Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Game #51 - at Toronto Maple Leafs

2011-12 Game 51

Pittsburgh Penguins (29-17-4, 62 points) at Toronto Maple Leafs (25-19-6, 56 points)

With two goals in the previous game, Grabovski is moving dangerously close to "Penguin Killer" territory.

Why does it matter?

Another game against one of the top 9 in the East.  The Pens will be looking to show that their slow start in the previous game was a fluke.  The Leafs will be looking to show that the ending was one.

What has been happening lately?
  • Pens - Eight wins in a row, but you can't count on the third period comebacks very often at all.
  • Leafs - I wouldn't call it a crushing meltdown, but to have a three goal lead in the third and blow it has to be disappointing.
Questions to be answered
  • How will both teams respond to start the game?  Will we see a fast start?  Will we see an attempt to play physically?
  • Will anyone show tired legs?  The Leafs had three D at or over 27 minutes.  That's a pretty heavy load.
  • Can Geno's line shore things up?  Despite scoring the tying goal, Malkin's line was a -2.  That means they were on the ice for all three even-strength goals against last game.
Keys to the game
  • Get to the power play.  The Pens earned just one power play chance last game.  The refs won't hand it to you - you have to keep the legs driving and out work the opponent to get there.
  • Be ready early.  The Air Canada Centre will be rocking, even more so if the Leafs get a lead.
  • Huge in net.  The Pens will need a top notch performance from whoever is between the pipes with the way the Leafs can fire the puck.

Penguins 5, Maple Leafs 4 (SO)

So what happened?

I missed this game, so this is the purely statistical review.

Looks like the Pens got behind the eight ball early (they were out shot 27-17 through the first two periods) and were almost finished off early in the third when the Leafs scored twice just 19 seconds apart to take a 4-1 lead.

The Pens roared back with three unanswered goals, the last on a deflection by Malkin with just 7 seconds remaining in regulation.

The game went to a shootout, where per recent trends, Geno was the deciding factor.  He notched the only shootout goal, giving the Pens the two points.

Flower was the #1 star, so I'm guessing he held the fort and gave the Pens a chance to tie the game.  Any time you face 14 shots in a period and don't allow anything (as he did in the first), you're doing something right.

Who scored?

Cooke (8), Sullivan (10), Vitale (3), Malkin (27)

The Good?
  • A nice comeback at home.
  • Geno and Flower in the shootout.
The Bad?
  • Getting down 2-0 and then 4-1.
  • Getting out shot 14-6 in the first period.  A bit rusty, maybe?  Not quite ready for the start of the game?
What's their record now?
The Pens are 29-17-4.

Who's next?
A quick trip to Toronto for the second half of the back-to-back tomorrow night.

Game #50 - vs Toronto Maple Leafs

2011-12 Game 50

Toronto Maple Leafs (25-19-5, 55 points) at Pittsburgh Penguins (28-17-4, 60 points)

I thought Lupul did a great job at the Fantasy Draft while getting booed by the Ottawa fans.

Why does it matter?

If the playoffs started today, the Leafs would be on the outside looking in.  That makes them a desperate team. This is the front end of a home-and-home on consecutive nights with the Leafs, so it'll have the feel of a mini playoff series.

What has been happening lately?
  • Pens - Seven wins in a row.  Here's hoping the All-Star break didn't kill the momentum.
  • Leafs - Three wins in four games, but two of those were over the Islanders.
Questions to be answered
  • Will we see the same team from a week ago?  The one that was playing at a high level and competing with anyone?
  • Any chance of seeing Brent Johnson today or tomorrow?  The Pens have another back-to-back this weekend, so you'd have to figure we'll see him sometime soon.
Keys to the game
  • Get to the power play.  This will be tough.  For the month of January, the Leafs have allowed more than two power plays in a game just twice.  They weren't whistled for a minor infraction at all in their wins against the Isles.
  • Start strong.  Get back into the habit with some hard skating work.
  • Stick to the basics - dump the puck, dig it out and go to work in the offensive zone.  Stay away from the cute stuff until the legs come back.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Penguins taking proper approach with Crosby

The latest news in Sidney Crosby Land, as most hockey fans are aware by now, is that Sid has / had a neck injury that is / was complicating his return to the ice.

Sid got the news after visiting with Dr. Robert Bray, a neurological spine specialist.

Per the statement released by the Penguins, the injury is fully healed.  That diagnosis will be confirmed over the next day or two.

I like the way both the Crosby camp and the Penguins are approaching this.  Both Sid and the Pens are providing as much information as they can.  This feels like a departure from earlier this season, when it was difficult to get any information as to Crosby's status, including whether he was skating and / or working out.

Ray Shero is on the record as saying he's optimistic that Sid will play again this season.

Somehow it feels like we may have turned a corner, and that a missing piece just fell into place.  I'm saying that based on nothing more than reading the same things that everyone else is.

I'd love to see this team with everyone fully healed.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Game #49 - at St. Louis Blues

2011-12 Game 49

Pittsburgh Penguins (27-17-4, 58 points) at St. Louis Blues (29-12-6, 64 points)

Nice two color patch.  Backes is a terrific hockey player who is hot right now.

Why does it matter?

Rangers?  Flyers?  Capitals?  They have nothing on the Blues.  The Blues have been absolutely dominant since the beginning of January (heck, since Hitchcock took over).  This is the toughest game so far this year for the Pens, hands down.

This post, by the way, was written before the Blues / Red Wings contest on Monday night.

What has been happening lately?
  • Pens - Six wins in a row!  That's the high water mark for the season.
  • Blues - Other than beating Detroit, they've done everything right since Ken Hitchcock took over.
Questions to be answered
  • Will the Pens avoid the let down after the emotional OT win against the Caps?  The Blues certainly are capable of shutting down a team that isn't motivated.
  • Will we see Halak or Elliot?  I know Elliot beat the Pens earlier, but I'd still rather see him.
  • Can the Pens score?  Halak has FOUR shutouts in the month of January alone!
Keys to the game
  • Keep it tight.  The Blues have lost by more than one goal just twice since the start of November.  Stay focused on not allowing the odd-man chances against.
  • Get ready to work.  The Pens have been good at that recently, but the Blues are maybe the best team in the league at it (even better than the Rangers, in my opinion).
  • Use the legs.  The Pens were resting in St. Louis while the Blues were playing the Red Wings on Monday night.  Keep the tempo high and try to tire them out.

Penguins 4, Capitals 3 (OT)

So what happened?

This was a great win for the Pens.  It had a bit of everything - a quick start, allowing three straight goals against, a key goal in the third to tie it up and then the OT winner.

It was like a roller coaster that had a great finish to it.  Without that finish, it would have felt vastly different at the end.

As for the Caps, their system is painful to watch.  When the Pens were bringing the puck up the ice and there isn't a Capital in sight until the red line (or thereabouts), you're playing a pretty conservative trap.  They aren't going to be able to keep scoring three or four goals per night while only generating 20 shots.  To their credit, they were able to hold the Pens to just 27, which is their lowest total in almost a month.

Who scored?

Letang (5), Neal (25, 26), Malkin (26)

The Good?
  • The power play got things started on the right foot, and they looked dangerous all day.
  • The PK was huge (and it was helped by a dumb penalty taken by Troy Brouwer - see The Bad below).
  • Another 13 shots and three goals for the top line.  Even with the defensive system played by the Caps, Malkin, Neal and Kunitz were able to dominate.  I'd be interested to see how things guys do against a team like Detroit or Boston.
  • Perfect faceoff win by Malkin on the first goal by James Neal.  He won it straight back to where Neal was and allowed him to one-time the puck.
The Bad?
  • The rest of Geno's faceoffs weren't as good.  He won just six of eighteen overall.
  • Troy Brouwer took a dumb penalty when the Caps had an extended five-on-three.  He cross-checked Paul Martin in the back, right in front of the net.  There's no need to do that, and it cost the Caps a good chance (though they did score at even strength while all the penalties were playing out).
The Ugly?
  • Ovechkin's hit on Michalek, clearly leaving his feet.  When someone asks why the players don't have more respect for each other, Ovechkin should be the poster boy.  He routinely makes dangerous, borderline hits.  If Matt Cooke can change, anyone can.
Any Surprises?
  • I was surprised to see Neuvirth, considering how well Vokoun played last time against the Pens.
What's their record now?
The Pens are 27-17-4.

Who's next?
One more game before the All-Star break, and it's a tough one.  The Pens visit St. Louis on Tuesday.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Game #48 - vs Washington Capitals

2011-12 Game 48

Washington Capitals (25-19-2, 52 points) at Pittsburgh Penguins (26-17-4, 56 points)

This guy just can't stay healthy.  He's out 4-6 weeks for abdominal surgery.

Why does it matter?

This tilt doesn't have the luster that it used to have, but it's still a great rivalry, and it's on national television this afternoon.  That's pretty big.  The Caps have won about a million games in a row in Pittsburgh, and have been generally dominant over the Pens in the regular season the last few years.

What has been happening lately?
  • Pens - Five wins in a row, which matches their longest of the season (the prior five game streak was October 18 - 27).
  • Capitals - They've been inconsistent, and they seem to struggle more on the road.  Overall, they've won four of their past six, but lost two of their past three.
Questions to be answered
  • Is it possible for the Pens to beat the Caps in the regular season?  The rare win over the Rangers gives me hope.
  • Can the Pens get to the power play?  The Caps PK has been vulnerable recently, but the last time the Pens and Caps played, there weren't any penalties called on the Caps.
  • What is wrong with the Washington offense?  In the past month, they've registered 30 shots just once, and it isn't like they're limiting the chances of the other team.  Something isn't right here... even in their losses, they don't seem to be able to open it up when they need to.
Keys to the game
  • Get a lead.  The Caps are offensively challenged right now.  They will have trouble playing from behind.
  • Avoid the slow start.  It's an early afternoon game, so get the legs going early and often.
  • Get to the power play and convert your chances.  Vokoun was really good against the Pens last time.  The power play will help soften him up.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Penguins 5, Canadiens 4 (SO)

So what happened?

Dustin Jeffrey, Kris Letang and Evgeni Malkin happened.

Two of those happenings would not have been possible just a week or two ago, so it's nice the see the Pens getting important contributions from some of the guys recently returned from injury.  Richard Park is another player who has provided a few important goals.

Jeffrey had the best night of his young career with two goals and an assist.  He had several cracks at the hat trick, but wasn't able to pull it off.

Letang continued his strong play with a goal and an assist.

The Pens got themselves into trouble over the first two periods.  They looked a bit on the lackadaisical side, and they were down 3-1 during the second, and 4-2 at the end of the second period.

The third period, however, belonged to the Pens. They out shot the Habs 14-7 and tied the score to send the game to OT.

Geno scored in the shoot out and Flower made it stand up, allowing no goals in the shoot out.

Who scored?

Letang (4), Jeffrey (1, 2), Malkin (25)

What's their record now?
The Pens are 26-17-4.

Who's next?
Caps - Sunday afternoon.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Game #47 - vs Montreal Canadiens

2011-12 Game 47

Montreal Canadiens (17-21-8, 42 points) at Pittsburgh Penguins (25-17-4, 54 points)

Cool card.  These are similar to the Upper Deck Masterpieces that were out a few years back.

Why does it matter?

This is the last game against a crappy opponent for about a month.  The upcoming scheduled is much tougher, so the Pens need to make hay while the sun is shining on them.  The Habs are struggling with their offense.  The way the Pens have controlled the flow of the game lately, I don't see that getting much better for them.

What has been happening lately?
  • Pens - Malkin (and his line mates) have been carrying the team during this four game winning streak.
  • Canadiens - They're just 4-10-1 since December 13th.  They've lost four of the past five games overall.
Questions to be answered
  • Can we get some offense from one of the other lines?  Richard Park has two big goals recently, but no one else does.  I'm looking at... well, anyone, really.  Cooke?  Dupuis?  Tangradi?  Kennedy?
  • Will Brent Johnson get another chance to right the ship tonight?  I'd say it's likely, given that the Pens played last night, and will also play at 12:30 on Sunday.
  • Will anyone go after Pacioretty?  This is the first meeting since he concussed Letang with is blindside hit.
Keys to the game
  • Stay out of the box.  The Habs power play has been really bad, but they're like a wounded animal.  You stay away from that.
  • No let down.  The Rangers game was big, and the Caps are looming on Sunday.  Don't look past Montreal.
  • Get Johnson going.  Assuming he's in net, the Pens are going to need him at some point this year.  He's had a rough time so far - get him on the right track with solid defensive play.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Dumb - Penguins 4, Rangers 1

So what happened?

Why are teams messing with Evgeni Malkin right now?  He is torching everyone in sight.  The Rangers tried to get into his kitchen tonight, and the result was two third period goals that put the game out of reach for the Blue Shirts.  Nothing could be more gratifying for Geno.

The game itself was excellent.  The Pens played their way for the first and third periods, and during the second, they held their own enough to escape with the score tied.

The third period is when the Pens seized control and did not let go.

Flower was solid, making several excellent saves.  Lundqvist was pretty good too, for that matter.  This could have been a much bigger victory for the Pens if not for him.

To put it curtly, the Pens beat the Rangers at their own game.

Who scored?

Kunitz (14), Park (4), Malkin (23, 24)

The Good?
  • Kris Letang played inspired hockey in his first game back.  He was fearless (some may say dumb) in throwing his body around.  He was a +2 with one assist.
  • The top line was good tonight.  They only fired 9 shots, but they accounted for three goals.
  • Steve Sullivan played gritty hockey and was tied for the team lead with four hits.  He's the smallest guy on the team.  That takes heart.
The Bad?
  • Faceoffs again.  Still.  Really bad.  Dustin Jeffrey - try other technique... ANYTHING.
The Ugly?
  • Tangradi is not a great fighter right now.  He's big enough, and he isn't quite Ryan Malone-bad, but he's not good.  Give him credit for making the effort to stay in the NHL.
Any Surprises?
  • The young forwards are really filling in nicely.  Jeffrey, Tangradi and Vitale are all trying to keep their NHL jobs (which are in jeopardy if / when Staal, Crosby and Asham return), and they're all playing their part very well. 
What's their record now?
The Pens are 25-17-4.

Who's next?
A quick trip back home to play the Canadiens tomorrow night at Consol.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Flexibility - Penguins 2, Hurricanes 1 (SO)

So what happened?

The Pens went to the shoot out for the first time in seemingly forever (the last time was Saturday, November 5th in Los Angeles).

Prior to that, there was a highly entertaining hockey game.

The Pens and Canes traded chances and generally played end-to-end hockey with no whistles for long stretches.  I wouldn't say it had the intensity of a playoff game, but it was certainly close.

The Pens did their thing and out shot the Canes by a margin of 41-26.  Both goalies were excellent, and both teams had numerous chances.

This score could easily have been 4-3 instead of 2-1.

A great job by the Pens to earn another two points and keep their streak going.

Who scored?

Malkin (22)

The Good?
  • Malkin, Kunitz and Neal combined for 16 shots and the only goal of the game for the Pens.
  • Speaking of Geno's goal, it was a nice steal from Eric Staal (though Staal never had total possession of the puck) and a roof job on Cam Ward, who was on his knees (maybe he was praying?)
  • Pascal Dupuis had seven shots and seemingly infinite chances - he just couldn't buy a goal.
  • Ponikarovsky was credited with three hits, which is approximately three more than he had in his brief tenure with the Penguins.
The Bad?
  • Faceoffs were poor again.  This time the victims were Malkin, Jeffrey and Adams.  The team needs to find a way to get better on these on a consistent basis.
The Ugly?
  • Jeff Skinner may find that he has another concussion tomorrow - he was blasted into the middle of next week (on a completely clean hit) by Brooks Orpik.  Skinner left for a bit but returned to action.
Any Surprises?
  • I was surprised that Skinner returned.  The guy just came back after missing 16 games with a concussion and clearly his legs were rubber after he was hit.  I don't think there's any way he should have been allowed back on the ice, just for his own safety.  What happens if he had been hit again?
What's their record now?
The Pens are 24-17-4.

Who's next?
The front end of a back-to-back at MSG on Thursday night.

Game #45 - vs Carolina Hurricanes

2011-12 Game 45

Carolina Hurricanes (16-24-7, 39 points) at Pittsburgh Penguins (23-17-4, 48 points)

Every time I see Jeff Skinner it makes me think of Hot Fuzz... "Mr Skinner" (it's a great movie, btw)

Why does it matter?

The Pens need to keep their winning streak going against a weaker team.  They don't get much worse than Carolina this season, even though the Canes did beat Boston on Saturday.  This is the final regular season meeting between these two teams this season.

What has been happening lately?
  • Pens - Two straight wins in Florida may have the team turned around.
  • Hurricanes - They won two in a row and then lost a tight one in Washington on Sunday.
Questions to be answered
  • Can the Pens find a way to beat a hot goalie?  This seems to be a weak point this year, and Cam Ward is playing really well right now.
  • Will the Pens rev up the shot engine again?  Remember the last meeting with the Canes?  The Pens fired 52 shots!
  • Which power play will we see?  The one that looked strong against Tampa or the one that hadn't scored  in the previous five games?  The PK for the Canes is inconsistent.  They haven't allowed a goal in their past four games, but they allowed four against Nashville.
Keys to the game
  • Focus on the big guns.  Staal is playing better, and Skinner and Ruutu have had success against the Pens this year.
  • Play 60 minutes.  Giving up three goals in five minutes in the third is attributable to a lack of focus.
  • Keep the top line going.  Kunitz, Neal and Malkin are playing better than any line I can recall in recent history for the Pens.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

No Moore - Penguins 6, Lightning 3

So what happened?

Dominic Moore should have left well enough alone.

The Pens and Lightning were tied 3-3 in the third period.  The Lightning had scored three straight goals in less than five minutes to tie the score.  That's when Dominic Moore chose to start jawing with Evgeni Malkin in the faceoff circle.  They were both kicked out, and the jawing continued on the wing.  The puck wasn't dropped, and James Neal switched places with Geno after things continued to heat up.

From that point on, the score was Evgeni Malkin 3, Lightning 0.  Geno had the natural hat trick.

As a fan, it was a satisfying sequence to watch.

Of course, Bob Errey almost ruined the game.  James Neal had scored to make it 3-0 in the third period.  Bob Errey had no sooner said that the same is / was / should be over than the Bolts scored their first of three goals to tie the score.  If I could have reached through the TV to strangle Errey for clearly influencing the play on the ice, I would have at least considered doing it.

Other than the five minutes in the third period where the Bolts scored three times, the Pens played a terrific game.  They dominated the shots on net in all three periods, and finished with a 44-20 advantage for the game.

Trap anyone?

Who scored?

Neal (23, 24), Park (3), Malkin (19, 20, 21)

The Good?
  • Five points for Geno.  He should have had a fourth goal, but the refs ignored an obvious slash when Malkin was likely to score a second empty net goal.
  • Neal had two more goals.  That's three in two games after he was snubbed from the All-Star game.
  • The team effort in shutting down Stamkos and St. Louis.
  • The power play scored twice in five chances.
The Bad?
  • Faceoffs.  Wow - lots of them, but the Pens won just 33 out of 79.  Special dishonorable mention goes to Malkin and Jeffrey who combined to win just 15 out of 47.
The Ugly?
  • Vincent Lecavalier.  He got into a scrum with Malkin and while both players were completely wrapped up by the refs (and about 5 other players), Vinny clearly threw a sucker punch right into the jaw of Malkin.  It was something you'd expect out of Steve Downie, but not a player of the caliber of Lecavalier.  Very cheap.
Any Surprises?
  • I was surprised the Boucher pulled the goalie after Malkin put the Pens up by three with an empty-netter.  Pulling a goalie while down three (without being on a power play) is pretty unusual.
What's their record now?
The Pens are 23-17-4.

Who's next?
Carolina comes to Consol on Tuesday night.

Game #44 - at Tampa Bay Lightning

2011-12 Game 44

Pittsburgh Penguins (22-17-4, 48 points) at Tampa Bay Lightning (17-22-4, 38 points)

Expect to see Malone hanging out in the Penguins' crease.

Why does it matter?

It's a chance to build on something good as the Pens try to beat the Lightning for the first time in five tries.

What has been happening lately?
  • Pens - The ship was turned around with their 4-1 win against the Panthers on Friday night.
  • Lightning - 2012 has not been kind to the Bolts, who have lost six straight games (0-5-1).
Questions to be answered
  • Will the goal scoring continue?  That's the big question - the Pens need to keep firing the puck.  The Lightning have been flip-flopping between Garon and Roloson, though neither has been very good.
  • Can the Pens take advantage of the poor special teams play from Tampa?  The PK and power play for the Bolts are among the worst in the league.
  • Any chance of a Brent Johnson showing today?  He could use a boost, and while this isn't quite back-to-back, it is two games in less than 48 hours.
Keys to the game
  • Pick on Stamkos and St. Louis.  That sounds strange, but in their losing streak, Stamkos is a -8 despite contributing five points at even-strength.  That means he was on the ice for at least 13 goals against over the six games.  St. Louis isn't much better (at least 11 goals against).
  • Protect the goalie.  Expect the Bolts to be ferocious around the net in an effort to get on the board.
  • Keep going forward.  This is a great chance to build on the success of Friday night.  Start fast and don't look back.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Finally - Penguins 4, Panthers 1

So what happened?

Things looked bleak after the first period for the Pens.  The score was still tied, but the Pens had hit four (!!) posts / crossbars and had two failed breakaways.  It was like the Hockey Gods were conspiring against the Pens.

The great part about this team is that they don't quit.  They kept working, and when Scott Clemmensen misplayed the puck behind the net (and then slipped when trying to come back around), Steve Sullivan buried the puck into an open net.  It was exactly what the team needed, when they needed it most.

Geno scored in the last minute of the second period to make it 2-0 and the Pens were rolling (or, as least ambling - they haven't been rolling in quite some time).

Who scored?

Sullivan (8), Malkin (18), Kennedy (6), Neal (22)

The Good?
  • Flower held the fort and kept the Pens in the lead.  He made several really nice saves.
  • The Pens played their game for most of the first two periods, out shooting the Panthers 32-17.
  • Neal had another goal on a nasty wrist shot to ice the game.
The Bad?
  • The Panthers were able to set up shop for extended shifts in the offensive zone against the Pens on at least two occasions.  Nothing bad came of this (much to the Pens credit), but they need to find a way to get the puck out in those circumstances.  They were a bad bounce away from this game being much closer.
The Ugly?
  • Nothing ugly.
Any Surprises?
  • Sullivan's goal would have to qualify - the way things have been going lately, it should have been shanked off to the side or stopped by a miraculous sliding play.
What's their record now?
The Pens are 22-17-4.

Who's next?
Tampa Bay - Sunday afternoon

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

One Little Mistake - Capitals 1, Penguins 0

So what happened?

Malkin had the puck on his stick.  He had several scoring chances earlier in the period, but was being blanketed pretty heavily by the Caps.  As he approached the offensive zone, all five Caps were within 20 feet of the blue line, and none were more than halfway into their own zone.  Geno unfortunately tried to stick-handle through those players instead of recognizing the situation and dumping the puck.  It's a move that you have to live with, because he is sometimes capable of running the gauntlet, but you wish in that circumstance that he'd dump the puck.

You know what happens next - turnover at the blue line, just inside the offensive zone and before you can blink, it's a three-on-one going the other way.  Michalek for some reason makes a beeline for the man with the puck (Halpern).  Halpern dishes the puck to a wide open Chimera who goes in on a breakaway on Flower.  Ouch.

That was the only goal of the night.

The Pens didn't have any consistent pressure until the last 3-4 minutes of the third period, but then they really brought it.  Watching the end of the game reminded me of why I cheer for this team.  If they play as well as they did tonight, they'll be just fine.

Who scored?

No one.

The Good?
  • The rush at the end.  It was amazing to see them ratchet up the intensity after not seeing that for so long.  I almost forgot what it looked like.
  • Flower was really, really good in keeping the Pens in the game.  It could easily have been 4-0 instead of 1-0.
The Bad?
  • No goals.
  • A lack of productivity for the first 55 minutes of the game.  Some of the credit goes to the Caps, but much of the blame goes to the Pens.
The Ugly?
  • Another terrible night for the refs.  The hit that Ovechkin put on Adams that they showed over and over?  I have another word for it - INTERFERENCE!!  If the player with the puck dumps it off and runs over the defense (who never touched the puck), it's interference, plain and simple.  I know the hit looked cool, but really?  And the slashing call on Dupuis at the end was a complete joke.  Both players slashed each other but they only sent one off near the end of a tight game.  Totally hideous.
Any Surprises?
  • No one delivered a two-hander to the any of the refs.  I would have after the cross-check to Engelland in the defensive crease and the hit by Ovechkin.
What's their record now?
The Pens are 21-17-4.

Who's next?
Off to sunny Florida for two games beginning Friday night against the Panthers.

Game #42 - at Washington Capitals

2011-12 Game 42

Pittsburgh Penguins (21-16-4, 46 points) at Washington Capitals (21-17-2, 44 points)

Marcus scored twice on Monday against the Kings.  He also has a mess of a signature.

Why does it matter?

The world is ending and the sky is falling as the Pens have lost five in a row while scoring just six goals.  The Caps are always a tough draw for the Pens, so this should be a good game.

What has been happening lately?
  • Pens - Six goals in five games will earn you five losses more often than not.
  • Capitals - They were doing better, but lost two straight in California by the same score - 5-2..
Questions to be answered
  • Where can the Pens find some confidence?  The supporting numbers are there, and the zone time is there for stretches - they need the confidence to bury the puck behind the opposition.
  • Can the Pens get to the power play?  They've earned just three chances combined in their last two games.  That speaks to a lack of effort in some ways.  See Joe Vitale for a example of how to keep skating.
  • Given the game number, I'm guessing we just don't know the question.
Keys to the game
  • Shut down Ovechkin.  The Caps are just 2-12-1 when he is held without a point.  Ovie is a -8 on the year as well.
  • Keep going.  The goals will come if the shot domination continues.  The Pens need to think a bit less and fire the puck more.  Get it to the net and crash.
  • Make it a team effort in the defensive zone.  The forwards need to make sure they can get back to help since things have been an adventure recently.

Rock Bottom? Senators 5, Penguins 1

So what happened?

Are the wheels off of the wagon at this point?  The Pens were the victims of more bad luck as Simon Despres left with what looked like a leg injury of some kind.  Every other defenseman had to play over 21 minutes.  That may have played a role in the lack of defenseman jumping into the play for the Pens.

The Pens did carry the play for much of the first two periods, but they also had serious mental breakdowns that allowed the Sens to take the lead.  For instance:

  • Chris Neil was allowed to walk from behind the net right out in front and have two cracks at getting the puck past Johnson (he succeeded on the second attempt).  Here's a hint - if the Sens have three guys at or below the goal line in the offensive zone, the Pens sure as heck need to have at least three guys there as well.  The D both covered up the cutters and no forward cycled down to take Neil (Cooke was closest, but that's usually the job of the center).
  • Nick Folingo undressed Zybanek Michalek, creating a two-on-one.  Deryk Engelland allowed Folingo's pass to make it across to Bobby Butler, giving the rookie a wide open net to shoot out.  Bad enough that Folingo made Michalek look bad, but Engelland cannot let the pass come across to Butler.  He has to stop it.

These would seem to be mental mistakes, and they keep happening to this team.  I don't know what the solution is, but right now I think they could certainly use a shot of confidence.

Who scored?

Malkin (17)

The Good?
  • Nice anticipation by Geno on his goal.  He intercepted a Gonchar clearing attempt and found a way to get the puck past Anderson.
  • Brooks Orpik backed up his talk about accountability by recording 10 hits and playing a solid game.
The Bad?
  • Another injury (Despres)
  • Only getting to the power play once.
  • Allowing a goal on the PK.
The Ugly?
  • The refs were TERRIBLE.  Gonchar blatantly cross-checked Malkin into the cage after he had scored.  How is that not a penalty?  There were several other instances where interference could have or should have been called.
Any Surprises?
  • Richard Park played well in his return.  He was very noticeable along the wall, winning several battles in the offensive zone.
What's their record now?
The Pens are 21-16-4.

Who's next?
No time for moping - the Caps are waiting in Washington.

Monday, January 09, 2012

Game #41 - vs Ottawa Senators

2011-12 Game 41

Ottawa Senators (22-15-6, 50 points) at Pittsburgh Penguins (21-15-4, 46 points)

I like the off-ice photos, but can we at least make sure the puck inscription is legible please, Panini?  Maybe it's just the scan of the card, but I can't tell what that says.

Why does it matter?

It's the end of the first half of the season for the Pens, and most folks would probably say it has been a disappointment.  The Pens need to get a win, especially since they're about to go back out on the road for four of the next five.

What has been happening lately?
  • Pens - Just plain lack of results.  Someone needs to step up and carry this team.
  • Senators - They're 8-1-2 since December 14th, a run they kicked off with a win over the Pens in Ottawa.
Questions to be answered
  • Will home ice continue to play a big role in the series this season?  Each team has won once at home, scoring six goals in the victory.
  • How many guys can go on the injured list, and can the Pens dress enough players if Adams and Asham don't play?  They're already missing Staal and Neal.
  • Who will carry this team?  Geno?  Flower?  The team defense?
Keys to the game
  • Power play.  The Sens are leaky on the PK.  Get to the man advantage and then unload.
  • Get to their game.  The Sens will allow shots and play an up and down style.  This should play well into the Pens' hands as long as they stay disciplined.
  • Shut down Spezza.  He torched them last game.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

No results - Devils 3, Penguins 1

So what happened?

Short recap this time, because I'm late with this and it was a frustrating weekend of hockey watching the Pens.

If the Pens keep out shooting the opposition like they have been, they're going to win their share of games.  Having said that, they have to button down the special teams.  They cannot continue to give up short-handed goals, and they can't allow key goals on the penalty kill.

Brodeur was the difference in this game, no doubt.  He was very good and the Pens simply couldn't beat him.  When you fire 42 shots, you expect to manage more than one goal.

Who scored?

Malkin (16)

What's their record now?
The Pens are 21-15-4.

Who's next?
The last game of the first half of the season is Tuesday night against the Senators in Pittsburgh. 

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Game #40 - vs New Jersey Devils

2011-12 Game 40

New Jersey Devils (22-16-2, 46 points) at Pittsburgh Penguins (21-14-4, 46 points)

AccuScore - what are you drinking, and can we all get some?

Why does it matter?

The Pens are having a hard time putting the puck in the net, and the test tonight isn't likely to be any easier on them.  Hedberg played last night for the Devils, so it's almost certainly Martin Brodeur in net tonight against the Pens.  The Flightless Birds need two points in the worst way right now, especially since they've lost three in a row against division opponents, two on home ice.

What has been happening lately?
  • Pens - A lack of execution and a few mental breakdowns have led to a three game losing streak.
  • Devils - Up and down play, most recently up with a win over Florida last night.
Questions to be answered
  • How badly is Staal hurt?  There's no news on his condition as of this moment, and I think that may be more important than the game tonight.
  • Can the Pens avoid the mental mistakes and get two points?
  • Can Flower rise to the challenge?  He'll be facing one of the all-time greats, assuming that Brodeur is in net.
Keys to the game
  • Get to the power play.  That's the best shot to get Neal and Geno on the score sheet.
  • Listen to AccuScore.  I don't know what Kool-Aid it is drinking, but according to the image at the top of this post, we should all be drinking it.
  • Play 60 minutes.  That has, by far, been the biggest issue with this team so far this season.

Lundqvist - Rangers 3, Penguins 1

So what happened?

If you're going to do the dive play in a two-on-one, you can't let the man with the puck walk around you to the middle of the ice.  Unfortunately that's exactly what happened to Matt Niskanen when he dove and slid right past Ryan Callahan, turning a two-on-one into a two-on-none.  Flower had no chance as Callahan passed the puck to Dubinsky for the lay-up.

That was the game winning goal.  I know Flower mis-played a puck in the third period that led to another goal, but let's face it, the way the Rangers (especially Lundqvist) were playing, the Pens weren't likely to be able to tie the score.  Dupuis and Malkin both hit the goal post, but King Henrik was on top of his game, and the Rangers were on top of theirs.

Things started out well enough for the Pens when the seas parted for Ben Lovejoy, allowing him to fly straight down the middle and face Lundqvist one-on-one.  He beat him to the five hole giving the Pens an early 1-0 lead.  Totorella called timeout after that, and the game slowly but surely turned to the Rangers.

The Rangers are playing like the Pens need to play.  Hopefully the home team took a few notes, because they could use some help these days.

Who scored?

Lovejoy (1)

The Good?
  • Nice shot by Lovejoy.
  • Great start for the Pens, out shooting the Rangers 11-1 at one point and dominating the play in the first half of the first period.
The Bad?
  • No consistency in the results.  It looked like the effort was there, but the Rangers were finishing all of their checks and the Pens sure weren't doing that (the Rangers out hit the Pens 35-22 on the evening).
The Ugly?
  • Jordan Staal - potential serious knee injury.  I didn't think Rupp actually kneed him - it looked more incidental, but either way, the Pens can't afford another injury.
Any Surprises?
  • Richard Park played well in his return.  He was very noticeable along the wall, winning several battles in the offensive zone.
What's their record now?
The Pens are 21-14-4.

Who's next?
The second half of a home back-to-back as the Devils come to Consol on Saturday night.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Game #39 - vs New York Rangers

2011-12 Game 39

New York Rangers (25-9-4, 54 points) at Pittsburgh Penguins (21-13-4, 46 points)

Pretty cool dual signature with Lunqvist and Hasek.  This is listed at just $22.50 with a bit under a day left in the auction.

Why does it matter?

The Pens have faced some tough opponents recently in Chicago, Philly and even New Jersey.  This might be the toughest game of the year to date with the way the Rangers are playing.  The Blue Shirts have won eight of their past nine games, including a win over the Flyers in the Winter Classic.  This will be a difficult one to win.

What has been happening lately?
  • Pens - Things were going well until the last two games.  Now the Pens are in danger of three straight losses for the first time since October.
  • Rangers - As mentioned above, they're hot.  They're on the back end of a back-to-back here, so maybe they'll be tired.
Questions to be answered
  • Can the Pens get to the power play, which is converting when given chances?  The Rangers just don't take many penalties, so the Pens will need to keep the skates going hard to draw the calls.
  • Do the Pens have an answer for a hot goalie?  They were just stymied by Brodeur (which seems like it was about a year ago).
  • Can the return of Paul Martin help the Pens to shut down the top-heavy Rangers?  He and Michalek will have the job of stopping Gaborik and company.
Keys to the game
  • Keep the Rangers to two or less.  Every loss for the Rangers this season (barring one) has been when they scored two or less.
  • Out play King Henrik.  Flower has to be sharp and able to match Lundqvist note for note.
  • Start strong.  The Rangers have played twice since the last time the Pens took the ice.  Start with vigor to get the rust off.

Monday, January 02, 2012

Brodeur - Devils 3, Penguins 1

So what happened?

I'm a few days late with this (Happy New Year!), so I'll keep it brief.

The game, to me, turned on a bad sequence late in the first period.  Aaron Asham was pretty clearly (and thoroughly) driven into the boards behind the net.  A clear hit from behind.  There should have been a call for boarding.  Unfortunately, the Clueless Zebras didn't see fit to make the call. Asham immediately goes and commits a high-sticking penalty, which *is* called.  Then while complaining to the refs about the inconsistency, he is rung up for another two minutes for unsportsmanlike conduct.

To me, the refs totally blew the situation.  That's not to say that Asham shouldn't have been more in control, because he certainly should have been, but it was a sequence that made the refs look bad in what they called and didn't call.

Having said that, the Pens simply couldn't beat Brodeur.  That was the simplest way to describe what happened.  They had lots of great chances and just couldn't make it happen.

Who scored?

Kunitz (13)

The Good?
  • Power play goal.  That was good to see.
The Bad?
  • Too many penalties, again.  Allowing six power play chances to the opposition is a good way to lose any game.  It's tough to kill all those chances.
The Ugly?
  • Asham taking the extra two minutes for arguing.  Even if the ref is totally dumb, you can't take the extra two.
Any Surprises?
  • The penalty shot awarded to the Devils was a surprise - it didn't look like Orpik had actually covered the puck in the crease.
What's their record now?
The Pens are 21-13-4.

Who's next?
Some time off.  The Pens play the Rangers on Friday.