Saturday, May 31, 2008

It's now or never for Gary

Neil Armstrong didn't go to the moon, Gary Roberts went to the moon.

"Deep down, I know this is probably the last time for me."

We all probably knew it, but who wanted to say......Well, for Christ's sakes boys, let's make it worthwhile.


Friday, May 30, 2008

Hold the phone, Holmstrom could be ok

Well, we might have gotten a little ahead of ourselves earlier today in ruling Tomas Holmstrom out for Game 4. From coach Mike Babcock's presser we learned that "Holmer" is a tough guy, the docs says he's doing well and Babs expects his top line plugger to play. Babcock also disclosed the injury of being a hamstring, but didn't say what leg or how severe it was.

As we said, we may not know the true answer until just before game-time. Holmstrom's hammy could be dangling by a thread (and being a hockey player, he'd probably still try to play) but who knows if he'll actually be in there until the official lineups are released a couple hours before game-time.

The Humanization of Professional Athletes

It's our perspective that too often we see and think of professional athletes as almost machine-like characters that do a job, put up statistics, succeed or fail to succeed and then fade into the background until next game/season. It's difficult, especially in this time when fans focus more and more about fantasy sports than the actual games and players salaries (in all sports) are seemingly rising at extraordinary rates that are already above for a season's work what most normal fans make in almost a lifetime.

All of this builds up to the point where we don't see players as regular people. Hell, they're not regular, as they've been segragated from the rest of the kids at an early age and have trained hard and specialized to be very good at what they do: play sports. And as a fan, that's all you necessarily need to do: watch and cheer for players playing sports.

Then you see a picture like this and it snaps into place...

You don't have to be a professional athlete to know how it feels to lose someone close to you. Unfortunately, that's a normal and somewhat regular fixture in life.

We're not sure if this makes as much sense typed as the idea did floating around our head. We feel for Kris Letang, the guy who was about to buy a motorcycle of his own when his off-season started. We all know what it feels like to lose a friend or relative and it sucks.

In a way, we're kinda glad that the Penguins had already replaced Letang from the lineup for performance. In the aftermath of what the past 24+ hours must have been like for him, we don't see how anyone in that position could be expected to go out and play at a championship level....Let alone a kid who just turned 21 last month.

Holmstrom out for Game 4?

According to ESPN, Red Wings plugger/pest Tomas Holmstrom is not expected to be in the lineup for tomorrow night's Game 4. Holmstrom aggravated a lower body (believed to be hip, knee or sports hernia) when Hal Gill un-parked him from the front of the net.

The absence of Holmstrom shakes up the rest of Detroit's usual forward combinations...Here's how they looked at practice today according to Red Wings' beat writer Bruce MacLeod:

Franzen-Hartigan (subbing for Filppula)-Samuelsson

The ripple effect created by Holmstrom's absence is this: Kirk Maltby moves up from the fourth line to the third to replace Cleary. Darren McCarty goes back in the lineup on the fourth line.

No offense to the Red Wings, but two thirds of their 2nd line are Filppula and Samuelsson. In skill alone this is a huge boost for the Pens.

The bigger question becomes what happens if Holmstrom's knee/hip/groin/hernia has torn open and he'll be unavailable for more games (or the whole series) rather than just the next one. It'll be interesting to see how it unfolds. We never root for injuries or continued pain, but this is a fortunate occurrence for the Pens.

2-2 is lightyears better than 3-1

As we touched on at the end of our last game recap, it’s an under-statement to call the next game crucial. Any game in the Stanley Cup Finals, after all, is a pretty important one. However this next game will once again either gear the series up or wind it down. Should the Penguins tie this baby up 2 games to 2 it’d plant some real seeds of doubt in the Red Wings heads for what would become a best of three series. Detroit wins and they’re up 3 games to 1 and have the chance to breakout Lord Stanley on home ice in Game 5.

A huge swing, indeed. The Penguins need to win a game in Detroit to win the Cup, but at this point if they don’t protect home ice they won’t have a chance at all. The Pens found room to skate and controlled the puck better in Game 3, but they still have much room for improvement. Staying out of the box for needless penalties and continuing to limit Detroit’s time and space for starters. If the Pens can limit their own turnovers--which often result in transition scoring chances or goals that would help too. Pittsburgh established themselves physically with many plastering hits and that must continue too. Guys like Tyler Kennedy, Jordan Staal and Pascal Dupuis must outwork their counter-parts on the Detroit defense, especially if the puck is dumped into the zone.

These two days off should be a good thing. Many fans like it when the games are every other night, and we do too. But Game 3 featured a lot of high intensity end-to-end play that was very physical. Giving everyone an extra day to recover should make Game 4 a lot better to watch. Quite frankly we're kinda drained and we didn't even physically have to do anything!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Sad news: Canucks' Luc Bourdon dead at 21

(Bourdon and Letang celebrating)

Reports are surfacing about the sad motorcycle accident that has suddenly and shockingly taken 21 year old Vancouver Canucks defensemen Luc Bourdon. Certainly our thoughts and condolences are with Bourdon's family and friends in this rough time.

Hockey, especially professionally, is such a tight-knit community that this affects someone everywhere you look. Pittsburgh's Kris Letang was very good friends with Bourdon. They were teammates in the QMJHL with the Val d'Or Foreurs and several times with Team Canada and they shared the same agent. Letang apparently kept in somewhat regular touch, as he knew of the motorcycle hobby that Bourdon reportedly just picked up in the past week or so.

Sad, sad times for everyone.

The Shift

MAXIME TALBOT: That was awesome. I mean, it was probably one of the loudest moments I’ve seen this crowd going. It was great. And for us, a guy like that brings a lot to the table. And that shift was just amazing. Just having the crowd on your side screaming and stuff. It was amazing.

And you’re on the bench, and it gives us a lot of energy. And you just want to go out there and do the same thing. But obviously you have to be a little smarter because when he finishes his check it’s not just to finish a check, there’s a purpose. And he’s doing really well.

Fun stat of the day

The Penguins are 8-0 this year (regular and playoffs combined) when televised nationally on NBC.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Game 3: Nothin's over til we say it is...Pens win

Sidney strikes again
Now that's more like it. The Penguins show a lot more heart, desire, effort, devotion and find some open ice to make it all work. Some thoughts:
  • We still can't get over kuklakorner author IwoCPO's thoughts on Sergei Gonchar..."Datsyuk, Zetterberg and Homer will have them fetal by period 2, Game 1. Gonchar: exposed." The only thing exposed is that guy to a class defenseman.
  • So, how about that Sidney Crosby. Two huge goals and a cross-bar that was that close to making it three. El Sid found more room to work and Detroit's not doubting who the best player in this series is anymore.
  • For long stretches, whether it was the atmosphere of being at home, the favorable matchups or what but the Pens flat out dominated the play. From about five minutes left in the first through the first half of the 2nd period a new observer would have sworn the Penguins were the team up in the series and on the verge of a sweep. Only some poorly timed penalties de-railed the train to a sure huge victory.
  • Speaking of those penalties, Hal Gill got rang up for two. And we can't disagree, if the refs are going to be strict on Tomas Holmstrom for interfering on the crease like he does, they ought to be just as stern about the cross-checks and jostling that guys like Gill and Brooks Orpik do to impede Holmstrom.
  • Rob Scuderi, quickly become a TST whipping boy, got walked right around by Johan Franzen for the first Detroit goal. A nice goal by Franzen, we would have liked to see Scuds be a little more authoritative in his play.
  • Veteran Darryl Sydor showed a little rust, but that was only natural for a 36 year old player who hasn't played in a game situation since March 31st. We thought he acquited himself as well as could be expected given his skillset and role in the 13:31 he played. And kudos to the coaches for shielding and limiting him to that amount.
  • At least every defenseman had two blocked shots (Ryan Whitney abnormally led the way with 5). Orpik led the hit parade with 7. And as you'd know from reading this blog, a Brooks Orpik hit means more than any old regular hit. Orpik played wonderful.
  • As the intrepid reader might notice, we've highlighted every defenseman on the squad. That's because it's a team game and to beat a team as solid as the Red Wings it's going to have to be a toatl effort with contributions from all.

At the end of the day the Pens win. And they're right back in this series. Losing 2 games to 1, but they've broken through the invincibility shields of the Red Wings and now everybody knows it. But the same effort has to be there Saturday night. Tonight's a great win, but Detroit still holds the advantage. If they take Game 4, they get the desired split and go home needing just one win of three games to get the Holy Grail.

There will be plenty of time for the MSM to tell you that but for now let's just relish in the joy of a Stanley Cup Finals win....

13 down, just 3 more to go until Lord Stanley....

Heart, Desire, Skill, Luck

We'll take any of the above. Going into a 3-0 hole is pretty much series. So this is it, one game at home (where the Pens haven't lost in months) to get busy livin' or get busy dyin'.

Needless to say, Pittsburgh is in quite the hole. The frustration level from the boys when the take the ice has to be at an all-time season high. Hockey fans are burying them. The media is burying them. Hell, even the home writers are over-exagrating the road to go....Take the writer that former Steeler crazyman Greg Lloyd once called "Bozo the Clown", aka Bob Smizik. Smizik, perhaps distracted by his happy vengeance against Mark Madden (not that MM deserves to get off the hook). Take part the article he wrote, optomistically titled in part "Penguins in panic mode" (emphasis ours):

If they want to bring home the Cup, the Penguins now face the daunting challenge of needing to win four games of five, with two of them on the road, against a team that has thoroughly dominated them.
So the Pens couldn't hypothetically win all their 3 home games and then take just one (game seven) on the road to take the Cup? Steady, Smizik, steady.

Before anybody gets to far ahead of themselves, the important thing for tonight is just getting that first a goal. Forget about a goal, just the first one tonight. As you probably should know, the Pens plan on playing veteran Darryl Sydor and scratching rookie Kris Letang but they'll probably ease Sydor in for about 13-15 minutes tonight.

Watch the forward pairings. Coach Therrien might stack things and bump Evgeni Malkin to top line left wing with Sidney Crosby and Marian Hossa and then jump Jordan Staal (who's played great this post-season) into the second line center spot between skilled players Ryan Malone and Petr Sykora. Of course, this opens up more problems because Staal has played well in a shutdown role. Sticking him on a scoring line means the likes of Maxime Talbot, Tyler Kennedy and Gary Roberts might have to match up against Detroit's top guns, who won't have to be focusing on containing the Crosby/Hossa line like they have been so vigilantly during the first two games.

So the faithful shouldn't throw in the towel just yet. Crazier things have happened and these guys haven't said die yet. In the vein of the Pensblog we're going to stoop to the low of putting some form of good luck image below (hey we're desperate but not without hope).

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Scott Burnside: Get bent

ESPN's Scott Burnside really did a number on Mario Lemieux...

It is both convenient and predictable for Lemieux to hide in the background at a time when the game most needs its relevant stars in place, because it's always been about convenience for Lemieux.

It's curious how suddenly available and accessible Lemieux was when he took an ownership stake in the team because he was owed millions of dollars in the late 1990s. The more attention focused on the Penguins meant more ticket sales and a better chance at either a new arena deal or a deal to sell the team.

Then, when Lemieux decided he was going to play for Canada at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics and was named captain of the squad, he couldn't have been more gracious; but, after that was over, when he didn't need the attention, not so much.

Later, when talks to build a new arena in Pittsburgh broke down and Lemieux was at war with local politicians and officials over funding for the project, he was once again available to discuss the issue. He was prepared to sell the team to whoever walked in the door. A couple of suitors, including Jim Balsillie and William "Boots" Del Biaggio, would undoubtedly have tried to move the team as quickly as possible to Southern Ontario or Kansas City, but that fact seems lost in the renaissance of the team.

Not that anyone could blame Lemieux for trying to get the most out this team
financially. He's done his time and served the team and the city well.

But let's not paint this with any other brush than what it deserves. The only reason
Lemieux isn't making himself available during these finals is because there's
nothing in it for him.

And that's more than a little sad.

Mario Lemieux talking to reporters is not going to make millions of casual sports fans tune in, nor drum up significant interest. The Penguins, especially Sidney Crosby, are deep enough in Lemieux's shadow and him in the spotlight would not only unfairly detract from the moment that they've earned through their excellent play this season but also make Lemieux a target from the same media about how he doesn't know when to drop into the background.

Lemieux has always been a very gracious, but cautious public figure. To see him in the picture (but clearly remaining in the background) is a very kind way to let the new kids have their moment.

And that's a little more than admirable. GFY, Scott Burnside.

Unsolicited advice on how to turn this thing around

Nobody asked but here's precisely what we think would help the Penguins....

  • Reconfigure the power play. It's 0 for 15. While they've generated some shots and had some good chances, it's not working. So here's the deal: take Evgeni Malkin (who's slumping enough) off the point, a position he is uncomfortable in and doesn't like playing. As revolutionary as it sounds, balance it out and put him on the second unit. He seems to create more chances away from Sidney Crosby, despite their combined immense talent.
    So here's how we'd line them up.

--Gary Roberts has some spunk in him and nobody competes harder in front of the net. Put him there. Ryan Whitney should get back on the top unit, his chemistry with Crosby is there and it ill work.


--Sergei Gonchar can handle the whole two minutes, but if he needs a breather tossing a guy like Brooks Orpik (with size, a decent pass and good defensive ability if the powerplay ends) would be acceptable too. The forwards are the guys that carried the team when Crosby was done and know how to get the puck in.

  • Devise breakouts better. Detroit's strategy is to clog the neutal zone with as many bodies as they can. They throw complicated looks when defensemen like Niklas Kronwall or Brad Stuart jump in to make a big hit and smart forwards like Dan Clearly or Mikael Samuelsson seamlessly fall back into their spots. To combat this the Pens need their own diversions. Defensemen need more options to move the puck. The forwards need to move more than just straight up the ice and more laterally. This requires a lot of effort and moving the legs a lot, something the Pens haven't done well.

  • Early shots, early pressure. Can't go that long against Detroit without registering shots. They fall into their workman-like, mechanized system and execute it to a T. The Pens will have the natural advantage of their own crowd, plus the last change to force the issue. Detroit won't be too concerned about matchups, but getting favorable starts of shifts for Crosby or Malkin might mean getting more chance. Which have to end up in the net sooner or later, right?

Of course, all of this is much easier said than done. Good luck, boys.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Tough road to climb, Pens lose

Game 2 saw much of Game 1: the Red Wings dictated the tempo of the game, took away time and space, covered their end well and sat on their lead. Their execution was flawless, very machine-like.

But before we all say the sky is falling, consider:
  • First of all, it doesn't matter if you lose the first two games a combined 7-0 or 7-6 or 17-16. All that matters in the end is the result. Detroit won. Won convincingly. Sure, that's undisputed, but the home seed is pretty much supposed to hold serve in a series like this. Detroit was up 2-0 on Nashville early but when they came back for game 5 the series was 2-2.
  • It's not the Pavel Datsyuk's and Henrik Zetterberg's that are running around unchecked and scoring at will, it's been guys like Mikael Samuelsson, Brad Stuart and Valterri Filppula. Detroit's skill players have played well, but they're not the ones primarily skating circles around the Pens or producing points.
  • To that point, the Red Wings' powerplay was 0 for 8 this game. The Pens have been outclassed, but they haven't been totally outmatched.
  • Michel Therrien has tried a lot of different personnel combinations, but none has paid off in goals. Several times tonight guys like Jordan Staal, Gary Roberts, Ryan Malone and more had great chances with pucks on their sticks in prime scoring areas. They just didn't execute well or didn't get the bounces to convert.

It's been very clear that Detroit is excellent at pressuring the puck, clogging the area between the bluelines and forcing mistakes. So you have to adjust. The Penguins showed a lot of signs of adjustment. Several times when they tried to breakout down one side Detroit would play their system and overload it with defenders. In that situation you have to play the puck back to the other side (usually back to a defenseman) and quickly play the puck around. This worked, to varying degrees of success, but none resulting in a goal.

Pittsburgh has gotten several favorable calls, but not much in this series. The refs called a bunch of fairly unreasonable penalties, especially with Chris Osgood doing his impression of JFK a couple of times. Still, in instances when the Pens showed frustration, like Ryan Whitney or Roberts' 3rd period roughing penalties the refs were right on it. There's nothing wrong with calling penalties at the end of the game to keep things from spiraling out of control, but it seemed like the Pens were slapped with more infractions then really what was warranted.

In the end though, it is an 0-2 deficit to climb out of. There is bright spots, like the play of guys like Staal and Sergei Gonchar (28:35 played, 4 hits, 1 takeaway 1 blocked shot) that gives a little glimmer of hope....If Nashville beat Detroit twice in their own barn, so can the Penguins. Give the Red Wings all the credit in the world for just humming along like the well oiled machine that they are.....But if the Pens can score the first goal of Game 3 on Wednesday night, this series could be very far from over.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Congrats Baby Pens

Understandably lost in the shuffle with that other Penguins team going far in the playoffs, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins have won the AHL's Eastern Conference. So they win the prestigious Richard Canning trophy (props to JB for that).

The Baby Pens won a game seven against Portland by defeating former Pen (and not a Sweater Ted favorite) Jean-Sebastien Aubin. Aubin is a great goalie at the AHL level and made 37 saves on 40 shots before an unstoppable bid by Tim Brent won it. That alone would be impressive, but consider that Aubin missed the previous four games with an undisclosed lower-body injury and spotted in a walking cast. Tip of the cap to him.

Brent has been one of the stars of the AHL playoffs, he leads the league in goals (11 in 17 games and is tied second in points (20). Similarly awesome has been rookie Alex Goligoski who is also in that tie for second place in scoring (Golly has 3 goals and 17 assists in 17 games). Goligoski also leads all defensemen in playoff points.

The opponent in the finals is the always dangerous Chicago Wolves. They are Atlanta's farm team and seem to always stock up on the experienced players that are good at the AHL level but don't have much NHL aspiration. Of Chicago's top eight playoff scorers just one (Brian Little) is under the age of 25. The Baby Pens, by comparison, have five of their top eight scorers (Brent, Goligoski, Ryan Stone, Connor James, Mark Ardelan) coming in under 25 years old.

Since Ty Conklin's callup, Wilkes-Barre has relied on two very young and untested goalies (John Curry and Dave Brown). Curry, an undrafted player in his second year with the Pens organ-eye-zation, emerged as the man and has played like it; boasting a 12-5 record, 2.48 GAA and 90.8 save percentage. One area Chicago is young at is the goaltending position where Ondrej Pavelec, a 20 year old former second round pick, is the 'tender.
We don't follow the AHL that closely, so we haven't (and won't) be making a prediction. And with the Pens in the Stanley Cup finals, the Calder Cup isn't on our radar that much. However it's good to see the success on the farm and hopefully the boys can keep it rolling.

S-L-O-P-P-Y Pens Lose Game 1

The Penguins played like a team that just had a six day layoff, sloppy effort. Unfortunately for them, the Red Wings did not look like a team that had a comparable five day layoff. Detroit out-work, out-controlled, was more physical and deserved to win that game. Detroit gave a free lesson in efficiency, effort and precision. Their hard workers worked, their skill players showed skill. They scored their second goal early in the third period and then battened down the hatches on a defensive effort.

In a tough series like this, the realistic goal when starting on the road is to take one of the first two road games. This negates the original home-ice advantage and helps throw momentum to the lower ranked team. The Pens still have a shot at this. All is not lost, just game one. And one game doesn't make a series. Though, if the Penguins didn't learn the lesson that Detroit taught them, it's not going to be pretty.

Some other thoughts bouncing around our head:

  • The Pens went 0- for 5 on the powerplay and allowed 36 shots against them. If you told us this information before the game, we could have enjoyed a Saturday evening.
  • Hal Gill and Rob Scuderi were on the ice for both of the first two goals (both scored by Mikael Samuelsson). Whether they deserve fault for either is irrelevant; the point is the same one we made last week: we don't like the slow and defensive combination of Gill and Scuds and then an over the top puck moving (but not very defensive) duo of Ryan Whitney and rookie Kris Letang. Break them up to even it out, we're beggin'!
  • Probably no team takes more flack for diving then the Penguins (rightly or wrongly is another issue). But those Red Wings sure went down pretty easy a couple times there, didn't they?
  • A lot will probably be made of Marc-Andre Fleury, but we didn't think (aside from the Dan Cleary goal) that he played poorly. He faced 36 shots and was pretty solid for the most part. Having a team to help you out is the key. If the NHL made Fleury and Chris Osgood trade teams before the game, the scored would have still ended up about 4-0 Detroit.
  • We're not really of the opinion that Evgeni Malkin is dogging it. We do believe the Pens need a little more out of him, but no one can be expected to score every single game or take over every game, every night on every shift.

The Pens have shuffled forward lines a little today at practice:

--At first glance, we like it. Can't lose 4-0 in what the coach calls the worst showing in the playoffs and not make changes. Like we thought, Gary Roberts should have been in the lineup the whole time (if truly 100%). Therrien's loyalty to a guy like Georges Laraque may not have cost the Pens a game, but it didn't put them in the best position to win, which is the coach's job.

--Pascal Dupuis couldn't convert a breakaway that Sidney Crosby created for him and only has two goals in the playoffs (and one of them was banked in off his leg by Marian Hossa). Can't stay on the top line if you're not producing a little more than that. Malone has experience playing with Crosby and is good in front of the net and should create a little more space in the zone for Cros and Hoss to setup.

--Max Talbot drawing top six minutes is ok by us. He's a worker, won't slack in the defensive zone and is willing to throw some hits to dig out pucks. A line of Malkin/Petr Sykora needs that kind of precense so it'll be interesting if Talbot can make the most of their opportunity.

--We are surprised that Therrien benched Laraque and not Jarkko Ruutu. Ruutu made the piss-poor clearing attempt after a long shift that directly lead to the first goal about halfway through the second period. Therrien gave Ruutu just four more shifts for the rest of the game.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Series Preview

We don't know about you esteemed blog reader, but we're about sick of reading previews around the web. By this point we all know Detroit has the experience, puck possession and a guy named Nick Lidstrom. The Penguins will counter with size, youth and skill.

Who knows what will happen. Neither team has ever been behind in a series, which won't be the case after Game 1. This, combined with the seemingly even nature of the two clubs, lead most to believe that it will be at least a six game.

In the end, as always, the Cup will come down to execution and desire. We'll see who wants it more, who puts themselves in a position to succeed and then actually makes it happen.

Anyways, you know where we're going with this...

Pens in 5

That's right, 5.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Lines and Defense pairings

One of the things we wonder most about is the lines and defense pairings that Michel Therrien will employ.

For the forwards his top two lines are pretty set and don't require much tinkering:

Pascal Dupuis-Sidney Crosby-Marian Hossa

**Dupuis has had the speed and intelligence to keep up with Crosby and Hossa. It's not easy to play with two great players, but Dupper has done the little things (getting back on D, hustling into the corners, winning loose pucks, going to the net) to be very effective. Crosby and Hossa have come into their own, developing a great chemistry that is starting to be evident. These two need to feast on the powerplay but they also have to score at even-strength. Crosby and Hossa combined for 4 goals and 5 assists at ES during the Philadelphia series.

Ryan Malone-Evgeni Malkin-Petr Sykora

**The line that did the heavy lifting when Crosby went down...Recently Sykora's been on a down streak production wise (just 1 goal and 1 assist in the past seven games) but Malone has picked up his slack with 7 points (3g, 4a) in the past six games. The constant has been the brilliance of Evgeni Malkin. In every regard but the faceoff circle we think he's been the best, most consistent sensational player so far in the playoffs. Slapshots? Got 'em. Uncanny passing on the PP? Here. Hustling back to play D? No prob. Fighting through physical play? Yawn. Taking control of the puck and galloping all over the ice at will? Yep.

Maxime Talbot-Jordan Staal-Tyler Kennedy

**When we get to the 3rd line is where the questions begin. It's usually been Ruutu/Staal/Kennedy...But through a little experimentation, plugging Talbot up and dropping Ruutu down has seemed to ignite the offense and get a little more production out of Staal. By all means, we say roll with it. Talbot offers a little bit of a better skating and more energy than even Ruutu. It is worrisome to think of the age and experience of this line (especially since it often matches opponents top line) but if that's the way it has to be, we're comfortable with it. Jordan Staal may be 19 years old, but he doesn't play like a 19 year old.

Now we have four players (Ruutu, Hall, Roberts, Laraque) vying for three spots....If it were up to us (and it's not):

Gary Roberts-Adam Hall-Jarkko Ruutu
**It's hard to leave BGL off the roster. But it's just one game. Laraque can do good work on the forecheck and cycle the puck. But Ruutu and Hall can kill penalties in a pinch, Hall is decent at faceoffs. And Gary Roberts has 92 points in 125 career NHL playoff games, experience and results that can't be denied. BGL is the ultimate deterrant for all the funny business that might arise, and while Detroit boasts several gritty guys (think Draper, McCarty, Holmstrom, etc) that's nothing that the Pens can't answer with Orpik, Gill, Ruutu, Malone and Roberts.


The defense is a little different. While most of the forward lines (aside from where to place Talbot and which of the 4th liners to sit) are pretty much set. Defensively you've got:

Brooks Orpik-Sergei Gonchar

Kuklaskorner thinks that Orpik and Gonchar will be "fetal" by the end of the second period of Game 1. We laugh. No denying the skill and talent that Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg have, but ask Daniel Briere (1 goal and 1 assist in five games against Pittsburgh after tallying 8 goals 14 points in 12 games in the first two rounds) or Dany Heatley (41 goals, 41 assists in the regular season, 0 goals 1 assist in the playoffs) how it was to meet Gonchar and Orpik. Kuklaskorner says with glee that Gonchar will be exposed? Unfortunately for them, they haven't been following the Pens close enough to know what that's going to mean.

But Therrien's ideas for the other two defense pairs have been Rob Scuderi/Hal Gill and Ryan Whitney/Kris Letang. Two primarly shot-blocking defensive guys that aren't really puck movers on one pairing and then two great skating, excellent passing (but not effectively physical) players on the other.

We would like to see a split. Towards the end of the regular season Gill/Letang and Scuderi/Whitney seemed to work well and be more balanced. But we're not coaches and no one asks our opinion. Therrien's pairings have flowed well and obviously been effective. But we think that Detroit's grit and puck possession could expose a flaw in the lack of speed in his Scuderi/Gill unit and at the same time open the door for the lack of physicality (or a rookie mistake) in the Whitney/Letang duo.

But what do we know. Too much time to think, if only it was time to drop the puck already!

Probably no Mule in Game 1

Despite "taking a little twirl" Detroit's "Mule" Johan Franzen is not expect in Game 1 Saturday night. Naturally, the Red Wings are hold their hand a little close to their chest as to whether he's still experiencing headaches or concussion like symptoms. However it's pretty clear that he's just skating on his own and not practicing with the team (which he'd need to do to get his legs back under him after his layoff), so it looks like Franzen is still injured.

This is really crucial for Pittsburgh, Franzen has 12 goals in 11 playoff games (and tallied 27 in 72 regular season games). Only the big guns of Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg lit the lamp more. Franzen gives Detroit two very dangerous scoring lines, so his continued absence is pretty important.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

All that needs said...

We find ourselves wanting to write something, anything about this upcoming series....But just can't. You know the players, you know the storylines, you know the experience vs. youth debates. It's as if we're so worked up we don't know where to begin. That will probably all change at about 8:15 Saturday night.

So until then, we give you this most excellent NHL commerical (dug up by Wyshnyski!) that sums up pretty much everything that's running through our minds and yet holding the words back at the same time..

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Not much tonight

Sorry boys and girls, not much here tonight. We would advise you to check out kuklaskorner a few times a day, their updates give a lot of different perspectives on previews and predictions by experts near and far. But like a smart guy often says "nobody knows nothing". At this point, the written word is not worth too much. As much as many Detroit locals and supporters would like, the games won't be played on paper.

So we'll have a preview up in the coming days of things to look for; the real details that will set the tone for the series.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Talking about what we don't want to talk about

We've been very immersed in the Penguins playoff run, it's been thrilling and historic. But this little break in the action means not much news which means our attention turned to what's been for a years a great site to round-up the pulse of newspaper writings in every NHL city: Spector's Hockey.

We have purposely been avoiding this site for rumors for the oncoming reality of not keeping this team 100% intact (Hossa, Malone, Dupuis, Orpik, Ruutu, Hall, Roberts and Laraque are all unrestricted while young guys like Malkin, Staal and Fleury are all in line to get extensions this summer). Some of those names will be back, but all won't.

Our quick scan to find any news and notes about these players, we figured to see Hossa and Orpik and boy did we. Writers aren't GMs but do carry the buzz of their corner of the hockey word. And, after all what team wouldn't be in the market for a forceful young defenseman like Orpik or a sensational scoring winger like Hossa?

The current buzz seems to place some interest for Orpik in Minnesota or Manhattan while Toronto is dreaming outloud about buying out Darcy Tucker and trying to squeezing in Hossa.

This is not earth-shattering revelations, but a sad look of things to come once the Stanley Cup finals end. But, you know what, we'll take the sinking feeling of losing an important or player or two in the summer for the trade off of dancing with Lord Stanley.

Funny thing happening in Dallas

For one of our features this summer we were planning on doing a little "where are they now" type five year roundup with the group of Wilkes-Barre Scranton Baby Pens that were followed around and had their season made into a documentary by NHL Productions.

Well unlikely happenings have forced an early first entry to that feature.

Kuklaskorner pointed out an interesting article from Dallas about former WB/S alternate captain that year, Toby Petersen, and the lift that he's provided to the Dallas Stars in neutralizing the uber-dangerous Detroit duo of Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg.

How Petersen (generously listed officially at 5'10 and 197 pounds) has been able to foil legitimate stars has been something of a surprise. He left the Pens organization as a free agent after the 2003-04 season and caught on with Edmonton, spending two more seasons in their farmclub. "Petey" has great speed, good offensive instincts and is a real "heady" player but lacks the pure skill and an opportunity to be a regular NHL Top 6 forward. With the landscape of the bottom two lines being mainly filled out with grinders, checkers, PK specialists and young players, Petersen doesn't fill that niche either. He's been over-looked from the very beginning, when he was a 9th round draft pick of the Penguins in 1999. This is a player with 133 goals and 203 assists (336 points) in 506 career AHL regular season games, he has had success and admirable staying power in the professional level.

Then in the spring of 2006 he got called up for the taxi squad for the Oilers Stanley Cup final run and got two play two games in a 4th line capacity when the flu bug bit the Oilers lockeroom. Petersen made something of this opportunity, scoring the first goal in Game 3 of the Western Conference finals to help the Oilers win against the Anaheim Ducks 5-4.

Petersen hasn't been able to catch on in the NHL, going back to the minors for the past two years before he got the chance to play most of the season on a weak Edmonton team in 2006-07 [scoring 6 goals, 9 assists in 64 games]. Still he could not crack the youth movement of the Oilers and they let him slide where he signed on with Dallas' organ-eye-zation, where he was back to the familiarity of minor league life.

Until this spring, when (thanks to injuries) he's been in Dallas' lineup for 15 of their 17 playoff games, back to his role as a spare part 4th liner playing anywhere from 2-9 minutes on any given night. Until he got matched up against Datsyuk and Zetterberg when Dallas was down 3 games to 0 and seemingly had no hope. While, against all likelihood and reason, Petersen has stuck around and is now doing enough to get noticed again (if you're noticing this is something of a trend, you're catching on).

The NHL playoffs often produce unlikely heroes; guys who step out of nowhere and have a magical stretch of games (like John Druce in 1990 or maybe even Johan Franzen this spring) and then hang around but eventually fade away just as fast as they've come. Now it's looking like a center too small and not valuable enough to stick anywhere for too long (one with zero goals and zero assists this playoff at that!) is making a huge difference. Another reason why hockey, beneath the surface, is the most captivating sport.

It's good to see good people do well. We're pulling for you Petey, if only for tonight and Wednesday.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Prince of Wales

Like we said, it hasn't dawned on us yet that the Penguins are the 2008 Eastern Conference Champions. They're just winning big games, doing what they're supposed to do and getting the job done.
But it's not over yet. One more round to go.

Sidney Crosby didn't touch the trophy, ever since the tradition seemed to start with the mid-90s Devils not wanting to touch it with the idea being that the Stanley Cup is more important.

But, as it goes, Mario Lemieux picked up that trophy twice and it didn't stop him. We would have loved if the Pens clinched in Philadelphia and let Georges Laraque and Jarkko Ruutu skate the trophy all the way around the ice, just to taunt those fans even more.

But we guess we can settle for 6-0.

It's Always Sunny on Philadelphia Golf Courses

This was the 96th game of importance for the Penguins of the year. And it's enough to be the only team still playing from the Eastern Conference. The depth of this accomplishment hasn't really set in for us, but knowing that this team, only a couple of years ago a basement dweller, has now fully lived up to the promotional slogan of "Experience the Evolution" has been complete....And maybe that's good enough for right now. It'll be a long summer of reflection, and the important thing is that the off-season hasn't begun just yet.
Some thoughts we have going through our head right now:
  • The play that really broke the Flyers spirits was the 3rd goal. Down 2-0 in the second with about 12 minutes to go; Philadelphia had a powerplay to begin that period and were generally still in the game. Mike Richards corralled a weak clearing effort in the Pens zone and was looking to create a scoring chance in transition. Cut to Sidney Crosby, who was already turned and skating in the neutral zone (no doubt expecting the puck to be cleared). Crosby peels back, catches Richards and pops his stick, creating the turnover. Max Talbot and Marian Hossa fly up the ice and Crosby ends up centering a pass for Hossa that beat Martin "French Toast" Biron short-side.
  • Speaking of which, Biron was beaten on several occasions on the short-side, something that the Penguins seemed to zero in on. We aren't sure if Biron's positioning was out of sync or if that's just what happens to him but it was pretty noticeable.
  • The Marian Hossa trade has to be considered a success for the Penguins. Sure the effects of the deal won't really be known as we see in the coming years what Atlanta can develop the likes of Erik Christensen, Angelo Esposito and their 1st round pick into. But Hossa with 19 points (9 goals, 10 assists) in 14 games boosted the Penguins into the class of the East, possibly the league. Furthermore Pascal Dupuis, a throw-in, has played a 1st line role better than Colby Armstrong ever did. Sure it would hurt to see Hossa sign elsewhere and guys like Armstrong and Esposito flourish, but just think: what if Hossa got traded to Montreal. Would the Pens be in the position they are right now? We doubt it.
  • Game-wise, it was a rout. Only Georges Laraque, Tyler Kennedy and Jarkko Ruutu didn't have a plus +/- rating. Every forward except Laraque, Ruutu and Talbot was credited with at least one shot on goal. The beating was complete.
  • One thing to keep an eye on may be Petr Sykora, who did not play in the 3rd period. Whatever's wrong with him was over-shadowed by all the scoring and clinching. Perhaps, with a big lead, it was just precautionary or related to the illness that kept him out of practice yesterday, but maybe it is an injury. Surely more will come to light in the days to come. Luckily the Pens should be in store for another 5-6 day layoff, plenty of time to rest up.
  • To listen to Philadelphia media folks, Kimmo Timonen comes from a Bobby Orr/Raymond Bourque/ Larry Robinson hockey bloodline. We give Timonen props for playing today, and know it is tough to be out a while and then jump back into the intensity and speed of playoff hockey, but Timonen wasn't the answer.
  • Philly suffered with the injuries to their top defensive pair of Timonen and Braydon Coburn, but that's hockey. The Penguins lost something like 258 man-games to injury--many of those by Crosby, Marc-Andre Fleury and top systematic defensemen like Mark Eaton and Rob Scuderi. Everyone has injuries to deal with, it's an unfortunate nature of the sport. Not a good excuse for Flyer fans to use, the Flyers were just out-classed all the way around. As we like to say, the better team usually doesn't lose a seven game series. Especially in five games getting out-scored 20-9.
  • Fleury was sensational, rising to the challenge of every shot and making a couple of beauties. He left some rebounds, but they were managable by him or the defense. Our buddy the Caps blogger Peerless Prognositicator dug up Fleury's combined AHL/NHL career playoff stats and they weren't pretty coming into this year (3-10, a 3.78 GAA and a 86.9% save percentage). That's some pretty awful numbers. But since returning from ankle injury earlier this year, Fleury's 22-4-1 and been very solid.
  • So that's it. The Penguins get through the East in just fourteen games beating a seven seed, a five seed and a six seed. Not the most taxing way, but you can't choose who you play, just lineup and beat the team in front of you. If the Penguins can do that one more time it'll be time for brandy with Lord Stanley.

12 down, 4 more to go..........

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Pregame news and notes Game 4

For the Pens, it’s business as usual; they know what they’ve got to do and how they’re going to do it. Gary Roberts is out tonight and Adam Hall is expected to stay in the lineup. Jordan Staal’s back with the team after flying back to Canada for his grandfather’s funeral. The trip was facilitated by former Pen Mark Recchi. Recchi has served as Staal’s landlord for the past two years and has probably grown into something of a father figure for him. Recchi going the extra mile to be a classy guy is nothing new for those that hear him, so it’s not surprising but still is touching.

The more interesting tidbits today are from the Flyers:

--Steve Downie, after two critical mistakes in the past two games, is out of the lineup and Patrick “Nearly Ruptured Testicle” Thoresen is back in.
--Braydon Coburn’s eye is still not good enough to go, so he’s out and Ryan Parent will stay in.
--The biggest tweak might be that Daniel Briere has been separated from Vaclav Prospal, neither of whom have been very visible in the first three games after what has been a sensational playoff for both (especially Briere). Prospal is going to move to center and play with RJ Umberger and Joffrey Lupul. Briere will stay at center on the top line with Mike Richards and Scottie Upshall.
--We think the intriguing thing here is Prospal (usually a winger) playing center. He’s only taken 58 faceoffs this playoffs and might not be used to the increased defensive coverage centers have. That could be an area where Evgeni Malkin or Sidney Crosby gets some space, so keep an eye on that.

As we saw around the NHL last night, a 3-0 series may be a formality, but it is not over. Dallas came out and, like Hilary Clinton, somehow clung on to fight another day. The lesson for Pittsburgh: just because everyone’s saying it is over doesn’t mean it’s over….Should the Penguins win tonight and the Red Wings wrap their series up on Saturday, we’re hearing Game 1 is Thursday May 22nd. Just enough time for a little break without becoming to rusty. Now it’s just up to the boys to go out and do it.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Jinxes, no....Arrogance, yes

Popular website Kuklaskorner had this post to say:

I’m not into the jinx thing. I believe the Wings are so dominant that no amount of stupidity on my part can possibly stop them tonite [sic]. Because I believe that, I bring you this.

"The Pittsburgh Penguins are 11-1 in the playoffs, and I’ll be surprised if they win three more games. That’s how well the Detroit Red Wings are playing."

Read more from Orland Kurtenblog. Find out why this thing’s over tonite [sic], and the next one won’t take too damn long either.

To an extent about his opening, we agree. We're not much on thinking fans words, thoughts or actions really have any outcome on a game. The Penguins would have won last night had we worn or not worn our lucky shirt. They lost to the Rangers when we did wear it.

But there is a difference in superstitions and being conceited. Red Wings' fans, generally speaking, are acting pretty arrogant and pompous. It's not hard to, given the unmatched success their team has had over the past 15 years or so. And immediately in winning nine straight games. Hell, someone could look over this blog in the past couple weeks and probably see no shortage over-confident statements bordering on arrogance. To this point, neither the Wings nor the Pens have let their big mouth fans down yet. Soon enough, it seems, the immovable object will meet the irresistible force.

It'll be fun to watch what their large presence in Blogfrica will churn out. Sure it's not going to jinx the players on the ice, but it sure is going to be fun to re-hash if the outcome isn't what they're so certain about.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Don't Hassle the Hoss....Pens win

  • The last team to win 11 of their first 12 playoff games was the 1983 Edmonton Oilers. That team had a couple of names you might have heard of...Gretzky, Messier, Anderson, Kurri, Coffey, Fuhr. Those guys went on to form the nucleus of something of a dynasty, yes?
  • Back to this years Pens, it's hard not to be proud of them. Tonight's game wasn't an aesthetically pleasing one, but by design. Pittsburgh scored two goals in the first 7:41 of the game and then limited the Flyers to 8 shots after two periods of play.
  • One thing we didn't like was Steve Downie charging Petr Sykora....Downie made an ill-advised play in his own zone in the 3rd period, throwing a cross-ice pass that was intercepted and quickly turned into a Penguin odd man rush. Sykora eventually got the puck and threw a great pass to Ryan Malone who back-handed a goal past Martin "French Toast" Biron. Downie, no doubt irritated at himself for the turnover, charged in with a full head of steam and plastered Sykora well after he had dished the puck and it left Sykora down. Even though Sykora did return to the game, a hit like that isn't cool. In Game 2 Tyler Kennedy didn't forget Scottie Upshall needlessly cross-checking Kris Letang in the back in the dying moments of Game 1. Surely the Pens won't forget about Downie.
  • But then again, this is the second game in a row a misplay by Downie ended up in the back of his net. We wouldn't be surprised if he's a scratch for Game 4.
  • Like we mentioned earlier: ironically the Penguins are proving Washington Capitals fan JP right: Marty Biron isn't that good. Sure Marian Hossa has a great wrist shot and there was traffic in the form of a Philly defenseman....But a shot from 15 or so feet is one a goalie can't be letting by this time of year.
  • The beginning of the game saw a bunch of relatively ticky-tack hooking penalties, as if the referees were trying to show they were in control of the game. But when Jordan Staal made a great effort while short-handed and a defenseman was draped all over him preventing a shot, no call was to be found. Even Flyer RJ Umberger commented between periods that it was not a very consistently officiated game.
  • Total shots for Daniel Briere and Vaclav Prospal combined: the big goose egg. Another testament to how well the Penguins defensive unit has played, notably Sergei Gonchar and Brooks Orpik who the Pens have been trying to match up with them as much as possible.
  • Speaking of the Penguins defensemen, every one of them had at least one blocked shot and they combined for 12 as a unit, almost matching the 18 shots that Philly got on Marc-Andre Fleury. That's how you play a road playoff game right there.
  • We loved the shots of the fans after every Pens goal. Total dejection. They know what we all know: the Flyers are totally outclassed in this game, and well, in the series too.

All in all, a workman like effort that got the job done. It wasn't pretty, but it was effective. If Malone or Evgeni Malkin could have tied up Umberger's stick as a Flyers' powerplay ended, it would have been a shutout. As it was, a fairly convincing performance.

And look at that, a whole recap without talking about the #1 star of the game (for the second game in a row) Sidney Crosby. He made some relatively quiet plays but when you look back at the game, still ended up with two important assist....Piling up the points almost quietly like that Gretzky guy used to do.

11 wins down, 5 more for Lord Stanley....

WWGRD: Get Pneumonia

Gary Roberts put the "p" in pneumonia

Well this kind of explains why Mr. Gary hasn't been making that big of an impact. And we thought it was lingering effects of his groin and/or high ankle sprain.

Gary Roberts is not expected to play tonight and may miss more than tonight's playoff game. Sources tell TSN that Roberts has been diagnosed with pneumonia in the last day or so and has likely been playing with the condition for about two weeks.

Source: TSN

It's a good thing Adam Hall has been playing so well, he can instantly slide back into the 4th line and the team won't lose much of anything.

We have no idea how long it's going to take Roberts' to beat pneumonia's ass, but hopefully the Master of Fiji Water won't be out for too long.

(Photo courtesy The Pensblog)

Playoff Beard Power Ranking

Now for some analysis that really matters.... Pittsburgh Penguin Playoff Beard Power Rankings

1. Max Talbot
--It's not just the self-proclaimed best playoff beard in the world, it IS the best playoff beard in the world.

2. Pascal Dupuis
--Not only is he able to keep up with Sidney Crosby and Marian Hossa on the top line, but he's got a beard growing capabilities as well.

3. Ryan Malone
--A power forward with a power beard.

4. Ryan Whitney
--Doesn't play like a man a times, but grows a nice beard.

5. Jordan Staal
--Ok so we did take into account that he's 19 and has the Abe Lincoln going. But we couldn't find a recent picture of Brooks Orpik, so we give the young Staal the nod over Jarkko Ruutu and Marian Hossa in an effort to show not all young Pens suffer at facial hair.

Not receving votes

Sure you're the best hockey player in the world, but the monstrosity will haunt you for the rest of your days, Sid. Sometimes the way Crosby plays, you forget he's 20 years old. A look at his face is a quick reminder. Hopefully he'll get the chance to grow better and better beards in the years to come.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Craig Patrick talks Penguins

Great interview in Sunday's Trib by Rob Rossi with former Pens GM Craig Patrick. Patrick was in charge of the Penguins for a fifteen plus years but ever since he got fired by the team after the 2005-06 season he's dropped off the hockey landscape, rarely talking to the press or getting his name in the papers a lot.

When asked what did him in, Patrick responded:

We just ran out of time. It worked immediately after I and a bunch of us were gone. When I was let go, I was told, "It's time to make a change." I can understand that. But if we had been around at the beginning of the next season, we'd probably still have jobs. But that's not what happened.
While we do think he has something of a point, we don't really agree with this. The Penguins needed a breath of fresh air; even simple things like not having internet access in the coach's office. Patrick, while good at what he did, became stale. After the lockout he got bold and picked up high profile free agents (John LeClair, Ziggy Palffy and Sergei Gonchar), none of whom paid dividends early, if at all. It was a bold move, but one that didn't pay off.

Two years after his firing, Craig Patrick's imprint still remains on the team. Sure you can look to the slam dunk draft picks like Sid Crosby and Evgeni Malkin but dig a little deeper and you'll find eight players (Scuderi, Malone, Orpik, Talbot, Whitney, Fleury, Kennedy and Letang) that Patrick and his crew drafted and helped to develop. Sure some of those guys are first round picks and we're not suggesting it's impressive he drafted NHL'ers but rather just to point out just how much he's shaped the team that we still see today. And that doesn't even take into account the guys like Carcillo, Welch, Armstrong and Christensen that enabled his successor Ray Shero to pull the trigger on a couple of Patrick-esque patented deadline day gambles.

Craig Patrick had a tough economic climate to deal with pre-2005, there's no doubt. But he wasn't able to parlay established star players like Jaromir Jagr, Alexei Kovalev, Martin Straka, Robert Lang and Darius Kasparaitis into much anything of long term value, which is a huge negative. Then his lockout signings went bust and it became apparent it was time to go a different direction. CP got lucky to be in a position to get to draft Malkin and Crosby but what he did in drafts from about 2002-2005 really laid the ground-work for where the Penguins are now. And he deserves a lot of credit for that.

The great visor debate

It seems like every time there is a facial injury that could have been avoidable, a cry for mandating visors comes out. This time, Eric McErlain has a solid chronicling at the Fan House of Braydon Coburn's situation where he makes a good point: players modify their equipment in several ways to straddle the line of safety vs. performance. Greg Wyshynski! has a pretty comprehensive round up of all the cries for change if you'd like to see a lot of different opinions.

Our opinion is it should be the players choice. Sure a visor does offer more protection, but it's kinda like carry a small fire extinguisher into a fully involved house fire: it might do you some good but it's not going to get the job done. If the NHL was serious about this they would mandate the "cages", full wire protection that will stop all errant sticks/pucks from hitting the eyes and face. Maybe factor in throat protectors too. But where is the line drawn? Injuries are an unfortunate but unavoidable result of the sport of hockey. Sure you could put players in protective little bubbles and everyone would be 100% at the end of the game, but then that game would no longer be hockey.

We played in leagues that mandated cages (most under 18 leagues do nowadays for legal and insurance reasons). The amount of careless stickwork that goes on in those leagues, from our experience, was terrible. It was sloppy and pretty dangerous.

Visors fog, cages hinder vision so players will resist. The peer pressure aspect that McErlain hits on we don't think is as prominent now as it may have been 10-15 years ago. You look around the league and see most of the best young players with visors (Crosby, Ovechkin, Malkin, Kovalchuk, Heatley, etc) and even tough guys like Dion Phaneuf, Jarome Iginla and NHL hits leader Dustin Brown don the shield.

In the end, we just found visors/cages to cumbersome and worth the risk of ditching for more comfortable play. Would it be the end of the world to us if the NHL mandated it? No, not really, unlike so many others this issue doesn't really seem to touch off a strong emotion. And, though we don't have exact numbers, it seems like every year more and more young players are wearing visors so this is probably more than a trend.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

No goal....No Problem

Best playoff beard in the world > Broken foot

Pens win and mostly control the puck in Game 2. Our thoughts:
  • The Flyers are going to have to win four out of the next five games to win this series....Do you think that's possible?
  • Keeping up with our theme of guys who played well but don't get recognized, how about Sergei Gonchar tonight? A team leading 27:11 in ice time, 3 assists, 3 shots on goal (with 5 more either blocked or off target) and 2 hits. The Sarge had his impact all over this game.
  • Our boy Tyler Kennedy had quite a night. In 9:15 of icetime he got 4 shots on goal, 2 hits and a takeaway. Not to mention a great showing in a rare playoff fight sticking up for a teammate against Scottie Upshall.
  • Sidney Crosby scored the first goal in the game short-side when Martin "French Toast" Biron over-played what could have been a pass attempt. Just another example how Sid's playmaking abilities open up so much room for others (and himself).
  • Crosby apparently had a second goal when he whacked in a puck, but it wasn't as obvious to the officials after taking an extra long look. We don't pretend to be unbiased here, but we know when the whole puck crosses the line and clearly our HD view left no doubt that should have been a goal. The officials needed irrefutable evidence to call it a goal (as no signal was called on the ice) but, to us, upon replay it looked like a pretty conclusive goal.
  • Marian Hossa keeps chugging along, 1 goal to go along with 3 shots on net (and 4 more either blocked or missed) as well as some great backchecking efforts. The chatter about Hossa not being a prime-time playoff player is done. He's sensational and whatever team pays him $7-8 million a year this summer will get the great player they're looking for.
  • To make matters even worse, the Flyers bad injury luck continued as Braydon Coburn caught a deflected puck straight to the face early in the first period. As a former collegiate hockey player we can tell you, for the most part, that a puck to the face (as long as it doesn't hit the eyeball) isn't that bad. Sure it stings and tends to bleed a lot, but the trainers can stitch you up and you're not much worse for wear. But that Coburn--in the Stanley Cup playoffs no less, couldn't come back is a testament to how badly that hurt him....Hopefully he'll be okay, that's a scary part of the game.
  • In the end though, it's fitting that the Pens 4th line scores the game-winner. Georges Laraque and Gary Roberts muck around...Eventually Roberts gets the puck behind the net and he instantly throws a terrific pass out front for Maxime Talbot. Credit Roberts on that pass but just as much for Mad Max charging to the net. We like Adam Hall, but he probably doesn't make that play. Talbot chips it in and you've got your leading picture for this blog.
  • Finally no one will make much about Marc-Andre Fleury's effort, but he was still very solid in stopping 30 of 32 shots and managing his rebounds pretty well. Fleury's been awesome since returning from his high ankle sprain in early March and it's showed. A team doesn't go 10-1 in the playoffs without a netminder stopping most everything he should. So far, so good for MAF. The fact that he's playing well and the story isn't about him just goes to show how the team is firing on all cylinders right now. Sure they need their goalie to be big (any playoff team does) but they haven't really had to have him stand on his head for 60 minutes.

See you in Philly on Tuesday for Game 3. As we mentioned, the Flyers are going to have to take four out of five from the Penguins to win this series. And, well, we just can't see that happening. Too much skill, too much speed and too much determination on the part of Pittsburgh. Not only guys like Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are playing hard but also the Talbot's and Pascal Dupuis' of the team are laying it all out there. Philly can't answer, because frankly, they have no answer to this display of speed and talent.

10 wins down, six more to go.....

Saturday, May 10, 2008

The hustle to return

As if Philadelphia thought Pittsburgh couldn't possibly play harder, out comes the news that Max Talbot took all 90 minutes of practice this morning and declared his broken foot good to go.

They said it was a pain issue, so if Talbot was able to get the skate on and practice, obviously that means the pain is manageable enough to go.

So now the question becomes; who sits?

  • Georges Laraque? The big guy only played 7:01 last night and didn't really seem to have much an impact. Plus the Flyers didn't play Riley Cote or Steve Downie, so keeping the heavyweight in the lineup may not be needed.
  • Adam Hall? He's the 4th line center (Talbot's niche) and only played 4:49 at even strength. Hall also lost 4 of his 6 faceoffs last night. Hall's been quietly solid at his job, but not spectacular.

It'll be interesting to see what happens, Michel Therrien isn't a coach that likes to change a winning lineup that much, but to get one of his best energy guys and PK'ers back, we think he's going to have to. If it were our call, we'd scratch Hall tomorrow night and then, if all goes well, think about scratching BGL for Game 3. That's a long ways away though.

Saturday Morning Roundup

Various thoughts and tidbits this morning...

  • The Flyers lost both other Game 1's they've had this year too. First it was Alex Ovechkin picking Lasse Kukkonen's pocket and scoring the winner in the dying moments. The next series it was Alexei Kovalev scoring with just :29 seconds to go in regulation for the tie the game, and former Penguin Tom Kostopolous winning it in OT just 48 seconds into that stanza. So don't say Philly doesn't know how to bounce back from deflating losses, they won Game 2 and 3 in both of those series.
  • The Penguins have now won all six of their home playoff games and have a 14 game home winning streak dating back to the regular season.
  • In the other Pittsburgh/Philly series, the Wilkes-Scranton Penguins have defeated the Philadelphia Phantoms 4 games to 1, including four straight wins. The Baby Pens are being paced by Tim Brent (9 goals, 8 assists in 10 games) and rookie defenseman Alex Goligoski (3 goals, 11 assists). Brent and Goligoski are 1/2 in scoring for the AHL playoffs.
  • It's hard to imagine Goligoski not on the NHL roster at the beginning of next season if he keeps playing like this. He's the prototypical "post-lockout" puckmoving defenseman. Kris Letang has slid into the lineup almost seamlessly. Goligoski's development has taken a little longer (three years of NCAA play and this one in the AHL) but could he finally be the one to break the curse of Greg Malone?
  • While on young players, ATO's Luca Caputi (2 goals, 2 assists in 7 games) and Dustin Jeffrey (2 goals and 1 assist in 5 games) are stepping right into the AHL playoffs and playing well. As you know, we've had these guys on the radar since early in the year with their impressive statistical performances in the OHL, but doing it at the professional level is another matter. While Caputi and Jeffrey haven't dominated like Jeff Carter [23 points in 21 games] and Mike Richards [14 points in 15] did for the Phantoms in the 2005 AHL playoffs, they've still made contributions.
  • The Baby Pens will play Portland (Anaheim's minor league team) in the Calder Cup Eastern Conference Finals. The other remaining teams in the West (with the NHL affiliation in parenthesis) are Syracuse (Columbus) and Toronto Marlies (Toronto) with that winner to meet the winner of the Chicago Wolves (Atlanta) and Rockford (Chicago).
  • So Pittsburgh has the only NHL and AHL team in the conference finals at both levels. Not a sure sign of superiority or anything, but a tribute to how stocked the organ-eye-zation is right now.
  • Quote of the day may be from Mr. Gary Roberts in the Toronto Sun talking about Geno..."He is taking it to a whole new level, both goals tonight came late in shifts. By then, most of us are dead tired. He's on the ice a minute, a minute and a half into his shift and he finds the strength. I don't think he's human like the rest of us. And then he makes these plays ... I've never seen anything like him before."
  • Over in the West, Detroit's got a seven game winning streak going...Even though we picked against them, we still said a Pittsburgh/Detroit matchup has looked inevitable for a while, and it's continuing to look that way one game into the conference finals. One game, of course, is not a series, but unless Philadelphia/Dallas can recover and drastically make some changes it won't be long until the Cup finals start.

Friday, May 9, 2008

It's a Geno world...Pens win

Rock and roll game 1 that saw the Pens come out on a 4-2 win...Our thoughts:

  • Who takes a slap-shot from 15 feet on a clean breakaway while shorthanded? Someone that knows they are going to bury it. Very few players in the world could do what Evgeni Malkin did right there, especially after getting slammed into the boards by Mike Richards.
  • Sidney Crosby did his part to keep the Pens in it, after two Richards goals, by deflecting a shot/pass in to make it 2-2 in a wild first period....Not to be outdone, Malkin scored on a twisted wrister with 6 seconds to go with a shot that made us say, "yep that Marty Biron isn't that good".
  • The Pens first goal was the result of an absolutely sick dangle by Petr Sykora....Boy are we glad he called Ray Shero at 12:01 AM 1 July and asked to join the Pens.
  • Brooks Orpik was credited with 6 hits. Impressive but unless you watched the impact of each and every shot you can't appreciate it.
  • Tyler Kennedy had 9:08 in ice-time but hustled around the ice and played well, making it seem like he was out there for more than just 9 minutes...Mark our words, sooner or later this playoff season this kid is going to score a huge goal.
  • We don't question Michel Therrien much, but we don't see the point in having a Hal Gill-Rob Scuderi pairing and a Ryan Whitney-Kris Letang unit. Just seems like too much of the same thing....To that point the Scuderi/Gill pairing were out there (and both in front of the net) for both of the Flyers goals.
  • Marc-Andre Fleury couldn't really be faulted for the goals, and more importantly he played awesome helping the Pens killing 3 penalties and making a beauty of a glove save on Jeff Carter. Nothing to worry about here, the Flower is still rolling on.
  • Also not to be noticed or praised, but a great stat line for Ryan Malone: only 15:24 icetime, 3 shots on goal, 1 assist, 5 hits and a +2. Not to mention all the ice he opened up for Sykora and Malkin.
  • Speaking of guys you won't talk about, Marian Hossa had a wonderful game, mostly away from the puck backchecking and taking the body. Even though he didn't make an offensive impact (just 2 shots on goal and 1 assist) he still was force.

All in all, the story was too much Malkin for the Flyers to handle. This was a game at home for the Pens and one they really had to have to get things off on the right foot; but the point is they did it and were pretty impressive in doing so.

As we predicted, the Flyers just don't have the defense (especially with Kimmo Timonen out) to hang with the Pens skill or the goaltender to keep the puck out of the net. Tonight Evgeni Malkin absolutely had his way with Philadelphia every time he touched the ice. And the Flyers didn't give much reason to think they can do anything to stop him. Let alone if Crosby and Hossa start converting more of their chances....Plus the Flyers played a displinced brand of hockey (taking only 1 penalty while the game was still in question), should they do any different they ought to know they're in a world of hurt.

9 wins down, just 7 more to go....

Eastern Conference Finals: Prediction

We've spent some time this week previewing the matchups and key players involved for the Eastern Conference Finals. By now, after five days of waiting, it's finally time to drop the puck again and kick off another series.

But we guess we've never given the prediction....Even though the intrepid reader can probably guess what logo is coming next.


Series key: The Flyers staying out of the penalty box and Martin Biron continuing to find ways to win

The Flyers aren't dumb, they know the more chances they give the Pens with a man-advantage the less their chances of winning become. Knowing this is one thing; actually showing restraint and discipline is another. To paraphrase the famous Mike Tyson quote: "Everyone has a plan until Jarkko Ruutu is yapping in your face". We see a guy like Steve Downie taking something like that devastating Ryan Hollweg boarding penalty from last week that tips the balance of a game.

Further than that, it's all about Biron. At times he didn't look that great against Washington (but still got the series win) but he certainly has inspired confidence with stealing a couple games from Montreal. Coming into this round, no goalie in the playoffs has seen more rubber and stopped more picks than Biron. If he can regain that groove he was in against the Habs and make stellar saves on the Pens that could be the boost needed to tip the balance in the series.

In the end though, we think the Penguins are too skilled, too fast for the Philly defensemen and that if Marc-Andre Fleury can out duel Henrik Lundqvist, he ought to be able to match Biron. We, of course, are taking the Pens. In lieu of Kimmo Timonen's injury, we don't think this series will be as long as many think...Almost all previews we've seen, no matter who they pick, seem to say it will be a 6 or 7 game series, we disagree, guys like Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are just too dynamic to be contained by the old and slow like Derian Hatcher and Jaroslav Modry.

Official TST Prediction: Pens in 5!

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Unexpected injury jilts series before it begins

Flyers defenseman Kimmo Timonen will likely miss the Eastern Conference finals against the Pittsburgh Penguins because of a blood clot in his ankle.

Philadelphia general manager Paul Holmgren said Timonen was hit with a shot in Game 4 against Montreal.

Blood clots are not a fun thing, we don't have to be a doctor to tell you that. Someone we know recently got a random blog clot in her leg and it damn near immoblized an otherwise healthy person. So first of all, all the best to Kimmo Timonen, hopefully this hurdle can be managed and have no long-term negative effects on him.

But looking at this from a hockey perspective, as this hockey blog does, this is a terrible blow for Philadelphia. Timonen has been the Flyer #1 defenseman all year, drawing the matchup of the other team's top target (they planned on using him against Evgeni Malkin's line).

Timonen has no goals but 6 assists in 12 playoff games and was a +5 (against said top lines) and lead all Flyers in ice-time with 24:55 a game. He was a steadying influence on emerging youngster partner Braydon Coburn and Timonen did well neutralizing players like Alex Ovechkin (who had but1 goal and 0 assists in seven games at even-strength when Timonen was on the ice, which he often was).

Personnel wise, a huge loss; the Flyers are now going to have decisions on who they pair Coburn with and who now will try to stop the two headed monster of Dupuis/Crosby/Hossa and Malone/Malkin/Sykora. Guys like Jaroslav Modry and Randy Jones might be playing a little more out of their element. And a guy like Rory Fitzpatrick or youngster Ryan Parent may have to step into the lineup against the strong cycling lower lines, lead by Jordan Staal and Gary Roberts.

Injuries like this it seems can not be predicted or avoided. A simple blocking of a shot well over a week ago (one that didn't much phase him then) has taken out one of the most critical players in this series. As difficult as it is, we have empathy for Philadelphia; after all this could have been Sergei Gonchar or someone as crucial to the Pens as Timonen was for them.

In the end, hockey is hockey and all you can do is rally around the flag and go play. The kneejerk reaction from the fans is generally that the Flyers are finished and this series is over before it has begun. We couldn't disagree more. Hockey is the ultimate team sport and "will" often beats "skill" as the saying goes. If the Flyers come together and focus on playing even harder than they would have, and a guy like Jones or Parent or Modry steps up and gives a Grade A effort, this is only a speedbump in the road.

Likewise, not that we expect it, but if the Pens don't give their maximum effort and dog it, thinking that the Flyers have quit just because an important player of the opposition is out, well they won't win.

Report: Brunnstrom picks Dallas

We're not bragging, but we were among the first places that reported about Fabian Brunnstrom, the 23 year old Swedish enigma/wonderkid with a Youtube highlight video (with now over 40,000 hits). The Hockey News called him the next Daniel Alfreddson. Though on many teams' radar, Brunnstrom was never drafted to the NHL and too old to be drafted in the entry draft so he is free to select whatever team he wanted to join.

He visited a couple NHL clubs this spring but seemed to have the most intrest in Vancouver, Detroit, Montreal, Dallas and Toronto....Vancouver was the favorite, but reportedly Brunnstrom was not pleased with the uncertainty when they fired GM Dave Nonis. Detroit with plenty of Swedes and rich markets like Montreal and Toronto figured to out-bid about anyone.

But the choice is apparantely in and it's Dallas. With guys like Jere Lehtinen and Niklas Hagman, Brunnstrom will feel comfortable. With skill centers like Mikey Ribs and Brad Richards, he'll have support.

It'll be interesting to see how his rookie campaign goes. Brunnstrom is arguably going to be the most famous new face in the league next season (depending how you feel about rookie Steven Stamkos) and FB will certaintly be the most touted and hype....It'll be interesting to see if he can live up to it.