Monday, October 31, 2005

Game Night - Game #12

Pittsburgh Penguins at New Jersey Devils

Pittsburgh - 1-5-5 - 7 pts - Last in Atlantic
New Jersey - 6-5 - 12 pts - 3rd in Atlantic

Okay - it's still nice to put a number other than zero in the Pens win column... I must be easy to please.

The Devils are better at home than on the road, sporting a 4-2 record at home. They've won two in a row without Brodeur, who is day-to-day with a sprained knee. Last I heard, he was due back in time to face us. What happy news. Other than that, they're remarkably average this year. Pedestrian, even. They've given up more goals (40) than they've scored (36). Their power play is in the upper third of the league. Their penalty kill is in the lower third. Brian Gionta (who shall henceforth be known as Mighty Mouse on this blog, due to his stature and his tendency to kill the Pens) still hasn't learned how to score against anyone other than the Pens. He has one goal in the Devils nine games against teams whose mascot isn't a flightless bird. He has four goals against us. We must stop Mighty Mouse.

The Pens are in a life and death battle to avoid being the last team in the NHL without a win on the road. Currently, only the Pens and the St Louis Blues are winless on the road. The Pens have several chances before the Blues have their next road game (Nov 9th). Soon will be the unforgettable battle to not be the last team with a single digit point total.

I have to stop writing late in the evening...

Seriously, hopefully the Pens will be energized by the callup of two top prospects, Christensen and Whitney. It'll be good to get a look at those two.

Here's hoping for win #2 (and road win #1).

Pens Callups

The Penguins have recalled Ryan Whitney and Erik Christensen from Wilkes-Barre to replace the injured Dick Tarnstrom and Andre Roy. Both were a big part of the success of the Baby Penguins. Whitney had 14 points (5 G, 9 A) in 9 games from the blue line, and Christensen was averaging over two points per game with 19 points (9 G, 10 A) in 9 games. Edzo has said that he'll use both players "immediately and extensively".

This can only be good news. Christensen was on a line with Palffy and Malone in practice. There is some hope that he can be the missing second line center that the Pens have been looking for. Whitney is a highly touted prospect that has good offensive skills. The Baby Pens started the year on a 9 game winning streak. With any luck, some of that will rub off on the pro club with the arrival of these two guys.

By the way, Fleury is 6-0 with a one-something goals against average in 6 games with the Baby Pens. He's ready to be here in Pittsburgh.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Tarnstrom update #2

According to this article, Tarnstrom doesn't need surgery. He has already begun rehab and the early prognosis is that he'll be out four weeks.

The Pens still haven't called up anyone to replace him (they probably don't want to screw with the marvelous chemistry the Pens have in Wilkes-Barre). They'll be in the New York area on their road trip, so calling someone up would be highly practical if they chose to do so.

Melichar was a healthy scratch last night... again.

Hurricanes 5, Penguins 3

Well, that was a game the Pens had in the bag, until the later part of the third period. It was the ever-deadly two goal lead that did them in. They seemingly tried to shut it down and play "kill the clock" hockey, and it back-fired on them big time.

Now, I was at a Halloween party, and couldn't hear the game, but it was on the TV. The puck just seemed to stick to the Hurricanes in the third, where it had been much more even in the first two periods. They seemed to have tons of room to skate, and when the Pens did have the puck, they seemed to be slow and tenative.

That was a painful one to lose, for sure.

One curiousity, they went upstairs to review a shot by the Pens where Gerber had the puck pinned under his leg and near the right post. Anyone looking at the replay should have immediately been able to tell that there was no way to get any kind of meaningful information (or the ever popular "indisputable visual evidence") from the replay. Why the delay?

Anyway, it was a bad loss to a good team. The Pens will move on. Unless you listen to Dave Molinari of the Post-Gazette, who makes it sound like the end of the world... Bring back Dejan!!

Saturday, October 29, 2005

And one more thing...

Did you see that the Tampa Bay Lightning have allowed TWO power play goals so far this YEAR? They're killing penalties at a rate over 96%. That's amazing.

Tarnstrom update

According to this AP article, Dick Tarnstrom has torn his MCL. He's out indefinately. This will hurt the Pens offense to be sure. We'll probably hear more about it during tonight's broadcast (which I don't think I'm going to get to watch).

Game Night - Game #11

Carolina Hurricanes at Pittsburgh Penguins

Carolina - 7-2-1 - 15 pts - 1st in Southeast
Pittsburgh - 1-4-5 - 7 pts - Last in Atlantic

Wow - sure is nice to not have to type a zero for the win total for the Pens anymore. Their PP is now clicking at almost a 23% rate, second only to Toronto in the Eastern Conference. Amazing what six power play goals will do for you, eh?

Carolina is one of the better teams in the East so far this season. Their two losses, however, have come on the road. They seem to play whatever style of hockey is needed for the game. They've had games where they've taken over 40 shots, and games where they've allowed fewer than 20.

Offensively, they're led by Eric Staal, who has 18 points (9 G, 9 A) in just 10 games. He had a hat trick last night at home against Philly. Brind'Amour has four of his six goals on the power play. We saw what Cory Stillman did to Caron last time these two teams played. Hopefully Caron will be ready this time.

Let's get win #2!!

Friday, October 28, 2005

Tarnstrom injured

Dick Tarnstrom injured the MCL in his knee last night during the first period. The Pens played the rest of the game with 5 defensemen as they had scratched Poapst and Melichar.

Preliminary indications are that he may be out 6-8 weeks.

Ouch. That'll hurt the PP a bit, and thus far this season, he's probably been our best D overall... certainly in the offensive end.

Expect that they'll call up someone to take his place, though I would hope if they call up one of the good prospects (like Ryan Whitney or Noah Welch) that they're not just a healthy scratch - they need to play!!

Finally a win!

So, to follow up on the thoughts from last night...

I thought Caron played really well in the second and third. Heck, he played well for the majority of the game. There wasn't much he could have done on some of those PP goals they allowed.

It was really good to see some of the Pens be able to sharp-shoot a bit. They got some shots up over Shields, and Leclair's chip goal was really pretty.

Hopefully this will get some of the big guns going. Putting Lemieux and Crosby on the same line worked magic, especially on the power play. I'd love to see this be a long term thing - that way the opposition can't really have a shutdown type of player guarding both of them as easily. Last night, Holik had to pick either Lemieux or Crosby to guard.

One more home game tomorrow night and then back on the road for FIVE straight, playing the Devils, Islanders, Bruins, Rangers and Thrashers. I'll be glad when we get to play some Western Conference teams - but we don't get to do that until early December.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Penguins 7, Thrashers 5

WOO HOO!!! Finally something to cheer about! It wasn't looking good during the first period, let me tell you. But the Pens stopped the bleeding and started chipping away. In case you don't know what I'm talking about, the Thrashers scored the first four goals of the game. The Pens were taking penalty after penalty (four of them). Then something changed and clicked. They stopped taking penalties. Instead, they started drawing them. They were down 4-2 at the end of the first, and up 6-4 at the end of the second. They scored SEVEN goals unanswered.

Many things were encouraging, but maybe none more so than some of the other speed players the Penguins have learning to use that speed to draw penalties and force the defense into mistakes. Fata, Koltsov and, of course, Crosby all used their speed to their advantage. Crosby drew another two or three penalties by himself.

Lemieux, Gonchar and Leclair all scored twice. They could have added a few more, but they hit the pipes twice too.

I'll try to add more in the morning. Right now, I'm tired and it's time to read a little Calvin & Hobbes :)

Game Night - Game #10

Atlanta Thrashers at Pittsburgh Penguins

Atlanta - 3-6-0 - 6 pts - 4th in Southeast
Pittsburgh - 0-4-5 - 5 pts - Last in Atlantic

Atlanta has some decent offensive firepower. They're led by Marc Savard with 12 points. They also have Hossa, Bondra, Stefan, Holik and maybe the most exciting player in the game that's not with the Penguins - Ilya Kovalchuk.

Even with their talent, they've been unable to score at the rate you'd think they might. The goaltending hasn't been very good, but they lost their starter (Lehtonen) and the backup (Dunham). The new goalies, Berkhoel and Garnett, don't have very good numbers. Garnett has one great game, stopping 29 of 30 shots in a loss to the Canadiens, but then they let him take a whipping against Toronto, allowing NINE goals on 34 shots. He started one more game since then, allowing four goals on seven shots before being yanked. Suffice it to say that the way the Pens have been going this year with young goaltenders, they'll have either one looking like Patrick Roy before the evening is complete.

Not sure what else there is to say other than the Pens need to win tonight. You'd like to think that they'll come out with a vengence, knowing how the last game ended with the (assumedly) bad interference call on Lemieux.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Panthers 4, Penguins 3 (OT)

So what can you say? The Pens did everything they needed to do to win this game. They gritted it out. They scrapped and fought. Then when they took the lead in the third period, you thought "They might do this". But then Gonchar takes a weak hooking call (that he didn't need to commit, in my opinion) and Thibault give up a blast from near the blue line. Then with 18 seconds left, Lemieux is called for interference. Not sure what he did, as the sucky OLN coverage couldn't show us anything resembling a replay, but he was completely irate at O'Halloran (the ref). In OT, on the power play, Stephen Weiss scores his first of the year on a nice shot and Florida scores four goals for the first time all year.

The Pens easily played well enough to win this game. They possessed the puck pretty well. They would have scored several times in the first period if not for the play of Roberto Luongo. Why can't we get that kind of play out of Thibault?

Speaking of Thibault, none of the four goals he gave up were particularly good. I know slappers will go in every now and then. On the game winner, Weiss roofed the shot, and Thibault was on his knees waving at the puck with his glove hand. He went down way too early. If he stays up and is in good position to challenge the shot, it might go off of his left shoulder instead of into the back of the net. The second goal was another one that was a really bad goal to give up (though the specifics of that one are escaping me right now, as I still am in disbelief over the way the Pens lost this one).

Offensively, Crosby did everything humanly possible to win the game. He drew six penalties on his own through effort and force of will. He almost pulled a Jagr and scored after being hauled down. He is easily the best player on the ice for the Pens right now. Everyone else did their thing. Lemieux had some hop in his step, as he had a breakaway chance in the third, and Palffy played well offensively and defensively (I noticed him backchecking and covering the middle of the ice several times).

This one was really disappointing to lose, but if they continue the effort they made tonight, get a little better with not taking the penalties, get a little better goaltending, and keep getting quality scoring chances, they'll start winning soon enough. I'm still hopeful!

Game Night - Game #9

Florida Panthers at Pittsburgh Penguins

Florida 5-4-0 - 10 pts - 2nd in Southeast
Pittsburgh - 0-4-4 - 4 pts - Last in Atlantic

Florida so far is a team that plays far better at home, as evidenced by their 4-1 recornd at home and their 1-3 record on the road. They don't score much (just over two goals per game) but also don't allow much scoring either (just over two goals per game again). They have possibly the best goalie in the NHL - Roberto Luongo. He's played in all nine game thus far.

The Panthers haven't played since last thursday, as their game Saturday with Ottawa was moved due to hurricane concerns. They've been outshot every game on the road this year, and seem open it up more at home, racking up 35, 42 and 49 shots in their last three home games, all of which are more than any total for a road game this year. Their power play, despite netting two goals in four chances in their win against the Caps, has been weak this year. Their penalty kill has also been struggling of late. They killed off two chances against the Caps, but before that had allowed three PP goals against both the Rangers and Devils.

In short, this is a game the Pens really should win. In fact, they NEED to beat a team like this. The Panthers don't have much firepower, and are weak on the road. Their PP hasn't been much to worry about so far this year. If we're going to get a win this week, it should be tonight.

Having said that, I'm not counting on anything.

The game is on OLN. I've been less than crazy so far with their coverage. Fox Sports seems to do a much better job with their camera work. Hopefully it improves tonight.

Monday, October 24, 2005

A quick look around...

Let's take a look at a few quick Pens stats:

The Pens are not only the only team with no wins, everyone else has at least two (St Louis and Columbus being the teams with two). In the Eastern Conference, everyone has at least three.

The Pens have four overtime losses. Only three other teams have more than one OTL, the Rangers, the Maple Leafs and the Lightning.

The Pens have allowed 39 goals in 8 games. Only the Capitals have allowed more total goals (40), but they've also played one more game. In terms of an average, the Pens are allowing nearly 5 goals per game (4.88). They're only scoring 2.88 per game. That's a difference of 2 goals more allowed per game. Only the Capitals come close to that type of futility - they allow a full 2.22 goals more per game than they score. No one else has that kind of differential. The next highest is Columbus, and that's largely because they can't score.

What does all of this mean? To me, it's not worth much right now. The Pens are going through a rough streak. It just has our attention more because it's a streak to start the season. If we'd hit this rough patch in the middle of the season, it might not even be worth a mention on Sportscenter. They do need to get it going, but I still believe that they will. I also still think this is a playoff team.

On a more general note, Ottawa and Detroit have to be the teams to beat so far. They're both allowing less than two goals per game and scoring four or more per game. I know Nashville is also undefeated, but they have won seven games by a grand total of 9 goals. Of course, the Carolina Panthers got to the Super Bowl a few years ago by playing and winning close games...

Tomorrow is the start of a three game homestand against the Panthers. I'll have a preview up tomorrow.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Bruins 6, Penguins 3

Ugh. Again. The second period proved to be the undoing of the Pens, as they took EIGHT penalties, resulting in more than one 5 on 3, and the Bruins scored four power play goals.

In the third period, Malone scored and then Orpik scored on a nice pass from Crosby, and it looked like the Penguins might get back into the game. But Thibault gave up a bad goal on the short side to Thornton on a 2 on 1 break. I don't remember who the defense was in the middle, but he played it perfectly, taking away the pass. Thibault was sagging back towards his cage, instead of being out to challenge the shot, and Thornton somehow put it past him. Suffice it to say that it was a highly disappointing goal to give up, as the Pens actually had some momentum.

Anyway, highly undisciplined, penalty laden hockey in the second was really pretty terrible. I'm not sure how these guys keep doing this. Maybe the next three games being at home will help them out. I'm at a loss otherwise. They just look to be a step slow, be lax defensively, and take too many bad penalties.

The only positive, other than Gonchar looking like he was playing better (he got his first goal) was that Crosby continues to show that he's our best player. He had one great sequence in the third where he levelled a Bruins player, came up ice and made a great pass (I think it was on the Orpik goal). He may hit the rookie wall at some point this season, but right now he's firing on all cylinders.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Game Night - Game #8 - Good news, bad news

Pittsburgh Penguins at Boston Bruins

Pittsburgh - 0-3-4 - 4 pts - Last place Atlantic Division
Boston - 3-5-0 - 6 pts - Last place Northeast Divsion

The good news is that the Pens are playing a last place team.
The bad news is that the Pens ARE a last place team.

The good news is that the Pens have a better record on the road than they do at home.
The bad news is that road record is 0-1-3.

The good news is that the Bruins haven't yet won a home game.
The bad news is that the Pens haven't won a road game.

The Bruins offensive stars are all playing fairly well. Murray, Thornton, Bergeron, Isbister and Samsonov all have decent numbers. Raycroft has played far better than Toivonen, though he (Raycroft) hasn't had much support. He has a 2-4 record despite a respectable 3.25 GAA and save percentage over 90%... respectable, but not earth-shattering.

Their PP has been decent the last two games at 20% (3-15; better than then Pens for sure - they're 1-7 in their last two games). They've been outshot in every game this season except for two. One was their opener against Montreal. Guess which game the other one was? I'll give you three guesses and the first two don't count.... Yup - they outshot the Pens 41-29 in their last meeing with us two weeks ago.

The Pens need to up the effort and intensity. It's kind of funny to say, but I think going on the road might help them. It'll take some of the pressure of the home crowd off of them and let them try to find their rythm offensively.

Everything seems bleak right now, but winning cures all. The Pens get a win tomorrow night and use that as a springboard into their three game homestand next week, and it could look like an entirely new season once Halloween rolls around. Here's hoping...

Friday, October 21, 2005

Devils 6, Penguins 3

Familiar story... Pens down early. They came back quickly in the second period, but then the penalty bug got them again.

Gionta is proving that he is to the Pens what Morozov was to the Devils. Gionta has 5 goals on the season, and 4 of them have come against the Pens.

Thibault gave up 6 goals in about two and a half periods. He was yanked for Caron, who didn't give up a goal, making some nice saves (though by that point, the Devils had put the clamps down and were preserving the lead).

The Pens got killed again by inconsistent play and bad penalties. They threatened in the beginning of the third, but once they didn't score on their PP and the Devils scored shortly after it was over, you knew things were pretty much done.

Not sure what else can really be said at this point. They need a win badly. Their next game is at Boston before getting an actual three game homestand next week.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

King of the World...

Did you notice who was at the top of the NHL scoring leaderboard? Here's a hint, he used to play for us...

Jaromir Jagr.

Playing for the Rangers.

Who are in first place.

Can it get any worse?

Okay - maybe it can - Forsberg and Gagne are tied for second for Philly.

I'm going to stop now.

Game Night - Game #7

New Jersey Devils at Pittsburgh Penguins

New Jersey - 3-3-0 - 6 pts - 2nd place (tied) in the Atlantic
Pittsburgh - 0-2-4 - 4 pts - last palce in the Atlantic

When the Pens played last, they were two points out of first. Now, they're 7 points out of first. They're also tied for last in the conference with Atlanta. Not good.

New Jersey hasn't exactly been lighting it up since opening night. In fact, if you take away their 5-1 win on opening night, they've score just 11 goals in 5 games, while allowing 20. They also have lost both of their games on the road.

The Pens... well there really isn't much to say at this point. They need to go out and get their first win. They need consistent effort and consistent play in their own end. They also need to quit taking penalties. Their penalty killing is in the middle of the pack, but it's also eating into the time the top players can be on the ice in an offensive situation.

Last time I'm saying this... but here's hoping for #1

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Pens interested in Witt?

According to this article, the Pens may be interested in acquiring Brendan Witt from the Washington Capitals. Witt would shore up the defensive corps. You'd think that the last thing that we'd want to do is acquire a member of the D from the Capitals, but Witt is averaging 23 minutes per game and is a plus two for the season. Not sure who we'd be offering in return. Probably no one from the big club roster, unless they could find someone to take Pirjeta.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Fleury sent down

So the Pens activated Thibault today and sent down Marc Andre Fleury. I don't like it, but it makes sense. You want Fleury to play everyday. You also have to think that Thibault is a veteran presence that can help this team, especially in a playoff run (boy - that sounds weird to be talking about, but I still think it's realistic).

So when the Pens play on Thursday night, they'll likely have Thibault in the net with Caron backing him up. Against the Devils. Think of it as a second chance to start the season!

OT - Calvin and Hobbes

I know this is completely off-topic for this blog, but I have to say that we just got the Complete Calvin and Hobbes. If you're at all a fan of the strip, or a fan of the comics page in the newspaper, this is an absolutely awsome collection. It's a little bit pricey (the best price I've seen is on Walmart or, but well worth it. My wife and I are reading through it together a little bit each night and thoroughly enjoying it.

The books themselves are extremely well done (and quite heavy). There are three books total. Each book is about 500 pages. You can read more about it here and here.

If you're a fan of comics, I also recommend the new Absolute edition of Watchmen. Gorgeous, oversized reprinting of the classic series, along with supplementary material that hasn't seen the light of day for a long time. Highly recommended.

Okay... back to hockey. Sorry for the interruption :)

Comment fun

Turned on word verification for comments. The only comments that show up here are spam. Tired of that. Anyway, I also had the setting wrong for who can post a comment. Changed it so now anyone can post.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Lightning 3, Pens 1

This time they lost the standard way - in regulation. They played lights out hockey in the first and third periods, and wound up tied 1-1 from those two periods. They were out-shot 18-3 in the second period and seemed to have a complete mental breakdown, and that's when the Lightning got their two other goals that made the difference in the game.

The Pens continue their early season habit of making somewhat marginal goaltenders look like Patrick Roy. Last night was no exception, when we faced Tampa Bay's backup Sean Burke. Evidentally Sean wanted to prove that we should have gone with him in the offseason instead of Thibault, because he only allowed one goal.

Crosby continued his point streak with an assist on the lone goal. He's at six games with the streak. I believe the record is 7, by Alexander Daigle (did I spell that right?), if I'm remembering the graphic shown on the broadcast the other night. Crosby did show some signs of frustration last night, getting hit with a slashing penalty and then talking enough to the ref to get an unsportsmanlike conduct tacked on top.

How different would things be this season if we had Fleury starting with Burke backing him up? What if they had used the money spent on Thibault to go after another top level defensemen (since that seems to be their biggest need)? I think it's probably still too early to be asking those questions. They've only played six games. We can only continue to hope they get their stuff together.

No game until Thursday. I know last week at this time, I said I'd do a few other articles, and then life got in the way. With any luck, I'll get a few in during this week...

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Game Night - Game #6

Tampa Bay Lightning at Pittsburgh Penguins

Tampa Bay - 2-2-1 - 5 pts - 2nd place Southeast Division
Pittsburgh - 0-1-4 - 4 pts - 2nd place (tied) Atlantic Division

The Pens come off a roller coaster loss last night at Philly. They were down 5-1, came back and tied it at 5-5, and lost in OT, thanks to some penalties they took. They're still the only team in the NHL without a win, but they're also only 2 points out of first place in the Atlantic. How weird is that? They have two goaltenders playing really well right now, though Fleury will likely be sent down when Thibault is healthy. Edzo said that Fleury wasn't pulled last night due to any fault of his own - he played really well. Edzo indicated that he just wanted some change in the hopes of creating a spark. It worked.

Tampa Bay has only played one road game so far this season, which they lost. The Lightning are just 2-28 on the power play, which will hopefully help since the Pens seem to like to take penalties. Martin St Louis has only two points through 5 games. They are the defending Cup champs (how long ago was that? Seems like forever...), and are still very talented. The biggest change is that they don't have Khabibulin this season, but John Grahame is doing well so far. Their scoring isn't very good, averaging only 2.4 goals per game.

Here's hoping for win #1 (I may have to quit saying that if they keep losing...)

Friday, October 14, 2005

Flyers 6, Penguins 5 (OT)

Well, the worries about the lack of emotion about the Flyers were misplaced. All I needed was to see Forsberg flatten Fleury on the Flyers second goal and Richards run Caron in OT... then I was hoping someone would get their butt kicked. Unfortunately, the Pens sent Roy out and all he would do was go after King Thug (Donald Brashear). What he should have done, as Errey said on the telecast, was go after Forsberg or Gagne (especially Forsberg, for running Fleury).

Having said that, it was a game that went from bleak to exciting quickly. The Pens were down 5-1, had pulled Fleury in favor of Caron (when it was 4-1), and things looked hopeless. They started chipping away, cutting the lead to 5-3 at the end of the second period. They made it 5-4 and took a faceoff around center ice near the Pens bench. Off of the faceoff, from the red line, Maxim Talbot dumped the puck toward the goal, and Nittymaki, who was evidentally not paying attention, allowed the puck to slip into the goal (Nittymaki appeared to still be cleaning his crease). With the score tied, Caron made a truly amazing save with his glove. I'd describe it here, but I couldn't possibly do it justice. Go find the replay. Watch it. Be amazed.

Anyway, Crosby took an ill-advised penalty with 13 seconds left in regulation, and Gonchar took another one in OT. The Flyers scored near the end of the Gonchar penalty on a blast from near the left circle. Very disappointing, but still excellent that the Pens were able to battle back to earn the point for making it to OT.

The one player who still seems to not have things figured out yet is Gonchar. He's really struggling with bad passes and bad penalties. The Pens really need him to get going.

The other problem is consistency. Fleury didn't play poorly, from what I could see. He was more like the sacrificial lamb. I thought Edzo made the change for the sake of getting his team's attention, though Caron certainly played extremely well. But that was also due to much improved effort in front of him. Had Fleury been the beneficiary of such effort, he may not have needed to leave the game at all.

Tomorrow night is home against Tampa Bay. So nice of the league to schedule the Pens first two home games on the second night of a back-to-back...

Game Night - Game #5

Pittsburgh Penguins at Philadelpha Flyers

Pittsburgh - 0-1-3 - 3 pts - 4th place in the Atlantic Division
Philadelphia - 1-2 - 2 pts - last palce in the Atlantic Division

The Pens go to Philly tonight. Boy, along with the Rangers, there was no team I loved to hate more than the Flyers. Their aggresive fore-checking, their Legion of Doom line, Ron Hextall... there were lots of things not to like. Now, in the new NHL, I'm not as familiar with them. However, I'm sure the hate will still flow like a river :)

The Flyers are led by Forsberg, who is maybe the highest profile player not named Lemieux or Crosby. He's highly talented and somewhat injury-prone. Their goaltending has been subpar this season (I know since Robert Esche is on my fantasy hockey team), but I'm not sure if it's because Esche has sucked or the defense hasn't been good.

The Pens will try to finally get a win. I'm pretty optimistic still - they got to OT in three of their first four games. That means they were one shot away from winning all of those. I know that's a simplistic way to put things, but say they were 1-1-2 or 2-1-1 - we'd be thinking about the season so far in different terms.

Still hoping for win #1...

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Sabres 3, Penguins 2 (OT)

Another day, another OT loss for the Pens. This one was 20 seconds away from a shootout, which I felt really good about considering the way Fleury was playing. Very exciting game, to say the least. The Pens seemed to turn it on in the third period, but could never do enough to get themselves over the top (and into the lead).

You keep watching this team and thinking that they're going to be fine, and there are no problems that time won't solve. At some point, you have to think that maybe they're just not that good, but I really have trouble saying that with a straight face. They have the two best players on the planet by far. They are massively talented. The only thing I've noticed is that they're sometimes lax defensively, and they don't always seem to be very fast.

Anyway, they're off until Friday, so maybe during the next few days, I'll take a look at how some of the divisions are stacking up so far, along with a look at the Baby Pens in Wilkes-Barre (if I'm feeling ambitious, at least).

Monday, October 10, 2005

Game Night - Game #4

Pittsburgh Penguins at Buffalo Sabres

Pittsburgh - 0-1-2 - 2 pts - Tied for last in the Atlantic Division
Buffalo - 2-1-0 - 4 pts - Tied for 2nd in the Northeast Division

So Buffalo has their third home game in the first four games. We have our third road game in the first four. Buffalo won both games at home. Their most recent game was a loss to the Senators. They were blanked by their former netminder - Hasek. They have several players off to a fast start (by Sabres standards, at least). They include Briere, Afinogenov (two PP goals) and Dumont (also two PP goals).

Looks like Fleury will start in goal tonight, having been called up to fill in for the ailing Thibault (who, according to the news this morning, will be out until at least this weekend). Nothing much more to say about the Pens, other than they need their first win of the season. Getting to OT is nice, but they need to administer a good old-fashioned butt-kicking. I think that'll get them going this season. Also, Gonchar needs to find a way to get on the scoreboard. He's played the most minutes of anyone by FAR (averaging 27 minutes / game), but has no points to show for it.

Here's hoping for #1 (still)

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Bruins 7, Pens 6 (OT)

It was great seeing Crosby get his first NHL goal. Was also good to see Mario net two himself. Shame they blew two goal leads two different times. Not much else to say about that. The power play looked better for the most part. Seems like some of the players are still getting used to each other, but they're starting to click a little bit more.

Anyone notice that Leclair is not on the top two lines right now? Wonder if he's lost a step... Recchi still going strong it would seem.

Monday night at Buffalo. Hoping for win #1.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Game Night - Game #3

Boston Bruins at Pittsburgh Penguins

Boston - 0-2-0, 0 pts, last place in Northeast Division
Pittsburgh - 0-1-1, 1 pt, 4th place in Atlantic Division

Boston has gotten off to a poor start, scoring only two goals in two games. They, like the Pens, showed signs of coming out of it last night against the Sabres, with 15 shots in the 3rd period. Raycroft played last night, so I'm not sure if he'll go tonight, or if it'll be their backup, a guy named Toivonen. He was their first round pick in 2002, and is quite young (21).

The Bruins are lead by Thornton and Leetch. Glen Murray is also highly capable of lighting the lamp. The Bruins are also rife with former Penguins. These include players like McEachern, Slegr, Moran and the aforementioned Murray.

The Bruins also have a HUGE defensmen named Hal Gill. He's 6'7", and will look even bigger on skates. It's always fun to watch the jolly green giant type of players (remeber McKenna and Hatcher?) There are a few of these guys around the league. I'll have to try to remember to point them out when we play against them. Heck, Lemieux is pretty big himself - 6'4".

Hurricanes 3, Penguins 2 (SO)

Wow - that was an exciting way to end a hockey game. Not sure how Lemieux, Palffy and Crosby could all fail to score on a breakaway... but that's what happened. Caron really played well. The Hurricanes goals were one off of Melichar's skate and a breakaway at the end of a penalty by Stillman. The breakaway was of significance since he beat Caron on the forehand (Errey, the Pens TV announcer, was saying that's Stillman's well-known move). For the shootout, he (Stillman) went to the backhand, easily beating Caron.

Crosby absolutely looks like the real deal the more I see him play. His pass to setup Palffy tonght was beautiful. He looked like he was shooting, but instead passed the puck across the mouth of the goal crease to Palffy who was standing at the far post to tap it in. Put the puck right on his tape. Now, had it been Brodeur instead of Ward in goal, I'd imagine that pass wouldn't have made it through the crease - a goalie like Brodeur probably would have kicked it out.

Anyway, the Pens showed some resiliance tonight. Nothing was working for two periods, and they hung around long enough to scratch out a point. Hopefully that momentum builds into tonight's home opener.

The only other thing of note from last night is that the refs seemed to put away the whistles late in the game. Gonchar and Recchi were both tripped pretty blatantly and nothing was called. Recchi retaliated, and nothing was called there either. Hope that doesn't spread to other parts of the game like the refs have done in previous seasons.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Game Night - Game #2

Pittsburgh Penguins at Carolina Panthers

Both teams lost their openers on the road. Carolina had a difficult road as well, playing the defending cup champs, Tampa Bay. The main difference now is that the Pens get to be someone else's home opener again, and then have their own opener Saturday night against Boston.

The best thing about tonight's game are the following two words: rookie goaltender. His name is Cam Ward and he's also making his first career start (he relieved Gerber, Carolina's starting goalie, who was hurt in their season opener the other night). The Hurricanes are saying they're comfortable with Ward, but would you be comfortable in your first professional start against the firepower the Pens have?

Anyway, other than that, the Hurricanes were highly successful in the preseason, and have some decent offensive talent. Stillman, Staal, Whitney (though he's hurt), Brind'Amour, Vasicek and Cole are the highlights up front.

They have some veterans in the back line, namely Wesley, Tverdovsky and Hedican. None of those guys will leave you shaking in your boots, but they're solid. Tverdovsky used to be a good offensive guy, but he hasn't played in the NHL since 2002.

The Pens will be trying to get some better results on the power play, where they looked good but had little to show for it against the Devils. I'd imagine they'll also be looking to shore up things in front of Thibault, as several of the Devils goals were of the gritty variety.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Devils 5, Penguins 1

Well that didn't go so well. You could see it coming when the Pens had about 10 minutes straight of power plays, including two 5 on 3 situations, in the first period, and failed to score. Crosby did get his first point, and overall, I'd say the offense looked pretty good. Kind of funny to say that when you're below 10% efficiency on the power play, but Brodeur really stood on his head in the first period. Several Penguins were left shaking their heads given the quality of their scoring attempt.

On our end, Thibault didn't play badly. He did seem to flop around much more than Brodeur, and a few of the goals the Devils scored were garbage goals (there was one good shot of Lemieux shaking his head after Gionta scored).

Anyway, maybe this will inspire the Pens. If the refs keep calling the penalties consistently this year, the Pens will get more than their share of goals. They have too much firepower to be held in check very long.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Game Night - Game #1

Tonight - Pittsburgh Penguins at the New Jersey Devils.

Season opener. First game for Sydney Crosby. First game of the new era.

Quick look at the Devils -

- They still have Brodeur. He's still the best goalie in the game. The rules changes will hurt him, as he won't be able to handle the puck as much
- Offensively, it's Elias, Gomez, Mogilny and a bunch of guys named Moe. I'm not as familiar with the younger guys.
- Defensively, the obviously are vastly different without the Scotts. Rafalski and McGillis are the top two.

Overall, they'll probably be solid, but the new rules are designed to keep teams from playing like the Devils used to (with trapping and defensive systems). Will be interesting to see how they adapt.

Pittsburgh, on the other hand, has two massively talented lines - Palffy, Lemieux, Malone and Crosby, Recchi, Leclair. Add the offensive-minded D (Gonchar and Tarnstrom), and we could see a bunch of scoring.

This season should be fun to watch.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Pens Preview - Goalies

Not much to say here - Aubin gone, Fluery in the minors so he can play every day (and the Pens don't have to pay a backup a $4 mil bonus if / when he hits 24 NHL games).

Starting goalie - Thibault
Backup goalie - Caron

Thibault should be solid and provide as much net protection as the offensive-minded Penguins need.

Pens Preview - Defense

The Pens defensive pairings, according to the Post-Gazette, will be

Josef Melichar-Sergei Gonchar
Dick Tarnstrom-Ric Jackman
Brooks Orpik-Rob Scuderi
Steve Poapst-Lyle Odelein

Here are some of the players that were present at the end of 03-04:
... and probably a few others, though I couldn't dig up any good names (they traded Berehowsky before the end of the season).

Wow - much of the defense is still intact and expected to play a big role this year. Will be interesting to see how soon the Pens dip into the minors to get Whitney up here.

Pens Preview - Forwards

The season starts tomorrow night in New Jersey against the Scott-less Devils (as in, no Stevens or Nedermeyer). I'm going to look at the forwards, defense and goalies briefly in a few posts today and tomorrow.

First the forwards -

First Line
John LeClair-Sidney Crosby-Mark Recchi

Second Line
Ryan Malone-Mario Lemieux-Ziggy Palffy

Third Line
Matt Murley-Lasse Pirjeta-Konstantin Koltsov

Fourth Line
Rico Fata-Maxime Talbot-Ryan VandenBussche

Andre Roy is suspended for two games for the brainiac move of doing the throat slash gesture on the ice.

As a point of comparison, here are some of the forwards that were on the team at the end of the 03-04 season, when they won 15 of the last 20 games (not sure exactly how many were still on the club at the end):

Of those names, there are 4 on the big club roster this year - Malone, Koltsov, Murley and Fata. Can't say I'm going to miss any of the others either, other than Morozov and Surovy (he always seemed to have a scoring knack...)