Thursday, January 31, 2008

Answering Questions (That No One Asked)

Last night while watching TSN, they were talking during an intermission about the distraction caused by Ray Emery’s continual tardiness and Matthew Barnaby referenced one of his NHL experiences.

He told a story about his lone season in Chicago how they had a disruptive player. He wouldn’t name names because the player was still in the league. Barnaby said the young teammate tested the veterans and his coaches by showing up late and I believe Barnaby said once he was even sent home from the rink, on orders from the team’s player leaders. Barnaby then said a couple of months later the player was traded.

This set off a detective case…Ok, so it’s not something that’ll end up in a Sherlock Holmes novel but follow us here…

The following players were traded from Chicago during the 2005-06 season (this site is a lifesaver for this type of research)

Matt Ellison, Anton Babchuk, Jaroslav Spacek, Todd Simpson, Tyler Arnason

Of the above mentioned, neither Spacek or Simpson are players that Barnaby would refer to as young, Babchuk is back in Russia and Ellison has almost exclusively been in the AHL for the past two years.

Leaving only Tyler Arnason (now with Colorado)…Could he be the oft-late young player that ruffled feathers in Chicago?

Max Talbot and the Stanley Keg

Because I can't believe this hasn't been posted here yet...

Back story: last summer, after a few beers I was looking at an empty keg and thinking, "hey, if you put a bowl on top of that, you've basically got the Stanley Cup." A couple of buddies saw, agreed and thought it a good idea.

Got bored at work one day and did a google search for "Stanley Keg". Of course, the Canadians had already gotten this idea and ran with it. It's a charity summer 3-3 tournament (featuring mainly AHL players but a couple of NHL'ers and CHL kids).

And, naturally, who's in the first picture I find with the Stanley Keg? Maxime Talbot.

A look at the facts before Ruutu is suspended

Surely by now you've seen this, but take another look to keep it fresh in your head as we lay out the case for and against Jarrko Ruutu.

The case for Ruutu:

  • He went in to finish a check against a player. Normal hockey play, happens tons of times. On this occasion, however, the opponent saw him coming and tried to lean out of the way. Well, he got his upperbody away from Ruutu, but his lowerbody was still in the crosshairs and he took the brunt of the impact in the knees.
  • Ruutu did not lead with his legs, did not seek the legs. The opponent tried to evade at the last second and boom, what was done was done.
  • Ruutu was given 20 minutes worth of penalties (kneeing, game misconduct and a fighting major). Aside from leaving his team with 10 regular forwards, it granted the opposition a 5 minute powerplay.
  • As we mentioned last post, why the fighting major? Ruutu did not drop his gloves, did not throw a punch. Basically he was mugged by a teammate standing up for his guy. Not that there is anything wrong with what Steve McCarthy did, but he deserved his 5 for fighting and an instigator. Ruutu, a non-participant, shouldn’t have been slapped with an additional major for fighting.
  • To our knowledge, despite Ruutu’s reputation, he’s never been suspended by the NHL. Much of Ruutu’s image comes from when he took a run and put a nasty (and dirty) elbow to Jaromir Jagr’s head at the 2006 Olympics. Ruutu does lead the leagues with 3 diving penalties, and had to have a mandatory phone call with the league but even they admitted that some of those calls where a bit excessive, that Ruutu’s reputation probably lead to them and he did not deserve to be suspended a game (as is the league’s right).

To be fair, the case against Ruutu:

  • His reputation proceeds him. He may not have been suspended (yet) but he has a history of, at the very least “questionable” hits. Also trouble seems to follow him around. He is cast as a pest and an agiator and he plays that role very well. But it’s a thin line to cross before taking penalties, etc.
  • It’s a league of stars and he just took out a guy who is 2nd in the league in goals. On purpose or not, he injured a star’s knee (severity unknown) no less, which other than a headshot is probably the most reprehensible thing a player could do..

The Ilya Kovalchuk factor
**Disclaimer: No one deserves to get hurt and we’re not suggesting Kovalchuk “had it coming”, but there is a factor here, so do consider it.**

  • The victim is no angel himself; having just coming off suspension that could have been longer for running a defenseless player into the boards.
  • Kovalchuk probably set himself up for at least getting checked every available chance by showing up the Penguins bench after he scored a first period goal. He also has a history of pointing at/provoking Penguins, notably Sidney Crosby. For better or worse Kovalchuk put a target on himself by acting unprofessional and directly taunting his opponents.

Again, we repeat, no one deserves to be injured and we’re not happy or satisfied to see a skill player suffer a knee injury. Just sayin’ the public outcry of "suspend, suspend, suspend!" isn't always just. So put down the pitchforks and extingush the torches and look at the facts again.

We came up with more of a case for him then against him, because that's how we see it. Is it biased? Perhaps. But the cons may outweigh the pros, especially since it's in Colin Campbell's hands now.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

A No Point Night

Well, that sucked. On to the game comments:

--Watching the TSN feed, they point out Evgeni Malkin has 16 goals in the past 17 games. Quality stat from a quality channel.
--The sure to be Jarrko Ruutu fiasco....If you look closely, Ruutu comes into finish his check with his shoulder. Ilya Kovalchuk pulls away with his upper body and the only thing Ruutu connects with is Kovalchuk's legs, in an awkward position. 5 minutes for kneeing? More like 5 minutes for a bad reputation. Also, how did they tack on a fighting major? ATL's Steve McCarthy stood up for his teammates and immediately dropped the gloves and tried punching Ruutu, but Ruutu turned and was pinned against the bench and McCArthy only connected with the back of his helmet. Ruutu never threw a punch, never dropped the gloves, never made any action remotely resembling a fight but is still handed out a fighting major which ended up giving the Tbombs a PP. Ridiculous!
--We'd have to agree with what TST favorite Matthew Barnaby said during the intermission on TSN (paraphrased): Yeah they shouldn't have counted the apparant Nathan Smith goal since it was technically a kicking motion, but since he didn't even lift his skate to re-direct it perhaps it shouldn't have mattered since he demonstrated that much skill in deflecting the puck while seemingly stopping without really kicking it home.
--Right off the bat in the 3rd period Erik Christensen goes real hard to the net but can't pull th move he loves on shootouts but does pull the penalty. But on that PP;
--Sergei Gonchar misplays the puck, makes a diving effort in vein; Eric Perrin uses his speed to catch up with it and snaps a good shot and that's basically the game.
--It was nice to see the Pens avoid the shutout with a goal by Ryan Whitney after a terrific shift of cycling and puck domination by Christensen, Jordan Staal and especially Maxime Talbot did their thing.
--Georges Laraque was a -2 in 6:02 TOI. He did have a golden chance but failed to convert. Not a very good game for BGL. As a veteran and experienced player you'd expect/hope him to have a bigger impact.
--How many times did Malkin fall tonight for no reason? Too many for no reason at all. Credit the coaching staff for a cool new breakout though: Malkin carries the mail through the neutral zone like he loves to do, then when the opponents swarm on him, he drops the puck to Gonchar who's two steps behind and Gonchar quickly rifles a pass to a winger who gains entry to the zone and Malkin or the other winger isn't offsides, even at full stride. A nice adjustment from the coaches, keying in to the other team swarming on Malkin.
--As great and confident as Kris Letang played last night....Well he just didn't show any of it tonight.

Still a night that very much looked like a tired team. We predicted here that perhaps ATL would be a little slow in the start but that didn't come true. From open to start and top to bottom they were the better team and carried the play.

The Pens have about 72 hours off now; you'd imagine that they'll get at least 1 NHL caliber player back (Colby Armstrong) and maybe a fringe skill player in Kris Beech. Jeff Taffe (who took a double minor high stick and hardly played afterwards) and Alain Nasreddine should sit. Shift Brooks Orpik back to the blueline, for the love of all that's good and holy.

A missed opportunity to be sure, but it's hard to be that upset considering the team just won a highly contested and emotional battle AT a divisional rival less than 24 hours earlier.....All the Pens can do is try to regroup and come out strong for Carolina on Saturday night.

Geno's a bit confused..

Why's he got to go back to Atlanta so soon???

Jokes aside, a big question tonight is the starting netminder.

Ty Conklin should start, but we don’t know the team as well as Michel Therrien so we’ll defer to his knowledge.

Consider, though, tomorrow is February 1st, and the Penguins only play three games in the first 8 days of the month; hardly grueling by NHL standards. If we were calling the shots, we'd use Conklin thinking that he just had an all-star break and should still be the best option for the team to win. But, much like sending pitchers to the mound on short rest, it seems like NHL goalies playing in back-to-back nights in two different cities (neither one of them their home rink) do not generally fair very well.

So if it’s Dany Sabourin in net, perhaps it's understandable. But if he plays poorly and lets in 4 goals by the midpoint of the game again, there will be a lot more "what ifs".

The PG dug up a cool stat; you’d think a guy like Evgeni Malkin would feast against the Thrashers, since they’re not known for being very staunch defensively. They’ve conceded a league high 175 goals so far this season and their PK is 27th in the league at 79.3%. But Geno only has 1 career goal against them (in 6 games).

For the Penguins, getting some pucks on the net early, and perhaps striking a couple times quickly could deflate their opponents. This will also be Atlanta’s first game since the All-Star break so perhaps their legs won’t be under them for the early parts of the game.

Also, something to keep an eye on: consistency. As everyone and their mother’s blog has highlighted: while Sidney Crosby is hurt the supporting cast is going to have to be that much better to help Malkin get enough production. Last night it worked to a T; as Ryan Malone and Erik Christensen (two of the biggest poster boys for inconsistent production) both had multi-point games. Plus Jordan Staal scored a goal and Peter Sykora had one of his most impactful games of the year. Those four players (the most skilled in the lineup now other than #71) must keep it up and continue to get on the score-sheet to keep this train a’rollin.

The Devils and Flyers are idle tonight so a win would mean, for a night at least, the Pens would be in sole possession of first place in the Atlantic Division and the East's #2 seed. Not bad for a team going on 2 weeks of not having their best player.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Team Effort; Pens Win

Our live notes from the game:

``Pens dominating first 5 minutes in possession, shots(7-3 advantage) and cycling the puck well, controlling the play.
``Nice PK'ing for Evgeni Malkin in the first but then Pens broadcaster Paul Steigerwald mentions on the Devils PP that Mike Rupp hadn't had a point in his past 56 NHL games....And you knew what was going to happen next....The "Slumpbusters" strike again.
``Also note that Nathan Smith (1st NHL game with Pittsburgh) was out there when the PK goal went in, since Jordan Staal (a regular PK'er) took the penalty and other regulars like Adam Hall and Colby Armstrong are out with injuries. This is what "they" talk about when "they" talk about the Pens depth being challenged.
``Weird to see Brooks Orpik on the wing. He didn't look comfortable and how could he; that's not his position.
``People don't think of Kris Letang being tough by style, but dudeman took a redirected puck to the face enough to draw blood and stayed on the ice another 30+ seconds to finish his shift.
``Jarrko Ruutu taking an interference penalty that will make a coach's stomach turn. Both players are going to the corner, the puck is coming, why take your hand off your stick and pull the man down when you can simply ram him into the boards cleanly in about 1.5 seconds.....Decisions like these are why he'll always be a 4th liner on a good team.
``Jordan Staal made a great power move from the corner and drove to the net and appeared to get a shot off that beat Martin Brodeur. It actually bounced off a Devil or two and went in. But the fact remains, good to the net hard and you will, eventually somehow someway be rewarded.
2nd line has been the best unit for the Pens....Crusher found Ryan Whitney streaking in the slot but a nice save by Brodeur.
``Bad and weird bounce off Letang's chest on Rupp's second goal....But if Jeff Taffe doesn't lose that faceoff cleanly in his own end, Rupp never gets to pull the trigger on the shot.

Martin Brodeur gets undressed

``Christensen's goal a thing of beauty. What hands, what precense of mind to cooly pull the "Forsberg" move on a helpless Brodeur.
``Letang won't get an assist on the 3rd goal, but his play to hold the puck in, skate it a second and then toss a saucer pass low to Malkin made the sequence happen. All three goals from plays starting behind the net...Hmm..
``Brian Gionta boards Taffe and at the worst possible time; when the "Bash Brothers" Orpik and Georges Laraque were quick to get in his face.
``Unbelivable hand-eye coodination from Ryan Malone on his second goal. Again patience of standing near the goal and waiting for his chance to knock the puck into the net.
47 minutes into the game and has credited the Penguins with 3 hits. Either they statistician isn't watching this game or his hit button is broken.
``Darryl Sydor did a good job breaking up an evolving 2 on 1 for the Devils with about 9 minutes to go that could have shifted all the momentum to the home team.

At the end of the day the Penguins "took the air out of the ball" to use a football expression by playing sound hockey through the neutral zone and cycling down low playing keepaway---which shouldn't go un-noticed as being trademarks of Devils hockey.

Down 2-1 on the road Pittsburgh struck quick with two goals in under a minute and a half (one the sweet Christensen goal and then the first Malone one) that turned the game around. The Pens road their big dogs (Malkin, Malone, Peter Sykora, Maxime Talbot, Staal and Christensen) and they came through.

Sweater Ted 3 Penguin Stars of the Night:

HM: Kris Letang, Evgeni Malkin
3. Maxime Talbot [2a, +2, 16:22 TOI]
2. Erik Christensen [1g, 1a, +2, 15:14 TOI, 3 SOG, 2-0 faceoffs]
1. Ryan Malone [2g, +1, 24:06 TOI, 3 SOG]

After Sid Watch:
2-1-1 (5 of possible 8 points)

Philadelphia is in OT at the press time, so Pittsburgh will remain in second in the Atlantic Division for another night....But more importantly, they knocked the Devils down a notch, at least for one night but also have a base of momentum for the next night. That next night won't be too long, as the boys will be back in action against the T-bombs.

The Devils are in the Details

As reported by PSI, Colby Armstrong is the latest Penguins to be socked with a nasty flu and will be out tonight and apparantely the newly re-acquired Kris Beech is having what was described as visa problems. How could a Canadian player who’s changed teams so frequently in the past 4 weeks be having visa problems is beyond us.

Even through this latest round of roster depletion the Penguins have 18 healthy skaters; so expect Therrien to run his unorthodox 11 forward/ 7 defenseman lineup. Which will probably mean that Brooks Orpik will get about 12 minutes of ice-time.

With 33 games remaining in the second “half” of the season (if you like to use the all-star break as the midpoint), the Penguins have quite a journey ahead of them. In a competitive division--the Atlantic has 5 teams with a .500+ regulation win loss record (the next closest is 3), Pittsburgh can’t afford to keep giving away points to rivals. Without their #1 center, leader and captain and the #1 goaltender for the foreseeable future, this is going to reveal a lot of character.

Though Malkin can and will shoulder a lot of the production burden, every forward on the team (especially members of the top 6 forwards like Sykora, Malone, Staal) must chip in with timely goal and play solid minutes. The team is going to need to stay out of the penalty box to keep the 23rd ranked penalty killing unit off the ice. Ty Conklin doesn’t have to be as dominate as he was his first 10-12 games, but he has to at least stop the ones a goalie should.

If the pieces fall together, the Penguins will get, by far, the best “deadline day” acquisition; that of course of Sidney Crosby (though the deadline is Feb 26th and Sid doesn’t figure to return until sometime in March, you get the point). Plus, something that makes us giddy, Gary Roberts is planning to return to skating on his own despite it was a month ago to this day that the 41 year old broke his leg. Soon too will guys like Armstrong, Fleury and maybe even Tyler Kennedy return to the lineup in the days/weeks ahead and be able to give the team a lift.

All they have to do is hold out for a little while. No better opponent to start the hanging and grabbing than the Devils; who are bound to be pissed off with their last performance when they blew a big lead (and we know NJ NEVER does that) and were called out by their coach.

Monday, January 28, 2008

2010 can't get here fast enough

...If you're Canadian, that is. We're not, but this is too good to pass up.

TSN is having their viewers chose their Team Canada squad even though it's, you know, over 2 full years away.

Anyways I submitted mine (posing as a native of Prince Edward Island) and here's my hypothetical lines...

E. Staal-Fisher-M. Richards


Luongo, Brodeur

Reserves: Morrow, Seabrook, Ward

Given that lineup, we can actually see why they're so excited for this team to be unveiled. The amount of talent that they have (especially in the range of 22-27 years old at the time, a lot of whom we snubbed from our rosters). Scary good.

Christensen to Columbus?

The NHL might still be on All-Star break today, but there's never a break in the rumors..TSN is reporting

Further to last week's Backchecking note that the Blue Jackets are interested in Penguins C Erik Christensen, the Toronto Sun says that Columbus would offer D Duvie Westcott in a swap. The Columbus Dispatch thinks it might be Ole-Kristian Tollefsen going for Christensen.

Years of following this type of thing has taught us: don't trust a newspaper from a town that's not even involved in the deal (in this case the Toronto Sun). Westcott is not a very good swap for the Penguins perspective..

Tollefsen, on the other hand (from his TSN player profile)..

Assets: Loves to lay on the body and displays a wealth of toughness and aggression along the blueline. Has the makings of a sound defensive defenseman.

Flaws: Needs to improve his all-around skills, since he's below average with the puck. Just learn when to pick his spots in the hitting department.

Career potential: Defensive defenseman

Tollefsen is younger and bigger than Westcott and seems to be more in-line with the Pens needs. We use "seems" because not that much Columbus hockey is known to us, so no bold proclimations.

It'll be interesting to see if this trade goes down. It'd be hard to imagine the Pens making a move on dealing a forward for a defenseman while so key forwards are injured, but perhaps it could happen. The Pens recalled Wilkes-Barre captain Nathan Smith today so there are now (Kris Beech included) 13 healthy forwards on the roster.

Something to keep an eye on..


Right before the All-Star break the Penguins demoted a trio of young forwards they had recently recalled (Ryan Stone, Tim Brent and Chris Minard). We thought it interesting that they leave Jonathan Filewich on the NHL roster and also interesting that it left them with just 11 healthy forwards. But with visions of Gary dancing in our head, we were stunned to see Kris Beech back as a Pittsburgh Penguin.

Allow us to repeat that sentence; we were stunned to see Kris Beech back as a Pittsburgh Penguin.

It’s kind of ironic that this weekend we were watching the “Chasing the Dream” DVD that was a documentary of the 2002-03 Wilkes-Barre Baby Penguins and were thinking about how some of the most promising players on that team (Beech, Milan Kraft, Michal Sivek) didn’t pan out in the NHL but more unheralded guys like Rob Scuderi and Tom Kostopolous are in the show this year.

It’s also kind of ironic that the Pens grabbed him from Washington (who had grabbed him from Vancouver less than a week ago). We were going to do a post saying how Beech came full circle by returning to the organ-eye-zation that drafted him, but it didn’t seem right since Washington intended to keep him in the AHL where he is a difference making center. And, in the back of the minds here, we always thought Beech would come full circle, to us, if he ever ended up back with the black and Vegas gold.

Well shit.

Fabian Brunnstrom Update

This blog on Swedish prospect Fabian Brunnstrom was one of our favorite recent posts but it didn't get many site views or feedback.

Anyways, surprise surprise, the Red Wings have made a pitch for the 22 year old that some call the next Daniel Alfredsson. Detroit, Toronto and Vancouver are thought to be the front-runners for his services (which won't start until next season) according to that report.

(hat tip to kuklaskorner with the link)

Friday, January 25, 2008

How do you like your beatings, Mr. Cote?

By popular demand:

By the way, Cote getting mauled by a very large black man, where have I seen that before?

Good Lord, we hope Cote gets hazard pay.

(Hat tip to japers' archive for the preseason Brashear photo)

Orpik wants to stay....But why?

Gary Roberts, Georges Laraque, Mark Eaton, Jarrko Ruutu, Adam Hall, Ryan Malone and Brooks Orpik

What do those seven Penguins skaters have in common? As of July 1 they are free to find another place to play.

Ray Shero, smartly, has only signed veterans for a term of one or two years, preferring to spend the lion-share of the team’s cap room on the nucleus of the franchise’s core. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to identify the core: it’s Crosby, Malkin, Fleury, Staal and Whitney. And it shouldn’t be a surprise.

All of the impending unrestricted free agents are pretty good at what role they’re cast to. They’re veterans and most, as you’d expect, are predictably reliable. None, however, are cornerstones to the team and it’s not a stretch to imagine the majority of this list could be plying their craft somewhere else starting next fall.

There are two players of this bunch that intrigue us here at TST the most. They probably intrigue most Pens fans and observers because they have the complete package: size, skill, reasonable speed, physicality and most hauntingly “the potential of youth”. Ryan Malone and Brooks Orpik, though almost UFA ready still seem like they have the potential to have a bigger impact than they’ve since shown. Both lack consistency. Both have shown flashes of brilliance.

Thanks to the new Collective Bargaining Agreement Malone (28) and Orpik (27) are years younger than the tradition unrestricted free agent. Malone’s NHL career is just 266 games so far and Orpik has only 264, which is just over 3 seasons worth for both. It’s strange to think both are hitting the open market when it seems like they’re just getting started.

We bring this up over something Orpik said in today’s Post-Gazette.

Even though there have been times this season when Orpik has fallen out of favor with the coaching staff, he said he'd be "very receptive" to negotiating a deal to remain with the Penguins.
"I've loved all the time I've had here," he said. "I love the guys here, love the direction Ray [Shero, the general manager] has put the organization in. Everything here is done first-class, very professionally."
While there clearly would be a market for a defenseman with Orpik's willingness -- and ability -- to play the body, he expressed no great desire to test the open market.
"Some guys get really upset with where they're at," Orpik said. "They can't wait to get to July 1 to get out of a situation. ... I've talked with a lot of guys I've played with here who have gone other places, and they kind of wish they could come back."

While we don’t doubt Orpik must enjoy his teammates and the only organ-eye-zation he’s ever known, doesn’t he have an agent? One that could tell him that if a 32 year old Andy Sutton can fetch $9 million over three years then dangit Brooks, you can too.

Also a new opportunity might do Orpik well. As the article alludes to, he’s been benched, gone through a long streak of sitting in the press box (including once in his hometown of Bahhston) and even when he’s in the lineup he’s averaged 16:46.

Orpik’s done his part to make his minutes count, with a team high 129 hits. He is the only physical defenseman on the roster, given the next blueliner is Kris Letang (39 hits in 31 games) and, brace yourself, the Sarge (34 hits in 45 games).

But physical play doesn’t always translate into smart play or indicate the coaches are happy with your performance. Orpik is on the ice for penalty kills a mere :42 a game. He mans a point on the powerplay (if you can call it that) for an average of :50 a game.

So you’re a physical defenseman but the coaches don’t trust you on the PK. You’re getting less icetime than a 20 year old rookie. You have the chance for a big payday with a team that will fall for your big hits and “potential” for more consistency. But you want to stay?

We’ll see how this pans out, we’d love to see Orpik stay and love even more for his performance (and minutes) to pick up but we just can’t see it happening.

By the way, UFA predictions:

  • Ruutu: Didn’t get a bigger role, 80% chance of leaving
  • Laraque: Still is happy here, team still needs that presence, 75% staying
  • Eaton: Great when not injured, problem is injured too much, 50% staying (we think the Pens might not want him for durability fear, not Eaton wanting to leave)
  • Hall: Great roleplayer and PK’er but his type is a dime-a-dozen 40% of staying just since Shero knows him so well
  • Roberts: whatever he wants to do, stay, go to a Canadian team, retire…As usual Gary’s calling the shots, 100% awesome
  • Malone: Pittsburgh boy, hard to see him leaving when he’s so comfortable with team/city but it is UFA; 50% chance of staying
  • Orpik: Saying all the right things but all signs are pointing to a departure, 25% chance of staying (due to above comments)

Laraque boards Downie

If you haven't seen it for yourself, take a look first:

Flyers coach John Stevens looked this as "a vicious incident" and "a very, very dangerous play."

We'd half agree. To be sure, it was a dangerous play and Georges Laraque deserved the boarding call and probably the game misconduct he received. To call it vicious though is a little extreme, especially for a coach who's players are usually the ones laying opponent's out..

Steve Downie commented with a little more reasonable outlook like "stuff like that happens," and "we were both going in the corner for the puck".

True enough, both were racing to a puck down in the corner, a play that happens many times over in a game. Downie put himself in a worse position by cutting face towards the boards. He didn't deserve to be knocked into them, but as he mentioned, stuff like that just happens in hockey.

Laraque, for his part, says "he got up and [got in a fight] in the third, so I'm not worried about it at all. He was fine. He was laughing. He did that job perfectly. He drew a five-minute power play. That was his job, and it worked."

He then added something we totally believe:

"If I want to hit somebody from behind, he's not going to get up."

Certainly if BGL intended to lay a check on Downie, who've we established as putting himself in a bad situation, he could have driven him damn near through the boards and Downie wouldn't have gotten up. Laraque did, it seemed, pull up a little. Almost all of the force Downie had going into the boards was generated not by contact but his own footspeed.

Regardless Laraque did board him and deserved the 5 minute penalty and probably the game misconduct. But he did not intend to injure, it was just a common play in hockey gone wrong, but not horribly wrong; as Downie wasn't injured. So, to us, no suspension seems warranted.

(Quotes reported by the PG)

Thursday, January 24, 2008

When the Onion does it, it's funny.

NHL Out 3-5 Weeks.

When a Canadian journalistdoes it; it's kinda pathetic.

Fight Night?

We tried to repress the memory of the last Philly/Pens game, in case you forgot it ended 8-2 for the bad guys, saw joke of a NHL player Ben Eager avoid Georges Laraque like the plague but still take an ass-whipping from someone almost old enough to be his father.

Needless to say, there was a lot of emotion in that game; and since that time both teams have been doing a lot of something else too: winning. The Flyers have been victorious in 10 of their past 13 games and as well as the Pens have played recently, they’re only one point up on Philadelphia.

For these reasons we don’t expect too many extracurriculars tonight: the game is simply too important, both teams are in a fierce battle to accumulate points, and Eager has been traded. Perhaps Riley Cote (if he’s dumb enough) will fight BGL but don’t expect many fireworks, barring back to the lineup Colby Armstrong or Jarrko Ruutu lay a crunching hit on a player who keeps his head down (think what Gary Roberts did to Simon Gagne, which we sadly can’t find on youtube).

Tonight, of course, is the last regular season games before the All-Star break. For some reason, with all the injuries, with all the emotion that has been given in the past couple of weeks, it feels like, to us, the Pens might come out flat and perhaps will not give their best performance. To grab 2 points out of a division opponent on the road would be huge, so hopefully they’re up to the task before the break.

As for us? Well it's dollar hot dog night at the Verizon Center. Plus, dusting off the old student ID gets you a $25 lower level ticket. Can't beat that with a stick. Over/under on how many hotdogs this author will eat? We're taking odds at 3.5

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Tyler Kennedy hops on the Indefinite Injury Train

News today about what's kept Tyler Kennedy out of the lineup, it's mono!

TK will be out of the YoungStars game this weekend and beyond. Jeff Taffe has played pretty well in the NHL and Erik Christensen is healthy again so the Pens should be able to hold the fort down without him for a while.

They'll still miss the energy he can bring to a game (which neither Taffe nor EC provide) so perhaps this will mean an extended chance to stay in the NHL for a guy like Ryan Stone or Jonathan Filewich that could bring a little uptempo forechecking to the table.

Mono, isn't that the kissing disease? It's a good thing Kennedy doesn't play for the Flyers, their whole team might catch it...

(Photo courtesy of the Pensblog and the genius/sicko that submitted it)

Monday, January 21, 2008

Pre-game Washington thoughts

JP says Malkin hasn’t established himself as a center, citing mainly his very low faceoff percentage this year. Not that big of a deal to us; the biggest factors in improvement are experience and strength, two things that will come with time. We think Malkin’s improvement will continue. The style he likes to play; that of carrying the puck through the zone, dishing it to teammates and wheeling around a lot makes him a natural center. That he is defensively responsible and backchecks well as the deep forward in his own zone continues that.

Also JP takes a swipe at Malkin’s post-season performance. His pure stats weren’t bad (0g, 4a in 5 games) and the most games he had ever played in a season was 57 in the RSL; which doesn’t much compare to 83 in the NHL that he did last season. It will be interesting to see how JP’s boy Nicklas Backstrom handles the rest of the season, as he’s basically in the same uncharted waters and now is the #1 center due to Michael Nylander’s injury.

The Penguins calling up 3 players is significant. Our guess is the majority of the 3 banged up forwards (if not all of them) will miss this game. Losing Colby Armstrong, Adam Hall and Tyler Kennedy hurts, all play important roles. Hall is one of the top penalty killers.

But we are excited to see Chris Minard. At 26 he’s no spring chicken and hasn’t appeared in a NHL game yet. But he’s been productive this season in Wilkes-Barre and after a little slump after an opening night hat trick has become one of the team’s best offensive weapons. Minard’s a goal scorer and said to be willing to go into high traffic areas. We wouldn’t mind giving him a brief audition in a situation setup to give him success with other skilled players.

Also Tim Brent and especially Jonathan Filewich are prospects that have impressed before and diehard fans have long been awaiting seeing them in Pittsburgh. Tonight could be the chance.

Speaking of chances, huge game for Dany Sabourin. After the impressive shutout of Montreal the other night the pressure is back on him to stick in the starting lineup. A poor performance could end him back on the bench in favor of the Conkmania. And with Marc-Andre Fleury a couple of weeks from returning, who knows how many chances Sabs will have to prove that he shouldn’t be waived when there are 3 healthy goalies around (more on this later).

As always when you play the Caps you have to account for Alex Ovechkin. Sergei Gonchar has done pretty well so far shadowing AO, expect that to continue tonight. The real matchup could be trying to limit the Caps 2nd line, Alex Semin is finally over his high ankle sprain and producing points again and Tomas Fleischmann is playing the best hockey of his NHL career so far.

It will be interesting to see how this shorthanded and mish-mashed lineup the Pens throw out there responds. We fully expect the best out of Malkin, and hopefully Ryan Malone and Petr Sykora can carry their end of the bargain tonight. That, plus limiting Ovechkin, stopping Semin and staying out of the box as much as possible are the keys to the game. If the Pens do that, they’ll probably win. If not, the streak of games over the Caps will end at 6.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Unsung heroes

After watching the 3rd string goalie go 10-1-1 in consecutive games, perhaps there was no better time to go back to Dany Sabourin. Especially with the game in Montreal. A move that won't be recognized by many fans, but surely Michel Therrien knew what was up.
As we expected, Geno tried to put the whole team on his back. And he iced the game with a sharp angle empty netter. If the NHL fills in anyone else for Crosby other than Malkin, we're gonna be pissed.
The 4th line played hard and it paid off with the first (and game winning goal). Georges Laraque put on his Sidney Crosby hat and had a great pass to Jeff Taffe for the goal.
Dany Sabs and the defense did the rest, shutting out the Habs and securing the victory. Colby Armstrong got hurt his first shift and it's unknown at this moment how bad he'll be.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Well, this sucks

Sidney Crosby hurt. Oh boy. What's initially been diagnosed as a dreaded "high ankle sprain" took Crosby out of the game and probably a lot longer.


But before declaring all to be lost, let's try to focus on the good:

1)The Penguins have a center (Evgeni Malkin) to plug into the #1 spot on the depth chart who would probably be a #1 center on 25+ teams in the NHL.
2)When Marc-Andre Fleury went down to the very same injury, everyone and their brother pronounced the season to be lost. Out of the absolute shadow stepped in Ty Conklin who hadn't lost in regulation until tonight!

All this instant diagnosis of Crosby being out 4+ weeks seems a little premature. In our experience of seeing this injuries this year though (namely the Caps Alex Semin and the Pens Max Talbot) in both occasions the players thought they could heal faster than they really could, both came back too early (Semin did numerous times) and both paid the price of having the nagging injury take it's toll.

Crosby prides himself at being a professional and taking care of his body. He's not going to rush anything and knows what he can and can't play through. Plus the Pens medical staff has now dealt with three of these sprains (the aforementioned Talbot and Fleury) so they should be very familiar about rehabbing this.

When one goes down, someone else must take his place. No matter how important, Crosby is a cog in the machine. A very, very important part, to be sure, but the great thing about hockey is it's a team sport. The best players, and more often the best collection of players, often do not win it all. Rather, it's the best collection of talent that bonds together; picks up the slack and refuses to lose (and gets the requisite amount luck and bounces along the way) that usually carries off the Cup.

In that sense, losing your best player will test the whole club. For starters obviously Malkin is going to have to bring his A game as the new #1 center. But when Crosby was out last season for a few games with a groin injury Malkin was flat out sensational and took games over--almost as if he knew he was not only out of Sid's shadow but had to carry the mail for the team.

Secondary scoring is now a must. Players like Jordan Staal and Ryan Malone are now going to be in a bigger role and have to pick up the slack and capitalize on their opportunities. Both have been inconsistent offensively for stretches but with the big dog out of the lineup, their contributions are necessarily and neither need to be told that.

Further it's going to test the coaching staff. Memo to Michel Therrien: now is not the time to play the only elite winger sniper you have (Petr Sykora) with glorified grinders and role players like Jarrko Ruutu and Talbot. You have to consolidate your skill, and in a hurry.

Here's how we'd work the lines, as of now:


Second line is a huge question mark, given how EC hasn't played well on the wing and Staal hasn't produced, but we think TK's energy gives it a boost. Even though they're young; they're responsible enough defensively and hustle enough to negate that....Malkin and Sykora worked well together in Russia during the lockout season and need to play together. Period. Malone's done a good job taking the body and opening up space and we think will thrive knowing that he's now a leader of this team and has to come through.

Stay tuned for the next prognosis on Crosby. God willing it will turn out better than it looked tonight.

If not, just time to make some lemonade (and vodka) out of these lemons.

As for the game....we hear Andre Roy had a part in all the goals, scoring one and assisting two more. And the Penguins didn't score. And Brooks Orpik was -3. And Ty Conklin lost. And Crosby got hurt? If you'll excuse us we're either drunk or in the midst of a nightmare.

Rob Blake watch begins...

We’re glad to see that we at TST aren’t the only ones with trade deadline fever; famed and reliable Canadian writer Eric Duhatschek (by way of kuklaskorner) writes:

Blake, whose name has circulated in the rumour mill for almost a month now, clarified his position in an interview Friday. He said that at this juncture, he and Kings general manager Dean Lombardi had not spoken about the possibility of him waiving his own no-trade clause to go to a contender as a rental at the deadline.

"It's never been agreed that I'd waive my no-trade and I've never been approached about it," said Blake. "I don't know where that started, but I knew it would eventually creep in, given my situation."

However, Blake did not rule out the possibility of moving at the deadline, if Lombardi pitched the idea to him.
"I don't know how I'd approach it," said Blake. "My philosophy was to come back here and remain a King for the rest of my career.

Unfortunately, when you get in last place, things do change. I haven't really sat down with Lombardi and spoke to him, but I'm sure that's something that will happen in the next little while — that we're going to sit down and discuss what the future holds.

"Obviously, you think about it, but until it happens, I don't know what I'd do in that situation."

Blake, who is still averaging more than 22 ½ minutes of playing time per night, would be a huge upgrade for any number of teams seeking a skilled, physical presence on defence. Beyond his role in mentoring Kings rookie defenceman Jack Johnson, coach Marc Crawford says Blake has been an effective player for the team, "especially in the last two months.

"He's playing just terrific. He's getting lots of shots. His shot totals are way up. When Rob plays, when he's looking to shoot and looking to jump up in the play, that's when I feel he's at his best. Defensively, he's played very physically this year as well. Most of guys, as they get up in years, they recognize it takes a little more out of them to play the physical role. But Rob's physical game has been way higher than it was last year. I think he's feeling good about his body too. He had the off-season surgery for his hip, the labrum problem. For him, he's skating better and I think he's feeling better.

Those things, all in combination, are giving us high-end, quality play from Rob. He's been a pleasure to be around this year for sure."

As for the Kings' goals in the short term, Blake suggested: "It's an important stretch for us to get competitive down the stretch, even if we fall out of the race. We've got the majority of our team, 25 and under, playing pretty well, but they haven't played in a playoff game. They need that experience. Pittsburgh last year played great, got in the playoffs - and that experience is really going to help them this year.

"Unfortunately, we don't have that situation.

If you can’t beat them, Rob…

Also is it fate that earlier in this article the writer only specifically mentioned two players that waived their no-trade clauses last season (Gary Roberts and Georges Laraque)?

Blake’s long been a west coast guy but he’s also very familiar with Darryl Sydor (his teammate in LA from 1992-1996) and Mario (who played with Blake on Canada’s gold medal team in 2002) and probably vets like Roberts and who could help sway his opinion to join up with the Penguins. The Penguins, for their part, could sure use a physical defenseman with an all around game.

Just sayin…..

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Nope, nothing going on here

Welcome to day two of a three day minivacation for the Penguins. This month started off with 7 games in 14 days and then this little breather...But don't get to used to it, the NHL's hottest team plays 3 games in the next 4 days starting Friday.

Great excuse to use this picture.

It pays to be a commenter, We're going to do a little digging on a very popular recent post about the depth of a "rental" acquisition. We'll dig through and put some analysis up on deadline-type trades over the past 10 or so years. We really have no idea where this will turn out, and no bias that we hope the conclusions point to. Just expect a lot of data on how these things turn out. As in

  • how long the "buyers" advance in the playoffs, and if the sacrifice was worth it
  • the percent of "rentees" that stay in their new homes
  • the return of what the "sellers" get, i.e how did they develop the young players and prospects and draft picks they got in return. It's not only about value it's what an organ-eye-zation can do with it.

If you have any other ideas or angles that this should be approached from, feel free to let it be heard in the comments.

There’s also something in the works for the goalie situation when Marc-Andre Fleury makes his return from injury (which might take longer than you think).

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Cost of a Rental

True, the trade deadline is over a month away, but all this trade inactivity has us restless. We compiled a list of last year’s significant UFA-to-be players and the return they fetched.

--Peter Forsberg for Scottie Upshall, Ryan Parent, a 1st and a 3rd
--Ladislav Nagy for Mathias Tjarnqvist and a 1st
--Keith Tkachuk for Glen Metropolit, a 1st, a 2nd and a 3rd
--Craig Rivet and a 5th for Josh Georges and a 1st
--Bill Guerin for Ville Nieminem, Jay Barriball and a 1st
--Dainius Zubrus and Timo Helbling for Novotny and a 1st
--Ryan Smyth for Robert Nilsson, Ryan O'Marra and a 1st

A gold star to those who can pick the trend. For nothing more than about 2-4 months of play from a vet, a team generally has to sacrifice 1-2 young players/prospects and the constant, a first round pick.

With all the whispers whipping up of if Marian Hossa might be on the market, that should throw a bucket of cold water over would-be GMs heads.

Also, the T-bombs just overtook 1st place in the division, largely in part to the offense Hossa supplies. For a franchise still searching for that first playoff victory why deal him when you're a 1st place team at the moment?...If Don Waddell's proven anything it's that he's not afraid to see a UFA walk. Hell, he's the fool that paid a king's ransom of picks for Tkachuk and got virtually nothing in return.

Indulge us, we're off our meds...

To dream the impossible dream...

So, instead of tinkering with the roster come trade deadline time next month, maybe looking to pick up some defensive help or scoring depth up front for the playoffs, the Rangers now must consider something more dramatic, possibly stunning, if they are going to get back in the Stanley Cup game.
And if general manager Glen Sather is considering such a move, that consideration begins and ends with Jagr.

Just sayin, this post is totally hypothetical, theoretical, anything else you want to call it.

There are plenty of reasons why it’ll never happen. Aside from the obvious Jagr history in Pittsburgh, it’s rare that division rivals would trade with each other, certainly when NYR still has hopes for the playoffs.

But, in the event they’re ready to part with Jags, consider:
``Mario Lemieux still loves JJ. He was a surprise guest to honor Jagr for a 600 goal ceremony last season in New York. And boy was he happily surprised to see Mario honoring him. Say what you want about the “dying alive” days or how it’ll never work out; if you’re good with Lemieux, you’re good with the Penguins.
``Salary wise, it’s do-able. Jagr’s, as usual, is in a unique situation. His pre-trade to the Rangers stipulated the Capitals would pick up millions of his salary every year. The new CBA has since outlawed this, but this transaction can’t be reversed or tinkered with. So, as is, Jagr’s cap hit to a team is $4.94 million (with the Caps paying/absorbing the rest of the $8.3 million he gets paid). Since a little over the season is over, NYR has paid him roughly $2.6 million and JJ would be owed $2.3 million be a team for the rest of the season if they were to pick him up today.

Does Jagr have enough in the tank or has his statistical drop-off this season shown he’s about finished? Perhaps.

Would it be crazy to think about 68 flying down a wing with Crosby or Malkin? Probably.

Will this trade ever happen? Absolutely not.

2 Pens Prospects Named OHL All-Stars

Congratulations to Penguin prospects Dustin Jeffrey and Luca Caputi for being named to the Ontario Hockey League’s All-Star team. It’s impossible to declare both (or either) of these prospects as surefire NHL contributors but one certainly has to give a nod to the scouting staff for digging up these players. Jeffrey was a 6th round pick (171st overall in 2007) and Caputi was drafted in the 4th round (111th overall).

Jeffrey impressed at camp and was given a long look. With all the veterans and contracts he wasn’t close to cracking the NHL lineup but it was clear the brass was impressed by him. In fact, a couple weeks into the season they signed him to a contract. Jeffrey has 49 points (18 goals, 31 assists) in 31 games so far this season.

Caputi is listed at 6’3 and 185. Once he fills out Caputi could be a forceful power forward that is so coveted around the league. Caputi is 6th in the OHL in scoring with 64 points (32 goals, 32 assists) in 42 games. He’s also accumulated 74 penalty minutes. His 32 goals are tied for 2nd in the league. He's tied with Steven Samkos, the expected #1 overall pick of this June's draft, btw

As we said though, both have a long journey to Pittsburgh and the NHL but it looks like the pipeline is still churning out players that are difference makers at the junior/collegiate level.

(Hat-tip to japers for the link)

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Young Stars Shine Bright

Congrats to Kris Letang and Tyler Kennedy for being named to the Eastern Conference Young stars team.

The Penguins have a ridiculously young core--there are 5 established NHL'ers 21 years old or younger (the above mentioned joining some nameless guys like Crosby, Malkin and Staal.)

It's going to be a fantastic future.

"Sometimes you're flush and sometimes you're Bust"

Days like today would certainly be the former, which is always better than the latter..

``Talk about setting a tone early…Big Georges is in the starting lineup and so is Colton Orr. That’s probably about all you need to know to realize what comes next. The Penguins are 7-1 in games where BGL drops the gloves.
``After this fight the Rangers would take four minor penalties this period (a couple of the weak variety) that lead to two powerplay goals and a 3-0 lead. At this point we leaned over to a friend and said, “this is going to get ridiculous on the Pens getting called for everything, just you watch.” The next six minor penalties all went against the Pens including borderline calls on Crosby and Malkin that don’t get called on most nights.
``The Penguins were outshot 17-2 in the second period. Maybe it was because they were shorthanded for over 6 minutes of it, maybe they let their foot off the gas after getting the 3-0 lead but for some reason it didn’t even seem like they were in real danger, despite the shots piling up, not many were very good. And those that were got gobbled up by Ty Conklin, who had another Herculean effort.
``For the 2nd time in six games Malkin had a hat-trick. And on both nights he only took 4 shots on goal. Precision indeed. In fact several sequences Crosby and Malkin basically just played keep away in the Rangers zone almost their entire shifts, seeming to attempt to outdo each other in holding onto the puck. It didn’t look like shooting came into either’s mind. No matter, these two took over the show.
``Nothing against Jarrko Ruutu or Maxime Talbot, but they are not linemates that a goal scoring winger like Petr Sykora could play off of. Colby Armstrong has been a turnover machine of late too, we’d think Sykora and Ryan Malone (who’s playing the body and opening up room great on the PP) should get moved up a notch or two, and Army down a little.
``We’re not big on rooting for injuries, but wouldn’t it be great to see another all-star forward get hurt in the next couple of days and replaced by, oh we don’t know, Mats Sundin? The Penguins could use another night for Geno to be a hat-trick hero.

Blue Jackets scouting the Pens?

The Columbus beat writers blog reports: the BJs had three scouts at last night's game.

This doesn't mean they were looking at the Penguins, after all there's been a longly whispered rumor about them shipping David Vyborny to the Rangers (not coincidentally last night's opponent) for the midgetly Petr Prucha.

Columbus has been a surprise team so far this year, and of press time is just 3 points back of a playoff spot. So we couldn't see them trading the player that would benefit the Pens the most (captain and defensive bedrock Adam Foote).

Further, the Penguins haven't lost in regulation in the past ten games, why would they want to shake up the groove they're in right now.

So why so many scouts? TST thinks that if Columbus was really doing some serious scouting it wasn't the black and gold they were interested in last night.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Not news: Bruce Dowbiggin is a joke

“One thing certain after Ovechkin's 13-year, $124 million deal: Pittsburgh ain't hanging onto Evgeni Malkin, not if they want to pay the rest of the Penguins more than the league minimum. Luckily for Pittsburgh, Jordan Staal has stalled this year, retarding his contract curve somewhat. The reality of the CBA is --barring a huge spike in league revenues -- you can't pay two young players at the very top of the salary grid for long and remain competitive. So the Blackhawks, Kings, Caps and Flyers have tough choices to make on their young stars.”

Bruce Dowbiggin, everyone!

The CBA states that players on their entry level deals (such as Malkin) may not negotiate an extension until after the second season is played. So Geno can’t even put his pen to a paper (let alone carry on a meaningful negotiation) for six more months and voices are already predicting his departure. Voices, of course, from north of the border who also predicted that Ovechkin would flee as soon as he could and some nutballs even thought Sidney Crosby would probably use his leverage to get to Montreal as soon as possible. We mean this as no offense to our many Canadian friends, most of whom are totally rationale and good folks (mostly). Not sayin’, just sayin’: get your own Canada.

We recommend a new gig for Bruce once his dying medium passes away.

Because Ovechkin got a 13 year deal and Philadelphia’s Mike Richards recently signed a 12 year contract it’s beginning to look like writers think every team will have to (or want to) lock their stars up for this long. I don’t believe that to be the case at all.

May we remind Mr. Dowbiggin that Pittsburgh has under $19 million in salaries on the books for the 2009-10 season. It is true to point out that only four players are under contract (Crosby, Ryan Whitney, Sergei Gonchar [last year of his contract], and Kris Letang). But the point is; a team like Philly already has $33 million spoken for on just 7 players in the 2009-10 season and Toronto has $30.2 million worth of salaries invested on ten players. Pittsburgh has but $19 million tied up.

So there will be plenty of room. Even assuming Malkin gets on a contract in the Spezza/Thornton/Heatley neighborhood (putting his average salary $7 - $7.5 million) there’s still a ton of cap room to round out a solid team, and not league minimum players as Dowbiggin suggested.

The fact is, Ray Shero has set the team up perfectly for re-siging Malkin and the rest of the core players. He doesn't give UFAs 5, 6, 7 year deals like some other teams. His veteran signings this year were all of the one or two year variety (Gary Roberts, Mark Recchi, Darryl Sydor, Petr Sykora). It's rumored the Penguins had real interest in some flashy players like Paul Kariya (3 years $18 million to STL) or defenseman Scott Hannan ($18 million for 4 years to COL where he's a team worst -9 by the way) but Shero wasn't tempted to match/exceed open market value.

So basically the Penguins have all the room in the world. Blowhards like Dowbiggin have fallen back on Malkin now that Ovechkin will forever be their white whale.

As a closing thought, isn't it funny how they never speculate a club like the Florida Panthers might gear up to make an offer sheet for, I don't know, say Dion Phaneuf but have no problems envisioning every skill player in the league playing in Canada?

Sunday, January 13, 2008

A Hockey Day in Washington

Today we here at TST took in the matinee game between the Washington Capitals and the hated Philadelphia Flyers. Impressions as follows:

``Nicklas Backstrom looks a thousand times more assertive than at the beginning of the season when he kind of looked a little tentative in coming to the NHL as a rookie from Sweden.
``We're not sure we like Alex Ovechkin playing the point on the powerplay. Sure, he's got the great shot to unleash from back there, but he's not a defenseman so there was a couple of times where he couldn't hold the puck in the zone (like a defenseman like Tom Poti probably should have been expected to). Plus, playing the point Ovechkin is banished--for the most part, to playing the perimeter and holding the blueline, where as if he was on his customary forward position he could float around more, especially towards the crease and have more free range to find the space granted by the man advantage to look for the quick shot or rebound.
``His great pass to Ovechkin aside, Viktor Kozlov did not have a very great game. He is skilled when he has the puck, but otherwise Kozlov seems to have the presence of nothing more than a ghost. This is not news to close observers of those who follow the Caps but it needs said, since it was painfully obvious. Hopefully when captain Chris Clark gets in better game shape (he had missed the past 18 games with injury) he ought be on the top line with AO and Backstrom.
``Milan Jurinca was incorrectly listed on the jumbotron as a healthy scratch which certainly provided a surprise WTF moment, as injured Tom Pothier and black sheep Steve Eminger were also the scratches.
``As well as Mike Green played rushing the puck up the ice and firing off shots at net, it seems like he still has some room for improvement that one must feel he has the ability to achieve in the years to come. Scary for opponents, for sure.

As an aside and addendum to JP's mini-rant of overheard fan talk in the stands, here's something that bothers me...

And, to note, this bothers me in more cities than just Washington....When fans yell "SHOOOOOT" seemingly every time a player has a little bit of room in the offensive zone. Lord knows this bothered me for many seasons in Pittsburgh when Alexei Kovalev (who was almost always amongst the league leaders in shots on goal) got the same unsolicited advice.
#1) These guys are professionals playing a sport for practically all their lives. They know when to fire the puck and when the chance of getting it on target is not there. You're just a middle-aged asshole drinking a beer in the stands who's probably never played organized, let alone professional, hockey before.
#2) In one situation where the guy beside me advised to shoot, sniper Alex Semin did (surely not because of the instantaneous prodding). The puck was easily blocked and cleared out of the zone. Quickly the "monday morning powerplay quarterback" was silenced. Your angle to the net is not what the highly skilled player has and he easily has more experience and knowledge of how to handle the situation. Which just goes to show; you may mean well for the team, after all it's hard to score if one doesn't shoot, but the players in the situation know a little bit better on how to handle the situation than you.

Whew. I feel a lot better now.

I was saddened to see one of our Atlantic division rivals (and Philadelphia at that) win at the expense of a team who wouldn't make the playoffs right now, but it is what it is. Although there was a vocal and obvious presence of visiting Flyer-trash fans, I would say they were a lot tamer and more quiet at the Verizon Center than when Pittsburgh came to town. And Buffalo too, for that matter.

All in all, an entertaining game to watch for the outside observer with 10 goals being scored, 1 fight and several big hits for both sides..

Now we turn our attention to tomorrow night's "nationally televised game" with the Penguins on Versus against the New York Rangers. Both teams should be well rested and ready to play, hopefully the Pens can come out strong and if someone other than Sidney Crosby could create some offense that would be awesome too.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Hello Old Friend

Naturally when a change is made, like a good player joining a new team or a new coach joins a team, there is a pop and for a period things go well. Mark Recchi (who had just 2 goals and 6 assists in 19 games in Pittsburgh, despite prime ice-time with Sidney Crosby and the #1 powerplay unit) has 7 goals and 8 assists in 15 games for his new team, the Atlanta Thrashers. Old man Recchi has been on a line almost exclusively with goal scoring dynamo Ilya Kovalchuk, so it's hardly as if he hasn't been surronded by talent himself on his new club.

The Penguins, for their part, are 18-6 without Recchi in the lineup, so the lack of his famed "veteran presence" hasn't seemed to doom the club just yet.

One has to wonder at the way Recchi's era as a Penguin ended: coach Michel Therrien frequently made him a healthy scratch and either he or Recchi seemed unwilling to put "Drive 8" in anything but a Top 6 role. Obviously Old Man Recchi isn't an imposing checker, but he has always been somewhat of an energy player that will attempt to throw a hit or two and play pretty hard every game. Briefly after the T-bombs got him off of re-entry waivers, several important forwards (Maxime Talbot, Gary Roberts, Ryan Malone) all suffered injury and surely would have opened up a spot for Recchi to become a contributing member to the team again.
But it wasn't to be and now Recchi is in Atlanta, a team two points out of a playoff spot, but a team that has played 1 or 2 more games than most around them in the standings.

Interesting plot lines to follow; will Recchi be able to help the Thrashers claw into the playoffs after such a horrid start? Will the Penguins miss Recchi's production and leadership come playoff time. The man did score 68 points last year and has 2 Stanley Cup's to his name, and the Penguins cast him aside like some sort of journeyman tweener.


Friday, January 11, 2008

Malkin Gipped

As you've doubtlessly heard by now, the NHL released the Eastern Conference All-Star list.

And, as always, not everyone is going to be happy. The official list is more than slightly different than ours.

My picks who got snubbed: Tim Thomas, Michal Rozsvial, Mike Green, Mats Sundin, Alexei Kovalev and Evgeni Malkin.

So, if you're keeping score at home, aside from the slam dunks (Ovechkin, Heatley, Kovalchuk, etc) we didn't get a single one right really.

Ouch. we still would like my roster/lineup against the real one though. And this isn't baseball, each team is not guaranteed a selection. And even those representatives were flawed to us: Sundin and Rozsival have been better than Scott Gomez and Tomas Kaberle on their respective teams. Choosing from each team handcuffs guys who deserve to be there coughGenocough and lets in a guy like Eric Staal who's having an inferior season by comparision.

Iit is what it is what can you do. We're not really that upset, it's just a glorified exhibition game....But if the Sarge (Sergei Gonchar) was excluded TST would be on the warpath.

The Sweater Ty

No words. Should have sent a poet.

Actually I do have some words, on MalkinGate. We would have loved to have this 10 bell save on Vincent Lecavalier stand alone, but alas.

Pens fans and others are bitching moaning about Evgeni Malkin shooting the puck into an empty net with just over 10 seconds left when he had Sidney Crosby open. Crosby was riding a point streak and is chasing Lecavalier for another scoring title and could have used the gimme point.

We here at TST don’t blame Malkin for doing what he did for many reasons. In hockey, which we doubt most of the complainers played at a very organized level, it is drilled into your head not to do anything cute, to take what they give you. Malkin had a chance to score and he did. That the outcome of the game was over (the Pens were obviously already winning by 2 goals) has nothing to do with it. You score when you can. Period.

What good is it if Malkin tries to pass the puck on bad ice at the end of the period and Crosby is unable to receive it? No goal. What happens if Malkin misfires on the pass? No goal. What happens if Crosby misses the net? No goal. What happens if it takes a bounce on the bad ice and ends up on the stick of an opponent somehow? Likely a goal, but for the other team. As the astute reader can see, the range of good outcomes is uncertain to very bad and the payoff--forcing a goal to Crosby isn't worth forcing if Malkin can score it himself. So why chance it?

The answer: you don’t. Malkin made the right move. As Penguins announcer Paul Steigerwald said when Bob Errey whined about the no-pass to break Crosby’s point streak: it’s no big deal, Bing will likely just start another one very soon. And if you need a last second empty net goal to continue the streak, well that’s like Cal Ripken just getting an at-bat to continue his streak, it kinda cheapens it.

First win in Tampa since before the lockout. Good times all around. Petr Sykora had a huge night, 3 primary assists, one of which should have been a goal if Jordan Staal wasn’t in the way. But good to see young Jordan back on the scoresheet. 3 goals in the first 42 games and 2 goals in just one. Hopefully this will kick off a big second half for him, an additional source of production is always a good thing.

124 million reasons to stay in DC

Now I see why Alex Ovechkin fired his agent….No person in the world would advise him to sign for such a long-term contract. Well, apparently one person in the world, his mother.

The Peerless appropriately points out that AO saved a nice chunk of change by not having to pay the agent’s commission, which is true. But consider the salary cap, which was at $39 million the first season after the lockout (max player contract is 20%: $7.8 million) has grown to $52 million this season (max $10.4 million) and the NHLPA has already stated they expect league-wide revenues to increase, and thus push the cap up further.

With the league looking at an inevitable return to ESPN in some form in the very near future, one could speculate hockey could ‘pop’ in the public image. Especially when young stars like Sidney Crosby and, ironically, Ovechkin push the sport further to more and more revenue. In a sense, Ovechkin could grow the sport with his play, which would raise others salaries but not his own.

Don’t get me wrong, $124 million guaranteed is nothing to sneeze at. It’s financial security for your kids’ kids kids. Just as impressive is the commitment Ovechkin made to the Caps. He could have used what little leverage he had to try to get in a new city on perhaps a team closer to competing or with a bigger (and more visible) market for hockey. But, as he said all along we’ll point out, he wanted to stay in Washington.

Congrats to the Capitals for getting their cornerstone locked up. Congrats to Ovechkin for deservedly breaking the bank. Congrats to the Caps fans for having something to get excited about. Congrats to us all for no longer having to hear morons like Eklund and Larry Brooks and wishful thinkers North of the Border with their crazy fantasies about where he might end up.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Flu Claims Two

He's baaaack! (Note: Not Gary, the mustachioed gentleman)

According to PSI, Tyler Kennedy and Erik Christensen are out of the lineup tonight (even though Crusher told the PG he expected to be ready to roll). That means Ryan Stone will be making his NHL debut and also the return from injury by Max Talbot.

I’m not too excited by this turn of events: TK and EC have been two of the Penguins better forwards during this 7 game winning streak and have been playing arguably the best hockey of their short NHL careers in the past 20 games or so.

Stone will be on the 4th line and plays a pretty well-rounded game, he’s physical and energetic and on paper a nice replacement for Kennedy, even if TK had a bigger role than Stone will initially get.

Talbot, on the other hand, has me concerned. He returned in early December after missing 4 or 5 games from a high ankle sprain and ended up re-aggravating it that knocked him out a month. We here at the Sweater Ted don’t have to look far to see how the exact same injury has hobbled Caps sniper Alex Semin and greatly decreased his game by trying to play through (and then coming back to quickly) an ankle sprain.

But Talbot has been eased back into practice over the past 2 weeks or so and must be in good shape if the Pens didn’t want to bring up another well performing farmhand like Tim Brent or Jonathan Filewich.
We’ll see how things click in the Pens quest to beat Tampa Bay for the first time since 2003 and, more importantly, go for their 8th win in a row.

The next Daniel Alfredsson?

One of the many things we would change, if we were calling the shots in the NHL, is some of the drafting rules, specifically pertaining to European players. In Europe, where soccer is king, those clubs obviously want to see the multi-million dollar transfer system to shuffle players over to North America. But, as it looks they are learning, that is not going to happen in the foreseeable future.

The way the current draft rules work now in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement (in short: if you draft a player, European or otherwise you have just a few years to sign him; just 2 or 3 years we believe for European players) are not friendly to NHL teams or European players with NHL aspirations. NHL teams would be better off not risking it and drafting more collegiate or CHL players that would have more time to develop and be more open to spending time in the AHL. And, as the data shows, in the past couple years more and more picks (especially high ones) are being used on players playing in North America.

But what about these highly skilled players that play in Europe and need a little more time to develop before jumping to the NHL. Players, like say Daniel Alfredsson, who was drafted in the late rounds (the 6th round of the 1994 draft in this case), and didn’t come over to North America quick enough for his team to retain his rights (though Alfredsson did come over to the NHL for the start of the 1995-96 season, he was 22 years old by then).

We mention Alfredsson by name, because a young player in Sweden, named Fabian Brunnstrom, is said to be perhaps the next Alfredsson, at least by The Hockey News. (follow that link to another link to youtube for a pretty slick highlight reel).

First of all, how awesome is that name; Fabian Brunnstrom. It sounds like he should be some mid-20s hipster heir to a fortune that routinely sips mochas with the likes of Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan or something.

But in this case, Brunnstrom is a name you will likely learn for his skill as a hockey player, and learn it quickly too. At 22 years old, Brunnstrom is playing his first year in the Swedish Elite League for a team called Farjestads, and playing well. According to his hockeydb profile, he’s a team high +11 and has 28 points (7g, team high 21a) in 34 games, one point off the team leader.

Bunnstrom is a unrestricted free agent in terms of the NHL, any team could sign him. In essence, what Japanese players are to Major League Baseball could be what Europeans like Bunnstrom are to the NHL. True, there is a salary cap so the big markets cannot gobble up all the talent with big money, but something doesn’t sit right about the whole process.

In the old days, European prospects went to the team’s that dug those diamonds up in the rough, like Alfredsson, or Pavel Datsyuk (drafted 171th overall in 1998) or Henrik Zetterberg (210th in 1999) or even to a lesser extent someone like Radim Vrbata (212th in ’99).

Now, it seems, the European prospects might be left to see what cream rises to the top and then be signed by the highest bidder.

Somehow, that doesn’t seem right.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

All-Star Rosters

Tommorrow the roster is rounded out for the Western Conference and on Friday it will be for the East. I don't watch enough of the West to offer my picks, but I am very fimiliar with the East and here's my selections.

Starting goalie, as voted by you the fans: Martin Brodeur (NJD)

Reserves: Tim Thomas (BOS), Rick DiPietro (NYI)

Thomas has a 2.23 GAA and a save percentage of .932, that is phemonemal, especially considering he's playing for the Bruins.....It's really hard to leave Henrik Lundqvist off this team but DiPietro has a slightly better save percentage (.912 to .909) and is doing more with less with the Isles. Plus DiPi has 3 assists and is tremendous at moving the puck. Either would be deserving, but I'm giving the ever to slight edge to DiPietro.

Defensemen named by the fans: Zdeno Chara (BOS), Andrei Markov (MTL)

Reserves: Sergei Gonchar (PIT), Michal Rozsvial (NYR), Brian Campbell (BUF), Mike Green (WSH)

Offensive defensemen are inherently favored, because the all-star game is basically a glorified exhibition. Would the team be better with a more rounded player like David Hale or Wade Redden in the lineup instead of Green? Perhaps. But we don't overlook Green's eye-popping ability on the rush and think that the all-star game should be used to showcase the game's best. An all-star team isn't created with playing this roster for a full season, but just for one night.

Forwards named by the fans: Sidney Crosby (PIT), Vincent Lecavalier (TB), Daniel Alfredsson (OTT)

Reserves: Ilya Kovalchuk (ATL), Martin St. Louis (TB), Alex Ovechkin (WSH), Dany Heatley (OTT), Jason Spezza (OTT), Mats Sundin (TOR), Alexei Kovalev (MTL), Mike Richards (PHI), Evgeni Malkin (PIT)

We here rank Kovalev and Malkin just over Eric Staal and Marc Savard. Kovalev has had a great year and was even spotted wearing the captain's C while Saku Koivu was out with injury, something that turned many heads. For the rest of the forwards, we feel it's pretty much an open and shut case for guys like Heatley, Kovalchuk, Ovechkin, St. Louis, etc.

And after the opening shift, here's how we'd compose the lines:

Kovalchuk-Lecavalier-St. Louis


An all-star lineup indeed!

Jokes and jokes and jokes

This article on Jarrko Ruutu yesterday got me thinking about all the pranks the Penguins have pulled in the past 12 months….Many have made it to the media so we can only wonder what hasn’t been reported and isn’t common knowledge. My guess: a lot of good stuff.

But here’s what we know:

--Someone (believed to be Ruutu) put baby powder all over Sidney Crosby’s towel so when he used it he was covered in it.
--Someone (again thought to be Ruutu) sewed the pants legs of rookie Kris Letang’s suit together.
--Max Talbot wore Crosby’s jersey and helmet out to a game-day skate duping thousands in Toronto.
--Marc-Andre Fleury stuffed himself inside of Colby Armstrong’s hockey bag while the team was in practice, waited patiently and then jumped out of it when Army was about to put his gear in.
--Armstrong and Georges Laraque staged a locker room confrontation last season just weeks after Laraque was acquired. The rouse was that Laraque found a racist drawing in/near his locker and accused Armstrong of it. Army denied but then admitted to it at which point he was “attacked” by BGL, much to the horror of the team.

As mentioned, we’re sure guys like Armstrong and Talbot have pulled a lot more pranks that have never (and probably never will) reach the light of day.

Why so much goofing around and light-hearted fun? Well, for one it's very a young team, the average age in the lineup last night was 26.15. When Talbot and Fleury return, that age will be lower still. And if you take into account some of the more veteran players (namely Laraque and Ruutu) that do not act their age; well that ought to bring the average down further. Sure there are some pretty vanilla guys like Rob Scuderi and Adam Hall that come to the rink every day to do their job and not much else, but the out-going nature of a whole host of individuals on the team keeps everyone on their toes, on the lookout for no shortage of mischievous activity.
Plus, when you have a winning atmosphere, things are naturally a little looser and a little more jovial than if you're not.

We also like that whether you're the face of the NHL's marketing push or a fresh-faced rookie, you have the same chance of getting a prank pulled on you. It's hard to imagine someone pulling this even on Mario Lemieux back in the mid-80s. Just goes to show, when it comes to the locker room Sid really is "just another one of the boys".

The ConkBlock Continues

Ty Conklin’s magic run continues. I don’t want to know how, I don’t care to know how much longer it will last, but for the past 2-3 weeks Conklin’s play has been remarkable. At first it was just results, as Conk had a sub .900 save percentage and his GAA was an unimpressive 3.50 through his first three decisions.

Since then all he’s done is give up 4 goals in the past 5 games, stopping a remarkable 157 of 161 shots (97.5%) in the process and recording 2 shutouts along the way.

Conklin, who the Post-Gazette credited for setting the stage for another quick strike outburst of 3 goals in 4 minutes by stopping a shorthanded breakaway by Greg Campbell. Sidney Crosby, as usual, left his mark on the game, slipping a pass out to Petr Sykora (why don’t these two play together more?) for the game’s first goal. Then Sid absolutely blew past Florida defensemen Jay Bouwmeester and Bryan Allen and beat Tomas Vokoun with a shot low to score the eventual game winner.

Another game another two points, but try as the Penguins may they can’t seem to surpass New Jersey for first place in the division since the Devils also won last night. Very reminiscent of last season.

Update on the Peloton:

For those that don’t remember, we came up with a nickname for the logjam of teams in the Eastern Conference playoff chase, a term used for cycling. The main body of riders that is also bunched together and dictates the pace and tempo of the race is called the peloton and that is reminiscent of how things have been this year. Most of the year Ottawa has been the breakaway team at the front of the pack and from 2nd to about 13th has been the peloton, shuffling teams up, down and around seemingly with every passing day and game.

Since we’ve loosely defined this concept as about 6 points difference in the bunch, we have—at least for now, some more breakaways. New Jersey (2nd with 51 points), division leader Carolina (3rd with 48), and 4th and 5th Pittsburgh and Montreal (both 50 points) have pulled away from the pack ever so slightly.

The peloton, by our standards, now stretches from 6th place Philadelphia (46 points) to 13th place Toronto (40). And don’t look now but Washington (with just as good a record in the past 10 games as anyone in the pack) is just one point back of the pack and has almost dug themselves out of the early season hole they started in.

It’s all subject to change, a period of inactivity or failing to convert points against conference rivals will almost surely pull the recent breakaways back to the pack, especially as teams with games in hand (like Philly) get a shot to play those games.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Crosby, of course, voted All-Star

Not really that big of news since he's been running away with the votes from the beginning, but it's official: Sidney Crosby has been voted into the starting lineup. Crosby will be only the 2nd player from last year's starting lineup to be in this year's (Devils goalie Martin Brodeur the other).

Tampa's Vinny Lecavalier and Ottawa's captain Daniel Alfredsson will be the other starting forwards, Boston's Giant Gonzalez (err, Zdeno Chara) and somehow Montreal's Andrei Markov round out the East.

The west's starting skaters all are from Detroit (Hank Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, Nicklas Lidstrom) or Calgary (Jarome Iginla and "The Object of Pierre McGuire's Affection" Dion Phaneuf).

Hard to argue against any of those west selections, but kinda weird only two teams will be represented.

I'm also a little surprised Alex Ovechkin couldn't crack the starting lineup. He's obviously a very popular player for opposing fans with his style of play and personality. Lecavalier, the lead's leading scorer, deserves to be there and don't get me wrong Alfredsson is the captain of the East's best team and is tied for 5th in scoring (25g, 30a in 40 games) and is having a heck of a season too.

But we do wish AO could have made the starting lineup. Hopefully the coaches will allow him to play on Crosby's line for much of the game. The two didn't produce anything in their first AS game, but with such sublime talents playing together sooner or later they'd make magic happen.