Archive for the ‘NHL’ Category

NHL PLAYOFFS 2011: I Think The Pens Are Gonna Lose To Tampa

April 13, 2011

I haven’t been as convinced with the Penguins’ recent play as the majority of the Pittsburgh media has — granted, much of my skepticism likely stems from any fan’s inability to not be nervous about their team at all times (or unwillingness to do so for fear of jinxing their team), but right now, I’m really just not really sold on this current Penguins group’s chances against the Lightning.

Right now, the Pens’ offense isn’t producing 5-on-5, their defense has been decent but certainly not playoff-tight shut-down style, they have no forward depth, their power play is terrible, and their penalty killing has been suspiciously leaky over the past month and will be without Matt Cooke for the Tampa series. The Lightning, by contrast, are completely healthy, boast tremendous depth up front, are in many ways just as playoff-tested as this Penguins group, they’re extremely well-coached (as are the Pens), and their power play likely poses a larger threat against the Pens’ penalty killing than the Penguins’ PP does against the Lightning killers. The Pens have home-ice advantage, and will likely pack the stands in Tampa, but as we saw last season and pretty much every season, home ice is meaningless.

The only possible way I see the Pens winning this series is if Marc-Andre Fleury absolutely stands on his head (not literally, because if he does it literally they’ll almost assuredly lose), and I don’t foresee that happening for enough of the 7-game-series for the Pens to emerge victorious. I also don’t think Fleury is particularly more or less likely to steal games than Dwayne Roloson; to everyone who continues to point to the Pens’ marquee goalie as a huge advantage in this series, I refer them to the case of Niemi v. Leighton in last year’s Stanley Cup Finals — any goalie can get hot at any time, and any hot team can overcome an “elite” goaltender. Fleury posted by far the best regular season of his career this year, so it’s hardly misguided to hope that he can continue to dominate in the playoffs, but lest we forget, Fleury was a massive liability in last year’s playoffs, looking nothing like an above-average goaltender let alone a series-stealer. I mention this not for the sake of dispassionate skepticism or to disregard Fleury’s role in getting the Pens to where they are, I’m saying it to remind us all about the extreme volatility of the goaltending position; there’s just no way to confidently know how well Fleury or Roloson will play in this series, and while I’d certainly rather take my chances with Fleury, the difference doesn’t appear dramatic enough to tip the playoff scales back towards the objectively-outgunned Penguins.

Hopefully I’m wrong. Hopefully I’m subconsciously confident and my intellectual pessimism is just a gut reaction against getting burned by my overconfidence against the Canadiens last season. But right now, being objective as I can, I foresee the Pens’ special teams issues stalling and Fleury playing decently but not living up to our impossible expectations and the Pens entering an early summer accompanied by glowing Ron Cook columns about how resilient they were this season anyway.

Lightning in 6.

The rest of my 2011 NHL Playoff Predictions are after the jump:

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The Curious Case Of Maxime Talbot

March 25, 2011

My thoughts on whether or not the Pens can afford to retain Max Talbot, and whether his ultra fan-faveness makes up for his disturbing drop in production:

http://pittsburgh.sbnation.com/pittsburgh-penguins/2011/3/25/2070437/maxime-talbot-penguins-free-agent

Shero’s Deadline Deals Were Clear Winners

March 7, 2011

Wrote another article for SB Nation Pittsburgh this past week about Ray Shero’s pre-deadline deals for James Neal, Matt Niskanen, and Alexei Kovalev, comparing them to the other deals commiserated on the Trade Deadline. In short, no matter how the acquisitions pan out, the Penguins received tremendous value in the deals themselves compared to other teams’ similar trades on the day of the Deadline.

Check out the article here:

http://pittsburgh.sbnation.com/pittsburgh-penguins/2011/3/2/2024352/penguins-nhl-trade-james-neal-alex-kovalev-alex-goligoski

Lemieux’s Statement About Islanders’ Fighting Not Hypocritical

February 15, 2011

I wrote a piece for SB Nation Pittsburgh about the absurd media and fan reaction to Lemieux’s “whiny, hypocritical” statement about the Islanders slugfest from Friday night.

You can check it out here:

http://pittsburgh.sbnation.com/pittsburgh-penguins/2011/2/15/1993874/mario-lemieux-penguins-islanders-fight-matt-cooke-micheal-haley

Crosby Will Definitely Return This Season Or Not

February 11, 2011

BREAKING CROSBY NEWS, you guys! Reporting on the scene are ESPN and the Post-Gazette:

Now we know for sure: Crosby may return this season, or may be out for the year. THANK GOD. All that uncertainty was such a distraction.

Flyers 3, Penguins 2: The Streak Was Bound To End Eventually But Screw This Game Anyway

December 15, 2010

I had a sinking feeling the Pens were gonna lose tonight, but that’s not worth any Nostradamus points, cause I had the same feeling before the recent Devils and Maple Leafs games and the Pens won both of those in regulation. Really, they were destined to lose eventually, and 12 straight wins is still incredibly impressive, so I’m not that annoyed…

Dammit, Flyers.com homepage, I’m really trying not to get mad at you guys tonight.

Basically, there’s not much to say tonight other than the Pens got slightly outplayed by a team that’s currently even deeper than they are offensively and defensively. I wish that weren’t the case — I wish I could point to a specific breakdown or an unlucky bounce or two or a blown call here or there (there were several, but ended up mostly a wash) and say that the Penguins should’ve won so I can sleep tonight feeling superior, but really, the Flyers just did a little more than the Pens to win the game, gave up almost no significant scoring chances 5-on-5, and came away with the win.

Deryk Engelland has played mostly ok in his starts this season, but he looked slow and out of place tonight, finishing the game with only 9:48 of ice time — either Dan Bylsma saw what I saw and benched him, or Engelland had an undisclosed injury. The Engelland/Lovejoy pair has been mostly passable throughout the season, if at times unspectacular, but if the Penguins are gonna make a move at the trade deadline in a couple months, I can foresee them going after a Jordan Leopold / Phillippe Boucher type veteran defenseman to fill the 6th D spot. Right now it’s not a huge issue, but Engelland and Lovejoy still have a ways to go to prove they won’t be playoff liabilities, and if a late-season blue line injury forces both of them into the Pens’ lineup, particularly with Goligoski’s defensive deficiencies already evident, the Pens will suddenly face a glaring hole.

Malkin looked decent in his return, an assessment which I don’t intend to sound disingenuous as he provided both Penguin goals, but he was forcing constant inessential passes through traffic and turning the puck over too frequently, and his retaliatory penalty in the Third led to the Flyers’ go-ahead goal. He still has a ways to go before I (and the other less-forgiving Pens fans) will completely set aside my current Malkin FrustrationsTM. I realize I just used the phrase “ways to go” twice in the same short recap, but it’s late and I’m tired and the Pens just lost to the Flyers in a boring game and we can all deal with it.

The Flyers assume First Place in the Eastern Conference for the time being, though they’re also one of the few teams in either conference that’s been essentially 100% healthy the entire season (besides Michael Leighton, who is unquestionably a crucial component of Michael Leighton’s family). This isn’t really a knock against their success over the past month and a half, just a reminder that the rest of the conference won’t necessarily be as far behind them talent-wise come Playoff time, particularly if Jordan Staal returns to his previous level of utility and Danny Briere suddenly remembers he’s Danny Briere and misses the next three years.

Rangers 3, Penguins 2 (OT): Pens Outshoot Opponents By 14 And Lose. You Know, The Usual.

November 16, 2010

The refs were incredibly biased against Pittsburgh in this one. Forcing the Pens to put their power play out six times? That’s just cruel.

The game was a pretty typical Pens’ D / Fleury loss, as they outshot the Rangers in every period and 39-25 overall but lost 3-2. Again, the Fleury goals were mostly defensible; the first one was on a wild scramble in front that Erik Christensen scooped up, the second apparently deflected off the Pens’ D and the post (though it still looked like Fleury was off his post on the short side a bit), and the third came after Michalek fell at the Pens’ blue line then Paul Martin dove to the ice in a failed attempt to break up a 2-on-1, for a nice tag-team suck effort by the Pens’ $9 million offseason acquisitions. I call the 25-shots, 3-goals result ‘Typical Fleury’ in that, while the goals were indeed possible to rationalize, on the other end of the ice, Henrik Lundqvist was absolutely lights-out for most of the game and stopped probably about 10 chances that would’ve been similarly defensible goals, which is a thing that supposed franchise goalies in the NHL do more than once every couple months.

I would rationalize that the Pens were lucky to get a point out of this game, given that Lundqvist was unbeatable for 57 minutes and the Pens’ power play reverted back to Insta-SuckTM, but the Pens took the lead in the final minutes off a lucky Matt Cooke wrister that slipped through Lundqvist and was immediately followed by an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty to give the Pens a power play for the remainder of regulation, during which the Rangers scored an ugly shorthanded game-tying goal with under 90 seconds while the Pens were taking turns doing impressions of Lennie from Of Mice And Men in their own zone.

Fleury has allowed fewer than 3 goals just twice this season in 10 games (not counting his First Period exit in Phoenix), with both those games coming this past weekend against Tampa and Atlanta, and it’s been many a fortnight since we’ve seen a game where Fleury played like Lundqvist did last night. Still, the reverse game puck Monday went to Michalek, who continues to perform at a level where the only positive thing I can say about him is “He must still be hurt.” Awful loss.

Stars 5, Penguins 2: Pens Play Flawlessly. End Of Story.

November 4, 2010

When Brent Johnson let in a wrister from 40 feet then Brad Richards threw in a second goal after parking himself in the right circle uncovered for an hour and a half both within the first eight minutes of the First Period, I’m pretty sure we all had the same thought running through our heads: This is going to turn out to be the most perfect game the Penguins have ever played. And you know something? We were right.

The Penguins were completely flawless against Dallas in every conceivable way, and were extremely entertaining to watch in the process. The defense? Perfect. Johnson? Perfect. Michalek in his return from injury? Perfect and perfectly healthy. The power play? Is there a word more perfect than “perfect”? Like, “doubleplusperfect”? Because that’s how good the power play was.

Sure, the scoreboard at the end of the day said Dallas 5, Pittsburgh 2, and the only life the Pens showed was a string of random fights in the middle of the second including Sidney Crosby getting into the action, Kris Letang dropping his gloves, remembering his hand is injured, and pathetically clinging to Brenden Morrow, and Mike Comrie making himself useful and sticking up for his teammates by punching the puck. Shockingly, none of these actions sparked a four-goal comeback.

Hopefully the Pens can continue this flawless play in Anaheim on Friday night. The way the power play has been looking lately, in addition to the defense and the incredibly indistinguishable play of Comrie, Mike Rupp, Max Talbot, and Chris Kunitz, I’m moderately confident that they can keep it up.

2 Quick Sidenotes, after the jump:

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Penguins 3, Hurricanes 0: I Think We All Saw This Brent Johnson Season Coming

October 31, 2010

This was one of those “simple analysis” type games, which is good, because I never feel like writing long posts on the weekend. I prefer spending the weekend relaxing by the beach, re-enacting Corona commercials by, like, pouring a mai tai on my cell phone, or whatever. I literally do that every single weekend. I’ve gone through hundreds of cell phones, but it’s totally worth…nah it’s not worth it. I really should stop ruining my cell phones with mai tais every weekend to prove how relaxed I am.

Whoops, I’m already rambling and making the short post long. The simple analysis:

1) The Penguins showed a lot of jump, particularly for a road game the night after a home game (though the ratio of Pens fans to Canes fans sounded downright Yankees-in-Tampaesque).

2) Brent Johnson played awesomely, and Cam Ward played not awesomely.

Johnson stopped 33 Carolina shots to notch his first shutout in a Penguin uniform, improving to 5-0-1 on the year. Ward, conversely, let in a Max Talbot goal after Talbot attempted to make a forehand move, lost the puck, and it slid in under Ward, then allowed a second goal to Pascal Dupuis on an unscreened, untipped wrister from the right circle.

The Johnson / Fleury disparity this season has been so glaring, it doesn’t require in-depth statistical analysis, but right now the numbers are just staggering:

Johnson: 5-0-1, 1.16 GAA, .960 SV%
Fleury: 1-5-0, 3.35 GAA, .863 SV%

At what point do we stop just automatically assuming Fleury will reclaim the starting job? That’s not a smart-assed rhetorical question, I honestly have no idea how this situation is going to play out over the next couple months. Brent Johnson has allowed 7 goals in six games – Bylsma has to keep starting him over Fleury for the foreseeable future, using Fleury only on their upcoming Friday/Saturday back-to-backs in the next two weeks, if at all. 12 games is a small sample size, and obviously we can’t throw Fleury under the bus after 6 games (and a bunch of bad games last year including several playoff ones ok I’ll stop this parenthesis has made its point). But Johnson’s certainly making it interesting.

By the way, that two-year, $600,000 / yr deal the Pens gave Johnson is looking slightly decent now, huh?

Lightning 5, Penguins 3: When You Play Tampa, You Just Have To Contain Teddy Purcell

October 28, 2010

My brother, a hockey fan who despises the NBA even more strongly than I do, has long made the argument that part of the NHL’s struggle for publicity stems from how fundamentally different the roles of its stars are from those of the stars in the NBA. If you attend a Lakers game, you know almost unequivocally that Kobe Bryant is going to score 20 points with a shot at 30 or 40, and he’ll have the ball in his hands on nearly every possession throughout the entire game, whereas if you attend a Penguins game — such as the Pens’ unimpressive 5-3 clunker in Tampa Wednesday night — you very plausibly might see Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin manage just one secondary assist between them.

The disparity in star power between NHL players and NBA players isn’t solely a factor of the sports’ differing popularities or the way that they’re promoted, but also results from this primary, fundamental difference within the sports themselves. If you’ve never seen a basketball game, you’re still not going to watch a Heat game without noticing LeBron James; if you’re not a serious hockey fan, though, you very well could’ve missed Sidney Crosby Wednesday night.

I’ll save the finer points of this argument for another day, but it’s a nice, general, roundabout segue into my minorly disgusted reaction to the Pens’ loss to Tampa, in which Sidney Crosby played possibly his worst game of the year, managing 3 shots and a Minus-1, providing absolutely zip on the power play, and turning the puck over with Cutleresque frequency. The Pens managed to lose a game in which they scored two shorthanded goals on the same Tampa power play, got goals from Matt Cooke, Pascal Dupuis, and Craig Adams, and managed to chase the clueless-looking Mike Smith just 12 minutes into the game.

Fleury did his part too, allowing 4 goals on 30 shots (.867 SV%) including the first shot of the game for his second straight start, this time on a harmless wrister along the ice from Tampa’s most dangerous sniper, Dana Tyrell. The equally unstoppable Teddy Purcell added a goal on an untipped wrist shot from above the circles (the Pens had a tough time containing the notorious -Ell Twins), Vinny LeCavalier threw an unstoppable power play one-timer past Fleury to tie it, and Marty St. Louis forced a breakaway through two Penguin defenders and chipped the winning goal over a failed Fleury poke-check. Stir in another sweet 0-for-5 on the Pens’ power play and voila! A regulation loss after being up 3-1.

Jordan Staal is allegedly slated to return Friday against Philly. If his weight still isn’t up to par, he has my permission to eat Mike Comrie.


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