Friday, December 31, 2010

Recap: Games 37-39

Games: vs. OTT (L 3-1),  vs. ATL (W 6-3), @ NYI (L 2-1 SO)

Notable Highlights:

-Congrats to Sid on a great streak. It sure was fun to watch and very exciting. Maybe he can start a new one.

-3 out of 6 points is not a failure by any means. To qualify for the playoffs you need to be around the 90 point mark, which is a little more than a point a game. When you struggle in a strectch and still even a point a game, you take it.

-PK had a good game against Atlanta, killing 7 of 8 chances and some more 3-on-5s.

-Tyler Kennedy, Mark Letestu, and Chris Conner form the "Buzz Line" as the Penguins 3rd line. They are playing really well. Conner had a goal in the Isles game, and Letestu had a very nice effort to put one in against the Thrashers. These guys are proof that if you play your game within a defined role consistently, success will follow.

-I want to take a second to too my own horn while sending a thank you over to The Pensblog. We are on the map, and I'm certain it is in large part thanks to their mention of us. I'll share some stats with you

-As of this very moment, 1,507 page views all time since we started a few months ago. That's about 1,500 more than I expected so maybe we aren't a wildly unpopular blog anymore. I'll just concede that while I'm personally wildly unpopular, my blog has vastly exceeded my expectations for it. For that I thank anyone that ever read this page. I'm no expert, and often I'm wrong or knee-jerk, but it's all because I dearly love this sport and have so since I was introduced to it. That's why I'm a damn good fan and a so-so blogger.

-The vast majory of views come from the United States, and there are some Canadians lurking out there as the 2nd leading nation of readers. The rest of these nations, in order, provide a handful of clicks: Brazil (!!?), Russia (Go Malkin!), Taiwan (!!?), Denmark, Slovenia (go Kopitar!), Germany (love ya Deutschland!, go Hecht!), The UK (welcome), and South Korea (Jim Paek scored the last goal for the Penguins first Cup Clinching game!!)

-For any of the international readers, I'd love to find out more about you via the "contact us" email at the top of the page. I have a special interest in non-expatriate Americans, any Russian with access to KHL news and the ability to communicate in English somewhat (I only speak English and I can barely do it so don't worry), and anyone that has information about local leagues or teams in your country. Hockey is an international game, tell us your story so I can share it with everyone!

Ghastly Lowlights:

-Poor, poor effort is about the only way you can describe the Ottawa game. I've heard people blame it on the Christmas break, but Ottawa was off too and they were fired up for this game.

-Felt like the 1st period of the Atlanta game was extremely entertaining. As fun as that was, the Islanders game was just brutal to watch. Not taking the win away, but the trap is so boring and the polar opposite of entertainment.

-The team continues to show questionable discipline by taking too many penalties. Ottawa converted 2 of 4 power play chances. If you're going to play sloppy and take scores of pentalites, you need the PK to bail you out.

Forward Recaps:

-Matt Cooke continues to take penalty after penalty. Bob Grove of the Penguins Postgame show (105.9 The X) said that he has (trying to remember because I was driving, so if slightly inaccurate I apologize) 14 minor penalties in his past 11 games. Are some of these because of his reputation? You bet it is. But he has to watch himself. In a perfect world, you'd sit a guy down for taking so many penalties just to get his attention. The problem is Cooke is an integral part of penalty kill, and has done a good job at the offesnsive end of the ice too. Guess we just have to hope that Matt does everything he can to reduce penalties, but not change his effectiveness.

-Evgeni Malkin is a -1 and is the only player on the current roster that is a minus. Plus/minus is not a stat that many, including myself, relying heavily on because it can be misleading at times. But in this case, it reflects the struggles of the center...err...winger....err center. I will disclose that am a giant Malkin fan before I say this, because I'm not making excuses for him. Part of me does wonder if he is having trouble adjusting to playing and more importantly practicing primarily in English. In the past he had Ottawa's D Sergei Gonchar and New York Rangers F Ruslan Fedotenko to speak to in Russian. Perhaps this is more difficult for him than anyone is talking about. That being said, it doesn't matter at the end of the day. He is the highest paid player along with Crosby. As I've said before, because of that he has to produce more often than not. Sadly, right now it does't seem that that is happening again.

Defenseman Recaps:

-Alex Goligoski got absolutely torched by Thrashers D Dustin Byfuglien for a shot on goal. Bufugien had one hand on the stick and used the other hand to just toss the Dman aside. No shame in that for Gogo though, all part of the learning process. Even Hall of Fame defensemen have been made to look silly. Former Bruin Ray Bourque had Mario Lemieux hide the puck at his own feet one time in the Wales Conference Finals. It happens.

-Brooks Orpik looked a little off against the Thrashers as well. This could be because of their forwards group. I think this is only the second time I mentioned Brooksie in this segment this season, and both have been negative. I'm sorry about that, I promise I will find some positive about this extremely valuable Penguin the next time I mention him.

-Kris Letang injured Ottawa F Jason Spezza with a hit from behind. I don't believe there was malice on Tang's part, but the fact is Spezza was hurt by a run from behind. I wish the league would focus on these hits as much as they do the blows to the head. If anyone remembers collegiate player Travis Roy, who was paralyzed in such a hit, you are like me....astonished this has never happened to the pros. I don't want to to see it ever happen to anyone at any level of play. Hitting from behind along the wall and te players that quickly turn to force such hits should be more of a focus for both penalties and discipline.

Goalie Recaps:

-Mark-Andre Fleury had a so-so stretch. I don't blame him for either of the losses. I thought he wasn't particularly sharp against Atlanta, but the offense had his back that night.

-Brent Johnson returned to practice and the bench for the Islanders game.

-John Curry did not see any action during his call-up, despite what seemed like a perfect chance on Long Island for the Islanders game. This is very telling in regards to how the front office views him. It seems that any chance of Curry being viewed seriously as a potential backup had its final nail entered (the first million was the contract extention Brent Johnson signed).



-F Jason Spezza had 2 assists before he was injured.

-D Erik Karlsson had 2 goals for the Sens. Looks like this former 1st round pick has quite the upside.

-I don't get to watch many Sens games, but I have to imagine this was one of their more spirited efforts of the season. They looked sharp and fiesty.


-They have some very talented players in F Evander Kane and D Dustin Byfuglien. Byfuglien is leading the league in scoring for a defenseman.

-I've been critical of the lack of support for the team in Atlanta. I will concede that a good playoff run for this group could plant the seeds needed to have there be actual support from the fans. This isn't something I would bet on, but I wish them the best. Years back I faced the horror of the possibility of my team moving, so for any true fans there my heart goes out.

-New York Islanders

-A lot was made of G Rick DiPietro leaping in to teammates arms after the shootout victory. Many felt it was unnecessary or silly considering the Isles record. That's exactly why I don't have a problem with it. This team is struggling in attendance, in record, in the attempt for a new arena...give them something. DiPi even had to feel good on a personal level. In 2006, he signed a giant $67.5 million contract that spanned over 15 years. He has been chronically injured, and any momentum for him and his team is a starting point.

-I am not in favor of the Islanders moving, but if their situation isn't clarified it is a real possiblitiy. A faction of fan from Quebec (about 22 busloads) attended a game a few weeks back to show their support for the franchise as that city attempts to bring the Nordiques back. I hope hockey finds itself in both Quebec City and Long Island. Both cities have great traditions and a place in the history of hockey.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A New Chapter

Last night marked my first trip to the CONSOL Energy Center. Being that I live 10 hours away and the demand for tickets, I felt fortunate to be there with my wife (and daughter on the way). I wasn't sure what to expect, aside from a few passing negative items (stairs are steep, press box is far from action - as if I care about that) and a heaping of good reviews. Having recently been to a fairly new arena (Scottrade Center) and a very new arena (Nationwide Arena), I can say that the new digs stack up to anybody's. As usual, it was first-class, just like anything 66 touches.
As far as the comments that were negative...I found them to be nit-picking. Yes, the stairs are steep (my pregnant wife would attest), but if that is the price for some leg and elbow room (I am about 6'3 and big), I'll take it. I've had nights at Civic Arena (in section B!!!) where I literally had hip cramps from my legs being pretty much immobile. Plus, if you want steep steps that are frightening, you should have been to the old Yankee Stadium rightfield seats - yikes.
If you've already been to a game, this bores you, of course. So lets consider the environment and feel of the place. I will admit, at this point its a bit sterile. Maybe a few cup runs (and home ice clincher!) would add to its charm. In addition, its corporate loaded. Even the gates and warmups have sponsors. But instead of standing on a soapbox, I say burn it for firewood. The reality is our nation, and thus our sports, are driven by corporate dollars. Having lived in other parts of the rust belt, I am proud Pittsburgh has a great corporate presence, even if it is contrived and rammed down throats (like at CONSOL). If you want to rid our area of this type of commercialism, okay...take a drive up to Youngstown one day. Hey, if you make it out alive, you could even visit East Cleveland, which makes PGH hoods look like Fox Chapel. I have reason to hate the new place, because CONSOL is an "evil empire" according to a coal-mining relative of mine that has been through some shit with them. But, coal-mining is a dirty business done by dirty people; this is hardly breaking news. They have the dollars to name the place that will house my favorite sports team. Likewise, PNC has the corporate dong to label the club boxes the "Legends Level". Good for them, these companies are run by egomaniacs that want to see their name in the bright lights, but as long as it helps keep our core skating for years to come, I remain unphased.
Some of the most underrated aspects of CONSOL, to me, were the stairwells with each team picture from '67 to present - very cool. I loved the views and the open feel in the concessions. I thought the facilities were on the money. I've heard a gripe or two about the bathrooms being too crowded still, probably because some dudes like piss troughs. Yes, there will always be a line between periods to whiz...Look, I was able to handle that and get back to my seat with 5 mins to spare during intermission. I was able to get some food at another intermission in just a few minutes. This is great. A final great aspect is being able to come into the big foyer space pre-gate opening. This time was spent selling merchandise that the team and the league make bank on (as opposed to Dick's). Conversely, in STL, Scottrade opened up 30 mns before game time, which was bizarre. Hundreds of us stood outside and waited to get in. These people could have been raking over money in retail stuff.
In the end, sports is now a business. The old steel roof, tight concourses, and character of Civic Arena have been replaced with wider walkways, a clear disconnect from the corporate/high dollar seats and the rest of us regular people, and a more sterile place. I have no complaints about this. Its progress, progress is good, progress is what West PA needs. Andy Warhol had some quote like "Good art is good business"...CONSOL is great art.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Review: 24/7 Episode 2

Screencap courtesy of

As the second episode of the 24/7 Pens/Caps series opened, we see Sidney Crosby and Pascal Dupuis sitting in the hotel, watching "NHL On the Fly" on the NHL Network. Sid proceeds to describe his November fight with Dallas' Matt Niskanen. This is a pretty funny moment, and in some ways, Sid seems kind of nerdy on camera. Not uncomfortable, but his personality seems like the type of person that isn't aware of how funny they are.

From there the episode follows a very similar format and surely will for the remaining two weeks. We are introduced to some new people, and find ourselves viewing new situations.  There are locker rooms, coach meetings, road trips, practices, families, and some intersting off the ice stuff. By the end of the episode, I found myself disappointed that time was up. I wanted more. There's so much I would like to see or expand upon, but an hour can only hold so much.

From a coaching standpoint, we see more interaction by Washington Coach Bruce Boudreau and his team. His tune is similar, and for most of the episode the team's fate is as well. In the last segment, the Caps finally break their losing streak. Before then we see a very telling moment. The Caps are down 2-0 to the Senators at intermission. For the first time in this series, Boudreau's words seem to have an impact on the players. He tells them simply that "they don't want anything bad to happen" and that "too many of us like it here". He isn't lamenting the rumors that he could be jettisoned as head coach. He's talking about any of them with the exception of Alexander Ovechkin. When a hockey team doesn't lift their nose out of a funk, people start to go. Not just coaches, player too. Friends/brothers/teammates.

In Washington, the man in charge of those personnel decisions is GM George McPhee. We get our first interaction with him. Frankly, he doesn't seem to light up a room. His words seems flat and cliched. When Boudreau and he meet to discuss previous games, it seems more like people shootin' the breeze than it does people with a purpose. A moment that caught my ear was McPhee denouncing critics of the team and front office as if all of them are mornons. If they "knew anything about hockey", they'd be involved in the game in his words. Respectfully, I disagree George. It would be like dismissing someone that rebuilds cars as a hobby, because they aren't an auto-worker. You can have passions in life that aren't your living. In fact, I dare say, for most of us our passions have nothing to do with our livings. If anything though, this shows the pressure building around McPhee and the Caps. I would contend that it doesn't matter much what happens until the playoffs. But another failure in the spring, and both Boudreau and McPhee likely will find themselves in need of a knew place to practice their knowledge of the sport.

From the Penguins side, we see interactions between Dan Bylsma and Tony Granato. Granato seems to censor himself in discuss Dupuis' performance, but he and Bylsma agree to talk to him. They seem displeased with his output on a line with Crosby. He also discussing Malkin having trouble with the difference between "defending a teammate" and "making the right play".

In Bylsma's case, a glimpse is offered in to his family life. We meet his wife and son, and see him playing hockey with his son. He's just having fun, and "not his coach" as he makes it clear to the cameras.  Family is a recurring theme with the Penguins it seems. We also see Craig Adams and his kids. They are looking at some photos of the players on the team, with each being named by the child. After a few the kid says "Craig", to which Adams replies, "you mean daddy?".

Then there's some time seeing Alexander Ovechkin's home life. It consists of him and his parents. I think it's part joke, part difference in culture when he says someday he'll find a wife and live with her but for now it's them because he's not going to cook or clean. It would be interesting to hear them talk a bit. What an interesting story it is for two Cold-War era parents from Moscow to live with their son as the toast of Washington DC.

A highlight of the episode for many will the appearance of Pens Owner and Legend, Mario Lemieux. He doesn't appear the least bit rusty during the scrimmage at Consol Energy Center. Not very surprising that after 5 years not playing in a game, he can still dangle the puck around anyone he wants to with that long reach.

At the end of the day, this show is about the present day players though. There's plenty of practice rink and locker room time in this episode. We see Caps D Mike Green working his way back from injury, and owning a Vespa. I think the series' oddest moment has been sewn up. I'm not sure what anyone could do to be stranger than this. During a game in Boston, Caps Alternate Captain Mike Knuble lets the team know that this game "will not turn in to a laugher". Seems like everyone in that room believed him. This moment made me realize something we haven't seen yet...either team's Captain say much of anything in a locker room setting. To me this is peculiar. I realize both Ovie and Sid lead by example and all that, but I always thought wearing the "C" meant more than on-ice performance or work ethic. It's for guys with the respect of the room and the sack to say what needs to be said at any given moment. Maybe we'll catch a glimpse of this yet from either side. I would love to see what these guys do in terms of the diry work required for their "C". So far we've seen Ovechkin's massages and Crosby's superstiations. Maybe next week.

Off-ice hijinx continues as well, with Penguin Matt Cooke going in to the Coyotes dressing room to tamper with former Penguin Paul Bissonette's gear. As the Caps embark on a road trip, there's also some silliniess going on at a team dinner with "shoe checking" and lobster heads.

The in game content has become suprisingly non-descript in the second episode, in my opinion. After the first, I found myself wanting more. This week, I find myself realizing you're only going to get so much out of the context of a game. A new element was introduced though, the referees. We hear more of what they say during post-whistle scrums and fights. Bill McCreary chides Mike Green for swearing at him about what he thought was a missed high stick. We also see inside the referees dressing room after a controversial call in the Penguins game. Steven Walkom is congratulated by the linesmen for a gutsy call. Rather than re-hash this call, I will say that the refs and linesman have  a tough job night in and night out. I'm not a big believer in whining about refereeing. The fact of the matter is if you put yourself in a situation where one call makes or breaks you, you probably didn't do your job.

Our second hour glimpse behind the curtain has now came and went. The next episode promises to have some quality in-game audio from a spirited contest between these teams at the Verizon Center. If the first two episodes are any indication, we will be checking the clock and wishing for more. Hard to think that there are only two more episodes of this excellence. It's going to be hard to shut the curtain and not get to look back in for the rest of the season. Give HBO plenty of credit for that, but also give these teams and the NHL a doff of the cap for having the sack to allow them in.

Screencap courtesy of

Friday, December 24, 2010

Recap: Games 34-36

Games: vs. PHO (W 6-1),  vs. FLA (W 5-2), @ WAS (W 3-2 SO)

Notable Highlights:

-6 out of 6 points, but there are actually some items for me to harp on. That's what I call the best of both worlds for a Pens fan/wildly unpopular blogger.

-The goal off the faceoff near the end of the 1st period of the Phoenix game was unreal. Sid went forward with it after somehow lulling his opponent to sleep by letter him "win" the draw. From there an easy tap of to Evgeni Malkin and the Coyotes had to go to the locker room pretty dejected. That was a huge goal. The difference between being down 1-0 and 2-0 at the break. That may not sound like much, but, to steal the Pensblog phrase, they were "stunned".  (I'm done referring to him by his full name every time by the way. It's stupid. If you don't know who I mean, you won't be here for long anyways.)

-Scoring continues to come from multiple sources on the team. It's exciting when everyone contributes, mainly because it allows the starts to not feel burdened, yet at the same time it probably gives the role guys a sense of accomplishment and belonging to the team.

-Power Play went 3 for 5 against Phoenix. You wish there were more nights where it clicked this easy. If you don't, I sure do.

-C Sidney Crosby's scoring streak has reached 23 games. If he doubles his current streak, he will tie Mario Lemieux's club record. From there it would "only" be another week or two to glory. I've done some pretty loud scoffing at the notion that Sid could compare to Gretzky or Mario, but as I said before I'm a numbers guy. If he even gets this streak in to the 30s, it could be the most impressive thing Penguins fans have seen since the return of Lemieux himself. While the chance of breaking any streaks are still very low, the way Crosby is playing has even made a skeptic like me a giddy fan. If there was any doubt he has entered his "prime". The next five years should be pretty entertaining. It will be intersting to see what the Canadian reaction is, if such a scoring streak scenario plays out that he could actually challenge a record of the Great Gretzky.

-G Marc-Andre Fleury turned in a spectacular performance against the Capitals. I felt that most of the game the Caps had way better chances, and the Penguins were fairly sloppy at times. His save on Caps Dman/Vespa owner Mike Green gained the team an extra point. Without Fleury, this could have been a laugher for Ovechkin and the boys in red. How rough would that be to watch on HBO?

Ghastly Lowlights:

-Power play was 0 for 5 against Washington. They were up 2-1 with under 11 minutes left in the game and did not convert on either chance they had. A 3-1 lead on either chance would have ended it. Instead, they floundered and gave up a shortie on the later of the PP's. It's fun to woop it up when we're handing Phoenix their hats, but in April and May teams like Washington and Philadelphia will be in between the 4th Stanley Cup and a disappointing season. Didn't need a 3 for 5 performance, just a goal in the 3rd period of a close which if you've been reading this season, I have pointed out time and time again as a shortcoming.

-F Matt Cooke's roughing penalty when the team was already down a man was ill-advised, but it wasn't dirty. Don't get me wrong it was illegal. It is one of the types of hits the NHL is trying to eliminate. When Cooke hit Phoenix D Keith Yandle he made contact to the head, which also resulted in contact between Yandle's head and the glass. This was illegal, but not dirty. It's a play that's just about instinctual for Cooke and many throughout the league. If he was looking to hurt Yandle, there are plenty of other ways he could have attempted it.

-The discipline of the team seemed a bit off during this stretch. Multiple two-man disadvantages, stupid penalties, and even a sequence where the Pens where down two men and D Brooks Orpik was in the box just waiting for his time to even begin. This is troubling, but if "24/7" has shown me anything, it's that Coach Dan Byslma and GM Ray Shero will be discussing it and addressing it. At least the PK killed 16 of the 17 chances, including 8 of 8 against Phoenix, and more importantly 5 of 6 against a Washington team that just can't struggle forever.

Forward Recaps:

-Matt Cooke had 2 goals and a strange penalty. He flipped the puck nearly the entire length of the ice on a penalty kill against Washington. It flung all the way in to the netting behind Caps G Michal Neuvirth. Never saw that happen before.

-Evgeni Malkin had 5 point against the Coyotes and looks very healthy, very strong on the puck, and very motivated. Somebody has to get it through to him that his penalties and the things he doesn't get called for (like moving a fallen stick of a Capitals player while on the PP) are not agressive, "power forward" penalties that you can live. They are stupid. He's better than that.

-Mark Letestu had a hell of a goal against Florida. Last time I praised him in his role as a grinder. It's no co-incidence that he is playing well with Tyler Kennedy and Chris Conner (who also had a goal in this stretch) within his role, and all of the sudden the puck and great chances are finding him as opposed to when he was in a top 6 role and had to attempt to produce these chances himself to some extent.

Defenseman Recaps:

-Deryk Engelland has become a dangerous fighter in this league. He put Coyote Taylor Pyatt on his back with a wicked right. At this point, there aren't many tough guys out there that aren't aware of this, so for him to continue to get in good shots is pretty impressive.

-Ben Lovejoy bounced back from his tragic game with a good performance versus the Panthers. He scored his first NHL goal and had an altercation. I call it that, because I'm not sure that he landed a punch (he may have connect on a backhand though). I don't like to dedicate two defense recaps to fighting, because fighting isn't on my list of reasons the Penguins will or won't suceed this season. I do it in Lovejoy's case, because it does stand for something. He isn't going to be that kind of player in the NHL, but at the moment he is a #7 defenseman on a team that is playing well. Him getting in to a scrap shows that he is not satisfied to milk that role. He wants more and is doing what he can to warrant the chance.

Goalie Recaps:

-Amazingly enough, nobody has called for the trade of Marc-Andre Fleury lately. Six weeks ago, it was as if he was spotted urinating on a Christmas tree on the Incline. He's second in all-star ballot for goalies and is sure to be a feature point of the Winter Classic. What a difference a few weeks, some faith from the coaching staff, and a few wins under his belt has made in his performance and fan perception. I guess you really never are as good as your best day or as bad as your worst day, even if Yinzers don't agree.

-Brent Johnson was injured in the game against Florday. John Curry has been called up from Wilkes-Barre until Johnny can get right. I would like to see Curry get a game before then. He didn't fare very well last year in his games. I'm rooting for him to have a decent game at this level.

-Phoenix  They looked uninterested and I'm uninterested in writing about them. It's hard to believe this team is staying in Glendale, AZ.

-Florida  I can't remember the last time I saw G Tomas Vokoun look so shaky, but the last time he did it was against the Penguins at the Civic Arena. He was pulled, which marked the second straight game the Pens got to chew through a starter to the backup.

-Washington  Most of the game, the Caps had the better of the chances. Alex Ovechkin is having a subpar season, with only 12 goals to date. He had as many hits on Evgeni Malkin in the first period as he does Power Play Goals this season...maybe that's part of the problem. At any rate, just like when I would say don't judge the Penguins too harshly by their slump, I'd like to say the same on behalf of the Capitals. It's December. Nothing they do between now and the playoffs matters. They want to be an elite team, their bread will be buttered or not in April, May, and June if they are deserving. If not, that's when it's time to gloat. Not now.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Review: 24/7 Episode 1

Screencap courtesy of

When it was announced that the Penguins and Capitals would participate in HBO's "24/7" series many Penguins fans were concerned what type of distraction it would be for the team, but generally speaking there was an excitiement over what exactly we would see in this series. The first episode aired December 15, 2010 and it far exceeded the hype and excitement.

When it comes to the Penguins and, to some extent, hockey in general, I have a hard time being "objective". I love this game more than any other. Consider the fact that I take time to write about hockey for no more than 50 people currently as evidence of my love. If I were writing to 5 people right now, I would still do it, and still have the passion for it that I do. The thing that struck me the most from the first episode, was how HBO "gets it' as it relates to the passion that the actual professionals put in to their sport.

Hockey isn't necessarily very popular in the United States aside from the strong markets such as the Original Six cities, and the mainly northern porition of the first expansion class. One of the reasons the NHL allowed access to their regular season, unlike the NFL which documents training camps via the 24/7 vehicle, is to hopefully gain promotion for both the Winter Classic and the sport in general.

For a casual viewer, they got to see things that surely will catch their eye. They hear the conversations that take place during and after fights. They see how meticulous a hockey practice is. What a road trip is like. How teams bond with the players and each other's families. In summation, a casual viewer gets to see the passion for the game that exudes from Washington owner Ted Leonsis' words all the way down to the tape job on a stick, the sharpening of a skate, and the stitching of a cut.

For an actual fan of either of these teams, or the sport itself, the reaction is certain to be different. I'd be a liar if I said there weren't certain aspects of the show that gave me goosebumps, or touched me. To say that seeing this show is surreal possibly doesn't do it justice. For many of us, to see what goes on in an NHL locker room pre-, in-, and post-game is a dream come true.

Penguins Coach Dan Byslma comes off nearly presidential as he strides in to and out of the room at moments, revealing a lineup, congratulating players on job well done after a game, or encouraging the team with "Let's wear these bitches down, eh?"

Conversely, Washington Coach Bruce Boudreau comes off frustrated at times. While I'm sure many Pens fans will take delight in this, I already find myself having more respect for him. It's easy to paint rivals as jerks or buffoons, but peering in to their locker room during a losing streak is simply amazing. Boudreau shares the wisdom that you can't always harp on the same things with a team. In practice he is seen criticizing a player, but letting him know that he isn't singling him out because other wings made the same mistake. Much is also being made of his use of "the f word". To me language isn't a big deal, but I do understand and concede that it is a big deal to some people. What I see, is a coach that cares that his team is in a spiral, and is frustrated by it immensely. Nothing more. Nothing less. The moment that gains the most respect with me, is after a loss where it appears to me that Bourdreau is about to enter the room after the game, winces, and turns around. This is the realization of his words from earlier in the episode. He easily could rip his team, and I'm sure none of his players would blame him. Honestly though, is there anything he can say that will make his team feel worse at this moment? Not likely.

On the player front, you see many interesting moments. The Penguins' locker room is light and jovial at the high of a 12 game win streak. The Caps room is low and frustrated during a 6 game losing streak. An unshown Caps' coach is heard telling his team to "grab your sack" and basically telling the team that they are playing soft and how ridiculous it is that their Captain and best player in the world (his words) Alex Ovechkin is fighting.

We get to see glimpses of the Penguins traveling, and their bonding on the road. The flight to Buffalo was a really special moment for me to see, and I hope it isn't lost on the viewers. G Marc-Andre Fleury, C Sidney Crosby, F Max Talbot, and F Mike Rupp are playing a video game with one another. While Rupp is a bit older than the other guys, it's easy to forget how young Fleury and Crosby are because of the success and stature they have in the local community. Sid is giving Max grief over the video game and Fleury comes out with my favorite line of the episode, "Suck it Talbo" followed by "Max is a douche", which prompts Sid to burst out in laughter. I find these moments the most interesting, as we often do not get to see Sidney Crosby as a person. By design, he often fits the (pre-scandal) Tiger Woods or Peyton Manning mold...everything said or done is calcualated. It will be intersting to see how the Pens' room reacts in the next episode, as they are in a 2 game losing streak now.

All in all, I consider this great tv and can't wait for the next episode. I am hoping for more in game audio, more locker room footage, and more interaction. Regardless of what is shown, said, or sworn, this promises to continue to be a dream come true for those with a passion for the game, and it may just make a few people tune in that never before cared much. That really is the goal for the league, the rest of us being riveted is just our own private bonus.

Recap: Games 31-33

Games: @ BUF,  @PHI, vs. NYR

Notable Highlights:

-The Buffalo game was one of the team's better efforts this season. They played "their game" at both ends of the ice, G Marc-Andre Fleury made 34 saves, and they got scoring from guys that don't chip in on a regular basis.

-Here's the scoring mix of Buffalo game: F's Dustin Jeffrey, Arron Asham, Mike Rupp, Matt Cooke (en), and D Alex Goligoski. You can't rely on your top players every game (even though you do kind of expect it), so when they can't carry you, it's great to have the other guys step up.

-The first 40 to 50 mins of Ranger game was well played. The team had a good forecheck going for most of the last 5 mins of the 1st period and most of the 2nd period. I was at this game and keeping mental notes of the things I wanted to cite as highlights and some of the individuals...then the last 10 mins wiped them out.

-At the end of 1st period of that Ranger game, there were two consecutive shifts where the Pens took the game over with grinding. This started with a line of Max Talbot, Pascal Dupuis, and Arron Asham. I took notice of that because in a perfect world, Talbo and Duper would not be on the first two lines. They are excellent penalty killers and seem to be best suited for an energy role. With the makeup of the team and salary cap, they often find themselves in larger roles. Usually they even do pretty well with that, but it is exciting to me to see them play in their natural role from time to time.

-C Sidney Crosby's scoring streak has reached 20 games. Just in case you are wondering, the NHL record is held by legend Wayne Gretzky, who scored in 51 straight games in the 1983-84 season! To tie the team record, he would have to match the 46 games that Mario Lemieux scored in 1989-90. If this were done in consectutive games, Sid would have to score from now until January 15th to tie Lemieux, and February 1st to tie Gretzky. In the unlikely event this would happen, Sid could break the record February 2nd against the Islanders. While highly unlikely, I wish Sid the best as he is having a phenominal season.

Ghastly Lowlights:

-Power play went 2 for 11 (18%) during these three games. The 2 goals were scored by F Evgeni Malkin in his return against Philadelphia. While you can argue that the team would not have been in the game without the Power Play (you would be correct), I would come back to my recurring theme of needing the PP to convert in the crunch. They had a chance to tie the game with under 3 mins left and did not score. Even if they had converted 10 chances that game, if they are down by a goal or tied with a chance under 5 mins, you'd really like them to score.

-Penalty Killing had 11 kills out of 14 (78.5%) in this stretch. The rough goal came against the Rangers. It was their first of the game, and for whatever reason opened the floodgates for the Rangers in the 3rd.

-During the Flyer game, one of the Penguins flaws seemed very apparent. 5 on 5 play is an area of concern that I have as it relates to the top teams in the east. I think they were outplayed at even strength. Obviously, with the team coming off of a tweleve game win streak, it seems petty to pick on this. Luckily, I'm a petty person with no credibility in the actual hockey world, so this is right up my alley. Allow me to expand my concern:

Earlier in the season, when things were not going as well, I talked about the concern of what this team's identity is. During a long win streak, when everything is going right, it isn't a glaring problem. While I don't think this is a bad team, I still have my concerns that the team that showed up against Philly is the actual identity of this squard.

What concerns me most about this, is that I do believe the Flyers are one of the top teams in the East, and it would not surprise me if they came out of East again. While its popular to hate Philly in Pittsburgh, I like to give credit where its due. When Coach Peter Laviolette was hired, I think that Philly tossed aside their tendency to goon it up at all times. They were with 2 games of winning the Cup last season.

Now, I'm not saying that I think the Penguins are a team of goons. Far from it. I am saying that I think they are currently filled with too many role players at forward. What mainly concerns me about this is that I don't think it will possible for the Penguins to "out-Flyer the Flyers" in April or May. The wild card to all of this is if GM Ray Shero tweaks the lineup at the trade deadline. If the Flyer game is any indication, it may be for the best to do so or it could be another early exit in the spring.

-The last 10 mins of the Ranger game were just like the Leafs and Bruins games earlier this season.

Forward Recaps:

-Dustin Jeffrey was called up due to injurires. He chipped in a goal in the Buffalo game. Nice to see a guy from the minor league system contribute in a pinch. Any Pens fan from the second Cup run remembers the contributions of guys like Jock Callander, Dave Michalyuk, and Mike Needham. You never know when you'll need guys like this so it's refreshing to know they are out there.

-Evgeni Malkin returned to the lineup in the Philly game, scoring 2 goals. He also scored the only goal for the team against the Rangers. Whether his rough times were caused by injury or just bad bounces, it's good to see him back on the score sheet and hope that it continues. One thing that should be noted is the bad penalty he took against Philly. They scored on that PP and won as a result. It seems that this is the downside of Malkin at this stage in his career, you just hope that he realizes what it can do to the team and works to minimize it.

-Mark Letestu has looked pretty good in his role at the bottom of the forward lines in an energy/grinder capacity. This is his most likely role in the NHL, and he appears more than willing and more than capable.

Defenseman Recaps:

-Kris Letang had a few rough games against Philly and the Rangers. There were some turnovers, and when the Pens lose I notice a flaw among all their D-men. There is a tendency to reverse the puck in their own zone or make a more complicated play instead of just going forward strong with the puck to get it out.

-Ben Lovejoy was brutal against the Rangers. He did have a nice play defensively which he also moved the puck forward quickly for a rush on, but he erased those thoughts the rest of the game.

-2009 1st round pick Simon Despres was selected for Team Canada's squad at the World Juniors. That tournament will take place in Buffalo, NY December 26th through January 5th.

Goalie Recaps:

-Marc-Andre Fleury 1-1 during this stretch and didn't have a bad game. Blame the Philly loss on anyone but him please.

-Brent Johnson didn't look particularly sharp against the Rangers in the 3rd. He did however, have a decent game until that point though, so you can likely put part of the blame on the guys in front of him. I'm sure that is easier for you since his name isn't Fleury.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Event: The Big Chill at the Big House

On December 11, 2010 Michigan played Michigan State in an outdoor game at Michigan Stadium. 113,411 fans packed "The Big House", which set an all time record for a University of Michigan sporting event, besting even the record for Wolverines football. Michigan was victorious 5-0, but regardless of the outcome, it was viewed as success. Of note for those that will be attending the Winer Classic: game time temps were over 40 degrees. Michigan Athletic Director Dave Brandon was quoted as saying "If it rained, we were in trouble.".

Nine years ago, a similar event took place at Michigan State. This brought the idea of outdoor hockey games back to the minds of fans and hockey executives alike. While the NHL had played an outdoor exhibiton game in Las Vegas outside of Caesar's Palace in 1991, the Heritage Classic between Edmonton and Montreal was the first regular season contest to take place. Since then, the Winter Classic has become an annual tradition, with the January 1, 2011 game to take place in Pittsburgh between the Penguins and Capitals. The Heritage Classic will also see a return, with the Flames and Canadiens clashing February 20, 20011 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Recap: Games 26-30

Games: @ NYR,  vs ATL, @ CLS, vs. NJ, vs. TOR

Notable Highlights:

-Another stretch of games where the team earned every point they could. Because of that the positives are glaring and the negatives are few and far between. One thing to keep in mind, just like I said to keep everything in perspective when things weren't going well, do exactly the same thing now things are as good as good can be. It's December. The doldrums of the hockey season are yet to happen (January and February). We are only 30 games in to this run. A lot can happen between now and June, and that's where every fan should have their eyes and hearts on...the Stanley Cup Finals in June.

-Give Coach Dan Bylsma a lot of credit during this streak. The goalies problems are behind the team in large part due to his willingness to let G Marc-Andre Fleury play through it. Another big item has been the relative stability of the lines. Aside from injury shuffling, guys have played with the same group game in and game out. That allows players to know their role (as we've talked about), and knowing one's role is the most important component behind a successful team. I'm the first guy to criticize when things aren't going well, so let me be one of the first to congratulate and recognize a job well done during this great stretch of Penguins hockey.

-There is a lot of talk of the Penguins making a run at the all-time win streak of 17 (held by the Pens). Not to sound like a broken record, but there's a lot of hockey between now and 17 or 18. Wins are not a given in the NHL. It has to be taken one game at a time. That being's really fun to watch games when the team is playing at the top of the league (even if it does make the 'blog a bit more boring).

-I was at the Columbus game. It was the most fun I've ever had at a hockey game. The atmosphere was incredible from start (@ R Bar...excellent work organizing by The Pensblog) to finish (7-2 victory). There had to be 40-50% of the crowd rooting for the Penguins. I honestly felt bad for the Columbus fans. I've been very critical of markets where hockey isn't working and doesn't seem like it's gonna, but the guy sitting next to us was a grandfather that brought his grandsons out to see Sid and Penguins. When I was young, there was nothing I enjoyed more than getting the chance to go see Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, Joe Sakic, Wayne Gretzky, etc. Hopefully even if the team leaves Columbus in the next few years, those kids saw enough to spark the passion for the game for the rest of their lives like once happened for me.

-C Sidney Crosby's play has been so good that many (like Trib and 93.7's Joe Starkey) have wondered if it puts Sid along side legends Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux's best seasons. With as much humility as a barely read blogger can have, I say "nay". Don't get me wrong, Sid is doing it all. He leads the league in scoring, blowing by Steven Stamkos in a few game stretch. Consider him the games best passer not named Joe Thornton or Ryan Whitney (look up the Oiler stats!). His scoring is the most dramatic improvement, as he has twice as many goals as Alexander Ovechkin. Truth be told I can't even recall the last time he whined on the ice. None of this puts him in the Great One or Le Magnifique's level though, I'll overwhlem you with some numbers in a moment.

People say it's different eras so it shouldn't be compared. While it is true that the game hadn't been tainted by the Devils trap,and improvements in both athleticism and film study...but does anyone remember watching games in the 80s or 90s? Mario often looked like he was towing a player behind, as the "shadow" (where did this tactic go??) would have his stick between Ace's legs and would ride him up and down the ice. In this era, it was often not called as a penatly. By often I mean, it may have been called once in a decade. Mario even famously called the NHL a "garage league" once. Gretzky did not face the torture that Lemieux did, mainly because anyone who dared get near him would be subject to a beatdown by any of the Edmonton players, but I would certainly object to the notion that these players were dominant because of their era. If you put either of these guys in their prime, minus health concerns, they would make players look foolish just as they did in their own time. If teams couldn't tackle Mario for his whole career, do you honestly think he would not have scored at an insane pace?

I'm a numbers guy. Plain and simple. While there may be differences in the execution of the sport, at the end of the day I still believe that hockey is hockey and Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky are players that cannot be compared to each other, or most importantly to anyone else that has come since. Nobody. I present my case.

Mario Lemieux: He had seven seasons over 130 points, and four with 160 points or more. Statistically, his best season were the 1988-89 season (199 points) and 1992-93 (160 points in 60 games, including an absence in the middle to battle cancer). His four highest goal scoring seasons were 85, 70, 69, and 69. His four highest assist totals were 114, 98, 93, and 93.

Wayne Gretzky: He had thirteen seasons over 130 points, nine with 160 points or more, and four with 200 points or more. Statistically, his best season were the 1985-86 season (215 points) and 1981-82 (212 points). These two seasons produced the NHL record for goals in a season (92), assists in a season (163), and points in a season (215). His four highest goal scoring seasons were 92, 87, 73, and 71. His four highest assist totals were 163, 135, 125, and 122. Also of note is the fact that if Wayne Gretzky for some reason had each of his 894 NHL goals disqualified, he would still be the All-Time leading scorer because of his 1,963 assists.

The reason I picked 130 points or more was because nobody has scored 130 points in a season since Lemieux did it in 1995-96. No disrespect meant to Sid, but I find it a bad idea to ever compare a player to these greats, different eras or not.

Ghastly Lowlights:

-Power play went 3 for 16 during these five games. The only 3 goals were in Columbus during the laugher. Personally, I would like to see the PP contribute more, but during a lenghty win streak you can't be overly critical of anyone's effort.

-I'm not Penalty Killing came back to earth a bit, but 16 kills in 20 tries just makes you realize how great the guys were playing. Just like what goes up must come down, nothing will be down forever. The PK unit will rebound.

Forward Recaps:

-Mark Letestu showed back up on the score sheet with 2 goals against Toronto. He, Tyler Kennedy. and Chris Conner have been putting in some good word as a 3rd line and that is what you need guys like them doing. Any scoring they produce is a bonus.

-With injuries to Evgeni Malkin and Mike Comrie, Eric Goddard has found himself in the lineup multiple times. He has played pretty well and has kept himself out of the box aside from fights. In Columbus he nearly scored a goal but Mike Rupp had to tap it in to make sure it wasn't cleared first.

-In these 5 games, Sidney Crosby scored 8 goals.

Defenseman Recaps:

-I haven't mentioned Brooks Orpik much this season. That's mainly because he's always quietly doing his job. He's done that this year. I actually noticed him have two bad shifts against the Devils though. I'll be able to count those on one hand by seasons end as usual though.

-Kris Letang has surged to #1 in the All Star balloting. Not that he isn't deserving, but something tells me that the female Penguin fans have a large part in this. Call me crazy.

Goalie Recaps:

-Marc-Andre Fleury is playing the best goal of his career. Not much more needs to be said about it. With any luck, maybe this season will be the turning point in his career and he can bury the inconsistency of the past.

Milestone: Retirement

On December 6, 2010 F Bill Guerin announced his retirement as a player. In his 1,200+ regular season and 133 playoff NHL games, Bill skated for the New Jersey Devils, Edmonton Oilers, Boston Bruins, Dallas Stars, St. Louis Blus, San Jose Sharks, New York Islanders, and Pittsburgh Penguins. He was a four-time All-Star, including MVP of the 2001 contest, and is a member of the 400 goal club. He played in three Olympics for the United States of America (1998, 2002, 2006) and raised the Stanley Cup twice, once with the New Jersey Devils after the 1994-95 lockout season and once with the Pittsburgh Penguins after the 2008-09 season. Congratulations to Bill on a great career in hockey.