Wednesday, February 29, 2012
Tuesday, February 28, 2012
Monday, February 27, 2012
Sunday, February 26, 2012
Today's game was the second game of the third weekend in a row of back to back games for the Penguins. I am going to jump straight to the game today. It was a weird game with three distinctly different periods. In the first, the Penguins outshot Columbus 15-5, and dominated play, but came out of it with nothing to show for it. In the second period, the Penguins got sloppy on a power play, and Rick Nash cashed in at 9:49 short handed to score the first goal against Brad Thiessen in his NHL career. The Pens were down 1-0. And though the Penguins played a sloppy period for 20 minutes, at 19:12 of the period, red hot Evgeni Malkin notched his 37th goal of the season on the power play, assisted by James Neal (31) and Steve Sullivan (22) to tie the game at 1-1. So, despite playing a very sloppy period two, the Penguins came out of it in a 1-1 tie. Then came a wild third period, in which the Penguins scored 5 times, 3 of them actually counting to take control of the game. Anyway, I digress. Pascal Dupuis gave the Pens their first lead of the day, getting his 15th goal of the season at 5:50, assisted by Steve Sullivan (23), and Jordan Staal (10). Staal and Dupuis traded the puck behind the net, before Duper came out from behind the net to beat Sanford to give the Pens a 2-1 lead. Then the game got weird, and as happens to often, the incompetency of the NHL officials, and more so the War Room in Toronto reared its UGLY head. After a net front scramble, with Kunitz in the net, the puck crosses the line as Kunitz is spinning to take a whack at it. It appeared to me on the Jumbotron, that the puck was actually pushed in by the momentum of the collapsing Columbus defense, but the War Room upheld the call on the ice, NO GOAL. I very much disagreed with that call based on the views on the jumbotron, but I have seen worse calls. Then minutes later, Kris Letang blasted a puck past Sanford, and as we celebrated, again, the asshats in stripes disallow the goal based on incidental contact Kunitz had with Sanford. Post game Sanford admitted to being very surprised as Kunitz's contact was not only marginal, it happened before the shot, which Sanford admitted, and he further admitted to being out of postion due to trying to push Kunitz out of his way due to the screen he was providing. Somehow, that horrible call was confirmed and Kunitz was involved in his 7th waived off goal of the season. GARAGE LEAGUE. Not be denied, Kris Letang cashed in moments later for his 9th goal of the season, the Penguins second power play goal of the day, assisted by Richard Park (7) and Matt Cooke (14). The Penguins now had a 3-1 lead and Pollock and St. Laurent could not figure out a way to disallow that one. Finally, Joe Vitale put the game away with his fourth goal of the season at 14:57, assisted by Eric Tangradi (1) and Matt Cooke (15). The Penguins now led 4-1. The Jackets scored seconds later to make it 4-2, but there was no further scoring after that, and the Penguins skated away with another victory, putting them into 4th place for the time being in the Eastern Conference. The game marked several milestones for the Penguins. It was Brad Thiessen's first NHL game and first NHL win, so congratulations to him for that. It also marked Coach Disco Dan's 150th career win as head coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins! Thank you and congratulations to HCDB. Kris Letang's goal was the game winner, his 11th of his career, tying for second in Penguins history in terms of game winning goals by a defenseman with Paul Coffey and Sergei Gonchar. Only Larry Murphy (12) has more game winning goals as a Penguin from the blue line. The game also marked the second game in a row that Eric Tangradi has been back with the big club, and he looked pretty effective in both games, though he only had one point to show for it. He was hitting, was sound in his own zone, and created a handful of scoring chances as well. I also wanted to note that the Penguins are 6-3-1 in the past 10 games, and are now 15-4-1 in their last 20 games, a very impressive and effective stretch for Pittsburgh. Part of the current success has been special teams play for Pittsburgh. Their penalty kill unit is 2nd in the NHL at 88.5%. Since the PK unit was first overall in the NHL last season, that was not so surprising. However, the power play has been a very pleasant surprise, clicking at 20.9%, good for 5th in the NHL. Also, for all of the talk about needing to add scoring depth, the Penguins are currently 4th in the league in goals for at 3.03 per game. The Penguins are 11th in the league in GAA at 2.58, a number I hope they can improve down the stretch with more solid play from Martin and Michalek. Next up for Pittsburgh, is a road trip to Dallas and Colorado this week. Let's Go Pens!
Saturday, February 25, 2012
Wednesday, February 22, 2012
Given recent events, it was not a very positive feeling to go into tonight's game against the Rangers without Brooks Orpik. His absence meant the elevation of Paul Martin to the top pairing, and a little physical play with a tough Rangers team coming into the CEC. The Rangers, who are running away with the Eastern Conference were looking to avenge a home ice loss against Pittsburgh the last time these two teams played, and the Penguins were coming off of a horrid 6-2 loss to Buffalo, in which the defense looked porous. To add to the intrigue going into the game, the Penguins recalled both Eric Tangradi and Brad Thiessen from the WBS Penguins, making Dustin Jeffrey and Brent Johnson healthy scratches for the Pens. They added Tangradi to get some size into the lineup against a physical Rangers team, and they added Thiessen presumably due to the ineffective play of usually reliable backup netminder Brent Johnson. On to the game. The first period ended up in a 0-0 tie, despite the Penguins dominating zone time, and at times looking like they were on a power play even at 5 on 5. King Henry was his usual self, acting like a brick wall in the net. Early in the second period, the ice was broken. Off of an ill advised pass by Michael Del Zotto in the Penguins zone, Kris Letang intercepts the puck and springs Evgeni Malkin on a breakaway. Malkin held onto the puck, Lundqvist goes down, and Geno pops a backhander into the cage for his 33rd goal of the season at 1:05 of the second period, assisted by Letang (22) and Pascal Dupuis (21). Pens lead 1-0. Then at the 11:14 mark, Steve Sullivan connected on his 11th of the season, a power play goal, assisted by Evgeni Malkin (40), and Matt Cooke (13). The goal was Sullivan's first power play goal in 24 games, and Malkin's assist added to his league leading 73 points, 3 points ahead of Steven Stamkos and Claude Giroux. The game ended 2-0 as the Penguins played a complete 60 minute game, something we will need to see more of down the stretch. The shutout was Fleury's 3rd shutout of the season, and 22nd of his career, tying with Tom Barrasso for the most shutouts in Penguins history. It took Fleury 418 games to get his 22 shutouts, 20 less games than the 438 it took for Tom Barrasso. The Penguins improved to 19-0-2 when leading after two periods, and like Geno have 73 points. Some other notes and thoughts from the game.
Ben Lovejoy showed himself to be a valuable depth defenseman, stepping in and playing a solid game for the Pens. The game was BY FAR the best that either Paul Martin or Zybnek Michalek have looked in a long time. In Martin's case, the best he looked all season. Given the tough free agent market, we may have to hope that those two can use this game as a springboard to newfound confidence, and a return to form. Though he did not score in this game, I wanted to note that Jordan Staal has 19 goals in 40 games, a 38 goal pace. Not bad for a guy who "can't score" and is "only a third line center." Also, given the early season issues, it is important to note that since 1/13/12, the Penguins are 7-2 v playoff teams, and 4-0 against the top three teams in the Eastern Conference. As far as Geno, he has slowed a bit, but remains the league leader in points. Against Atlantic Division foes this season, Geno has 16 points, or 8 goals and 8 assists in 14 games. Also, after Duper missed a wide open cage that would have been a back breaker for the Rangers, I got to listen to some typical anti-Duper rhetoric from the fans in front of me. Well, think about this ladies and gents. Despite enduring a long stretch without scoring, and not getting time with Crosby this season, Duper is 4th on the team in scoring. That's right, FOURTH. He has 34 points thus far. He has 8 points in his past 14 games, including the game winning goal in Saturday's contest against Philadelphia. That would be his 5th game winner on the season, tying a career high set in the 2009-10 season. Does Dupes come up big? Consider that 13 of 48 of Dupers goals over the past 3 seasons have been game winners. That means that 27% of them qualify as game winning goals. That is BIG TIME. Pascal's 21 assists are the second most in his career,(28 is the most), and let's not forget his PK abilities. For 1.5M people drink a big tall glass of shut the fuck up when it comes to Duper hate. The Penguins have 7 players with double digit goals this season including Malkin (33), Neal (30), Staal (19), Kunitz (16), Dupuis (13), Cooke (11), and Sullivan (11). Cooke is heating up down the stretch with 9 points (4G-5A) in his past 12 games. Finally, special teams have been key for Pittsburgh. The Penguins power play has now scored goals in 8 times in the past 13 games, and during that span, the power play is clicking at just over 25%! The penalty kill is second in the league overall, and first on home ice. Over the last 8 home games the Penguins have killed off 23 of 25 opposition power plays or 92%, and during their last 16 games overall 50 of 53 opposition power plays or a litle better than 94%. Those numbers will win you some hockey games. Next up, another set of back to back matinees against Tampa and Columbus. Go Pens!
Monday, February 20, 2012
Sunday, February 19, 2012
In an eventful game morning, it was announced earlier that the Penguins have signed LW James Neal to a six year contract extension for 30M, or 5M per year. To me, that is a good deal for both sides. From the perspective of the Penguins, they have locked up a 24 year old power forward, who is pacing for 40 plus goals, is tied for the league lead in power play goals, and leads the NHL in shots on goal. And what a shot the Real Deal has. Kind of like a howitzer. He could have tested the market to see what kind of offers were out there, and 5M is the mimimum I thought he would consider. His presence has helped to turn a power play that was a liability, into a top ten power play in the league, and he has given Geno his best finisher since 71 joined the Penguins. For Neal, he gets 30M guaranteed, and the opportunity to play with an elite centerman, on an elite team for the next six years. To me, a win-win. As we look at the game ahead I have some notes to share; First off, Brent Johnson will get the nod in goal today against the Sabres. It should be an interesting tilt, as 10 of the last 13 games between Buffalo and Pittsburgh have been decided by one goal. Also of note is the fact the Penguins are 0 for their past 15 power plays in Buffalo, scoring last on 12/22/08, when Alex Goligoski notched a power play goal. The Penguins are 12-3-1 in their past sixteen games, and 6-2-1 in their past nine road games. Also, in a reversal from the past, the Penguins are now 5-1 in their past 6 afternoon games. In their past 11 games, the Pens have given up 2 power play goals and notched 3 shorties, not bad work for the PK! Geno has 24 points in his past 15 games and talk about clutch, 13 of them came in third period, and one in OT. As far as playing in Buffalo, bad news for Geno of late. His last points in Buffalo came on 12/22/08 and his last goal there came on 2/17/08 or four years ago. Finally, Arron Asham has not been a minus player in his last 15 games played, finishing at plus 2, and Joe Vitale has only been a minus player once in his past 15 games, finishing them at +1. Congratulations to the Real Deal and Let's Go Pens!
Saturday, February 18, 2012
The Penguins are now 6-0 when they draw first blood in Philadelphia, as they used a three point night by Matt Cooke to beat the Flyers 6-4, evening their record to 7-7 against Atlantic Division rivals, and putting the Penguins in 5th place, but tied with Philadelphia with 71 points. The victory marked Marc Andre Fleury's 30th win on the season, and James Neal got his 30th goal of the season. Neal's 30th along with Malkin's 32 goals on the season give the Penguins their first pair of 30 plus goal scorers on the same line since Kovalev aand Lang did it in the 2000-2001 season. In a season full of BAD officiating, Devorski and Auger called one of the worst games I can recall in recent memory, and given the Garage League mentality of the NHL, that is saying something. Both teams were victims of bad non-calls, and phantom penalties. The league should be embarrassed, but that would require a certain level of self awareness that does not seem to exist in this league. The game was a strange one in many ways. In the opening period, the Penguins jumped out to a 1-0 lead at 3:17 of the period as Matt Cooke was in Jagr's mouth at center ice, before smoking JJ and snapping a shot past Bryzgalov unsassisted to give the Penguins a 1-0 lead. The lead did not last long, as Jagr scored twice at 15:16 and 15:34, the second one a power play goal, to give the Flyers a 2-1 lead. The period ended that way. Then at 15:14 of the second period, Jordan Staal scored a shorthanded goal, his 18th of the season, on a snapshot assisted by Craig Adams. The goal tied the score at 2-2. About a minute and half later, while down 2 men, Matt Cooke took a loose puck, and smoked Kimo Timonen to score his 11th goal of the season, unassisted, chasing Bryzgalov for the afternoon. The Penguins were up 3-2. Then late in the period, Deryk Engelland, after making a great play to prevent a breakaway off of a Niskanen miscue, lost an edge in front of Fleury, leaving the puck on the doorstep for Wellwood to put behind Fleury at 18:41 of the period. The period ended with the score tied 3-3. The Penguins came out EARLY in the third period, and at :37 of the third period, Dustin Jeffrey scored his 4th goal of the season off a Matt Cooke rebound (12) to give the Penguins the lead at 4-3. Lesst than two minutes later, Pascal Dupuis banked a shot off of Bobrovsky (13), assisted by Jordan Staal (8), and Steve Sullivan (17). The Penguins were now up 5-3, and nobody on the first line had a point. Then, at 9:02 James Neal joined the 30 goal club when he backhanded his own rebound past Bobrovsky, assisted by Evgeni Malkin (38) and Chris Kunitz (25). This gave the Penguins a 6-3 lead and seemed to take the starch out of the Flyers. Wayne Simmonds added a late goal with 19 seconds left in the game to make the final score 6-4 Pittsburgh. Some notes from the game include the fact that with 2 goals and an assist, Matt Cooke had his first three point game in a Pittsburgh uniform. Jordan Staal remained an offensive force, adding a goal and an assist today. Brooks Orpik was plus 4 with 6 hits today, after a 9 hit effort against Anaheim. Craig Adams was a force on a dynamic PK today, with an assist and playoff caliber work on the PK. That unit gave up a goal in a 4 on 3 situation, but killed four 5 on 4's, and an extended 5 on 3, while adding two short handed tallies, including one 3 on 5! The power play was ineffective, going 0 for 3, and not really showing much of a threat. A big two points against a strong divisional opponent, on the road. We will take that all day, every day. Off to Buffalo, for a matinee tomorrow. Go Pens!
Today is the first game in another of 3 back to back weekend situations for Pittsburgh. They take on the Flyers in Philadelphia at one pm. There is a lot on the line. First, the Penguins are two points behind 4th place Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference race with 69 points to 71 for the Flyers. The two teams have the exact same number of wins at 32, while the Flyers have earned two extra points with two extra losses in OT. Both teams have played 57 games, with the Penguins owning a 32-20-5 and record, with the Flyers owning a 32-18-7. A win would put the Penguins in fourth place in the Conference. Also, Claude Giroux with 67 points, is only two points behind league leader Evgeni Malkin in the race for the Art Ross Trophy. Some other interesting stats include the fact that the Penguins have allowed the first goal in 13 of the last 14 games in Philadelphia, but are 5-0 when they score first in Philadelphia. In another oddity, the Penguins are 7-2-0 in their last 9 games in Philadelphia, but they have lost 2 of their past 3 contests there. The Penguins have also lost their last three games to Philadelphia, with their last win on March 24th, 2011 in a Shootout. Geno has fared will in Philadelphia, averaging 1.47 points per game in 17 games with 11 goals and 17 assists. Fleury has appeared 16 times in Philadelphia, posting a 10-5 record, with a 2.88 GAA and a .904 save percentage. Finally, today marks the return of former Flyer Arron Asham to the Penguins lineup, and former Penguin Jaromir Jagr to the Flyers lineup. Also, James Van Riemsdyck will return to the lineup for Philadelphia. Big tilt in less than an hour! Go Pens!
Wednesday, February 15, 2012
Sunday, February 12, 2012
The Penguins came into tonights game to conclude their 11th set of back to back games on the season. This season, the Pens were 4-5-1 in the second game of a back to back, so when they fell behind AGAIN 2-0 in the first period, you had to wonder if they had enough magic left to come from behind two nights in a row. They came out sloppy for the second day in a row, and at 9:58 and 10:09, just 11 seconds apart, Steve Downie put the Penguins down 2-0, just like that. But all it seemed to do was awaken the Pens top line, along with defenseman Kris Letang, who for the second night in a row responded to giving up two quick goals to fall behind by potting 4 unanswered tallies. At 16:15 of the first period, Evgeni Malkin scored his 31st goal of the season, assisted by Kris Letang (20), and James Neal (24). Pens are down 2-1. The period ended with the same score. Then, at 00:56 of the second period, Chris Kunitz scored his 16the goal of the season, when he split the D on a beautiful feed from Letang (21), and Brent Johnson (1) before snapping a shot behind Mathieu Garon to tie the game at 2-2. Malkin did not touch the puck, but the defense seemed to hesitate for just a second, expecting Kunitz to dish to Geno, and that gave the KOON all the time he needed to split them and do his damage. Steve Sullivan had a chance right in front to put the Penguins in the lead, but missed an empty net on a back hand attempt right in front. No matter, because at 4:28 of the period, a red hot Kris Letang scored his 8th goal of the season, assisted by Kunitz (23) and James Neal (25). The Penguins had their first lead of the night at 3-2. Right after the goal, Johnson kept the Penguins in the lead after stopping a two on one break created by an Orpik turnover, and another chance right on the doorstep for the Lightning. Then, Kris Letang had a goal waved off after Richard Park had incidental contact with Garon, but while attempting to get off of the fallen goaltender, he was cross checked several times, during which Letang found the empty net. No goal. Again, the Penguins would not be denied for long as Evgeni Malkin scored his 32 goal of the year, assisted by linemates Kunitz (24) and Neal (26). Penguins expand their lead to 4-2. Later in the period Kris Letang helped keep the Pens up by two goals when he made a save on a shot into an open net over a fallen Brent Johnson! Tanger is everywhere it seems! The period ended with the same score. What a period for the Penguins, as they scored three unanswered goals and outshot Tampa 19-9. This was bad news for Tampa as the Penguins were 17-0-2 coming into the game when leading after two periods, soon to be 18-0-2! The third period was about Malkin's mission to get his second hat trick in a row against Tampa, a mission almost completed when he hit the post with about one second left in the game while shooting at an open net. There are several things to discuss after this game. First, the victory coupled with a Philadelphia regulation loss, put the Penguins in a tie with the Flyers for the fourth seed in the conference, with 69 points. The win was the Penguins' 6th home win in a row, the second longest home winning streak in the NHL this season. During the streak, the Penguins have averaged a little more than 4 goals per game. The Penguins are now 11-2-1 in their past 14 games. The Penguins top line scored 19 points in the past two games! NINETEEN! The usually unsung hero of the line Chris Kunitz got 7 points over the weekend, netting 2 goals and 5 assists. James Neal got 5 points over the weekend scoring one goal and assisting on 4 others, and Evgeni Malkin continued his assault on the Art Ross and Hart Memorial Trophy race by scoring 3 goals and adding 4 assists for a seven point weekend, and 69 points on the season. During his past 14 games, Geno has collected 24 points, has played to a plus 10, and scored 3 GWG, not to mention his red hot performances in the shootout, I believe 6 for his last 6 attempts. Add to that, 62.5% in the faceoff circle over the past three games, and you have one bonafide BEAST in all facets of the game right now. Geno also has a goal in each of his past 8 home games, tying him with teammate James Neal for the second longest home goal scoring streak in Pens' history behind Mario Lemieux's 11 game home goal scoring streak. While we are at it, let's not forget Kris Letang. Tanger chipped in 3 goals and 3 assists over the weekend, plus a save, and had another goal waved off! Kris Letang would be in the discussions for the Norris Trophy had Pacioretty not cost him 20 games. The other interesting development tonight was Disco's shakeup of the 2nd and 3rd defense pairings. Matt Niskanen was moved up to the second pairing with Zybnek Michalek, and seemed to stabilize that unit, while Paul Martin was dropped to the 3rd pairing with Deryk Engelland, and both pairings seemed to perform better, with fewer mistakes. I am not sure how long you keep a 5M per year third pairing defenseman, but, at least for tonight, it seemed to stop the bleeding a bit on the blue line. Tonight's win for Johnson was his first since 12/3/11, but his second solid performance in a row, after a bad start to this season. Now the Penguins have fat ass Brucie BooHoo coming to town Wednesday night with his Anaheim Ducks.......Go Pens!
Saturday, February 11, 2012
Today was a big day at the Consol Energy Center. It was the first time in since 1996 that the Winnipeg Jets played in Pittsburgh. It was also Evegeni Malkin's 400th NHL game. On that note, Malkin's 485 points in those 400 games make him the highest scoring European player in 400 games in history, beating Jaromir Jagr by 12 points. About the game today, it was an exciting game for the fans to see, but not so much for the coaches. Dan Bylsma stated that both coaches would likely "burn the game tape." And Jets coach Claude Noel said that his players were "disrespectful of each other" for their poor play in the game. Today's win made the Penguins 17-0-2 this season when leading after two periods, and gave the Penguins a 31-19-5 record, good for 67 points, and 5th place in the Eastern Conference, two behind Philadelphia and one ahead of New Jersey. The game started ominously for the Penguins with the Jets' Wellwood and Burmistov staking the Jets to a 2-0 in the first 8 minutes of the first period. But at 12:11 of the period Dustin Jeffrey (3) got the Penguins off and running on a string of 4 unanswered goals when be beat Pavelec off a great play from Staal (7) and Letang (19). 2-1 Winnipeg. Then, at 16:42, James Neal scored his 29th goal of the season off the faceoff when we blasted a wicked wrister by Pavelec, with the only assist going to Evgeni Malkin (34). The period ended in a 2-2. Then at 3:12 of the second period, unsung hero Chris Kunitz scored his 15th of the season on the power play, assisted by Malkin (35) and Fleury, who collected his 10th career assist on the play! The Pens took the lead at 3-2. Then at 9:53 of the period, Kris Letang scored his 6th goal of the season, assisted by Malkin (36), and Chris Kunitz (20) giving the Penguins a 4-2 lead. Stapleton got the Jets back to within one goal at 4-3, before Evgeni Malkin turned Pavelec inside out to score his 30th goal of the year, assisted by Chris Kunitz (21) and Real Deal (23) to restore a two goal lead at 5-3. The second period ended that way. At 4:35 of the third Big Buff put the Jets back to within one goal at 5-4. But 19 seconds later Richard Park deflected an Orpik shot past Pavelec for his 5th goal of the season with assists going to Orpik (9), and Craig Adams (6), putting the Penguins up 6-4. Then at the 7:48 mark Jordan Staal broke in on Pavelec off of a great feed from Dupuis and snapped a wrister into the net for his 16th goal of the season to restore a 3 goal bulge at 7-4. He was assisted on the goal by Dupuis (19) and Cooke (11). Just when you thought the back breaker had been delivered, Bryan Little got the Jets back to within 2 at 10:02 making it 7-5 Pens. Then at 17:16 Kris Letang scored his 7th goal of the year on the power play, assisted by Malkin (37) and Kunitz (14). You could see the value of Kunitz on this play, as he screened Pavelec on the original shot, then fought to keep the rebound alive, and eventually got the puck over to Letang, who buried it. This goal would close out the scoring in a wild 8-5 Penguins victory. Some notes from the game. With Geno hitting the 30 goal mark today, and James Neal sitting at 29 goals, they may be the first pair of 30 goal scorers on the same line for Pittsburgh since the 2000-2001 season, when Lemieux and Jagr did it along with Kovalev and Robert Lang. The 5 point outburst was the 6th five point game of Malkin's career, and the 3rd of THIS SEASON! The Penguins lethal top line combined for 11 points tonight, with Geno getting 1G and 4 assists, Neal getting a goal and an assist, and KOON chipping in 1 goal and 3 assists! It was great to see Kunitz have a big night on the score sheet as he such a vital part of that top line, often doing the dirty work that has resulted in a feast for both Malkin and Neal. Kris Letang also had 2 goals and an assist, marking his first multi-goal game since 2/6/2009. Max Pacioretty may have cost Tanger a shot at the Norris Trophy as Letang is just a beast in all three zones night in and night out. He will win the Norris one day, I am sure of it. After a 15 game absence Jordan Staal had a goal and an assist tonight, and his presence cannot be overstated. Staal gives the Penguins two legitimate centers and takes some of the heat and matchup pressure off of that top unit. Also of note, Malkin passed up Kevin Stevens for eighth all time in assists on the Penguins with 296 career assists. Richard Park's goal was the 100th of his career, congratulations Richard! The Penguins power play was 2 for 3 tonight, and the league's number one PK on home ice at 89.2% killed the only penalty it had to this afternoon. Seven different Penguins scored goals this afternoon. The pairing of Engelland and Niskanen struggled a bit tonight, and the pairing of Martin and Michalek made every shift they took on the ice an adventure. Brooks Orpik was out of position a lot tonight, and it hurt the Pens on a couple of occasions. The only defenseman who played a good game for the Penguins tonight was Letang. The case was being made for Shero to pull the trigger on a deal to bring in Hal Gill or Brian Allen from Carolina to bolster a porous defense. It was painful to watch the play on the blue line for the Pens tonight. Not much time to worry about it as the Penguins play Tampa tomorrow night at home. It would be great to take home two more points to keep the pressure on the Flyers. Go Pens!
Tuesday, February 7, 2012
The Penguins fell to the Canadiens tonight 3-2 in an 8 round shootout. The loss left the Penguins tied in points with the Devils for 5th in the conference, but the Devils by virtue of having 31 wins to 30 for the Pens push the Penguins back to 6th in the conference and 4th in the Atlantic Division at 30-19-5. The loss was just the third shootout loss in 10 efforts this season. Some other notes from tonight include the fact that James Neal scored his career high 28th goal tonight, 13 of which have come in the third period. Can you say clutch? The loss left the Penguins 3-0-1 on the season series with Montreal, missing a chance to sweep them for the first time in their history. Malkin is now 7 for 9 in shootouts this year after scoring on a sick spinorama, and 6 for his past six. The loss ended a 4 game road trip for the Penguins in which they collected 3 of a possible 6 points on the trip, going 1-2-1. The bad news is that the Penguins scored a total of 6 goals in those 4 games. The game was a fast skating game with both teams getting chances, and both goaltenders playing strong games. The first period ended 0-0. At 11:21 of the second period, Louis LeBlanc scored to give Montreal a 1-0 lead. The period ended that way. The third started well for Pittsburgh with Pascal Dupuis ending a LONG goal scoring drought when he netted his 12th goal of the season when a Joe Vitale shot went off his skate past Vanilla Price tying the game at 1-1 at 1:30 of the period. Vitale collected his 8th assist on the play. But under two minutes later, at the 3:00 mark, Lars Eller restored the lead as he caught Fleury leaving the net for what he thought was going to be a dump in, and ripped it past him. Montreal was up 2-1. Then at 7:32, James Neal scored his career high 28th goal of the year as he snapped a wrister past Carey Price to tie the game at 2-2. He was assisted on the play by Malkin (33) and Martin (17). Chris Kunitz who did not get an assist set up the whole play by beating Yannic Weber to a loose puck behind the net, feeding it to Malkin, who found Neal in the slot. Regulation ended in a 2-2 tie, as did OT. So the Penguins again went to the shootout. Malkin and Kunitz scored for the Penguins on the shootout, before Tomas Plekanec ended it for the Habs in the 8th round of the shootout. Listen, this is a valuable point for the Penguins, but they have some issues to work on. In their last 20 games, the Penguins have been the definition of mediocrity at 10-9-1. They are lacking secondary scoring big time, needing more from guys like Dupuis, Jeffrey, Cooke, and the defense on a nightly basis. Their defense has been spotty, and of late seems to have real trouble picking up players joining the rush late. They have three days to rest before playing back to back home games Saturday and Sunday against Winnipeg and Tampa respectively. It is possible we could see Jordan Staal by Sunday's game, if not, soon after. It is time to start a new streak so the Penguins are closer to the 1st seed than the 9th seed. By the way, nothing much in sports more annoying than the Habs fans. Go Pens!
This time of year always brings a lot of trade chatter, as the deadline is fast approaching, and the teams with a shot at the playoffs are looking to BUY what they need to make a deep playoff run, and the teams without a shot are looking for ways to remake their club by moving higher priced players to contenders in return for younger players with more future upside. In general, blue liners are highly prized commodities at this time of year, and teams will sometimes overpay to get that prized defenseman they are missing. This puts the Penguins in an interesting position for many reasons. First, they are deep in blue liners, but many of them are very young, and will likely be part of the Penguins blue line in the future v next month. Next, the Penguins are somewhat cap strapped due to the cash that they have in their young core of the team, and two defensemen who were considered prize UFA pickups last summer. Finally, the Penguins have a young stud defenseman in Simon Despres, that the coaches are very high on, who has played well in a stretch with the big club this year. Add to that the fact the Penguins are looking to get a little bigger and a little tougher up and down the lineup to make a playoff run, and you have some interesting scenarios that could develop. At the focal point of what could be a big shakeup is the duo Martin and Michalek who combined take up 9M in cap space. A year ago, after a shaky start these two combined for 43 points and a +9 rating on the way to the Penguins earning 106 points, with the league's best penalty kill and the 6th ranked defense in the NHL, rarified air for the Penguins. This year has been a different story though. They are on pace for 39 combined points, only four fewer than last year's total but their combined +9 from last year is pacing to a combined -35 this year. Martin has one goal in 46 games and is -8, second worst on the team, only to Michalek's -11. They are also the two highest paid defenseman on the team at 5M for Martin and 4M for Michalek. Could the Penguins be willing to move Paul Martin at a time when defensemen are at a premium? Why not? Replacing Martin with Despres, thought risky based on experience, would not only give the Penguins a larger, more rugged player in Despres at 6'4" and 205 lbs., but it would offer them 4.16M in cap relief that could be used to add some size and scoring this year at the deadline and/or create room to sign James Neal to a long term deal. In 14 games this year, Despres has tallied one goal and three assists, while playing to a plus 4 and averaging over 14:30 in ice time. There is no way Despres is not on the team next year, and yes, there is risk in moving a veteran for the playoffs, but teams sometimes overpay at the deadline if they are in need of a puck moving defensman with a solid past that does not seem to fit this system. Hell, if you added Hal Gill to be the veteran, a hot and heavy rumor everywhere you look, you still get 2.5M in cap relief AND have a veteran with size and grit that has won a Stanley Cup with this team. I know first hand how Shero and Bylsma feel about Gill. He would also add some size and grit to the blue line of Pittsburgh. Another Shero favorite likely to be available at the deadline is Mark Eaton. He is UFA after this year and is earning 2.5M. He is another steady veteran that could be brought in if necessary if you moved Martin, Michalek or both at the deadline. Your top pairing could be Orpik/Letang, second pairing could be Gill/Michalek or Gill/Eaton,and third pairing could be Niskanen/Engelland or Lovejoy. You could also plug in Despres in either scenario on either the second or third pairing. Moving Martin and Michalek, while adding back either Gill or Eaton still saves you 7.5M in cap space, while adding a veteran player with a Stanley Cup history here, and the chance to enhance other positions along the lineup. Though not a big cap clearing move, Ben Lovejoy could be moved given the young capable players who could step up like Despres, Picard, Bortuzzo or Strait....and any one of them could be moved as well. Do not look to see Morrow, Harrington or Despres part of any deals from the Pens. The Penguins have some decisions to make, as only Despres can come up and down without clearing waivers. Moving Martin, Michalek or both are potential high risk, but possible high reward now, and certainly a good move relative to cap space for the next several seasons. I will be curious to see how much of a gambler RS is, but I for one would not be shocked if he pulled the trigger on a couple of moves that might shock some. Over the next couple of seasons, the Penguins will have to sign some core players up front, while they have quality young defenseman that are not only NHL ready, but signed to cap friendly entry level deals. Nine million dollars in an underperforming defense pairing is a luxury they cannot afford, whether it is addressed at the deadline, or over the summer, it will be addressed. Go Pens!
Sunday, February 5, 2012
I am going to combine a very short post about this weekend's games, as I watched both at a bar in Deep Creek Lake Maryland, and did not take good notes. One of the more entertaining parts of watching Saturday's 2-1 victory over the Bruins was the fact that I spent a whole period watching it with some pretty cool Capitals fans. Yes, I said it. I met THREE COOL CAPS FANS while drinking with friends at the Honi Honi Bar. We watched the Caps/Habs and Pens/Bruins in the same space, and yes spent most of the second period and the end of the third watching them TOGETHER! Mark it down! At any rate, despite some people giving the game a bit of a discount on the win meter due to the fact that Carolina had just beaten the Bruins 3-0, I will take the opposite approach and say that the Penguins beat a very good Bruins team, on the heels of an embarrassing loss in their own building. I will take it! Evgeni Malkin scored on a power play late in the first period for his 28th goal of the season, assisted by Kunitz (19), and James Neal (22). Matt Cooke staked them to a 2-0 lead with his ninth goal of the season, assisted by Dustin Jeffrey (2) and Pascal Dupuis (18). The Bruins scored about halfway through the period to make it 2-1. Marc Andre Fleury stood TALL in the nets to hold on the 2-1 victory making several key saves in the game including a point blank shot after an Orpik turnover in the last minute of play. Some notes from this game for me included the fact that the top line looked very good despite netting only one goal, as Tim Thomas played like Tim Thomas, making some great stops on the Penguins. That said, Thomas was outdueled in this one by an equally impressive Marc Andre Fleury. Give Fleury credit for this big road win. Also Brooks Orpik had a highlight reel hit on Paille that sent him sailing! Sunday's game was not so fun to watch. The Devils jumped out to a 3-0 lead through a combination of poor defensive play by the Penguins, and a not so great game in the nets from Fleury. Matt Niskanen scored his third goal of the year from new comer Cal O'Reilly (5) and Matt Cooke (10). There was a pulse. The Devils answered to make it 4-1. About halfway through the third, Evgeni Malkin scored a power play goal his 29th of the year from Steve Sullivan to cut the lead to 4-2, and give the Penguins hope. However, the Devils closed it out with an empty netter to win 5-2 and close to within two points of 5th place Pittsburgh. Today's game was marred by HORRIBLE GARAGE LEAGUE officiating, that did not cause the loss by any stretch, as BOTH teams were victimized by weak calls and bad non-calls. In the end, the Penguins just did not have it today, and as a result took a spanking at the hands of the Devils. Need to gear it up for a big tilt Tuesday night in Montreal. Go Pens!
Wednesday, February 1, 2012
I was on my way back to my room after a meeting when I heard that Don VanMassenhoven was one of the referees tonight, and I knew he would have a negative impact on the game. I am not saying that officiating was the reason the Penguins lost tonight, it was not at all. I am just saying that this clown just calls a bad game, tonight's tilt being a tribute to the clutch and grab league circa mid '90s. That said, again not the reason the Penguins lost, but part of the reason the game was painful to watch. No, the Penguins lost for a simple reason. Can you think of why? BECAUSE THEY COULD NOT SCORE ONE FUCKING GOAL! Other than that, they might have won! No, really, the Penguins eight game winning streak came to an end in a hard fought game in which neither team could solve the others netminder until late in the third, Penguin killer Clark MacArthur put one past Brent Johnson, earning his fifth point in three games against the Penguins this season. Tonight's post will be short, not due to any hysteria, or having my panties in a wad, I am just swamped with the work I get paid for at the moment. The game tonight was simple. Every inch of ice had to be fought for, and neither team had anything to be ashamed of. In the end, one goal was all that was scored in total, it came from the Leafs, and they win the game. Some items to note include the fact that Chris Kunitz had his 6th goal of the year disallowed tonight. Yeah, you read that right, 6 of them, which has to lead the league. It was the proper call though. It is important also to note that Brent Johnson had his best outing of the season, and perhaps the Penguins can feel more comfortable giving Fleury some rest in the next several weeks, where the Penguins play many back to back games. The second line of Jeffrey, Kennedy, and Dupuis simply has to do more. That should not be hard, as nothing from nothing leaves nothing. I am a big Duper fan, but Pascal, time to tickle the twine bro. I am not a TK guy, I think he had cashed in on a big year, and that this is all he has. Big number 11 will be sight for sore eyes. Tonight's shutout by Reimer marked the first time in 10 years that the Leafs shut out the Pens on home ice in 10 years, the last time being 10/27/01. They did shut Pittsburgh out in Pittsburgh on March 19, 2006. Finally, the last two nights show how funny the game of hockey can be. Last night, the Penguins tie the game on a fluke goal when a James Neal shot bounced off of Geno's A and into the net to tie the game at 4-4 with 6.6 seconds left. If that shot is 8 inches higher and to the left, Geno is probably sporting a broken jaw or orbital bone, and the Penguins would likely be out of the hunt for a playoff spot as a result instead of celebrating a great come from behind win. Tonight, James Neal's redirect in the third hits the crossbar, and right after MacArthur nets the game winner. Hockey is a funny game that way. Oh well, two days off then two big tilts this weekend on the road at Boston and at New Jersey. Go Pens!! Note: the highlights from game one were more entertaining, so enjoy them.....tonights clutch and grab highlights would have taken you back to the mid nineties, so why bother?