Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Alex Ovechkin Drops F-Bomb on Bruce Boudreau (HD)

Penguins Free Agents this summer

I have compiled a list of Penguins free agents this summer for your review, and would welcome any feedback as to who should be back and who should not:

Brent Johnson who was 6-7-2 with a 3.11 GAA and .883 save percentage- salary was 600K
Steve Sullivan who had 17G and 48Pts and -3 in 79 games...big on the #5 power-1.5M- UFA
Eric Tangradi who had 0G and 3Pts and -2 in 24 games-845K- RFA
Arron Asham who had 5G and 16Pts and -5 in 64 games-775K- UFA
Steve MacIntyre who had 0G and 0Pts and even in 12 games-600K- UFA
Richard Park who had 7G and 14 Pts and -1 in 54 games-550K-UFA
Matt Niskanen who had 4G and 21 Pts and +9 in 75 games-1.5M-RFA
Brian Strait who had 0G and 1 Pts and -2 in 9 games-861K-RFA

Robert Bortuzzo RFA-535K*
Carl Sneep-RFA-850K*
Alexandre Picard-RFA-600K*

For me, out of this group, the Penguins should see about bringing Steve Sullivan back. I was not a fan of the signing based on the injury history, but Sully played in 79 games, and chipped in 17 goals and 48 points.  He was also a big factor in taking a sagging power play last year, and helping it to be the #5 PP in the league at 19.9%.

I also like the idea of signing RFA Matt Niskanen.  Niskanen was a steady young player on the Penguins blue line, and chipped in 21 points offensively, and was a plus 9.  If he can be retained at 2.5M, he could possibly step up into a role hopefully vacated by Paul Martin.  If the Pens can move Martin and bring in a better top 4, Nisky is a solid third pairing guy at worst, with top 4 potential.  He is a former 1st round pick.

Arron Asham should come back as well.  Arron played in 64 games, and adds some toughness and sandpaper that is in short supply on this team.

I like the idea of signing Strait, Bortuzzo and Sneep as well.  All three are bigger players who are "stay at home" types that most say are NHL ready, especially Strait and Bortuzzo.  There might be too much of a backup on the blue line for that to happen.

Tangradi is interesting to me.  He had only 2 points in 24 games in the NHL, but was scoring at a good clip in the AHL.  He has good size and can play with an edge.  Could be a good 3rd or 4th liner, but cash may get in the way given his lack of production at the NHL level.  He played a solid checking role in the playoffs, but is no lock to be back.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Offseason Notes-Martin CAN and should be traded

Every radio show I listen to seems to think that the 5M contract of Paul Martin along with his poor performance this year is one of the biggest problems for Pittsburgh in the offseason, especially with three more years of term on the agreement.  Many think that Zybnek Michalek's 4M deal, also with three years on it, is another signficant issue. I agree on both fronts, though much more so with Martin.  They both no movement clauses as well.  Every pundit I listen to and read seems to think that the combination of relatively high salary and remaining term(3yrs), poor play, and the NMC means that Martin and Michalek are not able to be dealt away from the Penguins.  I COMPLETELY disagree in the case of Paul Martin in particular, since he is the bigger issue in my humble opinion.  Here is why I disagreed enough with that theory that I called the Vinny and Cook show at 93.7 today to tell them why I thought they were wrong. Let me give you the backdrop.  Dial back to July 1, 2010 when the Penguins decided not to retain Sergei Gonchar who was immediately signed by the Ottawa Senators for 5.5M per year, and many of the Penguins faithful were distraught, thinking they were done with Gonch.  Moments later, most of us, (including myself from Kill Devil Hills NC) were celebrating as the Penguins signed not one, but two of the most coveted free agent defensemen on the market in Zybnek Michalek and Paul Martin.  National and local experts spoke of the responsible zone play of Martin, his ability to lead the breakout, quarterback a power play, add some decent offense, and provide genuine leadership on the Pittsburgh blue line.  He was HIGHLY regarded by the league, and Brian Burke the GM of the US Olympic team held a spot for Martin despite his inablilty to play due to a broken arm until the last possible seconds.  Martin had provided 30 plus points from the blue line in 3 of his 5 plus seasons in NJ, and the experts drooled over his hockey smarts, skating, vision, and passing ability.  His first year here, he was pretty solid if not quite what we expected.  Then, this year, instead of progressing into the top flight defenseman in year two ala Gonchar when first signed by Pittsburgh, he regressed in a way that has left everyone shocked and unable to explain how a player so solid could suddenly look like he cannot find his ass with both hands.  OK, I went off on a tangent.  Let me say why he can be traded despite the apparent roadblocks:

1.  He was not a player that the Penguins had to give up assets they would feel the need to replace to get Martin in the first place.  He was signed as a UFA.  This removes the "pressure" to get similar assets in return to move Martin out of here.  That means they can view moving Martin as "addition by subtraction" meaning that the real value is having the 5M in cap space to invest in a different player to help the Penguins cause.  They can take anything like a low round draft choice to get this movement done, and be ahead of the game.
2. Despite his horrific season here, read the backdrop.  From 2003 until his signing here in 2010, Martin had built a reputation in the defense first system of the NJ Devils as an excellent defenseman, responsibile in his zone, able to make a quick and efficient breakout pass to lead a rush up ice, and adding some offensive production to boot.  He was literally one of the more sought after players that year, and really a unanimous choice in that regard as a great catch for Pittsburgh.  He comes here, and after an average year one, he regresses in year two to a shell of himself.  BUT, we also hear a lot lately how Bylsma's system is an OFFENSIVE system whose defensive game plan is to possess the puck in the opponent's offensive zone.  Is it possible that Martin simply is not a FIT in this system v suddenly waking up and forgetting to play hockey at the age of 31?  My vote is more a misfit in a different system v forgetting the game, which could make a move to acquire Martin a reasonable risk for the right team with a solid defensive system, especially if the Pens will take a minimal return due to the addition by subtraction theory.
3. As far as the NMC, PLEASE!  Martin seems to a whipping boy here, and his chances of getting off the mat in that regard are slim and none.  He seems uncomfortable on the ice, and is not used to being a whipping boy for his consistent mistakes.  I would be willing to bet that Paul Martin would be as happy to be out of here for a team that better fits his mentality and skillset as many here would be to see him go.  If none of that works, it is also not unusual for a pair of GMs with quality players who are struggling on their teams to get together, and make a deal for a "change of scenery" for both players to jump start their careers.  In short, there are legitimate options out there that could and should result in the Penguins moving Martin to free up the cap space to address their other needs.  I will touch on my thoughts as to those needs at a later date.  For the blue line, in short, Tanger is untouchable due to his unreal skills.  Engelland is untouchable due to the toughness he brings to the lineup and his VERY cap friendly salary.  Orpik, though a little off his game, makes a great pairing with Tanger.  Niskanen for 2.5 to 2.75M should be resigned.  Despres should be on the big team.  Everything else to me is open for discussion on the blueline.  More to come on my thoughts on the offseason.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Pens lose game 5-1 and series 4-2

I have to say that the loss today is not sitting very well with me, not that you would expect a series ending loss to do so.  However, this one stings more than most, as it is the third early exit in a row, and it was an exit in round one by a team favored by most to win the Stanley Cup.  It is also the second time in three years the Penguins not only LOST an elimination game early in the playoffs, but it is the second time in three years that they were bitchslapped in that situation.  Absolutely bitch slapped.  The Penguins somehow looked flat today with their season on the line, and the Flyers looked hungrier and sharper.  Claude Giroux, came out on the first shift and made a big hit on Crosby and then scored the opening goal unassisted at just 32 seconds of the first period.  It was one hell of a statement by the star of the Flyers, and one that none of the Penguins stars came close to answering.  Giroux accounted for 14 points in the series, only 2 shy of the 16 posted by BOTH Crosby and Malkin.  That play was indicative of one of the reasons the Penguins lost the series.  Their star player was better than both of the Penguins superstars.  Malkin won the Art Ross Trophy, and likely the Hart trophy in the regular season but was mostly a nonfactor in the series, except for some ill timed penalties.  Crosby, who was supposed to carry us with his fresh legs was a noshow today.  Another reason they lost is their netminding.  Folks, I had the chance to meet Fleury and spend time with him this winter, and I came away loving the guy.  However, you will have to forgive me when the next post season analysis gives the Penguins a nod due to their superior goaltending, if I laugh out loud.  Yes, Fleury was to two finals and won the Stanley Cup in 2009, a track record that most people point to when calling him an elite netminder.  However, Fleury has not posted a save percentage above .900 in the post season since then.  He was a key factor in losing to Montreal in 2010 and again a key factor in losing to the Flyers this year.  Fleury let in many soft goals and ill timed goals, like the one less than a minute after Malkin closed the gap to 3-1 today.  He gave up 26 goals in 6 games, which is the third most ever given up in  six game series behind Gump Worsley's 28 in 1958 and Arturs Irbe's 27 in 1995.  His save percentage was a HORRID .834 the worst of all playoff goaltenders.  His GAA was 4.63.  The defense was bad, but Fleury, outside of a few periods, was just horrendous in the net.  This is a real issue for the Penguins going forward.  The Penguins also lost the series becasue their special teams gave up 3 short handed goals, and a 60% plus power play to the Flyers!   The Flyers scored 12 power play goals in 6 games or an average of 2 per game.  You will not win many series when you give up shorthanded goals and allow that many power play goals, period.  The defense, which was supposed to be a plus for Pittsburgh was horrible.  Even Letang and Orpik looked bad defensively, and the Penguins had no answer for the Flyers.  The Penguins also continued to try to be too fancy for most of the series, never learning their lessons from passing up shots or making bad passes in the neutral zone that led to odd man chance for the Philadelphia.  I am not sure how you come out flat in a game like today, but the Penguins did.  In short, the Penguins showed up for two of six games in full force, and were sent home early AGAIN as a result....they gave up a 3-0 lead in game one to lose, and in general were outworked, outsmarted, outplayed, and outcoached.  They lost to a team that is very very good, and they earned the victory, leaving the Penguins with more questions than answers as they enter another offseason after a disappointing playoff.   After a two year run playoff run that ended in a trip to the Finals and a Stanley Cup, the Penguins have won only one playoff round in the next three seasons.  I am saddened as I believe that there will be some people that I have grown to really admire and respect who may have to move on as part of a change in the makeup of this team.  Either way, LETS GO PENS!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

MAF's awesome penalty kill

MAF's awesome penalty kill

If the Penguins win this series, remember this stretch

City of Champions tattoo

Pens win game 3-2 and series is now 3-2

The Penguins took one more step in their quest to make an historical playoff comeback by defeating the Flyers 3-2 last night at the Consol Energy Center.  It was the first game since the series opener that resembled what we have come to know as playoff hockey.  It is important to note that perhaps the biggest news for Pittsburgh was the heroic play of Marc Andre Fleury, who, according to Scott Fartsmell is the reason the Penguins won this game.  It is hard to argue, especially given his big time effort on a penalty kill that started at 7:37 of period 3, and resulted in Fleury making 7 saves on that PK.  Many of those chances were right on the doorstep.  If Fleury can stay hot, he is more than capable of putting this team on his back, and carrying them to two more victories in this series.  Another great story is Jordan Staal.  Do you think a guy with the character of Jordan Staal was bothered by losing track of Voracek in game one, leading to the game winner in OT?  Well, how about this?  Jordan Staal leads the entire NHL in playoff goals with 6, he is second in points with 9, and first in even strength points with 8.  In a goal ridden series, he is also a plus 4, tied for the lead on the Penguins.  Tonight, he scored the game tying goal, and set up the game winner by Tyler Kennedy.  Can you say series MVP?
What about line mate Tyler Kennedy?  He is a guy that many, including myself felt was a mistake to resign at 2M per year, and we looked like we were right given a mediocre season posted by number 48.  His game is rather limited, flying around north/south and taking lots of low percentage shots.  But, once again, in the post season, the man some call Little Tiger has been a big part of any success the Penguins are having.  TK has 3 goals, including the game winning goal last night, and 3 assists, while adding some physicality to the Penguins game.  Great job by TK.  The Penguins again dressed 7 defenseemen, and sat Paul Martin and Ben Lovejoy. while dressing Simon Despres and Brian Strait again.  Other than a third period lapse that saw Fleury bail the Penguins out, this defensive alignment is much more solid without Martin.  On another note, neither Crosby or Malkin showed up on the scoresheet, but Crosby was great in the faceoff circle and played tremendous defensive hockey.  Malkin on the other hand was not good last night. First, he completed his 9th straight home playoff game without scoring a goal, but he also took two bad penalties, which given the prowess of the Philadelphia power play could easily have cost Pittsburgh the game.  In addition, Geno seems to be the one guy who continues to ignore the idea of NOT making drop passes at the blue line, and NOT making cross ice passes to open space giving Philadelphia odd man chances.  On a good news/bad news front, the Penguins won a game with neither head of the two headed monster on the scoresheet, which is a rarity.  The bad news part of that, is Geno will be necessary to complete this improbable march of the Penguins, and last night he looked BAD.  Letang had two points, and looked like a dominant offensive force last night.  On to the game summary.

Period One

Started just like Wednesday with the Flyers getting on the board due to a power play goal.  At the 11:45 mark, Matt Carle scored a power play goal off of a Deryk Engelland roughing call to give the Flyers a 1-0 lead.  The good news for Pittsburgh is that the team who scores first loses in this series.

Then at the 14:51 mark, Steve Sullivan (2) tied the game when he hammered home a nice pass off of a faked shot from Kris Letang (3).  James Neal (4) also assisted on the play.  It was now 1-1.  Letang who took a feed from Neal did a great job of getting Bryz to commit to what looked like a shot from the point, before dishing to Sully, who beat an out of position Bryzgalov.

Then at 17:35 of the period, on a 5 on 3, Scott Fartsmell beat Fleury on a great passing play in front of the net to restore a 2-1 Flyer lead.

Period Two

At the 6:15 mark, red hot Jordan Staal beat Bryz screaming down the right side on a two on one by freezing the netminder with a look off, then snapping a wicked wrister high into the net.  The goal was Staal's league leading 6th of the playoffs, assisted by Kennedy (3) and Letang (4).  The  score was tied 2-2.

At 9:53 Tyler Kennedy(3)  beat Bryzagalov through a screen, on what would turn out to be the game winning goal giving the Penguins a 3-2 lead.  He was assisted by Staal (3) and Matt Cooke (3). 

Period Three

The Pens managed to hang on and win, while retreating into a bit of a shell.  Fleury, as noted was stellar, particularly in a 7 save PK effort near the middle part of the period.

The series resumes with the Penguins facing elimination again tomorrow at noon in Philadelphia;  Some postives for Pittsburgh include the fact that they are outscoring the Flyers 15-9 at even strength.  Also, despite a 60% Flyer Power Play, the Penguins PK killed the last three penalties and showed some signs of getting its legs, largely due to the improved play of Fleury.  The pressure is starting to mount on Philadelphia as well.  Yet, the Flyers still have some margin for error, and the Penguins have none.  Fleury is now 6-4 when facing elimination, and will have to run that record to 8-4 for Pittsburgh to get to the second round.  Not great odds still, yet, I would not bet against it either!  Tomorrow will be a VERY interesting afternoon with TWO desperate teams fighting it out.  There is no roller coaster ride in sports like the NHL playoffs.  LETS GO PENS!!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Mike Lange - All 10 goal calls from Game 4 Pens vs. Flyers | The Morning Freak Show

Mike Lange - All 10 goal calls from Game 4 Pens vs. Flyers | The Morning Freak Show

There is a heartbeat!

I think most of the hockey world, including local pundits, and frankly, myself, left the Pens for dead after giving up 8 goals in back to back clunkers, culminating in the coming unglued at the seams game three performance by the team.  Their defensive zone coverage remained a joke, as did Fleury's play, and on top of that, they had a meltdown and played really childish hockey at the end of the game, that left a top PK man, Craig Adams, their second leading scorer, James Neal, and 4th line grit player Arron Asham suspended for an elimination game in Philadelphia last night.  A team who had been so thoroughly embarrassed, who had not had an answer yet for the Flyers and their game, was now short this much firepower?  The whole of the hockey world including local fans were derisive in their criticism of the team as a whole, but in particular Malkin's lack of production, Bylsma's lack of adjustments, Fleury's lack of the big save, and Crosby's percieved lack of leadership.  Philadelphia media and bloggers rode a wave of hysteria related to the dirty play of the Penguins and the hypocrisy of the stance taken by Mario Lemieux related to dirty play, particulary after the debacle on Long Island last February.  The national media piled on, as did many in the local media.  The Philadelphia Daily News did a funny if unprofessional cover yesterday of 'Sidney the Coward" and asked for the disposal in the series of" Sniveling Sidney."  It truly had to feel like an US against the HOCKEY WORLD mentality in the Penguins dressing room, and it was looked upon as a test of the team's character.  Rightfully so.

Then the game started, and it had that same bad feeling. The referees were calling phantom penalties in response to their inability to control the past game and other NHL mayhem due to Shanahan's impotence, and before you knew it the Flyer had a 3-2 lead, scoring three power play goals, and Fleury was looking leaky yet again.  Giroux, Timonen and Voracek had scored for Philly, all power play goals, and Malkin and Niskanen had tallied for Pittsburgh. Niskanen' goal was the first of four power play goals for Pittsburgh last night. Sidney Crosby tied the game at 3-3, and red hot Jordan Staal gave the Penguins the lead late in the period at 4-3. The Penguins after a shaky start ended the period on top 4-3.  Given recent history, you might forgive those who felt that the Flyers had Pittsburgh right where they wanted to start period two.  But something kind of beautiful happened for the Penguins and their fans.  They went on an awesome tear, starting with three power play goals by Letang, Staal and Sullivan to blow up their lead to 7-3.   This time the Flyers had no answer for the Penguins onslaught. Suddenly Fleury was making key saves.  Bryz was lifted after the Letang goal, and Bob was greeted by power play goals from Staal and Sullivan!  They were still not done, as Dupuis and Staal added goals in the second period, which ended with Pittsburgh in a finally safe and commanding 9-3 lead.  Evgeni Malkin threw a little salt in the wound adding a 10th goal, and the final was a wild romp for Pittsburgh at 10-3.  After falling behind 3-2, the firepower of the Penguins rattled off 8 unanswered goals, without the services of James Neal, a 40 goal scorer, and the NHL leader in power play goals with 18 of them.  Their power play was 4 for 9 last night, and as important, had not let in a momentum sapping short handed goal.  The "Cowardly Penguin" Sidney Crosby had 3 points, with a goal and 2 assists.  Yo, Adrian!  Trashing Sid has not had a negative affect on his performance against your team as he now has 17G and 24A in 26 games on your ice.  PLEASE keep fucking with him!  PLEASE, OH PRETTY PLEASE!  The Penguins response to what had to feel like the world (even Hulk Hogan) turning on them and the heckling of the Philadelphia and national hockey media, reminded me of a statement made by Japanese Admiral Isoroku  Yamamoto after the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.  "I fear that all we have done is awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with resolve."  Time will tell if that is that is the case.  There were some other notable occurrences last evening that should have us glass half full fans encouraged.  First off, Jordan Staal was a monster!  He followed up a great two goal performance Sunday with a hat trick last night.  And not only did Gronk have the hat trick, he had 22:53 TOI and was 15 of 22 in the facoff circle for a 65.2% evening.  Folks, it does not get much better than that!  Third line center my ass.  Second, Geno joined the party, getting two goals including the first of the night to tie the game after Claude Giroux had staked Philadelphia to an early lead off of another leaky play by Fleury.  Third, and maybe the most encouraging thing for Pens fans, is that it looked like Marc Andre Fleury had regained his confidence, and gotten some of his mojo back, shutting the door in perioids two and three, and making a couple of quality saves while the outcome was still in doubt.  The seemingly rebuilt confidence and competence of Marc Andre Fleury might be the biggest postive to come from this game for the glass half full people.  Add to that the fact that the Penguins have been capable of winning games in bunches this year, so the general thought of winning 3 straight games is not unheard of for this team.  In addition, the power play is suddenly hot cashing in on 4 of 9 power plays last night   Also, not only did the Penguins chase Bryzgalov last night, they put 5 behind Bobrovsky, which might be an indication that they have finally figured Bob out. If you tend to be a glass half empty guy, well that is easy to do as well.  The biggest issue here is history.  In all of the playoff history of seven game series, only 3 teams have erased a 3-0 deficit to win a series.  The most recent was this Flyers team two years ago against the Bruins.  Second, the Flyers are a very very good hockey club who is 7-1 at the Consol, where two of the next possible three games will be played.  They may have  been caught looking past Pittsburgh, and could regroup and deliver a strong showing Friday night.  Scott Hartnell has done little on the scoresheet, and that would be unlikely to continue you would think. The biggest glass half empty argument though is the fact that there is now 0 margin for error for Pittsburgh against a team that has been able to convert loads of errors into soul crushing goals for much of the series.  I am somewhere in the middle of this glass half full or half empty thing. I look at Friday as a key game.  If Pittsburgh can defend home ice, and win that game, suddenly there is a lot of pressure on the Flyers to not relinquish a 3-0 lead, and the Penguins will be full of confidence and hungry to make history.  Two more wins after that would cement a momentous comeback.  Some final thoughts include the fact that Neal and Adams are due back in the lineup, and you have to make room for Neal, but I am not sure that despite his league leading 18 power play goals that he does not go right back to the top unit, unless it flounders early in the game.  The combo of 14, 87, 71, 26, and 58 was four for nine and a big reason the Penguins blew this game open.  If I were coach Disco, I would hesitate to change that for the sake of change.  I also like Tangradi's game, and I am not sure if outside of adding Neal back to the lineup if I would change ANYTHING else,  including dressing 7 defensemen, with that group not being inclusive of Paul Martin.  Guys, the Penguins looked great the last two periods of this game, but it is one game.  It is a building block, but they need to take 3 more from a tough tough club.   Right now, nothing else matters beyond Friday's game at home.  The Penguins have to play intelligent hockey, stay out of the box, hit hard whistle to whistle, avoid anything post whistle, and have the 60 minute desperation they showed last night.  If they can do that, and win on home ice you have a 3-2 series, but maybe a Philadelphia team that could start to doubt itself.  Time will tell, but for now there is nothing beyond tomorrow.  LETS GO PENS!!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Pens implode fall to 0-3 in series

Not much good to say about the game or the series from the Pens perspective.  As disappointing as the general defensive play has been, it was just as disappointing to see the behavior on the ice.  I love Asham's toughness and gritty play, but his shot to the throat of Schenn is totally inexcusable.  As entertaining as it was to see Letang kick the shit out of Timonen, he has to use his head.   Our defense is a joke WITH him, and without him, it is below that.  Add to that the SSHHHHHH to the crowd to copy the old Talbot move was embarrassing.  James Neal stepped up and delived a big game with 2 goals and an assist, but he lost his mind at the end of the game, particularly the shot on Giroux and leaving his skates to hit Couterier.  Crosby did nothing that a captain should do to settle this team and keep them out of the scrums that kill their game.  If anything, he created most of them.  The Adams hairpulling incident, I am not as sure of.  If he purposely grabbed Hartnell's hair, that is about as gay as gay gets.  However, Hartnell has a NEST of hair.  If Adams was trying to grab jersey to get leverage and got hair too, that is a downfall that Hartnell and Letang both have to deal with.  As far as the game, the defense was bad AGAIN, the PK gave up 3 power play goals on 6 attempts, and of course the power play gave up another short handed goal, the third of the season.  The defense is bad, and since game one, Fleury has been one of the worst players on the team.  His save percentage is now .798 for the series and a 6.34 GAA.  He is 10-13 in his past 23 playoff games, and has had a save percentage below .900 in all three playoff series since the 2009 Stanley Cup run.  Finally, Evgeni Malkin has been very average in this series after an MVP series, and he was the same in his last playoff series against Montreal in 2010.  The Flyers have taken advantage of everything the Penguins have given them, so credit them for that, and as a result they stand one game away from ending what was once a very promising season in a very embarrassing fashion.  Not much more to it than that.  I have always loved this team, and will support them to the end, but this series, and particularly today were not among my finer moments of following this Penguins team.


Garage League

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Broken Beat and Scarred, Pens die hard!

Sorry for the delay in posting, but the past week has been hell, especially last night on a pesonal note, so I am late with this and will not be detail oriented, at least relative to the game.  First things first. The Penguins have won several series over the years in which they fell behind 0-2 in a playoff series, and did it twice enroute to their 2009 Stanley Cup victory, beating the Capitals in Round Two, and the Red Wings in the Finals.  There are many players, including the core of the team on this team who were part of that run, so it is not at all IMPOSSIBLE.   However, given the way this team is playing in key areas such as special teams, and defensively, I would say that duplicating that type of turnaround is UNLIKELY.   A general statistic is that 87% of the teams who take a 2-0 series lead wind up winning their respective series.  I can tell you that I have not been as angry and disappointed with a Penguins team since they shit the bed in Game 7 against the Montreal Canadiens in the 2010 playoffs.   That was the fourth game against the Flyers in a row (that mattered), where the Penguins gave up a 2 goal or better lead to lose a game, and they did in the exact same manner each time, making it all the more frustrating.  It shows me that this team is unable or unwilling to adapt their game to situations, and the coaching staff is doing nothing tangible to counter the Flyers, so there is very little to make me think that this series is going to be won by the Penguins.  That would be a real shame, given the relative health of this team at a key point in the season.  Again, it is not impossible.  The Penguins have been streaky this year, and at points this season where you think the Penguins have been horrid, they have managed to reel off impressive streaks of brilliance, at times looking the best team in the league, right after playing 4 to 5 games where they looked like bottom feeders.  You can also hope that the Flyers get a little overconfident after bitch slapping the Penguins so often in the past month or so, and let up.  They could also get a little amped up at home tomorrow, make some Penguins like mistakes and allow the Pens to steal a game.  NOw would be the time for somebody to step up and lead from within.  We could use a Kevin Stevens guarantee like the one he made when the Penguins fell down 2-0 to the Bruins.  Or a philosophy adjustment like the 1-4 delay deployed when the Pens fell down 2-0 in a series against the Capitals during their second Cup run.   We shall see.  At this point, I just want to make some points, and throw some ideas and numbers out there that to me show how it is that we got to this place in a season where there was reasonable hope to win the Stanley Cup.  There are many reasons we are here, and many of my FAVORITE people have to take a big piece of the blame.  As far as last nights game, all you need to know is that the Penguins gave up TWO shorthanded goals last night AND TWO hat tricks!  Prior to last night, the Penguins had only given up 4 playoff hat tricks in their entire HISTORY.  They also gave up another power play goal to the Flyers, who make our penalty kill look like a joke.  So, the Penguins are getting destroyed on special teams, an element that is key to winning at any time in the NHL, but paramount to victory in the playoffs.  The penalty kill unit was an area that was supposed to give the Penguins the special teams edge in the series, but to date it has not.  Giving up short handed goals in the post season is a death sentence, and the Penguins gave up two last night.  The next areas is defense.  Many pundits gave the Penguins the nod in defensive depth, given the fact that we had Kris Letang, and the fact that the Flyers were already without Chris Pronger and Andre Mesjaros.  In practice that has been laughable, as Pittsburgh has Paul Martin and Zybnek Michalek, also known as 9 million dollars in dead weight.  Add to that, the fact that it looks like a mentally challenged twin of Brooks Orpik has stolen his jersey, and Kris Letang, though adding some offense, has not been a shutdown player since his most recent return from a concussion.  He is looking like the same guy whose play was inconsistent late last season as a result of trying to do too much.  He was a turnover machine last night, and was guilty of  too much individual play and several bad reads. Ben Lovejoy gift wrapped the fifth goal for the Flyers by handing Courtierer the puck right in front of Fleury just 8 seconds after Kennedy gave the Penguisn a 5-4 lead. Jagr made him his bitch shortly thereafter in the third right in front for the go ahead goal.  The Penguins defense has been nothing short of a JOKE.  Related to that supposed defensive advantage according to the pundits was an edge in net due to Fleury's trip to the Finals in 2008, and Stanley Cup Championship in 2009, compared to a very bad playoff record for Ilya Bryzgalov.  And in fact, the Penguins have been able to exploit Bryzgalov, who has a horrible .857 save percentage, and a 3.93 GAA.  Some of that is related to his defense hanging him out to dry at times.  The interesting factor missing from that evaluation is the fact that in Fleury's past 20 post season games he has a GAA over 4 and a save percentage under .900.  And in this post season, Fleury is ranked 16th out of 16 in GAA at 5.45 and 16th out of 16 in save percentage at .804.  These numbers are surely not all the fault of Fleury, as I did note above how putrid the Penguins defense has been.  He made several ten bell saves in a losing cause in Game One including the two on one from Hartnell that kept the game tied at three, but he was outplayed last night in giving up 7 goals.  I will not lay this game at his feet, but he could have made a couple of key saves to keep the Penguins in the game in the third and he did not.  The Penguins got 90 goals out of Evgeni Malkin and James Neal in the regular season, and thus far in the post season, they have not gotten a single goal from either of them.  The Malkin line has not gotten a single even strength goal and is minus 14!  Kunitz pumped home two power play goals last night, but other than that, the line has been quiet.   To win, your best players have to play the BEST, and the relative quiet nature of Malkin and Neal's games thus far WILL be fatal if it does not change, and change now.  Crosby has added some offensive firepower, with his line getting 10 even strength points and a plus one in the first two games, but Crosby's mistake on his first power play led to a breakaway, and his focus on the puck carrier at the net allowed Talbot to come in late to beat Fleury for Philadelphia's first goal.  Dan Bylsma, one of my favorite people, and a guy I openly root for at all costs, is not without blame either.  This lack of any sort of discipline is not a new issue at all.  It has plagued the Penguins for 3-4 weeks, and neither he or his coaching staff have made any adjustments, or at least effective adjustments to that situation, allowing the Penguins to play a dangerous brand of run and gun hockey in the pursuit of personal statistical highs for his players.   This undisciplined brand of hockey led to a lost opportunity to get the to seed in the conference, and has now put the Penguins playoff hopes on life support.  Disco has also mentioned how the Flyers put 3 guys on the blue line once they got a lead in third period and made it tough for the Penguins to generate any quality chances.  Hmmmmmmmm, hardly a novel idea, yet the Penguins NEVER do that, according to Disco we only win with offensive zone time.  Or, as is the case now, we just don't win.  The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting DIFFERENT results.  Well, we have done the same thing to Philadlphia 4times in the past month, and yet we have lost all 4 meaningful games.  I will say that Bylsma did take Malkin and Crosby off of the same PP unit, and it did generate two PP goals.  The two SHG more than negated that advantage though.  Another favorite of mine, Ray Shero, is not without blame either.  I love this guy, as friendly and classy as they come.  And I cannot even say I disagreed with any of the moves I am about to criticize at the time they were made either.  However, I am just a passonate  hockey FAN, not the GM!  In the 2010 offseason, Shero made two a big spash when he acquired Paul Martin on a 5 year 25M contract and Zybnek Michalek on a 5 year 20M contract to give the Penguins their second shut down pairing, and arguably one of the best top fours in the league.  As it has turned out, those two have been a liability for this team.  Their annual cost is 9M and the annual cost of two shutdown players they did not resign (Hal Gill and Rob Scuderi) is only 5.6M per year.  How much better would the Penguins be with Gill and Scuderi?  What could they have done with the extra 3.4M per year?  We also made the decision at the deadline, that despite that issues above, we did not have to do anything to tweak our lineup.  I am pretty sure Mark Eaton would look pretty good right now as a defensive option, and both Grossman and Kubina look pretty good relative our current group.  Finally, though I totally agreed at the time to let Max Talbot go, it sure looks like the organization gave up a little too soon on the idea of Talbot being a big part of the long term for Pittsburgh.  At any rate, hindsight is 20/20, and I still do think that the Penguins have a roster that SHOULD be able to compete for the Cup, but currently, the Penguins are being outworked, outplayed, outcoached by the Flyers.  It was very disturbing for me to feel as if the Flyers, want it more.  Even local celebrity and Pens fanatic Cy Clark wrote on Facebook today about how angry and disappointed he is with the effort from this team, and asked for playoff ticket money back.  I am not to that point, but I am very disappointed with a team that I am almost always so proud of.  Proud enough to have my whole right arm decorted in their colors and an addition to my home filled with their memorabilia. All in all, I would not trade the leadership of this franchise for anybody, and we live with the bad just like we celebrate the good.   I will support this team either way to the bitter end, but I sure would appreciate a 60 minute effort tomorrow in Philadelphia!  Broken, Beat and Scarred, the Penguins die hard!!  LETS GO PENS!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Haven't we seen this movie before?

OK, I have a lot on my plate, so this will be a much shorter post than normal.  I will put in the effort my favorite  hockey team put in during the second half of the game tonight.  There are some scary things to consider as you absorb this loss.  First, in the past three games with ANY MEANING against the Flyers, we have seen the same goddamn thing.  The Penguins come out like beasts, and ring up 2-0, 2-0, and 3-0 leads against the Flyers.  The Flyers smile, step up the forecheck, and wait for the overly fancy Penguins to turn the puck over, and the Flyers attack and take advantage of those mistakes, and win all three games.  The Penguins defense is a joke.  Martin and Letang were  on the ice for 3 of the 4 Flyers goals tonight.  Martin is offensive to watch ATTEMPT to play defense.  If he is not a healthy scratch the first game Niskanen is available, I could lose my fucking marbles.  Michalek is not much better, and frankly Brooks Orpik was not impressive either, as has been the case a little too often this year.  Martin and Michalke were signed to form a second shut down pair, and they have fallen short of that to say the least.  And, as much as I love Letang's speed and offensive flair, he has not been great on the defensive side of things since his last return from injury.  Special Teams also killed the Penguins tonight.  Their power play which is now 1 for 44 in the post season dating back to 2010 was 0 for 3 tonight.  The PK gave up a goal on its only opportunity as well.  A lot of fans are complainig about the missed call on Briere's first goal, where he was clearly offside, and he was CLEARLY offside.  However, that is part of the game, and it was one goal.  We did nothing with 3 PP chances before the Flyers got their one and only chance. Our PK unit promptly gave up the tying goal on that power play.  Championship teams respond to adversity, and this team did not do that.  In fact you could see this loss coming from the early minutes of the second period given recent history.  The Flyers outworked the Penguins for the final 40 minutes and earned a victory.  The game winner was an example of how lethargic this team can be in big moments these days, as Jordan Staal got caught watching the game while Voracek scored the game winner.  Holmgren is looking pretty smart tonight, when you see the guys he got in the Carter/Richards moves contribute.  Schenn had 3 points and the game tying goal, Voracek got the game winner in OT, Couterier rendered Malkin a non-issue in the game, and Simmonds, though not a factor on the score sheet tonight, has been huge for the Flyers.  Listen, it is only one game, and you need four to get the series win, but giving up a 3 goal lead on home ice to a team who has done that to you two other times recently is not an encouraging start. Wake up call to Penguins players....this Flyers team wants this series, and seems willing to pay the price to take it.  Are you?

Evgeni Malkin - Because It's The Cup

Evgeni Malkin Wants His Cup Back - Pulling No Punches - April 2012 - Pittsburgh, PA#.T4XcTLyubOJ.tumblr

Evgeni Malkin Wants His Cup Back - Pulling No Punches - April 2012 - Pittsburgh, PA#.T4XcTLyubOJ.tumblr

Pittsburgh Dad: Watching the Penguins

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Thanks Pens for a great regular season!

The playoffs are upon us now.  The first game in what we hope will be more than 20 that runs until mid June is Wednesday against the hated Philadelphia Flyers.  This is probably the worst match up for Pittsburgh in some ways to start the playoffs, and the best in some ways too.  It is the worst in that the series will likely be a bloodbath, and the Flyers have matched up well against Pittsburgh this year, and it is the best for actually the same reasons.  In this tournament of 16 teams that will run for two months, anything short of the Stanley Cup will be viewed by many as failure.  Though it will be failure in that the objective is always to win the Cup, let's relfect on what has been a tremendous season for the Penguins.  The Penguins finished with a 51-25-6 record, while playing in a division that sent 4 of its 5 teams to the playoffs, and while leading the league in man games lost(359)!  That gave the Penguins 108 points, the second most in franchise history, behind only the 1992-93 Penguims with 119.  Only the New York Rangers had more points in the Eastern Conference, with 109, and only Vancouver with 111 and ST. Louis with 109 had more points than Pittsburgh in the Western Conference.  Despite the fact that the Penguins were supposedly short on top 6 talent, and the fact that Crosby only played 22 games, and Staal and Letang missed long stretches of the season, the Penguins were first overall in the league in scoring, getting 3.3 goals per game, while playoff opponent, Philadelphia was second at 3.17 goals per game.  The Penguins also were near the top of the league in special teams as well.  Their power play at 19.7% was tied for fourth in the league behind Nashville, San Jose, and Vancouver.  That would mean that the Penguins power play was tied for best in the East with Philadelphia.  The Penguins penalty kill spent chunks of the season as the top PK unit in the league, and finished third overall at 87.8% behind New Jersey and Montreal.  It is no surprise that the Penguins were a top team, when both of their special teams units were top 5 in the league!  This is an area where Pittsburgh had a superior season to the Flyers, whose PK was 81.8%. Hopefully, an area Pittsburgh can exploit in the playoffs.  The team was  a closer all year long, finishing with a record of 32-0-3 when leading after two periods!

The Penguins were a team full of individual stories as well.  The top story has to be Geno this season.  After enduring two seasons that were way off the mark in terms of his usual production, and coming off of major knee surgery, Malkin dedicated himself to his conditioning to a much greater degree than he had before, and man did the results show!!  After a slow start, and some missed games due to tweaking his knee, Malkin blew away the field, winning the Art Ross trophy with 109 points (50 goals and 59 assists), winning the award by 12 points over second place finisher Steven Stamkos!  Geno led the league in points per game, points, even strength goals, and shots!  He was second in goals with 50, making  him the 6th Russian to ever hit that plateau, and he was third in the league in assists.  He also had 31 multi-point games this season.  Add to that, a much improved presence in the defensive zone, great improvement in the faceoff circle, and many leadership duties in the absence of Crosby, and you can see why Malkin is the front runner for the Hart Memorial Trophy.  Thanks Geno for a great year, full of memories! 

Think about this for a minute when you think of the Penguins the past two seasons.  Malkin was far and away the most dynamic player this year, and until the concussion in the Winter Classic, Crosby was THE dominant force in the NHL with 32G and 34A in only 41 games prior to his injury last season.  He was runing away with the Art Ross before the Steckel hit, so we have been blessed to watch two different players be the dominant force in the league over the past two seasons.  Malkin's Art Ross is the 14th in the past 24 years, and without the injury, Crosby surely would have made it 15.  If you take the last 63 games Crosby has played( half of last year and his game this year), he would have had 40 goals and 63 assists for a total of 103 points, and that is not nearly a full season.  We are truly blessed if we can get this two headed monster back on the ice together for a long playoff run!  Adding Crosby back to the team gives them three very capable lines that can put the puck in the net, and infinite line combinations to deal with.

Some would say now that the two headed monster grew a third head, and that this part of the beast is named James Neal!  Neal is a big bodied winger who plays with a relentless forecheck and a nasty release that makes him a threat to score everytime he gets the puck.  After a rough start in a Penguins uniform after the trade deadline last season, Neal scored the first goal of the year in the opener in Vancouver, and really never stopped.  Nealer finished the season with 40 goals and 41 assists, for a total of 81 points.  He was also first in the league with 18 power play goals, second to Malkin in shots, 4th in goals, and 7th overall in points.  James Neal is a big reason the Penguins have had the success on the power play this year, and his importance to the this team cannot be overstated  Neal also showed leadership and grit, playing through the pain of a fractured foot during a time when the team needed it most. Ray Shero rewarded Neal AND PENS FANS by giving James a 5 year ,25million dollar extension to remain a part of this core for a long, long time.  Thanks James!

What about Jordan Staal, a center who would be at least a second liner on almost any other team.  Staalsy, who played in only 62 games, still beat his career high in points (49) by having a 25 goal and 25 assist season, while remaing a key cog in the league's third best penalty kill.  Staal is also strong for Pittsburgh in the faceoff circle, and really showed some flashes of offensive prowess throughout his injury shortened campaign.  When asked to deliver more offense in the absence of Crosby, Staal delivered.  With Crosy's return, Staal's role has changed a bit, and he embraces it and delivers.  Congratulations to Jordan Staal, a sometimes undervalued piece of the young core of this team.

When you think of the young core of the team, another player that is just a key element to the success of the franchise is Kris Letang.  Tanger missed large stretches of this season due to head injury, playing in only 51 games.  During those 51 games, Letang managed to score 42 points or .83 points per game.  His points per game was second for defensemen in the NHL behind only Erik Karlsson.  Letang's blazing speed allows him to make breathtaking plays in all three zones, and the physical nature of his play is under estimated.  Letang is a guy with Norris Trophy caliber skills and statistics projected over a full season, really giving the Penguins an embarrassment of riches in its young core.

Any team that expects long term success better be strong between the pipes, and the Penguins have one of the best in the business tending their net in Marc Andre Fleury.  Fleury sometimes gets lost in the shuffle as his GAA and save percentage are not necessarilyi at the top of the league.  This year his GAA at 2.36 was 9th in the league if you take goaltenders with 40 or more starts and his save percentage of .913 was 21st.  However, Fleury was 42-17-4-3, accounting for all but 9 of Pittsburgh's wins on the year.  Even more important, Fleury kept the Penguins in games all season long, except for a short blip at the end of the season.  With two trips to the Finals, a Stanley Cup ring, and a 42 win season, Fleury has earned the right to be considered a top netminder in this league.  Fleury is one of the key components of this team, and we are glad he is a Penguin.

The above referenced hits some highlights from the young core deemed "untouchables" by team officials.  If you follow hockey, you know that it takes far more than stars to win a cup in the NHL.  The Penguins are full of other key contributors like Chris Kunitz.  Kunitz is a key component on the top line in the NHL, but his total value is not reflected in his numbers, which are good enough to begin with.  The Honey Badger posted a career high of 61 points with 26 goals and 35 assists and a plus 16 rating.  If that were not good enough, both James Neal and Evgeni Malkin point to Kunitz as a big reason for their overall success.  Kunitz is a tenacious forechecker with the speed and the guts to set the tone for the Penguins forecheck, and watch him win the battles in the corners and along the wall that gives the top line the puck possession and zone time necessary to do their damage.  He is a perfect fit for Malkin and Neal, as he was the perfect fit for Crosby and Duper last year.  Kuni has been the common denominator in the top lines in the NHL over the past two seasons. 

While we are on the subject of unsung heroes, how can you not look at Pascal Dupuis?  I wrote a post early last season in response to local fans complaining about Duper's lack of hands, and the fact that Crosby was "stuck" with a grinder type on his line.  In that post, I called Pascal the best value dollar for dollar in the NHL, and Duper is that and then some.  Pascal finished the season on a league high 17 game point streak, and had a career year in scoring, netting 25 goals and 34 assists for a total of 59 points and a plus 18.  Pascal contributed mightily to the penalty kill uint as usual, and can play on any line from the top line with Crosby or Malkin to the fourth line, and fit in.  His speed makes him a threat on the PK, and his grit is under rated.  Out of Dupuis' 59 points, 55 of them came at even strength, good for 11th in the league.  He had 8 game winning goals, second only to Geno on the Penguins.  Could you ask for more from a guy that SOME viewed as a throw in to the Hossa deal?  I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed watching Duper get rewarded for his hard work on the scoresheet this year.

How about Matt Cooke folks?  After getting hammered with a season ending 10 game plus one round of the playoffs suspension last year, many thought Cooke's days were numbered with Pittsburgh, and maybe even the league.  NHL pundits were over the top blaming Cooke for everything under the sun, all the while the man was going through a great personal crisis, almost losing his wife.  When the season started, some were saying that Cooke had been "defanged"and that he would create the "James Harrison affect" on the Penguins from the officials, so maybe he should be traded.  Well, Cookie showed them all delivering a career high 19 goals, along with 19 assists, while getting only 44 PIMs all season long.  His penalty minute totals were the lowest in a full season for Cooke in his carerr, his goals were the most, and his total points the most since he got 42 points with Vancouver during the 2002-03 season.  Cooke is a tremendous penalty killer for the Penguins, and he managed to slowly add some edge back to his game without going overboard.  Cooke's 19 goals matched the production of a much more hyped Jaromir Jagr this year.  Finally, do not underestimate how well suited for the playoffs Cooke's game is.  Way to go Cookie!!  Look for 24 to be a pain in the ass for the Flyers!

Steve Sullivan was a free agent pick up in the offseason that many including myself questioned.   I thought the Penguins needed some size up front, and consistent scoring.  Despite Sullivan's skills, I thought he was too small, too old, and too injury prone to make a big difference for the Penguins.  All Sully did was dress in 79 games, score 17 goals and 31 assists, while helping to make the power play a weapon again for the Penguins with his ability to slow the play down and calmly distribute the puck to the big guns.  Another Shero beauty!  This post is getting long, but I want to mention two more blue liners that I thought made a difference this year.  First, Deryk Engelland.  After a long term career in the minors, Engo made the big team last year, due mostly to his ability to be a physical player and from time to time elite level enforcer.  He was a healthy scratch during the Tampa series of the playoffs, indicative of the fact that he was not viewed as being reliable enough for the big games.  This year, Engo has been a very stable force on the blue line, while remaining a very physical element that the Penguins lack on the blue line.  He has not had to drop the gloves much, but he did contribute 4 goals, and 13 assists with a plus 10 rating, while playing a much more consistent game.  He is one of the Penguins most improved players, and his physicality will be necessary for the Penguins to go deep in the playoffs this year.  Finally, how about Matt Niskanen?  He looked like a salary dump element to the Neal/Goligoski trade during his tenure here last spring.  This year, he is competing with Engo as the most improved Penguins player, adding 4 goals, and 17 assists along with a plus 9 rating, and a very consistent overall game.  Nisky has top 4 potential in my opinion.  My last shoutout is to the 4th line of Adams, Vitale and Asham.  They will make a difference as they have all year long in the post season.  Whatever the outcome of the playoffs, these Penguins have given us all a lot to cheer about this year!  Thanks and Lets Go Pens!

Regular season ends with 4-2 win over Philadelphia

A highly entertaining regular season came to a conclusion with a rather boring 4-2 victory over the Flyers.  Despite the presence of both Jody Shelley and Steve MacIntyre, the only fight was some young kid with a crazy name losing a decision to Joe Vitale.  Now both teams will be ready to rumble on Wednesday when they open the Stanley Cup playoffs against each other.  I am on the road here, so I will make this update fairly quick by jumping right to the game summary:

Period One

At the 5:33 mark of the first period, Pascal Dupuis added to his career high goal total, netting his 25th of the year, while extending his league high scoring streak to 17 games!  He was assisted by Arron Asham (11) and Jordan Staal (24).  Pens led 1-0.  At the 19:07 mark Braydon Schenn tied it 1-1.  The period ended that way.

Period Two

At the 7:15 mark Chris Kunitz restored the Penguins' lead by scoring his career high 26th goal of the season assisted by ART ROSS winner Evgeni Malkin (59).  The Penguin retake the lead at 2-1.  Very shortly after a planned goaltender swap, Jaromir Jagoff tied the game on the power play beating netminder Brent Johnson to make it a 2-2 game.  Late in the period, the Penguins answered with the two headed monster.  At the 17:54 mark, Sidney Crosby scored his 8th goal of the season on the power play, assisted by Chris Kunitz (35) and Jordan Staal (25) to give the Penguins a 3-2 lead.  Then at 19:48, Evgeni Malkin brought the house down by scoring his 50th goal of the season, assisted by Kris Letang (32) and Sidney Crosby (29) to give the Penguins a 4-2 lead, and put an exclamation point on his Art Ross victory.  The third period would be uneventful and the game ended 4-2 Pittsburgh.

Despite all the chest thumping, there is not much to be taken away from this game relative to the playoffs.  After about a period and a half, the game took on a decidedly pre-season feel.  It cannot be a bad thing to get the win at the Consol for the first time this season, and it was great to see Geno get his 50th, but the biggest win is the lack of fresh injuries to the team.

Some brief notes to conclude this post include the fact that Malkin's Art Ross victory is the 14th for the Penguins in the past 24 years!  You read that right.  14 of the past 24 Art Ross winners were Penguins. Malkin's 1.45 points per game was the highest since Sidney Crosby won it it 2006-07.  Speaking of Crosby, he put up 37 points in 21 games, with 8 goals and 29 assists while playing on a hodge podge of lines.  Pretty impressive stuff.  Geno became the 9th player in Penguins history to record 50 goals.  Pascal Dupuis had career highs in goals and points with 25 goals and 59 points, while Chris Kuntiz did the same with 26 goals and 61 points this season.  Despite playing in 20 fewer games, Jordan Staal had a career high 50 points, beating the 49 points he has posted twice in his career.  The 108 points the Penguins tallied had them 4th in the league in points, and only one off the conference lead. This total was accomplished while sustaining a league high 359 man games lost!  Pretty impressive stuff.  That point total is the second highest in franchise history.  I am going to stop here, and likely do a season review post prior to the playoffs starting here in Pittsburgh on Wednesday.  GO PENS!!

Friday, April 6, 2012

Pens clinch 4th seed and home ice 5-2 v Rangers

Wow, is there a Penguins game against an Atlantic Division rival that does NOT come with post game drama anymore?  First things first, the Penguins beat the Rangers 5-2 tonight, clinching home ice advantage in the series against the Flyers, who eliminated Buffalo tonight with a victory against the Sabres.  Some notable milestones tonight include the fact that Marc Andre Fleury added to his career high season win total by getting his 42nd W of the year, and he tied Tom Barrasso's team record of 226 victories.  He is only one victory behind Pekka Rinne for the league lead this season.  The 35 save effort was a good sign, as Fleury had struggled in his past three outings, going 0-3 and posting a GAA of 5.31 and save percentage of .787.  Good to see the MAF we had grown used to back between the pipes tonight!   The win was the 50th of the season for Pittsburgh, marking only the 2nd time in franchise history they have gotten 50 victories in a season.  They are 50-25-6, good for 106 points.  Pascal Dupuis also extended his league leading point streak to 16 points with an assist on the Richard Park goal in the second period.  Finally, Evgeni Malkin scored his career high 49th goal, and added an assist to run his league leading point total to 107 points.  Geno has an 11 point lead on Steven Stamkos, who has 2 games remaining to catch Malkin, who has one game left.  The Art Ross should be considered Geno's at this point!  Congratulations Geno!  The Penguins will have to decide if it is worth risking injury in Saturday's meaningless contest against Philadelphia to allow Geno to take a shot at becoming only the 6th Russian player to score 50 or more goals in the NHL.  The others were Mogilny, Ovechkin, Fedorov, Kovalchuk, and Bure, who did it 5 times.  Tonights controversy came late in the game, when Brooks Orpik who had lost positon to Derek Stepan stuck out his leg, creating a knee on knee collision that sent Stepan flying.  Orpik was assessed a 5 minute major penalty and a game misconduct on the play, and may face discipline from the league.  Tortorella went bat shit, and to an extent, I can understand him relative to the Orpik hit, as it was a dangerous play.  I don't think it was premeditated, I do agree with Bylsma that Stepan changed direction at the last second, but it did look like Orpik opened his hip and made a dangerous play to stop Stepan from blowing by him.  It is in the gray area for me related to suspendable hits based on the Rupp hit on Staal, as it was similar to that hit which had no disciplinary action or subsequent whining,  and the lack of discipline for the Nystrom hit on Letang which was every bit as dangerous.  The kangaroo court will have to decide.  I anticipate, a game, maybe two coming from Shanadouche, which could leave the Penguins without Orpik for the beginning of the Flyers series.  Tortorella's shots at the Penguins (calling the team the most arrogant in hockey), and the shots at Malkin and Crosby as whiners were not necessary or professional, but hey neither is Tortorella.  Seriously, I usually don't mind Torts, but again, pot, meet kettle, you're black sir.  And Marty Biron?  Who cares what he thinks anyway?   As for the game, a short summary follows as I am supposed to be hanging out in NYC, not writing a blog post right now.

The Penguins got on the board ealy at the 1:11 mark as Chris Kunitz knocked home his 25th goal of the campaign, assisted by Kris Letang (31), and Evgeni Malkin (58).   The  Penguins led 1-0.  At the 4:23 mark the Rags tied it when Brandon Dubinsky netted his 10th goal of the season.  By the way, loving that big mouthed Dubinsky has one less goal than Tyler Kennedy this season!  It was now a 1-1 game. At the 8:27 mark the aforementioned Tyler Kennedy scored his 11th of the season, assisted by Jordan Staal, who made a great play to keep the play alive and Zybnek Michalek who launched a bomb that created a juicy rebound for the suddenly hot Tyler Kennedy to slam home. Kennedy now has 11 points in his last 13 games, and the Penguins retook the lead 2-1.

At the 5:11 mark of the second period Richard Park scored his 7th goal of the season, assisted by Pascal Dupuis (34) and Eric Tangradi (2).  The goal was significant as Duper extended his scoring streak and, well Tangradi got a point.  The Penguins led 3-1. At the 9:06 mark Evgeni Malkin got his 49th goal of the year, assisted by Kunitz (34) and Crosby (28).  The Penguins now led 4-1.  Late in the third  period, Artem Anisimov scored a power goal at the 17:46 mark on the Brooks Orpik major penalty to make it 4-2.  Kris Letang got his 10th goal of the season into an empty net, assisted by Jordan Staal to close out the scoring at 5-2.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012


Big win in Boston 5-3

Before I get to the game tonight, I just want to finish some house keeping items related to the Flyers game on Sunday and some of the BS that came from it.  First, that douchebag Milbury gave a cursory apology to the "Penguins organization and its fans" for the remarks he now realizes were out of line the other day.  Pretty funny and very minimal effort at some PR from a very very stupid man.  With regard to Danny Briere and his injury, I have to ask if it is now okay to refer to him as Danielle based on his assertion that the Vitale hit was clean, BUT, Vitale intended to injure him.  For a group that loves to refer to Sidney Crosby as Cindy Crysby, I would think they are a little embarrassed by that comment, and so it goes.  Finally, I have had the opportunity to communicate with a few cool Flyer fans outside of the ones I am aleady friendly with.  First, my man Petey Cobretti, a cool guy to talk some puck with @SlyRocky4.  Knows the game, but can appreciate quality players on both sides of the shop.  Hates the Rangas!  Me too.  Also, if you want to get the Flyer perspective from two quality writers, look for Ed Miller @PhillyEdMiller or at  Great guy, also knows the game, and can appreciate passionate fans and their perspectives.  Finally, today had some great feedback from Michael DeNicola, from  The posts I read, even on the game Sunday were well written, detailed and fairly represented in my opinion what occurred.  Solid guy to communicate with also.  With a couple of weeks coming up of intense cross state warfare, these are some guys you can have a friendly, intelligent debate with, and get som real insight into the perspective of the "enemy."

On to the game tonight.  First, it was a win and a big two points, but it did little to quell my concerns about the Penguins attention to detail in the defensive zone.  The Penguins again gave up prime chances to a Boston team who had literally NOTHING but pride to play for tonight.  Brent Johnson seems a lot more like the Beej of the past couple of years.  I am not sure what to make of the defense, and losing Niskanen for any length of time would hurt, as Lovejoy is gone for a few weeks already, and as tweeted by NHL writer Mike Colligan, Paul Martin is playing like a guy looking to be a healthy scratch.  That pairing accounted for a goal by Martin and 3 assists by Letang tonight, but they were also on the ice for all three Boston goals.  Two more games to get your act together defensively.   The Penguins are getting offense, averaging 4.5 goals per game since Crosby returned, and they are hitting, but they seem to be lost at times in terms of defensive zone coverage.  The Rangers handed Philadelphia a 5-3 loss tonight, which clinched first place for them.  That loss, combined with the Penguins victory means that the Penguins magic number to clinch the 4th seed is 2.  They have the Rangers in town Thursday, with nothing to play for, starting Marty Biron.  This would be a great chance to grab a win, making Saturday's game irrelevant, and possibly saving some wear and tear on some key bodies.

Game Summary:

Period One

The Penguins jumped out to another lead today, when at 7:41 of the period Crosby scored his 7th goal of the season, assisted by Pascal Dupuis (33) and Kris Letang (28).  The point extended Duper's NHL leading scoring streak to 15 games, matching Geno's longest point scoring streak of his career.  Not bad, when you add 24 goals and top PK minutes for the "thrown-in" to the Hossa deal.  Pens lead 1-0. Then at 14:58, the world stopped, when much maligned Paul Martin got his second goal of the year driving to the net when a Kennedy shot that was ON THE NET caromed off his hand and into the net.  The fact that Martin did something positive AND a Kennedy shot was on the net ALL AT ONCE is amazing.  The assist was Kennedy's 22nd and Letang earned his second assist of the night and 29th of the season, giving the Penguins a 2-0 lead.  At 16:57 Pouliot makes it 2-1.  The period ened that way.

Period Two

18 seconds in, the Penguins give up their 2-0 lead in a row when Milan Lucic tallies to even the score.  The two teams played a physical period with Matt Niskanen leaving after a big  hit in the corner with a bad shoulder, but neither team was able to score until the Penguins manufactured a power play with a high stick call effectively bought by Kris Letang.  On the ensuing 5 on 3 power play at the 18:11 mark, James Neal blistered a shot that Kunitz fanned on past Turco to get his 40th goal and league leading 18th power play goal of the year to restore the lead at 3-2.   Steve Sullivan collected his 33rd assist of the season on the play, and Sidney Crosby his 27th.  Right after the goal James Neal had a spirited bout with Andrew Ference after Neal hit Boychuk behind the net.  Both left with 5 minute majors, after a slight decision for Neal.   The Penguins struck again on the remaining power play at 18:59 when Sidney Crosby scored his second goal of the game and 7th of the year, assisted by Kris Letang (30) and Evgeni Malkin (57).  The Penguins now led 4-2 after two quick power play goals.  I like Letang back on the point on the power play that is for sure.

Period Three

Game, set, match, when those 4th line grinders came out and scored the back breaker at 6:15 of the period when Arron Asham hammered home his 5th goal of the season, assisted by Craig Adams(13) and Joe Vitale (10).  The Penguins took a 5-2 lead.  Then each team took another injury when Arron Asham levelled Johnny Boychuk who looked like he may have broken his leg on the play, and the Philadelphia Mayoral candidate Joe Vitale took a Chara shot to the face.  At the 8:04 mark Rich Peverly closed the gap with a goal to make the score 5-3 and it ended that way. 

Some notes from tonight.  The third line centered by Jordan Staal was quiet on the scoresheet tonight, but Staalsy had 8 hits in a surprsingly physical game.  James Neal played another physical two way game tonight, and was an assist away from a Gordie Howe hat trick.  The power play was 2 for 4 tonight, which is a good sign.  Crosby had 2 goals and an assist and is now averaging 1.7 points per game, a blistering pace.  He has 34 points in 20 games, as many as Jeff Carter has collected in the 55 games he played this year, and his 27 assists match Ovechkin's season long totals already.  With Nealer at 40 goals and Geno at 48 goals, the Penguins have their first 40 goal duo since Jagr and Kovalev!  Malkin's assist gives him 105 points on the season, a 10 point bulge over second place Steven Stamkos who now has to average more than 3 points per game in his last 3 games to catch Geno for the Art Ross Trophy if Geno does not score another point.  So, now there are two games left in the season, both at home, one against the Rangers and the finale Saturday against the Flyers.  GO PENS!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Flyers seem to have Pens number right now

The fact that the Flyers are 7-1-1 in their last 9 games against Pittsburgh and 5-0 in the Consol Energy Center should be a bit alarming for those of us who live and die by the blacka and gold team on skates.  It appears almost certain that the Penguins and Flyers will meet in the first round of Lord Stanley's annual tournament for the right to drink from his coveted silver chalice, and those numbers are not promising.  All that remains to be seen is who has home ice, though it hardly appears that home ice has been an advantage for Pittsburgh against the Flyers, who just beat Pittsburgh again at home 6-4. This loss leaves the Flyers just 1 point behind Pittsburgh, with three games left for both teams, one of which is against each other to end the season.  I will start with the end, since that is what everybody is talking about, and there is enough hate going around from both ends of the state to start WW III.  From where I sit, most of what occurred from both sides is playoff style hockey from two heated rivals, playing in a game that may as well have been a playoff contest, with possibly 8 more coming.  The play that precipitated the ugliness from the Penguins perspective is the cross check by the bench by Braydon Schenn on Crosby during the play in which Sullivan had actually scored.  Bylsma felt as if it were a cheap hit and that Schenn had targetted the Penguins captain. Truthfully, Crosby had given Schenn a shot on his way past him to the bench, but the cross check from Schenn was pretty blatant.  Then, after a faceoff late in the game, Joe Vitale crushed Daniel Briere in the neutral zone with a very clean, but very violent hit.  I have a couple of comments here. First, if Zac Rinaldo had hit Neal like that, our players would have reacted in much the same that the Flyers players did, so I do not blame the Flyers for reacting as they did on the ice.  It is important to note that Briere had given Vitale or Adams a quick spear off the faceoff, and Vitale made him pay the price, and the Flyers took exception.  So much so that Peter Laviolette shattered Max Talbot's stick on the glass, and in the ensuring scrum almost came to blows with Penguins assistant Tony Granato.  Players squared off on the ice, and many penalties were given out.  I still don't have a big problem with anything that has occurred thus far, it is part of the game, like it or not.  It is a fast, physical, violent, emotional game, and emotions ran high.  I give props to many of the players on the ice.  I have no issue with the Flyers getting physical and standing up for Briere, and give Wayne Simmonds props for having the balls to take on Deryk Engelland, especially with his recent run in with a puck to the face. I also love Asham for attempting to get Schenn to pay for his cheap shot, and I missed whomover engaged Vitale, but all of that is pretty standard.  Granato and Laviolette were ejected, and each had stood up with passion for his respective team.  Unlike many Pens fans, I have no real issue with Hartnell getting into it with the Malkamania either.  It was fun to watch, and nobody was hurt.  Where it got kind of classless to me was in the post game interviews.  Players from both sides were pretty non-chalant about the situation, calling it playoff hockey.  But Laviolette, a man I had grown to admire a bit, was cheap and classless postgame when he called the move by Bylsma gutless to put his 4th line out there, down by 3 goals with two minutes or so left, after a rookie took a bit of a shot at an oft injured captain.  Really Lavvy?   As if you would not have done the same or more?  Again, though I recongize the fact that the Penguins would have reacted the same to a hit on Neal by Rinaldo like the Vitale hit, it was clean, and in fact Briere had taken a cheap shot moments before the hit.  Bylsma put out a physical unit, late in a game that had been decided, but no cheap shot was taken. Hey Lavvy, calling a man in the context of pro hockey gutless is a pretty derogatory comment, and when done by a guy such as yourself, who would have done AT LEAST the very same thing in the same situation is actually kind of sackless and classless in its own rite.  I can only hope that you choke on those words in a couple of weeks brother.  Okay, now that that is over, the game summary.

First Period

The game started fast again for the Penguins, when Steve Sullivan scored his 16th goal of the season, off of a knuckleball shot to give the Penguins a 1-0 lead.  He was assisted by Crosby (25) and Dupuis (31). The assist gave Dupuis a 14 game point scoring streak, adding to his NHL best.  Then not much later at the 4:58 mark when James Neal scored his 39th goal of the year, assisted by Evgeni Malkin (55) and Chris Kunitz (32).  It was a great feed by Malkin from below the goal line to Neal in front of the net.  It was 2-0 Pens, and all looked good.  Then the Flyers call a timeout, as they were being outshot 9-2.  Apparently the time out worked.  From there Giroux scored to make it 2-1 with Hartnell parked right in the crease.  The period ended with Pittsburgh up 2-1.

Second Period

The comeback started early when Max Talbot tipped a shot past Fleury to tie it up 2-2.  Then a minute ten later, Wayne Simmonds completes a tic tac toe play to score a power play goal and stake the Flyers to a 3-2 lead.  After that at 6:37 number one start Jakub Voracek extended the lead to 4-2.  Finally, at 13:15 Marc Andre Bourdon makes it 5-2 Flyers, and the route was on.

Third Period

Most of the period went by before there was any scoring, when finally Steve Sullivan scored his 17th goal of the year, assisted by Dupuis (32) and Michalek (10).  It was now 5-3.  After that, the ugly scrum occurred after a big hit by Joe Vitale on Daniel Briere.  Then Voracek scored his second goal of the game into an empty net, and it was 6-3 Flyers.  Chris Kunitz scored a late power play goal for his 24th of the year, assisted by Malkin (56) and Crosby (26).  The final score would be 6-4 Flyers.


First, the positive. Pascal Dupuis extended his NHL leading scoring streak to 14 games today.  Duper has been red hot!  Geno had 2 assists, giving him 104 points and a 12 point cushion on Stamkos for the Art Ross Trophy, with only 3 games left for Stamkos.  Sullivan had 2 goals, and continues to show some chemistry with Crosby.   That about completes the positives for me.  Now, the areas of concern.  First, the special teams were suspect again.  The once money PK, has now given up power play goals in 3 of the past 4 games, all of which were losses.  The five forward power play looks like a mess to me, despite the late goal. An aggressive PK team like Philadelphia will get some real opportunities for back breaking shorties against this PP unit.  Marc Andre Fleury after an amazing run has been mediocre at best in his past three outings.  A mediocre Fleury means the Penguins will be golfing by the end of April.  I sure hope he gets his edge back, NOW.  The defensive zone coverage continues to be very weak, and the blueliners are giving the opposition too much time and space to work with.   The Penguins are being beaten to loose pucks and cannot seem to clear their zone.  The defense seems too soft right now to clear the net.  Michalek and Martin continue to disappoint as a supposed pair of shutdown defensemen.  In general, the Penguins continue to make that extra fancy play instead of getting pucks deep and winning the battle to retrieve them.  None of the above is a recipe for a long playoff run.  Three more games to get that shit right boys.