Thursday, March 31, 2011

Lightning 2, Penguins 1

So what happened?
A bad first period got between the Pens and two points.

The first goal by the Lightning was during a scrum around the net. Mike Rupp appeared to trip over PFC Downie and fell into the crease, getting in Flower's way and preventing him from making a save.

The second goal was on the Zebras - Lecavalier clearly held Letang... he basically had Kris horse-collared... allowing St. Louis to take the loose puck and score immediately. No call. Quite the joke in my mind, but credit St. Louis for being opportunistic.

After the first period, the Pens were able to play their game. They limited the chances for the Bolts and were able to generate sustained pressure in the offensive zone.

Unfortunately, Rollie the Goalie was up to the challenge for the second and third. The Pens had several great scoring chances, but weren't able to cash in enough to tie the game.

Does anyone else think we'll all be calling them the Dolts if the Pens play Tampa in the first round? I can already feel myself getting aggravated with half of them...

Who scored?
Rupp (7)

The Good?
  • Flower was solid, especially after the first period.
  • Great team effort after the first period.
  • I haven't seen the Pens crash the net like they did in the third period in a long time. That is really encouraging heading into the playoffs. Let's hope they can find a way to keep doing that.
  • Roloson was excellent. He'll be a pain if the Pens face the Bolts in the first round.
The Bad?
  • Third period penalties. Especially Kovalev's penalty with just over four minutes left. You can't take your team out of the game like that.
  • Tampa's gimmicky defensive system (the 1-3-1) was very porous when pressured. I think that may come back to bite them in the playoffs.
  • Mike Comrie is not noticeable, and that's not good for him. He needs to be contributing offensively, or you may as well play Aaron Asham (or Tangradi if he's ready). Hopefully Comrie is just getting his sea legs back and will start rounding into shape - the Pens could use any kind of scoring touch right now. Heck, they'd probably take Michel Ouellet back right about now.
The Ugly?
  • Yeah, it's a dead horse (it may be a zombie by now), but the power play was just sad. The Pens have a home game coming up against Jersey (the last one of the year). How about everyone cheer for the PP like they cheered for Flower earlier in the year to help turn his season around? It couldn't hurt...
Any Surprises?
  • PFC Downie was back to his usual nonsense after several quiet, somewhat solid, performances. It was surprising and disappointing. He could be a good hockey player if he'd drop the stupid stuff.
What's their record now? Any important move in the standings?
The Pens are now 45-25-8. They've picked a really bad time for a two game losing streak. The Lightning are within three points and have a game in hand.

Who's next?
Further south into Florida as the Pens play the Panthers on Saturday night. I'd say this is a must win if the Pens are serious about home ice in Round One.

Game #78 - at Tampa Bay Lightning

Game 78
Penguins (45-24-8, 98 points) at Lightning (41-24-11, 93 points)

Why does it matter?
While not as important as the Flyers game was, this is still a good measuring stick. The Lightning would love to have home ice in the likely first round match up. Even if they win tonight over the Pens, that isn't very likely.

What has been happening lately?
  • Pens - Just not good enough against the Flyers on Tuesday.
  • Lightning - The month of March has not been kind to the Lightning (4-6-4), but they have won two straight.
Questions to be answered
  • Will the Pens get back to playing their style of hockey, which is usually successful on the road?
  • Does the goal from Kovie against Philly signal that he's going to convert some of the chances that his line generates? Please? More than anything else, that could determine Pittburgh's playoff fate.
  • How will the Pens slow down the power play of the Lightning, which has 13 goals in March? By comparison, the Pens have two power play goals in March. Ugh.
Keys to the game
  • Remember that thing about playing 60 minutes with a good consistent effort? The Pens didn't do that on Tuesday. Let's see if they can get that back tonight.
  • Control their big guns and you'll win. Much of the damage against the Pens has been done by St. Louis and Stamkos. St. Louis always seems to torture the Pens.
  • Get the puck deep - the Lightning D have struggled against the Pens this year (Kubina is -3, Lundin is -5 and Hedman is -3).

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Flyers 5, Penguins 2

So what happened?
The results were not there tonight for the Pens. Their effort was inconsistent too.

The first period was great, and when Tyler Kennedy scored to make it 2-1 in favor of the Good Guys about midway through the second period, you had to think things were looking up.

Unfortunately, a bad penalty taken by Paul Martin (the call was highly questionable, not so much the actions of Martin) led to a game tying goal by Hartnell. Giroux followed that up with what seemed like his 34th goal against the Pens this season, and that was all she wrote.

The problem was that the effort was not there for 60 minutes. When the bounces aren't going your way (and they weren't tonight) and the goalie is struggling (and he was), the effort has to make up for it. Tonight it didn't for the second half of the game, and it likely cost the Pens a chance at the division title.

Who scored?
Kovalev (16), Kennedy (19)

The Good?
  • Kennedy had another goal, which is nice. The only thing about him is that for all the talk about how well he's playing, he's really not doing anything extraordinary. If he were on the Flyers, he'd be tied for sixth with two other guys in goals. It is a career year for him so far in his young career, however.
  • Kovalev scored, downshifting and using his time-warping powers to drag everything around him to a halt (maybe like bullet time from the Matrix).
The Bad?
  • The PK. While it will only be credited with allowing one goal, there were really two that went in (Carter's goal happened just as the penalty expired). If the PK can find a way to shut down the Flyers, this is a totally different game.
  • Kovalev, Letestu and Neal looked out of sync for much of the night. I don't know which center you can play with Kovalev right now.
  • Flower was not on top of his game, to say the least.
The Ugly?
  • As noted above, the inconsistent effort level can't happen once the playoffs arrive. The Pens peaked in hits in the first period (13 out of their 29) and had just four hits registered in the third period. That is a direct indicator of willingness to work and isn't going to cut it against better teams.
Any Surprises?
  • No, not really. I was mildly surprised the Pens were rolled like this, but that's what happens when you miss chances and the bounces go against you.
What's their record now? Any important move in the standings?
The Pens are now 45-24-8.

Who's next?
A trip to Tampa with a chance to either lock up fourth place (and home ice in round one) or throw that seeding into disarray.

Game #77 - vs Philadelphia Flyers

Game 77
Flyers (45-20-10, 100 points) at Penguins (45-23-8, 98 points)

Why does it matter?
Game of the year so far. This will have a large impact on which team finishes first in the Atlantic division.

What has been happening lately?
  • Pens - Seven wins in nine games has the Pens streaking towards the top of the Atlantic, and maybe the East.
  • Flyers - The good news? They have points in nine of their past ten. The bad news? Five of those ten games were losses, and the wins were over Edmonton, Florida, Toronto, Dallas and the Islanders. It has been over a month since they beat a playoff team (the Rangers back on February 20th).
Questions to be answered
  • Can the Pens take the pressure? Now that first place is within reach, will they tighten up?
  • Will the Flyers be interested in playing hockey, or will we see a repeat of the previous meeting where the intensity wasn't there? I hope they bring it, because it would be a good measuring stick for the Pens.
  • Can Flower continue to carry this team given some of the offensive challenges (especially on the power play)?
Keys to the game
  • Smooth it out. Coming out like gangbusters and falling off is playing right into the Flyers hands. Make a consistent, concerted effort for 60 minutes.
  • Be diligent on the backcheck. The Flyers are really deep offensively and can score quickly. Defense needs to be a team effort.
  • Get pucks to the net and crash. I think the Flyers goaltending is shaky at best. Give either goalie something to think about.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

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

So what happened?
I missed this game entirely. Looks like the Pens were lucky to escape with two points given that they were out shot by the Panthers 24-13 over the first two periods.

Nice to see the two points going into the HUGE game with the Flyers on Tuesday.

What's their record now? Any important move in the standings?
The Pens are now 45-23-8. The Flyers come to Pittsburgh on Tuesday, and the Pens will have a chance to tie them atop the division with a win in regulation.

Who's next?
Tuesday night, Philadelphia visits Consol.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Penguins 1, Devils 0 (OT - SO - 1-0)

So what happened?
Someone please get the trap out of the NHL. Please. I know Steigy and Errey talked about how great this game was after the first period, but really, it wasn't. It only seemed exciting in comparison to FOUR TOTAL SHOTS in the first period.

On the plus side, Igloo Dreams has obtained an exclusive photo of the game action during the first period. You won't see this anywhere else:


Anyway, here's everything that you need to know: James Neal managed a goal in the shootout and the Pens earned two points. That's it.

There were a few nice saves on each end, but there was no consistent flow to the game and not much in the way of intensity other than some brief stretches.

Please make the Devils stop doing this. They're killing hockey.

Who scored?
No one.

The Good?
  • Flower was strong between the pipes.
  • Brodeur was also solid, and he faced more shots.
  • Great goal by Neal in the shootout. I thought it was a bad sign when Letang had Brodeur dead to rights and couldn't finish as the first shooter, but Neal erased any bad vibes.
The Bad?
  • Two bad penalties to take in the third by the Pens. They were both questionable calls, but you can't put yourself in that position.
The Ugly?
  • The style of play from the Devils is horrendous (as mentioned above). If they ever got anywhere near the Cup finals playing this system, it would set hockey ratings back to 2004-05 (when there was no hockey) and kill the interest of any casual fan. It's that bad.
Any Surprises?
  • The Pens won the game. Seriously, this is a surprise given their penchant for taking bad penalties and being snake-bit when facing Brodeur.
What's their record now? Any important move in the standings?
The Pens are now 44-23-8. They have a near stranglehold on the forth spot in the East and have closed to within two points of the Flyers (though the Flyers have two games-in-hand).

Who's next?
Sunday afternoon at home against Florida.

Game #75 - vs New Jersey Devil

Game 75
Devils (34-35-4, 72 points) at Penguins (43-23-8, 94 points)

Why does it matter?
The Devils still have delusions of getting into the playoffs (they won't) and that makes them a solid opponent for the Pens.

What has been happening lately?
  • Pens - Two straight wins over Detroit and Philly and six wins in eight games overall. Not too shabby.
  • Devils - They were rolling along and then lost three out of four. It's hard to make the playoffs when you have to be perfect to do it.
Questions to be answered
  • Will Mike Comrie be able to make a difference in the lineup? Will he be better or worse than Chris Conner, for instance? I think if all he has in the tank is what we saw earlier this year, the answer to that question will not be good. Hopefully he has more to offer.
  • Can the Pens stay locked in against an offensively challenged team like the Devils?
  • Can the Pens solve Brodeur, who has been excellent against them recently?
Keys to the game
  • Work, work and more work. The Devils will trap it up, so dump the puck and go to work.
  • Score first (and second) to bring them out of that boring trap.
  • Keep a pillow handy - if the Devils get a lead, you're going to need it.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Penguins 2, Flyers 1 (OT - SO - 2-1)

So what happened?
A great road effort by the Pens against a top team in the East. The real story tonight was the team defense that the Pens put forth, limiting the Flyers to just 20 shots. That tied the Flyers' low water mark for shots on the season (though it was the third time in March the Pens have held an opponent to just 20 shots).

The only blemish is that the Pens were unable to win this one in regulation. That was due entirely to the play of Sergei Bobrovsky (or, as Bob Errey seems to pronounce it, Bob Rovsky). He was really good, and the Pens were unable to pick the corners up high when they had the chance.

The power play scored a key goal, and the PK didn't allow one, so you'd have to say things are looking up.

Who scored?
Kennedy (18)

The Good?
  • Two out of four shooters scored in the shootout, including a great move by Kovalev. Bob Rovsky seems to overreact to shots, since Kovie and Kunitz were able to beat him with good fakes.
  • Dupuis had a strong physical game, taking the body more consistently than I can remember in recent history.
  • Flower was solid, especially in the shootout. The goal that went in (from Richards) was a fluke.
The Bad?
  • I'd say it's a bad thing that the Pens just can't find a way to bury a puck right now. They had several golden chances to score in regulation and have been unable to find the twine.
The Ugly?
  • Dustin Jeffrey seems to have a knee injury. If he's out, the Pens will have four centers sitting on the shelf. Ouch.
Any Surprises?
  • There was no urgency or intensity from the Flyers. I know the Pens were playing well as a team, but there didn't seem to be much effort from the Flyers in the third.
What's their record now? Any important move in the standings?
The Pens are now 43-23-8. They have opened up a 5 point lead over Tampa for the fourth spot in the East.

Who's next?
Back home for three straight, starting tomorrow night against New Jersey.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Game #74 - at Philadelphia Flyers

Game 74
Penguins (42-23-8, 92 points) at Flyers (44-19-9, 97 points)

Why does it matter?
The Pens have two contests left with the Flyers, and maybe more than any others, these two will go a long way towards determining if the Pens can catch the Flyers for the Atlantic Division. It's a long shot, but the chances would be greatly bolstered by two points in this one.

What has been happening lately?
  • Pens - A near collapse against the Red Wings, but the Pens cranked out two points. Maybe a turning point in holding the leads?
  • Flyers - They've earned at least a point in 8 straight, but they've also traded wins and losses for the past six.
Questions to be answered
  • Can the Pens take advantage of the Flyers relatively weak goaltending?
  • Will the Pens have the depth to match up with the multitude of scoring lines the Flyers can throw at you? They have five 20 goal scorers while the Pens will have just one in the lineup.
  • Will Hartnell get hungry again? What happened to the Flyers who pulled all kinds of nonsense? I can't say I like the positive influence that Laviolette seems to have.
Keys to the game
  • Keep the pressure on. The best way to keep that goal scoring from producing for the Flyers is to keep them bottled up. Dump the puck in and go to work.
  • Stop Claude Giroux, who has four goals in four games against the Pens this year.
  • Initiate - don't retaliate. No more dumb penalties!!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Penguins 5, Red Wings 4 (OT - SO - 1-0)

So what happened?
The Pens blew a 4-0 lead in the last 23 minutes of the game. Fortunately for them, they never relinquished the lead, which is good, because with the momentum the Wings had, I don't think the Pens would have been able to rally.

James Neal was the hero tonight, putting the Red Wings away with the deciding goal in the shootout. It was the kind of goal we'd love to see more of from Neal - a decisive roof job that was blasted into the top corner over the glove hand of MacDonald. There was nothing fancy about it - just sheer power.

Brent Johnson had an uneven game in place of Flower. He had a few go in that were deflected, and a few that he probably would want back. He also made some big time saves that kept the Pens from losing their fragile lead.

Who scored?
Dupuis (12, 13), Kunitz (22), Kennedy (17)

The Good?
  • Excellent job through the first half of the game. The Pens were aggressive and looked like the better team. They built their 4-0 lead on their hard work and tenacity.
  • Pascal Dupuis had a three point night, including a shorty, in what was his best game in a long time.
  • Most of the current "big guns", including Staal, Kunitz, Martin and Letang, were excellent.
The Bad?
  • The PK - I know Matt Cooke was an excellent penalty killer, but this unit really has to get it together. Allowing two PP goals in the third when the team desperately needs a kill just isn't good enough.
  • HCDB shortened the bench, especially on defense. This team can't get Brooks Orpik back soon enough.
The Ugly?
  • The power play. The debut of James Neal on the point wasn't a good one. There was no sense that these guys had played with each other before tonight. It was a complete mess. Fortunately the Pens have a few days of practice to work on it.
Any Surprises?
  • I was surprised how quickly I got back to hating Detroit. It's easy to respect what they're doing when you don't watch them play, but now I just want to see Letang line up Darren Helm for a good clean hit that puts him through the glass.
What's their record now? Any important move in the standings?
The Pens are now 42-23-8. Tampa Bay was idle tonight, so the Pens have a three point lead over the Bolts and one less game to play.

Who's next?
Just when it couldn't get any more fun - the Flyers... on Thursday... in Philly.

Game #73 - at Detroit Red Wings

Game 73
Penguins (41-23-8, 90 points) at Red Wings (43-21-8, 94 points)

Why does it matter?
This is the toughest contest of the year so far for the Pens. They're playing the second half of a back-to-back, will almost certainly be without Matt Cooke, and are facing a team with a lethal power play.

What has been happening lately?
  • Pens - Another collapse against the Rangers with more dumb penalties (maybe just one, but it was a big one).
  • Red Wings - The great feeling of the four game winning streak is gone after a rough Saturday night in Nashville. The Wings will be ticked.
Questions to be answered
  • Do the Pens have a chance to win this game? Really?
  • Can Johnson pitch the shutout (he'll be in net tonight)? I think that's the best chance to escape from Detroit with a point or two.
  • Will Aaron Asham be able to fill a key role with Matt Cooke likely out of the lineup? Who fills in on the PK?
Keys to the game
  • Live in their zone. The Pens have become accomplished at dominating the zone time over the past few games. Get that effort level going tonight.
  • Stay out of the box. The Wings like to run the subtle interference plays. Don't retaliate, and don't get caught with the free hand (Mike Rupp especially).
  • Protect Johnson, who has been shaky early in some of his recent starts. Get the wagons circled and go from there.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Rangers 5, Penguins 2

So what happened?
This one falls squarely on the shoulders, or rather the elbow, of Matt Cooke. The Pens had played an excellent game and were tied 1-1 with the Rangers about five minutes into the third period. That's when Cooke delivered an elbow to the head of Ryan McDonagh.

Here's the problem with the hit - there was no reason for Cooke's elbow to be up high. He (Cooke) didn't stumble or lunge, he just raised his elbow and ran it straight into the head of McDonagh. I can't imagine what Matt was thinking - that kind of hit is never okay. I can't see any way that Cooke isn't suspended for a few games... probably not more than 5, because McDonagh wasn't hurt, but at least a few.

The Pens were able to kill much of the resulting major penalty, and even added a shorty along the way to take the lead, 2-1. Unfortunately, Matt Niskanen took an inadvertent high-sticking call (a double minor) that gave the Rangers two minutes of five-on-three hockey to work with to finish off the major, and a second minor penalty after that.

The Rangers scored on both halves of the double-minor to take a 3-2 lead and the wheels, as they say, were off of the wagon for good.

Who scored?
Staal (10), Kunitz (21)

The Good?
  • Tremendous team effort for much of this game. The Pens largely dominated the territorial play and battered Lundqvist with the puck.
  • Lundqvist, unfortunately for the Pens, was very good today. He wasn't perfect (which will disappoint Pierre McGuire), but he was solid.
  • The Rangers power play took advantage of the elbow and high sticking calls to take over the game. The Pens could learn something from that - getting a big power play goal when you need it most.
  • James Neal is looking more and more like an offensive force every time I see him.
The Bad?
  • Alex Kovalev. He needs to simplify his game and get his excellent shot on net, especially on the power play.
  • Mike Rupp - just 9 shifts in this game, good for a -2.
  • Fleury in the third period. The game was there to be stolen, and the Pens were really close. Your goalie has to be your best penalty killer, and he wans't in the third period today.
The Ugly?
  • Pierre McGuire saying, in all seriousness, that Lundqvist was perfect, other than the early goal by Staal, and saying later that, other than the shorty by Kunitz, King Henrik was awesome. That's like saying my game of bowling was perfect except for that open frame in the 3rd and spare in the 7th. How about you just say he's playing really well and avoid the inaccurate superlatives?
Any Surprises?
  • I was honestly surprised by Cooke's elbow. I know he plays on the edge (what some would call dirty), but this was a blatant cheap hit. We've seen too many questionable hits from him this season as compared to the last few.
What's their record now? Any important move in the standings?
The Pens are now 41-23-8. The race for the 4th seed is heating up - the Pens have a one point lead over the Lightning and each team has 10 games left.

Who's next?
Not much time to think about this one as the Pens travel to Detroit to play tomorrow night.

Game #72 - vs New York Rangers

Game 72
Rangers (38-30-4, 82 points) at Penguins (41-22-8, 90 points)

Why does it matter?
The Pens want the #4 seed for the playoffs to earn home ice in the first round. They're one point ahead of Tampa Bay, so a win at every opportunity is critical. The Rangers may be without King Henrik - that would be a fantastic opportunity if it proves to be true.

What has been happening lately?
  • Pens - Two strong wins against two cellar dwellers, followed by four days off. Not bad for hockey in March.
  • Rangers - The Rangers have been downright offensive, scoring 27 over the past 6 games to go with a 5-1 record over that span.
Questions to be answered
  • Can the Pens slow down the suddenly hot Rangers offense? That will involve a team effort, because the scoring has been spread around for the Blueshirts.
  • Will Lundqvist play? This alone may determine the outcome of the game. If he can't, Chad Johnson will be in net. No word on whether he'll change his name to "Dos Nueve".
  • Paging Alexei Kovalev and James Neal... please report to the offensive zone. Will they find it? They need to contribute if this team is going to do anything.
Keys to the game
  • Keep working - the Rangers are an "effort" team. They try to work you to death. Fortunately the Pens have had to get used to playing that way in recent weeks.
  • Score on the power play. The execution with the man-advantage has to improve (and heck, right now it has nowhere to go but up).
  • No dumb penalties. The Rangers have been hot on the power play lately, so avoid going to the box for dumb stuff.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Quick hiatus

The blog is on hiatus for a few days while I escape for a quick vacation.

Let's Go Pens!

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Penguins 3, Sabres 1

So what happened?
I missed just about all of this game (I think I saw about 5 minutes), so I really have nothing relevant to say. Nice to see the Pens earn a win in regulation against a team trying to make the playoffs.

Also nice to see Michalek and Neal get their first goals for the Pens.

Who scored?
Neal (22), Michalek (1), Letestu (12)

What's their record now? Any important move in the standings?
The Pens are now 39-21-8.

Who's next?
A nice break for the rest of the week until the Habs come to Consol for a Saturday afternoon game.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Game #68 - vs Buffalo Sabres

Game 68
Sabres (32-25-8, 72 points) at Penguins (38-21-8, 84 points)

Why does it matter?
This is another tough opponent for the Pens. For the (seemingly) 863rd straight game, the Pens are playing a team that has been extremely hot recently. The Sabres are battling for the playoff lives, and the Pens are in the way. This will be a good one.

What has been happening lately?
  • Pens - A great win over the Bruins on Saturday night somehow made all of the recent losing fade from recent memory.
  • Sabres - 5-0-2 in their past seven games, getting hot when they needed it the most.
Questions to be answered
  • Can the Pens score enough to win? The Sabres haven't allowed more than three goals in a game since February 13th.
  • Can anyone slow down Drew Stafford? He has 11 goals in 16 games since the All-Star break.
  • Will the new guys find a way to contribute on the scoreboard? I'm referring to Kovalev and Neal here - they need to score.
Keys to the game
  • Lay it all on the line. Don't leave anything in the tank after this one - the Sabres will play an up-and-down style, and this is the only game for the Pens between last Saturday and this upcoming Saturday.
  • Get to the power play - the Sabres have allowed a power play goal in each of their past two games.
  • Mix it up offensively. I think everyone in the world knows what happens when the Pens have a three-on-two - they do the center drive thing with the puck on the wing and usually get a shot from the circle. Try cutting to the middle after that center goes through, or hitting a D-man coming late - something to mix it up and help keep other teams from sitting on specific plays.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Penguins 3, Bruins 2 (OT)

So what happened?

That was the term that Bob Errey used to describe Dennis Seidenberg in overtime, when he threw an ill-advised pass that was pick off by Dustin Jeffrey. Jeffrey took the puck, went right around Seidenberg, and beat Thomas cleanly. Errey couldn't have known that a platypus is one of the few mammals that is venomous and lays eggs, so I'm going to assume it was because Seidenberg was caught flat-footed. In Seidenberg's defense, he had been on the ice for over a minute when the goal was scored, so he was probably gassed.

Overall this was an excellent hockey game. I think I'd be writing that even if the Bruins had completed the comeback and earned two points instead of the Pens. It was extremely physical and felt like playoff hockey. The Bruins came out and tried to bully the Pens, who would have none of it. Once things settled down (though the hitting kept up), the Pens went on the attack. The 39 shots they put on net were the most allowed by the Bruins since January 18th.

I was really impressed by the offense the Pens were able to generate.

It is a great two points for the Pens to earn.

Who scored?
Staal (7), Jeffrey (6, 7)

The Good?
  • Dustin Jeffrey with two HUGE goals. The Pens really needed someone to step up and score. Jeffrey and Staal provided that tonight.
  • The response by the Pens to the physical gauntlet thrown down by the Bruins was excellent. There were two fights, but mostly the Pens ignored the hitting, responded when they could, and kept playing hockey. Winning on the scoreboard is the best retaliation.
  • Letang, Martin and Michalek were all huge for the Pens, all playing more than 25 minutes.
  • Mark Letestu is going to be a really good offensive player in a few years.
  • James Neal helped to set the tone by working hard on the offensive glass all night long.
  • Fleury was really, really good early in the game when the Bruins were throwing the kitchen sink at him.
The Bad?
  • Both Bruins goals were because the forward was slow in getting back defensively. It was Kovalev earlier in the game, and in the scrum with 30 second left, Matt Cooke was just a step too slow in trying to get to Krejci.
  • Zdeno Chara avoiding the corner with James Neal bearing down on him. I know Neal isn't small, but Chara really shouldn't bail out in those situations.
  • Paul Steigerwald keeps mistaking Craig Adams for Alexei Kovalev, because (in case you're not aware) of the #27. I never realized how much announcers count on the number on the jersey since Kovalev and Adams are about as different as you could imagine on the ice (Kovalev - left-handed shot, relaxed skating style - Adams - right-handed shot, aggressive, hard-striding skating style).
The Ugly?
  • My personal pet peeve - the Three Stars. How is Jeffrey not one of them after scoring twice, including the game winner in OT? Also, how is Seidenberg among them after giving the puck away and then getting badly beaten in allowing the OT winner? Something isn't right there...
Any Surprises?
  • Missing Chris Kunitz again was a surprise, but given the level of hitting in this game, it was probably better to have him hold off.
What's their record now? Any important move in the standings?
The Pens are now 38-21-8. The Flyers have lost three in a row and now sit just two points ahead of the Pens for the Atlantic division lead (though they do have three games-in-hand over the Pens).

Who's next?
Just one game before next weekend and that's Tuesday night at home against Buffalo.

Game #67 - at Boston Bruins

Game 67
Penguins (37-21-8, 82 points) at Bruins (38-19-7, 83 points)

Why does it matter?
Despite their recent struggles, the Pens don't often play teams ahead of them in the standings. The last time that happened was in January against Detroit. This will be unfamiliar territory on the road against a better team (right now).

What has been happening lately?
  • Pens - Ten losses in the past 13 games. Blech.
  • Bruins - Seven straight wins, mostly with defense and goaltending.
Questions to be answered
  • Who will slow down the Bruins big forwards? Lucic and Horton have both been filling the net since the All-Star break.
  • Can Fleury shut out the Bruins? He has had success in Boston in recent times, and it might take a shutout to get two points tonight.
  • If Kunitz returns who will sit? My money is on Chris Conner.
Keys to the game
  • Another game where scoring first will be huge since the Bruins also play a defensive style.
  • Get them into the box. Every time the Bruins have allowed six or more power play chances this season, they've allowed a power play goal. Keep working and draw the penalties.
  • Take away time and space from Krecji - he's dangerous as a setup man.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Devils 2, Penguins 1 (OT)

So what happened?
The Pens picked a bad time to take their only minor penalty of the game. Zybanek Michalek's stick ever-so-slightly hooked the Devils player (I think it was Elias, but I can't remember) with just over two minutes remaining in OT. The Pens killed most of the penalty in heroic fashion, with Adams and Staal giving up their bodies to block shots. Unfortunately, Johnson sprawled out of the net to make a save, but didn't corral the puck. The Devils worked it quickly to Kovalchuk, who buried it in the back of the net.

At least the Pens earned a point... but we seem to be saying that way too much lately.

Overall it was a great effort by the Pens, especially in dominating the third period. There was no payoff for the hard work.

Who scored?
Kennedy (15)

The Good?
  • Great team effort, especially (as noted) in the third. The Pens didn't seem to struggle as much as usual with the trap employed by the Devils.
  • Letestu - 10-2 on the faceoffs.
  • Paul Martin and Zybanek Michalek really stepped up after Letang was booted from the game.
The Bad?
  • Letang has to have his fight strap tied down. No excuse for that one - the Pens can't afford to lose him for a game because of a wardrobe malfunction.
  • Brent Johnson was solid... except when he wasn't. The first goal by Zajac was really soft.
The Ugly?
  • Paging the offense - anyone there? 26 shots is better than the norm against the Devils, but not nearly enough good scoring chances.
Any Surprises?
  • Letang standing over Zajac and getting into the fight was a surprise. Letang usually doesn't do that kind of stuff. There must have been something that happened earlier that he was upset about.
What's their record now? Any important move in the standings?
The Pens are now 37-21-8.

Who's next?
A trip up to Boston to finish off this five game road trip tomorrow night.

Game #66 - at New Jersey Devils

Game 66
Penguins (37-21-7, 81 points) at Devils (28-31-4, 60 points)

Why does it matter?
This is a key divisional match-up against an opponent that has been playing extremely well since early January.

What has been happening lately?
  • Pens - Nine losses in twelve games won't cut it, but they do have points in three of their past four and have not been playing poorly.
  • Devils - Only one stat matters - 18-2-2 in their past 22 games. Wow.
Questions to be answered
  • Can the Pens slow Kovalchuk down? In his past 16 games, he has just one scoreless game, with 9 goals and 10 assists over that span. Most of those points (and all of the goals) are at even-strength.
  • Can the Pens get to Brodeur?
  • Can James Neal get his first in a Penguins uniform? The team needs him.
Keys to the game
  • Score first and bring the Devils out of that boring trap. If the Devils take the lead, you may as well get a blanket and take a nap.
  • Win at even-strength. Most of the success recently for the Devils has been even-strength hockey since they don't earn or take many penalties.
  • No turnovers in the neutral zone. The Pens have good speed - dump the puck and go get it if you have to - make it a team effort.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Maple Leafs 3, Penguins 2 (OT)

So what happened?
The Pens were burned by a bad deflection off of a partition when Kris Letang tried to clear the puck in the third period. It led directly to the tying goal for the Leafs.

Overall it was a strong road effort by the Pens. They couldn't get quite enough pucks past Reimer to make this a rout, but the complimentary numbers were there. The zone time and shot attempts were there (and also tied to that, the Leafs only managed 10 shots on net through the first two periods.

This is one to chalk up to bad luck and move on.

Who scored?
Niskanen (1), Conner (7)

The Good?
  • Dion Phaneuf made the play on the OT goal, taking the puck from behind his own net, blowing past Neal and Staal, carrying the puck deep into the offensive zone and helping the team establish position on the winning possession. I didn't think Phaneuf had it in him.
  • Good pressure on the power play, but not enough chances, and not enough shots on net.
  • Chris Conner made a great effort play to beat Phaneuf on a stretch pass, protect the puck, and shuffle it through the five-hole on Reimer.
  • Matt Niskanen had his best game as a Penguin so far. He showed confidence and an eye for offense, especially breaking the puck out of his own end, while being solid defensively. The Pens may have a good player on their hands.
  • The PK stepped up. The Leafs only managed six shots combined on their five power play chances.
The Bad?
  • Too many penalties. I know the trip called on Lovejoy late saved a scoring chance, but MacArthur should not have been able to gain the lead position with three minutes left in the game.
  • Kris Letang... -3... ugh.
The Ugly?
  • Neal and Kovalev both played just four shifts with less than four minutes of ice time apiece in the third period. I know the late penalty had something to do with it, but what gives? Playing for OT maybe?
Any Surprises?
  • Not at all related to the game, but Sid is still tied for fourth in goals in the NHL... despite missing 24 games. That's astounding.
What's their record now? Any important move in the standings?
The Pens are now 37-21-7.

Who's next?
A day of rest and then back-to-back games against Jersey and Boston to wrap up the road trip.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Game #65 - at Toronto Maple Leafs

Game 65
Penguins (37-21-6, 80 points) at Maple Leafs (27-27-9, 63 points)

Why does it matter?
Practice makes perfect, and the Pens will get a chance to show what they've learned with another game in Toronto against a team that is playing well.

What has been happening lately?
  • Pens - Somehow the Pens found the back of the net five times (plus one in the shootout) against the Leafs last weekend.
  • Maple Leafs - Despite two losses in a row, the Leafs have earned at least a point in 12 of their last 14 games (all in February).
Questions to be answered
  • Who will sit with the return of Kennedy and Martin to the lineup? The defense part is easy - Brian Strait has not been recalled (as of this writing). Up front? My guess is Chris Conner.
  • Will the penalty kill get it's act together? They've allowed goals in four straight and killed just 12 out of 17 chances over that stretch (not good).
  • Can the Pens keep the offense going? I'm not hoping for another 6-spot, but getting three or four behind Reimer would be ideal.
Keys to the game
  • Repeat after me: no more dumb penalties. Stay out of the box!
  • Pick on Kessel. Yeah, he can skate and score, but his numbers would make you think he spends too much time poaching up ice and not enough time in his own end. He's a -21 on the season.
  • Keep getting traffic in front of Reimer. The Pens did a good job with this on Saturday.