Sunday, December 28, 2008

Trudging through December

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Whitney to take injured Letang's place

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

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

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

Top 10 Penguins moments of 2008

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

#10 Sidney Crosby creates memories at the Winter Classic

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

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

#9 Penguins win first Atlantic Division title in 10 years

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

#8 Ground broken on new arena

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

#7 Evgeni Malkin signs identical contract to Sidney Crosby

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#3 Marian Hossa arrives, raises hell, leaves

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 22, 2008

GOOSE, Pens Win

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

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

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

The end of the world as we know it?

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

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

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Personal homecoming ends disappointingly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 19, 2008

A Superstar signs a deal

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

This and that

Random thoughts from here and there...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Roundtable Talk Part 2

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

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

Monday, December 15, 2008

Bozo hanging up the floppy shoes

Another pre-internet dinosaur bites the dust:

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

It basically ends today with this column.

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

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

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

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

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

(hat-tip to the Pensblog)

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Out of Gas...Pens lose

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

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

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

Friday, December 12, 2008

Malkin's push for 100 apples

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

(click on chart to enlarge)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

E. Staal: Malkin is the best

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

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

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

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Feeling down on your luck? Play the Isles

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

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

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Consol Energy buys rights to new arena

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


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

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

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

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

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

The numbers racket

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

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

Monday, December 8, 2008

1 for 9 doesn't spell success

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

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

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

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

The Walking Wounded

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

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

Washington Capitals *

Pittsburgh Penguins

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

Talking contract with Staal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Czeching up on the kiddos

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

Professional level (age in parenthesis):

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

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

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

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

Wheeling Nailers

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


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

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

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

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

US College

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

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

Recap: Spezza 3 Penguins 2

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

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Gameday 26: Senators

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 5, 2008

The Sweater Ted Meets the Owner Ted

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Banged up Brigade

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Haha sloppy seconds

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

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

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

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