Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Ode to Depth

Lost in it all the Avery brouhaha was a Game 3 that stretched the Pens to the nearly insurmountable 3 games to 0 lead.

The biggest Penguin news is probably the perceived injury to Max Talbot; we’re not doctors but he’s not wearing a walking boot if it’s not broken from blocking a shot. Talbot, although a 4th line center, is a very important player for the Pens; he’s a valuable penalty-killer (the only forward on the team with more PK time is Jordan Staal) and Talbot plays the uptempo, high-energy hustling game that seems to pay off.

But the Pens have been pretty lucky since Sidney Crosby’s return from injury they’ve been pretty injury free. Gary Roberts groin was tweaked but he seemingly could have played last night but didn’t due to coaches decision. Inserting a battle tested warrior like Roberts into the lineup is certainly no drawback, it’s probably an advantage. Adam Hall, who filled in well for Roberts, can slide over to play center on that line with Georges Laraque.

The Pens PK should be OK too. Guys like Staal, Pascal Dupuis, Ryan Malone and Hall are the usual killers and players like Jarkko Ruutu, Marian Hossa and even Evgeni Malkin and Crosby could play well in that position too, if the Pens allow them the chance.

So the Pens forward depth can pickup the banner for Talbot. How long will he be hurt? Well usually with a break there’s swelling and if you can’t get a foot in a skate then it’s obviously impossible to play….But in a week or so, if it’s not a weight bearing bone, then perhaps Talbot could be back for next series….Assuming the seemingly inevitable of a quick Pens series win and a lengthy Philly/Montreal series plays out. But, of course, playoff assumptions are perhaps the worst kind so let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

All of a sudden hockey becomes just a game again


Rangers bad boy Sean Avery was rushed to a Manhattan hospital Wednesday with a lacerated spleen just hours after his team's playoff loss.

There were early reports he was in cardiac arrest upon arriving to the hospital but that has been edited out of this article so we're not sure if true or not.

Regardless this is shocking and unfortunate; even if we did call (and mean) that he is the biggest a-hole in the NHL, no one deserves this.

Best wishes for a full recovery.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Boys will be boys

Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins captain Nathan Smith will be suspended for
the first game of the second round of the playoffs, coach Todd Richards announced Tuesday morning.

Smith was charged with public drunkenness, disorderly conduct, open lewdness and indecent exposure after he ran naked into the street as part of what he called "a prank that went wrong" early Sunday morning in Scranton.

It's young men running around naked at 2:30 in the morning. Is it a good idea? No. Was their alcohol probably involved? Yes. But at least they weren't driving or brawling or being aggressive to women. Plenty of worse stories happen at this time.

On the other hand, Smith is the captain of the team and is a professional. He should be acting a little more mature and owes it to the organization, fans and his teammates to not put himself in a situation where he's streaking around during the playoffs

This article doesn't mention it, but teammate Ryan Stone was also arrested for public drunkeness, his 2nd one of this season. Not good.

We're not the moral police and don't tell others how to run their lives; we're no saints ourselves. But having fun and rockin' out is one thing, but being smart and keeping your head on your shoulders is another. Hopefully the lessons sink in to not only Smith and Stone but other young players on the team about responsibility (or at least how to stay under the radar).

(Credit the Baby Pens news to who else, Bombulie)

Game 3 Preview: Going for the stranglehold

Will Gary Roberts be back tonight? It looks like it, but they’ll make that decision after the morning skate. Goals aside, Adam Hall is a good 4th line player, so even if Mr. Gary’s groin can’t go, the Pens will still have a good 4th line. It’d be nice to get Roberts back if only for his presence and maybe have him slam a defenseman or two on the forecheck.

Speaking of people needing to be slammed, Sean Avery was called a coward by Joe Starkey for a slash on Sidney Crosby. We don’t condone whacking a player who doesn’t have the puck, but in a sense NHL players constantly have to fight through random slashes and cross-checks. No harm, no foul here. But, to be sure Avery needs to know that he can’t just be slashing Crosby at-will. Maybe the pounding that the USS Hal Gill and Georges Laraque laid on him might reinforce that.

In today’s Ron Cook column, he advocates replacing Marian Hossa with Petr Sykora on the team’s top powerplay, repeating “if it’s aint broke, fix it anyways”. Cook accurately points out all the chances and shots that Hossa is generating but thinks a guy like Sykora may help the Penguins convert more. There’d be nothing positive to come out of making that change right now, Hossa’s doing everything well in all facets of his game, he’s just not scoring goals at the moment. Sykora’s been great too, but Hossa is more skilled and brings more to the table.

If you haven’t yet seen it, here’s a pretty good article from ESPN’s Scott Burnside about coach Michel Therrien. As we’ve mentioned before, it hits on how Therrien’s in a pretty thankless position; when he wins it’s to be expected (and credit to the players) but when the team is not winning it’s his fault and he deserves to be fired. Hell, even when he is winning and the powerplay is clicking along he’s got people like Ron Cook calling for him to change things up.

Around the league some crazy stuff too as the Canadien fans descerated the Rocky statue in Philadelphia with a Habs jersey and the Canadian national anthem was subsquently boo'd last night in return. Things are heating up there, surprisingly to us the Flyers are hanging right in there, as Martin Biron has been playing out of his mind lately.

Closer to the homefront Game 3 is tonight and the Rangers will have the benefit of being at home and definitely have the chance to get back on their feet a little bit. As we all know a 3-0 series is basically over but a 2-1 advantage shift the momentum back to the Rangers. NYR will be looking to play another tight checking, low scoring game but watch for the Pens (particularly the lower lines) to try to setup up puck possession in their zone and generate a lot of shots and scoring chances that way. If guys like Jordan Staal, Max Talbot and Tyler Kennedy can keep this up and establish the Pens early in the game, we like the chances of a 3-0 advantage.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Game 2: Beating them at their own game

Apologies for no updates this weekend (it was our birthday) but anyways you know the result of Game 2, 2-0 win for the good guys. Some thoughts:

  • A lot has been made, rightfully so, about the Penguins winning such a close, low scoring game. Pittsburgh played pretty well in the defensive zone down the stretch of the regular season, yielding three or more goals only once the the final 13 games. But those following hockey are now starting to see that same effort applied every night in the playoffs and are now becoming impressed.
  • Obviously that all ends with Marc-Andre Fleury, but it begins with the defense. The Penguins were credited with 22 blocked shots (and 13 of 18 skaters blocked at least one, lead by Sergei Gonchar's 5). The team tried to keep the Rangers to outside and worse scoring angles and then clogged the lanes. That's a recipe for success.
  • Jordan Staal scored the game's only goal of consequence and played a pretty complete game; even if he was only 27% in the faceoff circles. Staal's effort with and without the puck was quite solid. Staal is also quite adept and comfortable killing penalties, as he played a forward-high 5:48 shorthanded.
  • The Rangers got a bad break when the referee whistled the puck dead when it was covered (but not completely possessed) by Fleury. But, as the Rangers even admitted after the game, that's just the way it goes sometimes.
  • Marian Hossa's firing gallery continued; 7 shots on goal including a breakaway chance when sprung from a sublime feed by Gonchar. Hossa didn't score, of course, but it wasn't for a lack of effort or chances. Again. Hossa leads the league in playoff shots on goal per game (5.8 a night). Unfortunately though he's 122nd (out of 133 playoff scorers) in shooting percentage.
  • Also, we're not sure what Fleury's thinking giving the biggest asshole in the NHL Sean Avery a cup check as time was expiring. Sure it's got to be refreshing to take a stick and hit such a jerk below the belt, but MAF's in a place with nothing to gain and everything to do by taking such action.
  • Now comes two games at MSG, a venue that hasn't been too kind this season to the Pens. But the team will have to be flying high after their recent performances, so we wouldn't put too much stock in past results with a team motoring full speed ahead right now.

6 down, 10 to go....

Friday, April 25, 2008

Don't call it a comeback!

....I've been here for years"

The Pens shook off the rust (not rest) and cameback for a thrilling 5-4 victory tonight.

  • A couple of quick strikes (2 goals in :14 seconds and then 2 goals in :20 seconds) and the Pens were able to overcome the rust of being off for nine days.
  • Clearly your statline of the game belonged to Jarkko Ruutu: 17:04 icetime (all at even strength), 1 goal, 10 hits....And one hilarious (if he's on your team) stick in the face before a faceoff. If Sean Avery thought he was the only one to bring creative ways of being a pest to the series he knows better now.
  • Ryan Malone had 2 assists and 5 hits with over 20 minutes of icetime and you won't here his name in any recap. Classic power forward doing his job hitting people and opening up room for his teammates.
  • One can't really blame Marc-Andre Fleury for any of the goals he surrendered (except for maybe the great wrister by Avery). MAF was solid and stopped all the pucks you could hope for. He stayed up and in position as much as possible. Even after giving up a few goals his confidence wasn't shaken, as he acted confident and made a few solid saves afterwards.
  • As usual, the story is Sidney Crosby. He won 61% of his faceoffs, worked hard and drew penalties and ended up on the night with 2 assists. Which really would have been one goal and one assist if Evgeni Malkin's knee didn't get in the way for the game winner with under 2 minutes to go from the big slapper. Crosby, again, showed how he is the most explosive and most prolific offensive player in the game... He deserved the recognition he got for being the #1 star of the game.

Despite Ottawa once tying a game 3-3; the Penguins were never in real danger in the first round. Going down 3 goals to 0 halfway through the game against a solid defensive team like the Rangers is a different story. But just like they battled back through regular season injuries like losing a #1 goalie and then reigning Hart Trophy winner, the Pens found a way to scrape it out. Rather than go into a corner and die like a wounded animal they didn't give up and kept after it no matter what the score or situation. The Blueshirts thought they'd be the more physical and the more skilled team but that was proved wrong tonight (hits were 48-37 Pens and shots ended up 26-24.) Scoring chances and overall puck posession was clearly in favor of Pittsburgh, minus the little hiccup in the middle of the game.

So in the face of not only adversity but a seemingly insurmountable 3-0 playoff lead, Pittsburgh battled back, showed their skill, and did what it took to get the victory. That's a team with character. That's a team with heart. That's a team that's not only good but is working to get the win. Rarely does a the more skilled team win if they're not working hard; and pretty much everyone on the Pens bench not only "never said die" but put in an honest day's work....And got rewarded, thanks to their skill.

No one can doubt, they earned it tonight. See you Sunday on NBC (Nothing But Crosby).

5 wins down, 11 more to go....

Jaromir Jagr

"He's not a [Soup] Nazi, he just happens to be eccentric....You know, most geniuses are" --Cosmo Kramer

The Globe has a pretty good article about Jaromir Jagr reflection on how he left the Penguins.

Jagr's tone seems saddened that it had to end like it did, and this editor was too. We have not, and short of him kicking our dog, would not ever boo Jagr. A true fan would remember that JJ battled through a badly injured groin and put the #8 seed Pittsburgh Penguins on his back and lead them past the NJ Devils in 1999; at the height of the Devils strong teams.

Jagr is a complex man, he's a European and he thinks and acts in a different way than most Americans. Does that make him weird? Maybe to us, but that's just him. His personality is somewhat mercurial to his logic, but that's the way he is.

Given Pittsburgh's recently out-of bankrupt financial situation, it was clear they wouldn't be able to keep the skill of their 2001 team (Jagr, Alexei Kovalev, Robert Lang, Martin Straka and Darius Kasparaitis) forever. Even though Jagr was the best individual offensive player in the game at that point, losing the others would have doomed him to a talent-less supporting cast and as we all know hockey is a team sport.

Fans used to boo because their feelings were hurt about how he left and wanted out, but now it's more of a tradition. The tradition was probably cemented when Jagr, in his first few attempts to Pittsburgh, didn't seem to have much success in production.

At the end of the day Jagr is still, in our eyes, the 2nd best player to ever give so much for this organ-eye-zation (though those Crosby and Malkin guys are building a body of work that one day may be up for debate). For a player that did so much for the Pens, he deserves to be remembered not solely in a bitter, negative way.

Game 1 Preview

The Pens only lingering injury (Gary Roberts) will be out for game 1. It's unfortunate but not the worst thing in the world since his replacement, Adam Hall, is a good defensive forward and a tight checker that should be useful in a series against a team like the Rangers.

A lot has been made of the whole Sean Avery fiasco and how he might try to get under the skin of a guy like Sidney Crosby. We don't make too much of it. Unlike Martin Brodeur, who has to stand stationary in more or less the same spot, Crosby flies around the ice and will be much harder to keep up with when you're trying to pull antics. We think the bigger issue is the Rangers planning to insert Colton Orr into the lineup. Orr is pretty much a pre-lockout goon and doesn't bring much to the table hockey-wise.

The key thing tonight to watch for is how the Pens shooters will attack Henrik Lundqvist. Even though hockey is a "read and react" type game, obviously the Pens all know Lundqvist's strength of stopping pretty much 100% of low shots. They're going to have to elevate the puck (and thus miss the net more) in order to generate scorable shots. Usually a team is well thought of if they can put at least 30 shots on goal...We'd be ok with the Pens only getting 20 if they are high, sniping shots; 20 of those might be enough for 3-4 goals and the win.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Predicting the other series

For first round predictions we were a pretty respectable 6-2, including a perfect 4-0 record in the Eastern Conference, which are the games naturally that we follow more closely. We'll be the first to admit our insight doesn't translate that well outside of the Eastern Time Zone.

In the post below is our Penguins series preview and prediction (which you can probably predict) so let's get to the other matchups.

Eastern Conference:

Montreal Canadiens v. Philadelphia Flyers

After sneaking by the Caps in a thrilling yet physical series, one has to wonder how much Philly has left in the tank. Montreal also got taken to the limit by Boston, but we just get the feeling that the Habs are getting the wind into their sails while it took all of the Flyers' effort to make it to this point.

Series key: Montreal's speed up front versus the Philadelphia backline

Prediction: Montreal in 5

Western Conference

Detroit Red Wings v. Colorado Avalanche

Oh to the days when this would have guaranteed blood. The rivalry may have simmered lately as most the players involved in it's hey-day are gone, but we get the feeling that this could boil back into the fiercest series this round. Colorado, when healthy, presents more challenges than the usual #6 seed. But Detroit just seems like a machine, taking care of business in a workman-like fashion. Nothing fancy, nothing exciting, just results at the end of the day.

Series key: Colorado (read: Peter Forsberg's) health and which Jose Theodore shows up

Prediction: Detroit in 6

San Jose Sharks v. Dallas Stars

Of all the series we could see going either way, it's probably this one. The convential pick (as the always are) would be the Sharks. On paper they have all the talent and all the pieces a team needs. But games are not played on paper. A scrappy Calgary team took SJ to the limit. The way Dallas played in the first round, they would have beaten San Jose. Strangely, sentimentally we find ourselves drawn to seeing this last hurrah of Jeremy Roenick go on a little longer.

Series key: The Sharks staying consistent and solving Marty Turco
Prediction: Dallas in 7

Series Preview: Pittsburgh v. New York

Here's a quick look at the Penguins next playoff opponent, one they know quite well, the New York Rangers.

Playoff leading scorer: Jaromir Jagr (5 games, 2 goals, 6 assists, +3)

Opponent they made look the worst: It's tempting to say Martin Brodeur, if only because the biggest asshole in the NHL Sean Avery got under his skin so effectively and threw him off his game. But we're going to go with Paul Martin, who got burnt for a -8 +/- rating in the five games.

Interesting stat: The Rangers scored 18 goals in five games (3.80 a game) against Brodeur and the defensive-minded Devils. 11 different Rangers tallied at least one goal, while five Blueshirts had multi-goal series.

Between the circles: Noted playoff warrior and Mr. Clutch Chris Drury only won 39.4% of his draws. Brandon Dubinsky and Scott Gomez took most the other faceoffs and were at or above 50%.

What the media will tell you the key matchup is: Marc-Andre Fleury vs. Henrik Lundqvist

What the real key matchup is: How New York's young defensemen--particularly Marc Staal (21) and Dan Girardi (23) matchup against the depth of scoring forwards that Pittsburgh will try to matchup against them.

Girardi and Staal were credited with 25 and 17 hits in those first five games, pretty impressive numbers. It remains to be seen if they were inflated numbers or legit hits.

TST Prediction: Pens in 6

The Rangers will be a stiff challenge. They've got a lot of great playoff players (Drury, Shanahan and, yes, Jagr) to go with some talented youth (Dubinsky, Ryan Callahan, etc) up front. Defensively you'd think they wouldn't be as good as they are but it's a team commitment (and a great goalie) that makes them solid.

Still, the Penguins can counter that with speed and skill that we believe just over-matches the Blueshirts. The likes of Crosby, Malkin, Hossa, Sykora, etc. will eventual convert on the numerous chances they generate. The defense will quietly do their job and Fleury will continue to play excellent hockey. We give New York two games because we respect the talent of a guy like Jagr or Drury who can steal a close game by themselves with a late goal.

But in the end, the Penguins are marching on.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

It's the Rangers

The dust has settled and it'll be old friend Jammer Jagr and the New York Rangers in the second round; a team nearly as well rested as the Penguins. There will be a lot to talk about, like Sean Avery (the clown who's name was in a madam's book) wants to be an intern this summer for a fashion magazine.

Also on Yahoo's NHL blog today, keep an eye out for some brilliant writer and a piece on the Caps post-mortem.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Gonchar subbed from Norris finalists

Sergei Gonchar was not among the three finalists announced for the Nicklas Lidstrom--err, James Norris Trophy.

We would have liked to see Gonchar get a nod, he's deserving of consideration and anyone who's watched more than a handful of Penguins games could tell you that. But, as we mentioned this award starts and ends with Lidstrom, so there's no use crying over it.

Just let Gonchar quietly continue to play + hockey 27+ minutes a night and lead everyone in powerplay scoring.

Monday, April 21, 2008

2007 Draftees

Joe Sager has a great write-up on the main page detailing the season's (and immediate futures) of the Penguins 2007 draft class---minus the traded Angelo Esposito, natch.

We apologize for the lack of meaningful posts lately, but there's not too much going on in Penguin world at the moment, which coincides nicely with the death of the main computer at TST headquarters. Also, we're hard at work on a project for Greg Wyshynski over at Yahoo! sports that you might be reading sooner than later too.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Mr. Roberts, sir

This song deserves to be played right now.

Maybe we'll analyzed the pros and cons of the Pens next opponent (Rangers, Bruins, Capitals). But for now enjoy this classic. If you haven't somehow watched it yet, you owe it to yourself.

The Wilkes-Barre Pens ride again

So if you're keeping track the Penguins top two organ-eye-zations are a combined 6-0 right now.

A 6-2 win over the Hershey Bears throw the Baby Pens up 2-0 in their series, goals scored by Tim Brent (2), David Gove, Chris Minard, Ryan Stone and defenseman Alex Goligoski push the Baby Pens in a great position going forward.

It's a great time to be alive.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Rest, not rust

Welcome to day 2 of the layoff as the Pens rest and wait to see who the next opponent will be.

Right now we are moderately cheering for longer series. The longer the series, the less in tact and energy whoever emerges should have. #8 seed Boston didn’t say die last night when they could have, but Washington was dealt a double-OT heartbreaker that might have emptied their tank completely.

For the Pens, this rest will be a good one. The obvious beneficiary of this has to be Gary Roberts, who injured his groin during his comeback from a broken leg and high-ankle sprain. A groin injury is pretty common in that situation, since the player over-uses that muscle to compensate for the leg not being in full shape. Getting what could be about 2 more weeks of rest could have Roberts at pain-free capacity for the second round.

Then you’ve got a guy like Ryan Malone who plays a physical style and didn’t practice much during the Ottawa series. About a week off for him ought to do the trick perfectly to get the aches and pains out, a luxury not to many teams have at this time of the year. Sidney Crosby, who’s ankle does seem to be allowing him to reach full speed, gets even more time to rest up.

Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal were the only Pens to play all 82 games, but seven players played at least 77 regular season games. Some, like Sergei Gonchar, chew up a ton of minutes. Others, like Brooks Orpik and Hal Gill play the body and put themselves in front of a lot of rubber. A break would do well for them.

There’s always the worry about rust, but I don’t think that will be too much of a factor. The latest the 2nd round could begin is, what the 24th? That would be an eight day layoff but the players are professional and will be practicing in the interim. Obviously nothing compares to the intensity of NHL playoff games but the benefit of rest should far outweigh any edge the team might lose.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Baby Pens doing some winning too

Pittsburgh's NHL squad isn't the only team in the organization off to a good post-season start. The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins are up 1 game to none over one of their rivals the Hershey Bears (Washington's AHL team).

Wilkes-Barre is in a unique situation; since Pittsburgh had so many injuries it pulled many of their players away. Eight players in the Baby Pens lineup for Game 1 (Chris Minard, Tim Brent, Connor James, Alex Goligoski, Alain Nasreddine, Nathan Smith, Jonathan Filewich and Ryan Stone) saw NHL action this season, combining for 62 games played "in the show". And this doesn't even count contributors like Jeff Taffe, Tyler Kennedy, Kris Letang who've all graduated to the NHL. Or the only goaltender with experience, Ty Conklin. By contrast only 2 of Hershey's players (Sami Lepitso and Chris Bourque) played with the Caps and they combined for just 11 games. We should point out they did graduate Quintin Laing and Eric Fehr and Coach Bruce Boudreau to the NHL.

Regardless of the higher level experience, the Baby Pens face two large hurdles: 1)having two rookie goaltenders on their roster (compared to the seasoned Freddy Cassivi that Hershey has) and 2)generating consistent offense.

Wednesday night they only got 2 goals (from James and Minard) but it was enough for a 2-1 over-time winner.

This series will be interesting to keep an eye on. Both of these AHL clubs are no stranger to post-season success, and very fimiliar with one another. If the Baby Pens goaltending stays strong and they can find a scoring spark they should have no problem advancing deep into the Calder Cup trophies....Just like the other team in the organization.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

How Sweep it is

(Image from the Pensblog)

Now the Senators can shake the Pens hands...

But who would have thought that goaltending--arguably the most volatile link all season for the Senators--would have been their strongest link in the playoffs. Take nothing away from Martin Gerber; he played a whale of a series. But there is only so much a goaltender can do. Take a powerplay for the Penguins. And Sidney Crosby with open ice. And a perfect cross-ice pass to a streaking, uncovered Evgeni Malkin in a perfect scoring position. No one can expected to stop that. Gerber did. But the rebound popped back out to Malkin who swatted it in.
Gerber made 7 saves on Marian Hossa. In the first period.

The second goal, on a strange Jarkko Ruutu semi-breakaway saw him somehow sneak it 5-hole. It looked like Gerber just lifted his stick slightly and that was a mistake but a small one magnified. Ruutu was sprung on a terrific pass by Tyler "Mr" Kennedy, which goes to show it's not just the Crosby's and Malkin's and Hossa's that are getting it done for Pittsburgh right now, it's any forward on any shift.

The Antoine Vermette 'no-goal' seems to be without controversy for us. That obviously was a distinct kicking motion towards the net. Our only question was whether the puck may have deflected off of one of the defending Kris Letang's or Marc-Andre Fleury's stick.
Shots, at the end were 30-13 Penguins. They've just over-matched and outclassed Ottawa at every turn.
Sens fans may argue that the Pens got too many powerplays this series, but you look at the penalties (like Dany Heatley or Christoph Schubert's slashes or Nick Foligno's boarding) and they're no brainers. The team that works harder will generally draw more penalties and an undisciplined team will force the referee's hands.
Couple of interesting notes to leave you with:
  • 5 goals surrendered in a series is a new record for the Penguins. Credit not only Marc-Andre Fleury (who won't have to answer to anyone on his post-season performance anytime soon) but also the entire defense and even backchecking forwards for clamping down and limiting opportunities.
  • Jarkko Ruutu, who's been lamented here for taking too many penalties, didn't take a single one all series.
  • The Pens scored 16 goals in 4 games, and even more impressively they came from the sticks of 10 different players. You talk about depth and everyone stepping up, you talk about Pittsburgh right now.
  • The last time Pittsburgh swept a series, they defeated a young Jeremy Roenick and Dominik Hasek and a 30 year old Chris Chelios to win the Stanley Cup in 1992.

And, best of all, we'll never again have to live with seeing this picture and feeling bad...

4 down, 12 to go!!!!!

Game 4 Preview: This could be it

Ottawa is pulling out all the stops, as apparently Bryan Murray will reunite his uber-line of Dany Heatley-Jason Spezza-Daniel Alfredsson. There's really no point for him not to as Heatley and Spezza have been pretty much non-existent. Their combined stats are: 6 games played, 0 goals (with only 15 shots), 2 assists and a ugly -5. Alfredsson, though still not at 100%, at least played with energy in the only game he was in.

But, as always, it's not about the opposition, it's about the Penguins. If they come out and play with intensity and match Ottawa's desperate last heave, they'll win. And probably by a pretty wide margain. Pittsburgh's combined forward depth is just too strong for the Senators as a team to handle. But if the Pens play a lazy game, this will be headed for a Game 5.

Gary Roberts will probably not be in the lineup, but the Pens are in a great position to let G-Rob take a little break here and (hopefully) be ready to come out in another week or so for the next series which is important because as of right now, looking like it could be the winner of the New Jersey/NYR series.

We hope the team will have the motivation (thanks to the picture of last year's handshake, and general pride) to come out strong and finish their work tonight. We never want to see that depressing picture the Pensblog posted every day during the off-season last year (though it did sum up everyone's feelings so well). Tonight would be the perfect way to exorcise that demon and become the only team to sweep in the first round of this year's playoffs.

John LeClair helping the Pens (for the 1st time)

Strange, but true.

The LeClair figurine was a gift from the son of West Point hockey coach

Bill Riley, who coached Malone when he played at Shattuck-St. Mary's, the famous Minnesota prep school. He's become a lucky charm.

"I think he actually looks like John LeClair. They both had that bowl (haircut)," said Malone. "If guys have gone a couple of games without a goal, they'll come over and give him a touch, whoever needs it."

"He loves the road," Malone added of this LeClair, which travels in an equipment bag.

Well that would be the first time LeClair's helped the Pens in recent memory...

Two Draft Picks to Join Baby Pens

According to Bombulie, the Penguins signed two 2007 draft picks Luca Caputi and Keven Veilleux to Amateur Try-Out contracts. ATOs are good for the player (gives them a little bit of monetary gain and a chance to make the team) plus they are good for the organization as they don't count against the 40 SPC's (standard player contracts) that they have, which is obviously near the limit this late in the season. Plus, to our intrepretation, the player on an ATO doesn't start on their traditional three year entry level contract (and start the clock ticking towards unrestricted free agency).

The Baby Pens have a pretty deep set of forwards, but lack explosive offensive players. It will be interesting to see how much of a chance they give Caputi (who scored 111 pointss in the OHL). Veilleux is a 6'5 center who was about a point-per-game player in the Q.

The AHL playoffs are less about developing these young players and more about sticking with who got ya there and trying to win. Mike Richards and Jeff Carter signed ATOs and really jumped out for the Philadelphia Phantoms but they are the exception, not the rule. Still, it's good to get some prospects in and training/practicing with the team to get a taste of how intense the professional level gets.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

A second season scorer: Max Talbot

(Image from, where else, The Pensblog)

We think there's a lot of truth in one of John Buccigross's favorite sayings: "Player A is clutch, and clutch is everything!"

Perhaps somewhat sneakily, Maxime Talbot is making his name as a reliable playoff scorer at all levels.

  • At the age of 18 in 2001-02 while playing in the Q, Talbot put up a .92 points-per-game regular season. He followed by scoring 10 points in 12 games (.833 ppg) for the playoffs.

  • The next season, 2002-03 was Talbot's breakthrough performance. He scored 104 points in 69 regular season games (1.50 ppg). To follow that up he scored an amazing 44 points [14g, 30a] in 20 playoff games leading his team to the QMJHL championship. Talbot won the Guy Lafleur Trophy for being the playoff MVP.

  • In 2003-04 Talbot scored 98 points in 51 reg. season games (1.92 points/game). He followed that by scoring 27 points [12g, 15a] in 15 games and became only second person to win the Guy Lafleur Trophy multiple times.
  • As a roleplayer for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in his first pro season, Talbot struggled in the 2004-05 playoffs, tallying only 1 assist in 11 playoff games.

  • However the following season would be a different story...Talbot split time between Pittsburgh and the AHL and had a .76 ppg ratio in the regular season on the farm. In 11 playoff games there he even bettered that, with 9 points [3g, 6a], good for .81 ppg.

  • Last year, Talbot's first NHL spring he, like the rest of the team, got a rude awakening and only produced 1 assist in 5 games.

  • This year, after being hampered by a lingering high-ankle sprain Talbot scored .41 ppg in the regular season. He already has 1 goal and 1 assist in three playoff games despite averaging about 13:30 minutes a night while playing on the 4th line and killing penalties.

Some players show up in the clutch and, as we'll continue to see, Talbot is just one of those pesky players with a knack for producing points at big moments when it counts.

(Props to JB for the wiki link and get us thinking about this)

Monday, April 14, 2008

2:06 of your life that you won't get back


Game 3 Redux

Assorted thoughts:

  • In our game notes (ses post below this) we said that it was hard to tell in the beginning of the game that Pittsburgh was up 2 games to 0. Well, an observer of the last 10 minutes could surely tell you that Ottawa was looking like a defeated team about to go into a nearly insurmountable 3-0 hole.
  • The game's difference maker (aside from Marc-Andre Fleury making 33 saves on 34 shots) was Sidney Crosby. El Sid set a new Pens playoff record by scoring just 12 seconds into a period. 78 seconds later Jordan Staal was able to score, basically deflating the whole opposition and fans right then and there.
  • Fleury is playing very well since coming back from injury. Easy to say but still needs to be said.
  • We also said Marian Hossa seems snake-bitten, but maybe the curse is off his back with the 1 goal, 2 assist performance he had tonight. Nights like these are why Ray Shero went out and prevented Ottawa and Montreal (the leading candidates) from acquiring him.
  • Daniel Alfredsson was impressive, not only in his return but in the way he played. 17:08 icetime is a little low for him but he fired off 4 shots on net, competed hard and was arguably the best (or second best) Senator forward of the night....Perhaps that says something about the rest of the team, though.

Bust out your brooms, boys and girls, the Pens are 1 win away from being on the right side of a playoff handshake with Ottawa.

3 down, 13 to go!!!!

Breaking backs; game notes

The following notes were compiled as we watched the game tonight:

  • We're starting to see about Marian Hossa in the playoffs, as he rings one off the post early on the first powerplay. It's not like he's disappeared or anything (same can't be said for Dany Heatley this year), but his luck seems to be very snake bitten. But with such a skilled player generating so many chances one has to go in soon, right?
  • No problem here with the penalty on Maxime Talbot for goaltender interference (even if Martin Gerber flew back like he was totally run over). Gotta protect the goalies, especially this year when it seems like goalies are getting run or contacted a lot more than years past.
  • By the time the first commerical break has hit, Ottawa has certainly shown their opening "pop"...They're out-shooting the Pens 5-3 (and have 4 more blocked or missed the net) and have generally dominated physical play and puck possession. If you didn't know which team of this series had the 2 games to 0 advantage, 7 minutes into the game you probably wouldn't guess it was Pittsburgh.
  • Marc-Andre Fleury makes a 10 bell save on a sequence which showed Nick Foligno (who's skating like his hair is on fire) split the d and then a snap shot from Daniel Alfredsson, who looks nothing like a guy just coming back from injury.
  • We wanted to see if the Ottawa fans would once again courtesy boo Sidney Crosby, but really it took 10 minutes into the game for him to bring the puch up the ice to find out. That is not a good sign. This game has been so far about how fast the Sens have been and how up to the task Fleury's been.
  • And they're kinda lazily booing him too, doesn't have as much vile as it did last playoffs. For a change the fans seem more enthused about rooting their own team than booing the Cros. That's cool with us.
  • Sure sign that it's playoff hockey: players like Rob Scuderi, Jordan Staal and Sergei Gonchar are throwing honest checks.
  • Gerber is matching Fleury, making beautiful saves on Ryan Malone and Hossa. Gerber's tracking the puck so well right now.
  • Evgeni Malkin appeared to be shaken up a little when Dean McAmmond stood him up at the blueline and looked like he elbowed him in the face. You'd think McAmmond, who got knocked out by Chris Pronger's elbow last year, should be a little better with his body control...
  • Folino opens the scoring when he jukes by Ryan Whitney and beats Fleury with a great wrist-shot. This gives the Senators and their crowd a life, and more importantly we'll get a chance to see how the Penguins respond with losing for the first time this post-season.
  • Maxime Talbot ties it up! Impressively Whitney started the rush behind his own net and every Penguin touches the puck. Excellent puck movement. Talbot (who extended his shift) had enough to slip behind Andrej Meszaros and backhand one past Gerber. What a beautiful feed he got too from Marian Hossa.
  • Halfway through the period, Adam Hall-Talbot-Georges Laraque have a great shift and cycle the puck in Ottawa's end for 20-30 seconds continuously. Noteworthy because it keeps Heatley's line in his own end more than they want to be....This happens just after the Jarkko Ruutu-Jordan Staal-Tyler Kennedy 3rd line kept Alfredsson and co. on their heels for the majority of a shift....The initial burst of energy from playing at home looks like it's worn out.
  • Good old fashioned scrum with 6 minutes left in the 2nd on the powerplay...Petr Sykora launches a slapper and then all the boys collapse on the goal, whacking away. Finally the Sens smuggle the puck up but as things tend to do in the playoffs, mayhem ensues.
  • Crosby strikes :12 seconds in! Chip it in, fish 'er out and knock it home. At this point it's 2-1 Pens and just one minute into the 3rd. The next goal is going to be--
  • JORDAN STAAL FINALLY DOES SOMETHING WITH HIS LIFE! Before we can finish about the Crosby goal, Kennedy fires a cross-ice pass to Staal who bats it home.
  • Only a bonehead takes a penalty Chris Neil does, punching a player in the face when your team is clinging to it's playoff life. His team just gave up two goals in less than 2 minutes and he pulls that? Not smart, guy.
  • Powerplay city and Hossa shovels a puck in the net. Credit coach Michel Therrien for taking a timely penalty to rest Malone, Malkin, Crosby and Gonchar who had just played an extended powerplay shift. Small move but it paid off.
  • Pens sit on the clock and take the air out of the puck for the last 5 minutes and that's your game.

Scary Gary says what we all say..

WDGRT? (What does Gary Roberts think) about Sean Avery's hijinks?

"He's an idiot," Penguins forward Gary Roberts said.

What a human being.

Game 3 view: Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

We were going to call this a "preview" but considering the game is about to start, it doesn't seem fair. Apologies to our readers for not much in the way of updates this weekend; one of our best old friends made an impromtu trip from Florida and the editor of this blog was more concerned about finding affordable game 2 Caps tickets and hanging out then blogging. But thanks for stopping by.

The most obvious change for the Penguins tonight, will obviously be the venue, with the game coming from Kanata and not Pittsburgh. But there other intesting differences.
  • First and foremost, rumors are swirling that Daniel Alfreddson (who was said to be out "weeks" about 1 week ago) will Willis-Reed-it-up and try to inspire his troops with a valiant comeback.
  • Hmm, wonder why no Pittsburgh media member said that maybe a Penguin can test Alfie's rumored bruised/broken ribs by taking a tomahawk chop to them? What a joke.
  • Jason Spezza didn't practice yesterday and there was a rumor that he was hurt with an unspecified leg injury. But Spezza says he will play tonight.

Again, the key is going to be weathering the storm. Ottawa's going to be pumped up playing at home and there crowd is going to be going crazy in the early going. If Ottawa can get the first goal, you'll hear the fimiliar "Fleu-reee, Fleu-reee" chants and that quick start could even turn around the series.

Going up 3 games to 0 though is a huge opportunity. All the other EC matchups are 2-1 or 1-1, and some of them look like they could be quite the long, grinding 6 or 7 game series that zap so much out of the survivor. Quickly dispatching the Sens would be a huge edge for the Pens.

Us to talking about a prolonged break this time of year is simpler than it is for the Pens to go out and do it, so let's see what happens. Quick recap here after the game, we promise!

Bush League

Saturday, April 12, 2008

A win is a win is a win

Barry Melrose likes to say a series doesn't really begin until the home team loses a game....But what happens if the home team holds serve 6 times and it goes to a game 7, the series hasn't begun?
Regardless the Pens did what it took to hold their home ice and skate away with a 2 games to none advantage.
  • The Penguins picked Ottawa apart early, but give those bastards credit; they kept fighting back and tied the score at 3-3.
  • 54 shots on goal is a new playoff record for the Penguins.
  • Sidney Crosby had 4 assists and didn't even make one of the 3 stars of the game....That speaks to how awesome other players played. Like Petr Sykora and Ryan Malone.
  • This is the first time in months that Marc-Andre Fleury allowed multiple even strength goals.
  • Last spring Evgeni Malkin had 0 goals and 4 assists in the 5 game series against Ottawa. This year he has a lot more in the tank; as not only his 1 goal and 5 assists (in 2 games) would indicate but the way he's galloping around the ice and making opponents look silly. Who's the best Russian player in the NHL? Ask again in a few weeks and you might have a different answer than the obvious regular season MVP choice....

Our favorite moment though, had to be Bryan Murray's notable post-game quote. After the first game he made a comment to the tune of it didn't feel like a 4-0 game and he liked the intensity and energy his team brought to the table. Tonight he said: "I think our guys had a lot of character, played hard and battled from a 3-0 deficit. I have to believe they will play well at home."

We think you would have to believe this if, you know, you fired the head coach and took all the responsibility on yourself. At this point Murray knows the Pens are going to wipe the floor with his team, no matter how much "character" they have or how hard they play. It's all about saving face for this point for Cryin Bryan. Of course he has to believe, else he's likely out of a job....And it couldn't happen to a nicer guy ;)

2 down, 14 to go.......

Friday, April 11, 2008

Clement, Clement, Hands of Cement

We're not saying Bill Clement is biased towards any one team (flyers) but we think if the Pens were playing Philadelphia in the first round he might have flipped his analysis a little...

As you know, game two tonight for the Pens and it will be an important one. Sorry we are pressed for time so there will be no big game preview here. Check you usual sources (The Pensblog, Empty Netters) for better coverage.

There's no real news; Gary Roberts is still a beast, Marc-Andre Fleury's more confident than ever and things are going well for the Pens. For Ottawa, the most noteworthy news item is probably they're tinkering with lines; putting the gritty and veteran force of Martin Lapointe up on Line 1 with the big boys and bumping rookie Nick Foligno up to Line 2 for a little more skill there.

Tune back in for a full recap.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Let's go to the circus...

It's time to talk about a clown. As usual, someone beat us to the punch, we were going to recap this stupid journalist saga of Ottawa's Don Brennan but James Mirtle (M.D) already did. It's a good recap and everything we would have said.

We didn't bring up what started this entire mess (Brennan saying a Senator should intent to injure Sidney Crosby's ankle), because it's not worth mentioning. Our Canadian buddies tell us that Brennan is largely considered a joke north of the border so why bother...

However, the store starts getting good when Georges Laraque rightfully calls this moron "stupid" when a Pittsburgh reported relays the theory. That should have been that, but Brennan decides to be Johnny Big Balls and write in his next article that BGL should say it to his face.

Well, Georges did today. First of all, even on the internet we don't think it's wise to dare a 6'3, 260 pound man that uses his fists for a living to say anything to your face. Second, why would you type something like that, knowing it's going to get back to him? Lucky for Brennan, there were tons of witnesses around and that's ALL Laraque did was call him stupid to his face. So what's Mister Reporter going to do now?

Continue being a joke

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Game 1: Penguins thump Ottawa

Martin Gerber = Stunned

In a perfect world a Penguins fan would draw up a game where not only the good guys resoundingly thump the opponents, but also out-shoot them (35 to 26), out-hit them (35 to 29) and have more take-aways (8 to 2). Ottawa won the face-off battle, but that's probably the only small victory they could find.
  • If you ever wondered why this blog talks about Gary Roberts so much, now you know. Just a minute in, G-Rob knocked Ottawa defenseman Wade Redden down, went to the front of the net and was fed a puck from all people but Georges Laraque.....And if you know NHL playoff hockey, perhaps no player has personally tormented a team in recent history as much as Roberts has the Senators. A goal 68 seconds in the for the veteran leader set the tone for the game....And perhaps the series.
  • The next score came almost 11 minutes later, but still was as big. Evgeni Malkin proved he has a lot more in the tank than he did at this time last year; chipping the puck by a defenseman and leading a 2 on 1 rush with Petr Sykora. Malkin was looking pass all the way but Martin Gerber had to respect the shot and got burned on the one-timer (see picture above).
  • Gerber did settle down and stopped 15 shots in the 2nd period, including a couple of glorious chances by Marian Hossa and Sidney Crosby.
  • The Penguins pressed on in the third, highlighted by a beauty of a goal that Malkin kicked from his skate to his stick before depositing behind a helpess Gerber. One more Mr. Gary goal later and that's it.
  • Marc-Andre Fleury didn't have to be amazing but he was very solid in his positioning and rebound control. While the Sens didn't create any dynamite or sustained chances Fleury did have to make a few key stops and obviously he was up for the task every time. Quietly MAF has been probably the best goalie in the NHL since the beginning of March, and the Pens probably like that. Talk about the offense and guys like Crosby, Malkin and Hossa all you want; the defense and netminder are just plugging along, doing what they have to do.
  • At the end of the game the Sens showed a little moxy, no doubt sending a message for games to come. They tried getting in Crosby's face and surpisingly Ryan Whitney of all people got in a fight and absolutely abused Redden. Ouch. If you said one Penguin would win a fight Ryan Whitney's name would have come up just before backup goalie Ty Conklin..But only by a little. When players like Whitney are showing passion and leaving a physical imprint not only do the observers know the team is focused and in the game but the opponents do as well.
  • Roberts also had a little extra for Ottawa when a guy punched him in the head when G-Rob was tied up with another Sen. The message Ottawa was trying to send was backfired, these Pens aren't backing down (see Maxime Talbot taking down Martin Lapointe Fleury or Rob Scuderi getting scrappy). We'd imagine that even though they won't admit it right now, to a man the Senators know there's no chance of bullying this team down. They're not green and they're not in awe of the post-season. And the Sens know they are in BIG trouble.
  • It's good to see Ottawa's best defenseman (and the NHL's best shot blocker) Anton Volchenkov will apparantely be ok after he dropped to the ice from getting hit with a Malkin slapper to the head. Volchenkov was cut but somehow didn't appear to have suffered major injury when he went down trying to block the shot. He was cut pretty good and did not return to the game. Early indication is that he will be available for Game 2. We're just happy that the guy is OK.

"Game 1 last year," Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. "We're different, much more improved, and I think we proved that tonight."

Yes you did, Sid....Now go and avoid a letdown in Game 2.

1 down, 15 more to go.....

Marian Hossa and the playoffs

Everywhere you look at post-season previews the pundits will tell you one of the Penguins biggest worries (right behind the "no name" defense and untested goalie) is Marian Hossa's performance in the post-season.

To be sure, Hossa has 35 points in 55 career playoff games (.64 a game), well off his regular season average of .92 points per game.

But there are a lot behind numbers like that; last year Hossa and Atlanta got slaughtered by the Rangers and early in his career he played on a Senator team that saw many skilled players not put up numbers; Daniel Alfredsson had 48 points in 69 pre-lockout playoff games, giving him a similiar reputation (one that now no one would say).

For the 2001-02 and 2002-03 playoffs Marian Hossa played 30 games with Ottawa and had 28 points [9g, 17a]. While stats can be misleading at times, 30 NHL playoff games is a fairly decent sample size and Hossa was about a point-per-game player over that stretch.

In conclusion, it seems like Hossa will do well and put up numbers if the team sticks around for a while (those two are inherently linked, of course). It doesn't seem like Hossa is going to be a guy like Mark Messier and put a team on his back for the playoffs, but to write him off as a post-season bust or a non-factor at this time of year seems a little premature.

Hossa's performance on the Pens, while decent statistically (1o points [3g, 7a] in 12 games) has been somewhat disjointed. There was the knee injury right off that bat, but he never really looked comfortable in the few games where he played with Sidney Crosby and/or Evgeni Malkin. Hossa played more on a line with a non-playmaking center (Jordan Staal) than he did either of the super-stars too.

One of the main things we're looking for is how Hossa will mesh with Crosby and how much of an impact he can have on a series. The Penguins loaded up a lot of their proverbial eggs in this one basket, so it's important. There's pressure on Hossa, but if you're playing hockey at this time of year there's a lot of pressure on you no matter what.

We here seem to think that once the two get in and get settled some of the so called "experts" will be changing their stories after Hossa and Sid create a bunch of chances--and hopefully light up the red light.

I find I'm so excited I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head

The journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step and the Penguins look to take that first step tonight against Ottawa.

One really can't stress how important the opening stanza might be; not only just to set the tone but for the players. Ottawa is experienced but somewhat teetering, with injuries and unsettled goaltending. Pittsburgh is clearly on the upswing but memories of being easily dispatched last year by this club must be in their head.

The Pens have won 19 of their past 24 home games and the crowd will surely be rocking tonight. In that opening "push", the Penguins have to establish themselves as the superior team. If they can do so and punch a few goals in quickly, the wheels may fall off Ottawa's bus.

It should be a high energy, spirited and great game. The Sens know they have to weather the early storm and might just try to hold on; a perfect chance for Pittsburgh to press harder and try to create an early advantage.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Another good sign

Throw away all the "experts" picks, the reigning queen has weighed in.....

Yes, folks Maggie the Macaque likes Pittsburgh over Ottawa.

Sens to put #1 defense on Malkin


Murray also plans to use top shut-down defensive tandem Chris Phillips and Anton Volchenkov against Evgeni Malkin's line. - TSN
This would mean that Ottawa's 2nd unit (Mike Commodore and Wade Redden) would be going up against Sidney Crosby and Marian Hossa.

Interesting. Phillips and Volchenkov played excellently throughout the playoffs, neutralizing most everyone they went up with at even strength. Malone/Malkin/Sykora is a unit that needs attention but this will open up a lot of room for Crosby and Marian Hossa to take advantage of.

Really we're most surprised that coach/GM/crybaby Bryan Murray is giving this information publically the day before the series begins. If we were in his position that might be a gameplan to keep close to the chest until gametime.

Also, the Sens practice lines were listed as:

Heatley - Spezza - Robitaille
Stillman - Vermette - Donovan
Foligno - McAmmond - Neil
Schubert - Bass - Lapointe

Despite the injuries, that's still a playoff caliber lineup...Of course, you add guys like Mike Fisher and Daniel Alfredsson to the mix and it's scary but guys like Vermette and Neil are pretty good players while Cory Stillman is very experienced and knows how to win this time of year.

Playoff beards

Hopefully Commodore isn't going to be looking like this for long...
Nothing is more macho. Work-place permitted, we'll grow one too.

Seth over at empty netters beat us to a preview of the Penguins playoff beard-ers.

Talbot, Malone and Taffe will all have good ones but he omitted Brooks Orpik and Ryan Whitney, two guys that grow some facial hair themselves.

It'll be interesting to see if guys like Sidney Crosby and Jordan Staal even try this year....Will the observer even be able to tell?
Talbot will grow the Penguins best beard...We're searching high and low for a photo of him that we saw on the internet. It was when he won the Memorial Cup and age 20 had a better beard than most could dream of. If you know what we're talking about put a link in the comments or email us at hooksorpik at gmail dot com

Monday, April 7, 2008

Playoff Predictions

Since our early prognostications were pretty good, let's try our hand at the second season.


(1)Montreal Canadiens v. (8)Boston Bruins

--Les Habs dominated Boston in their season series. Montreal, somewhat quietly, scored the most goals in the NHL this season. We look for Boston to try to clamp down and win 2-1 games, with Montreal trying to be more aggressive and take advantage of their awesome powerplay.
Key injuries: MTL: Saku Koivu (broken foot); BOS: Marc Savard (broken bone in back)

TST Official Prediction: Canadiens in 5!

(2)Pittsburgh Penguins v. (7)Ottawa Senators
--Re-match. Ottawa seems to be on the ropes and very unstable and to make matters worse, their captain and two of their best checking forwards (Mike Fisher and Chris Kelly) are unavailable.
Key injuries: PITT: None; OTT: Daniel Alfredsson (knee), Fisher (knee), Kelly (broken leg)

TST Official Prediction: Penguins in 5!

(3)Washington Capitals v. (6)Philadelphia Flyers
--Washington is the cinderella story of the NHL, coming from worst to first. They have been playing great hockey but they have played 7 straight non-playoff teams. Washington's core of players (Ovechkin, Semin, Backstrom, Green) have not played in the NHL playoffs. We think they're in for a rude awakening; much like Pittsburgh got last season. Philly is aggressive but will need to stay out of the box and get better goaltending then they've gotten to have a chance.
Key injuries: WSH: Michael Nylander (shoulder), Chris Clark (groin), Shaone Morrison (likely shoulder); PHI: Daniel Briere (knee), Simon Gagne (concussion)

TST Official Prediction: Flyers in 6!
(The day you see a Cryers logo on this blog will be the day this editor is spinning in a grave)

(4)New Jersey Devils v. (5)New York Rangers
--This might be the most hard fought, "hand to hand combat" type series of them all. Both clubs are scrappy, wear-you-out type teams built for long, grinding series. We give the skill forward and overall defensemen edge to NYR but you'd have to give the goalie advantage to NJD. Lundqvist is a great goalie but Brodeur is one of the best of all times.
Key injuries: NJD: none, ; NYR: Jaromir Jagr (disinterest)

TST Official Prediction: Rangers in 7!


(1)Detroit Red Wings v. (8)Nashville Predators
--Detroit's stigma of a great regular season (they won the President's Trophy again this year) followed by an untimely playoff exit will continue this year. That's what happens when you rely on a goalie so old and plagued by injuries. But it won't happen in the first round.
Key injuries: DET: Tomas Kopecky (knee), Brad Stuart (finger); NSH: Martin Gelinas (knee), Steve Sullivan (back)

TST Official Prediction: Wings bust out the brooms!

(2)San Jose Sharks v. (7)Calgary Flames
--The Flames are a tough playoff team; they make a name for themselves grabbing a low seed and then buckling down defensively and seeing if Iginla can pull them past a favorite. But we're not going against San Jose; they may have been a letdown in year's past, but the addition of Brian Campbell makes them a really complete and scary team. They'll need better play/production out of Patrick Marleau but that might be a "next round" problem.
Key injuries: CGY: Craig Conroy (upper-body); SJS: none

TST Official Prediction: Sharks in 6!

(3)Minnesota Wild v. (6)Colorado Avalanche
--This seems to be one of the prime upset picks already, as Colorado has more recognizable names (Sakic, Forsberg, et al.) and Minnesota plays a much more non-descript (but effective) brand of hockey. The NHL playoffs are about the best team, and we like Minnesota in this one.
Key injuries: MINN: Kurtis Foster (broken leg), COL: Forsberg (everything), Marek Svatos (knee)

TST Official Prediction: Wild in 6!

(4)Anaheim Ducks v. (5)Dallas Stars
--Doesn't it seem like Dallas draws a terrible matchup every year? This is no different. The Thug Ducks are going to run wild on the Stars; they're more physical, skilled and better in every category. Shame for Dallas, they're probably the best team that we've got packing it in this early.
Key injuries: ANA: Corey Perry (cut leg); DAL: Sergei Zubov (foot)

TST Official Prediction: Ducks in 5!


Holy crap, did we really just pick every higher side in the West to hold serve? Yes, yes we did. And really, what would be better than a potential Detroit/Anaheim 2nd round matchup? Not too much.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Darren Dreger: No Alfie for a month

Darren Dreger said on TSN television today that Daniel Alfredsson's knee injury that coach Bryan Murray said would keep him out for "weeks" is an issue that will keep the captain out for another month.

This puts a little at ease for the Pens first round plans.....Now let's see if we hear anything about Mike Fisher's status.

Throwaway game means it's Ottawa

Sidney Crosby sat Game 82 out, and Gary Roberts and Kris Beech (sigh) got a game in so now the Pens look like they should be at about full strength personnel wise.

We wouldn't read too much into today's Philadelphia outcome. They were the hungier team today; largely out of need. Plus it was only a 1-0 result (with an empty netter tacked on)...A couple better bounces, or you know with that Crosby guy in the lineup and the outcome could have been reversed.

Now the focus turns to Ottawa. Last year at this time Pittsburgh was the young up-starts and the Sens still had that post-season stigma on them. The story of the rematch will probably be how Ottawa fell throughout the course of the season and the availability of important players like captain Daniel Alfredsson and Mike Fisher; two of their best playoff performers.

Looking back at our preseason picks

In the East we predicted 5 out of the 8 playoff teams. Not many chose Montreal to make it, but we did. Also, we said that Philadelphia and Washington would just fall short; so even the ones we missed weren't off by that much. The huge gaffe was having the worst team in the East (Tampa) winning their division.

In the West we predicted 7 out of the 8 playoffs teams; the only mistake was saying Vancouver would win their division, and we omitted the #8 seed Nashville from post-season play.

Overall, not too bad. We only batted .500 in picking division winners (Pittsburgh, San Jose and Detroit) which is a measure to how wide open and competitive some of the battles were all the way down to the wire.

Playoff scenarios

With the results of tonight's games (Montreal winning, Boston losing) things are a little clearer.

If the Penguins beat Philadelphia tomorrow in regulation, Pittsburgh will be the #1 seed (more wins than Montreal) and take on the 8th seeded Flyers.

If Pittsburgh beats Philly tomorrow in overtime, the Flyers are still the #8 seed (Ottawa has more wins and Boston took 6 out of 8 points from Philly).

If the Pens lose tomorrow, they'll be the #2 seed in the East and draw Ottawa (edit: fixed).

Philadelphia, by virtue of their win, would jump up to the 6 slot and face Washington.

Expect this to be a tough and intense game. Philadelphia doesn't want to have a seven game series with Pittsburgh, I think they'd rather take their chances with an untested Caps team that has had to expend a lot of energy just to make it to the playoffs.

Ottawa or Philadelphia, either way we'll know the Pens immediate playoff plans by 3 PM.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Playoff Lineup coming into focus

Here were the forward combinations from Friday's practice:


Is Max Talbot skilled enough to convert on all the chances Crosby and Hossa will generate? Maybe, maybe not. But Talbot is a balls-to-the-wall, high energy player that will drive to the net and tends to make good things happen when he gets the puck on his stick.

The second line is perfect. Those three have a great chemistry, and one has to believe the opponents will be forced to match their best checking line and defensive unit against Crosby+Hossa; opening up all the more ice for Geno, Bugsy and Sykora to take advantage of....But if a team does try to pick their poison of shutting down this line, they're going to leave the league's reigning MVP with a 100 point scorer blasting up the ice together.

Jarkko Ruutu is playing some good hockey, Pascal Dupuis has been a dependable all-around forward and Jordan Staal still has his immense potential to live up to. Still, you have to think that once THE Gary Roberts gets in game shape he will be up on this line with Staal and either Ruutu or Dupuis (depending on who's making things happen).

The 4th line is what it's all about. Adam Hall will quietly be a very important player; winning the majority of his faceoffs, killing penalties and playing non-descript "nothing against" hockey. He can cycle, which is one thing Georges Laraque can do too. If the opening series is against a chippy team like Philadelphia, Pittsburgh will require the presence ultimate deterrent in BGL to keep the opposition honest.

Like we mentioned, Gary Roberts is here to wreak havoc and work himself back into game shape. It wouldn't shock us; if and when Roberts proves his is ankle good to go for him to be taking shifts with Crosby and Hossa and terrorizing the opposition. Future aside, this could very well be Gary Roberts' last hurrah....No one who's passionate enough about hockey to read this blog wouldn't believe that he's going to leave every ounce of effort, desire and tenacity in his soul to make the difference in a series.

So what does the practice mean for Tyler "Mr." Kennedy? Probably that he will be assigned to Wilkes-Barre for the AHL playoffs (where they are in desperate need of scoring forwards). Hopefully TK doesn't take this as a slight, but rather an opportunity to make a difference at a level where he'd be a first liner. Kennedy is still in Pittsburgh's long-term future, but with guys like Hall and Roberts returning from injury, his niche is better filled by more experienced players.

The Penguins also have Jeff "Laffy" Taffe and, ugh, Kris Beech as forward depth in case of injury of performance. Taffe has proven to be a legit NHL player, one that can be counted on to play any position in a lower level role. And Beech, well we think it's safe to say we all know what he brings to the table....Or doesn't.

Either way, the playoff lineup is starting to come into focus....We can see what opportunities are on the table (specifically for Talbot and Ruutu); soon we'll see if they make the most of it.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Oh Captain my---OUCH!

Uhh we may want to revoke a statement in the last post about Ottawa being a fearful team after learning their captain Daniel Alfredsson and best defensive center Mike Fisher are injured and out for "weeks".

And is it just us or is the hit Alfie received last night (courtesy of Toronto's Mark Bell) remarkably similiar to the one that Sens' "tough guy" Chris Neil dished out on former Sabres captain Chris Drury?

Last year's hit is rehashed for you several times here:

For the most part Senators fans and local commentators were very vocal and steadfast in claiming the Neil hit was clean and legit. Now they're decreeing Bell's hit as dirty and with intentional malice.

Can't have it both ways.... As they say, what comes around goes around.

Are the Penguins a cure for what ails Ottawa?

A couple of weeks/months ago a potential Pittsburgh/Ottawa first round meeting would seem like a repeat of their 4/5 matchup from last season. However the Sens have fallen and fallen hard from a team that started the season on 15-2 note and aren’t even assured a playoff berth going into the final weekend.

This means if they do make it in, they could very well be the #7 or even a #8 seed and a potential opponent for the Pens who will either be the #1 or #2 seed. This would probably not be the ideal matchup for the Penguins, considering Ottawa’s performance against them. Ottawa was mired in a 3-7-3 slump a couple months ago but two of those wins were over the Pens. In the four regular season matchups the Senators averaged 4.5 goals per game against Pittsburgh. Surely they remember last season’s playoff outcome and have noted that Ottawa post-season krytonite Gary Roberts isn't going to be in full form.

Even with Ottawa in free-fall desperation mode, if they win an early game or two their experience will kick in and some of the self doubts will settle (as it did when the regrouped themselves in the first round last year and went all the way to the Cup finals). It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out. Here at TST we’re hoping not to see Ottawa in the first round because they matchup and challenge the Pens better than any other likely first round opponent would. Ottawa finishes up their season tonight, in an extremely important game against Boston—a team that’s clawing to stay in the top 8 themselves.

Ottawa right now is in 6th place with 94 points, but if they were to lose this game Boston would jump them and Washington would too if Alex and the boys beat the Panthers. Further if the Flyers were to win their last two games, Dany Heatley can hit the road a little early this off-season, the Sens are going home. There are a lot of scenarios that could work themselves out and like we said it will be quite interesting watching it unravel.

Being in first place with a playoff positioned secured, it’s just a lot nicer watching the gladiators slug it out from the emperor’s chair then it is to actually be down in the pit.

Daniel Carcillo drops Krys Barch

For those that don't like seeing a man get knocked TFO, don't watch this..

Daniel Carcillo is a wildman. In a way, we're happy he got a chance to play for a team like Phoenix where he could be in the NHL. If he was still in Pittsburgh, he'd probably be in the Ryan Stone/Jon Filewich category of prospects buried in a deep organization.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

2007-08 Atlantic Division Champions

You don't see a picture like this everyday

A mere two years ago the Penguins won just 23 games (that year's 8th was Tampa Bay, who won 43) and were the worst team in the Eastern Conference.

Now they just clinched their first divisional title in a decade and are a win away from securing the #1 seed in the Eastern Conference.

It's setting up to be potentially a magical spring...

Penguins announce team awards

Most Valuable Player - Evgeni Malkin

Leading Scorer - Evgeni Malkin

A.T. Caggiano Booster Club (To the player with the most 3 Star selections throughout the season) - Evgeni Malkin

Players' Player (voted by the players for demonstrating leadership on and off the ice) - Ryan Malone

Michel Briere Rookie of the Year - Kris Letang

Baz Bastien Good Guy Award (for co-operation with the media) – Ryan Whitney

Edward J. DeBartolo Community Service Award - Georges Laraque

Bill Masterton Award Nominee - Ty Conklin

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

It's a LIVEBLOG night at TST

(Credit image to an old one The Peerless used)

Join us, won't you, for what will be our last chance to live-blog a regular season game. And since playoff games are usually too intense with too much barley & hops flowing to keep up with, probably the last liveblog in a while. Those dastardly Flyers are in town and clawing for their pathetic playoff lives.

7:34: Scoreboard watching; New Jersey is up 1-0 on Boston with a minute remaining in the 1st. If the Devils don't win, the Penguins clinch the Atlantic Division by default. Boston has a lot to play for, as they're trying to hold off the hard-charging Caps to stay in the playoff picture themselves.

7:38: Darryl Sydor is scratched tonight and rookie Kris Letang is back in the lineup. We like this decision, but weren't sure Coach Therrien wouldn't want to scratch a vet like Sydor.

TST favorite Adam Hall is also back in the lineup, replacing (as we predicted) Jeff Taffe in the lineup. Hall yielded his #18 to that Marian Hossa guy, so he is now wearing #28.

7:42: Georges Laraque and Riley Cote are going to fight....I'll give Cote this, he's at least got the brass to take it from Laraque. Not many so called "tough guys" in the NHL want to do that. "Riley Cote, God bless ya son" says Penguins radio announcer Phil Bourque.

7:46: Six minutes into the game shots have been few and far between. It's 2-1 Penguins in that column and neither team has had that great of scoring chances...Very conservative, playoff style hockey; almost like the two teams are feeling each other out, which you'd think they wouldn't have to do since this is the seventh meeting of the season.

7:51: Sheeeeit. Scott Hartnell snaps a quick shot (on a nice pass from Danny Briere) and beats Marc-Andre Fleury high. The Penguins looked a little slow their in their coverage. Fleury was down and Hartnell did the rest. This is only the third even-strength goal MAF's given up in the past nine games. 1-0 Flyers

7:55: Jeff Carter makes a somewhat dirty play, knocking the USS Hal Gill into Fleury. Blatant disregard for another team's goalie? Not cool.

7:56: Well, that didn't take long. Sergei Gonchar sends a wrist shot on the net and it goes in. Nice screen by Ryan Malone, who indicated that the goal is Gonchar's. Philly goalie Martin Biron thought that Sarge was going to pass it down to Sidney Crosby. Even when Crosby doesn't get the puck he can create offense. 1-1 tie!

7:57: Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are given credit for the assists.

8:01: Gill gets a penalty, he went for a poke check but ended up tripping a Flyer.

8:03: Carter puts a PP goal in after Fleury directs a rebound right to him...Joffrey Lupul and Brooks Orpik start scrapping. They get mainly tied up, Orpik puts Lupul in the glass and then gets him down. This game has picked up in a hurry, it's now 2-1 Flyers.

8:05: Scoreboard watching update: Boston puts in a PP goal to make it 1-1 in New Jersey.

8:07: Crosby and Lasse Kuokkenen (or whatever the hell it is) get in a little scrap. Crosby was pissed that Pooponen cross-checked him in the back of the neck so he got in his face...Both get matching minors for roughing.

8:11: Jordan Staal
is playing a shift with Laraque and Jarkko Ruutu. Why not? Those two are producing more of late than Staal anyways.

8:15: Mike Lange and the old Two-Niner are right, the Penguins are giving too much time and space to Hartnell and Briere, letting them operate too freely in the zone. Hopefully the coaches will point this out and have the players make some adjustments in the coming intermission.

8:17: That's the end of the first period, it's 2-1 Flyers. Shots are 9-8 for the bad guys.

8:36: And we're back...Scoreboard update, New Jersey appeared to take a 2-1 lead but video review couldn't confirm it. Boston's Milan Lucic does score to make it 2-1 Bruins. That game (plus Philly winning plus Carolina clobbering Tampa 4-1) makes it a terrible night so far for scoreboard watching Capitals' fans.

8:39: Bourque calls out Hossa for having a too quiet a night so far. To be honest it doesn't seem like many Penguins have played that well so far. Crosby's been using speed to generate chances but guys like Petr Sykora and Malone have also been almost invisible too.

8:44: Malkin and Braydon Coburn tangle up near the net, Crosby and Geno almost combined for a goal. Penalties are coming, two of them on the Pens..This game has been very chippy and incredibly hotly contested for just about every inch of space up there. It seems like we're one second away from a crazy brawl.

8:47: Two man advantage time...CROSBY!!!! It's 2-2 Penguins.

8:48: Gonchar is a powerplay wizard. Nicklas Lidstrom will deservedly run away with the Norris Trophy, but the Sarge deserves some consideration in the form of a few 2nd or 3rd place votes.

8:50: Orpik and Hartnell get in an altercation...Hartnell was using his stick as a damn pitchfork when Orpik was down on the ice. Orpik got up and knocked him silly. The Flyers keep trying to goon it up but these Penguins are not going to back down. One gets the feeling that Jarkko Ruutu is going to do something interesting before this is over.

8:51: Hartnell goes for roughing and Orpik gets 2 for delay of game? Stupid. Hartnell's been really reckless all game long. One gets the feeling he's going to cost his team in the long-run if he keeps this up.

8:53: The USS Hal Gill is going back to the box. Ahh, not a good sign. Important kill for the Pens, this game is getting a little wild and the last three goals of the game have come on the powerplay.

8:57: Penalty killed. LET'S GO PENS! chant breaks out. Crosby is flying around and drawing a hooking penalty by Jim Dowd. Another example of Sid using speed on an inferior player that gets beat and has to take a penalty.

8:59: GENO!!!!!! It's 3-2 Penguins ...Unbelievable goal, Malkin's on the ice for 1:35 and blows by two players and snakes one in the 5 hole. The Pens PP is 3 for 4 on the night.

9:08: Crosby explodes and puts the puck at the net, Hossa tries to jam one in there but Biron is up for the challenge.

9:09: BGL takes a penalty that he can't and shouldn't take at this last moment of the second period against a good PP.

9:10: Well that's the end of two...The Pens had a 2-0 period and had a 14-7 shot advantage that stanza. Good period. Now they'll have to kill 1:24 more but this game has been wild, no chance they can sit on this lead. Must stay aggressive on a team that is desperately clawing for the playoffs.

9:20: Crap real life getting in the way sucks, sorry folks we can only do two periods of this liveblog....Recap of what we miss tomorrow.