Friday, April 28, 2006

Penguins news

First off, Ryan Malone, Andy Hilbert and Brooks Orpik will play for Team USA in the World Championships. This is great for the development of these guys. I'd imagine that depending on how the Baby Pens do in the playoffs, you might see Ryan Whitney added to this team.

Dave Molinari has a Q&A in the Post-Gazette today. It's not a bad read, but one person asks him who is working on getting Malkin over here since there is no GM currently, and Dave pretty much ignores the question and describes how the situation is more favorable to Malkin coming over, due to a new president of the Russian Hockey Federation. Useful information for sure, but not really an answer to the question...

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Post-Gazette goes public with opinion on slots plan

Check it out here - the basics are that they think the Isle of Capri plan will do the most for the city of Pittsburgh. I have to admit - I usually don't read the editorials, which is probably why I didn't know about this one. I only have Bill Toland's excellent Casino Journal to thank for that.

mmmm - this crow tastes good - shame I seem to eating so much of it lately... (though this is for a good cause)

Quick Happy News

Nothing makes me happier than the Rangers missing the playoffs. Seeing as how we didn't get that this year, I suppose it's just as satisfying that they're now down 3 games to none in their playoff series with the Devils. They face the possibility of being swept on Saturday night.

But, you know, as I type this, I'm finding that it isn't making me as happy as it used to. I didn't hate the Rangers quite as much this year as I have in the past. Maybe it's all of the former Pens that play on their roster. Maybe it's that they can't try to buy their way to the playoffs anymore (and fail miserably). Probably, it's that they weren't quite as much of jerks when the Pens played them this year.

I think my least favorite this year were the Flyers (of course) and probably the Canadiens, just because Souray is classless.

What about you? Who did you despise this year as an opponent?

Monday, April 24, 2006

Quick thanks...

To Bill Toland of the Post-Gazette for the mention of Igloo Dreams in his Casino Journal. Read it here.

I read it every day. If you're interested in the latest casino news, you should too.

Season review - Post-Gazette

Dave Molinari has a nice analysis of the season for the Penguins that was in the Sunday paper. You can read it via this link. I do have a few thoughts on Dave's rankings... so read the article and then take a look at the following:

Basically, Dave ranks everyone on the team, highlighting a few players that performed well ("Pleasant Surprises") and a few more who didn't ("Disappointments").

I agree on the surprises - Crosby, Armstrong and Hilbert are all good candidates for that category. In fact, I'd put Crosby and (probably) Armstrong in a "Smashing success" category. Both played exceedingly well given what was expected of them. The only additions I might make to this category might be Koltsov and Whitney. Konstantin for his work ethic, forechecking and penalty killing (were you really expecting him to be a second line player before the season started?) and Whitney for showing that he can handle playing 20-25 minutes per night and be an offensive force. Now that I think about it, I might also move Melichar up here too. He played (as Dave notes) against the other team's top forwards all season and was only a -2 for the year. That's pretty darn good for one of our defensemen.

As far as the "As Expected" players, I'd move a few to this category that were in the "Disappointments" catetory - namely Gonchar and Malone. Gonchar finished 8th in scoring among NHL defensemen. That simple fact alone should help erase all of those bad feelings from early in the year. I know he was really, really, really bad early on, but he was really good late - I'd say that averages out to an "As Expected". As for Malone, he's another one who started off slowly, but really came into his own as the season progressed. He showed his value as a penalty killer, as well as being an offensive threat. I also didn't see him trying to puck handle as much as the season went on. I'd put him at "As Expected", because if you told me before the season that he's have 20+ goals on this team, I'd have said that would be great.

Most of the others I have no issue with. Roy and Thibault are popular scapegoats (as is Gonchar... undeservedly, in my opinion). I might move VandenBussche to a Disappointment, and I might move Surovy there too... he's been up here at the NHL level before, and he seemed to vanish as the season went on, though his penchant for picking up minor penalties didn't vanish.

Anyway, what do you think?

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Michael Therrien - returning

Ken Sawyer, Penguins President, announced that Michael Therrien would return for next season, regardless of who the new GM will be.

This is probably a good thing for the team. They were building some consistency and chemistry as the season wound down. What remains to be seen is how veteran free agents will react in terms of coming to Pittsburgh to play, and how the Pens present veteran players (like Leclair and Gonchar) will take to a full season of the taskmaster.

I think it's a good thing to build a young team with a structured system - look at what Kevin Constantine was able to accomplish with the Pens back in the late 90s.

Pens draft #2

The lottery was held, and the Penguins will draft second.

This is as expected, and guarentees that they will get either Kessel, Johnson or Staal. Can't see them going wrong with any of those picks. Personally, I'd like to see Kessel brought in to play winger - he could be the scorer the team needs. If he goes first, then Johnson for sure, as the Pens aren't deep on defense after Welch.

What do you all think?

Craig Patrick - not returning

The Penguins are declining to renew the contract of Craig Patrick, effectively releasing him from his duties as general manager.

The search for his replacement starts immediately.

If you want more details on who his replacements might be, I'd suggest listening to Mark Madden on ESPN Radio 1250 this afternoon.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Maple Leafs 5, Penguins 3

This game was a microcosm of the Penguins season as a whole. For the first two periods of the game, the effort wasn't really there. Nobody seemed interested in playing. Bob Errey was talking about how the players were playing "pond hockey" because no one was wanting to hit anybody.

Then in the third, down 5-1, the Pens got two quick goals and were hopping. They threw a ton of shots and opportunities at Aubin, and just couldn't get the fourth goal past him. You had the feeling if they had been able to get #4, they would have also scored #5 (at least I had that feeling...)

Crosby added two more points, breaking Mario Lemieux's team rookie record of 100 points. He also became the first rookie in the history of the NHL with over 100 points (102) and over 100 penalty minutes (108). If you had asked me before the season if Crosby would have more points or penalty minutes, there would have been no hesitation in choosing points. How much money could you have made in Vegas with this little bet? Anyway, I think it's a testament to Crosby's unwillingness to take crap from other teams and stick up for himself.

Caron had a few positively amazing saves in the first period, and Fleury was great in relief of Caron.

In watching the game, you could see the nucleus of the team on the ice. You could also get a sense of who may or may not be here next year. I can see any of the following players heading out to other teams - Cairns, Boguniecki, Melichar/Scuderi (one of them), Surovy (though he's still young, so you'd hate to give up on him), Caron and maybe Rita. I'm not saying I think they'll be gone, but I think they're the most likely.

Of course, there's lots of time to talk about this stuff now that the season is over. Be sure to keep checking back for all kinds of articles about the Pens and any arena news that should arise.

It has been a fun season, and I've enjoyed writing this blog. I hope you've enjoyed reading it, and I hope you'll keep coming back to talk about the Pens during the off-season.

The draft order will be determined on Thursday!

Let's go Pens!

Post-Gazette shows its colors

So, on Sunday, the Post-Gazette actually had an article about the Pittsburgh First rally, taking place today. It was a nice article, written by Mark Belko (here's a link) . The article talks about the rally being held by Pittsburgh First today outside the William Penn downtown. The article also discusses the efforts being made by Harrahs / Forrest City. However, when you read the article, take a look at the headline (I'll quote it verbatim as it appeared on the front page of the Sunday paper) - "Bidders pull out the stops on slots" with a smaller headline of "Rally to coincide with state hearing". Considering the most relevant (and the only new) piece of information in the article is the Pittsburgh First rally, don't you think it might have been worth mentioning that in the headline? What I'm saying specifically is that the headline could have mentioned Pittsburgh First, or IOC, since it is their rally. From what I understand, the people that write the articles don't write the headlines, so the decision is made by people that have a larger job of guiding the paper.

Of course, I could just be nitpicking again. That seems to be a hobby of mine... and I guess I've joined the misleading headline brigade with my own title to this article :)

Penguins 6, Islanders 1

This game wasn't as lopsided as it would seem, at least until Crosby got his 100th point, and then you just kind of knew it was over.

The Penguins did have the better of the play in the first, taking a 2-0 lead. The Islanders cut it to 2-1, and it remained that way until just past the 15:00 mark in the second. That's when Colby Armstrong, from the right point, threw a pass down the slot to Crosby, who took the pass from between his skates and tapped it over to Tomas Surovy for the easy goal. That was point #99. Just 25 seconds later, after Jason Blake left his feet to hit Colby (cheap hit, btw) against the boards, the Pens were starting the power play. Crosby took a pass from Leclair just inside the zone, again at the right point, and zipped a nifty pass to a breaking Ryan Malone. Malone wound up and fired it past Garth Snow. That was #100. Truthfully, that was probably a save that Snow should have made, but I'm not complaining.

What followed, as I mentioned in a previous entry, was awe inspiring. From the expression of joy on Crosby's face, to the reaction from the crowd, it was an unbelievable sight. This was one of those nights you wished you were at the Igloo.

Tonight, Sid the Kid has the opportunity to stick it to those nice folks north of the border by tacking on several more points in the home of hockey, Toronto. He also has the chance to do something I would have thought unthinkable - get back to a positive +/- rating!! He's currently at a -1. That would be an impressive way to finish the year.

The Pens have locked up the second spot in the draft lottery. Let's hope the go out and kick the tar our of the Leafs tonight.

Let's go Pens!

Monday, April 17, 2006

100!!!! Sidney Crosby makes history

Midgame update - the Pens are leading the Islanders 4-1 after two periods. Sidney Crosby has scored three points tonight (all assists), two in the second period on great passes. He is now the youngest player in history to reach 100 points.

The ovation at the arena was inspiring - it was a sea of white towels that seemed to go on for several minutes. I know it's only a short term thing, but I don't care if the Pens finish ahead of the Blues - I want them to win tonight (two points tonight will guarentee they can't finish last).

Let's go Pens!

Busy week

This week has a bunch of things happening...

First off, the final two game of the regular season. These two games will determine if Sidney Crosby can cross 100 points, and if the Pens will be seeded first or second in the draft lottery.

Second, the Gaming Control Board will be in downtown Pittsburgh on Tuesday and Wednesday. There is a big rally being put together by Pittsburgh First on Tuesday. I may try to go down in the afternoon (free parking in Mellon Square after 3:00, I believe).

Third, the determination of the draft order takes place on Thursday. I remember how crappy it was two years ago when Washington moved up to get Ovechkin... but we did wind up with a nice consolation prize in the way of Malkin. Let's hope for the #1 spot so the team has it's pick of who it wants.

On the blog, I'll still be writing after the season is over. There are lots of topics I'd like to cover, including:
  • Arena news (obviously) including the team having the ability to start shopping itself to other cities this summer
  • Draft news
  • Player reviews (I did some of these at mid-season)
  • End of year awards
If there's anything else you'd like to talk about or want me to write about, just put in a comment.

That's all for now. I'm going to try to see some of the game tonight. I'll be watching tomorrow night for sure as Crosby goes for 100.

Let's go Pens!

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Islanders 5, Penguins 4 (OT - SO)

Yes, I'm a slug. This review is late, and I didn't see any of the game. We went out to dinner last night with some family (never turn down a free meal, eh?)

Anyway, there are two main points to talk about:

First, Sidney Crosby was held without a point. He now needs three points in the final two games. The first game is Monday night against the Islanders, who just stone-walled him. The second game is in Toronto. I think it would be wonderfully appropriate for Sid to cross the 100 point plateau right in the heart of hockey for Canada, just as a way to stick it to them for not putting him on the Olympic team. Let's hope he can pull it off.

Second, and perhaps more troubling, the Pens are now tied with the Blues for the bottom spot in the league. The first tiebreaker, I believe, is wins. The teams are tied. The second is goal differential, which is where the Blues take the pathetic cake over the Pens - they're currently a -94, compared to the Pens -75. What the Pens really need is a win by the Blues, or a game going to OT at the very least. The last game for the Blues is Tuesday night at Chicago.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Penguins 5, Rangers 3

So, here are the important things to get out of the way after their big win tonight:
  • Sidney Crosby had four points, leaving him only three points shy of 100 with four games remaining.
  • The Pens are still one point behind the Blues.
  • Most importantly, the Penguins did indeed kick the stuffing out of the Rangers.
The Rangers made the game interesting in the third period, but you'd expect that from a team that has 100 points on the season. The Pens held off the charge, and put the game away for good on a great pass from Crosby to Armstrong, who showed great patience in turning the puck over to put it into the net.

One curious thing - the Rangers didn't pull their goalie (Weekes) when they were down two goals until there were just 36 seconds left in the game. They had a great chance to pull him with about 1:30 remaining, and Weekes wanted to come off, but the Rangers didn't pull him.

More needs to be said about the maturation of the top two lines of the Penguins. Crosby, Armstrong and Hilbert are a threat each time they're on the ice. Sometimes, it seems as though they can have trouble getting the puck out of their own end, but once in the offensive zone, they regularly put pressure on the opposition. Along the same vein, the second line of Leclair, Malone and Koltsov has come together quite well. They have a slightly different style, but they also contribute regular pressure. They're also better in their own end than the top line, in my opinion.

One last thing - Ouellet's goal in the first period was a gorgeous goal - he roofed the shot into the corner of the net over Weeke's right shoulder (as I type this, they just showed the replay of the goal on Fox Sports). Certainly the goal-scorer's goal, as Bob Errey so kindly pointed out.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette coverage... UPDATE!

Between the second and third periods of tonight's game (Pens kicking stuffing out of the Rangers so far, by the way), I checked some more stuff on the Post-Gazette website. There's been another mention of the Pittsburgh First rally downtown next Tuesday, this time in the Casino Journal section of the Post-Gazette written by Bill Toland. Looks like it's moving up in importance a little bit. We'll see if it merits any coverage in the Sunday paper outside of the niche columns (like in the front section or the Region).

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Still a Post-Gazette bias? You decide!

So the Pittsburgh First coalition is planning a rally downtown for next Tuesday, the same day the Gaming Control Board is meeting. This rally has merited some good coverage. I was listening to KDKA Radio this morning, and not only was it a segment on the morning show, but it was also metioned in their news broadcast - fairly high profile.

Where is it in the Post-Gazette?

The only place I've found it so far is the same place it was last time there was a rally - buried at the end of a Penguin's Notebook by Dave Molinari. We'll see if they mention it anywhere else before Tuesday. It hasn't been mentioned yet in the Casino Journal that is running in the Post-Gazette... much less anywhere else.

The Post-Gazette is more than happy to let you know, however, that the "Penguins won't commit to Rendell's Plan B for new arena". The headline, of course, it somewhat misleading, since what the Penguins really said was that they thought the plan was incomplete and it needed to be looked at more closely. Literally, they're right - the Penguins wouldn't commit. However, that is clearly not the spirit of what they were saying.

More arena news

So, Ken Sawyer, Penguins CEO, has said that the Plan B proposed by Governor Rendell is "incomplete". Basically, the main sticking points are that the other two casino candidates have not committed to provide the $7.5 million per year, and the Pens are unsure that the Governor can unilaterally state that $7 million will come from the local share of the casino revenue without a change in state law.

Read the article - my favorite quote, without a doubt, was from the Governor's office, when asked about the legality of using the previously earmarked funds from the local share of slots revenue, the Governor's office said that they saw no problem with using the money without changing state law - they said "Why would we propose something that's not legal?" This is, of course, the same Governor who proposed a state budget, had it approved by the legislature, and then VETOED HIS OWN BUDGET. So while I'm sure they wouldn't do something patently illegal, let's just say I'm not quite trusting them in their attention to detail or due dilligence.

More interestingly, Forrest City has said that they're not going to commit to providing the $7.5 million until the Penguins commit to Plan B. Does this seem stupid to anyone else? You're asking the Pens to commit to a plan where the funding isn't set? I think we're all still being played for fools by these guys.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Flyers 4, Penguins 3

Tonight was another moral victory. The Pens played a great first and third period, rallying from a 3-0 defecit. The Flyers got a power play on what looked like a weak call on Andre Roy and converted it into the winning goal. You couldn't tell if the call on Roy was a good one because there was only one replay from the weak OLN coverage, and it wasn't a good angle.

Overall, this is a game where the Pens battled back, showed some pride and poise, and could easily have tied or won the game if Esche hadn't played extremely well.

Crosby and Gonchar both had good nights, with Crosby scoring the game-tying goal in the third to go with an assist, and Gonchar adding a helper on each goal. Gonchar continues to look better and better, in my opinion, and should really be a force on the blue line next season.

The Pens are currently three points behind the Blues, who are playing as I type this (they're scoreless with Nashville). If they finish tied, the first tie-breaker is number of wins (Pens 20, Blues 21 - edge Penguins) followed by goal differential (Pens -76, Blues -85 - edge Blues). As much as I hate seeing the Pens lose to those losers from across the state, I do like that they're in the driver's seat, so to speak, with respect to the top spot in the lottery.

Next up are the Rangers on Thursday at the Igloo. Another game I'd rather see the Pens win...

Let's go Pens!

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Lightning 1, Penguins 0

The Pens looked good last night, for the most part. They were beaten on a turning backhand shot that was perfect. They had several excellent chances, but couldn't seem to beat Sean Burke (more of a credit to Burke than a criticism of the Penguins). The play was fairly evenly split, and even when the Lightning were keeping the play in the Penguin's end of the ice, the defense was pretty good, which is to say that the Lightning didn't have tons of high quality scoring chances.

If the Pens can take this quality of play, add a few more skill players (like Malkin, for one), they're going to be fine. The work ethic is there. The system appears to be there. They're usually staying in games, and showing the ability to come from behind when needed. They just need a bit more talent. You can really see now what Craig Patrick thought he had at the beginning of the year, when he had Palffy, Recchi and Lemieux. If those three were inserted into the team now, I think the results would be different. Of course, the changes that the team went through are what made them who they are today, so I'd have to say that my own argument is a bit specious...

Anyway, as I've been saying, I'd rather see moral victories and a guarentee of one of the top two picks in the draft. Next year, the Pens won't care if they went out on a winning streak, but they might care if they were able to draft Kessel...

Sidney Crosby was injured last night - an undisclosed lower-body injury. He returned in the third period, but his minutes were somewhat limited. He said that there was swelling involved and that nobody inflicted the injury upon him, so I have to guess that he sprained an ankle.

Next up for the Pens is a game Tuesday night in Philly. I know I said I'd rather see moral victories, as opposed to actual wins, but I'm setting that sentiment aside for Tuesday. I hope they kick the tar out of the Flyers.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Penguins 5, Panthers 1

Wow. Tonight, the Penguins kicked the crap out of the Panthers from one end of the ice to another. It wasn't even all that competitive - once the Penguins took the ice for the start of the second period, up 2-0, they netted a short-handed goal and never looked back (more on the shortie later).

Sidney Crosby was great tonight, netting just the second four point night of his career. He
now has 91 points on the season, I believe, in his quest to reach 100. Okay - it isn't really Sidney's quest - he couldn't care less, by his own admission. But Bob Errey sure does like to talk about it, so it's worth mentioning here. For someone who probably should have hit the rookie wall, he's playing awfully well. Could we expect anything less from Sid?

Everyone played well tonight. I did notice a few things specifically:
  • We're really starting to see why we paid Gonchar all that money. I think he's going to be the cornerstone of that blue line for years to come in Pittsburgh.
  • We're also being treated to a great effort by Ryan Malone lately, who added another short-handed goal tonight. I'm really glad we kept him around at the trade deadline - he'll be really valuable next season.
  • Ryan Whitney is quickly becoming the player who should bring the puck up the ice on the power play. He's really stepping up, and considering this is only his rookie year, he's really only going to get better.
  • Caron is making a great case for finding a way to dump Thibault before next season. Not sure how I feel about that one yet, but Caron is making the most of his opportunities.
It was a great win, but the Pens are now only one point behind the Blues, who have lost 12 straight games (3 in OT). I'd really rather see the Pens finish last, so they're guarenteed one of the top two picks...

EDIT - ya know, you read your own article the next morning, and see something that says "more on the shortie later" and then there's nada, zippo, zilch... and you wonder what you were thinking when you wrote it (or IF you were thinking...) What I wanted to say is that there have been several signs of the Apolcalypse this season (Roy scores a game winner, Surovy fights, etc), but this one tops them all - the Penguins scored TWO short-handed goals in the same game. That goes to show how far this team has come, when previously, we'd be silently hoping they didn't get awarded any power plays, for fears they'd give up a shortie... back to the original article, already in progress :)

Anyway, I do have a few other thoughts, but it's past my bedtime :)

Game tomorrow against Tampa Bay. Short turnaround - let's see if the Pens can beat another team to hurt their playoff chances.

Let's Go Pens!

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Devils 6, Penguins 4

So the Penguins simply got beat up last night, from the drop of the puck. They outshot the Devils, but in the third, when they were trying to come back, they were unable to muster much offense against the Devils system.

The biggest thing that stood out to me last night was Crosby's double minor in the third - he gets a hooking call (probably justified) and drops his stick (it was tied up under Madden's arm, mysteriously). The stick drops to the ground. Madden, in a show of great sportsmanship, picks up the stick and throws it. Sid complains and gets a second minor. Nothing for Madden. The zebras really need to drop the attitude when dealing with Crosby - it seems to be getting out of hand again. I don't care if he's a rookie or not - there should be no such thing as having to "earn the calls" through experience.

One of the things I'd like to take a look at when the season is over is just how penalties were called throughout the entire season. I don't know about anyone else, but I'm starting to see a ton more borderline obstruction scenarios occurring. I think they're also being much more strict with the icing (in those cases where the puck goes right past an offensive player, such that it was an attempted pass, the refs have the option to waive off the icing at their judgement). I think you can't leave things as a judgement call for these guys in stripes - they caused the problems that forced the rule changes to begin with (such as allowing the clutching, grabbing and interference).

Anyway, four goals is a good amount to put on Brodeur, but the Pens defense wasn't able to do the job tonight. Let's hope for better next time (though not *too* strongly, since the Pens are just three points away from St Louis, and the Blues are doing their best to lose as much as possible. I'll take moral victories and the #1 draft pick any day over a win streak to end the season.

Next up is a trip to Florida, where the Pens always seem to be distracted by the nice weather just enough to get the stuffing kicked out of them.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Let's play a game...

In honor of The Wife, who will sometimes have trouble matching the number with the player for the Pens, we'll have a little matching game today. You match the player with their number. See how many you can get right.

On a quick side note, is there any sport besides hockey where the numbers on the jersey are more used? I know with football, I know most of the numbers for the Steelers... but it's critical in hockey. Does anyone pay attention to numbers in baseball or basketball (other than the big names, obviously)?

Here we go - match the player with their number:

Colby Armstronga - 19
Konstantin Koltsovb - 2
Jani Ritac - 5
Sidney Crosbyd - 71
Rob Scuderie - 29
Josef Melicharf - 36
Marc-Andre Fleuryg - 44
John Leclairh - 9
Andy Hilberti - 4
Brooks Orpikj - 20
Noah Welchk - 87
Ryan Whitneyl - 10
Andre Roym - 28

Answers are below in white - you need to drag over then with the mouse to see them:
Colby - j (20)
Konstantin - d (71)
Jani - m (28)
Sidney - k (87)
Rob - c (5)
Josef - b (2)
Marc-Andre - e (29)
John - l (10)
Andy - h (9)
Brooks - g (44)
Noah - i (4)
Ryan - a (19)
Andre - f (36)

Did you get them all? I'm wondering if The Wife would care to post her score in the comments? :) (I'm also hoping I got them all correct myself, as I'm doing this entirely from memory...)

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Devils 3, Penguins 2 (OT)

The Pens game out firing against the Devils, who seemed to be a bit weary from having played yesterday. The only problem was that the Pens could only get two past Brodeur in the first period. After that, they couldn't do much of anything. However, in this case, it wasn't for lack of trying. The Pens weren't content to sit on a lead and play it safe - they kept attacking - they just weren't successful at it. The Devils outshot the Penguins 28 to 11 over the last two periods.

This loss, while it sucks, it nothing to be ashamed of. The Pens played a good game, and just couldn't get that third goal past Brodeur. They also just missed the empty net a few times at the end of the third.

Fleury played quite well - the goals he allowed weren't bad (even the goal in OT to Mighty Mouse). He's continuing to progress, in my opinion, and it well on his way to becoming a great #1 goaltender.

The Pens take to the road this week, with their next game being Wednesday night, with another chance to play the Devils.