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.

Mario Lemieux to miss first game

Lemieux will miss tomorrow's game with a stomach virus. Ryan Malone will take his place on the first line. Here's a question - if your first line is Malone, Pirjeta and Recchi and your second line is Crosby, Christensen and Palffy, which one is really first? Maybe it's a head game to take the pressure off of the rookies, but wow... I'm not sure anyone could say that our "second" line isn't our best (by far, right now)

Gonchar will also miss the game.

Thibault will get another start in net.

Preview up later tonight or tomorrow morning.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Moving? Horsefeathers, I say!!

According to this article on ESPN, there's an ownership group in Kansas City that would love to have the Pens after their lease expires (after the 06-07 season). Of course, there's not a single mention of this from the Penguins perspective, other than to note that they've been battling to get a new arena for some time now. The article *does* mention a few teams that wouldn't move, due to much better attendence, but then fails to note that the Penguins have (or had earlier in the year) THE BIGGEST JUMP IN ATTENDENCE IN THE NHL. Sorry to yell - I just despise things that are written to get rumors started, and this appears to be one of them.

Islanders 3, Penguins 2 (OT - SO 3-2)

First off, the shootout was awesome. I think Thibault would like to have two of the goals back, but to stop six out of nine shooters is great. Better yet, unfortunately was DiPietro. He made some great saves against the more talented Pens shooters. With this shootout (NINE shooters per side), the weak spot of the format might have been exposed (though you could argue that it's not often that you go beyond the first three shooters). Once the Islanders used the Dark Prince himself (Satan) as their fourth shooter, the rest of them were a bunch of guys named Moe. The game winner by Blake was a fluke, as he lost the puck off of his stick, only to recover and somehow sweep it past Thibault's stick and tap it into the open net. Not every team can feature household names like Recchi, Palffy and Leclair AFTER their first three shooters.

Secondly, this game was a coming out party for Eric Christensen. He proved he belongs here in the NHL as far as I'm concerned. He made a great pass to Crosby for the first goal and fired a great shot on the short side to beat DiPietro. He then got a goal in the shootout with a great move when the Pens needed the goal to keep going. He and Crosby were basically the only players playing well for the Pens tonight.

The first two periods, heck even most of the third, were some of the worst hockey I've ever seen. The Pens looked slow and couldn't get a decent scoring chance. That they had 36 shots is really deceiving. They picked it up a little bit in the third and had a few chances in the OT. Other than that, you or I may as well have been out there shooting the puck. Of course, if I were out there and saw my goalie get bumped and run over a few different times, the first thing I'd do is provide a little bit of payback. Even if the contact with Thibault was incidental (which it wasn't), you have to make the other team hesitant to come to the goal crease with speed.

I'm not sure what the problem is with the Penguins. They certainly don't seem to be playing with any passion. Maybe it's a confidence problem... I don't know. One thing though, they did get some hop in their step after Crosby's goal. They started to have some success getting the puck into the offensive zone and controlling it. That's how Christensen got the game tying goal. Heck, even Odelein carried the puck end to end. The Pens need to find a way to jump start themselves early in the game, with or without a goal. Maybe on Wednesday against the Flyers, send VandenBussche out to pummel someone early...

One more thing - Rick DiPietro was amazing, especially in his stick handling ability. The Pens had more dump-ins that were cutoff and handled by DiPietro. When I say "handled", I don't just mean that he set the puck for the defense behind the net. He took the puck and made a breakout pass to start the rush. He was truly the third defensemen, much like Brodeur has been in the past. Watching him and comparing his play to Thibault... it was sad. Fleury is a goalie with skills much more similar to DiPietro. If Thibault finally gets it together, then great. Otherwise, let's see Fleury.

Game #19 - Quick update

Thibault in goal.

Gonchar scratched - groin injury. Lots of Jackman / Whitney on the power play.

The biggest surprise? (maybe not entirely, given Edzo's benching of Jackman earlier this year)

Ryan Malone. Healthy scratch.

Game Night - Game #19

New York Islanders at Pittsburgh Penguins

New York - 8-9-0 - 16 pts - Fourth in Atlantic
Pittsburgh - 5-8-5 - 15 pts - Last in Atlantic

Since the Pens last saw the Islanders almost two weeks ago, the Pens have staggered forwards, taking a few steps and then retreating a few steps. The Isles were embarrassed their next game by Ottawa, but since then have won two out of three (two of those games were on the road). Their power play has been clicking a bit, going 4-14, and their penalty kill has been sharp, allowing only one goal in 14 chances over the three game stretch.

As a road team, the Isles aren't very good so far this year (3-6). Let's hope they don't start a new trend tonight.

They recently (last game) put Aaron Asham on the top line with Yashin and Satan. That's kind of surprising, since he wasn't very impressive during the last game with the Pens. He made a few big errors, and by the end of the game was skating around looking for anyone to instigate.

The Islanders are top heavy, with Satan and Yashin right around a point per game average. You stop their big guns, and keep them off the power play, and you can beat them.

As much as I hate to say it, this is a game the Pens should win at home against a team that's usually pretty poor on the road. Tonight will be a good measuring stick for the level of the Penguins desire.

Hopefully we'll see Fleury in goal, though if I'm Edzo, and I really don't think that Saturday was Thibault's fault, I might start him again tonight just to show confidence in him.

Here's hoping for a win!

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Rangers 6, Penguins 1

Ugh. Another game I didn't see, but I'm glad I didn't. We listened to Bob Grove on the postgame report, and it didn't sound good. From reading the article in the Post-Gazette this morning it sounds even worse. Rico Fata said something along the lines of "We didn't match their work ethic". That's a really poor statement (though honest). The Pens have talent, there's no doubt. They probably have more talent than the Rangers (or most teams, for that matter). If they're outworked by someone, it's a shame. We know they can beat the Rangers, as they proved last week. The Pens have to find the desire to win, show some pride and play each game like it's a playoff game.

By the way - how bad was the Whitney hit that he got a major and a game misconduct? Did he flip out on the refs or something?

Everything I've read and heard said the game could have been much worse if not for the play of Thibault. Anyone that saw the game care to comment on whether or not that's true?

Maybe they're just tired. Let's hope that's all it is. They play Monday and Wednesday, and then the schedule gets a little lighter, with games every third day for about a week or so, including a chance to finally play one of the teams that's worse than we've been - the Capitals.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Game Night - Game #18 - consistency is everything

New York Rangers at Pittsburgh Penguins

New York - 10-5-3 - 23 pts - First in Atlantic
Pittsburgh - 5-7-5 - 15 pts - Fourth in Atlantic

So the Pens aren't in last place anymore. The flightless birds are starting to flap! The Penguins just played the Rangers in New York during the five game road trip. I wrote about the result of that one here. Basically, the Pens got out to a lead and then held on. They also kept most of the ex-Penguins off of the board, including Jagr and Straka.

The Rangers are in the middle of their own five game road trip, and come to Pittsburgh having won the first two games, in Florida and Tampa Bay on consecutive nights. Their PK has been playing extremely well of late, allowing no more than one goal in any game for the last eight games. They are killing off penalties at an 89% rate (50-55) during that span. Their power play has been almost as bad as the PK has been good. They've scored only six power play goals during that time.

We saw Weekes last week, but we'll probably see Lundqvist tonight. He played both games on Wednesday and Thursday. Lundqvist has been the better goalie so far this year, and that's not to say that Weekes has played poorly - he's been okay. Lundqvist has been far better.

The key to tonight's game will be to keep the former Pens bottled up again, especially Jagr. If they can get inside his head and keep him scoreless again, it could go a long way towards making our games against the Rangers much easier this season.

We did call up Fleury and put Caron on the injured list, as noted by Will in the comments section of a recent post (thanks, Will!) But with the way Thibault played on Thursday, I'd expect to see him in goal again tonight. We really need him to get going.

I was also impressed to see Leclair back in the lineup with a full face sheild. That takes some guts, and that kind of toughness can only help with what has been a traditionally soft team here in Pittsburgh.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Penguins 3, Canadiens 2 (OT-SO 1-0)

You could see that the Penguins were tired and out of gas for the second half of the third and the overtime. You have to give them credit - they did what they needed to do to win the game. Thibault made the saves necessary when they were needed, especially short-handed against Kovalev in the third period, and in the shootout.

The Pens got out quickly and were very competitive early. They got goals from Lemieux and Crosby. Lemieux's goal especially was impressive - he redirected a sharp pass from Palffy off the heel of his stick from 8 feet out. Crosby's goal probably would have been scored by Palffy if it hadn't hit off of the skate of the Montreal defensemen.

Fatigue played a factor in the Canadien's game tying goal - it was three on three in the offensive zone and the Canadiens made a sharp pass from Thibault's right to his left - he had no chance. Pirjeta was the forward nearest the shooter and had sagged back in towards the net. If he's a little sharper (and less tired), he stays out a little bit more to cut off the pass.

I thought we were in trouble when Recchi's shot in the shootout got through the five-hole on Theodore, but hit off of the inside of his left skate and deflected wide. But Thibault made some great saves (seems funny writing that this year), especially on Kovalev, who tried to go up high on him.

Thibault played well. Maybe it's just the bad experiences we've had watching him so far this year, but he always seemed to be on the brink of disaster, but played well enough to succeed. He's kind of like Mike Williams was for the Pirates... he would make you really nervous but would get the job done.

Of course, no discussion is complete without a quick description of Sidney Crosby's game winner in the shootout - he faked the shot on the forehand (even kicking his leg up a little bit), got Theodore to go down, took the puck on his backhand to Theodore's left, and left nothing to chance by roofing the puck into the top of the net. The water bottle jumped. It was beautiful, and a great ending to the first shootout in Mellon Arena history. Of course, Crosby was interviewed after the game and said he just got lucky. Typical hockey players, eh?

Game Night - Game #17 - avoid the roadblock

Montreal Canadiens at Pittsburgh Penguins

Montreal - 12-3-1 - 25 pts - First in Northeast
Pittsburgh - 4-7-5 - 13 pts - Last in Atlantic

This is a game for some mixed statistics. Consider the following about the Habs:
  • Montreal is undefeated on the road - 6-0-1
  • They've won 5 straight games
  • They draw lots of penalties
  • In their four losses (one in OT), they lost by a total of 7 goals
  • They've won 12 games by a grand total of 15 goals
  • They've only won by more than one goal twice
  • Their PP on the road sucks (7 goals in 49 chances - 14%)
  • They have Richard Zednik (nothing special about him - I just don't like him)
In other words, while this is a team with an impressive record, I think they're beatable. If the Pens can muster the strength coming off of their road trip, use their speed, draw some penalties early (they were very bad at that last night), they can beat the Canadiens. Of course, given that they're probably tired, and that Montreal was waiting for them in Pittsburgh (thanks, NHL, for the second time this season), I'm not holding my breath. Lemieux is going to have to find the energy somewhere to play better - he was a -4 last night!!

The Habs are led by Koivu and Kovalev. You have to like both of those players, especially Alexi after his years of service here. I still wish he would have wanted to come here during the off-season - the new game is well suited to his talents.

The x-factor in all of this is the goaltender for the Pens. I haven't seen anything yet, but I'd be surprised if we didn't see Thibault in goal. Who knows how he'll play, but we can hope that seeing the Canadien's uniform will take him in a time-warp back to his days when he played (quite well) for the Habs. If we're really lucky, some of that will rub off on him and we'll see him start to succeed on a consistent basis.

Here's hoping for our second home win of the season tonight.

Thrashers 5, Penguins 0

I only got to see the last half of the third period, but from what the announcers were saying on TV and radio, the Pens were outplayed and Dunham denied them the chances they did have. They gave the Thrashers five power play opportunities in the first two periods - not good. The Thrashers only scored once, but when you're playing defensive hockey for 25% of the time in the first two periods, it's tough to get any rythm.

Caron was injured towards the end of the third stopping a breakaway. If he's injured even halfway seriously, they need to get Fleury up here to play regularly. Thibault came in cold and gave up the fifth goal. I'm being charitable in saying that he came in cold - it was a well placed shot, but not one that should have gone in. Not that it mattered by that point anyway.

Next up are the Canadiens, tonight at the Igloo. Preview up later today (hopefully around lunch time).

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Game Night - Game #16 - Rumbling towards respectability...

Pittsburgh Penguins at Atlanta Thrashers

Pittsburgh - 4-6-5 - 13 pts - Last in Atlantic
Atlanta - 4-9-1 - 9 pts - Last in Southeast

This is a game the Penguins should win. It's also a game that will be easy to look past, considering the first place Canadiens will be waiting in Pittsburgh for the Pens to come home. This is the last game of a five game road trip. The team could be tired and worn down a bit. Atlanta's biggest strength is their power play... The Pens will have to play disciplined hockey to get out of Atlanta with a win tonight.

Atlanta is quite top-heavy, relying on a few players extensively. These include Kovalchuk, Hossa, Savard, Modry and especially Havelid, who is averaging over 27 minutes per game!! To a lesser extent (a few minutes less per game), they play the older guys - Holik, Bondra and Kozlov.

Here's the key - beat them on special teams. Their power play is either screaming hot (5 games with three or more PP goals) or ice cold (8 games with none or one PP goals). Their penalty kill is very similar. Don't take silly penalties, and when you do get whistled, play with the same tenacity that the Pens displayed on Tuesday night in New York, though I'd probably argue that the Thrahers combination is more deadly on the PP...

I'm guessing we'll see Caron again, since Thibault seems to be firmly entrenched as a backup for the time being. Not sure if that's best for the team long term.

Will also be interesting to see if Edzo continues to replace Leclair with a seventh defensemen. Jackman and Melichar dressed on Tuesday.

Let's get one win closer to .500!

Monday, November 07, 2005

Penguins 3, Rangers 2 - withstanding the storm...

So the Pens went out to a three goal lead, scoring once each period. None of their goals were on the power play, but they were all good goals. Lemieux one-timed a gorgeous pass from Gonchar for the first one. Crosby took a nice pass and made a great shot that beat Weekes. Palffy took what the defense gave him (eh? Is this a football blog?) and snapped a low shot off the far post from the right circle area.

Of course, disaster almost struck. Palffy missed on a penalty shot (he's now 0-4 on penalty shots in his career, if I remember the stat correctly). That started to turn the tide. If I'm the Pens there, I almost don't want the penalty shot - I'd rather eat two minutes off of the clock...

Caron then got beat by a slapper with some screeners in front. The second goal was Caron trying to clear the puck, but he did so up the middle of the ice. It was a bad mistake, and the Rangers capitalized. The Pens then did everything the needed to do, including killing off a 2 minute penalty with about four minutes left.

All in all, it was a great win. The Pens played a great road game. It was a little troubling to see another team stage a third period comeback against them, but that's a minor quibble. I think they'll learn the killer instinct as they start to win more games.

The win moved the Pens to .500 on the road (3-3-3), not couting the overtime losses (I guess you can't really count them when talking about winning percentage, can you?) and gave them a winning record in the division. Most importantly, they're not in last place in the division anymore - that honor goes to the Islanders.

One other thing - was anyone else ready to jump through the television and yell at the announcer who was pronouncing Caron's name as CARE-on, instead of car-ON? Drove me nuts. Almost as bad as Barry Melrose always calling Alexei Kovalev by "Alex", or Kov-a-lov.

Wednesday we're at Atlanta, and then back home on Thursday. Let's go Pens!

Game Night - Game #15

Pittsburgh Penguins at New York Rangers

Pittsburgh - 3-6-5 - 11 pts - Last in Atlantic
New York - 8-4-3 - 19 pts - First in Atlantic

So the Rangers have come off of a home and home sweep of the Devils. They're another team (common trait) that is better at home than on the road. They've only lost one game in regulation at home. They've sold out several of their games this season, so I'd expect this one to be well attended. After outshooting their opponents most of the early part of the season, they've now been outshot in 4 of their last 6 games.

The Rangers have one decent goalie (Weekes) and one that has played really well this year - Lundqvist. Not sure who the Pens will see tonight, but either one will be a challenge.

Several ex-Penguins play for the Rangers, led by Jaromir Jagr, who has 14 goals in 15 games this year. Also on the team are Marty Straka, Michael Rosival (who is leading the team in ice time), Darius Kasparaitis and Ville Nieminen. None of those guys, maybe with the exception of Marty, are guys that the Pens were interested in having before this season started.

The Pens have a hidden stat for this game - they *don't* have a losing record against the Atlantic Division!! Not sure how they don't, but they're 2-2-1 against the Atlantic. Go Pens! This will guarentee victory for sure ;)

Anyway, this will be a tough one. Here's hoping...

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Bruins 6, Penguins 3 - this sounds familiar...

This is the first game this season where I didn't get to watch a single second. Sounds like I didn't miss much. By all accounts, the Pens just weren't ready to go and were outplayed from the drop of the puck. Add another Lemieux meltdown to that (in the first period) when he took an extra two minutes for unsportsmanlike conduct, and you have the gist of the story.

Caron finally ran out of juice. He was yanked midway through the second period. The good news is that Thibault stopped 13 of 14 shots. Maybe this will get him going.

The Pens had a chance to get back into the game - they were down 3-1 and had a two man advantage for about 1:30 to open the second period. They don't score, and the Bruins go on to score the next three goals to make it 6-1 before the Pens add two meaningless goals late in the third.

I saw all I needed to know when I read that Jiri Slegr scored two power play goals in the first period. Ugh.

Now I have to go find out if begonias are toxic to cats. The wife is doing some yard work, evidentally moving the yard inside the house...

Friday, November 04, 2005

Game Night - Game #14

Pittsburgh Penguins at Boston Bruins

Pittsburgh - 3-5-5 - 11 pts - Last in Atlantic
Boston - 6-5-4 - 16 pts - Third in Northeast

The Pens have won three of their last four games. Boy, doesn't that sound weird? They're actually on a hot streak. The broadcast on Thursday night did a nice job of showing some of the things they're doing differently, like supporting the puck when forechecking. What I took from the example was that they were selectively bringing in the third offensive man on the forecheck to help keep it down low (and start cycling). Leclair was the example they showed, and of course, he's a professional at it from his time with Philly.

Boston has a hidden stat. They're undefeated (in regulation) against anyone not in their own division!! They are 5-0-3 against the Atlantic and Southeast divisions. They also haven't lost in regulation since October 20th (right before the last time they played the Pens). They've also been holding their opponents to low 30s in shots during that time (only Toronto had more - 37 - in a game won by the Bruins).

The Bruins continue a streak of opponents with a somewhat weak power play. In their last three games, they've gone 1-17. Conversely, their PK has been excellent, allowing only one goal over that span.

They'll miss Brian Leetch, who is out with an injury that sounds similar to the one currently that has Tarnstrom sidelined. Other than that, it's the usual cast of characters that we've seen a few times already - Thornton, Samsonov and Murray. Both goalies have been playing fairly well, with save percentages close to .900 and GAA in the low 3s.

This will be a tough game for the Pens, but another one that they ought to win if they hope to build towards a winning record. The Bruins are tough on home ice... heck, they've been tough for us on any ice so far this year. A win would get us within one game of .500. It will be interesting to see if Edzo keeps the same scratches he's been going with (ie, if he keeps Jackman on the sidelines), and keeps Caron between the pipes. They have three games in four nights next week, so you'd figure something will eventually have to give at least between the pipes.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Penguins 5, Islanders 1

That was the most dominating performance we've seen out of the Pens all year. They beat the Islanders in just about every facet of the game. Their power play was good, their penalty kill was better, and they scored three times at even strength. DiPietro made some amazing saves, or it could have been even more lopsided.

The youngsters continued their amazing play. Christensen notched his first NHL goal, was a plus two, and won eleven of his seventeen faceoffs. Whitney had a three point night, was plus three, and logged more ice time than anyone on the team, due to his role on the PK as well as the PP.

Crosby had his first two goal night, and they were trying to get him his third. Didn't happen, but it was nice to see him break out a little bit.

The biggest thing I noticed tonight was that the skill players really started playing like skill players. We saw much more in the way of nice moves in open ice with sharp passes. Crosby's second goal, on a pass from Lemieux, was gorgeous. Lemieux, from above the left circle, put a sharp pass on the tape of Crosby's stick. Crosby didn't just tip the puck - he lifted it over DiPietro, who had gone down. Beautiful.

It was also nice to see some chemistry on the Talbot / Murley line (not sure who was out there with them, whether it was Fata, Koltsov or Pirjeta?) but Talbot and Murley seem to have something going. At the very least, they play with energy and forecheck vigorously.

What was the attendence at the arena? They announced during the broadcast that it was about 10,700. Not very good, but with the game the Islanders put on, maybe the fans were psychic...

One other fun fact while I'm still going... do you know who logged the most ice time at even strength? Brooks Orpik. While I'm sure part of that is a function of his lack of playing time on the PP and PK, it's still interesting to note. He seems to be skating a lot better.

Boy, it's much easier to write when the Pens win.

Next up is Boston on Saturday.

Game Night - Game #13

Pittsburgh Penguins at New York Islanders

Pittsburgh - 2-5-5 - 9 pts - Last in Atlantic
New York - 6-6-0 - 12 pts - 4th in Atlantic

Tonight the Pens play the team directly above them in the standings. A win in regulation would be like a double bonus, since not only would the Pens get two points, but the Islanders would not get any points out of the game. Of course, it won't be easy. The Islanders are another team that is better at home (4-2). Most teams are. Would have been nice for the Pens to win a few of their own home games, eh? But enough crying over that milk that spilled all over the ice.

The Islanders have been an average team so far this year. They've not been more than one game above or below .500 (how's that for consistent mediocraty?) They've also not won any game by more than two goals, and they only did that once (against the Capitals). Their other five wins are by one goal, two of them in OT.

Their power play, which had been hot, has cooled the last few games, going 1-19 in the last three games. The PK isn't bad, but they'll give up some goals. Most of their offense is funnelled through a few players - Yashin, Blake and Satan (that's right - the Islanders have the powers of darkness at their disposal). Zhitnik, their top defensive scorer, also gets involved, especially on the power play - 9 of his 12 points have come on the PP.

Basically, this is a team the Pens should beat if they want to be a playoff team. They are pretty average any way you slice it, and the Pens have talent that is anything but average. If they can play like they did on Tuesday at New Jersey, I think they'll come out on top.

In fact, there will be another similarity, most likely, to Tuesday's game. The last few Islanders home games have been, um.. "sparsely" attended. Weeknight games against Boston and Atlanta have drawn just over 10,000. They did come out to see the Rangers (or, rather, the Ranger's fans made the trip to Long Island), so maybe they'll come out to see the Pens too. Especially since Sidney Crosby has done this. I can't bring myself to look at it, but my wife tells me, with a somewhat red face, that he's done the "beefcake" pose, whatever that means. As long as he puts the puck in the net, it's all good, eh? It would help if he scored some goals too :)

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Shoddy attendence

One more thing about last night's game. Did anyone else notice how bad the attendence was? The official attendence was 10,134. From what I could see on tv, there were more empty seats down close to the ice than there were filled seats. How embarrassing, especially after the NHL announces this.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Penguins 4, Devils 3 (OT)

That was an excellent win. They way they arrived at the win was not all that excellent in the later stages of the third period, but the win was excellent nonetheless.

The game winner by Gonchar in OT was a beautiful goal, and was the type of play I've been expecting to see more of this year from the highly skilled Penguins. Hopefully this will get not only Gonchar going, but the team as well. They are very talented and a boost of confidence would do them wonders.

The second straight third period collapse was almost fatal. We almost didn't get to OT. The goal that made it 3-2 was a complete fluke, and was exactly the type of thing you'd expect to see in a Pens game lately - it went right off of Odelein's skate and was, of course, credited to Mighty Mouse. The tying goal was a poor rebound given up by Caron - he had no chance to stop the follow-up, but he created his own mess. Kind of like the pitcher that makes an error that leads to runs in baseball - the runs aren't technically his fault (as they're unearned), but he made the mess to begin with. Caron did make a few nice saves down the stretch to make sure the Pens would get to the overtime period.

Whitney and Christensen played well, and should be good additions to the team if they can stick around.

Interestingly, Ric Jackman was a healthy scratch. He's been one of the better scoring defensemen in the league this year. Edzo must have seen something he didn't like.

It was really nice to see the Devils have to play from behind. We're so used to seeing them get a lead and go into their trap, slowing the play down and making the game deadly dull. It was really nice to see them have to scrap and fight (mostly unsuccessfully) for the third period. The only thing that would have made it better would have been to win in regulation so they didn't get a point.