Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Game #63 - at New York Rangers

Pittsburgh Penguins (33-20-9, 75 pts) at New York Rangers (30-27-6, 66 pts)

Prior meetings:
Rangers 3, Penguins 2 (SO) on December 7th in New York
Rangers 2, Penguins 1 (OT) on November 25th in Pittsburgh
Penguins 3, Rangers 1 on November 18th in Pittsburgh
Penguins 6, Rangers 5 on October 12th in New York

One of the great joys of the hockey season is realizing that the Rangers and Flyers won't make the playoffs. Looks like both may miss them this year. Add to that the possibility if the Pens entering the fray for the first time in quite a while, and you have Pittsburgh hockey nirvana.

The Pens are in the 5th spot in the East, though they're just four points out of the 9th spot. They really need to beat a team like the Rangers to stay at a decent spot in the standings, because the rest of March doesn't get much easier.

The Rangers have a losing record at home this year, one of only three teams in the East to have that dubious mark (Toronto and Philly are the other two). They also had lost four out of five games (including Philly and Columbus at home - blech!) before shutting out the Habs on Tuesday.

The Pens will have their new guys on the ice against the Rangers. They include Gary Roberts, Georges Laraque and Joel Kwiatkowski. I'm typing those names more for my spelling practice than anything else. Roberts will skate on the first line with Crosby, according to the front page of

Rangers blog - Ranger Pundit
Check out this blog - it's written by Mike Savino, who attended his first game in person in 1943!! That's some serious dedication. Sounds like some Stillerz fans I know, but probably without the drunken haze that our Pittsburgh brethren tend to show.

I'm looking for a tight road game. No Shanahan, probably no Straka. Someone please tackle Jagr, or at least show him sad clown faces so he'll get depressed.

Let's Go Pens!

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Pens acquire Nolan Schaefer

The Pens acquired goaltender Nolan Schaefer from San Jose for a 7th round draft choice. Nolan was assigned to Wilkes Barre.

Minor league goalie. 27 years old. Nothing more to see here. Move along.

Pens acquire Joel Kwiatkowski

The Pens acquired Joel Kwiatkowski from the Florida Panthers for a fourth round draft pick in 2007.

Kwiatkowski is, according to TSN, a big mobile guy that moves the puck well. Sounds like a Ray Shero kind of fellow. The knocks against him include a lack of willingness to use his size (he's 6'2") and a tendency to make "critical errors".

Not a bad addition. Good size and speed. Maybe a less talented, older version of Ryan Whitney? I'll take it for a 5th or 6th D-man. He hasn't played that much this year, averaging less than 10:00 per game. It will be interesting to see how Therrien uses him.

Devils 1, Penguins 0

The score should really have read Brodeur 1, Pens 0. That's how the game went. The Devils helped with their system, but the star was absolutely Martin Brodeur.

Fleury was really good as well, keeping the Penguins in the game. The goal he allowed wasn't his fault - he was completely blinded and it was a good shot by Lagenbrunner.

There were a bunch of changes today, but I'd say it's safe to say we won't be seeing Nasreddine, Thorburn or Petrovicky much in the future.

The Pens had their chances tonight, including a power play for the last 1:30 during which they pulled Fleury. The just couldn't get the puck past Brodeur.

The Pens really played a good game. They weren't able to cash in. They're going to need more efforts like this if they hope to stay in the playoffs - their schedule is really tough in March. As much as it would seem amazing to say this before the season, missing the playoffs at this point would be a huge disappointment.

Next up: at the Rangers on Thursday - the first night of back-to-back road games.

Pens send Dominic Moore to Minnesota

The Penguins have sent Dominic Moore to the Minnesota Wild in exchange for a third round draft pick.

This essentially means that the Pens got Georges Laraque in exchange for Moore and Carcillo.

I liked Dominic Moore, but something had to give with the Pens acquiring two forwards (Roberts and Laraque) while not moving anybody out. I think the writing was on the wall for Dominic. He was a PK specialist, but with the emergence of Max Talbot, he was largely made redundant. The Pens are in good shape on the PK with the play of Army, Staal, Talbot and Malone.

Good luck to Dominic in Minnesota. I think he'll fit in quite well there.

Pens acquire Georges Laraque

The Pens acquired Georges Laraque from the Phoenix Coyotes in exchange for Daniel Carcillo and a third round draft pick.

Laraque is signed through next season. He has a $1.1 million salary this year and $1.3 next. He will essentially make a guy like Ronald Petrovicky unnecessary.

I like the addition of Laraque. He's big (6'3", 240 lbs) and is arguably the best fighter in the NHL. He has decent hands and can contribute offensively. The only thing I don't like is that his skating is sub par.

Giving up Carcillo isn't easy, but considering his possible upside, along with the people already in Pittsburgh, there wasn't much room for him to play.

Hat tip to Will for pointing this one out to me.

Pens acquire Gary Roberts

The Pens acquired Gary Roberts from the Florida Panthers in exchange for Noah Welch.

I don't like this one. I don't like giving up a guy like Welch, who has a potentially big upside for a guy like Roberts who will improve the team for about two months.

Having said that, I do like the addition of Roberts. He is a tough winger who can score. He also has tons of experience. He should be able to help smooth out the valleys so that they don't hurt the team as much.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Game #62 - vs New Jersey Devils

New Jersey Devils (39-18-6, 84 pts) at Pittsburgh Penguins (33-19-9, 75 pts)

Prior meetings:
Penguins 5, Devils 4 on February 16th in New Jersey
Devils 3, Penguins 0 on December 26th in New Jersey
Devils 5, Penguins 2 on December 1st in New Jersey
Penguins 4, Devils 2 on October 25th in Pittsburgh
Devils 2, Penguins 1 on October 18th in Pittsburgh

The Pens play the Devils three times in the next nine games. The Devils play the Pens three times in their next seven games. What does that mean for the Pens? It means that if they have any serious ambitions about the division title (and the second seed in the playoffs), now is the time to do something about it. That all starts with this game against the Devils.

Marc-Andre Fleury will be back in net for the Penguins. He hasn't had a complete game since Tuesday, February 6th against Nashville. That seems like a long time ago. He'll need to have a complete game against the Devils.

The power play for the Devils has been ice-cold, managing only one goal over the last 4 games (15 chances). The Pens, on the other hand, have a power play goal in five straight games. On the PK, the Pens have been Devil-like in their ability to stay out of the box recently. They've yielded only 12 chances over their last four games. Anytime you can allow only three power plays per game on average, you're doing something right.

The Devils actually had Scott Clemmensen play a game on Sunday, so you know that Brodeur is going to be well rested, and probably pissed that he didn't get to play. Let's hope the Pens can get to him early and get inside his head a bit.

This game needs to be the opposite of the loss against Tampa Bay. If the Pens come out flat and allow a quick goal or two, then they'll have a really hard time coming back. A two-goal deficit to Jersey is like a 4 goal deficit to most anyone else.

Devils blog - 2 Man Advantage
They have a nice roundup of the trade deadline activity. Check it out!

This one will be tough. I'm looking for a gutsy performance from the Pens now that they really need it.

Let's Go Pens!

Pens close to acquiring Gary Roberts

According to this article in the Post-Gazette, the Penguins are on the verge of acquiring Gary Roberts from the Florida Panthers. Roberts has only waived his no-trade clause for Toronto and Ottawa, so it would seem the team is waiting to see if he'll waive the no-trade clause for them too.

ESPN has an article as well, citing that the Pens would send a player from their roster to the Panthers.

Roberts is 40, but he still averages about 17 minutes per game this season. He can score and also has that gritty quality that Ray Shero seems to like. Roberts will be an unrestricted free agent after this season.

TSN has an article about John Muckler, the head honcho in Ottawa. He says that the asking price for guys is too high right now. The name Gary Roberts is specifically mentioned (along with Bill Guerin) as being too expensive. That's not good for the Pens.

I'm not sure who you give up to get Roberts. I don't like that it's a player on the Pens current roster, because I can't imagine giving up someone like Petro, Thorburn or Melichar to get a guy that will play two months for you.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Lightning 5, Penguins 1

This may have been the worst game the Pens played all year. They managed only 18 shots on goal and were completely unable to muster any kind of offense. When you couple that with a few sloppy plays and some bad goal tending while it still mattered... you get the result that you see in the title.

Thibault wasn't very good, and that's an understatement. Since the game was depressing, I thought I could make this at least a little bit fun by bringing you: The Many Faces of Jocelyn Thibault.
  • First we had T-DOH! make a bad clearing attempt early on, directly leading to a Lightning power play.
  • On the ensuing power play, T-Bound showed up as he deflected the puck quite nicely to Martin St Louis, who put the puck in the empty net.
  • Just a few minutes later, Thibault went down on a shot from the right slot that didn't make it through, and the puck trickled towards the middle of the ice. T-Slow, who was down on his knees, just couldn't get the legs going fast enough and just sort of leaned helplessly as the puck flew right past him.
  • Early in the second, with the Pens down 2-0, we had another appearance of T-DOH! as he went to his knees on a bad angle attempt and allowed the puck to go between his arm and his body. The Lightning were up 3-0.
  • Immediately after that, Michel Therrien had us all say T-Bye as Marc-Andre Fleury entered the game.
Though Thibault had the team off on the wrong foot, I don't think it would have mattered. The team was simply flat, and no one could do much to get them out of it. Ryan Malone tried fighting. You know it's bad if Ryan drops the gloves, because he's not very good at it (but I give him credit for trying).

The Pens had some brief momentum in the second, but could never get closer than 3-1. In the third, there were some lapses on the power play leading to a shortie and a nice passing play that was finished off by Brad Richards.

I think the team just needs to put this one behind them. They were clearly outplayed from the get go. This will happen every once in awhile. They need to forget about it and get ready for the onslaught in March.

Next up: a big one against New Jersey at the Igloo on Tuesday

Game #61 - at Tampa Bay Lightning

Pittsburgh Penguins (33-18-9, 75 pts) at Tampa Bay Lightning (35-25-3, 73 pts)

Prior meetings:
Lightning 4, Penguins 3 (OT) on November 8th in Pittsburgh
Lightning 3, Penguins 2 (SO) on January 7th in Pittsburgh
Lightning 3, Penguins 2 on January 9th in Tampa Bay

The Lightning have dominated the Pens lately. They are 11-0-0 against the Pens since January 17th 2003. That's pretty depressing.

The Pens, however, have ended several long droughts this season. Ending streaks against Toronto and Florida come to mind immediately. The Pens also have a chance for an unheard-of 8-0 record against the Flyers. Maybe this is the time to get things rolling against the Bolts.

The Bolts are only 17-14 on their own ice. They have been hot lately, ever since they swept the Pens back in early January. They caught the Thrashers and passed them for the division lead.

The Pens, for their part, managed to rebound with a solid win in Florida on Thursday night. Would there be a better way to keep things going than with a win over Tampa Bay?

The formula for victory is simple: take advantage of your chances. The Lightning are almost Devil-like in their ability to not take penalties. You have to convert your chances when you get them. The Pens aren't so good about converting chances on the road, but they have been better lately (the last time they didn't manage a power play goal in a road game was January 10th).

Jocelyn Thibault will get the start in net again for the Pens. I like this decision. Get Fleury well rested and give Thibault a chance to play back-to-back. You never know when he's going to need to jump in there down the stretch (or in the playoffs, if they make it).

Andre Roy won't be in the lineup for the Bolts - he received a three game suspension for arguing with the referees and feigning a head butt on one of them after a recent game. That seems a little bit crazy, I'd say...

Lightning blog - LightningHockeyCentral
They have a nice article on the recent acquisition of Shane O'Brien. I'm glad he's not going to play today against the Pens. He's exactly the kind of player I don't like watching when he's playing against the Flightless Birds...

Hidden fact - all three times these teams have met this season, they've been within 2 points of each other.

I'm looking for another solid effort from Thibault and an end to the losing streak against Tampa.

Let's Go Pens!

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Penguins 2, Panthers 1

This was a great win for the Pens.
  • They played a good road game.
  • They received some key goal tending from Jocelyn Thibault.
  • They found a way to beat a sharp goaltender in OT.
  • They also killed off a critical penalty as time was ticking down.
  • They didn't let their loss against the Isles turn into a losing streak.
All told, a great effort. There's really not much else to say. It was disappointing that they couldn't seal the deal with a power play in OT, but Army found a way to go upstairs on Belfour for the winner.

You know it's a relatively boring game when the highlights on include highlights from other overtime game-winning goals.

The Pens haven't swept a trip to Florida in nearly 10 years. They get a chance on Sunday.

Next up: at Tampa Bay on Sunday. Weird start time - 5:00.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Game #60 - at Florida Panthers

Pittsburgh Penguins (32-18-9, 73 pts) at Florida Panthers (23-26-12, 58 pts)

Prior meetings:
Panthers 3, Penguins 2 on December 5th in Pittsburgh
Panthers 5, Penguins 2 on January 10th in Florida
Penguins 3, Panthers 0 on January 30th in Pittsburgh

The Kitty Cats traditionally murder the Penguins. They've won 14 of the past 16 and 8 of 9 in Florida. Olli Jokinen is a one man wrecking crew against the Flightless Birds. The heat of Florida seems to get into the brains of the Pens, making them play quite poorly.

To make matters worse, the Pens are catching the Panthers at a bad time. They've won two straight home games and are 3-1-1 in the past 5 overall. They still have an outside shot at the playoffs, but that's mostly a pipe dream, as they're 9 points out of the 8th spot.

The Pens are having struggles of their own, mostly on the part of the goaltender, Marc-Andre Fleury. He's been having a rough go of it lately, and he's not starting against Florida. Michel Therrien said the following about Fleury:
"We're not satisfied. He's got to upgrade his game and he knows it. It's part of my responsibility to make sure that he'll get better."
I think with a guy like Therrien, you probably don't want him making sure you get better. You want to do it all on your own, thank you very much. Hopefully the Flower will respond.

Thibault didn't play badly in his last game, but the Pens will need a solid defensive effort around him to get the win in a hostile environment.

The Pens really need this one - they've really struggled to get a win after a regulation loss this year. They need to nip this in the bud before it becomes a losing streak, especially judging from where they play next - Tampa Bay.

Panthers blog - I'm protesting. There aren't any besides the one published by the Miami Herald. Nothing against that guy, but I've pointed to it three times already this year, and he's paid to write it. I like blogs that people do because they have a passion for the game and their team. So I'm taking my ball and going home (figuratively). Literally, I'm just not pointing to a Panthers blog.

I'm looking for a turn-around game with a renewed emphasis on defense. I'd also like to see Maxime Talbot stick a bulls-eye on Jokinen so the Pens have an easy time spotting him.

Let's Go Pens!

Monday, February 19, 2007

Islanders 6, Penguins 5

There were too many things wrong with this game:
  • Fleury wasn't sharp, especially on the game winning shot by Sillinger.
  • The Pens were sloppy, especially during the second period.
  • The line changes were bad at critical times (like when the Isles were scoring).
You can't have those things happen on the road and expect to win.

Some of them were trying to keep things in perspective, like Recchi:
"Guys in here are disappointed and upset, and that's a good thing. We played three hockey games in such a short time, and to see people unhappy after losing the third one is a good sign."
and Sidney:
"Losing is never fun, but it was going to happen sometime. Mentally, it's tough to go through something like that and come up short."
They're both right, of course, but the Coach had a slightly different perspective:
"When you score five goals on the road, you've got to win those games."
Therrien also seemed to have an idea of where the blame should lie:
"Lately, we've given [Fleury] four, five goals a game. His last four games in a row, he's not been good enough."
The good news is that the Pens offense continues to click. That bodes well, because you know that with two entire days off, Michel Therrien can beat the defense into them.

Ryan Malone and Mark Recchi provided all of the scoring, with Malone notching the hat trick. It was nice to see the big guns take over for a game and provide some firepower. The Pens have been receiving balanced scoring lately, but you can't count on the third and fourth line for a goal each game.

Speaking of the first line, they were the line that scored all three goals at even strength, which gives them all a +3 to start with, but Malone ended up at even (0), Recchi at -1 and Sid at -2. That tells you pretty quickly who the Isles did their work against. Not a good thing.

It doesn't get any easier, as the Pens depart to the site of their last losing streak - Florida. They traditionally don't play well there.

To make matters worse, when the Pens lose in regulation after a win this season, they've only bounced back with a win twice this year, and both times were before Thanksgiving. In other words, once they shift from winning to losing, they have a tough time shifting back.

Anyway, it was bound to happen. They lost. Hopefully they'll get over it, and quickly!

Next up: at Florida on Thursday

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Game #59 - at New York Islanders

Pittsburgh Penguins (32-17-9, 73 pts) at New York Islanders (28-23-8, 64 pts)

It's highly unusual for a team to play two games inside the space of 24 hours, but that's exactly what the Pens are up against at 1:00 Monday afternoon.

Marc-Andre Fleury will return to the crease and try to keep the Pens streak of points in 16 straight games alive.

Since the Isles loss at the Igloo on January 16th, they've earned points in 11 out of 13 games. The only two games they lost in regulation were a pair of 2-0 shutouts at the hands of the New Jersey Devils. At home during the streak, the Isles are 3-1-1.

Their power play has been sputtering badly, with only three goals in those 13 games. Their PK has been poor of late as well, allowing at least one goal in four straight games.

Islanders blog - check out The View From Section 317 for a good Islanders blog written by a season ticket holder.

I'm looking for a gutsy performance from the Pens. This will be testing their endurance, and the level of fuel left in the tank will dictate how well they do.

Let's Go Pens!

Penguins 3, Capitals 2

The Pens played just well enough to win this one. That's what matters. 16 in a row with a point. That's fantastic.

Thibault made a few key saves at crucial times, was lucky at other crucial times, and generally didn't lose the game for the Pens. I think his nickname is going to change from T-Bo to T-Bound - he sure does give up a bunch of rebounds. Twice in the third the Caps hit the pipes, including on a penalty shot by Semin. Thibault was really badly faked out by Semin, but Semin seemed unaware of this and put way more on the shot than he needed to. He hit the crossbar squarely.

The Pens were the recipients of balanced play from all four lines once again. This time, the third line of Talbot, Armstrong and Christensen were able to convert what would eventually be the game winner.

The Pens kept the Caps in check most of the third period. They withstood a furious storm in the last 90 seconds to earn the two points.

Good game. Great win.

Next up: at Long Island tomorrow afternoon at 1:00.

Game #58 - vs Washington Capitals

Washington Capitals (23-26-9, 55 pts) at Pittsburgh Penguins (31-17-9, 71 pts)

Prior meetings:
Penguins 2, Capitals 0 on February 3rd in Pittsburgh
Penguins 5, Capitals 4 (OT - SO) on December 11th in Washington

Thibault to start today. I think that's the right decision. In a perfect world, you'd start Marc-Andre at home in a nationally televised game. But the Pens are playing again in less than 24 hours (tomorrow at 1:00), and you'd much rather see the Caps earn two points than the Isles.

Washington arrives having lost much more than they've won on the road recently, going 1-10-1 in their last 12 road games. Ollie the Goalie is hurt, so we'll see Brent Johnson in net today. Johnson isn't too bad - he's basically the Caps version of Jocelyn Thibault, though he's played much more this year than Thibault has.

The Caps have slid out of the playoff picture. They're currently 11 points out of the 8th spot. This is a team the Pens need to jump on early and often to make sure they don't get any funny ideas.

The Pens also desperately need to avoid the third period letdown that they've been allowing recently.

Let's hope the broadcast is a bit better this time on NBC. Last time it was pretty bad, if you remember.

Caps blog - Check out Bleatings from a Caps Nut. They have a nice preview of the game up, complete with references to Penguin Scum. It doesn't get any better than that. It's a nice blog, too.

I'm looking for the Pens to show patience against the trap that the Caps seem to be employing lately and post a solid victory before going to Long Island later today.

Let's Go Pens!

Friday, February 16, 2007

Penguins 5, Devils 4

We'll start at the end. What a finish to the game! The Devils were down 5-4 and pulled Brodeur. They pressured the Pens to the breaking point but just couldn't get the tying goal. The Pens were terrific in their tenacity to keep the puck out of the net. Eaton, Gonchar and Fleury all played key roles in the last 60 seconds.

The Pens were up 5-2 entering the third period. The Devils managed to get two past Fleury, one on a great play by Parise and the other by Zajac. Parise knocked the puck down out of the air, drew it back to his forehand and deposited it into the open net. Zajac shot a slapper from near the blue line which Fleury tried to catch. It deflected off of the top of his glove, right into the net behind him. That one was totally on Marc-Andre.

It's troubling to see the Pens let the Devils back into the game like that. They had a stranglehold on the game. If this were an isolated occurance, then we could chalk it up to a tough game on the road against a good team. However, it's becoming a habit for this team lately. Sooner or later, it's going to burn them. However, for now, I'm still ecstatic that they're winning. Fifteen in a row with points.

This one featured the latest and strongest evidence that the Apocalypse is upon us:

Jarkko Ruutu scored twice AND was the #1 star in the game. Jarkko also played more minutes at even strength than Evgeni Malkin.

Take a second and let that sink in. This might be a team of destiny.

Random thoughts:
  • Nice deflection work on the first goal by Jarkko.
  • Great work by the third and fourth line. Tonight showed how valuable it is to have four lines.
  • Great to see Sid put one behind Brodeur.
  • How bad was the attendance in the Continental Airlines Arena? No official numbers up yet... but it couldn't have been good - there were TONS of empty seats.
Next up: vs Washington at the Igloo on Sunday

Updating labels

While the Pens are trying to let the Devils back into the hockey game, I'm going to be updating labels (categories). I mention this because anyone reading on an RSS feed will see a ton of entries since they'll have been updated. Sorry for the extra noise...

Game #57 - at New Jersey Devils

Pittsburgh Penguins (30-17-9, 69 pts) at New Jersey Devils (35-16-6, 76 pts)

Prior meetings:
Devils 3, Penguins 0 on December 26th in New Jersey
Devils 5, Penguins 2 on December 1st in New Jersey
Penguins 4, Devils 2 on October 25th in Pittsburgh
Devils 2, Penguins 1 on October 18th in Pittsburgh

Tonight is a tough assignment. Brodeur is the bane of the Penguins existence recently. John Madden and Colin White are both expected to play after missing Wednesday night against Montreal.

The only positive, player-wise, is that Mighty Mouse (Brian Gionta) might miss the game with a groin strain. That's big for the Pens, as the little guy has roasted them since the end of the lockout.

For the Pens to have a chance, they MUST take advantage of their chances on the power play, and they likely won't get many of them. The Devils do take more penalties at home than they do on the road, but they average less than 4 power plays allowed per game. Their PK is very good at home (86%) when they do take a penalty. Ugh.

Another critical element is to kill penalties effectively. The Devils are only +2 at home. They've scored 30 power play goals while only allowing 15 against. That's why they've been so successful at home.

The Pens have been struggling a bit lately. Since the Nashville game (which I think was their last great effort), they've had to go to OT or the shoot out to beat Philadelphia and Chicago. I know they're both playing better, but they're still not playoff teams. The ship needs to be righted for the Pens to have a chance tonight.

Devils blog - Check out In Lou We Trust. Good blog.

I'm looking for a high energy effort. The Pens will have to use their speed to break up the snooze fest inducing trap the Devils employ. Speed will also go a long way towards putting the Pens on the power play. Crosby scores (finally) and the Pens win.

Let's Go Pens!

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Penguins 5, Blackhawks 4 (OT - SO - 2-0)

Missed the first two periods of this one - power outage. Brrr... good thing it came back on - we're expecting lows in the single digits and wind chill 10-15 below zero.

The Pens keep playing with fire and still haven't been burned. Tonight they had the Blackhawks on the ropes, 3-1, and couldn't put them away. The Hawks tied the score at 3-3 and took the lead on what seemed to be a blatant too many men on the ice penalty that wasn't called. It resulted in a Ruutu (Tuomo, not Jarkko) breakaway. He beat Fleury and gave the Blackhawks a 4-3 lead with only 6:50 to play.

The Pens didn't waste any time, and Recchi, Malkin and Crosby turned on the jets and tied the score just 1:11 later. It stayed that way until OT.

Just 12 seconds into OT, Fleury made an incredible save. Havlat had an open net to shoot at and Fleury came across from his right to his left and stopped the puck (literally) with his toe / tip of his skate. Find the video of this one tomorrow on - it was an incredible save.

Crosby did his best at the end of the OT, taking over the game single-handedly and carrying the puck. He rifled off several tough shots, getting his own rebound and working for another shot. It's been a long time since I've seen someone that possessed. Unfortunately, Khabibulin was up to the task of stopping him.

In the shootout, it was almost predictable. Christensen scored (he's 5 for 8 this year on the shootout) and Fleury made the saves. The only diversion from the norm is that Malkin relieved the Blackhawks of the need to shoot a third time by putting the Pens up for good at 2-0.

Great game - the Pens found a way to win. They're not playing the same dominating hockey they were just a little while ago, but they have enough confidence to find ways to win games. I don't think they'll be able to get away with that on Friday in New Jersey, however.

Next up: at New Jersey on Friday.

Game #56 - vs Chicago Blackhawks

Chicago Blackhawks (22-27-7, 51 pts) at Pittsburgh Penguins (29-17-9, 67 pts)

The Blackhawks are a different team on the road. At home, they play lots of tight, low scoring games. They have allowed only 71 goals at home on the season and only 16 on the penalty kill. On the road, they've allowed 94 goals, including 36 on the PK. They've also scored a bit more on the road. I'd say it's a function of other teams dictating the style of play when away from the friendly confines of the United Center.

The power play of the Hawks has been clicking at just 11.7% this season, though it's a little bit better lately. On the road, their success rate is higher (13.8%), but still nothing to get overly excited about.

Chicago has been playing better of late. They're playing the last game of a 7 game road trip tonight, and their record on the trip is 4-2. Not too bad.

The Pens ought to be able to handle the Hawks, but we've said that a few times earlier this season. I'll point you to Example #1 and Example #2. But this is a different team now, right? They've earned points in 13 straight, going 11-0-2, right? I think it's a team that has yet to prove that it can figure a way to avoid the prolonged losing streaks. Consider this: only twice all year has the team won, lost in regulation and followed that loss with a win (both times before Thanksgiving). They do seem to earn points by losing in OT, but my point is that they're still susceptible to the prolonged losing streak, and that's something they're going to have to avoid if they hope to make the playoffs. Yes, I said MAKE the playoffs - they're in 4th right now, but the #9 team (Toronto) is just 5 points back. A 4-5 game losing streak could really hurt their chances.

Blackhawks blog - check out the MVN site, The Blackhawk Experience. They say that Martin Havlat is one to watch out for, with 44 points in just 34 games. I agree - let's hope we don't have to add to the ranks of the Penguin Killers tonight.

I'm looking for a good win at home tonight. The Pens really need to focus on getting two points tonight, because they go to New Jersey for a showdown on Friday.

Let's Go Pens!

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Penguins 6, Maple Leafs 5 (OT)

Wow. This was another game that will go down as a classic. It had a bit of everything, from timely scoring to defensive lapses to great goal tending to dumber than usual referees.

Let me cover the Clueless Zebras first. The nonsense with Hal Gill and Colby Armstrong was one of those things that just makes you want to pull your hair out as a fan of the NHL. For anyone who didn't see it, Gill finished off a check on Army with a solid hit, knocking Colby on his butt. Unfortunately, it didn't stop there. Gill hit Colby when he was on the ice, and not just one of those "I'll fall on you so you can't get up" type of hits, but rather more like a few cross checks while Colby is down. The camera angle that FSN had showed it best - VanMassenhoven was staring right at everything that was happening. Colby got up and said something to Gill, who then followed Colby (who was skating away), hit him again and knocked him down again, in full view of VanMassenhoven, and nowhere NEAR the puck. Correct me if I'm wrong, but that's interference at the least and probably roughing.

As a fan of the game, I know that fighting is part of the action, and I like it as much as the next guy. This wasn't fighting or "being tough" - it was just plain dumb. It's what made the NHL largely unwatchable before the lockout. It's what happens when you let the CZs on the ice make a "judgement" call. If I could ever ask the NHL for one thing, it would be "Please make it stop!!" It really detracts from the product on the ice, and it doesn't need to. It's just dumb.

Anyway, to segue into something that's not quite as whiny... this felt like an episode of My Name is Earl later on. The Leafs had built up some bad karma with the Armstrong incident and a pretty blatant hit from behind near the boards on Petrovicky by Kilger, who could only see Petro's numbers when he plastered him into the boards. Pretty cheap. Just like in My Name is Earl, karma showed the Leafs the error of their ways twice. The first time, Petro got into a fight with Kris Newbury. Petro caught him with a hard right and Newbury was knocked out cold. Not something you usually see (hopefully Newbury is okay). Karma 1, Leafs 0. In OT, the Leafs drew a penalty on Scuderi. Immediately after the ensuing face off, Eaton gets between Antropov and the puck, and Antropov gets his stick tangled up with Eaton, knocking him down. Penalty on Antropov. Karma 2, Leafs 0. Then, while playing three on three hockey, the Pens get an odd man break. McCabe is down on the ice and Staal fakes a shot, right at his head. McCabe turns his head, allowing Staal to skate to his left and bury the puck past Raycroft. Karma 3, Leafs 0. Knockout.

The rest of the game was great. The Pens jumped out to a 3-0 lead by the middle of the second period, but the Gill / Armstrong funny business seemed to turn the tide, and the Leafs rattled off four goals unanswered to take a 4-3 lead early in the third period. The Pens tied it and the Leafs went back ahead with about 8 minutes left. Then Talbot tied it again at 5 with a great shot high over the far side on Raycroft.

Once they tied it in the third, I was thinking "Just get to OT and earn a point." They did that. In OT, there were several chances for each team, and then the penalties, which were more or less offsetting. Then Staal scored his third of the game (his first hat trick) to win it in OT. Great goal, great game.

Random points:
  • Fleury let in a few tonight that weren't quite soft, but also weren't up to his usual standard.
  • The penalty kill did it's job, helping the Leafs to go 0-4. It's only the third time this season the Pens have blanked an opponent on the road.
  • Pens are tied for 4th in the conference with Ottawa, 7 points behind New Jersey in the Atlantic.
  • Pens are now the second highest scoring team in the NHL in goals per game, behind only Buffalo.

Next up: vs Chicago on Wednesday. Nice little break - they better enjoy it, because they have 4 games in 6 days and then things REALLY get busy in March.

Game #55 - at Torono Maple Leafs

Pittsburgh Penguins (28-17-9, 65 pts) at Toronto Maple Leafs (27-22-6, 60 pts)

Prior meetings:
Pens 8, Leafs 2 on January 20th
Pens 4, Leafs 1 on December 29th

Since the Pens last saw the Leafs on January 20th (and delivered an 8-2 thrashing), the Leafs have been 5-1, losing only on Thursday in Nashville. Mostly they've done it with defense and goal tending, allowing a total of 6 goals in the 5 wins.

The Pens are still on a roll, with a 10-0-2 streak on the line. They haven't lost in regulation since January 10th at Florida. Tonight, however, will be tough.

The Pens have really struggled with their penalty kill on the road, killing only 11 of 17 chances in their last 5 games. In fact, they've only shut out an opponent on the power play on the road TWICE all season (December 26th at New Jersey and November 24th at Long Island, in case you're wondering). That's not good. Give Toronto an early power play goal or two and they'll kick the stuffing out of the Pens.

So that's my theme for this one - stop the Leafs on the power play. Do that, and you'll have a good shot to win the game with the way Fleury has been playing lately.

Leafs blog - Check out Raking Leafs, which is well written, though it's really green on the background...

I don't have a great feeling about this one, but I'm thinking the effort will be there, and Sid has to be ready to bust out after no points on Thursday (along with Malkin).

Let's Go Pens!

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Penguins 5, Flyers 4 (OT - SO - 1-0)

Crosby and Malkin - zero points combined. No problem! Of course, I'm passing over the fact that Crosby had the winner in the shootout, but that's almost as unlikely this year as the team winning when he doesn't score!

The supporting cast, if you will, picked up the slack tonight. Staal, Recchi, Ouellet and Christensen scored for the Pens. Maybe all of our worrying about the lack of scoring on the wing is a little premature. Staal has 20 and Recchi has 19. Each could finish with 30 goals. Not too shabby if you ask me.

Anyway, back to the game. Anyone else troubled by the Pens penalty kill? They let in two again tonight. This is going to have to be a point of emphasis, but maybe not until the off season.

The Pens took a 4-2 lead early in the third on goals that were 20 seconds apart The Flyers got an early one at 5:58 and then a late one with Nittymaki pulled. That hasn't happened too often to the Pens, so I can't get too wound up about it.

They went to the shootout, and that's where Fleury shined. He stopped all three shooters. He's really on a hot streak with stopping the guys on the shootout.

Crosby managed to score for the first time this year, and Fleury stopped Gagne. Game over.

Great win to get on the road.

Next up: at Toronto on Saturday. It only gets tougher.

Game #54 - at Philadelphia Flyers

Pittsburgh Penguins (27-17-9, 63 pts) at Philadelphia Flyers (13-33-7, 33 pts)

The Flyers are trying to avoid having more losses than points on the season. The Penguins are trying to continue their hot streak. It's not quite irresistible force means immovable object.... but it's Pens and Flyers, and that should be enough.

The Flyers, before their setback last night to the Isles, had managed to put together a four game point streak, going 2-0-2 last week. The won both games on the road and lost in OT in both home games. On the season, the Flyers have won just three games at home.

Robert Esche will likely be the goaltender tonight, since Nittymaki played last night. The Pens haven't seen Esche since the season opener, when they won 4-0.

The Pens, as I'm sure I don't need to remind you, are 6-0 against the Flyers this season. I think these last two games (tonight and at home on March 4th) will be tough. It's not easy to beat a team 8 times in one year. Hopefully the Pens can stay on their roll and take care of business. I might worry about complacency, but these are the Flyers, and you just know they'll try something stupid to get the Pens fired up.

Flyers blog - FlyersFanCentral - they're the only ones still blogging on a regular basis, it seems. Kind of like last year with the Pens... there weren't many of us still covering things regularly after the Olympic break.

I'm looking for a hard fought road win tonight from the Pens. Doesn't matter if they have to go to OT to get it - the Flyers getting another point won't hurt them (though I hope they finish it off in regulation, just to keep the Flyers from deriving any kind of satisfaction).

Let's Go Pens!

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Penguins 4, Predators 1

The Penguins carried the play for the majority of this one. It was a really encouraging effort because the Preds are the top team in the NHL right now. I know the game was in Pittsburgh, but the way the Pens played, you wouldn't know that Nashville was so good.

The Preds took a lead into the first intermission with a late goal that was originally credited to Brookbank, but later changed to Nichol. It was starting to feel like trouble because the Pens had several power play chances in the first period but weren't able to convert. That changed in the second.

Sidney Crosby took off down the middle of the ice towards Mason, momentarily drawing both defenders. He passed to Staal, who shot a slapper. It deflected off the stick of Brookbank and went top shelf on Mason, who never had a chance.

Later, on the power play, Recchi made a nice pass from behind the cage to Malkin, who buried the puck. Mason didn't have much of a chance there, either.

In the third, Recchi did one of his patented shots aimed at the far post and beat Mason, who probably did have a chance to stop that one, but was unable to, not that it mattered.

The Pens tried to make it exciting down the stretch by taking a few penalties (maybe they were just trying to get the PK some work...), but unlike Sunday, the PK stood tall and kept the Preds from getting back in the game. Another really nice thing to see.

The Pens have remained hot for an extended period. I'm interested in how they react the next time they face some adversity. You know it's coming. They'll lose a game or two in regulation. Then we'll see how they respond. Hopefully we don't have to see that for a little while longer, especially since Philly is the next opponent.

Random points:
  • Fleury was stellar again tonight. He just keeps on going.
  • Ruutu continues to earn an increased role.
  • Has Petro taken a dumb penalty lately? I can't remember any off the top of my head.
  • Is it too soon to shift from talking about making the playoffs to talking about getting into the top 4 to get home ice? I can answer that myself - it's way too soon. They're hot right now. Let's see where they are in about 15 games.

Next up: at Philly on Thursday. No need to worry about a letdown when the Flyers are the opponent.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Game #53 - vs Nashville Predators

Nashville Predators (37-14-3, 76 pts) at Pittsburgh Penguins (26-17-9, 61 pts)

Be glad the Pens aren't playing in Nashville. The Preds are a different team on the road. Their record is still good (18-11-0), but it's certainly not indicative of the best team in the NHL. They have that standing mostly because of their work at home, where they've lost three times in regulation all season.

It's not just the records either - the Preds have allowed more power play goals than they've scored on the road, and their overall goal differential on the road is just +10. They still draw penalties on the road, but their power play clicks at just 13.1% away from Nashville. That's pretty poor - just 26th in the league. Their penalty kill percentage is about the same no matter where they play.

The Preds lost two road games last week before taking it out on the Ducks at home on Saturday.

The Pens have earned points in 10 straight games, and their power play has been on fire, going 21 for 59 during the 10 game stretch. They'll need to keep it going to have a shot to earn two points.

Weber and Tootoo are out for the Preds for the game. That's a break for the Pens. Weber is a good young defensemen, while Tootoo doesn't play much (less than 8:00 per game), and fills the Ruutu role.

Predators blog - Not much here to talk about - I'll point you to Go Predators!, which isn't really a blog, but rather a LiveJournal. It's better than anything else I could find.

I'm looking for a strong home effort from the Pens. They should be up for the game, seeing as how Nashville is #1 in the NHL. Have to beat the best to be the best.

Let's Go Pens!

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Canadiens 4, Penguins 3 (OT)

This one was hard to watch them lose. That's mostly because I'm really starting to not like the Canadiens. I don't think it's to the level of the Flyers or Rangers, but it's getting there.

The Pens lost this one mostly due to their own inability to capitalize on early chances. They had four power plays in the first period, scoring only on the 5 on 3. For the remainder of the game, they scored twice in four chances.

The Habs allowed the Pens to earn a point in this game mostly due to the fact that they're STUPID. I can't remember the last time I've seen more dumb "I'll show you I'm tough" style penalties. Even late in the third period, Francis Bouillon essentially mugged Crosby and, to the credit of the CZs (Clueless Zebras), one of them raised his arm. It may have been that the CZ was just stretching, but the Pens needed it.

On the ensuing power play, Michel Therrien made a great coaching decision. The first power play unit had stalled and was unable to generate many chances. They had a whistle with only about 30 - 40 seconds left in the power play. Therrien had the option of calling timeout to let his top unit stay on the ice. Instead, he opted to let the second unit get on the ice. Less than 20 seconds later, Michel Ouellet tipped in a Ryan Whitney pass / shot. Great move by the coach to have the cahones to bring his top guys off the ice with less than 3 minutes left in the game.

On the game winner in OT, Souray was on a two-on-one with Plekanec. Whitney was in between them, and wasn't able to take away the pass. Plekanec sent it across and Fleury wasn't fast enough to stop Souray's shot, which was a good one. It stings even more that it was Souray, if you ask me.

Next up: vs Nashville at the Igloo on Tuesday. This one will be tough.

Game #52 - at Montreal Canadiens

Pittsburgh Penguins (26-17-8, 60 pts) at Montreal Canadiens (28-19-6, 62 pts)

Sunday is the rematch. In case you missed it (and I'm not sure how you could have), the Pens beat the Habs in a shoot out on Thursday. The game had something for everyone, with skating, fists, scoring and a shoot out. Army plastered Koivu, which led to Souray's ejection when he instigated against Army. Montreal coach Guy Carbonneau said the following about it (via ESPN):

"I know it was legal, he hit him with his shoulder, but when a guy's battling one-on-one and (another) guy comes from a blind spot and hits him, I don't like that. It should have been called. And I don't see how they got seven minutes on the power play out of that.

"It was definitely a cheap shot, I'm not afraid to say it."

I know a coach is supposed to stand up for his team, but a cheap shot? You're kidding, right? How about every time Sheldon Souray goes in high with his fists, elbows or the butt end of his stick on someone around the boards? I can vividly remember seeing that more than a few times when I was sitting right along the boards at a game last year. Maybe my sample size isn't representative... but I'm guessing Mr Souray's team-leading 105 penalty minutes aren't all for bad skating skills.

Both teams played on Saturday, with opposite results. The Pens played a road-style game at home against the Caps and won. The Habs lost at home to the Isles. I hope the Pens got used to that style of play - they're going to need it.

Fleury will get the start in goal against the Habs. He's hot right now. He's going to need to stay hot.

The Habs are a different team at home (16-8-3) than they are on the road (12-11-3). They've
been hot and cold on the special teams lately, with cold carrying the majority in the last few games. The Pens got to the Canadiens for 3 power play goals, while allowing none. Of course, they also allowed the Habs to net two shorties. That will have to be corrected (the Canadiens have 15 shorties on the year, which seems like a remarkable number).

Canadiens blog - I'll cite two:
  • Habs blog - which has the most recent post (as of this writing) complaining about the bad officiating on Thursday versus the Pens. We can identify with their frustration.
  • Weekly Hab-its - they have a great post about why Pittsburgh should not lose it's hockey team. I'm a sucker for a mushy story about the home town.
I'm looking for an intense, well played game with limited funny business. I think these guys will put all of the revenge ideas out of their heads when the respective coaches remind them that the playoffs are on the line. The Pens can tie the Habs with two points in regulation.

Let's Go Pens!

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Penguins 2, Capitals 0

This win was another important milestone for the Penguins. It was the first game they've won this season when Sidney Crosby doesn't record a point. That's a really important rung on the ladder the team is climbing. They need to know that they can still win a game when the big guns aren't firing on all cylinders.

The game itself wasn't too exciting. Both teams seemed to have trouble getting the engines revved up, and even when they did, it didn't amount to much. You know that when your only 5 on 5 goal is scored by Petro, the teams aren't at their peak.

However, the Pens did what they needed to in order to win the game. Colby Armstrong missed the game with a knee injury (he's day to day and will probably miss tomorrow), and the PK stepped it up to kill off four penalties. Dominic Moore and (surprisingly) Jarkko Ruutu stepped in for Army quite capably on the penalty kill.

The Pens only managed 19 shots on Ollie the Goalie, despite the fact that the Caps have allowed more shots than anyone in the league. This has more to do with the system the Caps were playing - they allowed the Pens defense to skate the puck up the ice and all five Capitals were clogging the neutral zone. The Pens didn't seem to have an answer for that, as they weren't very successful at getting through it, and not very good at the dump and chase. It's something to keep an eye on should other teams try it.

Marc-Andre Fleury was fantastic, again. He's the MVP for the Pens since the beginning of 2007, if you ask me. He'll be starting again tomorrow in Montreal.

Next up: at Montreal tomorrow at 2:00. Rematch time.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Game #51 - vs Washington Capitals

Washington Capitals (21-24-7, 49 pts) at Pittsburgh Penguins (25-17-8, 58 pts)

The Caps have been largely mediocre all year. They've had a few hot streaks, topping out at 15-11-7, before starting a long, slow slide to where they are now. They're just 2-7 in their last nine games. They've been out shot for 10 games in a row. They've yielded a power play goal in three straight games, including three goals on Thursday. This is something that should have the Pens licking their chops.

The Caps are led by Alexander Ovechkin with 33 goals and Alexander Semin with 29 goals. Unlike Sidney Crosby, both Ovechkin and Semin are minus players. Ovechkin is a -11, which is troubling for him because he has 41 points at even-strength or short-handed, and he's STILL a -11. That says that when he's on the ice, you need to be aggressive and attack.

The Pens are on a great hot streak right now and may have dodged a bullet in the Montreal game on Thursday. Anytime you give up two goals late in the third to allow your opponent to tie, and two short-handed goals in one game, you're asking for trouble. However, when things are going well, you still find ways to win. That's exactly what the Pens did. Now they can (hopefully) get back on more solid footing. They're going to need it this weekend.

The prior meeting this season was the amazing comeback from a 4-0 deficit. The Pens looked like world beaters for about two games after that and then went on a five game losing streak. Ugh. Let's hope such theatrics aren't needed this time.

Caps blog - the general feeling around the Caps blog-o-sphere is that the Caps are about sunk. Everyone was particularly distraught after their thumping at the hands of those nasty Kitty Cats from Florida. Capital Fanatic is pretty representative of what seems to be the general consensus. Remember what this feels like? I do.

I'm looking for another high energy effort against the Caps. The Pens are going to need it. The Caps are going to come out gunning and the Pens will need to be ready.

Let's Go Pens!

Thursday, February 01, 2007

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

Great game. Pens up 1-0 and Souray decides to get even for Colby's hit on Koivu. He gets about two years of penalty time (good for him) and the Pens score to go up 2-0. No problem, right? Wrong. The Habs score a shortie (the first of two on the night) and the game starts to go back and forth.

In the third, the Pens took another seemingly commanding lead at 4-2. However, the most dangerous thing in hockey is the two-goal lead, right? The Canadiens scored to make it 4-3 and then tied the game with less than three minutes to go. Kind of disconcerting that the Pens would let the Habs back into the game like that.

In OT, Gonchar takes a hooking penalty and Fleury stands up and says "Not in my house!" He dominates the remainder of the overtime, keeping the Pens in the game.

In the shootout, Christensen scores (he's our most reliable shooter lately), but so does Kovie. Crosby misses, but so does Higgins. Malkin scores and Fleury stops Plekanec to seal the victory for the Pens.

Even with the Pens recent hot streak, they're only in a three way tie for the last playoff spot in the East. They're only two points ahead of the Leafs and the Rangers and Isles are within 4 points. The Pens need to keep winning. This weekend will be a great chance to prove what they have.

Next up: vs Washington at the Igloo on Saturday. It's an early one - 1:00!