Saturday, December 31, 2011

Game #38 - at New Jersey Devils

2011-12 Game 38

Pittsburgh Penguins (21-12-4, 46 points) at New Jersey Devils (20-15-1, 41 points)

You don't often get to break out a 1995-96 hockey card!  This is a Sykora rookie card from his original go-round with the Devils.  He's having a good year with 21 points in 36 games (10 + 11).

Why does it matter?

You can make the argument that the Atlantic Division is the toughest in hockey.  The Devils are in fourth place, yet are in sixth place in the entire conference.  This is a key match-up for the Pens, especially if they're going to struggle to win against the Flyers and Rangers.

What has been happening lately?
  • Pens - The Pens ran into a better team on Thursday night against Philly.  The struggles continue against the power teams.
  • Devils - They've won eight of eleven, but just two of their past four.
Questions to be answered
  • Who are these guys?  These Devils are not doing a good job at controlling the shots against them, and they're putting the puck in the net with more frequency, especially lately.  They have SEVEN forwards with 10 goals or more.
  • Can the Pens get themselves amped up enough if Brodeur stones them as he has recently?
  • Will the Pens be able to take advantage of the fact that New Jersey has somehow allowed ELEVEN short-handed goals this season?  That's an amazing number, and it probably has something to do with Kovalchuk, if I had to guess.
Keys to the game
  • Get traffic in front of Brodeur.  The Devils are allowing shots, but Brodeur is stopping them (I'm assuming that we'll see Martin and not Johan Hedberg).
  • Get Geno going.  He has no points in his last five games against the Devils.
  • Play solid road-style hockey at even-strength.  This is where the Devils have been making hay during their recent run of strong hockey.  Shut them down and you'll have a good chance.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Bad Script - Flyers 4, Penguins 2

So what happened?

Jordan Staal scored just 44 seconds into the game.  That was the high point for the entire evening.

The Pens were undisciplined, taking three minor penalties in the first period.  This did two things - first, it allowed the Flyers to tie the game at 1-1, and (more importantly) it kept the Pens from developing any kind of offensive game.  That was the story for the entirety of the evening.  The Pens simply couldn't get anything going.

Jagr scored on a backhand that went off of Orpik's stick, and Talbot added an empty net goal at the end.  That was the bad script I mentioned in the title.  It wasn't a good way for things to go from the Pittsburgh perspective.

Who scored?

Staal (15), Kennedy (5)

The Good?
  • Rinaldo was scratched.  That probably kept anyone from getting hurt.
  • Nice start with the Staal goal early on.  Kennedy used his speed to bust in and steal the puck behind Bobrovsky.  He got it out in front to Staal, who did the rest.  This is how the Pens needed to play all night long, and it just wasn't there.
  • Faceoff domination.  The Pens went 37-17 as a team off the draw.
The Bad?
  • A total inability to get the puck in behind their defense and go to work.  After the Penalty Box Parade in the first, things never got in sync.
The Ugly?
  • James Neal was unable to bury a puck sitting in front of a wide-open net.  I think that would have completely changed the game, as it was just past the mid-point of the first period.
Any Surprises?
  • No - considering the recent history against the Flyers in Consol, this should not have been a surprise.
What's their record now?
The Pens are 21-12-4.

Who's next?
A quick trip over to play the Devils for a New Year's Eve matinee.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Game #37 - vs Philadelphia Flyers

2011-12 Game 37

Philadelphia Flyers (21-10-4, 46 points) at Pittsburgh Penguins (21-11-4, 46 points)

Regardless of what happens in his first appearance at Consol, let's not forget that Jagr is one of the all-time greats for the Pens.  Nothing can change that.

Why does it matter?

It's the return of Jagr and Talbot to Pittsburgh, but that's not the important story.  This game is a great match-up of two top teams in the Eastern Conference.  The Pens have a decent record in their division (5-2) but lost their only game so far against the Flyers.

What has been happening lately?
  • Pens - A four game winning streak, with a totally dominant offensive performance in their most recent outing against Carolina.
  • Flyers - They're going through a power outage right now, with four losses in their past five games.  It makes for great drama on HBO, right?
Questions to be answered
  • Can the Pens forget that the Flyers are struggling?  I ask that because the Flyers peripheral numbers are still very solid.  They're doing OK on the power play, they're out shooting the opposition and they're largely staying out of the box.  These things will lead to wins, and they'll kill the Pens if they don't take them seriously.
  • Will we see Bobrovsky?  He has the last two wins for the Flyers.  Of course, this is the last game before the Winter Classic for Philly, and I'm sure they'll want Bryzgalov to be in good form for that outing.
  • Can the Pens slow down Danny Briere?  He has torched the Pens the past few seasons, with 11 points in 13 games.
Keys to the game
  • Special teams, again.  The Flyers have spent more time on special teams than anyone in the NHL (they lead in power play chances for and against).  Both their PK and PP are streaky.  The Pens need to win this battle.
  • Paul Martin.  The Pens need another strong defensive guy to help contain the multiple lines the Flyers can throw at you.  Hopefully he can return.
  • Ignore the booing of Jagr and (possibly) Talbot.  It will only be a distraction from the important goal, which is two points.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Penguins 4, Hurricanes 2

So what happened?

This was very similar to the game against the Jets in that the score was tied 1-1 going into the third period, and the Pens used some rapid fire goals to open up a lead in the third.

Things started a little bit slowly tonight.  The Canes earned the first goal after some back and forth play.  This only served to fire up the Pens, and they absolutely dominated the game as the Canes seemed to be content to lay back and not press the issue.  The Pens forced the action to the point of out shooting the Canes FIFTY-TWO to eighteen.  This was the high-water mark for the Pens this season.

The most encouraging thing was that the team never took the foot off of the throttle.  They kept pushing the offense.  It helped that the game was only tied going into the third, but even after they opened up a bit of a lead, they kept going.

Who scored?

Neal (21), Sullivan (7), Dupuis (11), Staal (14)

The Good?
  • Dupuis had a beautiful goal, taking a pass from Kennedy on a two-on-one.  Peters went down and Dupuis' shot went up.  It was a goal scorer's goal, if there ever was such a thing.
  • Neal's goal was a bit fluky, but the puck was loose in the crease, and he was aggressive in attacking it.  He got in the way of the clearing attempt and the puck pin-balled into the net.
  • Michalek and Orpik were excellent.
  • The Pens won the special teams battle, shutting the Canes out on the PK while managing a power play goal.
  • James Neal with nine shots, Kennedy and Malkin had six apiece.
The Bad?
  • If you wanted to nit-pick, taking two penalties in the third wasn't a smart move.  Granted, the Clueless Zebras were looking for any reason to blow their whistle, but taking two still isn't good.
The Ugly?
  • Geno is inconsistent at best on faceoffs.  He won just 6 of 22 tonight.
Any Surprises?
  • Seeing Justin Peters in net was a surprise.  He was sharp early, but I'm sure he hasn't seen too many barrages like he saw tonight in his NHL career.
What's their record now?
The Pens are 21-11-4.

Who's next?
That Double-J guy (and the creepy car commercial guy) are coming here for the first time on Thursday.

Game #36 - vs Carolina Hurricanes

2011-12 Game 36

Carolina Hurricanes (12-19-6, 30 points) at Pittsburgh Penguins (20-11-4, 44 points)

Cam Ward is not good enough to have such a bizarre signature.  I see the "30", but what the heck is up with the rest?

Why does it matter?

The Pens want to come out after the Christmas break with the same level of success as they had going into it.  The Canes have been better recently, so this will not be easy.

What has been happening lately?
  • Pens - A nice three game winning streak led by Geno, Fleury and some excellent special teams play.
  • Hurricanes - 4-2-2 in their past eight games.  The Canes have been playing well.
Questions to be answered
  • Can the Pens continue to get healthy?  Michalek returned in Winnipeg... they need Paul Martin next (though he won't play tonight).
  • Will the power play stay hot?  The Pens have power play goals in four straight.
  • Can the Pens slow down Jussi Jokinen?  He has nine points in his last six games against the Pens.
Keys to the game
  • Special teams.  The Canes have simply not been taking penalties (one per game for three games straight).  Their record when they allow a power play goal is just 3-15-3 (which is amazingly bad).  The Pens need to get to the power play and convert.
  • Matt Niskanen?  Yep - in the month of December, Niskanen has averaged over 21 minutes of time per game and has 9 points in 10 games.  He's also a +3 over that span.
  • Play 60 minutes.  The Canes have been winning games by scoring at even strength.  The Pens need to be ready to match the intensity for a full 60 minutes.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Penguins 4, Jets 1

So what happened?

I missed this game entirely.  Holidays do that to hockey watching.

Seems like this is one that would have been fun to watch.  Nice to see the Pens hold the Jets to just 19 shots and put the game away in the third.

Who scored?

Vitale (2), Neal (20), Staal (13), Dupuis (10)

What's their record now?
The Pens are 20-11-4.

Who's next?
Christmas break, and then back to face the Hurricanes on Tuesday night.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Game #35 - at Winnipeg Jets

2011-12 Game 35

Pittsburgh Penguins (19-11-4, 42 points) at Winnipeg Jets (15-13-5, 35 points)

Yeah, it's from the first Winter Classic, but I thought it was a cool picture. 

Why does it matter?

It's a chance at redemption for the Pens, who were the first victim for the newly minted Jets this season.  They lost 2-1 in Winnipeg back in October.

What has been happening lately?
  • Pens - A two game winning streak, with the most recent win being an emotional, intense victory over the Blackhawks.
  • Jets - Numbers are funny in the NHL.  The Jets have lost three of their past five, but two of those losses could easily have been wins.  They're also 10-4-2 since November 12th.
Questions to be answered
  • Given the suspension of Engelland, will we see the return of Carl Sneep (or Brian Strait) or is Michalek or Martin ready to go.  Boy, I hope it's one of the latter two.
  • Can the Pens find a way to get onto their power play?  For the month of December, the Jets have only been allowing three chances per game.
  • Will the hot goalies carry the Jets?  Both Pavelec and Mason have been sensational in December.
Keys to the game
  • Neutralize the home-ice advantage.  The Jets are MUCH better at home (11-5-1).  Play a tight road game and keep the crowd out of it.
  • Don't give them space.  Buff has a great shot, but he isn't that fast - stay up on him.  Kane is another one to stick with - he won't hesitate to run over the goalie.
  • No drop-off.  Tuesday was a big win, but it's time to get right back to it.  Don't let the guard down.

Merry Christmas, Deryk Engelland!

Engelland was suspended for three games by the NHL for his hit on Marcus Kruger on Tuesday night.

I think that might be a bit too steep, but let's face it - he absolutely went high on a hit, and unnecessarily so.  He also made direct contact with the head as a result of going high on the hit.  I'm not sure if he was trying to pull up and that's why he went high, but it doesn't really matter - you can't do that in the NHL today.

I have no problem with the message that is being sent.

Engelland is eligible to return for the Pens game on New Year's Eve in New Jersey.

Now, can we talk about a suspension for Niklas Kronwall, who seems to launch himself on EVERY hit?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Just Flower - Penguins 3, Blackhawks 2

So what happened?

Fleury saved the day.  He made several HUGE saves during the first two periods as the Pens built a 3-0 lead, and then helped the team to hold on through a tumultuous third period that saw the Hawks score twice and have a power play (with Emery out of the net) for the final 90 seconds.

The Pens took advantage of their second power play chance in the first period when Geno found Kunitz cutting across the middle and hit him in stride.  Kunitz swooped in on Emery, having beaten both D by a step and used his backhand to open up the five-hole, which is where he deposited the puck.

James Neal scored on a ridiculous low shot to the far post, and Kennedy deposited the puck into an empty net after Ben Lovejoy (in his first game back) attacked with speed and tried a wrap-around.  The puck caromed straight to Kennedy, who wasted no time.

The lack of recognition early in the third that the Blackhawks were activating their D almost cost the Pens.  Matt Cooke alluded to it when he was interviewed by Pierre after the game.

In short, great two points to have earned.

Who scored?

Kunitz (12), Neal (19), Kennedy (4)

The Good?
  • Geno and Jordan were 16-8 and 16-7 respectively on the draws.  Where did that come from?
  • The first two periods - the Pens were opportunistic and Fleury made the key saves.
  • Balanced ice time up front.  Asham had the lowest number and he was just under 10 minutes.  I think that was key in having the strength to hold on at the end.
  • The PK killing off all three chance, including the big one at the end of the game.
  • Ben Lovejoy was solid in his return.
  • Brooks Orpik playing over 19 minutes at even strength (almost 24 total minutes), going up against the top lines from the Hawks.
The Bad?
  • Vitale and Adams on faceoffs.  They were as bad as Malkin and Staal were good.
The Ugly?
  • Getting out shot 19-4 in the third period.  I know they were trying to hold on, but this team isn't built to play that way.  They still need to get the puck deep and play some shifts in the offensive end.  Honestly, they were very lucky the Blackhawks didn't tie the score.
Any Surprises?
  • Holding on to win a key game against a strong opponent was a nice surprise.
What's their record now?
The Pens are 19-11-4.

Who's next?
A quick trip to Winnipeg on Friday night.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Game #34 - vs Chicago Blackhawks

2011-12 Game 34

Chicago Blackhawks (21-8-4, 46 points) at Pittsburgh Penguins (18-11-4, 40 points)

That's a nice patch.  Hossa is still one of the best in the NHL when he can stay healthy.

Why does it matter?

This is the first trip to Consol by the Blackhawks.  They're also red hot right now, with a 9-1-1 record in their past 11 games and a 5 game winning streak.  The Pens are the underdogs, and rightfully so.  It will be a big challenge.

What has been happening lately?
  • Pens - An offensive explosion against Buffalo may have righted the ship.
  • Blackhawks - No one is hotter than the Blackhawks right now.  In addition to the streaks mentioned above, they also own an eight game point streak.
Questions to be answered
  • Can the Pens solve Ray Emery?  That's right - good old Throat Slash himself is the hot goalie right now for the Hawks.  The best chance may be that he may not start - the Hawks have another game on Wednesday night.  It doesn't get much easier if he sits - Corey Crawford is solid, if inconsistent.
  • Can the Pens slow down the power play for the Hawks?  They're 9-28 over their past 9 games.
  • Who will return from the Land of the Walking Wounded?  I'm hoping we have a chance to see Staal and Michalek.
Keys to the game
  • Stay out of the box.  Before they had seven chances against Calgary, they only had 21 chances over 8 games.
  • Set the tone.  Get involved physically early on, and get to the front of the net on offense.  Scrapping and clawing would be a good way to win this game.
  • Load up and match up against the top producers.  The Hawks have excellent production out of the top of their lineup in Hossa, Toews, Sharp and Kane.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Unexpected - Penguins 8, Sabres 3

So what happened?

This was a surprise.  The only other game this season that was this lopsided was Crosby's return against the Islanders.

The Pens dominated almost from the drop of the puck.  Chris Kunitz established a physical tone early on, and the team (and crowd) fed off of that and never looked back.

It didn't hurt that they were playing against two goalies (Miller and Enroth) that couldn't stop a beach ball from going in their net, much less a puck.

Flower played well and made a few key saves early on (specifically one on Derek Roy) that could have turned the game another way.

Much credit goes to the coaches, who found a way to keep the players focused and working despite the big lead.  Too many times, the Pens have jumped out to an early lead only to lay off.  There was no relaxation in their game last night.

Geno, by the way, had a five point night, including a hat trick.  It was his seventh in his career.

Who scored?

Williams (1), Despres (1), Malkin (13, 14, 15), Neal (18), Engelland (2), Kunitz (11)

The Good?
  • Simon Despres, the second star of the night, scored his first NHL goal and played a stellar 20 minutes, including time on the power play and penalty kill.
  • The Pens allowed just 19 shots.
  • Carl Sneep had his first NHL point and was a +1 in over 16 minutes of ice time.
  • Geno, obviously, was flying.
  • The score could have been much worse - the Pens had several other golden chances they didn't capitalize on.
The Bad?
  • Craig Adams left early in the second period and did not return to the game.  He seemed to get hit while on his back near the Buffalo goal, up around the head area.  No idea if that was the issue, but the Pens can't afford to lose another center.
The Ugly?
  • The Sabres - the effort as a team was just ugly.  Only 19 shots and 10 hits.  If the other team is dominating you, at least try to have a controlled physical response.  Nothing stupid, but play hard.  They didn't seem to want to do that.  It didn't help that both goalies completely sucked.
Any Surprises?
  • Eight goals is a big surprise, and a nice one.
What's their record now?
The Pens are 18-11-4.

Who's next?
Tuesday night, at home, against Chicago.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Game #33 - vs Buffalo Sabres

2011-12 Game 33

Buffalo Sabres (16-12-3, 35 points) at Pittsburgh Penguins (17-11-4, 38 points)

Yes, Ryan Miller's wife has her own hockey card.  Want to see their wedding registry?  It's right here (seriously).

Why does it matter?

The Sabres are up and down right now, and the Pens need to get something going.  Games against the Sabres are usually entertaining too, with lots of end-to-end action and puck possession.

What has been happening lately?
  • Pens - Teetering dangerously close to a serious funk with losses in four of the past five games.
  • Sabres - Not really having any sustained success, but they're not tanking their season either.  The Sabres are 4-5-3 since their high-water mark of 12-7 back on November 18th.
Questions to be answered
  • Can we get a goalie to allow less then three for a game?  That would be a nice change.
  • Along the same lines, can the PK shut someone out?  They've allowed a goal in six straight.
  • Can Pascal Dupuis be a positive in the faceoff circle if Staal doesn't play?
Keys to the game
  • Consistency is important.  No mental breakdowns - it seems like every time we see one, it ends up behind Fleury or Johnson these days.
  • Get the puck deep.  No screwing around near the blue lines - if there isn't an obvious play, keep it going north and live to try another day.
  • Focus on the PK - the Sabres just scored three power play goals last night against the Leafs.

Mistakes - Senators 6, Penguins 4

So what happened?

Too many turnovers, not enough getting the puck deep and a lack of ability to shut down Spezza and Alfredsson.  This felt like 2006-07 all over again.

Paul Martin was injured.  No word on whether he'll miss any time.

Who scored?

Sullivan (6), Niskanan (2), Malkin (12), Kunitz (10)

The Good?
  • Two power play goals, both on faceoff wins followed by a shot from the point with Kunitz in front.  Funny how that works when you shoot the puck on the net.
  • The Pens out shot the Sens, 36 - 24.
  • Simon Despres played the most minutes of his young NHL career and was a +1.  I thought he played well.
  • Eric Tangradi did some good things in his return to the NHL.  He looks like he has the size, and his skating seems to be better.  He could be a big asset if he sticks - the Pens could use some size on the wings to compliment James Neal.
The Bad?
  • Five goals allowed in the second period is terrible no matter how you slice it.
  • The PK has allowed goals in six straight (I think) and this one was a back breaker.  The Sens scored to take a two-goal lead with less than five seconds left in the second period.  Ugh.
  • Dupuis - 2-8 on faceoffs.  That hurts given that his line will frequently start in the defensive zone.
The Ugly?
  • This team is now in danger of falling into a prolonged slump.  There are too many breakdowns and not enough consistency.  They have to pull themselves out of it.
Any Surprises?
  • Eight goals in one period is a surprise any time it happens (5-3 Sens in the second period alone).
What's their record now?
The Pens are 17-11-4.

Who's next?
The Sabres come to Consol tonight.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Game #32 - at Ottawa Senators

2011-12 Game 32

Pittsburgh Penguins (17-10-4, 38 points) at Ottawa Senators (14-14-4, 32 points)

Sarge will always be a Penguin to me.

Why does it matter?

Two points are needed, and they are needed badly.  The Pens are in danger of entering a prolonged slump, so they need to grab points when they have the chance.  Tonight, they have the chance.

What has been happening lately?
  • Pens - Three losses in four games, all to strong teams.  That's not an encouraging sign.
  • Senators - The Sens have been maddeningly inconsistent so far.  Right now they're on the bad side of inconsistent, with six losses in their past eight games.
Questions to be answered
  • Can the Pens slow down the Sens offensive attack?  They dropped over 40 shots on Buffalo and Boston in their past two games.
  • Who will play center?  Geno is the only one that is a lock for the lineup tonight.  Staal and Vitale are both uncertain to play.  Tangradi has been recalled from Wilkes-Barre, but where are the pivots going to come from?
  • How much will Zybanek Michalek be able to do?  It's supposed to be his first game back tonight.
Keys to the game
  • Get through the game without any more injuries.  We thought the Pens were the walking wounded last year - this is getting silly.  At least they have Geno this year.
  • Help out on defense.  Even with Z in the lineup, the Pens will need to be extra supportive of their guys on the blue line.  That means that Geno will need to be willing to come back deep into his own zone over and over.
  • Win the special teams battle.  The PK has allowed a goal in five straight games, and the power play hasn't been the best at either generating chances or cashing in on them.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Game #31 - vs Detroit Red Wings

2011-12 Game 31

Detroit Red Wings (18-9-1, 37 points) at Pittsburgh Penguins (17-9-4, 38 points)
Zetterberg is on pace for his lowest scoring output since before the lockout.

Why does it matter?

The Pens will need to get used to the Life Without Sidney Crosby game yet again.  The Captain is out indefinitely with concussion-like symptoms.  They also have a laundry list of other injuries, including Jordan Staal, Richard Park, Kris Letang, Zybanek Michalek (though he is skating) and Ben Lovejoy.  The Wings will present quite the challenge.

What has been happening lately?
  • Pens - A mixed effort against an inferior team on Saturday produced two points.  Couple that with the latest round of Crosby news, and things aren't going very well.
  • Red Wings - The Wings just pasted the Coyotes and Jets by a combined score of 12-3.
Questions to be answered
  • Which Wings team will show up?  The one that is offensively dominant and kicks the stuffing out of you, or the one that is punch-less and lost 10 times will scoring 13 goals?
  • Will Jordan Staal be available?  If not, does Pascal Dupuis play the pivot again?  I don't see any other alternative.
  • Can the Pens avoid the slow start?  If the Wings jump out fast, it will be more like the Boston or Philly game than the Islanders game.
Keys to the game
  • Keep them to three or less.  The Wings record when scoring three goals or less is an amazingly bad 5-9-1.  Two or less and they are just 1-9-1.  The Wings don't win low scoring games this year.
  • Win at even-strength.  The Pens need to dominate here.  They need to get their game going and carry the play.  Serious time spent in the defensive end will expose the depleted corps.
  • Stay out of the box.  The Pens have provided 18 chances over the past three games.  That's way too many.  It's a sign of a lack of concentration.  No dumb penalties.

Crosby, Park Injury Updates

Sid is out indefinitely (again) with some concussion-like symptoms, though he has checked out okay on his tests.

Richard Park has a fractured foot and is out for 4-6 weeks.

Aside from obviously missing Sid tremendously, the team will miss Park's veteran presence.

This does, however, secure Joe Vitale's spot in the lineup for at least 4-6 weeks, however.

Kinda makes you wish the Pens hadn't traded Marc Letestu as well.  There isn't much help at center in Wilkes-Barre.  Ben Street is playing well, but he's not currently property of the NHL Penguins, so there must not be much thought of playing him in the NHL.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Bad Start, Nice Win - Penguins 6, Islanders 3

So what happened?

Here's all you need to know - the Pens were down 2-0 in the first period, continuing their recent habit of getting behind early in games.  They were facing lesser competition this time and were able to turn the tide.  The game itself was a bit too wide-open in that the Pens and Isles both allowed odd-man chances, and the Isles were successful in keeping the Pens bottled up in their own end for two big shifts while the game was still in doubt.

The Pens, though, broke the will of the Isles with physical play and continued pressure.  The Isles simply didn't have an answer (or resolve).

Who scored?

Sullivan (5), Neal (16,17), Dupuis (9), Cooke (7), Martin (1)

The Good?
  • Paul Martin had his first goal in 79 games.  For as much as this guy jumps up offensively, you'd think he might score more often... but good for him in getting the monkey off of his back.
  • James Neal had two, including one on the power play.
  • The Pens actually scored with a two-man advantage.
  • Pascal Dupuis filled in at center with the loss of Jordan Staal earlier in the day (lower body injury).  He had the goal that turned out to be the game-winner.
The Bad?
  • Not being ready to go in the first period... again.
  • Brooks Orpik talking back to the refs later in the third and earning a second minor penalty.  That could have let the Isles back in the game - if they were able to get one quickly on the first minor, they could have pulled their goalie and made things interesting.  No reason for Brooks to yap enough to take that extra two.
  • Dupuis was 3-7 on faceoffs.
The Ugly?
  • The refs got it COMPLETELY wrong in kicking Hamonic out of the game.  He was called for elbowing and given a five-minute major.  It turns out that while he did hit Orpik, Brooks was more injured by his own stick being smashed against his face.  A two-minute minor?  Maybe.  A major penalty and getting kicked out?  No way.  Maybe the refs were aware of the history from last season and didn't want to take any chances.  I think they need to include replay when handing out an ejection.
Any Surprises?
  • Staal missing the game was a surprise.
What's their record now?
The Pens are 17-9-4.

Who's next?
The Red Wings on Tuesday at Consol.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Game #30 - at New York Islanders

2011-12 Game 30

Pittsburgh Penguins (16-9-4, 36 points) at New York Islanders (9-11-6, 24 points)

Why does it matter?

The Isles will get a taste of the Pens without Sid, after they were thoroughly trounced when he returned.  It shouldn't matter - the Pens have dominated the Isles in recent history, and their power play has been a big reason why - it has been clicking at over 20% over the past few seasons against the Isles.

What has been happening lately?
  • Pens - Another inconsistent effort against the Flyers on Thursday.
  • Islanders - They're hot - going 4-0-2 in their past six games with wins over Dallas, Tampa Bay, New Jersey and Buffalo (and two losses in overtime against Chicago).
That's all I have time for today - Let's Go Pens!

Friday, December 09, 2011

Inconsistent - Flyers 3, Penguins 2

So what happened?

Crosby or no Crosby - the Pens have had two good indications over the past two games that they have some work to do if they want to be considered one of the top teams in the East.

The Pens started out well for the first few shifts, and then the wheels fell off of the wagon.  By the time the wagon was repaired, the Pens were down 3-0 and had a hole to climb out of.  They almost made it to the top, but couldn't quite get there.  Against a team like the Flyers (and a goalie like Bryzgalov), you can't get down like that and expect to come back.  It just doesn't happen very often.

What I'd love to know is, how do we get 11 minor penalties called in the first two periods and then ZERO in the third?  Did the guys suddenly tighten up their play to avoid the calls?  I doubt it.

The Pens and Flyers both had ample opportunities on the power play, and each team cashed in once.  The Pens, however, had a far bigger chance when they failed to score on a five-on-three during which two Flyers broke their sticks.  That's right - the Flyers had just one guy with a stick (plus the goalie).  The Pens didn't realize it and weren't able to capitalize.  Not scoring on the five-on-three is a rally killer, and seems to be a habit for this team.

Nice work in the third period to really carry the play.  Would have been nice to see some of that during the first period too.

Who scored?

Neal (15), Malkin (10)

The Good?
  • Tyler Kennedy went right after Harry Zolnierczyk to hold him accountable for crashing into Marc-Andre Fleury.  That was nice to see.
  • Dominating the third period, out shooting the Flyers 14-7.
  • Scoring quickly on the power play after Zac Rinaldo, the latest in a long line of Flyers goons, took a cheap shot at Robert Bortuzzo.  That was the best way possible to stick it to Rinaldo.
  • Paul Martin logging big time minutes, especially after Bortuzzo went out.  Martin has been around 28-30 minutes every night for the last four gaems.
The Bad?
  • Paging Steve Sullivan and Chris Kunitz - where are you during these big games?  Between Monday and this one, these two combined for two shots total.
  • Geno on the faceoffs during the third period - 0-5 - that hurts.
The Ugly?
  • Five-on-three with two penalty killers that had no sticks - no goals, ONE shot.  Doesn't get any uglier than that.
Any Surprises?
  • Seeing Jagr for the first time this season, I was surprised by how fast he looked.  I don't remember that level of effort from the previous times we saw him.
What's their record now?
The Pens are 16-9-4.

Who's next?
Saturday night on Long Island, without Sid.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Game #29 - at Philadelphia Flyers

2011-12 Game 29

Pittsburgh Penguins (16-8-4, 36 points) at Philadelphia Flyers (16-7-3, 35 points)
Matt Read is the best Flyer you've never heard of.  He's a rookie who has 11 goals in 23 games.

Why does it matter?

As daunting as the game looked on Monday night against the Bruins, this one might be worse.  The Pens will play without Sidney Crosby, and they'll face a team that has 7 forwards with at least 7 goals, and they're all healthy.  Jagr is playing again, as is van Riemsdyk.  If the Flyers use Bryzgalov, it only gets worse, because he has been excellent against the Pens while with the Coyotes.

What has been happening lately?
  • Pens - They were steamrolled by a hot team with a hot goalie at home on Monday against the Bruins.
  • Flyers - They've won three straight and five of their past six, though they did have to come back from a 3-0 deficit in the first period last night.
Questions to be answered
  • What will it be like to watch Max Talbot in a Flyers uniform?  He's doing well for them - he has 13 points (7 + 6) in 26 games and is on pace for over 20 goals this year.
  • Can the Pens beat whoever the goalie is?  The Flyers are not near the top of the league in goals against, so the opportunity is there.
  • Will we see the excellent defensive team hockey since Sid is out?  That's the #1 way I think the Pens can come out with two points.
Keys to the game
  • Defensive diligence by the forwards.  They have to help out with the firepower the Flyers can bring, especially considering the Pens will still likely be starting Picard, Bortuzzo and Despres.
  • Limit their chances.  Stay out of the box and keep them locked down.  You don't want to get into a shootout against these guys.
  • Keep skating.  The Flyers will put you on the power play if you use your legs.  Daniel Briere has 30 PIM in just 24 games.  Hartnell has 28 in 26.  Out work them and get to the power play.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Game #28 - vs Boston Bruins

2011-12 Game 28

Boston Bruins (16-7-1, 33 points) at Pittsburgh Penguins (16-7-4, 36 points)

Wow - what a year Tyler is having so far.  His rookie card  has been selling for north of $60 ungraded.

Why does it matter?

On October 29th, the Bruins lost the back end of a home and home with the Habs, falling to 3-7.  Since that time, they are 13-0-1.  That's right - no regulations losses during the month of November.  This is the biggest challenge the Pens have faced all season.

What has been happening lately?
  • Pens - After the win on Saturday night in Carolina, the Pens are 5-1-1 since Sid returned.
  • Bruins - They just completed a home and home sweep of the Leafs, winning the games by three goals each time.
Questions to be answered
  • How will the Pens slow down the prolific scoring the Bruins are showing?  
  • Can the Pens get past the hot goalie?  Make no mistake - the Bruins are allowing shots - before Saturday night, they'd allowed over 30 in five straight games.  They're winning with a hot goalie (two of them, actually).
  • Geno will need to step up, because the Bruins will be able to deploy Chara against Sid (or vice versa).  Can one of these guys rise to the challenge and have a big night?
Keys to the game
  • Fleury.  He's the absolute #1 key.  He has to be at his best, because the Bruins have three lines that can all score, which will give massive headaches to the depleted defensive corps of the Penguins.
  • Get traffic in front of the net, no matter whether it's Thomas or Rask, and bury your chances.
  • Get nasty.  The Bruins will try to beat you up physically (with Lucic, especially).  Get emotionally involved and stay that way.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

The Killing - Penguins 3, Hurricanes 2

So what happened?

If you had any doubt that Sidney Crosby was all the way back, those doubts were dispelled tonight.  The Pens held a 3-2 lead with just under 30 seconds remaining in the game.  Jordan Staal had left after taking a puck to the face, and Pascal Dupuis and Matt Cooke (two primary penalty killers) were in the box. Craig Adams was about to enter the box just 8 seconds later.  The Pens were down by two men.  HCDB looked down his bench and threw #87 out there on the ice in the middle of a physical, lay it on the line type of battle to end the game.

It was the most encouraging thing I've seen all year, and it worked.  The Pens held the fort (thanks to a great team effort and some awesome saves by Brent Johnson) and earned two points.

The PK killed a two-man advantage for the final two minutes of the game.  It was their best showing all season (which is saying something based on how successful they've been).

Generally, the Pens played pretty well in this one.  They did start a bit on the slow side, getting out shot 12-8 in the first period, but they turned it around for the final two periods.  The Canes, to their credit, hung around.  They did just enough to give themselves a shot to tie the game, thanks to some fortuitous calls against the Pens, starting with about 2:30 left in the game.

Jordan Staal took a puck to the face late in the third.  Hopefully he's okay.

Who scored?

Adams (3), Asham (2), Dupuis (8)

The Good?
  • Craig Adams has scored in two straight games, which makes me think those Mayans might be right about 2012.
  • Jamie McBain scored twice for the Canes.  He had no goals coming into the game.
  • Sid had a great pass to set up Adams' goal.
  • Paul Martin and Brooks Orpik playing big minutes and doing it well after Engelland went out.  Great game from both of them.
The Bad?
  • All those penalties at the end.  There were three minors called against the Pens in the last 2:30 (plus one other coincidental minor) - that can't happen.  The calls against Dupuis and Cooke were nonsense, but the too many men penalty was a lack of discipline
  • Losing the team faceoff battle for what seems like the 87th time in a row (I know it isn't that bad).
  • Engelland left with a lower body injury.
The Ugly?
  • The calls on Cooke and Dupuis were total nonsense.
  • The puck that Staal took to the face.  Let's hope nothing got him in the eye.
Any Surprises?
  • Boucher?  That was a surprise.  I wasn't too impressed with him.
What's their record now?
The Pens are 16-7-4.

Who's next?
A big test on Monday night at home against Boston.

Game #27 - at Carolina Hurricanes

2011-12 Game 27

Pittsburgh Penguins (15-7-4, 34 points) at Carolina Hurricanes (8-15-4, 20 points)
Want an autographed Vitale rookie card?  It would set you back less than $5.00 right now.
Why does it matter?

Another game, another new coach.  The Pens will be trying to avenge an earlier loss to the Hurricanes (5-3 on November 12th).  It's the last game of a four game road trip, and there could be a letdown after an emotional win over the Caps in Washington on Thursday.

What has been happening lately?
  • Pens - A win tonight would make this a successful road trip, with 6 points in 4 games.
  • Hurricanes - The change in coaches hasn't led to a change in results - the Canes are 0-2 under Kirk Muller.
Questions to be answered
  • Will the Pens avoid the early deficit?  The Washington game was a welcome change, but they've been getting behind early in games for a while now.  The last game against the Canes was 3-0 going into the third.
  • How will Bortuzzo and Despres hold up for a second straight game given that Michalek and Letang are both out again?  An extended absence for these guys will have to catch up with the Pens eventually, especially on special teams.
  • Is Matt Cooke okay?  He seemed like it, but I'm more interested in how he'll respond to cheap hits - will he be able to keep his cool as well as he has so far this season?
Keys to the game
  • Avoid the slow start.  After the high intensity win over the Caps, it might be difficult to get things going.
  • Score on the power play.  The Canes don't take many penalties, but they've allowed power play goals in three straight games.
  • Get traffic and crash the net.  Cam Ward always seems to play well against the Pens.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Now That's Better - Penguins 2, Capitals 1

So what happened?

The Pens caught the Caps at the right time.  Washington doesn't seem to understand yet what to do for Dale Hunter.  They managed just 17 shots tonight against the Pens.  Part of the credit there goes to the Pens, but much of that is the Caps.  During one of the two power plays they had, no one wanted to get the puck to the net.  They have some big, physical guys up front (like Knuble, Hendricks and Chimera, not to mention Brooks Laich), but there was no real net-front presence, and when there was, there were no shots getting through.  Too much listless wandering with the puck.

For their part, the Pens played a terrific road game.  The Caps managed 11 shots during the second period and just 6 combined during the other two.  That was a great display.

Great job by the fourth line to get the critical first goal.  Horrible job by Vokoun in trying to prevent the winning goal by Kunitz.  Honorable mention on the "horrible" awards to your third star of the night, Alex Ovechkin.  He seems interested and engaged sometimes (like when he can hit someone), but disinterested at other times (like when trying to back check and not going hard enough).

Sid and Geno were pretty good, but the other guys stepped up, so they weren't really needed tonight.

These two points will have a nice feeling until Saturday.

Who scored?

Adams (2), Kunitz (9)

The Good?
  • The fourth line (Adams, Park and Asham) had several nice shifts, generating some good pressure offensively.
  • Simon Despres played in his first NHL game and recorded his first point (an assist on the Kunitz goal).  He was a +2 on the night and played well with Robert Bortuzzo.
  • The power play generated some nice chances.
  • Vokoun was sharp.  I thought he deserved one of the three stars for the game.
The Bad?
  • Ovechkin over-skated the puck on the last rush up the ice for the Caps.  He didn't make the effort to stop and start to stay onside.  It was symbolic of the problems he seems to be having - the attention to detail and extra effort when it's not a "hey look at me!" kind of play just aren't there consistently.
  • Niskanen missed touching the puck on an icing call that led directly to the goal for the Caps.  I know his stick was lifted, but he needs to know who is there and lean on the stick more to get the icing call. That's a bad way to see the puck wind up in the back of your net.
The Ugly?
  • John Carlson delivered what looked to be an elbow to the head of Matt Cooke as time expired.  There was no replay of the incident, so I couldn't tell how bad it was, but slowing it down from the long camera angle, it didn't look good.  If it was as bad as I think, Carlson could be in line for a phone call from Shana-ban.
Any Surprises?
  • I was surprised they called Despres up, especially given that Picard has played well for the Pens while he was up here, and he has much more NHL experience.
What's their record now?
The Pens are 15-7-4.

Who's next?
Another new coach on Saturday night, on the road against Kirk Muller and the Hurricanes.

Game #26 - at Washington Capitals

2011-12 Game 26

Pittsburgh Penguins (14-7-4, 32 points) at Washington Capitals (12-10-1, 25 points)

Your leading goal-scorer for the Caps?  Yeah - it's this guy with 9 goals and a higher shooting percentage than anytime since his rookie year with Edmonton.

Why does it matter?

This is the first game between the Pens and Caps with Ovechkin, Crosby and Malkin all healthy since the Winter Classic last year.  The Pens have also had their butts handed to them against the Caps during the regular season over the past few years.

What has been happening lately?
  • Pens - A bad game in New York continued a string of allowing at least three goals (four games and counting).
  • Capitals - You may have heard they fired their coach.  The next game they managed only 19 shots on goal against the Blues, and Ovechkin didn't get one off until the third period.
Questions to be answered
  • Can the Pens stem the tide?  You know the Caps will come out flying to prove that they're going to turn things around.  Stay disciplined (and out of the box) early on.
  • How will the absence of Letang and Michalek affect the team against the superior offensive firepower presented by the Caps?
  • Fleury has allowed at least three in four straight games - is it time for a Brent Johnson appearance?  I would start him tonight.
Keys to the game
  • Keep your head up, especially Geno.  You can bet that Ovechkin will play a physical game to try to get himself going.  That will likely include taking a run at Malkin.
  • Impose your will.  The Caps seem to be playing in the style of their opponent, instead of imposing what they want to do (see their recent shot totals against the Blues, Rangers and Devils).
  • Play 60 minutes.  During the most recent game against the Rangers, the Pens only managed three shots in the third period.  Consistency is needed.