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.

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