Thursday, December 31, 2009

Devils 2, Penguins 0

So what happened?
The Devils scored first on a seeing-eye goal by Bergfors. Beyond that, the goalies stood tall and the Pens were unable to score. They didn't go on the power play until there was just 1:26 left in the game. The sad part is they did just about everything but score.

Who scored?
No one.

Any surprises?
Is it surprising that Brodeur has the Pens' number with the way he's played against them this season? I don't think so.

Any change in the standings?
Nothing significant - just further behind Jersey now.
Division: 2nd (four points behind New Jersey)
Conference: 3rd (one point behind Washington)
League: 5th (tied with Phoenix, one point behind Washington)

Who's next?
A few days off, and then daylight games on Saturday and Sunday in the Sunshine State. Tampa Bay is on Saturday at 3:00.

Notes:
  • Losing 4 out of 5 games is a slump. It's not the worst one of the year yet - the Pens lost 5 of 6 back in late October - early November.
  • I have nothing else. I despise watching the Devils.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Game #41 - at New Jersey Devils

Game 41
Penguins (26-13-1, 53 pts) at Devils (27-9-1, 55 pts)

Why does it matter?
The Devils are one of the top teams in hockey and they've owned the Penguins so far this year, winning all three games at the Igloo.

What has been happening lately?
  • Pens - Mini-slump is what has been happening. Three losses in four games.
  • Devils - Other than dropping a decision to the Caps, the Devils have been flawless lately.
Questions to be answered
  • Can the Pens beat these guys?
  • Will a change of scenery help? It is the first game of the season at the Prudential Center.
  • Can Johnson (who I expect will start) match Brodeur?
  • I'm still looking for a shut out from a Pens goalie. Can they get one? (this question is staying here until they do)
Keys to the game
  • Score first!
  • Crash the net with intensity and hope for a rebound. Brodeur isn't giving up softies right now.
  • Parise just broke out of his 12 game goal-less slump, so keep a close eye on him.

Sabres 4, Penguins 3

So what happened?
A fast start led to a 3-0 lead for the Pens. A penalty shot by Drew Stafford completely changed the game in the second period, leading to four unanswered goals and a loss for the Pens. The intensity was there, and the level of play was good throughout, but the Sabres wanted it more in the third period. Patrick Lalime seems to have the Pens' number right now, as much as Ryan Miller doesn't.

Who scored?
Staal (11), Guerin (12), Kunitz (6)

Any surprises?
Allowing four goals on 24 shots is a surprise for the Pens. They're usually much better than that.

Any change in the standings?
Other teams are winning while the Pens are going through a slump, so...
Division: 2nd (two points behind New Jersey)
Conference: 3rd (one point behind Washington)
League: 5th (tied with Phoenix, one point behind Washington)

Who's next?
New Jersey. Tonight. Ugh.

Notes:
  • Lindy Ruff gets the Coaching Move of the Night award when he put Stafford out there for the penalty shot. Drew Stafford was a healthy scratch for the Sabres last game. The successful penalty shot propelled the Sabres to the win.
  • The Pens only made it onto the power play twice - that's not enough.
  • If Fleury stops that penalty shot, that becomes a completely different game, I believe.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Game 40
Penguins (26-12-1, 53 pts) at Sabres (23-11-4, 50 pts)

Why does it matter?
The Sabres are tough, and this time they'll likely start Ryan Miller and have the services of Tomas Vanek. It should be a fun game to watch.

What has been happening lately?
  • Pens - The Pens have lost two of their past three games, all at home, which isn't good for a team about to play 9 of the next 11 on the road.
  • Sabres - Beginning with the recent loss to the Pens, the Sabres have been floundering a bit. They may have righted the ship with their recent 5-3 win in St Louis.
Questions to be answered
  • Can the power play stay hot? The Sabres are excellent recently at home in killing penalties, and the Pens are not good on the road with the man advantage.
  • Can the Pens solve Ryan Miller, he of the insane .935 save percentage?
  • I'm still looking for a shut out from a Pens goalie. Can they get one? (this question is staying here until they do)
Keys to the game
  • The Sabres will allow lots of shots. Show some patience and make Miller move side to side.
  • Give Johnson some support and focus on back-checking.
  • Faceoff wins are key since both of these teams play a puck possession game.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Maple Leafs 4, Penguins 3

So what happened?
8-2 over the Sens is a distant memory. Tonight the Pens came crashing down the earth with a sobering loss to the Leafs. The Pens weren't ready to go from the start, managing only four shots in the first period. They were playing from behind all night, and when they managed to tie it late in the third, the Leafs were ready with the coup de grace on a blast by Ian White.

Who scored?
Cooke (10), Crosby (23), Rupp (10)

Any surprises?
Just a cumulative one - if you told anyone before the season that Rupp would score 10 goals, you would have been happy with that. He has 10 before game #40.

Any change in the standings?
The Caps have leaped over Jersey and Chicago is playing well, so...
Division: 1st (tied with New Jersey)
Conference: 2nd (one point behind Washington)
League: 3rd (one point behind Washington)

Who's next?
A four game road trip begins Tuesday night in Buffalo, followed by Jersey the next night. Buckle up.

Notes:
  • It was a curious decision to put Sid, Geno and Rupp out there after scoring the tying goal. You have to trust your superstars, but at that point you'd love just to get to OT and try to win it there.
  • The Pens dominated the faceoffs, 36-22. Normally that would translate into some good time in the offensive zone, but it only worked that way a few times tonight.
  • Fleury made several great saves in the third, but he probably would like a few back. Fleury is great overall, but he hasn't been able to get the shut out. Makes me wonder about goalies in general...

Game #39 - vs Toronto Maple Leafs

Game 39
Maple Leafs (13-17-9, 35 pts) at Penguins (26-11-1, 53 pts)


Mellon Arena - Pittsburgh

Why does it matter?
The Pens need to shake off the rust after a few days away from hockey for the Christmas break. The Maple Leafs are a perfect team for that task.

What has been happening lately?
  • Pens - The Sens were cannon fodder for the Pens before Christmas.
  • Maple Leafs - The Leafs are riding a three game losing streak, but they are playing some close games.
Questions to be answered
  • Can the Pens keep the Leafs in check? The Leafs will bring the offense - they fire lots of shots (they had a 61 shot game earlier this year).
  • Can the power play keep things going? Three goals on Wednesday to match a season high is great - now they need to stay consistent.
  • I'm still looking for a shut out from a Pens goalie. Can they get one? (this question is staying here until they do)
Keys to the game
  • Focus on the D - The Leafs do have some forwards that can put the puck in the net, and Jason Blake has always been a Penguin killer.
  • The Monster has been inconsistent this year. Get lots of traffic in front of him and get him rattled early.
  • Keep Kessel in check.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Penguins 8, Senators 2

So what happened?
Wow. Was there anything that didn't go right for the Pens? Let's quickly check the list of accomplishments:
  • Fleury was incredible, earning the #1 star. He kept them in the game early on.
  • Geno had the hat trick.
  • The power play matched it's best output of the season.
  • Sid won 17 out of 25 faceoffs.
I could keep going - everything other than allowing 24 shots in the first period went really well.

Who scored?
Malkin (11, 12, 13), Guerin (10, 11), Fedotenko (7), Kunitz (5), Gonchar (5)

Any surprises?
I was surprised by the Sens offensive onslaught in the first period. I didn't know they had it in them. Good thing Flower was up to the challenge, or this could have been a vastly different game.

Any change in the standings?
The Pens are back on top (I know, that technically Jersey is ahead due to games-in-hand, but I'm going with the total points).
Division: 1st (tied with New Jersey)
Conference: 1st (tied with New Jersey)
League: 1st (tied with New Jersey)

Who's next?
It's a happy Christmas break and then Toronto comes to the Igloo for a rare Sunday night game.

Notes:
  • Craig Adams sure can hit, but I think he's earned the Ryan Malone Trophy for fighting so far. He always seems to get messed up.
  • Shean Donovan had to be ticked that Matt Cooke wouldn't fight him. I wouldn't fight him either - Cooke's hit (that injured Donovan) didn't look dangerous at all - there should be no need for payback.
  • The Pens were trying like crazy to get Guerin the hat trick, which resulted in 16 shot attempts (7 missed the net) for Bill.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Game #38 - vs Ottawa Senators

Game 38
Senators (18-14-4, 40 pts) at Penguins (25-11-1, 51 pts)


Mellon Arena - Pittsburgh

Why does it matter?
The Pens need a win going into the Christmas break after the depressing game against Jersey on Monday. The Senators don't travel well. Merry Christmas.

What has been happening lately?
  • Pens - The good news is the Devils won't visit again during the regular season.
  • Senators - The Sens have been trading wins and losses for a bit, but more importantly, they just lost Spezza for an extended period.
Questions to be answered
  • Will the return of Leclaire make a difference for the Sens? His number are just about the same as Elliot's numbers...
  • I don't think we're going to stop asking about the power play all year. Can the Pens get things going again with the man advantage?
  • I'm still looking for a shut out from a Pens goalie. Can they get one? (this question is staying here until they do)
Keys to the game
  • Let Kovalev sleep.
  • Pick on the rookie. Eric Karlsson is a -10 in just 22 games, and he's playing about 18 minutes per game.
  • Ignore Ruutu.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Devils 4, Penguins 0

So what happened?
A bad night is what happened. The Pens couldn't do anything right, and they couldn't come close to beating Martin Brodeur. There's really nothing more to say about it.

Who scored?
No one.

Any surprises?
I'd say it's surprising that a performance that bad could follow several that were so good, but the Devils seem to have the Pens' number this year in Pittsburgh.

Any change in the standings?
Yep - at the very least, the Pens are two points behind Jersey. The rest will be sorted out tomorrow.

Who's next?
A chance to save Christmas with a home game on Wednesday against Ottawa.

Notes:
  • It was a bad night all around - Staal was hit in the face with a puck (though later returned), Fleury was yanked and the power play was poor.
  • I have nothing else to say - this one blew big chunks.

Game #37 - vs New Jersey Devils

Game 37
Devils (25-8-1, 52 pts) at Penguins (25-10-1, 52 pts)


Mellon Arena - Pittsburgh

Why does it matter?
The Pens have been unable to solve the problems that the Devils present this year, dropping two decisions by the same score of 4-1. This is an important divisional match up with the current top teams in the NHL.

What has been happening lately?
  • Pens - Five straight wins and the power play looks to be waking from it's slumber.
  • Devils - Four straight wins with generally stingy defense. The exception was Brodeur being yanked in Atlanta and the Devils rallying to win the game.
Questions to be answered
  • Can the Pens beat these guys?
  • Can the Pens get on the power play? The Devils PK can be susceptible if you can get them to take penalties. Speed is the key.
  • I'm still looking for a shut out from a Pens goalie. Can they get one? (this question is staying here until they do)
Keys to the game
  • Score first! This is hugely important to keep the Devils from sucking the soul out of the hockey game with that stupid trap.
  • Avoid turnovers in the neutral zone. This is what Jersey preys on - they forecheck heavily to get you to make mistakes. It's sort of like the Pens, but with more life-draining ability.
  • Find a way to stop Parise - he averages 4-5 shots per game, and 13 of his 15 goals are at even strength.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Penguins 2, Sabres 1 (OT - SO - 1-0)

So what happened?
A really entertaining Saturday night game translated into two points for the Pens. Fleury was the story all night, bailing out the Pens with several key saves. The power play looked as good as I can remember this season, though they wound up with nothing to show for it. The Sabres are a tough team.

Who scored?
Kunitz (4)

Any surprises?
Geno picked up one of the weirdest interference calls I've ever seen. He was serving a minor penalty and it had just ended. The door to the penalty box opened and the puck was right there. He was still in the box (he hadn't stepped out of it yet) but he reached out tried to play the puck away from Stafford, who was right outside of the penalty box. He was whistled for interference.

Any change in the standings?
Jersey won to keep pace, but the Pens are tied with them for #1 in the NHL.
Division: 1st (tied with New Jersey)
Conference: 1st (tied with New Jersey)
League: 1st (tied with New Jersey)

Who's next?
A chance to break the tie with the Devils at home on Monday.

Notes:
  • The third period turned into a penalty parade. While the power play couldn't score (but looked good), the PK was great. Eight chances killed off successfully.
  • I have no idea how Lalime managed to only allow one goal. It looked as though he should have allowed four or five.
  • Didn't it seem as though everyone had another gear last night? I can't remember noticing the speed quite as much any time recently. Maybe it's that Buffalo plays a different system.
  • Don't get used to seeing this fun style of hockey... Jersey is next.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Game #36 - at Buffalo Sabres

Game 36
Penguins (24-10-1, 49 pts) at Sabres (21-10-2, 44 pts)


The offensive cornerstones of the Sabres. They all came into the league at roughly the same time and they're all excellent. These are from the Parkhurst 05-06 set.

Why does it matter?
It's a measuring stick against another top competitor in the East. The Sabres are right there with the Devils and Capitals so far this season.

What has been happening lately?
  • Pens - Four wins in a row, Fleury is playing really well and the power play is showing signs of life. Can this team get better still?
  • Sabres - Two words - Ryan Miller. He has been outstanding all year and is the primary reason for the Sabres success.
Questions to be answered
  • Can the Pens get to Miller? They've had some success against him in the past, but he's playing on another level this year (much like Fleury).
  • Will the Sabres get burned by riding a hot goalie? What happens when he cools off a bit? They've allowed the fewest goals of anyone but Jersey in the East... but their shots against aren't very low. That says they're due to come down to earth a bit.
  • I'm still looking for a shut out from a Pens goalie. Can they get one? (this question is staying here until they do)
Keys to the game
  • Win the special teams battle (or, at least, don't lose it). The Sabres don't take many penalties, and they're really good lately on the PK at home. Their power play, however, leaves something to be desired.
  • Don't take them lightly. You'll see a bunch of names you don't recognize during the game tonight (Tyler Myers, Chris Butler) that play big minutes. These guys are successful.
  • Turn it into a track meet. The Sabres can't match the Pens offensive power, and lots of shots may be the only way to beat Miller.
  • If the Sabres start Lalime, then the task becomes a bit easier.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Penguins 3, Flyers 2 (OT - SO - 2-0)

So what happened?
The Flyers, to their credit, gave the Penguins everything they could handle tonight. Boucher played pretty well, making some key saves and their offense produced some good chances. It wasn't enough. Fleury was outstanding, making several huge saves, and Crosby sucks. Oh, no, wait - he doesn't suck. I think it's time the lovely people of Philadelphia realized that he is really very, very good. Much better than anyone the Flyers have.

Who scored?
Guerin (9), Crosby (22)

Any surprises?
A few, actually:
  • A multiple goal effort by the power play!! For the first time since Thanksgiving weekend, and only the second time since Halloween!! That's great!
  • Kris Letang - #1 star? Really? Is this some kind of joke? Did the media in Philly watch the same game I did? No offense to Kris (he did notch the "game winner" in the SO), but I think the sucky player who scored the game tying goal and the goal that iced it in the shootout is more deserving. Of course, the completely unbiased media in Philly would rather eat their hats than do something that might make people think that Crosby doesn't suck.
In the "not a surprise" category:
  • Hartnell is dumb.
  • Carcillo went to the Hartnell Hockey School and excelled. He graduated Summa cum Dufus.
  • Mike Richards is cheap - the low bridge he attempted on Letang late in the game was dangerous.
Any change in the standings?
It remains to be seen. If Los Angeles loses, then we'll have a new #1 team in hockey after the evening is over.

Who's next?
A refreshing change, and a good challenge when the Pens play in Buffalo on Saturday night.

Notes:
  • When you're playing (somewhat) up tempo hockey and trying to stop the Pens, using mostly 5 defensemen isn't very smart... especially when one of them is as slow as Pronger.
  • Boucher was much better tonight than on Tuesday.
  • Sid and Geno are both playing at another level right now.
  • Watching the Flyers lose is one of the best ways to spend an evening.

Game #35 - at Philadelpha Flyers

Game 35
Penguins (23-10-1, 47 pts) at Flyers (15-16-1, 31 pts)

Why does it matter?
Because this one won't be as easy as Tuesday seemed. The Flyers will be buoyed by their fans. Expect nonsense.

What has been happening lately?
  • Pens - A little broader perspective - at the end of their four game losing streak on November 12th, the Pens were 12-7. They're 11-3-1 since then. Very nice.
  • Flyers - Nothing has been going right for the Flyers. It's that simple.
Questions to be answered
  • Bill Guerin is okay and will play tonight. Can the Pens avoid the injury bug with the Flyers nonsense?
  • Don't look now, but the PK has allowed a goal in four straight games. Can the Pens plug this hole before it bites them?
  • I'm still looking for a shut out from a Pens goalie. Can they get one? (this question is staying here until they do)
Keys to the game
  • Stay away from the stupid stuff.
  • If the Flyers go to sleep, let them sleep.
  • Initiate - don't retaliate. Nothing will rehab the Flyers faster than some extended time on the power play.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Penguins 6, Flyers 1

So what happened?
What happened is that Directv still hasn't settled their dispute with Versus. In other related news, Dave & Busters in the Waterfront gets their programming from Directv. That means I missed the game. Blech.

Who scored?
Crosby (21), Guerin (8), Staal (9,10), Fedotenko (6), Malkin (10)

Any surprises?
Three fights consecutively? Really? I can't remember that happening anytime recently.

Any change in the standings?

No - just some shifting around of who they're tied with.
Division: 1st (2 points ahead of New Jersey)
Conference: 2nd (1 point behind Washington)
League: 2nd (1 point Washington, tied with Los Angeles)

Who's next?
Back to Philly. The Flyers haven't lost both ends of a home and home with the Pens in 17 years.

Notes:
  • Special teams were good - the power play managed another important goal and the PK, despite allowing one, scored two of their own.
  • Boucher wasn't very good.
  • Another rarity - Godard got in a fight and still had more minutes on the ice than in the penalty box. That means the Pens had this one under control. Something tells me we'll need Mr. Godard on Thursday...

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Game #34 - vs Philadelphia Flyers

Game 34
Flyers (15-15-1, 31 pts) at Penguins (22-10-1, 45 pts)


Mellon Arena - Pittsburgh

Why does it matter?
Pens. Flyers. Any other explanation needed?

What has been happening lately?
  • Pens - The Pens are finally back at full strength and keep trucking along.
  • Flyers - On November 18th, the Flyers were 12-5-1. Since then they're 3-10.
Questions to be answered
  • Can the Pens get through this home and home without any new injuries?
  • The power play is still the worst in the East. It certainly looked better against Montreal Florida, but looks mean nothing. Can the Pens translate the effort into results? To be fair, it won the game against Florida, but was still just 1-6.
  • I'm still looking for a shut out from a Pens goalie. Can they get one? (this question is staying here until they do)
Keys to the game
  • Stay away from the stupid stuff.
  • If the Flyers go to sleep, let them sleep.
  • The Flyers played last night (this is getting to be a habit). Take advantage of tired legs.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Penguins 3, Panthers 2 (OT)

So what happened?
For the (seemingly) 115th straight time, the Pens and Panthers went to OT. The entire game was tight, and while the Pens dominated the second period, the Panthers came out with purpose in the third and tied the game. This isn't a bad team from Florida. As soon as the power play started in OT, you just knew it was over.

Who scored?
Dupuis (9), Fedotenko (5), Malkin (9)

Any surprises?
Not really a surprise, but the game featured the absolute worst even-up call I've ever seen. After McCabe was penalized for interference (which absolutely was interference, even if we're not used to seeing it called late in the third), Gonchar breathed wrong on a drive to the net by Dvorak. He was called for holding. He never took his hands off of his own stick. Calls like this are why the NHL is still a garage league.

Any change in the standings?

Yep - with San Jose struggling, the Pens are up one spot in the league standings. Jersey is keeping pace.
Division: 1st (tied with New Jersey)
Conference: 2nd (1 point behind Washington, tied with New Jersey)
League: 2nd (1 point Washington, tied with New Jersey, San Jose and Los Angeles)

Who's next?
A big home and home series with the Flyers on Tuesday and Thursday. Tuesday night is in Pittsburgh and starts 30 minutes early.

Notes:
  • Sid dominated on the faceoffs, with a record of 18-8.
  • Whatever it is that the power play has in OT, they need to find it and bottle it for use in regulation. They're a monster when they get the man-advantage in OT. Maybe it's just a mental thing...
  • For the first time in essentially forever, the Pens had two healthy scratches and had their full compliment of players. FINALLY!!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Game #33 - vs Florida Panthers

Game 33
Panthers (12-14-6, 30 pts) at Penguins (21-10-1, 43 pts)


Mellon Arena - Pittsburgh

Why does it matter?
This is a chance for the Pens to show they've learned from the past. Twice earlier this year the Pens have lost to teams in what could be considered a trap game. The Panthers aren't very good so far this year, and this is a game the Pens should win.

What has been happening lately?
  • Pens - Pulling out the victory in Montreal was key, especially after dominating most of that game. It also prevented the Pens from earning another losing streak.
  • Panthers - The Panthers had lost four in a row before winning last night in New Jersey.
Questions to be answered
  • Can the Pens get up for this game?
  • The power play is the worst in the East. It certainly looked better against Montreal, but looks mean nothing. Can the Pens translate the effort into results?
  • I'm still looking for a shut out from a Pens goalie. Can they get one? (this question is staying here until they do)
Keys to the game
  • The Panthers are wildly inconsistent - one night they'll play a tight game and limit the chances of the opposition, and the next night they'll hand out 12 chances against on the power play (like they did against Washington). Don't give them time and space to succeed.
  • Both of the prior meetings this season have gone to extra time. Roll four lines and keep the guys with good legs in OT.
  • The Panthers played last night. Make them play the Pens up tempo game, spending lots of time in the Florida zone.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Penguins 3, Canadiens 2

So what happened?
The Pens scored first, got themselves into trouble in the first half of the second period, but basically dominated the game. The Canadiens were out shot badly yet again, and while they had a few good chances, they just didn't generate enough offense to win this one. The Pens had some good chances and a good looking power play. They deserved to win this game.

Who scored?
Gonchar (4), Cooke (6), Dupuis (8)

Any surprises?
I saw two:
  • When the Habs had the tying goal waved off during the third (because Chris Lee lost sight of the puck), the fans started crying booing. They were still booing when the game ended.
  • More silly Canadiens - they somehow decided that Price was deserving of the second star. I'm not sure if they were watching him muff the game winning goal on a long slap shot. That didn't seem very star-like to me.
Any change in the standings?
Yep - The Pens are back on top of the Atlantic.
Division: 1st (tied with New Jersey)
Conference: 2nd (1 point behind Washington, tied with New Jersey)
League: 3rd (1 point behind San Jose and Washington)

Who's next?
Saturday night date at home with those nasty, nasty Kitties.

Notes:
  • Horrible night on the faceoffs for the Pens. Sid was 13-13, but everyone else was a combined 9-24. Not good.
  • No points for Sid or Geno. I wonder when the last victory was for the Pens when they both played and didn't score...
  • It's nice that the fans in Montreal are enthusiastic, but they sure can be annoying sometimes.

Game #32 - at Montreal Canadiens

Game 32
Penguins (20-10-1, 41 pts) at Canadiens (15-14-2, 32 pts)

Why does it matter?
The Pens have lost two in a row and are in danger of slipping into another slump. The opponent isn't as important tonight as the result.

What has been happening lately?
  • Pens - A disappointing early effort led to a loss against the Canes.
  • Canadiens - The Habs are hot, having won three in a row and only allowing one goal in each.
Questions to be answered
  • Can the Habs stay hot? Despite their 28 shot debacle against Philly (there were 28 shots total in the entire game), they've been badly out shot against Boston and Ottawa.
  • Can the PK stay hot for the Habs? Again, against Boston and Ottawa, they killed off 7 penalties in each game.
  • I'm still looking for a shut out from a Pens goalie. Can they get one? (this question is staying here until they do)
Keys to the game
  • Don't get too excited by the recent success by the Habs. It looks to be more of a hot goalie (or goalies) than good play by the team.
  • Keep the Habs off of the power play. They don't draw many, but they convert when they do.
  • Play your game. Despite the recent losing, if the Pens stay solid with their play and don't start out slowly, they'll be fine.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Hurricanes 3, Penguins 2

So what happened?
A slow start plagued the Pens tonight, along with some poor early goaltending by Marc-Andre Fleury. The Canes took advantage and jumped to a 3-0 lead. The Pens stormed back and made it 3-2 when Tim Gleason deflected an attempt into a wide open net by Bill Guerin. The Pens had a few more chances, but none as good as that one.

Who scored?
Crosby (20), Rupp (9)

Any surprises?
Legace, despite the two Pens' goals, played better than I thought he would.

Any change in the standings?
Yep - Washington won and so did Jersey.
Division: 1st (tied with New Jersey)
Conference: 2nd (3 points behind Washington)
League: 3rd (2 points behind San Jose)

Who's next?
It's off to Montreal on Thursday night.

Notes:
  • HCDB played Godard tonight despite the excellent performance by Letestu on Saturday. Godard only played 2:28 - I think I would rather have seen Letestu
  • Only two shifts for Talbot in the third. Was he a victim of shortening the bench?
  • It looked like Guerin knew he was in trouble in the fight, so he took Gleason to the ice. It looked good.

Game #31 - vs Carolina Hurricanes

Game 31
Hurricanes (6-17-5, 17 pts) at Penguins (20-9-1, 41 pts)


Mellon Arena - Pittsburgh

Why does it matter?
In name only, this is a rematch of the Eastern Conference Finals from last season. In reality, Carolina has been horrible so far this year. I think it matters only in that it would be good to rebound from Saturday night with a win, and it will be a challenge to get the motor going the same way against Carolina.

What has been happening lately?
  • Pens - Saturday night against the Blackhawks was a great hockey game, but the Pens weren't able to capitalize on several golden chances and only earned one point.
  • Hurricanes - The Canes finally earned a win after a 5 game skid on Saturday, thanks in large part to the hat trick by Erik Cole. That isn't likely to happen again, as every time Cole gets near Orpik, he seems to be obsessed with beating up Brooks and nothing else.
Questions to be answered
  • Can the Pens get up for this game?
  • Can the Canes win their first of the season on the road? Seriously - they don't have a road win yet in 13 games.
  • I'm still looking for a shut out from a Pens goalie. Can they get one? (this question is staying here until they do)
Keys to the game
  • Don't overlook the Canes. Staal is dangerous and Legace has been excellent against the Pens.
  • Pick on Brind'Amour's line. Yes, he's excellent on the draw, but he is a -19 on the season. That's really bad.
  • Every regular on the team, except Scott Walker, is a minus player so far. That's really, really bad (like 05-06 Penguins bad).

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Blackhawks 2, Penguins 1 (OT)

So what happened?
The Pens took their first OT loss of the season. The Blackhawks had some chances, but the Pens had more of them (and better ones, I think). The Pens just couldn't capitalize on those chances due to bad bounces, bad goal posts and good goaltending by Niemi. Fleury made some great saves to keep the score at 1-0. Letestu played a great game, winning the key face off that allowed the Pens to tie the score late in the third.

Who scored?
Staal (8)

Any surprises?
I thought for a while that this would be the best offensive performance that ended in a shut out that I'd ever seen. After scoring the goal late in the third, I'm most surprised that the Pens didn't win.

Any change in the standings?
Yep - Washington won while the Pens lost in OT, so the Pens fall back to 2nd in the East.
Division: 1st (2 points ahead of New Jersey)
Conference: 2nd (1 point behind Washington)
League: 3rd (1 point behind Washington)

Who's next?
Carolina on Monday night in a rematch of the Eastern Conference Finals from last year. Too bad Carolina has been horrible so far this year.

Notes:
  • The Blackhawks have something the Pens don't - a third superstar signed long term. Of course, you couldn't ever get me to trade Sid and Geno for Kane and Toews.
  • Speaking of Sid, wouldn't you have loved to see him in the game?
  • Blech - this was a winnable game if they were able to capitalize on a few bouces.

Game #30 - vs Chicago Blackhawks

Game 29
Blackhawks (17-7-3, 37 pts) at Penguins (20-9-0, 40 pts)


Mellon Arena - Pittsburgh


The Blackhawks are excellent because they have depth and talent across their lines and on the blue line. Ladd and Seabrook are good examples of that.

Why does it matter?

Do you need anyone to tell you? The Hawks are one of the top teams in the West. They play an exciting style of hockey. They have young superstars. If the Pens played them more often, they'd be a huge rival.

What has been happening lately?
  • Pens - Eight wins in ten games have put the Pens back on track. Sid is on fire right now and Geno just had a three point night.
  • Blackhawks - The Blackhawks are slumping ever so slightly right now, having lost three out of four. That includes a home loss last night to Nashville.
Questions to be answered
  • Will we see Huet or Niemi? Niemi has better numbers, albeit on a smaller scale. Huet played last night, but he has played back-to-back this year.
  • Can the Pens use offensive zone possession to take advantage of tired legs? The Blackhawks were in Chicago last night.
  • I'm still looking for a shut out from a Pens goalie. Can they get one? (this question is staying here until they do)
Keys to the game
  • Execution on special teams - the Blackhawks don't draw many penalties and don't take many either. That magnifies the importance of the chance that present themselves.
  • Match ups - get the right players on the ice against Kane and Toews.
  • Hossa - you know, he made a choice and it went badly for him. Maybe it's time to ease off? Naaahhh! Boo him some more!

Friday, December 04, 2009

Penguins 4, Avalanche 1

So what happened?
Two more goals were scored with an empty net in an Avalanche game, but this time they weren't scored by the Avs. The Pens used a power play goal to gain the lead and then put it away when Budaj vacated the net. Don't look now, but Sid has 19 goals on the season and the power play was able to get a huge goal.

Who scored?
Crosby (18,19), Guerin (7), Staal (7)

Any surprises?
The Pens held the Avalanche to just 16 shots, but that's not the surprise. The surprise is that it wasn't their best total of the season. The best was 15 shots allowed in a 2-1 loss to Minnesota.

Any change in the standings?
No, but the Pens are pulling further ahead of Jersey in the division.
Division: 1st (5 points ahead of New Jersey)
Conference: 1st (tied with Washington)
League: 2nd (3 points behind San Jose)

Who's next?
Hossa (and Toews and Kane) visit the Igloo for a big Saturday night game.

Notes:
  • Budaj was pretty good last night.
  • The power play scored when it mattered. That's huge.
  • Out shooting the Avalanche 15-1 in the third was also huge.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Game #29 - vs Colorado Avalanche

Game 29
Avalanche (15-8-6, 36 pts) at Penguins (19-9-0, 38 pts)


Mellon Arena - Pittsburgh

Why does it matter?
The Avs have been tough in the early going this year, hanging near the top of the standings in the NHL. They are a good test for the Pens.

What has been happening lately?
  • Pens - The Pens just completed a two game sweep of the Rangers, out scoring them 13-5 over two games.
  • Avalanche - Other than their furious comeback in their shoot out loss to the Panthers last night (scored twice in the last 60 seconds), the Avs have struggled lately. Their high water mark was 10-1-2 back on October 28th. They're just 5-7-4 since then.
Questions to be answered
  • The Pens are just 4-4 against the Western Conference. Can they improve on that record?
  • There's no chance the Pens are looking past the Avs to the game with the Blackhawks on Saturday, right?
  • I'm still looking for a shut out from a Pens goalie. Can they get one?
Keys to the game
  • The biggest key may be that Craig Anderson played last night, and thus may not play against the Pens. That's huge, because Anderson has been strong against the Pens over the last two seasons in three games.
  • Injuries have hurt the Avs - they're missing both Hejduk and Jones, which means they're without two of their top three goal scorers. Hejduk may play tonight.
  • Keep the Avs off of the power play - they're 4-14 over their past four games.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Penguins 5, Rangers 2

So what happened?
The score should have read "Penguins 5, Gaborik 2". There wasn't as much nonsense as you thought, but Mike Rupp referred directly to that in his interview after the game, saying that Avery laid low tonight. Could Sean Avery be scared of the big boys? Anyway, the game itself was somewhat similar to Saturday in that it was close until the third when the Pens pulled away.

Who scored?
Crosby (16,17), Rupp (6,7,8)

Any surprises?
Four words - Mike Rupp hat trick. Watching Sid give up the puck to Rupp with the empty net yawning was a nice sight (even though they were still in the defensive zone). Both players were going for the hat trick.

Any change in the standings?
No change - both San Jose and Washington won.
Division: 1st (3 points ahead of New Jersey)
Conference: 1st (tied with Washington)
League: 2nd (2 points behind San Jose)

Who's next?
Colorado comes to the Igloo to kick off a home stand on Thursday.

Notes:
  • Valiquette Lundqvist seemed to fall apart in the third, didn't he?
  • Sid quietly scored another two goals. He's really coming on strong again.
  • Gaborik is pretty special, but he seems to get distracted when someone pops him, whereas Sid gets better when teams get physical with him.

Game #28 - at New York Rangers

Game 28
Penguins (18-9-0, 36 pts) at Rangers (13-12-1, 27 pts)

Why does it matter?
The Pens just plastered the Rangers on Saturday, while Matt Cooke drew a two game suspension for a hit on Anisimov. Those two factors will make the Rangers especially chippy tonight.

What has been happening lately?
  • Pens - After starting out 7-0 on the road, the Pens are just 2-5 in their past 7 road games. The team has been generally playing well lately, however.
  • Rangers - Things are pretty bleak for the Rangers. They were out scored 13-4 in their past two games. Maybe some home cooking will be the remedy that cures their ills.
Questions to be answered
  • Can the Pens avoid the cheap shots that are sure to come from the likes of Brashear, Voros and (especially) Avery?
  • Which offense will show up - the one that looked bad on Friday night or the one that dominated on Saturday night?
  • Can the Pens break their string of poor play at MSG?
Keys to the game
  • Don't get wrapped up in the nonsense from Avery and Brashear. The Pens are usually pretty good at channeling emotion into their game and working harder (specifically Sid).
  • Find a way to control Gaborik. He has 19 goals in just 22 games, which is an incredible pace in the league today.
  • Stay away from the shootout - Lundqvist has won both SO games this year.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Penguins 8, Rangers 3

So what happened?
It was a Saturday night party at the Igloo as the Pens pulled away from the Rangers in the third period to blow them out. Sid had the hat trick (and five points). Letang and Goligoski returned. The power play had it's first multi-goal game since before Halloween. In short, things couldn't be better right now. This team is nearing full strength, and that's a great thing.

Who scored?
Malkin (8), Crosby (13,14,15), Talbot (1), Eaton (3), Dupuis (7), Kennedy (6)

Any surprises?
The obvious one would be the power play with two goals, but I think the bigger surprise is how well everyone has fit back into the lineup. If they get Kunitz and McKee back anytime soon and avoid further key injuries, this will be a fun team to watch.

Any change in the standings?
Division: 1st (1 point ahead of New Jersey)
Conference: 1st (tied with Washington)
League: 2nd (2 points behind San Jose)

Who's next?
The Rangers get a shot at revenge on Monday night.

Notes:
  • Valiquette seemed to fall apart in the third, didn't he?
  • Nice to see both GoGo and Letang with two points on their return.
  • Fleury made some key saves while the outcome was still in doubt. He also somehow allowed Marc Staal's goal in the first. I'm still not sure how that happened.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Game #27 - vs New York Rangers

Game 27
Rangers (13-11-1, 27 pts) at Penguins (17-9-0, 3 pts)


Mellon Arena - Pittsburgh

Why does it matter?
The Pens just gave away two points in the division against the Isles. They are just 3-3 against the Atlantic. That needs to change.

What has been happening lately?
  • Pens - The Pens looked like they were going on a nice run before getting out worked against the Isles. Maybe it will be a wake up call?
  • Rangers - The Rangers were pasted last night by Tampa Bay. King Henrik was pulled from the game.
Questions to be answered
  • Will the effort be better for a Saturday night game? It needs to be.
  • Can the Pens get to Lundqvist?
  • Can Fleury shut down the Rangers? It would be a nice time for the first shutout of the year.
Keys to the game
  • Take advantage of tired bodies. The Rangers will be coming in from Tampa Bay late on Friday. The Pens could be sitting at home in time to watch them.
  • Find a way to control Gaborik. He has 19 goals in just 22 games, which is an incredible pace in the league today.
  • Stay away from the shootout - Lundqvist has won both SO games this year.

Islanders 3, Penguins 2

So what happened?
The Pens were out worked, especially during the third period when they were out shot 18-5. It was a disappointing effort for the Pens, who lacked any appearance of urgency once the Isles took the lead in the third. Brent Johnson played well for the most part and made several key saves in helping the Pens to the lead after two periods.

Who scored?
Malkin (7), Cooke (5)

Any surprises?
It was surprising that the Pens were dominated during the third period. You know that can't make HCDB happy.

Any change in the standings?
It remains to be seen, depending on the outcome of the Chicago game.

Who's next?
The Rangers visit the Igloo for a Saturday night engagement.

Notes:
  • The power play was unable to score during an extended attempt that included about a minute of 5-on-3. Maybe getting GoGo or Letang back will help. Maybe the intervention of a minor deity would be more effective.
  • This was the second game the Pens lost this year when leading after two periods.

Game #26 - at New York Islanders

Game 26
Penguins (17-8-0, 34 pts) at Islanders (9-9-7, 25 pts)

Why does it matter?
Long Island always seems to be a tough place for the Pens to play. It's a division game that they should win.

What has been happening lately?
  • Pens - The Pens have been cranking up the level of play slowly but surely. They're still missing a few guys, but once everyone returns, this could be an interesting team to watch.
  • Islanders - Inconsistent play has marred the season for the Isles. They are showing promise, however.
Questions to be answered
  • Is Tavares for real? He is averaging almost a point per game.
  • More interestingly, is Matt Moulson for real? Did anyone see him scoring 11 goals in the first 25 games?
  • Can the Pens avoid the letdown loss?
Keys to the game
  • The Isles have lost 7 games in OT so far. They're playing lots of close games, so it's important to focus on the little things.
  • Go after Brendan Witt - he's a -12 and playing less than 16 minutes per game.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Penguins 3, Canadiens 1

So what happened?
It was a nice home effort for the Pens. They made the game a bit interesting for the later part of the third, but the game was well controlled by the Pens.

Who scored?
Crosby (12), Guerin (6), Gonchar (3)

Any surprises?
Everyone played at least 9 minutes, which is unusual for this team even with Bylsma's tendency to roll four lines. That bodes well for a busy weekend.

Any change in the standings?
No, but that's a good thing:
Division: 1st (three points ahead of New Jersey)
Conference: 1st (tied with Washington)
League: 2nd (tied with Chicago and Washington)

Who's next?
Long Island. Friday. 2:00 pm.

Notes:
  • Price made some key saves to keep his team within striking distance. He probably shouldn't have allowed two of the goals that he did, however.
  • Fleury's save on O'Byrne was nice to see, but the guy just about shot the puck into his glove. Give Flower credit, however, for being in the right place to make that save - he didn't fling himself back across the crease.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Game #25 - vs Montreal Canadiens

Game 25
Canadiens (12-11-1, 25 pts) at Penguins (16-8-0, 32 pts)


Mellon Arena - Pittsburgh

Why does it matter?
It's the Canadiens. Their fans are annoying (though enthusiastic - you have to give them that). Do you need a better reason?

What has been happening lately?
  • Pens - They've won four out of five very quietly. The power play has goals in four straight. Maybe a nice run coming on?
  • Canadiens - The Habs have won three of their past four and Carey Price is playing much better than earlier in the year.
Questions to be answered
  • Is the power play getting better? With goals in four straight, you might think so, but I'm not so sure.
  • Can Carey Price stay hot?
  • Can the Habs keep winning despite badly out shot as they have been recently?
Keys to the game
  • Score early and put pressure on Price.
  • Pick on Mara when he's on the ice. Paul is a -8 on the season.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Penguins 3, Panthers 2

So what happened?
The Pens floundered through two periods, entering the third down 2-0. They finally managed to break through by sheer perseverance in the third. They tied the score after holding the puck in the offensive zone for what seemed like forever (it was probably about 2 minutes straight), resulting in a great feed from Malkin to Rupp right in front. After a penalty to Horton in OT, the Pens put the Panthers out of their misery when Sid banged home a rebound. It was a great, gutsy win.

Who scored?
Dupuis (6), Rupp (5), Crosby (11)

Any surprises?
My biggest surprise was feeling that it was inevitable that the Pens would score on the power play in OT. Given how their power play has performed lately, I can't say why that feeling was there.

Any change in the standings?
Yep - Washington lost in OT, so:
Division: 1st (three points ahead of New Jersey)
Conference: 1st (tied with Washington)
League: 2nd (tied with Chicago and Washington)

Who's next?
Those silly Frenchmen are back to the Igloo on Wednesday. The Habs come to town too.

Notes:
  • Lovejoy continues to impress with his skating.
  • Did Chris Borque play tonight? I checked the minutes - he played just over 9 of them - I can't remember seeing him on the ice.
  • Vokoun is playing really well right now.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Game #24 - at Florida Panthers

Game 24
Penguins (15-8-0, 30 pts) at Panthers (10-9-2, 22 pts)

Why does it matter?
The Panthers are always a tough road game for the Pens. Florida is usually a tough place for them to play. Getting two points out of the Swamp would be nice.

What has been happening lately?
  • Pens - The Pens had a much better effort against Atlanta than they did against Ottawa.
  • Panthers - The Cats are red hot after winning five of their past 6. They went on the road and beat three good teams (Buffalo, Detroit and the Rangers).
Questions to be answered
  • Can anyone cool off the Panthers right now?
  • Can the Panthers keep winning despite their relatively poor special teams? They do have a few power play goals lately, but they're not drawing many chances. Their PK isn't killing the chances against them very well either.
  • Which Penguins team will show up - the one from the Ottawa game or the one from the Atlanta game?
Keys to the game
  • The Panthers are strong down the middle and have a solid blue line. None of their top 4 D are a minus on the year. Finding a way to score at even strength and play the match ups will be key.
  • Get on the power play - the Panthers PK is suspect, but that is mitigated by the fact that they haven't taken many penalties lately.
  • Hope Vokoun has an off night - his save percentage is an amazing .923.

Penguins 3, Thrashers 2

So what happened?
Timely scoring and timely saves by Fleury. This was a good offensive team the Pens stopped.

Who scored?
Skoula (2,3), Malkin (6)

Any surprises?
The Pens allowing a two-on-one leading by three goals with about 10 minutes left in the game. It almost cost them, and it shouldn't happen.

Any change in the standings?
Yep - the Devils lost in Dallas, so:
Division: 1st (one point ahead of New Jersey)
Conference: 2nd (one point behind Washington)
League: 3rd (tied with Chicago)

Who's next?
Into the swamp on Monday night to face those nasty Kitty Cats.

Notes:
  • A power play goal by the second unit is huge.
  • Orpik returned tonight. Now all we need is Letang and Goligoski and this team will be unstoppable (McKee would be nice too).
  • This could have been 8-0 by the third period - the Moose played really well.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Game #23 - at Atlanta Thrashers

Game 23
Penguins (14-8-0, 28 pts) at Thrashers (10-6-2, 22 pts)

Why does it matter?
This has a chance to be a carbon copy of Thursday night, except that the Thrashers have more firepower.

Questions to be answered
  • The Thrashers give up their fair share of shots. Can the Pens take advantage? They seemed to be squeezing the sticks pretty tightly on Thursday.
  • Anyone else going to get hurt now that we're starting to see guys come back?
  • Can the Pens kill penalties and limit the chances of the Thrashers?
Keys to the game
  • The Thrashers have scored at last three goals in all but two games this year. That's incredibly consistent.
  • Stay out of the box - the Thrashers have power play goals in four straight.
  • Kovalchuk is still a punk.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Senators 6, Penguins 2

So what happened?
The Pens had some key chances early and couldn't covert. The power play also was unable to come through when it mattered (the power play goal they scored was after the game was decided). Fleury didn't play very well either - he was screened on a few shots, but there were a few that had no business going in.

Who scored?
Staal (6), Malkin (5)

Any surprises?
I thought the less experienced D were exposed a bit tonight. Engelland was a -4, and the Sens were able to keep the puck in the zone for extended stretches. The surprise was that a Kovalev line was able to cycle and dominate. I didn't know that Kovie still had that much fire.

Any change in the standings?
Yep - the Devils lost in a shoot out, so:
Division: 2nd (one point behind New Jersey)
Conference: 3rd
League: 5th (tied with Los Angeles)

Who's next?
At Atlanta on Saturday night. The Thrashers have been decent so far this year.

Notes:
  • The power play is becoming a serious issue for the Pens (they have just 2 power play goals in their past 10 games). Hopefully Gonchar getting used to game action again will improve that.
  • Despite Gonchar returning, the Pens still were missing 4 of their top 6 guys on the blue line. That's going to take a toll, and we saw that tonight.
  • These games will happen sometimes. Tomorrow is another day.

Game #22 - at Ottawa Senators

Game 22
Penguins (14-7-0, 28 pts) at Senators (9-6-3, 21 pts)


Scotiabank Place

Why does it matter?
The Sens would have to be considered one of the surprises of the season so far. The Pens want to continue to build on their recent success.

Questions to be answered
  • Can either team generate some consistent offense? Both teams have struggled for shots. The Pens have had a rough go of that lately, while the Sens haven't been able to get it going consistently all year.
  • Will Sarge be able to get back and help the power play right out of the gate?
  • The Sens do not draw many penalties. Can the Pens stay out of the box?
Keys to the game
  • Hope Spezza continues to struggle. He's a Penguin killer.
  • Leclaire has been inconsistent. Much of the Sens success will be tied to his performance.
  • Ignore Ruutu.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Penguins 5, Ducks 2

So what happened?
You never want to say it was an easy game, but the last time the Pens had one this easy was against the Habs before Halloween. The Ducks were anxious to self-destruct tonight with bad penalties and worse turnovers. The Pens were willing to let do it. Both teams had some great scoring chances, but the Pens had the better ones in that they finished theirs.

Who scored?
Cooke (3,4), Guerin (5), Staal (5), Skoula (1)

Any surprises?
The young defensemen from Wilkes-Barre really acquitted themselves well. Lovejoy played big minutes on the power play while Engelland and Guenin were solid. Sure is nice to confirm that the Pens have some depth.

Any change in the standings?
Yep - the Devils lost to the Flyers, so:
Division: 1st (tied with New Jersey)
Conference: 1st (tied with New Jersey and Washington)
League: 2nd (tied with New Jersey, Washington and Los Angeles)

Who's next?
On the road for three straight, starting with Ottawa on Thursday.

Notes:
  • Giguere really looked bad early on, but he recovered to hold the fort for a little while until the Pens broke it open in the third.
  • When your three stars are Staal, Cooke and Engelland, you know it's a good night for the role players.
  • The Ducks could be pretty good if they could stay out of their own way.
  • Getzlaf would drive me nutty if he played here with all of the stick infractions. There's no reason to take dumb penalties like that.
  • After the early 2-0 lead, the Pens seemed to step it down a notch, allowing the shorty to Marchant and giving the Ducks some hope.