Monday, December 31, 2007

A Long (Successful) December

The only Eastern Conference team to gain more points than the Penguins (18) in December was the conference breakaway team Ottawa Senators (20).

Not bad considering Dany Sabourin and Ty Conklin have been the netminders since December 6th and key players like Max Talbot, Sergei Gonchar, Ryan Malone and Gary Roberts have been injured or missed games during this stretch.

Now it's time for the highest profile regular season game. If you don't know what this is, you're living in a cave.

Bring it. I'm stoked. I'm sure all the players on both teams are going to be laying it all on the line, and even though the conditions are going to be unpredictable, I have a feeling something special is going to take place in this most special of games. Think 87 or 71. I am.

Happy New Years folks. See you tomorrow afternoon with a comprehensive recap.

Google Post of the Week

Today's google searcher that stumbled across this humble blog was looking for:
"Crosby circles the wagon and loses the puck"

We're the top listing for that too!

Happy New Year to everyone! I'll be back a little later with thoughts going into the big game. I'm glad that geography and working on Wednesday makes it impossible for me to even think about going.....Too cold for these bones.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

A win but a loss

This fuckin sucks....

All you need to know:

As [Buffalo forward Tim ]Connolly fell in the left circle in Buffalo's end, the 41-year-old [badass Gary] Roberts went down with him and struck his left leg hard on the ice, breaking his fibula.

A stretcher was brought out but Roberts did not use it.

Did you really expect him to?
Otherwise, a solid 2-0 win. Crosby with 2 assists, Colby and Geno tack on the goals and Ty freakin Conklin has, somehow, inspired conifidence with a shutout.

But at a moment like this, the upcoming weeks/months of not having a veteran warrior like Roberts in the lineup is going to be a challenge. Younger, physical players with experience like Ryan Malone, Colby Armstrong and even Brooks Orpik are going to have to step up and be physical....And in a big way.


Allow me to break it down for you, if you haven't already heard....I do like Tarik El-Bashir, but like most newspaper writers he feels the need to repeatedly write one sentence paragraphs, so I've srunched it together a little better.

The winger left Washington's 4-3 overtime loss in Pittsburgh on Thursday
early in the third period after Kris Letang's skate caught him when he checked
the defenseman along the boards. Ovechkin, who entered Friday night as the NHL's second-leading goal scorer with 26, did not return to the game.

Ovechkin went almost immediately to the visitors' locker room at Mellon Arena for medical treatment after suffering the cut. But he said he had to wait for the Penguins' medical staff to finish tending to a Pittsburgh player, and therefore ended up missing the rest of the game. Coach Bruce Boudreau was not pleased by the delay....
"You make your assumptions on that," Boudreau said. "I don't know why. I'm
just told that it took upwards of a half-hour."

Pictured: Bruce Boudreau

#1: Where's your medical staff, Bruce? Were they attending to the MRI of backup goalie Brent Johnson? If that is the case, perhaps it's your priorites that need a little adjusting.

#2: I put in bold the key phrase: the Pittsburgh doctor did not avoid treating Ovechkin, he was needed (and already in the process of) looking at another player (who happened to be a Penguin). Should he drop everything just to attend to the visitor? No. Just as if the doctor was already stiching AO's leg he shouldn't drop everything to treat a Penguin; unless of course there was a catastrophic injury. First come, first serve if you will.

Further, I don't recall a Penguins leaving the game in the 2nd period. The lockerooms are not behind the bench in Pittsburgh so it's clear if you have to leave the ice you just can't duck behind your bench. However I was not at this game so perhaps I didn't see or notice a Penguin off the ice. I think it's possible the doctor was treating the only player who it was very obvious that left the game: the aforementioned Caps goalie.

Truth be told, I lost a little bit of respect for Boudreau for this whole hub-bub. I can understand his frustrations of seeing a lead slip away late in the game and not having your best player around to help but does he really believe the Penguins and their medical staff would intentionally delay treatment to any player (regardless of stature) when they are injured? For shame, Bruce, I thought you were better than that.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Mid-Season Report Card

We're not technically at the mid-point of the season yet, but next week's so-called Winter Classic will surely take all the spotlight (more thoughts on this on another day).

Below are grades. As a caveat, I should say players are graded on the role they're supposed to be filling. So, hypothetically someone like Mark Eaton could be graded higher than a Evgeni Malkin. It wouldn't mean Eaton necessarily is a better player, just means he's played his role better for the first half of the season. Also, it should be assumed that all players start with a C average and either work their way up (or down) depending on how they do.


Marc-Andre Fleury (9-8-1, 2.90 GAA, 90.2 sv%): B-
--Notes: Before suffering an ankle injury Fleury, who’s had an up and down career, had an up and down season. In the games before he got hurt he was 4-0 and had a 95% save percentage. In the beginning of the season his GAA was on the wrong side of 3 for a long time.

Dany Sabourin (7-8-1, 2.69, 90.4%) B-
--Notes: I’ve given him a B- because he’s filled in pretty well as the impromptu #1 goalie. Nothing spectacular but on most night’s he keeps the team in it. That’s what backup goalies are supposed to do.

Ty Conklin (3-0-0, 3.50, 89.2%) C
--Notes: Throw out the undefeated record and you might throw up. But, at least he’s done what he’s had to do to get the wins, right? I won’t rest easy until Conklin’s back in Wilkes-Barre where he belongs.


Mark Eaton (36gp, 0g, 3a, 3p, +6, 16 PIM) A-
--Notes: The only defenseman to have a positive +/-, he was perfect as Gonchar’s stay-at-home reliable partner. Now he’s out for the year with the ACL. Dagger. Ray Shero must find a way to replace him if the Penguins have aspirations of advancing past the first round of the playoffs. That’s not a bold proclamation, that’s the truth.

Sergei Gonchar (33gp, 7g, 23a, 30p, -2, 36 PIM) B+
--Notes: Gonchar is a devil you know. He’s great on the powerplay creating offense. A little less so in his own end were turnovers and poor positioning abound. Still, he plays 26+ minutes every night and matches up against the opponents best players every night for a reason. And that reason is he’s good.

Kris Letang (19gp, 2g, 2a, 4p, -3, 8 PIM, 3 for 3 in shootouts) B
--Notes: Hard to believe he only has two assists. Letang’s been a pleasant surprise. He’s good on the PP and improving in his own end. Plus, he’s getting to be automatic as a shootout guy, a valuable asset indeed.

Rob Scuderi (37gp, 0g, 1a, 1p, -3, 16 PIM) B
--Notes: Scuderi’s improvement has been tremendous. Despite the fact he brings absolutely nothing to the table offensively, he’s become very valuable at giving up very little. With Eaton down and out, Scuds role as a PK’er will become broadened. So far he’s been up to it.

Brooks Orpik (33gp, 0g, 5a, 5p, -2, 27 PIM) B-
--Notes: Hey, these are my grades, not the coaches. Orpik has as many hits as the combined number of the rest of the defense. He might run around a little too much, but he’s got a surprisingly good first pass. Needs to chip things along more and not think about handling the puck too much.

Darryl Sydor (31gp, 1g, 3a, 4p, -5, 11 PIM) C
--Notes: Sydor is happy that we didn’t have a quarter season report card, he would have had a terrible mark. But his game has been improving in the past month and it seems like he’s finally catching on to how Pittsburgh likes to play hockey. The Pens style is incredibly different from Dallas’ and especially the great puckhandling of Marty Turco.

Ryan Whitney (33gp, 7g, 10a, 17p, -3, 21 PIM) D+
--Notes: Whitney gets a D because he needs improvement. The assists aren’t there from last year, and although Whitney’s been good on the powerplay, he hasn’t been good anywhere else. I expect better in the second half of the season.

Alain Nasreddine (4gp, 0g, 0a, 0p, -3, 2 PIM) D
--Notes: A brief but pretty brutal stint for Nasreddine this year. He’s shown he can be decent in stretches as a 6th defenseman though, and the Penguins are going to need him sooner than later probably.


Sidney Crosby (37gp, 16g, 34a, 50p, +4, 35 PIM) A
--Notes: Not an A+ because there’s still room, incredibly, for improvement. Enough has been said about Crosby being great. It’s true. He’s the best. What I like to harp on is how he’s become the go to faceoff guy and his improvement without the puck.

Evgeni Malkin (37gp, 14g, 26a, 40p, -5, 40 PIM) A-
--Notes: Like Crosby, you know Malkin’s played very well, but you get that sense that he’s not finishing enough of the chances he creates. Malkin’s been solid though, nice to see the dreaded Sophomore slump isn’t always the case.

Maxime Talbot (24gp, 7g, 4a, 11p, +4, 16 PIM) A-
--Notes: Perhaps the first quarter MVP of the team (not named Crosby or Malkin). Talbot’s trademark hustle has been there and he’s scoring goals at a higher rate than previous years. His ankle injury derailed what would have been an honest attempt at a 20 goal season.

Georges Laraque (29gp, 2g, 6a, 8p, -1, 61 PIM) B+
--Notes: The knock on Laraque is that when he becomes unmotivated or is on a team not playing well he abandons all effort and doesn’t do his job. Maybe he’s still in the honeymoon stage in Pittsburgh, or maybe he’s just on his best behavior for a coach he goes all the way back to juniors with but this hasn’t been the case. Laraque’s been great at his role, keeping post-whistle activity down and opponents scared.

Tyler Kennedy (24gp, 6g, 4a, 10p, even, 20 PIM) B
--Notes: Kennedy’s play convinced management he was an NHL player and that they could cut ties with Mark Recchi. Big words, but Kennedy’s play has backed it up. Although he’s been quiet in the past 5, Kennedy’s provided a spark of energy since Talbot went down.

Petr Sykora (37gp, 11g, 9a, 20p, -8, 18 PIM) B
--Notes: Has been as advertised: streaky but talented goal scorer. Might score 5 goals in 5 games and then will score 1 in the next 10. No telling what he’s going to give on any given night but he does seem dangerous of most shifts.

Ryan Malone (32gp, 9g, 5a, 14p, +4, 59 PIM) B
--Notes: It’s a contract year and you can tell. Malone’s hustling up and down the ice in a fashion not captured by his raw stats. He’s played well and been a force in most games.

Adam Hall (34gp, 2g, 3a, 5p, -2, 17 PIM) B
--Notes: Hard to believe this guy needed a tryout for an NHL team. His role may be dime a dozen as a grinder who just kills penalties and isn’t flashy, but Hall is good at what he does. He’s versatile enough to play all 3 forward positions and play them well.

Colby Armstrong (31gp, 4g, 11a, 15p, -2, 32 PIM) B-
--Notes: Fewer players have had the ups and downs than Colby….A healthy scratch for weeks at a time. Then back to the 1st line riding shotgun with Crosby in a matter of days. He’s produced well of late and remains an important player and penalty killer. But where are the game-changing HUGE hits from last season?

Gary Roberts (36gp, 3g, 12a, 15p, -3, 38 PIM) C+
--Notes: Roberts would like to be scoring more goals and recently has been. The beginning of the season Mr. Gary had a respiratory illness that seemed to limit his effectiveness. It’s gone now and ass whoopins are being handed out on a regular basis so that is a good sign. Unless your name is Ben Eager.

Erik Christensen (32gp, 5g, 7a, 12p, -3, 16 PIM, 4 for 5 in shootouts) C
--Notes: Crusher has looked great at times and has been worthy of being a healthy scratch at others. The experiment of using him as a winger seems to have failed. With a team that has the likes of Crosby, Malkin, Staal and Talbot as natural centers that doesn’t bode well for EC. But he has been effective centering a 3rd or 4th line with grinding type players. Plus he’s obviously Mr. Money in the Bank for shootouts.

Jordan Staal (37gp, 3g, 7a, 10p, -11, 19 PIM) C
--Notes: Mr. Sophomore Slump himself. Staal hasn’t been as bad as his stats would indicate, he’s still an important PK’er but for some reason his chances aren’t going in like they were last year. Staal’s doing a lot of the things he did last year, just the results are different. If there’s one player who statistically could break out, it’d be hard for Staal to do worse.

Jarkko Ruutu (26gp, 0g, 2a, 2p, -3, 41 PIM) C-
--Notes: I feel for Ruutu. He came to Pittsburgh for more playing time and he hasn’t found it. When Ruutu is good he’s a great agitator/pest that drives opponents crazy. But when he’s not good he’s taking too many costly trips to the penalty box and then sitting the bench for the game.


Michel Therrien (19-16-2) C
--Notes: A lot of fans would have given this an F. But Therrien, though barely, has kept the team together and kept them above water through some costly injuries and generally pulled the strings. The job of the coach is to prepare players and put them in a position to make plays. For the most part, he does this, it’s up to the players to execute. Still, it’s increasingly maddening how often he shuffles lines and extremely quizzical some of the resulting combos he creates. Also all the too many men penalty; I laid blame on the players but the coach has to bring some discipline.

Pens beat Caps, sun rises in the east

Despite playing one of the most dreadful periods (it was the 2nd) that I've seen of professional hockey, the Penguins picked up 2 points on the hapless Washington Capitals.

``The loss of Mark Eaton showed early and often. Sergei Gonchar looked brutal and downright uncomfortable out there in his own zone.
``Brooks Orpik came back from his 3 game healthy scratch exile with a vengence, credited with 5 hits and 5 blocked shots and played the style that has to be pleasing to the coach.
``Caps fans, by now, are used to the heartbreak of crushing defeats at the hands of Pittsburgh....But if that ridiculous Crosby-to-Malkin one timer hits the net (instead of the post) with less than 5 seconds in regulation even I would almost feel sorry for them.....Almost.
``Much of the team looked disjointed but the Roberts-Christensen-Laraque line was not good. Guess it was lightning in a bottle.
``Speaking of Crusher, what a faceoff win late in the game to set up Sydor's tying goal. That's as clutch as any shootout goal he'll score.
``The Caps got the short end of the stick twice in penalties: Ovechkin's cross-check wasn't even close to being a cross-check and Shaone Morrrrrisssssonnnn's roughing wasn't that rough. (The lesson, as usual kids is don't spell your name like a jackass).
``Anyone seen or heard from Petr Sykora?
``Glad to hear Mr. Nemesis is ok and just has a superficial cut after taking an accidental Kris Letang skate to the leg.

More about Ovechkin, let's look at him and Crosby head to head....If you're keeping track (and I am!) Sid is still "Gretzky'ing" AO. That of course is a term I think I created meaning you've got more assists than the other guy has points.

Sidney Crosby: 5 goals, 12 assists, 17 points
Alex Ovechkin: 5 goals, 4 assists, 9 points

And more importantly:

Penguins: 9-1
Capitals: 1-7-2 (1 shootout and 1 OT loss)

Nice to get two more points, but it'd be hard to drop a home-game to the last place team in the Conference who played the previous night. Either way, drop two more in the points column and time to move on.

Up next, a home-and-home with the Buffalo Sabres. Somehow I get the feeling one of these games will have more hype and excitement behind it than the other...

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Welcome Pensblog Readers

Welcome to all the people stumbling here from the Pensblog.

Unfortunately for your scavenger hunt, this is not the clue. I know, the name looks funny and probably doesn't belong here!

But it does, this is a real blog, and a good one too!

So good luck on your hunt, but please come on back when things settle down.

Your friend from commenterblog,

Hooks Orpik

(unauthorized hint: this link is pretty close to the one that doesn't belong though)

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Keeping pace with the Peloton

Perhaps it's the Bruins that fixes what ails the Penguins, for the second time in less than week the Pens beat the B's.

Tonight's thoughts:
--Coming into today, a mere 6 points in the standings is the difference for being 2nd place in the Eastern Conference (New Jersey: 41) and being 13th (Atlanta: 35). It kind of reminds me of cycling where the majority of the field is bunched together in the peloton. Some teams might break away, such as Ottawa but really you just want to keep up with the main group and not lose pace with the field, like Washington (30) has and Tampa (33) is teetering on.

--Taking these two points mean the Penguins are up to 8th in the conference...Pretty good considering they were tied for 12th when the day begun. 38 points through 36 games isn't ideal, but considering the injuries and inconsistencies suffered, at least the team is firmly in the peloton for now and hopefully can make a little run to establish themselves as a playoff contender in the second half of the season.

--The tightness of the conference also extends to the competitive Atlantic division. 5 points separates those pesky Devils from the last place tie of Philadelphia and NYI. In the other two divisions, there's at least 11 points from top to bottom.

NOTE to readers: Things may be a little slow around here for the next week, as the holiday season is amongst us (but I'll likely have a recap and thoughts about the Bruins game up tomorrow thanks to actually having to work)...Apologies to that for regular readers, but perhaps you should be spending less time reading blogs this week as you do hang out with your families and loved ones and enjoy the holiday. So season's cheer for a safe and awesome holiday to you all.

Updated Post: 2500 PIM, 300 Point Club

A while back I invented a special club with the intent to blend toughness with skill....Players tough enough to accumlate at least 2500 penalty minutes, but skilled enough to score at least 300 points. The result yielded some surprises (like Dave Manson and Willi Plett) and some guys you'd probably guess (Tiger Williams, Dale Hunter, Rick Tocchet, Chris Chelios).

In total, there were 11 inductees this summer, and only two were on the horizon (Brendan Shanahan has 17 PIMS in 25 games so far, he's 58 PIMs short and looks doubtful to make it this season).

But a new man has joined this club, and since he just scored his 900th career point on an assist last night, it's only fair that tonight we honor him by inducting him to the club (even though he got his 2500th penalty minute earlier in the season).

Without furter adue, the 12 member to the exclusive 2500 penalty minute, 300 point club is the one, the only Gary Roberts. After we induct Gary, the rest of the club will be re-posted.

The honorable 2500 penalties in minutes and 300 points club

Gary Roberts (2529 Penalties in Minutes, 900 points)

Few players have struck as much fear in opponents as Gary Roberts. Fierce and determined are the best words to describe him. Roberts, a rough and tumble player for the Calgary Flames in the late '80s and early '90s only played 43 games from 1994 to 1996 season due to a severe neck injury that actually forced him to retire in '96. Roberts adopted an insane workout regimen and was able to return to the NHL the following year. Known for showing up in the post-season and especially tormenting the Ottawa Senators, Roberts has made a living being a tough customer. Arguably he cemented his legendary status in December 2007 when at the age of 41 he fought (and easily won) a fight against a 23 year old Ben Eager who had a height and weight advantage over him.

When you talk intensity and grit, you talk Gary Roberts. That's the staple of this club and we welcome him with open arms.

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.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

SportscentRE Athlete of the Year

Congrats to Sidney Crosby, in addition to being named the Lou Marsh trophy winner, he was named TSN's 2007 (and not 1993) Sportscentre Athlete of the Year.

A well deserved honour [sic] for a Canadian athlete to win, I suppose.

Frustration blog

Brooks Orpik was a healthy scratch last night in a 4-2 loss to the Isles that saw the powerplay go a measley 1 for 6 and Dany Sabourin look like a back up goalie.

Orpik won't help any of that really, but he's been a healthy scratch 3 of the past 7 games. Over the past 7 games Michel Therrien favorite Rob Scuderi has a +/- of -6, and he's averaging under 17 minutes of ice time a night.

Orpik blocks more shots per game than Scuderi and has almost more hits (93) than the rest of the defense (104)....Combined.

Frustration is building and many are asking if Therrien's the right man for the team. I've never been a big "mob-menalty-fire-the-coach" type guy, but I'm starting to sway. Therrien's decisions seem arbitary.

It's easy to second guess and be a monday morning powerplay quarterback on anything that doesn't work out, but the results are what they are, and how the team has played versus the talent and expectations is black and white. All these flat performances lately have me worried. I realize the goalie is out, but if anything that should be a motivating factor to these highly skilled athletes to play even harder.

I'm not sure what it is, but something has to change and fast. This team needs a spark in some form. In the past it's been Crosby, Malkin or an unexpected one like Tyler Kennedy or Max Talbot. Someone needs to make something happen tonight against Boston.

Maybe it's just me, but it feels like Malkin always has great games against Boston. Hopefully he can step it up and make some good things happen.

Friday, December 21, 2007

More About the Gordie Howe Hat Trick

Did you know.....
--Wikipedia is not a credible source?....Credit esteemed reader/commenter Doc Nagel for finding a little more, uhh, accurate information about Gordie Howe hat-tricks from Joe Pelletier's blog.

Rough Recap for TSN

TSN is owned by ESPN, so I guess you'd expect these types of mistakes in their game recap that they're using as the lead story on their website.

"Ryan Christensen and rookie Kris Letang scored for Pittsburgh in the shootout, both beating Tim Thomas"

If that wasn't enough....

"Pittsburgh D Adam Eaton was forced out late with what appeared to be a shoulder injury."

Adam Eaton = shitty Philadelphia/San Diego baseball player
Mark Eaton = anonymous but important defenseman.

Come on now, TSN.

A Gordie Howe Hat Trick and a WIN!

In his effort to be like his landlord (who once fought a man named Brad Ference), Sidney Crosby dropped the gloves with a man named Andy Ference in his first career fight. Sid acquited himself well, but it was the result of choosing an equal partner. We think if it was the monsterous Zdeno Chara harassing him, Mr. Bing probably doesn't drop the gloves.

Speaking of Chara, he fought Georges Laraque twice. You could tell both men were not used to fighting an opponent so big and so strong, because it looked more awkward than my 7th grade dance. Perhaps the caution could be expected, you could tell both men respected the other's power.

By the way, in post lockout seasons the Penguins have had 35 and 33 fights....They have 22 fights already through just 34 games so far, well on pace to smash the previous marks. Just a little fact I found interesting.

``Horrible blowing a 4 goal lead, it looked like the Pens mailed it in after jumping up to such a big lead so early in the contest. But no lead is safe when Ty freakin Conklin is in net. But at the end of the day it's not how you do it, it's if you do it. The Pens took two points on the road.
``By virtue of surrendering 4 goals, the Penguins became the 2nd non-South Leastern Eastern conference team to break 100 goals allowed so far. The other is Toronto. Not good company to be in.
``With two points in the standings the Pens are in 7th place in the conference (tied with Florida but with a game in hand). But don't be fooled: every team behind them (except Washington) is within 4 points. So the win was one badly needed to get to the head of the pack.
``Sidney Crosby has 12 even strength goals. His production without the man advantage has been fueling the team. Vinny Lecavalier is having a great season--he's got 53 points compared to Sid's 46, and deserves the praise he's getting, but Crosby is playing excellently too.
``Speaking of the top line, will the Therrien haters give him credit for stacking the topline of Malkin-Crosby-Armstrong? Obviously they won't, but it was a good choice. This trio combined for 3 goals and 4 assists (all at even strength) is the first 12 minutes of the game!
``Colby Armstrong had his finest game of the year, 3 assists, played 20 minutes and was a +4. Hard to believe he was in the doghouse and a healthy scratch just a few weeks ago. The rise and fall of a long hockey season is something else, isn't it?
``As crappy of a season as you'd think he's had judging from the fans, Ryan Whitney is now 22nd in the entire league in defensemen scoring (and tied for first in PP goals).
``Is there a better team in shootouts than the Penguins? I don't have the resources (or time or mindpower) to analyze records across the league, but it really seems like the Penguins pretty much win almost every time they shootout. And Kris Letang is getting the confidence (a perfect 3 for 3), he's a weapon on it. It's not Malkin (0 for 4) and Crosby (1 for 5) that pull the Pens to victory, it's guys like Letang and of course the shootout maestro Erik Christensen (who's now 4 for 5).
``Another thought: we often hear how the NHL nowadays focuses a lot more on scouting, and pre-game prep time like coaches watching video. If not the head coach, couldn't at least goalie coaches start notifying them that Christensen really only has two variations (on the same deke) that he pulls every. single. time. And just as sure as the Penguins win, he scores them. Every time. Just sayin'.
``I guess that's why the Penguins always win; with EC going first and being pretty much automatic that's a huge relief right there. Plus now with Letang scoring every attempt all the goalie has to do is prevent one goal from going in and the shootout is practically over.

Better to win

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Top 10 Penguins Moments of 2007

It's almost the end of another calender year, and you know what that means: a lot of recaps everywhere telling you the top 10 ______ of every subject you can think of.

So why not a Pittsburgh Penguins top 10 moments of a truly monumental and exciting calander year of 2007? But first the darkest moment of the year and the high-water mark moment.

Be warned: This is a Crosby-centric list. But keep in mind this is a Crosby-centric team in a Crosby-centric league, and you are just living in a Crosby-centric world.

If you have a college education (or were brought up in the South) you probably know the high water mark is informally what is called the furthest point at the battle of Gettysburg that Southern troops advanced towards Union lines. Similarly, this mark for the 2007 Penguins was:


Sunday April 15: :52 of the first period, Game 3

Playing in the first home playoff game since May 19, 2001, Gary Roberts beat Ottawa goalie Ray Emery just :52 seconds into the contest. The crowd was electric and even though it seemed like the visitors were overall more experienced and more ready; they were on the clearly ropes. The series was tied 1-1, as the Pens earned a hard fought victory in Ottawa and it seemed the pressure on the previously snake-bitten Sens was compounding right before our very eyes yet again.

Unfortunately, it wasn't to be for the Pens, as the future Eastern Conference champs steadied themselves; survived the early storm of emotion and would go on to dominate the Penguins 9-2 on the scoreboard from this point in the series, winning this game and the next two more to send the Penguins packing.


Wednesday January 3: Lemieux & co. tour Kansas City

When you talk dark days, perhaps never a day looked more bleak than Wednesday January 3 rd, 2007. A grim reminder to set the stage: right before Christmas 2006 the state awarded the Pittsburgh slot license to a competitors enterprise and not the Penguins guaranteed partner. Ever since Lemieux took ownership of the team out of bankruptcy in 1999 there had been a complete inability for him, the city, county and state government to come to an agreement for a new multi-use arena that was clearly needed. The Penguins lease at Mellon Arena was over in June, so for all intents and purposes nothing legally tied them to Pittsburgh. On top of that, Kansas City was putting the final touches on what is, by all accounts, a tremendous facility.

"We are meeting with officials in Kansas City today as part of our effort to explore all of our options regarding a new arena," Lemieux said in a statement on the team's website. "We have heard many great things about their new building, which is scheduled to open in time for the start of the 2007-08 NHL season."

That is a chilling quote. Whether this was posturing with the politicians by Mario or a legit threat is unknown. To be sure a statement like this showed his leverage to up the pressure on local leaders who had long dragged their feet on financing a building that, to be fair, they couldn't afford and shouldn't have been above other dire needs in the city (education, roads, fire/police pay, etc).

So they finally did the reasonable thing and worked together. The Penguins are pitching in for their new barn (instead of getting a free one in KC), the state and city are helping out, but it couldn't have been financed without the contribution made by Don Barden, the winner of the Pittsburgh slots. Just proving that honest negotiations can get somewhere, but unfortunately when it comes to local government and a private business, the ones in the middle getting jerked around will be the fans.

Now, on to the countdown...

# 10 Saturday June 23: Angelo Esposito drafted

Angelo Esposito was the #1 ranked prospect by many scouting services just months before the draft. At the beginning of 2007 if you told Penguins fans they would draft Esposito there would probably be a deep sigh as a response, because surely Espo would be a top pick. It wasn't to be for Angelo, as teams quickly fell out of love with him. In hockey, players get scouted for so long that it's easy to pick players apart, and Esposito had been considered the cream of the 2007 class for a very long time so there was no place for him to go but down.

Further heightening his disappointment was when his boyhood favorite team, the Montreal Canadiens, skipped him. And then in the Canada/Russia super series Esposito's sore groin prevented him from playing. Canada dominated the series without him (a former national captain) and many of the forward units were cemented chemistry wise. Esposito became only the 2nd player in Canadian history to be cut 3 straight times by the WJC team (the other being Red Wing Daniel Cleary).

But his immense promise is still there, the skill that captivated scouts is still there. From pick #20 he could be an incredible pick, but it won't be for 2007 to decide.

#9 Monday February 27th: Gary Roberts acquired

One of the first things mentioned when you talk about the old Stanley Cup days are the impact of bold trade deadline deals that put the Penguins over the top. Stories of additions like Ron Francis and Rick Tocchet that provided skill, strength and grit needed for the playoffs.

One day we may look back and say the same, and surely a tipping point will be the acquisition of Gary Roberts. The man that launched a thousand jobbings, no one is tougher or has more fire than Roberts. Plus if his conditioning regimen and work ethic in general gets absorbed by the young nucleus of players, Roberts' impact will be felt years after the 41 year old hangs up his skates (and stare) for the last time.

#8 Capped off on Monday March 5th: Penguins sweep Flyers in 2006-07 series

After all those years of losing, especially in Philadelphia, how refreshing it was to see the Flyers slump to last place and the upstart Penguins to beat them 8 times. Now Philly fans, with their pre-CBA huge budget knows what it felt like to be in the basement, to watch a crap team play crap games and lose every night.

The joy of victory is especially sweet when it comes at a rival's expense and the Flyers surprising free fall in 2006-07 was beautiful. Crosby feasted against them statistically, the defense made Philadelphia's attack look rudimentary for the most past, it was the best of all worlds when the Pens and Flyers matched up. And it's something that will probably never happen again, so you gotta enjoy it while you can.

#7 Saturday December 8th 2007: Mark Recchi's Pittsburgh Era Ends

Sure it's easy to remember Mark Recchi for how he went out as a turnover machine, but a player who's been so solid (1361 games, 513 goals, 832 assists = 1345 points) deserves mentioning. Recchi began a 4th round pick in 1988 (a few months before Jordan Staal was born) and overcame height issues to carve out a great career. 3 stints with the Penguins only added up to 389 games; less than 5 full seasons. But the Recchin Ball had a point per game (154g + 231a), but it's still not enough to make the franchises' top 10.

Interesting Recchi fact: he led the 1990-91 Stanley Cup Penguins in scoring during the regular season. Lemieux only played 26 games, but only special players can claim something like that.

So kudos to Recchi, his tenure with the Penguins ended with hurt feelings and not in a storybook fashion, but that doesn't mean he shouldn't be honored as a great Penguin institution.

#6 Early July: Ryan Whitney and Sidney Crosby make bank

Locking up core players is a must in today's NHL. Sidney Crosby made a commitment to the Penguins organization when he extended for 5 seasons, forgoing his chance at unrestricted free agency for one year. Many fans may have wanted him to sign longer, but it simply doesn't make sense of a player of Crosby's supreme skill to be locked in forever at today's price....Suppose the game grows like it has been and the max. player contract rises to $13 million in about 6 years.

Crosby's worth every penny of his not so subtle $8.7 million. Being recognized as the best player in the game, he could have taken the Penguins for the maximum but he didn't. Being a member of the union, it would have been fair to the other players for Sidney to sign for $5-6 million, so he had to command a price so that other young guys like Jason Spezza, Dany Heatley and Alex Ovechkin could have their ceiling set high.

Keeping Whitney in the fold is crucial too. He broke out for 59 points in the 06-07 season and has shown excellent chemistry on the powerplay with Crosby. Plus his cap value ($4 million) is pretty reasonable and it's back-loaded so it keeps climbing. Good for the Pens since they're taking advantage of paying him more once new revenue streams from the new arena kicks in. Smart business all the way around.

#5 Thursday May 31st: Sidney Crosby named youngest permanent NHL captain

Surprising only observers who don't follow the Penguins that closely, there was press conference held to formally announce Crosby as the Penguins captain, replacing Mario Lemieux. Outsiders cried he was too young and whined too much, but people with a clue knew no one had the respect of the lockeroom better than Sidney with his other-worldly humbleness, quiet calm in the lockeroom and clearly leading by example on the ice. Plus with veteran leaders like Mark Recchi, Gary Roberts, Sergei Gonchar and Darryl Sydor there would be no shortage of fiery players that could stand up and demand accountability.

Crosby becomes the 12th full-time Penguins captain and figures to keep it for a long, long time.

# 4 Thursday June 14: Evgeni Malkin wins the Calder

For another team, having a rookie of the year candidate might be a top 5 story. Ho-hum, the Penguins had two of the three nominees at the summer 2007 ceremony, and Evgeni Malkin, as expected, was the runaway winner.

Malkin becomes only the 2nd Penguin to ever win the Calder Trophy (the other being his boss) and deserved the honor.

His whirlwind season started of course in the much publicized summer where he had to sneak out of his training camp activities in Finland, hang low for a few days before getting everything in order to make the trip to America. Then, in this totally foreign land at the age of 20, Malkin had to play in smaller rinks and the North American strategies of physicality, dump and chase mentality. With players, coaches, media and fans speaking in a tongue he, at first, knew nothing of. In a culture probably polar opposite from what he experience his whole life. Plus with a regular season almost twice as long as he was used to.

How did he respond? 78 games, 33 goals and 52 assists for 85 points. Malkin has overcome a lot of adversity already and still is one of the league's best and most skilled players. It's scary to think of how he could be in 4-5 years down the line once he gets his bearings up to speed on and off the ice.

# 3 Thursday June 14: Sidney Crosby youngest to win Ross, Hart, Pearson

This story should probably be higher. After all, it's unheard of for a teenager to come into a sport and dominate his older peers like Sidney Crosby did. And he was rewarded with the trifecta: the Art Ross Trophy for being the league's leading scorer, the Hart Trophy for being named MVP by the media, and perhaps most importantly the Lester B. Pearson award for being named MVP by the players vote.

However Crosby is a team guy and would be the first to point out the team's accomplishments first, so we'll leave this at #3, even though if 2007 wasn't so extraordinary of a year it might very well be #1 any other year. Also, Mario Lemieux (playing in the era of Gretzky) only won 3 Hart Trophy's. It's crazy to wrap your head around thinking that Crosby is already chiseling away at Lemieux's records and achievements but he is.

#2 April 2007: Biggest single season improvement in franchise history

"The Penguins finish the season 47-24-11 with 105 points and in second place in the Atlantic Division. The 47-point improvement over last year's total of 58 points is the fourth-largest turnaround in NHL history."
Not much more to say than that, it was a whirwind season the culminated in a terrific ending; the Pens went from the absolute basement to 2 points away from winning one of the more competitive divisions in hockey. Credit goes to every single player and every coach that busted tail to make it happen.

#1 Finalized Tuesday March 13: The Penguins and Pittsburgh agree on arena deal

As we mentioned in the Darkest Moment, things were not looking good as 2007 began for the Penguins to even finish the calendar in Pittsburgh. But earnest negotiations finally got underway and real headway was made. The official announcement was made in March as the Penguins were surging towards the playoffs: the team would stay for the next 30 years, the basic agreement for a new arena was made.

Mario Lemieux himself announced it to a capacity crowd during a game that none will soon forget. The ovation, the joy, the realization that after so much uncertainty, and given how bad things looked just weeks ago, it was all over. The emotional rollercoaster (with all its highs and lows) was done. The Penguins were staying where they belonged. It was all the more symbolic how Lemieux then pretty much fell from the spotlight completely, turning things over to Crosby and Malkin. After all, it is their show now, time for the next generation to wow us.

I'm not sure I could say I wish every year was as eventful as 2007, but in the end it was all worth it. The heartache of losing to the Senators or how the team has stumbled out of the gates in the 2007-08 campaign just gets overwhelmed by what guys like Crosby and Malkin personally achieved; as well as the steps the entire organization took. Guys like Maxime Talbot, Ryan Whitney, Brooks Orpik, Erik Christensen and Mark Eaton really cemented themselves as key players in whatever their niche or role was.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times….Sometimes all in the same week, sometimes all in the same game. 2007 will surely be a year not to forgotten by Penguins fans....May 2008 bring 10 more exciting moments and yet a higher "high water mark".

So what did I get wrong? What clearly obvious moment wasn't recognized? Use the comments to give some feedback and make me look foolish. It's your obligation as a blog reader.

Shake that Laffy Taffe

In somewhat of a surprising move, the Penguins recalled forward Jeff Taffe from Wilkes-Barre today. It’s not surprising given that Taffe is having a good season in the A (team leading 12 goals and 21 points) and has 100 career NHL games under his belt with Phoenix and NYR.

But no one is really hurt and it hasn’t been reported that winger Connor James (a healthy scratch last night after appearing in his first Penguin NHL game) was sent back to the farm.

The reason that’s a bit of a head scratcher is today starts the NHL’s Christmas roster freeze. After 11:59 tonight, teams can not trade players or send anyone to the minors until December 27th. They can, if necessary, recall players up---so it’s not like they couldn’t recall Taffe whenever they wanted.

This move would put the Pens at their maximum of 23 players (14 forwards, 7 defense, 2 goalies) so they don’t necessarily have to make a move. It’s just unusual, and a bit curious, that Shero and company have departed their regular theories and carried around these many bodies.

So, this news makes me immediately ponder the following knee jerk questions:
1) Is a trade about to happen sometime today?
2) We heard that Ryan Malone"was excused [from practice on Monday] so he could get a gash on his leg from a couple weeks ago re-evaluated by a doctor" but then he missed Tuesday's game with the all-encompassing “flu-like illness” that could be anything. Is it bad? But not bad enough to go on the IR?
3) Why hasn’t word come down that they sent James back down instead of healthy scratching him?
4) Is there a player dinged up that can’t play?
5) Does Pittsburgh just want to see if Taffe's goal scoring can spark the offense?

I think my best guess is probably #4 or #5, #2 is certainly the Oliver Stone angle and #1 is probably a pipedream at best.

I like what Taffe could bring to the table, he has a knack for scoring goals, but I don’t see why someone like James or Christensen needs to be a healthy scratch for the next week.

Perhaps the Penguins will answer some of my questions before the day is done…Stay tuned

Hands off the button, Pens fans...for now

Ok, so it's not really time to press the panic button, but everyone knew the Penguins effort last night stunk. The harder question, it seems is "why". Really it only looked like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Gary Roberts were interested in playing last night. That's not going to cut it.

But, in the course of an 82 game season there's always about 5 games your team just dominates, 5 games and about 5 games where your team doesn't bother to show up. Chalk this one in the latter category.

In the bigger scope of things the Penguins still have two worries:

1)Not losing touch with the playoff race during Marc-Andre Fleury's 6-8 week injury
2)A shoddy divisional record.

The face-off factor recently compared the 2007-8 Penguins to the 2006-7 and noted that, after 30 games, this years group wasn't off pace. However, in a stretch from January 13th to February 18th last season's team captured an incredible 26 points out of a possible 32 (16 games). And then in the final 20 games of the season the team would only drop 3 games in regulation...Their combined record against Atlantic division opponents during this run was 8-2-1. Is this year's team capable of either such a run? Highly doubtful.

Right now the Penguins just need to weather the storm and hope when Fleury does return, his game is as sharp as it was before he left (stopping 86 of 90 pucks before his injury) and be the boost needed to jumpstart the team.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Beat up Pens face Old Friends

Currently casualty list:
#1 goalie, #1 defenseman, 3rd line center, important PKing dman, shootout specialist, 4th line pest, pseudo-top-6 winger.

Although most of the latter names (Scuderi, Christensen, Ruutu and Malone) seem to be just minorly dinged up, the long list of casualties seems to be moving in the wrong direction.

Best guess at how the lines could look are as follows:

*Malone had to see a doctor for a gash on his leg....Being as he's something of a tough customer and has been on the topline of late, I expect he'll be geared up to play in this game. It is a contract year for Taters, after all.
**Ruutu or Christensen, who knows.

For a ragtime lineup, that's not terrible...By the way, your eyes didn't deceive you, that's Georges Laraque in a top 6 role. It won't last long, I wouldn't be surprised if Therrien juggles that up before the end of the first....But that's how it will start.

To make matters worse, tonight's game starts off a pretty frantic 4 game in 6 night (at Boston, at NYI and then home for Boston) rush before the Christmas breather. During this stretch we're likely to see Ty Conklin, gulp, man a NHL crease once again.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Ben Eager is a Coward

Hat-tip to one of my favorites, Jonathan Bombulie's blog (link at right) for this gem:

The Ben Eager-Gary Roberts fight the other night got me thinking, so I checked on something. Here's the list of Penguins players Eager has fought in his pro career [includes AHL action].
Drew Fata (twice)
Ross Lupaschuk
Matt Murley
Max Talbot
Daniel Carcillo
Gary Roberts

Here is a list of Penguins players Eager hasn't fought.
Georges Laraque
Andre Roy
Eric Cairns
Dennis Bonvie
David Koci
Mike Sgroi
Ryan VandenBussche

Eager is 6-2, 227. His spot picking is disgraceful.

Yeah, I think that sums it up pretty well. Ben Eager is not willing to run with the big dogs because he knows he'd get run over. Hell, half the times the middleweights he fights (even if they're 41 years old) hand him his lunch.

Now if you'll excuse me I must start saying Hail Mary's for calling Gary Roberts a middleweight.

You dead dawg.

Pens young players coming up big

Sorry for the infrequent posts of late....Things have picked up considerably for me (new job) and my time has been stretched. For game recaps and more regular updates to my dozen readers, you know to check out the Pensblog. Heck, you come from there anyways.

Regardless, good win tonight for the Marc-Andre Fleury-less Penguins in Long Island. Some of my thoughts:
``Kris Letang led all Penguins with 25:50 ice time. It's hard to develop as a young defenseman in the NHL. Letang, relatively unhearlded as a 3rd round draft pick, is doing it in front of our eyes. Surprisingly for someone so adept at moving the puck, tonight's assist was just his 2nd of the season. Best stat for this offensive minded dman? 4 hits and 1 blocked shot. If Letang can be competant in his own end against NHL caliber players, I really think he could develop into a Dan Boyle-esque player. Which would be a very good thing.
``Enough of Letang, how about Tyler Kennedy? Mr. Kennedy is rocking faces the NHL and his speed, hustle and energy is making differences. Coming into this year, personally I was more sold on Ryan Stone or Jonathan Filewich. I overlooked the new TK's overall skill that goes along with his effort. And with 6 goals and 4 assists in 19 games (while playing just over 11 minutes a night) Kennedy is making a HUGE difference. Kennedy's goal and 2 assists tonight meant he had a hand in every score. Tremendous.
``The Islanders have been on a streak of something like 20 games not scoring more than 3 goals in a game, so jumping out to an early 2-0 lead (even though it was neutralized) was huge for not only the Penguins but to damage the pysche of the Isles.
``Seriously, is every goal Richard Park scores against the Penguins? I'll try to look it up when I have the time, but it really seems like Park scores almost every time he plays his old team. Yet he only has 5 on the year.
``Sidney Crosby had his 15th goal of the season, but he and Evgeni Malkin had a hideous go at it in the faceoff circle (thanks mostly to faceoff wizard Mike Sillinger). The two Big Boys went a combined 11 for 36 (30.5%) on faceoffs.
``One area the Penguins did not have problems was the shot department. 40 shots on net tonight (led by Petr Sykora's 6) and missed the net 11 more times. Tell me this going into a game and I like their chances....Also Crosby had 5 shots on goal, I believe he's had about 13 shots in the past two games; it seems like he's making a conscious effort to shoot more. That is a very bad thing to hear for the opposition.
``Are people going to start hitting Georges Laraque so they don't have to feel Gary Roberts' wrath? Roberts took exception to Andy Sutton's treatment of Jordan Staal and had no qualms in dropping the gloves with a significantly younger (and bigger) kid. Arguably no one in the NHL is as tough, strong or forceful as Gary Roberts is at 41 years old....And if you don't believe it, he'll probably kick your ass too for good measure.
``Crosby is #1 in the league at drawing penalties: 37 so far this year. The outside observers will wrongly decry that they are mostly sympathetic or trumped up calls by biased referees "Michael Jordan calls" if you will. Watch 5 consecutive Pens games as just a neutral observer and you'd have a different perspective. I belive right now Alex Ovechkin is #2 in this category, also for a reason. The opposition knows the elite players that they must hook, hold, slash, grab, trip, interfere, etc.
``Dany Sabourin was good. But can he be good for the next 6-8 weeks? Tough question. But considering Sabs was the goalie of the year in the ECHL once, and he was the goalie of the year in the AHL once, he has the skill and knows it. Surely his confidence could all fall apart and we could see repeats of the 8-2 debacle in Philly.....But I honestly believe Sabourin could be the stopgap for the next month and a half and do his part to keep the Penguins in playoff contention. IF he can (and I realize that's a hefty if) that's all you can ask for.....For tonight at least, he did his part.
``One of the unsung trio, Rob Scuderi, left early with what appeared to be an ankle injury. That's 3 current ankle injuries (Fleury, Maxime Talbot), if you're keeping track at home. Maybe we should try wrapping these things or something??
``Connor James made his NHL debut. The Pens chose him over a more flashy guy like Stone, Filewich or Jeff Taffe because he fills the Talbot role of speed, energy and PK ability better. James looked decent in his limited action. He definitely is a very fast and quick skater. The Penguins sure do have a great crop of all-around skaters in their organization, it's something that's been emphasized by at first Craig Patrick and now Mr. Shero. I can't believe I paid a compliment to post 2000 Craig Patrick, but apparantely I just did.
``Sports Illustrated did a huge article on Chris Simon a couple of weeks ago where they basically tried to state that he really is a good person that just does bad things. I bought this, after all hockey is a rough and tumble sport and it's emotions run high so it's easy to cross the line occasionally....But Simon's latest line crossing; where he attempted to stomp Jarrko Ruutu's ankle off was inexcusable. Too much adds to his shoddy reputation. There's no place in the NHL for that kind of recklessness. I'm sure Colin Campbell will be giving the Isles a call soon to let him know how long he's suspended. It should be a lengthy one, no one deserves to be stomped on with an ice skate. Total classless and bush-league by Simon.

It's a great thing to get 2 points from a division rival on the road....Even moreso when your #1 goalie and #1 defenseman (Sergei Gonchar) are out of the lineup, and when the two big guns combine for just 1 assist.

Around here, we'll take it....These two points are worth just as much at the end of the season as the Flyers earned for winning 8-2 the other night. It all counts the same.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

My advice to you is to start drinking heavily

Sorry for no posts recently, I've been drinkin ever since learning that Marc-Andre Fleury is out for the next 6-8 weeks.

2 months of Dany Sabs and Ty FREAKIN Conklin?

If you'll excuse me, I'm going back to the bottle.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Flyers Game Preview and a NEW Feature

The Penguins are back in action tonight, in one of America's 3 dirtiest, nastiest cities (as voted by me....the others, of course, being Baltimore and Cleveland). The Penguins and Flyers have very similiar season records; the Penguins have two games in hand but have unfortunately lost them both in regulation. So tonight's game is about holding serve and keeping up with the (Randy) Jones'.

Another thing of note; when you mention the Philly Flyers, you mention questionable injuries that they dish out....5 and counting. Tonight I don't think much cheap stuff will happen since:
``Riley Cote is out on suspension
``Given uber-pest Steve Downie recently got sent back down to the AHL, the Flyboys don't have too many dirty players in the lineup.
``Ben Eager is rough and tumble but not nearly as reckless as a guy like Downie....Eager is, well eager* to drop the gloves, getting in 5 fights in just 20 games...However, the folks at (predicatably, with a huge following of Flyers fans) have scored Eager at 2-3 this year, and his lone wins were not against heavyweights (Montreal's ex-Baby Pen Tom "the original TK" Kostopolous and Washington castoff Brian Sutherby). I suspect Eager may just be about to get in the way of about 10 of Georges Laraque's patented left hands to the head.

*I know, I know, I couldn't resist....Rest assured I feel shame

Now that we've covered the obligatory cheap Flyers play and a heavyweight matchup, I suppose they're playing a hockey game too. Max Talbot and Marc-Andre Fleury didn't even travel with the team to Philly, so using my expert hockey analysis I'd say neither figures to be in uniform tonight, save for Talbot maybe going back up to Toronto to put on another Crosby jersey and kick up a real show!

Anyways, look for the Penguins to try to continue to outshoot and outwork the opponents with their cycling, take advantage of what should be a top 5 powerplay when penalties are drawn and stay out of the box themselves. Hopefully Dany Sabourin can be as solid as he's been so far in Fleury's abscence....Every day I really feel like this could be the night where Jordan Staal breaks out so I'm probably going to keep harping on this until it inevitably happens so I can take credit for it. I call this my Sean Salisbury analysis cap.

And now for our award!

For some reason this trophy cracked me up

This blog really doesn't have any features, but thanks to a little bit of looking at google searches from lost souls who type questions into google, we have our first....

So without further review, your inaugural google search of the day:
is marc-andre fleury going to be the best goalie in the nhl?


Monday, December 10, 2007

Sidney Crosby, City by City

Credit to one of the most solid bloggers and data analysts out there, James Mirtle for this. He noticed that Sidney has now, finally, played in all 30 NHL cities, despite being in the NHL for 26 months and 189 games.

The chart didn't copy/paste well, so in the interests of me being lazy and not smart enough to format it better you're going to have to use the link to see it.

However, in conclusion, here's the broadest possible look-sie:

In Pittsburgh:
94 games, 140 points (47g, 93a), a +/- of +11, 92 PIMs and 316 shots on goal

All else combined road games:
94 games, 122 points (42g, 80a)+5, 102 PIMs, 301 shots on goal.

Remarkably similiar, but an edge at home. Without seeing any further stats, it's easy to tell where Sidney and the Penguins have been racking up the powerplay points.

Trades that wont happen

What is with it the Ottawa Senators never-ending obsession to attempt to acquire Gary Roberts?

No deal, Howie.

Though getting a winger that can, you know, score would be awesome in today's NHL teams simply do not make trades. It's like the NFL now. Thanks salary cap! So even though the two clubs may have "talked" about exploring a deal, I would actually be shocked if it went through, given the dramatic shift in player movement in the new CBA.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Can't do any better than 6 out of 6

The Penguins took all 6 possible points out of their road trip in Western Canada. The likely stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin played well but obviously the star of the show was the 20 year old defenseman that scored 2 shootout deciding victories.

Marc-Andre Fleury who? (Just kidding) Dany Sabourin played very well filling in for the injured Fleury but hopefully he won't have to for long.

Way to go, Kris Letang, you've single handedly won 2 extra points for the Penguins.....I think you might stick in the NHL now! Letang made the best goalie in the NHL (excuses to Dominik Hasek and Marty Brodeur) look like an amateur. Roberto Loungo did his part to get his team at least one point, but he was absolutely undressed by Letang.

The Penguins have now won 6 out of the past 7 games.....That's how you get back in the playoff chase right there.

Atta Boy Ricky

Terrific fight.....Seriously, the best fight I think I've seen since a Rocky movie.

Both men left their heart and souls out there.....Credit "Pretty Boy" Floyd for fighting a tremendous fight, instead of ducking and running (like he usually does) he hung in there and laid it all on the line.....And won. Surely Mayweather is the best fighter in the world. He's fast, he's strong, he has endurance and he rocked Hatton all night. Ricky left it all on the line and he came up short...
Still, the best fight I have seen. Congrats to Ricky for being an everyman and never backing down. And, obviously mad props to Mayweather for a hard fought victory. He earned it.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Fleury "day-to-day"

Marc-Andre Fleury's ankle x-ray were negative (which is actually a positive) and sportsnet is calling him "Day-to-day".

Still, he's probably not going to be dressed tomorrow night, as according to Wilkes-Barre beat writer Jonathan Bombule, veteran Ty Conklin has been called up.

The team isn't going to send Conklin cross-country and take him away from the AHL club if they didn't need him to dress for a game.

As I've mentioned in the past, not having goaltender depth isn't an issue, unless your guy gets hurt or struggles. Teams cling to their #1 guy nowadays in the NHL, and under the salary cap you won't, for long, have anything much more than a serviceable #2 guy.

Conklin, while not a great goalie, is at least a guy who's been around the block and, at times, can be a capable NHL level goaltender. He's not a player you want to see on the NHL roster for very long though.

All in all, the Penguins seem to have dodged a bullet with this. It seems Fleury just rolled or sprained his ankle a little and didn't do any serious damage. But, as some have found out, even though an ankle sprain may be a relatively tame injury; it can have quite a bite, especially if player returns to action before fully recovering.

Dressing 7 defensemen

With the return of Sergei Gonchar from his groin injury, Michel Therrien's employing an altered lineup. Instead playing the regular 12 forwards/6 defenseman, he's going with 11 forwards and 7 defensemen.

I can understand not scratching Darryl Sydor; a veteran who hasn't been bad, but not that great of late either. And of course you cannot scratch a player like Kris Letang, he's obviously proving himself as a guy you have to play.

The result though, is players get less icetime. Sydor has about 25 minutes of icetime....For both games combined. Brooks Orpik has been getting about 12 minutes a night too.

I don't run the show, but I would rotate scratching Sydor and Rob Scuderi until injury/performance dictated otherwise. Sure, Scuderi's been great in his role and a terrific surprise, but he's a bland 5/6 defenseman that isn't going to create much one way or another.

Another result of this strategy is that Erik Christensen and Jarrko Ruutu have been scratches.

Night off for the boys tonight before a final game in Western Canada with arguably the toughest opponent of the trip: Roberto Luongo and the Canucks....Haven't heard anything about the severity about Marc-Andre Fleury's ankle, but hopefully it's not a long-term injury. Seemed kind of minor.

Big Georges mauls another one

When someone's foolish enough to fight Georges Laraque, we'll show it. Yeah, it's not every day an NHL "tough guy" has the rocks to throw down.

Eric Godard is tied for the league lead in fighting majors, he knows what he's in the NHL to do.

And he got pounded by BGL in a quick decision. It always amazes me how no one can keep their balance very long against Laraque. Big Georges only has time to get about 2 or 3 of his patened lefts in.

So now, for your viewing pleasure here's Eric Godard vs. Georges Laraque.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Pens Win, Pens Win

2 Points is 2 points....

Sidney Crosby had a good game but he didn't make an impact really.....

``Georges Laraque made an impact when he whooped Eric Godard. But, as always for those bold enough to drop the gloves with BGL.
``Geno had a terrific game, culminating in a goal....Couldn't have won without him.
``Ryan Malone had a sensational individual effort to score the game tying goal....Good for him.
``The shootout was won by a great move by Kris Letang. Credit the coaches for trusting him, and credit Letang for coming through...
``Dany Sabourin wasn't terrific, but he didn't have to be....Once again, the Pittsburgh goalie did enough to win.

The Penguins have now won 3 in a row, and 6 in the last 7.....And, as the Capitals bloggers would say....It has been a 2 point night!!!

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Pens strike Oil and the Anatomy of a Good Coaching move

Road win tonight, unlikey since the Pens were 1-9-2 this season when entering the 3rd period. But here's what I found most interesting:

--The first two periods were the quietest of Sidney Crosby's season so far. For whatever reason, he didn't have his usual spark, his game wasn't there. So to the dismay of messgae board posters, Michel Therrien puts Crosby on the bench for about 6-7 minutes; obviously something unusual for your #1 center and star player on a night when you're only dressing 11 forwards anyways.

How does Crosby respond? With one of his most forceful periods in the 3rd, where he had 3 assists.

Credit Crosby for really responding. Whether sitting the bench refined his focus, gave him perspective, gave him a minute to catch his breath from all the interviews and pressure for going to Western Canada, whatever. Whatever it was, it worked.

A lot of fans are quick to scream bloody murder when a coach does something they disagree with and don't give much credit for when a decision/strategy/plan pays off. Credit Therrien for doing what he thought was right. It wasn't as if he benched Crosby for a period, but he did sit him long enough to send a message. And by the way Sir Sid responded, clearly the intended effects worked 100%.

Other notes:
``You could tell Edmonton backed off once they had a 2 goal lead. A lot of dumping and chasing and clogging the neutral zone. Bad mistake. You can't back off on a team with so much firepower. 4 goals in 7:25 minutes later, the Oilers probably learned this lesson.
``Sergei Gonchar's return to the lineup and no defensemen were scratched, 7 played. Adam Hall joined Jarrko Ruutu as healthy scratches. Old Man Recchi was technically a healthy scratch, but since he didn't even make the road trip, obviously he's not really a part of the team.
``Maxime Talbot's diving effort on the first goal really lit a fire under the team too. His effort and enthusiam is contagious. It shows. He's such a valuable player.
``Marc-Andre Fleury was THIS close to scoring an empty net goal. Defenseman Tom Gilbert was the last line of defense and he barely got his glove on a clearing effort that appeared to be otherwise on target. The Oil quickly took the puck the other way and Fleury remained sharp making a good save on super rookie Sam Gagner. Another good, if not spectacular game, for Fleury. He did what he had too and he really looks confident out there right now. That's a good sign.
``Quiet night for guys like Evgeni Malkin and Petr Sykora. But Mark Eaton and Colby Armstrong each had 2 point nights. So figure. Armstrong scored what would be the game winner on a deflection of a Eaton shot. Colby very well have just stolen the only goal Eaton would get all year, but given the team won, I doubt Eaton would mind.

A win is a win is a win. The Penguins dominated about the first 7-8 minutes in the game and then fell into a big rut until about the last 15. But at the end of the season these two points will look just the same as a complete 60 minute effort.

The Penguins don't have too long to celebrate as there's a game tomorrow night in Calgary. Calgary's been surprisingly loose in giving up goals by their standards from past years, so hopefully momentum will carry over a little bit.