Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Lightning 1, Penguins 0

So what happened?
First off, congratulations to the Tampa Bay Lightning. While I think they'll get smoked by a team with any kind of scoring touch, they did what they needed to do to win three straight from the Pens and take the series.

Tonight's game was all about missed opportunities. The Pens had more glorious, golden scoring chances that I can remember in recent history. They simply could not find a way to score. Dwayne Roloson was a big part of the reason why, but it's not like these problems just started in this series.

Dominic Moore is the real offensive hero for Tampa, throwing another reverse pass from behind the net to Sean Bergenheim, who had a wide open cage to work with. It was a near duplicate of the Game 6 goal.

Other than that, the Pens controlled this game, almost from beginning to end. They dominated the zone time, they got pucks to the net, they did everything possible. The only thing they couldn't really do was move the puck enough to get Roloson moving side to side. It was like the Bolts were content to allow the shot from the wing so long as there was no pass to be made. If that was their strategy, it worked extremely well, especially in that Roloson didn't have to work very hard to make his saves.

Who scored?
No one.

The Good?
  • Is there anything good to be taken from the season ending like this?
  • At least people will stop talking about Sid and Geno coming back and let those guys heal completely for next season.
The Bad?
  • The diving penalty to Letang was really poor. It was a bad time for a stupid Clueless Zebra to try to make a point of not getting shown up (Letang had been yelling for a call on an earlier sequence).
The Ugly?
  • The power play just was unable to convert this entire series, including 0-25 at home. That's really ugly.
Any Surprises?
  • Nothing is too surprising in a Game 7.
What's the series at now?

When is the next game?
The Bolts move on to get killed by the Caps. The Pens are off until October.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Playoff Game #7 - vs Tampa Bay Lightning

Playoff Game 7
Tampa Bay Lightning at Pittsburgh Penguins
Series tied 3-3.

This is Game 7 of a playoff series. It's the height of drama and tension. You either leave it all on the ice or you leave the rink until next season.

I think it's time for everyone to stop acting like this series is a colossal failure. I've seen more doom and gloom headlines over the past 24 hours than I'd care to count. Bottom line is: if you told the Pens that they could play one game, at home, to decide who would go to Round 2 of the playoffs, you know they'd take the chance and be happy about it.

In short, it doesn't matter how they got here, it only matters where things stand about 24 hours from now (okay - maybe 25 since the NHL moved the start time to 8:00).

As for the game itself, anyone watching the series could tell you what needs to happen. Win at even-strength. Keep a strong PK. Score on the power play. Blah blah blah - no more strategy - just go out and win the game! Match their intensity and keep out shooting them and things will be OK.

Either they win, or I get to shave my beard. I call that a win-win situation.

Let's Go Pens!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Lightning 4, Penguins 2

So what happened?
The Pens were down 2-1 heading to the third period. Then they did something unusual - they tied the score in the third. Just a few seconds later, Max Talbot and Chris Conner combined for three attempts point-blank on Roloson. He stopped all three.

The Pens have to score there. Have to. When you're having as much trouble as the Pens are with scoring goals, you have to convert there. I haven't even mentioned the five chances on the power play or the penalty shot by Conner.

The Lightning, despite only managing 21 shots, were opportunistic in their scoring. The had a breakaway that Malone converted to seal the game. They had a "blind squirrel finds a nut" pass from Moore that Bergenheim scored on. In short, they made the most of the chances they had.

The Pens didn't. That was the difference in the game.

Who scored?
Dupuis (1), Staal (1)

The Good?
  • They fought back and tied the score in the third period.
  • The Pens scored first.
  • Roloson looks awfully shaky handling the puck sometimes. Keep giving it to him in Game 7.
  • There is still a Game 7. As much as this feels like the end of the world, the Pens still have a good chance to advance.
The Bad?
  • The power play. Zero goals in five chances. Really poor. They have to convert, plain and simple. Someone has to find a way.
  • Fleury wasn't bad, but he wasn't good either. Roloson found a way to make key saves - Flower didn't. He also allowed too many rebounds in my opinion.
  • Faceoffs - the Pens were smeared.
The Ugly?
  • Did I mention the power play?
Any Surprises?
  • No - this went pretty much how you hoped it wouldn't from the Pens perspective.
What's the series at now?
Tied at 3-3.

When is the next game?
One more shot at the Bolts, on Wednesday in Pittsburgh.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Playoff Game #6 - at Tampa Bay Lightning

Playoff Game 6
Pittsburgh Penguins at Tampa Bay Lightning
Pittsburgh leads series 3-2.

It's always the hard way with these guys, isn't it? The Pens have a second chance to finish out Round 1 in the playoffs with a win in Tampa Bay.

Does history teach us anything about this game? Consider that last year, in Round 1, the Pens were in the exact same spot: playing in a Game 6 on the road with a chance to clinch. The difference is that last year the Sens had won a three OT epic to force a Game 6. This time, the Pens were trounced in a ruthless fashion. I like where they're at this year better - the three OT game can take a toll, whereas the players checked out once the score went to 5-0 on Saturday.

I'm not anticipating any lineup changes from HCDB, or for the Lightning. Both sides have had success at times, and both will look to establish themselves early.

Keys for the Pens:
  • Score first
  • Be ready for the early storm
  • Be sharp on the PK (because you know Tampa will draw a few calls)
Let's Go Pens!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Lightning 8, Penguins 2

So what happened?
The Pens played their worst game in several years and squandered a chance to close out the series at home in Game 5 today.

The game didn't start like a blowout. The Pens played extremely well for the first 15 minutes - they just couldn't beat Roloson (who looked shaky).

Then Gagne beat Fleury after a nice series of passes by the Lightning (where the Pens seemed to be mesmerized by the puck movement) and Stamkos struck less than a minute later.

The second period would prove to be worse than the first, with Flower getting yanked after the fourth goal and Johnson not faring much better.

The Pens were able to get on the board a few times in the third, but it was after the score was 7-0 and the game was essentially over.

Who scored?
Rupp (1), Conner (1)

The Good?
  • It's just one game and the team can forget about it quickly.
  • The first ten minutes were nice.
  • No one was hurt.
The Bad?
  • Everything else.
The Ugly?
  • A complete inability to stem the tide and hold the damage to a minimum
Any Surprises?
  • I don't think anyone would have predicted 8 goals on just 25 shots for the Bolts.
What's the series at now?
Despite this debacle, the Pens have the lead in the series, 3-2.

When is the next game?
It is back to the hard way, Monday night, in Tampa Bay.

Playoff Game #5 - vs Tampa Bay Lightning

Playoff Game 5
Tampa Bay Lightning at Pittsburgh Penguins
Pittsburgh leads series 3-1.

The Pens have a chance to close out the series at home today. Over the past two seasons, the Pens haven't closed out any of the six series they were in at home (though they won five of them on the road in the next game). In 2007-08, they did close out a few on home ice. It's really a matter of sample size and I don't view it as really significant, to be honest.

Having said that, you certainly don't want to go back to Tampa Bay to play Game 6. Hopefully they can pull some memories of last year, when they faced Ottawa in the exact same circumstance in Round 1 and lost.

If I'm a Tampa Bay fan, I'm thinking that if the team can find a way to steal Game 5, then I like their chances. That's mainly because you'd have to like their odds at home in Game 6, and then you'd be going into Game 7 with a winning streak, and anything could happen.

Chris Kunitz will play today. HCDB hasn't said who will sit, but your obvious choice is Eric Tangradi. Other choices would include Mike Rupp or Aaron Asham, but both have been successful in this first round series (Rupp with faceoffs and hitting, and Asham in scoring) so I think it'll be Tangradi.

The Lightning will welcome back PFC Downie and Guy Boucher finally seems set to roll with seven defense and eleven forwards. I guess when you play Ritola just four shifts and a little over two minutes in Game 4, it doesn't really matter if he's there.

The Pens will need to be ready to match a whole new level of desperation. Building a lead will help make that easier to deal with as the game goes on. Stay out of the box and keep peppering Roloson and things will go well, I think.

Let's Go Pens!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Penguins 3, Lightning 2 (2 OT)

So what happened?
I only have one thing to say about this terrific game, from my preview earlier today:
I'm looking for a goal from James Neal and a Penguins victory.
That sound you hear is The Wife reminding me that a blind squirrel sometimes finds a nut.

Pens win in double overtime!!

Who scored?
Kennedy (2), Asham (3), Neal (1)

The Good?
  • Finally a goal by Neal, and it was a big one.
  • The Pens dominated everywhere but the scoreboard, where things were a bit tighter.
  • A power play goal! Wow!
  • Great PK by the Pens at the end of the first OT.
  • The big 4 defense for the Pens, all with more than 30 minutes of ice time. Brooks Orpik had over 40.
  • Martin St. Louis... there just aren't enough superlatives to describe how he keeps on going.
The Bad?
  • Relinquishing a two goal lead for the second straight game isn't a good thing, but the only result that matters is the final score.
The Ugly?
  • Is there anything ugly when you win like this? I don't know that there is...
Any Surprises?
  • I was seriously surprised by the shooting margin. The Pens are not offensive juggernauts.
What's the series at now?
The Pens have the lead in the series, 3-1.

When is the next game?
A chance to finish them off on Saturday. Early start - 12:00.

Playoff Game #4 - at Tampa Bay Lightning

Playoff Game 4
Pittsburgh Penguins at Tampa Bay Lightning
Pittsburgh leads series 2-1.

The Bolts desperately need a win on home ice. A loss today would almost certainly doom their chances.

The Pens will be chomping at the bit to show off that killer instinct. They'll want to be able to put the Lightning down and keep them there.

This is likely to be one heck of a game.

The Pens will miss the services of Chris Kunitz, who has been suspended for one game after an ill-advised elbow to the head of Simon Gagne. This is a significant loss for the Pens, as Kunitz was one of the top forwards in terms of ice time. Mike Comrie or Eric Tangradi are the likely replacements. Heck, if you could somehow combine the two and get Tangradi's size and speed with Comrie's veteran awareness, you'd have something. As it stands now, both players have weaknesses.

The Bolts will be without Steve Downie, and while he brings a physical element, the loss isn't as big, given that he normally plays less than ten minutes per game. The interesting thing is that the Lightning are considering a seventh defenseman instead of another forward. Marc-Andre Bergeron can bring more offense from the blue line, but I'm not sure I'd want to go with one less forward given that Ryan Malone seems to be banged up as well.

Game 3 didn't see too much trapping, mainly because the Lightning were behind for all but six minutes of the game. When we did see the trap, the Pens were able to employ their new tactic of two forwards in deep on the forecheck. I'd look for that to get better tonight.

The Bolts have managed only two goals at even-strength through the first three games. The key to this one is staying out of the box. No dumb penalties, and don't put yourself in a position where the refs can make a stupid call (ie, Kovalev on the goaltender interference).

I'm looking for a goal from James Neal and a Penguins victory.

Let's Go Pens!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Penguins 3, Lightning 2

So what happened?
Tyler Kennedy stepped up with the goal of the season (so far) when the Pens needed it most. The Bolts had just tied the score at 2-2 early in the third period after another questionable penalty call against the Pens (though not nearly as bad a call as the one against Kovalev in the first period). On the next shift, the Pens got the puck to the net and crashed. Through a mass of humanity, Kennedy found the puck and put it past Roloson, who didn't know where it was.

HUGE goal.

The Pens played a great road game. They carried the play for much of the game, and the Lightning couldn't do much at even strength all night. When they did manage to get something going, Flower was there to stop them.

The Pens took four penalties, however, and the Bolts made them pay on two of them. If it weren't for special teams, this series wouldn't be that close. Certainly tonight would not have been close.

A quick barrage got the Pens up 2-0 in the first period when Talbot blasted the puck past Roloson. Forty-five seconds later, Mike Rupp somehow got a pass across the ice, under a sliding Kubina, to Aaron Asham, who put it behind a sprawling Roloson. That gave the Pens a 2-0 lead.

Who scored?
Talbot (1), Asham (2), Kennedy (1)

The Good?
  • Zbynek Michalek was huge all night, but not any bigger than the final 1:32 of the game. With the game on the line, he played the equivalent of 2-3 shifts. He was just awesome tonight. The top four D were all really good all night long - they're the strength of this team, no doubt.
  • Martin St. Louis is deadly against the Pens. Maybe they should just shadow him on the power play? I'm kidding, of course.
  • Both goalies were very, very good. This would have been a blowout if not for some of the saves made by Roloson.
  • All of the lines were able to get something going for offense, which is encouraging given that they're still not converting on the power play.
The Bad?
  • Special teams. Still. Whether it was the power play, which generated some pressure but couldn't convert, or the PK, which has allowed the Bolts to click at a 40% rate... both just bad.
The Ugly?
  • Man, the Zebras are maddeningly inconsistent this series, from the head-scratchers tonight to the non-calls on the stick infractions in Game 1. Just poor.
Any Surprises?
  • I had a feeling of doom after the Bolts tied the score early in the third. I was happily surprised to be proven wrong.
What's the series at now?
The Pens have taken back the home-ice advantage and lead the series 2-1.

When is the next game?
There's a chance for the first nail in the coffin on Wednesday night in Tampa.

Playoff Game #3 - at Tampa Bay Lightning

Playoff Game 3
Pittsburgh Penguins at Tampa Bay Lightning
Series tied 1-1.

The Pens get a chance to push the reset button after a poor showing in some aspects in Game 2.

They need to have their intensity locked in from the drop of the puck - I think that's where Tampa had the biggest advantage in Game 2.

Per some tweets of Dejan Kovacevic (via Jordan Staal), the Pens will have a few new looks to show in terms of busting the trap, including sending two forwards in to chase the puck after the dump.

Of course, the easiest way to break the trap is to score first. That will keep them from getting into their trapping game as much as they'd like.

If I'm the Pens, I'm not as worried about the offense. The chances are there, and they're working pretty well as a team right now. The trouble is on the defensive breakdowns and bad penalties that led to the Lightning goals in Game 2.

Here are my keys:
  1. Get Fleury off to a solid start. Lock things down tight defensively to keep the first few shots from being too difficult (meaning, don't allow a 2-on-1 as the first scoring chance of the game).
  2. Score first.
  3. Pull a draw (at least) on special teams. Keep them from scoring and you've done your job, even if the power play doesn't get things rolling.
  4. Stay aggressive. Keep going with more of the same on the forecheck. Roloson isn't unbeatable.
Let's Go Pens!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Lightning 5, Penguins 1

So what happened?
Special teams killed the Pens tonight. They had numerous chances to get back in the game on the power play but were unable to convert. They also allowed two power play goals, including the rally-killer late in the second period.

The Pens got off to a slow start, as the Lightning clearly seemed to be the more desperate team. Before you could say "uh-oh", the Pens were down 1-0 due to a 2-on-1 goal by Eric Brewer (after a really bad pinch by Kris Letang). After that, there was a great play made by Brewer (he was the #1 star) to keep the puck in on the power play. It never left the zone, as it was finally deposited behind Flower. Not content with that, the Bolts executed the "pass off of the pads" to perfection with Nate Thompson finishing off the play.

To the Penguins' credit, they came out with renewed purpose in the second period and did a great job of turning the tide. They hit a post (I think it was Kovalev), and they finally got a break when Roloson mishandled the puck, leading directly to Craig Adam's goal.

The absolute killer was a really bad penalty called on Brooks Orpik (bad as in "The Zebras Need Glasses"). The Lightning took just seven seconds to get their second power play goal, a three goal lead, and the effective end of the game.

Who scored?
Adams (1)

The Good?
  • A nice response to build some momentum in the second period.
  • Good offensive zone presence for much of the evening, as shown by the shots margin (36-21).
  • Kovalev, Letestu and Neal were able to generate offense fairly consistently. If these guys ever get hot, they're going to carry this team.
The Bad?
  • Where do you start? Three goals allowed in the first? Two goals allowed on the power play? Take your pick.
  • Some more questionable work from the refs. As much as Game 1 was slanted towards the Pens, tonight was slanted in favor of the Bolts. The calls on Talbot and Orpik especially were poor.
The Ugly?
  • No goals on the power play in seven chances. This is going to cost them the series if they can't get something going.
Any Surprises?
  • Coming out and not matching the desperation of the Bolts was surprising. It may have been a matter of lucky bounces, but you have to rise to the occasion.
What's the series at now?
The series is tied 1-1.

When is the next game?
The Pens get the weekend to think about this before Monday night's game in Tampa Bay.

Playoff Game #2 - vs Tampa Bay Lightning

Playoff Game 2
Tampa Bay Lightning at Pittsburgh Penguins
Pittsburgh leads the series 1-0.

The Pens need more of the same, but the dangerous thing is: so do the Lightning.

The Bolts did everything but score on Wednesday, so now they get the chance to earn the split in Pittsburgh and build some momentum heading back to Tampa Bay.

The Pens want to button down the defense so Marc-Andre Fleury doesn't have to make quite as many difficult saves. They also want to level things out across 60 minutes and score on the power play.

The key element to me for this game is staying out of the box. The Bolts didn't really get a big chance on the power play in Game 1. They were also victimized by a few non-calls (mainly on two consecutive high-sticks by Michalek), so expect the whistles to favor the Lightning. The Pens need to be aware of that and not put themselves in a bad spot.

Offensively, the Pens need to continue the excellent work done in the second and third period on Wednesday. Get the puck deep and go to work. The best way to keep the Lightning's offense from getting things rolling is to keep them bottled up in their own end.

It should be a great Friday night in the Burgh!

Let's Go Pens!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Penguins 3, Lightning 0

So what happened?
The short version? Flower stood on his head early until the team could turn the tide. The Pens proceeded to wear down the Lightning with their relentless forecheck and it paid off in the third period with two quick goals to open the scoring.

What a way to open the Consol Energy Center for the playoffs. The game was tightly contested throughout. The Pens showed they had been there before by not panicking and not taking (too many) dumb penalties. The Lightning weren't able to get the puck out of their own end quickly enough, allowing the Pens to set up shop for extended periods of time. That led directly to the first goal by the Pens. When the puck went behind the net and up the wall, Martin pinched in a bit on the wall and chipped the puck to James Neal, who had cycled back to fill in for Martin. Neal immediately slap-passed the puck from the left point to Kovalev, standing below the right circle. Kovy wasted no time in depositing it behind a sprawling Dwayne Roloson.

About ten seconds after that, Aaron Asham brought the puck down the right side, got Roloson to commit (and flop) and tried the wrap-around. He came up short on the attempt, but the puck game right back to him and he calmly flipped it into the top of the twine to give the Pens a 2-0 lead.

The Lightning's best chance came on a broken play. Purcell knocked Flower's stick out of his hands behind the net. The Pens recovered and consecutive clearing attempts by Michalek and Letestu hit the ref along the wall. Fleury went to retrieve his stick when he saw Letestu collect the puck, so when it deflected off of the ref (for the second time) and came out into the middle of the ice, Fleury was behind the net. Fortunately, St. Louis collided a bit with his own player and missed a wide-open cage.

Great, great playoff game. The Pens stuck with the game plan - they were the better team tonight, no doubt.

Who scored?
Kovalev (1), Asham (1), Kunitz (1)

The Good?
  • The top four defensemen (Letang, Orpik, Martin and Michalek) were excellent, all playing at least 21:48. Big time performance for sure.
  • Marc-Andre Fleury was very calm and collected in net. You could tell that when he snared two pucks out of the air early in the first period.
  • The power play, even though they were scorless in six chances, managed to generate some serious heat a few different times. That's something to build on, for sure.
  • Kovalev proved to be in the right place at the right time, continuing his excellent string of playoff performances in a Pittsburgh uniform.
  • Ryan Malone clearly came out ready for playoff hockey, his penalties notwithstanding. He wasn't as much of a visible factor as the game wore on.
The Bad?
  • The Lightning taking too many penalties. If I'm a Bolts' fan, that's what I'm most upset about, even though it didn't result in any goals allowed. The lack of discipline has to be corrected (though I hope it isn't).
  • St. Louis, Stamkos and Lecavalier - a combine 7 shots and -5 rating. The Bolts need more out of them.
  • The refs weren't on top of their game, missing a pretty blatant stick to the face of Martin St. Louis.
The Ugly?
  • How do you know something is wrong with your team? When you're in the playoffs and Dominic Moore plays more minutes than Steven Stamkos.
Any Surprises?
  • Things went about as perfectly as you could ask for if you're a Pens fan. That's a big surprise - they always seem to make things difficult.
What's the series at now?
The Pens are up 1-0 in the series.

When is the next game?
Game 2 is Friday night at Consol.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Playoff Game #1 - vs Tampa Bay Lightning

Playoff Game 1
Tampa Bay Lightning at Pittsburgh Penguins

Last year at this time, the Pens were preparing to face the Ottawa Senators, and Kovalev was on their roster (though he was hurt). One year later and they're back in the same spot, but facing a much different opponent.

The Lightning are an interesting opponent - one that will be tough for the Pens to stop. Earlier in the year, it was all about Stamkos and St. Louis, but since the All-Star break, Lecavalier has 17 goals in 30 games, while Gagne has 27 points in 31 games and is a +7. Stamkos has been struggling over the last 30 games or so, and both he and St. Louis are minus players over that span.

That being said, for me the key to winning this series is controlling St. Louis. He's the heart of the Lightning and always seems to torture the Pens. His chemistry with Lecavalier and Stamkos will almost single-handedly determine if they can beat the Pens. The other top guys will be a headache too (Gagne, Malone, Purcell and Moore).

The defense for the Bolts is better than you think, but isn't up to the caliber of the Pens' D. They also don't have a true offensive threat from the blue line (Brett Clark is as close as they come). I think this is an area the Pens can exploit. Sag off of these guys and blanket the forwards, because the D for the Bolts really doesn't shoot much.

For Game 1, the Pens just need to keep it simple. Get the puck deep and keep it there. Establish something to build on as the series goes forward.

Above all else, don't try to do too much just because this is the playoffs.

Let's Go Pens!

Top 5 Playoff Questions for the Pittsburgh Penguins

The postseason is do or die, and the Pens will, as my high school math teacher used to say "have an opportunity to demonstrate what they've learned" (thanks, Mrs. K).

Here are the top five questions that I think we'll be getting answers to soon:

Will Sidney Crosby play?
There are schools of thought on both sides - I just don't want to see him jeopardize his career for these playoffs. Keith Primeau was never the same after his concussions.

Can Marc-Andre Fleury carry this team?
Make no mistake, the Flower will need to be the best player on the ice for the Pens to have a shot (at least until Sid possibly returns). He was great during the Cup run two years ago and not as good as Halak last year. This was his best regular season yet - he'll need to carry that over to the postseason.

Who will score?
Everything gets tighter in the playoffs. The style the Pens use should translate well to playoff hockey, but they need guys to step up and bury the puck at key moments, especially since they don't have a Sid or a Geno to lean on.

Will the power play make an appearance?
There have been recent signs of life on the power play, but let's face it - that was against lesser competition. How will they do under the bright lights of playoff hockey?

Will Ray Shero's strategy of going defense in free agency pay off?
To me, this is the biggest question of all. Shero took a deliberate approach in spending money on the blue line. They look great, and have been extremely solid all year. Now it's time to pay off when it matters most.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Penguins 5, Thrashers 2

So what happened?
Knowing that they had nothing to gain from a victory today other than pride and / or momentum, the Pens chose to rest Staal, Kunitz, Martin and Neal.

The team, to its credit, didn't miss a beat.

Yes, they were out shot badly (38-20), but most of that was after they had built a three goal lead heading into the third period. You'd like to see things be a bit more even in the third, but the truth is that this was much more similar to the playoffs - build a lead and then hang on for dear life.

Godard, Comrie, Conner and Tangradi were inserted into the lineup, and Niskanen and Engelland both played.

Who scored?
Kennedy (21), Dupuis (17), Rupp (9), Letestu (14), Comrie (1)

The Good?
  • Mike Comrie had a few good chances and managed an empty-netter to get his first goal of the season. He may be needed in the playoffs, so it was nice to see him involved.
  • Matt Niskanen was your ice time leader for the Pens. He played well, with two assists and a +1.
  • The power play managed a goal for the third straight game for just the second time since November. They're getting pucks on the net and setting good screens right now.
The Bad?
  • Getting out shot 16-3 in the third period is never a good thing.
The Ugly?
  • Three more minor penalties in the third period while protecting a lead. If they do this in the playoffs, they'll be bounced out of the first round.
Any Surprises?
  • Eric Godard had his second-highest ice time total of the season. Combine that with Niskanen being the leader in ice time and you have a big surprise.
What's their record now? Any important move in the standings?
The Pens finished the regular season with a record of 49-25-8, good for 106 points. It is the second-highest total in franchise history. They also tied the record for road wins with 24. This truly was a remarkable regular season by any standard you'd like to use.

Who's next?
The Bolts come to the Igloo later this week to open the playoffs. Beard-a-thon anyone?

Game #82 - at Atlanta Thrashers

Game 82
Penguins (48-25-8, 102 points) at Thrashers (34-35-12, 80 points)

Why does it matter?
It doesn't matter. This game has no bearing on the playoffs at all. The Pens are locked into the 4th spot in the East and will play Tampa Bay in the first round. Obviously a win today would be nice, but I'd expect lines to be rolling and anyone that gets bumped the wrong way to be pulled from the game.

What has been happening lately?
  • Pens - An amazing job of finishing with 106 points despite missing Sid and Geno for the stretch run. That is a testament to the job that HCDB has done, along with the heart and determination of the other guys on the ice.
  • Thrashers - On January 5th, the Thrashers were 22-15-6 and in good playoff position. Over the next two months, they were 4-13-5. Season over right there, essentially.
Questions to be answered
  • Only one, really - can the Pens avoid injury to keep everyone as healthy as possible for the playoffs?
Keys to the game
  • Nothing dumb. No need for any fights from guys like Asham, Kennedy or Engelland - the last thing they need is for someone to break their hand in a fight.
  • Work on the game - get the puck in deep and get shots on net. Start the playoff-style hockey a game early.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Penguins 4, Islanders 3 (OT - SO - 1-0)

So what happened?
The Pens took a 2-0 lead on a power play goal by Zbynek Michalek, and most Pens' fans were sitting back and thinking "this one could be a blowout". Give the Islanders some credit - they kept battling, taking advantage of a few key chances. The Pens, for their part, also kept chugging, despite taking three minor penalties in the third period (that can't happen after tonight).

Certainly not the best defensive effort for the Pens, who allowed 38 shots on net and had several gaffes that fortunately didn't cost them.

The bottom line is the Pens are the better team right now, and they wanted it more. They were able to stem the tide and find a way to leave Long Island with two points. That locks up home ice for the first round of the playoffs, which is HUGE.

The Flyers lost in OT, so the Pens are even with the Flyers heading into the final game for each team.

Who scored?
Rupp (8), Michalek (5), Letestu (13)

The Good?
  • Michalek has a cannon from the blue line. I'm looking forward to seeing what he can do next year when he doesn't have a system to learn.
  • Big time, clutch goal from Letestu. He had to elevate a cross-crease pass over the pad of Montoya (who played pretty well).
  • There really was no nonsense from either team. The refs showed in the first period that they'd throw the book at anyone that blinked the wrong way (Konopka and Orpik were both victims) and suddenly everyone behaved themselves. It's like magic, what happens when you have a tightly called game!
  • The power play came through with a big goal from Michalek. That's two games in a row - hope this leads to bigger and better things...
The Bad?
  • James Neal appeared to hurt his left hand while finishing a check. He left during the first period and didn't return.
  • Too many minor penalties, especially in the third period with the game hanging in the balance.
The Ugly?
  • Michael Haley's low bridge hit on Engelland - it was cheap and dirty. Kinda like a defender going low in basketball when you're going in for a layup - very dangerous.
Any Surprises?
  • The Zebras found their whistles in the first period and used them to make their point. No more dumb stuff. I'm surprised by the intelligence of the zebras!
What's their record now? Any important move in the standings?
The Pens are now 48-25-8. They have clinched at least the fourth spot in the East and could have the chance to finish second or third, depending on the outcome of the Flyers game tomorrow (and the Bruins, for that matter).

Who's next?
Final game of the year, which may or may not be meaningless, is on Sunday in Atlanta.

Game #81 - at New York Islanders

Game 81
Penguins (47-25-8, 102 points) at Islanders (30-38-12, 72 points)

Why does it matter?
There are two aspects to this game:
  1. The Penguins have a chance to catch the Flyers for the top spot in the Atlantic (they cannot finish first overall in the East).
  2. The last game between these two clubs was infamous.
The Pens need to focus on the first (earn two points) while doing their best to ignore the second. Put off any revenge / retribution until next year.

What has been happening lately?
  • Pens - Trying to remedy the back-to-back losses against Philly and Tampa by winning out against teams out of the playoffs.
  • Islanders - They've somehow convinced themselves that what happened last time was "... a little out of control, but that's hockey sometimes" (it isn't hockey, Matt Martin). They've also lost five out of six games and will be enjoying the golf course after this weekend.
Questions to be answered
  • Will the Pens stick to what HCDB is saying and just focus on the two points? They really need to - playoff positioning is more important than revenge.
  • Will the Pens be able to match the intensity of the Isles? Let's not forget that before all of the nonsense, the Isles kicked the stuffing out of the Pens on the ice last time.
  • Who will be in goal? I think you want to start Flower, but you don't want anything to happen to him... and with Michael Haley on the other team, that's certainly not a given. If the Pens do go after anyone today, I hope it's that guy. Going to fight a goalie can't be allowed.
Keys to the game
  • Start strong and stay that way. Don't get caught sleeping early on like the last meeting.
  • Keep rolling the lines. Make the Isles pay for having guys who can't play like Gillies and Haley on the bench. When the Isles' better players are sucking wind at the end of the third, the Pens will have fresher legs.
  • Be aware of Grabner. Speed kills, and he has tons of it.
  • Score on the power play. Jordan Staal managed to get one against Jersey - time to build on that.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Penguins 4, Devils 2

So what happened?
The Pens scored first against New Jersey, and the game actually opened up a bit during the second and third periods. All told, this was a solid effort by the Pens. They were able to control the play for much of the game.

Not only did they score first, but it was a power play goal when they did it. That's impressive, and hopefully a sign of things to come (especially if Jordan Staal gets the scoring touch going).

More significantly, both the Flyers and Lightning lost tonight, which means the Pens are three points ahead of the Bolts and just one point behind the Flyers. All three teams have two games remaining.

Who scored?
Staal (11), Dupuis (15, 16), Kunitz (23)

The Good?
  • HCDB rolled the lines all night long. No one played less than 11 minutes. The Pens have a distinct advantage when they play this way at even-strength.
  • They scored first!! Leading directly into...
  • The game wasn't completely boring!! It had some shots, some scoring and some decent chances on both ends.
The Bad?
  • Jordan Staal - tripping call with less than two minutes left in a one-goal game. That could have been disastrous. Fortunately the Pens were able to score the empty net shorty to seal the win.
The Ugly?
  • Not really ugly, but still waiting to Kovalev, Letestu and Neal to get going offensively. They're not doing much right now.
Any Surprises?
  • I was shocked there were more than 50 shots total in this game.
What's their record now? Any important move in the standings?
The Pens are now 47-25-8. As noted above, they have a real chance, if they win out, to pass the Flyers and move into one of the top spots in the East.

Who's next?
The rematch with the Isles on Friday in New York.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Game #80 - vs New Jersey Devils

Game 80
Devils (36-37-5, 77 points) at Penguins (46-25-8, 100 points)

Why does it matter?
Every game is a must-win. The Pens are just one point ahead of the Lightning and only three points behind the Flyers. If the wins keep coming, the Pens will be certain of the #4 seed and home ice in the first round. There's even a chance they could catch the Flyers (though that is unlikely).

What has been happening lately?
  • Pens - Back on the right track with a win over Florida on Saturday.
  • Devils - Mercifully eliminated from the playoffs, the Devils are playing out the string.
Questions to be answered
  • How effective will Zach Parise be in his second game back from injury?
  • Can the Pens score first to take the Devils out of their mind-numbing trap?
  • Will Flower be able to earn a win for the first time in more than a week?
Keys to the game
  • Please score first. Please. I can't take another game with four shots in the first period. Too much of that, and I'll be tempted to quit watching hockey.
  • Power play - get to the power play and execute. Goals would be nice, but right now I'll take sustained pressure.
  • Win the final regular season game at home for the fans. They deserve it.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Penguins 4, Panthers 2

So what happened?
The Pens survived an inconsistent first period, highlighted by allowing two goals in 22 seconds, and came back to win with some solid hockey (and goaltending) in the second and third.

Brent Johnson was excellent, though I have to say I had my doubts after the two that went in during the later part of the first period.

The Pens even scored a de-facto power play goal (meaning, they scored on the delayed penalty with Johnson out of the net).

Overall, it was an excellent road game.

Who scored?
Dupuis (14), Kennedy (20), Michalek (4), Adams (4)

The Good?
  • Chris Conner, Max Talbot and Pascal Dupuis were excellent all night long. Conner in particular used his speed to great effect.
  • The team was able to turn the tide after the shock of allowing two quick goals.
  • More solid effort in getting to the front of the net. If Sid ever returns, that's going to pay huge dividends, because he can find the guys that are open for shots.
  • This was a true team effort. Everyone played at least 11 minutes and no one played more than 23. That has to be the first time that has happened all year.
The Bad?
  • Allowing the second goal so soon after the first was almost a knockout punch. Better teams will really do damage if the Pens don't bear down after allowing a goal.
The Ugly?
  • Nothing really - this was a solid effort.
Any Surprises?
  • I was surprised by the effectiveness of the Dupuis, Talbot, Conner line. Hopefully they can keep it up.
What's their record now? Any important move in the standings?
The Pens are now 46-25-8. The Lightning are three points behind the Pens for the fourth seed.

Who's next?
The final home game of the regular season on Tuesday against New Jersey.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Game #79 - at Florida Panthers

Game 79
Penguins (45-25-8, 98 points) at Panthers (29-37-12, 70 points)

Why does it matter?
A win is worth two points, no matter who the opponent is. That's what the Pens need to focus on tonight. The Panthers aren't very good, especially lately. It doesn't matter - the Pens need two points badly to keep them solidly in the fourth spot in the East and to give Philly something to think about.

What has been happening lately?
  • Pens - A nice effort with nothing to show for it on Thursday against the Lightning.
  • Panthers - Seven straight losses with all kinds of offensive struggles.
Questions to be answered
  • Now that things are getting tight in terms of seeding for the playoffs, can the Pens win when they need to? Losing home ice for the first round would be, in my mind, a big problem.
  • Can someone find a way to bury the puck? This has to be as frustrating to participate in as it is to watch. I think the hard work will pay off eventually.
  • Will the Pens be ready this weekend? Last Sunday, the Panthers were very good - the Pens were lucky to escape with two points.
Keys to the game
  • Pick your spots. The Panthers top line is really bad in terms of +/-, and then their gritty guys are mostly in the positive. That's remarkable for a last place team. It makes match ups all the more important.
  • Get the power play into good shape. Scoring would be ideal, but at this point, sustained pressure would be a step forward.
  • Earn two points. It doesn't matter how - just get it done.