Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Bad Behavior - Rangers 4, Penguins 3

So what happened?

Too many undisciplined penalties in the third period derailed a comeback attempt by the Penguins.  The Pens were whistled for four straight minor penalties in the second half of the third period, leading to extended time for the Rangers on a two-man advantage, and a complete inability on the part of the Pens to get any offense going.

The problem is, if the PK hadn't faltered twice earlier in the game, the Pens would never have been in this position.  The Rangers first two attempts were both a success.  Neither one was what you'd call a weak or soft goal allowed by Fleury - it was just not good enough as a team effort on the PK.

The other issue was that I think the Pens got caught up in playing the physical game against the Rangers.  They were successful at it in the first period, when the Rangers took most of the penalties, but the Pens were whistled for six of the last seven calls.  You could have predicted it as soon as you saw John Tortorella whining talking to the refs before the second period.  One conversation, six out of seven calls against the Pens.  It's like MAGIC!

There were lots of other things that could be pointed out, but let's just say that this was pretty crappy and leave it at that.  Amazing that they almost got at least one point out of it.

It was a nice almost-comeback while it lasted.

Who scored?

Neal (14), Malkin (9), Dupuis (7)

The Good?
  • Sid had two more points.  Geno and Neal both scored.
  • No one else was hurt.
  • I thought Bortuzzo played well, albeit in limited action.
  • Nice job by the PK in the third period to kill off four minors and over two minutes down by two men.
The Bad?
  • I almost don't know what to save for The Ugly... but here goes:
    • Kennedy, on the Rangers second goal, appeared to be confused by cris-crossing players and left Mitchell all alone in the middle long enough to blast a great shot past Flower.
    • The PK in the second period, allowing two goals on the two calls against the Pens.
    • Taking four minor penalties in the space of five minutes in the latter half of the third period.
    • Only managing three shots on net during that third period.  It wasn't like they were throwing pucks that didn't make it, either - that number was pretty indicative of how things went.
The Ugly?
  • Saving the best for last - the faceoffs.  The Pens won just 17 out of the 57 draws.  If you eliminate Sid's 9 out of 20, the other Pens won just 8 out of 37.  That's really sad.
Any Surprises?
  • I didn't know a high-stick on the puck had to be "controlled" by the other team before it could go in their own net.  Matt Cooke had a goal disallowed after he put a high stick on the puc when the War Room in Toronto said a puck bouncing off of Lundqvist and being batted in by Sauer.  Bob Errey mentioned that the rulebook doesn't say anything about "control"... maybe they made it up?
What's their record now?
The Pens are 14-7-4.

Who's next?
Off to face the Caps on Thursday with their new coach, Dale Hunter.

Game #25 - at New York Rangers

2011-12 Game 25

Pittsburgh Penguins (14-6-4, 32 points) at New York Rangers (12-5-3, 27 points)

Dubinsky is a weasel, per the Bastion of Truth - Jody Shelley of the Flyers.

Why does it matter?
The Rangers are playing really well (9-2-0 since October 29th).  This will be a good test for the Pens and a tough road match up.

What has been happening lately?
  • Pens - Three wins in four games since Sid's return has pushed the Pens to the top of the NHL point total.
  • Rangers - After a brief hiccup on the road with two straight losses, their winning has resumed with a win at Washington and against the Flyers at home.
Questions to be answered
  • Will Sid keep torturing the Rangers?  He has 10 goals (and 22 points) in his last 11 games against them.
  • Can we get a plus game out of Martin and Michalek?  They're a team-worst -9 and -8, respectively.
  • Can Jordan Staal keep scoring, especially given how little he shoots?  His shooting percentage is currently near 25%, which is not sustainable (though he did finish with 22% in his rookie year).
Keys to the game
  • Stop Marian Gaborik.  The Rangers are top heavy in the goal scoring department (and they struggle to score sometimes).  Control the big guns like Gaborik and suddenly one or two goals may be all you need.
  • Take advantage of special teams.  The Rangers power play has a good ranking and percentage, but they've allowed power play goals in four of their previous five games.
  • Keep them to two goals or less.  With the exception of one loss to the Sens, they Rangers have scored two or less in every loss.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Hockey Justice - Penguins 4, Canadiens 3 (OT)

So what happened?

The Pens dug themselves a hole (again) and then dug themselves back out of it, all in a difficult place to play.

It looked like it was going to be a good night when Geno scored on the rush just 21 seconds into the game.  Sid drove to the net and earned a penalty call, and Geno scored before the Habs could get possession of the puck.

The Canadiens scored just over a minute later when Engelland handed the puck to Travis Moen, who provided the roof job on Flower (you know the story - Flower went down and the shot went up).

The Habs would score two more goals before they were done, the second one coming during the second period, which the Pens thoroughly dominated (except on the score board).  Throw in two Chris Kunitz goals overturned by replay (the guy has about four of those this year, which has to be some kind of record), and this was starting to feel like a "we did everything but score" kind of night.

Fortunately, the Pens were able to get a lucky bounce when Paul Martin held the puck in the zone (on a high risk play) and it found its way right onto the stick of Pascal Dupuis.  Duper blasted it past Price.

Staal score the huge game-tying goal late in the third.

Letang took a blindside head shot from Max Pacioretty (which amazingly was not a penalty) late in the third.  He returned for the OT (with a broken nose, but fortunately no concussion) and score the game winner in what could only be called Hockey Justice.  The puck appeared to be frozen by Carey Price, but the ref somehow didn't blow the whistle, and Letang dug it out of there and shot it under the irate goaltender.

Who scored?
Malkin (8), Dupuis (6), Staal (12), Letang (3)

The Good?
  • Total domination in the second period, out shooting the Habs 16-5.
  • Staal is on pace to score 40 goals.
  • Sid played over 20 minutes (20:55 to be exact) for the first time.  This is especially encouraging since he did it on the second half of a back-to-back.
  • The PK did their job and didn't allow anything.
  • Pacioretty apologized after the game for breaking Letang's nose.  A very classy move after a very dumb, dangerous hit.  It makes me less willing to call Pacioretty the Hypocrite of the Year, but Hypocrite of the Month sounds about right (Pacioretty, in case you don't remember, was the victim of a Zdeno Chara hit into the turnbuckle last season).
The Bad?
  • Sid on the faceoff circle - he won just seven out of 25.  Ugh.
The Ugly?
  • The Zebras, who were not only clueless, but also criminally negligent.  No penalty on the Letang hit?  No whistle on the game winner by the Pens?  Both of these missed calls should have these guys on administrative leave.
Any Surprises?
  • I never expected Letang to return to the game after that hit.  It looked really bad.
What's their record now?
The Pens are 14-6-4.

Who's next?
The road trip continues at MSG on Tuesday to face the Rangers.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Game #24 - at Montreal Canadiens

2011-12 Game 24

Pittsburgh Penguins (13-6-4, 30 points) at Montreal Canadiens (10-10-3, 23 points)
Raphael is struggling a bit in his rookie season.  He's a team-worst -6 on the season.

Why does it matter?
A trip to Montreal is always special, especially if the Pens win and shut up all of those fans that live and die with every rush.

Yes, it is Sid's first road game / road trip.  I don't think that matters one bit.  He's back to playing hockey, and while playing at home is nice, playing on the road is something he's used to.

What has been happening lately?
  • Pens - An offensive outburst in the first led to a 6-3 win over the Sens yesterday.
  • Canadiens - Their power play let them down and led to a 3-1 loss to the Flyers yesterday.
Questions to be answered
  • Can the Pens solve Carey Price in Montreal?  The Habs' goalie has allowed just one goal in his last three home games.
  • Can the Pens score on the power play?  The PK for the Habs has allowed just one goal in the month of November (and that was back on November 5th).
  • Is this a Brent Johnson game?  I think given the caliber of the competition in net, if there was ever a game to start Fleury on both ends of a back-to-back, this might be it.  Having said that, I'd be surprised if we saw Flower.
Keys to the game
  • Keep them bottled up.  The Habs have had trouble scoring, especially on the power play.  Let's keep it that way.
  • Get traffic in front of the goalie, and crash the net.  When someone is playing as well as Price is at home, you need to make an extra effort.
  • Stop the Penguin Killers.  Cammalleri and Gionta both seem to play well against the Pens.

Penguins 6, Senators 3

So what happened?

Despite an early goal against, the Pens avoided the slow start that plagued them against St. Louis and scored four goals within the first 10 minutes of the game.

When you do that, you're going to win most games, and the Pens certainly took care of business the rest of the way.

The nice thing to see was that the Pens led in shots in all three periods.  They didn't let up.  They did take some unfortunate penalties that gave the Sens a chance to get back in the game, but the PK was up to the challenge and shut them down.

Let's hope they can capture the goal scoring magic and keep it for tonight's game against the Habs.

Who scored?
Kunitz (8), Kennedy (3), Sullivan (4), Malkin (7), Dupuis (5), Staal (11)

The Good?
  • Sid had three more points (all assists).
  • Geno is showing that he's not going to fade into the background, which would make this team really hard to beat.
  • Domination in the faceoff circle, led by Sid (18-7) and Vitale (8-2).
  • The power play managed a goal for the third straight game.
The Bad?
  • Allowing a goal just over a minute into the game... not good.
The Ugly?
  • Craig Anderson's line - 8 shots, 4 goals.
Any Surprises?
  • Sid has seven points through three games, but he has more PIM (8) than he does points.
What's their record now?
The Pens are 13-6-4.

Who's next?
A trip to Montreal to kick off a four game road trip.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Game #23 - vs Ottawa Senators

2011-12 Game 23

Ottawa Senators (10-9-2, 22 points) at Pittsburgh Penguins (12-6-4, 28 points)

Foligno has 6 goals, but his shooting percentage (almost 19%) is probably unsustainable.
Why does it matter?
After the slow start against the Blues, the Pens need to get back to playing 60 minutes of hockey.  They also need to get two points under their belt before going out on the road for six of the next seven games.

What has been happening lately?
  • Pens - The Blues showed the Pens how to deliver a physical beat down.
  • Senators - A successful trip through western Canada, with five points out of six earned.
Questions to be answered
  • Which Sid will we see?  I don't think there was much difference between the first two games in terms of effort, but the results were vastly different.
  • Will we see Joe Vitale in an effort to bring more speed and grit?  Richard Park isn't quite as physical...
Keys to the game
  • The power play.  The Sens will put you on the power play, and their PK isn't all that great.  The Pens have a clear advantage here.
  • Pin them in.  The Sens have some guys with some nice numbers (Milan Michalek has 12 goals), but they're minus players, which tells me they're susceptible to defensive letdowns.  Get the puck deep and go to work.
  • No Chris Neil, but still keep an eye out for overly physical nonsense from some of the Sens on Sid and Geno.

Crosby Hangover - Blues 3, Penguins 2 (OT)

So what happened?

I'm a bit late with this (Happy Thanksgiving!!), but the short version is the Pens were completely dominated for the first half of the game or so, and they weren't able to earn two points.  Good job to earn one, but it would be better not to get your butt kicked for the first 20 minutes of the game.

Who scored?
Sullivan (3), Neal (13)

What's their record now?
The Pens are 12-6-4.

Who's next?
The Senators complete the three game homestand.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Game #22 - vs St. Louis Blues

2011-12 Game 22

St. Louis Blues (10-8-2, 22 points) at Pittsburgh Penguins (12-6-3, 27 points)
Steen is the leading scorer for the Blues this year.  I like the look of these Season Ticket cards.
Why does it matter?
The Blues are a new team (and a tough challenge) for the Pens under new coach Ken Hitchcock.  The Pens will be trying to avoid the hangover from the return of Sidney Crosby on Monday.

What has been happening lately?
  • Pens - Sid came back and the Pens kicked butt against the Isles.
  • Blues - Two straight losses, but the Blues are a new defensive team under Ken Hitchcock, with a 4-1-2 record since he started.
Questions to be answered
  • What will we see from Sid and everyone else once the initial excitement of his return wears off?  How will they respond?
  • Can the Pens score against the Blues?  Under Hitchcock, they've allowed three goals just once (not counting the extra goal allowed in losing two shootouts).
  • Can the defense continue their strong play and avoid further injuries?  They're essentially at full strength for the first time in a long time (minus only Ben Lovejoy).
Keys to the game
  • Get to their game.  If the Pens are able to "get to their game" as HCDB likes to say, they'll generate lots of shots.  The Blues are excellent at limiting shots against (during their recent three game winning streak, they allowed 22 or less in each game).
  • Win at even-strength.  None of the top three goal scorers on the Blues have a power play goal.  Steen, Oshie and Backes have done almost all of their damage at even-strength.
  • Watch out for Chris Stewart (who I think is returning from suspension tonight).  He has started slowly this season, but he's a tough hard-nosed player who can score (he had 28 goals each of the last two seasons).

Monday, November 21, 2011

Sidney Crosby - A Look at the Numbers in Game 1

Sid put on a show against the Islanders.  Let's look at the numbers a bit closer:

The obvious ones were the two goals and two assists.  One assist was on the power play (it was a secondary assist).

Here are the other numbers:
8 shots on goal
+3 plus / minus rating
1 missed shot
1 blocked shot
1 hit
21 shifts
14-7 on faceoffs

A few things stand out here:
  • 8 shots led the team, and more importantly, he got almost all of them on net, missing just once.  That's something the team has been missing with some of their big guns.
  • Faceoffs - 14-7 is a record on the draws.  Sid had vastly improved that aspect of his game before he was hurt.  It looks like he hasn't lost that so far.
  • It isn't a statistic, but he looked like he was flying on the ice.  It will be interesting to see how he's able to maintain that level of effort and intensity going forward.
In short, Sid has set the bar pretty high.  He'll have some games where the performance isn't up to the usual standards, and I'm sure some teams will try to get physical with him.  For tonight, however, we can all sit back and breathe a bit sigh of relief and enjoy the victory.

All Crosby - Penguins 5, Islanders 0

So what happened?

It was the perfect storybook return for Sidney Crosby.  He was flying all over the ice.  He had two goals and two assists.  He took a few bumps.  Nothing could have been better (except maybe if he had been able to finish the hat trick).

The rest of the team was also really good.  Michalek stepped back into the lineup and played almost 20 minutes.  Paul Martin, Kris Letang and Brooks Orpik were solid.  Jordan Staal led all forwards with just over 20 minutes on the ice.  Geno had a goal and an assist.  Dupuis had three assists.

One thing to remember - the competition was really bad tonight.  The Isles had 29 shots, but only a few legitimate scoring chances.

Who scored?
Crosby (1, 2), Orpik (2), Malkin (6), Sullivan (2)

The Good?
  • Flower made several really nice saves to keep the shutout.
  • Sid showed us what we've been missing.
  • Balanced ice time for everyone (which, in fairness, is easy to do when you're winning by four going into the third period).
  • This was the best team performance of the season, no doubt.
The Bad?
  • Maybe you can nitpick and say that the Pens lost focus a bit by taking three penalties in the second half of the third period.
The Ugly?
  • The Isles.  They didn't help their goalie (who wasn't all that great), and they didn't come back at the Pens with any intensity.  The only player that stood out was Tavares, and that wasn't until the game was pretty much over.
Any Surprises?
  • The Isles out hit the Pens 31-12 tonight.  It really didn't feel that way when watching the game...
What's their record now?
The Pens are 12-6-3.

Who's next?
The Blues are coming to Consol on Wednesday night.

Game #21 - vs New York Islanders (SID IS BACK!!)

2011-12 Game 21

New York Islanders (5-9-3, 13 points) at Pittsburgh Penguins (11-6-3, 25 points)

Sid's rookie card (2005-06 Upper Deck) will set you back about $230 - $250.   Expect that to go up.
Why does it matter?
It's the return of Sidney Crosby to the lineup, almost eleven months after he last stepped on the ice.

What has been happening lately?
  • Pens - Since sweeping the Isles in a home-and-home around Halloween, the Pens are just 3-4-1.  Sid picked exactly the right time to return - they need a jolt.
  • Islanders - The Isles have been pretty bad.  After starting the season 3-1, they're just 2-8-3.  They can't score enough to win.
Questions to be answered
  • How much will Sid play?  If he really only plays 12 minutes, as has been suggested, what does that do to the line juggling of HCDB?
  • What is wrong with the penalty kill?  They've allowed multiple goals in back-to-back games.
  • Will Geno continue his strong play, or will he slip back into the shadows as he has done sometimes while playing with Sid?
Keys to the game
  • Celebrate.  This is the first time since last January that Sid, Geno and Staal will play in the same game.
  • Remember to breathe.  The first time Sid gets plastered, the viewing public (and the team) will likely be holding their breath until he gets up.
  • Score three goals.  The Pens have not won a game this year when they've scored fewer than three goals.  When they do, their record is 11-2-1.

Losing Focus - Panthers 3, Penguins 2

So what happened?

I'm a bit late on this recap, so I'll keep this brief.  It all boiled down to one bad line change late in the third period.  The Pens took a Too Many Men penalty and for the second time in the game, couldn't get the kill converted.  Florida took a late lead and Theodore made it stand up.

Who scored?
Kunitz (7), Staal (10)

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Game #20 - at Florida Panthers

2011-12 Game 20

Pittsburgh Penguins (11-5-3, 25 points) at Florida Panthers (9-6-3, 21 points)
These retro cards have a nice look.  Garrison might be the best defenseman you've never heard of.
Why does it matter?
The Panthers are surprisingly good this season - they're currently tied with the Caps for the lead in the Southeast division.  This will be a challenge for the Pens.

What has been happening lately?
  • Pens - Too many games getting behind the eight ball early.  It cost them on Thursday in Tampa.
  • Panthers - It was feast or famine on their two game road trip with an impressive 6-0 shutout of the Stars followed up with a 4-1 loss to the Blues.
Questions to be answered
  • Why has Florida lost five of its seven home games?  They're just 2-2-3 at home this year.
  • Can the Pens avoid the slow start and score first?  They're playing with fire by getting down by multiple goals on a regular basis.
  • We'll probably see Richard Park tonight, and that means Steve MacIntyre will sit, but who do you pull if you want to put Dustin Jeffrey into the lineup?  My money is on Aaron Asham, or maybe TK if they want to bring him back slowly.
Keys to the game
  • Special teams rebound.  The power play is going through a minor power outage the last few games, and looking tentative while doing so.  Get things back on track on both ends.
  • Watch out for Jason Garrison.  Seriously.  He's a defenseman who averages about 24 minutes per game and he has seven goals in seventeen games.
  • Score for Paul Martin.  He's had a few shaky moments recently, but he doesn't deserve his -10 rating.  Get some goals with him on the ice and turn his season around - defense is the strength of this team right now, and he's a key part of that.

Friday, November 18, 2011

You forgot something... Lightning 4, Penguins 1

So what happened?

When you don't finish, you can't expect to win.  The Pens did everything except finish their chances against the Bolts, and it cost them the game.  Make not doubt about it - Dwayne Roloson was sharp, but the Pens carried the play for almost the entire evening.  We didn't even have the chance to be lulled to sleep by the 1-3-1, because it didn't make a significant appearance.

Who scored?
Kennedy (2)

The Good?
  • They only allowed 17 shots.
  • The play was mostly in the offensive zone.
The Bad?
  • The results.  You have to put the puck in the net, and you can't afford breakdowns in your own end.
The Ugly?
  • The PK allowing two goals was certainly a back-breaker.
Any Surprises?
  • Steve MacIntyre dressed for this one.  I know it was the Dad's trip, but for him to dress and only play 1:42 is hurting the team more than helping.  Either give him a few more shifts or dress Richard Park.
What's their record now?
The Pens are 11-5-3.

Who's next?
Staying in Florida for Saturday night against the Panthers.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Game #19 - at Tampa Bay Lightning

2011-12 Game 19

Pittsburgh Penguins (11-4-3, 23 points) at Tampa Bay Lightning (8-7-2, 18 points)

Connolly has started to score a few goals.  He has a promising future.
Why does it matter?
It's the first meeting of the year with the team that bounced the Pens from the playoffs last year.  Please don't talk to me about "extracting a small measure of revenge" or anything silly like that - it is just a regular season game.  The real reason it matters is that the Pens have had problems scoring goals against Tampa Bay.  This is a chance to push the envelope and put some pucks in the net.

What has been happening lately?
  • Pens - A roaring comeback with four goals in the third against Colorado.
  • Lightning - A two game road trip led to two straight losses.  They were out-scored 8-2 over the two games (in St Louis and Winnipeg).
Questions to be answered
  • What will the Pens do against the 1-3-1?  I can't see them pulling the Flyers' stunt, though I'd love to see them do it.
  • Will anyone stay awake if the Lightning take the lead?  Watching them with a lead is worse than watching the Devils or the Wild when they were trapping with the best of them.  It's deadly for a viewer (and that's the biggest reason for the NHL to find a way to get rid of it).
  • What is wrong with Steve Downie?  As much as I don't like the guy, he's better than 3 points and a -12 in 17 games...
Keys to the game
  • Stop Martin St. Louis.  That could be the only key for this one.  Seriously.  He always seems to save something extra for the Pens.
  • Be careful on the power play.  The Lightning will look to attack if they see a forward on the point.
  • Roll the lines.  The Bolts play everyone a significant number of minutes.  Their lowest average time-on-ice guy is Adam Hall at 11:12.  The Pens have been much more top heavy lately.  That won't work against the Bolts, who will be fresher in the third if the Pens try that tonight.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Game #18 - vs Colorado Avalanche

2011-12 Game 18

Colorado Avalanche (8-8-1, 17 points) at Pittsburgh Penguins (10-4-3, 23 points)
If you're an Avs fan, this card is a must-have.  Those are some nice patches.
Why does it matter?
This is a chance for the Pens to get back on the right track after the disappointing loss to the Canes on Saturday night.  It's also a great chance for their penalty kill to get some work against a great power play.  Sid will not return for this one.

What has been happening lately?
  • Pens - Just 2-2-1 in their past five, including a bad loss at Carolina.
  • Avalanche - Started out 5-1-0.  Since then, they're just 3-7-1, including five losses in their past six games.
Questions to be answered
  • If Sullivan is out, who do you throw into the lineup?  Is Dustin Jeffrey ready to return?  How about Tyler Kennedy?
  • Can the Pens deal with the balanced scoring attack of the Avs, who have 5 guys with 5 goals or more?
  • Can Milan Hejduk be stopped?  He has 5 goals in 8 games against the Pens.
Keys to the game
  • Stay out of the box.  The Avs are inconsistent, but can be explosive on the power play.  Don't give them many chances.
  • As good as their PP is, the PK for the Avs is just as bad.  Take advantage of that.
  • Fix the breakdowns that have cost the Pens in recent games.  No odd-man rushes, and communicate when covering for each other (I'm thinking of Staal and Letang on Saturday).

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Hurricanes 5, Penguins 3

So what happened?

The Pens found themselves down 3-0 entering the third period.  The period had no sooner started than Eric Staal found himself with a breakaway attempt.  He was stoned by Brent Johnson (though Staal did try to push Johnson and the puck into the net).  Shortly after that, Jordan Staal (playing on a line with Malkin and Neal when Sullivan didn't return for the third) buried a chance.  The next 10 minutes were great if you were a Pens' fan, as they came back to tie the score at 3-3.

The rest of the game?  Not as good.

The Pens were able to control the play for most of the time, but they were unable to beat Cam Ward for much of the night.

There were several alarming defensive breakdowns that led directly to goals by the Canes.  Brent Johnson made some nice saves, but any time you give up five, that's not good.  Kris Letang and Paul Martin were both a -2 for the night... also not good.

In short, when the puck was in the Canes' end, everything was great, but the Pens were very shaky in the coverage both in transition and in their own end.  We saw something similar against Dallas when Nystrom was allowed to float to the net unattended.  These kind of breakdowns will kill you over the long run.

Who scored?
Staal (7,8), Kunitz (6)

The Good?
  • Jordan Staal in the third period was a man possessed.  He scored his first shorty since the 2009-10 season after opening the scoring about three minutes prior.
  • Chris Kunitz finally got a goal after doing so much great work over the last few games.  The ironic thing is this was a shot that Cam Ward should have stopped from the side boards.
  • The system is working really well right now.  When the Pens have the puck in the offensive zone, they dominate the game.  Any line is capable of possession and thus capable of scoring.
The Bad?
  • Geno had about 4-5 golden chances but was unable to bury any of them.  You need your superstar to come through on at least one of those guys.  Goal scoring aside, he is playing really well right now.
The Ugly?
  • Coming back to tie the game and then allowing two late goals in the last five minutes.  That's really ugly.  If you come back from a three goal deficit in the third, you should get at least a point out of it.
Any Surprises?
  • Pascal Dupuis was 4-0 in the faceoff circle (he was in there any time someone was kicked out, which seemed to happen a lot, especially to Richard Park).
What's their record now?
The Pens are 10-4-3.

Who's next?
The Avs come to town on Tuesday night, and if Dejan Kovacevic is to be believed, Sid may return.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Game #17 - at Carolina Hurricanes

2011-12 Game 17

Pittsburgh Penguins (10-3-3, 23 points) at Carolina Hurricanes (5-8-3, 13 points)
Really, AccuScore?  Is there a time machine somewhere that I don't know about?

Why does it matter?
The Canes are pretty bad so far this year, especially lately.  The Pens could not be hotter right now.  This is a chance to put two points in the bank.  This is also the kind of game you kick yourself over come playoff time if you miss the chance for two.

What has been happening lately?
  • Pens - Preparing for the possible return of Sid by winning every game in sight.
  • Canes - They were still tied halfway through the third last night, and that's a step up considering how this team has played lately.
Questions to be answered
  • Tyler Kennedy?  Returning?  Who will sit?  I'm guessing Tangradi.
  • Can the Pens avoid a letdown after a strong effort against a top opponent last night?
  • What happened to Eric Staal?  Just 5 points in 16 games to go with a -16.  Wow.
Keys to the game
  • Don't get caught being cocky.  I'm not sure this team is capable of that, but just because the Canes are down and the Pens are hot is no reason to be over-confident.  HCDB has done a great job managing things like that.
  • Don't give Staal and Skinner any room to breath.  These guys are struggling (Skinner less so, but still is a -8).  Stay on top of them.
  • Score first.  The Canes haven't responded well to pressure lately.  Put some heat on and see if they fold like a house of cards.

The Real Deal - Penguins 3, Stars 1

So what happened?

The Stars were lucky enough to get the first goal on a defensive breakdown by Kris Letang.  He didn't cover Nystrom going to the net, and when Dvorak made a great backhand pass from a bad angle, Nystrom buried it. The problem was that the Stars then tried to win a 1-0 hockey game.  That works if you're late in the second or in the third period, but they were in the first.

The other problem the Stars had was taking dumb penalties, and the Pens made them pay for doing it.  All three goals were either power play goals or a penalty shot.  This was a winnable game for the Stars if they stay out of the box and push a little more offensively.  I'm glad they didn't do either one.

Who scored?
Neal (10, 11), Cooke (5)

The Good?
  • James Neal on the power play with two goals.  Both were "hockey justice" goals in that the Pens had a goal disallowed twice (both by Chris Kunitz) and Neal scored shortly after each one.
  • Matt Cooke scored on the first penalty shot of his career.  He certainly has turned things around this season, hasn't he?
  • The defense for the Pens was great, holding Dallas to just 11 shots through two periods.
The Bad?
  • Alex Goligoski leaving with an injury.  He played just 6:48.  That was disappointing - I hope he's not hurt seriously.
The Ugly?
  • Joe Vitale drawing a penalty for goaltender interference when he was pretty clearly pushed into the goalie.  Eric Tangradi was cross-checked in the head by Souray on the exact same sequence.  Both were bad, but Souray's shot was cheap too.
Any Surprises?
  • How on earth did they overturn the Kunitz deflection?  They ruled the puck was above the crossbar.  He's the problem - the puck deflected off of the TOP side of Kunitz's stick and still made it in under the crossbar.  How can a puck deflect off the top of a surface and then go down?  (answer:  it can't in any way that I can think of)  Really bad call by Toronto.
What's their record now?
The Pens are 10-3-3.

Who's next?
A quick trip down to Carolina to face the Hurricanes on Saturday night.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Game #16 - vs Dallas Stars

2011-12 Game 16

Dallas Stars (11-3-0, 22 points) at Pittsburgh Penguins (9-3-3, 21 points)
Benn leads the Stars with 18 points in 14 games.  He also doesn't realize a "signature" is usually more than your initials.
Why does it matter?
It's a match between the top teams in each conference.  It's also the return of Alex Goligoski to Pittsburgh, and the first time Neal and Niskanen will face their former team.

What has been happening lately?
  • Pens - Three points out of four on the West Coast is good, but blowing that lead in San Jose still stings.
  • Stars - The Stars have lost just three times all year, with two of those losses coming at the hands of the Kings.  They just blew past Washington in the third period on Tuesday.  They are very, very good so far this season.
Questions to be answered
  • Will we see Raycroft in goal for the Stars?  Given that this is the first of a back-to-back for the Stars, with the other half being tomorrow night in Detroit, I'm thinking we might.  That would be good for the Pens - Raycroft is 0-2 so far this year (yes, Lehtonen is 11-1 so far - really amazing).
  • How will Goose, Neal and Niskanen react to playing against their former teams?  I'd like to see Neal put a few in the net, just to show the Stars what they lost (hopefully Goose doesn't do the same).
  • Will we see the return of Tyler Kennedy?  He's been labeled at "game time decision".  He would bring some welcome scoring punch back to the lineup.
Keys to the game
  • Shake off the rust and start quickly.  The Pens have been off since last Saturday, which included some team building at Nemacolin during the week.  Get the legs going early.
  • No Steve Ott.  That's a key - seriously - that eliminates one cheap-shot artist from the game tonight.
  • Get traffic in front of the goalie.  If Lehtonen plays, use the screens with Kunitz and Neal, especially on the power play.  Lehtonen is out of his mind right now with the way he's playing.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Great article on Pens draft pick Ben Hanowski

From the St Cloud Times.

Highlights include:

  • Hanowski is playing the point on the power play currently.
  • He is one of three captains as a junior, which is a big shift from last season when he was a healthy scratch early in the year.
  • Ben is playing left wing this season with LA Kings draft pick Nic Dowd at center.
  • It has been challenging for him to learn to play without the puck.

Ben still has quite a way to go in terms of making the pros, but his progress so far has been good.  He is 21, so if he hadn't gone to college, he would be in Wilkes-Barre right now.  Based on what I'm reading, he may not be ready for that yet.  Hopefully after this season he will be.  He has the skill to be an offensive force, but he needs to have a complete game to play for the Pens.

Nice article - go read it.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Hiatus? Another one? Really?

Yep.  That's the fun of being a one-man operation.  I'll be back next week.