Sunday, October 30, 2011

Unsustainable - Maple Leafs 4, Penguins 3

So what happened?

The Leafs scored first, and that was essentially the death knell.  Every time the Pens tied the score, the Leafs scored again to retake the lead (twice they did it inside of two minutes later).  The inability to hold the momentum after scoring was the most disappointing thing from the game.

The Pens also missed Jordan Staal, as their penalty kill allowed goals on both of the chances against them (both on penalties against Geno, both probably preventable).

This may wind up working in the Pens' favor in the long run.  The Pens' schedule is very light over the next two weeks, and this will leave a bad taste in their mouths.  HCDB should be able to get some mileage out of this in practice.

Who scored?
Cooke (4), Kunitz (4), Malkin (2)

The Good?
  • Two more goals on the power play, including a laser beam from Geno that was assisted by a great screen from Kunitz.  I sure wouldn't stand in there if I saw Geno winding up...
  • Malkin seems to be out of the woods as far as his knee is concerned.  This was his third straight game, and he led all forwards in ice time.
  • The hockey action itself was very entertaining.  The Leafs certainly like to go up and down the ice, and the Pens don't seem to mind that style either.
The Bad?
  • The PK was about as bad as they could be.  Two chances to kill, two goals against.  At least the Pens didn't take many penalties, or this could have been a blowout.
The Ugly?
  • I'm going with the PK again - they were bad AND ugly.
Any Surprises?
  • I was mildly surprised to see Brent Johnson.  Probably not a bad idea to get him some work, but with how well Flower had been playing, it was still a bit surprising.
What's their record now?
The Pens are 8-3-2.

Who's next?
Another West Coast trip, but not until later in the week, on Thursday, in San Jose.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Game #13 - at Toronto Maple Leafs

2011-12 Game 13

Pittsburgh Penguins (8-2-2, 18 points) at Toronto Maple Leafs (6-2-1, 13 points)
Would you pay $260 for this card?  Me either... but someone did.
Why does it matter?
Would you believe this is a game that features two of the top three teams in the East, along with the top two goal scorers (Neal and Kessel)?  If you told me that before the season started, I might have looked at you like you were crazy.

What has been happening lately?
  • Pens - Now up to five straight wins, the Pens just need to stay focused on playing their game.
  • Maple Leafs - While the record is good, the peripheral numbers suggest a different story - they are in the lower half of the league in goals allowed per game, the power play and the penalty kill.  They're winning by out scoring teams and winning lots of one-goal games.  That isn't sustainable if they don't improve some of the other numbers.
Questions to be answered
  • Will this be the night the Leafs get their first home loss in regulation?
  • Will Geno play in his third straight game for the first time this season?  If he does, is he back for good?
  • Can the PK keep up their amazing success rate?  History says they're due for a letdown sooner or later.
Keys to the game
  • Win at 5-on-5.  This was a weakness for the Pens early in the season, but the Leafs special teams aren't very good.  Most of their damage is coming at even strength.  The Pens will need to be focused there.
  • Stay out of the box.  They Leafs have been inconsistent on the power play, but the do have several multi-goal games.  Don't let them get that going on a Saturday night at home.
  • Control Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul - they're the main factors driving the success of the Leafs right now.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Persistence - Penguins 3, Islanders 2 (SO)

So what happened?

Just one minute into the third period the Pens found themselves suddenly down 2-0 on a goal by Matt Martin.  They had played very well for most of the first 41 minutes but had nothing to show for it other than the ringing sound of hitting the post / crossbar twice.

In short, the Pens needed some results, and Chris Kunitz provided them.  He was in the right place at the right time to jam the puck past Nabokov after it fluttered across the crease just 44 seconds after Martin had made it 2-0.  Kunitz wasn't done yet - he played the middle part of a tic-tac-toe passing play as the Pens came through on the power play less than three minutes later to tie the score at 2-2.  Kunitz had no way to shoot the puck with the angle he was at, but Nabokov reacted as though he was going to shoot anyway.  Chris simple angled the puck down to Neal on the goal line.  James roofed it.

Flower came through with a few big saves throughout the remainder of the third and got the game to OT.

It went to the shootout, where the Isles strangely put in DiPietro (did something happen to Nabokov?).  Glass Jaw was good, but not good enough.  He was unable to get his left pad flat on the ice against Geno, who had totally faked DiPietro out of his pads.

Who scored?
Kunitz (3), Neal (9)

The Good?
  • Have we moved beyond saying "fast start" for James Neal and started thinking that he might score 40 this year?  He was great again tonight, though I wish he'd hit the net more often.
  • Staal was very confident as well.  He seems to have taken things to another level so far this season.
  • Geno played two straight complete games for the first time this season, and looked none worse for wear in notching the shootout winner.
The Bad?
  • Lack of intensity late in the first and early in the third almost cost the Pens those two points they earned.
  • Several odd-man breaks against the Pens went far better than they should have.
The Ugly?
  • I can't come up with anything I'd call ugly.  The Pens earn their two points tonight with hard work and effort.
Any Surprises?
  • Allowing just 19 shots only ties the low water mark for the season (they also allowed just 19 in losing to the Caps).
What's their record now?
The Pens are 8-2-2.

Who's next?
Off to the Land of the Entitled (Toronto) for a Saturday night game.

Game #12 - vs New York Islanders

2011-12 Game 12

Pittsburgh Penguins (7-2-2, 16 points) at New York Islanders (3-4-0, 6 points)

Just a placeholder post, because I was too lazy busy to get a preview written earlier.  Let's chalk it up to the ongoing relocation of Igloo Dreams Headquarters, eh?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

No Punch - Penguins 3, Islanders 0

So what happened?

The Isles had some jump through the first two periods, but every scoring chance was casually shrugged away by Marc-Andre Fleury.  He was the true story of the game tonight.  The Isles out shot the Pens 23-15 through two periods, but they couldn't beat Flower (who didn't look like he even broke a sweat in making some difficult saves look easy).

John Tavares looked dangerous for the first half of the game.  I didn't notice him after that.  Grabner's only notable contribution was falling down when he tried to go wide on Lovejoy (who somehow earned a trip to the Sin Bin for his excellent effort).

In short, the Isles just didn't show up.

Who scored?
Dupuis (3), Park (2), Staal (6)

The Good?
  • Fleury.  Like a wall.
  • Malkin made his return.  He wasn't needed, but it was good to see him out there, and he did have several nice takeaways.
  • The goals were generated right out of the system the Pens play.  Dupuis took off when the puck went around the boards and Orpik hit him with a great lead pass.  Park was the recipient of a nice steal on the side wall by Asham.
The Bad?
  • Limited ice time for Vitale and Lovejoy (and Engelland to a lesser extent).  The Pens need all six defense with Michalek out.
  • Geno had three giveaways from trying to go through people.  Fortunately, if there was ever a game to work out the kinks, this was it.
The Ugly?
  • The attendance at Nassau Coliseum.  Where are you, Islanders' fans?
Any Surprises?
  • No funny business.  There wasn't even a scrum that I can recall.
What's their record now?
The Pens are 7-2-2.

Who's next?
Another chance for funny business when the Isles come to Pittsburgh on Thursday.

Game #11 - at New York Islanders

2011-12 Game 11

Pittsburgh Penguins (6-2-2, 14 points) at New York Islanders (3-3-0, 6 points)

Here's one guy you won't see in the lineup tonight.  Wave to everyone from Bridgeport, Michael!
Why does it matter?
This is the first game of the new season against the Islanders, and just the second one since the debacle on Long Island last year.  I don't expect anything to happen, but you never know.

What has been happening lately?
  • Pens - Three straight wins, all with some excellent team play, defense and timely scoring.  If they can keep doing this when the big guns are ready to go, they could be scary.
  • Isles - Things were great until a two game trip to Florida, where they lost consecutive games to Tampa and Florida.
Questions to be answered
  • Can the Pens continue to overcome injuries?  Zybanek Michalek will be out for a month, at least.  Fortunately, the Pens have some depth on the blue line.
  • Will there be any nonsense?  Both Gillies and Martin are on this team, but neither is playing a significant role.
  • How will the penalty kill adapt without Michalek?
Keys to the game
  • Keep up with Grabner.  Michael Grabner has tons of speed, but he's a -2 on the year so far (with two goals).  He isn't going to go through you, but he will try to go past you.  Keep him to the outside.
  • Shut down Tavares.  Tavares is the best player by far on the Isles, and he's off to a fast start with 10 points in 6 games.
  • Use the size advantage.  The Isles don't match up well with the size presented by Neal and Staal.  Crash the net and get some cheap ones.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Posting suspended temporarily

Igloo Dreams Headquarters is being relocated this week (in the real world, not the Internet), so there will be no new posts until this weekend or early next week.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Blown tire - Jets 2, Penguins 1

So what happened?

Off of the opening faceoff, Michalek blew a tire, which led directly to a 3-on-2 (complete with tic-tac-toe passing) and Kyle Wellwood putting the puck behind Marc-Andre Fleury.  Eight seconds into the game and the place is going nuts.  It was the worst possible start for the Pens.  It was 2-0 at the end of the first, and it took until a bit into the second period before the Pens were able to "get to their game" as HCDB likes to say.

They had some incredible scoring chances in the second and third period.  Pavelec was up to the challenge - he stopped everything the Pens threw at him and then some (he allowed just one bomb from Michalek).

The disappointing thing about this game was that the Pens really didn't seem ready at the start of the game.  I'm not sure if they were stunned by a goal eight seconds in, but they just didn't have it during the first period.

Who scored?
Michalek (1)

The Good?
  • Flower was great.  He stopped everything you could expect him to, and a few more on top of that.
  • Pavelec was even better.
  • The chances the offense generated were encouraging, especially without Sid and Geno.
  • The PK was solid, though the Jets aren't exactly fearsome.  Watch out for Buff's shot and you've pretty much shut them down.
The Bad?
  • A slow start.
  • An inability to finish scoring chances.  There were at least two where you said to yourself: "How did they miss that?"
  • Tyler Kennedy missed the game with concussion symptoms.  Yikes.
The Ugly?
  • The power play, blanked again.  They need to come through in games like this.
Any Surprises?
  • I know it isn't the first game like this, but "Richard Park, first line center" has to be the surprise of the year so far...
What's their record now?
The Pens are 3-2-2.

Who's next?
A trip to Minnesota for a game tonight against the Wild.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Game #7 - at Winnipeg Jets

2011-12 Game 7

Pittsburgh Penguins (3-1-2, 8 points) at Winnipeg Jets (0-3-0, 0 points)
Ladd, Enstrom and Pavelec?  This might be worse than the 03-04 Penguins.
Why does it matter?
The Jets are terrible.  They could be just the medicine for the Pens, who have hit a bit of a skid lately (three losses in four games).  Malkin will not play in this one.  He didn't go on the road trip (he won't play in Minnesota on Tuesday either).

What has been happening lately?
  • Pens - Just coming up short in several games.  This could be attributed to a lack of fire power, but the guys on the ice need to find a way to get it done.
  • Jets - There's no nice way to put it - they've been horrible so far.  ZERO goals on the power play and out scored 13-5 overall.  Yikes.
Questions to be answered
  • What wonderful quote will Jet's coach Claude Noel come up with next?  His latest, "it looks like our team thinks we have a free pass to fail", is downright Therrien-esque.
  • Can James Neal keep scoring?  If he doesn't, who will score?  What about the power play, which has been poor without Malkin?
  • How about a big goal from either Vitale or Letestu?  When Sid or Geno is out, the Pens need one of these guys to step up.  I thought we saw some small signs from Letestu against Buffalo.  Hopefully he can get it going.
Keys to the game
  • Results from the fourth line.  Asham and Adams are both a -4 on the season.  Those guys cannot be a detriment to the team.  At the very least, they need to hold the fort until the better offensive lines get out there.  That isn't happening right now.
  • Be strong the first 10 minutes.  You know the Jets will come out with a vengeance.  Withstand the storm and go to work.
  • Steve Sullivan - he has looked terrific at times, but he only has 9 shots through 6 games.  I'd like to see him look for his own shot a bit more.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Sabres 3, Penguins 2

So what happened?

The Sabres handed the Pens their first loss in regulation for the 2011-12 season.  It was an exciting game, with both teams trading chances.  The Pens simply weren't able to convert on most of their better chances.

The Sabres built leads of 2-0 and 3-1.  Jordan Staal scored late in the third to make it 3-2, and the Sabres took a dumb penalty with 21 seconds left to give the Pens a 6-on-4 advantage, but the Sabres were able to clear the puck past Paul Martin and the Pens never were able to get a shot off.

Who scored?
Neal (5), Staal (2)

The Good?
  • Fleury played well enough to win.
  • James Neal continues to play well.  His goal was a total fluke (it was deflected by Regehr), but he used his size and speed to his advantage in the offensive zone.
  • Jordan Staal dominated on faceoffs (13-6), including a few big wins at the end of the game when the Pens were trying to tie the score.
  • Pascal Dupuis continues to throw the body around out there.  He notched two more hits tonight.
The Bad?
  • A distinct lack of zone time, especially in the first period.
  • Aaron Asham was a -2 and registered no hits.
The Ugly?
  • Nothing really ugly - just your typical Sabres / Penguins game.
Any Surprises?
  • HCDB started switching up lines and defensive pairings big time tonight.  He loaded up with Letang and Martin.  Engelland had a reduced role.  He also put Richard Park with Neal and Sullivan for much of the game.
What's their record now?
The Pens are 3-1-2.

Who's next?
Off to Winnipeg on Monday.  The Jets are still looking for their first win.

Game #6 - vs Buffalo Sabres

2011-12 Game 6

Buffalo Sabres (2-1-0, 4 points) at Pittsburgh Penguins (3-0-2, 8 points)
The Sabres' offense is a team effort, led by Thomas Vanek.
Why does it matter?
The Pens have owned the Sabres lately in Pittsburgh.  This is the start of a tough stretch of five games in eight days, so it's important to get off to a good start.

What has been happening lately?
  • Pens - Each game has yielded at least one point, but the way the Caps game ended left a bad taste in everyone's mouth.
  • Sabres - A bad loss last night to the Canes, after tying the game with 2:21 remaining, the Sabres took a penalty (Vanek for tripping) and Skinner notched the game winner on the ensuing power play.  Talk about a bad taste...
Questions to be answered
  • How will Geno hold up with a bunch of games in front of him?
  • How is Fleury feeling, and did he lose any weight with the flu?  That can be a concern for goalies.
  • Can the Pens continue their mastery of Ryan Miller, assuming that's who they see tonight?
Keys to the game
  • Focus on the PK.  After allowing a power play goal in OT to the Caps, the Pens need to re-double their efforts on the PK to shut things down.  The Sabres have been clicking at over 20% so far this season.
  • Keep the chances to the outside.  Both teams managed over 40 shots in their last game - this could be all offense.
  • Stop Jason Pominville, who has been very good against the Pens the last few years (5 goals in 12 games).

Thursday, October 13, 2011

One and Done - Capitals 3, Penguins 2 (OT)

So what happened?

First things first - the Pens flat out dominated the majority of this game.  Between the first, third and OT periods, the Caps managed just 8 shots on goal while the Pens managed 32.  Unfortunately, they were unable to either find the net at key times, or to beat Vokoun.

The Caps, for their part, did just enough to not get blown out of the building and were the beneficiaries of a very lucky bounce on the Knuble goal (it bounced off of Engelland's skate from the side of the net).  They hung around and took advantage of the few chances they did have.

If the Pens play this way in 10 games, they'll win 9 of them.

Who scored?
Neal (3, 4)

The Good?
  • Johnson was sharp during the second period when the Caps managed a bit of pressure.
  • James Neal is on fire.  If he can find some consistency, he could put up scary numbers this season.
  • The Pens got a key power play goal to tie the game late.  That was a refreshing change from the Edmonton game where they couldn't score in the last 4:30 of regulation despite the man-advantage.
The Bad?
  • Not being able to get more than one during the first period when they were on fire.
  • The unfortunate penalty that Jordan Staal took in OT (the first penalty the Pens took all night).
The Ugly?
  • The gesture made by Asham after knocking out Jay Beagle.  There's no need for that when a guy is possibly unconscious on the ice.  If an opponent did that, we'd all be incensed.
Any Surprises?
  • Coming into tonight, according to Bob Errey, your team leader in hits was Pascal Dupuis.  Wow.
What's their record now?
The Pens are 3-0-2.

Who's next?
Saturday night brings the Sabres to town.

Sidney Crosby - Cleared for Contact

Everyone on the planet will soon know... Sid has been cleared for contact in practice.

He'll stay this was in practice and see how it goes.  The Pens don't have too many practices with contact because of their schedule, but this could be a blessing in disguise, as it will allow Sid to ease into things.

It will be great to see him back on the ice in game action, and this is a big step in getting him here.

Game #5 - vs Washington Capitals

2011-12 Game 5

Washington Capitals (2-0-0, 4 points) at Pittsburgh Penguins (3-0-1, 7 points)
An Ovechkin rookie card goes for $50 - $60 these days (ungraded).  Crosby rookie from the same year / set?  Around $180-200 (also ungraded).  Poor Alex.
Why does it matter?
Not only is it the normal rivalry, but this is a great test to see where the Pens' penalty killing unit is at.  The Caps have torched the Pens with the man-advantage during the regular season over the last year or so.

What has been happening lately?
  • Pens - A great start to the season was made better by not blowing a third period lead in the home opener against Florida.
  • Capitals - Two wins at home, both in OT or the shoot out.  Two blown leads in the third period.
Questions to be answered
  • The Caps have been defined by their play at even-strength so far.  The Pens have been less than sharp in that regard.  Can the Pens step it up?
  • What about Geno, who is a game-time decision?
  • Can the Pens beat these guys without Sid (and with or without Geno)?
Keys to the game
  • Stay out of the box.  Keeping things at even strength will keep Boudreau rolling his lines (and keep Ovechkin off the ice to some extent).
  • Don't cheat.  The Caps will float and try to cheat up ice when the puck is in their own zone sometimes.  Be aware of where they're at and don't over-commit.
  • Sit Asham and MacIntyre - you need all the speed and conditioning you can get tonight.  The Caps roll their lines extremely well, with every forward playing at least 8-9 minutes in their first two games.

Chris Kunitz signs two year extension

The Pens signed Chris Kunitz to a two year contract extension today with a cap hit of $3.725 M over the next two seasons.  It will keep his cap number exactly the same as it is currently.

The two main knocks on Kunitz are

  • Lack of size
  • Becoming injury-prone (he missed 32 games in 09-10 and 16 games in 10-11)

Having said that, getting a top 6 forward with speed, who isn't afraid to be physical (despite his slight frame) is a big plus.

This move ensures that the Pens will have a solid top 6 locked in up front for next season.  Crosby, Malkin, Staal, Kennedy and now Kunitz are under contract.  James Neal is a restricted free agent, which means the Pens can retain him should they choose to.  Dupuis and Letestu are also in that conversation (and under contract for next year).

Great move by Ray Shero.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A Great Start - Penguins 4, Panthers 2

So what happened?

This was an excellent home opener that featured some nice work by Marc-Andre Fleury, a shorty and a coming-out party for Joe Vitale.  It was a classic trap game (first game back home after a road trip, with a big match-up coming on Thursday), but the Pens took care of business in the home opener.

Who scored?
Dupuis (1), Cooke (3), Park (1), Neal (2)

The Good?
  • Cooke and Neal are both on a tear (I say that somewhat sarcastically - it is only four games).
  • Another doughnut hole for the PK.
  • Deryk Engelland had what could be his best game as a Penguin.  He played nearly 20 minutes and was a +3.  Honorary mention goes to Matt Niskanen.
The Bad?
  • Another doughnut hole for the PP.
  • Letestu and Lovejoy don't seem to have it going right now.
The Ugly?
  • Nothing, really.
Any Surprises?
  • Out of Lovejoy, Engelland and Niskanen, who did you think would be having the least success right now?  I sure wouldn't have picked Lovejoy.
What's their record now?
The Pens are 3-0-1.  It's too early to start saying things like "the Pens lead the league in goal scoring", because they've played more games than anyone (though that's just one of the wonderful stats that Root Sports decided to show us after the game).

Who's next?
The Caps come to Consol for a big game on Thursday.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Game #4 - vs Florida Panthers (Home Opener)

2011-12 Game 4

Florida Panthers (1-0-0, 2 points) at Pittsburgh Penguins (2-0-1, 5 points)

Why does it matter?
It's the home opener!  Do you need any further explanation?

This is the first time this season where I've had to look up the other team's record.  

What has been happening lately?
  • Pens - A successful road trip with a slightly bitter aftertaste due to the ending in Edmonton.
  • Panthers - A solid road win against the Isles on Long Island.
Questions to be answered
  • Will the dumb contracts handed out by Dale Tallon somehow make the Panthers more successful?  Brian Campbell is the poster boy for irresponsible spending.
  • Will Geno play?  If the injury wasn't that serious, you'd think he would play in the home opener.
  • The Panthers rolled the lines on Saturday against the Isles.  Are the Pens fresh enough to keep up with them after a busy weekend?
Keys to the game
  • Save some gas for later - the Pens will be geared up early on, but they need to pace themselves tomorrow, especially after returning from Western Canada and being on western time.
  • Keep things simple on the power play.  If carrying the puck up the ice isn't working, dump it and go to work.  The Pens will have a speed advantage
  • Make the third period a shutdown period.  Each game has seen the other team get back into it in the third..

Goaltender duel - Oilers 2, Penguins 1 (SO)

So what happened?

The short version?  Brent Johnson stood on his head for most of this game and kept the Oilers off of the score board.  The power play was unable to get a key goal despite having a five minute major to work with at the end of regulation (and first 30 seconds of OT).  The Oilers goalie (Devan Dubnyk) had something to do with that - he was great.

Who scored?
Letang (1)

The Good?
  • Getting to the power play 8 times.
  • The PK shut down the Oilers.
  • Brent Johnson and Devan Dubnyk were both really, really good.
  • Kris Letang is quickly turning into the best defensemen the Pens have seen in a long time.  He keeps taking his game to higher levels.
The Bad?
  • Another third period lead that evaporated.  It will be interesting to see if this trend continues once the Pens aren't playing teams in their home openers.
  • Other than Letang, the D was able to get involved in the offense with as much success as they had in Calgary.
The Ugly?
  • The power play - one goal on eight chances isn't the end of the world, but the inability to score on the major to close out the game is ugly.  You need someone to step up there.
Any Surprises?
  • Are the good feelings from this successful trip diminished by the blown lead and only one point in Edmonton?
What's their record now?
The Pens are 2-0-1.

Who's next?
The home opener is Tuesday night against the Panthers.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Game #3 - at Edmonton Oilers

Game 3

Penguins (2-0-0, 4 points) at Oilers (0-0-0, 0 points)

Why does it matter?
I'm not sure how often this happens, but this is the third straight road game where the Pens are the season opener for the opposition.  I can't imagine this is common.  Fortunately the Pens have been up to the challenge through the first two (seemingly more difficult) parts.

What has been happening lately?
  • Pens - Another team effort led to a win in Calgary last night.
  • Oilers - Will they be any better than last year?  Lots of young talent, but not much in the way of results yet.
Questions to be answered
  • Is Geno okay?
  • Will Brent Johnson get the start in goal?  Flower could probably use the break with the home opener on Tuesday (which is closer than you think given that tonight's game won't finish until near midnight EST).
  • Can the Pens avoid a letdown against what appears to be inferior competition?
Keys to the game
  • Stay focused.  The Oilers don't have much in the way of star power (though they will when the young guys mature), so keep it simple and pound them.
  • Go to work on the defense.  The Oilers are short-handed on the blue line with several injuries in their final pre-season game (and Ryan Whitney isn't ready to return either).  Be aggressive on the forecheck early and wear them down.
  • Play 60 minutes.  If there's one thing that has been lacking so far, it's the third period intensity when playing with a lead.  The Pens allowed both the Canucks and Flames back into the game.  It would be nice to avoid that tonight.

Lopsided - Penguins 5, Flames 3

So what happened?
This was nowhere near as close as the score indicated.  While the Pens did need an empty net goal from Jordan Staal to cement the victory, the Pens put on a clinic for about 45 of the 60 minutes of this hockey game.  The rest of the time, they were simply better than average, instead of tremendous.

My biggest takeaway from this game was that the Flames tried to get physical with the Pens.  The Pens not only ignored the nonsense, but also hurt the Flames on the score sheet, ruining their home opener.  I can't think of a better script.

Who scored?
Kennedy (1), Niskanen (1), Malkin (1), Adams (1), Staal (1)

The Good?
  • Hurting the Flames on the scoreboard instead of responding to some of the shenanigans.
  • Matt Cooke took a shot to the head, but was able to return in the third period.
  • Another balanced effort in the TOI department.  Only Aaron Asham was under 10 minutes of ice time, and that's largely because he doesn't play on the PK or the PP.
  • The power play had another multi-goal game and looked pretty decent.
The Bad?
  • Almost blowing another lead.  Letting a better team than Calgary back into the game in the third is a recipe for disaster.
  • Curtis Glencross had a cheap shot on Malkin off of a faceoff that may have led to Geno missing the latter part of the third period.  Hopefully he isn't hurt.
The Ugly?
  • Fleury's save percentage - 85% - not pretty.  The goals that went in, however, really weren't ones that he had a chance to stop (especially the cross-ice pass - the D can't let that go through).
Any Surprises?
  • We don't see the Flames that much, so I was surprised how chippy they were (borderline cheap).  Something tells me we'd really hate the Flames if the Pens played them more often.
What's their record now?
The Pens are 2-0-0.

Who's next?
Quick turnaround for a game in Edmonton tonight at 9:00 EST.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Game #2 - at Calgary Flames

Game 2
Penguins (1-0-0, 0 points) at Flames (0-0-0, 0 points)

Why does it matter?
Another night, another home opener to spoil.  The Pens, who strangely are the opponents in three consecutive home openers, will be looking to earn two points tonight to cement this road trip in the "Success" column on the score sheet.

What has been happening lately?
  • Pens - A solid performance against the Canucks on Thursday.
  • Flames - Jarome Iginla will play tonight for the Flames after missing all of camp with back spasms.
Questions to be answered
  • How will Iginla do with pre-season action under his belt?
  • Will we see Brent Johnson tonight or tomorrow night?  You have to figure he'll play one of them.
  • Will Jordan Staal drink enough water to finish a game?
Keys to the game
  • The biggest thing that jumps out about the Flames is that they're solid from top to bottom, with an excellent captain in Iginla.  The Pens need to be consistent and focused for 60 minutes.
  • Get the puck deep - there were too many turnovers against the Canucks where guys were trying to carry the puck through players.  Dump it behind and go get it.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Good Omens! Penguins 4, Canucks 3 (SO)

So what happened?
The Pens blew a two-goal lead but hung on to get to the shootout, where Letang and Malkin made Luongo look silly, while Flower handled Samuelsson and Burrows (who attempted a less complicated version of the move that Letang uses).

The special teams were the key for the Pens as they scored twice on the power play.  They also not only stoned the Canucks on the man-advantage, but scored a shorty when Matt Cooke did his best Ovechkin impersonation (using the defenseman as a screen and whipping a nasty wrist shot).

I thought it was a great initial answer to several big questions we had coming into the year, including:

  • James Neal scoring a goal on the power play (and he looked great at times in this one, but probably a bit too much dangling at times)
  • Matt Cooke keeping himself under control and scoring twice - that has to feel good
  • The power play scoring twice, while the PK stoned the Canucks

Who scored?
Neal (1), Cooke (1,2)

The Good?
  • Fleury had a solid game - the first Canuck goal should never have gone in, but he made several other huge saves to keep the Canucks from ever getting the lead.  He was also great in the shootout.
  • Joe Vitale showed some real hustle and effort.  He worked his butt off, especially on the forecheck.
  • All four lines played decent minutes.  This was critical, as you could see guys getting winded by the latter stages of the third period.
  • Steve Sullivan not only appeared to have more gas in the tank than we're used to seeing from the "old guy signings" (Bill Guerin, John Leclair), but he also showed great chemistry with Geno and Neal, along with several sharp offensive moves.  Let's hope we get to see more.
The Bad?
  • Blowing a two-goal lead late in the second.
  • Losing 3-0 at five-on-five hockey.  That is the most troubling thing to come out of the opener.
The Ugly?
  • Nothing really ugly - no nasty hits or cheap shots... just exciting hockey.
Any Surprises?
  • Hearing the NHL on NBC music on Versus.  Everyone knew NBC had purchased Versus, but it still sounded strange.  Somehow the production values seemed higher too...
What's their record now?
The Pens are 1-0-0.

Who's next?
Another late one in Calgary on Saturday night.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Game #1 - at Vancouver Canucks

Game 1
Penguins (0-0-0, 0 points) at Canucks (0-0-0, 0 points)

Why does it matter?
The team (and the NHL) is waiting for Sid to return, and Geno is trying to show that he can be The Man (again).  The real early season story, however, is that the Pens are opening up with a tough stretch of three games in four nights, all on the West Coast in Canada.

What has been happening lately?
  • Pens - Everyone's hopes are high after Malkin dominated the exhibition schedule.
  • Canucks - The Canucks are trying to figure out how they'll look without Ryan Kessler in the early going.
Questions to be answered
  • Will Flower avoid the slow start that plagued him last season?
  • Can Geno return to the form we saw from him just a few years ago?  Last season was the first time he dropped under a point per game for the season.
  • How will the top line (which seems to be Malkin, Sullivan and Neal) produce?  Can Neal score?
Keys to the game
  • Get in Luongo's head - his last few real games (in the Cup Finals) weren't his best, to be sure.
  • Lock down the Twins.  The Canucks were the highest scoring team in the league last season, and it all starts with Henrik and Daniel.
  • Win the special team's battle.  The Pens need to be excellent again this season on the PK - this will be a big test tonight, even though the Canucks no longer have Erhoff, who was their power play quarterback.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Igloo Dreams Six Year Blog Anniversary

It was six years ago, just at the end of the lockout, that I started Igloo Dreams.

As far as I know, I'm the longest running Penguins blog.

This has always been a one-man operation (okay, The Wife wrote one game review back in Year 1), and while my drive to write can certainly wane during the summer, now that hockey season is here, I'm getting back in the groove again.

That means you can expect another year of previews and reviews for the games, along with some other articles (sometimes over at Hockey Independent).

As always, there will be no advertisements and no shilling over here - I only write because I like to do it.  Hopefully you enjoy reading this as much as I enjoy writing it.

Meet your 2011-12 Pittsburgh Penguins

The Penguins made their final roster moves today.  To summarize, they:

  • Sent Joe Morrow back to his junior team
  • Sent Alexandre Picard, Jason Williams and Brian Strait to Wilkes-Barre (Williams and Picard have to clear waivers)
  • Placed Sidney Crosby, Dustin Jeffrey, Nick Petersen, Robert Bortuzzo and Boris Valabik on IR

The Pens are carrying 14 forwards, 7 defensemen and two goalies.

The surprise at forward has to be Joe Vitale, who made the team through hard work and determination.  Congratulations to him - I think he would make a great third or fourth line center.

Your regular scratch candidates (once the health of Orpik is proven) would be Lovejoy / Engelland / Niskanen on defense (whoever is struggling gets to sit).  At forward, where they'll need to sit two, it will depend on the opponent.  Most nights, you sit MacIntyre along with one of Asham / Park (or Sullivan, if he needs a rest).  If it's a physical game, you probably sit Vitale and maybe Sullivan?

I'm glad I don't have to make the picks on who is scratched.

Things will become very interesting when Crosby and, to a lesser extent, Jeffrey return.  Depending on how Sullivan and Park are working out, that could certainly force Vitale back to the minors and maybe boot Letestu (but I sure hope not).

Here are the opening night forwards, in no particular order:
Malkin, Neal, Sullivan, Kunitz, Staal, Dupuis, Cooke, Kennedy, Letestu, Asham, Adams, Park, Vitale and MacIntyre

The defense:
Letang, Orpik, Martin, Michalek, Lovejoy, Engelland, Niskanen

The goalies:
Fleury, Johnson

The season opens Thursday night in Vancouver!  Can you believe it's here already?