Sunday, July 01, 2012

2012 Free Agency Day 1 Roundup

The Pens didn't make a big splash on the first day of free agency this year.  Neither Ryan Suter or Zach Parise made a decision on where they would go, though Parise is supposedly going to make a decision tomorrow.

There were a few smaller moves, the biggest of them being the signing of Tanner Glass.

Glass will be a popular third or fourth line player.  He really stepped up in the hits department last year, with 246, good for 10th in the NHL.  He would have been behind only Brooks Orpik on the Penguins.

The Pens also re-signed Steve MacIntyre, though it was to a two-way contract, which almost certainly means he'll be in Wilkes-Barre.

Five other players signed two-way contracts (meaning, they will almost certainly be playing in Wilkes-Barre, barring injury).

  • The most significant to the home crowd is Dylan Reese, who grew up here in Pittsburgh.  He spent the past two seasons playing for the Islanders.  He has a reputation as a two-way defenseman.
  • Warren Peters was signed from the Minnesota organization.  He played in both the AHL and NHL last year.  He's a forward.
  • Trevor Smith is a tweener - what they'd call a AAAA player in baseball.  He's put up some numbers at the AHL level but never managed to stick at the NHL level.  He's 27 and plays forward.
  • Riley Holzapfel is just 23, but he has logged four seasons in the AHL since being a second round draft pick in 2006.  He's also a forward and has averaged about .5 points per game in the AHL.
  • Jeff Zatkoff was signed out of the Kings organization.  He'll be the second goaltender in Wilkes-Barre.  He has some decent numbers and size (he's 6'3").  Should be a really good tandem in Wilkes-Barre.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

What does history tell us about a large margin of victory in the playoffs?

Since the end of the lockout in 2005, there have been 9 playoff series where a game was decided by a six or seven goal margin (all were six other than the Bruins win over the Canucks in the Cup Finals last year).

In all but one of those series, the team that lost by 6 or 7 goals in any game lost the series.

Or, to put it another way, the team that won by 6 or 7 goals in a game won every series but one.

I think the Pens still have a big hill to climb, and their chances aren't good, but at least this gives us something to hang our hats on until Friday night.

Here's the list of prior teams who lost big in a game (the loser is first):

  • 2011 Pens vs Lightning
  • 2011 Canucks vs Bruins
  • 2010 Sharks vs Red Wings (Sharks won series)
  • 2010 Canadiens vs Flyers
  • 2008 Avalanche vs Red Wings
  • 2008 Flyers vs Penguins
  • 2007 Thrashers vs Rangers
  • 2006 Flyers vs Sabres (x2)
  • 2006 Devils vs Hurricanes

Penguins adapt, force Game 5

Real life still removing time to blog, but this one was too much fun to pass up.

There were two really encouraging signs to point to from this game:

  • Flower improved as the game went along, looking much more like his normal self in the later part of the second and the third period.  The team played much better defensively as well.
  • The Pens adjusted to how the refs were calling the game.  After the first period where the Flyers scored three times on the power play, the Pens were not short-handed the rest of the night.  The Flyers took four more penalties in the second period before they learned, but the Pens had built a four-goal lead by that point.

Game 5 is on Friday night.  It won't be this easy, but I think they'll find a way to force a Game 6.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Flyers 4, Penguins 3 (OT)

Inconsistency has been the hallmark of this team in over the past month.  That was the defining characteristic again last night.

The first period was excellent.  After that, things were not so good.

The Pens jumped out to a 3-0 lead after one period.  They dominated the game over the first 10 minutes, scoring twice and forcing Laviolette to call timeout.  I thought when the Pens scored late in the first to make it 3-0 that they were on their way.

It was not to be, however.  Danny Briere scored on a breakaway, though he was clearly offside.  He scored again in the third period on a flukey goal from the half-wall when Sid screened Fleury and neither could stop the shot.  That was when you had an idea that things might not work out well.  Briere also was plastered by Brooks Orpik, drawing the Flyers only power play chance, which they converted to tie the game at 3-3.

I won't even talk about the OT.

The power play let them down as well.  The Pens had three chances but weren't able to generate a serious threat.  They look good on the rush, but if the Flyers sit back and force the Pens to set up and make a play in the zone, they're not able to do it.  That needs to be better.  It was what killed them last year against the Lightning.

The main problem is that the Flyers focused on playing hockey and the Pens weren't able to match them in the latter two periods.  That's the key for the rest of the series - can the Pens find a way to dictate the play?  When they do, they put themselves in a great spot to win games.  When they don't, like last night, things don't go well.

If they aren't able to figure it out, this series won't go very well either.

Friday, April 06, 2012

Final playoff seeding and what about Saturday?

With the win over the Rangers last night, the Pens will have the #4 seed, giving them home ice in the first round.

The Flyers, by virtue of their win over the Sabres, will be the #5 seed.

What does that mean for the game tomorrow?  I have some questions:

Do you play Crosby and Letang?  Both players have had multiple incidents with concussions.  It wouldn't be worth it to lose one of them over something stupid.  If there ever were a team that would try something stupid, it would be the Flyers.

Does Malkin play?  I think this is more likely.  He's going for 50 goals, and he usually takes care of himself pretty well.  I'd put him out there in limited minutes, and in offensive situations like the power play, offensive zone draws or after the Flyers ice the puck.

Is this a Brent Johnson game?  I think that's much more of a no-brainer.  Fleury has played a ton of games this year, and he's your horse in the playoffs.  I think you give Johnson another game.  The only problem I see with this is that Fleury will have played just once in 10 days leading up to Game 1 (assuming it is Wednesday or Thursday).

Does the outcome matter?  If the Pens play their horses and win, does it change the feeling of the Flyers heading into Round 1?  Worse yet, if they play everyone and lose, does it deflate the Pens at all?  I'd be much more worried about the latter.

Will the Flyers use the meaningless game to respond?  Given how upset they supposedly were over Vitale's hit the other night, will they try a bunch of dumb stuff when the outcome doesn't matter?  He's a clue to watch out - Jody Shelley and Zac Rinaldo line up for the opening faceoff.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Playoff scenarios for the Pens - Thursday edition

Real life has kept me from blogging much recently.  Unfortunately, that isn't getting any better, so this will need to be quick.

Here's what you need to know:

  • First and foremost, the Pens can take care of business by earning two points tonight against the Rangers.  That would render the Saturday game meaningless as far as home ice advantage goes, as any combination of two points earned by the Pens or lost by the Flyers would seal the deal for the #4 seed for the Pens.
  • If the Flyers lose both games and the Devils win both of theirs, the Devils would vault over the Flyers into the #5 spot and play the Penguins in the first round.

So for tonight, obviously cheer for the Pens to beat the Rangers (who have nothing to play for at this point).

Also cheer for Buffalo to beat Philadelphia, not only because it would assure the Pens of the #4 spot, but also because it would also keep the door open for a first round match up with Jersey, AND have the extra added bonus of moving the Capitals one step closer to not making the playoffs.  The Sabres and Caps are tied with two games left, but the Caps hold the tiebreaker.

Lastly, cheer for New Jersey to win in Detroit, at least if you'd rather see the Devils over the Flyers in the first round of the playoffs (I sure would).

Friday, March 30, 2012

Gut Check - Penguins 5, Sabres 3

So what happened?

Brent Johnson had a very shaky start.  He also had a very strong finish.  The backup netminder was fighting the puck all night long, allowing two very soft goals in the first period and multiple rebounds.  However, when it came down to crunch time, there were no crucial rebounds, and there were no goals for the Sabres.

The resurgence of Johnson through the second half of the game may be the most important thing to come out of this contest.  Assuming the Pens give him one more assignment prior to the start of the playoffs, it will give Johnson a chance to continue his momentum and head into the post-season on a high note.

Back to the game - the big guns earned the results tonight.  Sid had four points.  Sullivan had three.  Geno had two.  The power play scored twice.  The offense provided some timely scoring in general, especially to pick up Johnson after a rough first period.

The intensity is also worth mentioning.  There were nearly 60 hits thrown in this game.  It felt like a playoff game, with some nastiness going back and forth early and then settling down as the game wound down (probably due to fear of taking a penalty).

Who scored?

Malkin (48), Crosby (5), Neal (38), Sullivan (15), Staal (25)

The Good?
  • Sid became the seventh youngest player to reach 600 points tonight.
  • Matt Niskanen returned and stepped right into the top 4 defensemen on a night when Engelland and Strait weren't used as much.
  • Neal's power play goal was almost perfect from the perspective of a Pens' fan.  Geno controlled the puck and somehow gained the zone.  He dished it to Crosby who threw a diagonal pass to Neal cutting down the slot.  Neal finished off "The Whitney Play" better than Ryan ever did by burying the puck behind Miller.
The Bad?
  • Johnson in the first period.  Not good, especially on the Ennis goal.  Fortunately, he turned things around quickly.
The Ugly Dumb?
  • How on early was Thomas Vanek one of the three stars?  Did he do something special I didn't notice?  He was the beneficiary of a bizarre bounce that rewarded him for being the last man out of the offensive zone.  He was also a -1, which means he was on the ice for at least two other goals against.  Second star?  Really?
Any Surprises?
  • I was surprised that HCDB kept flip flopping his lines.  He seemed to have Sullivan and Neal switching spots much of the night.
What's their record now?
The Pens are 48-24-6.  They are five points behind the Rangers and four ahead of the Flyers.  

Who's next?
Get ready to feel the hate.  The Flyers come to Pittsburgh on Sunday afternoon.  It's on NBC.  You just know Hartnell will do something dumb.

Game #78 - at Buffalo Sabres

No time for the regular preview, as real life has intruded on blogging time lately.

Let's just say that the Sabres (winners of 5 straight) have allowed a total of three goals in their past four games.

The Penguins (losers of three of the past four) have allowed SIXTEEN TWENTY (edited to correct poor math from person who may or may not have a degree in mathematics).

Things are going to have to change, and change quickly, for the Pens.  It only gets more difficult from here.

No Letang.  Niskanen is on the trip, so he may play (and I think he is needed, if only to have someone to play the point on the power play).  Hopefully no ill effects from the puck to the face that Sid took last night.

Go Pens!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Islanders 5, Penguins 3

So what happened?

Poor, inconsistent play for the Penguins in both of these games against the Isles.  You could see the emphasis in defense in terms of their posture in their own zone (the points were wide open for the Isles because everyone was packing it in), but though the look was there, the results were not.  The Isles were able score twice at even strength, and both goals were largely due to defensive breakdowns.

The offense wasn't much better for the Pens, who struggled to generate any kind of consistent pressure.

I think these two games are best forgotten quickly.  The opportunity they missed in these four points was huge.

Who scored?

Dupuis (24), Staal (24), Malkin (47)

The Good?
  • Duper has a 12 game point streak.  That's tied for the longest streak this season in the NHL.
  • Sid took a puck to the face, but returned to the game (which is the "good" part of that equation).
  • Geno reached 100 points on the season.
The Bad?
  • You could tell the defense was very wary of the speed of Grabner.  You could also tell there was a huge difference without Niskanen and Letang.
The Ugly?
  • The power play for the Pens with five forwards.  They're going to get killed if they keep deploying that - at least throw Paul Martin out there and have him stand by the red line if necessary.  The short-handed chances against have to stop.
Any Surprises?
  • I was really surprised HCDB broke up Malkin, Neal and Kunitz.  I know it probably makes the team stronger overall, but I'm not sure I would have done that.
What's their record now?
The Pens are 47-24-6.  They are five points behind the Rangers and just two ahead of the Flyers.  All three teams have five games remaining.

Who's next?
A trip over to Buffalo for a game tomorrow night.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

100 - Penguins 5, Devils 2

So what happened?

The Pens were opportunistic with their scoring chances.  They only fired 28 shots on net (a low total for them), but were still able to get four past Martin Brodeur, who did not have one of his better games.

None of the goals were overly pretty, other than Crosby's beautiful breakaway, but they all were right place at the right time type of goals.  Kunitz was available for a pass when Geno stole the puck from Brodeur behind the net.  Dupuis was charging toward the net on the rush when a rebound was tipped back out to him.  Staal had the puck following him, and although he misplayed it a bit, he was able to shoot back against the grain and beat Brodeur.

The defense was also not bad, though they did suffer through several extended sessions in their own zone.  If a team like Jersey can do that, imagine what the Flyers or Rangers might do given the chance.  The Pens will need to clean up their play in their own zone before they're ready to face the tougher opponents next weekend.

Who scored?

Kunitz (23), Staal (23), Dupuis (23), Crosby (4), Malkin (46)

The Good?
  • Faceoffs - Sid, Geno and Staal were all positive on the draw.  That's crucial against a team like New Jersey.  Winning the draw means they have a harder time setting up their trap.
  • Letang and Crosby both took hard hits (Letang collided head-to-head with Zubrus) and nether seemed any worse for wear.  Hopefully that good feeling continues tomorrow when they wake up.
  • Paul Martin was a +4 in almost 23 minutes of ice time.  He probably didn't play quite that well, but he also wasn't as bad as his +/- showed earlier in the season.
The Bad?
  • Ben Lovejoy left with an apparent injury.  With Matt Niskanen also hurt currently, I imagine we'll see Simon Despres if Lovejoy will be out for any extended period of time.
The Ugly?
  • Patrick Elias on faceoffs.  Eight draws, eight losses.  It doesn't get any uglier than that.
Any Surprises?
  • Dan Potash's face when he was goosed by Pascal Dupuis after the second period (I can only assume Dupuis goosed him - you couldn't see what actually happened).  Potash, to his credit, held it together after he was finished jumping.
What's their record now?
The Pens are 47-22-6.  They have 100 points on the season!!  They are one point behind the Rangers and four ahead of the Flyers.  All three teams have seven games remaining.

Who's next?
It's a home and home with the Islanders, starting on Tuesday at Consol.

Game #75 - vs New Jersey Devils

2011-12 Game 75

New Jersey Devils (42-27-6, 90 points) at Pittsburgh Penguins (46-22-6, 98 points)

Matt Cooke - goal scoring machine!?!

Why does it matter?

It was only one loss, but if the Pens fall into a small skid here, they could find themselves facing Philadelphia without home ice advantage in the first round.  I think that's a situation that the team might rather avoid.

What has been happening lately?
  • Pens - Last night was the first regulation loss in over a month.
  • Devils - The only time they're winning in the past six games is when Brodeur throws a shutout.
Questions to be answered
  • Whose pain will be more motivating?  The Pens had a painful loss last night to the Sens, but the Devils have lost four out of six, including an embarrassing loss to the Pens where they were out shot 44-14.
  • What is wrong with the power play?  Not only did they look disjointed last night, they allowed a key short-handed goal.
  • How will the Pens respond?  It has been so long since their last loss in regulation - can they bounce back or will we see lots of guys making an individual effort to try to run the gauntlet?  That would be playing right into the Devils' hands, in my opinion.
Keys to the game
  • Team defense.  Focus on keeping the puck out of the danger areas.
  • Clean play in the neutral zone.  Last time, the Pens had no trouble shredding the trap.  Let's hope they can do it again.
  • Don't lose confidence.  Even if Brodeur is standing on his head, keep pushing.

Fiasco - Sentaors 8, Penguins 4

So what happened?

You had to know the Pens were going to lay an egg sometime.  Given how they've played against Ottawa this year, this wasn't a total surprise.  The biggest reasons for the loss?  Geno's line was a combined -9.  Even if they're not scoring (which would have been okay tonight), they can't be in the hole that much.  I know one of those came from a shorty on the power play, but more defensive zone responsibility when you have a shaky goaltender would be smart.

And that brings us to the other reason - Brad Thiessen.  He wasn't really at fault on most of the goals, but, for instance, as soon as Spezza started his breakaway (when all five Penguins were way too far into the offensive zone), you knew he was going to score.  Steigy and Errey were right - Marc Andre Fleury is more important to the team than a lot of people give him credit for.

Hopefully this one is already out of the memory banks and they're thinking about New Jersey.

Who scored?

Cooke (18, 19), Kennedy (9), Crosby (3)

The Good?
  • Cooke had two.
  • If you were a defenseman not named Michalek or Orpik then you had a decent game statistically.
The Bad?
  • Everything else.  Giving up 8 is never good.
The Ugly?
  • The backup goaltending situation.  Hopefully this won't be an issue in the playoffs, where you can ride Fleury as long as he stays healthy.
Any Surprises?
  • I was surprised to see Crosby double-shifted in the first two minutes of the game.  I think it was because Malkin needed a skate adjustment, but still, on the front end of a back-to-back?
What's their record now?
The Pens are 46-22-6.  They are all alone in fourth place in the conference, two points ahead of Philly and three points behind the Rangers.

Who's next?
The Devils come to Consol for a key Atlantic division game.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Quitting - Penguins 5, Predators 1

So what happened?

No one on the home team was quitting at all tonight.  They kept after Nashville, taking away time and space as the Preds tried to come back from a multiple goal deficit.  Nothing worked for the Predators tonight.

This was the closest blowout you could imagine for the first two period.  The Predators had multiple glorious scoring chances, with several wide-open nets, and couldn't finish a play.  They were off ever so slightly, and that cost them a chance to earn points.

The Pens, for their part, got two grinder goals from Dupuis and Cooke, and Geno's line did the rest.  I guess the Cooke goal was also on Geno's line, since he was out there instead of Chris Kunitz at the time.

Solid offense and solid goaltending from the Pens tonight.

Who scored?

Malkin (44, 45), Dupuis (22), Cooke (17), Kunitz (22)

The Good?
  • Malkin had 10 shots.  Everyone else combined for 13.  TEN shots... in a game that was pretty tightly played.  Wow.
  • The role of Sidney Crosby was played by James Neal, who had 4 assists.  It was a career high in assists, and tied a career high in points.
  • Letang has two points and was +2.
The Bad?
  • Matt Niskanen left with an injury.  Letang looked like he may have hurt his knee and went to the locker room for a spell, but returned and played the rest of the game.
The Ugly?
  • The Preds effort level in the third period.  They looked like they were going through the motions.
Any Surprises?
  • I was surprised at how much better the Pens seemed than the Predators.  Maybe it was because the Preds couldn't find the net, but it felt like the Pens kicked the stuffing out of one of the better teams in the West.
What's their record now?
The Pens are 46-21-6.  They are all alone in fourth place in the conference, four points ahead of Philly and just one point behind the Rangers.

Who's next?
Saturday night - Ottawa - Consol Energy Center.

Game #73 - vs Nashville Predators

2011-12 Game 73

Nashville Predators (42-23-8, 92 points) at Pittsburgh Penguins (45-21-6, 96 points)

Will Radulov propel the Preds deep into the playoffs?

Why does it matter?

The Pens didn't waste much time getting things turned around again in destroying the Jets on Tuesday.  Now they face a much stronger opponent who are getting back a potential game-changer in Alexander Radulov from the KHL.

What has been happening lately?
  • Pens - Going back to the middle of February, 13 games, 25 points earned.  It doesn't get much better than that.
  • Predators - Three losses in their past four, including a bad home loss to the lowly Oilers on Tuesday.
Questions to be answered
  • How much impact will Radulov have?  He will play tonight, for sure, probably with Hornqvist and Legwand.  That makes a pretty tough top line.
  • Can the Pens stay out of the box?  The Preds power play is deadly (#1 in the NHL), and the PK for the Pens is suddenly leaky over the last two games.
  • Will Sid ever score a goal?  I'm joking, of course, but it would be nice to see him rip one past Rinne on the rush tonight, wouldn't it?
Keys to the game
  • Play even-strength.  The Preds haven't been involved in too many special teams situations lately, but then they get a power play chance, they're very good.  Don't give them extra chances.
  • Match up.  The Preds are deep, with good scoring depth.  They won't blow you away with their talent, but they will keep coming at you.
  • Traffic.  Create chaos around Rinne, who is another big goaltender (6'5")

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Third - Flyers 3, Penguins 2 (OT)

So what happened?

First off, the reason for "The Third" - I'm suggesting that's the new name for Scotty Hartnell.  At least twice yesterday, he jumped in as the third man on a confrontation.  Coming from the man who won't fight Arron Asham, that takes tremendous courage.  Congratulations, Scott Hartnell The Third, you have the heart of a lion.

If you had said that the Pens would play the Rangers, Devils and Flyers, all on the road, and come out with 5 points (out of six possible), I would have taken that any day of the week.

Unfortunately, when the only loss comes at the hands of the Flyers, in the last part of those three games, it leaves a foul taste in your mouth.

That's a good thing.  The Pens will now have some things to correct and some extra motivation going into a slightly easier part of the schedule.

As for the game itself, the Pens jumped out to a 2-0 lead.  It would have been worse, but Bryzgalov was excellent between the pipes (as was Fleury, for that matter).  I can't believe Bryzgalov wasn't one of the three stars for the game.

The Flyers scored twice in the third period to tie the game, and again with one second left in OT to earn the extra point.

The Flyers goal in OT was one that should not have happened - James Neal had a chance to get the puck deep in the Flyers zone.  Instead, he and Dupuis tried to make a play and wound up coughing up the puck.  That led directly to the Hartnell goal.

Who scored?

Adams (5), Malkin (41)

The Good?
  • The first two periods were more of the same from the Pens.  Domination in terms of possession, zone time and shots.
  • You could make a case for Kris Letang as Team MVP.  Things are that much different when he's playing.
  • Geno had a great individual play on his goal.  Nice to see him keep pushing.
  • Sid seems to be slowing stepping up his level of play, including getting more involved down low and going to the dirty areas (like the front of the net).
The Bad?
  • The third period.  The Pens couldn't keep their system when the Flyers stepped up their play.  It was a good test for the Pens, and right now this time they didn't earn a passing score.
The Ugly?
  • Just your usual stupid thuggery by the Flyers.
Any Surprises?
  • The music people at the arena - usually when they play the musical line where the crowd chants "Crosby Sucks!", the folks in Philly drop the drum beat so as not to dilute the crowd chanting.  This time, they didn't tacitly endorse the chant by playing the full thing, so the drum was playing over the crowd chanting.
What's their record now?
The Pens are 44-21-6.  They are all alone in fourth place in the conference, two points ahead of Philly and just one point behind the Rangers.

Who's next?
Winnipeg comes to Pittsburgh on Tuesday night.  Four of the next five games are on home ice for the Pens.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Game #71 - at Philadelphia Flyers

2011-12 Game 71

Pittsburgh Penguins (44-21-5, 93 points) at Philadelphia Flyers (41-22-8, 90 points)

I think this card says it all.  Cup foursomes, indeed.  Go Pens.

Why does it matter?

You figure the Pens have to come down to Earth sometime, but man, I sure hope it isn't against the Flyers.  After the Ranger's loss to the Avs tonight, the Pens can tie the Rangers for the #1 spot in the East by earning two points in Philadelphia tomorrow.  It will be Sid's first trip back to Philly (where he usually gets fired up), as well as a key divisional game.

What has been happening lately?
  • Pens - If they can keep playing this way, I'm not sure anyone can beat them right now.  Eleven wins in a row.  Wow.
  • Flyers - After losing to Boston in a shootout, the Flyers are 7-1-1 in their past 9 games.
Questions to be answered
  • Do the Flyers finally have a goalie?  Over his past 9 games, Bryzgalov has allowed just 10 goals.  Pretty sharp.
  • Will the Flyers be dumb enough to get Sid and Geno fired up?  If I'm the Flyers, I let sleeping dogs lie and stay away from the dumb stuff.  I can't see the Flyers being that smart.
  • Can the Pens simplify things and adjust to play a defensive style against the Flyers?  It will be needed, as the Flyers are the top scoring team in the NHL (the Pens are #2).
Keys to the game
  • Discipline, both around the stupid stuff you know the Flyers will try, and (more importantly) against the high-powered offense.  Nothing dumb in the gray areas (neutral zone and near the blue lines).
  • Stick up for each other.  I don't think this will be a problem, but everyone needs to pay special attention tomorrow.
  • Roll the lines.  The Pens may be working on some tired legs, especially after getting the Newark monkey off of their backs.  Keep everyone fresh as much as possible.

Total Domination - Penguins 5, Devils 2

So what happened?

Almost from the drop of the puck, the Pens were totally dominant in this game.  There are several ways we can document this:

  • The score: 5-2
  • The shot margin: 44-14 (wow!)
  • Your ice time leaders among forwards:  Staal, Dupuis and Cooke, with only Staal approaching 20 minutes

Long story short, the Pens grabbed an early 1-0 lead.  The Devils tied it, but the Pens put the game out of reach 4-1 by scoring three goals in a little over 150 seconds in the middle of the second period.

If you want to know how disinterested the Devils were, they were out shot 18-4 while trying to come back in the third period.  That's just not trying.  I don't care if they Pens are the hockey equivalent of the 1927 Yankees, the Devils should be able to do better than that.

However, I'm sure the Pens will take it.  They played a really nice game today and will hopefully be carrying some of that over to tomorrow in Philly.

Who scored?

Neal (32), Dupuis (20), Cooke (15, 16), Malkin (40)

The Good?
  • Sid had three assists, and we saw him really use his speed on a rush in the third period.  It was the first time I can remember thinking that he was going full-bore since his return.  He also had six shots on goal.
  • Letang also had six shots and played a team-high 22:34.
  • Matt Cooke now has four goals in two games.  He's unstoppable!
  • Brodeur certainly allowed a few soft ones, but he made some amazing saves, or this game could have been 10-2.
The Bad?
  • Kovalchuk's play on Geno's power play goal (which I think was the back-breaker).  Sid was being pressured on the half-wall, and Kovalchuk cycled up high in the zone to take away the back-pass to Letang.  He should have been positioned in the middle of the ice.  He wasn't, and Sid was able to make a nice (though pretty easy) pass all the way across the box to Geno, who absolutely buried it behind a helpless Brodeur.  Bad decision by Kovalchuk.
The Ugly?
  • They didn't make a big deal out of it on the broadcast, but the Devils earned four different 10 minute misconducts on four different players in the third period.  They were playing with less than three lines by the last four minutes of the third period.
Any Surprises?
  • Flower might have gotten away with a trick I've never seen - it looked like he hid a stick behind the net when a tired unit iced the puck in the second period.  Engelland had broken his stick, and the last we saw of it, it was laying perpendicular to back of the cage on the ice.  The next time we saw it, it was laying parallel to the same back of the cage, and Flower was conveniently pointing out that there was a broken stick on the ice.  Did he hide it there?  I kept wishing for a replay that would show him moving the stick... but I think he did it.
What's their record now?
The Pens are 44-21-5.  They are all alone in fourth place in the conference, three points ahead of Philly and just two points behind the Rangers with a game in hand.

Who's next?
A chance to end these divisional games (and the road trip) on a high note in Philly tomorrow afternoon.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Game #70 - at New Jersey Devils

2011-12 Game 70

Pittsburgh Penguins (43-21-5, 91 points) at New Jersey Devils (41-25-5, 87 points)

Geno will need to remain assertive with Sid's return.  He got off to a good start against the Rangers.

Why does it matter?

A ten game winning streak, the return of Crosby and Letang, the overall health of the team... everything is coming up roses right now for the Pens.  It will all be for naught if the Pens lay a few goose eggs this weekend. They need to come out with at least three points, if not four, if they want to have a decent shot at staying in the #1 or #4 spots in the East.  Both the Devils and Flyers are breathing down their necks.

What has been happening lately?
  • Pens - Ten straight wins.  How long can they keep this up?  Hopefully for another few games, at least.
  • Devils - Five wins in six games, and Brodeur is hotter than ever.
Questions to be answered
  • Can the Pens get themselves fired up?  They need to carry some emotion into the game with them, because you know Jersey will try to put them to sleep.
  • Can the big guns score?  Newark has been a house of horrors in recent history for both Sid and Geno.  They'll need to find a way to break through.
  • Can the defense stay disciplined enough?  With the way Kovalchuk can and will float in the neutral zone, the D will need to be extra-aware of where he is.  Kovalchuk has 9 points in 4 games against the Pens this year.
Keys to the game
  • No screwing around in the neutral zone.  Get the puck and go north.  Keep it simple.
  • Score first (and second).  The Devils have been keeping the chances against to a minimum, so getting the first goal will help to bring them out of their trap.
  • Get traffic in front of Brodeur.  He's stopping everything right now.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Bright Lights - Penguins 5, Rangers 2

So what happened?

Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang each had highly successful returns to the lineup.  Sid had a point and was +3 in 16 minutes of ice time.  Letang also had an assist and was +5 while leading the Pens with over 24 minutes on the ice.

The Pens didn't play their best game tonight.  At times, it looked like things were going in slow-motion.  The Pens never were able to really get to their game, and they were guilty of several bad turnovers and poor play in their own end.

Having said that, they still found a way to win against the team that has been the best in the East to this point this season, and it wasn't all that close.  The Pens will be truly scary once Sid is back up to full speed and the power play heats back up again.

Who scored?

Cooke (13, 14), Malkin (39), Kunitz (21), Dupuis (19)

The Good?
  • Both Sid and Letang came through healthy (as far as we know).
  • Geno didn't disappear or defer to Sid.  He had 8 shots on goal and his line played well.
  • Paul Martin had a pretty strong game as well, aside a poor decision to pinch, which allowed a two-on-one where the Rangers nearly scored.
  • Flower was terrific, making several show-stopping saves look easy.  His stick save with less than a minute to go (in garbage time) was incredible (and incredibly lucky).
The Bad?
  • Martin Biron was not good tonight.  The Rangers as a team just didn't seem to have it.
The Ugly?
  • Jordan Staal took a nasty high stick to the face (it was inadvertent).  Wonder if he's ever going to wear a shield?
Any Surprises?
  • No, not really.  Things went just as you might have hoped.
What's their record now?
The Pens are 43-21-5.  They are all alone in fourth place in the conference, two points ahead of Philly and New Jersey, and four points behind the Rangers.

Who's next?
A critical pair of divisional weekend games, both on the road, starting with New Jersey on Saturday afternoon.

Stars aligned for Pens tonight?

Not only will tonight's game against the Rangers feature the return of Sidney Crosby, but now Kris Letang will also make his return to the lineup.

The return of Letang adds another offensive dimension that the Penguins have been missing.  It also means that the power play will likely consist of Malkin, Neal and Kunitz up front with Crosby and Letang on the points.  If they want to work Sid down low, they can pull Kunitz and put Sullivan at the point with Letang.

The Rangers will be without Lundqvist and will start Martin Biron, who has not faced the Pens this year.

The Rangers are also without Ryan Callahan and Michael Del Zotto.  Callahan is their #2 in goal scoring.  Del Zotto is on the second defensive pairing.  Given the lineup for the Pens will have two excellent scoring lines (maybe three, depending on where Sid spends most of his time), being without Del Zotto is significant.  Suddenly you'll have either Anton Stralman or Stu Bickel going up against either Malkin or Crosby (pick your poison).

Of course, you know this means the Rangers will circle the wagons and this will be one tough game.

Game #69 - at New York Rangers

2011-12 Game 69

Pittsburgh Penguins (42-21-5, 89 points) at New York Rangers (44-18-7, 95 points)

Now this is a cool card.  Not sure I'd pay $55 for it, but still pretty cool anyway.

Why does it matter?

After their last game, the Pens were just two points behind the Rangers.  The Blueshirts have won twice since then, to give themselves a six point cushion.  Worse yet, a Flyers win with a Penguins loss would put the Pens back into a tie with the Flyers for second place in the division (with Jersey just behind).

To put it mildly, these divisional games today and over the weekend are critical.

What has been happening lately?
  • Pens - Nine wins in a row, and it feels like the team just might keep getting better with a few guys returning.
  • Rangers - They've looked tough in beating two cupcakes (the Isles and Hurricanes).  They lost three in a row prior to that to playoff teams like the Devils, Senators and Blackhawks.
Questions to be answered
  • Will Lundqvist play?  The Pens have faced him every time this year, winning two and losing two.  King Henrik has been very solid overall against the Pens this year.
  • Can the Pens put up enough shots to win?  The Rangers like to limit the chances against, and they've been pretty successful in doing so.  Generating offense consistently will be tough.  Fortunately, the Pens now feature three lines with world-class centers.
  • Will Letang play?  As nice as it is to have Sid back, I think Letang is the real key to the power play.  If he plays, it makes that unit a difference maker every shift they're out there.
Keys to the game
  • Shake off the rust.  Having Sid back will help with that, but the Pens haven't played since Sunday, and they have a bad habit of falling behind in recent games.  That would be death against the Rangers.
  • Roll the lines.  This will help to keep the minutes down for Sid, and will keep everyone more fresh heading into the two big games this weekend.
  • Get shots on net.  The Pens need to play in the offensive zone, and the shots on net is the best indicator that they're successful in doing that.

Friday, March 09, 2012

Game #67 - vs Florida Panthers

2011-12 Game 67

Florida Panthers (31-23-12, 74 points) at Pittsburgh Penguins (40-21-5, 85 points)

Campbell is a -5 in three games this season against the Penguins.  Get Malkin out there against him!

Why does it matter?

With a win by the Penguins tonight (and a loss by the Rangers in Chicago), the Pens could pull within four points of the top spot in the Eastern Conference (and the top of the Atlantic division).  If they're not going to finish in the #6 spot, the #1 spot is as good as any since there's a big drop off between the #7 and #8 spot.  Games like these are critical to having a chance at the #1 seed, especially with Sid possibly returning on Sunday.

What has been happening lately?
  • Pens - The second line carried the day as the Pens came from behind to beat the Maple Leafs.
  • Panthers - Three losses in four games.  In their past two road games, they've been shut out by a combined score of 12-0.
Questions to be answered
  • Will the power play for the Pittsburgh Penguins please report to Consol Energy Center?  Power play to the Consol Energy Center, please?
  • Will it be a shooting gallery again?  The Pens fired 41 shots in each of the past two meetings with the Panthers.  That, combined with the recent road results for the Kitty Cats, doesn't bode well for them.
  • Is this a trap game?  With Crosby due to return soon, the Panthers being crappy lately and the Pens reliance on playing from behind, this could be the game where things are topsy-turvy.
Keys to the game
  • Get the top line going.  They were shut out against Toronto.
  • Execute on special teams.  The PK for the Panthers has been pretty bad.
  • Matchups - there are some good ones to be had against the Panthers.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Duper - Penguins 3, Maple Leafs 2

So what happened?

I'm late to the party with this review, so let's just say that it was a good win for the Pens.  They fell behind 2-0 and came roaring back to win 3-2.  It was the second line that did all the damage.

Who scored?

Dupuis (16,17), Staal (22)

The Ugly?
  • How do you know your defense isn't up to snuff?  When Arron Asham blows past you on a speed move to the outside.  No offense to Arron, but he isn't exactly a speedster.
What's their record now?
The Pens are 40-21-5.  They are all alone in fourth place in the conference, two points ahead of Philly, and six points behind the Rangers.

Who's next?
Friday night the home stand continues against the Panthers.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Game #66 - vs Toronto Maple Leafs

2011-12 Game 66

Toronto Maple Leafs (30-29-7, 67 points) at Pittsburgh Penguins (39-21-5, 83 points)

According to his sig, Clarke spells his name "Cl McAthu", which seems like something out of Lovecraft.

Why does it matter?

The Leafs think they still have a shot at the playoffs.  I sure hope they do, because if they make it, it will likely mean that the Southeast division (where the Caps play) will only get one team in the playoffs.  That would be all kinds of awesome.  Desperation has set in for Toronto, and the feel will be similar to the past three games for the Pens.

What has been happening lately?
  • Pens - The team keeps rolling, and now Sid is close to returning.
  • Maple Leafs - What happened in February?  After starting the month with three straight wins, they finished the month with a 1-9-1 run.  Talk about choking... but they've changed their coach, so we'll see if that makes a difference.
Questions to be answered
  • Kessel and Lupul?  Forget about them - it's Grabovski and MacArthur the Pens need to watch, as both have had great success against the Pens this year (6 and 5 points respectively).
  • Can the Pens stop the trend of being out shot?  You know that has to be killing HCDB, who would rather control the game by keeping the puck in the offensive zone (shots are a decent indicator of that).
  • Any chance we see Thiessen or Johnson?  You have to figure the team will want to get Flower some rest as we go down the stretch.
Keys to the game
  • Play like it's a road game.  Keep things tight and don't give the playmakers from the Leafs any room to skate.
  • Work for your chances.  The power play has been short on chances the past few games.  If the refs aren't blowing the whistles, work harder and force them to do it.
  • Shut down their power play - the Leafs scored twice last night against the Bruins with the man-advantage.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Crosby cleared for the runway, but not for takeoff (yet)

Sidney Crosby has been cleared for contact.  He'll be practicing with the team this week and will not return any earlier than Sunday against Boston.

There were a few pieces of information that I thought were interesting buried in the article:

  • Sid took a shot in the neck to reduce the inflammation in his C1 and C2 joints in the neck.  It seems to have produced some results.
  • He has been symptom-free for "a few days".
  • Last time he was cleared, it took six weeks before he came and played in a game.  Hopefully this time won't be as long.

Monday, March 05, 2012

Tough - Penguins 2, Coyotes 1

So what happened?

The Pens started slowly again.  They took a lead, again.  This time, however, they had to hang on for the win.

Phoenix fired lots of shots on Marc-Andre Fleury.  Fortunately, most of them were from some distance (at least for the first two periods) and there were no significant rebounds.  The goal they did score was in the third on a nice chip by Ray Whitney.  I thought Malkin should have been busting his tail get get back into the play - he looked more like he was gliding from the blue line in.

On the other end of the ice, Smith was playing very well, but he flubbed two shots in the first period.  Both went over the right pad and under the right arm / blocker.  Both were slightly deflected by Smith himself (in other words, he was just a tiny bit off in trying to stop them).  The Pens were very close to being shut out tonight.

There were no significant special teams chances, which is somewhat surprising given how physical this game was.

Who scored?

Michalek (2), Kunitz (19)

The Good?
  • Michalek with his second of the year against his former team, and it was a seeing-eye shot.
  • Tyler Kennedy seemed solid in his return.
  • The Pens put together several great shifts in the offensive zone, and they didn't really allow any extended shifts to Phoenix.
  • HCDB rolling the forward lines in a tight games.  Only Jordan Staal played more than 20 minutes up front.  That's good to see - in a tight game that is mostly even strength, it tells you the coach trusts his team.
The Bad?
  • Getting out shot again.  I think that may be more a function of how Phoenix was playing, but you know HCDB can't be happy with the shot totals.
The Ugly?
  • More faceoff headaches.  Staal and Vitale combined to win 11 while losing 22 (yikes).
Any Surprises?
  • Brian Strait - four blocks and four hits.  It was a solid night for him in just over 12 minutes.
What's their record now?
The Pens are 39-21-5.  They are all alone in fourth place in the conference, four points ahead of Philly and New Jersey, and eight points behind the Rangers.

Who's next?
Wednesday night the Leafs come to Consol.

Game #65 - vs Phoenix Coyotes

2011-12 Game 65

Phoenix Coyotes (33-23-9, 75 points) at Pittsburgh Penguins (38-21-5, 81 points)

30 goals for this guy.  Also - Pinnacle has some really different photos in their set.  I like the different shots they get.

Why does it matter?

The Penguins have somehow found their way to the #2 spot in the points race in the East.  They can't enjoy it, however, with New Jersey and Philadelphia breathing down their necks.  Earning two points before moving on to some tougher Eastern Conference opponents is key.

What has been happening lately?
  • Pens - Five in a row after kicking the stuffing out of the Avalanche on Saturday.
  • Coyotes - After winning six in a row, the Coyotes have lost two in a row, both at home, including their most recent debacle against the Blue Jackets.
Questions to be answered
  • Who are these guys?  Ray Whitney a +23 with 59 points?  Radim Vrbata has 30 goals and is a +21?
  • Anyone call Cal O'Reilly?  He spent 23 games with the Coyotes this season and could probably lend some insight.
  • Will the secondary guys keep scoring?  This could be the biggest factor in the Pens' chances for continues success.  Teams are going to focus on Geno more and more, so the other guys will need to get used to stepping up.
Keys to the game
  • Thank the Blue Jackets.  Seriously - they softened up the Avs and we saw what happened in Colorado. Now they've worked their magic on the Coyotes.  Let's hope for a similar result (though I think this one will be tougher).
  • Don't be afraid of the power play.  The Coyotes power play is woeful (though they have scored on the power play in each of the past two games).
  • Kennedy.  Tyler Kennedy is a game-time decision.  He would add some more speed and shooting to the third line.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Secondary - Penguins 5, Avalanche 1

So what happened?

The Avalanche came out and fired the first seven shots of the hockey game.  It was as one-sided as it sounds, as the Pens were slow to get things going.  Fortunately, that sluggishness only lasted about five minutes, and from that point, it was a good old-fashioned beat down.

Asham scored on a 3-on-2 slapper, Engelland scored on a beautiful deflection off the rush from Staal, Geno scored by out muscling Hejda and putting a rebound in (the original shot was Neal hitting the crossbar), Park scored coming out of the penalty box on a breakaway and Sullivan scored into the empty net.

The game really wasn't close enough to pull the goalie, but I guess the Avs figured "Why not?"

Nice to get the two points in a laugher and wrap up a successful road trip.

Who scored?

Asham (3), Engelland (4), Malkin (38), Park (6), Sullivan (13)

The Good?
  • Look at the names that scored - Asham, Engelland and Park - three great names to see if your a Pens' fan.  That is a huge lift for a team that can sometimes be top-heavy.
  • The fans traveled well - I can't remember a road game with so many vocal Pittsburgh supporters.
  • Fleury, fortunately, was ready to start the game, even if all of his teammates weren't quite there yet.
  • The defense was really good.  Paul Martin had a good game with two assists and a +3 rating.
The Bad?
  • The Avalanche were just plain bad.  They didn't seem to respond to any challenges very well.
  • Maybe you could say the Pens took a few too many careless penalties, but let's face it - the game was largely out of reach.
The Ugly?
  • Um - the faceoffs.  We won't mention that Staal won just three out of 15 and the team as a whole won just 19 out of 53.  Not a good night at all in the faceoff circle.
Any Surprises?
  • Erik Johnson, former #1 overall pick, was a -4 on the night.  Some folks complain about Paul Martin - this guy couldn't get out of his own way tonight.
What's their record now?
The Pens are 38-21-5.  They are all alone in fourth place in the conference, four points ahead of Philly and New Jersey, and eight points behind the Rangers.

Who's next?
Phoenix comes to Consol on Monday night for the start of a four-game home stand.

Game #64 - at Colorado Avalanche

2011-12 Game 64

Pittsburgh Penguins (37-21-5, 79 points) at Colorado Avalanche (33-28-4, 70 points)

Steve Sullivan is expected to play tonight.  No word on whether he'll finally disclose the location of the Fountain of Youth he's been sipping from.

Why does it matter?

The Avs are fighting for their playoff lives.  They're currently three points behind the Dallas Stars for the eighth spot in the West.  The Pens will have a battle on their hands.

What has been happening lately?
  • Pens - Four wins in a row, and 16-4-1 in their past 21 games.  Simply amazing.
  • Avalanche - They were doing better in February, but then they lost at home to Columbus on Thursday, 2-0.  Pretty poor.
Questions to be answered
  • Who will quarterback the power play?  With Letang out, I guess you put Matt Niskanen on the point with Steve Sullivan.  That makes me a little bit nervous.
  • Can the D absorb the minutes?  When Letang was out previously, things were a little bit choppy on the blue line.  Paul Martin, especially, saw his numbers suffer.
  • Can Geno keep going?  He has a six game point streak on the line, and the Pens will need him to spur the offense tonight.
Keys to the game
  • Dig in.  With Letang out, the remaining D will need to suck it up and step up their play, at least on the defensive side of things.  The forwards will need to do most of their own work and not count on having a guy like Letang joining the play.
  • Different uniform, same dork.  Steve Downie now plays for he Avalanche.
  • Special teams - the Avs PK has allowed a goal in three straight, and their power play simply doesn't get many chances.  The Pens have a clear advantage here - they need to exploit it.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Playoff Atmosphere - Penguins 4, Stars 3 (SO)

So what happened?

This was one exciting hockey game.  There were huge momentum swings, big moments, huge goals and even bigger saves.  It felt like a playoff game to me.

Other than the part where it was decided by a shootout.

Both sides played hard and, for the most part, clean.  There were more hits recorded than shots on net (and there were 62 shots on net), if that gives you any idea of the effort being put forth.

The Stars had leads of 1-0 and 2-1, but the Pens used two quick goals early in the third to take a 3-2 lead.  The Stars scored shortly after that to tie the game at 3-3, and then the goalies stepped up.  Marc-Andre was especially good in helping to stem the tide, given that the Pens played shorthanded for the end of the third and almost the first two minutes of overtime.  He kept the Pens in a position to win.  He also stopped two different breakaway attempts.

Kris Letang was injured on an apparent hit to the head in the first period.  He didn't return.  Martin, Michalek and Orpik all played at least 25 minutes.

Steve Sullivan also missed the third period with an injury.  Geno and Staal both played big minutes.

Nice to see the Pens get two points out of it.

Who scored?

Sullivan (12), Adams (4), Kunitz (18)

The Good?
  • Killing it on the shootout.  On a rare night when Flower allowed two in the shootout, Neal, Kunitz and Dupuis all cashed in.
  • The team really played well in a hostile environment.  The arena was loud tonight.
  • Great to see Adams get a dirty goal.
  • Kunitz's goal was on a sick deflection.
The Bad?
  • Both Letang and Sullivan left with injuries.
  • The Pens put the Stars on the power play too much in the second half of the game.  The final three power play attempts belonged to the Stars.
The Ugly?
  • For the love of God, Eddie Olczyk should be shot the next time he says "Pas-qwal" Dupuis.  I want to jump through the TV set every time I hear it.
Any Surprises?
  • I was surprised the Stars didn't roll four lines, especially in the third period when the Pens were shorthanded because of injury.  The fourth line seemed to have some jump for them.
What's their record now?
The Pens are 37-21-5.

Who's next?
A Saturday night showdown with another team hanging around the fringe of the playoffs in Colorado.

Best Pittsburgh Sports Blog Tournament - the Final Four!!

While this blog was dismissed easily by those mini-ponies, who have clearly been hitting the juice (Sean - we need to test for performance enhancing drugs next year!!), the tournament has gone forward.

It's currently time for the Final Four.  Get over there and vote for your favorite of the remaining blogs.

My support is going to the Pirate blogs that remain - Rum Bunter and Where Have You Gone, Andy Van Slyke (which was my inspiration for starting Igloo Dreams over six years ago).

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Grind it out - Penguins 4, Blue Jackets 2

So what happened?

The Blue Jackets were intent on making this a hockey game.  They held the fort during the first period by limiting the quality of the scoring chances for the Pens, and Curtis Sanford, in his first game back from injury, didn't allow any second chances.

The strategy was working, as the Pens out shot the Jackets 15-5 during the first period, but were unable to score.  Things took a turn for the worse when Rick Nash scored on a shorthanded goal midway through the second to give the Blue Jackets a 1-0 lead.

However, Geno got the Pens on the board with a power play goal late in the second, and then in the third, the cracks in the armor started to show for Sanford.  He just wasn't quite as fast or on top of his game as he had been earlier.  Shots that I think he would have stopped in the first period started to go in, and before you knew it, the Pens were up 4-1.  Vinny Prospal scored with less than 5 minutes left to make it mildly interesting, but the Jackets never really threatened after that.

Who scored?

Malkin (37), Dupuis (15), Letang (9), Vitale (4)

The Good?
  • Another two power play goals - the Pens have six power play goals in just 13 chances over their past four games.  That's incredible.
  • Thiessen was solid in his NHL debut.  The team insulated him well for the most part (other than the Nash breakaway while the Jackets were shorthanded).
  • What more can you say about Geno?  He is the best player in the world right now.
  • Faceoffs for Staal and Malkin were solid - both were over 55%.
  • Great persistence for the Pens - the shots weren't going in early and they weren't getting any rebounds, but they didn't panic and just kept working.  It paid off.
The Bad?
  • Letang was a -2, meaning he was on the ice for both goals against.
The Ugly?
  • Nothing, really.  Just two points for the Pens.
Any Surprises?
  • Again, pretty plain vanilla victory.  Nothing too surprising.
What's their record now?
The Pens are 36-21-5.

Who's next?
A quick road trip to Dallas and Colorado.  The Pens play Dallas on Wednesday night.

Game #62 - vs Columbus Blue Jackets

2011-12 Game 62

Columbus Blue Jackets (18-36-7, 43 points) at Pittsburgh Penguins (35-21-5, 75 points)

Brassard leads the Jackets in points in the month of February

Why does it matter?

The Blue Jackets are terrible.  They're the worst team in the NHL by nearly any standard.  They've just traded away much of their offense.  Why does this make them dangerous to the Pens?  Because they have a bunch of guys fighting for jobs, and money talks.  Also, they'll have Curtis Sanford back, and his numbers are pretty decent.

What has been happening lately?
  • Pens - Some luck early led to a laugher against the Bolts.
  • Blue Jackets - They're 4-4-1 in their last nine, including some impressive wins over Anaheim, Minnesota (twice) and San Jose.
Questions to be answered
  • Will the Pens be able to get up for this game?  The Blue Jackets are going to steal some points if the Pens keep having a slow start and keep going to the box.
  • Will we see Brad Thiessen make his NHL debut?  Might not be a bad idea to give Flower some rest.
  • What is up with Dustin Jeffrey?  He didn't seem to be playing all that poorly, but clearly there's something up since he's a healthy scratch.
Keys to the game
  • Jump on them early.  The Bolts Blue Jackets have been sellers with trades, sending out Downie, Moore and Kubina Carter and Vermette.  That has to affect the morale eventually.
  • Generate your own emotions.  Without some of the chippy guys on the other side, the Pens have a tendency to become cold and emotionless.  They need to find a reason to be fired up. 
  • Take them seriously.  I know facing the Bolts Blue Jackets is a long way from the Rangers, but these two points are just as valuable.
Wow - it's almost like they're the same as the game against Tampa Bay...

Lucky - Penguins 8, Lightning 1

So what happened?

So the short version is that the Pens were the beneficiaries of some very lucky bounces in the first period that led directly to a 3-0 lead.  Kunitz deflected a shot off of Hedman, Cooke bounced on a rebound and Staal was granted a breakaway short-handed when the linesman ran interference on Hedman at the point.

Then the Bolts made the dumb mistake of getting Malkin angry.  How can teams not figure out that their smartest move is to let him try to get himself motivated?  One hat trick later, the game was completely out of reach (it may have been out of reach prior to that, but he completely buried them).  One of the goals was a highlight reel end-to-end rush going through or around three different Lightning.  It looked like Mario Lemieux was back on the ice.

Otherwise, the way this game started, the Pens were very lucky with how things turned out in the first.

Who scored?

Kunitz (17), Cooke (12), Staal (20, 21), Malkin (34, 35, 36), Dupuis (14)

The Good?
  • The offensive output, including two power play goals and a shorty.
  • Nice to see Cooke and Dupuis pick up goals to go with the big guys.
  • Fleury absolutely dominated early in the game.  He made several amazing saves to keep the Bolts off the board.
The Bad?
  • A slow start... again.
  • Way too many penalties - the lack of discipline will cost them if it continues.
The Ugly?
  • Roloson's two handed shove to the face of a prone Evgeni Malkin.  It was cheap, and Roloson is lucky he didn't bounce Geno's head off of the ice, because that would certainly draw the attention of the league.
Any Surprises?
  • The top line (Geno, Neal and Kunitz) were all under 15 minutes of ice time.  I figured it would be lower than normal, but I was really surprised how much Bylsma was able to rest them in the third.  Should make things better for Columbus today.
What's their record now?
The Pens are 35-21-5.

Who's next?
A trip to Buffalo for a Sunday afternoon game against the Sabres.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Game #61 - vs Tampa Bay Lightning

2011-12 Game 61

Tampa Bay Lightning (27-27-6, 60 points) at Pittsburgh Penguins (34-21-5, 73 points)

Somebody asked for a decent backup goalie?  Roloson is a UFA after this year and he would be cheap.

Why does it matter?

This is the last weekend of the weird month of back-to-back weekend games, all but one during the daytime.  The Pens need to beat a non-playoff team like the Bolts to keep pace with the Devils and Flyers.  Unfortunately, recent history against bad teams isn't good (see last Sunday in Buffalo).

What has been happening lately?
  • Pens - The best overall performance of the season against the Rangers last Tuesday.
  • Lightning - They had won three in a row at home against the likes of San Jose and Anaheim, and then they went to Winnipeg on Thursday and were down 4-0 after two periods.  They almost came back, but a terrible first few periods for them.
Questions to be answered
  • Can someone slow down Steven Stamkos?  The man is on a tear, with 11 points in his last four games (6 goals, 5 assists).  He was held scoreless when he faced the Pens almost two weeks ago.
  • Can the Pens take advantage of Stamkos?  He's only a +2 over those four games.  Four points came on the power play, so unless the Bolts allowed a shortie, the opposition has scored five times in four games while Stamkos is on the ice.
  • Who will throw the sucker punch for the Bolts now that Downie is gone and Vinny is hurt?
Keys to the game
  • Jump on them early.  The Bolts have been sellers with trades, sending out Downie, Moore and Kubina.  That has to affect the morale eventually.
  • Generate your own emotions.  Without some of the chippy guys on the other side, the Pens have a tendency to become cold and emotionless.  They need to find a reason to be fired up. 
  • Take them seriously.  I know facing the Bolts is a long way from the Rangers, but these two points are just as valuable.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Game #60 - vs New York Rangers

2011-12 Game 60

New York Rangers (38-14-5, 81 points) at Pittsburgh Penguins (33-21-5, 71 points)

Richards has four points in three games against the Pens this year.

Why does it matter?

The Rangers are the top team in the East.  This is an important divisional game for the Pens.  They need to win more games in the Atlantic since 10 of their final 23 games are within the division.  This game is a good place to start.

What has been happening lately?
  • Pens - Another split weekend, with a great Saturday followed by a nasty Sunday hangover.
  • Rangers - Just rolling along with nine wins in their past 12 games.
Questions to be answered
  • Can the Pens get back to their game?  The shot totals from the last three games (26,30,26) aren't looking good.  They need zone time to generate offense (and shots).
  • Will Geno get things going again?  In his last three games, he has two points (both assists) and is a -3.
  • How will Martin and Letang respond from their -4 performance on Sunday?  I think Letang will be flying.
Keys to the game
  • Score three or more.  The Rangers have not won a game this year when their opponent scores 4, and their record when allowing three is also poor.
  • Stay focused.  The Rangers don't score a ton of goals, and they count on converting on chances when they get them.  The forwards need to be especially aware in the defensive zone to help out.
  • Initiate, don't retaliate.  Take it to them and be physical from the drop of the puck.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Since the game today was miserable...

This video really made me laugh.  I saw it right after the end of the Pens game, and I had a smile back on my face almost instantly.  The title is "Guilty cat".  If you've never lived with a cat, this may not be as funny to you, but it brightened my Sunday.

One Step Back - Sabres 6, Penguins 2

So what happened?

As well as things turned out yesterday in Philly, they turned out equally as bad today in Buffalo.

The short version (and I don't want to think about this one too much, so that's all I'm going to provide) is that Brent Johnson didn't have his best start.  The team started slowly in general and never really got things going.

The Pens had a few decent chances they couldn't convert on.  Geno had a breakaway that he didn't convert on, and there were several other good chances that fell by the wayside.

This was a missed opportunity.  Time to forget and move on to the next one.

Who scored?

Engelland (3), Staal (19)

What's their record now?
The Pens are 33-21-5.

Who's next?
Tuesday night the Pens will get the chance to improve their Atlantic Division record when the Rangers come to town.

Neal's Deal is Real - Pens extend James Neal

The Pens have re-signed James Neal to a six-year contract for $30 million.  He'll have a cap hit of $5 million per year.

A cap number of $5 million puts him in the same category as the following forwards:
Ryan Kesler
Mike Ribeiro
Tomas Plekanec
Brian Gionta
Martin Havlat
Patrice Bergeron

Now, I don't know about you, but I don't think I'd take any of those guys over James Neal at this point.  If they Pens didn't have Jordan Staal, then you could make the argument that you'd rather have Kesler, but other than that... no way, no how.

This was a great move by Ray Shero at a good cap number.

Game #59 - at Buffalo Sabres

2011-12 Game 59

Pittsburgh Penguins (33-20-5, 71 points) at Buffalo Sabres (24-27-7, 55 points)

Why does it matter?

No time for a proper preview - game time is 60 minutes away.  Let's just say the Pens need to avoid the letdown.  This is an excellent chance for the Pens to earn two points on the road against a poor opponent.

Exhilarating - Penguins 6, Flyers 4

So what happened?

Wow - I don't know where to start with this one.  Let's start by saying this may have been the worst effort by the Pens all season in terms of their discipline in staying out of the box.  While the refs were still blowing their whistles (which stopped after the second period), the Pens handed the Flyers multiple power play chances.  Some of them were mystifying, like the hooking call on Brooks Orpik, but most of them were just dumb, like the slashing call on Paul Martin.  The Pens were fortunate the Flyers were unable to capitalize more then they did (the Flyers scored just once on the power play).

Anyway, long story short (since the Pens play again in about 90 minutes in Buffalo), this was a heated rivalry kind of game that we've come to expect against the Flyers.  The Pens used two short-handed goals to keep themselves in the game (it was tied 3-3 going into the third period), and then scored three times at even-strength to blow the game open in the third.

The Flyers biggest problem was their play between the pipes.  Both Bryzgalov and Bobrovsky were terrible (Bryzgalov looked as bad as I've seen any goalie look all season on those short-handed goals).  It's nice to see the questionable decision to spend tons of money on Bryzgalov backfire to this point.

The Pens weren't really doing much in the first two periods, aside from killing penalties and scoring short-handed.  They managed just 15 shots through two.  Once the special teams play stopped in the third, however, the Pens simply dominated.  They out shot the Flyers 15-8 in the third and put the game out of reach, basically by the time Pascal Dupuis scored just 2:09 into the third.

This is one of the few games that actually had me yelling and cheering while watching.

Who scored?

Cooke (10, 11), Staal (18), Jeffrey (4), Dupuis (13), Neal (30)

The Good?
  • See the other four names that aren't Malkin or Neal that scored goals?  That's really good.
  • Zac Rinaldo was not in this game.  That's also good, because I think he would have tried to hurt someone.
  • We found out that Scott Hartnell is afraid to fight Engelland.  Claude Giroux was leveled on a clean check by Deryk Engelland early in the first.  Hartnell immediately went up as if to challenge Engelland, but never dropped the gloves (which Engelland certainly would have done with Hartnell).  Scott didn't try to fight until late in the game when he managed to get close to Joe Vitale, who is about 3" shorter and 10 pounds lighter than Hartnell.  Vitale, I have no doubt, would have dropped them with Hartnell if the linesmen hadn't already been involved.  You want to know the problem with the Flyers?  When it comes right down to it, they're gutless.
  • The PK scoring twice was great.  Cooke's goal was against a 5-on-3.
  • Flower made several key saves when the Flyers were still in the game.  He wasn't great all day, but he did make the big saves when it counted.
The Bad?
  • Bad decision to pinch by Kris Letang on the first Jagr goal.  He can't take those chances in a four-on-four situation.
  • Lack of recognition by the Pens that Jagr likes to shoot that wrist shot from anywhere near the circle. I think anyone that has seen Jagr play more than a few times knew what was coming, and Jagr burned the Pens twice in a row with that shot.
The Ugly?
  • The stupidity of the Flyers.  Coburn's cross-check on Malkin in neutral ice with the puck nowhere near?  STUPID!  JVR slash to the hands / wrists of James Neal after the whistle in the middle of everyone (and in response to a light shove from Neal)?  STUPID!  In fairness, Paul Martin's slash after taking a slightly late hit?  STUPID!  Discipline is key.
Any Surprises?
  • The refs were surprising, and not in a good way.  They made some of the most bizarre calls against both teams, and the result was an inconsistent mess.
What's their record now?
The Pens are 33-20-5.

Who's next?
A trip to Buffalo for a Sunday afternoon game against the Sabres.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Game #58 - at Philadelphia Flyers

2011-12 Game 58

Pittsburgh Penguins (32-20-5, 69 points) at Philadelphia Flyers (32-18-7, 71 points)

Giroux is taking his place among the game's best players.

Why does it matter?

The Pens have a chance to take over second place in the division and the fourth spot in the Eastern Conference with a regulation win over the Flyers.  That would be a strong step towards earning home ice in the playoffs.  Oh, and winning in Philadelphia is always nice.

What has been happening lately?
  • Pens - The Ducks made road kill out of the Pens on Wednesday.
  • Flyers - They've struggled lately, especially in the division, but they just blasted the Sabres on Thursday.
Questions to be answered
  • Can the Pens start to win consistently in their own division?  They'll need to if they want home ice in the playoffs.
  • Can any line other than the first one generate pressure?  That was non-existent on Wednesday against the Ducks.
  • Will the Pens be able to shut down all of the scoring lines from the Flyers?  At least the top three lines are a consistent threat to score, and the Flyers are tops in the NHL in goals per game.
Keys to the game
  • Use special teams to your advantage.  Buffalo game aside, the Flyers have been inept recently both on the power play and the penalty kill.  The Pens need to encourage them to return to those ways.
  • Limit their chances.  The Flyers like to rack up the shots, but the Pens have had some success in keeping them in check.
  • Make smart line change and match up well.  It will be important not to get the wrong line trapped out there against Giroux.