Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Penguins 3, Panthers 0

The Pens have been solving all kinds of issues lately. They struggle historically against the Leafs and beat the stuffing out of them. They hadn't won in Dallas in over 10 years and they take care of that one. Now the Panthers are the latest victim.

The Pens fourth line continued their recent surge, notching another goal. This time it was Dominic Moore on a nice feed from Jarkko Ruutu. All three guys (Petro being the third) played well.

That's a key point - the Pens have four solid lines they can roll. That's a HUGE plus for them. It's something that has been lacking in previous seasons, and I think it's directly attributable to Ray Shero. We're going to look back after the season is over and be amazed at the job he did. I'm already amazed right now.

Mark Eaton continues to play well in his third game back. He made several great plays on the PK to break up scoring chances for the Kitty Cats.

Sid had what seemed like a quiet game in the scoring category (he had one assist), but in reality, he was all over the ice. Nice to see Ouellet get the second star, though.

The #1 star tonight by far was Marc-Andre Fleury. He was unconscious. He simply wasn't going to be scored on, and though he was a little bit lucky, he was also very good. I don't remember too many big fat rebounds, and he kept his wits about him through it all.

Next up: vs Montreal on Thursday at the Igloo. Big game (again).

Let's Go Pens!

Monday, January 29, 2007

Game #49 - vs Florida Panthers

Florida Panthers (19-22-10, 48 pts) at Pittsburgh Penguins (23-17-8, 54 pts)

The Pens are catching the Panthers at the wrong time. Florida has put together a two game win streak for the first time in the new year. They've also only lost twice in regulation since the day after Christmas. They're at the back of the playoff chase, and probably view this as their chance to get back into things. They don't have much more time, so they'll likely be desperate. The Pens have to match that desperation.

The Panthers have won both meetings with the Pens this year, in Pittsburgh on December 5th and in Florida on January 10th. Olli Jokinen has been an absolute Penguin killer so far, with four goals (5 points total) in two games. The Pens have to find a way to contain him. Having Fleury in net will be a good start. Thibault has played both games against the Kitty Cats this year. I can't see him playing a third straight.

Panthers blog - this is a cry for help. There are no decent independent Panthers blogs out there. Heck, when you search Google for "Florida Panthers blog", my earlier post lamenting the lack of blogs about the Panthers shows up on the first page! There's On Frozen Pond, which is a blog by a newspaper writer on the site of the Miami Herald. I've linked to it twice already. I'd rather stick to independent sources. There's Southeast Shootout, but their Panthers guy never seems to post. There are a few other, but nothing that's updated regularly or with any original content (one site just seems to show AP stories). It's strange how some teams have so much support and some teams just don't have any.

I'm looking for a spirited effort from the Pens, who will be looking to continue their roll. They'll have a hard time doing it against a hot Panthers team, but if they're willing to put in the effort, I think they can come out on top (beating on Jokinen would help too).

Let's Go Pens!

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Penguins 7, Coyotes 2

There were so many impressive things about this game. I'll just point out several of them:
  • Crosby's goal on the backhand while falling over was another highlight reel goal. He had four points in the game. He leads the scoring race by 10 points. Looks like he's going to run away with it.
  • Every player on the team got almost a full minute of time on the power play. This was largely due to the major penalty assessed to Josh Gratton in the third period with the game already decided. Still, pretty unusual.
  • Among the latest signs the Apocalypse is upon us, the Pens got goals from Talbot, Ruutu and Petrovicky. Ruutu and Talbot continue to show some offensive skill. Ruutu's goal was a really nice one, faking the pass on a two-on-one and the beating Tellqvist by going five-hole.
  • Along the same vein, the third and fourth line have continued to show the ability to generate chances in the offensive zone. The mantra would seem to be "Grinders with some skill".
  • The Pens came out in the third period up 4-2. As we all know, there's nothing more dangerous than a two goal lead, especially when your team might be tired from playing the previous night. There were no signs of fatigue at all, and the Pens dominated.
  • Thibault played his best game of the season. He wasn't asked to carry the team, but he made key saves when they were needed in the second and third periods.
  • The Pens responded to the physical challenges issued by the Coyotes. This is especially important, because other teams are going to try to intimidate them down the stretch by beating on them at every opportunity.
Next up: a three game home stand starting Tuesday vs the Panthers. Time for a little payback.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Game #48 - at Phoenix Coyotes

Pittsburgh Penguins (22-17-8, 52 pts) at Phoenix Coyotes (23-24-2, 48 pts)

The Coyotes are sitting 8 points out of the playoffs. They need a win badly.

The Penguins are in the eighth and final playoff spot, with six teams within six points. They need this win badly.

The Coyotes started out the season poorly, going 4-12 in their first 16 games. They're 19-12-2 since that point. They also have a winning record at home (12-10-1). This won't be an easy game for the Pens.

The area to pick on the Coyotes is special teams. Their power play isn't very good, clicking at just 15.4%. Their PK is equally bad, even worse than the Penguins, at 79.3%. They also take lots of penalties. The Pens need to use their speed to draw penalties and then go to work on the power play. The question in my mind is do they have the legs to work that hard after their emotional win last night? We'll find out a lot about this team tonight.

Hidden stat - the Coyotes are 5-1 against the Eastern Conference.

Coyotes blog - There aren't many, but One Fan's Perspective is a good one. They (shockingly) want the Pens to lose tonight. Evidently Darren Pang was falling all over himself praising Crosby during the Coyotes telecast last night.

I'm anxious to find out what this team has in the tank tonight. They're going to be a little tired having expended so much energy last night, and tonight should be a good indicator of what we can expect later in the year when the schedule is equally crowded.

Let's Go Pens!

Friday, January 26, 2007

Penguins 4, Stars 3 (OT - SO - 1-0)

That was an amazing game. I'd say it looked like playoff hockey.

The game was back and forth. The Stars scored first on a goal by Zubov. It was a long shot from the point through all kinds of traffic, on the ice and to the far side of Fleury. He never had a chance to see it.

Staal and Recchi scored to make it 2-1 Penguins. Then the Stars scored twice to make it 3-2 Stars with about 10 minutes left in the third.

The Pens caught a break when Ryan Malone drew a high stick penalty on the Stars Jere Lehtinen. It was inadvertent, but that didn't matter. The Pens converted on the power play on Recchi's second goal of the game, and his 500th goal of his career. Congratulations to Mr. Recchi.

The game stayed tied thanks to some amazing saves (and luck) on the part of both Fleury and Turco. Ryan Whitney deserves special notice tonight for several fantastic defensive plays, saving goals at least twice (once out-muscling Eric Lindros when the puck was behind Fleury).

The overtime was back and forth, but neither team could convert.

For the shoot out, the Stars elected to shoot first and Fleury made a great save on Zubov. Christensen then scored on his turn and the Stars couldn't get anything past Fleury. Pens win.

I think this is the kind of game that can really kick start the rest of the season. I'm hoping we're looking back in a few months saying things like: "remember when Fleury stoned the Stars on the shootout" and "remember when Whitney kept the puck out of the net in Dallas?" These type of games can really ignite something.

A few notes:
  • Marc-Andre Fleury played great for the most part, but he did seem to struggle a bit with rebound control.
  • The Pens have a legitimate second line with Malkin, Staal and Ouellet (though Ouellet is less critical). Staal is really looking like he belongs, and Malkin was flying tonight.
  • Having made that last point, if I'm Michel Therrien and I see teams falling into the habit of collapsing on Crosby, I sneak Malkin out there with him once in awhile. Let them all collapse on Sid and have Malkin make them look stupid for doing it.
  • Mark Eaton played great in his first game back.
  • The Pens weren't horrible on faceoffs (they weren't good either), but didn't it seem like they lost most of them? I was surprised to see they were only down 5.

One last thing - Dallas was extremely classy in stopping the game for Mark Recchi to honor his 500th goal. They seemed like a wonderful hockey town.

Next up: at Phoenix tomorrow night. Avoid the letdown! Think we'll see Thibault?

Game #47 - at Dallas Stars

Pittsburgh Penguins (21-17-8, 50 pts) at Dallas Stars (29-18-1, 59 pts)

The Pens haven't won in Dallas since 1995. Of course, it helps that they almost never go there to play, especially with the new schedule. Still, nearly 12 years is a long time to have no wins. Hopefully that will change tonight. The chances, however, aren't that great.

The Stars don't score very much (they're near the bottom of the league), but they also don't allow many goals. They've allowed the third fewest goals in the NHL. Couple that with a good penalty kill and decent power play, and you have a recipe for trouble.

The Pens need to keep the ball rolling. Getting three or four points between tonight and tomorrow would be a great way to start the second half of the year. Tonight is the night to go for two points. The Stars have only one loss in OT, and that was in a shootout. They're 17-2 in shootouts (5-1 this year), so the Pens need to finish this one off in regulation.

Sergei Zubov will be back tonight for the Stars. I always related Zubie to those "Beware the Penguins" commercials back in the 90s when he was here in Pittsburgh.

Stars blog - I'd love to point you to a good Stars blog that talked about tonight's game. Unfortunately, the only one that has a preview is for subscribers only. That's right - a hockey blog that wants you to pay to read the content. I'm not begrudging the guy anything - if he can make it work, more power to him. So instead, check out the blogs at DallasStarsForever. Nothing specific about tonight's game, but some decent writing.

I'm looking for a strong road effort with lots of energy to start the second half. These guys have to show that they want it. They playoffs are a legitimate goal for this team.

Let's Go Pens!

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Mid Season Review - The Players

In keeping with the previous review I did this season, here are my thoughts on the Pens at mid season:


It's a little easier to see who has been below expectations now that we're more than halfway through the year.

Nils Eckman - I know it's not fair to kick a guy when he's down. I also know that he would work really hard. His hat trick stands out as one of the best moments of the season. Having said all of that... he is still the worst on the team at -13. He only produced 15 points in 32 games. That's not good enough for a guy that was expected to play on the top line. He scored 55 and 57 prior to this season.

Colby Armstrong - Much as it kills me, you have to put him on this list. Prior to the season, he was expected to contribute some scoring and be a top six forward. He simply hasn't produced. I will be the first guy to acknowledge that he's filled in well in other areas. He kills penalties. He hits. He works hard. He is a plus player. He does the little things. However, he's not scoring, and that's what he needs to do. I'm hoping for a big second half from Colby.

Ronald Petrovicky - He is a great agitator. He is a tough player. He takes dumb penalties, usually involving blows to the head.

Noah Welch - He's been unable to earn a prominent spot here in Pittsburgh, leading to the consolation prize of "he should be playing 25 minutes a night in Wilkes Barre" from Michel Therrien. Maybe he has Christensen-itis from last year... maybe he just needs time to develop. I know he'll earn a bigger spot, but it might not be this year.

As Expected

Jarkko Ruutu and Chris Thorburn - They play tough, usually don't take dumb penalties and possess the puck in the offensive zone really well. They've also chipped in offensively with a few timely goals (the opening goal of the season by Ruutu was huge).

Josef Melichar and Rob Scuderi - Solid defensive guys. Both are plus players. Both don't make many mistakes. Scuderi especially is a good penalty killer. His defining move, in my mind, is using the stick on the back side of the 5 on 3 penalty kill.

Ryan Malone - I was going to put him in disappointments, but I think he's been largely OK after a horrible start.

Michel Ouellet - Chips in offensively (he'll have 15-20 goals by year end) and is the object of Michel Therrien's man crush. I think he makes the most of what he has. He can be a solid NHLer for a long time, playing on the third line and sniping on the power play.

Dominic Moore - Solid worker, though he doesn't play as much on the PK anymore. Without the solid PK work, I'm not sure what his long term role is on the team. Might be passed by Mad Max.


Sergei Gonchar and Ryan Whitney - Both have contributed more offensively than most people could have hoped for, especially in the goal scoring department. Both log tons of minutes. Whitney's breakout passes are wonderful to watch.

Maxime Talbot - Flys around on the ice. Starting to show some offensive skill from time to time. Give him time to develop - he'll be a dangerous third or fourth liner.

Jordan Staal - Everything about this guy is great this year. He's been far beyond any one's expectations, and he's only going to get better. Plays on the PK. Leads the NHL in short-handed goals. He's starting to play a more regular top 6 role on the wing. He's the youngest player in the NHL by more than a year. Simply amazing.

Eric Christensen - I know he's a -9. I also know that we're starting to see why he's so highly thought of with some absolutely sick goals. He's provided some much needed scoring since his recall. He should finish with 20-25 goals if he keeps the momentum going.

Alain Nasreddine - Did you know he's been here for 21 games? I didn't think it had been that long. He's not getting the big minutes, but this career minor leaguer is making the most of his chance, and he's a +6 in just 21 games, which says that he's helping more than he's hurting. Can you ask for anything more from a 5th or 6th defensemen?

Mark Recchi - Big turnaround from last year when he was a -28 with the Pens and then -8 with the champion Hurricanes. He's a +3 and is contributing some important offense from the wing.

Marc-Andre Fleury - He's starting to come up big when the Pens need him the most. He still struggles with rebounds sometimes, but give the guy a break... he's just 22! He's the biggest reason the Pens are in the playoff race.

You've Gotta Be Kidding Me

New category! This is for the guys that just are too amazing for words.

Evgeni Malkin - He's not as consistent as you'd like to see, but when he gets going, he can dominate a game. He has already shown that several times this year, and will likely do more of that as the stretch drive hastens. He will be a huge help in taking some of the pressure off of Sid.

Sidney Crosby - Year #2. Scorer #1. Poster boy for the NHL. Even better on the ice in just about every facet of the game.

So what do you think? Who would you move around? I didn't cover everyone... but this is most of what jumped out at me. Second half starts tomorrow night in Dallas.

Let's Go Pens!

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

All Star Game - Tonight

Watch Sid in the game tonight on Versus.

He was great last night with three goals in four chances on the shootout, giving the East the victory in the skills competition. Most important out of that is his new found success on the shootout!

The Young Stars game... not so much excitement. Lots of guys skating about 1/2 to 3/4 speed with no real desire. You don't have to hit or check, but you can at least use the breathtaking speed that is a huge part of the new NHL.

Let's hope tonight is a better example of the offensive side of the game.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Mid Season Review - The Team

What a difference a year makes, eh? If you've been following the team at all over the last two years, you know that the difference between this year and last year is like night and day. Ray Shero really shook things up a bit on the roster, and Michel Therrien's system has taken root.

In this article and one other, I'll take a look at the overall progress of the team and it's players through the first half of the 2006-2007 season.

First up, some basic information:

Penguins - 21-17-8 - 50 pts - tied for 8th in Eastern Conference

151 Goals Scored
3.26 Goals per Game
29.2 Shots per Game

The 3.26 Goals per Game is 5th in the NHL. This is a team where the perception is that there isn't consistent scoring from the wing. Imagine what these numbers will be if that scoring ever develops! For now, I think we have to be happy with the way the team is performing offensively. They are capable of generating consistent pressure (though not always consistent scoring) with multiple lines, much of it coming out of their disciplined system.

148 Goals Allowed
3.11 Goals per Game
31.2 Shots Allowed per Game

Still an area of weakness. The 31.2 shots allowed is 24th in the NHL, while the 3.11 goals allowed is 23rd. This is an improvement from last year, but it's not good enough yet. If anything keeps them from going to the playoffs, it will likely be their defense.

Even Strength:
1.09 5 on 5 Goals For / Goals Against Ratio

The Pens are tough at even strength. They've scored 6 more than they've allowed, good for 11th in the NHL. Strangely, they're much better on the road (+7) than they are at home (-1). This is the reverse of the special teams (as we'll see in a minute).

Power Play:
53 Goals
281 Chances
18.9% Success Rate

The 18.9% success rate is good for 7th in the NHL. The difference, however, between the power play at the Igloo versus on the road is marked. At home, the Pens have 34 goals in 161 chances, good for 21%. On the road, it's 19 goals in 119 chances - 16%. The biggest thing that jumps out at me is that the Pens have drawn 42 more penalties at home than they have on the road. That's HUGE. They need to work on drawing more penalties on the road.

Penalty Kill:
52 Goals Allowed
261 Chances
80.1% Success Rate

There is a similar dichotomy with the penalty killing. The Pens are highly successful at home (19-135, 85.9%) and not so much on the road (33-126, 73.8%). The big difference here is that the Pens have taken the second most penalties at home in the NHL. They're good at killing them off, but that number has to come down. On the road, they're the third worst in the NHL at 73.8%. That simply won't get it done, but I'd attribute it more to having a young team. I think the return of Mark Eaton will have a big impact on that number.


The Pens are in a great position. They have games in hand over every team around them, except for Boston. They have FOUR games in hand over the three teams immediately above them (Ottawa, Tampa Bay and Carolina), all of whom are between 4 and 8 points ahead of them.

I don't think anyone thought the offense would be this good (5th in the NHL in goals per game), and I think everyone expected the defense and penalty killing to be a little bit better than it has been, especially the PK on the road.

I think for the second half of the season, we'll see more of the same. The Pens are a streaky team this year, largely due to their youth. Their success in the second half will largely depend on Michel Therrien's ability to get them to play more consistently.

I think (hope) they'll make the playoffs.

Later this week - a mid season review of the players

Let's Go Pens!

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Penguins 8, Maple Leafs 2

That was a good old-fashioned butt whooping. The Pens gave up the first goal, got the equalizer within two minutes, and never looked back. It was 3-1 after one, 5-1 after two and 8-2 for the final score. Toronto was beat up one end of the ice and down the other.

The Pens scored FIVE times on the power play, something which will help their numbers greatly (just in time for the mid season review I'll be doing over the All Star break).

Jarkko Ruutu got a chance to show why he should be considered for shoot out duty by converting a penalty shot to make the game 2-1.

Malkin had five assists, Recchi had a hat trick (4 points total) and Crosby had three points (one goal).

Perhaps more importantly, both Ouellet and Malone scored. These are two guys the Pens need badly if they have any thoughts of the playoffs in the second half of the season.

The Pens are now tied for the 8th and final playoff spot with Toronto and the Rangers, and they have games in hand on both of those teams.

Next up: the All Star break. Then on the road against Dallas and Phoenix next Friday and Saturday nights.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Game #46 - vs Toronto Maple Leafs

Toronto Maple Leafs (22-20-6, 50 pts) at Pittsburgh Penguins (20-17-8, 48 pts)

Tonight is H-U-G-E. The Pens can finish up the first half with a flourish by beating the Leafs and possibly earning a tie for the 8th and final playoff spot. It would be a great statement for this team to be that close to playoff position with the All Star break upon us. I'm not sure any of us actually thought this was a playoff team (though I'm sure we were all hoping).

Anyway, about tonight: Toronto is one of those odd teams that has a winning record on the road and a losing record at home. Since losing to the Pens at the Igloo back on December 29th, they've rattled off 4 straight road wins, though they're just 1-3-1 at home in that stretch.

The power play for the Leafs has been struggling, scoring just two goals in the last 5 games. Their PK has been uneven as well, allowing NINE goals over that same stretch, though none in their last two games. The Pens need to exploit the special teams. They need to get some power play goals against the Leafs, because at even strength, the Leafs are pretty good.

Leafs Blog - you know, there are a ton of these guys out there, but most of them haven't posted in over a week! Slackers! I'll point you again to Battle of Ontario, a Leafs - Sens blog. Nothing specific about tonight, but a good read overall.

I'm looking for a hard fought game with someone shadowing Mats Sundin all night - that guy kills Penguins for a living.

Let's Go Pens!

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Bruins 5, Penguins 4 (OT - SO - 2-1)

Didn't see this one. Pens allowed 44 shots - way too many. They also didn't manage to score in the third against the worst third period team in hockey. That's a double whammy.

Not much else I can say, except that it's nice the Pens managed a point out of the game, but bad that the Bruins earned two points. These games are going to come back to haunt them at the end of the season...

Curious stat - Malkin had less ice time at even strength than anyone but Ruutu, Moore and Thorburn. What's up with that? He was on the power play for 5 minutes, but he played a full 7 minutes less than Sid...

Next up: vs Toronto at the Igloo on Saturday night. Critical game - must have two points - no points allowed for Toronto.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Game #45 - at Boston Bruins

Pittsburgh Penguins (20-17-7, 47 pts) at Boston Bruins (21-19-4, 46 pts)

The Bruins are coming back home after a road loss to Buffalo. For once, the Penguins are in the city of another team, waiting to play them. Seems like that's always happening to the Pens.

The Pens, along with the Bruins, have played the fewest games in the NHL (44). They each have at least three games in hand over the teams in front of them (except for New Jersey), which is critical since they are just a few points out of the playoffs right now.

The Bruins have the second ranked power play in the Eastern Conference, but that's a bit misleading, as they are near the bottom of the NHL in power play chances. They simply don't draw many penalties. They Pens, by contrast, are third in the NHL (though they're only 15th on the road).

The Bruins have been struggling recently, going 2-6-1 in their last nine games. Several of the games haven't been close. The Pens need to jump out early and often against these guys, to keep them in their losing pattern. This is demonstrated by the stats - Boston has been outscored on the season by 29 goals!! They actually have an advantage in the first period, but then have been outscored drastically in the second and third periods. They've allowed more third period goals than any team in hockey.

Bruins blog - check out WickedBruinsFan - Jaci writes a TON! I wouldn't be surprised to see a game preview up for the Pens game - always neat to see the other side.

I'm looking for the Pens to find religion again and get on a roll heading into the All Star break. These are critical points they can earn, and critical points they can deny to the teams nearest them in the standings.

Let's Go Pens!

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Penguins 5, Islanders 2

Solid win for the Penguins tonight.

Cheap shots by the Isles at the end of the game.

This is my 500th post on this blog!

It didn't look like a happy ending until late. The Pens were up 1-0 after one period on a sick goal by Christensen. He faked to the forehand and pulled it back around to the backhand, letting the puck slide past Dunham ever so easily.

The Pens allowed a short handed goal when they were on a 5 on 3 power play. That's pretty bad, though the shot by Richard Park was pretty good. They took the lead again, only to have the Isles tie the game once more. This was looking like one of those games where the Isles just hang around and grind it out.

That feeling lasted until about midway through the third period. The Pens had taken a 3-2 lead on a power play goal by Crosby, and then Christensen scored his second of the game on a sneaky wrist shot that surprised Dunham on his right and down low. Crosby added one more goal and that was the game.

Yashin clipped Moore in the face with his stick after a prolonged battle along the boards for the puck. It seemed kind of lazy and dirty, which Bob Errey mentioned on the broadcast.

With less than 30 seconds left, the Pens were on the power play (thanks to Mr Yashin), and they had their top unit on the ice, since both Christensen and Crosby were going for the hat trick. Blake pretty blatantly speared Crosby with the puck nowhere near. According to our erstwhile announcers, that was pretty much an intent to injure kind of situation, and Blake could be suspended. I thought it was cheap and dirty. Hopefully the Pens remember it and play like it when they see the Islanders next.

Other than the stupid stuff at the end, this was a good one. Great win. All the more important, because the distance between the 8 and 9 seed was 4 points coming into tonight. The Pens just vaulted over the Isles to get to 47 points, three points out of the 8 spot.

Next up: at Boston on Thursday. Another chance against a team that's right in the playoff hunt. Time to stand up.

Game #44 - vs New York Islanders

New York Islanders (21-20-4, 46 pts) at Pittsburgh Penguins (19-17-7, 45 pts)

Completely forgot to write a preview today. Blech. Oh well...

Pens should win. Pens need to win. Good time to catch the Isles - they've been struggling. Only 2-7-1 in their last 10 games. They always seem to play the Pens tough, however.

Game is only a little more than an hour away.

Let's Go Pens!

Monday, January 15, 2007

Why does NBC broadcast hockey?

In my game review from the Pens game against the Flyers, I mentioned that I'd do a post about the NBC broadcast. This is that post.

First off, let me say that I know it's hard to do a live broadcast, and that lots of flubs are made on the air. It's not easy to sound coherent, much less intelligent, when millions of people are watching and listening. Generally, I thought that Olczyk was okay and McGuire wasn't quite as good.

For the game itself, the play by play man was Mike "Doc" Emrick, with Eddie Olczyk and Pierre McGuire doing analysis. McGuire was between the benches down on the ice.

Let's take a look at some quotes from the game. Most of this goldmine came in the second period.

1. Emrick asked about systems that teams will play. Edzo noted that the Flyers were playing a 1-4, to keep from allowing the Pens to get odd man rushes against them. He even explained what a 1-4 was. Nice job. Emrick asked if there are other options besides a 1-4. McGuire then chipped in with this gem:
"Yeah, you can go with a 1-2-2 trap, but it gets too convoluted. The best thing, if I'm Philadelphia, is spend more time in the Pittsburgh zone than their own."
Well, it WAS some nice analysis on some defensive systems, until McGuire effectively said "forget all that technical talk - man skate with puck... GOOD!"

2. When talking about Sidney Crosby not winning face offs, something McGuire seemed to be obsessed about, he said:
"Sidney Crosby doesn't have a lot of holes in his game, one of them not winning face offs."
eh... what?

3. One thing I didn't get - when Forsberg knocked down Talbot, he pretty clearly just brought his elbow up into Max's head and knocked him down. McGuire and Olczyk were falling over themselves about how strong Forsberg was. McGuire then said "Maxime Talbot knows better than that." Knows better than what, exactly?

4. When talking about Sidney Crosby killing penalties, McGuire wants Crosby to kill penalties. Edzo points out that McGuire would be one of the first guys being critical of Crosby getting hurt while killing said penalties. McGuire says:
"No way. Mario Lemieux killed penalties and he won two Stanley Cups because of his penalty killing. And other things."
Please stop the madness.

5. Last one on McGuire - I promise. When showing a replay of Crosby blocking a shot, McGuire says:
"You know, if you want to get into the lane and you want to be an aggressive young player, you do what Sidney Crosby does. You go body on stick, not body on body. He gets right in the lane, forcing Zhitnik to shoot the puck through him."
I'm not sure how "body on stick" translates to blocking a shot, but maybe that's just me.

6. My only other issues with the play by play (that I have time left to write about) were Edzo yelling "Happy Birthday!" when showing the replay of Armstrong laying out a Flyer, and no one mentioning the 4 on 4 when Moore was sent off. It was shown on the screen, but no one talked about it.

My last thing to talk about is the commentary between periods. First, someone please take Brett Hull off of television. He's not clever, and he's not Charles Barkley, which is who he really seems to be trying to emulate. Hull must have a man crush on Nittymaki, because he said of Gonchar's goal "it's really hard to stop that". Edzo had said during the broadcast that Nittymaki would "probably like that one back."

Clement introduces a segment for Hull, saying that there's an idea to make the net bigger and asks Hull to comment on that. Hull says:
"Absolutely not. That's one of the dumbest ideas I've heard in an awful long time."
That's fine. He then goes onto elaborate on what HE would do for the goalie and net. He lists:
  1. Soften the corners on the goalie pads.
  2. Take the arm pads and streamline them so the armhole opens up.
  3. Make the gloves smaller, especially the area protecting the wrist.
  4. Move the crossbar higher.
What? Doesn't making the crossbar higher make the net bigger? Hey, Brett, saying that something is the dumbest idea you've ever heard and then making said idea the last part of your suggestions only makes one person look dumb.

Ray Ferraro totally went off on Jarkko Ruutu. He said:
"Here's a typical play by a typical player in the NHL. Jarkko Ruutu won't drop his gloves, that's all he does is cause trouble out there and refuses. He's got one goal in 40 games, you know it's guys like that we need to try to weed out of the league. I don't know what a player like Ruutu's doing in the league. He went 37 games without a goal this year, er, last year. He's being consistent, 42 games without one this year."
After some other highlights, Ferraro won't let it go, coming back to Ruutu. Hull is explaining why he thinks they should eliminate the instigator penalty (another stupid idea) and that fighting has an important part in the game. Ferraro agrees, saying:
"And it takes away a player like Ruutu who does nothing but aggravate, nothing but get under people's skin, and the dangerous thing about a player like Ruutu, he has the possibility because he can skate of hurting somebody, somebody that people actually want to see, not a guy like Jarkko Ruutu."
Never mind that Ruutu has been a combatant in several of the Pens most memorable fights this year (he has two fighting majors to his name this season so far). To me, it was a gutless move on the part of Ferraro to go after a guy like Ruutu on national television. He's an agitator, for sure, but he plays an important role on the team. He also has some skill - he was the one who made a nice play on the puck, kicking it to his stick and passing it out to the slot for Gonchar's goal in the first period. He's been a big part of the 4th line that has generated consistent offense for the Pens lately. Of course, a guy like Ferraro doesn't know that, and doesn't care. He just cares about sounding tough against a guy when no one will care.

Last but not least, was the brilliant Mr. Hull, suggesting that Crosby and Malkin should be playing 30 minutes per game. This might be one of the dumber things I've heard in awhile. I checked some time on ice numbers - Martin St Louis leads all forwards with just over 24 minutes of ice time per game. There aren't even any defensemen this year with 30 minutes per game. The reason no one plays that is the game is all about speed and skating. In other words, it's why Brett Hull isn't in the league anymore (well, that and he's old).

Anyway, maybe this could be done on every game that is on the air, but you'd hope for better on a national broadcast, wouldn't you?

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Penguins 5, Flyers 3

The Pens looked like they might lose a squeaker to the Flyers today. Fortunately, Derian Hatcher had other ideas. Mr. Hatcher was nice enough to let the puck get by him, and then was simply too slow to have any hope of helping against a two-on-one. Malkin came in on the right side and threw a nice pass across to Staal, who stretched out and punched it behind Nittymaki. Staal is tall, so he didn't have to do the diving effort that Crosby pulled off the other night.

I was really impressed with the way the team kept battling. I know they've dominated the Flyers this year (now 6-0-0), but with the way the Flyers made the most of their chances, I was worried about the Pens folding. They kept their heads up and found a way to win the game.

I'm going to do a separate post about the broadcast, simply because I don't think I've ever heard quite so many dumb things said in such a short time span. I have to go back to the Tivo recording and see how many quotes I can pull out.

The Pens looked like the had the game in control early in the second period. They took a 3-1 lead with less than 5 minutes left in the second, but the Flyers responded with two goals before the end of the period to tie the score. It stayed that was until Staal's goal and Malkin iced things with an empty net goal.

The referees were also quite bad today, I thought. At the end of the second, Alexi Zhitnik hits Crosby about two full strides after Crosby got rid of the puck (meaning, way too late), got him up high in the face. Crosby took exception and stood up for himself and somehow wound up with a double minor (Zhitnik only took a single minor).

Oh, and the last thing - I really don't like Peter Forsberg. He's a great player, but he plays like a grumpy old man. His hit on Ryan Malone was cheap. You don't need to go near the head area unless you're trying to hurt someone, and that's exactly what Forsberg did. Let's hope that Floppa manages to get himself hurt yet again so everyone can talk all they want about how great he is, but he never gets a chance to prove it on the ice.

Next up: vs the Islanders on Tuesday at the Igloo. The Pens will play three games in five days leading up to the All Star break.

Game #43 - at Philadelphia Flyers

Pittsburgh Penguins (18-17-7, 43 pts) at Philadelphia Flyers (11-29-4, 26 pts)

The Flyers are well on their way to the top spot in the draft lottery. No one else is within 10 points of them in the standings. They are, by far, the WORST team in the NHL this season. Sounds like music if you say it aloud, doesn't it?

Having said that, throw out the records today when the teams meet at 2:00 on national TV. The Pens have owned the Flyers this year, and I'm sure there's nothing more that they'd like than to put a bit of a dent in the playoff hopes of the Pens.

Flyers blog - Flyers Fan Central, of course. Good blog - check it out.

I'm looking for a hard-fought win to reverse the fortunes of the floundering Pens.

Let's Go Pens!

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Panthers 5, Penguins 2

I don't even feel like writing about this one - it was just that damn bad. Thibault kept the team in the game for awhile, but he couldn't stop Olli Jokinen from anywhere, especially on a slap shot. You have to think that Fleury would have been fast enough to rob Jokinen on his two slapper goals - I can't remember Fleury getting beat much on those.

The Pens were sluggish again. They're appearing on national television this Saturday afternoon in Philly. That would be really embarrassing if they were beat by the Flyers, especially now that Floppa is back playing.

The Pens need to get the ship righted, and do so in a hurry - these inconsistent efforts won't get them into the playoffs.

My oddity of the night - have you ever seen so many players tossed from the face off circle in one game? Especially the Panthers - Jokinen was tossed twice in the second period alone...

Next up: at Philadelphia on Saturday. I wouldn't want to be a Flightless Bird for the next two plus days... I get the feeling Therrien won't have nice things to say after tonight.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Game #42 - at Florida Panthers

Pittsburgh Penguins (18-16-7, 43 pts) at Florida Panthers (15-20-9, 39 pts)

Another game with a team that could contend for the last few playoff spots.

The Panthers are trying to resurrect their season, and were doing a decent job of it, going 5-1-1 until a 0-1-2 West Coast trip. This is their first game back, though they last played on Sunday. Hopefully they'll be caught in the same letdown the Lightning were supposed to be caught in during the last game.

The Panthers power play has been struggling recently, going 2-32 in their last eight games. Their PK has been decent, however, and most of their games have been decided at even strength.

The Pens should certainly have some more room to skate tonight, that's for sure.

Let's hope they have some better success facing a goalie that's not quite as hot.

Panthers blog - it's really pretty sad - there's not much out there in Panther blog land. The main one I could find is On Frozen Pond, which has an article about the Panthers going up against Luongo in Vancouver.

Watch out for Olli Jokinen. He shoots like there's no tomorrow.

Let's Go Pens!

Lightning 3, Penguins 2

Ok, I'm really sick of watching Tampa Bay play. This one was close to another snooze fest, and it didn't help that the lighting in the building was dark, or at least the television feed was dark.

The difference in the game was a non-call. Martin St Louis hooked Gonchar, stripped him of the puck in the offensive zone, and passed to Karlsson who was all alone in front of the net. It was a fairly blatant non-call and directly led to the third goal for the Bolts.

Having said that, Holmqvist was just sick tonight. He made just about every save imaginable on the Pens in the third period, when they had several excellent scoring chances against him. There was just no good way to beat him. The Pens did get one late in the third to make the game interesting (Army basically deflected the puck in off of his body somehow), but Holmqvist stoned them consistently.

Crosby had a great goal early in the game, but both Vinny and Marty scored for the Bolts.

I'm really starting to hate watching the Pens play them.

Next up: at Florida tomorrow night... let's hope the ice is better

Game #41 - at Tampa Bay Lightning

Pittsburgh Penguins (18-15-7, 43 pts) at Tampa Bay Lightning (20-21-2, 42 pts)

Tonight the Pens get a chance to strike a blow for exciting up and down hockey by coming out and flying against the Lightning. They seemed to be stuck in neutral the other night.

I'm not really expecting that to happen, however. What I am expecting is a much better effort against a team that the Pens really should beat. I'm expecting more than 22 shots on Holmqvist, who they should be able to beat, even if he looked dazzling at times the other night.

Bolts blog - I'll put you back to LightningHockeyCentral, for a review of the game from the other night, from the Tampa perspective.

I'm looking for a solid road effort tonight, with the Pens simply outworking the Bolts, who will be suffering the "first home game after a long road trip" syndrome.

Let's Go Pens!

Sunday, January 07, 2007

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

This was a game where the Pens were thoroughly outplayed, especially after the first period. They really had no business earning a point out of the game, but they found a way to get two goals past Holmqvist and earn the point.

Sidney Crosby scored a fantastic goal with three seconds remaining in the second period on a diving effort to tie the game at 1-1. The Lightning took the lead on a goal by a guy (Tarnasky) who had played all of five minutes to that point. It was his second of the year. Why does it seem the Pens always get burnt by players who normally don't contribute?

The Pens tied it after Talbot drew a penalty late in the third and the puck deflected in off of Cory Sarich. Thank goodness for the video review people in Toronto, because the referee on the ice had it completely wrong - he had waved it off initially saying Recchi had kicked the puck.

As I noted in the preview, going to the shootout with the Lightning is generally a bad idea, and it proved to be that was again tonight.

I took away a few positives from the game (other than earning the point)
  • The fourth line of Petro, Ruutu and Talbot contributed offensively, largely due to the work of Talbot in my opinion.
  • Crosby and Recchi found ways to put the puck in the net when it seemed Holmqvist couldn't be beat.
  • The Pens killed a penalty in OT, in a great effort.
  • Fleury played really well, and continues to look strong in net.
Next up: another chance at the Bolts on Tuesday in Tampa Bay

Game #40 - vs Tampa Bay Lightning

Tampa Bay Lightning (19-21-2, 40 pts) at Pittsburgh Penguins (18-15-6, 42 pts)

The Lightning are ending a four game road trip tonight, and starting a home-and-home series with the Pens. The game in Tampa is on Tuesday. The Bolts have gone 1-2 on their trip so far, and have lost four of their last six games overall.

A few things jump out at me about this game:
The Lightning are the worst team in the NHL at killing penalties.
They're also the second best in the NHL at not taking penalties.

What does that mean? That it's tough to get them to take a penalty, but if you can get a few on them, your chances are good. For the Pens, that means be aggressive in the offensive zone and go strong to the net when you have a chance. Look for players like Crosby and Malkin to excel, but also for guys like Dominic Moore and Max Talbot to use their speed to draw penalties.

This really is a game the Penguins ought to be able to win. They need two points in regulation, as the Lightning are one of the teams the Pens will be competing with for the last few spots in the playoffs.

Oh, and one more thing - AVOID THE SHOOT OUT!! The Lightning goalies have stopped 16 of 17 shots in shoot outs.

Lightning blog - I'll point you to Lightning Hockey Central, mostly because of the post about the dark side of hockey blogging that is the current read. Me, I try and keep my blogging as separate as I can from real life. It's better that way.

I'm looking for a solid home effort tonight from the Pens. They really need to keep the momentum going. Hopefully Vinny the Penguin Killer doesn't hurt them again tonight...

Let's Go Pens!

Friday, January 05, 2007

Penguins 4, Sabres 2

Tonight the Pens played a fantastic road game. The action was end to end for much of the time, and the Pens played it just right. Fleury was solid in net and the Pens were able to get some timely offense. It was a fun game to watch.

There were a few absolutely critical times of the game, when the Pens came up smelling like roses.

Late in the second period, with the score 2-2, Ryan Whitney took a penalty (it was at 17:08). The Sabres had just scored on their last power play and went on the attack. The Pens came through with a critical penalty kill and then drew a hooking penalty on the Sabres. With 2.3 seconds left on the clock, Malkin went top shelf on Miller, giving the Pens their second power play goal of the night at putting the Pens on top to stay.

The Pens took another penalty with just under 8 minutes remaining in the game, but successfully killed it off. That was also HUGE. I couldn't help but think that this was about the time of the game when the team would have folded last year, or even during one of their losing streaks this year, leaving us to say things like "at least they earned a point". Not tonight!!

Whitney, Malkin and Staal each had a goal and an assist. Assists are quite rare for Staal this year, but he setup Armstrong early on quite nicely (Colby fired the puck over the net) and gave the puck to Moore for his empty net goal at the end of the game.

Speaking of the empty netter... according to Steigy and Errey, this was the first EN goal the Pens have scored since BEFORE THE LOCKOUT!! Are you kidding me? Nice to see them actually salt the game away for once, eh?

Next up: a home and home with Tampa Bay, beginning on Sunday at the Igloo.

Game #39 - at Buffalo Sabres

Pittsburgh Penguins (17-15-6, 40 pts) at Buffalo Sabres (29-8-3, 61 pts)

I think the words for tonight are "Litmus Test". The Sabres are simply lethal. There is no discernible weakness in their game. They out score everyone. Their defense isn't much better than average (13th in goals allowed per game) and their special teams are also about average (17th on the power play and 14th on the penalty kill). They simply beat people up at even strength. They also haven't been taking as many penalties lately, which obviously helps.

To make matters worse, they are 7-6-1 in the own division. Playing teams from outside the division (like the Pens), they are 22-2-2!! Ugh.

The Pens will have to play their best game of the year tonight to win. They'll need to out work the Sabres at even strength all night long, and get some timely scoring on the power play. Fortunately, they're coming off a few great performances, so we'll get to see how much they've learned.

Sabres blog - check out the game preview from the Buffalo perspective at BfloBlog.

I'm looking for the Pens to manage a point tonight in a tightly played game, provided they don't get down early to the lethal Sabres offense.

Let's Go Pens!

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Lemieux to meet with Kansas City today

According to numerous sources, Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle are in Kansas City today meeting with officials about possibly moving the team to that city in time for the beginning of the 2007-2008 season.

I'm hoping this is a move aimed more at due diligence and making sure the local politicos understand the seriousness of the situation. My personal feeling is that Pittsburgh won't be able to match an offer made by another city like Kansas City, Las Vegas or Houston, largely because those places would be willing to overpay for a franchise.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Penguins 3, Hurricanes 0

This one can be described simply: Pens Kick Stuffing Out Of Hurricanes.

Sidney Crosby scored two goals and setup the other as the Pens beat the Hurricanes. The score could have been 6-0 if not for the superb goal tending of Cam Ward. I still say he's largely mediocre, but he played really well tonight. The score was just 1-0 after two periods when the Pens finally started to cash in on their numerous chances.

There were two critical factors for the game:
The Pens killed off numerous penalties early on, including one at the end of the first and one near the end of the second. Those kills were KEY, as the Pens were only up 1-0.
The Pens didn't get down when they couldn't beat Ward early on (other than Crosby in the first) - they just stuck to their system and kept working, eventually cashing in twice in the third to put the game out of reach.

Fleury played really well when the Pens needed him tonight, though they didn't need him to totally dominate the game like the score might indicate.

We didn't really hear Errey and Steigy talk about Brind'Amour on the face offs TOO much (I think just once or twice), but we did hear about how wonderful Cam Ward is. I have to wonder, have they looked at his stats? I know he won the Cup and all, but his numbers aren't deserving of the hyperbole he received. He had a GAA of 3.68 and save % of .882 last year (not good) and 2.82 / .898 so far this year. He is still young (only 22), so he'll probably mature into a fine goalie over the long haul.

In total, this was a great win for the Pens, allowing them to build some momentum. That's a good thing, because things aren't going to get any easier.

Next up: at Buffalo on Friday. This one will be tough.

Game #38 - vs Carolina Hurricanes

Carolina Hurricanes (21-16-4, 46 pts) at Pittsburgh Penguins (16-15-6 38 pts)

The Pens finally got the big win they needed against Toronto last week. Now they try to make it two in a row at home against the Canes. I like their chances. Here's why:

The Hurricanes aren't as good on the road as they are at home. They're 10-10-3 away from their friendly confines. To add to that, the Canes are just 11-13-4 when playing outside of their division. To me, this makes tonight a very winnable game for the Pens, even though they always seem to struggle against the Canes.

Cam Ward continues to be a completely mediocre Stanley Cup winner. His save percentage is worse than Fleury - the only reason his GAA is better is that the Canes don't allow as many shots as the Penguins.

Hurricanes blog - check out Stormbringer's Blog, mostly because he has a recent post about the Nintendo Wii, which I recently obtained. It's awesome :)

Tonight, I'm looking for some scoring on the power play and for Errey and Steigy to talk about how impressive the Canes are on face offs (over and over).

Let's Go Pens!