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.

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