Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Aces Wild: Pens Win

Big 4-2 win on the road tonight against a Minnesota team that's been one of the NHL's strongest over the first month of the season (7-3-2 record good for 2nd in the West). Even better though, this was the first time of the season that the Penguins really put in a solid 60 minutes of effort and played well at both ends of the ice. Game notes

  • Obviously this game was all about Sidney Crosby (1g, 3a, +3, 4 SOG, 3 hits, 68% faceoffs (15-7), 21:30 TOI) and Evgeni Malkin (2g, 1a, +3, 3 SOG, 4 PIM, 19:40 TOI). I was against using them on the same line long-term, but on a night like this why not? They were dominant and it showed.

  • Ryan Malone deserves a lot of credit too. He's played really well this year and opened up room on the top line. If he gives this type of effort every night this team is going places...Malone's knock has always been consistency and periods of no production over long stretches but he's answered the bell so far this year...It's almost like he's a UFA at the end of the year or something...

  • The defense played very solid as well. As usual, Sergei Gonchar led all skaters on the Penguins with 24:38 in icetime. But the defensemen with the least amount of icetime was Darryl Sydor and he had 16:25. Most fell into the 19-20 minute range. Good balance. And, if I'm going to go on forever with Sid and Geno's statline it's worth mentioning these unsung heroes: Mark Eaton (20:28 TOI, 8 blocked shots), Brooks Orpik (3 hits, 4 blocked shots). That's not a typo, Eaton really did block 8 shots.

  • Petr Sykora showed why he's a slick goal scorer with his powerplay goal. Dude has a heck of a release on that shot. Hopefully he keeps getting a lot of PP time, he's notorious for scoring slumps so it's good to see him producing.

  • Michel Therrien must have gotten the message loud and clear: Old Man Recchi had but 13:30 icetime. He's good in that role. His line with Adam Hall and rook Tyler Kennedy play well as a lower line unit. And that's basically the same role Recchi played for Carolina when they won the cup.

  • Is there a goalie controversy? Sabourin was great. He made the saves he need to make, the Wild were frantic but Sabs was strong. Really, if you took the numbers off both goalies backs (and, I suppose the identifying yellow pads away), you'd probably have to say Sabourin deserves the next start. But this team is not going to go places with Sabs, it's going to have to be Marc-Andre Fleury taking them places....Stay tuned.

Now it's off to Colorado for a game against a team with a pretty fair home record so far (5-0-0).

Oh yeah, don't forget Sidney Crosby is now up to 5th place in the NHL in scoring with 17 points. He is on a 10 game point scoring streak. Malkin is tied for 7th in the league, right behind him with 16 points.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Gameday 11: The Call of the Wild

A rare game outside of the eastern time zone tonight, as the Penguins are up in Minnesota to take on a team with a terrible nickname ('The Wild', really?) with terrible colors (even Santa Claus thinks there's a little much on the red and green).

And to make matters even worse for the last team in the NHL to lose a game in regulation this season, their starting goalie is out tonight---and this Nicklas Backstrom doesn't have a goal yet either, Caps fans. Also, Slovak pals and the two best offensive players for the Wild (Marian Gaborik and Pavol Demitra) are not expected to be in the lineup either.

So it's going to be pretty anonymous for the boys from Minnesota, let's just hope they hold up better than old Jon Casey...

Do it.

Dany Sabourin is getting the nod in net for Pittsburgh, after he turned away all 13 shots he faced in a relief effort.....We'll see.

Pens 5 (winner by Gonchar)
Wild 3
(my record: 2-2)

Monday, October 29, 2007

Whispers from Canada.....

North of the border has been whispering a lot lately about the Penguins and their goalie situation. Last week, TSN's Bob McKenzie speculated that Ray Shero was growing impatient with Marc-Andre Fleury and was looking into a trade or free-agent signing to bolster the club with a little more proven goaltender.

Now we're hearing from an Ottawa newspaper that the Pens might be interested in Montreal goaler Jaroslav Halak. And not the first time, we're hearing that the Habs are interested in Colby Armstrong (who's name seems to be linked to MTL a lot). Bob Gainey, the Canadiens GM was at a recent Pens/Rangers game, which is unusual for a general manager to be at another team's game like that simply for routine scouting purposes.

I don't buy this rumor, I don't think Mr. Shero is looking to make a trade for a goalie anytime soon. Fleury hasn't been as reliable as hoped, but the whole team hasn't really hit a consistent stride yet. Also Halak is not a proven goalie, he hasn't even been in the NHL for a full calender year. I'd put more credibility if the Pens went for someone like Anaheim's backup, Ilya Brzgdsafhjadlof or someone a little more veteran.

And hey, if none of that works out there's always another possibility that just got dreamt up....

Who else threw up in their mouth a little bit?

Sunday, October 28, 2007

One Point from Montreal....

Given that the Pens fell down 3-0, even getting a point from the end result would be pretty cool.....That Sabourin could come in, in a relief effort and yield just one goal (in a shootout, after rejecting 7 straight) could be considered even more of a victory.

So the Pens will have to take the one point, getting just 3 points this past week in three home games against the Rags (win), Toronto (embarrassing collapse) and Montreal (shootout loss).

Some final game notes before the Pens head west to play some mighty strong looking teams (Minnesota and Colorado):

  • Old Man Recchi was finally demoted, all the way to the 4th line....Still he actually played well with a kid in his first NHL game, Tyler Kennedy.
  • It's hard to state how awesome Evgeni Malkin has been...Both in Saturday night's game (3 assists) and really all year. Malkin played very well in his rookie year in 06-07, but has looked on a different plane this season. If he continues to get settled to the NHL version of the game---which he will, given his age (21), his size (6'3) and his amazing skillset, things will be scary in the years to come.
  • Sidney Crosby's goal extended his point scoring streak to 9 games now.....
  • A tough night for Marc-Andre Fleury, he gave up 3 goals early and got the hook....But it definitely fired up the team, and as mentioned, Sabs came in and did a stellar job in relief.
  • Bobby Scuds (officially nickname for Robert Scuderi) played 22+ minutes and nobody noticed. He's easily the most improved player on the team, if not the entire league. He's been very steady as a defensive defenseman, and even though he was a target of Pens fans critcism last year (along with discarded native son Josef Melichar), Bobby Scuds has been awesome. Good for him.
  • Old friend Alexei Kovalev's scrum with Crosby turned the tide of the game. Anyone who still holds the ignorant belief that Crosby is a soft or non-physical player needs only to check the way he stood up for Malkin, and in return see how his team responded. That is solid leadership from a 20 year old captain that's already the most skilled player in the game. Wow.

So that's it of the home-streak, and the first 10 games are done. There have been some bright spots (Malkin, Crosby, Scuds, Max Talbot), some inconsistent play (Fleury) and some guys you know will contribute more some point (Jordan Staal, Ryan Malone, etc).

The Pens have 11 points in the standings (5-4-1)....That translates to roughly 88 points for the season, which won't be enough. But they haven't played the way they're capable to at all, wining a couple games despite getting heavily outshot and outchanced, but also letting games slip away that the carried the play in.....If they can right the ship and play a little more consistently, things should turn around even further.

It's not good enough to be barely above .500; but it's not like the team is happy with just what the record says. There's still room for improvement and that improvement will carry them to a playoff spot. So let's get it together and head west, young men.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Gameday 10: Kovalev and the Habs

Tonight's last home-game before a quick western swing to Minnesota and Colorado, and then divisional road games against the Islanders and Devils. So obviously it's going to be important for the Pens to get these two points before hitting the road.

Old friend Alexei Kovalev and his Montreal Canadiens are tonights visitors. Notes:

  • You'd think Pittsburgh would be at an advantage, since Montreal played against Carolina. But the Habs put up 7 goals last night against what's been a good team in the Hurramacanes, so they might be carrying some momentum.
  • The Penguins called up Tyler Kennedy from Wilkes-Barre. Kennedy has been decent (5 points in 6 games), but unquestionably WB/S's best player has been AHL leading goal scorer Jeff Taffe. Kennedy is more of a NHL prospect and better fits the role of shaken up Maxime Talbot so that's probably why he got the call.
  • No word if Talbot is out of the lineup or even if Kennedy will play. Talbot seems like he should go, and other than BGL there aren't any injuries known, so I'm guessing Kennedy will sit tonight and if Talbot is ok; Kennedy will be returned to Wilkes-Barre before the trip West. Seems like he's just insurance for if Talbot can't go, or if another forward gets hurt tonight.
  • There is word, from Lord Therrien himself that Old Man Recchi will stay on Crosby's top line, atleast for now. Despite the fact that Recchi seemingly hasn't scored a goal in time that Jordan Staal's as been alive, Therrien is sticking with him, but admitted sooner or later you have to look at the results and make a change. At this rate, Pens fans can only hope it's "sooner". Recchi has seemed to hit the wall this year that Johnny Vermont hit last year. It's over and it's obvious.

The Penguins need to get the two points to be able to get four points in the past three game stretch that I said would be acceptable. So that means a win.

Penguins 4
Habs 2
(winner by Sykora)

Friday, October 26, 2007

Pens Collapse

Not much to say, a poor effort from the Penguins who kinda looked like once Sidney Crosby punched in first goal of the game then that's all it would be.

Michel Therrien did go through with using his lines from practice in a game, which is spurring some angst among the fanbase. I still think it's too early in the process to even think of replacing Therrien (as the most extreme suggest) but some of his decisions are very questionable.

Still, a game at home against an opponent under .500? That's one you need to win.

Some general thoughts from around the NHL:
--2 nights and 2 fights for Vincent Lecavalier of the Lightning????? What has gotten into him? Last night he got slashed a couple of times by Scott Hartnell and he responded by turning around and dropping the gloves. The night before Lecavalier was incensed by what looked like a defensemen finishing a routine check. I think Vinny is trying to send a message to the league: no more playing nice, he is not something that will be f'ed with any longer.
--Zdeno Chara is back and swinging them hard. Former Baby Pen David Koci, who was already playing with a nose that got broken in a fight the other night, was bloodied up big time. But he had the heart to keep fighting even after Chara opened him up pretty bad, so good for him.
--And don't look now but the Bruins are 6-3-0. They might be a surprise team in the East. Claude Julien, rudely fired right before the playoffs by New Jersey, might have some vindication on his hands. Surely he's opening my eyes into being a pretty good coach.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Gameday 9: Let's all Make Believe!

The Toronto Maple Leafs come to town tonight in an interesting situation. One of their players, Ian White (not even a leader or a core player!) dubbed their last game against struggling Atlanta a "must win".The team responded by losing in a shootout.

Toronto always has the presure of being in a hockey crazed market, the expectations of a huge fan base in a 40 year drought and media attention that could make the New York media give a big thumbs up to.

The last time they played the Penguins, the teams combined for a wild 6-4 Penguins road victory in a back and forth battle that saw many goals, lead changes, net crashings and general excitement. Since then the Penguins have buckled down on defense, giving up one goal in the past two games, while Toronto has still been getting beat up through their schedule.

Tonight's game should be wide open, the Penguins know what to expect from a team like the Maple Leafs and know how to stop them: limit Mats Sundin and stay out of the penalty box.
I'm looking for the Pens to get out of the gates early and never let up.

Penguins 4 (game winner by Staal)
Make Beliefs 2
(my season record: 2-0)

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Unbelievable: Michel Therrien switches the lines

As earlier quipped on this blog, Penguins head coach Michel Therrien will change line combinations as frequently (and maddeningly) as an aggressive driver changes lanes on the interstate....So perhaps it should be no surprise to see he used the following forward units at practice today:

Malkin- Crosby -Recchi
Malone- Staal - Hall
Roberts - Talbot -Sykora
Ruutu - Christensen - Armstrong

With the way the message boards, or Darwin's Waiting Room (as one occasionally amusing Caps blogger refers to them), you would have thought Coach was talking about making Crosby and Malkin healthy scratches.

"Why tinker with success when the Pens have won three straight!" they yell and, "Therrien has lost it, Hall on the 2nd line?" others whine.

Random protestor guy, your thoughts?

Therrien is no fool, he knows what he's doing. Fact is, practice IS the time to mix things up and let players get some time to play with new combos, to see if there's chemistry (like Staal-Hall) or to give your best two players (Crosby-Malkin) more icetime together. Maybe throwing in a sniper like Sykora with two grinders like Talbot and Roberts would be money. No risk trying it in a practice situation.

Clearly long-term Hall is not going to be a top 6 forward, and Sykora is not going to play a checking role. But in practice, to get a feel for the team, why not work some of the newer additions (Hall and Sykora) with some fresh faces. An in-game injury or penalty situation might mean they have to play with different players anyways. Now they atleast have something to build upon.

It will be interesting, when the Pens come out at home against another stumbling opponent-the Toronto Make Beliefs, if Therrien trots out line combos like this. Unless practice revealed something out of the ordinary, I highly doubt it.

Report from the Farm: Unsettling times

Overall, things are pretty well balanced for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins at first glance. In 6 games played; 3 up and 3 down. 19 goals for, 19 goals against.

But there's some unsettling news: Uber-prospect Kris Letang (0g, 5a, 5p) was scratched for the last game, despite averaging a point per game. Guys who are having their pro prospects fade, Ryan Stone and Jonathan Filewich have spent a lot of time of the 4th line, in the doghouse and even in the press box for a night. Though Filewich did score 2 goals last game, so maybe he's turned the corner.

Chris Minard, hailed in these parts as maybe even a NHL caliber prospect has been bad since his opening night hat trick. "Invisible" was the word used by their beat writer. Minard too, spent some time in the press box, instead of on the bench.

But that's how things go in the American Hockey League. It's a constant rollercoaster of highs and lows, wins and losses. Instability from the young players is to be expected, but given how things are shaking out it's a little concerning right now, especially for Stone, Filewich and Letang. Hopefully they get the wakeup message that head coach Todd Richards is clearly sending.

One bright spot has been the offense of Jeff Taffe. He might never make it to the NHL, but he's putting up some great numbers, 7 goals and 2 assists in 6 games. So he has 9 points and the Penguins have 19 total.

The Penguins blueline (Bobby Scuds in particular) has played above expectations, especially in the past few games. There is no need to promote Letang in the forseeable future. So he needs to settle down, realize he's going to be in the A for a while, and just work on his game in the pros; particularly in his own end.

Forwards wise, Georges Laraque's having a nagging groin injury, but Adam Hall and Jarrko Ruutu have been sensational at grinding, hitting and cycling (now if Ruutu could only stay out of the penalty box!). So it doesn't look like Pittsburgh is in need of any forwards either at the moment.

This is all adding up to a lot of bus riding in the future for most of the Penguins closest prospects to the NHL. So close, but so very far.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Stop me if you've heard this one before

The Penguins get outshot, outchanced, outworked and the difference in the game is the first powerplay unit featuring Sidney Crosby, Sergei Gonchar, Ryan Whitney and Evgeni Malkin. Marc-Andre Fleury plays great and stops every puck he sees (and he saw them all tonight).

No, I'm no longer talking about Saturday night's game against the Caps, this was basically the synopsis of the Penguins first shutout of the year, a 1-0 blanking of the Rangers. Game notes:

  • Malkin was clearly the best player on the ice. He was making things happen with the puck, rushing it up the ice all night long, and generally having his way with the Rags. He also fired a pass from Jordan Staal off the post for what would have been a second goal.
  • The Penguins were lucky enough to catch what was thought of being a high-powered Rangers team in a very big drought (no even-strength goals in 340+ minutes, no goals period in atleast 125+ minutes). Sweater Ted favorite, Marty Straka just got hurt. Shanahan is snake bitten right now. And try as Jammer Jagr did, he was dangerous but the best he could do was throw his heavy wrist shot off a post once. One 600+ goal scorer doesn't stay in a rut for too long, let alone TWO! I wouldn't imagine it's going to be too long before NYR breaks out for a 5 or 6 goal game in the near future.
  • Fleury was great, stopping all 36 shots on net but the defense was sensational, officially blocking 13 shots (led by Mark Eaton with 4).
  • Lord Sergei Gonchar continued his under-valued defensive play by frustrating Jagr and playing a game high 24:38 and blocking 3 shots.
  • Crosby was an amazing 65% (11 of 17) in the faceoff circle, Max Talbot was at 58% (7 of 12), and the team as a whole was 53%, very good for a traditionally poor Pens team.
  • Brooks Orpik was credited with a game high 6 hits, and recognized as the 3rd star of the game for that. After playing a little tentatively since getting a concussion almost 2 weeks ago, it's clear Orpik is back and at full strength and confidence now.

If you win a game 1-0, you have to do the little things right. The Penguins blocked shots, won faceoffs, dished out checks, and yes, got a little lucky that things aren't going the right way for their opponent right now.

There's still plenty of things to address, such as getting more shots on net, getting more puck control, limiting the amount of shot opportunities you're giving up, but a Pens fans has to be content with seeing the team throw out a great, well-rounded effort. Probably the best game of the season.

Some overall notes:

  • Ever since Bob McKenzie of TSN reported the Pens were actively looking for dealing for a goaltender (denied by the Penguins), Marc-Andre Fleury has stopped 67 of 68 (98.5%) shots in two games. And the only one that got by him was because he saw more of Ryan Whitney not clearing the crease then he did the puck.
  • Sidney Crosby is now on a 7 game point streak.

2 Quick Hits and Game 8 Preview

1)It was pointed out to me if you do a google search for "recchi stinks" this blog is the first thing that pops up. And I haven't even been openly critical of him yet!

2)Another measure of Sidney Crosby's growing greatness: since getting shutout opening night, he's on a 6 game point scoring streak (for his current season total of 2 goals, 7 assists) and it hasn't even been mentioned once!

Rangers and old friend Jammer Jagr are in town tonight, if the Penguins can break an early trend and not give up the first goal they should be able to jump all over a Rangers team that hasn't really gelled just yet (as their 2-4-1 record would indicate). The Rangers will be a team in the hunt later in the year (think how poor Ottawa started last year), so let's just hope tonight isn't the night they get the ball rolling on that.

Pens 5 (winner by Recchi...see he doesn't totally stink!)
Rags 2

Believe it or not, Gonchar is a good defenseman

The Sarge, playing some D

Sergei Gonchar catches a lot of abuse, from Penguins fans but from the media in general who dismiss him as simply a powerplay point producer and not much in his own end. To be sure, Sarge piles up the points as he's basically the general of a successful powerplay.

But he also matches up against the other team's top line night after night, plays 25+ minutes a game, and often acquits himself quite well. So I looked at the numbers for the first seven games and here's what I found, all goals for and against are while both team's top line is out at even strength:

Disclaimer: I looked this data up and believe it to be truthful, but if I made a mistake it was accidental. Point it out and I will correct it. Also, obviously not every second of even strength icetime matches up exactly against the opponent's top line, so it's not 99.99% scientific. But whatev, you'll get the point....

Game 1---Carolina and Eric Staal's line:
1 goal against
Gonchar had 12:02 even strength time (21:42 overall)

Game 2---Anaheim and the Perry/Getzlaf line:
2 goals against (2 goals for)
14:04 ES icetime for Gonchar (22:18 overall)

Game 3---Montreal and mainly Koivu or Kovalev
0 aganist (0 for)
18:35 ES icetime for Gonchar (25:48 overall)

Game 4---Toronto and Sundin line (plus additional duty to cover the Orpik injury)
1 goal against (2 goals for)
15:24 ES ictime (32:29 overall)

Game 5---New Jersey and the Elias line
1 goal against (0 goals for)
13:42 ES icetime for Gonchar (27:36 overall)

Game 6---Carolina and Staal:
0 against (0 goals for)
15:32 ES icetime, (28:58 overall)

Game 7---Washington and A-HOLE
0 against*, (0 goals for)
16:57 ES icetime (24:55 overall)

*The asterik beside the Washington game is because Gonchar was on the ice for an even strength goal. But the defensive pair out was the regular unit of Whitney/Orpik; Gonchar was on the ice because he had just gotten out of the penalty box. Additionally, Washington's top line did not create the goal, so the for sake of demonstrating Gonchar as a top pairing defenseman; this goal will not be included for these purposes. But I did want to point out that I realize he was on the ice for the goal against.


26:15 is Gonchar's average time on the ice this year, putting in a lot of minutes again (6th in the entire NHL in icetime/game so far). Of that, he played 15:11 at even strength; matching up against the other team's top offensive players. In 7 games, he's been on the ice for 5 even strength goals scored by the other teams stars..This doesn't even factor in the fact that Sidney Crosby and the 1st line has been able to score 4 goals at even strength, giving them an aggregate of -1.

So basically, it's taking over 21 minutes for a goal to go in against the Penguins at even strength by the opponents strongest players. That's something I can live with.

Sergei Gonchar, not as bad defensively as his +/- or his reputation might lead you to believe.

Gearing Up....

Big stretch of games coming up here....After just 7 games in the 20 days since the start of the North American season, the Penguins gear up for 13 games over the next 26 days. You don't have to be a math major to realize that's a game every other night for almost a month. A crucial stretch that could set the plate for the rest of the year.

First things first, 3 home games this week, first against division rival New York Rangers and then Montreal and Toronto. You would hope the Pens could get atleast 4 of the available 6 points in this stretch.

After those three games, the Pens will be at 10. Basically 1/8 of the season. As someone in the Pens organization said (it might have been Herb Brooks or Badger Bob), if you can just chip in 3 goals every 10 games, you're a 30 goal scorer. By that standard, a guy you'd count on like Ryan Malone is almost getting there. We'll have a more comprehensive review of the team and individual stats by then, when there's a little more of a sample size.

So we'll see how it goes, there's a feeling of momentum with wins Friday and Saturday night and generally the team seems like they're just ready to start playing a little more regularly.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Winning In Washington

A win is a win, and you take one when you can get it so it's nice to see the Pens win at home---err the soft "away" friendly confines of the Verizon Center.

Some thoughts:

  • Sidney Crosby is still "Gretzky-ing" (more assists than the other guy has points) his nemesis A-Hole, as Crosby had the primary assist on the game winner, while A-Hole was not much of a factor. Caps fans will point out his shots (which were all from the outside) or his hits (not of much merit).

  • The Penguins were playing there third game in four nights and it showed at times. The Caps did well with puck possession and there were several times when they controlled the play for long stretches.

  • But the Penguins had some good cycling shifts too. Colby Armstrong had a very solid game and worked the puck low very well. Same for Jarrko Ruutu and Georges Laraque too.

  • Marc-Andre Fleury was awesome, finally having a good game. He played like he played last year when he played well: being aggresive to the angles, not afraid to move around and moved confidentially and with a purpose. Definitely good to see him play well and quiet the false rumors from Canada that say Mr. Shero is looking for a new keeper.

  • The Heavyweight Champion of the NHL shall remain around Laraque's waist. Donald Brashear lost his helmet and took several lefts to the back of his skull. Credit Brash though for hanging tough and then surprising BGL with a shot that knocked him down at the end. Still, I judge hockey fights on who I'd least want to be. I'd rather take 1 Brashear right (his first one hit helmet) than take about 6 or 7 BGL lefts to the skull. The folks at seem to agree, as 71% score the fight either a draw or a win for Laraque.

  • For probably the first time since a wrestling match against one of his brothers, Jordan Staal got in a fight. The feisty Matt Pettinger easily handled him, but Staal atleast answered the call; either in the shift he high-sticked a Cap (possibly Pettinger, it was near the boards and I couldn't tell. The refs didn't call the infraction for whatever reason, so Staal had to answer the Code. Good man.

  • One under-rated night: Sergei Gonchar. He played well defensively with his stick, got in a few rushes, put the puck on the net and generally neutralized A-HOLE.
  • Old Man Recchi was terrible. He looks notably slower, pucks were rolling off his stick left and right and overall just didn't look like he belonged out there. I'd much rather see the healthy scratch victim Erik Christensen out there.
  • The "White Out" was weak. Real weak. Not just because of the many Pens fans, but most the Caps fans that were there didn't even wear white. Poor showing, but what did you expect.

It's good to be 4-3 and get some confidence for a young goalie. Gotta be happy for that.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Uhh, this is gonna end well...

Sometimes I wonder about people in positions higher than me; what coaches think putting out certain line combos (like giving Mark Recchi 20 minutes of ice time Wednesday night and giving Evgeni Malkin 14)...Or what GMs are thinking when they make trades or signings.

Add the Washington Capitals promotional department to the list.

Given that:
A)You have one of your closest geographical rivals in town
B)Fans don't really come to your own rink that much (the announced attendance last night was just above 11,000)
C)Your opponent often draws many loud fans

Why would you take the following steps:
1)Announce a "white-out" night, where fans wear white. This is a cool idea when it comes off well (see Penn State, Calgary's 'Sea of Red', etc).
2)Stick your team in white jerseys, which is what the road team wears in the NHL
3)Give out Terrible Towel knock off white towels to fans that come in

Uhh, I hate to break it to you guys, but this is possibly the worst idea since someone thought to fill a blimp with hydrogen.

What could go wrong?


The Capitals have aggressively marketed special discount tickets to fill the seats against their biggest regional rivals (Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, New York, Toronto) with their own fans. A great idea. I bought this. I'm not going to be a dick and sell my tickets to the non-Pens games on eBay, I live close enough to attend. Plus, it's usually worth the price of admission to see guys like Alex Ovechkin, Alex Semin and Nicklas Backstrom.

So maybe, unlike last year, there won't be as big of a Penguin partisan crowd. Maybe the Caps who've been losers of their last three games, and without the services of Semin will come out the gates fired up.....If the Penguins get a quick lead though and jump on the Caps early (Olie Kolzig gave up 5 goals last night, some pretty soft) it's going to get ugly. Caps fans will be quiet and the Pens fans will be more fired up.

The ultimate kicker:

If a Penguin scores a hat trick (I'm looking at you Petr Sykora), heaven help us all. Those Terrible Towel knockoffs are going to rain down on the ice so much it might just bring a tear to the old Pacman's eye.

I am very excited for this hockey game. I will be there. It's going to be very interesting to see the atmosphere and if there's more Caps fans than last time around. I went to the Caps home opener and they seemed to be very well represented. Judging from the locals, everyone has had this game circled on the calender for some time now. Should be electric.

Also, since the lockout, some head to head numbers:
Penguins: 7-1
Capitals: 1-6-1 (a shootout loss)

Sidney Crosby: 5 goals, 9 assists, 14 points
Alex Ovechkin: 4 goals, 4 assists, 8 points

So that's right, if you're keeping track at home, Croz is "Gretzky-ing" Ovechkin so far. That of course meaning he's got more assists than you do points.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Key Indicators Through 4 Games

The up and down roller coaster continues, after a 6-4 win in Toronto. Stats courtesy

The Good:
--7th in the league in goals per game (3.5)
--1st in the league is shots per game (35.8)

Kind of Acceptable:
--14th in penalty kill (83.3%)
--18th in faceoff percentage (49.8%)

Needs work:
--18th in the league in power play efficiency (16.7%)
--21st in the league in shots allowed (29.5 a game)
--27th in the league in goals against average (3.75)

The Toronto scorefest blew these stats out of line a little bit, but the bottom line is the Pens have been, as usual, an action packed team. Taking the most shots, but allowed a lot of rubber too. Goals everywhere.

I think an important figure is faceoff percentage. It's practically 50%. Seemingly for a long time this franchise has always been notoriously weak on draws, so it's good to see that Sidney Crosby is clicking at 58%, and Adam Hall's at 61.2%, Malkin has some room for improvement, as the big guy is only winning 41.7%. The other regular center, Maxime Talbot is not much better at 42.2%. However if he keeps pace with Crosby in scoring goals, I think that will be forgiven!

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Czecking in on the kiddos

The juniors are already almost 10 games into their seasons, so let's take a peek at some select Penguins prospects:

Angelo Esposito (C, Quebec Ramparts, QMJHL): 6 games played, 4 goals, 4 assists, 8 points, 6 PIMs, even
Kevin Veilleux (C, Victoriaville Tigres, QMJHL): 8gp, 2g, 2a, 4p, 12 PIM, -5
Jacob Muzzin (D, Sault St. Marie Greyhounds, OHL): 8gp, 0g, 5a, 5p, +1
Dustin Jeffrey (C, Sault St. Marie Greyhounds, OHL): 5gp, 4g, 8a, 12 points, even
Jean-Phillip Paquet (D, Baie-Comeau Drakkar, QMJHL): 9gp, 0g, 5a, 5p, 14 PIMs, +8
Luca Caputi (LW, Niagra Ice Dogs, OHL): 7gp, 6g, 9a, 15 points. +8
Alex Grant (D, St. John Sea Dogs, QMJHL): 8gp, 2g, 2a, 4p, 15PIMs, +7

Johannes Salmonsson (LW, Brynas IF Gavle, SEL): 7gp, 0g, 1a, 1p, 2 PIM, -3

Some of the Penguins prospects (like Michal Gergen, Carl Sneep, Brian Strait and Nick Johnson) play collegiately and haven't started, but most of the high profile choices are obviously already in the NHL. Nice problem to have, not tracking but one #1 pick through juniors/minors.

The standouts, so far, are a pair of 2007 late round picks (Caputi and Jeffrey) that are tearing up the OHL is scoring. Caputi is tied for second (along with some dude named John Tavares), and Jeffrey signed a pro contract today. Jeffrey stuck a little longer in camp, so the coaches must have seen something in him. Because of an extended stay in Pittsburgh, Jeffrey's only got 5 games but is tied for 5th in the league is scoring.

Mr. Shero's very obvious philosphy of drafting for size (no prospect drafted by the Pens in 07 is listed under Esposito's 6'1") might have founded some gems in the rough...Time will tell.

Telling you what you already know

HT to James Mirtle's blog

Players who were on the ice for the most 5-on-5 goals against last season


1. Vinny Prospal -81

2. Alexander Ovechkin -77

You mean to tell me a forward who only looks interested when his team has the puck, who dips into the defensive zone about as often as if it was contaminated by ebola and who got benched last year by his coach for shirking defensive responsibilities was on the ice for a lot of 5-5 of goals against?

I guess we're all lucky that the Caps are 3-0 this year, so their smarmy little bloggers can stop thinking of lame nicknames of Sidney Crosby.

To Penalty Kill, Or Not to Penalty Kill

Last season the Penguins employed basically just four forwards as penalty killers (Talbot-Armstrong, Malone-Staal) and occasionally Jarrko Ruutu if one of them were in the box.

This year Lord Therrien has be open to exploring using the wonder boys (Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby) more on the PK.

I don't like this idea. Crosby took a hard slapshot on the foot Saturday night and missed practice yesterday, though he's expected to be in the lineup tomorrow night for the game against Montreal.

One brilliant thing about keeping Croz and Malkin off the PK is you can unite them for the following shift, when the generally the opposition's best players are on the bench, resting from the powerplay they just had. This allowed for several good chances last season, and surely would again this year.

Monday, October 8, 2007

A Venture Into Enemy Territory

As many of you know I live in Virginia, and I took a trip to Verizon Center to see the Caps in their home opener against the Canes Saturday night. Some notes:

--The Caps came out very strong, outshooting the Canes in double digits throughout the game. It was hard to tell if it was just because the Caps played well or if Carolina was showing a little fatigue of 3 games in the first 4 days of the season.
--Alex Ovechkin had a sweet goal and was hitting people left and right. Still didn't go into the defensive zone too much, and had a puck roll off his stick on a clean breakaway, a goal he knew he should have had. So as good as he played, there's still room for more improvement.
--Matt Pettinger really impressed me with his physicality as a 3rd winger. He's been around for a while, but he was pretty noticeable to me for the first time.
--The Caps D was really good at passing it D to D. The addition of Poti helps, but the maturation of guys like Mike Green and Shaone Morrisonn is just as big.
--John Erskine actually looked like he belonged in the NHL. Much better than I remember him last year.
--Tomas Fleischmann is on the top line with AO and the immensely huge Viktor Kozlov. It's not going to work. 'Flash' couldn't keep up at all with the two Russians and didn't look like he belonged on a NHL top line. This was just one game, but he didn't create much and bungled several chances horribly.
--Rookie Niklas Backstrom is definitely more of a Jordan Staal type teenager rather than a more explosive guy like Malkin or Ovechkin. Backstrom didn't stand out that much and was pretty quiet. It's tough to be so young and in the NHL, but Backstrom doesn't look like he doesn't belong. He's just not an impact player. Yet.
--Eric Staal was almost invisible. The night before he look invincible Pittsburgh. Giving a little more credence to a little early fatigue for Carolina.
--Olie was solid. The Caps went into a defensive shell in the 3rd and he was called on to make some big, but not impossible saves. And he did.
--The new HD scoreboard is absolutely amazing. Words can't define how beautiful or clear it is.
--Attendance wise the crowd was strong. Loud too. There were still many, many empty seats (especially in the 200 section), but a lot of people already had the new red, white and blue jerseys.

Me and my buddy (a diehard Caps fan) often joke going to games at Verizon Center because you will see the most random jerseys of teams not even playing (Detroit, Philly, Toronto, Vancouver, Anaheim, etc, etc). Saturday night was the first time I didn't see this happen. There were a handful of Canes fans--but not really even that many. The overwhelming majority seemed, like their Caps, to be dressed in red that night. It was kind of refreshing to see.

It will be interesting to see if this scenario repeats itself in less than two weeks when the Penguins come to town on a Saturday night....I'm guessing probably not.

While I'm not going to hint at the playoffs, or an undefeated season like some tongue-in-cheek bloggers, the Caps were good. They were big. They hit. They did excellent in puck possession and carried the play.

2 games doesn't and 82 game season make. Certainly it's nice to get off to a good start, but not everything. The Caps were the better team tonight, but it'll be interesting to see how they fare over a long stretch of the season. Like I said in my season preview, I see them on the playoff bubble. Nights like this will help.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

On lines...

Fans shouldn't question coaches. After all, they are the ones who have a professional job in hockey and, for most cases, have spent all their adult lives around hockey and know what's going on. On the other hand, for the most parts, fans are just drunk assholes that have loud voices to let their spur of the moment thoughts out.

But, seeing Ryan Malone and Mark Recchi as the second line wingers in the first game for Evgeni Malkin is truly a heastratcher. Malone and Recchi were pretty much permanent wingers last year on the top line with Sidney Crosby. And, for the most part, they were not able (at full strength) to generate much as Crosby's wings..

So you move them away from Sid (smart move). But you send them BOTH to Malkin? After you already know what they can bring to the table?? Give them ice-time over Erik Christensen, over Gary Roberts?

I'm no NHL coach, but this combination stinks. Recchi is a skill player, keep him with top 6 minutes, but why not drop Malone down in favor of someone else who has skill.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Not a good opener...Pens lose

Rough night tonight as Pittsburgh fell 4-1 at the Carolina Hurricanes.

Carolina is a team that lost their first game, so they were itching to come out the gate strong against a team in Pittsburgh making their season debut. Carolina won more faceoffs, moved their legs better and won more battles in the first two periods. They also got some luck along the way, scoring goals getting knocked in against Brooks Orpik and Darryl Sydor. But all and all Carolina carried the play and jumped up 4-0 after two periods.

Marc-Andre Fleury was spared at the start of the third and Dany Sabourin did decent enough in the final period. The Penguins did a lot better in the 3rd period, but one has to wonder if that was just the result of the Hurricanes inherentely shutting it down in the 3rd period with a 4 goal lead.

Game notes:
--Georges Laraque looked great, he cycled well, drove to the net and made a few nifty passes.
--Fellow 4th liner Jarrko Ruutu had a tough night, taking two penalties and being ineffective in general. With as well as Adam Hall played in the preseason, I would expect to see Ruutu in the pressbox tomorrow night.
--Fleury wasn't as terrible as 4 goals in 2 periods might suggest. As mentioned, 2 goals went in directly off his defensemen. No goal was particularly his fault, he was just saved the deceny of the 3rd period. Hopefully the team in front of him will come out a little stronger tomorrow night in the home opener.
--Kudos to Mark Recchi who scored the garbage goal to mess up the shutout, his 138th goal as a Penguin, which ties Joey Mullen on the team's all-time list.

Better luck tommorow, boys. Get it together and come out with a little more authority and things should be ok.

Getting there is half the battle

The San Jose Sharks, one of the odds on favorites to win the Stanley Cup don't want to be known as The Buffalo Bills of the NHL.

Uhh, news flash Kyle McLaren, there would be a huge difference in actually going to the Stanley Cup final four years in a row and only making it to the conference finals one time in the past five seasons.

The Pittsburgh Redemption

"I find I’m so excited I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head.

I think it’s the excitement only a Penguins fan can feel. A Pens fan at the start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain. I hope they can make it to the Finals. I hope to see Lord Stanley and shake his hand. I hope the Gary Roberts is as dominant as he has been in my dreams......I hope."

Updated lines for opening night (unless Michel Therrien---who changes lines like an aggressive driver changes lanes on the interstate, gets rambunctious. They're different than previous projections on this blog, so here's your update).

Malone-Malkin-Recchi (A)
Roberts (A)-Christensen-Armstrong


Healthy scratches: Hall, Nasreddine

Starting goalie: Marc-Andre Fleury

Note: Mark Recchi will be an 'all-time' alternate captain. "Lord" Sergei Gonchar will wear the A whilst at home, Gary Fuckin Roberts will have the A on his jersey when the Pens are on the road..Because Roberts is a road warrior.

And Sidney Crosby is the 4th (legitimate) captain for the Penguins since the late 1980's.....Joining the prestigious and classy ranks of Mario Lemieux, Ron Francis and Jammer Jagger. But you knew that.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Wilkes-Barre a Winner in Game 1

The Wilkes-Barre Penguins opened their season last night against AHL powerhouse and division rivals the Hershey Bears with a 5-4 win. Some notes and observations:

--Chris Minard had a natural hat trick for the first three goals of the game. He's an unhearlded prospect but perhaps someone to keep an eye on.
--Ty Conklin reportedly gave up a few softies.
--Alex Goligoski was victimized in his first professional game, looked bad on the 3rd goal allowed, welcome to the pros kid! It should be noted however, that he played well on the powerplay. As expected. Goligoski and Letang manning the points is pretty formidable. Definitely raw, but very formidable.
--Most observers expected defensive mainstay Alain Nasreddine to be back in the AHL. He's not. With Mike Weaver getting claimed by Vancouver, the blueline was very young and doesn't have a real defensive dman to hang your hat on that you need in the AHL level. Ryan Lannon was the most experience player, and that's not going to cut it over a long season.
--Uber-pest Louis Robitaille was running his mouth as usual, and Lannon dropped him. Good times.

The lines were:


--Given that lineup, one has to wonder if tough guy in the making, Aaron Boogaard is about to spend some time in the Coast (ECHL). Certainly there will be no shortages of takers for a fight there.

A win is a win, so that's nice. But it's obvious that there's several good, experience forwards, but this team will need more foundation defensively. Given so many were making their pro debuts against a solid lineup, that's not to be unexpected.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

More Evidence Crosby's On A Different plane

NHL GMs were asked who they'd most want to build a franchise upon, given every player in the league.

Every player, except one Sidney Patrick Crosby.

If one ever needed any more evidence how far and away Bing has separated himself from every other player in the league, even the marquee ones, this is it.

FYI, the results were:

Luongo: 16

Lecavalier: 2
Ovechkin: 2

Getzlaf: 1
Lundqvist: 1
Malkin: 1
S. Niedermayer: 1
E. Staal: 1
J. Staal:1

Things of surprise and note:
--No surprise Luongo was the majority winner. A young dominant goalie is not a bad franchise corner piece.
--Only one defensemen, and that's a guy (Scott Niedermayer) who may never play again! I suppose if Nik Lidstrom or Chris Pronger were about 5 years younger, they would merit more consideration.
--No Joe Thornton? No Dany Heatley or Jason Spezza?
--I am a little surprised at the spread, and especially some of the guys listed. Ryan Getzlaf, really? Henny Lundqvist, really? And, as much as I like him, an NHL GM would really taken Jordan Staal over every single player in the league to build around?

My vote, other than Crosby would have been Malkin. A strong, electric center who showed glimpses of brilliance even through all the drama and turmoil of last season. Plus he still doesn't know much of the language or intricacies of the NHL. He's a well rounded, amazing skill player with an even higher ceiling.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Housekeeping.....You want towel?

I want to pause for a moment and welcome all the new friends we've picked up at the blog today. The guys as the Pensblog and some little website called Deadspin were among those kind enough to pick up and link my Darcy Robinson story. I also noticed from the referrals that this humble blog is on the first page of results for a google search of "Darcy Robinson" so I think that's incredibly cool too.

I hope you like it here and want to comeback for Penguins/NHL and other news, stories and opinions. Feel free to treat the comments as an open forum and contribute there if you'd like.

This isn't a self-promotion zone or anything and I'm not going to be marketing much in the way of myself or advertisers. So relax, enjoy and chime in if the mood strikes you or my comments strike a nerve.

Canucks Pick Penguins Pocket Again

Last year, after training camp broke, among the players the Penguins tried to sneak through waivers was goalie Dany Sabourin. Sabourin was an AHL all-star and arguably outperformed Marc-Andre Fleury and Jocelyn Thibault in 2006's training camp. But the powers that be wisely decided that Fleury needed to stay in the NHL, and Thibault was going to be his veteran backup, so there was no room at the inn for Sabourin. Vancouver scooped him up, and rumor has it he actually appeared in 9 games for the Canucks when Luongo must not have been in....You know the rest of the story: Sabs returned to the Pens as a free agent pickup and is Fleury's backup this season.

History has repeated itself this season with admitted Sweater Ted growing favorite, Mike Weaver. Weaver seemingly had a good camp in Pittsburgh, played within his limitations and offered a right handed shot for the blueline. Pittsburgh, however decided the devil you do know (Robert Scuderi and Alain Nasreddine) were better options to fill the 6th and 7th defensemen slot and tried to send Weaver down to the AHL.

...And who sweeps in but Vancouver...They probably know a little something about Weaver, since he's appeared in 92 NHL games for the Los Angeles Kings over the past two seasons. Like me, Vancouver obviously thinks Weaver could be a viable option as a bottom pair/depth NHL defensemen.

Time will tell if the cycle comes full circle and Weaver ends up back in Pittsburgh's organization this time next year.

Monday, October 1, 2007

See you at the Crossroads...

Jonathan Filewich and Ryan Stone might not be singing Bone Thugs, but maybe they should be.

  • Filewich will turn 23 years old on Wednesday, where he'll be celebrating by being in Wilkes-Barre's season opener. Stone, as a hockey prospect goes, is no spring chicken himself at 22.
  • Both have spent two full seasons at the AHL level. Well, Stone's had some injury woes, a wrist injury knocked him out for half of last year.
  • Both have scored at a fairly impressive clip in the A. Doubling Stone's stats would have translated into 66 points (14g, 52a) if he had a full season. Filewich has 52 goals in his first two pro seasons (including a team leading 30 last year).
  • Neither has suited up for the Pittsburgh Penguins in their career.

Along with fellow training camp slight disappointment Tim Brent, these two young forwards ought to be the first option in case of injury. But with 13 forwards with a high level of experience (and acuity in their respective roles) the mountain is tough to climb.

And it's only going to get tougher. Every year there's going to be someone like Adam Hall with more experience, more size waiting to crack the lineup. Soon Angelo Esposito will be in the mix for a NHL job too, and it doesn't look like he'll be denied much longer. Not to mention all the veteran acquistions that Mr. Shero will make (ala Gary Roberts, Georges Laraque and Petr Sykora).

Point being, Stone and Filewich probably aren't in the Pens future plans. It would be great if they could be, but it's going to take some circumstances out of the players' control (trades, injury, etc) to get even a sniff of cracking the lineup and then trying to turn out an NHL niche. Some, like Sweater Ted, believe Stone and Filewich could be guys like Tom Kostopolous, Eric Meloche and Kris Beech; excellent AHL players that there's no room for in this organization and might have to find a new franchise to swim (like TK) or sink (Meloche and Beech).

Kevin Allen is the smartest man in America!

Which is to say, I agree with him!

Kevin Allen, of the USA Today gave 10 reasons why the Penguins will raise the Cup this season....I liked it. But this summed it up.

1. The Crosby factor: Crosby is ready to lead the Penguins. At 20, Sidney he is already the NHL's best pure player. He sees the ice like Wayne Gretzky, carries the flag like Mark Messier and drives to the net like Gordie Howe. He's mature beyond his years, and he's driven to win a championship. Not many are ready to captain a team at 20, but Crosby appears to be. As probably the league's most important arrival since Mario Lemieux, Crosby has faced heavy pressure, exceeded expectations, and done so with humility and style. He seems to always make the right play, and say the right words after the game.

Atta boy, Kevin!

The Penguins will be a very popular and trendy pre-season pick. The burden of expectations on the team, and especially Captain Crosby will be tremendous. But it's nothing short of what he's been going through since Gretzky himself appointed Crosby "the next one" years before he'd even play an NHL game!

Bring it, NHL.

Pens cut 5 more, down to 22

Mild surprises and some things you could see from a mile away. Ryan Stone, Jon Filewich were sent down (more on this later) and 20 year old Kris Letang will be spending some time on the buses as well. Adam Hall conveyed his strong training camp into a one year contract (but it is a two-way salary!).

Mike Weaver, who's grown on this editor and was proclaimed to be on the roster in Pittsburgh was sent down. Rob Scuderi and Alain Nasreddine remain the #6 and #7 NHL defensemen, and my blood pressure remains through the roof.....

Or does it?! The Penguins roster is now at 22 players (13 forwards, 7 def, 2 goalies), one short of the permitted maximum. It's likely Mr. Shero has given himself a little wiggle room in case a player he likes gets waived by another team.

Pittsburgh's opening night roster isn't written in stone just yet, but it has taken quite a shape:


or, if they swap Jordan Staal back to the wing the lineup should look something like:


"More at 11" as they say....We'll have to see who if anyone Shero attempts to acquire through trade or the waiver wire in the next day or so.