Sunday, December 28, 2008

Trudging through December

Since we left, it's been one up, one down...In fact over the past eight games the Penguins have alternated wins and losses (the good news being that next game ought to be a win!)

  • Last night's star of the game was clearly Andrei "Big Tits" Kostitsyn, who scored all three goals for the Habs.
  • The game before-- and the night before, Marc-Andre Fleury was similiarly big, making 37 saves to shutout the New Jersey Devils and on a 1-0 snoozer of a game.

Next up is a home and home in three days with Boston, the suprise front-runners of the East. It should have a playoff atmosphere. The Bruins have lost three games by a total of four goals since November 1st, they have been rolling at home and away. The Bruins play 10 of their 13 January games at home, so it would figure they should be able to keep rolling.

For the Pens there were some positives to take out of last night's 3-2 regulation loss. For a team missing important energy and role players like Tyler Kennedy, Pascal Dupuis, Max Talbot and Mike Zigomanis for stretches of December, they showed a good effort last night. Two important defensemen in Hal Gill and Kris Letang should be back from injury soon. If they keep battling, things will turn around.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Whitney to take injured Letang's place

Think Ryan Whitney's return from injury tonight would mean less injured defensemen? Not yet:

The decision on which defenseman to sit to make room for Whitney in the lineup was taken out of Therrien's hands. Kris Letang will not play after leaving last night's win at Buffalo with an unspecified injury, apparently the result of being hit by a shot. Therrien described's Letang's status as day to day.

It's seemed like Letang has taken a lot of little bumps and bruises lately, from watching games he's been hobbled or have to double over on the bench quite a few times lately. Hopefully he'll be feeling better after the two day Christmas holiday to come back soon.

Top 10 Penguins moments of 2008

Before some enterprising blog gets on it, we better run down a list of the top 10 Penguins moments of the calendar year 2008, like Peerless is doing for the Caps. The top moments of 2007 can be found here. You know, on the 2007 recap we said it would be hard to top that year, but a magical playoff run sure did the trick. If 2009 can one-up 2008 we’re in for some fun for sure.

#10 Sidney Crosby creates memories at the Winter Classic

The game itself was not too good: the idea of a Winter Classic is a made for TV gimmick, and under heavy snow and in bone trembling cold is not really the best way to showcase the skill and speed of hockey to a nation of casual New Years Day watching folks. But when you talk of gimmicks, you talk about the shootout, so what better way for the NHL than to have their poster boy with “the game on his stick”. And of course he buries it.

Also what may be the longest lasting aspect of this game: it really cemented the fact the Pens would bring back their retro blue jerseys in the years to come. And the blue jerseys have done well, in pretty much every ranking you see they take the prize for being the best alternate jersey in the league.

#9 Penguins win first Atlantic Division title in 10 years

The old marketing slogan “Experience the Evolution” could at this point be retired, because the Pens had figuratively crawled out of the slime of a 23 win season just two seasons before this point and now were the champs of arguably the most balanced and competitive division year in and year out in hockey. To win the division with all the injuries and adversity battled through was the mark of a team coming full circle, knowing their destiny and going out to grab it. Of course no one sets out only to win a division championship; it’s a nice banner but not the only one a team strives for.

#8 Ground broken on new arena

Getting the funding secured was the #1 story of 2007, but a couple guys with shovels makes #8 this season. With the economy in such turmoil as it is right now the Penguins timing was perfect in getting locked into their new home when they did. It’s hard to imagine things playing out the same way if they deferred another year.

#7 Evgeni Malkin signs identical contract to Sidney Crosby

One of the biggest questions going into the off-season was how Evgeni Malkin’s contract situation would play out. Sure, Geno would still be under contract for 2008-09, but summer 2008 was the first time the Penguins could talk extension with him. Many people wondered if Malkin would accept less money than Crosby and if the Penguins would be willing to offer Malkin more money than their captain, if the Russian so demanded. Some even dreamt up ridiculous trade rumors that had a few Pens fans nervous (not us though).

At the end of the day, Malkin decided that he would sign the exact same deal Sidney Crosby got, five years at $8.7 million a season ($43.5 million total). This was huge, it showed Malkin obviously liked Pittsburgh and wanted to be here and prevented any media fed rumors about Crosby or Malkin being unhappy/jealous with the paychecks of one another. By taking a fifth year Malkin also forfeited one year of his unrestricted free agency, and by accepting a yearly salary at a rate moderately under what he could have gotten as a RFA it allows the Penguins to spend a little more to round out the roster.

#6 Crosby gets injured, Malkin picks up banner, doesn’t look back

January 18th, 2008 could have signaled the death knell of the Penguins season when Sidney Crosby slid into the end boards and suffering a high ankle sprain that would hamper him really right until the end of the year. Crosby was the defending Art Ross, Hart and Pearson trophy winner and was leading the scoring race at the time of injury. For most teams it might have been an excuse to slump down the standings. For the Penguins and Evgeni Malkin it was just a challenge.

Malkin put up 54 points (24 goals, 30 assists) in the last 36 games after the Crosby injury, rocketing the Penguins up the charts and into the Stanley Cup playoffs with a dangerous mix of momentum and confidence.

#5 Redemption: Pens sweep Sens
Spring 2007 saw the Senators as a dangerous team and the Penguins as the new kid’s just cutting their teeth on playoff experience. Ottawa dished out a lesson to Pittsburgh that year, quickly disposing the Penguins in five games. Fast forward a year to April 2008 and the situations couldn’t have been more reversed. Even though Ottawa won the Eastern Conference in 2007 and started out the 07-08 season with a blistering 25-8-4 record, they were in full on collapse mode by the time the playoffs started, sliding in as the #7 seed.

The Penguins easily won Game 1 4-0 on the strength of Senator killer Gary Roberts’ two goals (the last goals he’d score as a Penguin, by the way). The Pens rallied back 5-3 to win Game 2 with two goals from Petr Sykora and Ryan Malone. The Sens did show some life in this game and took a lead, giving their fan base hope of being competitive when the series shifted to Ottawa for the next two games.

Going into the 3rd period of game three, the score was 1-0 Penguins. Sidney Crosby and Jordan Staal scored goals in the opening 1:30 of the period and it deflated the Sens and their crowd.

With the chance for a sweep the Penguins didn’t let their foot off the Senators’ necks, winning 3-1 on an effort capped off by a Crosby empty net goal.

#4 Pens defeat Rangers, end Jagr’s NHL career

The Penguins had an eight day layoff between the first and second round and it showed. The Rangers jumped out to a 3-0 lead just three minutes into the second period of Game 1 Mellon Arena and the fans were stunned. But the Penguins rallied back with quick strikes: Jarkko Ruutu and Pascal Dupuis scored goals :14 seconds apart to cut the score to 3-2. Then in the third period Petr Sykora and Marian Hossa scored goals :20 seconds apart to give the Pens a 4-3 lead. Scott Gomez knotted the game at 4, but an Evgeni Malkin powerplay goal with under two minutes in regulation gave the Pens the win.

In Game 2 the Rangers, not wanting to get in shootouts with the high powered Pens, tried to play a lot more conservatively. But the Penguins proved they could buckle down defensively as well as anyone in the league, winning a 2-0 game (last goal an empty net). Marc-Andre Fleury stopped all 26 shots thrown his way, while Henrik Lundqvist got 30 of 31.

Going to New York, the Penguins quickly jumped up 3-1 in the first period of Game 3 and then literally hung on for a 5-3 win. Fleury was sensational again, making 36 saves, while the Pens only had a total of 17 shots of their own. The Rangers though fought through when their backs were against the wall winning 3-0 in Game 4 on the strength of two goals by Jaromir Jagr (the second an empty netter) and 20 saves by Lundqvist.

In Game 5 the Penguins returned home and carried the play, badly outshooting the Rangers and had a 2-0 lead in the 3rd. NY would strike twice though and kick the game to over-time, as a last bit of life. 7 minutes into the overtime Marian Hossa scored the series clincher off a Crosby assists.

#3 Marian Hossa arrives, raises hell, leaves

Breaking this string of playoff recaps was a very important player for the Pens that stretch: Marian Hossa. In 2008 Hossa got a perfect situation coming to play with Sidney Crosby and scored 12 goals and 14 assists in 20 playoff games to forever banish his reputation of not being a playoff performer. Hossa’s superb skill made him a great winger and combination with Crosby, one that could have continued for many more years if the Slovak had accepted the Penguins long-term contract offer.

As you may have heard, however, it wasn’t to be. Hossa, who’s suffered through playing in Atlanta, was an unrestricted free agent and earned the right to go where he wanted to how long he wanted. He turned down the big bucks from Edmonton for a one-year deal from, of all places, Detroit. Saying he thought it gave him the best chance to win a Stanley Cup, Hossa turned his back on his new peers. It’s hard to argue his point as Detroit did just defeat Pittsburgh and wasn’t set to lose any key pieces for the 2008-09 season, but that didn’t make the wound hurt any less at the time.

The jury’s still out on if Hossa made the right decision and if his health will be in tact to still receive a long-term contract after this season, but we think as time progresses Pens fans will be able to remember and appreciate the run Hossa had in Pittsburgh. It may have lasted a total of 32 games and cost Colby Armstrong, Erik Christensen and two prospects, but the trade was worth it. It gave the Penguins a shot and a mandate from management: just taking “the next step” is not enough, you guys are young but you need to believe you can go all the way any and every year.

#2 Orange Crushed: Pens destroy Philly, win Eastern Conference

As underdogs, the sixth seeded Flyers had gotten to the Eastern Conference finals by playing the Southeast Division champion Washington Capitals (beat them in 7 games) and the #1 seeded Montreal Canadiens (beat them in 5 games). Taking that road, especially a series win through a place like Montreal, really proves a battle tested team. The Pittsburgh/Philadelphia intense rivalry was on, a trip to the Stanley Cup finals loomed.

Game 1 was decided by Evgeni Malkin’s second goal of the night, a short-handed tally. The Penguins won game two by the same mark, 4-2, when Max Talbot scored the GWG in the 3rd. The series shifted to Philly but it was the Penguins who came out the gates strong, jumping up 2-0 in the opening frame and holding on to win the game 4-1.

For the third time in a row Pittsburgh was winning the series 3 games to 0, but the state sweep wasn’t to be, as the Flyers scored 3 goals in the first period of Game 4 and held off a two goal effort by Jordan Staal to win 4-2 after an empty netter. If Flyers fans thought their team making a massive comeback, they were sorely mistaken, as the Penguins completely dismantled the Flyers 6-0 in Game 5 back in Pittsburgh to win the Prince of Wales Trophy.

#1 Pens can’t equal Wings experience, lose in Cup finals

Not every story has a happy ending and this one didn’t for the Penguins. After getting through a conference about as easily as one can, they faced the very formidable and experienced Detroit Red Wings in the finals. Game 1 and 2 were a nightmare, Detroit won by a combined score of 7-0 and just sucked the life right out of a Penguins team with impressive puck control, Chris Osgood only had to make 41 saves in the first two games combined for his shutouts. At that point it seemed all but certain to be a short series, this time in the favor of the opposition.

But the Pens would battle back, Sidney Crosby was the first to puncture Osgood’s defenses, he did it twice in Game 3. Adam Hall added a third goal and then the Pens held off a furious Detroit rally to win Game 3 by the score of 3-2. In Game 4 Marian Hossa scored a goal 2:51 into the game, but Detroit’s captain Nicklas Lidstrom would answer a few minutes later. The score remained 1-1 until Jiri Hudler capped the scoring with a goal 2 minutes into the third period. Detroit now had a 3-1 series advantage and heading home they were determined to win the Cup.

The Penguins had other ideas, Hossa and Hall scored early goals, the first Pittsburgh had scored in the series on Detroit ice. Then the Red Wings roared back, scoring two goals in the second period and when Brian Rafalski scored a goal with about 10 minutes to go, catcalls for the Cup were in full volume. The clock kept ticking and it seemed the Penguins were going out with a whimper.

The Penguins pull their goalie for a final desperate push and then it happens. Boom—Maxime Talbot with 34 seconds left ties the game. The deflation of the crowd is tangible. The elation of the Pittsburgh players is off the charts. We’re headed to overtime. If the Red Wings were discouraged by Talbot’s goal, it didn’t last long; Detroit outshot the Pens 13-2 in the first over-time. Each time Marc-Andre Fleury had an answer. Shots in the 2nd OT were more even (8-7 for the Pens) but #1 defensemen Sergei Gonchar was injured and Ryan Whitney was playing about every other shift, and playing incredible. Then nine minutes into the 3rd overtime period Hudler takes a penalty. Gonchar does his Willis Reed impression and does more than just get back out there, he finds Evgeni Malkin. Malkin to Petr Sykora to the back of the net, the Penguins have just won the most thrilling and taxing game of the season.

Game 6 was back in Pittsburgh, but more of the same: Detroit outshooting the Pens and getting up to an early 2-0 lead. Malkin scored on a powerplay before the end of the second period to give the Pens hope that their hole was only one goal. The Red Wings clamped down again and eventual Conn Smythe winner Henrik Zetterberg scored to make it 3-1 with 13 minutes left in regulation. Again it went to full on desperation mode as the Pens hurled everything they had at Detroit. Gonchar scored a powerplay goal with just 1:30 left to make it 3-2. As the last seconds ticked off the Pens made what would be one final, final furious rush of trying to will a goal in but Crosby and Hossa’s last ditch effort trickled *just* wide as the horn blew.

That’s your series and the Red Wings skate the Cup on Mellon Arena ice. A tough scene to watch, to be sure, but even though the Penguins didn’t make it to the destination; the journey to get there was incredible. 2008 will be remembered for the incredible journey, the gaining momentum and the invaluable experience gained by the core of the team.

Monday, December 22, 2008

GOOSE, Pens Win

The Penguins still seemed to be stuck in a rut, they were badly outshot and didn't control a lot of the puck possession game. But, a win is a win and you take the two points any way you can get them, especially on the road against a good team.

  • Something we forgot to mention in the Mellon Arena recap: Jordan Staal seemed to be really throwing some checks. Maybe it's just contract year encouragement, or maybe that the 20 year old is feeling more comfortable at the NHL level, but he's becoming a physical force in the corners and behind the net.
  • Marc-Andre Fleury rebounded well from last game; the first goal took a bounce off Phillipe Boucher from point blank, the second goal Mark Eaton got caught flat footed at the blueline for an Ales Kotalik mini breakaway, and the third goal was a powerplay marker saw Boucher and Eaton soft in front of the net.
  • See a trend there? Boucher, Eaton, Boucher and Eaton largely responsible for the goals against. When Ryan Whitney returns tomorrow we all should know the candidates to watch from the press box.
  • Nice to see Pascal Dupuis back in the lineup, and he had good jump in his step, it appears the dreaded "lower body injury" isn't hindering him. And what a great breakout pass from Brooks Orpik to advance the puck up to Miroslav Satan for the Dupuis goal to catch the Sabres in a sloppy change.
  • Evgeni Malkin's trek towards a 100 assist season is alive and well with three apples tonight. Geno is about 2.6 assists ahead of the pace....And just like that he's up to 58 points, 11 up on Sidney Crosby and 15 over Alex Ovechkin, his closest chasers in the scoring race.
  • Crosby didn't particularly have a forceful game, it's seemed his been off his mark lately. The Trib noted he might have the cold or flu with a scratchy voice, and that would make sense, since his game just hasn't added up.
  • Crosby was great in the faceoff circle, winning 70% of his 23 draws, it's a high standard he's held to, so maybe we all just need to take a step back.
  • Was the goal over the cross-bar or not? Hard to tell, looked very close to being a non-goal, but at the same time the angles we saw would make it almost impossible to indisputably overturn the initial call on the ice (no matter what it was).
  • Something that has been filtering through our head: tonight's GWG was Crosby's first of the season, and Malkin only has 1 GWG as well. Crosby does have some balance though, with 7 goals at home, 7 on the road, 7 against divisional foes and 7 against non-Atlantic teams.
  • Last but not least of the bullets, Alex Goligoski, two goals and an assist tonight for a guy who's quickly got to be moving up the Calder Trophy list--especially when other leading contenders are eliminating themselves. You know if Goligoski was about half a foot taller and wearing a different jersey number one wouldn't be out of line to think Whitney had returned in midseason form a night early.

So that is that, an old fashioned bus ride down, two points in the ledger and now a quick turnaround to a home game against Pittsburgh South (aka Tampa) tomorrow night.

The end of the world as we know it?

Don Cherry agreed with us about Saturday night's fights (hat-tip to Empty Netters)

Ukranian, Russian, ahh what's the difference. Could you imagine the orgasm Cherry would have had if it was his boy Jordan Staal fighting instead of the Russian?

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Personal homecoming ends disappointingly

Our first game back at the Grand Old Lady didn't go so well, one of the Penguins worst games of the year...Some thoughts:

--We've been at probably 30 games at Verizon Center since back in Pittsburgh...Mellon seemed much brighter for some reason, but one thing we've been spoiled on was the HD jumbotron. Surely the CTC (the under construction Consol Energy Center) must have one...It's hard to go back.

--Speaking of, a big hole in the ground has never looked more promising.

--The Pens, as everyone knows, stunk it up. For some reason or another they didn't show up. One thing we found interesting on the drive home listening to post-game radio were the callers in; one in particular cited Evgeni Malkin for showing up and said something along the lines of "where was Sidney Crosby". Crosby, to be sure, didn't have an impact, but despite getting a goal and an assist, Malkin coughed up two bad giveaways that ended up in the net. So really his contributions just broke even as well.

--Marc-Andre Fleury didn't stop some pucks, but to be fair the guys in front of him allowed the Leafs way too much puck possession in the Pens zone. It wouldn't have made much a difference if the Pens had Ken Dryden and Martin Brodeur in the net at the same time, they weren't going to win on that night with that effort.

--We noticed when things seemed over the Pens lined up Kris Letang as a winger for Crosby...Makes enough sense to see if it would work; Letang certainly can skate as well as anyone in the league and has good offensive instincts. But he's been a defensemen his whole life, and there's a reason for that. In short, don't expect that to be a long-term option. Still, we didn't see any harm to roll him out there while the game was out of reach to at least see if it could spark something.

--A side note: 3/4 of the stands we were near didn't take credit cards. That seemed weird considering it is the year 2008. Sure the facility was built in 1961 but they can't upgrade with some credit machines? It cost the Pens some revenue at least from this fan, a 24 year old that basically lives with a plastic bank card and doesn't carry more than $20 cash at any given time.

--If we were giving out Schrutebucks, -50 for Andre Deveaux. He didn't want to fight when Eric Godard asked him (though Godard really didn't give him much an option) but Deveaux was willing to drop the gloves with a guy in Ruslan Fedotenko, who hasn't fought since 2001 according to hockeyfights. Of course, tempers were flaring when he and Rusty got in each other's faces but still.

--A lot is now being made about Michel Therrien's "it's Crosby's team" comment, taken in the context that HCMT is resigned to that he doesn't have the power anymore and Crosby is the boss. We don't see it quite that way, Therrien is a master of motivating through the media and no doubt was frustrated like everyone else after the game. But this is a superstar driven league; no less than Scotty Bowman used to have his practice drills modified or totally ignored by Mario Lemieux who had other designs. In many regards, this IS Crosby's team. He's the #1 guy.

--OK, techinically it's probably Ron Burkle's team more than anyone else, but save Burkle, Lemieux and maybe general manager Ray Shero no one has more power and pull than Crosby. But that's how it goes when you have a generational talent.

--We thought Therrien proved his point though when the Pens got a powerplay in the dying moments and Petr Sykora was the only regular forward out there. If you're not going to work or show up, you're not gonna get the chance. We were fine with that.

All in all, let's see how they respond. A loss is a loss, but this isn't the game to determine the season. A new day is a new chance to make the difference. Pascal Dupuis might be back and Ryan Whitney is on the horizon. But those are just two guys and two guys can't win a hockey game if the other 16 aren't skating. Hopefully that's the lesson this team will learn for the last time tonight.

Friday, December 19, 2008

A Superstar signs a deal

Mats Sundin? Never heard of him. We're talking about a superstar here!

"Max has developed into one of the key players in our organization," Shero said. "He has shown his versatility and plays in all situations for our hockey club. He played an integral role in helping our team reach the finals last season and we look forward to having him for the coming years."

Here's to at least two more years of commercials, clutch goals, fu manchus, hustle and laughs....And at just over $1 million a season, it's a great deal for the club.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

This and that

Random thoughts from here and there...

--Jeff Taffe and Ryan Stone got the call from Pittsburgh. Taffe is not surprising, he’s shown he can be a decent and serviceable player in a NHL capacity, but Stone is. He’s a prospect that’s never panned out and has seemed to spin his wheels. He’s not the best skater but has decent all-around skill and the willingness to throw his body around. It’ll be interesting to see if he’s given the opportunity to catch on. A couple years ago though, hell maybe even before this year, it would be hard to imagine that Stone would be the sixth AHL level forward to get the call to the NHL (or to have stuck originally like Bill Thomas and Paul Bissonnette did).

--Dany Sabourin has almost the same number of minutes played as Marc-Andre Fleury this season…Sabourin’s GAA is notably better (2.47 to 2.86) and his save percentage is slightly higher than the Flower (.911 to .907). Will there be controversy? No, of course not, but the interesting thing is to watch if Fleury can come back and play as lights out as he did last season under a similarly long layoff.

--Speaking of injuries and layoffs, it’s been 196 days since June 4th; the day the Penguins watched the Red Wings skate the Cup and the last time Ryan Whitney and Sergei Gonchar played meaningful games. Isn’t it weird how such an occasion can seem so distant yet so near at the exact same time? Whitney ought to be back in a week’s time, which will be interesting to see how quickly he gets up to speed himself. And what does it mean for the Penguins blueline? Mark Eaton figures to sit 8th on the depth chart at that point, and what of Phillipe Boucher and Hal Gill, are they still in the lineup every night? Whitney’s return, though a blessing, also brings with it several tough questions.

--Don’t pay too much mind of Alex Kovalev’s 20+ game goal-less streak. What we can’t get over is how good he and old pal Robert Lang look out there. As 2/3 (with Martin Straka) of what the best 2nd line of this decade, Kovy and Bobby Lang have gotten the band back together and are playing some nice music. Lang, has 22 points in 30 games, not bad for a guy who’s gonna turn 38 years old in two days.

--In fact, if you think about it, few players who seem so inconsistent have actually been quietly steadier than Lang over the past decade. Since he established himself in Pittsburgh in 1998-99 with a 21 goal 44 point season, Lang has hit averaged 68.88 points a season, hitting the 50+ mark every time. Sure he’s bounced around to five teams and owes a lot of his stats to playing with supremely skilled wingers like Kovalev and Jaromir Jagr, but Lang’s staying power has been impressive.

--Something interesting caught our eye from the Post-Gazette yesterday and has stuck with us, so we’ll share…What names stick out to you (hint: the first two)

Still, 10 players -- forwards Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Pascal Dupuis, Eric Godard and Tim Wallace, defensemen Ryan Whitney, Kris Letang and Alex Goligoski and goalies Marc-Andre Fleury and Dany Sabourin -- went on the ice with assistant coaches Andre Savard and Mike Yeo and goalie coach Gilles Meloche for the better part of an hour [on Monday].

When the two leading scorers in the league are showing up for an optional practice that a lot of the team didn’t strap ‘em up for, that says something. The team understandably needed and deserved a maintenance day after a grueling schedule. But when the best players are out there constantly working, constantly showing up, that’s leadership and that’s a good sign.

Well the four day break is over tomorrow and the Pens are back in Atlanta for the second time in a month. In a bit of a programming note, it’s going to be a little slow over here during the weekend, we’re making a pilgrimage back to Pittsburgh to visit family and watch the Penguins break out the third jerseys in person against the Make Beliefs.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Roundtable Talk Part 2

Tony over at The Confluence was nice enough to invite us to participate in another one of his roundtable talks.

So, for a state of Penguins nation, here you go. Our answers are preceeded by (HO), how charming, eh?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Bozo hanging up the floppy shoes

Another pre-internet dinosaur bites the dust:

I began at the Press on June 30, 1969 covering high school sports.

It basically ends today with this column.

I had been considering retirement and when the Post-Gazette offered a generous buyout, my mind, after some debate, was made up.

What a wonderful career it has been. I've been on the front line of sports history, Pittsburgh and otherwise.

In a way it almost feels sad to see Smizik fading away, he's certainly been no friend to the blogger, and personally we haven't agreed with many of his stances, but his voice has been out there and it's been relevant for a long time.

What a fine time to be on the Pittsburgh sports scene from 1969 to the present, one couldn't ask for a better time to be covering a city, we think. Clemente, Stargell, all the Steelers of the 1970s, Cowher, Bettis, Bonds, Leyland, Lemieux, Jagr, Crosby, Malkin and so many more. What a ride indeed.

But if this opens up more opportunities for people at the PG like Seth Rorabaugh, then, at the end of the day, maybe this is a good thing.

(hat-tip to the Pensblog)

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Out of Gas...Pens lose

Usually out-shooting a team 12-6 in the second period would be a good thing. Usually.

  • Frustrating game, the Penguins really looked like they've played three games in about three and a half days. They looked like they were skating in oatmeal.
  • Nice to see Yukon Cornelius (aka Scott Hartnell) show his face around the holiday season. It was especially nice to see him try to fight Eric Godard behind a visor. Really tough guy, good luck finding that gold.
  • Sometimes when the Penguins get one goal, they usually can turn things around. But when Jordan Staal tipped in a goal, to make it 2-1 it seemed to awaken the Flyers more than the Pens.
  • Godard scored an almost identical goal to Staal, taking advantage of a shift with Evgeni Malkin and Petr Sykora while Ruslan Fedotenko was smarting.
  • Mike Richards acted especially like a douchebag in taking exception to Matt Cooke finishing a check on Kimmo Timonen. Nice to see the scrum ensue and then see Sidney Crosby tackle Timonen. When Richards and Cooke went to the box the astute lip reader could see Cooke say "I'll fight you when we get out" while pointing outside the penalty box...Guess Kramer didn't want to take him up on the offer.
  • Another rough night for Brooks Orpik, a -2 effort. He did have four hits and two blocked shots, but Orpik doesn't look that effective with Rob Scuderi.
  • One team goes 4-6 on the powerplay, another goes 1-4. The difference is your ballgame, among other things.

That's about it, a tough pill to swallow but at the end of the day there is a light at the end of the tunnel--and he was sitting at the end of the bench wearing #29. Next comes a needed four day break before a sprint of 18 games in the 34 days before the all-star break.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Malkin's push for 100 apples

Speaking of charts and paces, let's see how Evgeni Malkin is doing with assists. A while back we noticed how he was on pace to become the first player since 1990-91 when some schmuck named Wayne Gretzky to record 100 helpers in a season. Gretz got 122 that season...(In all fairness, it should probably be pointed out Joe Thornton notched 96 assists the year following the lockout).

(click on chart to enlarge)

We're not quite sure how user-friendly this turns out or whether it will make sense to everyone else, but we can tell you Malkin is on pace, he's largely been on pace ever since Game 6. Which is pretty remarkable considering the graph is rising at a constant rate of 1.21 assists every single game. It'll be interesting to see how long Malkin can answer the bell.

(Currently: Malkin 36 assists, Pace is 35.37 assists)

The Great Race...Malkin v. Crosby v. Ovechkin

Through 29 games a pop, here's early chart of game by game points for the the three amigos: Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin. This goes off of a team's game, so if a player misses a game (like Ovechkin did to visit his grandfather) than obviously his amount of points remains stagnant for that game.

Out of curiosity, here's the same chart if you include Alex "Dead Wood" Semin. As Crosby can tell you, an longterm injury really derails your chances. All of Crosby, Malkin and Ovechkin have seemed to have nagging injuries early in the season, but all have been able to trudge onward. Hopefully for the league's sake, they can keep it up.

Click on images to make them bigger. As you can tell, the lines have only advanced about 1/3 along the right axis, plenty of time left.

We'll update this again probably around the all-star break to see how things are going.

E. Staal: Malkin is the best

Nice to see a little respect thrown Malkin's way. Via ESPN:

Q: Who is the best player in the game today?

A: Right now I would say [Evgeni] Malkin. I think he's playing the game with so much confidence. He's making plays that not a lot of guys can make. They have a great 1-2 combo with [Sidney] Crosby and Malkin. On the power play they're lethal, and I think overall Malkin is playing the best in the league right now.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Feeling down on your luck? Play the Isles

Losing streak, what losing streak...Playing the Islanders was exactly what the doctor ordered.

  • Credit Petr Sykora--or perhaps blame Joey MacDonald--for letting this one get out of hand. After Mark Streit ripped a rocket to pull it to a 2-1 Penguins, Sykora scored just 11 seconds later...Not to be outdone, Sidney Crosby found Phillipe Boucher thirty seconds later. Yep, from making it 2-1 to being down 4-1 in less than a minute.
  • It was nice to see Sykora get his first NHL hat-trick. Crazy to think a sniping winger with 282 career NHL goals has never gotten one. Safe to say you'll probably never see a guy so happy to make a game 7-1.
  • From the Department of Redundancy Department the Islanders could really use a goaltender. As bad of a night as MacDonald had, Yan Danis (or whoever the hell that was) looked like he had never played the position before.
  • Call Mike Sillinger wins the "Tiger Woods Award" tonight...In his first 4:09 played, old ass Sillinger got to -3.
  • A look at who got the lionshare of the Pens' shots during the first half of the game shows a lot of powerplay domination: Kris Letang (5), Crosby (4), Sykora (4), Miroslav Satan (4), Evgeni Malkin (3).
  • Up 7-1 did you agree with HCMT trotting out the regular top powerplay unit? On one hand, they're all professionals out there and this aint T-Ball--but on the other hand it seemed a little unsportsmanlike. But hey, the coaches preach things like "never take your foot off the gas" and "play a full 60" so what message does it send if the coach pulls back the reigns?
  • The Penguins played last night, they played tonight and they play again Saturday afternoon--thanks schedule makers. At least by putting the Isles to bed early tonight they could roll lines and ease back on the horses. Even though the boys will have no trouble getting up early to play their blood rivals, but still a little nicer to coast in and conserve some energy.
  • After 2 periods it's 8-1 and we're pulling a mercy rule (sometimes like a beat writer we start writing before the game's over)...No more recap. Crosby hit a post and missed a wide open net; Sykora hit a post had a clear goal blown off because the ref was out of position...It's scary to think what the score of this game could easily be.
  • To this point, 16 Pens have a +, 12 have points, 8 have multiple point nights...They might not be calling off the dogs, but we are.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Consol Energy buys rights to new arena

It'll be new to call it the "Consol Energy Arena" or "Consol Energy Center", but then again it sure sounds like a better name for the Pens than the Sprint Center...


When the Penguins' new arena opens, it will have a new name. KDKA Investigator Andy Sheehan has learned that Consol Energy has won the naming rights.

The local coal and energy company is claiming more and more of a national and international spotlight.

Next week, the Penguins will announce the sale of the arena naming rights to Consol on a long term basis for at least several million dollars a year.

The Penguins aren't commenting, but in a similar deal, the New Jersey Devils sold naming rights to their arena to Prudential Insurance for $5 million a year.

Business is business, gotta do what you got to do. At least Consol Energy is a local company to Pittsburgh.

The numbers racket

Tim Wallace got called up today in place of the newly demoted Janne Pesonen. We like the idea, better to have a worker if you're going to play him 5-6 minutes a night and let Pesonen go back to the AHL and get some top minutes.

Wallace is wearing #63, so along with his roommate Ben Lovejoy (#65) the Penguins have to players to have a number on their back in the 60's in a non-preseason game since May 21, 2001....Perhaps you've heard of those two.

Monday, December 8, 2008

1 for 9 doesn't spell success

Tough loss tonight, playing without four of the top six defensemen on the team is tough, but not converting on the powerplay (1 for 9) was too much to overcome. Penguins fans love to try and call for Mike Yeo's head, but it's hard to argue the chances the Pens got. 12 shots on the powerplay, several of them great chances. Many more went just wide or were blocked. Tonight, Ryan Miller was awesome and he was the difference.

  • It looked like "trick night" at the rink for Evgeni Malkin. A lot of crazy dekes and moves all around the ice, perhaps the best being pulling the puck between his legs, leaving a defenseman in the dust and throwing a perfect cross-ice pass to Ruslan Fedotenko for the game's first goal.
  • Speaking of Rusty, the guy is nothing if not a very streaky goal scorer. When he's hot he's hot (remember the 12 goals he scored in 22 games to lead the Lightning to a Cup?)
  • Janne Pesonen has his share of apologists...Err, supporters. But he's not an impact player at this level. Is he getting a ton of minutes or opportunities? No, he's not. However, what has he done? Absolutely nothing. He's generated nothing and looked lost. The cream rises to the top, even at getting 6-7 minutes a night if he was the real deal he'd be showing flashes of brilliance. He's shown nothing. He got six shifts and 2:55 tonight. But give Malkin 2:55 of time and he'll show something. Give Sidney Crosby 2:55 and he'll show something. That's tough competition to measure yourself against, but the bottom line is you have to show something. Pesonen, right now, has nothing to offer, whether he got 2:55, 12:55 or 22:55 it'd be hard to argue for him.
  • Thought: if you didn't know this was Ben Lovejoy's first NHL game, could you have guessed it? Probably not, but you'd still think he was a rookie though. A couple times we noticed Jordan Staal making a conciseness effort to get back and help out. Lovejoy did get a "welcome to the NHL" moment when Paul Gaustad lined him up around the endboards with a thunderous (but clean) hit. Malkin, stepping up, checked Gaustad and then cross-checked another player.
  • Nice to see the Penguins help Kris Letang get the monkey off his back by giving him a lot of powerplay goal....Still not a good night for the improvised Letang/Brooks Orpik top pair, as they were on the ice for four Buffalo goals, two off of Orpik turnovers, the other off a careless Miroslav Satan entry to the zone.
  • When Max Talbot looks like a giant in a post whistle scrum, you know the opponent is tiny. Nathan Gerbe, listed at 5'6" (possibly with skates on) might be even smaller than Martin St. Louis. He's still a good player though.
  • After going 1 for 7 on the powerplay through two periods you just couldn't feel good about the Pens chances, huh?
  • As we alluded to at the top, Pittsburgh threw a lot at the net..The Pens got 54 shots on net, 32 on the target. Miller was huge in keep out what he could and it was enough.

The Pens looked a little sluggish last game, but that could be reasonably excused by playing three games in four nights in three different cities. But tonight began another stretch of four games in six nights (in three different barns). The road is going to be tougher before it becomes easier.

At the end of the day the finger pointing can go around. The Pens were sunk tonight not just by the inability to convert powerplay chances, but by sloppy turnovers. Orpik, Orpik and Satan made three plays that resulted in the puck being in the net. Letang and Dany Sabourin had chances to make great plays to cover the mistake but couldn't. At the end of the day the Pens just need to buckle down, make smarter decisions and better plays and execute. They didn't do it tonight, and the power-play couldn't cover that up this time.

The Walking Wounded

Blog buddy Ben Lovejoy has been recalled (maybe the Pens saw our prospect update)....Which means that maybe Hal Gill can't go tonight.

Got us to thinking, the injury bug hasn't been kind to the team closest to us and our favorite team. So, in a pickup game (at 100%), who ya got if these two lineups met each other? It's sad that you can almost make lineups...

Washington Capitals *

Pittsburgh Penguins

*Pseudo-retired Brian Pothier not included because face it, he's finished.

Talking contract with Staal

Pierre LeBrun at tWWL says that the Pens and Jordan Staal are talking contract.

We find it interesting that preliminary talks for a new contract have begun between Jordan Staal's people and the Pittsburgh Penguins. That's not to say a deal will get done, but at least there's contact. Staal is a restricted free agent July 1.

It had been speculated by many over the past year this might be his last season in Pittsburgh given the amount of money the Penguins already have locked up in their other two star centers, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. But word is both sides are kicking around the idea of a short-term deal that could fit under the cap. Talks should pick up again in the New Year.

Well, talk is a good thing. And a short term contract seems likely for Staal. Look around at the climate of the league where teams are locking their young players up for big money when they haven’t produced. The poster boy for this is probably Rostislav Olesz, who despite scoring 31 goals in his first 190 games was given a five year $17.05 million dollar contract ($3.41 per season), based largely on future contributions.

With the Penguins having five players (Crosby, Malkin, Marc-Andre Fleury, Brooks Orpik and Ryan Whitney) locked up for at least the next five seasons, it seems obvious that a guy like Staal could get squeezed out, especially with the salary cap not expected to rise next season, due this rough economy. But a short-term deal would make things work, for both sides. For the Penguins they’d get Staal at a better price then he would command for a 4-6+ year deal. For Staal, who is still establishing his scoring touch, it gives him a chance to improve his stats while remaining on arguably the most skilled and offensive minded team in the league.

The Penguins, by our estimation, have $13 million coming off the books this season with expiring contracts. Obviously some of these guys (to name a few: Petr Sykora, Miroslav Satan, Hal Gill, Rob Scuderi) will leave pretty important holes in the depth chart and will need to be re-signed or replaced through other means. Also, keep in mind that Staal’s cap hit (and likely his final salary) is $2.2 million with bonuses factored in, so even if he signs for $3.5- $4 million a season, it won’t be as if he’s eating up *that* much more of the cap then he already has been for the past three seasons.

Don’t expect a press conference tomorrow announcing a deal, it’s likely these talks will continue as the months progress. In this case, dialogue is a good thing and one we’re happy to see happening.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Czeching up on the kiddos

Our first look at how Penguin prospects are faring this season:

Professional level (age in parenthesis):

Wilkes-Bare Scranton Penguins
Luca Caputi (20): 23 games played, 6 goals, 6 assists, +5
--Caputi's the 8th leading scorer as a rookie on a very competitive AHL team. He's been lauded for his offensive game and also has seemed impressive away from the puck according to reports. Caputi's probably the Penguins best prospect at this point.

Dustin Jeffrey (20): 24 gp, 3g, 11a, 6+
--Jeffrey's fourth on the team in assists and now that Janne Pesonen and Chris Minard are in Pittsburgh he's starting to get more icetime and opportunities.

Ben Lovejoy (24): 24 gp, 4g, 10a, +14
--Cited as a possible replacement for a Rob Scuderi-type defensive defensemen, Lovejoy has had a great season so far...His +/- is tops on the team..Last year(his first in the pros) he only scored 2 goals and 18 assists, so he's well on pace to up his production.

Janne Pesonen (26): 20gp, 5g, 16a, +4
--Pesonen's been among the best players at the AHL level, but it remains to be seen if he will be a player at the NHL level.

Wheeling Nailers

Nick Johnson (22): 18gp, 14g, 10a, +6
--Johnson, a former 3rd round pick, scored a goal in his first game for WB/S...Johnson at 6'2, 200 has the size to make a difference, it'll be interesting to see how he develops. The injury situation in Pittsburgh is a chance for him to be more involved.


Rimouski Oceanic (QMJHL)
Keven Veilleux (19) 17 games played, 8 goals, 12 assists, 20 points, +3
--Veilleux missed some games earlier in the season with injury, but has been having a very fine season for when he has be on the ice. Sometimes the knack on big players like Veilleux (6'5, 215) is they don't produce very early in their careers. By establishing himself as a PPG+ player in the "Q, KV's having no such issues.

Vancouver Giants (WHL)
Casey Pierro-Zabotel (20) 28 gp, 10g, 34a, +26
--CPZ has had a nomadic career so far, after he couldn't make eligibility for the NCAA, he decided to go to the WHL and he's been able to settle in and fufill his promise. The Giants are the #1 team in the league so far and CPZ is the leading scorer on the team, and 3rd in the league.

St. Johns Sea Dogs (QMJHL)
Alex Grant (19) 27gp, 6g, 19a, 25p, -3
--Grant, a defensemen lauded for physical play, is the leading defensive scorer on his team and 2nd in penalty minutes.

Kingston Frontenacs (OHL)
Nathan Moon (18) 27gp, 11g, 17a, 28p, -13
--Moon, the Penguins highest draft pick from 2008 (4th round), is leading his team in scoring. But, as one might hazard to guess from looking at his plus/minus, Moon's team is not that great; sporting a 6-19-6 record.

US College

Boston College
Carl Sneep (21) 15 games played, 1 goal, 7 assists, 8 points
--Sneep, now a Junior, is the highest scoring defenseman on the Eagles. Interesting note: Brooks Orpik's little brother Andrew is a 4th line forward on this team.

Boston University
Brian Strait (20) 15gp, 1g, 1a, 2p, 26 PIMs
--Strait, a Jr., leads his team in penalty minutes...Last season he had 10 assists in 37 games.

Recap: Spezza 3 Penguins 2

Not to much to make of yesterday's matinee loss to the Sens, they made more plays than the Pens and get the win. That's how it goes sometimes. Jason Spezza had a great game, and it was more than the Penguins could match....Dany Sabs has been good but now going on Week 4 without Marc-Andre Fleury it looks like it's starting to wear on the Penguins.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Gameday 26: Senators

Better know an opponent: The Ottawa Senators
Record: 9-10-4 (22 points, last in the Northeast Division, 12th (tied) in the Eastern Conference)
Season series: 1-1 (remember those games in Sweden?)

Notable wins: Pittsburgh, New York Rangers
Notable losses: New York Islanders (three times!)
Key injuries:
Last game: 5-1 victory over Atlanta Wednesday night
Statistical star: Dany Heatley [13 goals, 12 assists in 23 games]
Disappointment so far: Antoine Vermette [2 goals, 3 assists, -8 in 23 games]

Notable Notes:
---Who would have thought the formerly high octane Senators would be tied for last (with Tampa Bay) in goals for? But they're also second in the conference in goals against....Ottawa's actually won three of their last four games....

TST Opposing Players to Watch: The Pizza Line
--Dany Heatley, Jason Spezza and captain Daniel Alfredsson have combined for 49% of the total goals scored on the team. They're the straw that stirs the drink. Heatley himself has 19 goals in 23 career games against the Penguins and something like 8 straight games.

TST Homeboy of the Game: Sidney Crosby
--Interesting split stat of the day...We suppose it's pretty important to get El Sid going:
In wins: 15 games: 10 goals, 21 assists = 31 points, +18
In losses: 10 games: 3 goals, 5 assists = 8 points, -5

Friday, December 5, 2008

The Sweater Ted Meets the Owner Ted

Yesterday I got the pleasure of getting to sit down and talk with an NHL owner, a first. Ted Leonsis invited me to Capitals headquarters and I was glad to take him up on the offer. We sat and talked for probably about 20 minutes. The first thing you will notice about Mr. Leonsis is how engaging he is; he gave all his attention to me and was genuinely focused and interested in our meeting. It was something special. The next thing you can’t help but see is the man’s passion for the team and sport of hockey; he’s an owner that wants to have a class organization and wants to provide a winner. In that regard they are rounding into form.

We talked about a lot of things: hockey, blogs, fan-ship, following teams, he told me about his youth and how he came to love the game. We talked broadly about arenas and revenue, the economy…Of injuries and coaching changes, on fans who don’t get it and ones who do. It was a whirlwind and an exciting one.

I've come to the conclusion that in this day and age with the limitless resources of the internet and cable/satellite television, it is so much more easier to stay connected to a sports team if you wish. It's no stretch to say though, I'm probably at one extreme in terms of rooting interest. Had I been, not less "dedicated" to the Penguins but maybe less attached is the proper word, it would be easy to see me phasing out of them and towards a team who's city I live in. If it was 30-40 years ago, I would not have much of a choice.

Therefore, I don't think it's uncommon or really inherently a sin for a transplant to adopt their local team. I also still believe though there are plenty of folks like me in this area, who's bond with their team/city has been solidified. I think this is reinforced when Buffalo, Detroit and Pittsburgh (three cities that have lost a lot of people) come to play in a city like Washington where due to the government, there's a lot of transplants in the area to begin with.

More to the point I would say, if you ever get the chance to meet Mr. Leonsis, be it at a game or around a practice, I would definitely suggest doing it. He is accessible and as you would imagine a very interesting conversationalist. I had a very nice time at Caps HQ and thank him for his time and parting gift; tickets for me and my friends to sit in some of his seats. We all had a wonderful time.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Banged up Brigade

After last night's 3-2 gimmick loss to the Rangers you can add Tyler Kennedy and Mike Zigomanis to the band of injured players quickly piling up on the Pens...And apparantely Phillipe Boucher is on the IR now as well. Add that to franchise goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and top defensemen Sergei Gonchar and Ryan Whitney.

Both injuries are undisclosed, but rumor has it Mr. Kennedy has already flown back to Pittsburgh to have a leg examined and could miss several weeks. Zigomanis is listed as "probable" so perhaps he will be able to win faceoffs tonight.

There will certainly be no empathy coming from the Carolina Hurricanes and old/new head coach Paul Maurice tonight, but hey, it's worth pointing out. Janne Pesonen and Chris Minard have gotten the call.

Tonight's projected lines, from the main site are:


Minard and Pesonen have played and played well all season long (no one in the AHL has more goals than Minard so far). But why keep Pesonen on the 4th line? We can tell that Mike Therrien doesn't trust Pesonen, doesn't know him well enough to give him the added responsibility of playing much. It's something that pretty much all new players to Therrien have to do; prove themselves on the ice, especially defensively before more icetime is given.

Another wrinkle to watch: Kennedy was being used on the top power play. Who gets the call now to join Crosby, Malkin, Satan and Alex Goligoski? We'd bet Staal and Fedotenko are the likely choices.

Fedotenko's had a great game, a lot of effort out of him. The recent benchings and line-demotions seem to have upped his game in recent days, hopefully something he can continue.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Haha sloppy seconds

This is probably why we have the tag "Sean Avery is the biggest asshole in the NHL"...
Dallas Stars forward Sean Avery was suspended indefinitely by the NHL on Tuesday, pending a hearing with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. The League said the suspension was issued in accordance with the provisions of By-Law 17 and Article 6 of the NHL Constitution for conduct "detrimental to the League or game of hockey." The suspension was imposed following inappropriate public comments about the personal lives of opposing players, and not pertaining to the game, made by Avery earlier in the day.

Boy, what could Avery have ever said this morning, on camera...

"I am really happy to be back in Calgary, I love Canada. I just want to comment on how it's become like a common thing in the NHL for guys to fall in love with my sloppy seconds. I don't know what that's about. Enjoy the game tonight."
But c'mon, it's not like Sean Avery pulled a Plaxico "Cheddar Bob" Burress or anything...Sure it's not professional conduct, but what did he do? Speak his mind? In America we call that 1st amendment rights. Dion Phaneuf is a big boy and arguably the NHL's best checking defensemen, and especially when pissed off you would think he could take care of this himself. Of course that could have gotten out of control, but hey, that's the element of excitement.

Also, we may not be following our Elisha Cuthbert hockey player timeline close enough, but wasn't Avery technically picking Mike Komisarek's sloppy seconds?

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Pesonen sent back to the farm

After tonight's game, the Penguins decided to assign Janne Pesonen back to the AHL. Not terribly surpising, as Na-na-na played just 6 and 7 minutes in Pittsburgh the past two nights.

Detractors will say that Pesonen didn't get the chance in this latest stint to establish himself, playing so few. And that's a good point. But you have to look at what Pesonen did with the minutes he got. 0 shots on goal, and though he did draw a penalty in both games, he did little to show that he might have produced much even if he got 15-17 minutes a night.

Now we're not going to say the guy is Vladimir Vujtek or Lasse Pirjeta just quite yet, but it's clear that Pesonen has nothing to offer for this version of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Look at the guys the Penguins are using as top line wingers on even strength or on the powerplay. You got Miroslav Satan and Petr Sykora, clearly more skilled and established players that are simply better options than Pesonen at this point. Then there's gritty hustle players like Max Talbot and Tyler Kennedy that can bring more to the table than Pesonen in the realm of digging up pucks, killing penalties, taking faceoffs, etc.

Pesonen's getting top line minutes in the AHL where he's an impact player. He's just there yet for a high quality team such as the Penguins. Hopefully Pesonen goes back down, keeps his attitude up and works at getting better.

A pure character..

We're convinced Zenon Konopka is a minor-league version of a non-fashionista Sean Avery..

Also, during a goalmouth scrum, Zenon Konopka took a drink out of Adam Berkhoel's water bottle. I don't think I've ever seen that before. What do you do if you're a Penguins defenseman in that situation? Do you take great offense? I mean, it's not, on its face, a terribly offensive act. The guy just took a drink of water. It's not like he put his lips on the bottle or spat it at someone. I think you just call him a name and move on to the faceoff. What would you do?


...Then Again Maybe it's a Sidney Crosby world..

So we may have jumped the gun...

--Sidney Crosby was awesome. He had a jump in his step all night long. When he got the puck, he was deking and juking around any defenseman in the way. 3 goals, 1 magnificent assist, +4 and six shots on net. One of Crosby's best games so far. In late October he had that unusual rib/torso injury that seemed to limit him. Clearly that is gone now.

--Mike Zigomanis 11 for 14 in the faceoff circle. Best pickup for future considerations ever? The case could be made. And we get the feeling it will be continued to be made in the games to come.

--Total team effort continued with 22 blocked shots for the Pens, including at least one for every defenseman, and fourteen of the eighteen skaters were credited with at least one hit. As Borat would say, very nice!

--The scoresheet only says two assists for Evgeni Malkin, but that hardly captures how Geno was galloping around, doing basically whatever he pleased making things happen. Malkin's now on pace for 139 points this season.

--Only two players (Thomas Vanek, Jeff Carter) have scored more goals this season than El Sid...Any comments Darren Dreger?....No? Didn't think so.

--Dany Sabs is 4th in the NHL in save percentage and the league leader in goals against average....File that under "things you wouldn't have thought at the end of two months of play"

--Still not a goal scored (yet) for Kris Letang this season, but he played more minutes than any Penguin not named "Malkin" and has blossomed into an established top unit defenseman in the NHL....Which is probably more than you've done at the age of 21.

--1 : the number of teams in the Eastern Conference with a better Goals For minus Goals Against differential than the Penguins (Boston)

--The Penguins are now 7-3-2 at home and 7-3-1 on the road. That's what we call balance.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

We're back...

Sorry for the long delay, with 1200 miles to ATL and back plus the Holiday in there the blog fell by the wayside...Things we think we think--

1) It's good to use Mike Zigomanis in situations to win faceoffs....But should he be sometimes taking full shifts on the top powerplay over guys like Petr Sykora? Even when the puck goes out of the zone and they have chances to change they don't pull Zigomanis. He's a NHL worthy player, but he's got 21 goals in 187 NHL games. Not bustin on the guy, just sayin..

2) Ever since Darren Dreger suggested Sidney Crosby should use a curve on his stick blade in order to help his shot (which would hinder his backhand passes not to mention his shot) El Sid has 7 goals in 8 games....Keep makin' noise up there, Canada.

3) Through now more than a quarter of the season, Evgeni Malkin is on pace for 138 points, which would be the most in a season by any player since Mario Lemieux rang up 161 back in 1995-96....Most would say the best player in the NHL now is Alex Ovechkin or Crosby, but we think that Geno is making his case pretty clearly every single night.

4) It seems a bit odd to say Alex Goligoski reminds us of a "young" Mike Green since Goose is only a couple months younger than the Washingtonian blueliner, but the similarities are there...Other than being left handed and not being as able to rush the puck up ice as a current day Green, Goligoski has become a sensational player that isn't bad in his own end of the ice either.

5) Despite the loss tonight, John Curry is definitely making his case to be the future backup goalie to Marc-Andre Fleury next season. Dany Sabourin is an unrestricted free agent after this season, for the record..Also, listed generously at 5 feet 11 inches, how much smaller does Curry look in the net than MAF (6'2) and Dany Sabs (6'4)?

6) Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, Matt Cooke has recorded 20+ assists three times in his NHL career. Any doubt that he'll get there this season with 8 assists already and doing a lot of dirty work digging pucks up and throwing them to the front of the net?

7) It's not often you see a guy score more goals in the NHL than he did in juniors, but Tyler "Mister" Kennedy might just do it. Kennedy's top mark in the Ontario Hockey League was 22. He's got 6 this season and has a penchant for putting the puck past the goalie at the NHL level. We're betting he'll beat his junior mark, probably sooner than later.

8) Ruslan Fedotenko was a healthy scratch tonight against Buffalo, and rumor has it he's asked for a trade, as he doesn't agree with the opportunities the coaching staff has given him...But it's hard to blame HCMT when Feds hasn't really been effective with the Pens....Still we get the feeling Fedotenko will get the chance to redeem himself and he will score a huge goal sometime in the season.

9) Sorry if that last bullet sounded a little Stan Fischler-esque. Hell, Rusty already scored a huge goal-- remember the OT game winner in Detroit? If Fedotenko's production (or lack thereof) is the Pens' biggest problem for the rest of the season, odds are things are going to be alright for the boys.

10) Therrien's finger on the button to slide Malkin and Crosby together in the middle of games for a jump has been excellent. It's reminiscent of Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg in the late '90s...They can play apart and make things happen, but when you need to get a boost put them together and watch the magic happen, like it did for the five goal explosion that 87 and 71 had a part in four of them in Long Island a couple nights ago.

11) By the way in case you didn't know, Sakic and Forsberg raised the Cup two times and probably would have done it a time or two more without a bum foot getting in Floppa's way.."Salvation lies within" and in hockey, strength lies within the middle. Believe that.

12) Finally, just remember: everyday that goes by is a day closer that Fleury, Ryan Whitney and Sergei Gonchar get to re-joining the boys. Heaven help you Eastern Conference when that happens.

It's a Malkin World...You're just living in it

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Later Gators

Apologies for slacking off around here lately, we've been prepping for a road trip and are about to embark now. If we're not back on Monday to dicuss, someone call the President.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Fleury injured

Uh oh, MAF-3000 is injured:

"[Marc-Andre Fleury]'s not going to play (Tuesday)," head coach Michel Therrien said. "It's not a major injury but we don't want to take any risks. That's why we want to be really cautious with his injury."

Therrien confirmed that Fleury suffered the injury late in Saturday's game against the Buffalo Sabres. Fleury still played the entire game. If he isn't healthy enough to backup Dany Sabourin on Tuesday night then the Penguins will re-call a goalie from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

Dispite the assurances of Therrien, we wonder if this is something that Fleury has been fighting through for a while; although he played well in the Buffalo game Saturday night, his GAA was over 3.00 the previous five starts, whereas he only had one 3.00+ night in his first 8 outings of the season. Yes, crazy to believe that a coach with absolutely no reason to tell the truth might be bending the situation for his own good, but hey.

Regardless, it’s nice to have a backup who is really clicking right now. Dany Sabs personal stats are 3-1, 1.68 GAA and a .942 save % and even more importantly he has to have confidence and the trust of his teammates for his incredible mop-up duty in the Philadelphia game, topped off of course by the five shootout saves in a row.

But despite how well Sabourin has been, it wouldn't serve the Penguins well if their #1 franchise goalie was out another 6-8 weeks like last season....Hopefully Therrien was telling the truth when he said that this injury doesn't look too serious.

Sydor for Boucher and the implications that follow...

Sooner or later you had to figure Darryl Sydor would be waived or traded. Sydor wants to play, and unfortunately for him with the emergence of young defensemen Kris Letang and Alex Goligoski over the past two seasons the reality was clear: Sydor just isn’t among the top 6 defensemen the Penguins have anymore. To his credit Sydor was the ultimate professional while going through this frustrating time. While others in his shoes coughMark Recchicough often loudly voiced displeasure and anger at having a diminished role; Sydor kept quiet and continued to be a positive example to the boys in the room. The leadership he brought off the ice, especially lately, was very commendable and he deserves much respect for that and we wish him well in Dallas.

On the other hand, we welcome Phillipe Boucher. This is an interesting acquisition; right handed defensemen are in short supply and Boucher did score 19 goals two season ago before battling all sorts of injuries. If nothing else, Boucher should provide a little more “oomph” on the power-play than say, Brooks Orpik, and hopefully steady what’s been, at times a shaky unit on the man advantage. If Boucher can remain healthy (and obviously that’s a big if) he could be a key player down the stretch.

Our forward thinking mind though can’t help but wonder what will happen when Ryan Whitney and Sergei Gonchar return. Whitney is already practicing and should be back sometime in December—though it is too early to say if that will be in the earlier or later part of the month. Gonchar is still in a sling and no where close to coming back, but he should be around come March. It’s a great thing to have a surplus of defensemen at the NHL, especially given the injuries that can happen at any given moment. But having too many NHL caliber players could poison the drinking water—like it may have if Sydor wasn’t such a good sport—and that would be a terrible thing. Boucher, for instance, has said that he is playing for a contract next year and we can’t imagine him being happy or quiet if he’s the odd man out. A lot of the logjam has been created by Goligoski establishing himself as a full-time NHL defenseman right off the bat. If his play wasn’t at such a high level it would be easy to demote him to the minors for further work. But that probably isn’t an option at this point.

So which two of the eight defensemen (this includes Whitney) are the odd men out? Surely not a healthy Whitney or Orpik. Letang’s played well in an expanded role, and as mentioned, Goligoski has been awesome. The team has been very high on Gill (remember Therrien called him a top 4 guy a couple weeks ago) so seemingly he’s in too. This would leave one playing spot for three veteran defensemen: Boucher, Rob Scuderi and Mark Eaton. Eaton’s had a rough season so far and Scuderi, though a solid shot-blocker and reliable guy, is a 5/6 guy that could be replaceable.

If all are healthy, would another trade be coming? In that case it would seem that Eaton or Scuderi would be the most likely candidates.


That’s probably how we would line them up, provided Boucher plays well. We realize the risks in looking even that far down the line, but what do you think? Sooner or later when reinforcements trickle back in the Penguins are going to have some decisions to make.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Malkin bends in ways you're not supposed to bend

It was a heart stopping moment when Evgeni Malkin went down like he did in the picture above last game. He actually torqued back on that leg a little further before getting it out of that predicament. Add the fact that Malkin went into the boards too at that awkward fashion and it had flashes of Sidney Crosby's ankle injury all over it.

But somehow--maybe by being young, maybe by being a professional athlete and maybe with a little luck--Malkin would get up after a second and then instantly put the whole incident behind him. What looked like something that could have put his season in jeopardy just became another play.

Whew, and then sitting at home on the couch, you remember to breath again.

Gamenight 17: Blue jersey night

Anyone remember the last time the Penguins used blue jerseys against Buffalo?

Better know an opponent: The Buffalo Sabress
Record: 9-4-3 (21 points, second in the Northeast Division, 5th in the Eastern Conference)
Season series: first meeting

Notable wins: Washington, at NY Rangers
Notable losses: at Boston, Ottawa
Key injuries: Tim Connolly (regret over braking Gary Roberts leg)
Last game: 6-1 loss home to Columbus last night (yikes!!)
Statistical star: Thomas Vanek [12 goals and 3 assists in 15 games]
Disappointment so far: Drew Stafford [2 goals, 1 assist, -2 in 13 games]

Notable Notes: So far this season four Sabres players (Vanek, Clarke MacArthur, Jason Pominville and Ales Kotalik) have combined for 29 goals, everyone else on the team only has contributed 17...The Sabres have given up 16 goals in their last four games (1-2-1 record)...Have only one regular center (Adam Mair-- 54.4%) with above 50% in road face-off wins...Have only two defensemen (Henrik Tallinder, Toni Lydman) that have a positive +/- rating.
Hockey night in Pittsburgh as the Sabres are in town from the uber-tough Northeast Division. For the Penguins to continue rolling on their current five game winning streak, it's time to buckle down on defense and have a solid night back there for expected starter Marc-Andre Fleury. As we pointed out the Sabres are going to give up space and a lot of chances for the offense, but how the Pens an get back on D and settle the counter-attacks will go a long way to determining the outcome.
Otherwise, pretty much business as usual. Time for the big guns to get out there and gun, the lower lines to forecheck and cycle like demons and the defense to keep holding both bluelines solidly.

TST Opposing Player to Watch: Maxim Afinogenov
--"Hey Jaws, did you know Maxim Afinogenov has been with the Buffalo Sabres since the 1999-2000 season? If you're a Buffalo fan are you not THRILLED with the way this Russian kid has turned out? I mean, so quiet off the ice but such a fancy dangler on it, Jaws could you have imagined IN A MILLION YEARS that he would still be with this team eight seasons later?
For a guy as talented as him though, he only has 11 goals in the last 72 games can you NOT believe it Jaws? But if he can score a goal or two here tonight and the Sabres go on to win the Stanley Cup, how could that not be the moment Buffalo looks back to and says 'THIS is where we turned things around'? Wow, how could the Buffalo fans not be THRILLED if Afinogenov rallies and wins them a Stanley Cup? Garble garble Brett Farve, Larry Brown, garble. "

TST Homeboy of the Game: Petr Sykora
--We got a good feeling about Sykora tonight...He's been fairly quiet this season (3 goals in 13 games) but is always lingering, always about to break through with a sweet goal or two. Plus seven of his nine points this season have come on home ice. Playing against a team like Buffalo could be what the doctor ordered for Sykora.

Add some Nasty


For just the pro-rated cost of $550,000 salary (and a waiver claim) your team can add the nasty edge of Paul Bissonnette.

-Need a scrap or two? He's got ya covered!
-Want to make 'em bleed? Bingo!
-Need a guy willing to "know his role"? You've come to the right place!!
-Like a light-hearted voice for the locker-room? Oh yeah, Tupac AND Biggie.

Hurry, offer expires at 12 noon Saturday, if leftover this menance might just turn against your prospects down on the farm.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

TST Field Trip Update

A week from this time we'll be taking a mini-vacation and going to Atlanta. And if we knew what Puck Daddy taught us yesterday, maybe we wouldn't miss any Pens games there..

Atlanta Thrashers/Hawks: Fans attending Atlanta Thrashers/Hawks games at
Phillips Arena can purchase 64 oz. adult beverages for approximately $8 in the food court area of the adjoining CNN Center.

Yesss. We can only hope this isn't like the mythical $4.50 beer in our usual neck of the woods.

Also, in time for the field trip, we wanted to get one of those purdy new, blue delievered, but they made a serious error, putting a Captains "C" on an Orpik 44 jersey where the alternate's A was requested. Someone else's order slip (for two t-shirts) also ended up in the box. Is it even worth calling in? We'll probably just perform some surgery and try to remove it.

Game 16: Flyers come back to town

Better know a division rival: The Philadelphia Flyers
5-6-3 (13 points, fourth in the Atlantic Division, 13th in the Eastern Conference)
Season series: 1-0 Pens --3-2 over-time win in Pittsburgh on 14/14 by the Pens [Orpik, Zigomanis and Dupuis your unusual goal-scorers]

Notable wins: New Jersey (twice), NY Islanders (twice)
Notable losses: San Jose, Tampa Bay, NY Rangers
Key injuries: Danny Briere (sand in vagina)
Last game: 3-1 win Tuesday night at the Islanders

Statistical star: Mike Richards [5 goals, 12 assists for 17 points, +2 in 14 games]
Disappointment so far: Tyler Kennedy's punching bag Scottie Upshall [1 g, 3a for 4 points, -3 in 14 games]

Notable Notes: Don’t let the 13th place fool you, a win tonight and the Flyers could jump as high as 8th place, they’re right in the thick of things….18 year old rookie Luca Sbisa has been impressive earning a regular spot on an NHL blue-line…Come to think of it, only three defensemen from last season’s playoff series (Kimmo Timonen, Lasse Kukkonen and Braydon Coburn) will be in the lineup tonight for Philly….The Penguins are out-shooting opponents 36-8 in the 3rd period of their last two games…Mike Richards has just 2 goals in 23 regular season games against the Pens….Marty “French Toast” Biron is sporting some Osgood-esque numbers; a 89.0% save percentage and a GAA well north of 3 (3.29).

It’s been a rollercoaster this season for the Flyers: they lost their first six games (three of them in OT/shootout) but then won the next four…Then they dropped three games but they just won on Tuesday, is this their turn upwards or can the Pens kick a hated division rival while they’re under .500? You try to figure this team out, it been tough to so far.

For the Penguins, after what’s been the biggest win of their young season, it’ll be interesting to see if the emotion fuels them to a good effort or if some players will be drained and not moving so well. Defensemen Rob Scuderi is looking like a no-go, so Mark Eaton will get a chance to not suck it up out there tonight. How the defensive holds will be critical, Philly is a good transition team that picks and chooses their spots and can jump out to opportunistic goals as well as any team in the East.


TST Opposing Player to Watch: Simon Gagne
--Gagne isn’t hurt (yet) and he’s had a great year, second on his team with 8 goals and 8 assists. Gagne also has been a thorn in the Pens side, scoring 35 points [16g, 19a] in 42 career games against. With Briere nursing his vagina, Gagne can’t fall apart just yet on the Flyers.

TST Homeboy of the Game: Evgeni Malkin
--Malkin and countrymen Alex “Deadwood” Semin are playing quite the game of one-upping each other this season. It seems they’re swapping the NHL points lead almost every single night, and last night’s 5 point Semin explosion (heh) puts him three up on Geno. Malkin is riding the league’s longest point streak of the year (11) and has registered a point in every game but one….The contest against the Flyers.

Rare game prediction!
Pens 5
Flys 2
[Goals by Malkin (2), Sykora, Satan and Letang]

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Where we welcome back Jordan Staal

If you're down 5-2 to the defending Stanley Cup champions in their barn with 15 minutes in the game you're probably not going to win. When the hole is 6-4 with less than 10 minutes to go, you might as well warm up the bus.

Except when the youngest player on the ice decides to play like the biggest. Jordan Staal's long shown flashes of brilliance and dominance but nothing like a performance tonight. The puck kept finding his stick and he kept burying it. Big time performance from a big time player.

As we mentioned in the post below, Marian Hossa earned his choice of team's to play for and still didn't pick a bad gamble in Detroit, the league's closest team to a sure thing. However, consider for a second that he turned down a multi-year offer to play on a team where the age of the regulation goal scorers were: 21 (Sidney Crosby), 24 (Max Talbot), 22 (Evgeni Malkin), 20 (Staal), 20 (Staal), 20 (Staal). We're sure Mr. Hossa sleeps just fine through the night these days, but who could blame him if it might take a second to fall asleep thinking "what could have been", not only for this season's run for a Cup but for the years to come.

Pens fans love to think of ex-players possibly returning, but don't count on it. This team has moved on, signing Brooks Orpik long-term and will have to keep using the other money on a rotating cast of supporting characters like Miroslav Satan and Ruslan Fedotenko to fill the gaps around the core. By rejecting the long-term offer from Pittsburgh--in effect what was the invitation to join the core-- Hossa cast his lot in a different direction. We won't know how it will work out in November, if Detroit is dancing with Lord Stanley in seven months time he'll obviously be a smart man (and have earned it). At this moment though, it certainly is satisfying to see such a marvelous comeback from this side. The grass isn't always greener, you know.

The Pens were aided by two penalties the Red Wings took within seconds of each other. This time posed with a crucial 5-on-3, Malkin buried the puck emphatically. It was like a demon was exorcised from the playoffs and the legendary kill Hank Zetterberg and the Wings pulled. At that moment, even though the score was cut to 5-3, one got the sense these Penguins finally were breathing easily, like when Rocky drew blood on Ivan Drago. These guys aren't a machine, they're just hockey players like any other collection on a roster. They can be beaten if you keep chopping.

Speaking of Malkin: if you're keeping track at home that's now an 11 game point streak for the big guy, who's jumped back into the top spot for the league's lead if only for another night.

When Rob Scuderi went down from blocking a shot, it's interesting that it was youngsters Alex Goligoski (team high 28:12 ice-time) and Kris Letang (second highest among Pens' defensemen with 23:19) that the team primarily turned too. And it wasn't all power-play team either, no one on the ice played more team at even strength than Goligoski (23:57)--and yes that includes Nicklas Lidstrom.

...And just imagine the next time these teams meet the Penguins might be able to lean on Ryan Whitney and maybe even Sergei Gonchar instead of two inexperienced players like Goose and 'Tang...But don't get too ahead of yourself, remember these teams meet again in Pittsburgh in February before any chance of another finals.

Mike Zigomanis just wins big face-offs when they count, doesn't he? It's surprising that he never fit in on an NHL team because he's working on carving a solid niche on this team that has no shortage of quality forwards.

Matt Cooke (2 assists, 6 hits) and Tyler Kennedy (no points or credited hits) deserve a nod for their relentless effort keeping the puck down low and those three did a lot to fuel the fire of the comeback. The boys down in the trenches have to do the dirty work and the Pens team just had more desire and effort over the last half of the game.

Michel Therrien doesn't usually receive much credit from the outside but the decisions he made , from personnel (like having Zigomanis out there late) to usage of timeouts were right on the button. Even if you're a fan with gripes about his style it's hard to argue that this man doesn't have the exact right feel for this team when it counts. It has shown time and time again.

We thought even before Staal's game-tying goal with :23 that the Penguins may be able to take some sort of minor emotional or psychological victory out of there, if only to show battling back out of those huge goal deficits. Sure, it would have been hollow, but the sense of dominating the Red Wings a little was there. Now with such a huge win the confidence is going to be sky high.

Pavel Datsyuk is the reigning Frank Selke trophy winner for the league's best defensive forward....Think he saw it coming when Staal--at the end of his shift mind you--stick checked him, put him on his seat, wheeled around and set up the winner? Bee-you-tee-ful. Can't wait to see the tears at kuklaskorner tomorrow.

In the end, as you can tell from this recap, some games on the schedule do mean more than 1 in 82. The Penguins will only take two points into the standings column, the same as any other game they win. But the mood coming out of this one has to be a lot higher than your average win. This a nice one to enjoy, if only for a night.