Saturday, May 30, 2009

Friday, May 8, 2009

Monday, February 9, 2009

Everybody into the car, we're moving!

Like most the rest of the hockey blogging world, I'm joining the fine folks at Sports Blog Nation....Pensburgh is a great place and I hope to add to it.

TST will always be around, but my new pieces will be on Pensburgh. Thanks to everyone who ever stopped by, commented and gave me fedback. I've enjoyed every moment of it.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

The Penguins won't make the playoffs...

We've always wanted to do something in the vein of the brilliant "Fire Joe Morgan" ilk but have never really found the right ammunition. But then our old friend the Peerless Prognosticator, looked into the crystal ball and saw the following when he asked himself 12 questions...So what are questions without answers, right?

11. Will the Caps meet the Penguins in the playoffs?

The short answer to this is…”no.”

The long answer: the Caps are 1-5 in the playoffs against the Penguins, so hopefully the team that hasn't won a playoff series in over a decade doesn't run up against their historical and more experienced nemesis.

Not in the first round, not in the second round, not ever this year. Why?

Because one team will lose early? Like the team that lost early last year? Tell us!

Because the Penguins are the kind of mess in the same way that a room of furniture bought from eight different stores is a mess.

Oh, I thought it was because the Penguins were currently out of the playoffs if they were to start today. Which they don't. And Pittsburgh is only a whole point out of 8th place.

Maybe it is because they are a mess of furniture though.

The pieces don’t seem to fit coherently to make for a long, successful run of wins.

The Penguins won six games in a row in November. And the core of the team (Sidney Crosby, Marc-Andre Fleury, Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal, Brooks Orpik, Ryan Whitney, etc) was three goals from winning a Stanley Cup last June.

But, you know, other than that they can't really be expected to make any long, successful runs.

Do they match Crosby and Malkin on a line, or do they split them up?

Crosby and Malkin are 1 and 2 in the points race. Malkin, in particular, has shown that he can be effective as a winger on Crosby's line or centering a "second" line.

Together or apart, they make plays. Whether or not they are on the same line seems like a bigger concern for how the opposition sets their checking lines and defensive pairs.

When is Gonchar coming back?

About 2-3 weeks, which is a little ahead of the original prognosis.

What winger can they match with Crosby to get any production?

Evgeni Malkin, Tyler Kennedy, Petr Sykora or whoever they add at the trade deadline.

And who are they looking to add production to? Crosby has 45 even strength points this season--second in the league only to Malkin's 51. They've rotated no shortage of players with Sid (like Malkin, Kennedy, Max Talbot, Pascal Dupuis, Matt Cooke) and Crosby has put up numbers. Whoever is playing hot gets their shot on the top line, and Crosby usually comes through with them.

What happened to the power play (tied with Tampa for 23rd overall and dead last in the NHL on the road)?

The loss of Gonchar, who was #2 in the entire league with 46 power play points last season. The next highest defensemen (Nicklas Lidstrom and Mark Streit) had 34 PP points. Gonchar also led all players in the NHL with 38 power play assists.

Given that he's played a grand total of 0 games this season the lack of power play success comes a little bit more into focus.

What happened to Fleury (he’s saved fewer than 90 percent of the shots he’s faced in nine of the last 16 games he’s played)?

A lot of shots is what happened. Fleury's faced 1095 shots in 36 appearances (over 30 a game). Despite that he still has a save percentage of .911 and a record of 18-13-1. Jose Thedore's save percentage is currently .899, by the way.

Do Crosby and coach Michel Therrien not get along?


Will – or when will – Therrien be fired?

Barring an extended, extended losing streak, no time this season.

The Penguins have, as they say, “issues” that go far beyond a Stanley Cup hangover.

Uhh, it's February. No one on the team is thinking about last season, they're focused on this year.

And as mentioned, of this writing one point of of 8th place (though other teams do have games in hand). One whole point, time to turn it in for the season! They're so hungover they're practically still drunk. Jordan Staal hasn't been this hungover since the day after his brother's bachelor party!

Even Barry Melrose, who would know the specie (having seen one up close coaching Tampa Bay this year), said that the Penguins aren’t a very good hockey team.

Even Barry Melrose! Well that solves it! No chance at all the Penguins could get to the playoffs now if the esteemed Barry Melrose thinks they aren't a very good hockey team. Because surely has he ever erred in his hockey judgement.

Beating back the Blue Jackets...Pens win

For only the second time since November, the Penguins have won consecutive games. Going down the stretch this is going to have to change if they want to sniff the playoffs. But, as of now, the playoffs have really started...

  • Sidney Crosby, who still doesn't look like himself with the knee injury, got a goal and two assists. He made plays and still had enough burst to be a difference maker.
  • Marc-Andre Fleury--who had a 1.97 GAA in the playoffs--has reverted back to that form. Tonight he got 33 stops on 34 saves, including several acrobatic and impressive ones. In the playoffs you only go as far as your goalie takes you, and tonight Fleury paved the way.
  • Tonight was all about Kris Letang though...Pre-All Star break the young defenseman scored 1 goal in 43 games...Since the Youngstar game in his home province he's notched 4 goals in six games, and has gone to his wrist shot more to beat goalies. Letang contributing is a huge plus.
  • Brooks Orpik had 12 hits, the entire Columbus team registered 21. Yep.
  • Jordan Staal, as his usual since signing his extension, had a forceful game. 4 shots on net (with two more missing target), two takeaways, four hits and 9 of 13 in the faceoff circle.
  • Would you believe Michael Peca is only 34 years old? Not gonna say he's been around for a while, but Peca played his first NHL games when we were in the 4th grade.

Now that this stretch is over the Pens are rewarded with the top two teams in the Western Conference, the Red Wings and the San Jose Sharks--though both games at home. Let's see how they stack up against the best.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Malkin saves the season

Not going to lie, we had a huge hate post written up basically writing off the rest of the season barring some sort of drastic action taken by Ray Shero. Down 3-0 against Tampa Bay at home, we almost turned the game off. But then Evgeni Malkin put the team on his back at stole the Pens a point.

Sidney Crosby's knee isn't right. Take that to the bank. He's pushing through, but one can tell he isn't himself. So someone had to step it up. Which leads us to the title of the post; did Malkin just save the season? Down 3-0 going in the third. Against a weaker team in the standings, at home. Facing a goalie in his opening NHL start that was in a groove. Down three points (at the time) to the playoff chase--with the rest of the teams in the chase having more games in hand. If the Penguins rolled over and died, better believe that's about the picture wrap on the season.

So how do you measure MVP? Caps fans are already forming their arguments--and with good reason--Alex Ovechkin has more goals than anyone in the league and is setting the tone for what will probably be record wise one of the best teams in the first 82.


2 goals, 1 assist (all in the 3rd period), 7 shots on goal (with two more missing the net and two getting blocked), a takeaway, a blocked shot and 4 hits...One that knocked a key defenseman out of the game. That, folks, is an MVP performance. Sure the Penguins are still outside of the playoff bubble and it's hard to win the trophy if you don't lead your team to the second season that over half of the league makes, even if Malkin retains his 17.9% point advantage over AO.


Remember this night. Remember this performance. If, as this editor thinks, it breaks the floodgates for the rest of the team and the Penguins rally from here, then you will know.

Other thoughts:

  • This was one of the most physical games of the season. Former Pens Ryan Malone and Gary Roberts each recorded seven hits a piece. Tampa had 42 total on the night. Even Steven Stamkos got into the act with a heavy hit.
  • And before you get too far down on Stamkos, allow us to present you with these two season statlines....55 games, 3 goals, 4 assists; 82 games, 13 goals 15 assists...Those are the 18 year old NHL seasons of Joe Thornton and Vincent Lecavalier respectively. Sure, they were both in the pre-lockout days where the game was a little tighter--but the point is just because phenoms like Crosby, Ovechkin and Malkin hit the ground running they're still very much the execptions, and not the rule.
  • Malone's goal in front of the net showed the grit and skill that Pittsburgh has frankly been missing without him. Can't fault a guy for getting paid, but boy if he were still in the black and gold it's hard to imagine the Penguins struggling as much as they have been. Apologies to Marian Hossa (who's not having a shabby season himself) but Malone's presence on and off the ice might be the biggest loss the Pens suffered from all the ballyhooed player movement.
  • 0-6 to start the powerplay for the Penguins on the night, including a 5 on 3 for a full two minutes. Ryan Whitney isn't making solid decisions back there. It's not all on him of course, but Sergei Gonchar (46 PP points last season, only one off of Alex Kovalev's 47 for the entire league) will help so much.
  • After being outshot 14-5 in the first period, the Pens--outshot nightly seemingly every night--turned it around and won the last three frames a combined 27-10. The frantic comeback helped, the sense of urgency was finally there.

And take a deep breath, the Pens live to fight another day.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Mr. Kennedy to sit one out, Caputi called up

Quick hits:

--For the second time in under a week, NHL disicplinarian Colin Campbell rung up a Penguin; this time it's Tyler Kennedy one game for leaving the bench to engage Toronto's Luke Schenn in a fight. It's unknown if Mr. Kennedy would have gotten a longer timeout if he hadn't gotten wiped on the ice by Scheen.

--In personnel moves, the Penguins have called up their brightest prospect from the minors; Luca Caputi. Paul Bissonnette has been re-assigned. Caputi has 13 goals (and 35 points) in 46 games down in the minors, not bad stats for a 20 year old. It will be interesting to see how he fares, here's to hoping that Michel Therrien doesn't give him the usual 6-7 minutes for most young callups.

--Two interesting tidbits from Pensburgh: Sergei Gonchar takes another step on the road to recovery by being cleared for contact in practice. And Ray Shero indicates the "expectation" management has for the players to "make a push". It sounds like a trade could be coming soon, possibly when Sarge can return. As we've mentioned before, signs are pointing that Alex Goligoski could be the bait.

--Sad story from Montreal, as former Penguin Robert Lang suffered a pretty gruesome career threatening achilles injury. The surgery was said to be successful, so that is a good thing. Here's hoping that Lang, an avid golfer, is back to the links at some point when the weather gets warm. And back to the NHL too.

--It would be a shame if Lang's career ended in this eye-popping jersey, eh?

--Congrats to Sidney Crosby, who was named the NHL's second star of the week...Penguin killer Jamie Langenbrunner was named the league's top star.

--A quick check of the standings don't show much progress, as a 1-1-1 record out of the break woud indicate. The Pens are in 10th in the conference; Florida is in 9th--one point up on the Pens (with two games in hand). Carolina is clinging to 8th place with two more points than Pittsburgh.

--James Mirtle's update shows the Penguins need to go 19-12-0 to ensure a playoff berth.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

6 time champions

Props to Santonio, but we all know who has the longest play in Super Bowl history...The man I called over a year ago (and bought his jersey 3 years ago).

The Penguins make the SC Finals and the Steelers win their sixth Super Bowl within seven months...What a great time to be alive.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Langenbrunner...Pens lose

At this point in the season, scoring three goals against a tight defensive team like the New Jersey Devils should be enough. Having a 3-1 lead with 11 minutes left in the game should definitely be enough. Even being up 3-2 when the other team pulls their goalie in the dying seconds is usually a recipe for 2 points.

But not tonight, courtesy of Jamie Langenbrunner, who got a fortunate bounce of Ryan Whitney's skates with 31 seconds left in regulation to earn the Devils a point. Then collecting a fancy pass by Travis Zajac and depositing the one-timer by Marc-Andre Fleury to steal the second point. Winners of now eight straight, the Devils are hot. They worked for their bounces and got them.

  • Total shots on the game were 43-16 in favor of New Jersey. Even worse, if you count shots that missed the net plus shots that were blocked, the Devils outfired the Pens 65-22. Pretty indictive of the difference in puck possession and where the game was played for the most part. Marc-Andre Fleury was solid, but when the other team throws 65 shots at you, it's not unreasonable to think that at least four will end up in the net for some reason or another.
  • Further on that point: the Penguins dressed 18 skaters, the standard in the NHL. 14 of them registered either 0 or 1 shot on goal. The only exceptions were Pascal Dupuis (4 shots), Evgeni Malkin (4 shots, 1 goal), Max Talbot (2 shots, one which was a deflection goal) and Chris Minard (2 shots). That's just not going to cut it.
  • Malkin and Sidney Crosby each registered a goal and an assist and were dangerous with their scoring chances. But both suffered painful moments that could have been injuries--Crosby blocked a shot that appeared to hit his hand/arm and Geno impaled his torso with his own stick (which any hockey player will tell you how much that sucks). Both got over it, but still some scary moments.
  • Petr Sykora, rightly lauded as a leader and a rare forward not named Crosby or Malkin that will contribute on the score board really hurt his team tonight. He took a hooking call in the neutral zone with 8:05 left. Bad enough, but then Sykie--a veteran who should know better--mouthed off to the official who felt it was egregious enough to tack on 2 more minutes for unsportsmanlike conduct. Sure Brendan Shanahan scored four seconds after the penalties were called, but the Pens still had to kill two more minutes while the momentum had clearly shifted to the Devils. Not a good play by Sykora...Bite your tongue and skate to the box.
  • Almost all of the Penguins defensemen had a bad moment, none worse than usually reliable Rob Scuderi....When Bill Thomas won a huge faceoff cleanly in the defensive zone in the final minute; Scuds flubbed the puck, the Devils applied pressure and Whitney had to scramble to the front of the net. The puck bounces off of him and in for the tying goal.
  • The USS Hal Gill and rookie Alex Goligoski were healthy scratches but Mark Eaton and Phillipe Boucher played. Just pointing that out.
  • Overall just not enough puck possession. The Devils outworked the Penguins all night, and especially after Sid and Geno gave the Pens a two goal lead it looked like the boys just sat back on it too much and relied a little too much on their ability to block shots and Fleury's ability to bail them out.

And, well that's that. It's not a night to be proud of, but the Penguins did play the current #2 team in the conference (and a division opponent at that) on the road and took a point away from the game. Since the AS break they have 3 out of a possible 4 points and both games were against teams ahead of them in the standings. If you look at it that way, doesn't seem so bad, now does it?

But it sure would be a lot better if the boys can go to Toronto and make it 5 out of 6 points tomorrow. If they put this behind them and go at it, should be alright. It'll be a Hockey Night in Canada, Matt Cooke's suspension is over and Mathieu Garon (who won 24 games last year for a weak Edmonton team) ought to be in the net for the first time. There's a lot of angles for the Pens to have a shot in the arm. Let's see if they get it.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Pens interested in bringing Colby back?

TSN's Darren Dreger speculates...

With a clear disclaimer there are no guarantees any of these men will get moved, we present ten prominent players believed by NHL sources to be in the mix.

Atlanta's Colby Armstrong has attracted interest this season, including from Pittsburgh who would like to see him reunited with Penguins captain Sidney Crosby.

Armstrong has been one of few bright spots in Atlanta, scoring 13 goals (and 21 points) in 49 games so far this season...Last year in his time in Pittsburgh Colby scored just 9 goals (but had 24 total points) in 54 games before the trade. Army is also in Atlanta's alternate captain rotation and has been highlighted as an important piece of the Thrashers puzzle. Army's set to be a restricted free agent at the end of the season.

It would be interesting to see what ATL would want in return. Could Ray Shero sell them Mark Eaton as a valuable defensemen (and have the T-bombs take Eaton's $2 million cap hit through next season)? That would be pretty big for the Penguins. Does Atlanta want a draft pick? Prospect(s)? That's the key, as well as any other contenders that might have more value for Atlanta.

It would be great to see Armstrong reunited; but then again he's been gone for 10 months and the world did not end. He's a popular teammate and among the fans but let's all remember he wasn't quite the answer as Sidney Crosby's winger last time, what would make this time any different?

Then Dreger noted:

Pittsburgh defenseman Ryan Whitney's name is making the rounds. Pens GM Ray Shero may use Whitney to lure a top line forward for a late-season charge.

Which wouldn't be surprising, either. Shero's got to make a move to snag a winger. With Whitney, Kris Letang and Alex Goligoski the Penguins have a glut of puck moving defensemen, even before the anticipated return of Sergei Gonchar. Obviously the writing is on the wall that one of the aforementioned three young defenders is going to be moved. We don't think it's Letang; he's the youngest of the bunch and is a prized right handed shot. Whitney has the most value, but would also be the best player for Pittsburgh to retain. Goose has been stuck in healthy scratch hell, largely through no fault of his own.

As always, stay tuned...

Little Tits unimpressed by Crosby too

It's Puck Daddy's latest edition of "Russian player has disparaging marks for Sidney Crosby, while praising Patrick Kane and other Russians" starring Sergei "Little Tits" Kostitsyn!

Do you want me to name just one? Or a couple?
Whatever you want.
I think of the young players it is Patrick Kane [of the Chicago Blackhawks]. He was the first in fan voting for the All Star game in the Western Conference. I played with him in the past when we were in the juniors. And we're actually about to have dinner with him right now.

Sweet, young Patrick Kane is certainly a favorite of those Russian players, huh?

Also, shouldn't someone ask Little Tits just who led the Eastern Conference (and the NHL) in fan voting?

And who is the most overhyped player?
It is probably Crosby, just like everyone says, just like Semin said recently. It is true that [he gets] a lot of attention. If you ask me, I think Semin and Ovechkin play much better than Crosby.

We see how one could find Crosby over-hyped, he's basically the alpha and omega of the NHL's marketing plan (note: not by his own choosing). He's been called the next Gretzky before he played in Juniors. There's a lot of hype--again most of it not coming from the player itself--but hype none-the-less surrounding Crosby.

It doesn't bother us that non Penguin players or fans readily admit that or are annoyed by too much Crosby exposure. But that's the way of the world. It's more of the next comment that gets into more disrespectful territory.

But you have to agree that Sidney Crosby is a great player with great skill. It's not for nothing he is considered one of the best players.
Yes, he is very technically skilled. But Semin, Ovechkin, Kovalchuk, Malkin are more technically skilled. And it's not because they are Russian, it's just my opinion.

Well, glad it's not just because their Russian. Kostitsyn should have thrown honorary comrade Patty Kane-ikov in there to even it out a little, yes?

/checks current league leaders

(click to enlarge)

Everyone is entitled to their own preferences and opinions but this is getting a little out of hand. 'Crosby is over-rated, several Russians are more skilled, Patrick Kane is a fancy player blah blah blah'...Followed by a retraction and claims of being "misquoted". The routine is getting passe.

We can't wait to see the Olympics in 2010. Crosby may publically dismiss the brazen comments given, but don't think he's not taking a list for the future. Like a Derian Hatcher high-stick that resulted in broken teeth (and a game winning OT breakaway goal for 87) we think that El Sid is saving his wrath for the biggest stage of all. At least to those Europeans that pride themselves in international competition as much as winning a Cup.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Godard dropping Orr

Silence from the MSG broadcast is always a good sign...

Kudos to Eric Godard for setting the tone literally right out of the gates....He's half the price of Georges Laraque, and actually drops the gloves*!

*14 times to BGL's 5, though Laraque has been sidelined with a nagging groin injury.

Back in the saddle

Hello boys and girls, reports of our demise have been greatly exaggerated, we're back.

The Penguins unofficial "second half" of the season starts tonight. Really 58.5% of the games have been played, but even the team's email bulletin hails it as the beginning of the second half, so here we go..

  • The sked starts out pretty fast and furious; the boys start a set of three games in four nights (two of them on the road)...Then they get a two day break before three more games in four more days. Six games in ten days in four different cities.
  • Sidney Crosby is optimistic to play tonight. We think he will go, and will be OK. After all, he came back from the injury to play in the last two games before the break and while El Sid didn't look 100% it didn't appear he was too far off his game.
  • One guy who won't be going tonight is impromptu first line winger Matt Cooke. Colin Campbell has decided to suspend Cooke two games--not for missing the All-Star game (ha!) but for an elbow to the head of Carolina's Scott Walker.
  • Of this writing, the Penguins haven't decided who to call-up to replace Cooke. Our two cents would go for Chris Minard; who's started to get more shots on goal and did score against the very same Rangers that come to town again tonight
  • Old friends Pascal Dupuis (out the last seven games) and Max Talbot ought to be back in the lineup too. The news is not so good for Brooks Orpik, who despite having what the coach called a relatively minor injury, hasn't been skating.
  • The Rangers held off Carolina 3-2 last night. So their legs might be a little more under them at the beginning of the game. Interestingly Steve Valiquette got a rare start and made 33 saves on 35 shots, as Henrik Lundqvist did do a lot in the weekend's All-Star game and got a night off. The Pens probably won't luck out and not see King Henrik, huh?

Now bigger scheme thoughts to ponder..

  • The Penguins need to go at least 20-13-1 down the stretch to pretty much assure themselves post-season play. That's not impossible but still it does look daunting when one looks at the big number. The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step and tonight is the chance.
  • It might also take some scoreboard watching. As we mentioned, Carolina lost in regulation last night (a good thing) but Florida took out Philly (bad for the Pens...kinda) and Buffalo slaughtered Edmonton 10-2 (bad). Those three teams are the closest for Pittsburgh to catch so if you're one to root against teams, those would be the ones, as of today at least.
  • Since the 6-3 loss to Washington, the Penguins have really tried to batten down the hatches defensively and it shows; they gave up just three goals in three games--including a shutout of the Rangers in the Igloo. Tonight's game is also at Mellon, hopefully the Rags can't get off the schneid.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Malkin and Ovechkin bury the hatchet?

The very compelling blood rivalry between Evgeni Malkin and Alex Ovechkin may have reached an understanding with this weekend's all-star festivities in Montreal. After all, the two definitely have more in common than any friction that's cropped up in recent months.

From Ovechkin's twitter*:

Doing all kinds of interviews. Had a chance to talk with Malkin too
Then about two hours later AO updates with..

Getting ready to have some sushi - interviews are all done for today. Check out pictures of me and Malkin online - we took a lot, I'm su

(It really does cut off there)

Still we can't help but wonder: if the two young guns were really were on friendly terms, wouldn't Ovechkin call him by his Russian nickname (Zhenia) or even his American nickname of Geno? He refers to him as "Malkin" twice, which still seems kind of distant.

Then again, maybe we're just reading too much into it.

Still, keep your eyes open for whatever interviews, quotes and pictures come out from Ovechkin and Malkin over this weekend...What's the Russian word for detente?

*confirmed as legit

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Afternoon Delight

We knew from watching that the Penguins haven't been faring well in daytime games, but the PG hit us with the stats and they are not pretty:

The Penguins are 0-5 in day games this season and have been outscored, 23-10, in those games

That is going to have to change for a team that will be featured several times in the coming weekends on NBC. Well at least there aren't any more bad omens, right? Back to the PG:

The team will wear its throwback blue third jerseys today

Other than that we know that Brooks Orpik (unspecified) is out for today's game. No call to the minors was needed as it appears that Rob Scuderi (sporting a wicked looking right eye after taking a shot to the face) will be back. It also seems like Kris Letang (leg) could be back, but since the Penguins played so well on Friday it may be better to let #58 get another game of rest.

Mathieu Garon will be in attendence for his first game as a Penguin, but Marc-Andre Fleury is tabbed to start. Hopefully Garon's presence will be the push Fleury needs to get his game in gear.

Sidney Crosby will take pre-game warmups--since there is no morning skate due to such an early start time. If he thinks he can go, he will. If not, he'll cede the ice. We think he should probably just sit it out, no sense in risking a longer layoff. But it wouldn't be surprising to see the uber-competitive Crosby try to play, especially with the game being on NBC. You know, face of the league business.

On a personal note, we've got a Penguins afternoon game, the Steelers in the AFC championship and then the Flight of the Conchords season premiere. What a day to be alive.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Biz Nasty gives McIver the business

You know it's almost a shame that the Penguins have signed Eric Godard for three years, it seems that is making his case to be an NHL enforcer.

Biz Nasty now improves to 4-0 in his NHL fighting career according to the voters over at And he's winning big percentage of the votes too: 97%, 85%, 65% and 88% of the votes.

Pens swap Sabs for Garon

It's not unexpected that the Penguins would make a trade, given how things have been going lately. But the first move Ray Shero has made for a Penguinomic Stimulus package was not a scoring winger, it was a bailout. Well, a backup goalie, Mathieu Garon from Edmonton. See ya later Dany Sabs!

The Edmonton Oilers traded goaltender Mathieu Garon to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday for goaltender Dany Sabourin, centre Ryan Stone, and a fourth-round pick in 2011.

The next question: what kind of season is Garon having so far?

In 15 games this year, he went 6-8-0 with a 3.17 GAA and a save percentage of .895.

Oh Jesus.

Well, we'll see. Sabourin couldn't bail the Penguins this season when Marc-Andre Fleury went down, just like it was Sabourin who couldn't carry the mail last season, yielding to Ty Conklin. Hindsight is 20/20 but clearly the Penguins should have waived/traded Sabourin before the season started and offered Conklin a contract. Conks genuinely enjoyed his time in Pittsburgh and was happy they gave him the chance to breath live into his dead NHL career, he probably would have been receptive to stay. And his contract with Detroit was reasonable, one year at $750,000. Garon's cap hit is $1.1 million.

Excuse the tangent. Sabourin lost his last six starts and the Pens really did just need to move on. Garon obviously hasn't been Patrick Roy this season himself, but he's a new face and sometimes goalies can get on a hot steak in a new setting. Last season Garon did win 26 games and posted a save percentage of .913 on a fairly weak Oiler team, so he's got the potential.

Speaking of a new setting, Ryan Stone needed that. By going to Edmonton at least he is joining a team with a lot of familiar faces--as Edmonton and Pittsburgh stocked the Wilkes-Barre AHL team with both their prospects a couple seasons ago. Stone played with Kyle Brodziak, Marc-Antoine Pouliot, Tom Gilbert and Robert Nilsson.

Stone just never chipped his way into the Penguins lineup. While he had good playmaking abilities and could throw big hits, it never seemed decided if he would slot to be in a scoring role or a checking role in the NHL. Also his skating ability just seemed a notch below adequate and seemed to limit him too. Perhaps he'll be able to make it in a new organization. We certainly wish him well but feel that he is another victim of the Greg Malone curse.

Pens choke out the Ducks

Last night was sort of a look if the Penguins hadn't had won the 2005 draft lottery...And while it wasn't pretty, they got just enough to win...And hey, they got through the game with only one player getting knocked out with injury, so that's a plus.

  • Obviously with Sidney Crosby's injury it all starts with Evgeni Malkin. Geno stepped it up, he did uncharacteristically well in the faceoff circle (8 of 14), was credited with the Pens only two takeaways, three shots on net and two assists. He also played 24:25 and only one other forward played more than 20 minutes.
  • Matt Cooke really ate his Wheaties. The Penguins were playing a gritty, nasty, "not pretty" type of game, fitting right into Cooke's philosphy as well. And his goals (whipping shots on net, spinning bodies around) were a good reflection of a job well done.
  • In our recap we predicted a lot of minutes for Ryan Whitney and Brooks Orpik. After Orpik left the game early with an injury, Whitney must have taken a deep breath and said "here we go". Whits got a game high 29:39 as he picked up most of the slack and did well.
  • From the things you don't see everyday file: Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer combined for a -4.
  • Chris Minard registered a team high five shots on goal and looked the most comfortable he ever has in the NHL. One gets the feeling if he keeps chipping at it he's going to breakthrough. The question is, can he make the most of the opportunity before forwards return from injury and time runs out.
  • And how about Hal Gill with his first goal since March 16, 2008? That's a 60 drought (including the playoff run). It was a perfect example of the Penguins mentality: just get the puck to the net whenever you can. Credit Jordan Staal for the faceoff win and Gill for unleashing the rocket.

So an important two points in the Penguins pocket but also the confidence to know that when they play well and buckle down defensively they are good enough to compete and beat any team in the league.

We noted that the five game stretch before the All-Star game could be pivotal in the season. The Penguins are now 2-1 in the highlighted segment. Now if they could just show up for an afternon game...

Friday, January 16, 2009

M*A*S*H Unit

The PG reports the residual damage, and it's not pretty. 20% of players that pulled on a uniform last game aren't able to go due to injury (that's four players for you non math whizzes). Sidney Crosby, Kris Letang, Rob Scuderi and Maxime Talbot, all out with various non-disclosed upper (Scuderi, Talbot) or lower (Crosby, Letang) body injuries.

Add them to Pascal Dupuis (leg/groin injury), faceoff king Mike Zigomanis (shoulder?), Ruslan "Ivan Drago" Fedotenko (hand) and Sergei Gonchar (shoulder) and that's 8 players (or 44% of the non-goalie lineup) that would be out there, if healthy.

Earlier this week the Columbus newspaper blog Puck Rakers compiled a list of man-games lost to injury. Pittsburgh came in fifth on the list for quantity and would have to rank higher than that for quality of players missed. As an example, Philadelphia had 213 missed man games to injury but that includes the entire seasons for human pylons Mike Rathje and Derian Hatcher, two players stashed away on long-term injured reserve that the Flyers are not exactly missing.

Regardless, there's still a game to play with the players that are left. The seven minute man, Janne Pesonen, is back in town...Will Therrien be forced to give him a chance to sink or swim? At this point, why the hell not. It's not like any other winger is showing any offensive prowess (save Petr Sykora of course). Pittsburgh's Own Bill Thomas is back in the show as well. Thomas only has 14 points in 33 AHL games, unusual for a guy who scored 52 points in 75 AHL games last season. We think that they have been using him in more of a checking role and he probably is going to have to switch his game around in order to make it work at the highest level. It'll be interesting to see if he could have anything to offer.

Something we've been thinking about
--If you want to fire the coach, what are you going to do better? Here's how we'd line 'em up tonight:


Eaton-Boucher (shudder)

Yeah this is asking a lot of a guy like Pesonen to go from riding the buses in the minors to playing with the NHL’s point scoring leader, but Pesonen was a point scoring leader in his league last year, it’s not like he doesn’t have skill. Obviously if it’s clear Pesonen is out of place an adjustment to move someone else up (like Tyler Kennedy or Miroslav Satan) could be made.

For that very reason, it's time to end the Satan banishment to the lower lines. Sure he's been largely invisible in recent weeks and worthy of demotion. But on a night like tonight where so much firepower is out of the lineup, it's not a time for that. He's got to get more ice and he's got to make something happen with it.

And how much confidence do you have knowing that every member of the bottom four defensemen has been healthy scratches for multiple recent games. Hope the Whitney/Orpik combo is ready for big minutes, they’re surely going get them in all situations.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Pens lose to Caps

At the end of the day the Penguins let too many early chances go…Sidney Crosby had a breakaway but couldn’t score. Jordan Staal came down on a 2 on 1 and was rebuffed. On and on, so it goes.

--Rob Scuderi caught a shot in the face and was obviously out for the game. Dropping to five defensemen for the rest of the night on back to back games may not be an excuse they’ll use, but it looked like it took it’s toll.

--Hold your breath on the Crosby injury front, looked like Sid was in a lot of pain. Hopefully we’ll hear something today and it will be good news…Remember with the All-Star break the Penguins only play three games in the next 13 days.

--For the chances the Penguins failed on, the Caps seemed to put them in. There were certainly no shortage of weak calls (for both teams) to give each other’s power-plays chances to separate. Credit the Caps on this night for doing that.

--The Malkin/Ovechkin angle is fascinating. We can’t remember two players so good just going after each other so personally. It elevates both of their games too, with three combined goals on 22 shots. This could be the angle of the Olympics, how the two countrymen interact and coexist.

--You still get the feeling this team is missing that certain something, but what is it? Sergei Gonchar can do a lot of things, but playing the wing is not one of them. Ray Shero’s inactivity is starting to hurt the team. No one wants him to make a move just to make a move, but at some point he’s gotta step up to the plate and make something happen. Is it fire the coach? Is it shaking the team up with a trade? Hey we don’t have the answers, but “do nothing” seems to be the wrong one. The season is slipping away.

--Finally, eye rolls on Ted Leonsis taking swipes at the Pensblog and then follow up by tooting his own team's blogosphere for being "sophisticated". (Side note: we still can't find the page in the sophistication manual where it says you can call someone a clown?) It's doubtful he'd be crowing like this if the Penguins had won yesterday. But the Caps carried the play so give the man his day.

Still, it's the Pensblog, what do you expect? They "job" everyone all the time, themselves included. The Pensblog is like a juvenile George Carlin--it's profane, it's shocking, it's loud. Japers Rink is like a hip network news show that's always a good read. Both are excellent in their own regards, but they have different ways and different methods. There's no shortage of analytical, even-handed Penguins blogs that offered accounts of the game that Ted would have found a little more mature, but it seemed like he wanted to target the Pensblog and get off a shot while he could at an entire fanbase while he was at it. Classy indeed.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Gameday: Caps at Pens

One of the great things about hockey is the natural ebb and flow of the season…Just a few days ago the Caps were the golden boys of the NHL—winners of seven straight games after the Flyers had laid a 7-1 whooping on them. Just 24 hours ago the Penguins couldn’t catch a break, rumors of firing coaches abound. Now, all of a sudden, the Caps have dropped three straight games and Michel Therrien looks pretty smart for some of his coaching tactics. A lot can change even in the next 24 hours so let’s keep our heads on swivel.

TST comes to you from the shadow of Washington DC so let’s take a look at the opponent for our Penguin fan friends who don’t see the Caps as much as we do:

--John Erskine played last night for the first time in 23 games. Erskine is a physical defensemen, prone to making mistakes, but generally is a decent enough skater and nasty enough to get out of what mistakes he causes himself. Mr. Erskine missed those 22 games with a concussion. Last year Eric Godard (then of the Calgary Flames) gave Erskine a concussion in a fight.

--Brooks Laich is basically their Western Canadian version of Max Talbot; he’s a character player on the ice that is a character off of it. But Laich has gone cold recently, he’s pointless in six straight games and a -4 over that stretch.

--Many have been impressed by rookie defensemen Karl Alzner, who plays a very steady game. Alzner just took his first NHL penalty (for delay of game) in 23 games. But enjoy this look at him while you can, the Caps are in a crunch with the salary cap and expect Tom Poti and his $3.5 million salary back from long-term IR soon, which will probably banish Alzner back to the farm unless they pull some trades.

--In three games back from pneumonia Tomas Fleischmann has two goals. He’s up to 14 tallies on the season, but he’s also worst on his team in +/-, coming in at a -12. Watch when his line is out there if the Penguins can play puck control down in the Caps’ zone, it’ll be a very good sign.

--Nicklas Backstrom is off to a fine sophomore campaign, 45 points in 44 games. Centering that Ovechkin guy doesn’t hurt, but Backstrom’s added a new dimension to his game; last year he scored 14 goals (well, really 15) in 82 games and this year Backstrom’s already up to 12 goals in 44 games.

--8 of Backstrom’s goals have come on with the man advantage and defensemen Mike Green has 9 power-play goals. It’s not just Ovechkin one needs to mind, if teams focus on taking him away the Caps find an open man somewhere else. If teams aren’t vigilant on stopping AO then he finds open room and usually makes you pay with a shot. Sometimes he even puts the shot on goal.

--Ovechkin will shoot from anywhere at anytime. His 6.5 shots/game lead the league by far. We can’t find the totals for his shots blocked and missed the net but they are easily more than the ones he actually gets to the net. He’s a maniac that plays a manic brand of hockey. Hopefully, like the first meeting, he’ll be too occupied trying to run Evgeni Malkin and forget that he’s supposed to, you know, score goals.

Expectations for the game?

--Expect the Caps to out-shoot the Penguins. It seems like they usually do. This is not a bad thing, it certainly isn’t a good thing, it just is there. The Pens will give up shots but they will be manageable ones. It’s Marc-Andre Fleury’s job to manage them.

--Not much fireworks out of Crosby/Semin, at least between the two directly. The talk of the season has been the famous Alex “Deadwood” Semin interview with Puck Daddy where the Russian voiced an unimpressed opinion of Sidney Crosby. Crosby, ever the statesman off the ice, of course said the right and classy thing and let it blow over. It would be great to see Crosby ragdoll Semin like he did to Brett McLean, but that’s not in the works. Much like the Philly fans with their boos, Crosby will exact his revenge in a bigger way; on the scoreboard.

--At the end of the day, with so much talent on the ice it'll probably come down to who's players step up through the special teams and are able to convert or kill off more chances. Should be entertaining.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Big time win

After being in such a rut and in a tough environment the Penguins dug deep and played well. Taking two points from a divisional opponent is huge. Especially Philly.

  • The Penguins played a perfect 1-2-2 system for the first half of the game. They were pretty patient, they laid back and didn't force the issue too much. In short, it looked like they were listening to the coach's adjustments to buckle down and play smart, not at all like a team that is out doing there own thing.
  • Was the crowd often chanting "Crosby sucks!" or "Cote sucks". Maybe it was just our Center Ice feed but what is the Philly organ guy doing playing that rhythm in the first place? The standard Flyers chant is the riff that the Rangers use, so shame on the Flyers people for drumming up vile directed towards one player.
  • Not that it bothered Crosby, with his two assists and several other great chances along the way.
  • Paul Bissonnette had a good night back in the show too, albeit in brief work. Biz Nasty worked over Aaron Asham in a fight and threw a puck to the net that Tyler Kennedy got into the net for a huge first goal for the Pens.
  • Matt Cooke stepped into a tough role as the other guy of the Crosby/Evgeni Malkin line and did very well. Sure the forechecking and physical prescence is a given but obviously the conversion for the go-ahead goal helps. And Cooke made a terrific play on a 2 on 1 with Crosby; after Sid fed him the puck Cookie passed it back right on the tape for a slam dunk. Apparantely 87 is too acquainted with the likes of the playmaking abilities of some of his previous linemates like Andy Hilbert, Ryan Malone, old ass Mark Recchi, Colby Armstrong and Pascal Dupuis because Sid didn't finish.
  • 25:34; that's the time on ice that your third star of the night Kris Letang had. Of course he had 5 powerplay minutes but Letang is gobbling up minutes at even strength as well. The next step for the young defensemen? Getting those heavy shots that are going *just* high onto the net.
  • It looked like it could be another one of those nights for Marc-Andre Fleury after Simon Gagne's hard dump in jumped over his stick and right to Mike Knuble for the game's opening goal. But credit Fleury for settling down and the Pens defensive effort to help steady the ship for a 27 save on 29 shot performance.

Now back to home for a huge game against Alex "Dead wood" Semin and the suddenly slumping Capitals. Of course more on this tomorrow.

Will it be sunny in Philadelphia tonite for the Pens?

The next five games, to be played starting tonight and finishing next Tuesday night before the Pens break for the All-Star festivities, could be crucial in shaping the season.

Of these five games:
--4 are at home
--4 are against Eastern conference opponents all currently in the Top 8

Tonight’s game against Philadelphia is the beginning of this uber-important stretch, and what a way to begin…The Flyers are on an eight game home winning streak and you know the fans are going to be ready to boo 87 (and now 71) every time they touch the puck.

Pascal Dupuis can’t go tonight, so Biz Nasty is back. Bissonnette AND Eric Godard in a lineup? Yeah, must be a game against the Flyers.

Monday, January 12, 2009

At least one team in the organization is winning..

Wilkes-Barre downs Hershey 6-2 yesterday afternoon:

Wilkes-Barre/Scranton rallied for the final five goals of the game – including three on the power play – to take a 6-2 win over visiting Hershey on Sunday before 6,475 fans at the Wachovia Arena at Casey Plaza.

Rookie Nick Johnson tallied a pair of goals for the Penguins, and Janne Pesonen racked up a game-high four points (1-3-4) in the winning effort.

As Jonathan Bombulie points out, the Baby Pens (24-13-3) have defeated the mighty Bears (28-11-1) three times in a row following opening night's beat down. Also, anything that puts Mark Letustu and Mario Lemieux in the same sentence has got to be worth a read.

Pesonen was the #1 star of the game and rookie winger Luca Caputi notched three assists. It would be great if one of them could make an impact in the NHL this season, but don't hold your breath.

The Penguins are 7-2-1 in their last ten which is solid, but even more impressive considering that a number of their best players (Chris Minard, Tim Wallace, Dustin Jeffrey and Paul Bissonnette) have been in Pittsburgh for some or all of this stretch.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Best coach in town: Mike Tomlin

As you may or may not know: we've been on the Defensive Player of the Year's bandwagon before the oxes got there.

As long as Ben stays out of the way (we still maintain that Homestead Charlie is our man)...The Steelers will win. And win big.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Who says you can't go home

You know, if the price of oil keeps dropping the Russian Kontinental Hockey League is going to be in a world of hurt...

“I was thinking about it and if Mario would call me and say, ‘I’d like you to play for our team,’ I would think about it a lot,” Jagr said in a telephone interview from Moscow where the Kontinental League will hold its inaugural All-Star Game outdoors at Red Square Saturday. “I would play for the minimum salary. I would play for $350,000 just for him because I owe him my hockey life. I want to pay him back because he has made me what I am…besides my parents.”

Talk about bringing things full circle, eh? Of course, everything's conjecture until the rubber hits the road, but even if Jagr finishes another season and a half in Russia he would be 38 years old. That's so young Mark Recchi and Chris Chelios would be yelling at keeping him off their lawn.

Stay tuned, and as always never say never..

Huge hat-tip to Empty Netters

Friday, January 9, 2009

Slugger Ruslan Fedotenko out, Minard up

(image from the Pensblog)

The look on the Penguins faces on the bench is priceless. Miroslav Satan doesn’t seem too impressed though. But then again Satan hasn’t really been that much of anything inside a rink in quite a while.

Ruslan Fedotenko out 4-6 weeks on a broken hand from Colby Armstrong’s beak? Ouch. Rusty should leave the fighting to the big dogs. The shame too is Fedotenko was playing good hockey on the “European line” with Evgeni Malkin and Petr Sykora.

To replace Fedotenko, Chris Minard has been re-called. Minard’s scoring at an Ovechkin-esque rate: 26 goals in 30 games. Unfortunately when he’s been in the bigs Head Coach Michel Therrien—in all his wisdom, has given Minard 8 minutes a night, primarily playing with guys like Eric Godard. This time it should be different, Minard has been a pure goal scorer at every level. During the NHL lockout he scored 49 goals (in 69 games) playing with a playmaking center in Scott Gomez. Sure it was the ECHL, but still, if you can play with talented players it shows, despite the level of competition. With such few Penguins winger actually acting like they know how to play hockey, why not give Minard (now seasoned with 22 career NHL games) a legit shot at a chance on a scoring line.

If Therrien is smart, he'll make it happen. If he's lucky, Minard will somehow pinball around and end up on a top line with all the combination of switches. It's bound to happen, right?

Letang a Young-star, Goose snubbed

Kris Letang is going to the All-Star game. Well not quite, but he was voted back to the joke of the "Youngstars" game; an exhibition so lax it makes the actual All-Star game look as intense as a Game 7 playoff between two blood rivals.

Alex Goligoski [6 goals, 13 assists, +6] got left off the rookie team in favor of Toronto's Luke Schenn [29 games, 0 goals, 3 assists, -6] and LA's Drew Doughty [3g, 9a, -4]. Meh, the game is basically a commerical and having two young 18/19 year old defensemen is more of a "story".

Stuck in a rut

The Penguins finally got some puck luck involved in a couple goals in order to jump up to a 3-0 lead, but it wasn’t to be as Nashville battled back.

Could a coaching change be on the horizon? For whatever reason the Pens are stuck in a rut. No matter who Michel Therrien plays (or sits), no matter what combination he uses (and he’s about tried them all) nothing is clicking, nothing is working. Among the worst of his ideas:

--Sitting Hal Gill out again and playing Alex Goligoski as a 3rd line forward. The now official whipping boy of TST, Phillipe Boucher, is playing terrible. When Ryan Whitney coughed up the puck to give up a 2 on 1 (gah) Boucher fell back. As a defensemen there is one important thing to accomplish on a 2 on 1, and even the most basic players know it. DO NOT ALLOW THE PASS, let the goalie play the guy with the puck, you take out the other player. So what does Boucher do? He lets a pass go through. Sure, it was a nice saucer pass by Martin Erat and David Legwand made a great hustle just to get in the play, but that’s what happens at the NHL level when you don’t do your job.

--Alex Goligoski is not a forward. He’s never played forward. He’s not going to look good jumping straight into NHL action as a forward. The third and tying Nashville goal was a real back-breaker, with :55 seconds left in the period. Mark Eaton and who else, Boucher, couldn’t get the puck out and Goligoski—not a forward, didn’t play his new position well either. Shocker.

--Constant line switching. We don’t mind a change now and then, but seemingly every period all the combinations were switched. Jordan Staal played with Sidney Crosby and Tyler Kennedy. Then he’s playing with Matt Cooke and Max Talbot; Miroslav Satan is with Evgeni Malkin and Petr Sykora, then he’s down with Dustin Jeffrey and Tim Wallace. Malkin is bouncing around from center to wing. With all this changing, it’s no wonder the Penguins effort and results are mixed and uneven. There’s no chance to settle in with chemistry—or for those moving from wing to center or defense to wing back to defense when the team needs a goal, even to get comfortable in a position.

Nashville had some interesting ideas too, they pulled goalie Dan Ellis after the second goal (a fluky bad clearing attempt that ended up in the net). Both coaches and Nashville broadcasters said it wasn’t Ellis’ fault, but to kick start the team. Well the team was already outshooting and outhustling the Penguins—not that that says too much these days—and new goalie Pekka Rinne saw a pinball Matt Cooke pass end up on Max Talbot’s stick and in the back of the net. From their on though Rinne was solid, especially during the Penguins last flurry.

In that last, desperate exchange; new contract boy Jordan Staal got the puck on his stick with an empty net but Radek Bonk made a fabulous defensive play to poke it away. If Staal can put that in we go to OT at 4-4 and anything could happen. But, these days, that’s just not how things are going for the Penguins. The only question is how big of a whole is Ray Shero going to let the team dig themselves before he takes action. Whether that is relieving Therrien, making a trade, signing Brendan Shanahan, any number of possibilities could be the answer. The option of sitting back and letting the boys get over this themselves just doesn’t look realistic now.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Staal signs extension

The Penguins re-signed Jordan Staal today, four years and $16 million. On the surface it seems like a shock, a $4 million a year cap hit for a 3rd line center seems like a novelty.

But when you talk Jordan Staal, you must always remember he's 20 years old. In fact he recently broke Patrick Marleau's record of being the youngest player to play 200 NHL games. The sky is the limit, the potential is there. This year Staal's been going through an up and down season, but we've noticed he's been more physical in throwing checks than past seasons. His game is progressing and he is getting better, even if it doesn't always jump out at you. Take even strength faceoffs as one indicator; Staal's first season he won just 38%, last season it was up to 44% and this year it's up to exactly 50% so far. Even if the statistictial metrics don't always jump off the page, 6'4 220 pound defensively responsible centers do not grow on trees.

A second reaction might be; $4 million, that's a big increase. But it really isn't, Staal's on his entry level contract and his cap hit is $2.2 million. Cap hits for rookies includes the maximum bonuses, though it's pretty likely that Staal achieves most these bonuses (usual marks include appearing in 40, 50, 60 games, score 10, 15, 20 goals, etc). Considering that Evgeni Malkin could have been a $10 or almost $11 million man next season, what he left on the table covers a lot of Staal's salary bump.

So much for those budding Staal for Martin St. Louis trade rumors, huh? We never thought Staal would be traded this season, it always seemed like Ray Shero was very connected and comfortable with his first ever draft pick as a general manager.

20 years old and all that money though. When we were 20 the things on our minds were finishing papers, chasing girls and wondering where the next party would be. It's almost unimaginable to ponder four years and $16 million dollars.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Interesting stats at the half-way mark

--Evgeni Malkin is on pace for 126 points. Last year Alex Ovechkin netted 112 and in Sidney Crosby's year he got 120. Malkin's on pace for 96 assists which would be the most since Wayne Gretzky cracked a hundy in 1991.

--Malkin is ten points up on Ovechkin in the scoring race. Since the lockout the margain of victory by the Art Ross winner over the second closest scorer has been 6, 6 and 2.

--And just think what happens when Malkin (goal-less in nine games, without a PP goal since November 15th) gets heats up in that category.

--To what should be the surpise of no one, Eric Godard is #1 on the team in penalty minutes...But #2 (Crosby) and #4 (Malkin) on that list is strange.

--Brooks Orpik has 151 hits, good for second in the league to Boston's Milan Lucic (154). Thanks to an injury to Anton Volchenkov, Orpik is also in 1st place for the unofficial "black and blue" trophy with 234 combined hits and blocked shots. Columbus' Mike "Make it Rain" Commodore is second in that category with 200.

--Reliable Rob Scuderi is 5th in the league with 102 blocked shots.

--Not surprisingly with the long-term injuries to Ryan Whitney (22:26 TOI last season) and Sergei Gonchar (25:54) have seen some defensemen pick up some serious minutes. Kris Letang jumped from 18:09 of ice-time last season to 21:32 over the first half of this season. Brooks Orpik went from 16:57 last season to 20:40 this year. Rob Scuderi has seen an extra 1:22 per game this season and Alex Goligoski has been playing 18:41 (he played 13:56 per game in three games last season).

--Marc-Andre Fleury is one of the players looking forward to turning the page on the first half of the season; he's given up 68 goals in 24 games so far this season, while the entire last season he only surrendered 72 goals in 35 games. Hopefully for the Penguins though, Fleury will play well more than 11 games the second half of this season.

--In a moment to take a look on the bright side; Jordan Staal hits the midpoint with 21 points, whereas he only had 28 the entire sophomore slump last season.

--Pascal Dupuis and his rocket-laser slapshot have nine goals, but if he only doubles it 18 still won't be a career high; as Dupuis somehow hit 20 in 2002-03, the height of the trap happy Minnesota Wild.

--No idea if this is a a record or what, but Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin have combined for 114 points (in 82 combined man-games played). Every other skater to wear a Penguins sweater this season has 167 points (in 656 combined man-games played). The difference in points per game ratio is 1.39 points/game for the Big Guns to .25 points/game for everyone else.

--Malkin and Crosby scoring 41% of all points scored by Penguins is a little skewered, of course, since they receive all the power-play time they can handle and often times assist on each other's goals or assists.

Put the Pens in the Southeast..

Is it too late to petition realignment to the Southeastern Division? Pittsburgh, geographically, is more "eastern" than Atlanta and Tampa is, and techincally is closer to the Mason-Dixon line then it is to the Atlantic Ocean. You think Bettman would buy it? Yeah probably not, but the Pens feasted on Atlanta anyways (they're 3-0 against the T-bombs this year) to snap out of so many nasty streaks. Ok, that aside

--One of the more interesting developments is how short the Penguins fuses have become. Sidney Crosby famously jumped a guy over the weekend, but Colby Armstrong takes down Ruslan Fedotenko on a relatively normal play and Rusty challenges him to fisticuffs? Fedotenko's had three fights in his career with two of them coming in the past three weeks....And maybe he should think of not fighting again, as he appeared to hurt his hand after one-punching the prominent proboscis on Army's face.

--When you're in a slump (to say nothing of a slump of epic proportions), everyone preaches just getting the puck to the net to score an ugly one. And while the Penguins did look to get traffic to the net and get some point shots through, it's still amusing that the slump buster—a hard cross-ice pass in the zone from Ryan Whitney to Petr Sykora who redirected it-- was about the furthest thing from being ugly goal as you could get.

--A lot of people wondered if Sidney Crosby fired up his teammates, we’ll leave it to you to answer that, but we think he’s certainly gotten himself fired up. El Sid averaged 3.08 shots on goal over the first 39 games of the season. In the two games following Fight-Night 2009 he’s got 6.50 shots a night. It’s admittedly a small sample size but it is reflective of how he has cranked his intensity up a notch. And the work he’s doing in his own zone (winning faceoffs, taking pucks away, intercepting passes, starting breakouts) is just as good as the crisp passes and shots he’s getting at the offensive end.

--It obviously helps to play with guys like Crosby, Whitney and Evgeni Malkin, but where would the Penguins be without Sykora? Not just tonight but generally he’s been a monster, leading the team with 10 powerplay goals and 6 game winners on top of that.

--Marc-Andre Fleury deserves a lot of credit too. We've all been a little frustrated with him when he's been giving up early goals or somewhat weak goals, but he closed the door 27 out of 28 times, especially in the 3rd period when the Penguins were sitting on the lead and allowed too many good chances, as the 14-7 shot advantage for the T-bombs would suggest.

--We bet the only person who looks forward to playing against the Penguins more than Ilya Kovalchuk is Dany Heatley. The other "Kovy" has 18 goals and 15 assists in 26 career games against the Pens...Also at age 24 (25 in a couple months), doesn't it seem like Kovalchuk is already old? He's been in the NHL since our senior year of high school. And with young Russians like Malkin, Alex Ovechkin, Alex Semin in the league, as hard as it is to imagine but Kovalchuk is fading off of conciousness, it seems. Of course, if he played somewhere like Montreal or Detroit this probably wouldn't be the case.

--As nice as it was to get the win, the second game scratch in a row of Hal Gill and Alex Goligoski didn't make our house happy. However perhaps it should be noted one of the TST whipping boys, Phillipe Boucher, was on the ice for both power play goals. Then again, you could probably put Paris Hilton on skates and tell her not to hump anyone and the likes of Crosby, Malkin, Whitney and Sykora could work the puck around and score a goal or two.

--Hit machine Brooks Orpik was credited with 10 more deserving crunches last night. And the stick he caught in the face Monday night makes his face look even more creepy/intense.

--From the "Everything Can't Go Right Department" two "top-six" wingers didn't finish the game due to injury as Pascal Dupuis joined Fedotenko in the sick bay. Could this be a chance for the Penguins to give Chris Minard (26 goals in 30 AHL games) a chance to play on a top line in the NHL? True Minard only has 1 goal in 22 career NHL games, but when you're playing 7-8 minutes a night with the likes of Eric Godard, well that's what you get.

Now is as good a time as any to hit the road on what will be (according to the mileage) the second most taxing roadie left on the schedule this year. Nashville on Thursday, a matinee with Colorado Saturday and then back east to take on those dastardly Flyers on Tuesday.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Removing Monkeys from backs

The slump has become a deep hole that the Penguins are mired in. 5 game losing streak, a seven game streak of no powerplay goals, a microscopic goals for figure in general, some shaky goaltending and defensive play.

But could this be as much mired in confidence and perception as it are in reality? We think so. Take a look at the overall record, 19-17-4. Nothing to brag on for sure, but still, a decent records. The Pens have taken their lumps to injuries, plugging in more faces than they'd care to do and arguably the worst stretch of games since the season we all try to forget, 2003-04. We think this could be snapped out of relatively quickly, but something is going to have to change.

Is it the coach? A personnel move? A certain free agent signing (paging Brendan Shanahan)? Could be any of those things for the long-term, but for tonight's game against Atlanta (a poor team that the Pens are 2-0 versus this season), how about thinking short term; let's get the first goal, or--dare we ask--a goal when the Thrashers are penalized. That would be, we think, a huge relief and burden off the shoulders of not only who scores it, but the whole team.

All the boys just need to loosen the grip on the sticks, keep pressing and it will come. It has to come. There's simply too much talent in the lineup for it not to.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Therrien makes lineup changes

And we can't say we agree with them...

Winger Miroslav Satan, who does not have a goal in eight games, has been demoted to the fourth line, where he will work alongside Dustin Jeffrey and Eric Godard, and defensemen Alex Goligoski and Hal Gill apparently will be healthy scratches.

If you're going to send a message, why not scratch Satan for a game and use Tim Wallace (a hard working 4th line forward) on the 4th line, instead of sitting him?

Goligoski, while being a rookie, hasn't looked out of place, and while Gill has had a couple of shaky outings in his few games back from injury, Mark Eaton and Phillipe Boucher have been shakier this whole season.

Some of the moves Therrien made, like moving Tyler Kennedy to the top line with Sidney Crosby, we do like. Kennedy plays with energy, causes turnovers and actually isn't afraid to put the puck on the net. Keeping the 3rd line of Matt Cooke-Jordan Staal-Max Talbot together also makes sense.

Of course, the results will be known tonight. If the Penguins can finally shake that six game powerplay goal drought, especially early, the sigh of relief may be good enough to carry them to a win and start playing a little looser. But if Boucher and Eaton, two noticably bad players of late (3rd bullet) are out their for some PK goals against, the cries for Therrien's head are only going to get louder.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Players that received less All-Star Votes than Max Talbot

Yeah, yeah, the All-Star game is basically a sham of which fan bases can stuff the ballot boxes (usually through cheating). And obviously Chicago, Anaheim, Montreal and Pittsburgh fans were the best (worst?) at this. Dr. Mirtle has a cool look at unusual candidates.

Maxime Talbot * Pittsburgh 21,848
Phil Kessel * Boston 19,821
Ray Whitney Carolina 19,457
Brian Rolston New Jersey 19,140
Milan Lucic * Boston 15,134
David Krejci * Boston 10,255
Trent Hunter NY Islanders 9,841

Superstar treatment again!

--And before any questions come in, this blog's editor has been to busy to write Talbot in 20,000 times. So we can only take credit for about 1,848 of those votes.

The latest Crosby-gate

Surely by now you've seen what we're referring to. Mirtle agrees with Nick Boynton (who's no saint himself) by saying it's embarassing. Puck Daddy thinks Sidney Crosby earned it and throws in a few jabs like only he can about the merits of jumping a man ala Jerry Springer. Some clown at AOL acts like Crosby's the first guy to ever fight while wearing a visor.

As usual, the truth is somewhere in the middle and there's a lot of reactions from people that probably didn't watch the game in it's entirity (as we had the unforunate pleasure of doing). Most probably undetrstad the context of the season right now, the Penguins have put up several clunkers at home and can't seem to catch a break right now. Everyone is frustrated and pissed off, no one moreso than the leader of the team.

What most probably don't get if they didn't see the game was how this specific game unfolded; it' not like the lowly Panthers were all the utmost of gentlemen and were innocent bystanders. Gregory Campbell was chirping all game long, getting in Crosby's face and the two exchanged pushes, cross-checks and punches behind the play earlier.

Max Talbot decided he had enough and challenged Campbell to fight. The two fought a lengthy and honorable bout within the contexts of hockey's rules (both written and unwritten). Talbot clearly had no reason to fight Campbell other than for how the Panther was treating his captain.

On the next faceoff the infamous Crosby/Brett McLean fight went down. For those that didn't watch the game, and didn't realize that McLean apparantely agreed to a fight with El Sid, it does look a little raw to see a guy get pummeled.

But if you didn't think that maybe McLean threw in a little comment about Talbot doing Crosby's dirty work by fighting Campbell, you haven't played too much hockey. McLean wasn't a bystander who just got jumped, he surely had a handle in it. It's not like Crosby beat the hell out of someone like Michael Frolik or Richard Zednik or anything. The antigonist was, well, antagonizing him at one point and the frustration boiled over.

So if you hate Crosby this is a perfect excuse to let it out with some keyboard courage. Go right ahead, it makes no difference. It's a game of hockey. Tempers get out of control when you care about the outcome. If you don't get mad, you'll never get back in it.

Mark words, in the long-run this might be the turning point of the season. Sure, Crosby took himself out of the game with 19 minutes worth of penalties, but if you watched the game you would know that even though the score was 4-1, it might as well have been over. The Pens, as usual these past couple weeks, weren't doing anything with the puck, and their goalies were offering only shaky attempts to keep pucks out of their own net. If Crosby was in the game, maybe it's a 5-2 or 6-3 loss at best. Sometimes standing up for yourself and making a point is a little more important than the result of the game. We think on this day it was.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Hitting Rock Bottom

Terrible loss today. Terrible. Nothing is going right for the Pens, no matter what lines or goalies they use, it's just not the right answer, pucks are ending up in the wrong net.

So what's it going to be? We're not advocates of calling for a coach's job, but it seems now that Michel Therrien is at the end of the line. His moves, which in the past have been right on the money, have now fallen flat. Guys are trying, but the shake up of a new voice, new energy behind the bench might be what the doctor ordered.

Like we said, the effort is there. Gregory Campbell was chirping at Sidney Crosby and battling him very chippy. Max Talbot made Campbell answer for the talk with a lengthy and good fight. After seeing that the very frustrated Crosby decided he had enough and jumped Brett McLean.

It's frustrating for them, it's frustrating for everyone right now. The next game is in Madison Square Garden, maybe a road matchup against a division opponent (and good team) is what it takes to get out of this rut.

But at this point maybe there needs to be something more drastic than that.