Sunday, June 29, 2008

Ryan Malone to sign with Tampa Bay

The changes are rolling in.

Ryan Malone is an expensive member of the Tampa Bay Lightning, making this the second consecutive year we shake our heads and wonder what they know that we don't. Last year it was Michel Ouellet. This year, it's the big salary being paid to Ryan Malone.

Is Ryan worth $4-5 million per year? I don't think so, and neither does most of Pittsburgh. Most importantly, Ray Shero doesn't think so.

Tampa is also hiring Greg Malone and Ryan's former agent.

Tuesday will be here before you know it.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Lots of rumors...

Lots of rumors are flying around right now. Whenever you hear something, just take a deep breath and relax. Here are a few of the more prominent ones, along with why I don't believe them:
  • Ray Shero is trying to trade Malkin - Supposedly he's been offered to the Kings for the #2 pick and Mike Cammalleri. Do not believe this one for a second. The only reason to make this trade is if you don't think Malkin is worth $8-9 million per year. I think he's proven that he is worth that.
  • Malone is being traded to (Columbus / Minnesota) prior to July 1st - This would make sense if the Pens have resigned themselves to letting Ryan go. However, Malone himself has said that he wants to test the free agent waters after July 1st. That statement alone takes the wind out of the sails of any potential trade (unless he's using it to drive up a potential contract offer).
  • Hossa is close to signing - While I believe Hossa and the Pens will come to a contract arrangement, I don't think we'll hear about the offers in the paper. Ray Shero seems to subscribe to the Craig Patrick school of media relations, meaning you'll hear about the deal after it's been completed, and probably not before.
  • Markus Naslund wants to come to Pittsburgh - Okay, even if this were true, would you take him? Isn't he another version of Petr Sykora? He'll be 35 when next season begins, and he's an overall minus player since the end of the lockout (-23 over three seasons).
Remember, we're only dealing with the outgoing rumors right now. As July 1st gets closer, we'll start to hear more about the players who are willing to take less for the chance to play here. We've already heard the first one, from Markus Naslund. Take them all with a grain of salt.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Penguins contract status

Here is the contract status for each of the players that was on the big club's roster at some point this season (not including the guys we traded away). I sorted them by age.

Here's a fun, yet scary question - how many players from this list do the Pens have under contract beyond next season? The answer is FOUR - Crosby, Whitney, Gonchar and Letang. Obviously, anyone that is a restricted free agent can be kept at the option of the club, but still... only four? I was surprised.

Here's a great reference for looking up these pieces of information:

Unrestricted free agent - can sign with anyone
27 years old OR seven years in NHL
Kris Beech - Age 27 - Signed one-year contract with Columbus 8-7-07 as UFA
Adam Hall - Age 27 - Signed one-year contract with Pittsburgh 10-1-07 as UFA
Brooks Orpik - Age 27 - Signed two-year contract with Pittsburgh 7-23-06 as RFA
Ryan Malone - Age 28 - Signed two-year contract with Pittsburgh 7-28-06 as RFA
Pascal Dupuis - Age 29 - Signed one-year contract with Atlanta 7-1-07 as UFA
Marian Hossa - Age 29 - Signed three-year contract with Ottawa 8-23-05 as RFA
Mark Eaton - Age 31 - Signed two-year contract with Pittsburgh 7-3-06 as UFA
Georges Laraque - Age 31 - Signed two-year contract with Phoenix 7-5-06 as UFA
Jarkko Ruutu - Age 32 - Signed two-year contract with Pens 7-4-06
Ty Conklin - Age 32 - Signed one-year contract with Pittsburgh 7-19-07 as UFA
Alain Nasreddine - Age 32 - Signed one-year contract with Pittsburgh 7-23-07 as UFA
Gary Roberts - Age 42 - Signed one-year contract with Pittsburgh 7-22-07 as UFA

Restricted free agent
off of entry-level contract but not old enough to be UFA
must be tendered a "qualifying offer" to retain rights
once rights are retained, any contract offers from other teams can be matched
Marc-Andre Fleury - Age 23 - Signed two-year contract with Pittsburgh 8-5-06 as RFA
Jonathan Filewich - Age 23 - end of entry-level contract
Ryan Stone - Age 23 - end of entry-level contract
Tim Brent - Age 24 - Signed one-year contract with Pittsburgh 7-20-07 as RFA
Connor James - Age 25 - Signed one-year contract with Pittsburgh 6-19-07 as UFA

Under Contract
Jordan Staal - Age 19 - on entry-level contract - will be RFA after 08-09
Sidney Crosby - Age 20 - Signed through 2012-13
Kris Letang - Age 21 - on entry-level contract - will be RFA after 09-10
Tyler Kennedy - Age 21 - on entry-level contract - will be RFA after 08-09
Evgeni Malkin - Age 21 - on entry-level contract - will be RFA after 08-09
Alex Goligoski - Age 22 - on entry-level contract - will be RFA after 08-09
Maxime Talbot - Age 24 - Signed through 08-09
Ryan Whitney - Age 25 - Signed through 2012-13
Nathan Smith - Age 26 - Signed through 08-09
Chris Minard - Age 26 - Signed through 08-09
Jeff Taffe - Age 27 - Signed through 08-09
Dany Sabourin - Age 27 - Signed through 08-09
Rob Scuderi - Age 29 - Signed through 08-09
Petr Sykora - Age 31 - Signed through 08-09
Hal Gill - Age 33 - Signed through 08-09
Sergei Gonchar - Age 34 - Signed through 09-10
Darryl Sydor - Age 36 - Signed through 08-09

Friday, June 06, 2008

The Aftermath

Check out my latest post for Slap Shot, the hockey blog of the NY Times. It has been fun writing for them this season.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Red Wings 3, Penguins 2

Great game by the Pens. They left everything on the ice. They came up just short against a team that they can learn a few things from. Great effort, and they left everything they had on the ice.

Congratulations to the Red Wings.

First period:

Franzen ran into Fleury in the opening minutes. No call. Looks like Babcock's whining worked.

Sykora had a golden chance early when the puck squirted to him right in front of Osgood. He was almost too close, and he couldn't beat Ozzie.

Sydor took a really weak interference call. Watson put his arm up really late, putting the Wings on the power play.

On the power play, Scuds had two chances to get the puck out. On the first one, he had room to carry the puck and on the second one he tried to wrap it around but it hit Holmstrom.

The Red Wings took advantage. Zetterberg drew a man to him and passed across to Rafalski. Brian shot the puck to the net with Holmstrom right in front of Fleury. The puck hit off of Gill and went right behind Fleury. Crappy goal. 1-0 Wings.

The Wings finally took a charging call (Drake), putting the Pens on the power play.

Early on in the power play, Draper took an absolutely cheap shot with two hands to the back of the head of Gonchar, putting him into the boards. Two man advantage for the Pens.

For the next 90 seconds, the Pens put several good scoring chances together. There were several chances on shots from the point with rebounds available, but no dice. Would have been nice to see more screens in front of Osgood.

After the penalties expired, the Pens took another penalty when Hall's stick appeared to catch Lidstrom. In looking at the replay, I'm not sure Hall got him... but the Wings were back on the power play.

The Wings weren't as successful this time, and the Pens did a good job smothering after shots.

Orpik was hit in the ear with Franzen's stick late in the period. No call.

The NBC broadcast was crappier than usual. There were two times when action started back up, but the replay hadn't ended yet. One particularly notorious case was on Rafalski's goal - the replay showed nearly the entire power play. I think everyone knew when they started it that they didn't have time to get the whole thing in. How did they not know that.

Oh, and NBC? Rob Scuderi is NOT Brooks Orpik.

All told, not a bad period. The ice seems really bad, which is unfortunate. The Pens are hanging in there.

Second period:

Early in the second, the Pens execute the stretch pass for one of the few times in the series. It led directly to a power play when Malone was slashed after a pass from Gino.

The Pens generated some great pressure again on the power play, but couldn't beat Osgood. Even though they didn't score, you could feel some pressure building.

The pressure continued on the next shift with the Pens able to establish some cycling in the offensive zone with the puck. No goal, but more pressure.

The Pens nearly had another stretch pass to Crosby. I don't know if that's open more or they're trying it more, but it seemed to be working.

Samuelsson shot the puck from the right point. Fleury gave up a bad rebound, and Filppula put it between the pads of Fleury. Bad goal for Fleury, and bad coverage to allow Filppula to get an open chance at the rebound. 2-0 Wings.

Crosby, Hossa and Dupuis continued their work as the Pens best offensive line, generating a few great chances in even strength action. Still no goals. Still generating pressure. They need to keep this up and keep coming.

Shortly after that, there was another great chance, this time by Roberts. Osgood barely made the save.

Datsyuk took a penalty on a hit on Jordan Staal.

Power play = Malkin Laser Beam = Penguins goal. FINALLY! 2-1 Wings.

Roberts took a high stick penalty. Wings went back on the power play. HUGE kill for the Pens coming up.

The Pens killed the power play with not too much difficulty.

After the Wings power play, Hossa, Crosby and Malkin generated some great pressure. No shots, but great puck possession. Things seemed to be building for the third period.

The Pens had seen on Monday a special presentation of "How to Storm Back at Home". Hopefully they took some notes, because they would need to put the plan into action.

Third period:

Nothing doing early in the third. Malone had the best chance on a high hard shot that missed the net just a bit high.

Zetterberg came into the offensive zone and got a shot off that Fleury stopped. The puck dropped right behind him, and no one but one of the Zebras saw it. Fleury fell backwards and knocked the puck in off of his butt. Talk about bad luck. 3-1 Wings.

Malkin, Crosby and Hossa again had a great chance. Hossa shot it high and a bit wide.

Fleury was keeping the Pens in the game at this point. The Wings were still carrying the play for the most part, and Fleury was making several big saves.

The Wings took a late penalty with under two minutes left. Fleury was pulled and the Pens went to work.

Crosby won the faceoff and the Pens went to work. Gonchar shot it from the point and Hossa deflected it brillantly. 3-2 Wings.

Less than 90 seconds remaining and Fleury was off the ice. They got the shot from the point by Gonchar, but it was deflected up into the mesh. Timeout Detroit.

One last chance for Crosby, who just barely missed on the backhand off the glove of Osgood. Hossa made a great effort that would have been too late had it gone in.

Terrific effort by the Pens. They have nothing to be ashamed of.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Stanley Cup Finals Game #6

Detroit Red Wings (1) at Pittsburgh Penguins (2)

Detroit leads series 3-2.

This is the last game of the season at the Igloo. Let's take a moment to reflect on that.

The first game at the Igloo in the 07-08 season was against the Ducks, who had just won the Stanley Cup. The Pens won that game 5-4. They had a fantastic run at the end of the season at home, and it carried over into the playoffs.

The team has only one loss in the playoffs on home ice, and by most accounts, they have been a different team when playing in the friendly confines.

Just take a second to be grateful for all we've been privileged to see on the home ice this year.


All done?

That's good, because there's one more game to be played and it's easily the biggest of the year!

The Pens got a huge lift with their OT win on Monday night in Detroit. The Wings had to be stunned by that, as they were just 35 seconds from winning the Cup. They also couldn't beat Fleury in any of the OT sessions.

I see a chance for a trend to form with this game. If Fleury can continue his strong play, he can lead the Pens to victory in Game 6.

The Pens cannot afford to come out flat. They must press the issue and work with the same desire and intensity they showed in the previous three games.

Most people will say that the Red Wings are the "better team". However, in winning two of the previous three games, the Pens have shown that they can be the better team. The better team is defined as the one with more goals than their opponent when the game ends.

It doesn't matter how many faceoffs you win.

It doesn't matter how many hits you have.

It doesn't matter how many shots you take.

It only matters how many goals are on the board.

This is what the Pens have been telling themselves, and it has been working.

Here's what I'm telling the team if I'm the coach:
  • Keep the Wings off of the power play.
  • Stay strong along the boards.
  • Show the relentless desire that you demonstrated both in taking the lead in Game 5 and in getting the tying and winning goals (especially the Talbot goal, when all of the Wings faithful in Joe Louis were against you).
  • Protect your goalie.
  • Be opportunistic.
Do those things, and we'll be headed back to Detroit for Game 7.

Both Malone and Gonchar are expected to play. That's great news for the Pens. They need them both.

Let's Go Pens!

Monday, June 02, 2008

Penguins 4, Red Wings 3 (3 OT)

This one had the best ending that I can remember in a long time. Here are just a few of the HUGE moments:
  • Talbot tied the game with just over 30 seconds left in the third. The Wings were 30 seconds from the Cup and the Pens denied them.
  • Gonchar came back from what had to be a concussion to quarterback the winning power play, earning an assist on the winning goal.
  • Sykora not only told McGuire he would score the winning goal, but also told the bench that he was going high glove hand on Osgood. He did it, and the Pens won.
  • Fleury was the best goalie in the world tonight. He came up HUGE time after time when the team needed him the most. You can't say enough good things about his game tonight, especially once the overtime started.
The Talbot and Sykora goals immediately become HUGE goals in Pittsburgh history. If the Pens can somehow win two more, their stock rises even more.

The Pens somehow won the game. HUGE!!!

First period:

Things didn't start out terribly well for the Pens in the first. Brooks Orpik took an early hooking call on Filppula. That was immediately followed by a too many men on the ice penalty.

Neither power play proved successful for Detroit. The Pens did a nice job of killing off those penalties.

Shortly after the second penalty expired the Pens made some noise. Crosby, Hossa and Dupuis had a dominating shift in the Detroit zone. Dupuis made a great play to shoulder Rafalski off of the puck, keeping it in the zone. The puck ended up on the stick of Hossa, who wasted no time shooting it to the far side of Osgood from near the right circle. 1-0 Pens.

Six minutes later, Adam Hall scored yet another HUGE goal when he shot the puck from near Osgood. The Detroit netminder made the save, but Kronwall's clearing attempt pulled a Backstrom and went right off of Hall's skate in behind Osgood. 2-0 Pens.

The Pens had several chances to extend their lead, but Osgood made several big saves during the remainder of the first.

Second period:

Darren Helm scored to cut the deficit to one goal. His shot deflected off of Rob Scuderi and behind Fleury. 2-1 Pens.

Gonchar made a great defensive play to stop a near breakaway, but he went hard into the end boards head first. He left the ice with under 3:00 left in the second.

Ryan Malone took a shot to the face shortly after that. He left the ice as well.

Third period:

Malone and Gonchar both came back out to start the third. Gonchar only lasted until the halfway point. He didn't return after that.

The third didn't start well for the Pens, as the Red Wings turned the early minutes into a shooting gallery.

Fleury was the best player on the ice, making several big saves.

Hossa hit the crossbar when he beat Osgood to the short side. That's another huge opportunity that the Pens just couldn't take advantage of.

Datsyuk missed a big chance when he flipped the puck up over Fleury from right in front of the crease. The Detroit goal judge (and just about everyone else) thought the puck was in. It hit squarely off of the crossbar. No goal.

There was a pretty big non-call when Holmstrom slashed the stick out of the hands of Staal.

There was a pretty big penalty call on Kennedy. The Red Wings cashed in when Zetterberg fired a shot-pass to Datsyuk, who redirected it beautifully between the pads of Flower. 2-2 tie.

The Wings kept the pressure and maybe turned it up another notch. Less than three minutes later, the Wings took advantage again of the offensive pressure when Rafalski wristed the puck to the far side to beat Fleury. 3-2 Wings.

At this point, every Pens fan was cursing. The Wings had come out with all of the fire and momentum in the third period.

The Wings kept the pressure up, slowly strangling the Pens, who seemed to have no answer offensively.

It didn't change as the clock dwindled. Fleury was pulled. The extra attacker was on. It was... Max Talbot?? I have to admit, I was a bit surprised to see that.

The surprise didn't last long. The Pens got the puck in deep when Crosby tossed a backhand down the boards. Hossa tossed it right at the net, and Talbot rammed two attempts at the left leg of Osgood.

The second one went in.

3-3 tie.

Everyone between here and Detroit was shocked. Any hair Pierre McGuire had left immediately fell out.

The Wings had 34 seconds left to try to win in regulation. They managed a few shots, but couldn't score. It was troubling how the Wings picked things right back up and turned on the offense in the last 30 seconds.

First Overtime:

I'm getting too wound up to take notes. Let's keep this period recap simple.

Players slowing down.

Pens had late power play, but no dice.

Fleury = MVP. If the Pens win this game, it's because of him.

Second Overtime:

Another power play for the Pens early in the second OT. The NBC announcers don't seem to understand that you can't run into the goalie after you shoot the puck.

No dice for the Pens again on the power play.

Ruutu hit the post. Ugh.

Sykora put the puck just wide. Osgood didn't even react to the puck.

Sykora took a hooking call right in front of Osgood in the offensive zone with just over two minutes left in the second OT. Huge kill needed.

Huge kill achieved.

Third Overtime:

The Wings had the early pressure in the third OT. Fleury was wonderful, and the Pens were blocking shots in their own zone.

Hudler took a four minute high stick penalty when he hit Scuderi, putting the Pens on the power play.

Sergei Gonchar came off of the bench for the first time since the halfway point of the third period to play on the four minute power play.

The Pens only needed 36 seconds. Peter Sykora, who had told Pierre McGuire that he would score the game winner, scored the game winner. 4-3 Pens.

Game Over. PENS WIN!!!!

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Stanley Cup Finals Game #5

Pittsburgh Penguins (2) at Detroit Red Wings (1)

Detroit leads series 3-1.

So, to preview this game, I thought I'd take a look back at the last time the Pens were down 3-1 in a series and going on the road. It was last year against the Senators. Granted this is a much different team, but check out some of the stuff I wrote back then - seems a little eerie, doesn't it? (especially considering the Pens lost Game 4 on home ice last year by a score of 2-1)
The Pens need to play the same style game they did on Tuesday. They need to out hit the Sens. They need to play with the same desperate intensity. The only thing they need to improve on is simply to score more goals. If the power play isn't working, they need to find a way to get it done at even strength.
Same thing still applies - they worked hard and had chances, which they were unable to finish.
I also think that the coaching staff needs to do a great job tomorrow. Michel Therrien needs to be smart about his player utilization. He needs to do a good job matching lines. I know Therrien says he doesn't think about that too much, but you don't want Crosby to see the top combo from the Sens all night long. You want to put Sid in the best position to succeed. Isn't that the job of a coach?
Matching lines discussion anyone? Wow - this is like a broken record - Coach Therrien still says he's not worried about matching so much.
Mike Yeo also needs to have some answers for the Pens on the power play. To some extent, they're generating offense and not scoring, but the Sens also seem to have them figured out. I think it's time to have a different wrinkle available, just to give the Sens a different look. You have to keep them honest.
This one hasn't applied quite so much until the Pens were unable to find a way to score with a two man advantage. You have to put the puck in the net there.

So can the Pens change what happened last year in a Game 5 on the road with the series on the line? I sure hope so.

Holmstrom will play tomorrow. Likely no changes for the Pens, but I'd be tempted to get Letang back in there with instructions to get the puck on the net. He has the shot to do it, more so than Rob Scuderi, who appeared to hurt his shoulder a bit. I think you leave Sydor in the lineup. He has been solid, in my opinion.

Let's all say a prayer to St Lemieux, the patron saint of scoring, that Geno is able to step up in Game 5. He did register 5 shots in Game 4, so maybe that's a good sign. Getting a contribution from Malkin / Sykora / Whoever would be a HUGE boost, and boy, I'd like more reasons to use that word (HUGE, in case you missed it).

Let's Go Pens!