Friday, January 30, 2009

Devils 4, Penguins 3 (OT)

This one made me ill.

The Pens had the lead, 3-1, with 10 minutes left in the game. Sid and Geno both scored, and Talbot had redirected a Ryan Whitney blast. The Devils scored when a pretty obvious high-stick penalty was ignored, Whit checked his head momentarily and Holik walked out in front of Flower alone. Way to go, completely clueless zebras (Part 1).

With about 8:00 left, Sykora took a one-handed hooking call. Maybe it was weak, maybe not. Petr said something to the ref, which again was unnecessary, but does the ref have to make the game about himself at that point? Over a few words? It wasn't like Petr was demonstrative or showed him up to the crowd. Way to go, completely clueless zebras (Part 2).

The Devils took about half of a second to score on a slapper by Grandpa Shanahan.

All was still okay, until a completely flukey goal by the Devils with just over 30 seconds left. The puck deflected off of Whitney's skate, tying the game and sending it to OT.

The Pens were horrible in OT. They couldn't get the puck out of their own end, and when they did, all they could do was dump it and go to the bench so the Devils could wind it up again. What could happen did happen, and the Devils put the Pens out of their misery.

Fleury played a good game. He kept the Pens in front most of the game despite being badly outshot (43-16 for the whole game). The Pens played a great road game and just had a few unfortunate bounces. It still makes me ill.

Bobby Holik is a thug, by the way, and I can't wait for him to be out of the league. Fortunately, he's pretty old, so the wait won't be that long.

Next up: No time to lick the wounds, because there's a game tomorrow night in Toronto.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Penguins 6, Rangers 2

Can you think of a better way to begin the second half of the season?

The Pens weren't exactly dominant, and King Henrik certainly wasn't great, but the two points went to the guys in black.

Right off the opening whistle, Godard obliged Colton Orr with that fight he was begging for. Orr took the worse of it too when Godard pulled a Fedotenko and knocked Orr down a well placed punch to the chin. Fortunately, Eric didn't complete the full Fedotenko by keeping his hand from breaking.

This was a tight game until the third period, when the Rangers finally took some penalties and the Pens suddenly found their offense. There were 5 goals notched by the Pens in the third, which I'm pretty sure is the high water mark for one period this season.

The Pens managed a power play goal from Sykora, two from Letang, one from Staal and a sick backhand shot from Crosby. If you've been wondering why Sid tries those backhanders all the time, you saw the reason tonight. He completely caught Lundqvist by surprise and picked the top corner with his back turned to the net. Just an amazing shot.

Lundqvist didn't look very good in parts of the All Star weekend, and that continued tonight. He made a few big saves, but he wasn't able to make the few that mattered.

It feels like the team is finally getting healthy. The third and fourth lines weren't all Wilkes-Barre players tonight, and that figures to move a bit more in that direction when Cooke returns on Saturday.

Gonchar is skating again and could be cleared to practice soon. Given that the team already has 8 NHL defensemen prior to Gonchar's return, what do you suppose they'll do? I think they keep them all, and maybe send Goligoski down (even though I think he deserves to be here). They need the depth given the injuries that have stung them this year.

Next up: Three straight away from the Igloo, beginning with Friday night in Jersey.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A moment of levity before we begin

The stretch run starts on Wednesday against the Rangers. Today, here's a bit of humor.

If you're a music geek (like I am) then this is really funny. If you into music as part of your professional life, then it only gets funnier.

Why don't we just say this guy has an issue with Pachelbel's Canon in D?

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Versus needs some competition

The 2008-09 All Star Skills competition was on last night. The stars put on a decent show. The television broadcast? No so much.

Just to recognize a few of the nice things they did, here are the highlights from my perspective:
  • The interview with Geno was nice. Kudos to Malkin for stepping up to the mic when it had to be tough for him.
  • The camera angles that they had were decent, and when they managed to capture the event, it didn't look bad.
  • Someone was psychic in putting a microphone on Marc Savard, who made the finals of the elimination shootout contest. He was entertaining, and it was fortunate he made it to the finals, or he would have left the ice as everyone else did when they missed.
Now the bad:
  • How many attempts did we flat out miss because they were show a replay, or worse yet, showing a player on the bench WHILE THE EVENT WAS GOING ON??? I've never witnessed such poor production work on a professional event.
  • Even when they had the event covered live, the camera they used was the wrong one. I'm thinking specifically of Patrick Kane's trick shot where he used the handle of the stick instead of the blade. It would have been nice to have a good angle of him doing that, instead of a view from ice level, where you couldn't really tell what he was doing.
  • When the announcers were talking about the flex in the stick blade on the hardest shot competition, wouldn't it have been nice to have a slow motion replay that actually showed the thing slowly enough to see the stick flex? CBS has those nice super slow motion cameras for the NFL. I'm sure they're expensive. I don't care. Buy one and use it. Hockey happens so fast that slowing it down on replay can only increase the appreciation among the casual fans.
  • When you're showing the Young Stars game, and there is a developing 2-on-1, DON'T CUT AWAY. They did this a few times, and it was really frustrating to watch. I know that game is all offense, but we want to see guys perform some fancy passing and shooting, not an interview with Jay Boumeester (seriously - he really didn't seem to want to talk, because no one is that bad on an interview intentionally).

I think that's enough bashing for today.

Was the trick shot competition a bit of a letdown to anyone else? Some of the guys pulled off really sick moves (Getzalf especially). Some others (Ovechkin) were a letdown. Using the props were cute, but why use two sticks if you're not going to really do anything with them? Not much skill and a bunch of show that wasn't all that exciting.

I'd say let's hope the All Star Game today will make up for it, but I seriously doubt that it will.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Penguins 3, Rangers 0

Suddenly, when you look at the recent results for the Pens, they've won three of their past four games and have a chance to go into the All Star break on a strong note with a win on Tuesday.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The game today was excellent. If you had said prior to the game that
  • The Pens would face King Henrik
  • Neither Crosby nor Malkin would record a point
  • Sykora would get less ice time at even strength than anyone on the team
I would have told you that the Pens would be in trouble.

Instead, it was another great team effort with everyone doing their part and the team relying on each other.

Minard scored his first of the season. I think he has the chance to hang around on this team if he starts putting the puck in the net. He's a good goal scorer, and the Pens could certainly use that on their lower lines.

Kennedy and Sykora both scored as well, Petr on the power play on a great pass from Ryan Whitney. The replay showed pretty clearly how Sykora got behind the D and pointed / motioned to Whit for the stretch pass. It worked to perfection, and Sykora beat Lundqvist to the short side.

As Whitney said after the game, the team just put the 1-2-2 trap in place before the Philly game, and it has paid immediate dividends. I think having the Wilkes-Barre guys here, essentially filling two lines, has helped that adjustment. They're used to playing the system down on the farm.

Next up: The aforementioned huge game on Tuesday against the Hurricanes.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Pens acquire G Mathieu Garon

The Pens acquired goalie Mathieu Garon from the Edmonton Oilers today in exchange for G Dany Sabourin, F Ryan Stone and a 4th round pick in the 2011 draft.

Garon was brought in to be the backup to Fleury. I'm not sure why they made the move, other than the fact that they like Garon more than Sabu. Both players are unrestricted free agents after the season, and Garon costs about double what Sabu costs.

Garon is a bit smaller than Sabu, and is an excellent shootout goalie. He was the best in the NHL last year, stopping 30 of 32 skaters and going 10-0 in shootouts. He was the starter last year for Edmonton, but hasn't played well this year on a consistent basis.

Ryan Stone joins the list of players inherited by GM Ray Shero that were never able to find their niche here in Pittsburgh (Filewich and Carcillo to a lesser degree).

Good luck to both Sabu and Stone in their new uniforms. Here's hoping Garon can provide some capable starts behind Flower.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Penguins 3, Ducks 1

Great effort by the Pens tonight. They benefited from some lucky bounces (say "Thank You, Hockey Gods" from Matt Cooke) and played some nice team defense. This was probably unexpected, given that the third and fourth line were straight out of Wilkes-Barre (other than Godard).

The effort from the PK was especially good. The Ducks scored on their first chance with the man advantage, cutting Matt Cooke's the Penguins lead to 2-1. The Ducks were gifted with three more chances, and three times the Pens killed those chances. Bill Thomas and Dustin Jeffrey both played important minutes on the PK in the third period, and both came up huge.

The Pens parade to the IR continued when Brooks Orpik left the game. No word on what his injury might be, but Ryan Whitney came up huge, playing almost 30 minutes with extended time on both the PP and PK.

All of the forwards played well. Everyone seemed to keep their game simple, except for Geno a few times (and who would begrudge him that?) One in particular to point out was Chris Minard. He isn't the fastest skater out there, but if you contribute 5 shots on goal and 4 hits per night, you'll earn some time in the NHL. I hope he can stick and contribute while the Pens are down a few guys.

Fleury was also great when he needed to be. He didn't let in anything unusual and kept his game simple as well.

It would have been nice to see Cooke get the HT. Geno and Petr tried like heck to get him the puck with the empty net. They just couldn't pull it off.

Great win for the Pens. Hopefully one to build on for Sunday.

Next up: Blueshirt Alert! The Rangers are invading the Igloo on Sunday at 12:30 for a national NBC broadcast.

Injury update

No Crosby tonight. Thomas and Pesonen back up to the big club on the Wilkes-Barre carousel.

What? There were games this week?

Yeah, I missed both Tuesday and Wednesday due to traveling. I wish I could have seen the Tuesday game, but I'm glad I didn't have to watch O-Face celebrate hitting the lottery scoring a goal in a hockey game. That gets a bit old.

The Pens play tonight, and have hopefully turned a corner. Just hope the injuries aren't too bad. They obviously can't replace Crosby.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Avalanche 5, Penguins 3

What can we say that hasn't been said? The team continues to struggle.

The Pens didn't play horribly, but they also didn't play well.

They were unable to generate any consistent offense. I think their 5 on 5 performance during this run has been pretty poor.

The goaltending was pretty bad. Sabu allowed 4 through two periods. He probably should have stopped a few of those.

The other thing is that this team is really shorthanded right now. Think about their lines tonight. The first line started out as Sid, Geno and Sykora. The only other top 9 forwards not in the dog house were Staal, Cooke, Kennedy and Talbot. You had Godard, Satan (in the aforementioned dog house) plus an entire Wilkes-Barre contingent (Minard, Wallace and Jeffrey).

I still think Therrien is the coach for this team. Just as the long winning / point streaks the past two years were contagious, the losing has become the same. They need to fight through this and find a way to break out of it.

Next up: A few nights to think about a matchup at Philly on Tuesday. Better bring your "A" game there.

Predators 5, Penguins 3

I still don't want to think about this game.

It was horrible to watch them build a 3-0 lead and then allow five unanswered.

So, I'm not going to spend any time thinking about it, seeing as how they play in Colorado in under four hours.

So instead, here's a look at the weather outside the house this morning.

Oh the weather outside is frightful...

That's about 6" of snow, with another 6" on the way. Woo hoo!

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Penguins 3, Thrashers 1


Seems like forever since the Pens put some pucks in the net, much less won a game.

This wasn't an easy game for the Pens by any measure, not so much because of any pressure by the Thrashers (though they applied some late), but because it started much like other recent games.

The first period was all Penguins. They out shot the Thrashers 15-4 and had numerous golden scoring chances. They just couldn't convert on anything (sound familiar?) until... Petr Sykora deflected a great pass from the point by Ryan Whitney behind Lehtonen. There was a palpable sense of relief. It was kind of like the diving Crosby goal a few seasons back on a pass from Recchi (I think it was a game against Tampa) - everyone was estatic.

The second saw a bunch of skating with not much shooting until the second half of the period, when Sykora put a backhander behind the Atlanta netminder. Just a few minutes later, faster than you could say December 18th, the Pens had notched another power play goal when Sid deflected a Geno bomb from the point. If you're clueless as to what I mean by December 18th, it's the last time the Pens had more than one power play goal in a game.

The Thrashers turned the third period into a bit of a shooting gallery, and cut the lead to two. They then reminded us all why they're the worst team in hockey by not generating much pressure on a power play chance with less than 4:00 in the game, and by taking a penalty in the offensive zone with less than 1:00 left and Lehtonen on the bench. Not good for the folks from Atlanta.

Fleury was fantastic tonight. Though the Thrashers didn't generate any sustained pressure until the third, he was able to make several key stops, including both Kovalchuk and Williams at point blank range.

Speaking of Kovalchuk, he took an early cheap elbow shot at Malkin from behind in open ice. In the third, when Valabik flattened Crosby and then wouldn't fight Godard, the first thing on my To Do list if I were, say, Matt Cooke, would be to pancake Kovalchuk. It would have discouraged the nonsense with Crosby and made everyone in Pittsburgh smile.

Colby was everywhere in this game. He seemed to take some extra interest in hitting as many Penguins as he could. He and Sid got into it early in the game, with Army taking the penalty. It was announced on TV as "Holding the Stick", but the score sheet shows just "Holding".

Both Fedotenko and Dupuis left the game and did not return. Hopefully both are okay, because the Pens haven't been getting much out of their callups from Wilkes-Barre (though Dustin Jeffrey seems like he might change that).

Wow - lots to write about for this one. Suffice it to say that it was a great win, with great effort for the second game of a back-to-back. Let's hope it leads to more success.

Next up: On the road to Music City to play the Preds.

Monday, January 05, 2009

One thing to be happy about!

The Pitt Panthers are the #1 team in the nation for the first time ever!!

There are two main sports I follow closely in the winter. One is the Pens, and the other is Pitt basketball. It was a long time suffering after Paul Evans left and the era of mediocrity began. I remember the Ralph Williard teams that were pretty bad. The elation that came with Ben Howland, and the pain of never making it past the Sweet 16.

Now Pitt is #1. Congrats!

The article about Pitt becoming #1 on ESPN has one of the dumbest paragraphs I've ever read. When discussing whether the Panthers will have any extra pressure on them being #1, the uncredited author wrote:
With the Steelers playing host to San Diego in the NFL's AFC divisional playoffs on Sunday, they could take some of the pressure off Pitt this week. The Panthers' next game is Sunday against St. John's.
What? How does an NFL game have anything to do with college basketball? If I'm Sam Young, am I thinking "Gosh, it's really nice that the Steelers have all the public attention, because I might feel REALLY pressured otherwise" ??!!??

No wonder there's no byline.

Rangers 4, Penguins 0

The slump continued tonight as the Rangers blanked the Pens, 4-0.

I'd like to say the Pens gave a good effort, but after an early burst when they hit a few posts on the power play, there wasn't much there. They managed just 7 shots in the third period when they really needed to open it up and just go for it.

Didn't you know the game was over when the Pens didn't score on the two man advantage early in the first? They had the table set for them and just couldn't get one behind Lundqvist. They hit three posts (I think). The frustration just built from there.

A few notes:
  • Versus sucks. They had no idea what was being reviewed in the first. If I have to hear Beninati say "No worries" one more time, I may scream.
  • Speaking of sucking - the power play - 0-forever.
  • Fleury wasn't bad. He didn't win the game, but he didn't lose it either.
  • The PK was awful again. The Rangers hadn't scored two power play goals in a game for more than a month. I know the first one was a bad luck deflection, but you have to find a way to stop those.
  • Tyler Kennedy isn't ready yet, or at least he isn't ready for the top line. Put him back on the third line with Cooke and Staal so he can get his legs under him.
  • Sykora, Satan, Fedotenko and Staal COMBINED for one shot on goal.
Things are going to turn around. The team just needs to get a bounce to go their way to get some momentum. Right now they're fighting themselves... and losing.

Next up: A trip back home to play the Thrashers. If they're not going to win, at least have someone plaster Kovalchuk.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Panthers 6, Penguins 1

Every time you think the Pens have hit the bottom of this slump, they find a new way to sink lower. Today was marked by the complete ineffective quality that pervaded everything they tried. Yes, the refs were horrible, but that's not why they lost this game.

The Pens came out with fire, life and intensity in the first period. They didn't get the first goal, as the Panthers weathered the storm, and the Pens were unable to muster any kind of momentum for the rest of the game.

The PK completely fell apart when the game was still in doubt in the second period, and neither goalie was able to stop much of anything.

In case you're not aware, this marks the 10th loss in the last 13 games. The Pens are now on the outside looking in at the playoffs, and they have a losing record at home.

I'm not sure where the team goes from here. I don't know if a coaching change is the right move. I don't think Therrien is the problem, but just as he's changed goalies when a change was needed (not because it was the goaltender's fault), it might be time to shake things up behind the bench.

It seems like most of these guys still care, and you can't really point to anyone and say they're not trying hard. The results just aren't there right now. Given that we've seen the amazing success over the past two regular seasons, you have to think they can turn it around.

Next up: It doesn't get any easier. The Pens play at MSG on Monday night.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Bruins 4, Penguins 2

Much better effort tonight by the Pens, especially in the third period. They found out that effort isn't enough against a good team in their own building.

The Bruins did just enough to get the win. They took advantage of their chances, scored a key power play goal, and kept the Pens off of the board again on special teams.

The Pens did play with desperation for the last 20 minutes, but didn't seem to have that same fire the whole game. To be fair, they were good for the first two periods, and I'm sure it's really tough to keep that effort up for 60 minutes.

The real story of the loss tonight was the power play. There will likely be a Missing Persons report filed soon, because the power play just hasn't be able to do anything. Therrien did finally put two defensemen on the point with Crosby, Malkin and Staal up front later in the game, but that didn't do anything either. They're going to have to work through this with more effort.

The good news is this team is showing that they're willing to put forth the effort.

Congratulations to Dustin Jeffrey on his first NHL goal. They mentioned on the broadcast that he was the first Wilkes-Barre call-up this season to score a goal, which really surprised me.

Next up: A chance to take out their frustrations on the Kitty Cats from Florida on Saturday afternoon. They don't have Olli Jokinen anymore!