Thursday, November 25, 2010

Recap: Games 20-23

Games: vs VAN, vs CAR, @ FLA, @ BUF

Notable Highlights:

-Reports of the demise of the Penguins power play may have been greatly exaggerated. While it is WAY too early to say with any certainty that they have fixed their problems, it should be noted that the PP basically won the game against the Panthers. As I talked about earlier in the season, a well functioning extra man attack can often be the difference between 2 points or not.

-PK contiues to be excellent. They contributed a Shorty in the Vancouver game, and sprung C Sidney Crosby for a goal right after another kill. During this 4 game stretch, the opponents did not score in 14 power play chances. FSN Pittsburgh also showed a stat that indicated the team is killing just shy of 95% of their penalties since the return of D Zbynek Michalek from injury. Perhaps someone at FSN read my challenge to show a tangible stat of he or D Paul Martin making them a better team despite their decent play. Probably not unless either of you reading this work for FSN. But still, show me a similar stat for Paul Martin since I"ve been proven wrong on Z.

-Another though about the PK. Penguins broadcasting legend Mike Lange had a very astute point regarding the Pens PK killing an 89% clip, yet being the 4th best PK in hockey. His take was that it shows the emphasis and impact of video study in hockey. Good to see that Mike is able to provide some spot-on analysis after all these years entertaining us.

-Excellent effort put forth by the team in Buffalo. If you aren't a die hard hockey fan, you may not consider a 1-0 game very exciting. I do. Aside from the refs (on both sides), I thought this was a well played, hard fought effort by both teams.

-Last time I wrote about what identity means to the team. This time I have the chance to expand on that a bit. As you may know, the Penguins take the team's fathers on a trip each year. While this may seem corny to some, it really is a great way to have the guys in the locker room bond and create an off-ice identity. While it isn't proven that a well functioning team has to like on another, a sense of camaraderie should make each guy want to work harder for the person next to them. It's brilliantly simple...people will most likely do more for someone they like or feel a closeness to.

While I don't pretend to know what exactly goes on away from the rink on these trips, it seems likely that a lot of the down time is spent in bars, airports, or restaurants. The more lively dads probably tell great stories to embarrass their sons a little bit, and vice-versa with the players. The dads can certainly share tales of the sacrifices made to help their sons realize their dream of being an NHL player. Even the father of a player like
F Mike Comrie, certainly had to make a lot of sacrifices along the way. Comrie comes from a successful furniture story family in Canda and is now married to Hillary Duff. Don't let any of this take away from the hard work, long road trips, and crazy hours that hockey players and their families have to keep.

Comrie hasn't received much playing time this season. There's talk that he may be released when Jordan Staal returns from injury. There aren't a lot of sure things surrounding his time as a Penguin. One thing I will guarantee though, is that for a few days in November, Mike Comrie felt like he was a part of this team and his teammates did too.

Ghastly Lowlights:

-When you get 8 out 8 possible points, there aren't going to be many lowlights, but I did find one. The team gave up multiple leads against Carolina, including a goal with the Canes net vacated late in the 3rd period. If this is the last time I write about a goal surrendered with less than 5 minutes remaining in a game, I would be a happier person.

-I lied an actually thought of another lowlight. The Pens just can't score on empty nets it seems. During this four game stretch, the missed the empty cage an estimate eighty times (number may be reduced upon further review). Complete side note: It also looked like MAF was gonna try to shoot for the empty net against the Canucks. Scoring a goal would help him accomplish a feat of his hero, New Jersey Devil's G Martin Brodeur. He has tried this in the past, and appeared to have it against the Edmonton Oilers a few years back when some defenseman from their team reach about as high as humanly possible to get a glove on it in the neutral zone. Someday Marc...someday.

Forward Recaps:

-Sidney Crosby is still playing at a really high level. He is 2 points behind Tampa Bay Lightning F Steven Stamkos for the scoring lead.

-Mark Letestu and Chris Connor teamed up for the winning goal in Florida, but I concur wholeheartedly with Mark Madden's (105.9 The X) assessment that their careless play lead directly to a Florida score earlier in the game and that this was just them "getting back to even". Double M hit it right on the head, don't be fooled by offensive results only. Hockey is a much more complex game than that.

-When Chris Kunitz arrived via trade from Anaheim, there weren't many people more excited than me. A young, goal-scoring winger to complement Crosby...what could go wrong? Over time, I wore down as it seemed that Kunitz showed only occasional lamp lighting, and really only contributed through hits (hits aren't goals by the way). This season, I have to admit that Chris has shown everything that made me so excited to see him arrive here. I would imainge it is just a coincidence that he will be a free agent after this season and is no performing so well (/sarcasm) but whatever the reason, I am looking forward to his output the rest of the season if he stays healthy.

Defenseman Recaps:

-Kris Letang is 8th in the All Star Voting and has received the 3rd most write-in votes. Impressive and Tang deserves it. I imagine he will make his way on to the squad somehow, even if as a replacement. The All Star Game will be held in Raleigh, NC on Sunday, January 30th.

Goalie Recaps:-Marc-Andre Fleury played every game during this stretch and aside from the Carolina game held the opponents to a low goal total. Good to see him start to find some rhythym. It is rather interesting to noticed the difference in his approach when he is "on". He stands in there instead of flopping, agressively challenges shooters and angles instead of waiting back, and all in all seems to just be having fun with it.

Special Occasion:

-Happy 75th Birthday to lifelong hockey man and multiple hat wearer for the Penguins organization: Ed Johnston.I would imagine EJ has done everything hockey from sweep up afterwords, to drive a zamboni...but I know for a fact he's been a front office man in multiple spots, drafted Mario Lemieux, and was the last NHL goalie to play every minute of a season. I was able to find a picture of him online shown below. He is the goalie, which may be hard to distinguish since for a time in his career he apparently played WITHOUT A MASK!! Nothing but respect for you EJ, hope it was a great one!

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