Monday, March 31, 2008

Taking lumps, Pens lose

Well the Penguins got one point tonight, and if you'd look at it in the bigger scheme of things; 3 points out of 4 in two days, despite only scoring four total goals. Not bad. But definitely some room for improvement. The Rangers are a great defensive team with a solid system and mentality. They know their system and they don't usually give up much in the way of chances. Considering all the teams in the East that are likely to make the playoffs, they're probably one of the most dangerous ones considering that, and the fact they've got a great goaltender (Lundqvist), a serially clutch scorer (Drury) and a couple guys with a lot of experience (Shanahan, Jagr).

Some thoughts:

  • Marc-Andre Fleury has given up just two even-strength goals in his last eight games. He is still doing more than his share to give the team a chance. The Flower is kicking out rebounds, but it seems to be with a purpose; they're going directly to his defensemen or to dead spaces in the ice for the most part. Fleury is playing well. The only two that got by him tonight were both with the man-advantage (one that Rob Scuderi clearly batted in and the other saw Jordan Staal and Hal Gill put a pretty good screen on him).
  • Speaking of Scuderi, he seemed to have a rough night. That own goal not with-standing, he got turned around a couple of times by the likes of Jaromir Jagr and didn't look comfortable.
  • It seems a little weird they let the first goal stand. Replays were conclusive that Scuds hit the puck *just* before his glove hit Scott Gomez's stick away, but the fact remains that Gomez's stick was clearly above the cross-bar and he intended to make contact with the puck. By the letter of the law, he didn't touch it, so the goal was good but it seemed like he was rewarded by being in the crease and having his stick up. It was kinda fishy.
  • To be clear though, Gomez never hit the puck and we're not disputing that it was a goal, it just seems like a play like that shouldn't be considered one......If that makes any sense.
  • The whole team, in fact, didn't quite look like they had their legs under them; especially early registering only one shot on goal (despite getting a lot more in the way of scoring chances). To be sure this game meant a lot more to the Rangers, and it showed.
  • Brooks Orpik was credited with 5 hits but had a lot of power behind all of them. A clear sign was once when Jagr went in to fish out a puck dumped in, he pulled up and braced himself instead of charging right through the oncoming hit, like he's apt to do. Orpik's presence was definitely at it's finest tonight.
  • While it seemed like some Pens were spinning their wheels, guys like Jarkko Ruutu (6 hits in 8:25 of work), Maxime Talbot (goal, 2 hits and 2 blocked shots) and especially Georges Laraque (assist and only 2 credited hits) left an imprint on the game. BGL might have had one of his finest games of the season, the big guy was really digging out there.
  • The powerplay, to be generous, doesn't seem in-sync. With Sidney Crosby and Sergei Gonchar on the points and Ryan Malone, Marian Hossa and Evgeni Malkin down low, it's got more firepower than ever, but it's not meshing right now. We really think that Ryan Whitney should go back to his customary spot but it would be hard to relegate any of the forwards off the ice. Perhaps bumping Malone down to the second half of the powerplay with the likes of Petr Sykora and Jordan Staal might open things up for more chances down the line if the brute skill of Malkin/Crosby/Hossa doesn't get the job done.
  • The stacked line we mentioned was put together for the 2nd half of the game, and why not try to see if it could provide a spark. Nice coaching move to see if anything would result.
  • We also like the wrinkle of sneaking Malkin out when guys like Laraque and Ruutu are out there every once in a while. More often than not it results in some serious cycling work and a decent scoring chance or two. It also keeps the opposition on their toes, as a guy like Malkin is easily the best player on the ice and can find a little more room to operate.
  • Jordan Staal led all Pens forwards in ice time (largely since he's so important to the PK) and had some good chances but still is sophomore slumping it up. Staal scored 29 goals last year, largely on Malkin's wing. This year the Pens have made it a point to play Staal exclusively as a center and his production is not there. With Talbot playing so well, you'd wonder if they might spark him by trying to slide him back. However, it should be pointed out that last season was the first time that Staal played wing at any level, so perhaps that's not an option. It's just a little frustrating to watch, is all.
  • Back from the doghouse, Ryan Whitney played more minutes than anyone but Gonchar and had a feisty edge after the whistle that he hasn't much displayed. It seems that Coach Therrien's message has registered with the talented if not inconsistent player.
  • The Penguins may have been lucky the game didn't go to a shootout, since their best player in that regard was left in the press box. If there's justice, Kris Letang is back in the lineup on Wednesday and either Scuderi or Darryl Sydor will take a game off.

All in all it's a loss but not one in vein considering the Pens were outplayed for most of the night. They did get a point in the standings and now are 2 points up on Montreal. The Habs have a game in hand, but even if they were to win it, the Pens get the tiebreaker by virtue of more wins. Perhaps more importantly, the Penguins need to only get 1 more point (or have NJ not win one game) to win their first division title since 1997-98. That would guarantee at least the #2 seed in the East right there.

It sucks to lose like this, but it would be a bigger backbreaker if this were a couple weeks from now and not the last day in March.

So it will all come down to two games against the hated Flyers, who are fighting desperately for their own playoff lives. This is what it is all about.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Brilliant Idea: Bobblefists

The soon to be retired uber-popular pugilist that they honored actually changed the course of the game for his team too. But it wasn't with a fight, it was with scoring a goal. Somewhat ironic, we suppose.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Dear Bettman: Status Quo is unacceptable

A lot of time as a hockey fan, sports fans will approach you and say something along the lines of: "yeah the NHL is fun to watch, I haven't kept up with it in a while since the strike, when are they coming back to ESPN?"

Through biting your lip about the whole labor dispute mis-classification, we find the common sports fan would like to watch a little more hockey in a casual setting, but can't seem to find it on the dial.

Whispers floated around the internets last summer that perhaps the NHL and the "World-Wide Leader" would reunite, which by all accounts would inherently give the NHL more exposure, publicity and recognition from the un-ending hype machine of the 4 letter network (see poker). But Little Gary has other plans:

“I think people should anticipate the status quo for the forseeable future and i think the status quo has been very good to us, NBC and VERSUS. VERSUS continues to grow, I think their [sic] in 75 Million homes. People are very pleased, fans are very pleased with the treatment that we get on VERSUS and over the years we did and this isn’t to knock ESPN, they were a good partner - but, when you have all the sports that they do, there were hockey fans that felt we weren’t getting our fair share of the attention, and I don’t think anyone should anticipate any immediate changes in what were doing on broadcasting.”

Uhh Gary, "status quo" is that you have a sport fading from the casual fan's mind primarily on an obscure network. "Status quo" means your network television leaves over-time playoff situations for a GD HORSE RACE! "Status quo", to be frank, sucks.

It would have been more acceptable to say the truth; that Versus offers a good amount of money and that ESPN's scene is too crowded with NBA, College B-ball, NASCAR, and yes, poker; all of which are better options for ESPN to show due to ratings.

We like to think that we don't bash Bettman or the league just to bash them, it's neither productive nor helpful to anything but this situation has our blood a little boiled. For a man as bright as Bettman, it doesn't seem like he's in tune with what's going on. The NHL has been good at seeking out new Web 2.0 opportunities, but television is still key. The NHL doesn't and shouldn't go back to ESPN with their tail between their legs, but to get back on the sports public consciousness, it does have to go back in some manner. It's frustrating that Bettman and co. can't or don't want to see this.

(hat tip to kuklas korner for the link)

New look powerplay

With all the skill the Penguins have (plus Ryan Whitney in the doghouse), the Penguins employed an interesting powerplay last night.

Sidney Crosby on the point with Sergei Gonchar for almost the entire two minutes. For forwards, they had Evgeni Malkin center Ryan Malone and Marian Hossa for a first unit and the second was Jordan Staal centering Petr Sykora and Pascal Dupuis.

Perhaps worse than going 0-5 with this new look powerplay was the fact that in 10 minutes of time, they only put four measly shots on goal. Don't get us started about fans who yell "shoot!" but it stands to reason that a successful powerplay has to get at least one shot on net per man advantage, yes?

Further, we're not sold by having Crosby on the point. Sure he has supreme passing skills and vision but a high percentage of the goals Sid scores are within stick's length of the crease. He's good at finding open area and pouncing on a free puck. On top of that, Ryan Whitney isn't playing well but he is a good powerplay defenseman. Note that he actually did make the play on the last PP goal scored.

There is a lot of talent to juggle though. Here's our idea with how to work the PP units:



It's hard bumping a guy like Malone off the top unit, but the fact is the Penguins 1st unit is the most skill on a line since the "Score Lords" of now over a decade ago (Mario, Ronnie, Jagr).

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Magic Number: 3

This game recap, brought to you by the number 3:

  • The number of points (a career high) that Jarkko Ruutu scored
  • The "magic number" to clinch the Atlantic Division for the Penguins, since they won and New Jersey lost in regulation...So any combination of three points earned by the Pens or three points lost by the Devils means the Pens lock down, at worst, the #2 seed in the East. (Ed. revision: It seems the correct magic number is really 5. We're bad at math, we apologize)

Ruutu now has six point (4 goals, 2 assists) in his last six games, if you're keeping track. Ruutu is just playing awesome right now, he's the player the opponents love to hate but he's also doing more than just chipping, he's killing penalties, bringng energy, forechecking and, yes, producing points.

After Georges Laraque scored his goal the big guy did an Alex Ovechkin-esque jump into the boards/glass. We know we're not the only ones worried that the facility wouldn't be able to keep his 260 pounds in the rink, but somehow it did.

It remains to be seen how hurt Marian Hossa may be after what at first appeared to be pretty vicious on the part of Sean Bergenheim (though replays showed it looked like he kind of "tried" to get out of the way). Now that Sidney Crosby is back, is it fitting that Hossa should go back on the shelf? No, no it shouldn't be.

Crosby had several great chances but they all went wide. One gets the feeling that once he gets back up to speed by getting back in "game rhythm" he'll be turning those chances into points.

Ryan Whitney actually didn't look half bad as a winger, but this experiment shouldn't go on for long. Should it?

If we would have offered you $100 bucks to choose a fight, who would have picked up on the Petr Sykora/Miroslav Satan matchup? Didn't think so either.

A sign of how much Marc-Andre Fleury is coming along; he makes saves on 28 of 29 shots and the one that gets by him he's visably upset. Good sign, Fleury's so in the zone that he doesn't want to give up anything. And after that somewhat weak/fluky play ended up in the net he buckled down, played the angles right, looked confident and did what it took....But Fleury still went out in the 3rd period and played a puck that would have been icing and it almost ended up in the net. As far as he's come, there's still room to grow. Which there's nothing wrong for a 23 year old goaltender.

Here's a sight that Islanders saw a lot:
Brooks Orpik had a game high seven hits (plus 2 blocked shots, and a +2 in 19:23 of work). Not to mention chasing around Islanders in an effort to stand up for his teammate when Hossa was injured. We probably highlight Orpik so much because there won't be a chance to for too much longer.

All in all, this was a game that a team aspiring to be a division (and conference) champion has to win; playing a non-playoff team that's banged up at home and with a much more talented team. The Penguins did what they had to do. Now we move on to a matinee NBC (Nothing But Crosby) matchup against those pesky New York Rangers on Sunday.

This is worse than LeBron wearing a Yankees hat..

Et tu, Troy?

(link via deadspin)

Roberts' Rollercoaster Recovery persists

It seems like every time bad news is heard about Gary Roberts having a setback, the next day he's talking about how he's skating again. From the Trib:

"I had a little setback last week in New York, so I basically took a week off," Roberts said. He's hoping to return prior to the postseason. "It'll really depend on how I do in this next week," Roberts said. "I'd like to get a game in before the playoffs."

This is a big deal because most of the Penguins core players have exactly 5 games of NHL playoff experience. And while that is a taste of it, having such a veteran force and presence will go a long way on and off the ice for the still young team.

One thing is for sure, Pittsburgh's medical staff must be awesome at treating high ankle sprains.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Hollywood to finish what they started


The two main characters in the script are Penguins fans, and the lead actors will be attending the game in Penguins gear for crowd shots with actual hockey
action in the background. They will come back next week to an empty arena to shoot the dialogue scenes.Starring Alice Eve (“Starter for 10”) and Jay Baruchel (“Knocked Up” and “Tropic Thunder”), the movie centers on an average guy who works at the airport and becomes involved with a gorgeous girl who is “out of his league.”

Uh oh, we all remember what happened the last time a movie was shot inside the arena

Paul Steigerwald's finest hour? Yes

News and Notes

From a combination of different things we've heard lately:

  • Expect Sidney Crosby to be back in the lineup tomorrow night. His ankle is stronger, but he wanted to give it as much time as possible for the playoffs. More immediately, Crosby didn't want to return to the lineup until he was conditioned enough to play the 20-23 minutes of high intensity play that we're accustomed to.
  • It’s pretty clear that Michel Therrien let his displeasure with Ryan Whitney be known by putting the defenseman as a 4th line winger last night…They also did this to Brooks Orpik before giving him a shot to redeem himself, which he seems to have done. Surely a young, talented player like Whitney will get the chance, it’ll be up to him to make the most of it.
  • Bad coach but good analyst Eddie Olczyk made a good point on Versus the other night…For the playoffs you’ve got a Crosby/Marian Hossa combo and a Evgeni Malkin/Petr Sykora duo. (Fans tend to think too much in trios when they think about forwards, when really it’s about adding a third piece to a talented duo). Anyways, suppose you’re an opposing coach; what unit do you send your best defensive unit and/or checking line to match against? Edzo then proposed Ryan Malone be the swing-man to rotate to which-ever line is given more space. A guy like Pascal Dupuis could be the other swing-man.
  • That could be a complicated, but interesting theory. It remains to be seen if Therrien would employ it. He’s not too keen letting the opposing team dictate Pittsburgh strategy based on matchups. Therrien believes (and we do too) that it’s better to concentrate on just having your players focus on playing their games. Guys like Crosby, Malkin and Hossa have long been targeted by the opposition’s best defensive players their entire careers, it’s not like they can’t produce.
  • The last time the Penguins had seven healthy defensemen (as they do now), Therrien decided to employ a rotation in which everyone but Sergei Gonchar and Mark Eaton would sit a game. The rotation lasted all of about two or three games. It will be interesting to see what choices the coaches make now that Rob Scuderi is healthy. Orpik has played well as Gonchar’s partner on the top unit, but do they put Scuds back there? Whitney’s been struggling but is a talented player with a lot to offer (like creating the only goal of consequence last night). Darryl Sydor hasn’t been outstanding, but unlike Kris Letang, this aint his first rodeo, so to say.
  • We think, that Gonchar, Scuderi, Orpik and Hal Gill should be in the lineup every night, Whitney should be too, if he can get his act together. This leaves a choice between Letang and Sydor, we’d lean towards Letang for now, but obviously there’s going to be times when Sydor’s going to play.
  • Gary Roberts was re-evaluated and while they didn't find anything else wrong, it's not that encouraging either...Sad to report that Mr. Gary's triumphant return is not in sight. So much for the couple of tune up regular season games he was hoping to get in for.

Finally, after a lot of searching we finally found something leaner than Marc-Andre Fleury's recent numbers:

Kate Bosworth used to be pretty hot before turning into a human stick figure

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Call Jim Mora, the Pens are officially in the PLAYOFFS

Damn it feels good to be a gansta

We had a long post about the game but upon publishing it, it seems blogger messed it up. Very strange.

Anyways, the only thing that matters--no, not the formality of clinching a playoff berth--Marc Andre Fleury's statline in his starts since returning from injury:

  • 7-1-0, 1.47 GAA, .951 save %, 2 shutouts

Franchise goalie caliber indeed.

Now is not even the time to mention this, but somewhere, deep in the pit of your stomach, don't you feel like the Penguins are going to count on Ty Conklin to step up somewhere along the way and bail them out? We can't shake that feeling.

But for now, it's all about some MAF.

Hidden Gem Blog of the Day

It belongs to Wilkes-Barre Scraton's own, Ben Lovejoy.

Lovejoy is an interesting story; he went un-drafted but has pretty good size and is a stay-at- home type defenseman. He scratched and clawed his way onto the AHL roster in training camp and has carved out a pretty good niche in that lineup.

Lovejoy's blog is hilarious, especially the latest edition where he roasts a bunch of his teammates. A first reaction might be to say he's "well spoken, for a hockey player", but please, dude graduated an Ivy League school we'd expect he knows how to form a sentence or two.

It's always interesting to see the way professional hockey players interact with each other, especially in the AHL where most the players are so young and there's a light-hearted and carefree vibe in the air.

So check it out, you're guaranteed to have a chuckle or two and learn a little more about the personalities of some of the boys, not just the players that play.

Monday, March 24, 2008

No jump, Pens lose

Disappointing loss tonight. Sure it was a division rival and a road game, but looking at the schedule, you'd have to think the Penguins would have to take two points like these to be in the hunt for the Atlantic division crown and possibly first place in the East. Especially on a night when the top rival Montreal held on for a 7-5 win.

Inital game notes:
  • Noted Pens killer Richard Park scored the game's first goal early and short-handed. That's pretty much all one needed to know.
  • Can't get over just how strong Marian Hossa is. On one occasion Hossa was stationary in the offensive zone, corralling the puck. An Islander took two or three strides and put a pretty good hit on him. Hossa remained standing without even bracing himself and the opponent basically bounced off of him.
  • Petr Sykora is a force. We all know his shot is out of this world but he's not afraid to go into the corners and throw a shoulder to dislodge a puck. The Pensblog had a great feature the other day about how Sykora's out-performing many of the top free agent forwards from this summer. And while a lot of credit has to go to linemates, power-play time and opportunities, Sykora's pretty consistent offense has gone a little under the radar around the league this season. He's been a great addition.
  • It seemed like the Penguins defense (Sergei Gonchar and Kris Letang particularly) were activating and shooting into the offensive zone. Several times this resulted in sloppy 3-on-1s or even one 4-on-1. It's on the coaching staff to put an end to the careless play.
  • Speaking of the coaching, Michel Therrien was just stewing on the bench in the 3rd period. It would have been great to be a fly in the wall in the locker-room after the game. NHL seasons are treated with a pretty balanced equilibrium, after all this is just 1 out of 82. But Therrien's never shy to let a team know what he thinks, especially when the effort isn't there...It didn't seem like it was there.
  • Evgeni Malkin played pretty well (despite being a -3) but just seemed out of sync. Therrien made what we thought was a nice adjustment, trying to put Hossa with Malkin and Ryan Malone to see if anything would spark. But on this night, nothing really did.
  • Also out of sync seemed to be the 11 forward/7 defensemen lineup; which was necessitated since Pascal Dupuis went to be with his wife (who's in labor with their child). Regardless, Therrien seems to be a fan of playing seven defensemen but tonight was a good reason why not to utilize this.
  • So which defenseman should get the scratch now that 'Steady' Rob Scuderi is back? Going strictly on performance over the past 10 games we would say either Ryan Whitney or Darryl Sydor. But both of those two are guys you'd generally think should be in the lineup on a nightly basis. It will be very interesting to see how the coaching staff handles and juggles the lineup; both to field the best possible lineup and not to cast aside a player who could play a big role in the post-season.
  • Ty Conklin wasn't that bad and can't really be blamed for any one of the Isles goals. But his aura of the 'Conkblock' magic seems to be gone. There should be no doubt now that the Penguins will go as far as Marc-Andre Fleury will carry them.
  • Sidney Crosby ruled himself out for tomorrow night's uber-important Devils game in an interview during this game. Jockeying for playoff positioning is important, but having a 100% healthy and conditioned Crosby for those playoffs is much more important. It's somewhat disappointing, but it's clear that no one is more frustrated to take the prudent route than Crosby. He'll be back (and soon) and the team will be better for it.
  • Trival note, but shame on the offical scorers who credited NYI left winger Steve Regier with 3 hits (in an un-noticable 8:33 of icetime) and also said Brooks Orpik only had 1 hit with 19:23 time on the ice....Where they watching the same game?

For a team that's dealt with more than it's share of adversity this season (mainly in the form of injuries) it will be interesting to see how they respond. This last head-to-head game against Jersey is going to be very crucial, if the Pens don't come out with more energy and purpose it could well tip the balance of the playoff seeding.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Darcy Robinson spike

One of the things that the editor of this blog is most proud about is probably the Darcy Robinson post. It was a visceral and instant reaction to a player who's zest for hockey and life probably reflects our own. It's the #1 google search result for Mr. Robinson, and though this blog likes to remain humble and relatively obscure, we like that it is #1 in that for Darcy. It sure beats having Brandon Sudgen beat the crap out of you (after a long shift and a lucky shot, we might add).

Anyways, Pittsburgh's Wilkes-Barre Scranton affiliate had a tribute to Robo at Saturday night's game and google searches have gone crazy. So welcome to all. We hope you'll laugh and remember the good times and spirit he had.

Apologies for no posts this holiday weekend, we'll try to climb back on that horse tomorrow....If you haven't heard, the Penguins won a game of huge magnitude in a fairly impressive manner.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Re-seed the playoffs!

Interesting thoughts from the World-Wide-Leader on NHL playoff seeding:

Burnside: How would you reward the conference champs? Give them five home games in the first round? Let them choose their opponent? Actually, I think that might have some merit. How do you stand on the whole divisional alignment situation wherein you're going to have Carolina getting home ice for winning the Southeast Division, but likely ending up with a handful of fewer points than the sixth seed, whom the Canes will face in the first round?

The South(l)eastern division has been the butt of many jokes (some on this site) but they have produced two of the past three Stanley Cup champions. They may be easily the weakest division in hockey, but anything can happen.

Do not like the idea of 5 home games for a team. Doesn't seem right. Owners won't like it either, the chance of only getting 1 game of revenue from the playoffs.

But maybe the system needs a slight tweak. Instead of locking division winners in the top 3 seeds of the conference, why not just guarantee them home ice in the first round of the playoffs?

True standings right now:
1. Montreal 92
2. New Jersey 91
3. Pittsburgh 91
4. Ottawa 89
5. New York Rangers 87
6. Carolina 87
7. Boston 83
8. Philly 82

Those teams highlighted would be playing each other under the current system, with Carolina holding home ice as the #3 seed and those in front of them bumping down a notch.

In the system TST proposed (giving weak division winners a 4 seed), here's how matchups would look right now:

1/8: Montreal/Philly
2/7: Jersey/Boston
3/6: Pittsburgh/NY Rangers
4/5: Carolina/Ottawa

That balances things out a little more. One could argue though under this system it might be more beneficial to be a #5 seed than a #3. But then again if the top seeds all hold, the #5 seed would have to play the #1 in the second round, so that argument doesn't hold water.

Make the divisional races mean something with a reward; home-ice in the first round. But guaranteeing a 3 seed is forcing uneven matchups. Teams that perform well in the regular season and kill division winners (like the losers of the Montreal-Ottawa race and the NJD-Pitt) deserve to be rewarded with not facing a similiar tough #5 seed, reward them too.

Biggest game of the season...For now

The good news: The Devils have to play on the road the night before a game of huge importance
The bad news: They're playing in Long Island against a team that's dropped 8 of their last 10 and has scored a measly 3 goals in the past three games.

The Penguins are tied for first with the Devils in the Atlantic with 91 points. Both trail Montreal by one point in the race for the #1 seed. Pittsburgh has a game in-hand on les Habs and, in turn, Jersey has a game in-hand on Pittsburgh.

After yawning out a likely win tonight, the Devs will be 2 points up on the Pens. If Pittsburgh loses, they'll be down 4 points with 7 games to go. While that's hardly out of it (especially when everyone's playing intra-divisional games), it's a hard gap to maintain. And at that point the New York Rangers will probably be closer to catching Pittsburgh than the Pens to getting to NJ.

Still following? The bottom line is this is the biggest game.....For now.

We've broken the last part of the season into the 5 segments that flow into each other:

Saturday Mar 22: NJ

Monday 24th: @NYI
Tuesday 25th: @NJD

Thursday 27th: NYI

Sunday 30th: NYR
Monday 31st: @ NYR

Wed. April 2nd: Philly
Sunday 6th: @ Philly


Usually around here when we mention Jarkko Ruutu it's in disgust for all the penalties he takes. Well, time to give the devil his due, Ruutu played his best game as a Penguin last night.
Ruutu's goal last night (off a Brooks Orpik (!!!) rebound) was his 4th of the year. Modest, to be sure, but Ruut's scored 4 goals in the past 16 games. While certainly not a world-beating accomplishment, production like that will go a long ways towards helping in the playoffs.
Five fighting majors too. Before he came to Pittsburgh I thought Ruutu was some kind of punk that would run around and hit people but then turtle and refuse to drop the gloves coughbrendanwittcough. Hasn't been the case at all.
Ruutu's effort has been awesome. If he can keep it up that would be just great. With the energy he brings and the physicality it's definitely fun as a fan whenever he's on the ice.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

March Madness

Craig MacDonald....Really?

Excuse the short post tonight, but hey, it's a non-divisional game at least.

The Pens win 4-2, at home, against a basement team. One could say at least both goals against were not at even-strength, but one could also point to the penalty kill. But Bobby Scuds, an important PK defenseman is coming back soon so perhaps it's easy to over-look.

The bottom line is a win for Pittsburgh and two more points in the standings. Evgeni Malkin closes the gap on the Art Ross trophy race with two points of his own (both at even-strength, for what it's worth) and Jordan Staal got the game's #1 star for nabbing the game winner.

On a night where two teams the Pens are jockeying for playoff positioning with (Montreal and Ottawa) both one, perhaps this will just end up being an easy game to hold serve with. Regardless, we're one game closer to the playoffs and one game closer to seeing the return of Scuderi, Sidney Crosby and the badass that you humans call Gary Roberts.

Finally, we leave you with an awesome stat-line of the night:

  • Brooks Orpik: 24:08 icetime, 1 assist, +2, 9 hits, 2 blocked shots and 2 shots on goal.....Go ahead!

Onto the divisional sprint.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Mirtle, Buccigross weigh in

Noted blog-ologist James Mirtle (MD) weighed in on the big issue that will dominate our summer: just how in the heck the Penguins are going to make this work...

But if you're looking for the window, it's small.

Case in point, the Penguins, who have two incredible stars complemented by some pretty nice young talent. Despite the relative youth of Pittsburgh's lineup, the fact that both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are both going to command near-max contracts in the near future necessitates that the team-building process is sped up.

Forget the fact that this might be before their time — the Penguins' window is right now, when someone like Malkin can win a Hart Trophy and still be paid under $4-million next season.

Pittsburgh has $27-million committed for 2008-09, but there are about eight significant unrestricted free agent holes coming July 1, and Marc-Andre Fleury, an RFA, is due a raise. Come the season after next, 2009-10, and Malkin and Crosby are making $9-million a season, or about one-third of the Penguins' cap, and Jordan Staal is due a new deal.

There's no room, in other words, for a Marian Hossa, who will command an enormous deal as a 29-year-old UFA. Think $50-million plus over seven years and find a spot for that behemoth long term

Mirtle was probably citing (a must read for NHL contract details), but if you look down the column for 08/09 contracts, their numbers tally nine players under contract for$26.8 million. But one can clearly see, as we did earlier tonight, that the Penguins do have 15 players (including possible farmhand Chris Minard) as being under contract. Tally up the cap hits (the number on the left) and that's where we got the $34 million figure. NHLNumbers is probably a little behind with the Gill trade and the site doesn't seem to have included players that will be under contracts on their entry year deals next season (Malkin, Staal, Kennedy, Letang, etc).

Not that what Mirtle writes is far off; yes Crosby, Malkin and Staal will be eating up a large chunk of the cap and Hossa will command a ton of money.

No one can tell what will happen in the future; case in point this time last year it was a "given" that Crosby would be signing league maximum and he didn't. Will Malkin sign for $8 million? $9 million? More? Less? No one knows and speculation on it is too hard to predict until it actually happens.

Mirtle went on to cite a recent John Buccigross column where Bucci actually seriously made a pitch for the Penguins to trade Malkin this summer. Hah!*

A lot of people point to Tampa Bay as an example why an NHL team can't spend such a huge chunk of their alloted cap space/budget on just 3 or 4 players. Those same people don't usually point out that Tampa was well under the salary cap due to be up for sale and couldn't round out their team very well.

Similiarly Pittsburgh is quite a bit under the cap. Their billionare owner has seemed to take bigger interest in the team now that: A)There's a new cash-cow arena on the horizon, B)The team is winning and C)It's a hot product, they're selling out every single night.

If Ron Burkle is really willing to take a little bit of a hit in the pocketbook (and for his bank account the word "little" should be stressed) for the short-term to keep the team intact before new revenue streams from the state of the art 18,000+ arena, the nucleus will stay intact and management should be able to surround more skill around their stars than the uncertain situation in Tampa.

At the end of the day, it's not how you spend it, it's who you spend it on. Some teams like the Rangers will give a combined $14 million on two players longterm (Chris Drury, Scott Gomez and Henrik Lundqvist). Philly's spending about $23 million longterm on 4 players (Daniel Briere, Mike Richards, Scott Hartnell and Kimmo Timonen). Pittsburgh's probably going to be in that neighborhood on three players, but those players are Crosby, Malkin and Staal. Pittsburgh's players are a lot younger and will easily outplay any of the above named

We're not predicting for sure the Pens can/should retain Hossa, but it might be a little more of a possibility than most think it is right now....Hey, Gary Roberts was running right back to Toronto or Ottawa just as soon as he hit FA too, right? Sure the situation couldn't be more different between an aging player and a superstar in his prime, but the point is almost everyone in the media proclaimed Roberts to be a rental, and he ended up back.

*Although, in a very brief moment of weakness, we must confess did think how it would be if Nashville offered Alex Radulov, Shea Weber, Dan Hamhuis and a 1st rounder for Malkin and Ryan Whitney's $4 million deal

Extension for Malone to wait 'til summer..

..If at all.

One of the biggest changes the NHL has gone through since instituting the salary cap has been granting players unrestricted free agency at a younger age. That's a big reason you're seeing teams lock up players that are 24, 25 years old or younger for 5, 6, or even 12 or 13 years now.

Ryan Malone is a poster boy for this. At 28 years old, he's at the prime of his career. And, fortunately for Bugsy, he's having a career year (24 goals, 45 points and counting). At 6'4 and 220 pounds, he's always been big. But he's using it more effectively and consistently. That sound of lip smacking is about 30 general managers imagining adding a power forward to their lineup.

But Malone will hit the market with fewer than 300 career NHL games for the Penguins. He was drafted in the old CBA, where teams had a lot more time before they had to start developing prospects professionaly. Malone was drafted in the summer of 1999 but didn't join the Penguins until finishing his senior year at St. Cloud State. Throw in the lost lockout year and he's only had four seasons in Pittsburgh's organization.

Through teams good and bad Malone's always been a consistent 20 goal scorer (last year he netted 16 in 64 games of an injury shortened season). But he's never been this good.

So, how are the negotiations going?.

The Penguins are believed to have recently offered Malone a long-term contract,but not at significantly more than his current $1.45 million salary.
Uhh that's not going to get it done for a guy who will hit the open market. Teams historically over-pay for talent on July 1st---$8 million on two years of Todd Bertuzzi and Robert Lang, $20.4 million on six years for Dainius Zubrus last summer and so on and so on. It's easy to make a case that al of those guys are more established than Malone, but they were also older and had more "wear in the tires" too.

It's not crazy to think some team will swoop in and offer at least $12 million for four years for Malone...But would he leave?

Malone has publically stated he hopes to remain a Penguin. And who wouldn't? It's a bright time for the organization and Malone's played with centers like Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin for the past two and a half seasons. Taters has been a physical force, but he's not been the one primarily lugging the puck up the ice or making many decisions with the biscuit. It's simple; drive to the net, create room for the playmakers, cycle the puck and throw the body around and the puck on target.

But Bugsy is a Pittsburgh boy, you say. While true he spent his formative years (from high school senior through college) in the upper middle west. And, what will come as a newsflash to many Pens fans who believe Malone is the prototypical "hometown discount" remember that he makes his offseason home not in Pittsburgh, but in Minnesota.

There was a very telling quote by Ray Shero in that article, one that sounded more than willing to acknowledge this might be it:

"For every goal he scores, assist or fight he has - look, we're rooting for him. I hope he has a great playoff," Shero said. "It's the way the system is, and Ryan knows what our feelings are."

The Penguins have a general plan and they know what they're doing. Priority #1 this summer is obviously locking up Evgeni Malkin....Marc-Andre Fleury will also need new deal and the Pens can look to extend Jordan Staal if they want to as well. As crazy as it sounds, don't sleep on the the Pens not making at least a pitch for Marian Hossa either. If they're willing to spend to the salary cap, like has been reported it might be workable.

Immediately, There's 13 players next season under contract, the forwards are: Crosby, Malkin, Staal, Petr Sykora, Maxime Talbot, Tyler Kennedy. The defense is a lot more set: Sergei Gonchar, Ryan Whitney, Hal Gill, Darryl Sydor, Kris Letang, Rob Scuderi (and Alex Goligoski) are under contract. Dany Sabourin is too, but that's a different issue for a diferent day.

By our unscientific math that's a cap hit of right at $34 million...That leaves about $18 million to what's expected to be the cap; even if they don't make any moves on trying to shed a guy like Sydor ($2.5) or Whitney ($4) It'll be decision time to see who the Penguins want to bring back, who they're able to bring back and what will happen.

Start with Ryan Malone, end up with a thesis paper about the Penguins salary cap next season...That's Sweater Ted style, baby.

Image o the day

Credit Greg at Deadspin.

A chance to learn

Now that we're about to buckle down for a playoff run, a loss like tonight can go a long ways to putting things back in perspective.

  • If we had written a game preview, you can bet it would be mentioned the Rangers has lost their last two games and were sure to try and come out the gates as strong as possible. They did and took a 2-0 lead after the first period.
  • Terrible rebound by Ty Conklin on that 2nd goal. For all Conkblock did for the Pens season, this might have been the death knell. Marc-Andre Fleury has been extremely solid since his return from injury and this game has opened the door for him to take the reigns and not look back.
  • What a mistake by Ryan Whitney on what ended up being the game-winner for NYR. But, may we point out to the sizeable contingent of Penguin fan Whitney haters; if he doesn't make that pass to Jarkko Ruutu the first goal never happens. Gotta take the good with the bad.
  • Pascal Dupuis is a solid player. He does all the little things right. For being an after-thought in the Marian Hossa trade, he's going to be an important player for the Penguins. We could see him scoring a goal of huge consquence come playoff time.
  • How many goals has Jordan Staal scored against the Rangers? We'll have to try to do research on this later. It seems like J-Staal has feasted on NYR his whole career, particularly in Madison Square Garden.
  • Again, this was just one game out of 82. Quick game against Tampa Bay and then the Pens start the division sprint which will settle everything. Two games against New Jersey in less than a week will be so crucial. That's why Sidney Crosby is out now. But if the Penguins play as sloppy and make as many team mistakes, it won't matter much.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Gary Roberts Update

Apologies for no game preview for the Rangers, busy new job here.

But we did want to drop in quickly for a Gary Roberts update, since his status is one of the most oft-asked email questions we get.

From the Penguins main site (and past PG and Trib articles):

Gary is skating in practice now, with a no-contact jersey. He's in very good spirits and, as you can imagine, can't wait to get back. He's said in the past he wants to play in about five regular season games to gear himself up for the playoffs. That puts the return date around March 27th.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

14 goals in the past two games

When things are right, they are right.

The Penguins are clicking on all cylinders right now. Evgeni Malkin and Petr Sykora both had 2 goals and 2 assists, Ryan Malone was his usual physical force and the Pens easily bowled over a playoff team 7-1. Marc-Andre Fleury was good when he had to be, but he didn't really have to be good that often.

Production came from more than just the top line; from Tyler Kennedy (1oth goal of the season) to Pascal Dupuis (3 assists) to the U.S.S Hal Gill (1 goal 1 assist). Marian Hossa had a goal and an assist and looked very comfortable in his first complete game as a Penguin.

To think that this team still stands to gain the league's reigning MVP and leading scorer, as well as a noted playoff warrior plus two important role players (Adam Hall and Rob Scuderi) before the playoffs is indeed a scary thought for the rest of the NHL.

What team in the East could take Pittsburgh in a 7 game series? With the way they're playing now it's not so bold to say: no one.

Any day where every Flyer ends up a negative in the plus/minus is a good day indeed. Onward, boys, onward.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Responding to Ted; what it means to be a fan

Ted Leonsis mused in his latest blog:

Whenever I am in the building and see a fan wearing another team's jersey, I always ask "Where do you live?" It amazes me how many fans of competitive teams live in our area and don’t come to games except when we play that specific team. Probably that is what I dislike, that people don’t come for the love of the game. They just come to one, two or four games per year to cheer against us and for their team. This article is well done and addresses the issue. It has a strong point of view. What do you think?

This is a complex issue because we as a team have lots of long distance fans as well. And I would expect when my children fly the coop, they will take their passion for the Caps with them as my son has on the campus at UPenn in Philadelphia. I see both sides of the issue. I have empathy but don’t hate on me because I want everyone to be a Caps fan that lives in the area. I am an evangelist for Caps hockey. It is who I am now.
The editor of this blog is Leonsis' perfect case study: I live and work in Arlington, Virginia (right across the river from DC, if you didn't know). My house is within walking distance of the Caps practice facility. I am not a Capitals fan.

Leonsis mentioned that he's switched allegiances three times in his lifetime (first a Rangers fan, then his beloved Bruins and then finally the Caps). May we refer him to the Will Leitch school of thought:

"...essentially I argue that when you are a sports fan, you are a fan of a team year round, no matter whether they're playing or not. When, exactly, am I supposed to suddenly switch my loyalty, and start caring about THESE guys rather than THESE guys?

...There's a certain lack of logic about being a sports fan, and bringing that kind of emotional, civic betrayal to the situation just betrays that. I stuck with the Arizona Cardinals because I started cheering for them and couldn't suddenly pretend I liked another team more just because they moved closer to me. I can't exactly talk: *I* don't exactly live in St. Louis anymore either. [ed. Note: Leitch is a HUGE Stl Cardinals fan]

Personally, I've never lived in Pittsburgh. My parents did and much of my extended family lives there, so I've visited often. My parents encouraged me to choose my own sports affiliations. However give a kid access to Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr and the bunch and it's easy to see why I'm a Penguins fan.

What Leonsis doesn't seem to grasp is: why isn't someone like me, an inhabitant of Caps land, still hanging on to my original team and not switching allegiances to my new hometown team like he did several times.

The simple answer would be loyalty. Not at all to say Ted isn't a loyal guy or anything, but I couldn't imagine myself being anything but a Penguins fan until the day I die. Perhaps a good analogy might even be marriage; I don't think a good husband would leave their wife just because they've gone away on a business trip or have to deal with a distance issue. For me, and many other fans, who you cheer for is very much ingrained on you. And once the choice is made, there's no turning back, no switching horses in the middle of the stream.

But luckily I'm not the type of fan Leonsis doesn't like; I do support the Caps, I've got nothing against them. I've been to at least 10 games this season, more than just when they play Pittsburgh. I've gone out to functions to meet players like Mike Green and Brooks Laich and found them to be pretty cool. But there's nothing that can be done to ever convert me over. While I do love the game, the main reason I love the game is watching my team play.

So what canTed do for his problem? Not too much, I'm afraid. With so many transplants to the area that there will be a heavy contingent for the opposition for a long time. But kids in this area, where organized hockey is continuing to grow, will no doubt be looking up to Alex Ovechkin as I did Lemieux. That's where you hook fans, that's how you get them for life. The Caps are fortunate to have a sensational player, it will take time but he'll keep on reeling in supporters.

Eastern Conference Race

JP has a super-sweet (and time-wasting) application. Bascially you get to play the prognosticator and forecast the remaining games that an Eastern Conference team plays in. Then it compiles the points into the standings and let’s you know who makes the playoffs, who doesn’t and seedings. As you can tell, it is pretty in-depth.

Here’s our official TST forecast for how things will look when the dust clears in early April, with final points in parenthesis:

1. Montreal (103)
2. New Jersey (101)
3. Carolina (92)
4. Pittsburgh (100)
5. Ottawa (98)
6. New York Rangers (97)
7. Boston (96)
8. Philadelphia (95)
9. Buffalo (89)
10. Washington (88)
11. Florida (85)
12. Toronto (83)
13. NYI (78)
14. Atlanta (77)
15. Tampa Bay (76)

Initial thoughts:
``Wow looks a lot like the standings do today, in terms of space between teams and where they're actually positioned.
``It would suck to lose to Jersey by a point. But the matchup against a likely #7 team like Boston or Philly is not much better than a first round matchup against a likely #5 seed like Ottawa or NYR. The first round will be stiff no matter what. In the longterm though, home ice would be nice for as long as possible.
``We had Washington losing a head-to-head game against Carolina. If they win that one game and the other chips fall as they did in our guss, they could sneak into the 3 seed on a tiebreaker.

We'll check back in on this bold prediction sure to go wrong when the season is over.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Laraque suspended...What does it mean?

The Penguins have had now four close calls with suspension: there was Georges Laraque's hit on Steve Downie, Jarkko Ruutu being called for 3 dives (which is written in the rules as a suspension pending a call with the NHL), Ruutu's knee-knee hit on Ilya Kovalchuk and the hammer finally dropped on Laraque's elbowing of Buffalo's Nathan Paetsch last night.

Can't say we're that surprised or disagree with the call. The NHL has to protect their players and blows to the head are the most dangerous, and becoming too frequent offenses around. And for anyone who follows Colin Campbell's discipline techniques it's usually either no suspension, 1 game or 3 games...So it's no real surprise on the length either.

The bigger question is how Laraque and Coach Therrien will handle the vacation after it's up. You'll remember, Therrien specifically and publically put BGL through the paces after a practice not too long ago; skating him back and forth in an effort to jumpstart his biggest player who hadn't been playing fierce enough in management's eyes. Will Laraque be given a chance to play down the stretch and in the playoffs?

Room for BGL could be hard to find even before guys like Sidney Crosby, Marian Hossa, Gary Roberts and Adam Hall return. With role players from the minors like Connor James and Chris Minard playing well in limited minutes; not to mention Jeff Taffe who's carved a niche in roster.

Laraque's bigger question has to be if his future in Pittsburgh is also got to be in jeopardy in this point. No one denies that BGL is the ultimate "nuclear deterrant" of the NHL. He's the top dog on the block. Abuse to Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, particularly after the whistle has decreased 100 fold since Laraque's acquistion.

The problem, as Edmonton and Phoenix found out, is keeping the big guy motivated and giving an honest effort every night. To Georges' favor, a lot of players refuse to fight him (as an example Milan Lucic turned him down in a game before fighting Ruutu). Plus everyone pretty much knows that Laraque will not be anything more than a 4th line winger. It's got to be a boon to motivation to know you've reached potential as a hockey player. But at the same time, pretty much the only way a player can be effective at the NHL is to be busting tail and giving 100% all the time.

It's a Catch-22esque situation: that what makes Laraque great (enforcing) also limits his ice-time and willing opponents which naturally shuts down motivation a little bit. All which ultimately makes him expendable to an organization.

Or, of course he could come back with a new perspective after this "vacation" and be given a second chance by a coach who honestly does believe in him and want him to do well. Maybe BGL sticks in the lineup solely on presence, moves his legs really well, makes a few good, clean hits and does hit part to help the Pens long into the playoffs. Who knows.

Penguins Approaching Personal Milestones

As we mentioned a couple posts down; hockey is a team sport but several players are having career years already. More are seemingly on their way to set new personal highs in an NHL season. Here's a look at what some of these guys have accomplished and how close they are to setting these records.

*For obvious reasons, rookies weren't incldued.

Also, with eleven games left in the season, we'll occasionally update this list if/when players get to some of these achievements.

Evgeni Malkin
NEW single-season goal mark: 39 (previous high was 33 in 2006-07)
NEW single-season assists: 54 (52 in 06-07)
NEW single-season points: 93 (85 in 06-07)

Jordan Staal
NEW single season assists mark: 15 (previous high was 13 in 2006-07)

Sergei Gonchar
57 points this year; career high is 67 (set in 2002-03, 2006-07)
46 assists; career high is 54 (2006-07)

Ryan Whitney
12 goals this year; career high is 14 (set in 2006-07)

Ryan Malone
NEW single season goal mark: 24 (previous best was 22 in 2003-04, 2005-06)
19 assists this season; career high is 22 (2005-06)
43 points this season; career high is 44 (2005-06)

Maxime Talbot
10 goals this season; career high is 12 (set in 2006-07)
22 points this season; career high is 24 (2006-07)

...and just for fun

Brooks Orpik
1 goal this season; personal best is 2 (set in 2003-04)
8 points this season; personal best 10 (2003-04)

One year ago today..

Thanks to our buddy Seth at Empty Netters for the reminder and for the vid..

On one hand it feels like yesterday....But at the same time the prospect of losing the team seems like a million years ago.

Hockey: a team sport

Sorry for no in-depth recap today boys and girls, but you know what happened. Some quick thoughts:

--Hockey remains a team sport. So even with high end talent like Crosby and Hossa as scratches the Penguins TEAM stepped it up. And tallied seven goals.

--14 of the 18 skaters recorded at least a point for the Pens. Impressive.

--Evgeni Malkin isn't piling up the points like he was last month, but he's still been the best player on the ice almost every night. Except, you know, in the faceoff circle.

--Every team should be forced to watch Pittsburgh/Buffalo games...Jacques Lemaire and Lou Lamoriello might have heart attacks but it's the way hockey should be played; aggressive, fat pace, back and forth, lots of excitement, lots of skating, lots of chances, and yes, lots of goals.

--This capped off a season sweep of the Sabres, if you're keeping track. Ty Conklin got the wins in all four games too, pretty much owning the team he finished the season with.

--This win momentarily bumps the Pens up to #1 in the East, although the Devils are just one point back (and with a game in hand).

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Add Sidney to players out for Buffalo tonight

Boy are we glad we're not ticket holders, tonight's game has letdown written all over it.

And now Sidney Crosby is going to sit this one out with a "sore" ankle, the same one that you might remember knocked him out 21 games.

In all honesty, this isn't the worst timing in the world for him to give his body a little longer. As we mentioned in the last post, the Penguins haven't played since Sunday afternoon and won't play again until Sunday afternoon. However then the schedule heats up; 7 games in the next 12 days, plus after tonight 10 of the remaining 11 regular season games for the Pens will be crucial Atlantic Division matchups.

So, on one hand, better for Crosby to miss this week than next. On the other, tonight a team trying to stay in the race for #1 will have two-thirds of their top 6 forwards (Crosby, Hossa, Sykora, Roberts) in the press box and not in the lineup.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Marty Straka's Law..

Marty Straka's law states: anyone who could get hurt--as strange or as unfortunate as possible--will get hurt.

Chalk Maxime Talbot (re-agging an age old high ankle sprain) and Petr Sykora (tweaked back) as the latest examples to this rule. That Marian Hossa (injured knee in his first game as a Penguin) has also been ruled out for Wednesday's game is no consolation.

For a team that lost well over 50 man games to injury for two former #1 overall picks (Sidney Crosby and Marc-Andre Fleury of course) , well it's just insult to, dare we say, injury. The only plus side--well other than the emergence of Evgeni Malkin and Ty Conklin, is that the Pens minor depth, guys like Jeff Taffe, Tyler Kennedy and many more have stepped up in limited, yet important, appearances.

The opponent, the fading Buffalo Sabres have injuries of too; with two of their best and most experienced defensemen (Dmitri Kalinin and Jaroslav Spacek) on the shelf for the next little while.

The Penguins are going to have to dig down and get some production out some unusual suspects to take this game. Something tells us Michel Therrien is going to have no choice but stack the top line with Crosby, Malkin and Ryan Malone. If they don't come through at even strength, someone else who gets the chance to must capitalize to stay on pace with the New Jersey's, Montreal's and Ottawa's of the Eastern conference.

Luckily, after Wednesday the Pens are off until Sunday's NBC matinee against Philly....But then they start a trying stretch of 7 games in 12 days, which probably will determine the jockeying for positioning in the Eastern Conference playoff chance. It seems likely skilled forwards like Sykora and Hossa will be back to leave their impact on that; but taking it one day at a time, Buffalo clearly is focus #1....For one day at least.

Monday, March 10, 2008


The top of the Eastern Conference tomorrow morning:

1. New Jersey Devils 86 points
  • Record in last ten games: 7-2-1
  • 13 games remaining (6 home, 7 road)
  • Division games left: 9 (3 vs. Rangers, 2 vs. NYI, 2 vs. Philly, 2 vs. Pittsburgh)
  • Other games: at Montreal, at Minnesota, at Colorado, Boston

  • 2. Montreal Canadiens 85 points
  • Record in last ten games: 6-4-0
  • 12 games remaining (8 home, 4 road)
  • Division games left: 9 (3 vs. Ottawa, 2 vs. Boston, 2 vs. Buffalo, 2 vs. Toronto)
  • Other games: New Jersey, NYI, St Louis

  • 3. Carolina Hurricanes 79 points
  • Record in last ten games: 7-2-1
  • 11 games remaining (5 home, 6 road)
  • Division games left: 8 (2 vs. Atlanta, 2 vs. Florida, 2 vs. Tampa, 2 vs. Washington)
  • Other games: at Chicago, at Buffalo, Ottawa

  • 4. Pittsburgh Penguins 85 points
  • Record in last ten games: 5-3-2
  • 12 games remaining (7 home, 5 road)
  • Division games left: 10 (3 vs. Rangers, 3 vs. Philly, 2 vs. NYI , 2 vs. Devils)
  • Other games: Buffalo, Tampa

  • 5. Ottawa Senators 83 points
  • Record in last ten games: 3-5-2
  • 12 games remaining (6 home, 6 road)
  • Division games left: 10 (3 vs. Boston, 2 vs. Montreal, 2 vs. Buffalo, 2 vs. Toronto)
  • Other games: at Carolina, St. Louis

  • 6. New York Rangers 83 points
  • Record in last ten games: 8-0-2
  • 12 games remaining (6 home, 6 road)
  • Division games left: 10 (3 vs. New Jersey, 3 vs. Pittsburgh , 2 vs. NYI, 2 vs. Philly)
  • Other games: at Florida, at Tampa Bay

  • 7. Boston Bruins 80 points
  • Record in last ten games: 6-2-2
  • 13 games remaining (6 home, 7 road)
  • Division games left: 9 (3 vs. Ottawa, 3 vs. Buffalo, 2 vs. Montreal, 2 vs. Toronto)
  • Other games: Tampa, Philly, at Washington, at New Jersey

  • 8. Philadelphia Flyers 78 points
  • Record in last ten games: 5-2-3
  • 13 games remaining (6 home, 7 road)
  • Division games left: 9 (3 vs. Pittsburgh, 2 vs. NJ Devils , 2 vs. Rangers, 2 vs. NYI)
  • Other games: at Toronto, Toronto, at Boston, Atlanta

  • -----------------------------------------------------------------

    Looking at how 7 of the teams are from two divisions and given how many times they play each other there should be no doubt in your mind that "playoff hockey"--that is extremely physical, tight checking games with little in the way of taking too many risks--will be in full effect these final few weeks of the season.

    Not news: Penguins have best young players/prospects

    Ok, so it's kinda hardly a surprise given the team gets three consecutive top 2 picks and through the fate, or blind luck, ends up with Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby and Jordan Staal.

    If the Pens had their high picks in a different era* they could have ended up David Legwand [draft 2nd overall in 1998 entry draft], Patrik Stefan [1st overall in 1999] and Dany Heatley in 2000 [2nd overall in 2000]. So certainly timing, as usual, is everything.

    *in terms of hockey prospects

    But don't discount the other players under about the age of 21 that the Penguins have already developed into NHL players without the high picks.

    A lot of teams don't even have A player in their NHL lineup under the age of 22. We spot-checked three teams at random on and it seems Carolina and Detroit (shocker!) didn't have any, while Vancouver has two (defensemen Alex Edler and Luc Bourdon). So that the Pens have more than just the obvious young players has to be a testament to their scouting and development right off the bat.

    And with Alex Goligoski [61st overall in the 2nd round of 2004] seeming very close to being a fixture in the NHL and prospects ripping up the juniors like Luca Caputi [111st overall in the 4th round 2007] and Dustin Jeffrey [172nd in the 6th round] it's easy to see something we've been saying here for a while at TST....The young talent pool for the Penguins is significantly deeper than the casual observer might be lead to believe by just seeing the Staal's and Malkin's of the organ-eye-zation.

    Sunday, March 9, 2008

    Did he shoot that in his own net??? He shot that in his own net!

    The best is 48 seconds into this when they show #8's reaction.

    Alex Ovechkin = Stunned.

    Best Penguin: Nicklas Backstrom

    Sometimes you really have to love the hammer and the nail relationship the Penguins and Capitals have.

    So will this game-winning goal count towards Nicklas Backstrom's Calder hopes?

    Also: Sidney Crosby had 2 goals (well, one and Backstrom's gift), Evgeni Malkin 3 assists....Still think you're an MVP, Mr Ovechkin? Lead your team to the playoffs first.

    Friday, March 7, 2008

    Wade Belak vs. Georges Laraque

    The google searches don't lie, a lot of people want to see this fight. Unfortunately, Laraque winning a fairly easy decision in the bout didn't translate to the reversal of momentum he was hoping for with his team.

    Pens fall to Cats

    !Ryan Whitney on the ice for a goal against? Why I never!

    Bad loss, not much to say. At least the Penguins solved the puzzle that is Craig Anderson! Yeah, not much comfort either.

    The Panthers came out strong; outshot the Pens and scored two goals within 39 seconds. Bad news. The Penguins did everything in their power to turn the momentum; Georges Laraque fought (!!!), Coach T pulled Marc-Andre Fleury in favor of the Conk-block after a bad rebound that allowed the third goal and even tried to unite Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. All for naught.

    In the end, this is just one game out of 82. Surely fans will over-react and be upset, but it's a long season. If it's any consolation the Pens beat Florida 3 games to 1 in the season series, so even though a bitter loss tonight doesn't feel good, there's a sense that Pittsburgh already took the majority of the points from this opponent.

    Now, thankfully, it's a time to take a breath. Pittsburgh just played 11 games in 19 games, several back-to-backs, in many different cities with many different conditions and storylines. It's over and what's done is done. The next two days offer a time to catch our collective breath, regroup a little and look forward to a surely exciting and explosive game against Washington. Who will start in goal? Who knows. Will Marian Hossa be back? Hopefully. There's a million different questions and storylines but all that matters is the team comes together, gets a good practice or two in and buckles down for the next stretch.

    As we said, it is after all just 1 game out of 82.

    Thursday, March 6, 2008

    Czeching up on the kiddos part 3

    Let's take another look at the statistics of notable Penguin prospects.

    In Canada:

    Keven Veilleux (C, Victoriaville Tigres/Rimouski Oceanic, QMJHL): 56 games played, 16 goals, 46 assists, 62 points, 71 PIMs, -8
    Jacob Muzzin (D, Sault St. Marie Greyhounds, OHL): 62gp, 5g, 12a, 17p, 51 PIMs +14
    Dustin Jeffrey (C, Sault St. Marie Greyhounds, OHL): 51gp, 30g, 53a, 83p, 28 PIMs, +20
    Jean-Phillip Paquet (D, Baie-Comeau Drakkar, QMJHL): 62gp, 9g, 28a, 37p, 104 PIMs, -2
    Luca Caputi (LW, Niagra Ice Dogs, OHL): 63gp, 49g, 58a, 107p, 94 PIMs, +25
    Alex Grant (D, St. John Sea Dogs, QMJHL): 65gp, 14g, 27a, 41p, 96PIMs, +12

    And in the US college ranks:

    Michal Gergen (W, University Minnesota-Duluth): 29 gp, 5g, 7a, 12p, 45 PIM
    Carl Sneep (D, Boston College): 34 gp, 3g, 9a, 12p, 12 PIMs
    Brian Strait (D, Boston University): 31gp, 0g, 10a, 10p, 16 PIM

    By far, the cream of the crop--even if you still included Angelo Esposito--remains 2007 late round gems Caputi (4th round, 111th overal) and Jeffrey (6th round, 171st overall). Caputi is 4th in scoring in the OHL and Jeffrey (who missed games by remaining in Pittsburgh's training camp) is 10th that same race. Both of those prospects are listed as at least 6'3 and 190 so it should be interesting to continue to track their progress.

    It should also be noted that the 6'5" Veilleux, a second round pick last summer, has put up 20 points in 14 games for his new team Rimouski since being traded there.

    As of now Pittsburgh doesn't have a pick until the 4th round of this summer's draft; in part of the return to acquire Marian Hossa, Hal Gill and Georges Laraque the Pens gave up their 1st, 2nd and 3rd round picks respectively, essentially gutting the draft. If guys like Jeffrey, Caputi and Veilleux can become gems it will go a long way towards filling in the gaps for a contending organization that's dealt many picks away in exchange for established NHL players.

    Mapping out the Hatred

    Found this rivalry/hatred map on HFBoards, thought it was pretty cool.
    Pittsburgh/Atlanta based on the Kovalchuk controversy of old boy pointing his stick at the bench probably isn't as real as Pittsburgh/Ottawa because of the playoffs.

    Pittsburgh/Carolina is just funny. Stemming, of course from Brooks Orpik breaking the neck of Erik Cole, then waiting a couple weeks to try to call and apologize, only to have his apology re-buffed by Cole.

    Also, ya gotta love how New York and Toronto are the center of hate in the hockey world.

    Game Preview: Two Smokin Goalies

    The Penguins go for a four game season sweep of the Florida Panthers tonight. The three previous starts were all won by Ty Conklin, who won't be in net tonight.

    Florida backup goalie (and noted Ice-Girl eyer) Craig Anderson has gotten himself into quite a groove of late. He's stopped 105 straight shots in the past 147:46 he's played, earning 2 straight shutouts in the process.

    Not to be too outdone, Marc-Andre Fleury has stopped 97% of the shots fired his way (66 of 68), for a 0.97 GAA and a shutout in his first two starts back from injury.

    If you couldn't tell, the story is all about the goalies today.

    Tonight is the beginning of a seven game homestand for the Panthers. There's the old hockey adage of the first game at home after a road-trip being a letdown. Florida has a team/pysche that could easily be described as fragile. A quick start could break their spirit, especially since they've seen Anderson play so well of late.

    Wednesday, March 5, 2008

    Staal not expected to miss time

    Bruised ribs can't stop Gronk. Yesss!

    Also if you need a laugh, check out what some hater with too much time on their hands came up with. (This was on deadspin this morning kudos to Greg Wyshynski)

    Mucking out a win

    Whew. Any time the Penguins make it out of Tampa with a win, given their history, it's a good night. And a first place night at that. Thoughts on the game:

    • Obviously this night was all about Sidney Crosby and his return. Mike Smith almost upstaged it though. Tampa's newest goalie made several terrific saves on Crosby and Evgeni Malkin's chances (plus a Petr Sykora penalty shot) to hold his team in the game. Not to be denied, late in the 3rd period Crosby knocked down a hard Vinny Lecavalier dump and played the puck up to Maxime Talbot. Talbot advanced it up the ice, dropped it to Crosby and went hard to the net. Crosby threw a backhander at the net, the rebound popped out to Talbot and there you have the game's only goal of consequence.
    • That shouldn't upstage Marc-Andre Fleury's 35 save shutout performance. When a goalie stops everything that flies his way, obviously he's done his job. Fleury's now on a personal 6 game NHL winning streak.
    • In case Penguins fans forgot what it was like to see a center win the most of his draws, Sid won 12 out of 16 times in the faceoff circle. Very nice!
    • No loss is without it's troubles though, Jordan Staal left early with what has initially been described as "bruised ribs". Staal hasn't produced goals like last season but he's been one of the team's best defensive forwards. Hopefully his injury won't keep him out an extended time.
    • Brooks Orpik statline for the night: 20 minutes of icetime, 7 hits, 2 blocked shots and a +2. Pittsburgh will need these kind of performances from their most physical defenseman to continue to be a threat.
    • Nice to see Geno at least get rewarded with the empty net goal for his solid play throughout the evening. His chances were there, but as we said, Smith was out of his mind. Malkin still logged 23:23 of icetime, lest you think Crosby is shouldering all the burden. These guys are now a Yzerman/Fedorov or Sakic/Forsberg option; if not better than that!
    • Lest we not give credit where it's due: Kris Letang played awesome tonight, stealing pucks away, skating like crazy and making good decisions....And Jeff Taffe wasn't anything to watch tonight, but still keep half an eye on him.
    • Ryan Malone kept it up, getting 5 shots on goal. Tyler Kennedy might have played his best game since returning from mono, playing with energy and getting 4 shots in 13 minutes of ice-time. Obviously neither hit pay-dirt, but both played their roles to a T, which is a good sign.

    All in all it was awesome to see Crosby back, and back at 100% at that. His jump, vision, energy--if you hadn't known he'd missed a quarter of the season you would have never guessed. Fleury was stellar and even though the defense conceded 35 shots they played well. The only negative from tonight seems to be Staal's status, which may or may not be a big deal in the big picture.

    And, as if the rest of the Eastern Conference wanted to know, we're now one game closer to seeing Marian Hossa and Gary Roberts back in the black and vegas gold.

    After playing 10 games in the past 18 days, the boys get to enjoy a well deserved day off tomorrow in Florida before playing in Miami on Thursday....And then a rare Friday AND Saturday off before Sunday's prize matinee "away" game at Washington. Which, of course, your editor will be at.

    Tuesday, March 4, 2008

    Our long national nightmare is over: Tampa game preview

    Trips to Florida haven't ended well for the Penguins of late, going just 1-8-1 in the past ten games playing in the sunny confines of Tampa. A look at the new-look opponents.

    • Tampa, as you might expect from a team mired at the bottom of the standings, are struggling of late. They've gone 1-5-1 in their past seven games.
    • Further, in the three games since trading scoring forwards Brad Richards and Vaclav Prospal (and replacing them with Jussi Jokinen and Jeff Halpern) the Lightning have scored just 6 goals. Over the past 11 Lightning games, Martin St. Louis has just 1 goal (and has 0 points in the last 6 contests) and Vincent Lecavalier has just 1 goal in his last 11 matches. Are the remaining "big guns" still a little stunned with all the trades and losing or something more close to sulking?
    • Mike Smith, the centerpiece of the Richards trade, has started all 3 games and has a 3.32 GAA and a 88.2% save percentage. Also it's worth noting that Halpern, a grinder best remembered for his Mario Lemieux-pestering days, has 2 goals and 2 assists with TBL, so his output has seen a little bump with his new club.

    And some notes from the good guys:

    • The Penguins final record without Sidney Crosby: 11-6-4. Not bad considering that's a stretch that's a quarter of the season. Obligatory shoutouts to Messrs. Malkin, Conklin, Malone, Gonchar and Sykora.
    • As we mentioned, Marc-Andre Fleury gets the nod in net tonight. Conklin has faded recently, and while it's still a little early to say the wheels are falling off Cinderella's carriage, it still is nice to know the Pens can turn back to Fleury (who's personaly on a 5 game winning streak).
    • Maxime Talbot and Pascal Dupuis get the chance to play on Crosby's line tonight. A great chance for both of them to audition and prove they should be the 3rd guy with Crosby and Marian Hossa. With Talbot's energy, nose for the net and the improved production he's shown this year (20 points in 49 games compared with 24 points in 79 games last season), give him the edge. But it's probably anybody's game at this point.
    • Keep an eye out for Jeff Taffe playing with Jordan Staal and TK on the 3rd line tonight. Taffe's quietly carved out a niche as a player who belongs in the NHL.
    • Ryan Whitney's also back. We wouldn't be adverse to see Kris Letang sit for a night. Shootouts aside, it looks as if he's hit a little bit of a wall, not unexpected at this point in the season for a 21 year old defenseman in his first professional campaign. Letang's decision makings, zone coverage and even some of his passes have seemed a little off. He's had to deal with working with a new partner in Hal Gill, since Brooks Orpik's promotion to the top line.

    Crosby back in the lineup tonight

    After 6 and a half weeks of being on the shelf, it's time to play the game.

    Ryan Whitney is also expected to be back and Marc-Andre Fleury will be the starting keeper.

    Brace Yourself

    Obviously the standings shift and change with almost every day, but look who's playing who if they started today.