Tuesday, January 31, 2006
Pittsburgh - 12-30-10 - 34 pts - Last in East
New York - 29-15-9 - 66 pts - 5th in East
So the Pens are happy to be facing the Rangers again so soon. It's a character game for them. It would be nice to see them bounce back from the beating they took on Saturday. The players at this point are trying to establish some consistency. They're also playing for jobs next year. Players like Ouellet and Surovy have a great opportunity to play on top lines and show that they belong in the NHL. Veterans like Leclair and... um... who else do the Pens have that would be available and tradable (Odelein is the only one I can think of)? Anyway, whoever else there is would be trying to show their worth either to bring back next year or to a contending team down the stretch.
The Rangers are looking to solidify their playoff position. They're not in much danger of falling out of the playoffs (okay, it is the Rangers - I guess they're ALWAYS in danger of falling out of the playoffs), but they would probably like to move up a few notches and have home ice for at least one round of the playoffs. They'll be coming strong against the Pens.
Look for Fleury in net. Also look for lots of chippiness if the Pens get down early by a goal or two.
Let's go Pens!
Fata is another fast player that hasn't had much success in the NHL. He's still relatively young (he'll be 26 in February), but he's a very similar player to Talbot or Koltsov. The Pens gave him his first big chance in 03-04 when he played in 72 games. He was a first round draft choice of the Calgary Flames in 1998 (sixth overall) and played in 20 games that year. Good luck to him.
Jackman has said that the team isn't happy with his defensive skills, and would like him to improve in that area. I think it would be a shame to see him go. He has a great right-handed shot with good offensive skills in general. Plus, if he follows Tarnstrom out of town, that will leave Gonchar and Whitney as the only "offensive" defensemen.
That said, maybe the Rangers would take him for Poti...
I'm not sure if there's something missing about his game that is a glaring hole, or if he's just not that good. The effort certainly seems to be there. Let's hope he's back here soon.
Thanks to the anonymous commenter for reminding me about Talbot.
Saturday, January 28, 2006
You know, this was a game that was tied at 1-1 halfway through the second period. It was only 3-1 after two periods - certainly not out of the realm of experience or possibility for the Pens. They had been badly outshot during the first and second periods, but previously this season the Flightless Birds had shown a resiliancy and an ability to come back with a better showing.
Of course, it doesn't help when you take four penalties in the third period. For the game, the team was outshot FIFTY-ONE to FOURTEEN. That's truly pathetic. Not only could the offense not get going, but the defense couldn't get the Rangers out of the Pens' end of the ice.
New additions Cross and Rita stepped right in and played fairly significant minutes. Cross was a -3, along with other big minus players Melichar, Surovy and Scuderi at -3. Recchi, Leclair and Talbot were at -4. Ugh.
Not much more can be said. Fortunately (or not), the Pens will get another shot at the Rangers sooner rather than later - back at the Garden on Wednesday. Let's hope it's not "second verse, same as the first!"
Thursday, January 26, 2006
Jani Rita is a 24 year old 1999 first round pick, 13th overall, who hasn't had much success in the NHL thus far. He wasn't receiving much ice time in Edmonton, even though he appeared in 21 games. He's been a decent goal scorer in the minors, and has some great numbers in the playoff series he's been involved in (most recently 7 G, 4 A in 10 games last season).
Cory Cross is a 35 year old veteran with 637 career games played. He's another big defensemen (6'5") to go with Eric Cairns on the blue line. He hasn't accumulated many points over his career, but has generally acquitted himself pretty well. His minutes are also down this year, which hopefully isn't any indication about his ability to play in the new NHL.
It doesn't have a happy ending.
But that doesn't mean there weren't miracles along the way.
Satan, representing the powers of darkness (like anyone else would?), struck first, extending the Islanders lead to 2-0 on the power play.
Following that, one of the miracles of the game happened. Eric Cairns, who spent all of 3:37 on the ice, for some reason wanders down near the net in the offensive zone, puts his stick on the ice, and has Mark Recchi's beautiful pass deflect off of his stick, and into the net. You knew it was a miracle, because Cairns immediately looked to the heavens, as if to say "Thank you!"
Later in the second, the Lord of Darkness did his own dirty work, showing some of the power he possesses. He knocked over a man (Brooks Orpik) who is 30 pounds heavier than he is. Satan earned a trip to the sin bin (you could say he was going home for a short while) for boarding.
In the third, the Pens got a goal early from Recchi, who deflected a shot by Gonchar. The entire sequence was made possible by a great move on the part of Sidney Crosby, who almost scored. In the ensuing melee, the puck was sent back to the point, where Gonchar unleashed the shot that Recchi deflected.
After that, it was time for another miracle. Crosby takes a penalty with 2:26 left in the game. The Islanders go on the power play. Towards the end of the two minutes, the Pens get the puck into the Islanders zone and pull Caron to even the sides at 5 on 5 (with an empty net!) Leclair is the player on for the Pens. He immediately goes down the left boards, making a beeline for Satan himself, who has the puck, along with designs on getting it out of the zone. Leclair makes a great play to knock the puck away from Satan, and the Pens proceed to work their butts off. Why we can't see this kind of effort on a more regular basis, I'm not sure. Anyway, the hard work pays off, the angels sing, and Leclair nets the tying goal (officially a short-handed goal), sending the game to overtime.
The OT is scoreless and the teams go to a shootout. In the shootout, Satan establishes supremacy over the flightless birds, using his dark powers to score the only goal of the shootout, giving the Islanders the win.
Last night, Sidney Crosby showed why he is a worthy successor to Mario Lemieux as the next player to be the face and heart of the franchise. He had an insipired performance. Marc Andre Fleury also played a great game, making some nice saves. For the most part, it's hard to criticize anyone for their play in this one.
Of course, the Blues also won last night, so the Pens are just four points out of the cellar in the NHL. They need to develop some consistency, especially on the offensive end. Tonight they play the Islanders. Should be a fun one to watch to see how much the team has left in the tank after the game last night. The Islanders aren't a very good team, and they've struggled lately (3-6-1 in their last 10).
Let's go Pens!
Wednesday, January 25, 2006
Washington - 17-25-5 - 39 pts - 14th in East
Pittsburgh - 11-29-9 - 31 pts - Last in East
Are we at game #50 already? Wow. Seems like the season is still young. It's really not.
I'm not sure if there's a better way to start the official post-Mario era than by having a game with Ovechkin playing against Crosby. These two guys, right now, are the future of the NHL. The way Malkin is playing, he may factor into that equation as well before everything is said and done. Pittsburgh seems to be on the verge of an era that could be really similar to when Lemieux and Jagr played together. Crosby and Malkin would seem to be on a path to develop into a wonderful duo.
Anyway, enough with the happy talk. The Capitals have been hot lately. They had won four in a row before their home loss to Boston on Monday night. They've been showing some signs of life, which is something that can't be said for the Penguins. Yes, the Pens have been playing better recently, but they haven't been able to score enough to give themselves a chance to win.
The main difference between the Pens and the Caps is the home record - Washington is 11-12-4 at home, while the Pens are 6-14-5. The Caps are equally bad on the road as the Pens are at home, so you know that something has to give.
The Pens fondness for allowing goals on the penalty kill has a decent chance to come to and end tonight, as the Caps are pretty bad on the power play. Of course, Columbus was bad too, and that didn't stop the Jackets from scorching the Pens.
After tonight, there are games against the Islanders and Rangers... then the real thrashing could take place - two out of three games against the Senators. I'm not looking forward to seeing that right now.
Look for more fights as Therrien continues to emphasize toughness, hustle and heart. Let's hope that someone actually knows how to fight one of these days... though you can't help but cheer for Max Talbot, no matter the outcome.
Let's go Pens!
Tuesday, January 24, 2006
- This is largely due to the heart condidtion. He made a few statements about the game being for the young guys, but the biggest reason is that he can't play the way he wants to... largely due to the heart.
- He said he started thinking about this when the team played Buffalo and he had an episode in the third period.
- He said the game of hockey was far better off now than when he retired last time in 1997.
- The Station Square group has announced their plans for the slots license. When asked about it, Mario said that he thought the Pens plan was the best by far (no surprise there).
- When asked if he thought the distribution of the slots license would be handled fairly and honestly, Mario said "I hope so".
You know, I'm either going to hurry up and finish writing these, or stop althogether. I had Mario's review written, and then he retires! Last week was the same problem with Palffy. Ugh. Well, make sure you especially relish the numbers from 88-89 - we'll likely never see numbers like that again. Here's the review I wrote about a week ago, unedited.
Mario obviously has missed a large number of games recently, but when he was playing, he was averaging almost a point per game, most of those points coming on the power play. His presence is sorely missed right now on the Pens woeful power play. He may not be the best back-checking forward, but he also probably shouldn't be playing center at the point in his career either, in my opinion, unless you pair him with someone that can cover the defensive end from the wing postion. That probably wouldn't work too well in Michel Therrien's system. He certainly shouldn't play center at the expense of Sidney Crosby, as the team really needs Crosby to develop at the center position. With the hopeful arrival of Malkin next year, the transition of Lemieux to wing will be even more critical, as the Pens will be stacked up the middle.
The biggest disappointment for Mario has to be the -16 rating, along with the under 10% shooting percentage (he's currently at 9.1%). Taking a look back over his career, he was only in the minus column a few times, and it's more a function of the team he was on than anything else. I think it's the same way this year too. The shooting percentage is a different problem, though. I think he's just slowing down a bit. Prior to his comeback, he'd never shot lower than 15% for a season. The first year he came back, he shot 20%. Since then, he hasn't broken 12%. I'm guessing it's because his hands aren't quite as fast as they used to be.
Just to wax nostalgic, take a look at the stats from his immortal 88-89 season -
85 Goals (31 on PP)
114 A (49 on PP)
13 Short-handed goals
8 Game winning goals
It is mildly surprising, considering that he had been working out with the team of late, and all reports were that he was going to play again soon. However, when you're dealing with issues around your irregular heartbeat, it just isn't worth the risk. Supposedly, the medication he's taking causes him to become fatigued.
Personally, I'm just glad I had the chance to see him play. He's one of the best.
Monday, January 23, 2006
The losing streak is now at 10 games, the longest this season. This one doesn't have any games in overtime either.
Tonight, the Pens stayed out of the penalty box in the third period, though they still allowed a goal on the power play. They also tied the game in the third, but a late goal went in for the Flyers. The Pens are living proof of the phrase "you can't win for losing"...
Tarnstrom must have been hurt again, because he only played a little more than nine minutes. Other players on reduced playing time were Endicott, Lefebvre and Cairns. Cairns only played 9 shifts for 3:42, an average of about 25 seconds per shift. Hopefully he's just rounding into game shape, or we may have overpaid for him.
This week is a busy one for the Pens, with games on Wednesday and Thursday.
In case you're wondering, the Blues have the fewest points in the NHL, with 27. The Pens have 31, with Columbus next at 36. The Blues have also played three fewer games than the Pens.
Pittsburgh - 11-28-9 - 31 pts - Last in East
Philadelpha - 29-11-8 - 66 pts - 3rd in East
So the Pens played the Flyers tough on Saturday here in Pittsburgh. Tonight in Philadelphia, they'll need to not only duplicate that effort, but get some pucks in the net to have any chance.
They'll also have to be more aware of the rules - how can Lefebvre not know that clearing the puck over the glass is a penalty? More importantly, how bad had the officiating become, when a delay of game (as throwing the puck over the glass is) was a common defensive tactic that was generally accepted? It's no wonder the league has tried to take some of the decision making out of the hands of the referees on the ice.
Anyway, Fleury is expected in goal tonight. Esche should be back in there for the Flyers. For the Pens, the formula is simple - keep doing what you've been doing at even-strength, take advantage of your power play opportunities (especially since Philly isn't that great on the PK), and for heaven's sake, shut someone down on the penalty kill. How long has it been since we've given someone a goose-egg on their power play? The last time was in the team's last win - against Montreal. For nine straight games, the Pens have allowed a power play goal. They've also score more than two goals only three times in those nine games. That's not going to win many games.
Let's hope for a different performance tonight.
Let's go Pens!
Saturday, January 21, 2006
A few notes from the stats -
- Why not play Koltsov on the penalty kill? Give Recchi a break and let Koltsov have his minutes on the PK. Maybe Konstantin isn't physical enough... and we know his hands aren't that great, but I'd like to see some extra depth developed for the PK, and let Recchi save his legs for when it might matter (like next year).
- Brooks Orpik led all players with nine hits. Want to guess who was second? Tomas Surovy.
- Sidney Crosby had a great night on faceoffs, winning 13 out of 20.
- Eric Cairns had as many penalty minutes as he did minutes played (5).
Philadelphia - 28-11-8 - 64 pts - Third in East
Pittsburgh - 11-27-9 - 31 pts - Last in East
No time today for an extended preview. The Pens will have to be at their best to beat the Flyers. There's been little evidence that they can be at their best for 60 minutes (as shown the other night when the played well for about 55 minutes). I'm not looking for a big win, but it would be nice. I'm with Will on this one - the only team I like less than the Rangers is the Flyers.
Brooks Orpik will return to the lineup today. Look for Fleury in goal. National broadcast on NBC - woo hoo!
Let's go Pens!
I know this grade might seem high, but Recchi has been the workhorse for this team. He regularly leads the forwards in minutes played (he's over 1:30 above the nearest forward in Average Time On Ice - ATOI). He plays even-strength, short handed and on the power play. He plays tough, and with a high level of skill. His offensive numbers aren't that great, but they are in line with what he's averaged over the last three seasons. One area that is an abberation is his plus / minus rating. He's never finished a season below a -5 before in his career. Right now, he's at a -23. I would attribute that more to the team he's on than anything else.
He's one player that the Pens could deal, but likely will not, due to his close ties to Mario and the city. I think that's the right way to go - he's popular here and works hard. He'll be very valuable in the next few seasons when the Pens get things turned around.
Thursday, January 19, 2006
This was a strange game, as Bob Errey and Mike Lange said several times. It was a 1-0 game for two periods, and then the Pens rallied to tie the game in the third. In the third, the Pens had a power play. Crosby clearly gets pushed into the net, and Surovy scores with Crosby in there. The ref doesn't blow the whistle when Crosby goes in (even though he watched the whole thing), but rather once the puck goes in (a few seconds later), he called interference on Crosby. Bob Errey was particularly harsh on Don Marouelli, basically saying the call was total horsecrap, which I'd have to say that I agree with - not that I'm biased or anything... :)
Anyway, the Rangers score after the penalty to Crosby expires, while the Pens have two centers on the ice. Endicott doesn't cover Rozsival properly, and Michal scores. That was a save the Pens really needed Fleury to make.
Gonchar has started to play better, and the young guys continue to do well. Armstrong and Ouellet in particular were solid. Crosby was great too, but I guess I don't consider him one of the "young guys", since he's never played in the minors. I guess it just goes to show how much the team relies on him already to be a leader. He's filling the role quite nicely, if you ask me.
Next up is a game Saturday afternoon on national television against the Flyers. Forsberg has been hurt (he missed his game tonight), but is expected to play on Saturday. Joy.
Okay - I wrote this before he retired. That doesn't change my assessment (though some of the comments are somewhat ironic), so here it is.
For a player on this team to be in the plus column in plus / minus rating is incredible. There are currently three of them, and the other two (Pirjeta and Christensen) aren't with the club right now. Palffy has produced while keeping up the defensive duties quite well. Before he arrived this year, I thought he had the reputation of being someone who would float out near the red line, waiting for one of his guys to get the puck out of his end. I may be mistaken, but either way, he's been a pleasent surprise in this regard.
Offensively, he's been weak in the goal scoring area, but I'd still say he's a good bet for 30 goals. He also hasn't been able to flourish on the power play like he should, with just 2 G, 9 A on the power play. I think once he hits a groove, he'll be hard to stop.
This is one guy with a bigger contract that the team should not even consider dealing. There will certainly be teams that would take him, but the Pens should make him a fixture here for years to come.
Murley sounds like he could be down for awhile. That's a shame, because he worked hard with the Pens. The results weren't always there, but he was an excellent penalty killer.
Guillaume is the latest in the parade of Baby Pens to make the journey to the big club. He played briefly with the Pens and Flyers previously.
My personal opinion is that this is terrific for Mario. He deserves to get the money that was promised to him, and he's stuck his neck out for the team and the city far beyond what anyone could have resonably expected. If he (and his ownership group) can make a profit and sell the team (hopefully to someone who can spend up to the cap), then I hope it happens.
There are big changes happening with the Pens before our eyes, and the next few months will shape the team for years to come. Let's hope they turn out well for the team and the city - I hope to be able to attend Penguins' games for years to come (in Pittsburgh!)
New York - 25-14-7 - 57 pts - 5th in East
Pittsburgh - 11-26-9 - 31 pts - Last in East
Back to the grind in the Eastern Conference. The Pens have finished up their games against the West until next season. Like everything else this year, they weren't very successful.
With Palffy's retirement, Koltsov will fill the open spot on the top line. I'm not sure how good that is, given the way that the puck seems to avoid Koltsov's stick, but now is Konstatin's time to shine. That line will be blazing fast, that's for sure.
The Rangers have lost two in a row, including Monday night at Columbus. Their power play has been weak lately, going 2 for 31 in their last seven games. Jagr was held scoreless as well on Monday. All of this does not bode well for the Penguins, given their ability to make even the worst offensive clubs look like dynamos. I can't think of a better situation for the Rangers to break out of their slump. Maybe I'm being too negative.
When Petr Prucha has the puck for the Rangers, get ready for a shot. He has only six assists to go with 21 goals and a shooting percentage over 26%!! He doesn't always get a lot of shots, but he's one to be aware of.
Petr Sykora has four points in four games, and is +3, since being acquired from the Mighty Ducks. It's been a little while since he's been in the East, but he has always been a decent contributor.
Michal Rozsival is a wonder in New York so far. He leads the Rangers in average time on ice (over 22 minutes per game) and plus / minus. I'm not sure why the Pens gave up on him, but he sure would look good on our blue line right now, wouldn't he?
The Pens and Rangers have split their four games this season, and the Pens have generally played well against the Rangers (heck, if they won two games against any team this year, we'd have to say they're doing really well against them, right?). Fleury should be in goal tonight, given that he is staying in town for the rest of the season.
Let's go Pens!
Wednesday, January 18, 2006
You can't imagine that Cairns is going to come in and play a big role, other than maybe to protect Crosby. His resume this year isn't that great - he has only played in 23 games all year, and not with much frequency lately. If he's really being brought here to upgrade our toughness, then the team is pretty poor already, since Cairns only has three fighting majors all year. He also has averaged less than 8 minutes of ice time per game, which is extremely low for a defensemen.
Craig Patrick does seem to love those tall players, though. Think about McKenna, Leroux, heck, even Hatcher. I'm just not sure Cairns is really going to help. I hope I'm wrong. The Pens didn't give up much for him, so I guess it's worth the shot. Maybe it's an effort to be able to trade players like Andre Roy and Lyle Odelein, since they might be valuable to a team in the playoffs, but here all they do right now is protect Crosby.
I have to say I'm completely shocked. Wow. This one will hurt - wonder if the contract is guarenteed, or how it will impact the salary cap?
Edit - Here's an additional article that has more information from the AP - Palffy evidentally has had shoulder problems (he's had two operations), and was looking at a third operation, which his doctors didn't recommend. I didn't know he was hurt again.
Tuesday, January 17, 2006
Sid is not just the top offensive threat on the team, he also leads them in penalty minutes. In fairness, that title would go to Brooks Orpik if he hadn't been hurt, or Andre Roy if he played more. However, Sidney has been everything the Pens thought and then some. He has shown that he not only has the amazing skill, but also the grit and toughness that we're not used to seeing in Pittsburgh (think about all the soft European players that we've had here in the last 10 years). Defensively, when his line is on the ice, they seem to be prone to being stuck in their own end, trying to get the puck out. Once they do, however, they've become proficient at attacking the offensive zone with speed.
Sidney has earned the A on his jersey, though we still need to see some maturing out of him. Overall, I'd say he's been more than could be reasonably expected in his first year so far.
Though he may hit the rookie wall later in the year, for now he's still going strong. This is a great warm-up for next year when Malkin joins him here and they form a lethal one-two punch.
Monday, January 16, 2006
- Ric Jackman wasn't playing on the power play. Just a question, but if you're not going to play him on the PP, why put him in the lineup? Why have him on the team?
- Do you know how many shots we got from defensemen not named Gonchar (who had five, btw)? TWO!! And they were both from Scuderi and Melichar. Not a single shot from Tarnstrom, Whitney or Jackman on the net. That's unacceptable.
- Talbot, while he did play over five minutes on the PK, only played 2:24 at even strength. You can't tell me that you couldn't run him out there on a shorter basis just to use his speed and hustle. Send Murley out there with him to create havoc (Murley only played 3:13 at even strength).
- Tomas Surovy's ice time continues to drop. He only logged a bit over 10 minutes tonight. If I'm him, I'm probably looking over my shoulder to see who is playing well on the Baby Pens... though I'm not sure who else they'd bring up at this point. He really needs to play with confidence.
- Speaking of confidence, Colby Armstrong and Michel Ouellet are both playing with it. They make rookie mistakes, but you can see that they have the chance to be solid NHL players. I don't know that Armstrong will continue to get all the ice time that he's receiving, or even play on the PP, but he's a solid contributer. Ouellet, on the other hand, has a chance to be special. He just seems to have to scoring knack.
Vancouver - 25-15-5 - 55 pts - 7th in West
Pittsburgh - 11-25-9 - 31 pts - Last in East
The Pens wrap up their games against the Western Conference tonight at home against the Canucks. It is their fifth game in seven nights, so we'll see who has taken Michel Therrien's conditioning program to heart.
Vancouver has been a streaky team lately, losing eight out of nine games (three in OT) before winning four of their last five. They are coming off of an 8-1 blowout of the Islanders in Long Island, so they're certainly capable of embarassing the Penguins if the team isn't ready to play.
The Canucks are led by Markus Naslund and Todd Bertuzzi, though they're both in the negative in plus / minus, which tells you they're either bad defensively, or they like to stay towards the offensive zone. Either way, the Pens may be able to make some hay while they're on the ice.
Fleury in net for the Pens. He has now appeared in 22 games. He has to be getting close to those bonus clauses. Something will have to give soon, because I can't see the team sucking up the kind of financial loss they're projecting in a season like this.
Hopefully the Pens can get over the hump tonight.
Let's go Pens!
Sunday, January 15, 2006
After the fight, the Pens started to play better. They evened up the shots advantage in the second, adding two goals to make it 5-3 along the way. One of the goals was of the flukey variety that usually bites the Penguins (much like the goal earlier in the evening that hit Scott Walker in the head and went in - henceforth known as the Pele Goal).
The Pens continued the onslaught in the third, outshooting the Predators 17-5 and fairly well dominating the play. Leclair, Armstrong, Malone and (of course) Crosby all acquitted themselves quite well. Unfortunately, despite getting to within one goal, they couldn't get the game tying tally. Truthfully, it didn't really feel like they were going to get it either.
The question is, why has it been taking the team so long to get going? Why do they have to get kicked around before they respond? Maybe the team needs one of those inflatable punching dummies in the locker room so they can get themselves fired up. Um... okay, having thought about what I just typed, that might not be a good idea - we've seen this team fight. Too many players would wind up with bruises from when the punching dummy bounced back up. That's all we'd need, to have Bob Errey have to say that someone was missing the game due to the concussion they received from the punching dummy.
Fleury had to come in to relieve Caron, who didn't play very well. The last goal (the Pele Goal) probably wasn't his fault, but he was yanked nonetheless. The real tough question is going to be what to do with Fleury. The team can finish last just as easily with Fleury in the minors, and save a bunch of money in the process. This leads to two problems, however. First, Fleury really needs this development time in the big leagues. He's ready, in my opinion, and I'd love for him to be ready for the next step when the team is in better shape (ie, next season). Secondly, is there anyone else that they can go with? Thibault is possibly out for the year, and Caron or Sabourin haven't shown that they can keep up. Maybe they could limp through with Caron... but I think they need Fleury up here.
No rest for the weary - tomorrow's game is against Vancouver at the Igloo. Preview up tomorrow.
Saturday, January 14, 2006
Pittsburgh - 11-24-9 - 31 pts - Last in East
Nashville - 27-12-5 - 59 pts - 3rd in West
Nashville is winning with smoke and mirrors. They have to be. How else do you explain a team that has only scored 12 more goals than they've allowed to have won 27 games? They're also incredibily streaky, having win streaks of 8,6 and 4 to go with losing streaks of 5,4 and 3 (some of the losses were OTL). Right now, they've lost two straight in OT. With any luck, they'll be slumping and the Pens can take advantage.
The home attendence has been inconsistent for the Predators, to be nice. If I were being a little bit less considerate, I'd say it was weak. For a team that has produced all year long, they've had games in the not too distant past with only 11,000 people there.
Player-wise, the Preds are led by Paul Kariya. They also have Steve Sullivan and Yanic Perrault (wouldn't he have looked good in a Pens uniform this year? But no... we had to pay twice as much for Andre Roy...) Their main goalie is Tomas Vokoun - he's probably the main reason their record is as good as it is. His numbers are really pretty good.
For the Pens, it's time to buckle down and work hard again. Therrien was pleased with the effort in the first two periods in Chicago, but the Pens couldn't seem to get over the hump. I just saw Star Wars recently, so I'm getting my Kessel Run jokes ready for sure now. The shame of it is that if the Pens had stayed hot, come back to beat Atlanta and rode that to a winning streak over some dubious oppostition this week, they would have been right back into the playoff chase. Instead, they're just trying to score more than one goal in a game.
Maybe this is when they right the ship.
I'd be remiss if I didn't also mention that I hope the Steelers and Pitt Panthers win tomorrow. It'll be a busy day for the TV here.
Let's go Pens!
Friday, January 13, 2006
It's called "What did we learn tonight?"
You want to take a few guesses? Go ahead - I'll wait.
still need more time? 'cause there certainly are a few things we learned.... i'll give you another few seconds.
tick... tick... tick....
Okay - so here's what we learned, in no particular order:
- The Penguins really suck right now.
- The power play looked terrible, their lone goal aside.
- Colby Armstrong is starting to come on and play well, though we've seen this in spurts from Christensen, Ouellet and Surovy. Let's see if he can sustain it.
- The Penguins really really suck right now.
- You cannot give referees discretion when making calls*, because they suck (that's my word for the night).
- When challenged (like, say, by their coach), the Pens backed into a corner and whimpered. Look at the two games since Therrien let them have it - outscored 10-2, outshot, out-hit, out-worked, out-hustled, out-everything!!
- The Pens really really really suck right now.
*What am I talking about with the refs? In the second period, while killing a penalty, the Blackhawks deliberately batted the puck over the boards in their own end with their hand. A penalty, right? WRONG! Because the rule is that a puck hit with the stick is automatic, a puck with the hand is only a penalty at the referee's discretion. So does he blow the whistle like he should? No! Why not? Who knows? To continue, later in the same penalty, a Hawks player this time hits the puck over the glass WITH HIS STICK. The refs then decide that "it scraped the top of the glass" - I have Tivo, and we slowed it down and watched it - it didn't come close to the top of the glass. No call. Both of these would have given the Pens a 5-on-3, and since they were only down 3-1 at the time, a good chance to get back into the game. What a joke.
Anyway, enough venom for one night. Sunday is a game against a good team on the road - Nashville. If the Pens can't beat two teams that looked worse then they did, what are they going to do against a really good team?
Sunday could be great, or it could be horrible. There's a little football game going on at 1:00 where the Steelers are big underdogs. Pitt basketball is undefeated, but playing a real test on the road at Louisville, and the Pens are at Nashville. A perfect day would be all three teams winning, but truthfully, considering the opposition, I'd take even one.
Pittsburgh - 11-23-9 - 31 pts - 14th in East - 14 pts out of playoffs
Chicago - 14-25-4 - 32 pts - 13th in West - 21 pts of out playoffs
Tonight we'll get to see how the team plays after their great "come together by beating the snot out of people (or trying to)" party. The Pens don't fight very well, but maybe the sticking up for each other, as Michel Therrien calls it, will give them something to build on. Either way, it will make for entertaining hockey.
Chicago is almost as bad as the Penguins. They're 1-7-2 in their last 10 games, and have an anemic power play (but didn't the Blue Jackets have the same thing?) Offensively, their leading point-getter, Tyler Arnason, has only 31 points in 43 games. Mark Bell does have 16 goals, so there's someone on that team that can put the puck in the net.
The strength of the Blackhawks has been their penalty kill. They also roll their lines well, as only one forward (Kyle Calder) averages more than 18 minutes per game (the Pens, for contrast, have four that average over 19:00 per game - Crosby, Palffy, Recchi and Lemieux).
Other than that, you can read the Pens Notebook on the Post-Gazette web site to refresh your memory about Matthew Barnaby and his longtime feud with Lyle Odelein. You probably remember when Odenlein was with the Devils and Barnaby was with the Penguins in the playoffs, when we first learned about "Cornelius". Don't forget that Barnaby also has some offensive skills too.
From the same article, Brooks Orpik separated his shoulder while practicing. No word on how long he'll be out. Adrian Aucoin will miss the game tonight for the Blackhawks. That's good news for the Pens.
Today is Friday the 13th. Let's hope the Pens do something truly weird an blow out an opponent on the road.
Let's go Pens!
Thursday, January 12, 2006
"For the first time this year, that team seemed to stick with each other," he said. That's a good start. Even if we're in January. I like the way the guys responded. It's a positive thing that the players stuck [up] for each other, and we're going to build on that."Hard practice in Chicago today... game tomorrow night. Haven't seen any player news yet - they currently have three goalies on the roster, Ryan Malone didn't return after his um... fight (can we really call that a fight?) last night, and Murley and Tarnstrom were healthy scratches. Preview up by tomorrow in the early afternoon.
Wednesday, January 11, 2006
The Pens did try to save face, and many of the players jumped in and started fighting. They had willing combatants in the usually hapless Blue Jackets, so during the third period, a hockey game occaisionally showed up during the bar room brawl.
This can only be good for the Pens to show a little bit of heart, but it is two games too late. The game to do this was against Atlanta with the Kovalchuk pointing incident. Yes, I know they were trying to win the game, but team unity and chemistry is probably more important right now.
Anyway, let's have some fun with the numbers tonight.
- The Pens had six different fighting penalties in the game, with three players receiving game misconducts (Leclair, Odelein and Roy).
- The Pens logged 35 minutes of penalty minutes in the second period.
- They weren't satisfied with that, so they followed it up with 38 minutes in the third.
- Crosby continues to impress me. He continually tried to get into it with the Blue Jackets, and was still yapping away from in the penalty box.
- And my favorite part of the night? Palffy and Surovy tried to kill people in the third.
Unfortunately for how the season has gone for the Pens, this can only be taken as good news.
They recalled Sabourin who got shelled tonight, and Caron. My understanding of why the recalled them both is that they needed two goalies tonight, and Caron has to clear waivers on the way back up to the big club. He wasn't available tonight, because of the waivers, so Sabourin got the call. Supposedly, he'll go back down tomorrow. Caron and Fleury are the goalies going forward.
Can this get any worse? Dany Sabourin was clearly not ready to play tonight. Maybe it was nerves... it doesn't really matter. The rest of the team wasn't ready, and still isn't ready.
Right now it's 6-1 in favor of the Blue Jackets. The team really isn't playing well, which is amazing considering the statements made by Therrien after the game last night. I don't know what it will take to get this team going, but there will have to be some changes soon.
Ryan Malone just tried to fight - it's clear he doesn't do it very often. He has the only goal, and you have to give him credit for making the effort.
Armstrong, Roy and Talbot just got into it too. The Pens need to keep it coming. If they ran out of players tonight, it wouldn't be a bad thing.
Side note to Fox Sports Pittsburgh - you may not want to advertise that your luxury boxes are available for rental while the Pens are in the process of taking their worst beating all season.
“It’s a game of emotion; it’s a game of hard work; it’s a game of passion,” Therrien said. “[Atlanta’s Ilya] Kovalchuk, what he did the other day – there’s not one guy [from the Penguins] who was close to doing something [about Kovalchuk’s taunting gesture after a goal]. Maybe Maxime Talbot at the end with one second left.
“Did they think that, as a coach, I think the team cared about each other? Wow,” he continued. “I tried to have a good ambience with the team Monday [with a light practice]. So, I guess we’re going to have to come back with the old recipe. They make my job miserable. So, it’s give and take. What can I do?
“I am so disappointed about a lot of guys. I am very disappointed because they don’t care if they care. Tonight, it looked like men against boys.”
I can't imagine the team not responding to this. If they've jumped ship so quickly under a new coach, then they really need to start over or something... but I'm getting ahead of myself. Hopefully the team will respond and start to get results (wins).
Pittsburgh - 11-22-9 - 31 pts - 14th in East - 14 pts out of playoffs
Columbus - 13-27-2 - 28 pts - 14th in West - 23 pts out of playoffs
Well, here's a team the Pens should beat. The Blue Jackets don't score, averaging just over two goals per game. They've scored the fewest goals (92) in the NHL by a margin of 12. They give up goals at a rate that's close to the Pens, who are the worst in the NHL. Their power play is the second worst in the league, scoring only 12.9% of the time. The only thing they seem to do decently is kill penalties, and they're in the middle of the pack in the West.
There are two things to give the Pens reason to worry tonight -
- Rick Nash has been hot lately, scoring in five straight games.
- The team has been decent in close games lately (which the Pens have a penchant for playing) and is 4-2-1 in their last seven games.
The biggest factors for the Pens continue to be getting the first goal and having the lead at the end of the first. They win over 70% of their games when that happens. It's critical tonight, as the Blue Jackets have a winning record when they score first as well (not as pronounced as the Pens, but it's still over .500).
No word on who is in goal tonight for the Pens. I can't imagine Therrien going back to Thibault, but in back-to-back games, you never know.
"I'm not impressed," Therrien said. "It's a pathetic performance. Half of the team doesn't care."
"It's like, are we going to be happy to play eight minutes?" Therrien said "I'm not going to be happy to play eight minutes. What those guys will say if we take 50 percent of their salary because they only played for 50 percent of the time?"
"That defensive squad, I'm really starting to believe their goal is to be the worst defensive squad in the league," he said. "And they're doing such a great job at being the worst. They turn the puck over, they have no vision, they're soft. I've never seen a bunch of defensemen soft like this."And my personal favorite, heard on KDKA Radion this morning:
"They make my life miserable? It's a give and take. What can I do?"I know I wouldn't want to be a Pittsburgh Penguin right now.
Tuesday, January 10, 2006
A quick check of the website shows that one show has been announced for April 22nd. Nothing else has been announced yet, but the site does say "Summer starts NOW". This will be worth keeping an eye on, for if the venue truly does hold off on concerts, which are incoming producing events, to begin construction on a casino when the license hasn't even been handed out, then we'll know the fix is in.
A quick look on www.archive.org at what the Chevy Amphitheatre site looked like back on Jan 30th, 2005 shows this.... hmm... if they don't have things going by the end of the month, I'm going to start to think that Mr. Madden is correct.
"I want to score," Christensen said, "and when I don't do that, I feel like I'm not doing my job. ... It's a big jump from the American League. I don't know whether I'm ready for it or not."That really indicates the confidence isn't there yet like it needs to be.
Koltsov is another human pinball, much like Talbot, though he isn't always as agressive as Talbot in throwing around the body, and the puck does like to jump off of his stick frequently. Still, the speed will be welcome on a team sorely lacking it.
The last goal was especially painful, as the Pens were on the PK and Gonchar chose to pinch out near the red line. He wasn't successful, and the Oilers had a two on one. Can't expect Fleury to stop all of those.
That seems to be the dilema of the Pens lately - they look good most of the time. They put in a great effort pretty consistently. It hasn't paid off.
Tomorrow night against Columbus.
Monday, January 09, 2006
Edmonton - 23-15-4 - 50 pts - 7th in West
Pittsburgh - 11-21-9 - 31 pts - 14th in East - 14 pts out of playoffs
The Oilers have struggled of late, losing four of their past six game, including Saturday night against Toronto. Overall, though, this is a good team, with a winning record at home and on the road. Their power play is one of the better ones in the Western Conference, and their penalty kill is about middle of the pack. The West does seem to kill penalties better than the East, however.
The Oilers don't really have any "name" players, other than Ryan Smyth and Chris Pronger. Michael Peca will also be a name familiar to Penguins' fans. The Oilers do, however, have four players averaging just about a point-per-game, Shawn Horcoff, Ales Hemsky, Jarret Stoll and the aforementioned Smyth. Lots of good young players who are starting to produce. Sounds like what the Pens need.
Anyway, the playoffs are probably out of reach, but this team needs some wins right now. Hopefully they'll come through tonight. More later if I have time.
Saturday, January 07, 2006
Malone played tonight, either because he's been showing more effort, or the team told him it was his chance to showcase himself. He scored a goal, but I didn't notice too much else out of him. He still tries to dipsy-doodle around people with the puck, which he's really not all that good at.
Christensen was a scratch, and I didn't hear any reason as to why, but it's not a complete surprise with his reduced ice time lately. He's been supplanted on the power play by the likes of Ouellet and Surovy, and rightfully so. Ouellet is having a great stretch, scoring two more goals tonight. He's in the right place at the right time.
The Pens really need Palffy to get a few in the net. Someone on that line needs to be a consistent finisher, and I'm not sure it's going to be Surovy yet.
This was game #41. The Pens are halfway through the season. The playoffs, which were looking good just a few days ago, are now not looking so good, as the team gave up four points to the current #8 seed without getting anything on their own. That really hurts.
Atlanta - 19-18-6 - 44 pts - 8th in East
Pittsburgh - 11-20-9 - 31 pts - 14th in East - 13 pts out of playoffs
This preview is a simple one. The Pens built some great momentum heading into the game tonight with a terrific third period. They need to carry that into tonight's game. Fleury should be in net. Somebody needs to pound Kovalchuk.
Malone was scratched last night - no surprise, but Tarnstrom was as well. The news articles said it was a "healthy scratch", but considering he only played seven minutes in the previous game (extrememly low for a defensemen), he was either benched big time (which you would have thought that Therrien would comment on) or he's hurt. I'm leaning more towards him being hurt.
This is the halfway point of the season after the game tonight. If they Pens win, they'll need 57 points in 41 games to reach the magical 90 plateau that should get them into the playoffs.
Let's go Pens!
Friday, January 06, 2006
And before I forget, can someone face-plant Ilya Kovalchuk during the game tomorrow night? Taking a cheap shot on Crosby near the boards was second grade style, but then Ilya regressed further into childhood by pointing to Crosby after scoring a goal to make it 5-0. No class whatsoever. It takes a big man to point to someone in a penalty box, Ilya.
Where were the penalties on the cheap shot and the pointing?
Congratuations to Recchi and Leclair in the third for showing how to lead by example. They came out flying, and the team followed their lead.
Anyway, the Pens should be good and fired up for tomorrow night. If they're not, then this team has no heart. I can't imagine that being the case.
One more thing - there was a report after the game that the team has informed Ryan Malone that they're trying to trade him. I think this is Therrien's message to the rest of the team - work hard or you're gone.
Pittsburgh - 11-19-9 - 31 pts - 14th in East - 11 pts out of playoffs
Atlanta - 18-18-6 - 42 pts - 8th (tied) in East
So here's where we find out if it's for real, right? The Pens have put together a nice little run, but if they want it to continue, they're going to have to get 3 or 4 points out of this weekend. That would put them in good position to make a serious run at the playoffs in the second half of the season, and take away potential points from a team they're going to have to catch.
Atlanta has been hot lately, going 6-2-2 in their last 10 games. They have lost two of the past four games, however. The key to beating Atlanta is relatively simple - keep them off the scoreboard. I know that's easier said that done, but if you contain them offensively, you're going to get your chance to win the game. A big part of that is limiting their power play chances, and getting the big kill when they do go on the power play. That's going to be the real challenge for the Pens tonight (and tomorrow) - stay out of the box and get the big kill.
Atlanta also has a rookie goalie named Kari Lehtonen. He's only played a little over four games so far, but he's been pretty good. His save percentage isn't the best, but he's big (6'4") and positionally sound. Hopefully the Pens can greet him rudely by scoring in bunches.
Offensively, the Thrashers top players have picked apart the Pens this year. Kovalchuk, Hossa, Savard, Havelid, Bondra and Kozlov all have three points or more in the two games against the Pens. Therrien's system will get a real test tonight.
The Thrashers will be playing with Bobby Holik, which may be a blessing in disguise for the Thrashers, as he's a -10 on the year. He is excellent defensively, however, and it could mean more room to work for Sidney Crosby.
According to the game day preview in the Post-Gazette, Thibault will get the start tonight, with Fleury playing tomorrow night at home. Hopefully Thibault is sterling again like he was last Monday in Toronto - the team will really need it.
The Pens need these points. We'll get to see how well the system really works, and how serious the team is about competing for the playoffs.
Let's go Pens!
Thursday, January 05, 2006
That means you can subscribe to the feed for this blog by using that link in conjunction with an RSS Aggregator. Personally, I use Bloglines - I like it pretty well, but there are several others out there.
Scott Burnside has an article on ESPN about likely trade candidates. He lists Gonchar, Jackman and Thibault from the Pens, but notes that only Jackman is likely to be able to be traded, due to salary considerations of the other players. More interestingly, Burnside seems to thing that Tom Poti, from the Rangers, is on the block. Think maybe the Rangers would take Gonchar off of our hands in a deal for Poti? Would you make the trade? hmmm...
Would it be jumping the gun to start showing how far the Pens are out of a playoff spot as a regular part of the previews? Maybe I'll wait until after these two games on Friday and Saturday...
Tuesday, January 03, 2006
The positive here is (obviously) that the Pens got the two points. Their resiliancy was refreshing to see. Many teams would have fallen apart when the Canadiens made their comeback. The Pens stuck to their system and outshot the Habs 30-16 over the final two periods (though the Pens did score three goals on just six shots in the first).
Fleury played a great game. He made several key saves in the third when the team needed them the most. Two, maybe three, of the Hab's goals weren't really ones that he could have stopped.
The most troubling part of the game were the defensive breakdowns that led to the Canadien's goals. The Pens seeem to have a habit of collapsing on the net when someone takes the puck behind. Twice in the last two games, they've been burned by a quick pass out to the slot and an open shot for someone. I feel pretty confident that is something that Therrien can clear up in a hurry.
Crosby scored twice and Ouellet netted two as well. Melichar led all players in ice time at even strength, a sign that Therrien must like the way he's playing. Tarnstrom must have been hurt during the game, as he only logged 7-8 minutes of time. Christensen was the third line center, and did get some time on the power play, though his overall minutes continue to be low. He was the only player on the team at a -2 for the game.
The Pens have a few well deserved days off. They have earned seven out of the last eight possible points available to them, and show real signs of starting to "get it" under Michel Therrien. If they can make some hay in their upcoming home and home against the Thrashers (like earning 3 or 4 points over the two games), then they'll be setting themselves up for a great opportunity in the second half of the season.
Pittsburgh - 10-19-9 - 29 pts - Last in Atlantic
Montreal - 18-13-6 - 42 pts - Fourth in Northeast
Montreal is tied for the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference. This is a team the Penguins need to catch (currently, the Canadiens are tied with the Atlanta Thrashers). This is an important game to get two points, while keeping the other team from getting any. No overtime!! It will be a tough task.
Montreal has a good home record, 11-5-2, though they have struggled of late. The recent struggles would seem to be due to a plethora of road games (seven of eight games on the road). Their only home game during that stretch, they beat Ottawa.
The key to stopping the Canadiens lately has been keeping their power play to one goal or less. In each of their last three wins, their PP has contributed two goals. In all of the other games during that stretch, the Habs netted less than two on the man-advantage and lost. Overall, their power play is respectable, but not one of the best. It's certainly a challenge the Pens should be up to with how they've been playing recently.
Alexi Kovalev will be in the lineup tonight when the Habs play. He has 17 points in just 11 home games this year. Saku Koivu is the Canadien's best scorer, and he is no different at home (18 pts in 15 games).
For the Pens, they have to fight through any fatigue they might have after playing last night in Toronto. That shouldn't be as big of a deal with Therrien's focus on conditioning. Fleury will be in goal, I believe.
Let's go Pens!
Monday, January 02, 2006
The Pens came out of the gates like rockets. The first period was excellent hockey for the visitors, and Gonchar gave the Pens the lead by jumping into the play and slamming home a rebound after a nice backhad pass from Crosby and shot by Palffy. They had a few chances to extend the lead, including Leclair stealing the puck from Belfour behind the net, but they couldn't finish any of them. That's more of a credit to Belfour than it is a knock against the Pens.
In the second, the Pens seemed to stay back and make the Leafs play perfect hockey. It worked for 20 minutes in the second. Unfortunately, in the third, Chad Kilger scored on two superb shots and gave the Leafs a lead. It didn't look good for the Pens at that point, as they hadn't been able to get their offense restarted for most of the time after the first period.
The Pens were the recepients of a short power play late in the third and made the most of it. Whitney hustled to keep the puck alive off of the faceoff, got it to Palffy who made a great pass right across the crease to Ouellet. Michel then one-timed it past a sliding Belfour to tie the game.
The Pens killed off a penalty that lasted the last 1:20 and first :40 of overtime, and Surovy very nearly ended it in OT with a fantastic individual effort. Unfortunately, he missed, Palffy got caught in the offensive zone trying to pinch and the Leafs came back four on two. Wellwood threw the puck high and wide of the net, and it bounced in off of McCabe's shoulder. It was complete luck, but I guess you have to be good to be lucky.
Anyway, it was still a good road game for the Pens, and good that they got a point out of what was looking like a disappointing loss for a while in the third.
A few notes from the game:
- Thibault played really well, but he still seems to give up tons of rebounds. I guess it's not bad if the team is playing with a renewed emphasis on defense around him.
- Christensen, Malone and Ouellet really saw their ice time dwindle. Ouellet was on the game-tying power play mainly because the team needed a right-handed shot somewhere on the ice (and boy did it pay off).
- The PK was excellent, stepping up big time when they were needed. They even killed off a 5 on 3 situation and a 4 on 3 to begin OT.
- Talbot was a human pinball out there, hitting everything that moved and using his speed tremendously well. He was a big reason that they Pens killed off all of their penalties.
Pittsburgh - 10-19-8 - 28 pts - Last in Atlantic
Toronto - 22-14-3 - 47 pts - Third in Northeast
Toronto is on a five game winning streak. One of those victories came against the Pens at Mellon Arena last week. Toronto is also a very good home team, with a home record of 14-7-1. Even worse, they are 6-1 against the Atlantic Division. The Pens will absolutely have their work cut out for them.
Probably the biggest key to the game is to score first. The Pens are 8-1-2 when they score first. The Maple Leafs are 14-4-1. Both teams have losing records when allowing the first goal. That says to me that both teams get a confidence boost when they score first. This is obviously more critical for the Pens, as they have only two wins all year when they didn't record the first goal.
The Pens also have to be more dilligent about shutting down Mats Sundin, as he traditionally torches the Pens. Interestingly, the Leafs leading point scorer is a defensemen, Bryan McCabe. He has 46 points in 39 games. John Pohl, who played well against Sidney Crosby the other night, scored his first NHL goal against Martin Brodeur in the Leafs win against the Devils on Saturday.
Thibault will start in goal for the Pens. Fleury will most likely play tomorrow night in Montreal. Let's hope for a strong performance from Thibault. He badly needs one, and the team needs him to be able to step up. He should benefit from a reduced number of shots the Pens have been allowing recently, especially at even-strength.
In other player news, Eric Boguniecki didn't make the trip to Toronto - he was the victim of a low hit by Kasper the other day and has a sprained knee. Matt Murley is eligible to come off of the IR, and may play tonight. I'm guessing it'll either be Murley or Malone that is in the lineup.
It'll be a tough one tonight, but I think that if the team can score first and stay out of the penalty box, they can win the game.
Let's go Pens!