Thursday, November 30, 2006

Pens waive Andre Roy

Andre Roy has cleared waivers as of today. This means the Pens can send him to Wilkes-Barre, keep him on the team, or release him.

I think with the Pens waiving Leclair and Roy, we're seeing a small roster shake-up. If nothing else, the team will be much faster than they are with those two guys in the lineup.

Source - TSN

Penguins waive John Leclair

There doesn't appear to be any official word yet, but the Pens have waived John Leclair.

He likely has little trade value, so once he clears waivers, he could still remain with the team. He could also be sent to Wilkes-Barre. He could also be released from the team, though I'm not sure they'd do that.

Let's hope that someone picks him up and that he has the chance to go out on his own terms.

Hat tip to Faux for the heads-up. Thanks!

Quarter Season Report

Since we're just past the first quarter of the season, I thought it would be a good time to take a look at where the team is so far, and where they seem to be headed.

Record: 11-8-4, 26 points

The Pens have 26 points through 23 games. Over an 82 game season, that projects to 92 points. We know from last season that will just barely put the Pens in line for the #8 spot in the playoffs. Last season, it took 92 points in the East and 95 in the West. The Pens are close, but they'll need to improve their play to get there.

Even Strength:
Goals Scored: 43
Goals Allowed: 42

The Pens have been a decent team at 5 on 5 hockey. They have the ability to possess the puck, and their third and fourth lines have done a decent job of keeping the puck in the offensive zone. The hidden stat here is that the Pens have yet to score a goal in a 4 on 4 situation, while allowing 5.

Power Play:
Goals Scored: 22 in 140 chances - 15.7%
Goals Allowed: 3 (1 short-handed, 2 empty net)

I'd have to say the power play is the biggest area of disappointment for me so far this season. The team is ranked 18th on the power play, at 15.7%. They are ranked #8 in the NHL with 140 chances in 23 games. To me, this is the biggest reason they've been unable to maintain a pace that would put them in the playoffs. They need some consistent scoring from the power play. You can see that they've clearly worked on some things - just watch Gonchar or Whitney at the point take the puck and skate laterally to change the shooting and passing angles. They didn't do that as much last year. Results are what counts, however, and the team simply isn't getting any right now.

Penalty Kill:
Goals Scored: 4
Goals Allowed: 24 in 140 chances - 82.9%

This has been another area of improvement over last year, but they are a different team at home versus on the road. At the Igloo, the team kills just over 90% of their penalties, while on the road, they kill just 74%. To put it another way, at home, the Pens are #4 in the NHL on the PK. On the road, the Pens are #27 on the PK. They (obviously) need to improve away from the friendly confines of the Mellon Arena. Shero's acquisitions have made a huge difference here, as Moore and Eaton (before he got hurt) especially have stepped right into prominent roles on the PK. This has also been Jordan Staal's biggest area of impact.

Overall, this is a very important part of the season for the Pens. They have 14 games coming up in December, and earning points now is critical. This isn't a team that has been in the playoff chase before, so I'd say their chances of making it are far better if they're on the inside looking out at the teams chasing them.

I think they can do it. Do you?

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Penguins 3, Islanders 2

Wow. When I suggested that Colby would score his first of the year from Sid, I didn't expect it to happen just 1:34 into the game. Not that I'm complaining... quite the contrary! It was great to see the Pens get on the board early.

Of course, they couldn't score on the power play, but that's a minor complaint tonight.

Tonight was all about Flower Power. It was Marc-Andre Fleury's birthday. It was Marc-Andre Fleury bobble head night. It was Marc-Andre Fleury's night to shine, and shine he did. He shined the most during the third period, when the Penguins desperately needed him to shine. This is one of those games that the Pens would have found a way to lose last year. This year, Fleury practically stood on his head and kept the puck out of the net. It was great to see him step up like that on a big night.

The only disappointment I have from tonight is that someone didn't plaster Satan for his cheap hit and subsequent trash talking last Wednesday. I guess I can live with two points for the Pens and zero for the Isles as a worthwhile alternative.

Army almost had the hat trick, but he was hooked while going for an empty net goal. If the ref would have signaled penalty shot, he would have the goal automatically, but he only gave Poti a hooking minor. Someone threw their hat on the ice anyway. I was really happy for Armstrong to see him get his first two goals of the year.

Next up: at New Jersey on Friday and then back home against the Isles (again!) on Saturday.

Game #23 - vs New York Islanders

New York Islanders (12-7-3, 27 pts) at Pittsburgh Penguins (10-8-4, 24 pts)

The Pens and Isles are teams going in different directions, and it's starting to show in the standings. The Pens have lost three straight (2 on OT), while the Isles have won 4 straight and 6 of 8. They have 13 out of 16 possible points in their last 8 games.

The story for the Isles is still DiPietro. He has been stopping everything that is thrown at him recently, including last Wednesday against the Penguins.

The Isles will be without Alexi Yashin, while Sidney Crosby will return for the Penguins. This is huge for the Pens, who have only managed 5 goals in the three games that Sidney has missed.

I'm looking for a nice home victory tonight with Army finally breaking through for a much needed goal on a nice setup from Sid.

Let's Go Pens!

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Rangers 2, Penguins 1 (OT)

Wow. Talk about a kick in the gut. That's what the end of the game was if you were watching it. Malkin almost wins the game with a fluky chip shot in OT. Staal can't convert on a penalty shot in OT. The Rangers then get the winning goal with 2.2 seconds remaining in the OT. Kick in the gut. Ugh.

This one was all about the third period. The Pens were protecting a 1-0 lead and got a bit too conservative. The Rangers out shot the Pens 12-4 in the third period. When Jagr caught a lucky bounce, he buried it into the empty cage to the right of Fleury. There was nothing that Flower could have done. Recchi had been shadowing Jagr, but lost track of him, which allowed Jaromir to slip free.

The Pens could have had this one be out of reach if they had been able to convert on a few more power play chances, especially during their two man advantage in the first period. Thankfully, that's exactly when they converted during the second period.

Therrien has been riding Recchi and Malkin really hard in terms of minutes played. It will be good when Sidney returns to have someone else share some of the heavy lifting. Geno really looked tired during parts of the late third period and OT.

One other thing - Nils Eckman was really flying tonight, and was second on the team with 5 shots. That's good to see. Would be nice if some of his teammates might go to the net for any rebounds off of his shots. Nils always looks like he'd teetering on the edge of his skates when he's going full speed - it's kinda funny.

Next up: a rematch with the Isles on Tuesday at the Igloo.

Game #22 - vs New York Rangers

New York Rangers (12-9-1, 25 pts) at Pittsburgh Penguins (10-8-3, 23 pts)

The Rangers make their second consecutive Saturday night appearance at the Igloo. Hopefully the game yields the same result as last week.

Tonight, the Penguins need to find a way to put the puck in the net, especially on the power play. We were saying the same thing the last time these teams met, and it took two 5 on 3 chances for them to score on the power play. I wouldn't count on getting too many 5 on 3 chances each night.

Scoring tonight will be tough - Lundqvist has been tough since losing to the Pens last Saturday - he stopped 61 of 62 shots over two games for two Ranger victories. The Penguins have been able to get to him twice previously this season, winning each game.

According to Michel Therrien, Evgeni Malkin is okay and should play tonight. That's great news. Now if Sidney Crosby would also suit up (which wouldn't surprise me - he was skating in warm ups yesterday), there could be some rockin' going on at the Igloo.

Colby Armstrong ALMOST had his first goal a few times last night, so I'm going to go out on a limb and say that tonight's the night.

I'm looking for a much needed win at home for the Pens, pulling them into a tie with the Rangers in the Atlantic.

Let's Go Pens!

Friday, November 24, 2006

Islanders 3, Penguins 1

This one was simple - the Pens were setup to play the perfect road game. They were generating lots of offense, shooting the puck a lot and dominating the play at even strength. They forgot one thing - you have to put the puck in the net.

I guess we can call this progress because a few weeks back, all we were talking about was the abject lack of shooting. Now we're seeing the shots come, but they're not really making it into the net. Honestly, this is where the Penguins lack of talent on the wings is starting to shine through. They don't have a prime time finisher that can bury the puck. They don't really have a sniper for that matter. Malkin shows signs of being one, as does Ouellet (and I'm still holding out hope for Christensen), but no one has become a great goal scorer. That's really the missing piece for this team right now.

Thibault played reasonably well, though he did misplay the puck that led to the first goal for the Isles. He stopped pretty much all he was supposed to stop.

The other gaping area of weakness right now is the lack of offense on the power play. The Pens simply aren't able to score. Let's hope that changes, and quick. If they are able to get even one or two on the power play today, especially early, it's a totally different game.

Malkin left the game after taking a big hit on his bad shoulder with about 3:00 left in the third period. It was a clean hit, and Evgeni went immediately down the runway. Let's hope that he's okay.

No rest for the weary, as the Pens come back and play at home tomorrow night.

Next up: vs the Rangers at the Igloo.

Game #21 - at New York Islanders

Pittsburgh Penguins (10-7-3, 23 pts) at New York Islanders (10-7-3, 23 pts)

The Islanders have been playing quite well of late. They returned from a five game road trip, where they went 3-1-1 (and won in Dallas), to kick the stuffing out of Carolina, out shooting them 48-15 and winning 4-2. They've been winning their games largely due to Rick DiPietro and their play at even strength. Prior to the Wednesday win over the Hurricanes, the Isles had allowed at least 33 shots in each game for their 5 game road trip.

Their special teams have also been nothing special. Their power play is only 2-31 over their last eight games, and went through a two game stretch where they only drew one penalty. Their PK isn't much better, stopping only 30 of 39 chances over the same time frame.

For the Pens to win, they need to win the battles at even strength, which is something they've been pretty decent at this year. They'll also need to start scoring some power play goals. The biggest thing they have in their favor is their record against the Atlantic division - they're 8-1, including a win earlier this season at Long Island.

No word yet on whether Crosby will play.

I'm still looking for a Pens victory, with the first goal of the year from Colby Armstrong!

Let's Go Pens!

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving

Everyone have a happy and safe Thanksgiving Day!

Bruins 4, Penguins 3 (OT - SO)

The Penguins got to a shootout for the first time this season. It didn't go very well. The combination of Michel Ouellet, Evgeni Malkin and Sergei Gonchar couldn't get a goal behind Tim Thomas. Ouellet and Malkin both fired off wrist shots, trying to catch Thomas early. Gonchar tried about a million dekes with the puck, but Thomas didn't seem very concerned and easily stopped the shot attempt.

Prior to the shootout, this game was defined by two main points:
  1. The Penguins are having a horrible time on the power play lately. They had only one goal in 9 chances tonight. This game could have been won in regulation if they could just convert a few more of those chances.
  2. Evgeni Malkin showed signs in the third period of being able to take over a game. He was dominant late in the contest. That's something the Pens need to see more of from him. We know Sidney has that instinct - for Geno to have it too would be a huge plus.

It was nice to see the team come back and get a point out of this one, but it only feels like a shallow victory. I guess that's the difference between this year and last year.

Next up: at the Islanders on Friday afternoon.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Sidney Crosby to miss game against Boston Bruins

Crosby injured his groin on Monday against the Flyers. He'll miss tonight's game at home against Boston and is questionable for Friday and Saturday.

Faux - I think you're right - Malkin will be the #1 center and the team will rally around this to play well without him. I look for a rough and tumble game with Armstrong stepping up (like you said earlier, Will).

Hat tip to Will for pointing this out.

Source - Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Game #20 - vs Boston Bruins

Boston Bruins (8-8-2, 18 pts) at Pittsburgh Penguins (10-7-2, 22 pts)

Are the Penguins ready to take the next step? Are they ready to beat the teams they "should" beat? I hope so, because this is one of those games. They should beat the Bruins.

The Bruins have an odd schedule this year - they opened with five straight games on the road, and then played 11 out of 13 games at home. Before their loss to Florida on Monday, they'd won four straight at home (one in OT and two in a shootout), so they're playing a little bit better. The Bruins are one of those teams that the Pens could be competing against for the last playoff spot, so it would be nice to make sure they come away from tonight's game with zero points.

On the road, the Bruins are only 2-4-1. They are tied for the second worst PK in the league at 75.9%, and have allowed 14 goals in 48 chances on the road. This means they're averaging almost 7 short-handed situations per game on the road. Certainly the Penguins should be able to take advantage of this.

The Pens need to toughen up their PK. They started out the season really well, but are starting to slip back to number similar to last year. Right now, they're at an 82% efficiency rate on the PK, and that won't bode well for long term success. They allowed three PP goals by the Flyers on Monday night.

The Pens also seem to have a "magic formula" - they haven't lost this season when they've scored at least four goals. In fact, their record when scoring 3 or less is 2-7-2, and when scoring 4 or more is 8-0-0. Crank up the offense!

Let's hope that Sidney's groin isn't serious, and that Army can net his first goal tonight - he was close the other night a few times.

Let's Go Pens!

Monday, November 20, 2006

Penguins 5, Flyers 3

Tonight's game was the prototype for how the Penguins should play. The offensive guys displayed some great skills. The goalie was solid. The role players did their job in terrific fashion, especially in the third period.

I'm not sure who the three stars are for tonight, but I'm nominating the role players. Specifically, I'm putting up Talbot, Thorburn, Ruutu and especially Petrovicky. When I looked and saw that Petro only played a little over 8 minutes, I was shocked. You really noticed when he was on the ice - he made his presence felt. Let's go back to the quote he provided before the season started, because I think it was exemplified by his play tonight:
"They want to make a new statement and bring young blood into the team and organization - to spark it up," he said. "I want us to be tough to play against - teams coming in have us on their minds a little bit. They won't be happy to play against us because we will be tough to play against and make them pay the price for the length of the hockey game."
I couldn't have said it better myself, Ronald. Here's hoping he can keep it going - the Pens will be better for it.

Sidney Crosby has some mystery injury and didn't play in the third period, though the Pens had a three goal lead that was never really threatened, so they may have just rested him. He had gone to the locker room, come back out and played on the power play, and then gone right back to the locker room. There has been no news yet as to what happened to him.

It goes without saying that the best thing about tonight is that the Pens are now 4-0 against the Flyers.

UPDATE - The Wife has informed me that they really should have Sidney Crosby wear a shirt when they interview him about his injury. I'm going to have to get revenge by watching the episode of Lost with Evangeline Lilly crawling in and out of her cage. Oh, and Sidney's injury is a groin issue. He'll see how it's feeling over the next few days.

Next up: vs Boston on Wednesday.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Game #19 - at Philadelphia Flyers

Pittsburgh Penguins (9-7-2, 20 pts) at Philadelphia Flyers (5-13-2, 12 pts)

sssshhhhh! Don't look now, but the Flyers have been playing better of late (except for their hiccup in San Jose on Saturday night). They went through the same 3 game West Coast swing that the Penguins did, except that the Flyers won in Anaheim and Los Angeles. Admittedly, Anaheim has been coming back to earth a bit, but anytime an East Coast team can go on a three game road trip to Anaheim, LA and San Jose and come out with two wins, they're playing pretty decently.

Add to this mess the fact that the Penguins historically struggle in Philadelphia, and you have a recipe for disaster. I'm hoping the Penguins can avoid the quagmire and step up their game. They are over .500 at home, and Philly is 2-5-2 at home.

For the Pens, the formula is as simple as it has been recently. Take advantage of the man-advantage and play even the rest of the time. Easier said than done, I know, especially against a strong PK like Philly, but no one ever said this would be easy.

One other thing - the Pens need to keep their noses above the nonsense. Unless, that is, someone (like Thorburn or Roy) can get that wimp Hatcher to fight. Then they should go for it with aplomb.

I'm looking for a tough road win, with Colby Armstrong's first goal of the year.

Let's Go Pens!

Penguins 3, Rangers 1

Didn't get to see this one - but it's nice to see that the power play actually converted two 5 on 3 chances, and then put the Rangers away with a late goal.

Mark Recchi scored twice, and Jordan Staal was in the right place at the right time on the power play to get his 7th goal of the year.

Last night was the Penguins debut of Ronald Petrovicky, who we should all be able to enjoy watching, especially when on a line with Ruutu and Thorburn.

Noah Welch, for the second time in three games, played less than 10 minutes. I think when Mark Eaton returns, you're going to see Noah get sent back to Wilkes-Barre (barring some kind of trade).

Here's what Will had to say in the comments from the game preview (hope you don't mind me highlighting your comment, Will!)
Turned out to be a great defensive game for the Pens. The only big mistakes I saw were by Whitney. He had a few turnovers, one that turned into the Rags sole goal, and another that would have been a goal but Fleury was ready. Besides that they looked really good. Petro impressed me and made me miss Eaton all that much more. Surprised to see LeClair as a scratch but can't say I disagree. PP was 2/139 or something but at least they had a few goals.
Great win for the Pens.

Next up: at Philadelphia on Monday, kicking off a busy Thanksgiving week.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Game #18 - vs New York Rangers

New York Rangers (10-8-1, 21 pts) at Pittsburgh Penguins (8-7-2, 18 pts)

The plan tonight should be simple - the Rangers will take their share of penalties. The Penguins need to:
  1. Score on the power play (very important)
  2. Minimize the Rangers chances by not taking stupid penalties
  3. Avoid the shootout (Lundqvist is perfect in shootouts this year, in that he hasn't allowed a single goal)

Other than that, Jagr is going for goal #600. Much as I like Jaromir, I'd rather see him get it somewhere else.

Let's Go Pens!

Friday, November 17, 2006

Sabres 4, Penguins 2

Tonight's game was very winnable. In fact, if the Pens would have done one thing extra, I think they would have come away with at least one point. What is that one thing? SCORE ON THE POWER PLAY!!

This one was there for the taking. The Sabres played well, but so did Thibault. The Pens managed 36 shots on Biron, but he was also quite good in net. They couldn't get that critical goal that would have put them back into the game prior to the scramble at the end. I'm not sure what's wrong with the power play right now, except that all they can seem to manage is to pass the puck around the perimeter, with no one looking to be aggressive. Malkin was lined up in the slot for one of the opportunities I saw tonight, and he never touched the puck. Either shoot the one-timer from the point, or have someone on the sideboards make a move to try to create some space.

Anyway, the special teams were pretty much the story of the game. The Sabres notch two PP goals, the Pens can't get anything on their chances.

Next up: the Rangers at home, tomorrow night. Jagr is going for goal #600. If he gets it, we can all die a little inside. Preview up tomorrow.

Game #17 - at Buffalo Sabres

Pittsburgh Penguins (8-6-2, 18 pts) at Buffalo Sabres (15-2-1, 31 pts)

Time for the hurting to begin.

Tonight, the Pens play the Buffalo Sabres, who are the #1 team in the NHL with 31 points. The only silver lining to this right off of the bat is that the Sabres are only 5-2-1 at home (as opposed to 10-0-0 on the road). Unfortunately, they just lost at home to Ottawa, so they're likely to be angry.

The Sabres are the #1 team in goal scoring (by far) this season, with 82 goals in just 18 games. With the way the Penguins allow shots, it could get ugly. The Pens are also likely to play Jocelyn Thibault in goal. The Sabres, feeling charitable, are going to start Martin Biron - he of the .886 save percentage. The Pens need lots of shots tonight!

On special teams, the Sabres are just about even with the Pens - their power play is maybe a little better, while their PK is a little worse. The only difference is that they get more PP chances while taking far fewer penalties. The Pens can't afford to spend the evening in the penalty box.

If the Pens play a tight road game, skate well, and stay out of the box, they have a chance for this to be a close one. If they come unraveled on any of those aforementioned items, the Sabres will lower the boom.

I'm hoping for at least a point out of the game (if not two), and the first goal from Colby Armstrong!!

Let's Go Pens!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Malkin preliminary injunction denied

The preliminary injunction sought by Metallurg Magnitogorsk to prevent Evgeni Malkin from playing in the NHL has been denied. He is free to continue playing while his case is being settled.

I think the technical term we're looking for here is "No duh!"

Source -

Monday, November 13, 2006

Penguins 3, Flyers 2

So I guess we call this the Thrill of Victory, eh?

The Pens came out smoking in the first two periods, out shooting the Flyers 31-10. They couldn't get more than 2 past Nittymaki, however, and the Flyers tied the game in the third on a BSFNOW goal (Blind Squirrel Finds a Nut Once in a While) goal. Richards threw the puck to the net, and Sanderson batted it into the net when it deflected off of Melichar's skate. Sanderson didn't even know he had a goal.

This was a game the Pens needed badly. They did most things right tonight, and to lose this one (or to even go to OT) could have been bad for the psyche of this young team. They kept at it, and Malkin netted the game winner with little more than two minutes remaining in the third.

My question of the night is as follows: late in the third, Meyer hit Army near the boards. It was clearly interference and Army was down briefly. Whitney, in a great show of support, went right after Meyer and was locked up with him. King Goon, er, I mean Hatcher, comes barrelling over, and showing no respect of the unwritten rule about being the third man in, grabs Whitney from behind and tries to fight him. Never mind that Hatcher is too much of a wimp to do more than talk with Andre Roy on opening night. Anyway, back to my rant, already in progress. Anyway, when it's all sorted out by the CZs (Clueless Zebras), Meyer gets two minutes for charging (could have been a major, given how close they were to the boards, but I digress), Whitney gets two for INSTIGATING (?!?!?!?) and five for fighting, and Hatcher gets just 5 for fighting.

What the heck?? How does King Goon come lumbering as the third man in and only get a fighting major? I'd say it was immaterial, but the Flyers almost tied the game as a direct result of the CZs making sure the Flyers weren't any more short-handed. I was pretty disgusted with that one...

Before I sign off, did anyone see the tremendous effort put in by Crosby on the last scrum at the end of the game? He was hit by the shot from the point and went down, stunned. He then got back up and managed to have the strength to get to the front of the cage and mix it up with the Flyers (and throw in a nice slash for good measure).

Man, do I hate the Flyers. I'm so glad the Pens pulled this one out.

Next up: at Buffalo on Friday. Talk about a litmus test...

Game #16 - vs Philadelphia Flyers

Philadelphia Flyers (3-11-2, 8 pts) at Pittsburgh Penguins (7-6-2, 16 pts)

Tonight will be either the Thrill of Victory or the Agony of Defeat, as they used to say on ABC's Wide World of Sports. I can think of no better team to beat to break out of a slump than the Flyers (though the Rangers are a close second), and I can think of no worse team to lose to under the current circumstances than the Flyers. It will either be very, very good, or very, very bad.

Maybe the Pens can use tonight as a way to go back to how they were playing at the beginning of the year, kind of like a reset button. Let's hope so, because they've been unable to generate any kind of offense since the last time they played Philly. In their last four games, it has been especially bad, with the Pens managing just 18.5 shots per game. That simply won't get it done.

The Flyers almost beat Buffalo at home on Saturday night, and they've been playing a bit better of late. The score doesn't show it, but they had out shot their opponents in eight straight games before Saturday night. Their penalty kill has also been excellent. Of course, most of what you need to know about the Flyers special teams comes from the following fact - the Flyers have allowed more power play goals than they've scored, and their PK has been excellent this year.

So, tonight the Pens badly need to break the losing streak, and not just because they need the points. Ask yourself: would you want to be off until Friday with an upset Michel Therrien just waiting to "explain" things to you all week long? Me either...

Let's Go Pens!

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Hurricanes 6, Penguins 2

Wow - I thought last night was bad (against the Senators). Tonight was worse. It started out okay, but then the parade to the penalty box began, and things weren't the same after that.

Despite the adversity, the Pens almost tied this one up in the third, with a goal not being allowed (even after video replay) due to insufficient evidence. In short, there was no clear camera angle that showed if the puck crossed the goal line. After that, Thibault allowed a real soft goal and things spiraled out of control. No matter what the Pens tried, it didn't work the way they hoped, right down to Therrien pulling the goalie just in time for a Hurricanes empty net goal.

The Pens were out shot again, and only managed 20 shots for the entire night. It was dramatic to see the difference between the way the Hurricanes controlled and passed the puck and the way the Pens would try to whack it up the ice (or carry it). There just isn't much consistency right now to their game.

It is encouraging to see the penalty killers be aggressive when they have the chance. I think that will serve them well when they're not getting quite so much practice at it.

I'm half expecting a little bit of a rant from Therrien after these two performances, and I'll update the blog if that happens.

Next up: vs Philadelphia on Monday.

Game #15 - at Carolina Hurricanes

Pittsburgh Penguins (7-5-2, 16 pts) at Carolina Hurricanes (8-6-3, 19 pts)

First up, this is the first time Brooks Orpik will see the Hurricanes since his hit on Erik Cole last season. The Hurricanes will try to go after him, I'd guess, especially if the game gets out of hand in either direction. They may also try to go after Army, but his hit earlier this year on Letowski wasn't really viewed as dirty, so maybe they'll lay off on him while they're distracted by Brooks.

Cam Ward continues to be a winning goalie that just isn't all that great. I know he had a great playoff run, but his regular season numbers continue to be average to slightly above average. He's been worse than Fleury this season in both save % and goals against. He does just enough to win the games, it would seem.

Helping out Ward is the Hurricanes defense, which except for their Atlanta game, has done an excellent job recently. This does not bode well for the Penguins, whose offense is currently in the remedial training portion of Michel Therrien's School for the Offensively Challenged.

I'll be frank - the way the Penguins have been playing, I don't see much chance for a victory tonight. Maybe I'm wrong, and maybe going on the road will help pull this team out of whatever funk it's in. Let's hope so.

I'm still waiting for a goal from Army.

Let's Go Pens!

Senators 6, Penguins 3

The recent Ottawa domination of the Flightless Birds continues. Ottawa jumped out to a lead, and instead of allowing a comeback, they kept pressing. The Penguins were helpless, and couldn't generate any sustained offense. That's probably the most surprising part - the Pens have been a decent team at even-strength, but they couldn't do anything against the Senators.

Being out shot 44 to 17 is downright embarrassing. I'm not sure how you come out flat like that when you're a team that has been struggling to generate offense. Even if you're not on the same skill level (and let's face it - the Pens can't compete with a line of Heatley, Aldredsson and Spezza), you can at least out work the opposition, but even that didn't happen.

The only positive I can take from this one is that the Pens were able to score twice on the power play and once short-handed. Max Talbot's effort in scoring the shortie was fantastic, and showed the Pens what a little bit of hustle (and driving to the net!!) will do.

Therrien keeps saying the Pens need to get back to basics, but I'm not seeing them do it. If this doesn't change, I see an explosion on the horizon, and it would be well earned.

Next up: Saturday at Carolina.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Game #14 - vs Ottawa Senators

Ottawa Senators (5-8-1, 11 pts) at Pittsburgh Penguins (7-4-2, 16 pts)

Here's a radical idea for tonight: Put the Sens on the power play early and often. Their power play so far this year has been quite poor, even more so lately. During their current 5 game losing streak, they are just 2-29 on the power play. To strengthen this (admittedly ludicrious) case further, the Sens have allowed 5 shorties (they only have 7 goals on the power play all year) and the Pens have scored 4 shorties. I beat the heck out of Spezza, Alfredsson and Heatley, take some early minor penalties, and then deploy two PK units, one with Moore and Talbot and the other with Staal and Armstrong. For extra offense, you mix in Crosby and Malkin once in awhile. Should be a blowout!

Okay, I know that's dumb, but it is funny how the numbers are working out.

In all seriousness, the Pens need a win, and this is the right time to get one. Martin Gerber has been struggling pretty badly. The Sens have been away from home for 4 of their past 5 games, and they have to go to Boston tomorrow night. The Pens, on the other hand, have had a day or so to get back into the swing of things in the Eastern time zone. They've had some time to recharge. I'm looking for an energetic performance tonight. If that doesn't happen, I'm looking for a Michel Therrien tirade. I don't think he'll take too kindly to losing 4 in a row, especially considering this is a young team. The losing can be just as contagious as the winning.

I'm predicting a nice win for the Pens tonight, with goal #1 from Colby Armstrong (where have I heard that before?)

Let's Go Pens!

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Lightning 4, Penguins 3 (OT)

The Penguins looked pretty sluggish tonight. I especially noticed it on Evgeni Malkin, who just didn't seem to have any hop in his step. This is another game that the Pens were probably lucky to get a point. If not for the hat trick by Nils Eckman (the first of his career), they would never have that point.

The Pens were down early 2-0 before Nils took things into his own hands and made it 3-2. In the third, Noah Welch got a little too zealous to finish off a check and was out of position, allowing Eric Perrin to drive to the net and score. In OT, the Pens were putting some pressure on Holmqvist, but Lecavalier was cheating up ice when St Louis got the puck and sent it rocketing up to Vinny. Breakaway, forehand-backhand, score. Ugh.

The Pens were out shot 31-20, and other than their brief flurry in the second when Nils had his hat trick (a span of under 5 minutes), it didn't seem like they were even in the game. I think the effort was typified by the power play the Pens had with about 5 minutes remaining in third. Not only did they not muster a shot, they also didn't come close to puck possession in the offensive zone. They were out of gas.

Hopefully they get refueled soon... they have three games in four days, starting Friday at home.

Next up: vs Ottawa on Friday

Game #13 - vs Tampa Bay Lightning

Tampa Bay Lightning (7-7-1, 15 pts) at Pittsburgh Penguins (7-4-1, 15 pts)

The Lightning are finishing up a four game road trip. They're 2-0-1 on the trip, with both of the victories coming with Holmqvist in net. I'd say we're likely to see him again tonight, since Marc Denis has been struggling in his last few starts.

The Lightning penalty kill has been sporadic of late, killing only 23 of 31 in their last six games. The power play has stepped it up, however, scoring 5 goals in the past two games.

The Lightning have a better record on the road (4-2-1) than they do at home (3-5), and the Pens usually have trouble with the Bolts.

Martin St Louis and Vincent Lecavalier have both been hot, with St Louis scoring 11 goals so far and Lecavalier notching 20 points.

The Pens will be looking to bounce back from consecutive losses on the west coast and get back onto a good streak. The need to get more shots on goal and earn more chances on the power play. Anaheim was one of the most penalized teams and the Pens only managed two chances against them.

The Pens have allowed a power play goal against them in four straight games. Would be nice for that streak to end tonight, but that will be a tough task against the good power play of the Lightning, especially if the Pens are on the PK 9 times like they were on Monday.

I'm looking for a Pens victory, and (still) goal #1 from Colby Armstrong (I'm going to keep saying it until he does it).

Let's Go Pens!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Anaheim 3, Penguins 2 (OT)

This is a game that the Penguins had no business earning a point from (as Will points out in the comments from the preview) . The Ducks had 40 shots to the Penguins 17. The Ducks had 9 power play opportunities to the Penguins 2. In short, the Ducks dominated the game. The Pens had few chances, and fewer conversions.

Dominic Moore scored in the first on a great individual effort, and Chris Thorburn scored while playing on the first line, which he did on several occasions throughout the game.

Therrien really shortened his bench, playing Armstrong, Eckman, Leclair and Ruutu in much more limited roles. Some of that was predicated by the excess of penalties the Penguins took, and some of it was because Leclair and Ruutu probably aren't fast enough skaters to play consistently against the teams from the West.

The Pens were extremely fortunate to get a point from this one, and have had a successful road trip to the West Coast, earning three points in three games.

Next up: vs Tampa Bay at the Igloo on Wednesday

Monday, November 06, 2006

Game #11 - at Anaheim Ducks

Pittsburgh Penguins (7-4-0, 14 pts) at Anaheim Ducks (10-0-4, 24 pts)

Anaheim is second overall in the league. They haven't lost in regulation yet. They're pretty unusual in that two defensemen lead them in scoring (Pronger and Niedermayer). They have two great goalies (the Pens will probably see Giguere tonight). They have balanced scoring. Yet despite all of that, I think they're beatable for the Penguins. Here's why:
  • The Ducks (don't call them Mighty) play four defensemen heavily, and don't really use the other two more than 11 or 12 minutes. That will be difficult against a team with good offensive firepower like the Pens.
  • The Ducks have more penalty minutes than every team but one (Phoenix). Their PK is good, but when you take more penalties than most, you're still going to give up the goals.
  • Their power play has been somewhat sporadic, netting at least one goal in only four of the previous 10 games, after starting with goals in 4 straight games.
Brooks Orpik will debut tonight, taking the place of Mark Eaton. Eaton is back in Pittsburgh being re-evaluated after his arm / wrist injury on Saturday night.

In short, the Penguins need to come out and play a good road game - play fast, draw penalties and convert on their chances.

I'm looking for a Penguins win, or at least on OTL. That would give the team 3 points on their West Coast swing, and (in my book) make the trip a success.

Let's Go Pens!

Therrien shows Armstrong the four

As in, Michel Therrien has moved Colby Armstrong to the fourth line. In practice yesterday, Armstrong played with Talbot and Ruutu on the fourth line. Therrien had the following to say about it:
"Colby Armstrong, it's not enough for me, what he's doing right now. I didn't like his game [Saturday]. He's not producing and I didn't like the way he competed [Saturday] night. If you force me to make decisions, I'll make decisions. It's pretty simple."
Michel Therrien is so much fun. I feel bad for Colby, but even though he's disappointed, he seems to be taking it the right way:
"I kind of expected it. I don't think I'm playing the way I usually play. It's a matter of getting back to the basics and getting that jump and playing with the energy I have to have to help this team. I don't blame [Therrien] for what he's doing. I've got to step my game up."

And with that attitude, I have no doubt we'll see Army back up on the top line in no time at all.

Source - Post-Gazette

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Sharks 3, Penguins 2

Wow. What a high intensity game. The Penguins did what they needed to - kept the Sharks off of the power play - almost. They took one too many penalties (they only took three that put them on the PK) , and the Sharks capitalized.

Conversely, the Pens power play couldn't get going. You could see how good the penalty kill of the Sharks was. The Pens were never really able to get a consistent flow going in the offensive zone, and when they did get chances, Toskala was up to the challenge.

Really, what the Penguins saw tonight was a blueprint. Here's what they saw:
  1. The Sharks finished off EVERY check, especially when fore checking. Remember what Petro said before the season about making teams pay a price to play the Pens? The Sharks did exactly that tonight.
  2. The power play was well spaced and lethal, and they moved the puck really well (the goal was off of a cross-ice pass).
  3. The penalty kill was even better - they knew where to trap and out worked the Pens in the corners.
  4. The Sharks employed a soft dump into the corners and then went in and thumped the defensemen. This is something the Pens should try, especially when they're playing a goalie that can handle the puck behind the net (like Brodeur) - Toskala was good at that last night.
In total, the Pens should endeavor to play more like the Sharks last night. I think they're close, but they're not quite there yet.

Next up: at Anaheim. It doesn't get any easier.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Game #11 - at San Jose Sharks

Pittsburgh Penguins (7-3-0, 14 pts) at San Jose Sharks (9-5-0, 18 pts)

The Penguins picked a bad time to come into San Jose. The Sharks are likely an unhappy team after being beaten for just the second time this year at home by the New York Rangers on Thursday night. They're probably looking for someone to take out their frustrations on, and they'll have a target in the Penguins.

The Pens have won 5 in a row, including two in OT, and have a share of first place in the Atlantic. As a point of comparison, the Sharks have 18 points (4 more than the Pens) and are 6 points out of first place and four points out of second place. The Atlantic division is pretty weak so far this year.

The Sharks are an interesting team, in that they've scored over 50% of their goals on the power play (22 out of 43). They've allowed only 9 out of 32 total goals on the penalty kill. This means that at even strength, they're being outscored on the year. Conversely, the Pens have scored only 13 of 37 with the man-advantage, and allowed 10 of 27 when on the PK.

What does this mean? It means I didn't get enough sleep last night!

Seriously, it means that the key to the game for the Pens is to keep the Sharks off of the power play, and be ferocious about killing the penalties they do take. The Sharks are 1-3 in their last four games that they score one or fewer power play goals.

For the Pens, I'm still hoping for the first goal of the year from Colby Armstrong. It would be a tremendous boost to help the team keep the momentum for him to get going a little bit. Malkin and Crosby aren't going to be able to produce every single night, and the Pens will need some viable candidates to step up.

Fleury will be in net tonight, with Toskala likely in net for the Sharks (they rotate him with Nabokov every other game). Toskala is the better of the two San Jose goalies this year so far. Lucky us.

This would be a tremendous road win for the Penguins, who still (somehow) have not lost on the road this year. You'd figure that they would probably lose sometime on the West Coast trip... let's hope they keep procrastinating with that likelihood.

Let's Go Pens!

Thursday, November 02, 2006

After 10 Games - The Players

Let's take a look at how the players are doing after 10 games, from a statistics point of view:

I know it's hard to call anyone a disappointment after only 10 games, but we have to label someone, don't we? There sure aren't too many of them...
  • Ryan Malone and John Leclair - both of them for the same reason - being a minus player and not contributing enough to make up for it. Both are at -4 (Malone earned his in the 7 games before he was hurt), and both have just one assist.
  • Andre Roy - hard to call him a disappointment when there wasn't much expected, but I'll do it anyway. If Chris Thorburn can fight and is going to stick around, why are the Pens keeping Andre Roy?

  • Marc-Andre Fleury - the #1 surprise in my book, and the biggest reason the Pens are 7-3 right now. He's stepped up his play and kept the Pens in many games that they could have had slip away from them. If they Pens manage to consistently tighten things down in front of Fleury, he could be scary good.
  • Jordan Staal - He has the pedigree, but did anyone really expect him to be on a pace for 40 goals after the first 10 games? I know he won't keep up that pace over the entire season, but I'm thinking that 25 goals and 60 points aren't unreasonable at this point. We'll have to see if he hits the rookie wall.
  • Mark Recchi - I know he only has one goal, but he's on a point-per-game pace and, perhaps more importantly, he's a plus player this year after being horrid last season. If the second line can stay in the plus column as a group, that means that they're contributing offensively. Two lines that are threats are invaluable to this team.
  • Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin - Hard to call them surprises, but anytime you're just off a 2 points-per-game pace, that's phenomenal. The sky is the limit for these guys, even if they're sometimes on separate lines.
  • The Defense - (yes, I mean ALL of them) - Everyone in Pittsburgh currently (Letang is back in juniors) is a plus player. All of them have been solid (Sergei's 16 PIM in 10 games notwithstanding), and Whitney and Sarge have contributed big time to the offense, with each of them at or near a point-per-game pace.

About what we expected, doing just fine
  • Colby Armstrong - He's only in this category because he hasn't scored any goals yet. He's second on the team at +7 and has shown he belongs on the top line.
  • Michel Ouellet - Michel has done exactly what people thought he would - score goals, mostly on the power play. I'd like to see his game be more well-rounded, as he's currently at a -3, but I'll be content with him putting the puck in the net. If he scores 25 goals, he'll have done his job.
  • Nils Eckman - I was close to labeling him a disappointment, but he has 7 points in 10 games. He's at a -1, but he's found ways to contribute on the second line.
  • Dominic Moore - Seems to be a great penalty killer.
All in all, this team is a huge pleasant surprise.

How would you change things? Anyone you'd rank differently?

Penguins 4, Kings 3 (OT)

The Kings came out hopping, taking a quick 1-0 lead. The Pens, to their credit, responded in kind, picking up their intensity and work ethic. They scored twice to take a 2-1 lead. This is all I actually saw of the game until this morning, seeing how it was past my bedtime :)

The Kings were in the lead, 3-2, when Noah Welch got his first goal of the season on a shot that deflected ever so slightly off of the defender's skate and past Cloutier.

In OT, Gonchar's shot hit a defender and came right to the skate of Malkin, who buried the puck in the near side of the net. Cloutier had no chance.

A few notes:
  • The Pens were out shot, but at least limited the Kings to 27 shots. That's an improvement over the general trend.
  • I know this is one of my pet peeves, but how is Malkin not the #1 star for the night? He scored twice, including the game winner in OT! The totally unbiased media in LA chose Dustin Brown from the Kings as the #1 star, and to make matters worse, Malkin wasn't any of the three stars. It's inexplicable.
  • Everyone continues to play decent minutes. Only Thorburn and Ruutu played under 10:00. If Cairns returns to the lineup, that will change.
This is another example of a game the Pens would have lost last year, either in regulation or in OT. I think they would have folded once the Kings took the lead in the second period, or given up a crappy OT goal. This season continues to be a different story, however, and the Pens have moved to 7-3. They are now 4-0 on the road (WOW!) and, say it with me, in sole possession of first place in the division. Let's hope this continues (though I would expect them to lose at least one of the next two games).

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Game #10 - at Los Angeles Kings

Pittsburgh Penguins (6-3-0, 12 pts) at Los Angeles Kings (4-8-2, 10 pts)

The Kings are tied for the most games played in the league (14) while the Pens are tied for the fewest games played (9). Hopefully this means the Pens will be the more refreshed team. The Kings played 5 games in 7 days last week, losing all 5. Their most recent game, however, was a 4-1 pasting of the Rangers on Monday.

The Kings special teams are almost opposite - their PK is pretty good, while their power play has been quite bad. They've been alternating between Garon and Cloutier in goal, though I suspect we'll see Garon tonight, seeing as how he's played pretty well the last two games.

The Pens need to get two points tonight if they have any hope of having a successful trip to the West Coast. Their next two games are much tougher, against San Jose and Anaheim.

I'm looking for a solid road effort, with Colby Armstrong's first goal of the year.

Let's Go Pens!