Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Playoff Game #8 - at New York Rangers

Pittsburgh Penguins (2) at New York Rangers (5)

Pittsburgh leads series 3-0.

How have the Pens been able to get this far? Seven straight wins in the playoffs - it's amazing and unthinkable.

They have another challenge in front of them at MSG on Thursday - put away the Rangers.

Talbot was in a walking boot today. He may have a broken foot. If you're Therrien, do you dress Scary Gary, or do you dress an extra defenseman (Sydor), given that Whitney still looks shaky from time to time?

If it's me, I dress Roberts.

The Rangers will be without Avery, so we'll see either Prucha or Colton Orr. Either way, it won't really matter that much. I do expect some funny business at some point tomorrow, especially if the Pens manage an early lead and the Rangers get desperate.

Maybe time for the brooms. Let's hope so. Don't give the Rangers any hope.

Let's Go Pens!

Sean Avery has a lacerated spleen

Avery will miss the remainder of the season. He was taken to the hospital after Game 3. A CT scan revealed the injury.

As much as you might hate Avery, you don't like to see this happen to anyone. Hopefully he recovers completely.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Penguins 5, Rangers 3

I'll tell you everything you need to know about this game in the following short paragraph. Read closely:

The last shot on goal credited to the Rangers was at the 11:22 mark of the third period. In case you're not realizing the significance, the Rangers, despite being down by two goals, didn't register a shot on goal for the last EIGHT MINUTES of the game.

Simply incredible defensive job by the Pens. Nothing else needs to be said.

Unless you want to read the recap!

First period:

The Pens hired Simon and Garfunkel to play the Garden tonight, because just 1:02 into the game, all we heard were the Sounds of Silence. It was beautiful. The Pens scored when the Rangers turned the puck over at the Pens' blue line. They worked it in for a shot by Dupuis. Hossa took the rebound and BURIED it (credit to the guys at Pensblog for calling this one). 1-0 Pens.

The Rangers clearly had picked up the intensity and were creating all kinds of havoc in the offensive zone. Fleury was up to the challenge, stopping just about everything that was thrown at him.

Both teams missed wide open nets. Straka missed for the Rangers (his shot wasn't even close - he looked like he was shooting at Fleury, who was well wide of the crease) and Malkin missed for the Pens. Both guys should have scored, but I guess that evens out.

I say "just about" because they Rangers managed to get a goal on the board when Jagr was in the crease with two Pens defense. In the scrum, Fleury was unable to play the puck very well, and it bounced off of someone (probably Fleury) and into the net. 1-1 tie.

As soon as the goal was scored and play was stopped, the dancing partners lined up for a little Do-Si-Do around the net. Three dancers per side were sent to the drunk tank for two minutes each (Jagr, Dubinsky, Mara, Whitney, Letang and Malone in case you're wondering).

The fans were going nuts when the Rangers tied the game. They were trying to get behind their team and rally them. It failed miserably.

Sykora, Malkin and Laraque got the puck in deep and Big George went to the front of the net. He took a fortunate carom off of the skate of a Ranger (I think) on an attempted pass from Malkin and went top shelf over Lundqvist. The Pens were shooting high and this time it worked. 2-1 Pens.

About 90 seconds later, after Callahan took a double minor for high-sticking, the Pens struck on the power play. Malkin fired a puck from the point that was a low shot. Malone was camped in front of the net and timed his jump perfectly, allowing the puck to pass right underneath him. Probably not a good goal allowed by King Henry, but it was tough for him to see. 3-1 Pens.

My favorite part of the period were Emrick and Olczyk noting that the horn at the end of the period was going to be quite loud... because everyone else was pretty quiet.

The question was: could the Pens keep this up the whole game? The Rangers did look pretty good to this point, and the Pens were able to weather the storm so far.

Second period:

Early in the second, the Pens decided to start the Penalty Parade. This involved almost five minutes of odd-man hockey, with two stints of being down by two men. Both of the five-on-three situations were for more than 30 seconds. The Pens killed all of them. That was HUGE.

The Rangers, however, were now dominating the game. The puck was following them wherever they went, and the Pens couldn't seem to get out of their own end.

This started some trouble when Ryan Callahan took a nice pass from Scotty Gomez and beat Flower. 3-2 Pens.

Just over one minute later, Jagr walked out from behind Fleury and beat him high to the far post. 3-3 tie.

Both goals were nice by the Rangers, and both were due to defensive breakdowns by the Pens.

The Rangers were working up another lather in the offensive zone when Ryan Hollweg took a really dumb boarding call against Petr Sykora. It was dumb because the Rangers had the momentum, and it was even more dumb because it was in the offensive zone.

The Pens played with fire on the ensuing power play. Time was ticking down on the two minute advantage and the original five were still on the ice. All I could think was that there was going to be a steal and with five tired bodies we were going to see a two-on-none or three-on-none going the other way.

Geno showed me there was no reason to worry. He took what seemed to be 37 slappers in a row from the right point. The very last one, with three seconds left in the penlaty, beat Lundqvist. 4-3 Pens.

The air was let out of the Rangers balloon. They had worked so hard to come back, only to lose the lead again on a bad penalty.

The third period was shaping up to be a real heart stopper.

Third period:

The Pens got a goal early in the third. Gomez was kicked out of the faceoff circle. Malkin won the faceoff, allowing Sykora to push the puck back to Letang. Kris shot the puck towards the net and Ryan Malone expertly deflected it past Lundqvist. 5-3 Pens.

That goal seemed to take everything out of the Rangers. They managed 10 shots in the period and had two power play chances, but the Pens did their best Derek Bell imitation and went into Operation Shutdown.

The Rangers never seriously threatened in the third. It was a thing of beauty.

Rangers fans were filing for the exits as the Blueshirts pulled Lundqvist. They knew what they were doing (the fans, not the Rangers) as the Rangers didn't even register a shot.

Ball game.

Kind of an anti-climatic way to end the game, and not all all what I was expecting, given the second period. I'm not complaining, however. The Pens played a perfect third period on the road.

  • You have to think the Rangers are mush after this game. They did everything they possibly could. Jagr and Gomez were flying. None of it mattered.
  • Lundqvist picked a bad time to have a bad game. I know most of them weren't his fault, but anytime you allow 5 goals on 17 shots, there's a problem with the goalie.
  • Two goals by Geno. Maybe that's his way of saying he deserves the Hart Trophy?
  • Can the Pens finish them off on Thursday? I sure hope so - I'm supposed to go on a quick vacation this weekend!
  • Assuming we don't get to Game 6, this was the last FSN broadcast of the year.
Next up: The chance to put 'em out of their misery (and you know Jagr is in misery) on Thursday night.

C'mon Guys! We're going streaking!

Who says we have to be completely serious during the playoffs?

Nathan Smith was arrested for streaking early Sunday morning. Ryan Stone was charged with public drunkenness.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Playoff Game #7 - at New York Rangers

Pittsburgh Penguins (2) at New York Rangers (5)

Pittsburgh leads series 2-0.

Boy, you'd love to come out of New York with a split.

The Rangers have been saying all the right things, but who knows where their minds are? If they Pens are able to get an early goal or two in Game 3, will the Rangers curl up in the fetal position?

The Pens need to get more efficiency out of their power play, because their PK hasn't been as good on the road. You have to figure they're going to get stung by a power play goal or two by the Rangers, and you want your own power play to negate that effect. If they can use their speed to draw some penalties, and then cash in early, they can put the Rangers into a deep hole.

To be honest, this series doesn't feel like the last one. The Rangers are a better team, and I wouldn't be surprised if it went seven games, with each team winning on home ice.

Can they do it on the road? We'll find out Tuesday night.

Let's Go Pens!

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Penguins 2, Rangers 0

The Pens beat the Rangers at their own game today, playing a tight defensive style of hockey. They were able to get the key power play goal that gave them the lead, and they never relinquished it. Great game and great win.


First period:

The first was a penalty parade. Nearly half of the period was spent in odd man situations. The Rangers had more of the time on the power play, but the Pens peppered Lundqvist during their allotted minutes.

It was a little bit concerning that they got so many chances on Lundy but couldn't get one past him.

The Rangers, for their part, had a few good chances but couldn't convert, either.

They Blueshirts are, however, resorting to some nonsense.

Shanahan was standing firmly in the blue paint of Fleury's crease while the Rangers were on the power play. If I'm Fleury, and the refs won't get him to move, I start taking shots to the back of the legs with my stick.

NBC had a good shot of Avery skating up to Crosby near the end of the period and slashing him across the wrists. No way to describe that except dirty. Sid was nowhere near the puck and wasn't engaged with Avery. Dirty play by a dirty player. What could you possibly be trying to do there except injure Crosby?

It was a tight game going into the second.

Second period:

Second verse, same as the first. Another period where much of the offense was generated from the special teams. This time, however, there was only one penalty per side, so there was a lot less offense.

The Pens got the first power play chance and they were all over Lundqvist with the first unit. They had changed their strategy a bit, putting two players in front of King Henry. This probably left them more susceptible to the short-handed break, but they managed to keep control of the puck.

Malone and Hossa both missed what were essentially tap-in opportunities, but on the second unit, Staal took a pass from Malkin on his backhand right in front of Lundy. He went to the forehand and roofed it. Great play and great shot. HUGE goal for the Pens as they had been unable to solve Lundqvist to that point. 1-0 Pens.

The Rangers got their power play chance not long afterwards, and while they were able to create some havoc in front of Flower, they couldn't really generate any great scoring chances. That says more about the Pens short-handed coverage than it does about the Rangers offense. The PK was playing really well.

It was a one goal game going to the third period. You probably needed the antacid...

Third period:

The Pens earned two early power plays in the third period. One was a result of Girardi knocking the puck out of play and the other was a smart slash by Betts to take away a great scoring chances from LTK (Little Tyler Kennedy - we miss you, Steigy!)

The Pens, while they continued to generate pressure, couldn't cash in on either chance. You'd like to see them be able to go for the jugular and cash in on one of those power plays, but it was not to be.

There was a bunch of back and forth play until late in the third.

That's when Sykora gets called for high-sticking - good call by the zebras. It was just bad luck - the stick was up high because it had been lifted.

On the ensuing power play, the Pens get a huge break when the ref blows the whistle just before it comes out behind Marc-Andre. I wonder how much whining we'll hear from our New York brethren over that one...

The Rangers got another late power play when the USS Gill plastered Avery in front of Fleury. Two minutes for crosschecking. Also a good call, also unfortunate.

The Rangers couldn't do much with it, however, so with about a minute left, they pulled King Henry. You'd really like to have the USS Gill on the ice for that situation, but he was still docked in the penalty box.

The Rangers made some noise, but no real great scoring chance, and Adam Hall's clearing attempt off of the boards took a lucky roll right into the empty net. 2-0 Pens.


In the last 15 seconds, Avery took a shot at Flower, slashing him in the pads. It was a garbage move, and Marc-Andre didn't take it easily. He repeated his patented move, the "Nutcracker" by jabbing Avery right between the legs from behind. Great move by Fleury, as Avery went nuts (poor baby) and came after Fleury. That was a mistake, as both Laraque and Gill were on the ice for just such a situation. Had there been no linesman there, there may have been no more Sean Avery.

As it was, however, this will certainly make things more interesting for Game 3.

Next up: Game 3 is on Tuesday night at MSG. Should be huge.

Playoff Game #6 - vs New York Rangers

New York Rangers (5) at Pittsburgh Penguins (2)

Pittsburgh leads series 1-0.

Will the Pens learn from their mistakes today?

Will they find a way to get the early power play goal they could have used in Game 1?

Will Fleury bear down and find a way to stop goals like the deflection and Avery's shot?

Will they be able to stay with Jagr for the whole game, and not get beat during a situation that leads to a goal?

The Pens certainly can, and hopefully will, do all of these things.

They could learn a lesson by looking at what happened to Montreal last night. The Habs had to come from behind in dramatic fashion, aided by a late penalty, in Game 1 against the Flyers. Sound familiar? Last night, the Flyers took advantage of the situation presented to them, didn't blow the lead, and took Game 2 in Montreal. Could you see Lundqvist pulling off a Biron-like performance today? Sure... easily.

The Pens need to be wary and treat this game with desperation. The level of success at MSG was non-existent this year, so that makes games at the Igloo all the more crucial.

On the controversy end of things, the Rangers are being smart about things.

Dubinsky talks about going to the net and makes a point to say "we don't want to run the guy over", but rather to go hard and legally. You can almost respect that.

Shanahan talked about how he doesn't think Sid dives, and that everyone in the league has respect for the work ethic he brings.

Sounds like they're trying to woo the Pens to sleep with their soft lullaby...

Don't fall for it!

Let's Go Pens!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Roundup from Ranger Land

In looking across the blogverse into Rangers' territory, there seem to be three types of articles about Game 1.

The first is your typical WAAAAHHHH! crybaby article about how the refs handed the game to the Pens. Check these out:
Blue Shirts on Broadway - Refs Help Pens Stal Game 1
Battle of NY - Refs Hand Pens Game One

Then, you have the articles that want to whine, but also have interesting things to say:
Ranger Pundit - Defense Plus Refs Equals Defeat
Ranger Ramblings - Opportunity Lost

Finally, you have the blogs that seem to get it. They know that while the late penalty may have sealed their fate, the real damage was done in allowing a team to come back from a 3-0 deficit in the playoffs.
Scotty Hockey - Absolutely Awful
My Blueshirt Heaven - No Hitter

Kudos to the guys that can see past the crying to write something that's worth reading.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Penguins 5, Rangers 4

Great comeback win for the Pens. They showed a number of important things tonight. Among them, in no particular order, are:
  • Lundqvist can be rattled. Twice the Pens got goals within twenty seconds of each other. I know three of them weren't really his fault, but when he's on his game, he makes some of those saves.
  • The Pens were able to get that huge power play goal when they needed it the most. Capitalizing on the late power play was the play of the game, by far.
  • Sykora and Hossa both picked up where they left off, combining for 10 of the Pens 26 shots.
  • Both teams rolled four lines with consistency. That will be key for the Pens going forward.
Recap time!

First period:

Things started out really well for the Pens. The Rangers were called for two early penalties, and the Pens dominated the play on and off of the special teams.

Unfortunately, the Pens couldn't covert on either of their two minute chances, or on the brief chance at the end of the first. It wasn't for lack of trying - they did get shots to the net and Ryan Malone had an excellent chance on a centering pass. Lundqvist was simply up to the challenge.

The Rangers went on the power play, and another usually stellar aspect of the Pens game at home deserted them. The Rangers scored just 29 seconds into their power play when Marty threw a puck at the net that went off of Gonchar's leg. 1-0 Rangers.

It was a perfect period for the Rangers, and probably the worst start you could think of for the Pens. They really need to bury one of those early power play opportunities.

Second period:

It was the worst start... until the beginning of the second period. Drury deflected a puck with what looked like a high stick behind Fleury. The replay proved inconclusive, and the goal stood. But... you could hear Sid on the mic at ice level asking what the ruling on the ice was. Neither ref pointed to the net to indicate a goal. Replay is there to overturn the ruling on the ice, right? If neither one ruled a goal, an inconclusive replay would keep the ruling on the ice of "no goal", wouldn't it? 2-0 Rangers.

When they go to a replay, they should do what the NFL does - announce what the ruling on the ice is, so everyone knows which way the replay should be viewed.

It got worse before it got better. Sean Avery came down the right side and blasted a puck past Fleury on a two on one. Orpik played it properly and took away the pass, but Flower didn't make the save. 3-0 Rangers.

I thought Therrien might yank Marc-Andre at that point, but he didn't, and it paid off as Flower made several big saves as the period wore on.

Ruutu got the Pens on the board with a lucky goal. He threw the puck at the net from behind and it deflected off of Rosival right behind Henrik. 3-1 Rangers.

Dupuis brought the Pens one goal closer on a feed from behind the net by Crosby. Pascal one-timed the puck upstairs on Lundqvist, who had no chance. 3-2 Rangers.

Sykora later hit the crossbar behind Lundqvist. The Igloo was ready to go nuts.

Third period:

After some non-typical guys got the Pens back in the game, two snipers gave them the lead.

Hossa threw the puck from the corner that somehow found the five-hole of King Henry. Bad goal for him to allow, to be honest. Great goal for the Pens. 3-3 tie.

Twenty seconds later, Sykora dunked a brilliant setup pass from Malkin, giving the lead to the Pens. The Igloo was as loud as I've heard it. 4-3 Pens.

The Rangers wanted to keep things interesting, so Jagr took the puck in on Gonchar. Jaromir fanned on his shot attempt, but threw the puck out from behind the net. Straka was unable to knock it down, but he did get Fleury to freeze. The puck went straight to Gomez, who blasted it top shelf. Great shot by Gomez. Not so great defensive zone coverage by the Pens. 4-4 tie.

With just over three minutes left, Marty gets whistled for interference in a race up the ice with Sid. He doth protest, but it doth not matter. The Pens went on the power play.

The Pens used nearly the full two minutes, but on a shot from the point by Sid, Geno wandered in front of the net and the puck went in off of his leg. 5-4 Pens.

My immediate thought was "Did they score too soon?", but this isn't a Steelers' game.

Fortunately, the goal post was Flowers' best friend with time ticking down and he kept the Rangers out of the net.


Another post for the NY Times

Check out my half of the Partisan Preview for the Rangers / Pens series on Slap Shot, the hockey blog of the New York Times.

The guy from Scotty Hockey is a funny human.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Playoff Game #5 - vs New York Rangers

New York Rangers (5) at Pittsburgh Penguins (2)

Boy, when you get to the second round of the playoffs, everyone and their brother has a preview for the series. I'm not going to bother with anything in depth. You've heard it all already (blah, blah, blah, goaltending, blah, blah, blah, Avery, blah, blah, blah, offensive firepower). Instead, here are a few fun facts to get you ready for Game 1 on Friday night:
  • The Rangers allowed approximately 26 shots per game in the regular season. Against the Devils in the first round? Nearly 29.
  • The Pens scored nearly half a goal more per game during the regular season against the Rangers, but both teams were effective at even strength. The Pens had a much more efficient power play.
  • Shutting down the Rangers power play will be a key in this series. They clicked at over 23% in the first round.
  • Should we wish for Sean Avery to be dumb enough to tick off Sid? We all know that Sid is the last person you'd want to get angry. If I'm Avery, I shift my bulls-eye onto a certain young Russian center...
  • Can the Rangers have enough on the blue line to stop both of the big lines for the Pens? The Blueshirts are going to live and die with their young defensemen.
  • The Rangers were one of the top teams in the NHL on faceoffs during the regular season at 52.3%. Do I need to tell you where the Pens ranked? I'll give you three guesses and the first two don't count (Answer: Last).

Only one more day to go until the start of Round 2.

Let's Go Pens!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Reaction from the Sens world

Now that we have some time on our hands, here is some of the reaction to the end of the series from the Sens blogosphere - note the extreme contrast between the end of the Pens season last year and the end of the Sens this year:

Hockeyschlock is pretty brutal about the outcome.

Battle of Ontario notes the abject lack of performance by Heatley, Alfie and Spezza (the CASH line).

Five for Smiting has a nice wrap along with a great picture of a train wreck. Worth checking out.

The Sens Army Blog says the Sens played like... well... like something I don't say on this blog.

Universal Cynic has a few interesting tidbits, including their thoughts on the Pens chances and some anonymous locker room stuff about Ray Emery.

Sens Fan in Toronto provides a quick wrap up for the series.

Black Aces has a season review, along with the best title: A Merciful End. A good read, for sure.

Check 'em out. Be glad it's not the Pens this year.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Penguins 3, Senators 1

The Pens broke out the brooms and swept the Sens tonight.

For anyone who has been following this team for several years, do you need any hyperbole to understand what that means? I don't think so. Just let that sink in and enjoy the recap.

First period:

There's not much to write about for the first period. It was close... on the scoreboard. The Pens dominated the shots, and pretty much dominated the play for the period. The shot total was 14-5, with the Pens getting one power play.

Gerber and Fleury were both good, and the Sens did a good job of hanging on to make it to the second period with the score tied.

Second period:

The Pens started the scoring early in the second period. Heatley took a dumb slash that put the Pens on the power play.

The Sens had a two on one chance short handed, but Vermette pushed the puck wide. The Pens went back down the ice and established themselves with the puck winding up behind Gerber after Crosby made a great cross ice pass to Malkin. Geno put the initial shot right into the goalie, but put the rebound behind Martin with one hand. 1-0 Pens.

The Sens tied the score when Cory Stillman chipped just enough of the puck to have it trickle behind Fleury in a scrum around the net. I think just about all of the Sens goals have been around the net this series. 1-1 tie.

The Sens decided to get some extra work on PK by taking two really stupid penalties. The Pens didn't score on either power play.

Just after the second power play expired, the Sens had a chance, but the lead pass dribbled off the stick of Spezza. The puck was worked up to Ruutu for a semi-breakaway. Ruutu was caught on the break, but he spun and put the puck in the net with the backhand. It was terrific. 2-1 Pens.

The Sens decided to mix things up and had Pele on the ice. Unfortunately, he was caught kicking the puck in (after a video review) and the goal was disallowed. Big shift there - keeping the Sens behind on the scoreboard going to the third.

Third period:

There was an early penalty called on Scuderi for tripping. The Pens killed that one off, and the Pens went into shutdown mode.

This was the only period of the entire series where they visibly sat back and waited for the Sens to bring it. The forecheck was minimal, with maybe one man in, and after the 10:00 mark, the Pens were content to largely dump the puck in and wait.

The Sens only managed 9 shots in the period, and despite a few great chances, never were able to exert any extended offensive pressure. That's a credit to the Pens, from Fleury to the D to the backcheck of the forwards. Great team effort.

Crosby finished off the Sens with an empty netter at the 19:53 mark of the third.

Looks like the Pens are on track to get the Rangers in round 2, unless Washington can turn around their series and win a game in Philly. Either way, the next game for the Pens is at least a week away. It will be good to get the guys some rest.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Playoff Game #4 - at Ottawa Senators

Pittsburgh Penguins at Ottawa Senators

Pittsburgh leads series 3-0.

Will the Pens break out the brooms?

Opportunity. That's what the Pens have in front of them.

Nothing would emphasize the dramatic difference between last year and this year than being able to finish off the Sens in Game 4.

The Sens are going to try to play hard, but Brian Murray has decided that now is the time to evaluate talent for next year:
"We've got to look at the players that come to play, work hard and do everything in their power -- to their ability level, and I qualify it that way -- to help this organization be good going forward, so (Wednesday) night is an indicator of that, without a doubt."
Wow. I know some coaches play head games, but if you win you get to keep playing. I'm not sure how the coach / GM can come out and say something like that. What message is that sending the team?

If I'm the Pens, I definitely rest Gary Roberts. That's the only change I'm likely to make, however. Keep everything else the same, including the effort.

This one won't be easy, and the Pens will need to bring it. In the third period on Monday, the Sens showed they would fold. The Pens need to give them an excuse to give up.

Let's Go Pens!

Funniest thing EVER

It's bad enough the Sens lost Game 3 at home, but prior to the game, they had to tolerate this nonsense. Just watch the first little bit after it zooms in from the Jumbotron.

Can you imagine how ridiculous this had to seem to those players? Who thought this was a good idea? Probably the same genius that put the mural up.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Penguins 4, Senators 1

Another terrific performance by Marc-Andre Fleury and two quick goals to start the third led the Pens to their third straight win over the Sens in the series. They're now up 3-0, and the Sens are just about finished.

The fans in Ottawa really distinguished themselves by throwing garbage on the ice during the third period and leaving the arena in droves during the later part of the third. Way to go, Ottawa!!

If the Pens can keep the offense rolling at four goals per game, they'll be hard to beat. The biggest priority right now is to finish off the Sens. They showed a killer instinct tonight by finishing off the Sens late. Now the need to do it one more time on Wednesday.

To the recap!

First period:

The Sens came out and showed everyone they weren't cooked yet. Alfredsson and Spezza were both flying during the first, especially Alfie.

Unfortunately for them, they also showed the world their IQ hasn't improved either when Chris Neil took an absolutely stupid penalty punching Kris Letang in the face. The Pens weren't able to do anything with the chance, but I think it helped them get their legs going a bit.

The Sens were the recipients of a power play, but they also couldn't do anything with it.

The Sens spent a bunch of time in the Penguins' end of the ice in the first half of the period. They were able to get their forecheck going, and the Pens couldn't answer by getting the puck deep. Fortunately for the Pens, Marc-Andre was up to the challenge, making several great saves.

The Pens started to turn the tide in the second half of the first period. They were able to work the puck down deep more, and play changed to an up and down style with each team getting chances.

Both goalies were superb in the first, with Gerber making several great saves on the second power play of the Pens, and Fleury being stellar for the first 20 minutes.

The Pens got out of the first without allowing a goal. They weathered the storm and put themselves in position to take the lead with a few good breaks.

Second period:

Both teams continued to play their game in the second period. Neither team really had the advantage, but the Pens were successful in spending time in the Senators' zone. Staal's line was especially effective matched against Alfredsson and Spezza. They spent significant time in the Ottawa zone, not only putting pressure on Gerber but also keeping the potent Sens out of the offensive zone.

Foligno opened the scoring by pressuring Ryan Whitney as he tried to handle a bouncing puck. Whitney probably should have played the man instead of the puck with Foligno that close to him, but bad bounces happen. Foligno had a short walk to be all alone with Fleury. He beat Flower. 1-0 Senators.

Talbot tied the game when the Pens moved from the stationary breakout through all five players on the ice with Talbot finishing off the play by opening the pads of Gerber. Somehow I feel dirty writing that. Anyway, I can't imagine it's done any better in practice.

The only troubling thing about the second is that the Pens had nearly four minutes of power play time. They got close, but they weren't able to score. They need power play goals on the road, and they haven't been able to get one to this point. You just had the feeling the Sens would get their turn on the power play.

Speaking of the Sens, they're really stupid with the penalties they took. A cross check to the head is pretty obvious (Vermette). Just plain dumb.

Third period:

Crosby wasted no time, winning the faceoff, drawing the puck back and taking off up ice. He took the return pass down the left side. Commodore had pinched, leaving Vermette standing still. Sid blew past him like he wasn't there and walked in on Gerber in a two on one. He kept the puck and shot it right over the stick side glove of Gerber. 2-1 Pens.

Just over one minute later, Ruutu dumps the puck cross corner. Kennedy gets there first and makes a great pass to Staal who was cutting to the net. Jordan deflected the puck right past Gerber, who didn't help himself by not stopping the pass across his crease. 3-1 Pens.

Just over 30 seconds later, Chris Neil shows that the Sens still haven't learned by punching Hal Gill after Fleury had frozen the puck. The Sens had put some heat on Flower, but Neil totally took it away. Great job, Chris.

The ensuing power play was a shooting gallery. I can't remember the last time the Penguins absolutely cut loose for nearly two minutes. Gerber was up to the challenger, and Sarge missed wide on a few shots. The Sens looked completely demoralized.

Not long after that, the Pens held off the Sens on another scrum around the net, but Whitney took a penalty. The Sens went on the power play, but Heatley was called for an unfortunate high stick when Staal lifted Heatley's stick into his own face, drawing blood. Bad break for the Sens.

What wasn't a bad break was Stillman, on the same sequence, putting his stick out and tripping Malone drawing a second minor on the Sens and putting the Pens on the power play. Heatley's penalty was bad luck. The Stillman penalty was lazy. Cory tried to say Malone dove - here's an idea: try moving your feet and you won't have to worry about any trip / dive.

During the power play sequence after that, Hossa gathered the garbage and punched it in for his first goal of the playoffs. 4-1 Pens.

The Sens were done at that point. It was game over.

Next up: A chance to close it out in Ottawa on Wednesday. Maybe they can take a different photo for posterity this time.

Scary Gary out for Game 3

Gary Roberts is a late scratch for Game 3 tonight in Ottawa with a groin injury.

Adam Hall will take his place.

Game 3 - Injury update

Spezza will play tonight in game 3. Alfredsson is a maybe, according to TSN.

The Ottawa Sun says Alfie will likely be back.

Thanks to those who pointed this out.

Playoff Game #3 - at Ottawa Senators

Pittsburgh Penguins at Ottawa Senators

Pittsburgh leads series 2-0.

First up, Spezza might not play tonight. He has some kind of leg issue and didn't practice over the weekend.

Even if Spezza does play, Murray is shaking up his top lines again. This time, he's split up Spezza and Heatley. Here are the supposed top two lines, courtesy of the Ottawa Sun:
Heatley - Vermette - Stillman
Foligno - Spezza - Nikulin

Nikulin is a call-up from the Sens minor league team in Binghamton, and he is a curious choice to slap onto the second line. He has played in only two NHL games (one against the Pens), averaging about 5:00 of ice time. He's also a center, so the Sens are shifting him to the wing in his first NHL playoff game. Good luck.

The Pens need a split in Ottawa to put the Sens out of the series. You don't want to come back to Pittsburgh with the series tied up. This is a good chance for the Pens to show they can win on the road.

In case they need any extra motivation, the Sens had the foresight to put up that big mural showing the handshake after the playoff loss last year, right outside the Pens dressing room. Ottawa players aren't happy about it, but it's there. Congratulations to the geniuses in Ottawa.

Let's Go Pens!

Friday, April 11, 2008

Penguins 5, Senators 3

Great win for the Pens. You had to know the Sens were going to bring some heat at some point. That happened tonight, but the Pens managed a critical counter punch at just the right time to win the game. HUGE power play goal by Ryan Malone. That was easily the biggest power play conversion of the season so far.

The series goes back to Ottawa for Game 3 with the Sens looking to hold serve. The Pens need to focus on a split north of the border so they have a chance to finish things off at home in Game 5. If they can win on Monday, they can entertain thoughts of a sweep, but I'd focus on Monday first.

To the recap!

First period:

Wow. This entire period could be summed up in one word: Domination.

The Pens came out flying, and not just with puck possession, like they do sometimes. This time they were getting tons of quality scoring chances on Gerber. On top of that, they turned the Senators end of the ice into a shooting gallery. They registered 20 shots on goal during the first.

Gerber, however, was incredible. He either made great saves, or was in the right position to have the puck hit him. The Pens needed a five on three chance to beat him, which Gonchar did with a laser beam from the middle of the ice. 1-0 Pens.

The Pens showed no signs of taking the foot off of the throttle.

Second period:

The Pens continued to pummel Gerber with shots. This time they met with a bit more success.

Petr Sykora was the beneficiary of a beautiful tic-tac-toe sequence on the power play. Crosby had the puck on the left wing. He went cross ice to Malkin on the right side, who came back to Sykora. Petr was standing at the left post of the goal and simply deflected the puck into the net. Great hand-eye coordination by Petr. 2-0 Pens.

Sykora got to display some more of that great coordination when he took a quickly paced cross ice pass from Malkin and rifled it top shelf to beat Gerber. 3-0 Pens.

To that point, Gerber was the only reason it was just 3-0 and not 6-0. He kept the Sens in the game.

Then the Senators started to get back into the game. Fleury had already needed to make a few really great saves on the Sens power play after Orpik was sent off for interference. The best one was him lunging from his left to his right and smothering the puck with his body. It was a highlight reel type of save.

The Sens kept coming, and their determination finally paid off when Shean Donovan chipped a puck past Fleury on a pass out of the corner from Chris Neil. Why is is always the former Penguins that get us? 3-1 Pens.

The Sens added a power play goal on their second attempt at a give and go with Stillman and Heatley in the corner. After the Pens saw that play almost work the first time, how did they get burned by the same thing not 20 seconds later? I think it was the lack of mobility of Hal Gill that opened up the space. Either way, it was a perfect play. 3-2 Pens.

Going to the third, the Pens realized they had a game on their hands. You really can't let a three goal lead slip away on home ice in the playoffs if you want to win the series. You also can't tighten up attempting to protect the lead. Their reaction in the third would tell us a whole bunch about their character.

Third period:

The Pens came out roaring again in the third, but again couldn't beat Martin Gerber. Dupuis was all alone on Gerber and passed to Hossa, who was actually behind Gerber cutting across the crease. Gerber was able to get his stick back and tie up Hossa enough that he couldn't put the puck in the net.

The Sens managed to steal a goal when the puck went to the net and Cody Bass jammed it past Fleury. That goal fit the profile of exactly what the Sens said they wanted to do - they got a puck to the net and crashed for the rebound. 3-3 tie.

At this point, the Pens could have panicked. They didn't. They maintained their composure and kept the pressure on. The game looked like it was headed to OT, but Martin Lapointe had other idea.

Lapointe gave Ruutu an obvious high stick to the face in the middle of the ice, forcing the refs (who had been reticent to blow the whistle) to make a call. It was an accident, I'm sure, but as Caufield said after the game, you have to be in control of your stick.

So, the Pens went on the power play with just 1:24 remaining in the game.

Crosby tossed the offensive zone faceoff to the side boards, and the Sens suddenly decided to get aggressive on their PK. They hounded the Pens and it backfired. Sid got the puck to Hossa who launched a short side shot on Gerber. The rebound came straight to Malone who went behind the net. The Sens had three guys on the other side of the net, and Volchenkov couldn't get back fast enough. Ryan completed the wrap around goal and gave the win to the Pens. 4-3 Pens.

The Pens added an empty net goal. If it had been a Steelers game, I would have thought "they scored too quickly", but the Sens never threatened in the last 60 seconds.

  • Gerber was awesome. He is the only reason this game wasn't a blowout.
  • Crosby had four points and wasn't one of the three stars.
  • Malkin - 3 assists and some dominant play. Sykora - 2 G. Malone - 2 G, 1 A. The first line is dominant right now and the power play is clicking.
  • How good is this team when the Crosby line is in the shadow of another line?
  • Ottawa will be tough to beat at home. They made a great comeback tonight with Heatley and Spezza being invisible. I didn't even notice if / when they were on the ice for the first two period.
Next up: A trip north of the border for Game 3 on Monday.

Playoff Game #2 - vs Ottawa Senators

Ottawa Senators at Pittsburgh Penguins

Pittsburgh leads series 1-0.

Brian Murray wasn't happy after Game 1.

How important is the second game of this series? Ask yourself how you would feel about going back to Ottawa with the series tied 1-1. I'd be nervous, given how this team has performed away from the friendly confines of the Igloo.

There are two areas of improvement that are needed for the rest of the series, in my opinion. They are:
  1. Be more disciplined and don't take dumb penalties. Know your limits in what you can / can't get away with.
  2. Get some production from the power play at crunch time.
There are other things that would be nice too. Having the Crosby line produce a goal would be good, but they did exert some good pressure on Wednesday (Hossa had 7 shots) and I think the scoring will come - they're too good for it not to come.

Don't expect any lineup changes for the Pens. I can't see Therrien bringing in Hall, Taffe or Beech at this point. I'd love to have Sydor in there, but I don't know who you can remove. Whitney was a bit shaky early in Game 1, but he's too important offensively for the power play.

The Sens are moving Martin Lapointe onto the first like, replacing Randy Robitaille. Sounds like they're trying to find their own Old Man Magic (Lapointe has played in 105 playoff games).

Tough game tonight. The Pens need the W.

Let's Go Pens!

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Penguins 4, Senators 0

This was the perfect way to start the playoffs.

Fleury was fantastic.

The Pens dominated the game when it mattered.

Gary Roberts scored twice.

The PK... um... got some work, but they did it really well!

The only thing the Pens can improve on would be to stop taking so many penalties. You can't give that many chances, especially two-man advantages, to the Senators.

Every other facet of the game, the Pens showed that they were ready for the challenge. They not only didn't back down from the Sens, they took the fight to them and dominated the play.

First period:

Could this game have started any better for the Pens?

Orpik plastered Dany Heatley - it looked just like a nasty car wreck.

Therrien sent out Roberts, Talbot and Laraque for the second shift of the game. It was a move that paid off BIG time, as they got the puck down low. The forwards went to work behind Gerber, with the puck ending up right in front of the net. Redden and Volchenkov ran into each other and Gary was able to backhand the puck past Gerber. The Igloo went nuts! 1-0 Pens.

Staal took a holding penalty, putting the Sens on the power play. It proved to be a good early test for the PK, and they performed really well, holding the Sens without a decent chance. They managed just one shot, and it was a 55 ft slapper.

After that, things slowed down a bit. The teams focused on getting the puck deep and putting the forecheck to work. There were 31 hits in the first period (17 by the Pens)!

The Sens were aggressive defensively, having their D pinch on a regular basis. It burned them big time when Commodore tried to pinch and Malkin made him look dumb. It created a two on one going the other way.

In the two on one, the defensemen is supposed to keep the puck from going from side to side. Phillips didn't, and Sykora absolutely buried the chance past the outstretched arm of Gerber. 2-0 Pens.

Crosby very nearly gave the Pens a 3-0 lead when his backhand shot got past Gerber and hit the post on the far side. Close call.

Not much else going on - the Sens took a penalty, but the Pens couldn't do much with it. They managed just one shot on goal, though Sykora missed wide on a good chance.

At the end of the first, things were looking good, even if the Pens had the DTGL (Dreaded Two Goal Lead).

Second period:

The second period was all about Penguins domination. They carried the play for almost the entire period, other than when they were on the PK.

Speaking of the PK, they killed off a critical series of penalties, which included about a minute of five on three play. Scuderi worked his usual magic in preventing the passes from going from side to side.

Stillman hit a post behind Fleury while the Sens were on the power play.

Gerber was the only reason the Pens didn't have a bigger lead. He made several really nice saves, and when he wasn't good, he was lucky. A few pucks that got past him trickled just wide of the net.

The Pens had taken a late penalty, so the Sens started the third on the power play.

Third period:

The Pens killed off the penalty early in the third with some special help from Rob Scuderi's skate. Scuds stuck his leg out to block a rebound chance by Heatley that was probably targeted for the back of the twine. Great play by Scuderi.

The Pens played with fire by giving the Sens a second five on three chance, but they killed it off again. This time, they sent out two defense (Gill and Scuds) to take care of things. It worked.

The Pens then weathered the storm, sandwiched around a power play chance. The Senators started to apply some consistent offensive pressure, but couldn't get any high quality chances in on Fleury. The chances they did manage Fleury was able to stop without much difficulty.

The Pens put the game away with about seven minutes left when Malkin played the give and go with Ryan Whitney, making a nice play to kick the return pass from his skate to his stick and beating Gerber. 3-0 Pens.

Redden and Crosby got into it a bit to the left of Gerber with both of them throwing some punches and cross checks. Ryan Whitney didn't waste any time. He stepped in and took care of Redden in a quick and brutal manner. Great fight from Whitney, made easier by the fact the Redden's sweater was just about over his head.

One more goal - this time Gary Roberts collected a power play goal late for his second tally of the game. It was a nice pass across the ice from Malkin to the crease where (predictably) Roberts was hanging out. 4-0 Pens. Game over.

Roberts hit Cody Bass from behind with 12 seconds remaining in the game, starting a fracas. There weren't any major punches thrown. I think Roberts just made sure everyone knew the Pens weren't going to back down and took the opportunity to stay aggressive. I'm not unhappy with it, to say the least.

Next up: A chance to build on success at the Igloo on Friday night.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Back in the Times (again)

I have a playoff preview up on Slap Shot, the hockey blog of the New York Times. You can go here to check it out.

Playoff Game #1 - vs Ottawa Senators

Ottawa Senators (7) at Pittsburgh Penguins (2)

You didn't think the Flyers had the market cornered on turkeys, did you?

The Sens have been whining and crying since Sunday about how the Pens clearly wanted to play them, because the Pens clearly lost against Philly on purpose. They also put a huge poster of the handshake from the series last year outside their dressing room. Looks like Brian Murray is back to the same annoying head games. That's okay - if his team focuses on the nonsense, they'll be distracted from the main event.

The Sens will come out tomorrow and try to punch the Pens in the mouth. They'll also likely try to take away time and space on the power play. Teams have had success doing that to the Pens lately. The Pens need to stay in control and not get frustrated. They have a huge advantage at home, and this is a different team than last year.

It's time to put up for the Pens. Going to Ottawa up 2-0 would be a great first step.

The rematch is here. Time to buckle up.

Let's Go Pens!

Playoff Preview - Round 1

Here are some stats to chew on while getting ready for the opener in Round 1 on Wednesday night:

At home:

Ottawa - 22-15-4
Goals for: 131
Goals against: 123
Power play goals: 33
Power play goals allowed: 39

Pittsburgh - 26-10-5
Goals for: 134
Goals against: 94
Power play goals: 46
Power play goals allowed: 26

The Pens are simply dominant at home. They are +40 in goal differential at home, which is the best in the NHL.

On the road:

Ottawa: 21-16-4
Goals for: 127
Goals against: 119
Power play goals: 27
Power play goals allowed: 33

Pittsburgh - 21-17-3

Goals for: 106
Goals against: 118
Power play goals: 31
Power play goals allowed: 42

The Sens are pretty consistent on the road and at home. The Pens are far worse on the road. They managed a winning record despite being outscored. The scoring differential can be almost directly attributed to the performance on special teams.

Other key stats:
  • When the Pens out shoot their opponents, they have the second best record in the NHL - 22-7-2. When they don't, they're just 24-20-6. Ottawa is around .500 for each.
  • The Pens go on the power play far more than the Sens do, both at home and on the road.
  • Ottawa took more penalties at home this year than any team in the NHL. That's something the Pens will have to exploit.
  • The Sens are the second best in the NHL at even strength. They're a +28 on the season (+14 at home and on the road). The Pens aren't far behind, at +19, but they're strongest at home (+20), while actually being a minus (-1) on the road.
  • Kick 'em when they're down - the Sens have won just FIVE times all year when trailing after one period (or two periods, for that matter).
  • Scoring first - the Sens were one of the worst in the NHL when they don't get the first goal (9-24-2). The Pens were second best under the same scenario (18-21-3).
Let's Go Pens!

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Flyers 2, Penguins 0

Here are the important facts from this loss to Philly:
  • No one was hurt.
  • Fleury is on top of his game right now.
  • The power play is constipated, and they're vulnerable to the short-handed attack.
  • The series with the Sens will start in Pittsburgh, either Wednesday or Thursday.
Now, the unimportant stuff:
  • This game, while it had some intensity, was actually boring.
  • The Flyers are still scum.
  • The Pens didn't pose a serious threat offensively, allowing Biron to look good in making a few key saves.
I'm not worried about the short-handed chances - those will be corrected for game 1 against the Sens. The more troubling thing is that Philly kept the Pens to the outside on the power play. They were able to use that to jump the point men, which is one of the things that lead to the short-handed chances. The best cure to that that I know of? Get the puck to the net. Also, Sidney Crosby.

The puck possession in the offensive zone was there, and the defensive zone coverage was there. The penalty kill stepped up in a big way, despite Ruutu's best efforts in taking two consecutive penalties (one to end the second and one about 30 seconds after it expired).

So, to summarize: boring game... start the playoffs!

Next up: The Sens in Round 1.

Game #82 - at Philadelphia Flyers

Pittsburgh Penguins (47-26-8, 102 pts) at Philadelphia Flyers (41-29-11, 93 pts)

Exclusive photo of the Flyers practice!

Today is the end of the regular season. It's an exciting day, because the Pens have a chance at the top seed. It's also exciting anytime they play the Flyers.

If the Pens win the game today, they'll face the Flyers in the first round. If they lose, they'll face the Senators in the first round. Doesn't get any more simple than that.

For the Flyers part, they have to be hoping they can get a win today. If they win, they get to face the Caps, instead of the Pens. If I'm a Flyer, I'd much rather take on the Caps.

Any way you look at it, today's game is big. Everyone is ready to play, including Gary Roberts. It's a warmup for the playoffs. Here's the song (and get used to it if the Pens win today):

Let's Go Pens!

Friday, April 04, 2008

Playoff Picture... coming into focus

The potential first round matchup for the Pens became much more clear tonight.

The Canes or the Caps will be in the playoffs as the third seed, but not both. The remaining seeds are the Rangers, Devils, Flyers, Senators and Bruins.

Here are the simplified scenarios for the Pens:
  • The easiest one is that if the Pens win on Sunday, they'll be guaranteed a first round matchup with the Flyers and the top seed in the East.
  • If the Pens lose, they'll play either Boston, Ottawa or Philly, depending on how Boston does tomorrow against Buffalo and how the Canadiens do tomorrow against Toronto.

Personally, I'm hoping for the win over the Flyers on Sunday so the Pens can have the chance to bounce them from the playoffs in the first round. That would be just about perfect.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Penguins 4, Flyers 2

Great win for the Pens. It was not only the last home game of the year, but it was also a division clincher. The fact that they beat the Flyers, who aren't too smart (to say the least) only makes it all the more sweet. The Pens now have the #2 seed locked up, at worst, with a chance for the top seed in the east.

First two periods:

First the goals, before the nonsense:

Hartnell scored on a nice cross ice pass from Briere. There wasn't much Fleury could do on that one. He got over, but Hartnell went upstairs. That pass should never get through cleanly, and Hartnell shouldn't be standing there by himself (Talbot was beat to the spot). 1-0 Flyers.

Gonchar tied the game on what has to be the weakest power play shot I've ever seen. He wristed it into the top corner, but there was so much traffic in front of Biron that he never saw it. We'll take it. 1-1 tie.

Carter knocked in a rebound on the power play to give the Flyers the lead. 2-1 Flyers.

Crosby, immediately after having Hartnell prove he's a moron yet again, tied the game with a power play goal in a five on three situation. It was a great pass from Gonchar, and a better shot by Crosby to take the pass and shoot it along the ice in one motion. That takes tremendous coordination. 2-2 tie.

Malkin, staying out for an extended shift on the power play, gave the Pens the lead with their third power play goal in as many shots. He beat Biron to the five hole. 3-2 Penguins.

Now, the nonsense. The Flyers have taken goonism to a whole new level. The stupid shots they were taking at Crosby and Malkin (especially Sid) were just unbelievable. When Sid scored after getting mugged yet again by Hartnell, all I could think was "if that was Kovalchuk, he'd not only point to Hartnell, he'd go into the penalty box to celebrate".

Basically, through the first two periods, the Flyers were morons several times. Heck, that might be a permanent state.

Third period:

The story of the third period was Marc-Andre Fleury. The Flyers tried to pick it up a bit, and they out shot the Pens 12-6 on the period, but Flower was huge. He made several really nice saves (be sure to check out the highlights if you haven't seen them) when the Flyers started to press. I think last year he doesn't make some of them. This year he seems to be different.

Crosby scored the Pens' fourth power play goal late in the third on a sick redirection of a Gonchar slap-pass. It was a highlight reel goal, and it was the well-deserved dagger in the guts of the Flyers. 4-2 Pens. Game over.

  • The Flyers are morons. They're also goons. Did I mention the moron part?
  • If the Pens can make teams pay for putting them on the power play like they did tonight, there'll be no stopping them. Four power play goals! In case you were wondering, that was a season high.
  • Best case scenario for Sunday: The Habs lose one of their last two games, giving the Pens the #1 seed. That would allow the Pens to win a meaningless game that might knock the Flyers out of the playoffs. Wouldn't that be sweet? We could all wave bye-bye to Hartnell!
Next up: Off the the City of Brotherly Thugs to play the Flyers on Sunday in the season finale.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Game #81 - vs Philadelphia Flyers

Philadelphia Flyers (40-28-11, 91 pts) at Pittsburgh Penguins (46-26-8, 100 pts)

What are the Flyers, really? Turkeys. All turkeys.

The Pens have the top spot in the Eastern Conference in their grasp. All they have to do is win two games against the Flyers and it belongs to them. Alternatively, they can finish tied with the Habs and also keep it.

The Pens also need one more point to lock up the division. Alternatively, if the Devils fail to gain one of the six possible points available to them, the Pens will win the division.

I'd rather see the team earn both with wins instead of backing into their spot because of the failure of another team.

The Flyers will make that tough. They're fighting just to stay in the playoffs. Washington won tonight. Both the Caps and Hurricanes have 90 points, while the Sabres have 88. The Flyers have 91. Their backs are against the wall in a must win situation.

I was really surprised that Fleury played back to back against the Rangers. I guess Therrien is putting his money on the Flower to be his horse in the playoffs. The Pens could do far worse than the way Fleury has played lately. He looked a little bit shaky at times with the rebound control on Monday, but for the most part he's been solid, if not spectacular.

The only relevant injury news is that Umberger will be able to play for the Flyers. R.J. has killed the Pens this season.

Hall and Roberts will be ready to return soon, but neither is a lock to crack the lineup. You'd have to think Roberts will play in the playoffs if he's ready, but this is a solid bunch of forwards the Pens have right now. Who do you sit? Taffe... I guess.

On the blue line, I don't like sitting Letang, but I don't know who else to sit in his place. Suddenly, the Pens have real depth across their roster. That's a huge plus for the playoffs.

Last game of the year at the Igloo, and it will be rocking. How about a song with a video that includes Ben Eager getting pummeled by Mr. Roberts? I think I could use this before every Flyers game.

Let's Go Pens!