Posts Tagged ‘Cam Ward’

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?

GAME FOUR: Pens 4, Hurricanes 1 — Getting To The Finals Is Easy, Huh?

May 28, 2009

Didn’t write anything about Game Four for a while because I really didn’t have anything new to add to the series; it just seemed like no matter how well the Hurricanes played, the Pens just kept this air of inevitability around them, and when that Max Talbot goal fluttered past Cam Ward’s glove, I think we all knew where this one was headed. It just wasn’t Carolina’s series, and I know that statement is served dripping in molasses-thick cliche juice, but this sentiment was overwhelming from about Game Two onward.

Carolina’s defense played terribly. Cam Ward was a nonfactor. Ray Whitney was a nonfactor. Eric Staal was a nonfactor until it was way too late for anything he did to matter (and this picture before Game 4 made the entire series worth it).

I thought Fleury played a pretty solid game after his WTFey first goal, even though any remotely questionable Fleury play still results in between 3 and 5 instantaneous texts to my phone from friends; I feel like I subcribed to the Sprint “Fleury Worry Mobile Updates” service inadvertantly. Otherwise, Crosby and Malkin are still awesome, Crosby’s linemates are looking a lot more competent than they did against Washington, the special teams are resembling decency, and the defense played a lot better in the second and third periods of this game.

Let’s bring on the Red Wings!

GAME THREE: Pens 6, Hurricanes 2 — THIS Is The Second Best Team In The East?

May 26, 2009

Sorry for the post-delay, I was busy taking Memorial Day weekend off and enjoying life. And now back to ripping on random hockey players for a devoted group of like seven blog readers!

– Carolina’s defense is downright awful. I wrote before the series (which I still thought would be a hard-fought seven gamer) that I wasn’t sold on Joe Corvo or Joni Pitkanen as impactful playoff-caliber defensemen, and nothing that’s happened this series has dispelled that belief; Corvo is a solid pointman and good transitional passer but sub-mediocre defensively and physically, and Pitkanen, while never emerging as the offensive threat multiple teams hoped he’d become, is still prone to monumental defensive lapses, including getting burnt up the middle by Max Talbot and torched to rubble by Evgeni Malkin on two separate Game Three sequences.

– Even worse, can someone who follows the Hurricanes year-round tell me, has Tim Gleason always been the worst defenseman in the NHL, or has he just been playing like it for three games? If he plays half as badly in the regular season as he has in the Pens games we’ve seen, he has no business being a professional ice hockey player. His giveaway to Malkin to spark the Pens’ tying goal en route to their unrelenting lead was laughable, but just one of about a half-dozen goals he’s been directly responsible for in this series.

Cam Ward hasn’t gotten much help from his defense in this series, and by “not much help” I mean, “at least Tim Gleason didn’t literally grab a bucket of pucks and pour them into his own net,” but he also hasn’t been great himself, and certainly not on the level of series-stealing impenetrability that I and many media types feared heading into this series. Other than a stellar second period in Game Three, Ward has been eminently beatable in this series, and the previously snakebitten Penguins have been more than happy to oblige.

– After three Carolina-ripping bullet points, time to state the obvious: Malkin and Crosby have owned this series on a level rarely ever demonstrated by individuals in an NHL postseason. Short of a hot goalie or possibly one player here or there, you simply don’t see two players absolutely just take over entire serieses in the NHL Playoffs; every time Malkin touches the puck, he creates a scoring chance as though he’s running a lax 3-on-2 practice drill where the defensemen intentionally back off to make sure the goalie gets to face a solid shot attempt. I also lamented Crosby’s finishing ability during the regular season, wondering how for all the offensive chances he creates he always ends up in the 30-goal range, but he’s just thrown everything near his stick into the back of the net this entire postseason. Even if the Hurricanes’ D had showed up in this series, I can’t imagine they’d have made much of a dent in the Malkin/Crosby momentum.

Chris Kunitz has played two straight legitimately impactful playoff games, which, based on his track record, I’m inclined to interpret more as a return to the norm for Kunitz as opposed to a two-game anomaly before he reverts back to uselessness. He’s still playing physically but has been much stronger on the puck, he’s patient, he’s creating chances, he’s hitting the net ever, and in general, I’ve stopped instantly changing the channel to the WE Network every time the puck comes near him.

– Even though Versus showed the clip of Fleury bobbling the puck that trickled wide of the net about 470 times, I thought he played a decent game; he gave up a bad rebound on the second goal, but critical announcers never seem to realize, every goalie gives up rebounds in every game, they only get blasted for them if their defense fails to pick up the opposing forwards, and Fleury continues to be victimized by this nearly every game. Carolina had a power play in the third with a chance to tie the game at 3 and couldn’t convert; I’ve been more critical of Fleury than most other people this postseason, but I had no problems with his Game Three performance.

– I ripped on Eric Staal in the last game recap and he didn’t spring to life and score seven goals, so maybe that jinx is over.

– Watching Hal Gill skate at full speed is my new favorite activity. Not just in hockey games, I mean in life.

Kris Letang still worries me a little; he’s been really weak on the puck in his own zone and can’t seem to clear or shoot the puck with any force. I imagine he’s still a little banged up from the earlier series, and hopefully he’ll get another chance to rest if the Pens can finish off the Hurricanes quickly, but he’s simply not going to squeak by against the Red Wings playing the way he has been in his own zone.

Bob Smizik argues that the Pens don’t really need to win Game Four, because the profit they’ll make off a home Game Five would benefit the franchise more than a quick end to a series they’re going to win anyway, which does make sense on paper, but who in their right mind would actually prefer even the slightest increase in the chances of an injury to Crosby or Malkin with an additonal game? The Pens have already played eight sold-out home playoff games and have at least two Finals home games on the way — they can afford to frickin’ win a hockey game tonight. The days of trading Dan LaCouture to save $800,000 are long over.

GAME TWO: Pens 7, Hurricanes 4 — The Teams Put On A Defensive Clinic

May 22, 2009

– Not a bad evening for the individual at the top of this blog:

Chris Kunitz had a goal and two solid assists, clearly inspired by my post on Wednesday making fun of him. Fleury had a solid Game 1 after I made fun of him, Viktor Kozlov and Tom Poti both had great Game 6s after I ripped on them, and Rob Scuderi and David Steckel ended up having important roles in the Washington series after I joked about the amount of attention they wouldn’t get. Without hyperbole, I can honestly say that this blog is probably the most important factor in the NHL Playoffs at the moment, and possibly in all of sports.

Cam Ward is gonna be pissed when he shows up to this series and finds out that some dude’s been wearing his jersey and ruining his numbers.

– I’d rip on Kris Letang for his wussy pass to set up Dennis Seidenberg for the third Carolina goal, but it was just trampled in the blitzkrieg of horrible defense for about 59:99 of this game (the other second was Rob Scuderi clearing a puck once). Would either of these teams be able to face the Red Wings right now without a goal light shorting out?

Tim Gleason was on the wrong end of about 14 Penguin goals tonight, give or take.

Eric Staal’s playing in this series too, right?

Brooks Laich (I think) made fun of the Mellon Arena stat-keepers during a between-periods interview last series, saying they intentionally rack up more shots for the Penguins, and at the time I ripped on him because if Sidney Crosby would ever say something like that in an interview every blog would be copy-pasting their “Crosby is a whiner” rants, but that being said, there is NO WAY the Penguins outshot the Hurricanes 16-6 in the second period of last night’s game.

– The Pens’ power play mimicked competency as the game progressed, and you know what that means: Horrible, anger-inducing power play right off the bat in Game Three to immediately puncture your new confidence.

– And finally, you know things are going right when Miroslav Satan stands up for his teammates during a last-minute scuffle by attempting to stickhandle Patrick Eaves.

GAME ONE: Pens 3, Hurricanes 2 — Fleury And Cam Ward Pay Homage To “Trading Places”

May 19, 2009

Game One of the Eastern Finals wasn’t entirely unlike the majority of the Washington series: The Pens dominated the first and mostly controlled the third, sandwiched around a dangerously lackadaisical second and topped off with an apparent willingness to give away their two-goal lead as easily as possible. The Pens only allowed 25 shots, right around the total they gave up in many of the Capitals games, yet the Canes had about 23 heart-attackey scoring chances, for an out-of-whack “Scored/Almost Scored per Shot” ratio also right in line with the Capitals series.

The difference? Marc-Andre Fleury made all the saves he had to plus a number of spectacular ones, and Cam Ward allowed two semi-questionable goals certainly not befitting his reputation as a playoff game-stealer. Just as we predicted.  .  .  [Cough] .  .  . what?

The Game One win was exactly that, though: a Game One win. The Hurricanes played a couple sloppy periods, only had two power plays, and didn’t get their best game from Cam Ward, and they still almost tied this one up on the road in the third period. To think this series is anything but just beginning — even independently of the Canes’ comebacks in Rounds 1 and 2 of the playoffs — would be foolish. Not to be Captain Pessimist McRepetitive, but when I remarked to my brother “Fleury straight-up outplayed Ward, how bout that?” he instantly, soberly replied, “Yep. And do you really expect that to happen throughout the entire series?” In case you were wondering, that loud bursting noise you just heard was my precious, precious bubble.

Random thoughts:

– I’m really glad we finally have a proven playoff performer who can go to the net and bury his chances like Miroslav Satan, cause Chris Kunitz just wasn’t getting it done. (This sentence would have been a wacky joke one month ago, and now it’s a funny/sad truth)

– Clearing the zone continues to be an adventure for the Pens’ defensemen and backchecking forwards, even when they’re six inches from their own blueline with the puck and no one pressuring them. They’re like an ongoing experiment in finding creative ways to not get the puck out of their zone against all odds and physics.

– Not Eric Staal’s loudest playoff game; I wouldn’t expect this to keep up for the majority of the series, especially if the Canes start earning more power plays. Did you know he is brothers with Jordan Staal of the Penguins?? In fact there is other Staal brothers wowww!

– The Scott Walker interference penalty and Satan holding penalty in the first were both BS; the refs appeared to get their antsyness out of the way early, then decided not to call anything the rest of the game (including Matt Cooke’s interference/leg thing on Jussi Jokinen and Eric Staal shooting Fleury’s stick away from him right before the Canes’ second goal).

– I don’t want to see the Pens try to grind out the remainder of the playoffs with only eleven forwards, but can they really afford to bench Philippe Boucher for Pascal Dupuis after Boucher’s game-winning goal and really nice assist in Game One? I imagine he’s bought a starting spot for at least another game; you never know, too, as injuries are always possible at any time. I also miss Dupuis’ super-predictable slapshot from 50 feet away coming down the left wing that goes in once every fifty games.

– How much better did both Hurricanes power plays look than any of the Pens’ power plays? The Pens’ first two advantages were particularly embarrassing. I said in my prediction post that I don’t trust the Pens’ superior PP% numbers to the Canes’ for one second, and was justified by their man advantage misadventures once again this game.

– A friend of mine reminded me the oft-forgotten detail that Tyler Kennedy is still only 22. He’s been playing with unbelievable patience and confidence this entire postseason, and came close to two well-earned goals in Game One.

– Another friend of mine pointed out that Mellon Arena sounded strangely quiet for the majority of the game, which I couldn’t help but notice also, especially in the third (and was dead silent after the Corvo goal). If the Arena was actually loud and Versus merely did a poor job of capturing the sound, then I stand corrected, but it would also be the first time the Versus NHL coverage ever did anything that wasn’t completely perfect.

– Finally, for all the Pens fans who complain about how the team doesn’t shoot the puck enough and tries to make a nice play too often, which is often true, the Hurricanes last night passed up more no-brainer shooting chances than I recall the Pens ever passing up in a single game this year. Ray Whitney is essentially reverse-Ovechkin with his shooting decisions, and if the Pens had attempted that double-pass from point blank range that the Canes ended up shooting into Kris Letang’s ass, the cries of “JUST SHOOT IT!” from the Mellon Arena crowd would have struck a chord so loud as to shatter the scoreboard and short-out the lights in the building, Sudden Death style, resulting in a home team forfeit. Just remember that next time Crosby tries to set up Chris Kunitz and he whiffs on a one-timer instead of firing it three feet wide.

Half-Assed Pens/Canes Prediction

May 18, 2009

I predicted the Pens over the Flyers in five, but they blew the fifth game and won in six, then I predicted Pens over the Caps in six, but they blew the sixth game and won in seven, so this round, why the hell not, I’ll take the Pens over the Canes in seven. Hopefully the Pens will rebound when they blow Game Seven in win this one in eight.

WHY I’M NERVOUS:

Fleury. A lot of people talked about Fleury rebounding in Game Seven against Washington, which made no sense; he stopped Alex Ovechkin on a breakaway, which was a huge save, then the Pens went ahead 4-0 before Fleury had to even make 10 saves, and he still hasn’t strung together two consecutive above-average games this postseason. Saying he’s back on track because the Pens dominated one wacky game is like saying “my alcoholic friend made it through his son’s birthday party without drinking — I think he’s turned a corner.” Not really — when your alcoholic friend makes it through St. Patrick’s Day without drinking, then we can start praising him.

Cam Ward is capable of stealing games in ways that Marty Biron and Simeon Varlamov simply cannot, and the Pens barely made Biron work in the majority of his series, and couldn’t bury pucks against the rookie Varlamov early off in the Washington series either (except Crosby). Given the types of ridiculous shot advantages the Pens had to rack up to just hang even with Washington’s effortless scoring, they could be in for some mounting frustration if Ward gets hot.

– Home ice advantage? The Hurricanes beat the Devils in New Jersey twice, including in a Game Seven, and the Bruins in Boston twice, including in a Game Seven. Obviously the Penguins would rather be home to open a series, but it’s not an automatic advantage if the Pens don’t seize the opportunity.

– The Hurricanes’ offense isn’t as deep as the Caps’ or Flyers’, but they do also have several right-handed players capable of roofing wrist shots (as does every NHL team). Hopefully this doesn’t prove to be an unsolvable problem again in this series.

WHY I’M CONFIDENT:

Crosby and Malkin. Really, the only reason I’m confident in this series. Fedotenko has started finding the net, Scuderi and Eaton are coming off good serieses, the third line has regained its puck-possession ability, Gonchar’s back, and Miro Satan has even surprised, but really, as long as Crosby’s playing at this level, it’s just foolish to doubt this team. If Malkin returns to “Makes Opposing Defenders Look Like Little Nephews Trying To Steal A Football From Their Uncle In The Backyard” mode, it might not matter how well Cam Ward plays.

– As I’ve complained about many times, the Pens’ D allowed every 3-on-3 rush to turn into a 2-on-0 during much of the Capitals series, and Fleury continually just let random wrist shots in. This isn’t to say that the Pens necessarily will improve upon either of these things against a fundamentally sound team like the Hurricanes, but merely to suggest that the Pens haven’t even played their best hockey; they played mediocre D and Fleury didn’t play his best and they still came back from a 2-0 deficit to knock off the #2 seed in the East. If either of those aspects improve against Carolina, they could absolutely seize control of this series.

Chris Kunitz is a proven playoff performer who can go to the net and pick up dirty goals when it matters. Oh whoops, meant to put this bullet point in the other section.

– I don’t professionally scout the Hurricanes or anything, but just from anecdotal observation, I’m not sold on Joe Corvo or Joni Pitkanen as playoff-caliber defensive defensemen. Given how often Crosby imposed his will on the Caps, if the Pens get the matchups they want against Carolina, there’s no reason to expect a drop-off in scoring chances, it’ll just be a matter of beating Cam Ward.

– Carolina is only scoring on 10.4% of its power plays so far this postseason and actually had a lower-ranked power play than the Pens this year (yep, it’s possible) — I still hesitate to mention this as an advantage, because they’re gonna score multiple power play goals by easily winning a faceoff and having Ray Whitney set up an untouched cross-slot one-timer to someone wide open to score within ten seconds of a man advantage in this series, I just hope they don’t come at crucial times.

– Both teams fired their coaches mid-season and went on incredible runs down the stretch. This isn’t an advantage for either team but just a cool factoid I wanted to reiterate somewhere in this post.

– And the #1 Reason I’m Confident: Cory Stillman isn’t on the Hurricanes anymore. Without Stillman’s career 9-points-per-period average against the Penguins to deal with, the Pens should be able to absorb Matt Cullen’s 2-goals-per-game career average against them.

GAME ONE: Capitals 3, Pens 2 — Hope Everyone Got Their Random Moment Of Horrible Out Of Their Systems

May 4, 2009

Apologies for the lack of updates, I was out of town this weekend, and whenever I’m pinched for blogging time I ultimately give preference to the website that actually pays me.

Because I’m sure you twenty people or so were dying for them, here are my Pens/Caps Game One thoughts:

- I’m not sure why everyone assumed Simeon Varlamov would be a liability for the Caps. He allowed 7 goals in 6 games against the Rangers, and yes, they’re the Rangers and scored 54 fewer goals than the Penguins during the regular season (albeit without Nik Antropov and Sean Avery most of the year), but that still means Varlamov allowed fewer than half the goals Marc-Andre Fleury let in against the Flyers in the same number of games. I see absolutely no reason to automatically assume that the on-and-off Fleury is some massive advantage over a goalie no one knows anything about.

Brooks Orpik offers this tidbit of well-meaning nonsense:

“I think you can [rattle a young goaltender],” Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik said. “The kid played pretty well in the first round, but he probably wasn’t challenged the way we’re going to challenge him.”

Watch out, Simeon, cause “Back o’ the Net” Brooks is gunning for you! Seriously though, I realize Orpik is saying that the Pens’ offense is superior to the Rangers’ and I agree with him in principle, but the Pens managed to test Martin Biron for about two and half total periods in the six-game Flyers series. Is anyone actually confident that the no-traffic, no-rebounds Pens will “rattle” Varlamov and throw him off his game and send him crying back to the bench, just like 21-year-old rookie Cam Ward when he was “rattled” in the 2006 postseason on his way to winning the Cup and the Conn Smythe Trophy?

Rookie goalies aren’t automatic liabilities, they’re simply unknown quantities; yes, an occasional Carey Price may completely fold, but did anyone else see Martin “Mr. Experience” Brodeur cost his team Game 7 against the Hurricanes by allowing two identical far-side wrist shots including one with thirty seconds remaining in regulation? Experience is a helpful characteristic for a goaltender, but it doesn’t supersede simply playing well. If the Pens don’t test Varlamov, then his proneness to being rattled is irrelevant.

- The power play = My Lord. There are no negative words remaining in the English language that we haven’t used in conversations about the Pens’ power play this season, and I’m running out of creative hyphenated swear word combinations (there’s only so many). If the Pens don’t start giving a crap and battling for pucks with the man advantage the way they do 5-on-5, and Bylsma continues to leave Malkin, Crosby and Gonchar out for full 2-minute shifts, this garbage will continue. My brother was watching the game on a slight delay on DVR, and admitted that by the third period, he was literally fast-forwarding the Pens’ power plays rather than bear to watch.

- Remember how awesome Chris Kunitz was in the first two periods of Game 1 against Philly? He’s gotten progressively dumber with the puck ever since then, and has been a nonfactor for about the last 18 periods of the postseason. Ditto Guerin since his Game 2 overtime winner.

- Sergei Gonchar hasn’t totally reverted back to “who is this human and why is he attempting the sport of hockey” form from his first year with the Pens, but he’s been mostly awful this postseason, both offensively and defensively, and has to shoulder as much of the blame for the power play as anyone else. If he doesn’t start battling in the defensive zone and playing with some urgency and confidence rather than just throwing skilled but pointless saucer passes around the neutral zone and opposing blue line, he’s a waste of ice time. Not that Brooks “should I cover the guy busting to the net or the guy hanging back in the slot who’s already covered – how about neither?” Orpik has had much more of a positive impact.

- Hard to blame Fleury for the outcome of this one, and the Caps probably would’ve scored on the 5-on-3 anyway, but why was he flopping out towards Alexander Semin at all, let alone before he even shot the puck? He was more overcommitted than a whiny female girlfriend stereotype in a Bud Light commercial (snap?)

- If I were the Pens, I’d definitely bank on Mark Eaton continuing to score every game. Absolutely no way this will stop.

- Did anyone else watch Game 2 of Bruins/Hurricanes? Both of those teams looked embarrassingly better than both the Pens and Caps did in their first meeting.

- Because I didn’t feel confident picking the Ducks, Blackhawks, or Hurricanes in their respective series, and definitely didn’t want to just predict all 4 favorites advancing, I was going to predict Pens over the Caps in 6 on Friday but didn’t have the time to put a post together. I guess I’ll stick with that prediction now. Also, dammit.


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