almost stopped watching this game. Watching the snow fall outside would have been better. I made the mistake of turning the game back on for the third period... and I was hypnotized, but not in a positive sense. It was like watching a train wreck - your eyes could not be averted.

The Pens were outshot 28-11 in the first two periods. This was a shutout where the winning goalie wasn't even one of the three stars; that's how bad the Pens offense was. They didn't possess the puck. They didn't use what speed they had. They didn't seem to know how to attack the trap that the Wild were employing. As a result, they only had a single power play, and that was at garbage time in the third period.

Thibault didn't play poorly, but he didn't play well. The Wild scored one minute into the game on a breakaway by Gaborik. It was a bad turnover by Endicott that allowed the breakaway, but you NEED your goalie to make that save. The way the team has been playing, that would have been a huge lift. To his credit, he did stop Gaborik on another attempt later in the period.

I only have a few other notes about the game:
  • I thought a few players played well, Hussey and Talbot in particular. Talbot was hitting everything that moved all night long.
  • I have no idea why Christensen isn't playing more. Errey commented on that as well during the telecast.
  • Fleury needs to be playing every night, until he drops. The team is different with him between the pipes - just look at the last three games versus this one. I know it's not fair, but it's the way things are right now.
  • Marian Gaborik really played well. He was on a different level tonight.

It doesn't get any easier - Saturday's game is against the Avalanche.

Game #28 - vs Wild

Minnesota Wild at Pittsburgh Penguins

Minnesota - 10-12-4 - 24 pts - Last in Northwest
Pittsburgh - 7-14-6 - 20 pts - Last in Atlantic

Minnesota is playing the fourth game of a five game road trip. They've lost the first three games, and have lost four games in a row and eight of their last ten. Suffice it to say that they're struggling right now.

Their special teams have been struggling, going two for their last twenty. Their PK just gave up two goals in their most recent loss to the Rangers on Monday night. Their penalty kill, however, is ranked first in the NHL at 88.7%.

When I stopped to think about it, I couldn't name a single Wild player, other than their goalie (Manny Fernandez). He and Dwayne Roloson make a very good combination.

Offensively, Minnesota is led by Brian Rolston and Pierre-Marc Bouchard, each with 20 pts in 26 games. Behind them, no one has more than 15 points. Marion Gaborik does have 11 points in just nine games, but 6 of those were in the three games he played before straining his groin.

In a brief look at the current state of the Pens, here are a few fun facts: (okay, maybe they're not so fun, but they are true)
  • They've allowed an NHL leading 111 goals in just 27 games.
  • They have outshot their opponent in three straight games and four of the past five (they'd only outshot their opponent four times total before that).
  • The PK has allowed more than one goal only once in the last seven games.
  • The PP has let them down, going only 2-32 in the last five games (it's probably the biggest reason the Pens haven't won any of the last three games).
I don't know why Thibault is starting tonight, given that the team has been building well under Fleury the last three games. Hopefully Thibault can turn in a solid performance...

Anyway, here's hoping for a win. The Pens MUST start winning games now, or there's no way they'll make the playoffs.

Let's go Pens!

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Player updates

As Will so kindly pointed out in the comments, Mario Lemieux is hospitalized with an irregular heartbeat. He's out for tomorrow's game against Minnesota and is day to day after that.

Jocelyn Thibault appears to be the starter for tomorrow's game. I can't say I understand that - Fleury is playing well and the team is playing well around him. As I said before, Fleury should be playing three of the next four games. Thibault playing tomorrow night virtually guarentees that he'll split the four game set with Fleury. Hopefully Thibault proves me wrong.

Palffy is likely to miss the game tomorrow. He hasn't made it through a practice yet.

Michel Oullet was assigned to Wilkes-Barre after practicing successfully. He had been on injured reserve.

Quick update - according to the Trib, Fleury left practice early yesterday with a stomach ailment.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

News of the Day - Tuesday, December 6th

Looking at the Post-Gazette and Trib, there's not much going on. Here's a summary:

- Palffy and Leclair are looking to be good to go on Thursday. This means that they'll either bump two forwards or a forward and a defensemen to the healthy scratch list. I'm thinking that the likely scratch candidates are Melichar and Pirjeta.

- On the subject of Pirjeta, I'm not sure why he's not playing more. He certainly has a wicked shot that we've seen several times this year. I think he and Christensen have two of the better shots on the team. He's also big and not totally slow. For some reason, Edzo doesn't seem to play him. If I had to guess, I'd say it's defensive shortcomings, but he is a +2 on the season...

- Okczyk also said he wasn't sure if Fleury would start on Thursday. The Pens have four games in six nights coming up, and if Fleury doesn't play in three of those (barring total collapse), something's wrong. My opinion - put Fleury in there until he shows that he can't do it, or needs a break due to fatigue.

Other than that, it's a lot of blah blah blah nothing. Take a read for yourself if you'd like to see the rest of it... Post-Gazette notebook, Trib Notebook

Who on this team is going to play in the Olympics? The Canadiens would be dumb not to use Crosby. Probably Palffy will play too (for the Czechs). Anyone else? Malone or Orpik for the Americans?

Monday, December 05, 2005

Misc Pens news...

No game until Thursday this week, so let's look at some various news items:

In this edition of the Pens notebook, as published by the Post-Gazette, Dave Molinari makes some rather obvious statements about Fleury's bonuses (ie, they tried to clear space with letting other teams take Caron or Thibault). That wasn't interesting... but he also talked about a few other things -

1 - Russian authorities want Evgeni Malkin to play in just about everything. He's contending for a scoring title in the Russian Super League (13 G, 18 A in 30 games). He'll certainly play in the olympics. He'll make a great addition here, hopefully next year.

2 - I found out something I didn't know about Michel Ouellet - last year for Wilkes-Barre, he scored 30 goals before the all star break... and was didn't score another one for TWENTY-SEVEN straight games. His 31st goal game in the second-to-last game of the season. The Pens feel he can be a complete player who can score well. We didn't really see any of that during his three games here, but hopefully he can get some more time with the big club.

On a side note, did anyone besides me notice the speed that Matt Hussey has? He was FLYING up and down the ice at times on Saturday night. If he can have better hands than Koltsov or Fata, he'll be a keeper. This game is all about speed.

More posts later.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Flames 3, Penguins 2

Just finished watching the game. The Pens played pretty well. Their offense really let them down - they were anemic on the power play.

The first goal by Calgary was total horsecrap. When you watched the video replay, it clearly wasn't a goal. I have no idea how those lovely Canadian folks in Toronto approved that goal so quickly when they looked at it.

The third goal was a bad line change and lack of hustle by the Pens. Both guys driving the net for the Flames were behind the Pens defense (in fact, there was only one defensemen back - I have no idea where the other one was).

Other than that, the Pens really played well overall. Since Calgary was finishing their check and hitting everything that moved, the Pens seemed to think it would be a good idea to do the same. The result was the most physical game the Pens have played all year.

Fleury played really well again, in my opinion. He made all the saves he was supposed to make and several he had no business making, including a breakaway by Iginla.

The offense aside, this team is starting to play well on a consistent basis. If they can continue to shore up the defense and goalie situations, the offense will come around.

Edit - Before I forget - the latest sign the apocalypse is upon us? Ryan VandenBussche not only scores a goal but is out on the POWER PLAY!! Good for him.

Caron demoted to Wilkes-Barre

Caron was sent down today to Wilkes-Barre. On one hand, I think this is crap. On the other hand, under the new CBA, a player does have to clear waivers again before you can recall him. I think Thibault would be a much more likely candidate to be claimed on the way back up.

Having said that, this really isn't very fair to Caron, who has easily been the second-best goalie we've had this year.

What really screwed the team and forced this move was Thibault refusing the conditioning assignment to Wilkes-Barre. That set the dominoes in motion.

Injury update

Leclair and Palffy are out for tonight's game against the Flames. Palffy has the dreaded groin strain (wonder what they called that injury before it was okay to say "groin" in public?) Leclair's injuries also include a groin strain, according to this.

Caron rides the Waiver-go-round...

Sebastien Caron was placed on waivers yesterday, December 2nd. He wasn't claimed and will remain with the club for the time being.

I'm not sure if they did this to play equal time for Thibault, or if they're just trying to set all of their options, but when no one in the NHL wants the two goalies that were at the top of your depth chart until recently.... it's not a good sign.

Having said that, my understand is that if either one is sent down, they'll also have to clear waivers on the way back up to the big club if the Pens call them up. If I'm another team, I may wait to see if they get their play straightened out first.

I am kind of surprised no one took a look at Caron - he's much more cost effective than Thibault and has played well at times this year.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Game #27 - vs Flames

Calgary Flames at Pittsburgh Penguins

Calgary - 15-9-3 - 33 pts - 2nd in Northwest
Pittsburgh - 7-13-6 - 20 pts - Last in Atlantic

Wow - time for the West already? The Pens thus far have played all their games against teams in the east, presumably to give fans more of those "rivalry" type games that seem to produce such love and warmth between the teams.

Calgary is a team of good news and bad news...

Calgary is not as good on the road (5-7-1).

The Flames have won three of their last four road games, including a win over Detroit on Thursday night.

The Flames special teams aren't very good. Their PP% is worse than then Pens, and their PK is almost as bad.

The Flames are scoring fairly well at even strength. In their last five games, they've gone 3-1-1, scoring only 2 power play goals, while allowing 4 against them.

The Flames have allowed more goals then they've scored overall, which is pretty unusual for a team with their record.

The Flames are tied for the second fewest goals allowed in the West, fourth in the NHL.

The Flames are led by their goalie, Miikka Kiprusoff, and their all-world wing, Jarmoe Iginla.

So, for the Pens to win the game, they need to play well at even strength and take advantage of the power play chances they get.

Palffy has some type of groin strain and it questionable for the game.

Let's go Pens!

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Rangers 2, Penguins 1


Is that what you draw from losing your fourth game in a row?

In this case, I have to say yes.

The Pens dropped their fourth game in a row tonight. They fell to six games under .500. Yet they are starting to play like a team that has more than one line that can contribute.

They got solid play from Fleury in net. In two games, he has stabilized the goalie position. He makes saves he's not supposed to make. He instantly makes the defense better.

The players seems to be working hard every shift. Leclair is playing like he's on fire. Recchi continutes to skate hard. Christensen continues to show signs of improvement... why, oh why, isn't he on the power play? Once Crosby gets back to full strength, this team will have several varied offensive threats that all seem to be clicking well right now, and that's without mentioning Lemieux.

Palffy got hurt, evidentally. He didn't play after the first period. That would be a real kick in the gut to this team if he were out for any extended period.

Anyway, I'm more optimistic now than I have been any time this season so far. Am I nuts?

Game #26 - at Rangers

Pittsburgh Penguins at New York Rangers

Pittsburgh - 7-12-6 - 20 pts - Last in Atlantic
New York - 16-7-3 - 35 pts - First in Atlantic

The Rangers are tough. Even though the Pens beat them at home already this year, it's probably a lot to expect them to do it again. The Rangers are 8-2-2 at home and 6-2-2 vs the Atlantic division. They're also 8-2 in their last 10 games.

The Rangers have also won five straight games, though their power play has struggled of late, netting only one goal in the last four games. The Pens have allowed four goals in the last two games on the PK, so something will have to give.

The Pens, conversely, are 4-6-3 on the road and 3-6-1 in their last 10 games. They are now 5 points behind the fourth place Islanders. They really need to start to pick up some wins. Tonight, though, I'll even take an OTL, just to get a point.

We'll see Lundqvist tonight in goal. I believe this is the first time we've seen him this year - Weekes played the previous two games, but he's on IR. Fleury will be in net for the Pens.

The secret to beating the Rangers? Play hard, don't take stupid penalties and hope for some luck (or a knockout performance from Fleury).

Let's go Pens.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Thibault clears waivers

Jocelyn Thibault has cleared waivers. He will not, however, report to Wilkes-Barre just yet. He's accompanying the team to New York for tomorrow night's game with the Rangers as a member of the active roster.

Personally, I'd rather see him in the minors, playing every game and getting his rythm back in net. The Pens are still going to need him, and as poorly as he's played this year, he's probably better than Caron.

Watching Fleury last night was nice, however, as he stays up more than Thibault or Caron, so he is in good postion to make a lot more saves. It also makes the two bad ones he gave up last night a little easier to stomach.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

More Thibault news

Before I forget - Craig Patrick said something interesting tonight before the game: They wanted Thibault to take a two week conditioning assignment in Wilkes-Barre and he refused. The interesting part is that he would have remained on the 23 man roster had he accepted the assignment. Since he refused, the Pens waived him and will be able to assign him to Wilkes-Barre should he clear waivers. If he refuses that assignment, the Pens can suspend him and not pay him (saving some of that money they'll need to pay Fleury).

This one will be interesting to follow. Hopefully it all works out for the best.

Sabres 3, Penguins 2

The Pens got the first goal in this game, so it's the first time they've lost in regulation when scoring the first goal. Murley scored the primary tally - his first this season. He was visibly thrilled.

They worked pretty hard for much of the game tonight. There were a few breakdowns, most noticably on Afinogenov's goal, where he simply hustled past two Penguins to put in a rebound. Obviously, you'd rather not give up the rebound, but there was no way Afinogenov should have been able to skate by himself to score that goal.

Interesting things from the minutes played:
  • Christensen barely played on special teams. I'm not sure why he's not out there on the PP instead of Malone. He (Christensen) did play the third most on the team at even strength.
  • Speaking of Malone, he showed some signs of working hard, and his minutes were there on both the PP and the PK. I don't see it, but I'm not the most qualifed judge. Having John Leclair around will only help him - Leclair should be Malone's mentor and model.
  • Leclair earned a ton of power play time (along with Lemieux and Recchi). He played extremely well and scored his first goal since returning from his ugly face / puck incident
  • Melichar played only 12:33, which is low for a defensemen. His days might be numbered. If there weren't the frustration with Jackman, Melichar might not be playing.
  • Orpik is shaping into a solid guy even strength, and is playing on the PK. He's even +/- for his last three games, despite playing increased minutes.
  • Crosby played a lot of minutes but clearly wasn't himself. He didn't have that burst, due to his foot injury. He was robbed by Biron on one chance, though.

Edzo is on ESPN right now with Mark Madden. He's a good interview and is very straightforward about the short-comings of this team. He was also fairly critical of Fleury in giving up the third goal. It was a weak one, and it was nice to hear someone be held accountable.

Fleury played quite well, for the most part. He wants a few of the goals back tonight, especially the second and third ones, but for the most part, he played well. Let's hope he develops some consistency. I'll expect that we'll see him Thursday night.

All in all, not a good loss, but there were some encouraging signs.

Healthy Scratch

Ric Jackman will be a healthy scratch tonight when the Pens face the Sabres.

This is the second time this season (last time lasted a few games, tho). Seems as though Edzo isn't happy with something about Jackman. If Whitney can develop some consistency, and Tarnstrom and Gonchar can stay healthy, we could see Jackman on his way out.

Thibault = T-Bye?

The Penguins placed Jocelyn Thibault on waivers today, according to ESPN Radio 1250. They intend to send him to Wilkes-Barre if no team claims him.

I can't imagine someone would claim him. He has a two year, $3 million dollar contract. Probably too much for him to be a backup. I can't imagine someone would bring him in as the starter right now... but Atlanta is pretty decimated at goalie.

Anway, hopefully he can clear waivers, go to Wilkes-Barre and play every night. It might hurt the Baby Pen's record, but it'll help the big team in the long run if Thibault can get it together.

I also wouldn't assume Fleury is here for good. If he struggles, and Thibault gets it together, we could easily see a flip-flop in about a month.

Game #25 - vs Sabres

Buffalo Sabres at Pittsburgh Penguins

Buffalo - 14-9-1 - 29 pts - Fourth in Northeast
Pittsburgh - 7-11-6 - 20 pts - Last in Atlantic

Okay - this is late, and I have no time. Work is nuts. Short version -

Fleury is supposed to be playing tonight.

Lemieux is not supposed to play, but might, according to an article on ESPN.

The Pens need a win.

Doesn't matter what's going on with the Sabres (though they've been playing well lately) - Pens must win to get back on track. Two points. Not overtime. Kick butt.

EDIT - Lemieux will play tonight, according to ESPN Radio 1250.

Monday, November 28, 2005

I can watch hockey again (according to The Wife)

Marc-Andre Fleury has been recalled from Wilkes-Barre. I'd imagine he'll start tomorrow night against Buffalo.

I can't imagine that they'll carry three goalies, so someone will have to go. They'll probably hang onto all three until they can be sure that Fleury won't fall flat on his face being here, then move Thibault or Caron.

Who would you rather see the Pens keep as a backup, Thibault or Caron? If money is an issue, you have to keep Caron. Otherwise, I'd keep Thibault - as bad as he's been this year so far, he does have a proven track record and could prove very valuable if the Pens were to somehow get to the playoffs.

Michel Ouellet was going to be sent down to Wilkes-Barre, but he's hurt, so they put him on the injured list with a bad back.

Lemieux out tomorrow

Mario Lemieux will miss tomorrow's game against the Sabres at Mellon Arena, according the the AP. He still has the issues with the stomach virus. It must be bad if he's willing to miss a home game - usually he tries to play in all of the games in front of the Pen's faithful.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Lightning 4, Penguins 1

What can you say?

Lemieux didn't play. It wouldn't have mattered if he did.

Crosby did play - but he didn't really look to be at top speed.

Thibault was in goal. He wasn't horrible, but he wasn't good either.

The first two goals for the Lightning were on redirections. To some extent, that is pretty lucky, but it's also probably some poor defense.

Overall, the Pens defensive effort wasn't very good. They played well in the first, but were outshot 18-3 in the second period. Consistency, again, was the key (or the lack of it).

Craig Patrick was interviewed between periods and was asked about Marc-Andre Fleury. He reiterated what was in the article I linked to earlier today.

Changes are coming - they have to be. This team simply isn't responding right now, and it seems to be mainly a lack of effort and a lack of consistency.

Fleury on the way back? Trades on the way?

According to this article, Marc-Andre Fleury could be on his way back to the big club. The sticking point, as acknowledged by Mario Lemieux, is the money that he could earn in bonuses. The team already is projected to lose about seven million, and bringing Fleury up would extend that loss to about twelve million.
"We're not going to take that loss," Lemieux said. "We're losing $7 million already. We're not going to lose $12 [million]. It's not good business."
So the Pens will look to make moves that would save them enough to get Fleury up here. The most obvious move would be to trade Thibault. I know he's played poorly so far, but that move would seem rather desperate, don't you think? Unless the Pens solidify their defense in front of the goalie, it wouldn't matter if you had Patrick Roy in net. However, if you could send Thibault and maybe one of the offensive style defense (cough... Jackman... cough) to a team for a good skating, stay-at-home style defensemen... that could have possibilities.

Game #24 - at Lightning

Pittsburgh Penguins at Tampa Bay Lightning

Pittsburgh - 7-10-6 - 20 pts - Last in Atlantic
Tampa Bay - 12-10-3 - 27 pts - 2nd in Southeast

Tampa Bay is one of the rare teams that have a better road record. They're only .500 at home, which is unusual for a second place team with a winning record. However, they play in the wretched Southeast division, which right now appears to be the worst division in hockey.

Tampa is 5-2 against the Atlantic division, and before getting smeared by New Jersey the other night, they were on a 5-0-1 streak. But, prior to that, they had lost six straight. Suffice it to say that they're a streaky team so far this season. Hopefully they continue their downward streak tonight against the Pens.

As noted in another article on this blog, Sidney Crosby is a 50/50 shot to play in the game. I'm going to guess that if there's any way possible for him to play, he'll be out there. He said yesterday that it would depend on if he could get a skate over his foot. Evidentally he can't really do any more damage to the foot by playing.

Game time is 5:00 today - kind of a weird time. Maybe the Pens will do something strange and get a win in the state of Florida. They've been horrible there for some time now.

Let's go Pens!

Crosby questionable for game

According to this article, Sidney Crosby is questionable for the game tonight. He's had a few tests, and none of them have shown any fracture in the foot. Mostly, he'll be guided by the level of swelling and his tolerance to the pain.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Player injury updates

Dick Tarnstrom returned to the ice tonight. He played fairly well for it being his first game back.

Shane Endicott was placed on injured reserve to make room for Tarnstrom.

Sidney Crosby was hit by a shot on the inside of the left skate. He immediately fell to the ice and then limped off. He went to the locker room, returned to the ice for another shift, and then went back to the locker room for the remainder of the game. No word yet on how his ankle / foot are. The Pens would be really hurting if they missed him for any period of time.

Panthers 6, Penguins 3

The Pens gave up FORTY-SIX shots to the Panthers. They gave up SIX goals. The Panthers had not scored more than four in a single game all year. This is just sad.

The Panthers looked like an offensive juggernaut against the Pens. In the first period, they kept the puck in the Penguin's end for several extended sequences. Several teams have done this to the Pens recently. I'm not sure what the problem is, but teams have remarkable success cycling the puck against the Pens.

The saddest part is that the Pens had a chance to get back in the game. They came back from a 4-1 defecit at the end of the first to make it 4-3. They then had several great scoring chances that were foiled by great plays by Luongo. That was the other major disappointment - Luongo was not at the top of his game tonight. He was having trouble with the puck frequently, but the Pens just couldn't take advantage.

I'm not going to blame the offense for this one. I'm not going to blame the goalie either, even though Caron got yanked and neither he nor Thibault played very well. The blame for this one lays totally on the defensive effort given by the Pens. I didn't notice too many bad turnovers in their own end, but it was obvious the Pens were outplayed by the ease with which the Panthers operated in the Penguin's zone.

It was very disappointing to see.

The wife says if they don't call up Fleury, she's going to quit watching. I can't say the same, but there's really no reason, other than financial, for him not to be here right now. Neither of the other goalies is playing well consistently.

Sunday afternoon (5:00) at Tampa Bay.

Game #23 - at Panthers

Pittsburgh Penguins at Florida Panthers

Pittsburgh - 7-9-6 - 20 pts - Last in Atlantic
Florida - 6-12-4 - 16 pts - Last in Southeast

Make hay while the sun shines! The Panthers have lost TWELVE straight games (some in OT). For the last 48 chances on the power play, they've converted THREE. They've allowed two goals on the penalty kill in each of the last three games. In short, thing aren't going well.

Offensively, the Panthers really aren't very good. They're led by Olli Jokinen with 19 pts in 22 games. No one else has more than 11. Nathan Horton does have seven goals in 15 games, with a shooting percentage over 22%.

The Panthers biggest strength has been their goalie, Roberto Luongo. He's struggled in his last two games, however, giving up 5 goals each game and getting yanked from the latest one. Jamie McLennan is a capable backup.

The Pens, on the other hand, have only won two games in a row once this season. They need to string together a few wins here. Florida is down right now. Don't let them back up. Washington came back on the Pens the other night, but the Caps are playing much improved hockey right now. Florida hasn't shown any signs of that yet. Let's hope they don't start showing them tonight.

A win tonight gets the team within one game of .500! Let's go Pens!

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Penguins 5, Capitals 4

Yeah! Now that's how a home game is supposed to ... er... start out?

The Pens kicked the Capitals around the Igloo for the first period. They made Ollie wish he'd stayed injured. They danced circles around the Caps and took advantage of opportunities.

Thank goodness they made hay while the sun was shining, 'cause it got awfully dark after that.

The Pens had four goals on their first nine shots. They had one goal in the next 17 shots.

The Caps started to gain steam in the second period by outshooting the Pens 20-10 and outscoring them 2-1.

The second goal was not a good one - Caron got lightly bumped by a forechecker after a clearing attempt. The puck went around the boards right to Brooks Laich who was standing just outside of the faceoff circle. Two things went wrong. First, Caron went back into his net on the opposite side from where he cleared the puck. Second, the forward on that side of the ice (Palffy) didn't come down the wall as far as Laich, so all Laich had to do was take the puck and shoot it into an open net. Personally, I'd put that one on Palffy for allowing the guy to be that open, but Caron certainly could have taken the right way around the net.

In the third, the Caps got a goal on a nice feed from Ovechkin. They followed it up with a short-handed goal on a great dump pass from Halpern, and Caron didn't come out in his net far enough to cut off the angle on Willsie.

Surprise stat of the night? Christensen getting NO ice time on the power play and Malone getting over four minutes. Not sure I understand that one. I know they're different types of players, but Christensen has been clicking with Crosby big time - I'd put them on the ice together with the man advantage.

Overall, the Pens did just enough to win, and not much more. Caron, despite allowing a few questionable goals, still stopped 41 of 45 shots, which is more than I'd expect from Thibault these days. They got a goal from Pirjeta, which is good, as they need to get more goals from guys other than their offensive stars. Matt Hussey made his first start and chipped in with four shots.

All in all, it's a win, and I'll take it.

Panthers on Friday.

Game #22 - vs Capitals

Washington Capitals at Pittsburgh Penguins

Washington - 8-12-0 - 16 pts - Tied for Last in Southeast
Pittsburgh - 6-9-6 - 18 pts - Last in Atlantic

This is a game that the Pens should be licking their chops for. The Capitals are a bad team on the road. They are 2-8 on the road, giving up 5 or more goals in FIVE of the eight losses. Their power play has only score more than one goal once since Sept 8th - their overall PP% is 12.5%. Their PK is almost as bad as the Penguins. The Caps are usually outshot. It's a game that should play to the strengths of the Penguins.

Having said that, they just got Olaf Kolzig back from injury. They also won their most recent road game, 5-1 at Montreal. I'm not as worried about the recent win - the Habs were probably didnt' take the Caps too seriously. That'll happen sometimes. The return of Ollie the Goalie is a concern, however. He has a long history of playing against the Pens.

Anyway, work is crazy, so time is short. The Pens should win this game. Hopefully they take a lot of their frustrations out on a pretty bad Capitals team.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Flyers 6, Penguins 3

Well, we're busy here trying to get the house ready for a visit by the in-laws, but the wife is kind of weary, so she's the special guest blogger for the day... which is just as well, because I wouldn't have had anything nice to say about last night. We'll see if she does...

Hmm; Pat didn't mention that "the wife" was weary because she had surgery two days ago, but he and I can discuss that later. . .

Speaking of weary, we turn our attention to the game last night. Despite some stellar scoring - Palffy's gorgeous nearly end to end run (btw, I could understand Melichar's assist, but Jackman's? He was in another county developing that play), the beautiful Lemieux-LeClair-Crosby setup, and Christiansen's blistering shot - the Pens still fell flat against their cross-state nemeses, the Flyers.

Again, there were some individuals who I thought really worked it hard and well, such as Recchi, Melichar, Christiansen, maybe even Koltsov, the overall play certainly in the last half of the game was limp and uninspired. Maybe I don't know enough to see when they would be "pushing", but they definitely didn't look like the game was on the line, even when they still had plenty of time to work with.

Things that need to be mentioned:

1. Thibault. Sigh. I feel for the man, but this can't go on. He let in a poor one - maybe the third goal? But his play deteriorated after being hit by the Knuble shot. If he was hurt, he needs to say so and get out while the team can still win. If he wasn't, it makes the continuing demotion of Fleury even that more glaring. I could understand starting him, but I can't justify finishing him.

2. The officiating seemed, for the second game in a row, to be inconsistent at best. Ticky-tack at times, blind at others, which does not help the Crosby griping from the Philly Cryers. As if there is not enough to hate Philly about, their coach's comments proved that they are thugs both on and off the ice.

3. Back to weary. As a loyal Pens fan, I am weary of inconsistent effort and a lack of desire. I really like Edzo, but somebody needs to light a major fire. Yes, the goal-tending was disappointing, but that doesn't relieve the rest of the team from their responsibilities. Losses like these are more palatable when it is obvious that the whole team gave it's best. Teams out there are tough enough without giving them an edge.

Thanks , Pat!

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Game #21 - vs Flyers

Philadelphia Flyers at Pittsburgh Penguins

Philadelpha - 11-4-3 - 25 pts - First (tied) in Atlantic
Pittsburgh - 6-8-6 - 18 pts - Last in Atlantic

The Flyers have played just 6 of 18 games on the road this year so far, and they've not been a good road team, going 2-3-1, compared to their 9-1-2 at home.

One thing to note is that their power play on the road has been excellent, getting 43 chances in only six games and converting on 12 of them (just about 28%). They've also scored two PP goals in each of their last three games.

Conversely, their penalty kill on the road has been somewhat poor, giving up 10 goals in 42 short-handed situations. Last night against the Thrashers, they gave up four power play goals, including two in the last two minutes of the game.

Speaking of last night, the Flyers lost an overtime game at home to the Thrashers. The Thrashers scored twice in the last two minutes to tie the game and then scored in OT to give the Flyers the OTL. Hopefully when the Flyers get here tonight, they'll be a little bit tired. Pitkanen especially played THIRTY minutes last night.

I'm not usually one to gripe (okay, unless Philly or the Rangers are involved), but in their game last night, they still had the #2 and #3 stars, depite losing the game. In fact, the guy with the #2 star (Radivojevic) took the penalty that led to the game tying goal in the third period. Sounds like some biased folks in Philly (those are voted on by the media, right?)

Still no word on who will be sent down to make room for Endicott.

Let's go Pens!

Friday, November 18, 2005

News and Notes

Gonchar will not play tomorrow against Philadelphia, according to Mark Madden on his afternoon talk show on ESPN Radio 1250.

Other notes mentioned by Mr. Madden -
- Lemieux is "questionable" - he'll see how he feels tomorrow, basically
- Thibault will start in goal
- Shane Endicott will play
- No decision on who will be sent down to make room for Endicott. Madden was afraid of what I had mentioned yesterday, namely that Eric Christensen will be the unlucky one

Madden was also highly critical of the Pens for demoting Marc Andre Fleury. He said that the team's best goalie was now playing in Wilkes-Barre, and we could be cognizant of that when going to see the team play. To put this in context, Madden is a HUGE fan / supporter of the Pens. Can't say I disagree with him. Fleury should be here and starting.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Shane Endicott

Endicott has been medically cleared to resume skating. He had a high ankle sprain and, by his own admission, is still not 100%. The Pens will have to make a personnel move to bring him back onto the active list. He can be sent to Wilkes-Barre on a conditioning assignment, but players on such an assignment count against the 23 man roster, so they'd have to clear a space for him. He can be outrighted to Wilkes-Barre, but he would have to clear waivers.

We've heard good things about Endicott, and he would be a good checking-line player. Who would you send to Wilkes-Barre to make space for him? Presumably, it would be a forward, but Rob Scuderi has been scratched six straight games now. Who else is there to demote or cut? Murley? Talbot? Pirjeta? Surely you don't send Christensen back down - I think he's proved he belongs. Who else?

Player update

According to this article, Thibault was okay after being struck in the throat with a puck (shot by Konstantin Koltsov) during warmups. He had some swelling in the throat, and was sent to the hospital as a precaution by the doctors. He practiced today and was fine.

The article also indicates that Crosby, Jackman and Whitney are all okay. Whitney had some swelling in his hand, but x-rays were negative. All three practiced today with no complaints.

Also, as indicated by Pronovost in the comments, Fleury was sent down today. I'm not sure how to feel about this. Clearly, he seems to be ready for the NHL. But I can also understand the Pens desire to get Thibault going. He's played well recently. I guess if you're going to play Thibault, you don't want Fleury around just as the backup - you want him playing every day. So in that sense, Wilkes-Barre is the right place for him. I just hope that if Thibault seems like he's going to cost the team a shot at the playoffs (or going far into the playoffs), then they'll move him and get Fleury up here.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Penguins 3, Flyers 2 (OT)

The Penguins somehow found a way to win. The Flyers didn't capitalize on some early chances, and what could happen did happen.

While it was somewhat discouraging to see the Pens give up a two goal lead, almost as fast as they earned it, it was even better to see them regain their discipline. They didn't take another man-advantage penalty the rest of the night. They also got the goaltending they needed to get through the third and especially in the OT.

This brings me to my biggest gripe with the game - the three stars. Yes, I know, it's a good night when all you're complaining about are the three stars, but how on earth does Fleury not get a star? How do the Flyers get two of the three stars when the Pens won the game? The more I see Forsberg, the more I think he's a punk - he hooks more than anyone I've seen yet this year and never gets called for it. Any Philly fans reading this that think I'm whining are probably right. Now go find a member of the opposing team to throw batteries at.

Fleury was incredible after Thibault got yet another freak injury. The latest I heard was that he was still in the hospital for observation. Marc Andre made save after save, especially in the OT when it was all Flyers... until the gorgeous breakaway. That's what we needed out of a goalie.

Other teams are starting to take liberties with Crosby, probably in the name of "getting under his skin". This needs to stop immediately. The Pens can stop it pretty easily, too. Each time someone goes after Crosby, we need to go after their number one player. Tonight, I would have flattened Forsberg as cleanly as I could. Doesn't matter who does it either - anyone that has a good, clean shot.

Now the Pens get to sit back and wait for Philly on Saturday at the Igloo. The Flyers get to play on Friday night. They play Atlanta, who have been playing better of late. Hope the Flyers get nice and tired. We could use a good old-fashioned butt-whooping at the Arena.

If I'm feeling ambitious tomorrow or Friday, I'll put up a Quarter Season report, since we're about 25% way through the schedule.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Game #20 - at Flyers

Game Night - 7:00 EST

Pittsburgh Penguins at Philadelphia Flyers

Pittsburgh - 5-8-6 - 16 pts - Last in Atlantic
Philadelphia - 11-4-1 - 23 pts - Second in Atlantic

No Lemieux. No Gonchar. No problem? Missing Lemieux for a game might not be a bad thing. It will be sink or swim time for some of the other guys that need to step up. It may also allow the Pens to play a more up-tempo style, with lots of skating and quick passes. Sometimes Mario likes to carry the puck and be as patient as possible. That works well when you're one of the most talented players on the planet, but it can get you into trouble when you're name is Koltsov and the puck and your stick are sometimes like the repelling ends of a magnet.

Thibault will get the start again. I'll be starting to believe that he's turned the corner if he turns in a solid effort against a good club on the road. This is a game where he needs to make saves he isn't supposed to be making to give the Pens a chance to win.

Philly has a great power play, clicking at over 21%. They are 9-1 in their 10 home games. Forsberg is averaging just about two points per game. Gagne isn't far behind. Pitkanen is over a point per game. It's like they're a steamroller!!

But hold the phone for a second here...

The Flyers have been outshot in 5 of the last 8 games.

Their last four home victories haven't exactly been against Murder's Row - they beat Washington, Boston, Atlanta and the Islanders. The last three were all by a single goal.

They are coming off of a loss at Tampa Bay on Monday.

And perhaps most important of all for the Pens... the Flyers are weak on the penalty kill. They have the worst PK in the NHL. Of course, in the spirit of competition, the Penguins are trying to out-do them for that title. Maybe we should call the game "The Battle of the SPK (Sucky Penalty Kill)".

If the Pens can come out and skate well, draw some penalties, and stay out of the box themselves... we could be smelling a victory. Either that, or I'm just smelling the pot that someone down the street is smoking. Suddenly I'm hungry.