Sunday, October 31, 2010

Recap: Pens games 10-12

Games: @ Tampa, vs Philly, @ Carolina

Notable Highlights:

-The intensity that the Penguins played with in the 1st period of the Philly game was something that I hadn't witness in a regular season game in a long time. Whatever it was that got them going (rivalry, fights, etc) is something they should take note of for the spring of '11.

-G Brent Johnson played another excellent game in the win over Carolina. At this point, it seems likely this goaltending split will continue for the next few weeks. It's also very possible that BJ will get the majority of the work provided he continues to get the Pens points in his starts.

-After calling the forward group out last time, they responded despite their total unawareness of this blog. Pascal Dupuis, Matt Cooke, Craig Adams, Max Talbot, and Tyler Kennedy all scored goals during this 3 game stretch. Having that continue will be crucial to the team improving.

-While he continues to struggle overall, G Marc-Andre Fleury wasn't even in the top 2 reasons the Pens lost the Philly game (sloppy play on their side of the ice and power play in my opinion). He made some nice saves to keep the team in the game while the guys went into a slumber for about 35 minutes. Anything positive is something to build on for him, and I look for him to build on this at Dallas this week.

-D Deryk Engelland continues to impress through his fighting skills and defensive play. His bout against Flyer Jody Shelley was incredible and really had the fans pumped up.

-D Kris Letang. It's really exciting to watch him believe in his abilities and the results that come from that.

-Total team effort against Carolina netted 2 points and keep the team tied with the Flyers for the division lead.

Ghastly Lowlights:

-The Letdown against Philly. Going to the luxurious locker room must have pampered the Penguins out of the intensity with which they played the 1st period. Didn't seem like the team woke up until around 5 minutes left in the game.

-G Marc-Andre Fleury didn't have a strong performance against Tampa. No sense beating the guy up over it, he simply is not the best goalie on the team right now.

-Tampa Bay F Martin St. Louis blew by D Ben Lovejoy to score the evntual GWG. Lovejoy has a lot to learn like any young defenseman. I won't pin this on him completely. I've noticed Alex Goligoski, Letang, and Paul Martin having a hand in odd man rushes coming back the other way. It's possible that this is just an unavoidable consequence of the Dmen being agressive in terms of offense or neutral zone play, but no system concedes such chances. It'll be interesting to see if this continues.

-F Evgeni Malkin missed the Carolina game with a knee injury. D Kris Letang has some type of arm/wrist/hand injury. Losing talent never helps your lineup. Luckily, it is being reported that C Jordan Staal and D Zbynek Michalek will return Wednesday in Dallas.

-Power Play has/had an 0 for 22 streak. You may have asked yourself, what does Shaq have to do with a hockey blog? Well, think back to when Shaq first entered the NBA. He was lean and unstoppable. Double teams and backboards were no match for his brute strength. Somewhere along the line teams realized that Shaq's flaw was shooting free throws, so they would try and foul him as much as possible. The theory was that instead of conceding two points to him, it was better to limit him to 1 or ever 0 based on his low free throw percentage. I firmly believe that opposing teams are taking the "Hack-a-Shaq" approach to the Penguins and their scoring chances. Why would they do this? Why not? If you can limit a scoring oppurtunity and not pay the price on the vast majority of the Pens' Power Plays then it only makes sense. Winning games will continue to be difficult without the PP coming through in the clutch.

Forward Recaps:

-Good team effort by the lower line forwards. The guys mentioned above scored some big goals for the team during this stretch.

-Mike Comrie continues to not find the net. It was a positive to add him to the team in the offseason at such a low salary, and conversely it is very easy to sit him at that price as well. He has to produce to get playing time. It's as simple as that.

-I was not sold on what Aaron Asham would add to the lineup when he was signed. This seems like something I could be very wrong about. In his two games back, he did not take any post whistle penalties. That was my main concern about him. We'll see if this continues when he is fully comfortable with the progress of his healing, but for now it's been a pleasant surprise.

-C Sidney Crosby helped the team rebound in Carolina with a strong performance. This is what you need out of a Captain. When the team is in a funk, they will naturally look to Crosby to lift them out of it because of his ability, but even moreso because he wears the "C".

Defenseman Recaps:

-With Kris Letang suffering some type of injury in the Carolina game, Brooks Orpik, Alex Goligoski, and Paul Martin ate some big minutes in a losing streak busing game. Time on Ice for the 3 in order: 25:53, 24:33, and 26:58(!).

Goalie Recaps:

-Brent Johnson isn't the #1 goalie in name, but he is in performance. While it's a major negative that your #1 goalie has had this much trouble getting his season off the ground, it is an immeasurable positive that a guy like BJ is 1) on this team, 2) able to meet the need for solid play, and 3) classy enough to defer to MAF as the #1 in any chance possible with the media. Very happy that he will be here for a few years.

-Marc-Andre Fleury had 2 losses in his action from this stretch, but as mentioned above there is something to build on from the Philly game. I certainly am not an expert in how to develop goalies, so I'll just say that everything wrong seems to be concentration or execution, not positioning or fundamentals.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Recap: Pens games 8-9

Games: @ Nashville, @ St. Louis

Notable Highlights:

-3 of a possible 4 points. At the time I type this, the Pens are tied with Montreal and Tampa Bay for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. For as hysterical as the fan base has been so far about the direction of the team, you'd have to say they are doing well.

-G Marc-Andre Fleury got the win in the Nashville game in his first action since taking a spot on the Pens runway for a week or two. It wasn't an era-defining performance by any stretch, but it got him off the bench and in to the game. While I will be covering MAF and a "soff" goal in the lowlight category, I feel the need to say something about goalie postion. Goalies in the NHL give up goals. I know this may be surprising, but every goalie that ever played the game has given up a goal. Sometimes bad goals. At this point, Fleury's every move is facing heavy scrutiny for every Schmo with a tv. I'm certainly no different since I'll be disecting a goal as "lowlight", but to expect the guy to be perfect isn't realistic. That isn't to say he's "back" by any means, but now that he is at least back in the goaltending rotation it's important to watch for how he responds in situations. Will he make the big save when it's needed? Will the "soff" goals diminish. That's why we watch the games.

-Another postive was the pace and desire with which the team played against Nashville. I won't go so far as to call it a "playoff atmosphere" like some have (not sure how that's possible against the West), but it did seem to be a tough and spirited game. The guys responded well and came away with 2 points in a fiesty game.
-D D Engelland with another good fight in Nashville. I see no problem with him continuing this role as long as he doesn't pick up any minors for instigating. Having a guy on the team that doesn't go out of his way to scrap, but will answer the bell if needed is a nice add to the blue line.
-Even though it shouldn't be a surprise, C Sidney Crosby and F Evgeni Malkin look really good together. I think these guys may be able to scratch and claw their way to a fruitful NHL career...

Ghastly Lowlights:

-G Marc-Andre Fleury makes the hi and lowlights for this recap. The first goal let in against the Preds was one of those "here we go again" moments. As I mentioned earlier, I don't plan on making it a habit of shining a spotlight on every goal allowed by Fleury. What I do want to point out is the timeliness of some of the goals against. There have been quite a few occasions where an early one slips in. While the team is more than capable of playing comeback hockey, there's no reason looking for trouble by letting an early one in. This is doubly true on the road.
-The Power Play could have finished the game against the Preds before it went to OT. Didn't happen. Luckily this wasn't against an Eastern team so the extra point didn't matter. But closing a game like this out in regulation could be the difference between seeding or a division title. Situations matter. Hopefully they will get better.
-F Eric Tangradi didn't peform poorly by any means, but right now he doesn't have the scoring touch. He has since been demoted to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
-G Jaroslav Halak. UGH. We've seen this story before, and Halak continues his complete dominance against the Pens with a 1-0 OT win in St. Louis. Hopefully, he isn't sent back to the East any time soon.
Forward Recaps:

-Still seems to be a lack of offesne from the forwards still. I'm not sure this will get any better by consolidating Sid and Malkin on to the same line. The rest of the group should join the fun and avoid skating laps all game while waiting for the D or these guys to win the game.

-Look down the Penguins scoring list for the season and if you're like me you will have a real sinking feeling in your stomach. Hopefully the forwards catch fire and start scoring on a regular basis.
Defenseman Recaps:

-Brooks Orpik returned. Give him a few games to shake off the rust and he should back to normal.
-Kris Letang scored the winner in Nashville. He is playing incredibly well. I feel silly typing it every recap, but he really deserves the praise.

-Alex Goligoski also has seen his role on the power play expanded. He seems to be all over the place and is mimicing Paul Martin in the type of movement deep in to the attack zone.

Goalie Recaps:

-Brent Johnson took a tough loss in St. Louis. Overall, his play has been the best surprise of the season. I would still look for him to spilt time with Fleury, at least until he cools off or Fleury heats up.
-Marc-Andre Fleury is now back in to the rotation. Seems like his play will determine how much ice time he gets. Not exactly the situation Pens fans would have hoped for heading in to this season, but perhaps the team will better for it in the long run.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Lets try this again (recap)

Ok. This is much easier with a laptop and sober. I've only been to few road arenas in the NHL. Scottrade is easily my favorite. The wife and I had a great time in a solid hockey town.
First off. See the first minute of this link. Hard to see it, but its large black man getting soulful. He then comes in and ROCKS the anthem. He's basically STL's version of Jeff Jimerson, but only about 300 times more talented. Unreal way to amp the crowd.
Pens and Blues both came in the original expansion. Its real evident in the fan base. They didn't cry at every tug or play, they knew when to appreciate an effort. Jerseys can tell you a lot, there were a lot of old school blues jerseys, a few of those atrocious 90s jerseys with the goofy numbers, and a lot of those new jerseys and third jerseys (gorgeous). There was no shit talk on Pens fans that I saw or grumbling about them. The guys around me even were noting some good plays from the opposition (imagine that). No doubt, the best part of the Scottrade wasn't the fans...prepare yourself...ONLY organ music. Organist was no John Barbero, but played classics and some unreal organ covers (Enter Sandman, for real). Awesome, thats the way hockey should be. They kept the hokey ADD arena shit to a minimum,
Some of my observations, just because there is so much missed on TV.
- T.J. Oshie is a player that draws attention, very underrated to me.
- Eric Johnson, beyond that GWG, was really strong, hes a great up and coming D-man
- Wow was Orpik rusty. Mulligan of course, he'll be fine.
The end of the game, of course, sucked. But as an NHL fan, I was happy for the Blues actually. They, much like the Pens, suffered through some ghastly teams pre-lockout. Last night showed their loyal fan base they have a legit reason to be pumped, even if its only October. You don't beat the Hawks and Pens on back-to-back nights by mistake.
Wish this was a yearly gathering, but be assured that we'll be in STL in 2 years when the Pens...when the Pens...oh when the Pens come marching in! (I cannot get that song out my head!)

Thursday, October 21, 2010

What it is...

I want to begin by thanking Ern for allowing me to come on the blog to ramble about hockey. I want to give you an idea of what I hope to bring to the blog. Lets start with the easy stuff like my name. No I am not a schmuck about my job in higher education, but I am that guy that you talk to and think "man, only a college professor would think of some s**t like that". That's the deal.
My profile got the rest of the details. One important one is that I am displaced in what is best described as the "Bible Belt". This is relevant because I am going to bring the first Shootin' the Puck live blog on Saturday night from St. Louis @ the Scotttrade Center! I am really chompin' at the bit now because I could have had lower bowl seats in Nashville tonight for $20. But I made the adult decision with a child on the way. All I can think, I'd be on Second Avenue reveling in booze, bbq, and rock/country with all the other displaced 'Burghers after an unreal game.
I hope to bring some fresh perspectives and off the wall goodness. If this live blog does not happen on Saturday, this is probably what went down in East STL. Enjoy some classic Griswald.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Recap: Pens games 5-7

Games: NYI, @ Philly, Ottawa

Notable Highlights:

-Wins. Wins matter more than anything else, especially for a team that was struggling to find its way. It can be easy to get caught up in the small stuff during the course of any game or stretch, but getting 6 of a possible 6 points is exactly what this team needed. Now they just need to build on it.

-Didn't see the whole Islander game, but caught a good portion of it at a bar prior to seeing Jackass 3D. Aside from the Letang penalty (skip to the lowlights for my thoughts on that), I think the Pens had this one in the bag.

-Alex Goligoski. Got the winner in the Isles game. 3g, 4a and a +4 so far...and people criticize him as if he's the second coming of Sergei Gonchar. While he's no Gonch (both good and bad), he is a solid d-man more nights than he isn't and he can spark the offense. Just like Gonch.

-The Philly game was a real pleasure. This is exactly the kind of response I wanted to see from the team after the Flyers edged out a win in the opening game. While most of Broad Street's eyes were surely focused on the Phillies this night, a 5-1 win by the 'guins surely turned the stomach of any Philly fan that happened to notice.

-The Ottawa game was a laugher, but that doesn't make it any less important. I predicted the Sens to finish 8th in the East, and that's probably a best case scenario for them. Beat up on the teams that don't belong in your class, that's what top tier teams do.

-D Sergei Gonchar returned with the Sens and received a warm welcome. Descriptions have the standing O lasting well after the tribute video finished. Gonch is approaching 1,000 games played in the NHL. I suppose his Hall of Fame credentials could be discussed in a future post, but I think at worst he is a fringe candidate based on his overall body of work. Glad to see him get his due, especially after his horrific performance last spring here.

Ghastly Lowlights:

-Flyer Team Captain Mike Richards took a bitter and frustrated tone with the media after the Philly game. While this isn't a Pens player, it is a result of them. Head over to PensBlog ( to watch the video. I certainly will never criticize a player for their remarks following a game. It has always seemed silly to me to expect a competitor to be poignant mere minutes after a game, but I cringed when I watched this. Among other things, Richards dusted off the classic Penguins get too many power plays theme ("it's tough when you play Pittsburgh you know they're going to be falling down pretty easy"), questioned F Matt Cooke, called C Sidney Crosby out in a round about way, and also implied that D Ben Lovejoy was a diver. Not bad for a nights work Mike. Like I said, I won't critize something said in the heat of the moment, so I'll just leave it at the facts.

-"Doot doot doot...Crosby SUCKS!" Really Philly...still? Personally, I don't get the booing of big stars/rivals. I never booed Jagr, didn't boo Hossa (ok, maybe once...but I got over it) and I don't plan on ever booing Ovechkin for anything that isn't a kneeing major. Why? Mainly because I am paying to see them too. Would you rather see the Thrashers or some real entertainment? Some say that booing is a sign of respect, but I don't buy it. I've never had a problem putting my hands together in appreciation of the opposing players I respect or enjoy watching. Even stranger is the fact that Sid rises to the occasion versus Philly unlike any other team. Granted, there are many that consider him to "Cindy Crysby", but it's not like this is the constantly whining Sid of his rookie year. He's done a better job each year or keeping his mouth shut more, and in case anyone missed it...the "C" on his jersey now entitles him to some diaglogue with Refs and Linesman. The atmostphere in Philly won't be changing any time soon, at least not in my lifetime. I guess this was literally just filler since there weren't may lowlights during this stretch. Take that, reader!

-G Marc-Andre Fleury continues to be benched. Last time I wrote how I didn't have a problem with Brent Johnson and him competing for playing time. This is still my stance on the issue, but it actually is based on both goalies playing. Coach Bylsma is definitely sending a message to MAF, but what is that message? You won't play again until BJ loses? Didn't we play this game with Michel Therrien already? Therrien's every move was criticized towards the end, but before that was popular he was often the target of questions based on his handling of Fleury both in Pittsbugh and during his time in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Was Therrien just a genius before his time or is Byslma adding to the errosion of confidence in Fleury's abilities?

-The Kris Letang hit during the Islanders game was a lowlight of a different type. Tang got square to the side of , and delivered a clean shoulder to shoulder check. The NHL should continue to work to eliminate concussive hits, but my immediate and vocal reaction to the entire bar was "they're getting worse than the NFL if that is illegal". I was glad to see that the NHL rescinded this call after the fact. They got it right, but the resulting power play did cost the Pens 2 goals and potentially a chance for another laugher during this 3 game stretch.

Forward Recaps:

-C Sidney Crosby is starting to heat up and Evgeni Malkin has performed well, including a great effort on a goal against the Sens. Did you notice how easy the Philly and Ottawa games were with these guys performing at the top of their game? I did.

-I'm working under the assumption the F Mark Letestu is one person in our very limited army of readers. I praised his play but stated he was "in over his head" with Malkin. I still don't think he's a top 2 line guy, but he is doing everything right and is getting results (4g, 2gwg). Always been a firm believer in those that produce should get the let him play. Let the man play. I don't care where it is if he's putting the puck in the net.

-Eric Tangradi got his first goal, but he still is not producing points. I am not rushing to judgment with him, but his value should be as a top 2 line guy. If he isn't ready or isn't producing, guys like Letestu will gladly give it a shot to prove me, and many others wrong about whether or not he can play with the big guns.

-Jordan Staal and Aaron Asham are both practing. Asham should return soon and Staal taking part in non-conditioning practice is a good sign. Jordo won't be rushed in to the lineup, but even if it's another month, it's great to know he's healing enough to begin getting in game shape.

Defenseman Recaps:

-Brooks Orpik has resumed practice. Brooksie is a huge piece of this team. When he returns to the lineup, there is an instant increase in the quality of the defense core. Plus he can play wing in a pinch (ha).

-Kris Letang, 5p, +7...Alex Goligoski, 7p, +4. Pretty good work out of such young defenseman. I would like to see each of these guys get more power play time, espeically in place of Malkin at either point. To me, there is a bigger value in developing these guys than having Malkin do it. While he is serviceable at the point, he never seems as comfortable as he is in a true forward role, and both of these guys have such high upside that I would like to see them give it a try while their games and confidence is up.

Goalie Recaps:

-Brent Johnson started 3 games and won 3 games. I thought he looked shaky in the Ottawa game, but he wasn't really needed. He didn't face a ton of heat in the Philly game either. I'm certainly not going to complain if the Penguins are going to put up enough goals to make the goalie a non-factor. That's really what this team should do under ideal circumstances.

-Marc-Andre Fleury has to be chomping at the bit to get back in the lineup. I wonder what he will peform like when he gets that chance. I hope he does well, but if he gives up a sofite at a key moment, it could be the beginning of the end in terms of the the tide turning on him.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Recap: Pens games 1-4

At long last the 2010-2011 season is underway. Here at the 'blog, we will be recapping in 2-4 game segments. I think that will allow for a better view of the trends in the lineup and style of play. I also will look to hit bullet point type moments, trends, and player thoughts, as opposed to the actual breakdowns of the scores and such.

Games: Philly, Montreal, @ NJ, Toronto

Notable Highlights:

-Mario Lemieux took the ice at Consol's grandest event to date, and linked the past to the present by pouring Civic Arena ice that was melted around center ice. Mr. Lemieux is not usually looking to put himself in the limelight as an owner, but every time he does the result is epic.

-The team got its first win of the season on the road against New Jersey. Last season, the 'guins were winless against NJ, so to get this out of the way early is both impressive and important. The fact that the team did it in front of hostile crowd in Newark makes it ever more impressive. Ok, that's a lie...I know it was an afternoon game, but this is a team that won 3 Stanley Cups and has a Hall of Fame Goalie! What does it take to get people to show some enthusiasm there?

-The effort in the Philly, Montreal, and New Jersey games was completely where it needs to be. There were times against the Flyers that the Pens looked dominant, but tough goaltending from Sergei Bobrovsky stymied them and allowed Philly to nudge ahead. In the Montreal game, the Pens had the game. Just skip to the lowlights for the rest of that.

-New Jersey game obviously paid off with a win, but it also was a strong team effort. Brooks Orpik was not able to play, and early in the game Zbynek Michalek left with an injury. This was a strong defensive effort, which is emphasized by the fact that it happened without their top two shutdown D-men.

-Despite a slow start, it is only four games. There is plenty of time to right the ship, but it will be important for the team to stop the bleeding.

Ghastly Lowlights:

-I honestly didn't have a problem with the Philly loss. Sometimes you lose tough games, especially to rivals that are hungry to get back to the Finals.

-The Montreal loss, on the other hand, was the epitome of ghastly. This game was won, and through lack of focus by the team and G Marc-Andre Fleury, it slipped away. Especially cringe worth was the game winning goal. Many have said that it was caused by a breakdown in the forecheck. While that may have lead to pressure and scrambling on the part of the Pens' skaters, the responsibility for this one lies on Fleury. It wasn't a laser beam shot that picked a corner, nor was it an improbable individual effort. It was a weak goal. To be honest, I don't like to go out of my way to blame Fleury for problems. In this case though, it makes me lose respect for the apologists.

-Fast forward to the Toronto game, and the team seemed more concerned with scrums after every whistle than playing hockey. I thought discipline and skill was one of the cornerstones of this team and Coach Bylsma's system? Acting like they are a bad impression of the 1970s Flyers isn't going to to get this team anywhere.

-Yes, there are injuries, but the fact is the guys in the lineup have to tighten it up. Toronto didn't really have to sweat this one out, every time it was close a gaffe in play would allow them to score again.

-Most troubling was the effort in the defensive end during the Toronto game. There were multiple turnovers and generally inability or lack of desire to gain control of the puck or effectively clear the zone.

-Power play has been rough. Hopefully with more work, they can get it straight. I hate to sound like every drunk goon in the stands during the Sergei Zubov era, but they need to shoot the puck more. They are doing great things with the movement during the power play, but are making one or two too many passes in most situations. They are 0 for the season in third period PPs. As many Pens haters will tell you, the Pens get a lot of power play chances...if they aren't converting in the clutch they will let wins slip away.

-For all of this team's strenghts and weaknesses, at the end of the day success will be based on the play of the stars. Marc-Andre Fleury has had two bad performances in a row. Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby have played hard, but they have not put points on the board. These guys have to get it done for this team to do anything. If that is an unfair expectation, then perhaps they are in the wrong line of work. Scoring a goal each in any four game segment is probably going to spell disaster for the Pens more often than it won't. With Ray Shero's inability to obtain top two line caliber players, the offense is routed directly through Sid and Geno. They simply have to find ways to get it done. Anyone being able to fill the net on the sides of these players would go a long way towards opening up the ice for them...but who is that going to be??

Forward Recaps:

-No standouts to date.

-Tyler Kennedy had a strong game against the Flyers, scoring a goal.

-Mike Comrie looked good in that game as well, but did not get on the score sheet. He was benched for the Toronto game, which is curious, but could be an effort by Bylsma to emphasize the need for the team to end this funk as quickly as possible.

-Mark Letestu has played a solid two way game, but I think he's in over his head on a line with Malkin. I would rather see someone like Cooke, Talbot, or Rupp with him.

-Speaking of Max Talbot, he got in to the scoring act in the against Toronto.

-The scoring has been spread out between forwards, which is great. The thing is, when you get goals from guys like Kennedy or Talbot, it has to be the icing on the cake of a big performance by either the first or second line. Otherwise, it's a squandered effort.

-Eric Tangradi hasn't been converting. If he's to become anything close to Kevin Stevens-like, he will need to put pucks in the net. Hopefully, his procedural demotion to Wheeling hasn't made him grip the stick a little tighther than necessary. If the Pens are going to believe in him at the pro level, they need to sit him down and explain it to him. Also, keeping him on the top two lines would help. If he is going to see shifts with the other lines, maybe it is best to get him back to Wilkes-Barre and get a Dustin Jeffery or similar type up here.

Defenseman Recaps:

-Brooks Orpik and Zbynek Michalek are both hurt now. Every game these guys are not in the lineup is both a curse and a blessing. You really don't want them missing games, but if you do that means big time minutes for guys like Letang, Goligoski, and Engelland.

-I have no evidence to back it up, but I still believe Letang or Goligoski will be traded this season for some time of scoring role forward (not a big name, neither could fetch that). Gogo seems to be a punching bag for the fans, but he shows a more consistent scoring touch than 'Tang.

-On the subject of Letang, I think he could be near an all star caliber d-man someday. He can be incosistent (turnover against Philly was ugly), but he is very young.

-Paul Martin has had a tough transition as expected. He will stabilize, but between the increased minutes due to injury and power play struggles, he is getting thrown in the fire at a time where it would help to give him some time to get comfortable.

-Deryck Engelland and Ben Lovejoy fill out the bottom of the roster (when Hutchinson isn't up). To date, I think Engelland has performed better and like what his role adds to the lineup much more than Lovejoy. Lovejoy would be the top beneficiary of a trade of Letang or Gogo, but until them he's a guy on the fringe looking to do enough to validate his spot.

Goalie Recaps:

-Marc-Andre Fleury is in a funk. I like him overall, but babying him isn't going to accomplish anything at this point. I would imagine he and Johnson may compete for playing time until he comes out of this funk. It's only right. While he is still clearly the team's #1, if he isn't getting the job done then he has to earn his time like anyone else.

-Brent Johnson played well in the New Jersey game, but I would be lying if I said I was very confident as the Devils surged in the third period. He is a very capable backup, but I have my concerns that over time he would be exposed if in a starting role. That being said, if Fleury is struggling to the extent that he currently is, I have no problem with the goalie duties being a temporary open competition. There's nothing wrong with playing the hot hand in the dice game...

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

2010-11 Preview: Vancouver Canucks

2010-11 Prediction 1st Western Conference

The Canucks finished the 2009-10 season in 3rd place in the Western Conference with a 49-28-5 record and 103 points. When you mention the Canucks the first thing most people think of is the Sedin twins and after their performances last season there's no wonder why. Henrik led the NHL in scoring and captured his first Hart Trophy and once again led the Canucks to the Playoffs. Daniel missed a good portion of time at the beginning of the season but when he returned he put together another very good campaign. The twins however couldn't get the Canucks to the Finals once again. The Sedins along with Ryan Kessler and Roberto Luongo will all need to improve their Playoff play if the Canucks want to make it further in the Playoffs this season.

Player to Watch: Henrik Sedin

2010-11 Preview: San Jose Sharks

2010-11 Prediction 3rd Western Conference

The Sharks finished the 2009-10 season in 1st place in the Western Conference with a 50-20-11 record and 113 points. Unfortunately for the Sharks and their fans they once again dominated the regular season but didn't make it to the Stanley Cup Finals. GM Doug Wilson didn't make any major changes to the already talented offense or defense but he did make a huge change in goal. He decided not to resign free agent goalie Evgeni Nabokov but to sign Antti Niemi who led the Blackhawks to the Stanley Cup Championship last season. We will see if Niemi is the piece the Sharks were missing to take the Sharks all the way.

Player to Watch: Antti Niemi

2010-11 Preview: St. Louis Blues

2010-11 Prediction 8th Western Conference

The Blues finished the 2009-10 season in 9th place in the Western Conference with a 40-32-10 record and 90 points. The Blues have been going through a major rebuilding process and that process will result in a Playoff appearance this season. They have built a very strong defense through the draft and some trades. Barret Jackman and Erik Johnson will lead the defense and with the addition of G Jaroslav Halak the Blues should improve on their already impressive 11th ranked defense. On the offensive side of the puck David Backes, Andy MacDonald and Brad Boyes will need to pick up their scoring to improve on a poor offenseive showing last season. The losses of Keith Tkachuk and Paul Kariya will certainly hurt the offense but you should expect to see some trades made to add some more scoring. St Louis is still a young team but they are ready to take a step forward and make a return to the Playoffs.

Player to Watch: Jaroslav Halak

Monday, October 4, 2010

Pourquoi y a-t-il de l'hockey dans les sud encore? or Why is there hockey in the South again?

In the event that anybody ever reads this blog (unlikely), or we have any readers from Canada (highly unlikely), I would like to apologize to them for the sins of the NHL father. On Saturday, October 2nd, over 60,000 fans gathered in some area of Quebec City called the Plains of Abraham to show their support, nay, their demand that local authorities spend nearly $400 million to produce and NHL ready arena with the intention of returning hockey to its rightful home.

I'm sorry. What am I sorry for? Being an American hockey fan, that's what. Somewhere along the lines in the 1990s, the NHL braintrust felt it was a good idea to throw caution to the wind and expand in to the Sun Belt and relocate teams from supportive markets (hockey's version of drill baby, drill).

Teams spouted up in San Jose, Anaheim, Dallas (via relocation), Atlanta, Miami, Tampa, Phoenix (also via relocation), and the gravest of errors Raleigh (good night sweet Whalers). The other night I was watching the NHL Network, and there were two giant X's on the Sharks ice. It honestly took a minute for the realization that it was to commemorate the 20th season in Sharks history. After I finished crying over where my life went, I was looking for an excuse to get my point of view out there. Sure, I have a medicore (at best...) blog, and I'm the type of narcissist to think my thoughts on this subject matter...but where was the convenient excuse?

Enter the rally in Quebec City. They lost their team years ago to Denver. It really had to be horrible to watch them raise the Cup years later with the core of their players still intact. Fans in Harford have felt the same horror, and Winnipeg has to feel worse than any of them because nobody in Phoenix seems to a) care about or b) be able to afford supporting the former Jets.

It is my hope and belief that the NHL will eventually come to their senses. The  experiment has gone alright in certain markets, and I'll concede its gone well enough to continue. San Jose has done well. Cities like Tampa, Dallas, Anaheim, and Raleigh (under protest) get a pass from me because they have lifted a Cup. I give this pass to them because at some point I'm sure many felt Pittsburgh wasn't worth having a hockey team, but I know first hand what seeing the Cup raised did for people in my age group and all those after it.

With that being said, that leaves Atlanta, Phoenix, and Florida as teams that probably should start the treck north. Florida could go to Quebec City, Winnipeg obviously has the right of first refusal on Phoenix, and Hamilton can have Atlanta. I think that would be pretty satisfying for everyone involved and while I take no pleasure in taking another city's team away from them, it seems likely that nobody in those areas would notice anyway. Now if we could just find a team for Hartford, and keep Kansas City distracted long enough to get them there....

2010-11 Preview: Washington Capitals

2010-11 Prediction 1st Eastern Conference

Any discussion of the Washington Capitals typically starts and ends with LW and Captain, Alexander Ovechkin. While the role of a Captain is certainly one that makes someone the center of attention in many areas, Ovechkin receives an unfair portion of the blame for his team's failures (perceived or real). The reason he doesn't deserve most of this blame is that Ovechkin holds up his end of the bargain. He puts butts in the seats, pucks in the net, and last time I checked does not assemble the roster of his team. In my opinion, any blame needed for what the Caps have or have not accomplished lies with GM George McPhee and Coach Bruce Boudreau (I'll come back to Ovie in a minute). These are the men that have failed to assemble a roster capable of grinding out a tough playoff series. While offensive free wheeling is a strategy I love to see in the regular season, when the playoffs roll around the game tightens up. As they enter this season, the Caps #1 area of concern is with G's Michal Neuvirth and Simeon Varlamov. These are 22 year olds that have an upside, but only if the team commits to playing tough in front of them in April, May, and June. Playing tough in front of the goal starts with your blue liners, and D Mike Green is the leader of this core. He is a talented regular season player, but so far he can best be described as a phantom in the playoffs. Tom Poti, Jeff Schultz, Tyler Sloan, and company will face their test in the playoff months. At this point, anyone who says otherwise as a Caps fan or organizational representive is either kidding themselves or disturbingly off in their priorities. At this ponit in the preview game, I'd rather not go through the list of forwards like C Nicklas Backstrom, LW Alexander Semin, and others stating the redundant about their flaws. For the Capitals, it all comes down to what they do in the playoffs. I believe they are clearly the top team in the East during the regular season. The roster will have to stiffen up or face some late changes to make a serious run at the Cup though. All in all, I am willing to write the words that most people in Pittsburgh will not: Alexander Ovechkin is a hell of a player, and I believe that someone of his talent level will win a championship sooner rather than later. It defies logic to expect a player of this impact to continue to be shut out for the rest of his 15 or so years left on the ice. Every year that he fails to win is an indictment on the guys around him, and his organization if you ask me. As I've said, he does his part. Show me a player with more hustle, more desire to win, and most likely I will show you a champion. Ovie will join them at some point, it's just a matter of those around him wanting hit half as much as he does.

Player to Watch: LW Alexander Ovechkin

2010-11 Preview: Toronto Maple Leafs

2010-11 Prediction 12th Eastern Conference

GM Brian Burke believes that this will be the season that Toronto returns to the playoffs. That makes one of us. Setting aside the immense pressure that this team faces (even more than most Canadian teams), this roster has a lot of holes and room to grow. D Dion Phaneuf figures to be a highlight and will be the Captain. Young C Tyler Bozak is joined by RWs Kris Versteeg and Phil Kessell (who is only 23) as the young forwards with plenty of upside. Add ex Penguin RW Colby Armstrong and in my eyes that rounds out the forwards worth discussing. This team does have some D-men, with Mike Komisarek, Tomas Kaberle, and 20 year old stud Luke Schenn. G Jonas Gustavsson will need to turn in many performances for this squad to hit the 90ish point target needed to be in the playoff picture.

Player to Watch: D Luke Schenn

2010-11 Preview: Tampa Bay Lightning

2010-11 Prediction 7th Eastern Conference

Bold predictions that nobody will ever call you out on: one of the founding principles of the internet, and here at Shootin' the Puck we subscribe to this theory. With that being typed, I give you the 2010-11 Lightning. I believe this team will make the playoffs. No really. While it may be a bit of a stretch, I think all the right pieces are there and the off the ice stuff has taken a turn for the better. The ownership situation has settled. Former Red Wings legend Steve Yzerman helped assemble a triumphant Canadian Olympic squad and is now in charge of getting the roster in shape and hiring the coaching staff. Guy Boucher has been selected as Stevie Y's first coach. I won't pretend to know a lot about this guy, but I have faith in Yzerman's knowledge of what it takes to build and preserve a winner. On the ice, vets like RW Martin St. Louis, C Vincent Lecavalier, and newcomer LW Simon Gagne are all very capable of changing a game. I look for LW Ryan Malone's role to blossom with a new coaching staff and the occasional tip from Yzerman. D Victor Hedman had a decent first season and figures to get only better and is joined by Mattias Ohlund, and Pavel Kubina. G's Dan Ellis and Mike Smith are the definite question marks for this team, but with regular playing time either of these guys could catch lighnting in a bottle (pun intended).  It's entirely possible that the 'ning could fall short of the playoffs, but for my money if C Steven Stamkos continues to emerge into a world class talent that points goals on the board, this team will have a strong chance.

Player to Watch: C Steven Stamkos