Posts Tagged ‘Kris Letang’

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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GAME SIX: Canadiens 4, Penguins 3 – Pens Keep Dream Of Horribly Choking Alive

May 11, 2010

Well, this isn’t good. Four games into this series, it still seemed inconceivable that the Pens would lose the best of seven, as they clearly outplayed and outchanced Montreal in almost every one of the first 12 periods of the series aside from the first 10 minutes of Game Three and the third period of Game Four, and even though the Capitals similarly outchanced the Canadiens in their series and came up short, any just law of averages would dictate that a team couldn’t get badly outplayed 14 games in a row and win eight of them.

Games Five and Six, on the contrary, have basically been even hockey games, with the Canadiens even outshooting the Pens in Game Five and Pittsburgh needing a dominant Fleury performance to sneak away with a win in regulation, and not surprisingly, the Canadiens won Game Six and came darn close in Game Five, making Game Seven look like a lot more of a toss-up than one might have expected one week ago.

I’m worried about Fleury again, and not because he played terribly in Game Six (he didn’t), but precisely because he didn’t play terribly — he’s shown a remarkable ability to bounce back from terrible performances with stellar performances, but what about when he plays totally mediocrely, as he did in Game Six? He wasn’t floundering, and didn’t give up a harmless dump-in shot from the left circle, but he also didn’t play “well”, allowing 4 goals on only 25 shots, including two shots from just inside the blue line (albeit on a one-timer and a serious screen, respectively). Will that hamper his ability to have a miraculous bounce-back game to allow haughty sportswriters to rip on us poor mongoloid fans for pointing out when Fleury plays badly?

The Pens’ D often shoulders some of the blame for Fleury’s weaker outings, but in Game Six, they were exceptionally responsible, with Kris Letang setting the tone early by turning the puck over just outside the Pens’ blue line and immediately falling down to give Montreal a clean 2-on-1 and an early lead. The Canadiens’ fourth goal was just a jamboree of failure on the Penguins’ part, and in between, the Pens’ D turned the puck over far too often, played far too tentatively with the puck, and despite Letang’s power play goal and Gonchar’s late tipped-in slapper to cut the lead to one, the defense corps was far too shaky in both zones to loosen the Canadiens up from their “All five dudes collapse to the net at all times” defensive strategy, which will continue to work as long as Goligoski, Leopold, Eaton, and Orpik (and more often than not Gonchar and Letang too) can’t hit the net or have their shots not extremely blocked.

I also wouldn’t be completely surprised if when the Pens’ season ends, they reveal that Crosby was playing with an injury. He really just doesn’t look like himself, and it’s not like he’s flying around playing awesomely and the Canadiens defenders keep perfectly checking him off the puck or diving to deflect his passes (though I give credit to Hal Gill for his impressive Crosby-holding highlight reel that Versus runs every game to compliment his defense), but Crosby’s been less impactful than usual for a far longer stretch than we’re used to seeing. I realize things tighten up in the playoffs and it’s tougher for individuals to dominate, but no matter how well the Canadiens’ D is playing, Sidney Crosby just doesn’t go six game stretches with only one tip-in goal. I’d like to confidently exclaim “Oh he’ll be fine,” but my thoughtless, general optimism heading into this series has given way to cold indifference, as every stretch of every period continues to fall more and more squarely into the toss-up category.

Home ice doesn’t impact Game Seven in any way, either, as much as people who confuse the NHL with the NBA continue falsely believing it does. While it’ll be nice to get the Pens away from the whiny boo factory that is the Bell Centre, they also played their worst game of the series at home in Game 5, and played terribly against Ottawa at home in Game 1 of that series then failed to close out a beaten-down Senators team at home in Game 5, so I’m not drawing any false confidence from the location of this contest. The suckiness of the Pens’ D and Fleury’s proneness to astonishing letdowns cannot be constrained by geography.

So like I said, Game Seven is a toss-up. The Penguins should win if Crosby plays well and Malkin plays well and Fleury plays well and the third line chips in a goal and the penalty killing stops being stupid and the power play continues miraculously being not stupid. But am I confident more than two of those things will happen at the same time in this bewildering series? No, I’m not. If I had to bet, I’d take the Pens, but I’m sitting about 53-47 on this one, and in a one-game winner-takes-all scenario, that’s not a good thing.

Penguins Vs. Canadiens: The Unbearable Lightness Of Being Confident

April 30, 2010

I find every reason to be worried about the Penguins at all times. This prevailing mindset exists in all fans of all sports teams, regardless of the quality or recent performance of that team, for two main reasons:

1) As a devoted fan to a particular team, one is uniquely privy to that team’s subtle weaknesses.

Commentators and casual Penguin-watchers might remark that Marc-Andre Fleury is one of the best clutch goaltenders in the NHL, or that the Pens are loaded with offensive firepower on the blue line with Gonchar, Letang and Goligoski, and they wouldn’t be wrong. People who watch and root for the Penguins on a nightly basis, however, know that Fleury is capable of going into “Fleury…what??” mode and letting in unscreened wrist shots from any concessions stand on any given night, and that Gonchar, Letang and Goligoski all occasionally forget how to play the sport of hockey and become unable to stand in front of other human beings while in their defensive zone. These concerns aren’t extreme pessimism on the part of fans; they’re legitimate aspects that we notice and worry about because we’ve seen them happen hundreds of times.

2) Fans are always reserved about praising their own teams too highly for fear of jinxing them by celebrating prematurely.

Part of this is in a joking, supernatural “don’t want to jinx them!” kind of way, which people don’t actually believe (but dammit, we’re not deviating from it in the playoffs), but on a more practical level, fans also don’t want to appear overconfident and gloat and then have their team ultimately lose, which would make the situation far less digestible on all levels. By curbing our expectations in advance, we give ourselves an emotional safety net if our team loses, rather than the devastating free-fall we’d experience if we were positive the team was going to win and they didn’t.

Both of these reasons are completely legitimate and almost completely universal — you want to scream at Yankee fans when they get nervous when Mariano Rivera comes into the 9th inning of a game when the team’s up 3-1 in the playoff series, but that’s just what fans do. Who wants to be confident and rational about their own team? Douchebags, that’s who. Also rational people, I guess. No, only douchebags. There – proved it!

My point is, I am very much one of these always-worried people. I am extremely one of these people. And yet, having explained in depth all of this jargon about all fans making themselves worried at all times, I am extremely, almost dangerously confident about the Penguins heading into the Montreal series, and here’s why:

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Penguins Reward Letang’s Drop In Play With 4-Year, $14 Mil Extension

March 30, 2010

The Penguins today announced a 4-year extension for RFA-to-be Kris Letang worth $3.5 million per season.

In a semi-related story, this song was blasting on the loudspeaker at Southpointe while Sergei Gonchar was taking his rehab skate:

$3.5 mil isn’t cheap for a guy who’s noticeably played worse this season than last, a drop-off not quite as dramatic as Ryan Whitney’s a year ago but still concerning, and even though Letang is a right-handed offensive defenseman and still 22, he’s only scored 3 goals in 67 games this year despite ample power play time. He also would’ve been a restricted free agent at the end of this season, so teams wouldn’t have been able to sign him without giving up draft picks to the Pens, and I can’t imagine someone would’ve been falling over themselves to throw away first round picks to outbid the Pens for a 5’11” defenseman after a down year. Well, besides Kevin Lowe.

Still, the Letang contract was necessary, if perhaps a tad expensive. (Continued After The Jump):

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Penguins Acquire Jordan Leopold From Panthers; Time For Letang To Hop On Orbitz?

March 1, 2010

The Penguins have sent a second-round pick to the Florida Panthers for Jordan Leopold, a 29-year-old UFA-to-be stay-at-home defenseman. Any more hyphenated phrases I can use to describe him? He is also a jack-in-the-box.

I like the move — the Pens get a veteran but not too old boring defenseman, which is exactly what they need, and even though he’s unrestricted this coming offseason, all they gave up was a second round pick, and second round picks basically only exist to be traded at the deadline for Jordan Leopold.

With the deadline looming Wednesday, though, it seems highly likely the Pens are gonna deal a defenseman; even though depth at D is crucial come playoff time, there’s no way they’re gonna go into the postseason with 8 NHL defensemen on their roster (Gonchar, Orpik, Letang, Goligoski, Eaton, McKee, Skoula, Leopold), and they didn’t trade for an unrestricted free agent so they could not play him, so one of two courses of action appears inevitable:

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Penguins 3, Islanders 1: Blizzard? More Like FLEURIES! (90 People Already Said That? Crap)

February 11, 2010

See the difference between Good Fleury and Bad Fleury? If Montreal-Game Fleury played this Islanders game, New York would’ve probably been up 2-0 after the first period, but on justifiable goals, and we’d all be blaming the defense for their many glaring lapses and far too-frequent allowance of quality shots. Instead, with a little help from a Kris Letang diving stop, Fleury stuck through a surprisingly open first period and kept it 0-0, then survived a 5-on-3 in the second, keeping the Pens in a perfect position to win what amounted to a pretty solid victory on the strength of a handful of just a couple random goals.

The only event keeping Fleury from his first shutout was a total defensive breakdown that allowed Franz Nielsen to earn tenure in front of the Penguins’ net before popping in an easy backhander. Bob Errey blamed Tyler Kennedy for blowing his assignment and not following his opposing centerman to the net, but upon watching the replays, Orpik and Letang seemed to be unaware that Nielsen was ever born, and Letang looked like he was covering a possible pass between two invisible men. (Sidenote: it’s mind-boggling that Fleury doesn’t even have one shutout…46 goalies in the NHL have recorded a shutout this season, including Josh Harding, Steve Valiquette, and the immortal Jeff Deslauriers.)

It was nice to see Chris Kunitz back on the scoresheet too; the fact that people almost never mentioned that the Pens were missing a “top line winger” over the past couple months really underscored just how inessential Kunitz’s pre-injury contributions had been. I barely noticed him against Washington (other than his dumbass goalie interference penalty), but last night kept saying “Oh yeah, forgot we have this dude!”, which is about the highest compliment I’ve paid to him since the second week after the Ryan Whitney trade.

Sidney Crosby commented on the victory with this unintentionally-damning quote that more or less sums up the Penguins’ malaise over the last two months:

“That’s the type of game we have to play, that kind of style, where we’re playing hard.”

How bout that? Turns out, this avant garde “Playing Hard” style actually results in victories! Hopefully they’ll keep trying it.

Capitals 6, Penguins 3: Predictabull

January 22, 2010

I rarely get strong inclinations one way or the other before a Pens game about how it’s gonna turn out, but with the way the Pens’ D has been playing and with Brent Johnson in net against a red-hot Capitals offense, the outcome of this game was painfully foreseeable. I predicted 5-2 Capitals, and was actually surprised by the briefly-competitive 6-3 result.

The Pens’ D has been chuck-the-remote bad for a couple months now and continues to trivialize the Pens’ problems on the power play, in net, and Malkin’s mediocrity (all of which have at least shown signs of possible nearby improvement). If the Pens continue playing defense the way they have been, none of these other shortcomings will matter — the Pens will continue to be a glorified Lightning, incapable of stringing together a dominant win streak and entering the playoffs as eminently vulnerable. Fortunately, I don’t think this will be the case leading up to the playoffs, but for now, it’s a painful, me-swearing-at-the-screen reality.

I’ve been a Kris Letang supporter since long before the Ryan Whitney trade, but lately, Letang’s been my go-to Penguins scapegoat; he’s been directly responsible for about a goal a game over the past month, and not just as a result of him being out of position or failing to cover someone, but in increasingly creative, pathetic ways. Against the Capitals last night, Letang got caught pinching in the Caps’ zone below the goal line while it was 5-on-5 and a tie game, lost the puck, and left Nick Johnson — a winger playing in his first ever NHL game — back on D to cover Tomas Fleischmann, resulting in an instant Fleischmann breakaway and goal. Since any further comment on this action would result in at least a dozen F-words from me, I’ll just end the paragraph now.

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Pens Gear Up For Annual Blaming Of Anything That Goes Wrong On Gonchar Being Out

October 21, 2009

Sergei Gonchar is out 4-6 weeks with a broken wrist after being checked awkwardly in the Pens’ 5-1 victory over the Blues Tuesday night. The Pens will most likely shuffle NHL vet Martin Skoula into the 6th defenseman spot and hand Gonchar’s role on the top power play unit to Kris Letang.

As long as Gonchar recovers fully it’s not too big a loss, given the timing in the season and the Pens’ replacement options, but nonetheless, gear yourself up for the following exact scenario to occur 15 times per game for the next 4-6 weeks:

[On the power play, Crosby carries the puck, makes backhand saucer pass at blue line, Pens are Offsides]

Bob Errey: The Pens’ power play really misses Sergei Gonchar right now.

[Repeat x 9,000,000,000]

GAME THREE: Pens 4, Red Wings 2 — The Hockey Gods Giveth, The Hockey Gods Miss A Really Obvious Too Many Men Call

June 3, 2009

After the Pens ended up on the dark side of both physics and officiating in Game Two, they played their worst game of the series so far and walked away with a 4-2 victory.

Credit Where Credit Is Due:

Max Talbot played his ass off, Fleury had arguably his best game since mid-Caps series or possibly Philly Game 4, and the Pens’ power play actually scored twice against a team without Tim Gleason on its roster, including at the game’s most crucial juncture.

And Now, Ripping On People:

–The refereeing sure took a wild swing back in the Pens’ favor last night, with Pittsburgh avoiding a lengthy, crazily obvious too many men penalty that just simply doesn’t ever get missed in the NHL (unless it’s a three-second infraction where the player hops back on the bench right as the opposing team starts yelling, which this most certainly wasn’t). The refs also forewent a Chris Kunitz cross-check to Johan Franzen’s head, but went ahead and whistled Jonathan Ericsson for interference in the third, which was definitely interference but also more minor than about 30,000 other uncalled plays in this series. Again, I’ll always argue that it’s tough to say refereeing “cost” a team a game, as the Wings did allow two power play goals on only three opportunities, to the same power play that we spend about a paragraph making fun of every other day.

– Detroit also managed just three shots on goal in the third period. I don’t think the refs blocked many.

Kris Letang’s goal was pretty weak on Chris Osgood’s part; I’ve always felt that if you don’t one-time a power play point shot, there’s no point in then going ahead and shooting it anyway once the defense adjusts, because it gets blocked and cleared about 80% of the time, but Letang’s shot got through the D and went right through Osgood for a refreshingly questionable goal. Now if only we can get one to hit off the boards, post, his pad, and his ass before trickling in…

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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.


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