Friday, February 27, 2009

Penguins 5, Blackhawks 4 (OT)

Once again the Pens allowed two leads to slip away, including a two goal lead entering the third.

It didn't matter, because the two points wound up with Pittsburgh.

I don't know how they keep doing this, and I don't really care. They found a way to win the game.

As mentioned above, the Pens had a two goal lead entering the third period. There were contributions from across the lineup, with the first four goals coming from Staal, Kunitz, Satan and Talbot. All of them were the result of crashing the net and willing the puck past Huet.

The Hawks stormed back in the third, out shooting the Pens 20-4 and tying the game. That's not a typo, by the way - they really were out shot 20-4.

The saving grace for the Pens tonight was that Versteeg took a bad tripping call on Geno with only 40 seconds left in the third. The penalty stretched to overtime, and with just :02 remaining on the power play, Geno one-timed a Sarge pass into the upper corner of the net. No chance for Niemi, who entered in relief of Huet.

Nice to see the Pens get two points. They sit just one point out of the playoffs, and two points out of the #6 seed.

A few notes:
  • Kunitz played a tough physical game. He played with Staal, and without seeing him with Sid, you almost think his style is better suited to having Staal in the middle.
  • Speaking of Jordan, he played his best game of the year, in my opinion.
  • Toews had the hat trick, all on the power play, and was a -2. Kind of a mixed result, for sure.
  • Fleury was great in the third. He did allow two, but he made several more saves that were spectacular. He earned the Pens the first point.
  • Geno earned the second point, but he certainly didn't dominate the game like he's capable of doing. Look for him to step it up as we head down the stretch.
Next up: On the road to Dallas for a Sunday afternoon game.


In case you were wondering (I know I was), Ryan Whitney's first game as a member of the Ducks:
  • No points
  • Even +/- (though his team lost 6-0)
  • 24:19 in ice time (second to Pronger)
  • 20:11 in ice time at even strength (led the team)
  • 3 blocked shots (led the team)
  • Played on both the power play and short-handed.
  • 1 shot on net
Except for the even +/-, that pretty much what we saw out of Ryan as a Penguin.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Pens acquire LW Chris Kunitz, trade D Ryan Whitney

The Pens traded D Ryan Whitney today to the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for LW Chris Kunitz and minor league W/C Eric Tangradi.

I like the trade. Ray Shero gave up a good young defensemen, but he vastly improved the collection of wingers on the team, and he added some depth to the forward spot in the minors.

I'm sad to see Whitney go. You can't replace his size and skills. I know he disappointed some this season after his return from his foot injury, but he was a huge part of the blue line. He played in all situations and moved the puck extremely well.

Good luck to Whit. I think he'll be very successful as time goes on.

In return, the GM Ray Shero obtained some help for today and some possible help for the future.

Kunitz is a middle-tier scorer (20-25 goals per season) who has been playing mostly in even-strength and short-handed situations recently. He gives HCDB another penalty killer to deploy and adds some scoring depth. Considering that Fedotenko is your top LW right now, you'd have to think that Kunitz is ticketed to play with Sid.

Tangradi is big (6'3") and young (20). He's in the OHL currently, though I'd expect him in Wilkes-Barre for the playoffs this year. He adds some much needed size and depth to the forward spot in the organization.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Penguins 1, Islanders 0

The Pens gutted out a big win over the Islanders tonight at the Igloo. The way things have gone this season, you almost expected the Isles to get a lucky goal and put the Pens behind the 8-ball. Fortunately that goal hit the crossbar behind Flower, and another one seemed to hit both pipes.

The end result is 21 saves for Fleury and 2 for the goal cage. It was Shutout City.

The Pens had lots of decent chances, including a few wide open nets, but the puck just wouldn't bounce their way, until...

With under 3:00 remaining in the third period, Malkin made a sick play, chipping the puck over an Isles forward to keep the zone. Gonchar took the puck, skating down the right side, using Geno as a shield. Sarge tossed the puck at the net. It hit something and found it's way to Sykora, who buried it into a wide open cage.

Wait - don't take my word for it - here's the video (you may have to click through if you're reading via RSS):

So the Pens did what they had to do and earned two points. Just 5 points now separate the 5th spot from the 10th spot, and the Pens are just two points out of the playoffs. They start a five game road trip on Friday night that could decide the season (especially if they do poorly).

Next up: In the Windy City on Friday night to face the Blackhawks. Huge game (as usual)

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Capitals 5, Penguins 2

Yesterday? Awesome. Today? Not so much.

If you told me that the Pens would out hit the Caps, have eight chances on the power play and keep Ovechkin limited to only one goal, I would have said the Pens would have a great shot to win.

Unfortunately, that's not what happened.

The Pens allowed two power play goals in the first period.

The first one was a one timer by Ovechkin (who seems to have toned down the celebrations a bit). I think everyone watching the game knew what was coming when Alex snuck in the weakside all alone. Everyone, except the penalty killers for the Pens, who didn't see him and couldn't prevent the pass across.

The second one was a seeing-eye puck that found it's way to Semin all alone in front of Flower.

There's no way Fleury stops either of those two in those situations.

The Pens tied the game briefly in the first (between the two power play goals) when Talbot put a bad Theodore rebound in the back of the net.

The second period is when the wheels came off of the wagon. The Caps scored three times at even strength, leading to Fleury getting yanked. The team looked lackadaisical, especially on the power play, and Fleury also let in some soft goals in the second.

The biggest disappointment was the power play, by far. While they managed one goal on a shot by Sarge skating down the wing, the team as a whole was truly terrible on the power play. That needs to be the biggest point of emphasis for HCDB (Head Coach Dan Bylsma). If the power play can get going, this team will make the playoffs. I think it's as simple as that.

Maybe the lack of effort on the PP was due to the second game in 24 hours. Maybe it was the crappy train ride. Maybe the Caps wanted it more.

Maybe it's best we just move on and focus on the upcoming games.

Next up: A brief stopover at home to play the Isles on Wednesday. Can you say "must win"?

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Penguins 5, Flyers 4

Before we talk about the game, did you think that when Talbot missed the open net that it would come back to bite the Pens? I sure did. I'm glad it didn't matter.

This wasn't easy by any means. The Pens had a two goal lead in the third for the second consecutive game and blew the lead. That will have to change.

For now, the blown lead didn't matter. The team found a way to win the game, and boy was it fun to watch.

The Flyers came out hard, trying to be as dumb as humanly possible "set the tone", led by (who else) Scott Hartnell. Scotty may be one of the dumbest hockey player I've ever seen. It never ceases to amaze me how many comically stupid penalties he'll take. This time, he crosschecked Gonchar three times, earning two minutes.

Only 10 seconds into the Penguins power play, Timonen contracted a distict case of Hartnellitis, punching Malkin in the face after the whistle during a scrum in front of Biron, putting the Pens on the two man advantage.

Normally I like listening to Steigy, but when he was saying that the Flyers are more willing to be aggressive because they score more shorties than anyone else in the league, I had to laugh. I don't think you'll find any coach in the NHL that would willingly put themselves at a disadvantage in order to get in some dumb whacks at the opposition.

The Pens couldn't score on their golden early chance, but they did put some pressure on Biron. Marty came up big with some nice saves.

Lupul put the Flyers up 1-0 with a nice backhand shot on a puck that wound up on his stick right in front of Fleury.

The Pens scored three times in the second period, two times by the line of Crosby, Dupuis and Fedotenko, and once by the power play (after another stupid two-handed crosscheck by Carter in the offensive zone).

In the third, the Flyers came back to tie the score twice, once when they were down 3-1 and once when they were down 4-3. They never took the lead, and the Pens never took the foot off of the gas. The effort paid off, as Sid's line accounted for two go-ahead goals, the last one when Biron came about 25 feet out of his crease to stop Dupuis. He stopped Pascal, but the puck was travelling towards the empty net vacated by Marty when it was tipped home by Sid for his second of the game.

Two out of the four weekend points the Pens desperately need were earned today. It was a great win, especially considering the venue.

As a special bonus, here's an exclusive picture of Scotty Hartnell, immediately after the game (yeah - I've used this picture before - I just can't help it):

Next up: A quick train ride to DC to play O-Face and the Capitals. Two more points needed! All aboard!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Penguins 5, Canadiens 4

The score was 2-2 heading to the third period. The game, to that point, was fairly tight. There were 27 total shots during the first two periods and the Habs were staying back off of the forecheck.

The third period had more shots than the first two periods combined. It was probably the most entertaining period of hockey I've witnessed all year.

The Pens came out and scored twice in the first three minutes of the third to take a 4-2 lead. Crosby setup Malkin with a great pass, and Talbot scored a junk goal by crashing the net.

The Habs took only another three minutes to tie the game at 4-4. I thought that was it for the Pens - they had blown a two goal lead in the third yet again. Fortunately I was wrong.

Gonchar fired a seeing-eye shot that Price didn't follow at all. It was his first goal of the season and it gave the Pens the lead for good.

The Habs threatened a few times, but Flower was up to the challenge.

It was really nice to see the Pens play with desperation and intensity, especially when the game was on the line in the third period. They were burned a bit by their aggressiveness, but they stuck with it and pulled out the win.

Huge win. There are just 6 points between the 5 seed and the 10 seed. The playoffs are within reach, especially if the Pens can keep up the desperation.

Next up: Huge weekend, even without the standings. The Pens are in Philly and Washington on Saturday and Sunday. Four points would be nice...

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

About to be crushed by a Mini Pony

Here's the good news - this blog made the cut for the tournament of the 32 best Pittsburgh sports blogs, put together by Sean over at Sean's Ramblings. It seems like a fun concept, and I'm honored to be a part. I didn't know there were more than 32 blogs that met Sean's ground rules.

Here's the bad news - there are four brackets of 8 teams. I'm an 8 seed, going up against #1 seed PSAMP (Pittsburgh Sports and Mini Ponies).

I'll be shocked if I get more than 5 votes, unless I can contact those loser Habs fans and steal their script from the All-Star voting...

Sadly, I don't think I'd find any Habs fans out there - they're all too busy jumping off of bridges due to the slump of their team. At least here in Pittsburgh, a Pens slump just means that we turn to heavy drinking and become Yinzers. Nothing better than yelling "SHOOT' every time the puck enters the offensive zone.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Islanders 3, Penguins 2 (OT - SO - 2-1)

New coach, same result.

I only saw part of this game, but from what I saw, nothing looked terribly different.  Of course, it's way to early to talk about Bylsma.  It is curious, though, that the Pens didn't have more jump early in the game.  You'd think they would either be anxious about impressing a new coach or maybe relieved that the taskmaster was gone, but they looked pretty much the same as always - mediocre.

The Pens fell short today against the Isles.  They rallied from a pair of deficits but could never take the lead.  They had several good chances in OT, but nothing cashed in.

Not much else to say - they just don't have it right now.  Hopefully with a few days of practice, they'll be able to find it with the help of Coach Bylsma.

Next up:  The Habs.  The Igloo.  Early start (7:00).

Firing a coach brings the clowns out of the woodwork

About 2 hours after the firing of Michel Therrien was announced, the Globe and Mail put up a column by David Shoalts with the headline "Lemieux behind Therrien's dismissal".

You read the headline, and you think that maybe Mr. Shoalts has some kind of relevant insight into the Therrien firing. You'd be horribly wrong.

This may be one of the dumbest things I've ever read. It's right up there with Tyrone Carter's brother skipping his date to report to jail to party it up with Tyrone at the Super Bowl (in Detroit), only to have a 6 month sentence turn into 5 years.

Let's take a look at what passes for professional journalism. Feel free to read the article alongside this post. I'll post the relevant sections:
Therrien paid the price because the Penguins went into a swoon this season after two seasons as the NHL's franchise on the rise [...]
Yep - I'm with you there, Mr. Shoalts. He certainly was the scapegoat in this situation.
However, it was not Therrien's fault that the Penguins failed to re-sign Marian Hossa last summer [...] It was also not Therrien's fault that defenceman Sergei Gonchar [...] missed almost all of this season with a shoulder injury, returning just in time to see the coach get fired.
Agree again. Therrien didn't have much to do with Hossa wanting to play elsewhere and Gonchar (and Whitney) getting hurt for large amounts of time.

He goes on to absolve Shero of blame for those two items he cited:
[...] Shero can also plead circumstances beyond his control.
Still hard to disagree here, but wait until you see where he goes next!
That is why the finger of blame can swing toward Lemieux, the minority owner who has a huge say in running the team thanks to his status in Pittsburgh as a minor deity.
What? How exactly is Lemieux responsible for Hossa choosing to sign elsewhere and Gonchar getting hurt? I'm smelling a personal agenda. It doesn't take much sniffing to detect, when you use terms like "minor deity".

Mr. Shoalts goes on to try to explain. It's too long to quote, but he basically says that Lemieux ordered the Hossa trade, and that somehow makes him the person to point the finger at for Therrien getting fired.

The "logic" is all summed up nicely for us near the end of the article:
Any way you cut it, it is a fine business when a couple of good hockey men are pressured into moves and then one of them gets clipped because they don't work out. All Therrien can say today is he has lots of company.
So, it looks like the guy just doesn't like Lemieux. He also doesn't like making any sense.

As it says in the Dilbert cartoon, "Hey! He's getting paid for that!"

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Therrien fired, Bylsma new head coach

Wow. You can't fire the players, so you have to fire the coach, I guess.

Michel Therrien was let go tonight as the head coach of your Pittsburgh Penguins.

He was replaced by first year Wilkes-Barre head coach Don Bylsma.

First, with Therrien, Ray Shero basically said he wasn't happy with the direction of the team, and hadn't been for quite some time. That was the long and the short of why the firing happened.

Shero is a class act, even in times of difficulty. As part of the statement about letting Therrien go, Shero said
“We also would like to thank Michel Therrien for his significant contributions to the Penguins organization.”
That's a nice thing to say, and he didn't have to throw in the "significant". He (Shero) also accepted the responsibility for what has happened this year, saying
"Everybody in the room I either traded for or signed to a contract extension. It starts with me. I'm the (general manager)."
Bylsma is the "interim" coach. This is his first year as a head coach, so it will be interesting to see how he handles the Pens. I'm not sure they're ready for a someone that will be more relaxed with them, but we'll be able to see just what kind of leaders are in that locker room.

If Bylsma succeeds and the team makes the playoffs, then I think we see him around next year. If the team continues the descent... then Bylsma is a fading memory when the new building opens.

Let's hope this is the spark the teams needs to turn the corner.

Maple Leafs 6, Penguins 2

Through two period last night, you probably thought something along the lines of:
"Wow - getting outplayed on the road, but hanging on. Survived a rough second period and Fleury is standing on his head. Maybe we can get two points of out this!"

Then the third period started. And Jason Blake did what he always seems to do - he proceeded to kill the Penguins. Two goals in 19 seconds turned a 2-1 lead into a 3-2 deficit just over a minute into the third. The game was over right there. The Pens just didn't have it, and they weren't going to find it.

Both of the Blake goals were bad, bad coverage in the defensive zone. The Leafs jumped the Pens defense, causing turnovers that the Leafs converted into goals.

I don't know what the problem is. I don't remember these guys having this much trouble last year in their own end, and the cast of characters on the blue line is basically the same as late last year (with the exception of Eaton).

Fleury played really well for two periods. He kept the Pens in the lead when the Leafs had at least a half-dozen golden scoring chances. He had no chance against Blake or on the dumb-luck Antropov goal that followed (it was nice hand-eye coordination by Antropov, but he batted a puck out of midair with his stick - that usually isn't an effective goal scoring technique).

Gonchar, in his first game back, played well. He had just over 20:00 of ice time, was only a -1 for the game, and had four shots. You could see the difference he'll make on the power play. He gets shots off from the point and they are pretty accurate.

The team is in trouble in terms of the playoffs right now. They're 5 points out of the 8th spot, but there is still time. They just need to get the ship righted and get going. With Sarge's return, this will hopefully be a bit easier.

Next up: President's Day matchup. Long Island. No Jason Blake.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

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

Do you know when was the last time the Pens were in a shootout?

December 3rd.

Seems like forever, right? The last time they won a shootout was November 13th against Philly. It was a good ending to the game tonight, and Sid came through with the winner, going five-hole with lightning fast hands. Fleury made it stand up by somehow stopping Boyle to earn the two points.

Great win for the Pens.

Both teams played a fairly open style, with lots of shooting, lots of skating, and few odd-man breaks. That was the weird part - most of the shots seemed to be from the outside, and there weren't many rebound chances. Both teams seemed content to let their goalies face low percentage chances and play positional defense. I can't think of many scoring opportunities from the slot area.

That makes it all the more funny that both of the regulation goals were scored on junk thrown at the net. Thomas tried to toss a puck back out in front of Boucher, only to have it go in off of either Blake or Boucher's stick. Pavelski was one of three Sharks to crash the net, and the puck just pinballed to him with a wide open cage in front.

Other than that single lapse, the Pens played the best defense possible when you allow 37 shots. I'm not sure if I mean that as a compliment, but hey - they won the game against one of the top teams in the West. I'm sure they'll take it.

Next up: A chance to spoil the love in Toronto on Valentine's Day

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Red Wings 3, Penguins 0

The Pens just aren't there yet. You could see signs of them coming around against the Lightning and the Jackets, but the Red Wings are not those teams.

It is a testament to the team defense of the Red Wings that a goalie who pitched a shutout was only the third star in the game. The chances for the Pens were few and far between. Malkin had the best chance, with a backhand on the power play and a wide open net, but the puck jumped over his stick. That play typified the game for the Pens.

The Wings needed just one goal, and that was scored on the power play on a bad rebound allowed by Fleury. He was decent for most of the game, but he had trouble with his rebounds.

The other factor was that the Wings handed the Pens three power play chances in the first period. If you wanted to win this game, you needed a goal on one of those chances.

Malkin and Crosby were both held in check again by the Wings, despite being on two different lines. Neither one could get much going or find much open ice to skate.

It's hard not to get discouraged by this one, but I think it's important to remember that the Wings are the defending Cup champions who added Hossa and Conklin and didn't lose anyone except Drake and Hasek.

Next up: It doesn't get much easier when the Sharks show up. If things go bad, maybe we'll at least see Eaton go after Cheechoo.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Red Wings / Penguins Promo Video

Here's a nice video put together by the NHL to get you ready for the Wings and Pens at the Igloo tomorrow afternoon. Don't forget - game time is 12:30 on NBC.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Penguins 4, Blue Jackets 1

Domination. We saw domination in effect at the Igloo tonight. This is what the Pens were doing to teams late last season, and it's the most encouraging showing of the year, in my opinion.

The Jackets kept things close. Captain Alphabet stood tall between the pipes for the men from Columbus during the first. The Jackets somehow had 15 shots, but I can't remember the last time I saw so few good scoring chances come from 15 shots in a period.

The Pens turned it on in the second, beginning with their one and one power play. Letang scored the first of his two goals on the night to give the Pens a 1-0 lead. Sykora made it 2-0 and Letang's second made it 3-0.

That made the game feel like it was about 79-0, because the Pens were outplaying the Jackets in just about every aspect of the game. The two most encouraging signs were the plays along the boards (soundly won by the Pens) and the defensive shutdown after a shot by Columbus. There were few second chance opportunities, and Fleury only had to make a few great saves.

Great game to follow the great comeback on Wednesday.

Next up: This was just the warm-up. The Red Wings come to town on Sunday. National TV. NBC. The NHL sent me a promo video to use. Expect to see that on the site tomorrow.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Penguins 4, Lightning 3

New policy here on the blog. We'll ignore the negative (the loss on Tuesday to the Habs, along with the first two periods last night) and talk only about the positive (the third period and OT last night).

Things were bleak heading into the third period against the Lightning. The Pens were out shot in the first 14-5, and couldn't score with a full two minutes of a 5 on 3 advantage in the second. That seemed to be rock bottom.

The effort in the third was HUGE. The Lightning were content to sit back and trap. The Pens just kept on coming. Despite the fact that everyone was yelling "SHOOT!" whenever a Penguin had the puck in the offensive zone, the Flightless Birds still managed 12 shots for the period. If they manage 12 shots per period while still being somewhat selective in their shots, they'll be just fine.

Malkin scored early in the period to give the Pens some life. On a side note, Malkin played a great game. Steigy and Errey were falling all over themselves to call it an inspirational performance, and one that will be remembered. I didn't see it going quite to that level, but it was good.

Later in the period, Eaton threw a puck at the net and it banked in off of the leg of the Lightning defensemen. It was the only shot on net for the night from a D-man other than Ryan Whitney.

Cooke then suckered Gary Roberts into punching him in the head. How does Gary let himself get roped into these things when he's 57 and has a one-goal lead in the third? Anyway, the Pens got the best revenge possible and scored on their power play to tie the game.

Things were back and forth for a bit before OT, and then in OT as well. Geno ended it with some quick hands around the net with less than 10 seconds left in OT.

Big win for the Pens. They have a history of comebacks turning around their season. Look at the big comebacks, albeit much earlier in the year, against the Caps the last two years and how they launched the team to much better success.

Let's hope that happens now, because the Pens need it badly. They're in a good spot for success too - right here at home in the Igloo for a few games.

Next up: Columbus comes to Pittsburgh for what will hopefully turn into a regional rivalry, if the Blue Jackets ever get to be a good team, on Friday night.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Maple Leafs 5, Penguins 4

I didn't see the game - I was having dinner with the family at Monterrey Bay in Monroeville. I think I had a better time at the restaurant.

The Pens didn't play a complete game yet again. Putting together 60 consistent minutes seems to be a real struggle for this club.

Garon also didn't have the best showing in his initial appearance for the Pens.

I've got nothing else - the Super Bowl starts soon!

Go Steelers!