Friday, November 30, 2007

Crosby should be on Dallas....He's a Star

The Penguins make it 3 wins in a row with a solid 4-1 showing at home over the Dallas Stars. Sidney Crosby, as usual, set the tone for the Pens. This time is was a goal on the opening shift, just :24 into the game. When Jordan Staal forced a turnover and got the puck to Tyler Kennedy (who in turn absolutely wired it over Mike Smith's shoulder) just 3:38 into the game, the rout was on. Dallas, not Pittsburgh looked like the team that hadn't played a game in almost a week. Nope, no signs of rust here. So here's my game observations before a trip tomorrow to another struggling opponent, the Make Beliefs.

  • The Penguins are .500 for the first time since November 7th. Time to keep climbing. All four lines played well. The lower lines grided, the skill guys made skill plays.
  • Early in the game, someone named Krys Barch decided he wanted to fight Georges Laraque. Barch decided to use the back of his head to smash BGL's fist about 5 times, then get tired and fall. Laraque easily retains his crown as the NHL's Heavyweight Champion.
  • No Sergei Gonchar, no problem. For tonight at least. Ryan Whitney played the most minutes for defenseman (26:15) but that was inflated for all the PP time at the end of the game. Pretty much all the defensemen picked up the slack and did what they do best. Brooks Orpik hit (a game high 9 hits), Mark Eaton blocked 5 shots (and was named the 3rd star of the game), Robert Scuderi chewed up minutes, Darryl Sydor jumped right back in the lineup (more later) and Kris Letang didn't make any rookie mistakes.
  • 5 points (1g, 4a) in the past 3 games for Colby Armstrong (the 2nd star of the night). He's responded well from his frequent healthy scratches.
  • Crosby shot the puck 11 times. 2 scored, 6 were saved by Smith, 2 got blocked and 1 missed the net. Any time Sid is shooting that much, I like how it's looking.
  • Sydor easily transitioned back into the lineup, and even though he screened Marc-Andre Fleury on the only goal against, he made the play perfectly on Crosby's 2nd goal. Sydor belongs with the Pens, not on Old Man Recchi's train out of town.
  • Speaking of the netminder, Fleury was near perfect. The only goal he gave up was the result of a bad Ryan Malone turnover that developed into a 2 on 2 that Mike Ribeiro took a great shot on. Fleury didn't make any 5 star saves, but he didn't have to. Still, he stopped 22 of 23, something the Pens will take every time.
  • Jordan Staal had a really authoritative night, as mentioned he made Kennedy's gamewinner happen, but he was just 20% (2 for 10) in the faceoff circle.
  • Speaking of Mr. Kennedy, he had his best night in a Penguin sweater so far, being an absolute buzzsaw hustling around the ice, winning battles and of course, scoring the game winning goal.
  • Saving the best individual play for last: Petr Sykora did his thing and threw a puck for the easiest goal Malkin could hope for. Erik Christensen's role of driving to the net won't make the headlines, but you can bet he had the Dallas goalie's attention.

As you can see, I pretty much mentioned every member of the Pens team (except for maybe Adam Hall and Dany Sabs), something I don't normally do... It was a great team effort tonight. The skill players showcased their skill, the fighter fought, the grinders grinded, the defenseman defensed and the netminder minded his net. A tremendous effort that was near perfect.

Hopefully the team doesn't read blogs like this and start thinking how good they are. They're only at .500 and far from a playoff spot. Still, the last 3 games have been very, very encouraging.

Time to get back on the horse

After what feels like another off-season has taken place since the last game, the Penguins are back in action tonight. Since Saturday night, a lot has changed. Only 1 team in the conference (Washington) has less points than the Penguins, though the good guys are tied for the lowest number of games players (23).

Funny with all the talk of scheduling (see below), tonight's opponent is the Western Conference Dallas Stars, lead by the resurgent and record setting Mike Modano.

The long break came at a good time for the Penguins to get a little health. Important checker Max Talbot got to rest his ankle which would have kept him out any games this week. Very important defenseman Sergei Gonchar's groin seems to be on the mend as he practiced a little yesterday. It remains to be seen if either will be in the lineup tonight. I suspect Gonchar will, as a veteran who eats up 26+ minutes a game he usually doesn't practice between games anyways. I think Therrien might like the current lineups and combos enough not to bump a guy like Tyler Kennedy out of the lineup to make room for Talbot....The team is on a 2 game winning streak, if you can remember that far!

But now, as they say business is about to pick up. After only playing 4 games in the past 12 nights (and none in the past 5); the Penguins are about to embark on 13 games in the next 24 nights leading up to the short Christmas break. This chunk of games will include 8 total road games (including a rare cross-country road trip for all 3 Western Canadian teams) and 4 divisional matchups (3 of those in unfriendly confines).

To look far ahead, the stretch after this (Dec 23rd to Feb 1) is much less taxing, just 15 games in 40 nights and only has one extended road trip (a 3 game stretch for both Florida teams who seem to haunt the Pens plus Atlanta). After THAT lull in the schedule things get hectic again with 14 games in 26 nights from Feb 2nd to Feb 26th.

Ok, I think that's all the schedule analysis you or I could handle for now.

So let's just settle on that this little mini-marathon is another chance for the Pens to make up ground in the chase for a playoff spot. I highlighted the 9 game streak of divisional opponents and the Penguins responded by going 2-6-1 and are in jeopardy now of losing the pack of teams in the middle of the conference. Hopefully at the Christmas break we can look back on this stretch of games and see better results.

New Schedule

As you've probably heard, the NHL announced the long expected change to the scheduling of games to start next season.

It's kind of like (but not exactly) what I proposed back in September:

Every team plays a home and home with the other conference (15 x 2 =30 games). Each team plays their 4 division opponents 6 times: 3 at home, 3 away (6 x 4 = 24 games). Each team plays their other 10 conference opponents 3 times: 2 home, 1 away one year. flipped the next (10 x 3 = 30 games)

My idea was the exact thing the players association proposed, though I doubt they stole it from me....

What the NHL has approved though did not add two more games (as me and the players came up with), so not every team will visit every city every year. But at least it's every other year and not some weird once every three years thing like in the past. Here's the new and "improved" format:

Eeach team play[s] 24 divisional games, 40 in-conference matchups, 15 games against non-conference teams and three wild card games against out of conference teams.

This de-emphasizes the divisional matchups; a team will only play them 6 times (instead of the current 8) but the out-of-division conference matchups remain at 4. I suppose this is a good change, it's not fun to sit through 8 games against the Devils or Islanders. And it's really not fun for teams in the Pacific division or Southeast who don't really have natural "regional" rivals. Yeah, those Washington-Miami matchups and Phoenix-Dallas ones just don't hit the spot eight times a year.

But this doesn't accomplish what the fans wanted: the chance to see every team (and the marquee players) come to your city once a year. Sure this change is an improvement over the current setup--now it will be every other year, but it's a change that doesn't really satisfy any of the principals. So what's the point?

And I'm curious to see how the "wildcard" games are allotted. Will a strong team with a strong fanbase (like, say Detroit) be playing a marquee out-of-conference game (such as Ottawa) for the sake of a solid matchup? Or will the NHL send them to a place like Washington or Florida that doesn't really draw well, but would on a night with a team like the Red Wings (and their spread out fan base) coming to town?

It once again comes down to the old $$$ versus the best hockey action possible. And, of course, if you get the good "wildcard" matchups like Detroit-Ottawa that means at the other end of the spectrum you'll inevitably be stuck with a team like Edmonton or Phoenix going to Florida, where the crowds would probably draw more folks to see another divisional matchup against a familiar foe like Tampa Bay.

As you can see, it gets complicated and with 3 of these wildcard games and the already difficult logsitcal nightmare of scheduling games anyways, I'm guessing you'll probably see a pretty decent mix of some solid matchups plus some games that just look like revenue boosters for non-traditional hockey markets....I mean with this much complexity, plus the "parody" of teams playing at a SC Finals level one year and then not making the playoffs the next it's tough to tell. But some indicators, regardless of tough to forecast future outcomes will be obvious. If you see Detroit playing in Washington, Florida and Long Island next season, and Toronto in places like Nashville and Columbus then I think you'll know.

Should be interesting to keep an eye on. Somehow I think I know the answer to the $$$ v. good hockey matchup. (Hint: it's the NHL).

Obvious but perhaps necessary note: None of this is meant to take shots at markets like Miami, Nashville, Washington, Phoenix or anyone else. But traditional attendance figures and revenues "are what they are" as the saying goes.

Big Steps for Geno

A player talks to hockey reporters......No big deal, happens all the time right? Well, yes.

But not when that player is a 21 year old Russian who's clung to a translator for over a year in America.

I'm older, but not much older than Evgeni Malkin. I've thought about this, and personally I can't imagine picking up a language like Russian, completely foreign to me in this short a time. Of course, Geno has more motivation; this was the country he clearly chose to be in (as his defection from his Russian club team would indicate) and he's making and going to make a lot more money than me this year and in the years to come.

But still, it takes a lot of courage to branch out like he did yesterday, talking to American reporters....Not for the first time, but for the first time without the complete aid of an intermediary.

"My favorite food is spaghetti, chicken, beef. I like sushi," Malkin said.

And his road roommate, forward Maxime Talbot?

"Yeah. Max funny guy," he said. "We see movie."

Malkin halted when asked about his favorite movies, until he was asked about "Transformers," and his face lit up.

"I see two ... " he said, looking at [translator George] Birman for assistance before finishing, "Two times."

Asked how he is learning English, Malkin said, "I see movies. Gonch helps me translate."

It's no coincidence that the Penguins assigned Talbot to be Malkin's road trip roommate, and not his closest friend on the team, fellow Russian and guy who's house he's staying at (Gonchar, of course). Like Malkin, Talbot's second language is English. Unlike Malkin, Max is a very talkative, very chipper personality that is constantly buzzing around, on or off the ice.

"I like New York," he said. "It's shopping. It's big city, beautiful city."

And Pittsburgh?

"It is a good city," he said. "Good fans. They like hockey. They like football."

He has become a Steelers fan.

"Yeah, three-zero last game. I see it," Malkin said.

How about that, a Stillers fan to boot!

A lot of Pens fans soured on the fact that Malkin did not seek an English tutor this summer to improve his grasp on our language. My thoughts were this young man just went through the longest, most physical season of his life (and put up 85 points [33g, 52a] in 78 games too). Give the kid a break.

Obviously granting an interview is a huge step in Malkin's personal development, even if he understandably needed Birman to navigate a word or two for him. We've long heard teammates say just how much Geno understands, how he orders for himself in restaurants (at Gonchar's urging) and how he laughs and jokes around with them in the locker-room pretty freely.

It's good to see him continue his development on the ice with these steps off the ice testing the waters and starting to talk a little bit to the media in English.....Seemingly in both realms the sky is the limit for Geno and it's going to be a joy to watch him to continue to take steps to grow all around. We certainly applaud him.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

One old foot out the door?

Stop me if you've heard this before: Penguins sign an aging skilled player. Player shows no skill. Player loses spot in lineup. Player sulks/gets upset.

Next step: player taken off team.

It happened to John LeClair last season, and by all indications it's about to happen again to Mark Recchi.


"Faizal" sends in the following on Mark Recchi:
Pierre Maguire was on the TEAM1040 this morning (Wednesday)in Vancouver and he was talking about the Recchi situation. Him and Recchi were texting each other last night before the Canucks/Ducks game and Maguire says that Recchi will
likely be traded by Friday. Pittsburgh apparently wants to hand over the reigns of the team to the younger players and they feel that with the presence of such veterans as Recchi, Roberts and Sydor, its hard for those younger players to be that voice in the dressing room. I don't know what that means for Roberts or Sydor, but so far only Recchi has been told to call up other clubs and work out a trade for himself."

Whispers have teams like Columbus (who's coach, Ken Hitchcock has connections with Recchi dating back to Kamloops) or Phoenix as interested in Rex.

Some team that needs a top 6 forward will take the bait on this. And maybe a change of scenery and a fresh lockeroom would do Recchi well. He didn't so much look as if there's nothing left in the tank just as much as he wasn't finishing opportunities. Unlike LeClair last season, where it was quite clear he was done, Recchi probably would have something to contribute to a NHL team. Although in a huge shell of his former self.

And for the Penguins, any return at all to shed Recchi's salary and sulking aura will be an improvement. I do not suspect they will be bringing to much back, probably a low draft pick if possible.
McGuire mentions Darryl Sydor and Gary Roberts as possibly the next in line out the door. While both of these vets have been relatively under-performing and disappointing, I see this as unlikely, for many reasons.
  • Depth of defensemen. If Sydor is jettison, one injury to the defense (a matter of when, not if) means that Alain Nasreddine is back in the NHL lineup. I still would argue might be a steal candidate on re-entry waivers for a team that would only have to pay 50% his salary, so it's no guarantee he'd be there. Then who comes into the lineup, Ryan Lannon?
  • Unlike LeClair and Recchi, Gary Roberts game is built around checking, hitting, menacing, intimidating and the like. Last I checked, you can still do that without scoring. Roberts needs to produce more, but his icetime has been adjusted. In the past 6 games Mr. Gary is getting less than 13 minutes a night. Unlike Recchi, he wasn't chewing up 20 minutes a night and still not scoring.
  • Veteran leadership. The team needs someone who's done it before, and only Recchi, Sydor and Roberts have won Stanley Cups. Get rid of all of these guys and there would be only 3 players on the whole roster over the age of 30 (Sergei Gonchar 33, Petr Sykora 31 and Georges Laraque 31 next week). That's obviously not going to cut it for a potential playoff push.

We'll have to see what happens, but short-term it definitely seems like Recchi is going to get a new team, if one will take him. After that the next movement shouldn't be paring more vets from the roster, it should be to bring in a player the team needs; like a goal-scoring winger or a defensive-defenseman.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

RIP The Original Meast

Late news, but this is not a news blog so I can comment on this....And living so close to DC, I know I feel this more than most. Sean Taylor, the original meast (half-man/half-beast for you un-initiatives) is gone. Senselessly. At 24 years old.

It's so hard to comprehend I still haven't been able to wrap my mind around it, despite the fact I'm the last thing from a Redskin fan......Though I do admittedly admire "The U" from afar.

Surely a lot will be revealed in the days/weeks/months to follow but honestly it's not going to make a difference. And it's not going to change anything for a little 18 month old girl who's daddy had, from all possible angles; turned his entire outlook, attitude and habits around to be with her just as quickly as he could change directions on the football field.

So RIP S Dot Taylor (as the affable and good friend Clinton Portis called him). Seeing one of my buddies, a diehard Skins season ticketholder, pour some out for his homie tonight isn't something I'll soon forget; especially as he asked me not to correct him when he toasted Sean as the "best safety in the NFL". Any other day would have brought an objection, but not now. It's just not right.

Just not right, indeed.

Hockey Players: Best in the world

No professional athletes are more approachable, more friendly or more compassionate than hockey players. From my own experience of seeing what the Penguins (namely Jaromir Jagr, and Kevin Hatcher) sent to my best buddy who was diagnosed with lymphatic lymphoma at the age of 10 in the late '90s, our parents transplanting us 300 miles away fromPittsburgh...Everything from pucks to sticks to well wishes written down, signed by all.
But nothing, and I mean NOTHING, topped a clearly personalized and signed letter from Mario Lemieux, a cancer survivor himself. Inspiration indeed to my buddy and gestures that I will never, ever forget.
And with that, today's PG on what Sidney Crosby has rented out a suite:

Twenty-five children and their families attended practice and a luncheon with the team that included autographs and photos as part of the Penguins' annual Make-A-Wish party.
Two players, forwards Sidney Crosby and Mark Recchi, facilitate similar, albeit smaller, parties regularly. They have bought suites for children and families to use at home games through various children's charities.
Crosby's family decorated his suite, which is closed off with dividers so that only his guests get to see it.

"My mom and dad went through a lot of albums and took out some pictures when I was the age of a lot of the kids who are in there, and more of them are from school and away from hockey," Crosby said. "There's a map of Cole Harbour [Nova Scotia, his hometown], and they can see where it is compared with Pittsburgh. When kids go there, they can see more than just the hockey side of things, be able to have fun and maybe see things that everyone doesn't typically see."

Countless other hockey players (including Alex Ovechkin) entertain special guests like this on countless nights. These men are answering beyond the call of their professional super stardom, they're being terrific human beings that are leaving a great impact than they'll ever know....A heartfelt hat-tip to them all.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Critiquing the Critics: Mark Madden

Mark Madden loves hockey and he loves the Penguins. He devotes a lot of his time and attention to them and is, all things considered, a friend to the team and the sport. So my critique of his unsolicited suggestion to Michel Therrien has no hard feelings.

-- Marc-Andre Fleury should start every game unless he physically needs a rest. Respect his pedigree and wait for the upside. Dany Sabourin may be a No. 1 goalie someday, but it will be in Wheeling. Therrien pulling Fleury as a device to change a game’s momentum must stop. Maybe it worked in Ottawa this past Thursday, but the Penguins would probably have won the game had Fleury kept playing and Fleury would have avoided yet another coach-administered blow to his psyche.

I agree this team's fate is hitched to Fleury, at least for this season. Good or bad, he's the horse pulling the wagon. I disagree that the team didn't respond a little and the goaltender change had no effect on the big comeback win in Ottawa last week.

-- Sidney Crosby should play the entire two minutes of every power play, just like Sergei Gonchar does. If you don’t think Crosby can handle it, enter Crosby and Gonchar in the same marathon and see who collapses first. Wayne Gretzky did it. Mario Lemieux did it. Crosby should do it.

Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux (in their primes) also played in a different era, so I don't buy that. Gonchar plays the full two minutes because who's going to replace him? One of the unsung trio (Mark Eaton, Brooks Orpik and Robert Scuderi). This trio, while silently effective in their own end, has 0 goals, 5 assists so far on the year...Combined.

If you play Crosby the full two minutes, then why not Evgeni Malkin too? He's just as dangerous and skilled when he gets set up in the offensive zone. With the likes of Petr Sykora, Jordan Staal, Erik Christensen, Gary Roberts and Ryan Malone the Penguins have more than enough talent to field two powerplays. Staal and Christensen especially won't be scoring if they don't get any PP time.

-- Use Crosby and Malkin to kill penalties, especially when the Penguins have committed several infractions in a short span. Both are adept at the PK and
threats to score shorthanded. More important, the Penguins can’t afford to have
either off the ice for 4-6 minutes in a row.

Why not stress team discipline? I would like to see the big guns get slightly more PK time, but the regular penalty killers (Staal, Hall, Colby Armstrong and Maxime Talbot) have done quite well, and Jarrko Ruutu and Malone can PK too. Killing penalties increases the injury possibility for forwards. You'd never like to see anyone hurt, but surely the regular PK'ers are more expendable losing Crosby or Malkin for an extended amount of time.

-- Leave Colby Armstrong on Crosby’s wing. Armstrong and Crosby have a level of understanding reminiscent — in a less productive way, admittedly — of Mario
Lemieux and Rob Brown in the late ’80s. Brown skated like his ankles were chained together, but he thought the game the same way Lemieux did. Brown was Lemieux’s linemate until clearly better alternatives came along. It should be the same with Armstrong and Crosby.

For now, yes; Malone and Armstrong have some "lightning in the bottle" type chemistry with Sid and it's going well. But don't forget, this is the same Armstrong who went 20+ games to start last season while he was playing exclusively on Crosby's wing at even-strength. Army, nor any other winger should be joined at Crosby's hip if he's not producing on the chances that are created.

-- Put Kris Letang in the left circle of the top power play. Put Ryan Whitney at the center point of the top power play. The Penguins’ power play is quite literally designed to have a right-handed shot in the left circle. It’s a job the skilled Letang excels at. Besides Crosby and Malkin, Whitney is the best passer on the Penguins, and he moves without the puck as well as anyone. All Gonchar does on the PP is shoot medium-speed wrist shots into shin pads and steal points by playing catch with Crosby.

I'd be willing to see this experimented with. Therrien has broken up the powerplay a little already, kinda unstacked the big guns. But remember Whitney has great chemistry with Crosby, especially on the little cut-in backdoor play that the Pens seemingly run between those two about twice a game.

-- Don’t use power-play time to reward grit merchants like Tyler Kennedy. Power-play time should be used to score goals, not to throw a bone to hard workers. Hustlers are supposed to hustle.

No argument here. While I love players like Kennedy, Talbot and Hall, they don't belong on the powerplay (unless it's a blowout). That time should absolutely go to guys like Malone and Christensen, the more skilled forwards who create offense with shots on goal, not hard work alone.

-- Demand equal accountability. If Gary Roberts stinks, scratch him
occasionally. I know Roberts will get real mad, but old people get cranky sometimes. Picking a lineup isn’t about veteran respect. It’s about winning. Roberts has played every game this season and has one goal.-- Put players in a position to succeed. For instance, don’t put Malkin between Mark Recchi and Georges Laraque. That doesn’t put Malkin in a position to succeed, that encourages him to re-defect.

Perhaps Madden hasn't noticed, but Recchi has been a healthy scratch in several games already, Therrien's already implemented this. Roberts may have one goal, but his role--unlike Recchi, is to grind and hit and inspire. One can still do that without scoring a goal every other game. And Roberts ice time lately has taken a big nose dive. But if Roberts or Laraque or Ruutu does something dumb or seem ineffective, by all means scratch them for a game or two. I don't think this is a problem.

-- If you Google “Penguins” and “too many men,” there are 23,700 matches.
That’s way too many. The Penguins led the NHL with 17 too-many-men penalties last season. They’ve committed six such infractions so far this season. That’s Coaching 101. Get it right.

I must be the only follower of the Penguins who doesn't heap this all on the coach. The players are professionals and supposed to know what they're doing in a very routine part of hockey, changing lines. Sure the coaching staff needs to make sure the discpline is there and the accountability is high, but I don't totally fault the coaches for all the bench minor penalties. Players have to be smart enough not to jump on the ice if there's a chance they'll get caught, or don't play the puckin the neutral zone if it's in the middle of shift change.

-- Speaking of Coaching 101: During New Jersey’s three wildly
unentertaining visits to Mellon Arena this season, rookie NHL coach Brent Sutter managed to match checking center John Madden (no relation) against Crosby every shift, every game. That’s exactly the matchup Sutter wants and Therrien shouldn’t want. The home team has last change, yet Sutter always got Madden out there against Crosby. How? Submit answers on the back of a Pierre Creamer hockey card.

I don't want to waste a prize trading card, so let me tell you why. The Devils are a tight checking team that strives to get the matchups they want. Even if Crosby lines up against the Devs 4th line, it's not that hard most of the time to immediately get a quick change as soon the puck is dropped and get the matchup they want. Two additional points:

1)Crosby is used to being a marked man and having to go up against his opponent's top players for longer than he can probably imagine.
2)If the Devils use their top checking forwards on Crosby, it should open up that much more room for Malkin and the 2nd line.

There's no reason or need to play little games where the Pens are constantly changing and playing a cat and mouse game. Hell that would lead to that many more too many men and fall right into the Devils (or whoever uses these tactics) plans; keeping Crosby off the ice.

-- Cycle less, attack on the rush more. This team has oodles of speed and
skill, yet keeps taking the puck to the boards instead of seeking open ice. Puck
possession means a lot. Goals mean more.

Goals, a lot of time, come from hard work. Obviously you're not going to be able to generate very many 3 on 2 rushes all game long, so you have to work the corners, cycle and try to generate chances that way. I'd never complain about this point Madden makes, since this means the puck is in the opponent's zone AND most of time it's the lower lines composed of the lesser skilled forwards doing most the cycling anyways.

-- Take pressure off the players by shouldering it yourself, thus getting
the players to give more effort on your behalf. After a recent loss where his team mustered just 12 shots, St. Louis Blues Coach Andy Murray said, “We didn’t play hard enough, and that starts with me.” Can you even imagine Therrien saying such a thing? Well, you’re going to have to, because he won’t.

Deflecting blame might sound nice and make for an easy scapegoat, but it doesn't really hide what's going on. Andy Murray wasn't the reason the players weren't playing well: they must have gotten out-muscled, out-worked and out-skated by their opponents that night. Speaking of work, a lot of that comes from the momentum of a good shift or two from a 3rd/4th line doing a lot of cycling and maintaining puck possesion in the opposition's zone all shift.

-- Let hockey be fun again. The Penguins’ dressing room is a lot tighter
this season, and not just because they’re sub-.500. There’s a fine line between
being demanding and being onerous, and Therrien too often finds himself on the wrong side of it.

Agreed. The team seems very uptight and has lost a lot of 1 goal games. Last year the Penguins won a lot of 1 goal contests (OT and shoot-out included) and the club's atmosphere seemed so much looser and so much more positive and energetic. Winning cures all though, and in this regard getting a couple more bounces will fire the troops up that much further. It still is, after all, an extremely young core of players.


Monday, November 26, 2007

Adrian Dater shoots off from mouth

Uhh, really?

A little birdie told me the Avs had scouts at the Penguins-Senators game the other night, so start your trade rumors from those locations. Personally, I think the Avs might be considering getting Marc-Andre Fleury, the former first-round goalie pick who hasn’t been that great for the Pens. But that’s just a hunch, not based on big word of mouth. John-Michael Liles could be part of that mix, but again, just a hunch. But Liles, who turned 27 on Sunday, can be an unrestricted free agent after this season.

The Avs have promising youngster Kyle Cumiskey still, who plays a game similar to Liles and figures to come a lot cheaper in the near future. So, it makes sense that Liles could be on the trading block for perhaps some help (better size and toughness) on defense, or with the goaltending.

I have a hunch too....
  • The Penguins aren't going to trade a 23 year old, former #1 overall pick goalie that's still budding.
  • Especially for a puck-moving defenseman that's a UFA at the end of the year.

Take a look at the Pens roster, Adrian, and you'd see there's no shortage of puckmoving defenseman (Sergei Gonchar, Ryan Whitney, Kris Letang).

And what, pray-tell, would the Pens do for a starting goaler? Hitch the wagon to the unproven Danny Sabourin? No.

Oh I know, maybe Colorado would be lucky enough to throw in Jose Theodore and his $6 million salary and lovely 3.04 GAA and .897 save percentage into the deal.

Captain Crosby

No games until FRIDAY! so you know you're gonna get some articles like this....Still a good read from the folks at SI on Sidney Crosby and how his finger is on the pulse of this team.

My favorite quote:

"The difference is in making plays" Crosby offered. "Whether it is a pass, a hit, blocked shot or save, we need to make plays at the right time. We're starting to do that more consistently."

Very true, and surely no one is leading better by example than the captain.

Malkin Top Russian

When it comes to a continuous scoring streak, anyways...

That Penguins center Evgeni Malkin, who got at least one point in 15 consecutive games before being shut out Saturday, would own the longest scoring streak ever by a Russian player in the NHL isn't a major surprise.

The identity of the guy who set that standard before Malkin is.
It was not one of the many spectacular talents from that country -- not Pavel Bure or Alex Kovalev or Igor Larionov or Alex Ovechkin -- but the utterly forgettable Dmitri Kvartalnov, who played for Boston in 1992-93 and 1993-94.

Atta boy, Geno, let's start another one!

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Finally an easy one

The Penguins, for the first time all year, won an easy one 5-0; making the Thrashers look like the bottom dwellers they haven't looked like since they fired their coach.

Game notes:
  • Sergei Gonchar had 3 assists in the first half of the game before held out of the rest with what was described as a "sore groin". The Penguins don't have another game for 5 more days until Friday, so hopefully he'll be good to go for that.
  • Fleury, Fleury, Fleury. He saw the puck well and did enough for the shutout. Good for him. And good for Coach Therrien to go back to Fleury after he gave up 2 goals in 4 shots last night. That's the stuff that will build confidence.
  • Ho-hum, another "routine" 1 goal 1 assist night for Sidney Crosby. In the faceoff circle he went 81%, (13-3). Awesome.
  • Jordan Staal scored a goal tonight and Colby Armstrong did too. ABout time.
  • End of a streak: Evgeni Malkin's point streak ended tonight at 15 games. Still, an excellent streak and it reflects well on the Pens that they could win 5-0 without needing their #2 guy to create anything, for a change.
  • Ryan Malone again played excellent, playing with passion, tallied his 7th goal of the year, throwing 5 more shots at the net and generally busting his tail around the rink. Few forwards have been as consistent top to bottom this year as Malone.
  • Speaking of players playing with passion, Tyler Kennedy had a 2 assist night. Good to see him providing a spark for the team, you can tell the Penguins thrive off his energy.
  • The unsung trio (Brooks Orpik, Mark Eaton, Robert Scuderi) combined for: 62 minutes of icetime (all even-strength or shorthanded), 8 hits, 8 blocked shots, +3, 1 takeaway (Orpik with 6 hits, 3 BS by himself). They won't make any highlight reels but makes exactly the plays you'd expect them to.
  • Gary Roberts had 2 assists, was a +2 and was the force that you'd hope he'd be all along.

You could go on and on and on. Every player in a Penguin jersey had a solid night and played as you'd hope they would all year long. It looks like the momentum from the Ottawa game did carry over. Now, as mentioned, is a quite lengthy 5 day break before a game against Dallas. By then, all momentum will be gone. Time to see how they can build upon 4 points in the past 2 games.

Trivia of the Night:
``This was Marc-Andre Fleury's 9th career shutout. 8 of which have come at home (the other was in Chicago, which was his first career victory).

Impact of Kris Letang

Something I found interesting, courtesy as always of Jon Bombulie:

Another number you might find interesting. WBS power play with Kris Letang in the lineup -- 11-66 (16.7 percent). Without Letang in the lineup -- 4-50 (8.0 percent). Twice as good.

Terrific statistic from a defenseman, especially a professional rookie.

Tonight the Penguins take on Atlanta Thrashers, who've been good since their coaching change, but no player has been better offensively since Todd White got to center the top line with superstars Ilya Kovalchuk and Marian Hossa. The Sarge and Mark Eaton are quietly going to have their hands full stopping the engine that's made the T-bombs drive.....And if it's not so quiet the Pens are in for a long night.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Give Thanks: Pens Somehow Pull One Out

The Ottawa Senators have clearly been the class of the Eastern Conference over the first seven weeks of the season. Given how the Pens have played, if you told me:
  • the Penguins would be on the road AND
  • in a two-goal hole not once but twice (including in the 3rd period) AND
  • that the Sens would tally 5 goals and Sidney Crosby and Geno Malkin would combine for 1 goal and 1 assist

I'd tell you another Penguins loss.

But it wasn't to be, thanks to Jarrko Ruutu's game deciding shootout goal in a 6-5 decision. To get the win is huge, but the manner and fashion to which the Penguins EARNED this outcome is even more important.


  • Colby Armstrong and Ryan Malone were great (combining for 2g, 3a and a +4). They got the chance to play with Crosby at even strength and made the most of it. When both players play aggressively and with and edge, they're at their best.
  • Quiet night on the scoreboard for Jordan Staal (who at least recorded an assist, only his 2nd of the year) and Erik Christensen. But both were instrumental in the win by doing the little things; most notably EC's shootout goal.
  • After giving up 2 goals on 4 shots, Fleury got the quick hook. The team wasn't playing horrible to that point, but obviously Therrien's gamble paid off. If it didn't, one has to wonder, would he be joining Glen Hanlon in the unemployment line?
  • Your Sergei Gonchar line for the night: 1 goal, 1 assist, +2, 30:35 TOI, 3 blocked shots, 1 hit, 1 glorious game-saving takeaway. Another magnificent night for the Sarge.

This game could surely be analyzed much more. Like the Pens poor powerplay ratio or getting badly outshot, etc, etc.

At the end of the day, 2 points in the ledger is 2 points in the ledger. This was surely one of the most intense games of the season and the definition of a satisfying win. Play this same game 5 times and the Sens might very well win 4 of them again, like they did in the 2007 playoffs. But right now the Pens came away with the W and perhaps remember what it's like to play uptempo, exciting hockey. And a little more confidence from a win.

Next up, a day off and then a visit from the red hot Atlanta Thrashers (11-4 since coaching change). But for now, let's soak up this victory. A happy Thanksgiving to you all. One made happier still by the Pens outcome tonight!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Then again, maybe the fans know something...

Sid, obviously, is #1

Crosby is the runaway leader among Eastern Conference players in All-Starballoting announced yesterday.
He has received 94,118 votes, almost twice as
many as the runner-up, Montreal defenseman Andrei Markov (48,134).

Way to go Montreal, Andrei Markov, really?.....You're still insane.

Reason #546,892 fans shouldn't vote for All-Stars

"Ryan Whitney of the Penguins ranks seventh among defensemen with 27,028 votes; center Evgeni Malkin is eighth among forwards with 18,015. (source: PG)"

For the record, stats to date:
Ryan Whitney: 3 goals, 6 assists, 9 points
Evgeni Malkin: 7g, 20a, 27p

Sergei Gonchar: 5g, 14a, 19 points (left off the All-Star ballot.....even though he's #1 to date in scoring for all defensemen in the NHL)

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Talbot out a week

Not good news one of the most consistent Penguins (effort wise) is out about a week, after Maxime Talbot hurt his ankle in practice yesterday.

Since this is likely a short-term injury, I doubt the Penguins will be recalling anyone from Wilkes-Barre, since they already have some players who can fill the role Talbot was playing being bounced in and out of the lineup. Those being namely Tyler Kennedy and Colby Armstrong.

Another Czech Up on the Kiddos

Since we're 1/4 the way through the NHL season and have a couple day break in Penguin games, now is as good a time as ever to look at how Penguin prospects in the juniors and college are fairing. The first early look at the prospects (from Oct 9) can be looked at here.

Angelo Esposito (C, Quebec Ramparts, QMJHL): 20 games played, 12 goals, 17 assists, 29 points, 31 PIMs, +12
Kevin Veilleux (C, Victoriaville Tigres, QMJHL): 27gp, 7g, 20a, 27p, 30 PIMs, -6
Jacob Muzzin (D, Sault St. Marie Greyhounds, OHL): 23gp, 2g, 7a, 9p, 18 PIMs +7
Dustin Jeffrey (C, Sault St. Marie Greyhounds, OHL): 20gp, 14g, 23a, 37p, 8 PIMs, +5
Jean-Phillip Paquet (D, Baie-Comeau Drakkar, QMJHL): 25gp, 2g, 14a, 16p, 54 PIMs, +10
Luca Caputi (LW, Niagra Ice Dogs, OHL): 24gp, 16g, 17a, 33p, 45 PIMs, +4
Alex Grant (D, St. John Sea Dogs, QMJHL): 24gp, 5g, 5a, 10p, 38PIMs, +2

Michal Gergen (W, University Minnesota-Duluth): 7 gp, 2g, 3a, 5p, 0 PIM
Carl Sneep (D, Boston College): 11 gp, 1g, 3a, 4p, 12 PIMs
Brian Strait (D, Boston University): 11gp, 0g, 4a, 4p, 2 PIM, +2

At the Quarter Pole

With the first quarter of the 2007-08 season done, let's look at how it's gone.

``The Penguins are 12th in the Eastern Conference with 18 points (8-10-2) after the first 20 games. Not good. But the logjam of the conference right now is the Philly Flyers in 5th place (with 23 points) down to New Jersey in 13th place (who also has 18 points). So there's not a lot of room for failure but the pack hasn't broken away from the Pens.

``The big stories have been well told: After getting 0 points in the season opener, Sidney Crosby has atleast one point in all 19 games since (11 goals, 19 assists). Crosby is 4 points behind league leader Vincent Lecavalier.

``Not to be left far behind, Evgeni Malkin currently on a 13 game scoring streak and has basically held serve with Crosby. Malkin has 27 points (7g, 20a) in the first 20 games and has been a cerfitifiable game changer.

``Jordan Staal's production has gone icy cold; 1 goal and 1 assist in 20 games. But he's led all forwards in shorthanded time, so he is contributing. Hopefully that will change.

``Petr Sykora has been pretty solid 9 goals (5 on the powerplay). Hopefully his consistency, something that's plagued him before.

``Sergei Gonchar has put up 19 points in 20 games and has matched up admirably against the opponent's top players.

``On the strength of the big guns (Crosby, Malkin, Sykora, Gonchar and Ryan Whitney), the powerplay is 7th in the league, clicking along at 21%.

``The penalty kill has quietly climbed to 82.5%, 13th in the league. Surely the unsung trio (Robert Scuderi, Brooks Orpik and Mark Eaton) has been a huge part of that.

``The 5 on 5 ratio (Goals For / Goals Against) is brutal. 26th in the league brutal.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Funny, unless you're Mike Comrie

Mad props to photoshopper "Will Smith" who submitted this gem to thepensblog (who's been kind enough to link to me, thanks Derek and Adam)

Saturday, November 17, 2007

A long November

Well, I suppose one point is better than no points, after the Penguins lose tonight in overtime from a most unlikely source: Jason Strudwick.

The good:
``Sidney Crosby pushes his scoring streak to 19 games with a sensational effort, 1 shorthanded assist (a tap-in for Maxime Talbot) and a goal from an impossible angle. As usual Crosby was the best player on the ice and making good things happen for the Pens left and right.
``Geno extends his personal best point streak to 13 games on a primary assist on Petr Sykora's game tying 3rd period goal. Malkin was clearly the 2nd best player tonight "galloping" around the ice, beating defensemen, setting players up. Another awesome display.
``Ryan Malone showed great effort and had a season high 5 hits.
``Mark Eaton, as usual, was very solid and had 23:29 of icetime and was a +2.

The bad:
``Marc-Andre Fleury didn't do enough to win, surrendering 4 goals of 26 shots.
``Michel Therrien scratched two of the youngest forwards (Colby Armstrong and Tyler Kennedy) in favor of Gary Roberts and Old Man Recchi.....The vets responded with a combined 24 minutes of ice-time, 4 fairly pedestrian shots and nothing else.
``The Pens took 7 penalties; all but one were of the lazy variety (hooking and tripping). And only one powerplay was generated. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize your odds aren't very good to go 1 powerplay against 7 penalty kills and come away with a W.
``All goals scored by the Rangers were defensemen, most of them coming on transition plays, which, of course, means blown coverage by the Penguins forwards.

``Does anyone miss Darryl Sydor or have noticed that he's been scratched for two straight games now? Didn't think so. Kris Letang has acquitted himself decently, and obviously Sergei Gonchar and Ryan Whitney are staples in the lineup. The unsung trio (Eaton, Brooks Orpik and Rob Scuderi) have done nothing to deserve getting taken out of the lineup.
``Still need to see forwards not named Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin generate offense.....As per usual, didn't happen tonight. But if the Pens have any hopes of playoffs, it needs to. I'm looking at you, Gary Roberts, Mark Recchi, Erik Christensen and Jordan Staal.
``Speaking of, has anyone seen Jordan Staal? 19 minutes of icetime tonight and not a shot to be had. Classic sophomore slump. But remember: dude is 19 years old, not many teenagers are a staple of the penalty kill like Staal was, logging 7:40 minutes of short-handed time and not being on the ice for a goal against.
``Don't look now but Ryan Whitney blocked a team high 4 shots tonight and was credited for a hit. Hardly highlight worthy, but at least he's out there trying.
``As usual Gonchar lead all skaters in icetime on both teams, with 27:00 minutes. Quietly he's the glue holding this team together (other than Crosby and Malkin of course). God forbid, but if either Sid or Geno got hurt the other could pick up the slack.....No Penguin defenseman could pickup the matchups or eat up the minutes Gonchar does (7:05 shorthanded tonight)....To brake up the Sarge love-fest he rushed the puck end-to-end and couldn't get back in time for Strudwick's OT winner. Gotta take the good with the bad.

So what's a trigger happy coach like Therrien to do? Nobody asked me, but my advice would be:
  • Insert Armstrong and Kennedy in the lineup (at the expense of Recchi and Jarrko Ruutu). Don't change the defense. No one has merited a scratch, Sydor should continue to sit. He's a pro and making $2.5 million, he can handle it.
  • And, for the love of God, leave Fleury in. If the Penguins sink or swim, it's going to be with him. And almost a quarter of the way into the season it's past time to find out now before it's too late.

Not good times, but as mentioned, a 1 point night is better than a 0 point night. Still hurts to give up a 2 goal lead. Hat tip to our old buddy Michal Rozsival on his 2 goal night. And kudos to Eaton and Gonchar to hold the ever dangerous Jammer Jagger to no points and no shots.

It's worth mentioning that with only one game to go in this crucial 9 game series of playing divisional opponents, the Penguins have gone 2-5-1, gathering only 5 of a possible 16 points. But more importantly, the lost points are all going to every other divisional opponent which makes the hill to climb that much steeper.

The end result is not nearly enough to get the job done and pretty disappointing; given how purely awesome Crosby and Malkin played. At this point the best hope is just to at least get the next two points and carry on to the next segment of the season.

If the Pens are looking for courage they found it

Willie O'Ree To Attend Pens' Practice, Game

The Jackie Robinson of hockey gave a few words to the Penguins today. I would be very disappointed if they don't come out of the gates with a lot of passion tonight against Jammer Jagger and the Rag$.

Hockey is a sport dominated by whites and many of the black players have had a tough road of bigotry and hatred to deal with. Willie O'Ree, a living legend, paved the way for them all.

Obviously no one on the Penguins understands this more than black French-Canadian Georges Laraque who dealt with his share of adversity and ignorance but still continues to still carve his mark in the NHL. Take time to remember that it's not just in the South that blacks have had to overcome racism.

There are a lot of trailblazers in the world of sports, and I think we are all lucky to count the very under-appreciated Willie O'Ree among us.

I feel like this day should make a huge impact on the Penguins, especially the young nucleus of players under 22 or 23 years old (including Evgeni Malkin who understands more English than you might give him credit for).

Good work and thank you Willie, you opened the gates for a lot of people to follow and have a good reason to be proud of what you've accomplished. The hurdles of ignorance you've overcome won't be forgotten soon.

Friday, November 16, 2007


Yeah, I want to talk about PLAYOFFS!

The Peerless got me thinking...If 92 points is considered the magic number of points needed to guarantee a playoff spot, and it seems like it will be, how much does Pittsburgh need after this "slow start" that has so disappointed the faithful?

Through 19 games the Penguins have captured 17 points. That's obviously under .500, since technically they could have 38 possible points. This means they're over 4 points (2 wins) off of the pace to this point.

So basically the Penguins have to play to get 75 points in the last 63 games. A goal that is attainable given the talent on the roster, but they're going to need to improved performances out of every player not named Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin.

Bryzgalov to be placed on waivers

The internets are buzzing that goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov is about to be placed on waivers by the Anaheim Mighty Ducks today at noon eastern time.

Bryzgalov has $900,000 left on his contract this year; a very reasonable amount.

I'm sure a team like Tampa Bay or the LA Kings might be interested and there have long been whispers attaching Pittsburgh to acquiring a goaltender.

Will the Penguins try to make a move for him? I don't think so. Marc-Andre Fleury has been shaky, but he's had good games, including just last night. Dany Sabourin has shown to be a competent, if not unspectacular option as the backup.

Plus Bryzgalov has never played more than 31 NHL games in a season and his career high in wins in a year is 13.

If the Penguins make a move for a goaltender, it will likely be for an established NHL starter. Bryzgalov is not established. At this point of the season I think it would be pretty shocking if the Pens claim him.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Much needed win

Almost 1/4 into the 2007-08 season, the Penguins could have been in a tie for last place in the East Conference had they lost tonight and Buffalo and Washington won. Inconceivable. But, as fate would have it, Pittsburgh won their first 1 goal game since Tuesday October 23 and both Buffalo and Washington lost one goal games and the Pens stave off last place.

Tonight's game news:

The Good

``Sidney Crosby had the only assist on the game winning goal from a surprising source, Georges Laraque.

``Evgeni Malkin had two assists, taking him to the top in the league for that category. Malkin strung his current points game streak to 12 games which is amazing. But still Malkin flies under the radar when El Sid is working on a 18 game and counting streak

``Sergei Gonchar and Ryan Whitney combined for over 50 minutes of icetime, 7 shots on net and 1 goal and 1 assist (all the points coming from Gonchar). Just knowing that, you obviously would think the Pens had a lot of powerplay chances and they did (7).

``Marc-Andre Fleury earned a much needed victory; surrendering only two goals and stopping almost 93% of the shots (26 of 28) that came his way.

``Petr Sykora attempted 9 shots. Of course only 3 of them made it to the net (and one of them beat Rick DiPietro). Sykora missed the net on 2 of his attempts and 4 more were blocked. But a least he's firing the puck. That's a good sign.

The Bad

``Nitpicking, but Erik Christensen (5-2) was the only Pen that had a good night in the faceoff circle. Crosby, uncharacteristically of this year, only won 38% of his draws and Malkin only won 43%.

``The powerplay did convert one goal, but had 7 chances. A win is a win but the Penguins need to capitalize on their opportunities a little more if they expect to win night in and night out.

``Jordan Staal's lack of production continues, as he played 16:58 and managed only 1 shot on net. Staal only got 2 seconds of powerplay time.


``After publically sticking by vets like Gary Roberts and Mark Recchi, Coach Therrien made Recchi a healthy scratch and limited Roberts to 10 minutes of icetime at even strength. Is their pressure or micro-management coming from the front office? Perhaps, but Therrien's no pushover. It's just as likely that he's going to publically be very loyal and very supportive to his proven vets. But then obviously due to Therrien's analysis of their performance has to make adjustments tp his lineup accordingly to give the team the best chance for victory.

And he did, credit to him for that.

``Also it's no surprise given the performance, but it was nice to see Rob Scuderi wasn't taken out of the lineup and Darryl Sydor was. Scuderi has done nothing to hurt the team and has played his role superbly. Sydor, to this point, has not.

Much, much, much needed win. At the end of the day you need to beat a division opponent when you're at home and have more talent on the roster than them. The Penguins walk away with 2 more points in the standings, but perhaps more importantly Fleury's confidence has to be improved and team morale got a boost from a coach that made the right calls in who to play, and who not to play.

It remains to be seen if the team can build upon this when the Rangers come to Pittsburgh in less than 48 hours, but it's a start. The journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step, and the Pens took one tonight.

Pens Recall Tyler Kennedy

Well, it turns out the amount of hours that Tyler Kennedy spent in the AHL could be counted in hours, the Pens recalled him yesterday after sending him down the day before.

So why the yo-yoing? Is it to get Kennedy some game action? I don't believe so. As the ever solid beat writer for the Baby Pens, Jonathan Bombulie called Kennedy "outstanding", saying that in addition to the 2 goals he set up, he was playing very forcefully, very aggressively.

Pittsburgh needs a spark and Kennedy rocked faces yesterday in an afternoon matinee game against Philly.

Kennedy is a great player with a great style to provide some energy for the Penguins. I don't think they're going to keep sending him up and down like what happened to Noah Welch last season as much as it was TK coming out and showing he had something to contribute at the NHL level.
The only downside to this is it could block Colby Armstrong's return to the lineup, which would be a major bummer for all parties. However maybe Michel Therrien will fall to the pressure and scratch a strugglin-g vet like Gary Roberts or Mark Recchi; even though Therrien publically said just days ago that he wouldn't. We'll see.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Report From Caps Practice

From one struggling team to another; I decided to take the short trip (for me) to the Washington Capitals practice facility. Some thoughts and observations:

``Not even a losing record and supposedly a coach and a GM on the hot-seat can shake Alex Ovechkin. He was out there carrying on and generally enjoying himself. Very few NHL players act like they enjoy practice. Ovechkin seems like he's having too much fun out there. His energy and exuberance is refreshing.

``As you could imagine for a team in a deep hole, a lot of X's and O's and teaching by embattled head coach Glen Hanlon. He seemed very confident and in control out on the ice, not looking at all like a coach who's shaken by knowing he could be out the door with a few more losses. Hanlon also had about a 5 minute on-ice conversation with Olie Kolzig.

``The defense really focused on a lot of "D to D" passes, making sure they were crisp and accurate.

``At one point there was a modified criss-crossing 3 on 2 drill that had players shooting on both ends of the ice at the same time. The difference between what a starting goalie (Kolzig) lets in the net and what a backup goalie (Brent Johnson) lets by was pretty obvious.

``After the first half of team drills, Michael Nylander and Viktor Kozlov separated themselves from the forwards and worked at center ice on some close-range stick handling drills and skating. Nylander constantly looked like he was out of breath, always doubled over and even tripped a couple times. Everyone has bad days, but Nylander usually seems a lot more smooth and in control than he was today.

``The rest of the forwards mainly worked on some shooting drills and then did a rebound drill with Kolzig. The two most impressive surprising players for me were Boyd Gordon and Brooks Laich. Those guys can really let it rip, I was impressed. It's surprising they don't score more goals in games when they count.

``During one drill, the team was basically using 3 players to play keep-away from a 5 man forechecking unit. I mention this only because at one point while playing keep-away, Tom Poti rushed the puck up the ice coast-to-coast. The goalie denied his shot, but he skated clean through Nicklas Backstrom's line. Ovechkin, predictably, was whooping it up on the bench and definitely enjoyed that the most.

``Donald Brashear was pretty brutal in all facets (skating, passing, shooting, controlling the puck). It's easy to see why some Caps fans are getting frustrated that he never gets scratched and always manages to be on the 4th line. However, Brash was off the ice early, so it's looking like he might be in the press box tomorrow night.

``On the way out of the place I ran into John Erskine, and said hello and wished him luck. He's every bit 6'4" and was a pretty nice guy. Hopefully the Caps will put him back in the lineup soon, I didn't think he really did half bad so far this season.

Overall the team seemed pretty loose. Caps beat writer (and one of the best around), Tarik El-Bashir said the mood seemed pretty tense at Monday's practice. Maybe it's just getting more guys like Poti and Chris Clark back, but the mood seemed pretty loose from the players at least on the ice. Ovechkin was joking on Clark seemingly all practice and a lot of guys like Gordon, Laich and Brian Sutherby were pretty loose joking around with each other and the assistant coaches.

Things I Wouldn't Have Thought

Interesting stats through the first 18 games of the season:

--Maxime Talbot has more goals (4) than Mark Recchi and Jordan Staal do combined (3).

--Gary Roberts has as many blocked shots as I do, I haven't played a NHL game.

--Georges Laraque only has 1 fighting major.

--Jordan Staal has a +/- of -8, worst on the team. This is tied for 8th in the entire league. Not the type of green jacket you want.

--The Penguins are only 16th in the league in Goals For (2.7 a game). As you will re-call, some moron back in September predicted 3.54 goals a game.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Letang Recalled

As I said in the last post, the Penguins needed SOMETHING, ANYTHING to give them a shot in the arm. Mr. Shero obviously has his finger on the pulse, as 20 year old defensemen Kris Letang was just recalled from Wilkes-Barre.

Arguably defensemen is the hardest position to adapt to in the NHL, especially for an offensive defensemen who's game is a little more complicated than a simple game that someone like Rob Scuderi or Darryl Sydor might play.

But with the high risk comes the chance of a high return. Letang might be able to give a shot of energy to a club that's in need of it.

Letang had a rude awakening in his first six weeks of being a full time pro; he didn't make the NHL roster out of camp (as he was expected to), and then he was often the target of Wilkes-Barre coach Todd Richards and was even sat in the press box as a healthy scratch himself.

Letang's stint though, statistically, is a pretty fine line for a defensive rookie: 1 goal and 6 assists in 10 games played, and built his +/- rating back up to 0.

This roster move makes 24 on the Penguin roster, so Alain Nasreddine, has been placed on waivers. He's not a bad option as a 6/7 defensemen for some NHL teams, so it wouldn't surprise me at all if someone picks him up. I would be sad to see him go, but also be happy for a good guy to get a chance in another organization.

Here's my very early look at how I would set up the defense pairings for Thursday night's game against the Islanders:
Healthy scratch: Sydor

Chin Up Sid

You can tell this is killing Sidney Crosby. But the NHL's youngest captain has set an excellent example for his team to follow. Such as:

--A 17 game (and counting) point streak, which has tied him with Henrik Zetterberg for the NHL's lead.
--On pace to score 46 goals!
--Taking the 3rd most faceoffs in the NHL so far, winning 55.0% of his draws, a huge personal improvement over last year (49.8% for the entire year). Other notable centers so far: Joe Thornton (62.6%), Rod Brind'Amour (55.4%), Mats Sundin (54.0%), Vincent Lecavalier (46.1%), Eric Staal (45.8%). Remember folks, Crosby is still 20 years old. He's showing improvement that other young center (Staal, Lecavalier) are not.

And, in general, let's find some bright spots for the Penguins:
``Evgeni Malkin joins Crosby at the top of the assists lead, with 17.
``Mark Eaton is 5th in the NHL with 48 blocked shots. Which makes you appreciate just how skilled the best at this craft is (Ottawa's Anton Volchenkov is 1st in the NHL with 72 blocked shots in 16 games).
``Brooks Orpik and Rob Scuderi share 27th in the NHL in blocked shots; each of them blocking 32.
``Orpik is 6th among defensemen in the league in hits, being credited with 47.
It's not all doom and gloom....Just 95%!

Pens lose 4 in a Row, 6 of 7

In what has become an all too fimiliar situation, the Penguins lost. A one goal game. After getting out to a slow start. And a rally started by Sidney Crosby (who's now tied with Henrik Zetterberg for the scoring race). While starting the backup goaltender. And having two promising young players (Tyler Kennedy and especially Colby Armstrong) victims to healthy scratches.

Something has got to give. The current situation is just not working. As the title reads, this is 4 losses in a row and 6 of the past 7. This losing streak has coincided with a crucial stretch of divisional games.

It's one thing to be losing, it's another to be losing in the manner that the Penguins are losing. Among the increasing embattled Michel Therrien's questionable coaching decisions are:
  • Use of Marc-Andre Fleury. Dany Sabourin has been the go-to guy. Therrien has pubically cited Fleury's lack of confidence, but nothing the head coach has done has inspired any confidence in a still young goaltender.
  • Icetime for veterans. Tonight only 3 forwards got more even strength icetime than Mark Recchi. Gary Roberts also plays more than he should, considering his limited production this year and penchant for taking damning penalties.
  • Icetime for young players. Jordan Staal has 1 goal this year and got more icetime tonight than his season average. On the other hand, Erik Christensen averages 11:06 minutes a night.
  • Constant line shuffling. We all know the outcry about this, so I'll spare readership rehashing how Therrien shuffles lines so quickly it makes his team's collective head spin. Which may lead into the next point...
  • 5 bench minors in 17 games. There is no reason for a NHL caliber team to be as sloppy with line changes as the Pens have been under Therrien's stewardship. Surely some of this is on the players; as being at such a high level they should be a little more aware of what's going on. But after a while, it's become obvious the coaching staff is not instilling the discipline to correct the problem.
  • Healthy scratches. Colby Armstrong has been a healthy scratch 4 times this year, all recently. Rob Rossi (a beat writer) said on Pittsburgh radio (sorry no link) that Colby has "no idea" why they're benching him and has absolutely no clue what to correct to get himself back in the regular lineup. That is very, very disturbing and madenning.
  • While on that topic, the Pens have scratched guys like Armstrong, Christensen and Tyler Kennedy but been more liberal with guys like Staal, Jarrko Ruutu and Georges Laraque. Really the only consistent and solid forwards for the season have been Crosby, Malkin, Maxime Talbot and Adam Hall (and probably Ryan Malone), every other forward has been up and down and deserving of a shakeup. Why some players have landed in a doghouse and why some other (who's performances have been similiar) have continued to skate in their same roles is mind boggling to me.

The list is getting longer and longer all the time. Michel Therrien needs to start winning, even though Ray Shero publically dismissed all talk of making a mid-season change, something needs to change to get the Pens winning again.

I've never been much of a "fire the coach" supporter in any regards; I realize it's easier to be the monday morning QB than it is to actually make the thousands of quick decisions a coach has to make on the spot. But things are getting out of hand in Penguin land and there is (and should be) significant debate as to whether Michel Therrien is the man to take this team forward.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Congrats to Ronnie Franchise

You won't find a classier guy anywhere. Congrats to Ron Francis on going into the hall of fame in probably the greatest individual class ever, along with fellow legends Mark Messier, Al MacInnis and Scott Stevens.

Thank You

A reminder, there are some things are more important than hockey....

If you know or remember a veteran, please remember to say thank you or just take a quiet moment to pay your respects; just as I honor a man I am proud to call a mentor and a friend.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Just when you think it couldn't get much worse...

Geno did not practice today with an "unspecified knee injury". But he is not expected to miss any playing time, so it must just be a bump/bruise.

But on the bright side, Ryan Whitney is expected back in the lineup after missing 4 games with his groin injury. The defense needs him to move the puck and move it well to help the team be effective.


The Penguins have lost five out of their last seven games, and have picked up just 2 of a possible 8 points in the first 4 games of this crucial 9 game division opponent stretch. Many believe Therrien's job is in jeopardy, and if it isn't, if fuckin should be (to parphrase Snatch).

Here's how I'd reconfigure:
--Sit Staal out a game. 1 goal and 1 assist is not cutting it. This time last year he already had 6 and seemed much more of a force.
--Settle on a little more consistent lines*. All this changing is not helping.
--Stress defensive coverage by wingers. Get the shots down that you're giving up.

*And, since you asked, here's what I would suggest using tomorrow night in Philly:

Frustrating Times

Pens lose and push their record under .500. Almost every fan is off the Therrien bandwaggon now and almost all are calling for his head. Not good times.

About the only good part is that Sidney Crosby extended his points scoring streak.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Have You Seen This Man-Child?

Last seen: Walking down a Minnesota highway late at night after getting kicked out of a hotel

If found, return to 66 Mario Lemieux Place


Quick Turnaround to MSG

Pens lose 3-1 last night to the Flyers. Nice pass by Sidney Crosby to setup the lone Penguins goal, but Crosby's giveaway led to the first goal. For those counting at home, that's a 14 game point streak for #87. Unfortunately the powerplay was 0-7, failing to score means their bid at tying an NHL record fell short.

Tonight surely Marc-Andre Fleury will be in the net for a game in Manhattan against the Rangers and this is a great opportunity for him to start making things right. Colby Armstrong, a scratch for the last three games also should probably find himself back in the lineup.

Key hidden stat: Rangers G Henrik Lundqvist has a 1.22 GAA at home.

Is Alex O About Finished in DC?

Hat tip to the Fanhouse, for this interview given to a Russian newspaper and translated to English:

"Do you plan on changing teams at the end of the season? Washington's game looks hopeless."

"I don't know yet where I will be next season. I am not negotiating my new contract. I want to stay in Washington. But who knows what is going to happen?"

This is very significant. Ovechkin's now openly questioning whether or not he'll be a Capital for much longer. With guys like Dany Heatley, Jason Spezza and, yes, Sidney Crosby already signing long-term deals with their clubs, a framework is in place.

Many Caps bloggers opined over the summer when Crosby resigned that it wasn't for very long (even though Crosby was forgoeing one year of UFA) and that at $8.7 million, it was hardly a hometown discount. You probably won't be hearing too much of that again.

Ovechkin scenarios now:

#1: Finish out the season, become a RFA. Someone obviously offers a huge contract, Caps obviously match and retain rights. Ovechkin either sucks it up and becomes a little happier for playing for $10+ million a year, or whines and demands a trade.

#2: Becomes RFA. Let's it be known he'd rather be playing in Russia next year than come back to Washington and force a trade that route. If Aleksey Morozov can command $4 million (US), then I'd imagine some wealthy owner could and would make an enticing offer for Ovechkin if the Caps try to call his bluff.

#3: Commit himself fully to his team, sign a long term contract that forgoes 1 year of being unrestricted and tailor the terms of the contract to well under a million dollars of the current maximum.

#3 is how Crosby went. I have a feeling AO will be a lot closer to one of the top 2 scenarios. If you think there's frustrating times for the Penguins right now, a look to my hometown shows there's definitely trouble brewing...

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Ranking Franchises Locally

Interesting study reported by how much support all the major franchises receive locally. Some noteables:

1. Pittsburgh Steelers (every network staking out Big Ben's hospital will do that)
2. New England Patriots
3. Indianapolis Colts
4. Buffalo Sabres
5. Boston Red Sox
8. Detroit Red Wings
20. Pittsburgh Penguins
21. Ottawa Senators
28. Dallas Cowboys
29. New York Yankees
118. Washington Capitals
122. (dead last) Arizona Cardinals

---I'm not surprised at all the Steelers are number one. They should be. Any time the backup tackle takes a poop it's front page news.

--I am a little surprised that the Colts beat out the Sabres and the Red Sox. I guess not much else goes on in Indy, so that plays in their favor.

--Good to see the Penguins coming in 3rd for NHL teams. Well deserved and pretty accurate in my estimation.

--Dallas #28? The Yankees #29? Hmm.

---There are a lot of great Capitals blogs out there, but unfortunately that's about all the support they receive. As a resident of this area, I can tell you they generate about as much local excitement in the media as the minor league soccer team in Richmond (where I used to live) did.

Told Ya So......

Don't say you weren't warned....

By the way, halfway through the Steelers season, James Harrison is more than halfway (6.5 sacks) to his preseason prognostication that he would get "atleast" 12 sacks.

Going into the Flyers game tonight...

Things are still up and down and frustrating.

The Penguins come into tonight's matchup 7-6-1, good for 15 points in 14 games. Which is not that good.

They're tied for 3rd in the Atlantic (with a game in hand) with the New York Rangers.

Overall in the East, the Penguins are in a 4-way tie for 6th place. But the team in last place (fimiliar to see Washington) is only four points back, so things are much more clustered in the middle-to-lower part of the conference then up top, where Ottawa (26 points) and Carolina (21 points) are starting to break away from the pack.

Stats that will make a Penguins fan smile:

  • -The Penguins are currently on a 13 game streak of scoring atleast one powerplay goal. As mentioned here, they can tie the NHL record of 14 games (held by the 1989 Penguins) tonight.

  • -As you'd expect with a powerplay clicking like that, it ranks well. 3rd in the NHL at the moment at a rate of 24.3%.

-Quietly the penalty-kill is 8th best in the NHL, success rate of 86.4%

-Crosby has a 13 game point streak, and is 2nd in the league in scoring. Malkin is tied for 8th in the league in scoring.

-Guys like Brooks Orpik (35 hits, 27 blocked shots), Mark Eaton (10 hits, 39 blocked shots) and Robert Scuderi (27 blocked shots) have been stellar at their roles of low profile but highly effective defensive defensemen.

-Crosby has won 53.9% of his faceoffs, up considerably from last season.

Stats that have been making Penguins fans' blood pressure go up:

-The Penguins are -6 when considering their 5 on 5 play (24 GF and 30 GA).

-Jordan Staal has 1 goal and 1 assist through 14 games. And is only averaging 0:46 powerplay ice time per game.

-Mark Recchi is averaging 17 minutes of icetime and has 1 goal to show for it.

-Marc-Andre Fleury has been inconsistent.

-Ryan Whitney has 19 giveaways and 2 takeaways and hasn't shined like he did last year.

-Sergei Gonchar is 8th in the league with 22 "missed shots".

Up and down and up some more. Hopefully the boys can continue to right the ship. The Flyers are much different from the team that got beaten 8 times by the Penguins last year. Should be an intense and interesting game.

Scratching Colby

Sorry for the lack of updates, the enemy of every blogger "real life" has been kicking up. I will try to do this as best as I can.

Colby Armstrong has been a healthy scratch in the past two games. Rookie Tyler Kennedy has pretty much stepped in his stead and been playing with the energy, speed and desire you'd have hoped Armstrong should be bringing to the table. Georges Laraque's groin seems to be good enough for him to play now, and he's been actually a decent hockey player, and not just the reigning NHL Heavyweight Champion.

Rumors of a trade are swirling, reports say the Penguins have been following Dallas around, and the whispers of Montreal still liking Army have never quieted.

Point 1: Pittsburgh plays Dallas in about 3 weeks time, so it's not really that groundbreaking to me that they'd have scouts take a trip simply to gather data about how an unfimiliar opponent is playing at the moment.

Point 2: There have been 0 trades in the NHL this season. That is for a reason. In this new salary cap era, the league's transactions have shifted towards the NFL, another league where free agency ages are low. There is more emphasis on the draft, more emphasis on free agency, less interest in trading players during the season.

This trend will probably change near the trading deadline, as the buyers and sellers become a little more obvious, but the the wheels of change are rolling. Scouting and developing are becoming more important than ever in the NHL, while trades are clearly becoming less frequent.

Point 3: Rumors state the Penguins usual trade bait (Erik Chistensen, Armstrong) are being offered up for a goalie. Marty Turco has even been mentioned. That's ridiculous on many levels: A)Dallas is a competitive team, why would they trade their #1, B)The Penguins would have to offer up a lot more than usual and C)Turco has a no trade clause.

Rumors to Montreal often state the Penguins are interested in goalies Jaroslav Halak or Huet, neither of whom are exactly established NHL goalies themselves.

In conclusion, I don't see the Penguins on the verge of trading Armstrong in the near future; it's just that other players in the lineup are doing well---Kennedy, BGL and even Jarrko Ruutu when he can stay out of the penalty box. Plus none of the oft-mentioned teams really have mutual reason or bait to make something happen.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Encouraging Stat of the Day

The 2007-08 Pittsburgh Penguins have scored a powerplay goal in all 12 of their games. The NHL record for conscecutive powerplay goals scored is 14 games, set by the 1988-89 Penguins (led by Lemieux, Paul Coffey, Rob Brown and Dan Quinn)

Game 12 is tonight on the Island, consider this the preview. A team in white from Pittsburgh against a team in blue/orange who will be "coached" by a 94 year old man.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Sad But True Fact

Any forward not named Crosby, Malkin or Sykora hasn't scored a goal since back on Saturday October 20th against the Capitals (Jordan Staal). This streak is going on 5 games.

Darius going back to the motherland

Well it's official, the New York Rangers have "loaned" Darius Kasparaitis to the Russian Super League team St. Petersburg. Russia will pick up what's left of his $3 million paycheck this year, and Rangers will get an empty roster spot in the AHL to develop a player instead of shielding an NHL caliber player and contract.

At 35, this might be the last North America sees of DK in a hockey jersey, who played a crucial role for the Penguins from 1996 to 2002, truly my formative hockey years.
So remember the good times, the smiles, the long blond hair flowing in the breeze as he skated and all those hits. The Kasparaitis Krunchers; both big hits and the pickles! Remember rocking Eric Lindros's world and all those times opponents hated him, and Game 7's OT winner stunning Dominik Hasek.
Kasparaitis gave a lot of great memories and put smiles on a lot of faces. The Sweater Ted wishes him luck in whatever comes next.

On Deck: 9 Straight Division Opponents

Starting Saturday, the Penguins start a stretch of 9 games in 18 days. (That's an average of a game every other day for you non-math majors out there). All of these games are divisional games.


Coaches and players often stress the importance of facing their divisional rivals, since it's basically a 4 point swing in each contest. That means, 4 points a game for 9 straight games is 36 point swing in shaping the division.

The next 9 games of this season will basically shape the way it's going to be for the Penguins. If they struggle, they will lose a lot of ground in what figures to be one of the toughest and most competitive divisions in the NHL. If they play about .500 hockey like they've done all season then things will like be clustered.

But if they can turn in solid efforts every night, get some goals from a forward not named Crosby, Malkin or Sykora (which hasn't happened since Jordan Staal scored his only goal of the year on 10/20) and rattle off a big win streak then this could give a little breathing room and instill in the confidence needed to feed off of for the rest of the season.

The upcoming schedule looks like this:

Sat Nov 3, 2007
Penguins at Islanders
A trip to Long Island for a game against the scrappier than predicted Isles.

Mon Nov 5, 2007
Penguins at Devils
A first look at the Devils new home.

Wed Nov 7, 2007
Flyers at Penguins
This game will be slightly more intense than the average game.

Thu Nov 8, 2007
Penguins at Rangers
3rd game in 4 nights and a decent amount of travel too.

Sat Nov 10, 2007
Penguins at Flyers
The Flyers are tops in the division right now, but a lot of hockey to go.

Mon Nov 12, 2007
Devils at Penguins
The start of a 4 game homestand and a rare 2 day break after this game

Thu Nov 15, 2007
Islanders at Penguins
Yet another game against the Isles.

Sat Nov 17, 2007
Rangers at Penguins
Yep, it's these guys again

Wed Nov 21, 2007
Devils at Penguins
Seriously this is 4th time in 35 days the Pens and Devils will have played