Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Why so serious?

We defy you to say that's not the creepiest logo you'll see all day. The Pens are in Helsinki Finland to take on a Finnish team called Jokerit, or as you might guess: "The Jokers". Gametime is 11:30 AM East coast time on Thursday.

Notable alumni from Jokerit: Jari Kurri, Kari Lehtonen, Esa Tikkanen, Glen Metropolit, Tim Thomas, Brian Campbell (lockout), Teemu Selanne, Valterri Filppula and former Penguin Jani Rita.

Jokerit's coach is former Washington Capitals coach Glen Hanlon.

Pittsburgh is taking this game seriously, dressing their top 6 forwards and starting Marc-Andre Fleury. It'll be interesting to see if the game is a 8-1 blowout like the New York Rangers gave to Bern, or if it is a 3-2 shootout winner like the contest between Tampa Bay over HC Slovan Bratislava.

"All right, let's not panic. I'll make the money by selling one of my livers. I can get by with one."

The noted philospher Homer J Simpson provides us with the calming title, so hey, let's look at the positives:

--The Penguins could be getting a great pickup near the trading deadline when Gonchar returns! --Even more ice time for Kris Letang!
--Alex Goligoski's going to make the team for sure!

Now, the panic:


It's okay boys and girls, hands off the panic buttons (until the games begin, at least).


Do it.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Alternate Captains

With Ryan Malone and Gary Roberts off to Pittsburgh South, as well as Sergei Gonchar's indefinite injury (hopefully we hear good news soon) there's a real question about who will join Captain Crosby with letters on their chest and in a leadership role.

There are certainly several solid candidates, most players that make it to the NHL were obviously the best players from their earlier teams (AHL, Major Juniors, College, etc) and have had leadership roles thrust upon them before. FaceOff Factor listed their candidates, here's ours:

Brooks Orpik: He's the longest tenured Penguin and is an increased part of the team, given his contract and his play of late. He's not always the coach's favorite on the ice though, so it wouldn't be that surprising if skipped over.

Petr Sykora: Sykora has the experience of winning Cups and has the respect of his teammates for that calming influence.

Evgeni Malkin: Malkin's more of a lead by example guy and although he has publicly stated he doesn't feel worthy of wearing an A, he's obviously a huge part of the Penguins team and going to be counted on every single night. Like it or not, he's a team leader.

Mark Eaton: Another veteran guy, Eaton's worn the A in Pittsburgh in season's before. Steady as a rock, Eaton is another calming presence on what's still a relatively young team

Maxime Talbot: Talbot's been described by more than one person as the "heartbeat of the team". Max keeps the boys loose and no one in the league has more passion or desire to do what it takes to win.


All in all we think any combination of those listed would make good candidates. Being an alternate captain is really just a mostly honorary recognition of one's leadership. Between the captain and the coaches, talking to the refs is pretty much taken care of. And the players are all professionals, they know what they need to do every night to get ready to play. The Pens have plenty of veteran guys like Ruslan Fedotenko, Hal Gill and Matt Cooke who while probably won't be considered for a formal leadership role will be instrumental in the room and on the ice.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Transcontinental Penguins

The boys have arrived in Sweden. Preparations began today with a light practice and scrimmage. There's a blog on the main site that promises to update the events of Europe.

The Penguins took 25 players even though they're only allowed 24 on the roster. Bill Thomas, Paul Bissonnette and Janne Pesonen seem to be the candidates to not technically be on the team for the games.


Sorry for two sad posts in a row, but we'd be remiss to not acknowledge the one year anniversary of the passing of Darcy Robinson. The number one thing we're proud about this blog is that it is the first website for google searches of "Darcy Robinson"...The post was heartfelt and we're happy with it

Also we haven't asked for, but have seen medical reports that has shown that Darcy had nothing in his system (i.e. drugs) that would make a seemingly strapping 6'5" 240 pound professional athlete fall. It really was just a bum heart, and that makes it suck more

Saturday, September 27, 2008

And when that time comes rollin 'round..

Godspeed to our most famous and generous brother.

"They spent their own dough to get here, and they came here to see us! All right, let's show 'em what we got, guys! Get out there on the ice and let 'em know you're there. Get that fuckin' stick in their side. Let 'em know you're there! Get that lumber in his teeth. Let 'em know you're there!"

"Good enough for Paul, good enough for ya'll!"

Friday, September 26, 2008

Stone looking to move on

Unsurprisingly, Ryan Stone isn't pleased with the Pens decision to relegate him (yet again) to the minor leagues. Any team will have a chance to claim him, but to be honest we can't see another team liking this unproven 23 year old any more than they like their own lower-line grinders currently on the roster.

Stone told the Wilkes-Barre media that he would like to move on, and there's nothing wrong with that. He feels like he's earned his chance to play at the NHL and if another team agrees, he'll be gone. These comments have made a little bit of waves on the internet, but we don't think Stone said anything egregious, Stone's not requesting a trade or airing any dirty laundry, he just understandably wants to play in the NHL and is disappointed the Pens don't want him there right now. If Stone makes it to WB/S, he says he'll be a good soldier and keep working on getting the team where it needs to be until his time may come.

As the article very astutely points out, Colby Armstrong was in the same situation getting sent down (and exposed to waivers) at the beginning of his 4th professional season and many thought his NHL chances were pretty much over forever.

By season's end that year (2005-06) Armstrong was playing on a line with Sidney Crosby.

Fortunes can indeed rise and fall very that quickly in professional hockey. Stone can look no further than a perfect example in Paul Bissonnette, who as we chronicled was very deep in management's doghouse last year and now this year is one of their darlings and a "strong candidate" to play for Pittsburgh at some point this season. A couple injuries and Stone--provided his attitude is up and his performance is there--could get a real shot in the show.

Until then, time to keep working.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Gonchar out "indefinitely"

From the main page:

"Sergei will continue to be evaluated as our team medical personnel consider several treatment options," Shero said. “In the meantime, we will look for our other defensemen to step up and fill the void created by his absence.”

Gonch went down on September 20th, so even if he would be out for eight weeks that would mean missing 13 regular season games, only three of them against divisional opponents. But that eight week period is totally arbitrary, indefinite could mean shorter, could mean longer.

Now the Pens are looking at starting the season without their top two point scorers on the blueline, and perhaps more importantly guy in Gonchar who's served admirably all-around. Don't sleep on the fact he was 4th in the Norris Trophy voting last season, and if it weren't for biases in preconceived notions on how he's a more "offensive" defenseman it could have been higher.

This opens up not just a huge opportunity for Kris Letang (6 goals and 11 assists in 63 NHL games last season) and Alex Goligoski (28 points in 23 AHL playoff games) but a responsibility to step in and produce. Goligoski has just three NHL games under his belt but is now 23 years old and has the seasoning to be able to play at this level. You can never be sure if a young defenseman will sink or swim at the NHL level (hello Noah Welch) but Goose has the track record to do well.

Surely it's better to be without key players at the beginning of the season rather than at the end of it--provided the choice is given, but all the same it's best not to be in that situation in the first place. Perhaps this early season adversity will help the Penguins get over whatever sense of entitlement they may have carried in attitude for thinking this year's journey deep into the playoffs will be as deep or as inevitable as the talent they have. It will make them work, and at the end that could pay off.

Impressions on the Toronto Preseason game

Well until our video-stream slowed down and died somewhere in the second period.

  • Toronto didn't ice that competitive of a team, and even if they did it's still the Maple Leafs. The Jordan Staal / Evgeni Malkin / Petr Sykora line looked as good as you'd expect them to considering Toronto' fielded an exhibition lineup for an exhibition game.
  • That said, the work Staal and mainly Malkin did short-handed in the early 2nd period was a thing of beauty. Malkin beared in on the forecheck and caused a Toronto defenseman (that we couldn't identify, no announcers were on our feed) to spin and wipe out. A little hustle went a long way, Malkin feeds Staal who's all alone in front of the net, Staal in turn dishes back to Malkin who slams the puck in from point blank. Tic-tac-toe. The Penguins have shown a willingness to let Malkin and Sidney Crosby play shorthanded and this could payoff.
  • Tyler Kennedy does look notably faster. Perhaps his first NHL season wore on him, especially the mononucleosus from Jan/Feb. Tonight he looked great, flying around out there.
  • Kris Letang also looked like he knew what he was doing, his pairing with Brooks Orpik was equal parts strength and skill, the perfect mix of size, speed, positioning and stick-handling. On the Penguins 2nd goal (a powerplay goal credited to Rusty Fedotenko) Letang shot in to the play and on first glance appear to score. The goal was unassisted, and with no announcers (and the view of a laptop hooked up to a television) we couldn't make out if a Maple Leaf was last to touch it or what. Either way, if Letang got there, he would have finished.
  • To the point we saw Dany Sabourin looked good in limited work. He never made any huge saves or anything spectacular but he never had to.
  • Darryl Sydor actually looked good to. Sure he played within himself, but he did what he had to. His partner, Hal Gill, on the other hand looked a little more slowed footed than we remembered. Maybe he's a slow starter or maybe our memory is off. We'll see.

That's about it. If a player wasn't mentioned, he didn't catch our eye. But we only saw about the first half of the game so there's always that. Regardless the Pens were up 3-0, a good place to stop.

TST: Eastern Conference Predictions 2008-09

Not to ring our own bell or anything but ding ding, last year we predicted six out of the eight correct playoff teams--and the only teams that we missed on (Washington [who got in on the last day] and Philly) we both said they would just miss. So with the history of excellence in mind, here's our crystal ball for this year.

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

--Hockey's most competitive division (and the Islanders play here too!), the Atlantic could again send four teams to postseason play again, if Martin Brodeur can do more than his end of the bargain again for the Devils. Realistically any of the top three teams could win the division, we like the Penguins (duh) but the new look Rangers can put up a stong scoring forward lineup (Gomez, Drury, Naslund, Zherdev, Callahan). But what happens if Henrik Lundqvist or Martin "French Toast" Biron go down for any length of time like Marc-Andre Fleury did this past season? Either of those teams would skid right out of the playoff picture.

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

--Pretty much everyone likes the well-rounded Montreal team at #1 here, their only real question is if phenom goalie Carey Price can put his horrible playoffs behind him or if that confidence issue will expand in hockey's toughest market. Ottawa is ever dangerous with top line talent like Heatley, Spezza and Alfredsson but a quick look at their blueline shows they're going in the wrong direction. That's why we pencil Boston for a relative surprise here (Lucic-Savard-Ryder could be an awesome line). Buffalo could have a bounce back but we just don't see enough offensive muscle to make a difference.

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

--This division seems to be Washington's to lose, with Carolina having the Buffalo-syndrome of being good but seemingly not "that good", Florida and Atlanta are left still basically irrelevant on and off the ice. So who does that leave, oh yeah Tampa Bay! The crazy owners, the dozens of forwards, the handful of ex-Pittsburgh players. We think the Tampa experiment will do better than most think....They have a group of 9 forwards (Lecavalier, St. Louis, Prospal, Malone, Stamkos, Vrbata, Recchi, Roberts, Jokinen) that are arguably deeper than Washington's fine group. Whether they stay that way is different story. Tampa may be said to lack defense, but on paper at least they are no worse than anyone else (Carle, Meszaros, Ranger, Smaby, O'Brien, Niskala and watch for the giant Vladimir Mihalik). The real question is whether their goaltending which is unproven (Mike Smith) or too old (Olie Kolzig) can take them to the promised land.

Playoff teams
Division Winners: Pittsburgh, Montreal, Washington
Others: NY Rangers, Philadelphia, Boston, Ottawa, Tampa Bay

Close but heartbreakingly short
New Jersey Devils

Atleast Competitive
Buffalo, Carolina

It's gonna be a long winter
NY Islanders, Toronto, Atlanta, Florida

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


Perhaps it’s not a surprise, but still it’s a disappointment to see two highly regarded former prospects in Jonathan Filewich and Ryan Stone get the cut. Both are exposed to waivers, but to be honest, I can’t see another team like these unproven guys, now 23 years old.

Someone who is no stranger to being claimed on waivers—Kris Beech—is also on waivers. We couldn’t be happier. Jeff Taffe does well as the 4th line center, and barring him falling flat on his face it looks like he’ll start in that position.

The Pens are down to 29, they need to cut five more players before heading to Europe. So who are some of the more surprising guys still around?

Danny Richmond—Internet reports raved about him, and the Pens did cut three defensemen today, including Ben Lovejoy who’s been another camp upstart. Richmond’s still an incredible long-shot to make the NHL roster out of camp, but it’s clear now who’s the first in line to come up from the farm.
Bill Thomas—The Pittsburgh native has been scoring in exhibition games, and that’s always a way to turn heads. Thomas, to us, is still probably behind Taffe and Janne Pesonen on the organ-eye-zational depth charts for forwards, but that he survived this round of cuts is another testament to him being perhaps closer to an NHL level player than we though when he was signed.
Paul Bissonnette-For a guy told to not even bother showing up to AHL training camp last year, it’s a huge turnaround to be amongst finals cuts for the man they call Biz Nasty. Especially considering his position has always been defenseman up until this past season. Bissonnette, as a winger, is like a guided missile, hitting, checking and annoying anything in the other color jersey. That he is still around is probably just to take some burden off of Eric Godard’s plate in countering any enforcers that may appear in other teams’ preseason lineups but the Pens chose Biz Nasty over Aaron Boogaard, so that’s something.

The Penguins do still have a couple more exhibition games and obviously you don’t want to run these guys into the ground (or risk injury) more times than you have to, so it makes sense not to trim totally down to the opening night lineup. That still doesn’t take away from what guys like Richmond and Thomas have done.

And if this is the end of the road for anyone (Becch, Stone, Filewich), well it’s been real.

Monday, September 22, 2008

"You have the right to remain silent"

If hockey doesn't work out for Aaron "Derek's little brother" Boogaard, perhaps a career in law enforcement could be in the works...

Our James Mirtle League Fantasy Team

At the risk of a self-centered post that most will have little to no interest in, here's the team we drafted last night in one of James Mirtle's pools that we were fortunate enough to be allowed in.

We're trying to make our own fantasy hockey league, to draft later this week so if you're interested shoot a line to hooksorpik at gmail.com and you'll receive the information.

Anyways, keep in mind Mirtle set up a huge 20 player deep pool, with a randomly selected picks. We got pick 7 in the odd rounds and with snaking it ended up being pick 13 in the even rounds. So after 7th overall we didn't pick until 34th overall. With that in mind here's our team:

Centers: Eric Staal, Anze Kopitar, Jordan Staal, Maxime Talbot, Erik Christensen

Wingers: Brad Boyes, Thomas Vanek, Rostislav Olesz, Bobby Ryan, Ales Kotalik, Darcy Tucker, Guilliame Latendresse

Defensemen: Kevin Bieksa, Pavel Kubina, Kris Letang, Tom Poti, Daniel Girardi

Goaltenders: Evgeni Nabokov, Kari Lehtonen

Clearly our wagon is more or less hitched to 7th overall pick Nabokov, who's not a bad guy to have to rely on in head-to-head leagues. We were also happy to see that despite the league's incredibly depth (20 players is by far the biggest pool we've been in) we were able to nab four players who scored 32+ goals last season and some young up-and-comers (Olesz, J. Staal, Ryan, Letang) that could have breakthrough years.

It remains to be seen how we'll compete with Mirtle, who won his own pool last year in this league. He, of course, has a formidable team with significant depth at forward and in the net.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Uh oh, The Sarge is hurt

The last thing you want to see in exhibition games are injuries, and the Penguins appear to have a problem here with number 1 defenseman Sergei Gonchar going down with what's believed to be a separated shoulder.

Since Gonchar plays 26+ minutes a night matched against the other teams' top forwards, and also eats significant time on the penalty kill and basically runs the Penguins successful powerplay.

Luckily, GM Ray Shero wanted to collect, and pretty much has succeeded in stockpiling 10 NHL capable defensemen, so even with Ryan Whitney's surgery recovery as well as losing Gonchar the Penguins still have some decent options.

Notably, prospect Alex Goligoski. After leading the AHL in scoring this past post-season (28 points in 24 games). If Gonchar is to miss any regular season time-- and it's still a little early to say the sky is falling-- the "Goose" is going to have to figure into the Penguins plans, or at least get the chance to prove that he is ready for the show.

And of course the young Kris Letang, already under increased responsibility with Whitney's absence, is going to be counted on as the team's premier offensive defensemen.

The sky isn't falling but potentially opening up the year without your top two offensive defensemen isn't anyone's idea of ideal. It's better to have these sorts of worries in September and October than in April and May but the health factor is there. Hopefully the Pens have weathered the worst part of the storm and can slip through the rest of the exhibition games unscathed.

Friday, September 19, 2008

The first game of the season...Already

After three camp scrimmages in three days, the Tampa Bay Lightning come to Pittsburgh Saturday night for the NHL's opening pre-season game. And according to the official websites the rosters for both teams couldn't be more mis-matched.

Take a look for yourself at who will be wearing black and gold--our estimation of lines based off how they set up camp:



Goalies will be MAF and Dany Sabs

That's damn near an opening night lineup. The Pens held their presumptive "24, 25, 26" third line of Matt Cooke (#24), Maxime Talbot (#25) and Ruslan Fedotenko (#26) as well as Kris Letang and Hal Gill but other than that it's a rock and roll lineup.

Interesting that someone Faceoff Factor raved about, Ben Lovejoy--who wrote an awesome blog last season-- gets a spot in the lineup. It'll be of interest to see if he performs as well as Jesse said he did in scrimmages. Lovejoy doesn't have a snowball's chance in hell of making the NHL roster out of camp, of course, but considering how injuries can strike a blueline, it's good to get a look-see.

OK, now to see how unbalanced it is, let's look at the squad that Tampa is going to send up north (in alphabetical order). And if you're looking for the good former Penguins (Malone, Roberts, Hall even Recchi) or the stars like Vinny or Marty, you will be disappointed...

Forwards: Evgeny Artyukhin, Brandon Bochenski, Ryan Craig, Jussi Jokinen, David Koci, Zenon Konopka, Chris Lawrence, Michel Ouellet, Wyatt Smith, Radek Smolenak, Steven Stamkos, Jason Ward

Defensemen: Jamie Heward, Andrew Hutchinson, Vladimir Mihalik, Janne Niskala, Andy Rogers, Matt Smby

Goalies: Karri Ramo and Mike Smith

Now apologies to Jokinen and maybe Ward but obviously other than #1 pick Steven Stamkos is Tampa sending a forward that would even make Pittsburgh's opening night lineup? We don't think so. And who are they going to play Stamkos with, the "Trash Man" and Bochenski? Jokinen and Craig? Yuck.

Obviously the point of pre-season games is not the scoreboard at the end of the night (good thing for Tampa) but to get your guys in shape, in tune and prepared for the real thing. Obviously old pros like Lecavalier, Malone and St. Louis don't really need to play in all the exhibitions, and perhaps if this was a road game the Pens wouldn't be wheeling out all the star power. But, news flash, the games count for real in a mere two weeks. Considering there's an ocean to cross there isn't much time for preparation.

Who wants to bet on fights? For the Penguins we wouldn't be surprised if Ryan Stone, who's back is against the wall, comes out swinging. Eric Godard has a history of dropping gloves, he's got to be the odds on favorite to fight. For Tampa, David Koci usually has more balls than brains (not that there's anything wrong about that), Kenon Konopka is feisty and a guy like Ryan Craig might drop 'em too.

Official TST Prediction: Penguins 6, Tampa 2
Goal scorers for the good-guys: (Satan [2], Malkin, Staal, Goligoski, Thomas)

A future as bright as the mouthpiece?

Credit Empty Netters with the picture of Pens practice yesterday.

Newcomer Janne Pesonen certainly has a flair for the dramatic. In his youtube videos he celebrates goals in a way that would make Alex Ovechkin blush. He's seemed very comfortable wearing a bright yellow helmet. So how will Pesonen express himself now?

We're not sure if this version of the image does it justice, but that's one bright mouthpiece. Hopefully Pesonen's play in his jump to North America will be as bold as the mouth guard.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Let's Go Camping

As you've doubtlessly seen, Jesse from Faceoff Factor did a spectacular job recapping Day 1 of Pens on-ice training camp over at the blog. Here's our take:

  • Perhaps the most interesting tidbit were how the players lined up. With such a short camp (it's only sixteen days away from opening night) the Pens can try different combinations but they don't have the time to try things that won't work. Based off of expectations, here's how the forward lines looked (teams were staggered to make it even): Dupuis/Crosby/Satan, Staal/Malkin/Sykora, Fedotenko/Talbot/Cooke, Pesonen/Taffe/Kennedy
  • As you can tell, the question about where Jordan Staal will play, at least for Day 1, seems to be answered. If he remains on Evgeni Malkin's wing with Sykora the Penguins have arguably replaced Ryan Malone with a bigger, younger, and dare we say better power forward. According to the PG, this line lost the scrimmage 3-1 but Staal scored the only goal
  • FF's first point was how great Miroslav Satan looked taking passes from Crosby. This doesn't surprise us, Satan puts the puck in the net and Crosby should be putting them on platters for him all season long. In the scrimmage (a 3-1 for this line) Satan scored 2 of the goals.
  • The D pairings were: Orpik/Gonchar, Eaton/Letang, Scuderi/Gill, Goligoski/Sydor
  • High praise was given for the duo of Mark Eaton and Kris Letang. If Eaton can stay healthy it'll be a huge defensive boost for the Penguins this year. Letang's importance to play more purposeful hockey is obviously at a premium too with Ryan Whitney out of the lineup for months.

Great to even hear reports of camp and know the boys are back in town, back at work.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

It'd be dumb to boo Hossa

Or, so says a guy who also turned down more money to go to another team...

"I think everyone was surprised by it ([Marian] Hossa's departure), but I've heard
people saying they are going to boo him and stuff like that, which is probably the dumbest thing I have ever heard," defenceman Brooks Orpik said. "It's a tough decision. ... He takes the one-year deal and says he wants to win. I think everyone was disappointed by it, but it's his decision and you've just got to respect it."
We think Orpik is half-right. As a player he can understand the will to win--which is probably a leading reason why he stayed in Pittsburgh instead of signing with bottom dwellers like Atlanta and Los Angeles that supposedly were among a handful of teams to offer Orpik $4+ million a season. Orpik re-signed six years at $3.75 million which is not a bad deal at all to chase other grown men around on skates.

Digressions aside, a player can understand and even accept the decision to join a new team. In today's day and age of free agency and with roster turnover in the NHL in general, it happens all the time and a byproduct of the "business". Fans, however, do not like to regard sports as a "business" as much as possible. We're paying the tickets, buying the concessions and merchandise and watching on TV, but we don't like to think of hockey as a "business". Businesses aren't fun. It's where we work. Sports are fun.

So for that reason, Orpik and blowholes like Bozo Bob Smizik need to realize there is nothing inherently dumb or mean spirited about the inevitable booing of Marian Hossa by Penguins fans when he returns to Pittsburgh. Hossa made a choice to turn his back on the Penguins and show more faith in Detroit to win the Cup. No one can really debate that he didn't have the right to do that, or even the intelligence of the question--the Red Wings did just win the Cup and have lost no core players, while the Pens have now lost 2; Hossa and Ryan Malone.

Ok, so maybe it will be mean spirited, but the fans have every right to let Hossa know what they think about his decision. Doesn't mean it wasn't right, just wasn't cool in the eyes of many of my fellow fans.

Monday, September 15, 2008

If no one reports a prospect camp, does it really happen

The Pens have some prospects up in Kitchner Ontario for a four team round robin tournament. It's not really been that heavily reported. About the best place for news on the interwebs will be Jonathan Bombulie's WB/S Insider. The next gen-Pens (who won the tourny last year) won their first game over Toronto 5-2 but then dropped a 5-2 contest to Florida's prospects yesterday.

After that tourney wraps up, the vets are due to report by tomorrow for physcials and off-ice meetings and then Wednesday the whole she-bang starts up again with on ice practices and scrimmages.

It really seems like only yesterday that we had to endure Nikky Lidstrom raising the Cup in the Mellon. Like the boys over at the blog, we feel worn out now. The off-season is supposed to be a time for rejuvenation but for us it seemed too short, too unfufilled. We just type some words, imagine what the players must feel!

But it will all come to an end soon, with the zambonification of the ice and the pucks getting thrown out. Our favorite thing to do anyways is recap games, give analysis and point out things our 20+ years playing/watching/living hockey has taught. And it's rapidly that time.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Jordan Staal to play wing this year?

A Ray Shero Q&A is up on the Trib. We found this passage most interesting..

Q: Where does Jordan Staal fit on this roster?

A: We've talked about it internally, and my only thing with the coaches is that where Jordan plays benefits the hockey team. He can play center and left wing, and as he's shown, he can play both well. Does he play 4-on-4, penalty kill and power play? It's up to Jordan, really, to answer that question for us. But we're in a luxury of having him in a lot of positions, and we're confident he'll play well wherever.
Interesting, but surely he was meaning that Staal will tell them, through his play, how much PP and PK time he will get, right? Because in a contract year getting to decide on playing top 6 minutes (like he did in a rookie season scoring 29 goals along the way) and anchoring a 3rd line (where he scored 12 goals last season).

Staal, through last week's interview with the USA Today seems to already have answered the question verbally pretty clearly:

I believe I'm a top six guy and I want to play up there," he said. "I want to fit somewhere in that puzzle.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Dany Sabourin, Litterbox

Dany Sabs making a save...Not pictured, all the haters who don't think he is capable of such a thing
Dany Sabourin he's the #2 goalie, a lot of people have decided to go #2 on him. Penguins backup goalie might be confused for a litterbox, considering how much he gets dumped on. Among the slights was when 2K sports rated Dany Sabs as tied for the lowest rated player in their video game. Puck Daddy found that out of 100, they gave him a 6 for puck-handling.

SI's Allan Muir is the latest throwing a subtle dig at Sabs:

"no one believes that Dany Sabourin can fill in for Fleury as admirably as Conklin did last season."

We do not mean to undermine Conkblock or take away from anything he contributed when Fleury got hurt. But let's face facts:

#1: Conklin went 18-8-5 with a 2.51 GAA and a save percentage of .923%. And he was actually even better than those numbers really indicate Who in their right mind would have expected that 12 months ago? No one.

#2: Sabourin himself was 10-9-1 with a 2.75 GAA and a .903%. Not world beating numbers, but not half bad for a backup. Those that label the Pens backup goalie depth as a concern probably have MAF and Conkblock’s outstanding performances in their head and don’t realize that Sabourin appeared in 20 games and the sky didn’t fall. He didn’t perform as well as a starter, but that’s ok because he’s not the starter.

#3: In the salary capped world, teams more or less put all their eggs in one basket with the starting goalie receiving the lion share of the playing time (and salary) and the backup either being a journeyman or a young, inexpensive player. IF Fleury-- or pretty much any contending team's starting netminder-- were to go down for an extended period they'd be in trouble. That Conklin pretty much saved the Pens season (with help from Evgeni Malkin), his super performance shouldn't be used as a negative for Sabourin.

No need to freak out about Jordan Staal

A lot of buzz around the interwebs for Jordan Staal's status, especially on the heels of his big bro's big contract extension. Daddy of the Puck, Empty Netters and USA Today all touch on it and pretty much come to the same conclusion: that the Penguins and Staal would be better off with #11 in a role of scoring winger and not a 3rd line center.

We've long advocated the need for Staal in the more defensive 3rd line center role but may be coming around. Look at the top 6 forwards, you've got the best two offensive centers in the game in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Done and done without thinking twice. Then you've got Geno's slick winger in Petr Sykora and now basically Sid's version of Sykora in Miroslav Satan. Ruslan Fedotenko was brought in to use his size and be a fringe top 6 forward but he statistically is pretty reliable for about 15-20 goals and no more. Then who's the sixth? A rotating cast of characters like Maxime Talbot or Pascal Dupuis? They're out of place and don't have the production of a former 29 goal scorer like Staal. The Pens can hope, but not count on, an unexpected star emerging like Janne Pesonen or maybe even youngest Luca Caputi but, as the old saying goes; hope in one hand crap in the other and see what fills up first.

What are the contract implications? After this season the Penguins are set to have eight notable unrestricted free agents (including Sykora, Satan and Fedotenko) and will clear approximately an estimated $16 million off the books. Right now there's no reason for Staal to seek an extension, his 12 goal sophomore slump season takes a lot of leverage away....But this year if he plays on Malkin/Crosby's wing again, he probably will score about 30 goals like in his rookie season. And given how teams over-pay young players for long-term contracts (Keith Ballard at $4+ million for the next six years!!!) it should be no surprise that Jordan will attract significant interest from opposing GMs. Could the Pens match a $5 million offer (just under the threshold of heavy draft-pick compensation)? That's a question we're unprepared to answer--or even think about-- in September. By next June and July Mr. Shero will have to.

For now though, here's two possibilities of lineups...We'll leave the guesses of which is more formidable to you.



*Envisioning a rotation of players to jump up to the top line and try to catch lightning in a bottle.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

It draws nigh...

Two new articles (and an Empty Netters!) on the PG today can only mean one thing...This season is coming up really soon. 3 weeks and 2 days (give or take the time zone differential) and it'll be opening night on a different continent.

We're trying to get back in the swing of things here at TST but it's been tough with basically the same material over and over. Not to mention the new NHL 09 game, which is sweet.

This piece is interesting and a good read, arguing that Max Talbot is the most important impending free agent for the Pens. There's no larger champion for Talbot than this editor, but it doesn't ring true. Jordan Staal is a center-piece of the "evolution" that is in place. Talbot is, without a doubt, a glorious man and hockey player, but Staal is a 20 year old 6’4 centerman with an inordinate amount of experience and a glass ceiling of potential that would be hard to reach even with the wingspan of a terradactyl.

"They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old: Age shall not weary them, nor the years contemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning, We will remember them."

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

News and notes

Apologies for the slowness around here lately, an illness has literally zapped all energy out of us. We're going to try to get previews out for the key players left (Gonchar, Fleury, Orpik, etc) but it likely won't be up to the 28 of them in the next few days. Especially now that the new toy is out.

Anyways, in an effort to make up for it we'll invite our readers and friends to email us at hooksorpik at gmail dot com. We're taking on people for a Yahoo fantasy hockey pool. If you want in, drop us a line and say why and we'll send you the sign-up information. Winner of the pool (probably us) will be entitled to some sort of yet to be named cool prize.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Goalies think Marc-Andre Fleury is ridiculously good looking

It's a Zoolander reference, people....Anyways, it's a copycat world, so perhaps it should be no surprise that all three Boston goalies are wearing white leg pads....It's almost as if you play your last 33 games (20 in the playoffs) and put up a 24-8-1 record along with a 1.77 GAA, a .939 save percentage and 5 shutouts that your peers might take notice and try to copy your style in any way they can..

Thomas, following the trend started by Pittsburgh's Marc-Andre Fleury, has ditched his yellow pads and gone to white.

"Decided to give it a try," said Thomas.

Thomas, Manny Fernandez, and Tuukka Rask are now all wearing white pads.

So wait a minute, they think the picture at left is a little more modest and could blend in a little more to a white net (and back boards) than this?

If goalies start tripping into the rink every night, we'll declare this Fleury copying fad has gone too far.

Link to story credit to kuklaskorner


Ok, it's not THAT sexy, but Detroit writer George Malik reported on kuklas that Vancouver's Roberto Luongo and Anaheim's JS Giguere where also sporting white pads at a recent goalie camp.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Sidney still can't escape the "youngest" tag

...In addition to all the other firsts such as: youngest to win the Art Ross, Hart, Pearson, be named a NHL captain, win the Prince of Wales trophy (as captain), get to 100 and 200 points and be voted to an All-Star game, news of another honor for Sidney Crosby, and it's still coming with the "youngest" tag..

NHL star Sidney Crosby leads the list of Nova Scotians honoured [sic] Thursday with the Order of Nova Scotia.

Crosby, who recently turned 21, is the youngest person to receive the award which recognizes those who've made "significant contributions to the province and the country."
Another reminder that for as much as Crosby has earned, won and experienced, he's still a very, very young man with so many good years left it's scary.

Hat-tip to Kuklas for the link

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

28 profiles in 28 days....The depth

Welcome back to TST's 28 profiles in 28 days. Here's the backstories of players previously profiled:
Kris Beech....The Unwanted One
Matt Cooke...The New Ruu
Sidney Crosby....The Chosen One
Pascal Dupuis….The Iceman
Ruslan Fedotenko….The Battletank
Eric Godard....The Goon
Tyler Kennedy....The Sparkplug
Evgeni Malkin....The Showstopper
Janne Pesonen...The Finnish Wildcard
Miroslav Satan...The Scoring Winger (Who isn't Hossa)
Jordan Staal....The Gronk
Maxime Talbot...The Legs that feed the Wolf

Player Name: Jeff Taffe
How Acquired: Signed as a free agent in July 2007, resigned July 2008
Position: Center
Age: 27 (28 in February)
Contact Situation: Signed thru 2008-09 season, $550,000 (will make less if sent to the AHL)..unrestricted free agent after this season

Last Season Stats: 47 games played, 5 goals, 7 assists = 12 points....With Wilkes-Barre (AHL): 27 gp, 11g, 10a = 21p....NHL Playoffs 0 gp
Last Season Write-up: Jeff Taffe came to Pittsburgh largely as an after-thought to the organization, except to maybe provide some veteran scoring and leadership to the AHL club. And that he did, by the end of October Taffe was leading the AHL in goals (7) on a team that had only scored 30 to that point. When the Pens center core was depleted to injuries like Max Talbot and later Sidney Crosby, Taffe got the callup and made the most of it, playing 9:35 a night, mostly even strength. Taffe chipped in a few goals and did his part to try and keep them out of his own net. Somewhat solid, in unspectacular.
Career Year Stats: Last season, he saw significant NHL time and was actually a plus player for the first time.

Player progressing, in prime or regressing: Taffe's got the experience to know what he's doing and the age and maturity as well. He's about in his prime as a NHLer.
Potential line-mates: 4th line wingers.
"Best case scenario" stats: 60 games played 7 goals, 10 assists, 17 points, a plus +/- rating...Taffe's the guy that's nice to have around, but not one to rely on to put up offense.

Interesting fact: Despite being a very skilled player, Taffe was supposed to grow a mustache for a month because he lost a shootout competition. He ended up getting called up and never held his end of the deal. Heaven help him if he's ever assigned to Wilkes-Barre this season.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Playin Along with Paul

We like Paul Kukla, he is a great blogger and does good work. This is from his NHL.com piece, which he usually runs similiar questions this time of year. Paul's predictions are in parenthesis.

How many players do you think will reach 50 goals? Bonus points if you name them. (5)
--We say 4....Ovechkin, Kovalchuk, Heatley and as a somewhat surprise: Vinny Lecavalier

Name a player on a new team that will lead their team in goals scored. (Alex Tanguay)
--Olli Jokinen in Phoenix

Jean-Sebastien Giguere will lead the league in shutouts. (Your prediction?)
--Marty Turco

The Detroit Red Wings will win the Presidents’ Trophy. (Anyone care to go with another team?)
--We'd bet Red Wings as well, but if given another guess we'd make it the usual princes of the regular season, San Jose Sharks

The Chicago Blackhawks will make it to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. (Name a team that did not make the playoffs last year that will win at least the first round of the playoffs this season.)
--We would say no one will....But to be nice and play along we'll say the Edmonton Oilers have the best chance to go from not being in the playoffs this past year to winning a round this coming year.

Twenty-eight players had at least 30 goals last season. This season I say 40 players will light the lamp 30 times. (How many players will score 30 or more goals?)
--35 since hopefully the revised goalie pads will let a few more squirt through....Plus there's always the short-lived, idealist hope in our hearts that penalties will be called the same in October as they are in March and in the 1st period as they are in over-time.

Only two players had a +/- of 40 or more last year (Pavel Datsyuk +41 and Nicklas Lidstrom +40). I see two players going at least +50. (Do you agree?)
--No, too much parody in the league and good defensive systems to get a +50. If anyone could do it it'd be Datysuk, Lidstrom or the treacherous Marian Hossa though.

Henrik Zetterberg and Sidney Crosby led the League in playoff points (27) last year. (Who leads the point standings for the upcoming playoff season? Yes it is a difficult choice, but if you get it correct, you know your hockey!)
--We'll hope against hope it's Crosby (and not tied with anyone this year)

These teams from the Eastern Conference missed the playoffs last season: New York Islanders, Buffalo Sabres, Toronto Maple Leafs, Carolina Hurricanes, Florida Panthers, Atlanta Thrashers and Tampa Bay Lightning. I see the Carolina Hurricanes having the best chance to go deep into the playoffs this year. (What one team do you choose?)
--We would say Carolina is most likely to make it back to the playoffs. And while there's a 85% chance that Tampa Bay is going to fail miserably, they were the only team that acted boldly and has the personnel to win a round or two. So if the question is: which non-playoff EC team has the best chance to go the furthest, we'd say Tampa. But if it was name the sure bet non-playoff EC team to make it back then we'd go Carolina.

What NHL player not named Ovechkin or Crosby would you pay to see? (What player(s) besides Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby brings you out of your seat?)
--Evgeni Malkin is the cheap answer (even if it's true)...But the players we're really excited to see this season for a first time live are Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.

Your team needs to stop this shootout attempt to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs. (What goalie do you want in the net to make this stop?)
--Marc-Andre Fleury, duh....Or do we get to chose from any goalie in the league? If then, probably NYR's Henrik Lundqvist.

Many of you know I am a fan of the Detroit Red Wings and my concern is goaltending for the upcoming season. Can Chris Osgood and Ty Conklin and/or Jimmy Howard provide the goaltending a team needs to win on a consistent basis? (What concern do you have regarding your team?)
--The short layoff from Game 6 of the SC Finals to starting the season in Sweden and if all the guys (especially Crosby and Malkin) have been able to rest their injuries sufficiently and train adequately for another grueling 82 game grind of a season.

Not to be political, but what U.S. presidential candidate would be a better hockey fan? (John McCain or Barack Obama and why?)
--We don't want to bring politics in this forum, but for the sake of being light-hearted: John McCain since his running mate is more likely to nag him into watching it.

I won’t give you my prediction for the Stanley Cup winner this season, but are there any teams on the upswings that can hold the Stanley Cup this season? (What team wins the Stanley Cup?)
--Pittsburgh Penguins, obvs.

28 Profiles in 28 Days...The Legs that Feed the Wolf

Welcome back to TST's 28 profiles in 28 days. Here's the backstories of players previously profiled:
Kris Beech....The Unwanted One
Matt Cooke...The New Ruu
Sidney Crosby....The Chosen One
Pascal Dupuis….The Iceman
Ruslan Fedotenko….The Battletank
Eric Godard....The Goon
Tyler Kennedy....The Sparkplug
Evgeni Malkin....The Showstopper
Janne Pesonen...The Finnish Wildcard
Miroslav Satan...The Scoring Winger (Who isn't Hossa)
Jordan Staal....The Gronk

Player Name: Maxime Talbot
How Acquired: Drafted 234th overall in 2002 (8th round)
Position: Center
Age: 24 (25 in Feburary)
Contact Situation: Signed thru 2008-09 season, $700,000 (restricted free agent after this season)

Last Season Stats: 63 games played, 12 goals, 14 assists = 26 points...Playoffs 17 gp, 3g, 6a= 9p
Last Season Write-up: Talbot was another of the Penguins to miss a significant portion of time with a high ankle sprain, and despite the injury lingering throughout the season he still put up career numbers as he chugged along through the year. Talbot only scored 3 goals in the playoffs and one of them provided arguably the high point of the entire season.
Career Year Stats: (2006-07) Last season.

Player progressing, in prime or regressing: Talbot's about in his prime.
Potential line-mates: Talbot is probably going to be the most versitale forward on the roster. HC Therrien showed this during the playoffs where he would switch things up and use Talbot on any line at any time to create a spark. It wouldn't shock us to see Talbot play with any of the top three lines in any of the three periods, depending on game situation. He's another natural center but he can play the wing as well.
"Best case scenario" stats: 82 games played 25 goals, 25 assists, 50 points...If everything went right, Talbot's a 20 goal scorer. If it goes perfect, he could net 25.
Notes: Plenty of NHL talent came out of the 8th round of the 2002 draft, in addition to Talbot, Dennis Wideman, Petr Prucha and Ryan Craig were also taken here.....We dubbed Talbot "The Legs that feed the wolf" after the famous Herb Brooks line. The line (like Talbot) doesn't totally make sense but it's about teamwork, hustle and being the best you can be. Fitting.
Interesting fact: Talbot's one of the most interesting people you'll ever hear about so anything about him could fit the bill. Talbot, to us, is in what Bill Simmons' calls the Tyson Zone. Maybe not in the scary/bizarre way that guys like Mike Tyson and Dennis Rodman are, but you get the point...Talbot has impersonated Sidney Crosby, he had the balls to be McLovin for television, he's played in national poker tournaments even though he jokes himself for being horrible, and he's won the Stanley Keg for crying out loud.

Another sign of the Patrick era fades away

Kudos to TST friend Seth at Empty Netters for pointing out a couple of Penguins who have apparently switched numbers, according to the team website. Nothing too earth shattering-- Donald Brashear isn't going to be the best #87 in the league next year-- but we did notice something of vague interest.

Alex Goligoski, who wore the absurd number 67 for Pittsburgh last season has apparently made the switch to the more reasonable #13. Nothing too eyebrow raising, right?

Well hold up, former GM Craig Patrick--a notoriously superstitious man--banned all of his players from taking the supposedly unlucky number 13. In fact, over the years only two players have ever donned #13 for the Penguins. Good trivia question, no cheating, name them (answer at bottom of the post).

Now Goligoski, ironically a good find in the second round by Patrick and his scouts, now is looking like he might be the first Penguin to wear the number CP so despised, if Golly can make the team.

So unlike most hockey players, it's probably safe to say Golly isn't that superstitious by his choice of number. Especially since he's already contending with the vaunted curse of Greg Malone and all.

(The answer to the trivia question is Jim Hamilton and Charlie Simmer are the others)

Knights of the Round-table

We will continue our 28 profiles in 28 days (hey, no one ever promised it would be one a day) but first here's everything you need to know about the Pens season-to-be....Tony over at The Confluence had a bunch of voices come together for a round table discussion and he honored us with a chance at participating. Here's the thing in it's entirety. Thanks again to Tony and the folks at the MVN for having us.