Monday, March 31, 2008

Rangers 2, Penguins 1 (OT)

This one would fall under the category of "at least they got a point". If this was a playoff game, it would be a heart breaker. Fortunately for us, it's just a relatively meaningless regular season game.

No big recap tonight, mainly because the game didn't have that much to write about. In fact, for about the first half, the Pens had ONE shot. One. Shot. Ugh.

The Pens were hit with a double minor midway through the second period. Taffe and Whitney were both sent off at the same time. Congrats to Versus for showing us absolutely nothing about the penalties.

The Rangers took advantage with a fluke goal on a shot by Jagr. It went straight up off of Fleury, off the glove of Scuderi and off of the mask of Fleury again, into the net. Dumb luck, but that's after the Rangers had hit the crossbar and post in a two second span.

With 10 minutes left in the game, Laraque passed the puck to Talbot with a nifty backhand saucer pass. Max entered the zone and passed to Malone busting down the right side. Ryan threw a backhand pass right back to Mad Max, who went across the grain along the ice to beat Lundqvist.

In OT, Jagr drew a penalty, putting the Rangers on the power play. Drury won the game on a shot that went through approximately 67 people. There was no way for Fleury to stop it.

Fleury was the reason the Pens escaped with a point. He was magnificent. He stopped Nigel Dawes on a breakaway and made every other save he could have, especially during the first period when the Pens were on their heels. True to clueless New York form, Fleury wasn't one of the three stars of the game. Morons.

Lundqvist WAS one of the three stars, and it was well deserved. He made several great saves, and the Pens had a few golden chances they just couldn't get good wood on.

Orpik was everywhere. He plastered Jagr more than once, which as we all know is not an easy thing to do. Jagr is strong on his skates even when he's weak in the heart.

About the only positive to come out of this was that the Sens are now in the 6th spot in the East. If they're not careful, they're going to slide right out of the playoffs.

Okay, it's also good that the Pens got to 100 points on the season. Pretty nice accomplishment.

Next up: The Flyers come to the Igloo on Wednesday night for the final regular season home game of the year. These divisional games are really getting the Pens warmed up for the playoffs.

Game #80 - at New York Rangers

Pittsburgh Penguins (46-26-7, 99 pts) at New York Rangers (40-27-11, 91 pts)

The Pens have a tough one tonight at MSG. They haven't won a game there yet this season, and they haven't played very well in losing three times. Good opportunity to reverse the trend, since they could wind up facing the Rangers in the first round.

The potential playoff matchup is completely up in the air. If we assume, for the sake of argument, that the Pens clinch the division (which they can do with a win tonight), they'll finish no worse than the 2nd seed. The current list of candidates for the 7th (or 8th) seed is extensive. It includes all playoff teams except for Montreal. Buffalo is probably done, but if also includes the Caps, who are three points out of 8th, but only two points out of the division lead (and third place).

Lots of stuff to be sorted out in the next week.

I'm guessing we'll see Conklin tonight, just because it's a back-to-back, and I'm sure Therrien will want to get him a game before the playoffs.

Kris Beech is ready to play, but can you see him cracking this lineup right now? Adam Hall is also skating again. The guy the Pens really need for the playoffs is Gary Roberts. I haven't heard anything recently on him.

Which defense do you sit to get an extra forward onto the ice? I'm thinking it needs to be Sydor. Whitney is too good offensively, and there really isn't anyone else with Scuderi healthy.

Let's Go Pens!

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Mrs. Butterworth is back in business

I know the Pens pulled off a big win today, but the bigger news is that Mrs. Butterworth is back in the saddle. After a long absence from the popular consciousness, she's been hired as the latest Geico spokesperson. Congratulations, Mrs. Butterworth!


Don't call her Aunt Jemima!

Penguins 3, Rangers 1

Great win for the Pens today. They're in first place in the division by six points and in first place in the conference by one. They can earn the top spot in both entirely through their own effort with just three games remaining in the season.

First period:

The Pens got into penalty trouble early when Sean Avery was hooked by Hal Gill. The Pens almost killed off the penalty, but a low shot by Jagr couldn't be contained by Fleury. Dubinsky was all alone to the left of Flower to put the rebound in. 1-0 Rangers.

The Pens started to pick up their play by hitting everything that moved. This is a great sign heading towards the playoffs. It's the kind of intensity that seemed to be missing last year.

The score was tied by Hossa. Crosby took the puck in wide and threw it to the front of the net. It deflected off of the skate of Dupuis back to Hossa in the high slot. Marian didn't hesitate for a second and blasted the puck over Lundqvist who had gone down. 1-1 tie.

The Pens had several power play chances, and finally made one pay off by scoring a five on three goal. Geno tried to pick the corner above the right shoulder of Lundqvust and just missed by about six inches (wide). The puck came back around and he tried the exact same shot, this time putting it right where it needed to be, in the top corner of the net. It's almost not fair to give a guy like Malkin two cracks at that. 2-1 Pens.

The period was a good one for the Pens, the early Rangers goal aside. Fleury made some nice saves and the Pens were able to establish themselves physically.

Second period:

Another period, another early penalty for the Pens. This time, I have no idea what Wes McCauley saw, but Hossa never hooked the guy. Fortunately, the Pens killed this one off.

Malkin was stepped on by Brandon Dubinsky. He left with a facial laceration.

After Malkin left, Sid was taking shots at the Rangers left and right. He really picked up the intensity. This is the biggest thing that the Pens were missing without him in the lineup. His presence guarantees that the Pens won't back down... ever.

No goal scoring in the second, despite eight minutes of power play time (four per team)

Third period:

Malkin returned to the ice with 10 stitches, and Dubinsky came over and basically said "sorry 'bout that". Classy move by Dubinsky. Maybe the Rangers aren't evil... what am I talking about? Of course they are! I'm willing to put them a step above the Flyers, however.

Play picked back up a bit in the third, but it was mostly the Rangers bringing the play to the Penguins. Fortunately, they fell into the trap of getting too cute with the puck and didn't manage to get many shots towards Fleury. They really didn't have many good scoring chances for the period.

Things stayed to the status quo until there was just over one minute remaining.

Staal won an offensive zone faceoff (HUGE faceoff win!), which kept the puck in the Rangers zone. Eventually, Scuderi shot the puck high from the right point. Lundqvist tried to catch it and start moving towards the bench to get off of the ice. Trouble was, he forgot to take the puck. There was a scrum in front of Henrik, which ended with Talbot finding the puck sitting right next to Lundqvist's leg and deposting it into the net. 3-1 Penguins.

The faceoff win by Staal cannot be emphasized enough. The Pens haven't been a good faceoff team, but today they were 30-25, with strong games by Sid and Jordan in that regard.

The Rangers made sure the game wasn't in question when Paul Mara took a stupid penalty with 30 seconds left. Game over.

Notes:
  • Fleury stopped the pucks he was expected to stop. Good work by the Flower.
  • Gonchar, with over 26 minutes of ice time, was huge on the blue line.
  • I don't mind Whitney on the fourth line wing. It gives the Pens some flexibility with the power play. That said, Jeff Taffe should be back there under normal circumstances.
  • Malone, Malkin, Hossa and Crosby all played more than 20 mintues. This was inflated by the large amount of power play time, but that's still a lot of minutes.
Next up: A rematch with the Rangers tomorrow at MSG. It'll be a tough game. Preview up later tonight.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Game #79 - vs New York Rangers

New York Rangers (40-26-11, 91 pts) at Pittsburgh Penguins (45-26-7, 97 pts)

Two home games remain for the Pens in the regular season. The first one is against the Rangers, who are a possible first round playoff opponent. The Rangers have earned points in five straight games and they're 4-2 against the Pens this season. Time to reverse the momentum a bit, eh?

The special teams for the Rangers are a mixed bag. The PK has been good. They haven't allowed more than one goal in a game since February 3rd. The power play, however, hasn't been good. They just broke out for two goals in their win over the faltering Devils. Prior to that, they'd managed just three power play goals in their past 14 games.

The Pens need to keep the home cooking going. They've been dominant at home. Since January 3rd, they've lost just twice in regulation on home ice. Fleury has allowed no more than two goals in any home game since his return, and the offense lights it up at home (seven goals in three of the past five at home). They'll need the home ice advantage when they hit the playoffs.

One other thing for this game: Somebody, please, stop Sean Avery. He has torched the Penguins this year. Maybe have Laraque go after him early on. Anything is better than letting him smugly notch point after point on the Pens while the Rangers win.

Hossa is expected to play, and I think we'll see Fleury in net. My guess would be Conklin will get the start on Monday at MSG.

The roster is just about at full strength, and all of the big guns are playing. Time for a win!

Let's Go Pens!

Friday, March 28, 2008

Penguins 3, Islanders 1

Completely missed the game. Only saw the highlights. Great win.

Hopefully Hossa is okay. He looked like his bell was rung pretty decently.

A rare open Friday and Saturday coming up. Then, three critical games in four nights. If the Pens want to win the Atlantic, winning on Sunday would get them really close. If they want the first seed, they'll need to keep winning.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Game #78 - vs New York Islanders

New York Islanders (34-36-7, 75 pts) at Pittsburgh Penguins (44-26-7, 95 pts)

After their great win against New Jersey, the Pens get the chance to avenge the bad loss to the Isles on Monday.

The two points up for grabs against the Isles are badly needed. After this one, the Penguins will play two against the Rangers and two against the Flyers. You have to think they'll struggle a bit with those four games. That makes the win over the Isles imperative.

Sid is returning to the lineup. He has five games to get back into shape for the playoffs. If it were up to me, I'd think about sitting him out one of the back to back games next Sunday and Monday. You don't have back to back in the playoffs normally, and there's no need for him to push it too much.

Marc-Andre Fleury is playing really well. He's 7-1 with a 1.48 GAA since his return from injury. That success is coming at the right time, as Conk has been struggling a bit.

The special teams have played well the past three games as well. The power play has goals in three straight, while the PK has allowed just one in the past three.

The important thing for the Pens now is to continue to earn points while building their consistency. They're familiar with the playoffs after their first round loss to the Sens last year, so they have some idea of what they need to do to get ready.

Let's Go Pens!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Penguins 2, Devils 0

Great road game by the Pens, and really good effort by Fleury and the defense. No big rebounds, and no second chance shots for the Devils.

As an added bonus, we got to see Coach Sutter's head nearly explode on several occasions.

The Pens are now in prime position to earn the #2 seed for the playoffs. They have a four point lead on the Devils and a five point lead on the Rangers.

Maybe even more important has been the play of Marc-Andre Fleury. He's playing really well right now. The Pens need him to be in top form going into the playoffs.

Pregame:

Lots of empty seats. Way to support your team, New Jersey.

First period:

You can tell right away that Michel Therrien's kind words have had an impact. Everyone is hitting. Ruutu and Laraque look like they'd treat someone like a pinata if they were allowed.

Malone had a breakaway that was denied by Marty. Ryan couldn't get the pillows to open enough to go five hole (boy do I feel weird writing that).

Elias takes a dumb interference on Hossa and then looks even dumber when he acts surprised.

The Pens get several good chances against Brodeur until they finally get one past Brodeur. Ryan Malone scored on a shot from the high slot. 1-0 Penguins.

The Devils have come to play tonight. They use their speed to setup several good chances in the offensive zone. Fortunately for the Pens, none of those chances connect.

The Pens went about 10 minutes without a shot on goal but almost score on a rebound when they finally do.

Talbot gets called for high sticking. The curious thing is that they guy he high sticked was interfering with him. Amazingly there was no interference call. More and more interference is not getting called.

There was some funny business just as the penalty and period expired. I was reminded how much I don't like the Devils, and how things tighten up as the playoffs approach.

Second period:

The second period started with four on four play. Errey spends some time letting us know the Devils are good in this situation. It doesn't matter, as there is no score. The Pens are getting shots on Brodeur, however.

Things slowed down at that point. The game turned into a dump and chase style, as opposed to some of the free skating we saw in the first. The Pens continued blocking shots and keeping the Devils to the outside.

Errey started talking about how there were no second chance shots for the Devils, which I expected to result in an immediate rebound chance for Gionta. It didn't, and we got a commercial.

The Devils had an apparent goal waved off when the ref says Fleury was knocked out of the way by Asham. I'm wondering how this isn't goaltender interference, but at least the goal didn't count. All 1,750 people that bothered to make it out to the Devils nice new arena are noticeably upset.

FSN had great video of Clarkson deliberately butt-ending Hossa. Clarkson was upset that he wasn't fast enough to stay away from Marian. Cheap play by a cheap player.

More skating without much in the way of offense. The Devils are great at mucking things up, and the Pens were more than happy to oblige, as that's they way road games are won.

Malone is called for tripping in what really looked like an even-up call. The Pens have to kill another penalty late in the period.

They killed it successfully with the Devils firing multiple pucks at Fleury. Only one got through. Several were blocked by the Pens.

Whitney played forward tonight. It looked really strange seeing him busting down the right side of the offensive zone. At least he doesn't have to worry about getting trapped in deep.

There were just 13 shots in the second period. The game, to this point, was exciting in a sleepy kind of way.

Third period:

Early on, there wasn't much going on, which is to say the Pens were playing well.

Laraque was called for a trip, putting the Devils back on the power play.

During the power play, we saw something really unusual - the refs blew the whistle for a frozen puck on the sideboards. That almost never happens anymore.

Late in the power play, the Pens couldn't get the puck out. Hal Gill was the last D back and he went down, forcing the dish pass. Gionta got it over to Langenbrunner, who didn't get enough on it. Fleury made a great save.

The Devils made a mental error and were caught for too many men, putting the Pens on the power play.

The Wife stopped in to watch the power play. I'll let her commentary describe it: "That was a waste of a power play". It sure was. I don't think the Pens managed to setup in the zone once in two minutes.

You got the feeling the Pens were about out of gas and hanging on for dear life. The top line, especially, seemed to be out of gas.

The Devils just kept coming and coming. The Pens dug deeper than I've seen them do in some time.

With about five minutes remaining, the lovely (stupid) fans in Jersey started booing the Devils. The Devils, to this point, had played a great period. They were only stymied by better goalie and a tenacious defense. The fans at the arena seemed to have as much class as Clarkson.

The Devils pulled Brodeur, got the puck in deep and called timeout.

Gionta absolutely plowed into Fleury with no call. It didn't matter, because the Pens were going the other way and Hossa notched the empty net goal. Eat it!

Time expired and Fleury had a well deserved shutout.

Next up: The Islanders visit the Igloo on Thursday. No way the Pens can afford another letdown against them.

Game #77 - at New Jersey Devils

Pittsburgh Penguins (43-26-7, 93 pts) at New Jersey Devils (42-26-7, 91 pts)

"Excuses are for losers." (kudos to the Trib - they printed that quote - the Post-Gazette didn't)

Coach Therrien broke out the big stick after the poor performance last night on Long Island. That adds to the already voluminous list of factors in this game. Consider these:
  • With a win tonight in regulation, the Pens can go four points ahead of the Devils AND they'll be two wins in front of them for the first tiebreaker. They would also hold the second tiebreaker - points earned head to head - by a 9-8 margin.
  • With a win in overtime, they'll be three points ahead of the Devils, two wins ahead and would be tied with them for the second tiebreaker, 9-9. That would kick things to the third tiebreaker, which is goal differential for the season. The Pens have this one in the bag - they're +26 while the Devils are just +11.
  • The Devils will be coming out with a vengeance to erase the memory of the Saturday beatdown. Look for the hitting to be ferocious and the forecheck to be aggressive.
  • The Devils have lost three of the previous four games at home, along with three straight overall.

So what can we draw from this? The Pens need a win. If the Devils win the game, that puts the Pens a long way towards the #4 seed and a matchup with Ottawa or the Rangers in the first round. If the Pens win, that puts them in the driver's seat for the #2 seed and a matchup with Philly, Boston or (please!) Washington.

No Crosby or Dupuis. Connor James was called up "just in case". I think that means someone figured out that Chris Minard played over seven minutes last night. I like Chris, but it seems Therrien likes him too... sitting on the bench.

Let's Go Pens!

Monday, March 24, 2008

Islanders 4, Penguins 1

This was a poor road game for the Pens. After the first period, the effort just didn't seem to be there. It needs to get there before tomorrow night against Jersey. Tomorrow is a critical game.

Here's the recap:

Pregame:

It's a Versus game. That's usually not good news...

If the Pens win and the Habs lose to the Senators, the Pens will take back first place in the East.

Conk is in goal, setting up Fleury for a rematch tomorrow night in New Jersey.

First period:

Malkin nearly put the Pens up just 45 seconds into the game when his wrister went just wide.

Taffe is back up on the second line, playing with Staal and Hossa. This is because Dupuis is out while his wife has their third child, a daughter named Zoey.

The Pens got the early power play. Whitney went in deep and no one rotated back to the left point. Okposo sprung Park down the right side, and he blasted the puck past Conklin. 1-0 Islanders.

Therrien did something a bit unusual and immediately put the second power play unit on the ice. I think the thought process for Michel went something like this: "I told Whitney to be more aggressive. He stepped up and none of those other dummies covered the point. I'm not #!@#ing around with these guys tonight."

It paid big dividends when Sykora picked the top corner from a sharp angle. Van Massenhoven immediately waved off the goal and was owned by the replay booth. 1-1 tie.

The Pens get right back on the power play when Aaron Johnson slashes Laraque on the hands / wrist. Nothing happened on the power play, however.

Talbot flattened Comeau to let everyone know that the Pens were in this games. If you want to know how to pronounce "Comeau", just take "homo" and put a C on the front instead of the H.

Staal had a great chance in front of Dublwoeriucaskldfcz, but couldn't beat the goalie.

Chris Minard sighting! Take a drink!

Gonchar went in deep on the 5 on 5, and again no one rotated back. The Pens allowed a three on one break, and the only reason the Isles didn't score is that they knocked the net off of it's moorings.

The Isles go on the power play when Johnson takes a stick to the face. The first 1:46 of the power play takes place entirely in the Penguins' zone. Those guys (Malone, Talbot, Gonchar and Orpik) were out there for almost the entire time and did a great job keeping the Isles off the scoreboard.

Everyone was having so much fun on special teams that they figured it was the Pens' turn again. They weren't able to score, but they made it look pretty a few times. Dubielewicz (see? I can spell it) had made some great saves to this point.

The Isles go back on the power play once more for the last two minutes of the period (just about). Nothing doing for the Isles.

Does Versus have any replays? I think they showed a replay of one penalty all period...

Second period:

The second period started more slowly. Each team had a few chances, but there wasn't the perpetual parade to the penalty box (say that fast five times).

Guerin didn't just hit the crossbar, he blasted it. Sounded cool - no goal.

The Isles applied some sustained pressure. The Pens had a few chances to get the puck out and couldn't get the breakout pass into the neutral zone to connect. The Isles just kept coming and Guerin went up top again. He didn't miss this time. 2-1 Isles.

The Guerin goal seemed to ignite the desire in the Pens again. They started to get the puck in deep and forecheck aggressively. Unfortunately, they took the first penalty of the second period.

The Isles made the Pens pay by scoring on the power play. The horn the Isles use is a new candidate for World's Most Annoying Hockey Horn. 3-1 Isles.

The Isles took a penalty (interference) and put the Pens back on the power play. It didn't matter, as the Pens weren't able to mount any kind of serious threat. They need to focus on getting pucks on net.

Third period:

Staal took a penalty. This time, Versus showed the penalty but the announcers talked right over it. Great job guys.

On the Islanders power play, Scuderi (welcome back Scuds) stops a chance at a wide open net. That was the save of the game to that point.

After the power play expired without incident, Letang made a great read to intercept an Islanders' clearing pass, drawing a penalty in the process.

The Pens finally managed to put some real heat on the Isles on this power play. Dubielewicz made several huge saves to keep the score stuck at 3-1.

The top line applied some more good pressure with Malone missing on a shot from the slot. They tired themselves out, however, and the Isles made them pay with Hunter putting a rebound in. Hunter was wide open because none of the forwards were able to get back in defensive coverage. 4-1 Islanders.

The Isles decided they didn't really want an easy win and put the Pens right back on the power play.

There wasn't anything doing for the Pens. Tonight wasn't their night.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Game #76 - at New York Islanders

Pittsburgh Penguins (43-25-7, 93 pts) at New York Islanders (33-35-7, 73 pts)

The Islanders aren't officially eliminated from the playoffs yet, but they are just about there. I think the term you could use is "playing out the string".

The Pens should thank the Isles for doing a huge favor and beating the Devils on Friday night. Mario can buy them an extra round of golf after the Pens beat them twice in the next three games.

DiPietro is out for the year, so it's Wade Dubielewicz to the rescue... again. The Isles started their new backup, Joey MacDonald, in Philly on Sunday night so the Pens are pretty much assured of seeing Wade.

The Pens are two points ahead of the Devils and one point behind the Habs, with a game in hand over the Habs. This is a game to earn two points.

Let's Go Pens!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Penguins 7, Devils 1

Great win at home for the Pens that wasn't as dominating as the score would seem until later in the third period. It was just 2-1 going into the third when the Pens really put the pedal to the floor and took the game to the Devils. This bodes well for the rematch on Tuesday.

The Pens now have first place in the Atlantic, which is a position they'll need to stay in if they want to be sure to get home ice advantage. Given how well they've played at home of late, I'd say that's critical.

Here's the recap:

First two periods:

The Pens strike quickly, just 1:30 into the game, when Ruutu puts a shot on the net that Niklas Backstrom Andy Greene decides to clear right into his own net. Great start for the Pens.

The Devils take the first two penalties, but the Pens can't do anything with them. Worse yet, the Devils score short-handed. This goal, however, was completely insane. John Madden came swooping down the right wing and threw a saucer pass to Mighty Mouse that floated a bit more than Madden wanted it to. Gionta knocked the puck out of midair, across the grain and over the left shoulder of Fleury.

There were several missed opportunities by both clubs, with the Pens hitting several posts and the Devils having a puck roll parallel to the goal line.

For those of you keeping score at home, Steigy broke out three "little" remarks in a row in reference to Tyler Kennedy. Three distinct littles means three drinks!

The Pens turned the game in their favor in the second period when Malone scored short-handed on a great cross-ice pass from Pascal Dupuis.

The zebras woke up and decided they were calling way too many penalties on the Devils and made sure things were a bit more even. Ruutu did his part to make sure the minutes were even by earning two minor penalties, including an unsportsmanlike conduct at the end of the second. He tried to get Clarkson to bite by faking that he was dropping his gloves. Vintage Ruutu - but it will hurt the Pens in the playoffs if it happens there...

Third period:

Jordan Staal made a great play to pick off the puck just outside the Devils' zone. The defense of the Devils fell on the ice and Staal was in ahead of the defense. He was hooked from behind while getting the shot on net. Brodeur made the save but was knocked into the net by his own man, taking the puck in with him. Somehow this was both not a goal and not a penalty shot. This can only make me think that the Zebras are complete idiots.

Of course, justice prevailed, as the Pens scored just eight seconds into the penalty, on a great deflection by Ryan Malone on a shot from the point by Gonchar.

Less than two minutes later, Hossa kept the puck in the zone and got it to Dupuis. Pascal was standing to the left of Brodeur. He whipped the puck off of Martin's legs as hard as he could and it trickled in.

Brodeur then trickled out of the game.

The Pens got a power play and Malkin got point #100 on a nice low shot on the far side of Kevin Weekes. 5-1 Penguins.

Malkin added another goal on sheer effort to stay with the puck off of the faceoff. The Pens are starting to embarrass the Devils, which is a good precedent given that the Pens need to win on Tuesday in regulation. 6-1 Penguins.

Zajac hit Gonchar from behind. To his credit, Travis did let up a little bit on Sarge, but it was still a bad hit. He was immediately jumped by Staal and Orpik. Dupuis also wound up dancing with Langenbrunner. The Pens ended up with a power play as Zajac earned a major penalty for boarding.

Sykora added one more goal that was significant because it gave Geno another point in his pursuit of O-Face.

Notes:
  • John Madden was a +1 for the game. The Pens won despite the fact that he shut down Malkin at even strength until the game was out of reach.
  • Fleury played well while the game was still in doubt by making the saves he was supposed to make.
  • Chris Minard - one shift - 49 seconds. Couldn't Therrien get him into the game a few times when it was out of reach?

Game #75 - vs New Jersey Devils

New Jersey Devils (42-25-7, 91 pts) at Pittsburgh Penguins (42-25-7, 91 pts)

The Pens and Devils are tied in the standings, with identical records. They're also both under .500 in the division, strangely enough.

The two games against the Devils, today and Tuesday, are critical for the Pens if they hope to win the division. Of the six games so far, the Devils have earned 8 points, while the Pens have earned 5.

If the Pens finish tied with the Devils in points, the first tiebreaker is wins. Right now both teams are tied in wins. The second tiebreaker is points earned head to head. If the Pens win today and Tuesday in regulation, denying the Devils any points, they'll win that tiebreaker 9-8, and will have gone a long way toward assuring themselves of a seeding no worse than second. Home ice advantage is critical for the Pens.

The Devils have lost two in a row, both at home, scoring only one goal each game. Their offense is not the strength of the team. It's still the defense and Brodeur that makes the Devils go.

The Pens need to play a tight game. They need to move the puck quickly out of their own end to keep the Devils from setting up their aggressive forecheck. I don't know who is starting, but I'd be tempted to go with Conklin given the way he can move the puck (and negate the forecheck to some extent).

Game time is 7:30 at the Igloo.

Let's Go Pens!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Penguins 4, Lightning 2

Great game by the Pens. They brought out their hard hats and overalls tonight, going to work along the boards with an intensity that was missing against the Rangers. They earned the win through that hard work.

Forgot to write a preview for this one! That's what happens when you're watching the NCAA tournament. Pitt kicked the stuffing out of Oral Roberts and will meet Michigan State on Saturday. Go Pitt!

First period:

There was a bunch of skating through the neutral zone, and a bunch of cycling and forechecking, but not much else. There were eight shots and one power play chance per team.

Ruutu scored the goal on a rebound of a Brooks Orpik shot. Jarkko also took a nasty high stick to the nose. The refs, who had missed several pretty obvious penalties during the period (they're warming up for the playoffs) couldn't ignore the blood streaming from Ruutu's nose. They gave Boyle two minutes (it would have been four, but the first one was negated by the puck that was crossing the goal line as Ruutu was getting hit).

Other than the one goal, there was some nice goaltending by Marc-Andre. He made several big saves at key times, including stopping Vinny twice short-handed (Lecavalier out shot the Pens on their own power play).

Nice to have a lead going to the second against the Dolts.

Second period:

I had some stuff written for the second, but it was as boring as the period was. Here's the lowdown: power play goal by Vinny makes it 1-1, Pens take the lead on a goal by Geno.

Third period:

Things became more exciting, in a hurry.

FSN just finished showing the Dolts meltdown against the Sabres (they had allowed 6 goals in the third period). 35 seconds into the period Staal gave the Pens a 3-1 lead. Sixteen seconds later, it was 4-1 as Sykora beat Smith. I had visions of a final score in the neighborhood of 17-1.

One minute later, the Lightning managed to cut it back to a two goal lead on their second power play goal of the night (hello? paging the Penguins PK?).

That was it as far as scoring went for the third. The Pens had several excellent chances (Staal had at least two), but Smith stood tall and kept his team in the game, not that they could do anything to reward their goaltender...

The Bolts made a bit of noise when they pulled Smith, but never seriously threatened in the game.

The highlight of the whole thing had to be Jarkko Ruutu bringing the puck up the ice with his skates. He started near his own zone with no stick, brought the puck into the offensive zone and made a great kick pass to Max Talbot, who very nearly buried the chance. It was something you just don't see, and that made it all the more amazing.

Notes:

No notes tonight - I'm still watching the NCAA tourney! (you should be too)

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Rangers 5, Penguins 2

The Pens just didn't have it tonight, and no one seemed to be willing to do anything to turn the tide.

This doesn't bode well for the upcoming divisional games. The Pens will need to get the ship righted and do it quickly or they could find themselves with a difficult seeding in the playoffs.

Pregame:

Errey informed us that Malkin, Malone and Sykora are the "Steel City" line. The rationale is that Malone is from Pittsburgh, while Geno and Sykora played in Magnitogorsk. It's not a label like the KLS line was, but I haven't heard anything better...

First period:

Things started off pretty slowly. Everyone looks like they're in quicksand.

Conk made a great save on Sean Avery on a puck that bounced over his stick. Avery missed an open cage.

Hossa and Dupuis nearly gave the Pens the lead with a great give and go play. They just missed the tap-in, but Dupuis drew a penalty.

The Pens did just about nothing on their power play.

Shortly after that, Jagr swooped into the zone, drawing extra attention from Tyler Kennedy. He got the puck to Avery, wide open in the slot. He put it over the glove hand of Conklin to give the Rangers a 1-0 lead.

Just 40 seconds later, a big Conklin rebound turned a harmless shot into a great scoring chance. It was buried by Ryan Callahan. 2-0 Rangers.

For the remainder of the period, the Pens had a few random scoring chances, but the Rangers controlled the play. They out worked and out shot the Pens. Not good for a road game. The Pens looked tired and slow.

Second period:

Early in the second period, the Rangers made the worst line change in history, even worse than the Pens many miscues in the line change department. Ruutu walks in all alone (okay, he wasn't completely alone - Talbot and Kennedy were the nearest players) and buried the breakaway chance.

Just a little while later, the Rangers misplayed the puck beneath their own goal line. Dupuis corralled the puck and got it to Staal who was swooping in on Lundqvist. Jordan didn't make the first shot, but he banged home the rebound to tie the game.

44 seconds after that, Ryan Whitney tried to exit his zone up the middle and handed it right to Sjostrom who beat Conklin. Whitney and Sydor were on the ice for all three goals against to this point.

With the Rangers holding the lead, the Pens started to get some traffic around Lundqvist. They didn't make anything come of it right away, but they certainly seemed to get the Rangers agitated.

To this point, I can think of at least three hits from behind by the Rangers, including one during the four on four on Talbot.

In the same sequence as Talbot getting hit from behind (with no call), Dupuis gets a little too excited with the stick and gets called for a hook. The Rangers very nearly score on the power play, but a great play by Orpik kept the puck out. He shoved the puck between the legs of Conk (and away from the goal line). Save of the game to this point.

The Pens had another breakout pass up the middle picked off. I don't know if the Rangers were expecting the play, but the Pens need to take it out of the playbook. Exit the zone up the side before you cost your team another goal.

Malone had a mini-breakaway stopped by Lundqvist. He tried the same move as Ruutu but couldn't lift the puck as much on his backhand. Lundqvist was able to get part of his glove on it.

The zebras made a really dumb tripping call on Staal, putting the Rangers back on the power play.

On the ensuing power play, Malkin was blatantly hooked with no call. Stupid zebras...

But the Rangers couldn't do anything with their power play. The Pens turned things around during the second period. They needed to carry that momentum into the third.

Third period:

Things were still a bit slow and sloppy early in the third. There were a few more non-calls that probably should have been penalties. The zebras seemed to put away the whistles.

Another turnover in the Penguins zone lead to another goal for Sean Avery. He's cemented his spot as a official Penguins Killer, joining the likes of Mats Sundin, Olli Jokkinen and Jason Blake to name a few.

The Rangers kept the puck in the Pens zone which culminated in Straka redirecting a puck past Conklin. 5-2 Rangers.

That was about it. Blech.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Game #73 - at New York Rangers

Pittsburgh Penguins (41-24-7, 89 pts) at New York Rangers (37-26-9, 83 pts)


Sykora has 25 goals on the season. Not too shabby.


Gomez had one good goal scoring year (05-06). The rest are like this one - average. In baseball, he'd be looked at for juicing.

The Pens have a chance to accomplish two important things with a win against the Rangers:
  1. They can leapfrog New Jersey into the #1 spot in the conference.
  2. They can get back to .500 against their own division.
Both are very important. The #1 spot is critical for obvious reasons, but the division record is also important because it sets the tone for the last eight games of the season, all of which are within the Atlantic.

The big thing the Pens need to work on is their power play. They were smoking against the Sabres last week, but aside from that game, they have just one power play goal in their last seven games. Taking advantage of your chances will be critical in the playoffs.

The Rangers had points in 13 straight games before heading to Florida last weekend. They were kicked around by the Panthers and Lightning on Friday and Saturday.

Lundqvist is usually hard on the Pens, and this season is no different. He's allowed just 9 goals in five games, but only managed to compile a 3-2 record. He's only 7-6 in shootouts this season, so maybe that stigma of being an unbeatable shootout goalie is wearing off.

Tough game, for sure. The Pens need the points.

Let's Go Pens!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Flyers Scum

So for a while now, the Wife has been telling me about a song called "We'll Kick Your Arse Ya Flyer Scum". I'd never heard it, and it was from a really old WDVE morning show broadcast. We looked for it, but could never find it. Until now.

Someone was nice enough to use a crappy copy of the audio with footage of a few fights between the Pens and Flyers. It's not the best, but you'll be able to hear the song. It's awesome.

This may become a tradition in the previews for games against the Flyers...

Penguins 7, Flyers 1

Great win for the Pens, in dominating fashion. Malkin had four points (he's back within two of O-Face) and so did Sykora. Dupuis had three assists.

Fleury played well, with only a few noticeable rebounds, and the Pens were there to clean those up. To be honest, this could have been a Ty Conklin game. Goaltending looks strong right now.

Oh, and the Flyers suck.

To the recap!

First period:

The Pens were hit with an early penalty (too many men). The Flyers didn't look interested in playing and didn't do much with their power play.

The Flyers were shooting across the front of Fleury's crease during the first period. I'm not sure if that was intentional, or if it just worked out that way.

Malkin put the Pens up 1-0 with a ridiculous goal. When I say "ridiculous", I'm not talking about on Geno's part - it was a completely soft goal by Biron. We can only thank Marty for his efforts.

Somehow, Ryan Whitney earned a roughing call. If I'm Michel Therrien, even though my team is short handed, I'm applauding Whitney for showing me some emotion. Having said that, I still don't know what he did - NBC didn't have the original play and they made no effort to show the replay.

James, Minard and Taffe came onto the ice (Chris Minard sighting!) and kept the puck in the offensive zone quite effectively for an extended period. They didn't really threaten to score, but they certainly ate up some time.

Sykora scored on a beautiful pass from Dupuis for a 2-0 lead. This one wasn't on Biron - it was all about the pass by Dupuis coming down the left wing. He sent it straight across to Sykora who was at the right post to punch it into the net. Great goal, and great to be up 2-0.

Riley Cote tried to shake things up shortly after that with a big hit on Sykora. Malone immediately did his best punching bag imitation, going after Cote and hanging on until the hurting stopped. I give Ryan a bunch of credit - Cote is way above him in fighting, but he stuck up for Sykora.

Late in the period, Malkin took a hit from Richard's skate around the head / neck. It didn't look bad until you watched it on the replay, and then you have to wonder how Richards' foot managed to get up around Malkin's head...

Going to the second, the Flyers have a little more than half of a power play remaining.

Second period:

The Pens killed off the remainder of the penalty. Fleury made a few nice saves with the left foot on Lupul.

Tyler Kennedy scored on a nice backhand shot over a fallen Biron. That was it for Marty, who left with no parting gifts.

The Flyers started their usual dumb penalties when Thoresen hits Letang well after a whistle for icing. The Flyers are shocked that the ref would assess a penalty on that (shocked, I tell you!) Edzo and Pierre fill us in by saying that there are lots of refs who would let that go. That's really sad.

The Pens don't score on the power play. Little more than a minute later, Mike Knuble gets a deflection past Fleury by going hard to the net and beating Brooks Orpik for position. Nice goal by Knuble.

A few minutes later, just when you thought the Flyers might get back into the game, the Pens struck in rapid succession.

First, Malkin had his second goal (and third point) of the game and then Hossa got his first goal as a Penguin (and 27th of the year). Before you knew it, the Flyers were down 5-1, calling timeout and crying into their hankies.

Just to show they understood Coach Stevens message, the Flyers took another dumb penalty (shocked, I tell you!) Coburn puts his arms out into Malkin, blatantly obstructing him when Geno was entering the offensive zone without the puck.

Either Stevens didn't speak English in his timeout speech, or the Flyers didn't understand it. Personally, I think it was a bit of both. Something in the water across the state that makes it difficult to play hockey or hold a public office...

The Pens out shot the Flyers in the second, picking up the pace a bit, 16-9. Hossa got away with a pretty obvious obstruction call too.

Third period:

All told, it was a pretty uneventful third period. There wasn't much in the way of shenanigans, other than one frustration penalty taken by Mike Richards. He plastered Connor James, prompting Chris Minard to make everyone aware he's on the team by grabbing Mike Richards and dragging him into a 10 minute misconduct immediately. I say "misconduct" because that's what the refs called it, and you couldn't really call it a fight. It was good to see Minard stand up for James.

Sykora scored his 25th of the season by fanning on a shot attempt, gathering the puck and putting the next attempt over the left shoulder of Niittymaki.

Gill got his first goal as a Penguin when his shot from the point was redirected by the stick of a Flyer past Niittymaki. That was nice to see.

The Pens out shot the Flyers again in the third, 16-10. Thanks to the Flyers for packing it in early today.

Notes:
  • Hossa will be awesome with the Pens. He was worth paying the price. He gets back defensively, he is really quick on his skates and he passes better than you'd think. Oh yeah, he can score goals too. Great addition and it's nice to finally see him for a full game.
  • Whitney made a great hustle play to help out against a two on one with six minutes remaining in the game. That was really encouraging to see. With a five goal advantage late in the third, you might think a guy wouldn't bust his butt like that, but Ryan did. Good for him.
  • Gonchar is the Man on the blue line, and he does it every game.
  • No power play goals today - I didn't realize that until I looked at the box score...
  • The Flyers suck right now. Wow - you didn't think they'd be this bad.
  • The Pens have put up 7 goals in back to back games. Impressive.

Next up: Off to the Garden on Tuesday to play the Rangers. The Garden has been good luck for Pittsburgh teams lately...

Game #72 - vs Philadelphia Flyers

Philadelphia Flyers (35-27-10, 80 pts) at Pittsburgh Penguins (40-24-7, 87 pts)

The game starts in less than 30 minutes. If you aren't geared up for this one, there's something wrong.

Let's Go Pens!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Penguins 7, Sabres 3

Great entertaining home game from the Pens tonight. They've passed the Devils for first place in the division and tied the Habs for first place in the conference.

The Pens swept the season series from the Sabres for the first time ever.

Great effort by the team despite being short handed. Get ready for the games to get much uglier as the Pens finish up with 11 of 12 games in their own division.

To the recap!

First period:

Things started out a bit slow until Kennedy was sprung on a breakaway. Watch the replay in the highlights - I have no idea how he managed to get the puck past the outstretched legs of Miller. When watching it on TV, I thought he mishandled the puck and didn't get off a shot, thanks in part to the bad camera work by FSN.

No one used the word "little" after Kennedy scored.

Immediately after that, Sykora, Malkin and Malone created some noise in the offensive zone.

FSN showed us the lines. Minard is on the fourth line. The over/under for his playing time is 2:41. [UPDATE - he played 3:17]

[At this point, I started flipping back and forth between the Pitt game and the Pens game.]

Three power plays (two for the Sabres, one for the Pens), but no goals. The Sabres really looked like they were sleep walking. Errey informed us that the Sabres wouldn't be allowed on the golf courses in Buffalo with the lack of effort they were showing.

I was a bit worried with only a 1-0 lead after one period. You have to make hay while the sun shines, and the Pens missed a few good chances.

Second period:

Laraque took a really bad penalty, elbowing Paetsch in the chin. FSN didn't have any decent camera angles on it, but the ones they had didn't look very good. It looked like Big George pretty much tried to do exactly what he did, which is come across Paetsch's face / chin with his elbow in a pretty vicious maneuver. I'm hoping it wasn't as bad as it looked, but I wouldn't be surprised at a suspension.

The Pens not only killed off the major penalty, they went on the attack for the later part of it, drawing a penalty and scoring on the four on four. Sydor took a shot from the point that Taffe redirected nicely between the pads of Miller. It wasn't the nicest redirect that we'd see tonight.

Late in the period, after Bernier went off for tripping Conk, Gonchar wristed a puck that deflected off of Hecht and behind Miller. This was immediately after Steigy and Errey were talking about the Pens need to shoot with their first power play unit.

The Pens did their hay making during this period, taking advantage of their chances to build what looked like a dominating lead.

Third period:

The Pens extended the lead to 4-0 when Malone lifted the stick of a Sabre in front of Miller, stole the puck, and shuffled it off to Sykora. Peter didn't miss the empty net, and we didn't miss his amazement at the play Malone made to get him the puck.

Just when you were feeling bad for the poor Sabres, they scored to make it 4-1. I figured it was time for a sympathy goal, and here it was.

The Pens went back on the power play, but the Sabres were the ones who scored, on a rocket shot by Paille, which found the six-hole (can we make that an official term now?) of Conklin.

Cutting the lead to just two goals was enough to make everyone a bit nervous. An implosion would be disastrous to the Pens need for points. Malkin decided that we didn't really need to worry. He redirected a Sydor shot / pass for the Pens third power play goal of the evening.

Chris Minard scored his first NHL goal on a great pass from Staal and promptly took his seat back on the bench. At least now he has a reason to smile for a few games.

Paille made things a bit interesting again when he brought the Sabres back to within three with just under 10 minutes remaining, but Letang got the seventh and final goal a little more than two minutes later. That was it.

Notes:
  • Malkin, Malone, Sykora and Gonchar all a -2. If you have anything to harp on about this game, that's it. Allowing the Sabres to get back in the game with a four goal lead in the third isn't good. The tone needs to be set from the top line.
  • Malkin was a beast while killing the major penalty.
  • Talk about distributed scoring - seven different guys scored goals tonight.
  • The defense stepped up big time. Four of the goals were either scored by the D or were deflected shots from the blue line.
Next up: Big showdown with the Flyers on Sunday at the Igloo.

Crosby to miss Buffalo game as well

According to TSN, Sidney Crosby will also miss tonight's game against the Sabres.

Who do the Pens have that can still skate? Here are the forwards (I'm not even going to try putting them into line combinations):

Malkin
Malone
Dupuis
Ruutu
Kennedy
Staal
Taffe
Laraque
James
Minard
Stone

Here are the injured forwards:
Crosby
Roberts
Sykora
Talbot
Hossa
Hall
Beech

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Game #71 - vs Buffalo Sabres

Buffalo Sabres (32-27-11, 75 pts) at Pittsburgh Penguins (39-24-7, 85 pts)


I know it's a Heatley card, but it sets a good example - Bury A Sabre!


Attention Defensemen: Scoring Needed (without Hossa and Sykora)

No Hossa. No Sykora. No Talbot. Buffalo is sitting three points out of the final playoff spot. The Pens have only this game until Sunday. They need to make the most of it, but it won't be easy with the Sabres desperately trying to get into the playoffs. Can you say "trap game"? Especially with the HUGE game with the Flyers coming on Sunday.

The Sabres have been in a tailspin recently. They've lost seven of the past nine games and are spiraling out of the playoff picture. Most of that damage has been done at home, as they're 2-0-1 in their past three on the road.

The Pens have been hot since the return of Marc-Andre Fleury to the lineup, winning three of the past four games. No word yet on who will be in net.

The Pens need to win to keep pace with the Habs and Devils. The Devils are the ones they really need to catch. If they get either the 1 or 2 seed, they'll be in good shape.

Let's Go Pens!

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Penguins 4, Capitals 2 - Video Highlights

Here are the video highlights from the excellent win over the Caps.

You can read the full review here.

Penguins 4, Capitals 2

Great road win for the Pens. It was especially nice to see them take the game over in the third period. Their hard work paid off with a luck goal, but they'd earned it by then.

Here's the recap!

First Period:

Both teams were charged up at the beginning of the game. The Caps had the better of the scoring chances during the period, but Fleury was up to the challenge.

The Caps also shot a bunch of pucks wide of the net, and had a few more go bad on broken sticks. It felt like they were just a tiny bit off of putting a few pucks behind Marc-Andre.

The Pens had a great chance when Crosby setup Dupuis. Pascal had the puck, but I couldn't help but imagine that was Marian Hossa out there taking that pass. I think the result might have been different too. Dupuis' shot was saved by Huet.

This was an NBC game, so you know there had to be some funny business with the announcing. Olczyk called Jarkko by his brother's name during the first (Tuomo). Doc Emerick tried to perpetuate the "Ruutu doesn't back up the talk" myth, only to be shot down immediately and forcefully by both Olczyk and McGuire.

The Pens survived without allowing a goal in the first.

Second period:

In the second, things opened up a bit more, at least for the Capitals. They out shot the Pens 22-9!!! I have to say that this was a surprise to me after watching the second, because it wasn't that one-sided. It would be interesting to know what kind of margin consistency there is with the Caps shooting stats at home... maybe that's a project for the off season.

The Caps struck first when Brooks Laich deflected a Semin shot behind Fleury. He then directly caused the next goal, when he changed the pace of the pass from Malkin to Sykora. Peter didn't get much on it and it knuckled past Huet. For the hat trick of insults, Laich had to put up with being called by the wrong name by Pierre McGuire for quite a bit after his goal.

The Pens took the lead on a rebound goal by Sid just after the power play ended for the Pens. It sure did look like the refs were trying to even things up with the calls they were making.

Of course, that didn't last, as the refs made another two calls in quick succession on the Pens, putting the Caps on the 5-on-3 for the second time in the period.

The Caps didn't waste this two man advantage, with Semin (you don't know how hard it it to avoid jokes about his name) scoring on the short side. Fleury was about two inches off of the post, probably expecting the pass across the crease, and Alex put the puck right through that opening.

The scariest words out of McGuire's mouth the entire game was him recounting Devorski talking to Therrien: "Don't worry - Van Massenhoven has it under control". I wouldn't count on the refs to have a car on the PA Turnpike ride at Kennywood under control.

Score was 2-2 after two. If you told me before the game it would be tied going to the third, I'd take it. In this case, however, the lack of discipline by the Pens leading to two power play goal by the Caps made me uneasy. At least the whistles tend to get put away in the last 10 minutes of the game.

Third period:

As much as the Caps didn't really dominate the second, despite their advantage in shots, the Pens DID dominate the third period. They had scoring chance after scoring chance, but just couldn't beat Huet.

The Pens started the third by killing off the remainder of the penalty carryover. That was a huge kill, mainly so we didn't have to hear that annoying goal horn anymore.

Quintin Laing took a questionable angle on Malkin and kneed him. The Pens can't get one past Huet on the power play.

They keep the momentum going, however with several good chances.

Then the Pens get called for too many men on the ice. This was shortly after the Caps weren't called in a similar situation. See my comment above about the refs having things under control...

The Pens came up with a huge kill, and things went back and forth for a bit, until...

With under a minute to play, the Pens jammed the puck at the net. It squirted (no, Semin wasn't involved) across the crease, where Backstrom was back checking. He took the puck and tried to sweep it behind the net. Instead, he put it right over the goal line. That was the game winner.

Do you feel bad for Backstrom? Maybe for about a second, and then I think about Ovechkin celebrating his goals like he just won the lottery after living in a trailer park all his life. No - I don't feel bad at all.

Notes:
  • Strong game by Fleury. He did struggle a bit with rebound control, and I think a better team with more scoring might take advantage of that, but I'll take stopping 36 of 38 shots any day of the week.
  • What's up with Ovechkin's man crush on Malkin?
  • Staal: 1 G, +4
  • Malkin: 3 A, +3 (and a great unselfish pass to Staal for the EN)
  • Crosby: 2 G, +2
  • Federov: 1 A, -4
  • Ovechkin: 2 A, -2 (ouch)
  • How nice is it for the Pens to spare the Caps the agony in the playoffs? They're not going to make it the way they're going.

Next up: It's a light schedule this week for the Pens, with only one game, at home against the Sabres on Wednesday.

Game #70 - at Washington Capitals

Pittsburgh Penguins (38-24-7, 83 pts) at Washington Capitals (32-29-8, 72 pts)

Moving the clocks forward an hour last night, combined with the early start to the game today means the Pens will feel like they're starting a hockey game at 11:30 AM EST. Hope they like to wake up early.

I'm not ready to wake up yet, so this will be short.

The playoff contenders are starting to distance themselves from the playoff pretenders in the East. The result of that, though, is that the Pens are just 8 points separate first from eighth. The Pens can ill afford to slide in the standings.

Let's Go Pens!

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Panthers 5, Penguins 2

Missed this one, so I'm going to rush to judgment based on statistics.

The Pens were out shot tonight, 42 - 27. The first period was 19-9. That says the team wasn't ready to play tonight.

Max Talbot was a -4. Sydor and Dupuis were a -3. Orpik and Whitney, -2. Those are some bad numbers.

The Panthers managed to get every forward (except Belak, who never saw the ice after his fight with Laraque) at least 14 minutes of ice time. That's all four lines. That's pretty impressive.

Fleury was yanked in favor of Conklin after the first. It will be interesting to see who plays on Sunday on national TV.

Not much else to say. These kind of games happen once in a while. I just wish they could have kept pushing the point total to stay on top in the East.

Next up: A showdown with the Caps on NBC on Sunday afternoon.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Game #69 - at Florida Panthers

Pittsburgh Penguins (38-23-7, 83 pts) at Florida Panthers (30-31-8, 68 pts)


He's back.


Bouwmeester is not only a good young defenseman, he has a funny name!

The Panthers figure to make one more push towards the playoffs. They're sitting six points out of the 8th and final spot, and they'd have to jump over three teams between them and Philadelphia. That's not very likely.

Their path of least resistance is to catch Carolina for the division. They're only 5 points behind Carolina (yes, the Southeast division leader has fewer points than the 8th seed in the East... pathetic).

The other thing the Panthers have going for them is they're opening a 7 game home stand. Traditionally, they're tough at home. This year.... not so much. On top of that, they've lost every game started by their number one goalie (Vokoun) since the middle of February.

The main thing the Kitty Cats have going for them right now is Craig Anderson. He has stopped the last 793 shots he faced. Okay, it's not that many, but he has two straight shutouts and neither one was easy (53 and 40 shots, respectively). He's not used much, so I'm expecting (hoping) that he'll break down against the Pens.

Speaking of the Pens (this is a Penguins blog, after all), Jordan Staal should be fine to play. He has bruised ribs. Crosby and Whitney are both okay to go. No word on Hossa.

Fleury will be in net. You can expect to see Flower as long as he plays well, as the Pens don't have any back-to-back games until the second half of the month.

The Pens have a chance to sweep the season series with the Panthers. That would be sweet.

Let's Go Pens!

Penguins 2, Lightning 0 - Video Highlights

Here are the video highlights, and highlights is a term I'd use loosely for this one, from the win over the Lightning.

You can read the full review here.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Penguins 2, Lightning 0

Great road win for the Pens. It wasn't glamorous, but it was still worth two points. Fleury was magnificent, stopping all 35 shots.

Crosby played almost 21 minutes and looked good. He may have been a bit tired late in the game, but that's not a surprise.

Malkin continued his hot play with several great chances. If he continues to dominate with Sid in the lineup, this team will be fearsome.

The game itself was actually pretty boring. It was scoreless until late in the third, and while there were several breakaways, there really wasn't much offense overall. That's not bad for a road win.

First period:

Malkin, Malone and Sykora start the game. I think that was the right thing to do - those guys have earned it.

On his first shift, Crosby just missed wide on a tap-in attempt. Talbot came down the right side and made a terrific pass. When I was watching the play, I would have put money on Talbot missing the pass, not Crosby missing the shot.

Gonchar hit the post later in the first.

Crosby won his first faceoff. Sid will make lots of contributions, but the underrated one is his ability to win faceoffs. That's a skill the Pens desperately need.

Malkin sent a great pass from behind Smith, past two Lightning, straight to Malone. Ryan missed the net.

Immediately after that, the Lightning threw a few quick shots as Fleury, who honestly looked a bit shaky to me.

After an extended shift by Crosby, Malkin's line was on. Geno stepped around the Lightning D and was alone on the goaltender. Only a nice save by Smith kept the Pens off of the board.

The Lightning drew a penalty with about 6:00 remaining in the period. Fleury proved to be the best penalty killer for the Pens, stopping chances by both Vinny and Marty.

On the back side of the penalty, Crosby earned his own breakaway. He was stopped by Smith. If you'd have said both Geno and Sid would have breakaways and the Pens would be scoreless after them, I'd say you weren't very realistic...

St Louis hit the goal post, and it was a good thing, because there was a bunch of room for Marty to hit.

Staal was hurt during the period when he collided awkwardly with Lessard. He stayed on for one shift and then went to the locker room.

Second period:

Staal didn't come back for the start of the second. Hope he's not hurt too badly.

Crosby's line showed some nice offensive chemistry, but they weren't able to get a good shot away.

Crosby looked really sharp with some nice passing in the offensive zone on the third line (since Staal was out). You had the feeling that the Pens were going to score if they could keep up the pressure. They were getting too many good chances to be shut out for long.

Boy, is Laraque ever moving his legs. Being called out by Therrien has seemed to light a fire under big George. He didn't even look slow!

Letang got back to break up a developing two on one and drew a tripping call in the process, sending the Pens on the power play. How did we ever doubt Letang's readiness for the NHL game?

Not much pressure on the power play, and there was a chance for Lecavalier on the backside. Fortunately, Letang was aware (he was the only one) and forced a wrister that Fleury stopped.

Nothing doing until thing turn a bit chippy. Sykora was sprung on a breakaway and was pulled down from behind. A penalty shot was awarded to Sykora, but Smith stoned him.

Immediately following the Lightning showed why they're more Dolts than Bolts, missing two wide open cages on subsequent scoring chances.

Staal has bruised ribs. That's not the worst thing to happen.

Ruutu drew a penalty and the Pens put some of their best pressure on Smith with a few decent chances. It was nice to see Sid and Geno on the power play again.

Dupuis missed a golden chance, just shooting wide of the net as the second period was ending.

Third period:

Crosby's line started the second and third period, but I think that was more about keeping Vinny and Marty off of the ice (Halpern's line is matched against Sid).

There was a Chris Minard sighting on the ice! Stop the presses! Poor Minard sat on the bench for the entire game against Atlanta.

Suddenly, Malkin and Crosby were on the ice together (I think I fell asleep before that), and Malkin setup Sid with a great, quickly paced, cross ice pass. Sid got the shot on net, but Smith came from right to left with speed and stopped the shot. Great play, better save.

Dupuis was hit in the face with a stick, drawing the high sticking penalty.

The Pens finally managed a shot on the power play, but they also allowed too many short handed chances. Crosby looked tired, which wouldn't be a surprise since it's his first game and he's helping to fill in for Staal.

When Smith knocked the puck down behind his own net, Vinny was cheating up ice. They got him the puck and he was sprung all alone on a breakaway. Fleury stoned him. Great game for the goalies so far.

Then, the Emergency Alert System kicked in, interrupting the game. Why? To tell us that there was a Severe Thunderstorm Warning. LOOK OUT! IT'S RAINING! Here's a crazy idea - let's save the Emergency Alert System for an actual emergency!

With about three minutes remaining in the game, Sid brought the puck down the right wing and threw it across the front of the crease. It bounced off a few people and right to Max Talbot, who was able to deposit the puck past a reaching Mike Smith. 1-0 Penguins.

The Lightning pulled Smith and got the puck deep where Fleury froze it. Without Crosby, that might be bad, but Crosby won the faceoff cleanly.

Talbot lost his stick but made a really smart play, passing the puck with his hand to Malkin who walked down the ice and deposited the puck in the empty net. Game over.

Next up: A chance to sweep the Kitty Cats on Thursday in Florida.

Crosby to play tonight

According to radio reports here in Pittsburgh, Sidney Crosby will return to the ice tonight against Tampa Bay. It's ironic in that he last played in a game against Tampa in January.

I'm excited to see him back. Now we just need Hossa and it will be party time.

Game #68 - at Tampa Bay Lightning

Pittsburgh Penguins (37-23-7, 81 pts) at Tampa Bay Lightning (26-32-7, 59 pts)

Yes, Virginia, the Lightning really do stink. They're in last place in the Eastern Conference with just 59 points. The only reason they're not last in the NHL is that the Kings have just 57 points.

Of course, as any Penguins fan knows, this means nothing at all. Despite the sweep of the state in early January, Florida has been a cursed land. The Pens will need to be at their best to avoid the curse this time.

The Pens desperately need the points to keep their chances of earning the top spot in the East alive. After this road trip, 10 of the final 12 games are against divisional opponents. The Pens still don't have a good record in their own division, so they need to get the points now, while they're available, against lesser foes.

Crosby and Hossa will both return this week, though not tonight. I'm guessing Thursday for Hossa and Sunday for Crosby.

Let's Go Pens!

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Penguins 3, Thrashers 2 - Video Highlights

Here are the video highlights from the win over the Thrashers.

You can read the full review here.

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

This one looked like it would be easy and wound up being difficult. The important part is that the Pens earned two points when they were missing a laundry list of starters.

I think we'll look back and see how these games were instrumental in helping the role players to learn how they need to step up. It will pay huge dividends in the playoffs.

The Pens are in first place in the Atlantic by one point over the Devils and tied with the Habs for first in the conference. Both the Devils and the Canadiens have a game in hand on the Pens.

To the recap!

First period:

The Pens got a goal just 50 seconds into the game when the ref didn't blow the whistle. Lehtonen seemed to have the puck frozen, but there was no whistle. Ryan Malone went in there, grabbed the puck seemingly from between the pads and put it in on the backhand. Great to play to the whistle. Malone broke his personal goals record with his 23rd of the season.

Just about a minute late, Max (don't call him Maxime) Talbot made a great individual play to deke his way past McCarthey and then used a nifty backhand shot that came back across the grain, over the right shoulder of Lehtonen.

Of course, that set Steigy and Errey off on a conversation about how the Thrashers are disinterested, how the Thrashers are packing it in (except for Colby and Crusher, of course). You knew instantly that this was the sign that the game was far from over. Please, Mr. Announcers, if it's not the third period or a four goal lead, don't jinx us!

The Thrashers gradually started to turn the tide, and cut the lead to 2-1 on a fluke goal by Jim Slater. He was skating down the left wing and threw the puck at the far post. Fleury was not in proper position and the puck slid just inside the post. Bad goal by the Flower.

Second period:

The good news in this period was the Pens started to show some ability to attack when short handed. The bad news was that they were short handed three times. I wouldn't really say the penalties were bad calls, either. They were some dumb plays by the Pens.

The Pens seemed to kick things back into gear a bit and turned this into a grind it out type of period. There was some end to end action, but mostly it was rushes generated from the trap in the neutral zone.

It's tough to watch Armstrong and Christensen in the colors of another team. Atlanta is becoming Pittsburgh South in a hurry, with Recchi, Armstrong, Christensen, Thorburn and Kwiatkowski all playing.

If Holik was still in the same division as the Pens, I think he would be someone everyone really disliked. As it is now, I get aggravated watching him and then forget about it until the next time we see Atlanta.

Third period:

It was the curse of Fox Sports that struck next. They had no sooner finished showing a graphic that trumpeted the Pens success at home on the penalty kill that they gave up a goal on the penalty kill. That tied the score at 2-2.

The rest of the period was punctuated by good goaltending and bad officiating. The zebras put away the whistles with about 5:00 remaining and it showed. There were several obvious penalties that just weren't called.

Overtime:

Several nice rushes, but the goalies shut everything down. This game has to be a confidence booster for Fleury.

Shootout:

First, the end result was only Letang was able to score. The Pens won the shootout 1-0.

Crusher broke out a new move, shooting early on Fleury. There was an article in the Post-Gazette where Flower was saying how he knew three moves that Christensen used. Erik seemingly wanted to mix it up and try to take him by surprise. It didn't work.

The most satisfying part was Kovalchuk having no one to point at but himself. He had a chance to keep the contest going, but couldn't beat Fleury to the five-hole.

Notes:

Atlanta continues to play Army and Christensen about 20 minutes per game. Are they really those kind of players? I don't think so... but I hope, for their sakes, that they prove me wrong.
Fleury shut down the Thrashers in the shootout. I think we'll see him in net on Tuesday.
Goligoski played well enough to not be noticed most of the time. That's probably in his favor while he gets his feet wet.

Next up: Three game road trip, and time to earn some points, starts Tuesday in Tampa Bay.

Game #67 - vs Atlanta Thrashers

Atlanta Thrashers (29-31-6, 64 pts) at Pittsburgh Penguins (36-23-7, 79 pts)

Right now, the Pens are in the dreaded fifth spot in the Eastern Conference. They're also just two points out of the first spot. With a win today, the Pens can tie the Canadiens for the top spot and move past New Jersey in to the Atlantic division lead.

The Thrashers have lost six straight games. Armstrong and Christensen, both playing big minutes in their first two games, are a -2 and -3 respectively. They have one assist between the two of them. I hope they succeed, just not today against the Pens.

Fleury will start in goal. He shut out the Thrashers earlier this season. The Pens have lost the other two meetings, and Conklin didn't play terribly well in those games. Good choice to start Fleury.

This is one that the Pens should win, despite their depleted lineup. They need to get the two points.

Let's Go Pens!

Senators 5, Penguins 4 - Video Highlights

Don't have much to say about this one - missed most of it.

From what I saw in the third, the Pens just couldn't generate any kind of consistent offense. They managed to cut the lead to just one, but couldn't get that game-tying goal. I'd say it's a case of the abject lack of scoring depth finally catching up with them. They need to play with the lead right now.

I didn't see the notorious Gonchar double minor, so I don't have anything to say on that subject.

Here are the video highlights from the game:

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Game #66 - at Ottawa Senators

Pittsburgh Penguins (36-22-7, 79 pts) at Ottawa Senators (36-23-6, 78 pts)

There is a four-way log jam at the top of the Eastern Conference, and Pens and Sens hold the third and fourth spots, respectively.

The Pens will be short-handed, again, when they face the Sens. Hossa is out and Ryan Whitney is day to day with a strained groin, which means he may not play. James and Goligoski have been called up.

How long will the Pens be able to weather the storm of injuries? How much more can they take? They'll have to hold on for another week - that is when Crosby and Hossa are expected to be available. The team can't afford a three or four game losing streak at this point of the season.

The biggest stat of the day for me:

Ottawa is 6-11-2 since Jan. 19.

You read something like that, and you just smile.

Let's Go Pens!