Archive for the ‘Pens Recap’ Category

Lightning 1, Penguins 0: I’m Starting To Think Maybe This Isn’t The Penguins’ Year

April 28, 2011

I’m not right about a lot of things in life, whether it be sports predicting, relationships, or my constant screaming that all doctors are just failed shamans who lack the necessary magic powers, but here’s one paragraph I wrote two weeks ago explaining why I thought the Penguins would lose the Pittsburgh/Tampa series:

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.

Oh, of course THAT prediction comes true, but my prediction that Rico Fata would turn out to be the next Alfred Hitchcock just HAPPENED to be wrong. GO FIGURE. I can’t catch a break in this stupid universe.

Seriously though, I’ve spent the last three months annoyingly “ehhhhh….”-ing at every column about how resilient this Penguin team has been, pointing out that even during their impressive post-Crosby-and-Malkin run, the Pens were mostly beating bad teams, and Fleury’s career performance was masking some very serious talent issues that would quickly become unignorable against playoff competition. Tonight, bathed in the cold comfort of actually having been right about something, I ironically just keep coming back to one overwhelming sentiment: “Man, this Penguins team sure was resilient.”

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Tampa Bay Forces Game Seven And The Pens’ Power Play Is Already 0-For-2 In It

April 26, 2011

Sometimes I have the tendency to be particularly verbose in my postgame recaps, mostly because right after Penguin games, I’m scrambling to crystallize my own thoughts on the game while simultaneously also conveying those half-thoughts and using my spare hand to respond to angry dad-texts. As an example of this verboseness (verbosity? Virtubosity with Denzel Washington?), I’m already rambling in this intro paragraph that I started with the intention to convey that for once, in my Recap of Pens/Lightning Game 6, I actually wouldn’t have to ramble on forever, because it was an exceedingly simple loss to analyze.

Now that I’ve wasted all this time describing how little time I’d have to waste before summarizing this game, let’s summarize this game in two easily digestible Dairy Queen Mini-sized fail desserts:

– Penguins Power Play goes 0-for-5, plus a (very) missed Penalty Shot.

– Fleury gives up 4 goals on 21 shots (Dwayne Roloson stops 27 of 29).

There ya go. Pretty much a perfect storyboard for a movie about this Penguin team losing a game, which would be a really boring idea for a movie for a number of reasons (though they could bill it as a Miracle reboot and call it Plausible?)

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Pens Win In Double Overtime, Take 3-1 Series Lead, And Tampa Should Be Embarrassed

April 21, 2011

While trying to wrap my head around the first four-game chunk of this hopefully nearly-over first round playoff series, my thought process has gone something like this:

Well, the Pens are dominating 5-on-5, they just need to limit Tampa’s power play chances and hopefully grab a power play goal of their own, and they shou–

Wait.

The gravity of the first half of that sentence shouldn’t get minimized by the details of the second half. It is EMBARRASSING how badly the Penguins have outplayed Tampa 5-on-5 in this series, with the exception of the first periods in Game One and Game Two. But whether we split hairs and argue that the Pens have dominated about 70% of the 5-on-5 play in this series or if it’s closer to 55-60%, the fact that we’re talking about this Penguins team dominating this Tampa team 5-on-5 for the majority of this series, and readily accepting that fact as though it’s a given, is, I will say again, embarrassing.

Tampa is completely healthy. Ryan Malone is obviously dragging, and Steven Stamkos is very likely dealing with a nagging injury that’ll come out after the playoffs, but they’re still both in the lineup. This is the #5 seed in the Eastern Conference that’s clearly loaded with a Top-5 team in the NHL in terms of top-end offensive talent, and they’re getting noticeably and routinely outplayed by a Penguins squad that’s only one seed higher, missing two of the top players in the NHL, and essentially dressing two #2 lines and two #4 lines.

All the borderline “damning with faint praise” compliments we’ve been showering on the Pens over these past few Crosbyless months — “Tyler Kennedy has really elevated his game!”, “This team is really resilient and showing a lot of character,” “Dan Bylsma is doing his best coaching job yet, keeping these guys playing hard every night” — usually sounded like one big “attaboy” thumbs-up as we justified our own surprise that this team didn’t completely collapse. Honestly though, and perhaps I’m only speaking for myself, I didn’t believe that any of those positives in the Pens’ recent play would truly matter against a more talented, healthier playoff opponent that’s also well coached, strong in goal, and experienced in the playoffs. If the most dangerous thing you can say about a Playoff team is “Tyler Kennedy’s been playing pretty well,” you’re basically saying “Ah well, it’s been a good run.”

The one possible tipping point, as I said in my series prediction, was Fleury. I thought if Fleury played out of his mind for 4 of 7 games, then the Pens had a shot, but I didn’t foresee that happening — not for lack of faith in Fleury, just for the general unlikelihood of any one player maintaining such routine dominance in a long playoff series. Fleury did indeed play out of his mind in Game One, and the Pens had no business escaping the opening period of that game tied 0-0; however, while Fleury also played excellently in Games 3 and 4, he didn’t have to steal Games 3 or 4, and that’s just not at all how I saw this series playing out. Perhaps my attempt at dispassionate, rational analysis of this series actually just meant that I deliberately underestimated the team I root for and equated that with even analysis, but I honestly don’t think that’s the case.

The Penguins outshot Tampa on their home ice in Game 3, 30-27, and didn’t allow an even-strength goal. They then outshot Tampa on their home ice two nights later, 53-31, in a game that Tampa absolutely needed. The Penguins don’t have Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin — a fact that’s so significant, it’s incredible that we now mention as if it’s a footnote — and they are badly outplaying a super-talented team that’s one seed below them. I’m certainly not complaining, but I certainly didn’t see it happening.

Other Random Thoughts On The Series:

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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.

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.

Blues 1, Penguins 0 (OT): Paul Martin Wears The Scarlet T

October 24, 2010

This was a fairly even game from both sides; the Blues absolutely dominated the Penguins in the first, outshooting them 7-3 with Brent Johnson turning aside the Blues’ multiple good chances, and the Pens responded by outshooting St. Louis 19-7 in the second, with Jaroslav Halak responding likewise. The game remained scoreless after a moderately wide-open third period, and the Blues finally cashed in in Overtime after Paul Martin committed a brutal turnover in the corner of the Pens’ defensive zone, which T.J. Oshie centered to a wide-open Erik Johnson for a game-ending wrister.

The turnover was unfortunate for Martin, who hadn’t played a particularly strong game to that point (he and Ben Lovejoy were the only Penguins who didn’t register a shot), but under most circumstances, the gaffe would’ve been merely one of several game elements we’d be discussing after a run-of-the-mill win or loss. In a 0-0 game, though, where both goalies were playing absolutely lights-out, Martin’s turnover directly gave the Blues their second point.

The game story would’ve been different if Halak had slipped up or if the Pens’ power play had managed a goal on their four opportunities or if the Blues had lost their legs in the third playing on back-to-back nights, but in the end, Martin had the puck cleanly on his stick, failed to make a play with it, and it ended up in the back of the Pens’ net. Pittsburgh still earned a point against a team that’s now won its last 10 home games, so the game wasn’t a total loss, but with the way Brent Johnson performed yet again, the Pens would’ve liked to have come away with two.

Fortunately for Montreal fans, Carey Price managed his first shutout in two years last night, so they didn’t have to see the Halak highlights and shoot themselves in the face while booing.

Penguins 4, Predators 3 (OT): Sidney Crosby Is Good At The Sport Of Hockey. Yeah, I Said It.

October 21, 2010

That’s what Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin look like when they’re on top of their game. The Predators game was, I mean, not that embed. That embed is what Pascal Dupuis looks like on an odd man rush.

As much as we love to dissect Letang’s inopportune pinching and Fleury’s psyche and the forwards’ defensive zone faceoff coverage and whatever other details linger whenever Crosby and Malkin aren’t ridiculous and the Penguins lose a game by a goal and the lingering emptiness prohibits us from just copy-pasting “They have Crosby and Malkin, they’ll be fine” and counting it as postgame analysis, in a victory like tonight, that’s precisely what I’ll do. Crosby and Malkin simply willed the Pens to two points tonight.

Fleury played well, and Pascal Dupuis’ stick and Kris Letang’s slapper and some lucky bounces all helped, but this was a game the Penguins would’ve lost if either Crosby or Malkin had dropped a B+. Crosby’s first goal exploited a pretty glaring mistake by Pekka Rinne, who was cheating to his left expecting a pass, and both Malkin’s goal and Crosby’s second goal came off super-fortunate rebounds, but to borrow from my “Sportscaster Cliche” Page-A-Day Calendar, they were both textbook examples of great players creating their own luck. Eric Tangradi goes straight to the net on every single shift, but he still only has one goal; Crosby and Malkin scored tonight by being intuitive, seeing the rebounds before they happened, and fighting to get the right spot. Malkin’s effort on the second Crosby goal was so Hurculean, it made me unselfconscious enough to actually type the adjective “Hurculean”.

Also, before the game I joked to my friend about how much I hated all those damn Predators fans and couldn’t wait for the huge Penguins / Predators rivalry game to shut them up, but then the game actually did end up being really physical and rivalry-seeming, in addition to being extremely entertaining from a skill stand point. With the win, the Pens improve to 5-3-0 overall and 3-0 on the road, and they’re now tied with the Islanders for the most points in the East, even though they’ve played 1-3 more games than every other team (really gotta squeeze in as many games as they can before their three best defensive players come back). Hopefully they can keep it up with only… let me check… 930 games left to play.

Penguins 5, Senators 2: Penguins Stick It To JUDAS Gonchar

October 19, 2010

Has a player ever left the Penguins on more amicable terms than Sergei Gonchar? He and the Penguins mutually agreed to part ways after five productive seasons and a Stanley Cup, then he signed with a conference nonrival for an excellent salary, and the Penguins welcomed him back with a highlight reel at Consol, a standing ovation from the fans, and Penguin players tapping their sticks on their boards. I was half expecting Matt Cooke to line Gonchar up for a blind-side hit, then at the last second yell “SURPRISE!” and flip lights on and the rest of the Penguins would all be gathered in the conference room with party hats and a “55” cake and everyone would hug and Gonchar would give an awkward thirty second speech then they’d eat and slowly disperse back to work.

That didn’t exactly happen. What did happen, though, was a third straight Penguins victory, keyed off a 3-0 Penguin lead after a wide-open First Period. The Pens managed 17 shots in the First and allowed 12, but still emerged up three goals after a slick Mike Comrie feed to Mark Letestu for his team-leading fourth goal, a bubble hockey-esque bounce off the end boards that Crosby hand-eye-coordinated behind Brian Elliot, and a faceoff that Ottawa cleanly won in their own defensive zone that they couldn’t corral, ended up on net, and was knocked in on the rebound by a fully outstretched diving Malkin.

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Penguins 5, Flyers 1: If You Give A Million Penguin Power Plays A Million Chances, They’ll Eventually Produce Hamlet

October 18, 2010

Before the season, I have to admit, I wasn’t totally enthused about the Pens’ re-signing of Brent Johnson, and not because I questioned Johnson’s ability as a backup or his performance in ’09-’10, but because I wanted the Penguins to go after a backup who could potentially get hot for a few games and challenge Fleury — perhaps someone in the Johan Hedberg / Martin Biron price-and-skill range — rather than a very clear backup goaltender, albeit a reliable and inexpensive one like Johnson. Now, six games into the 2010-11 season, Fleury has started three games and lost all three, and Johnson has started three and won all three. Obviously it’s super early and nothing Johnson does now (or probably ever) would or should unseat Fleury as the team’s long-term #1 goaltender, but for the meantime, Johnson is pushing Fleury for that starting job much in the way I’d hoped a Hedberg-type would have, and at the exceedingly reasonable cost of a two-year $600,000 cap hit (while also pulling the Penguins from 1-3 to 3-3).

It’s entirely possible Johnson will start letting in Scott Gomez dump-ins along the ice from 30 feet and this entire newfound confidence in his ability to challenge Fleury while helping the Penguins win in the short-term will immediately dissipate, but at least for the first six games, Johnson’s sudden steadiness couldn’t have come at a better time. Ideally, he can keep this up for a while and split the next 10 starts or so with Fleury 50/50, and after some confidence-redeeming Fleury spot-starts, Fleury can go back to being their 80/20 starter and playing like it. Or maybe he’ll keep letting in Scott Gomez dump-ins along the ice from 30 feet and I’ll have to keep copying and pasting my “Seriously, I’m not just whining, Fleury is factually not playing well” posts.

As for the Flyers game itself, the Pens got 700 power plays and finally scored on a few of them, the Flyers had trouble finishing and basically folded in the third, and after the game Mike Richards said a bunch of stuff that would’ve been interpreted as bitchy whining if Crosby had said it (gets going about a minute in):