Sunday, May 31, 2009

Red Wings 3, Penguins 1

It's "Go Time". Geno served notice at the end of the third period when he took exception to Zetterberg's two-handed punch to Talbot.

I know the end result is the same as last year after two games, but this Pens team is ready to take the next step. They haven't backed down from Detroit one bit, and while the Wings have held serve, that's all they've done. No one has won the series in two games. A win on Tuesday totally changes the series.

Both Sid and Geno picked up their games, especially in the third period. They weren't able to beat Osgood, but if they can play with that kind of desperation for 60 minutes, you have to like their chances.

If I'm HCDB, I'm praising the team for their effort and tenacity. I'm telling them that the Wings can't stay lucky forever. I'm telling them that they had more solid scoring chances than the Wings did in each game, and that if that trend continues, they'll be going back to Detroit with the series tied 2-2.

First period:

The first period was black and white - the Wings had the first seven shots and the Pens had the last 11. The game itself was just about that clear cut. The only difference is the Pens earned the power play and scored on a scrum in a dumb luck fashion. You had to think that was a good sign - last night the Wings were the beneficiaries of the dumb luck goals.

There were a few differences early on from last night - namely there wasn't the big hitting and the faceoffs weren't as lopsided.

Second period:

The Pens dominated Period 2 in Game 1. They didn't have that kind of success tonight.

The Wings tied the score on another icing call when the Pens were fatigued.

They took a 2-1 lead just after the power play when Hossa pretty clearly hooked / broke the stick of Dupuis, keeping the puck in the zone. The Wings got the puck to the net, where Holmstrom used a little bit of contact as an excuse to fall on Fleury and Filpulla roofed a backhander from an amazing angle. Nice goal, but cheap plays that led to it.

Osgood was beat later in the period by Guerin (on a nice pass from Crosby), but Bill couldn't beat the far post.

Late in the second, the Pens started to turn up the heat, applying consistent pressure and earning multiple scoring chances. It was encouraging to see.

I don't know about anyone else, but I'm getting pretty tired of the "subtle interference" (as Edzo calls it) of the Wings. It's complete crap - the NHL needs to find a way to remove it if they can. Of course, if just anyone could deploy that strategy and be successful, they would...

Sid opened the third by hitting a post... it was the second far post that the Pens hit.

Fleury allowed a softie to a new nominee for the "Frickin" Hall of Fame, Justin Frickin Abdelkader. That ran the score to 3-1.

Before you knew it, there were just two minutes left and the Pens were in need of a miracle. Despite bringing good pressure for most of the third, the Wings were able to hold onto the lead.

There was no miracle, but there was Chris Osgood flopping like a fish after an ill-advised tap from Talbot. Zetterberg gave Talbot a two-handed punch to the head area, and that's when Geno went postal on Zetterberg.

Next up: Tuesday night will be rocking in Pittsburgh. A win changes the entire complexion of the series.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Red Wings 3, Penguins 1

Missed opportunities.

Dumb luck goals.

Horrible faceoffs.

Those were the three things that combined to give the Penguins the loss tonight. All three Red Wings goals had a substantial portion of luck involved. The first two were groan-inducing, with Stuart's shot deflecting off of the end boards and Franzen's shot deflecting off of the back of Fleury's leg.

The thing is, the Pens need to create their own luck. They seem to be tentative at times when bringing the puck up the ice, as if they're unsure how to attack the Red Wings. The power play especially (the second time) seemed to be victim to this. It could be that it happened too close to the first power play and the guys were tired, but the Wings have been bad on the PK so far in the playoffs.

The first period was considerably more physical than I expected. Hossa tried to kill Geno. Orpik knocked Hossa on his butt. Sid plastered Zetterberg. The debate on whether Kronwall leaves his feet was settled pretty clearly when he tried to hit Malkin high and missed completely. He somehow "magically" wound up in the air!

The encouraging thing is that the Pens were right there in this game. The Wings didn't win it so much as the Pens lost it. The Pens showed that they deserved to be there.

Sid and Geno need to find a way to score. As much as the Pens need secondary scoring, they need their superstars to step up and find a way to put the puck in the net. They've done it the entire postseason so far. They have to keep it going.

The Pens also need to keep punishing the top lines for Detroit. The Wings are very top-heavy in terms of ice time. If the Pens can play their style, establishing the forecheck early, it should pay big dividends late and Babcock can only go to Zetterberg so many times in the third.

The other thing to remember is that the Pens would love to earn a split. That's the key piece of information - as bad as this feels tonight, a win tomorrow night changes everything.

Next up: Game 2 - Sunday night. Get some sleep, 'cause we're gonna do it all again tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Bring on the Wings!

Game 1 - Saturday, May 30th - NBC
Game 2 - Sunday, May 31st - NBC
Game 3 - Tuesday, June 2nd - Versus
Game 4 - Thursday, June 4th - Versus

I think this is the best possible outcome. The Pens get a chance at revenge against the machine that is the Detroit Red Wings.

KUFO - Today!

I'm appearing on the Rick Emerson show on KUFO (out of Portland, Oregon) this morning to talk about the Penguins.

The segment should air about 7:20 AM PST.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Penguins 4, Hurricanes 1

The Pens are going back to the Stanley Cup Finals!

How likely did you think that was before the season?

How about when Michel Therrien was fired?

What about when they were down 2-0 to the Caps?

It happened, and it was all due to their own effort and hard work.

This game was another perfect example of the way the Pens have reinvented themselves.  Crosby and Malkin did the little things, Fleury made the big saves and the team played as a whole.  Carolina just didn't stand a chance.

Kudos to Eric Staal tonight - he played like a man possessed.  As I type this, I'm listening to the talking heads at Versus talk about how "so much was made of the Staal vs Staal match up" - I think that was the least interesting story of the series (and, hey, Versus guys - you were the ones that made so much of the Staal match up).

Fedotenko has started to show us why he was worth signing.  Shades of Alex Kovalev maybe?  Not in terms of style of play or skill set, but rather in that he was regarded as a disappointment in the regular season and is now coming through in a big way.  He was in the right place at the right time again tonight, with his stick on the ice to tip in a cross ice pass from Boucher.  The D have to stop that pass, by the way - there's no way that should have been able to get through.

Can we stop using completely misleading stats to talk about the Hurricanes now?  Paragraphs like this were always annoying during this series (from the ESPN recap of Game 7):
He [Ward] had been 5-0 in elimination games for the Hurricanes, who were on the losing end of the handshake line for the first time since 2002, when they lost to the Red Wings in the Cup finals. In their only other playoff appearance in that span, they won the Cup in 2006.
What is the important part of the previous paragraph?  You come away with the feeling that Cam Ward is awesome, and that the Canes were really tough to beat.  How about a paragraph that talked about the fact that the Canes were qualifying for the playoffs for just the second time in the last 5 seasons?  How about mentioning that as awesome as Cam Ward (obviously) is, he was the starting goalie on those teams that didn't make it?

Anyway, enough about the Canes.  They were a decent team that was flattened by a better one (or at least a hotter one).

The Pens are a freight train that is rolling a full speed right now.  They look like they're ready to collide head-on with another powerful machine from Detroit.

Are you ready?

Next up: TBD

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Penguins 6, Hurricanes 2

The game sure didn't start well. Matt Cullen scored on a tip-in, and you had some of that sinking feeling. Fortunately, it didn't take long at all to turn things around.

On the power play, Geno stole the puck from Gleason (who couldn't clear it cleanly) and walked in alone on Cam Ward. Ward had no chance and the game was tied at 1-1.

It stayed that way until less than one minute was left in the first, when the Pens struck quickly with goals from Sid and Geno (again) just 31 seconds apart.

The importance of those two goals cannot be understated. Given their timing, in the last minute of the period, they sunk the series for the Canes. Instead of going into the locker room knotted at 1-1 with a battle on their hands, the Canes went in deflated and down two goals. It was a great thing to watch as a Pens' fan.

The Canes made it interesting by having Cam Ward keep them in the game until they made it 3-2 less than two minutes into the third period.

Ward couldn't keep the Pens out forever, and when Fedotenko created a 3 on 2 by beating the Canes forwards back down the ice, it was all over. Ruslan took a Geno drop pass, took a step to his left and shot back against the grain over the left shoulder of Ward. That made it 4-2 and essentially ended the game.

The Canes did get a late power play and pulled their goalie, but the Hockey Gods didn't like it, so they arranged for a faceoff just outside of the Pens zone to go all the way down the ice and right into the empty net. Probably the easiest goal Craig Adams ever scored.

The Pens added a meaningless power play goal to make the final score 6-2.

The Pens allowed just 16 shots in building their lead through two periods. If HCDB wants something to focus on, it would be getting out shot 18-9 in the third period. 18 shots is too many to allow in any period.

Chris Kunitz blocked 4 shots from the forward spot. Gonchar had 4 blocks too. The team had 22 (if I counted correctly).

Eric Staal: -3.

Did Jussi Jokinen play tonight? I can't remember seeing him at all.

Tuomo Ruutu was a non-factor in less than 8 minutes of ice time.

Scott Walker managed just one shift after he collided with the boards with some moderate help from Gonchar (that didn't seem to be all that bad).

For the Pens, every forward skated at least 10 minutes. That kind of balance is huge, considering they're going with only 11 forwards. It also saves the strength of the defense for withstanding the charge late in games.

The big thing here is that the Pens finish off the Canes while they have the chance. Tuesday night they have a chance to make Tim Gleason eat his words (he said this wouldn't be a four game series after Game 2).

Next up: Finish it. Tuesday night.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Penguins 7, Hurricanes 4

Did you know how great Cam Ward is? He's the best goalie left in the playoffs!! He's won the Cup!! OMG!!

Cam Ward accomplished something else tonight - he won the Worst Goalie competition with Marc-Andre Fleury. He's also just the second goalie in the Eastern Conference to allow six goals in the playoffs (the other one was Varlamov, against the Pens in Game 7).

As bad as the goaltending was (and it was bad on both ends), the team defense was worse. The Pens were fortunate to get their defense under control enough to win the game. If the Canes had even a reasonable team performance, you'd think that four goals would put them in position to win. They didn't have that.

The good news here is that after a rocky first period when they allowed three goals on 14 shots, they Pens tightened things up and allowed just 14 shots for the rest of the game. Fleury still wasn't on top of his game, but he was good enough. The Pens did what was needed to win.

The Pens' offensive stars were the beneficiaries of the lackadaisical defense on the part of the Canes. Geno had his first playoff hat trick. That could be huge, if he can carry some momentum into the rest of the series. Cooke and Kunitz had three points each. Sid, Letang, Kennedy and Guerin each had two points.

Now that I've said those nice things, let's let some air out of the balloon. If the Pens don't get their play in their own end under control going into Raleigh, they're going to be in trouble. Just as Washington found out last series, holding serve at home for the first two games isn't enough. The Canes will tighten things up. Cam Ward will play better. The Pens need to be ready, or they'll be in trouble, coming back to Pittsburgh with the series tied 2-2.

Ryan Bayda will likely be suspended - he was given a match penalty for an attempt to injure. That was an icing play that he elbowed Letang on with just over one minute remaining in the third. It was a cheap play - icing is well known to be no-touch. I'm not sure that approach will work on the Pens - they've seen the Flyers shenanigans so many times that everyone else pales in comparison to the goons from Philly.

Next up: A HUGE Saturday night game in Raleigh. A win means the Canes are longshots. A loss means it's a new series. HUGE!!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Penguins 3, Hurricanes 2

Neither team looked to be at their best tonight. The Pens and Canes both had breakdowns at bad times. The difference in this game? Marc-Andre Fleury.

The Pens were handed two power plays early in the first and we quickly found out why Carolina has a 90% kill ratio on the power play - they were all over the Pens. It's like their sticks were glued to the guys in black.

Miro Satan received a even-up holding call after the Pens two power plays, but the Hockey Gods were watching. Faster than you can say "horsecrap call", the penalty was over and Satan was sprung on a breakaway. Miro knows how to finish and he made Cam Ward look really slow, depositing an easy backhand after a shot fake that not only froze Ward, but also turned him into an Ent.

The Pens capitalized on their newly found momentum, buzzing like flies around honey. Geno made it 2-0 with a backhand flick that went right over the right pad of Ward.

The Canes made a game of it by coming on strong in the second. Fleury made several key saves and the Pens went into the third on top 2-1.

Boucher added a timely power play goal in the third, which was needed when the Canes were able to score late.

A few things that stood out to me:
  • The elbowing penalty to Orpik, while not being replayed on TV (Versus sucks), seemed to be flagrant enough to warrant a penalty. That's a really bad spot to even try something risky, and Orpik needs to be more in control there.
  • Both teams had defensive breakdowns - the Pens had three clean breakaways, which is unheard of in the playoffs, and the Canes were able to keep the Pens hemmed in their own zone for long periods in the second. Both will need to be corrected.
  • Fleury is the reason the Pens took Game 1.
  • Ward is the reason the Canes lost it - he made several big saves, but Malkin and Boucher's goals were what you could call "soft".
  • The Pens need to clean up their sloppy play in their own zone, or they'll be in trouble soon.
Great to get off on the right foot. The Pens need to hold serve and win Game 2.

Next up: Two nights for Gonchar to rest that knee. Game 2 is Thursday night at the Igloo.

Beard-A-Thon update

Round 3 of the playoffs to begin tonight. I think I'll have to start trimming this beard pretty soon.

So far, the donations made total $361.00. We're matching that for a grand total of $722.00.

If you're interested in donating, we're still matching what is contributed.

The link is:

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Penguins 6, Capitals 2

What should happen finally did happen.

The Pens out played the Caps for the entire series. They out shot the team from Washington DC in every game this series. They had multiple power play goals in three different games (and scored on the PP in every game except the first one). They held the Caps to 26 shots or fewer in 5 of the 7 games.

In short, the scoreboard was close, but the supporting stats were not.

To me, this means that tonight was not an expected result.

Having said that, I wasn't expecting it to be like this.

Fleury came up with a huge save on Ovechkin on the breakaway while the game was still scoreless (though O-Face isn't that great on the shootout, so maybe it's not that unexpected). The Pens followed with two goals in 8 seconds and that, as they say, was that.

The Pens poured it on in the second period, and by the time the game headed to the second intermission, it was essentially all over.

It was great the see the Pens finally put a team away with a dominating effort.

Sid was the best player on the ice in this series. Despite not being known as a goal-scorer, he managed 8 goals in 7 games. He came through when his team needed him the most.

The Pens will face either Boston or Carolina. I'm rooting for Carolina, simply because it gives the Pens home ice.

This was a terrific series. The games were exciting and close (other than Game 7). The NHL (and Pittsburgh) couldn't have asked for more.

Next up: Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals, probably on Saturday or Sunday.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Capitals 5, Penguins 4 (OT)

This was a missed opportunity.

The good news is there is one more opportunity.

If you had said, prior to the game, that the Pens would score four, including two on the power play, I would have told you that a win was almost a certainty.

Unfortunately it didn't turn out that way.

The game itself was a classic. The Pens and Caps traded leads throughout the game. Each team held two one-goal leads and none of them stood up until the goal that decided the game in OT.

Fleury wasn't as sharp as you'd like in a game where the team has a chance to clinch. I can't really point to any specific goal and call it soft, but anytime you give up 5 in a playoff game, you're not at your best.

The team as a whole played well. They dominated the play throughout most of the game. They have the offense going really well and spent large amounts of time in the attacking zone, often for extended stretches.

The Caps, to their credit, weathered those storms. They didn't take penalties or allow the Pens to score. If the Pens want to win Game 7, they'll need to find a way to make something of those chances.

Not much else to say, except that this has been a great series so far. I think Game 7 will put a great ending on what has been a terrific set of games.

Next up: Back to DC for Game 7 on Wednesday night.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Penguins 4, Capitals 3 (OT)

One more win.

One more win moves the Pens onto the Eastern Conference Finals.

One more win sends Ovechkin home with a sad look on his face.

I'm hoping that the Pens can get one more win.

This game, however, was another great playoff game. This could go down as one of the all-time great series in Penguins playoff history.

The tendency when thinking about a game like this one is to skip to the end, and that's (almost) what I'm going to do.

The Pens were down 2-1 going into the third period. They came out early in the third and took the lead within the first 7 minutes. Fedotenko continued his shooting (TEN shots for Ruslan tonight) with a goal early in the third, and Cookie put in a rebound following a jailbreak around Varlamov later in the third.

The Caps, who battled tonight, managed to tie the game with just over 4 minutes left in the third on a goal by O-Face.

OT was highly exciting. The Caps missed an open net when the puck wouldn't settle down for Steckel.

The action was end-to-end for a few rushes, when Federov (who was playing defense) tripped Malkin, putting the Pens on the power play.

Geno torched Federov at the very end of the power play again, and when he tried to go to Sid, the puck deflected off of a diving Tom Poti and behind Varlamov. HUGE play.

Versus showed a stat that teams that won Game 5 in a 2-2 series won 80% of the series.

Let's hope that holds in this case.

Next up: A must-win game at home on Monday. You don't want to come back to Washington.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Penguins 5, Capitals 3

Yeah - on the road and missed the game entirely.

Now I can't watch again until they lose :)

Someone just tell me - was Ovechkin's hit on Gonchar dirty?

Tomorrow night is HUGE. With a win, the Pens are in the driver's seat.

Do the Caps go back to Theodore, or stick with the youngster who looked a bit shot?

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Penguins 3, Capitals 2 (OT)

Let's get one thing out of the way right now - if the Pens can play they way they did tonight for the remainder of the series, they'll win the series.

That's not to say they played a perfect game - far from it. They were sloppy with the puck. Fleury lost his stick early on, which led directly to the first goal. The team started slowly.

However, the intensity was there tonight. The grit and determination showed up again. Most importantly, Geno showed us why he deserves to be MVP. He gave the Pens the lead late in the third and played a great puck possession game.

This one was still a roller coaster. The fluke gift of a goal to Ovechkin made everyone sick right at the start of the game.

The Pens started to carry the play late in the first and into the second. They got a desperately needed tying goal from Fedotenko. Ruslan was on a two-on-one with Talbot and tried to get the pass across. The Caps D (Jurcina?) stopped the pass, but the puck went straight back to Fedotenko, who fired it past Varlamov. It worked because Varlamov had come off of his post in anticipation of the pass. Probably not a good goal for the young goaltender to allow.

The power play FINALLY came through with just under 5 minutes remaining in the third on a nice shot by Geno through a screen by Guerin.

Then came the kick in the gut - Dupuis was called for interference with 2 minutes and change left in the game. Backstrom banked one off of Fleury to tie it up. That one hurt.

Thankfully it was only a game-tying goal, and we had OT to look forward to. The action was back and forth, but things turned back the Pens way for good. Geno narrowly missed a home run pass, but the puck went straight to Varlamov, who froze it. The Pens won the offensive zone faceoff and Letang's shot deflected off of a Caps D man and behind Varlamov. That was the game.

It was a nice redemption for Letang, who seemed to be fighting the puck all night. The way the power play looked tonight, if he can get his hands back and stop bobbling the puck, he could put up some points.

Fleury didn't have to make many saves, but he made all of the ones he could reasonably be expected to make.

Great game overall by the Pens, and great job getting back into the series.

Next up: Friday night is the most important game of the season (notice a trend?)

Maybe he just can't help being stupid...

Wow - talk about dumb - Ovechkin, in an interview with SLAM! sports, said:
“We want to move forward. After the fourth game, there’ll be a little celebration, but right now, nothing.”
In fairness to O-Face, he was probably meaning to say "after the fourth win", but even if you replace "game" with "win", it still comes off poorly.

You never come out and talk about how you're going to win the series.

h/t - Faceoff Factor

Monday, May 04, 2009

Capitals 4, Penguins 3

Well that was completely crappy.

It would be easy to point at the non-call on the Ovechkin goal when Cooke was pretty clearly tripped when he tried to get over to O-Face off of the faceoff, but he may not have made it there anyway.

The turning point of the game was the completely ineffectual power play the Pens came out with in the third period. The game was 2-2 with about 9 minutes left when Jurcina took a dumb cross-checking penalty. Here's what happened next:

In case you don't see it, let me emphasize for you - with 9 minutes left in the third period of a huge playoff game, the Pens managed on 87 foot shot on net, and it wasn't even as good as that. They didn't get setup in the offensive zone. That cannot happen if they want to win a game against the Caps.

The Pens didn't score, Geno took a penalty, and the Caps took 4 seconds to score. Blech.

Now here's the hopeful part: The Pens have played pretty well, all things considered. All the Caps have done is hold serve. The Pens are coming home and have a chance to do the same. Win two games in Pittsburgh and you head back to Washington to have another go at it, this time with some momentum. Lose one of the games in Pittsburgh, however, and you're likely done.

Nice to see Sid with the hat trick. Would be nice to see Geno get a goal. I know he had 6 shots, but he needs to be a dominant force in the playoffs. He certainly has the talent.

Kunitz and Sykora have to account for more than one shot. The reference the Versus announcer made to Kunitz and Guerin providing "secondary scoring" because they assisted on a Crosby goal was completely idiotic. Secondary scoring means someone other than your big guns SCORES A GOAL, not earns an assist.

Did I mention "blech"?

Next up: Wednesday will be the biggest game of the year.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Capitals 3, Penguins 2

I'll chalk this one up to the advantage of having the game in Washington. They were the beneficiaries of timely scoring and one really great save by Varlamov.

The Caps tried their best to give the game to the Pens. They committed 22 giveaways, and were especially sloppy in the first period when the puck didn't leave the Washington end for most of the first 10 minutes.

The Pens were unable to capitalize.

There were two big reasons for the loss:

First was a bad penalty taken by Cooke that put the Pens down by two men for about a minute. The Caps scored on that chance.

Second was the abject failure of the power play... again. Once they were setup in the zone, they seemed to get some decent chances, but man, they couldn't get setup very well. This is the biggest area of concern, in my opinion. They were facing a somewhat shaky goalie who had let in a soft one (Eaton's goal), and they really needed to crank up the pressure and fire pucks on net. I know the Caps blocked 18 shots, but the Pens had 14 missed shots. Those shots need to be on net.

Having said that, if the Pens come out on Monday night and play this kind of game again, I feel good about their chances. Eliminate a few mistakes (bad penalty by Cooke, one bad rebound by Fleury) and I think things will be okay.

Next up: Back to the noise on Monday night.