Saturday, September 29, 2007

Wake me up when September ends...

Preseason is winding down, hell Anaheim and LA are about to kick off the season in a matter of minutes over there in jolly old England. A couple quick hits about the Pens:

  • First and foremost, Sidney Crosby was electric last night. 2 goals, 1 assist and was flying around making things happen. He's clearly ready for the season.
  • Same can be said about the other young, uber-talented center Evgeni Malkin. He was flying around, making things happen, deking guys left and right and all over the place. Showing the flashes of brilliance himself. It's too bad he scored an apparant game-tying goal just after the clock hit 0:00.
  • Erik Christensen seems to be playing really strong. It's a long season, so who's knows what consistency and production he'll give, but for now, clearly he's earned a place on Malkin's wing.
  • Not so electric was Darryl Sydor, who's well, showing his age and didn't look particularly good. Some of the folks at Darwin's Waiting Room (aka message board) are calling for Sydor to be cut. Some of those folks wouldn't know what end of the hockey stick to put on the ice. Still, Sydor does need to be better, and I think he'll ratchet it up a little now that the games will count for real.
  • Didn't hear too much about Adam Hall. Is that a good thing for a player trying out? But then again, Hall's game is to be solid and kinda fade in, so maybe it is.
  • Someone mapquest directions to Wilkes-Barre for Kris Letang. Not every prospect can develop with some time in the minors (Ryan Whitney spent 3 years in college and 2 full seasons in the A) so it's not the end of the world.
  • Danny Sabourin looked good at times, but you can't give up 6 goals a game. A lot of observers question the Penguins goaltending situation, but I'm pretty comfortable with it right now.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Darcy Robinson 1981-2007

One of the reasons thats sports is such a wonderful escape is because you do not have to deal with all the terrible things that are all too real in the outside world. Sadly, the outside world reminded us how it can still cruelly intrude in sports, when 26 year old hockey player Darcy Robinson fell to the ice, suffering an apparent heart attack and would be pronounced dead before he got to the hospital.

The death of a player is terrible and shocking enough. That the player was so full of life is something of a sad and bitter irony. Mr. Robinson might be a footnote now to history as a random and unfortunate on-ice death, but to a lot of people, he's a lot more than that.

Robinson, a 8th round draft pick of the Penguins in 1999, split time between ECHL Wheeling, AHL Wilkes-Barre and the bench over four seasons (2001-02 through 2004-05). This year would have been his third season playing with Asiago of the Italian league; he had duel Canadian/Italian citizenship, something I did not know.

As a player, Robinson was pretty plain. A hulking defenseman who's skating and puck-handling held him to below the NHL level, but he still a decent enough all around talent, was huge and physical and got in a scrap or two standing up for a teammate.

As a person though, Darcy Robinson was quite the character. In 2002-03 the NHL had a documentary crew follow the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins and made a television series out of it. The aptly named 'Chasing the Dream' highlighted most of the team, but naturally seemed to gravitate to a few of the more personable and colorful players like forwards Colby Armstrong, Shane Endicott, goalie Rob Tallas and defenseman Darcy Robinson.

It was a sterling time for the Penguins prospects, as 12 players who laced 'em up for WB/S that season (13 if David Koci sticks with Chicago) either played in the NHL last season or are on a NHL roster today.

Since Robinson was in and out of the lineup, he wasn't highlighted because of his skill, but his magnetic personality. In one particular episode, I fondly remember Darcy as the lone Penguins representative for a promotion at a lonely, small Northeastern Pennsylvania gas station--oh the joys of minor league hockey! Robinson had a great attitude about it; doing everything from signing autographs for moody teenage girls, to pumping gas and washing off windshields. And he did it all with his Krusty the Klown-esque long, curly hair and quick, witty comments that just made it impossible not to laugh and feel a little bit better. He was genuinely happy to be there and actually comical on top of that. He brightened days and made for good television.

Another great moment was when the Pens were on a road trip and Darcy was in an empty lobby of a hotel. He was sitting behind a grand piano, with a huge smile on his face. Robinson was swaying back and forth and the piano was making beautiful music. But then, you could tell it wasn't adding up.

Darcy was swaying a little too far and smiling a little too much. Eventually he was bringing his hands up, but the piano was still jamming out notes. Unable to keep the rouse up any longer, Darcy busted out laughing and dashed away from the piano. The camera pans around to confirm what you started catching on to: this, of course, was a player piano all along. I re-watched this sequence 4 times last night, tears streaming down my face....But even then I couldn't help but still be smiling.

Darcy Robinson wasn't a household name, even amongst the most die-hard of hockey fans. If he hadn't played for the Penguins and hadn't been featured on Chasing the Dream so much, I probably would have never heard of him.

But the people who he did come across, and who got to see his jokes, his smile, his laugh and personality knew how incredible a person he was. So full of life, with immense promise on the rink and off of it. And now, in the blink of an eye, he's gone.

It's hard to describe how goofy, hilarious and genuine Darcy really was, all at the same time. He was a joyful, decent and tremendously good natured man. Certainly my thoughts are with his entire family, all his friends and his fiancee. As hockey fans, I speak for us all when I say thank you for giving us a chance to know someone as refreshingly honest and purely happy. Not to mention humorous.

Rest in peace Darcy...I hope heaven is chock full of gas stations and player pianos.

Inevitable Roster Moves

This is hardly a news breaking website, but you knew that of course....Still some kind of news-y things that feel like they will happen soon...They might not, but it just seems inevitable that:

--Adam Hall will earn a contract. You can officially flush the Sweater Ted projected roster down the toilet with the demotion of Tim Brent. Hall, a proven NHL vet has been great in camp and done everything you could hope for. The Penguins are trying him out as a center tonight, and if he plays well there, expect him signed soon. Youngsters Jonathan Filewich and Ryan Stone have had ok training camps, but they haven't really proved themselves onto the NHL roster.

--Kris Letang will be in Wilkes-Barre to start the season. Ray Shero was very, very complimentary of him in the off-season, and it's easy to see why. Letang is a young, promising defenseman in the mold of a Dan Boyle type player. But Letang has had an underwhelming camp. No one expected him to be that strong in his own zone (and he hasn't been good), but Letang's strength of making good passes and quick decisions hasn't been good either. Better to let him play 20+ minutes a night in the AHL. Mike Weaver, another NHL proven guy, has had a great camp. As I've often referred to him, he's Mark Eaton Lite. I think Pens fans will be surprised by the efficiency and ability that Weaver will be able to quietly get the job done as a 6th defensemen for a little while.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

2007-08 Eastern Conference Forecast

Thanks to the whacky idea to play two games in England, ready or not here comes the NHL season this Saturday. I guess I better make a forecast like everyone else, just so we can re-visit this in about 6 months and look at how much of a dope I was....Here goes:

Atlantic Division
1. Pittsburgh Penguins
2. New York Rangers
3. New Jersey Devils
4. Philadelphia Flyers
5. New York Islanders

­-Every year, much like the Atlanta Braves of the ‘90s, people predict New Jersey’s downfall, as they attempt to replace proven talent with stop-gap measures (Zubrus, Vishnevski this year) and/or young players (Parise, Martin, etc). And every year, they keep on ticking…I got Pittsburgh as #1, a trendy pick, but one I honestly believe, given their lineup and how strongly they played against the division last season. Just like days of old, the Rangers made the sexiest free agent signings, and Philly seemingly turned over about their whole roster. I like 3-4 playoff teams from this division. Maybe this is the year that Brodeur shows his age and NJ falls off, but I’m not bold enough to predict it, they’ve proven me wrong too many times.

Northeast Division
Ottawa Senators
2. Montreal Canadiens
3. Buffalo Sabres
4. Toronto Maple Leafs
5. Boston Bruins

--Tough one to call. Boston, IMO, is the best team I have in the basement league wide, but they’re still their. It’s easy to leave Buffalo for dead after they bungled the Briere and Drury signings, so I did. I like what Montreal could possibly do. Ottawa is the consensus #1 and the reigning Eastern Conference heavyweight, but even they had a very slow start in this brutal division last season. I wouldn’t be surprised to see that happen to Toronto, and them not having the firepower to dig out of the hole.

Southeast Division
Tampa Bay Lightning
2. Carolina Hurricanes
3. Washington Capitals
4. Florida Panthers
5. Atlanta Thrashers

--I’m leaving Atlanta for dead here, they’ve got basically no one up the middle and their defense isn’t that formidable. It’s a coin toss between two recent unlikely SC champs at the top, I’ll give the edge to Vinny and Marty over Eric and Rod. Washington will delight the locals in grandeurs of a playoff run, but fall short this year, probably with some obscure injury that Caps fans heavy blogosphere will decry all off-season.

Playoff teams (no particular order):
Pittsburgh, Ottawa, Tampa Bay (division winners)
New York Rangers, New Jersey, Carolina, Montreal, Buffalo

Just missing it (this year's Colorado, Montreal or Toronto):
Philadelphia, Washington

Somewhat competitive but not enough:
Toronto, Boston, Florida

It's gonna be a long, cold winter:
New York Islanders, Atlanta

Announcing the 2500 Penalties In Minutes & 300 Points Club

This is something I thought of for no real reason one day. This stems from the fact that the pure 'enforcer' is a dying breed. Gone are the days when a 4th line winger that can't skate and is only there to fight could flourish in the NHL. These days you need a skill set to atleast be decent with the puck to be looking at a decent NHL career.

So I thought about compiling a list of historic tough guys that also could score some points. The idea really came to fruition with the concussion forced retirement of a Sweater Ted favorite, Matthew Barnaby. One of the reports pointed out he had 300 points even, so I figured that'd be as good a cutoff as any.

First, some active players that are close inductees:
--Gary Roberts is an absolute lock at 2493 PIMs to go along with his 888 career points. Gary Roberts can look at a referee the wrong way and draw 7 penalty minutes Expect him to make this list as the 12 inductee by about mid-October. In fact, if he sees how awesome this list is, expect him to make it in about an hour.

--Brendan Shanahan needs 75 PIMs to qualify...But considering Shanny's game has evolved to less fiery and more a "pick your spot goal-scoring veteran", it's noteworthy to point out he only spent 47 minutes in the box in 2006-07, it’s conceivable he falls a little short if this is his last season.

After that, no one is one the horizon, and that is the beauty of this club. You can't just be tough and get in a lot of fights. You can't just be a skill player that has an edge. Either way, you'll come up short in one category or the other.

For instance:
-those who would easily have the PIMs, your average enforcer (Donald Brashear and his 2312 PIMs) won’t be able to score the points (he’s 35 years old now and only has 192).

-a guy who easily has the points (like Keith Tkachuk) usually falls hundreds of PIMs short (Tkachuk has 2033 in his career).

Looking far into the future, perhaps Sean Avery (134 points, 913 PIMs) one day will join this prestigious fraternity, but there's still a long road ahead of him of being a pest, and he'd need many more healthy seasons of plying his craft. Feel free to pipe up in the comments if I'm missing a new impending member, but I think I got all my bases covered here.

So without further adue

The honorable 2500 penalties in minutes and 300 points club

Tiger Williams (3966 penalties in minutes, 513 points)

Probably the most badass of all time, Tiger Williams is synonymous with out of control mayhem and general awesomeness. But he could play a little hockey and is truly the godfather of this club. I'm too young to really appreciate his glory, but I still know that Tiger Williams is pretty much the man.

Dale Hunter (3565 penalties in minutes, 1020 points)

Dale Hunter is known for a lot of things, perhaps first and foremost the brutal late hit on Pierre Turgeon. But he's second on this list in total points and was a great leader for his teams. Capitals fans hold this guy in very high regard. Though sometimes he'd lose his cool, he's pretty much what a hockey player should be in my opinion: tough, skilled, and a leader. He's the epitome of this club.

Marty McSorely (3381 penalties in minutes, 359 points)

Unfortunately, like Dale Hunter, McSorely is remember for an unacceptable split second decision he made at the tail end of his career, to tomahawk Donald Brashear. But McSorely earned his bones by protecting the likes of Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux for much of his career and was atleast good enough of a player to enjoy a lengthy NHL career.

Bob Probert (3300 penalties in minutes, 384 points)

Players like Bob Probert aren't around anymore. One of the toughest players in history, Probert was just flat a monster at beating people up. I must admit, when compiling this list I was surprised to see Probert got the points to make the cut; since most of my memories of him playing come from the tail end of his career when he wasn't much of a scoring threat. But Probert scored 13 or more goals six times in his career, and in 1987-88 he had 29 goals and 33 assists to go along with 398 penalty minutes. Just shows you how much the game has evolved in the last 20 years.

Rick Tocchet (2970 penalties in minutes, 952 points)

Controversy often follows members of this club (like aforementioned Hunter and McSorely), since they naturally seem to be risk takers and are inherently hot under the collar. Unfortunately Rick Tocchet's name is more linked to gambling nowadays then it is to being a true power forward. He was on Mario Lemieux's wing for the Cup years and an absolute force to be reckoned with. Cam Neely (1241 PIMs and 694 points) was probably the premier power forward during Tocchet's prime, but Tocchet was an extremely dangerous player in every way for many years.

Pat Verbeek (2905 penalties in minutes, 1063 points)

"The Little Ball of Hate" is probably the coolest nickname ever. Verbeek, listed at 5'9, was never afraid to go into the tall trees and always disturb things. His career points total makes him #1 on this list. A lot of skill and a lot of fury on the ice. I love it. That's why this club exists to showcase warriors like Verbeek that aren't true enforcers (unlike some in this fraternity) but just skilled, hard-nosed players that it's a pain to play against. No opponents enjoyed playing against Verbeek because they knew he would always go balls to the wall and leave it all out on the ice. To me, that's the best compliment you can pay someone.

Chris Chelios (2837 penalties in minutes 936 points)

Chris Chelios is so old he's probably in every club you can make up, like this one and probably even Jesus's original book club. Credit him for being able to keep in shape and keep playing the game, and still not taking shit from anyone, even if they're young enough to be his son. Chelios could have retired after the Red Wings won the Cup in 2002 and still made this club, by the way. Even Gordie Howe thinks this dude needs to hang 'em up. If you were wondering, Howe "only" had 1685 PIMs in his NHL career, so even he falls short on this most exclusive club.

Dave Manson (2792 penalties in minutes 390 points)

Dave Manson was the name of a player I'd heard, but I had to look him up; I'm too young to really remember him as an impact player in any team or particular game. But, I'll give you this: only 3 defensemen are in this club and the other 2 are sure-fire hall of famers. I don't know what that says for Manson, but he's in good company.

Scott Stevens (2785 penalties in minutes 908 points)

Scott Stevens means business. Probably the toughest hockey player I've ever seen. Not just because of the devastating, highlight reel hits (whattup Eric Lindros?) but just how he played seemingly 30 minutes a night, every night and was so smooth, so IN CONTROL. I think a lot of that rubbed off of a younger teammate and partner of his Scott Niedermayer. Stevens was awesome as an offensive-defenseman in Washington and a total rock for New Jersey as he aged. He and Marty Brodeur are the Devils. When I dreamed up this club, I was looking for players with crazy toughness and some skill to match...Clearly Scott Stevens was made for it.

Willi Plett (2572 penalties in minutes 437 points)

I was a little surprised about Dave Manson, but I'll admit Willi Plett was the only guy I've never heard of. At all. He retired when I was 4 years old and played for such powerhouses as the Atlanta Flames and the Minnesota North Stars. The only thing I know about the Atlanta Flames is I hate Clement, Clement Hands of Cement and the only memories I have of the North Stars is how Mario tore through them to give the Pens a Cup. But, looking at Plett's hockeydb profile, he scored 38 or more points seven times in his career and every year he had double digit PIMs. Must have had a bit of an edge and some skill to match, so we'll let him in.

Matthew Barnaby (2562 penalties in minutes, 300 points)

Newest inductee Matthew Barnaby knows about being a pest. He had to literally fight his way onto a junior team that he showed up weighing 140 pounds. He turned out a solid NHL career that he announced this summer was over due to concussion woes. Barnaby was the ultimate nuisance, a player who could actually play the game, but always knew his role and never hesitated in sticking up for the team, even when it meant fighting someone much taller and heavier. Unlike enforcers he wasn’t a totally liability on the ice but unlike skill players, he didn’t have the natural talent to slide through on point production alone.

Barnaby was the ultimate crowd pleaser, still a fan favorite in places in Buffalo and Pittsburgh even though he's long left them. Opponents and rivals hated him (some fans still do), which is only a testament to how good he was at doing his job. The shame is Barnaby had to retire young, and couldn't climb higher on this list. Still, not bad for a kid coming from nothing.

That's your 11 members of the 2500 PIMs + 300 point club. Fierce but skilled. Not afraid to mix it up, but strong enough to still help their teams. Tough enough to compete for a long, long period of time in a gruesome NHL world. These are your alpha-males. These are the top dogs.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

2007-08 Western Conference Forecast

Thanks to the whacky idea to play two games in England, ready or not here comes the NHL season this Saturday. I guess I better make a forecast like everyone else, just so we can re-visit this in about 6 months and look at how much of a dope I was....Here goes:

Central Division
1. Detroit Red Wings
2. St. Louis Blues
3. Nashville Predators
4. Chicago Blackhawks
5. Columbus BJs

--Detroit's the king of this division, Nashville took a huge step back. I like St. Louis as my surprise team...Adding Tkachuk, Kariya (cha-cha-cha) up front and #1 pick Erik Johnson to the blueline should be good enough to have them challenging for the last playoff seed. I like Chicago's core of talent, but I think they're going to need another year to get those young forwards up to speed.

Northwest Division
1. Vancouver Canucks
2. Colorado Avalanche
3. Calgary Flames
4. Minnesota Wild
5. Edmonton Oilers

--The top 4 in this division should all make the playoffs, their order is hard to predict, because each team has it's weakness: Luongo is the man for Vancouver but do they have the firepower? Colorado looks revamped by adding Ryan Smyth and Scott Hannan, but what's their goalie situation? Calgary has Kipper and a tough D, but what's that kook Iron Mike going to bring to the table? Minnesota has the raw talent, and defensive system, but keeping Gaborik off the shelf has has it's challenges. Edmonton will stink, but that's not news.

Pacific Division
1. San Jose Sharks
2. Anaheim Ducks
3. Dallas Stars
4. Los Angeles Kings
5. Phoenix Coyotes

--The Stanley Cup hangover is in effect for the Ducks, who may or may not have their captain Scott Niedermayer (great leadership and decision making their, Cap). Every year I pick San Jose to breakout out in a big way, and usually they disappoint. I like Dallas, but they just don't seem to have "it". LA could be a surprise team, but how will all their new faces mesh? Again, the only thing for sure is it's going to be a long season for #99, if he sticks with that club all year I'll be impressed.

Playoff teams (no particular order):
Detroit, Vancouver, San Jose (division winners)
Anaheim, Colorado, Calgary, Minnesota, Dallas

Just missing it (this year's Colorado, Montreal or Toronto):
St. Louis, LA

Somewhat competitive but not enough:
Chicago and Nashville

It's gonna be a long, cold winter:
Columbus, Phoenix, Edmonton

Matty B trades the (Penalty) Box for the (Broadcast) Booth

Hat tip to James Mirtle, the newly retired Matthew Barnaby* didn't take long to find work. He's got a tryout gig on for calling Buffalo Sabres radio games.

I'm not surprised Barnaby was able to land a job in the media; he did a little work with ESPN way back in the day when ESPN had a terrific NHL2Night broadcast going on (with the likes of John Buccigross, Barry Melrose, Darren Pang, Ray Ferraro and Steve Levy).

I am a little surprised they're going to put this face:

In radio.

*More on this later, with my totally made up 2500 Penalty Minutes + 300 points club

Monday, September 24, 2007


"I wish we had tickets to sell, so we could cold call potential customers like the Caps instead of this!"

For the second year in a row, the Pens are going to West Point for a few days, to get some military grade training which will marginally help their fitness and some more quality time to bond together as a team

"It's nice to kind of get away with just us and go through some team building things and get pushed to prepare for the season," Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. "We had good chemistry last year, but going through the exercises at West Point was something that really brought us together."

Another great idea the Penguins are executing. Plus they're going to hold an open practice on the ice to give the cadets a special thank-you for the hospitality.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Capitals Had Their Players Cold Call..

You know, it's hard being a season ticket holder in the NHL. You're shelling out thousands of dollars (that are propping up the whole league), you're sacrificing countless hours of your time going to and from and attending games, and it's still $7+ a beer.

So I could easily understand why you might be on the fence about not wanting to re-up; especially when your team is the Washington Capitals and you've won one playoff series in the past nine years, you might not be interesting in the commitments to shell out the big $$.

So Sweaty Ted busts out the big guns, his players. Especially hilarious is this recap from a fellow who got a voicemail (because he didn't pick up a repeated call from the Caps) from Native Son Milan Jurcina:

Through a heavy accent, and in an eerily robotic voice, Jurcina addressed me personally, pleaded with me to help him, uh…do something (bring up attendance at the Verizon Center?), and asked that I give my account representative a call.(Of course, he gave me the wrong representative’s name, but I’m not going to
hold that against the big guy.)

He then thanked me for my support and expressed his extreme enthusiasm for the upcoming season with a monotone “Go Caaahhhps.”

Mike Vogel, a MSM writer for the Caps said they got this idea from The Penguins recent efforts of having players deliver a couple of season tickets as a thank you to those that bought season tickets.

Having players do cold calling and basically beg folks to re-up their tickets is a little different than Sidney Crosby or Maxime Talbot showing up on your door with your tickets.

As always, Capitals fans and organization, the devil is in the details.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Get the Skissors out, it's time to make some cuts

The Pens head back to West Point for another round of boot camp on Sunday. They expect to carry close to, if not the final roster. As of now though, we're looking at 24 forwards, 13 defenseman and 3 goalies...Here's my educated more than guess about the roster:

Forwards(13): Armstrong, Brent, Christensen, Crosby, Laraque, Malkin, Malone, Recchi, Roberts, Ruutu, Staal, Sykora, Talbot

Defensemen (7): Eaton, Gonchar, Letang, Orpik, Scuderi, Sydor, Whitney

Goaltenders (2): Fleury, Sabourin

If I'm wrong, here's where:
13th forward: I took Brent, he's a right handed center (unique to the organization), and has some NHL experience. I know the Pens like young guys like Ryan Stone, Jon Filewich and especially Tyler Kennedy but there's only so much room at the inn. Unless there's a trade (Ryan Malone I'm looking at you) then I don't see how. Adam Hall's inspired tryout play falls just short.

Defensemen: The organization loves Letang, but I almost wish they'd give him 10 games in Wilkes-Barre to wet his feet in the professional pool before diving right in to the NHL. Mike Weaver who I consider a poor man's Mark Eaton, just solid enough to get the job done, but not skilled enough to fly above the radar.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Fixing the Schedule

The NHL gets to adjust the schedule after this year and there's a lot different ideas. No one seems to like the current format, which favors divisional rivalries too much and doesn't let every team appear in every city atleast once. In fact, factoring in the lockout, in some cases it'll be five seasons that some teams haven't played in some cities. Considering there's 82 games a year this is inexcusable.

It'd be great if they cut down the regular season a little, but considering owners need money from the ticket sales, and players now get their money as a percentage of what the owners make, guess if that's going to happen. So here's my humble suggestion for the new NHL schedule.

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)

This adds up to 84 games. So the owners and players get a little bit more. Either way, expect the scheduling answer to be short term: they're building an arena in Las Vegas as we speak, and Kansas City won't be vacant for long. Bettman and the owners love the expansion fees, and some will need the $$$.

So the next question won't be how many times to play division or conference opponents, it will be teams like Detroit, Nashville and Columbus bitching about trying to get into the Eastern Conference and the logistical nightmare about how to juggle the setup of a 32 team league.

And we're off

Head over to the Pensblog for your recaps and funnies, short of the newspapers that's your best bet for timely/funny/in depth game by game recaps. My job and alcoholism doesn't usually let me update as quick or humorous as them.

The important thing is we're playing hockey again. Some key points:

  • Capacity house 21,000+ to see a preseason game. Say what you will about Canada, but damn they love hockey. The atmosphere was closer to a post-season game than game 1 of the daggone preseason. You may think that's ridiculous, and it is ridiculous. But somehow it's true.

  • Someone named Andrew Archer dished out a big hit on public enemy #2 former hometown boy Angelo Esposito. Georges Laraque soon made his acquaintance.

First hospitilization of the season

  • Laraque took heat from Pens fans for not dropping the gloves more down the stretch last year, but it's difficult to get guys to go when they don't want to. Still, with the harsh feelings had by both Edmonton's organization and Phoenix's fans towards Laraque, sometimes maybe you wonder how he feels about consistently being an enforcer. I think having his old junior coach Michel Therrien there, someone who knows Laraque and certainly knows how to call his own players out, only helps.
  • Jarrko Ruutu got under the skin of everyone, especially Mike Komaserek. Again when a player says after the game something like: "He's [Ruutu] the toughest guy I've ever seen when the linesmen are between us.... Let him talk all he wants. Let him talk until his lips fall off." you know it's just a little more intense than an average preseason game
  • Crosby 1 goal, 1 assist. Nice to see him shake the rust off a summer where he practically got no training in due to a little rest for a broken foot he played on for over a month.
  • It sounded like both goalies (Fleury but especially Huet) played excellent. I heard Huet in particular had several monster saves, including reaching back and stopping a Petr Sykora bid right on the goal line.
  • For the Habs, it sounded like Alexei Kovalev and Andrei Kostyitin (spelling) were huge and all over the ice. As I said earlier, I'm astounded how few goals Kovalev scored. He's kinda like Jagr in that he's a supreme talent, but almost emotional and if the media or fans are giving it to him, he almost gives up and doesn't try as hard. Certainly neither perform as well. I like Kovalev, I hope the Montreal media just lets him go out and play, that would be the best for both parties there.

Monday, September 17, 2007

3 Headed Monster

Michel Therrien has been using Jordan Staal as the 3rd line center throughout camp and says he plans on keeping him there. Staal has been playing with Ryan Malone and Colby Armstrong on his wings.

The significance? Those three represent 3/4 of the Penguins regular penalty killing forwards from last season (Maxime Talbot, of course being the other).

The Penguins don't have a great line like R. Niedermayer/Pahlsson/Moen to matchup and shutdown the opposition's top guns. Really, in recent memory there hasn't even been a defensive minded dominant forward in a mold of Keith Primeau, Rod Brind'Amour or Mike Fisher. Certainly these players are rare, but a line of Malone-Staal-Armstrong might be a starting point.

What could this mean for the forwards? Most had Jordan Staal pencilled in as a top 6 winger. Now, based on pure skill there's still Mark Recchi, Petr Sykora and Erik Christensen. Gary Roberts is not a 4th liner, but his body doesn't seem to hold up for 82 games on a top line anymore. Enter stage left, Angelo Esposito?

A lot will depend on how he can do during pre-season, but if Espo plays well, it wouldn't shock me if the Pens tried him out a little with Crosby or Malkin. This isn't a team afraid to let young talent develop in the NHL, and so far the plan has worked pretty well, hasn't it?

Conventional lines (aka close to what they really look like):

So crazy it just might work idea:

Friday, September 14, 2007

Finally something that Ovechkin easily out performs Crosby in

Capital fans, ever deranged and feeling full of insecurity and inadequacy, often like to make off the deep end comparisons on how Ovechkin still is better, more valuable, etc than Sidney Crosby.

Well, hate to fuel their fire but I've found something that statistically AO doesn't much more than the good Cap(tain).

And no, it's not shirk defensive responsibility when the other team has the puck in your end

Missed shots:
1. Simon Gagne 179
2. Alex Ovechkin 148

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Question #2: Where the Heck does Taters fit?

Gotta be honest, if I was running the Penguins going into camp, Ryan Malone would be on the 4th line.

Yes, Ryan Malone, the organizational golden boy. Just because you were on the team when it sucked doesn't mean you get a pass now. Malone had the chance to largely be Sidney Crosby's even strength winger and he produced virtually squat (16 goals, 15 assists in an injury shortened 61 games). True, he did open up space for his linemates and it was commendable for him to step up and drop the gloves defending Sid a few times, but what did he really bring to the table? The lasting memory is turnovers, flubbed chances, pucks rolling off his stick or shots going just wide.

So where does that leave him? Presumably with the acquistion of Petr Sykora, the decision to try out Erik Christensen on the wing and the other skill spots held by Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal and Mark Recchi, Malone's in something of a no man's land.

For the third line then, the wingers are naturally Gary Roberts and Colby Armstrong. I like Maxime Talbot in the 3rd line center spot, he's natural to that position, plays harder than Malone and figures to be on the upswing of his career still.

Malone could always sub in when the vets like Recchi and Roberts need a breather, but that's not much promise. Malone is a central piece of the lockeroom and while trading him (without even knowing his value amongst the league, given he's an impending UFA) might shake things up a little.

How Ryan Malone is fit into the roster will be another interesting ongoing development.

#1 Question: The Crusher

Other than your obvious candidates, Erik Christensen--to me-- is the most crucial player on the Penguins this year....As outrageous as it sounds, here's why...

The Penguins skill wingers are Petr Sykora, known to be a sniper but reportedly has lost a step and often goals cold, provides no physicality and defensively leaves desired. And the aging Mark Recchi who's slowing down and went on a 20+ goalless streak, despite playing almost every shift with the best player in the game.

That's it. Staal is a natural center learning the wing and the speed of the NHL, Roberts is a bruiser but prone to breaking down, Malone and Armstrong don't have the skill and consistency to produce points and are better served in other roles..

Erik Christensen converts to wing, supposedly to be given a shot on Crosby's left wing at least at first. Makes sense for EC, since there's a couple of pretty good centers in the organization.

Can he do it? The knock against Crusher all along has been his lack of physical play and poor results going into the corners to much out pucks. No one doubts his skill, he's a pure sniper who's got a great shot and a shootout move that makes him the leadoff hitter in the Pens lineup and earned him a share of the league's lead in shootout goals for all of last season with 8.

One other thing about Christensen, other than his 'money in the bank' shootout move, it surprises me how often he beats goaltenders from so far back with his wrist shot. Check the 18 second mark of this highlight. True, that's AHL, but I recall seeing that a couple of times in the NHL.

Watching Christensen's progress as a winger will be one of the most intriguing storylines of the early fall. EC scored 18 goals in the NHL in just 61 games last year, several of them he centered the 4th line with the likes of guys like Ruutu, Petrovicky and BGL. Putting that skill, that shot on Crosby's line could make for wonderful results. Sidney, Malkin, and Staal will get all the press and attention, while EC, calm as ever, could be on his way for 30+ goals.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The cool thing about owning your own hockey team..

There's some people that it's impossible not to like. Chad Johnson may be one, but I think Ted Leonsis, the patron saint of this blog certainly is another. Below is one of Leonsis' latest blogs:

I am at the Kettler Capitals Iceplex. There are more than 30 players on the ice including our three newcomer free agents, Alex Ovechkin and Alex Semin. The goalies took the day off. Hence, Chris Clark is leading drills and he has all of the players that are right-handed playing left-handed and visa versa. He has them skating hard.

Kozlov is a very big man as is Tom Poti. Both seemed very impressed with our facility. Michael Nylander can dangle left-handed. It is very impressive to see.

There is only one person in the stands right now and he is having a great time.

Just a very rich man and his professional hockey team; straight chillin on a Wednesday afternoon. Must be nice.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Answer Man

ESPN's Scott Burnside previewed the Eastern Conference and ax-ed several questions about the Penguins. Well, I'm nothing if not a sage, so I will hazard a more than educated guess at his queries:

Burning questions
• So, what does Crosby, the league's first teenage scoring champion, do in Year 3?

Uh, remarkably well. There's no reason not to think Captain Crosby won't be one of the top scorers in the league, as well as lead the Penguins through a solid regular season and be setup for a deep playoff run. Crosby's shown he's the best player in the game in just two years, at the age of 19.

• How does Malkin follow up his rookie-of-the-year campaign?

Malkin 'only' scored 33 goals last year. Given all the chances he had, that quite easily could have been 40-45 with a little luck. He's dangerous on every shift, and I have his linemates pencilled in as a 19 year old Jordan Staal and goal-scoring dyanmo Petr Sykora which sure beats a 18 year old Jordan Staal and the garbageman.

Torturella's just a little bit different than your lover Lord Therrien, dick

Plus Malkin had to deal with running away from Soviet Russia, leaving his homeland, his native tongue and coming to a totally foreign culture. That's huge. Plus the differences in NHL v. RSL (smaller rinks, more physical, much longer regular season) and it just shows what a great rookie season he really had.

But there's still room for improvement and I think Malkin will continue to develop and improve just fine.

• Will there be a step back for Staal, who showed a maturity well beyond his 18 years last season?

I think that's a fair question. Staal was unexpectedly spectacular, turning in a 29 goal season at just 18 years of age. But he only had 13 assists and admitted the speed of the game was something that he was still adjusting too.

Staal might score less goals this year (say 20-25 goals as a low-end estimate), but if he can muster 25 assists that will show he's picking up the intricacies of the game and become even more of a force.

Between Staal, Crosby and Malkin, if you were to tell me now that one would statistically regress, I would say Staal in a heartbeat.

• Now that veteran backup goalie Thibault has shuffled off to Buffalo, is there enough support in the form of Sabourin or Conklin behind Marc-Andre Fleury?

Fleury won 40 games last year and appeared in 67 games. The Penguins would like to see Fleury improve a little with his overall consistency and focus, but he's showing that he can start 65 games a year. Around the NHL, you'll see some tandem goaltending (Ottawa, Anaheim, Minnesota last year) but mainly, if you have a guy good enough to do so, it's just one guy carrying the mail. Brodeur. Luongo. Lundqvist. Miller. DiPietro.

The only reason really that you have a tandem goaltending situation is because, usually, one or more guy is struggling. The Pens can let Fleury play 65 games or so. He can handle it and they'd be better of for it.

Sabourin will be the #2, and Conklin will be the veteran in Wilkes-Barre. I know the Pens organ-eye-zation is very sweet on Sabourin, they like him and only lost him last year through waivers in a numbers/salary game.

The only way this will be an issue is if, God forbid, Fleury gets injured or struggles mightily.

• How does playing with Stanley Cup expectations change the dynamic in the Penguins' dressing room?

The most worthwhile question. At the beginning of last season, it was just a group of young guys with a lot of talent and no expectations. And they rocked it. The goal last year, all along, was to right the ship and make the playoffs. The Pens, of course, roared into the playoffs, then bowed to a more experienced foe.

At the beginning of this year there's more veteran names to provide quiet leadership, bring toughness and to carry out sturdy roles. This is where your Roberts and Sydor type players shine. The entire core of players--not just the stars but your guys like Armstrong, Talbot, Malone, Whitney, Orpik, etc. got their first taste of the postseason. There's no new surprises now.

First you got to get there, but unlike last year (where I don't believe any preseason publications had the Pens in the playoffs), this year I've seen them as no worse than the 3rd best team in the East, along with Ottawa and NYR. There will be expectations and the weight of that. But Crosby has had that weight on his shoulders for many years, Staal has ice water in his veins and Malkin doesn't even understand half the damn questions, so big deal.

Let's drop the puck already.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

When you talk beasts, you talk James Harrison

James Harrison, about to ruin someone's life

This isn't Steelersblog, but with the season upcoming I couldn't resist. To write a blog about the next big thing in Steelers linebackers Mr. James Harrison.

I didn't first notice James Harrison when he body slammed a drunk Cleveland fan that ran onto the field (although incredibly cool). I noticed that #92 hustled and usually made almost every tackle on special teams, and if he got blocked or held their was usually a big return. To that point Harrison has been named special teams co-captain this year.

When the writing on the wall last season became apparent that Joey Porter would be released, I knew. I knew Harrison would fill in and everything would be ok. And it will.

Some of my favorite things about James Harrison:

  • He trusts no one. . Not his teammates. Not even his own mother.
  • "Harrison goes by several interesting nicknames in the Steelers locker room, including Silverback, which was bestowed on him by fellow linebacker Joey Porter. The reference is to the powerful Silverback gorilla, a dominating male who protects his troops."
  • Coaches assign being his roommate in training camp as punishment, because all he wants to do is wrestle
  • He's predicting an incredible 12 sacks this season, and doesn't care what you think about it
  • As a kid in a fight, he used a brick as a weapon
  • He had scholarships from The Ohio State and Nebraska, but it got pulled because in high school he took a BB gun and started shooting it at white kids. When Ohio State thinks you're crazy and too much of a risk, you are batshit insane.

It's hard to imagine the Steelers could replace Joey Porter with someone more colorful (read: crazy) and possibly just as good, but they have. Harrison's going to have to prove himself, he's going to be a lot shorter and smaller than left tackles, but he's so explosive, so strong and so mean, he's going to do it.

Monday, September 3, 2007

TY v. LY --Production

Last year's production:

Projected Top 6 (Crosby, Malkin, Staal, Recchi, Sykora, Christensen):
463 games played, 163 goals

Projected Bottom 6 (Malone, Roberts, Talbot, Armstrong, Ruutu, Laraque):
442 gp, 73 goals

Defensive contribution (Gonchar, Whitney, Letang, Sydor):
34 goals in 244 total games played

***While the top 6 obviously gets more icetime and the precious powerplay time, the bottom 6 forwards chipped in quite a few goals last season. Many 'Big' goals were scored by players like Talbot and Armstrong, either to win a game, or to force overtime. One of the lower 6 guys, on average, would score every game (well, .99 goals per combined average games). That is great secondary scoring support to take the pressure of guys like Crosby and Malkin. This will need to be replicated in 07-08.

***Offensively Brooks Orpik and Mark Eaton bring nothing to the table, so we omit them completely. If they pop in the odd goal, all the better. Whitney and Gonchar feasted on the powerplay, and figure to do so again. Kris Letang surely will improve on his 2 goals 0 assist cup of coffee from 06-07. These guys are dangerous to jump into the play but also to convert passes from Crosby and Malkin on the powerplay. Last year it was a average of .55 goals a game, combining all four players efforts.

***That the defensemen and lower line forwards scored, on average, 1.48 goals per game is huge for the skill forwards. That's a lot of support and balance that opens up even more room for the skill players.

I'd expect the top 6 will combine for more than 163 this year; Crosby improves every year, Malkin isn't a rookie and I expect him to beat 33 goals, Christensen netted 18 in just 61 games and Sykora scored but 23 goals on a woeful Edmonton team. Recchi is slowing down with age, but even he 'only' scored 24 goals last year. Whether or not Jordan Staal can replicate his 29 goal rookie showing might be the biggest question mark, but even if he doesn't, I believe the first four names (especially Malkin and EC) will pick up that slack.


Top 6
492 games played, 175 goals

Bottom 6
492 gp, 74 goals

492 gp, 41 goals

Total: 290 goals

Projecting 290 goals sounds crazy, but last year the team scored 267, so it's only about a 8% increase. Offensively the additions of Sykora and Letang plus factoring the potential for players like Christensen, Armstrong and Talbot to score more than last season and the idea seems more reasonable. Crosby and Malkin combined for 69 goals, and I'd think they'll improve on that.

Obviously not every player listed is going to play every game, but the team will field a roster for 82 games, so that's where the 492 figures come from.

It's not so much the individual player that I'm counting on, so much as whoever's in the lineup that night. Surely guys like Tim Brent, Jon Filewich and Ryan Stone will get their chance to make an impact and there's bound to be trades or deadline pickups on the way.

But as it stands now, I'm sticking by 290 goals (3.54 a game) this season. On paper. In September.