Archive for March, 2009

3/17/08: Penguins 6, Thrashers 2

March 18, 2009

Not much to say about this game — Atlanta did come in riding a 6-game winning streak, but they’re still one of the worst teams in the NHL, Ilya Kovalchuk didn’t play, the team played back-to-back games and the Pens didn’t, and Johan Hedberg got the start in net and looked basically helpless throughout the night. The Pens got their nightly uniquely-spastic D-zone screwup out of the way in the first minute, and despite a couple amazing scoring chances in the mid-First that miraculously didn’t go in, as well as another goal deflecting in off a Penguin defenseman (off Mark Eaton’s face this time – they’re getting more creative), the outcome of this game was never in doubt once the Pens went up 2-1.

Evgeni Malkin seized the stat-padding opportunity and notched two goals and three assists, giving him a 10-point lead over Crosby and a 12-point lead over Ovechkin in the scoring race. Given the Pens’ resurgence, Crosby’s brief absence, Washington’s weak division, and the NHL writers’ collective short memories and willingness to switch things up year-to-year, Malkin has to be the leading candidate for the Hart Trophy. Did I mention he also deserves it? I know that’s not one of the requirements to win the Hart, but it’s a nice touch.

Sergei Gonchar now has 6 goals in 15 games this season; Ryan Whitney has 2 in 35. And Chris Kunitz now has 6 goals and 6 assists in 10 games with the Penguins. At this point, Eric Tangradi would have to murder Crosby for me to regret that Anaheim trade.

Also, I’m really getting tired of looking at the standings after a Penguin win and going “All right, we’re in fourth place – oh wait, every other team has 37 games in hand. I forgot the Penguins played 20 games against the Western Conference in August back when the rest of the East was still off.”

3/15/09: Penguins 6, Bruins 4

March 16, 2009

The most glaring aspect of Sunday’s victory against the Bruins was that at no point did the Penguins appear to be overmatched by Boston; Tim Thomas made zero momentum-stealing saves, the Bruins’ special teams were entirely pedestrian, their much-lauded systemic team defense was nonexistent, and their deep, healthy offense managed only 25 shots to the Pens’ 34. Even taking account Boston’s season-high 8 shorthanded situations, absolutely nothing about this game indicated that the Penguins would be in over their heads in a playoff series against the East’s number one team.

As for those 8 shorthanded situations, today was the second straight horribly-officiated Penguins game, with the majority of the chincy calls both today and in the Ottawa game Saturday going in the Pens’ favor (though Petr Sykora’s even-up call today was exceptionally laughable). The Pens at least cashed in twice with the man-advantage today but I can’t imagine this run of crappy new-NHL calls going in their favor will keep up, unless, as every Flyers fan knows, the NHL is rigged to get Crosby into the playoffs (yet not rigged to get the damn Rangers and Maple Leafs and their giant cities with far more revenue poten….never mind, it’s an unwinnable argument.)

The four goals Boston did score were mostly the result of isolated fluky chances that they wasted no time burying; Brooks Orpik’s pass up the middle to Michael Ryder for Boston’s only power play goal was a pee-wee caliber lapse in judgment, and Sergei Gonchar showed flashes of the Gonchar of ’05 with his lazy, spastic drift into the corner on the Bruins’ shorthanded goal. Still, the Pens’ team defense never faced any crazy 20-shot-period onslaughts, their penalty kill appeared reasonably competent against the NHL’s #4 power play, and even after allowing the aforementioned gift-wrapped chances and receiving no life-raft saves from Mathieu Garon, they won this one in regulation and convincingly.

Boston has been going through a rough patch, going just 3-5 in the month of March with 2 of the 3 victories coming against the Islanders and Senators (who can’t beat the Senators, right?), perhaps indicating that they’re coasting a little with such a comfortable playoff spot. One can hardly judge anything from a single March regular season game, especially when both teams played the day before and were a bit wonky, but was that team we saw today seriously the best the East has to offer? The playoffs are now looking more up-for-grabs than even the most naive Penguin fans could have foreseen. It’s also impossible to be too afraid of a team that uses Mark Recchi on its top powerplay.

Oh also, just so we’re covered – NO GIVEBACKS, Anaheim.

5 Rejected NHL Holiday Jerseys

March 13, 2009

Continuing the decade-long marketing roll they’re on, the NHL  recently released these St. Patrick’s Day themed jerseys for every NHL team:

pens-st-pats

At $84.99 a pop, are fans really gonna shell out for such a specific product? Granted, Pens fans would be able to wear these more times per year than their “We Just Scored A Power Play Goal” jerseys, but still…seems a little steep.

It could be a lot worse, though — At least the NHL had the common sense not to release any of their other five Holiday-themed Jersey ideas:

1. Easter:

pens-easter

2. Hanukkah:

pens-hanukah

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Gary Roberts: Probably Not A Hall-Of-Famer

March 11, 2009

roberts1

I despise discussions about Hall-of-Fame worthiness, mostly because the argument devolves into either emotionless fact-comparing that comes off sounding inhuman, or fact-ignoring, annoyingly subjective “gut” arguments that accomplish nothing. However, in the wake of Gary Roberts’ retirement from the NHL after 21 seasons, I scrambled to throw together a puff post wishing the gritty vet well as he parks himself in front of the Hockey Hall of Fame for good, but discovered, to my WWGRD-worshiping horror, that Gary Roberts is not, in fact, a Hall of Famer.

I first hopped to the easiest requisite argument to prove Hall of Fame worthiness: picking a comparable player already in the Hockey Hall of Fame and proving why Roberts was better. Cam Neely seemed the logical choice — surely the power forward who retired at 31 and whose induction was largely aided by his charisma and tireless charitable efforts would prove no statistical match for the uber-consistent Roberts, right?

Not quite. Neely scored 395 goals in 726 career NHL games (an average of 44.6 per 82 GP); Roberts netted 438 in 1224 career games (29.3 per 82 GP). Granted, that average is dragged down by Roberts playing a much larger portion of his career at an advanced age and in an era where goalies were actually capable of making saves occasionally, but Roberts only scored 257 goals before turning 31, Neely’s age at retirement. Both players dealt with injuries and both played through the strike-shortened season, eliminating those elements as significant explanations for the goal discrepancy; Cam Neely was simply a better goal-scorer than Gary Roberts. Roberts did win a Cup, a feat which Neely’s teams never accomplished, but Neely also has 57 career playoff goals to Roberts’ 32, even though Roberts played 37 more playoff games, so it’s tough to outwardly argue that Roberts was a better individual postseason performer than Neely, even if his teams ultimately had more success.

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3/10/09: Penguins 4, Panthers 3 (SO)

March 10, 2009

The Penguins more or less dominated this game from beginning to end, and while I feel a bit greedy to be disappointed that they didn’t win this one in regulation even after trailing 3-1 going into the third, everything about this game indicated that the Penguins are a vastly superior team to the Panthers. The Pens outshot Florida an astonishing 52-20 including 18-5 in a third period that largely resembled a 20-minute Pittsburgh power play, and a series of spectacular saves by Tomas “I Get My Glove On Everything Including Shots Into The Stands” Vokoun singularly stole a point (and nearly 2) for the Panthers tonight.

The bad news for the Pens: Bryan McCabe and Nathan Horton, aka 40% of Florida’s power play and a solid 40+ minutes of Panther ice time, didn’t play tonight. Even more discouraging, the officials gave the Pens two absolute gift power plays (and six total power plays to Florida’s two) and Pittsburgh again pulled an 0-fer with the man advantage. The power play continues to be the Pens’ most baffling liability, and they’re running out of excuses; Crosby, Malkin, and Gonchar are all healthy, so are we now supposed to, I don’t know, lament the loss of Tim Wallace? I expect the Pens’ D to spastically break down every now and again (read: second Panthers goal), but how in the world can a power play with the Pens’ talent be ranked 25th in the league BEHIND THE NEW YORK ISLANDERS?

Also, for Pens fans who think they’ve been cursed with the only team in the NHL that doesn’t shoot the puck enough (sidenote: every fan of every team believes this), how about Richard Zednik’s non-shot in the final minutes of the third? He practically had the puck four feet from the goal line and tried to spin a pass to a winger who was below the net and in no position to physically shoot. It was like watching your Sega NHL ’94 player somehow pass the puck instead of shooting when you hit the C button; whoever was playing as the Panthers whipped their controller across the room and cursed out the computer for cheating after that one.

The good news: The Pens got two points after trailing 3-1 in a game that wasn’t Fleury’s best and certainly wasn’t the power play’s best, plus Sykora was still out, they totally avoided the cliche “letdown home game after a long road trip,” and they’ve now bombarded Florida with 97 shots in their last two meetings, which is absurd. They’ve won seven games in a row and are now 9-1-1 under Dan Bylsma.

Malkin logged 27:33 of ice time, which is ridiculous for a forward, even in an overtime game. Also, attempting to poke-check Malkin in a shootout is apparently the only way to make him score.

Tyler Kennedy looked outstanding tonight, and basically created the second Pens goal; having him on the third line is just a terrific depth-bonus.

– Why are NHL coaches always so stingy with their timeout? I thought for sure Peter DeBoer was gonna use his after the Pens got that third goal and the Arena exploded (not literally, yet), but he let the period proceed and the Pens almost scored about another 10 times. Though maybe he was trying to lure the Pens into a false sense of security to create that Zednik chance.

– Man, Jordan Staal is awesome and frustrating, but I know he’s had a generally positive game when I yell “YEAH! Way to get to the net, Staal!” more times than “THERE ARE NO HUMAN BEINGS WHERE THAT PASS WENT YOU DUMBASS.”

Kyle McLaren Fails Physical; Saves Flyers Embarrassment Of Dressing Kyle McLaren

March 9, 2009

Flyers Trade Deadline acquisition Kyle McLaren failed his physical yesterday and will be returned to the San Jose Sharks(‘s minor league team). Which is the most likely explanation for this occurring?

A) McLaren’s muscles have atrophied from not playing an NHL game in over a year.

B) McLaren tore his shoulder excitedly reaching for his phone when it actually rang on Trade Dealine Day.

C) The Flyers team doctor — knowing that McLaren is an ex power play specialist with precisely 10 power play goals in his entire thirteen-year career and that the Flyers would be better off with four skaters on the ice at any given time than to actually dress and start McLaren in the playoffs — forged the results of the physical.

At the risk of openly speculating with no actual inside information at my disposal, the answer is C.

(via Empty Netters)

In Vegas, Can You Bet On “Definitely Going Into Damn Overtime?”

March 9, 2009

The Rangers and Hurricanes, two of the 85 teams currently surrounding the Pens in the standings, meet in Carolina tonight.

Chances of this game going into overtime to ensure that three points are awarded, thus angering Pittsburgh scoreboard-watchers: One Billion Percent.

3/8/09: Penguins 4, Capitals 3 (SO)

March 8, 2009

With an astonishing 5-0 road trip, a feat never before accomplished in franchise history, the Penguins have stormed into… EIGHTH PLACE? STILL?? Do any teams in the East ever frickin’ lose??

That being said, today’s game was an important, if shaky, outcome for the Pens; they finally decided to show up against Washington and pulled off a win despite being outshot 32-22 and gift-wrapping two Capitals goals in uniquely spastic ways. I’d chalk it up as another plus game for Marc-Andre Fleury, who allowed nothing questionable despite 4 Capitals power plays and a series of barrages in the Caps’ 12-shot third period.

Bill Guerin had the courtesy not to yell “I’m a 38-year-old from the Islanders and I’m already better than every winger you had before last week!” during his FSN postgame interview, but his toe-drag wrister for the third Penguin goal and his setup of Crosby for the first were both legitimately gorgeous plays that I can’t imagine any other Pens winger (save Kunitz) making with regularity, including Petr Sykora.

Still, the Pens have a ways to go defensively before I can view their recent run (8-1-1 under Dan Bylsma) as anything that would translate into postseason success; the amount of effort they had to expound to build up a 3-1 lead versus the ease with which they blew it just isn’t a characteristic of a team that’s gonna control a seven-game series against a 1-4 seed from the East. Or, as my one friend’s text in the third concisely summed it up, “How the Fuck is a 2 goal lead in the third period so worthless for this team?” (capitalization on the F-word his, not mine).

I suppose the positive spin on the Pens’ current position in the standings is that if they’d gone 2-3 on the roadtrip versus 5-0, they’d probably be essentially done for the season right now. They’re still very much alive, they’re still playing better than almost every team around them in the East, Fleury’s finally strung a solid month together, and they’re heading home for a date against their new “The Standings Are Weird” archrivals, the Florida Panthers. Hopefully the fans embrace the newfound rivalry by making “David Booth is a whiner” signs and booing him every time he touches the puck. Wait, that won’t work…

3/5/09: Penguins 4, Panthers 1

March 6, 2009

This was the most satisfying overall win of the Penguins’ season so far, with the possible exception of the January 13th win in Philly (mostly because I was in attendance in my highly conspicuous blue ‘Malkin‘ jersey). The Penguins pelted 47 shots on Tomas Vokoun (which is closer to around 70 shots in Penguin currency), Fleury only allowed one bizarre goal on 32 shots including numerous quality chances, and the Pens remained up-tempo and aggressive when leading in the third, a trait that’s been frighteningly absent this season even during their recent win streak.

Furthermore, the Kunitz and Guerin acquisitions have completely transformed the depth on the Penguins’ lines; instead of clinging on as underqualified top-line wingers, players like Pascal Dupuis, Max Talbot, and Tyler Kennedy are now serving as perhaps overqualified 3rd and 4th liners, providing Pittsburgh with the basic depth required of any legitimate contender. Craig Adams skated hard, never got caught out of position, and randomly even generated some scoring chances; he looks to be a welcome addition even if he never recaptures his dynamic 7-goal potential.

The Pens’ four-game win streak coming into this game was built on a sleepwalking victory over a Long Island expansion team, a game in Chicago they tried to throw several times, a win over Dallas about an hour after the Stars just played another game, and a win over a Tampa team with nothing to play for. A win’s a win, but tonight, that win came on the road against a playoff-caliber opponent who embarrassed the Penguins in January, and it came in a wholly convincing fashion.

Pssst…also, now that he’s out of the room…can we all admit that Kris Letang is better than Ryan Whitney, both offensively and defensively, and still more than four years younger? Ok, cool.

Defending The… Oh God, Gimmie A Sec Here… Defending The… Rangers Trades… OWWWWWW

March 5, 2009

The extremely publicly desperate Rangers made two notable trades at the deadline:

Rangers acquire F Nik Antropov from Maple Leafs for 2009 2nd Round Pick, 2010 Conditional Pick

Rangers acquire D Derek Morris from Coyotes for D Dmitri Kalinin, F Nigel Dawes, F Petr Prucha

You know, as much as I’d love to rip on the Rangers for these deals, I feel like they’re both somewhat logical in the long-term and moderately improve the Rangers for their playoff free fall slowing run.

Kalinin is a legit if unspectacular NHL defenseman, Dawes is a physical third-line presence whose numbers suggest he’s capable of 20 goals over an 82 game season, and Prucha scored 52 goals his first two seasons in the league, though he’s now mostly known for ending a 50-game scoring draught every time he plays the Penguins. However, Kalinin makes $2.1 million and is a UFA at season’s end, and Prucha ($1.6 mil) and Dawes ($588k) are RFAs; assuming the Rangers don’t re-sign Morris or Antropov, and Prucha and Dawes receive RFA raises on their current salaries, the Rangers will have cleared somewhere in the neighborhood of $5-$6 million in badly-needed cap room for 2009-10, which would currently be almost as valuable to the Rangers as the services of the players and draft picks they dealt. And if Prucha suddenly regains his scoring touch on Phoenix’s power play, it’s still no big loss, cause it certainly wasn’t gonna happen while he was playing 9 seconds a game in New York.

Yes, Antropov is a career underachiever (except against a certain Atlantic Division team) and Morris is another B+ offensive defenseman on a team full of nothing but expensive B+ players, but even if they underperform and the Rangers miss the playoffs or get knocked out early, the franchise will have already trimmed some payroll for next season at the expense of a few replacable players. Plus they’ll have a new GM.

Wait, did I just spend two paragraphs vehemently defending the deadline desperation of Glen “I’m On Such a Hot Seat I Literally Sit On A Flaming Chair During Games” Sather? Crap… maybe I should now just go ahead and come up with some reasons why Chris Brown is an awesome dude.