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...

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