Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Recap: Games 47-50

Games: vs. DET (W 4-1),  @ NJ (L 2-0 ), vs. CAR (W 3-2), NYI (W 1-0)

Notable Highlights:

-6 of 8 possible points without Sid and Geno. This helps keep the team afloat in troubled waters, but don't kid yourself...the season and its success or failure still hinge largely on Crosby and Malkin. Without them, the team simply lacks offensive punch, creativity, and excitement.

-Jordan Staal, Matt Cooke, and Tyler Kennedy have re-united as a line. They have been very effective as a unit. The problem is that without separate lines for Crosby and Malkin in conjunction with them, it lacks the dramatic ability to turn the course of games. It's just a good checking/energy line without them.

-Even if the Red Wings were depleted by injury, it's still very satisfying to beat them.

-The PK unit killed 16 of 16 chances during this stretch. It seems likely that at least one of the games was saved by this given the tendency to take penalty after penalty by the team.

-After the first period of the Devils game, the team forwards made a noticable effort to activate an agressive forecheck, getting in the face of and hitting Devils' dmen in their zone. This was most noticable against D Anton Volchenkov. The Pens have had similar success in the playoffs employing this technique. The theory is this aggressive forecheck will wear the dmen down, force turnovers, and generate pressure. Not in the cards on this night though.

-If I may (and I may), I'd like to be self serving again for a minute. Welcome to readers/visitors around the world! I'm seeing people from Denmark, Hungary, New Zealand, Austrailia, Indonesia, Finland, and Sweden. If any of you would like to have your story told here, email us! If not, I'm very curious what you think of the blog. While I have a somewhat narrow focus in topics, I am an avid fan of the sport around the globe. Hopefully, you enjoy it.

Ghastly Lowlights:

-Trap, trap, trap...I am sick of the damn trap! New Jersey stymied the Pens with their version. While the Red Wings trap was soft in the middle without their starters, this was easily the worst game in terms of tempo that I have ever been in the building for. Whistle after whilfe. I understand why teams run the trap, but it seems as entertaining to me as restrictor plate racing does to you NASCAR fans. Hockey can be as simple as shampooing at its most basic. Skate...score or miss...skate back on defense...repeat as necesary until desired result is acheived. Turn the guys loose! Too much clogging up the neutral zone creeping back in to the  game in my opinion.

-Even though it was very brief, the New Jersey game brought another 5-on-3 shorthanded situation. Last I heard, the Penguins were the most penalized team in the NHL (minors only).

-Hockey players are just like you...a cold seems to have been making its way through the team, forcing players to miss practice here and there.

-Another 3rd period defensive letdown by the guys in the Carolina game. 2 goals let up under 5 minutes left turned a 3-0 breeze in to a 3-2 nail biter. This keeps rearing its ugly head. This lack of focus will be costly in the playoffs if it continues. Don't doubt that for a second.

Forward Recaps:

-The Wilkes Barre-Scranton connections continue to make an impact for the team. Chris Conner scored the team's first penalty shot in 4 years, Mark Letestu inked a 2 year contract extenstion, and Dustin Jeffrey keeps going up and down between the farm club and Pittsburgh, chipping in goals while here, then going back to WBS and lead the Baby Penguins in scoring.

-Speaking of Dustin Jeffery, he had both a highlight and lowlight in the Islanders game. Lowlight was that he tried to skate from behind his net with the puck and go straight up the middle with it. This isn't the AHL, and he was stripped of the puck by the blue line. Next time, he'll remember to use the wall and support players. On the positive side, he won the faceoff that lead to Craig Adams' game winning goal. Good work also getting around the net to cause traffic and confusion.

-Evgeni Malkin will miss the All Star Game due to a nagging knee injury and a sinus infection.

-Sidney Crosby has missed 9 games due to his concussion adn will not attend the All Star Game. Concussions continue to be a hot topic throughout the league. Unfortunately, Boston F Marc Savard has been ruled out indefinately due to another concussion. If you recall, last time I mentioned a hit that D Deryk Engelland put on Savard. It was clean, but made contact with the head. Nights later, Savard was hit in a similar fasion and was face down for a time. He missed a ton of games due to concussion suffered from the Matt Cooke hit, including 23 at the start of this season due to recurring symptoms. Sid has been progressing, but he still hasn't been cleared to work out, let alone consider playing even in a limited role.

For my money, tonight's State of the Union is a colossal waste of time. Now if you want to talk about stuff that matters, let's chat concussions. NHL players seem to miss a lot more time than NFL players because of these injuries, despite both league's lip service regarding the desire to reduce/eliminate these from the game. Why though? NHL players aren't less "tough" than NFL players. It boils down to the basics. Here are my opinions:

First, is the speed of the game. An NHL player can skate between 25 and 30 MPH, with some even fast than that. NFL players run between 18 and 21 MPH, 22 tops. That may not seem like a lot, but the amateur physicist in me says that those extra MPH pack quite the punch over space.

Secondly, NHL helmet quality doesn't get much publicity. Meanwhile, the NFL version are constantly being tweaked and evaluated. Have been for some time now. Only recently has this become an issue in hockey.  It took one of the sports legends to get it on the radar as well. Hall of Famer Mark Messier has made this a priority, launching The Messier Project (themessierproject.com, see "The Epidemic" portion for good reading) line of helmets, research, and awareness.

Next, there are also areas where the NFL and NHL are similar in regards to concussions. Both leagues have recently adopted new rules, and tweaked existing ones to attempt to combat the problem. These initiatives have also been gigantic failures thus far in large part because of inconsistent officiating during the act and discipline after the fact.

The sports again hit a fork in the road regarding the way that concussions happen. The majority of concussions (that are diagnosed and noticed) are the result of violent collisions in both sport, most often to defenseless players. The problem is that football players also often endure small, head to head hits on nearly every play of the game.

Old school thinkers in both sports also say that this is a "part of the game" based on the fact that these are both contact sports and if you have a player launching himself at a player or a skater with his head down, sometimes guys are going to get hurt. It's a sensitive topic to be sure. Nobody wants to take the violence out of these games. Franky, that is why these two leagues are special. It's unfathomable what these guys put their bodies through.

I believe the main difference between the sports is the the way the leagues are taclking the issue moving forward. There is talk in the NHL of banning hits to the head altogether. Period. No exceptions. Not for guys with their head down, not for any reason. The NFL has target hits to the head of Quarterbacks and Receivers. Where they expose their lack of concern for player saftey is to Running Backs and Lineman. Running Backs are often targeted by blatant head shots and all players continually engage in the small, repeadted hits. One needs to look no farther than the study of the late Chris Henry (Cincinnati Bengals). He died at the age of 26 (not due to football) and his brain was the subject of medical study (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/29/sports/football/29henry.html). This study revealed that Henry had chronic traumatic encephalopathy, which the article above says is caused exclusively by brain trauma and appears to affect everything from personality to decision making, to the ability to function. The scariest part of this is that he never was diagnosed with a concussion in his NFL career.

 Hopefully in the next few seasons, the NHL eliminates the head shot from the game. They should learn for the mistakes that the NFL continues to make on the issue, as future studies will likely prove that it isn't just the big shots, but all hits to the head that can cause irreparable damage to players and their quality of life post-sports.

-PP was 1 for 9 during this stretch. There was a time where the Power Play was showing signs of life this season. At this point, it's just disgraceful that it cannot be executed better even if Malkin and Crosby aren't in the lineup.

Defenseman Recaps:

-I've noticed Paul Martin blocking shots. That really isn't the role he is in per se, but you love to see the dedication. Martin still seems a bit out of place overall, but he continues to just quitely go about his minutes and, to his credit, he doesn't cost the team very much in their own end.
-Zbynek Michalek seems to have a bit of the turnover bug in the D zone. Luckily these haven't ended up in the net, but it's definitely out of character for the solid defensive defenseman.

Goalie Recaps:

-Mark-Andre Fleury was 3-0 during this stretch. He had two good games (Wings and Isles) and I'd chalk the Canes game up as bad despite the loss due to the focus lapses we've talked about time and time again both in him and the team. After the win against the Hurricanes, Fleury came out in a Steeler helmet. He also did this prior to the last AFC Championship (and eventual Super Bowl Win) appearance by the Steelers. The shutout against the Isles was the 18th of his career.

Fleury skates to the ice as #1 Star wearing a Steelers helmet & waving a Terrible Towel!
 photo courtesy of @pghpenguins

-Brent Johnson took the loss in the Devil game. Tough to win if your team does not score goals.



-Don't be fooled by the uniform, the Red Wings were missing about 7 of their lineup regulars. Injuries have been very unkind to the Wings. I'm sure Pens fans everywhere are weaping for them.

-I try to find something postive to say about all of the opponets, but I find myself still not liking the Red Wings players or their system of play. I'll force myself to say that this may be the last time I see D Nicklas Lidstrom in person, and I will be sad to see him retire at some point.

-New Jersey

-G Martin Brodeur shut out the Penguins for the 8th time in his career. He is the NHL's All-Time Leader in Shutouts with 114. I have to say, in recent years I've said that Former Canadiens and Avalanche G Patrick Roy was and always will be the king, but my thoughts on the stats of the Crosby vs. Lemieux vs. Gretzky debate earlier in the season softened my stance a bit. I still prefer Roy, but Brodeur belongs in the conversation a lot more than I previously would have liked to admit.

-While some accused Brodeur of embellishing contact from F Maxime Talbot, take note of the fact that it directly lead to Vladimir Zharkov carelessly crashing in to G Brent Johnson. Even if contact with Marty was light, the Devils showed that they would respond in kind.

-The Devils have been successful since the switch to Coach Jacques Lemaire, which has started to get thoe nose up on a disasterious season. To reach the 92 point mark (roughly what you'd need to qualify for the playoffs) they only have about 6 losses left in them the rest of the way. A tall order, and likely, too tall of an order for this group.


-Eric Staal will serve as a Captain in the new "pick up" style All-Star Format. He scored his 23rd goal of the season in the game.

-Former Penguins F Ron Francis and G Tom Barrasso were behind the bench as special assistants to Coach Paul Maurice. Francis is the Canes Associate Head Coach and Director of Player Personnel. Barrasso is in charge of Goaltender Development for the organization.

-New York Islanders

-C Zenon Konopka leads the NHL in fighting majors. He went with Arron Asham in the 1st period.

-D Dylan Reese is a Pittsburgh product. He was undrafted and has played in 36 career games. Dylan attended Upper St. Clair High School.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Recap: Games 44-46

photo courtesy of bleedingallblue.blogspot

Games: vs. BOS (L 3-2),  @ MON (W 5-2 ), @ BOS (W 3-2)

Notable Highlights:

-4 of 6 possible points keeps a nice playoff pace and keeps the team in stride with the top teams in the Eastern Conference. Doing it without Sid is a huge bonus. The victory in Montreal, for my money, was the emotional highlight of the season. I know everyone was doing cartwheels in the street after the Tampa game, but it's much better to put together a solid effort on the road without your Captain and leading scorer.

-It was nice to see the team win in Montreal for many reasons: Montreal had stymied the team within the past week, it's always tough to win in Montreal (the epicenter of hockey in my opinion...sorry Toronto), and it's always fun to beat the team that ousted you from the playoffs.

-Power Play went 4 of 6 in the Montreal game. If anyone had told you that they could do this without Sid, and without a large contribution from Evgeni Malkin, you'd probably have laughed in the their face. It's funny how sometimes the most unexpected things happen in sports.

-The pace of the Bruins win was what hockey is all about...back and forth action. There wasn't much grabbing despite a Bruins system that includes trapping, and only a handful of penalties were called.

Ghastly Lowlights:

-Both Boston games provided some reasons to fret. In the loss, the Pens gave up 4 goals with under 4 minutes to go. This was the second time the team blew a third period lead against the Bruins this season. Then, in the win against the B's, they allowed 2 goals in 13 seconds. There is something about the counterattack of the trap against our system, I am convinced of that.

-Add two more 5-on-3s. Still taking too many penalties overall. Much of the 3rd period against Montreal was spent shorthanded. If this trend continues in to mid-to-late February, I will be very concerned.

-F Mark Letestu had an uncharacteristically bad turnover deep in his own zone in the Montreal game. The outcome of the game was still undecided at this point. While players will make mistakes, you do not want them to be within 10 feet of your own goal.

Forward Recaps:

-Just when many in the fan base started to express concern (not sure why) over Jordan Staal's lack of goals, he contributed one in the Montreal game, and the GWG in the Boston win. he also had 3 assists during this stretch. While I had no concern that Jordo would regain his scoring touch with time, it's good to see him get it going.

-Mike Rupp chipped in a goal against the Bruins in the loss. It was a sneaky shot that probably should have been stopped. That's why you get pucks at the net. You never know what can happen. The goal was his 4th of the season.

-Tyler Kennedy chipped in his first goal in quite some time on the PP against Montreal. While it was on the PP, it was still set up by Staal so I consider it him playing within his role. He just got the puck to the net, nothing complicated. That's when TK is at his best.

-After further review, Chris Kunitz knocked in his 15th goal of the season. Again, I've never been overly impressed with Kunitz in terms of finishing, but he is putting that behind him in his contract year.

Defenseman Recaps:

-Last time we talked about Alex Goligoski's up and down year. In the Montreal game, he had an "up" game, scoring 2 goals. While there are still times where Gogo turns the puck over at every part of the rink, when a Dman consistently shows the offensive ability that he does, coaches will find reasons to keep him getting top minutes.

-Deryk Engelland had a hard hit on Bruins F Marc Savard in the win. It was a clean hit, but there was contact to the head. I wouldn't imagine there would be any discipline for it, but if the NHL starts to go the NFL route (read: the inconsistent route), hits like this could face extra scrutiny.

Goalie Recaps:

-Marc-Andre Fleury is always going to be a lightning rod for comments and criticism. I'm pretty sure no matter what he does, be it good or bad, there will be a contingent to blame him for any loss. Take the B's loss for example. When you give up 4 goals in any four minute stretch, yes the goalie can play better. Arguably, a $4+ million goalie has to play better. That doesn't take the rest of the team of the hook though. With goals coming that frequent and that late, there's a lack of focus and desire that temporarily escaped the guys for some reason. As usual though, Fleury and the team bounced back a few nights later. Lucky for him too, there would no doubt be calls for him to be benched again if he had the audacity to lose 3 games in a row....regardless of how bad the team plays with him during any given funk.



-F Mark Recchi scored the game winning goal in the first match-up. The former Pen will turn 43 on February 1st.

-Congratulations to D Matt Bartkowski for playing in his 1st and 2nd NHL games against the Penguins. He is Pittsburgh native, having attended Mt. Lebanon High School, and was a 7th Round pick of the Bruins in 2008.


-Benoit Pouliot went from hero to goat by taking 3 minor penalties in this matchup.

-Congrats to David Desharnais for scoring his 1st NHL goal.

-I have not been able to find G Carey Price's reaction (if any) to Fleury's mock pose aimed at the goalie's celebration after the shootout win the prior week. I didn't discuss the first Run DMC-esque pose (Price's) because I had already discussed a celebration by Islanders' Rick DiPietro and that was probably once too many times. When a team wins or a player does something good, they have the right to celebrate in my eyes. I didn't have a problem with Price doing it per se, but I understand why it would be something that the Pens would mock after a win. That's just part of the game. Competitors will always be rubbed wrong by losing. That's a good thing for any sports fan.

photo courtesy of bleedingallblue.blogspot

Monday, January 10, 2011

Prof. Puck's All-Overrated Team

The trend seems to be Ern blasting out insightful recaps while I spew either statistics or opinions about something. This post leans more to the latter.
Its nearly All-Star time people...and of course there will be obvious votes and snubs as always. Normally I am not a negative person, but sometimes we just need to reflect on those not "pulling the rope". Plus, at the halfway point, we have so many mid-point awards...why not an all-overrated team? So, without further ado...
Here are the guidelines:
- Player must be a legit, current NHLer. Mismanaged cap casualties get a break here (they get enough crap) as do great players simply at the end of the line (e.g., Martin Brodeur).
- I am going to try my best to make one legit team of overrated-ness. It will include both scorers and grinders. It will try to maintain real line formats (centers and wingers).
- This is based on both gut feelings and may not always be based on stats. Think of asking yourself what you're feeling would be if this player jumped over the boards in a key situation where stats or rep don't really matter.
- People, for the most part, have to perceive this player is "good" in their specific role...and thus overrated in my opinion (because they really aren't)
- Young guys that may still "turn the corner" generally get the benefit of the doubt.

Forward line 1 (LW-C-RW)
M. Michalek (OTT) - S. Weiss (FLA) - A. Semin (WAS)
Rationale: "the other" Michalek, first in San Jose and now in Ottawa is considered a top-six player. Of course the potential exists for that. If his stats impress you, consider his generally impressive linemates in both stops. Steven Weiss and Alex Semin have both crossed the threshold from "young guy with potential" to underachieving early-prime guys. Sure, the numbers look shiny, but Semin benefits from the loaded PP unit for the Caps and going against second-rate defense pairs. Weiss is the Panthers legit #1 center, but I feel his stats are mostly due to his ice time (someone has to score, right?). Again, consider the litmus test, do you foresee him scoring a giant, clutch playoff goal or dropping to block a slapper in a tie game? I don't.

Forward line 2 (LW-C-RW)
M. Lucic (BOS) - T. Connolly (BUF) - L. Stempniak (PHX)
Rationale: For both wingers on this line, there has been this belief that they are top-six wingers. In Lucic's case, people point to his great first couple seasons to a few timeless checks, like the one where he put some chump from Toronto into the front row. Hey, I'd love him on my team...as a checking line winger. Is he a true "power forward" in the sense that he can consistently light the lamp? I haven't seen it. It's like heavyweight boxers, everyone is looking for the next Tyson/Holyfield/Lewis and is too quick to anoint a new one. This, combined with a boner for everything Cam Neely (not a legit HOF player)from a big-market O-6 franchise has created the illusion that Lucic is some Neely spin off...hardly. Stempniak is a servicable veteran addition (see PHX a few deadlines ago). However, a 27-goal season on an awful Leafs team and "new car smell" goal explosion on his arrival to the desert just doesn't convince me. Additionally, he doesn't seem incredibly fast or tough on the puck. If I could describe Tim Connolly in a phrase, it would be the Ryan Whitney of forwards (except trade in the butt-chin for a receding hairline). Large, very handsy player that has potential to be a really solid 2nd line center. While he has had his share of injury troubles, he has been relatively healthy in recent years and has demonstrated a battle level that would make Petr Sykora seem rough and tumble. An incredibly frustrating enigma for the Sabres; the kind of player that could kill you in the playoffs.

Forward Line 3
Eric Cole (CAR) - Max Talbot (PIT) - Adam Burish (DAL)
No doubt, all three of these dudes got a cup ring, that can never be taken away. Cole, for some reason, has seemingly been viewed as a key component of good Carolina teams in recent history. There also seems to be a belief that his injury at the hands of Brooks Orpik derailed some unreal career. First, he turned into the hit, sorry. Second, his stats do not indicate the injury derailed his career. Instead, he seems to be a decent 15-20 goal player aside from a two-year prime that maxed out at 30 goals. I hate to do it, I really do. Max is beloved, and overrated. He is beloved by Pens fans for Game 7 and his two goals (I am there too). But lets be honest, when the 2010-11 Pens are healthy, Talbot is a 4th line center. Is he better than that? Certainly. But if you got mind-erased like in Men in Black during a few select games of the 2009 cup run, you'd be looking for Talbot's head right now; think about it. He can't live forever on that moment of glory, ask Feodotenko (who did the identical thing in 2004). Adam Burish is kinda like a look into the crystal ball when someone looks at Talbot this summer and says "he won a cup with 2 goals and is in his prime, lets pay him bank". Burish was a Max Talbot-like character that was the beloved, camera-friendly plugger to go along with the Hawks stars. At any rate, he has gone to Dallas and proceeded to do a whole bunch of nothing there. No points, no fights, no shutdown ability. The Hawks can, and will find someone to play his energy role. The Pens will have to replace Talbot, and can.

Forward Line 4
Derek Boogaard (NYR) - Samuel Pahlsson (CLB) - Darcy Hordichuk (FLA)
The wingers don't need lots of explanation. Derek Boogaard has nothing to offer, although people consider him the best enforcer in the league. To me, great enforcers can play and actually, you know, get ice time to do their work. Hey, its fun to watch this gigantor smash people's faces, but he was a flash in the pan that the NYR are paying for now (not that I especially mind). Darcy Hordichuk was a great pest/enforcer when...oh wait, hes always sucked. People consider him a legit enforcer because he used to be hyper-aggressive. Hes a few years away from Kelly Buchberger circa 2003 for the Pens, getting his face smashed in to collect a check. The last one is tough. Checking centers are one breed of player that are rarely overrated it seems. However, I have certainly found one. Pahlsson was viewed as a key shutdown guy for the Ducks when they won a few years back. However, stop and think for a minute about the Ducks top 4 on D that year...yikes, thats why he shut people down. Upon signing a big free-agent deal in his prime, he has been exposed as a marginal NHLer. He is S-L-O-W and simply can't keep the pace with elite centers in today's NHL.

Defense Pair 1 (offensive style matched with defense oriented d-man to be fair)
Kimmo Timonen (PHI)/Scott Hannan (WAS)
Kimmo Timonen is a real good NHL defensemen, he is just not THAT good. He benefited from the great structure that Barry Trotz provided in Nashville and recently he has benefited from being paired up with top-end defensive d-men like Pronger and Coburn that allow him a LOT of latitude. Think about the last time you've seen him blow away a goalie or made you say "wow!" (aside from being smoked by Kunitz). I thought that no one viewed Scott Hannan as good anymore, but I was wrong, as the Caps see him as a band-aid for their pedestrian D-corps. He seemed to peak early in his career and go downward...kind of about the same time he stopped playing with other elite defensemen in Colorado.

Defense Pair 2
Marek Zidlicky (NAS)/Rostislav Klesla (CLB)
Much like Timonen, Zidlicky seems to have lost his way after being taken out of the Preds' scheme. He had an unreal start to his career, but has managed to keep a reputation as being an elite offensive talent without production for years now (just ask Wild fans). Also, he sure won't beat you with his physical play. Klesla, I believe is the Blue Jackets first overall pick and perhaps an original Jacket from inaugural season? Big things were expected of him, and clearly, learning the game at the NHL level takes up to 5 years (see Pronger, Chris; Letang, Kris). Unfortunately for Jackets fans, Klesla has emerged as a serviceable 4th-5th D-man. Certainly not offensively dominant, nor defensively dominant. He's...alright...and overrated. You could say he is much like Chris Phillips, but only Phillips can shut folks down when he is motivated.

Defense Pair 3
Joe Corvo (CAR)/Marc-Eduoard Vlasic (SJ)
Corvo has been viewed as a prized deadline day pickup and as a free agent pickup, as he is supposed to add offense from the back end. Of course, he can do that moderately well; not exceptional by any means. He is no defensive stalwart. Vlasic is a tough call, seeing as I just noted you need patience with defenseman. However, unlike Letang, Vlasic seems to be regressing without Rob Blake (maybe like Hannan but later?). You couldn't ask for a better tutor, and hes been around long enough now. Hes a solid NHL d-man, just like Klesla, but his name often comes up in discussions of "up and coming" defenseman. I disagree, and so does Todd McLellan, as I haven't seen him anywhere near the top pairing.

Brian Elliott (OTT)/Dan Ellis (TB)
Much like checking centers, hard to find them as overrated, as its such a high profile spot with so much pressure. Checking centers are just seen as more replaceable (remember how unreal Zigomanis was for the Pens for a spell a few yrs ago?). Still, a careful look unveils a few imitators to me. First, Brian Elliott has a starting gig in Ottawa (for how long, who knows). While that franchise is falling apart at the seams, its hard to realize they actually have a pretty solid D in front of him (in SPITE of Gonchar's awful season). Phillips, Karlsson, Kuba...these guys can play. Not to mention some of the guys who recently left town (Volchenkov, Meszaros). This is fairly similar to the D that made Razor Ray a SCF goalie...chew on that a second. Next, Dan "I am broke" Ellis is a benefactor of the Nashville defensive orientation. He was brought into start for a good Tampa team, where he has shat the bed. So much so that a 40-plus year old has been brought up to solidify things. Hes not good.

There it is. This took a lot longer than I thought. I am sure I overlooked a few, and I hated to call out Superstar Talbot, but gotta call a spade a spade.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Recap: Games 41-43

Games: vs. TB (W 8-1),  @ MON (L 2-1 SO), vs. MIN (L 4-0)

Notable Highlights:

-I"ll stick to what I've said previously, that if you get a point a game at least, even in times of turmoil, you are still on pace. 3 of 6 possible points, but the positives are few and far between right now. I personally reminded many Pens fans to not get ahead of themselves after the Tampa game, and this is exactly what I meant. There are a ton of games left. There will will be plenty of good and bad. Let's keep our eyes on what matters most, the playoffs.

-PK killed 12 of 12 chances including two 5-on-3s in this stretch.

Ghastly Lowlights:

-Sidney Crosby has a concussion. It is unknown when he got it. Some have suggested it was the David Steckel hit in the Winter Classic, then when Tampa Bay's D Victor Hedman boarded him, it just exasperated damage that was already done. There's a lot to say about this, so let's get right to it.

-If you yawned in apathy when Boston's Marc Savard was injured by a blatant headshot from Matt Cooke, you should probably just bow out of the Crosby head shot(s) debate. Neither Steckel, nor Hedman's hits were as egregious as that hit was. Both of these hits should be reviewed, but I will not go so far as to say either intended injury to Crosby. I will come back to a recurring point I've been making, guys have to be in control of their non-puck actions. Hedman hit Sid from behind (though not especially violently), and slightly left his skates. Steckel just skated through Sid. If you're going to flail your arms about these hits, be consistent. Even scarier for me, is the thought that Sid could make his return 1/15 in Boston. So, our star player is going to return from nursing a head injury against a team that has plenty of reason to exract revenge...how could that go wrong?

-It's also been discussed that there could possibly have been some error on the part of the Penguins Medical Staff. Why did Sid fly? How did they miss it? Were they trying to sneak an injury by and keep him playing? I am not about to take that leap. If he wasn't showing full blown symptoms or failing tests, I don't see what could have been done. The Pensblog has screenshots of a testy exchange between one of their guys and TSN's Darren Dregger. Dregger indicates his sources tell him that Sid was indeed injured on the Steckel hit. I trust Dregger and his assement of any situation. I probably trust him more than any hockey analyst to be truthful. There is a reason his Twitter feed is linked on this website...I respect what he does. This medical issue debate isn't likely to go away, but I'm going to respectfully bow out. I can pretend to know what I'm talking about in terms of hockey all day long, but the field of medicine is another story altogether.

-Lastly, what, if any punishment will be there be for both of these players. What punishment is deserved? The Cooke hit changed the rules, so I won't say "he wasn't suspended for what he did". But, one thing to consider, many will say, is the degree of intent. Matt Cooke knew what he was doing. I'm not going to make apologies for that. I love Cookie, but he's a vet and when he went at Savard, there was intent to harm. Not to ruin his life, but at the speed of the game, there is a fine line between intent and result. As I said, Steckel appears to have skated through Crosby. Hedman's main sins are that it was from behind and he left his feet to make contact with the head, which in turn causes contact of the head to the glass. Intent on both was minimal at worst, but as I've said time and time again, when you are dealing with situations that can literally end a players career, there has to be responsibility regardless of intent. I hope the NHL suspends any player that deals blows to another player's head, even if the offending player wears a skating Penguin on his sweater.

-Add two more 5-on-3s. Still taking too many penalties overall. Much of the 3rd period against Montreal was spent shorthanded. If this trend continues in to mid-to-late February, I will be very concerned.

-The Penguins continue to struggle against teams with a trap. In the Wild's case, they seemed to play a hybrid 1-2-2/1-4, meaning that one forechecker goes towards the attack, with two forwards protecting the area around the red line. The hybrid aspect comes in to play with these forwards drifting back towards their blue line at times, which in essence lines them up across the blue line with their Dmen to create a 1-4. Lately, the Penguins have been trying to use long slapshot passes to stretch the ice. This doesn't work against the trap. In the past it caused problems agains the Red Wings, recently it has popped up with the Islanders, and we will likely see a hearty does of it with two games in the upcoming week against Boston. I don't believe the team makes adjustments against the trap as much as they should. There is a tendency to continue to play their game. Personally, I hate the trap and would rather it be abolished. While it's here, the Pens will need to keep it as simple as possible in order to beat it.

Forward Recaps:

-Arron Asham had a goal in the Montreal game. He has kept himself out of bad penalty situations for the most part. At the time of the signing, I wasn't sure what he added to the team. While I still have my concerns about the roster makeup, I admit being wrong about Asham.

-Evgeni Malkin is under a microscope with the absence of Sid. He keeps showing signs of returning to the player we want him to be. The goal 7 seconds in against Tampa is a great example of him being determined, and executing well. But then there are games like he had against the Wild. -3 rating, no offense to speak of. In the past there has been talk of trading him. Even though a potential return would no doubt diminish by the day, I'm afraid that his inconsistent play will keep his name in the rumors as the trade deadline approaches. While I don't think he'd be dealt in season, I'd rather him just play his name right back off the list as players that can be considered expendable.

-Tyler Kennedy has been getting a lot of criticism from the fan base for not scoring many goals, and going in to extended slumps. While I would agree that those are a concern, the severity of the importance of such things depends largely on his role. In a top 6 role with Jordan Staal and Evgeni Malkin, it is a huge concern. But to be frank, I don't think Kennedy is a top 6 guy much in the same way that I don't believe Mark Letestu is one. If Kennedy is in a role with guys like Letestu and Chris Conner (each scored again the 'Ning), then scoring goals takes on a supplementary importance. You want puck control, tempo, and physicality out of guys like that. Think of Kennedy as a slightly more polished Craig Adams. Maybe he will only score once in a blue moon, but the things he does night in and night out within his role may cause you to be able to live with that.

Defenseman Recaps:

-Alex Goligoski continues an up and down stretch. He scored his 7th goal of the season against the 'Ning, but looked like he had a hole in his stick against the Wild. Gogo's name has been mentioned in trade rumors of late, most prominently with Columbus. While these are likely just rumors, if you check the archives here you'll see that I felt Letang or Goligoski were the most likely to be dealt as we head in to this season. Letang is an untouchable at this point because of his play (though he looked poor against the Wild too). Gogo hasn't quite blossomed that way, so look for the potential of him being dealt for a scoring forward near the end of February. I don't want to see him go, but if he does, figure Ben Lovejoy is capable, and eventually Simon Despres will be in the lineup as well. It isn't as if we don't have a glut of good puck-movers on the blue line.

Goalie Recaps:

-Mark-Andre Fleury had about the same number of saves in both games he played, 31 vs Tampa, 33 against Minnesota. The results were different though, with the saves in the 8-1 rout largely unnecessary, and the saves against the Wild just not enough. The Wild game was not strong for Fleury, but the team also often was caught in the counter-attack of the Wild's trap. Need a stronger effort though in those grind 'em out games. It won't always be 8-1 laughers.

-Brent Johnson had 22 saves and looked sharp in the 2-1 shootout loss to the Canadiens.


-Tampa Bay

-F Steven Stamkos had a problem with his skate blade when he fell during the penalty shot according to the Lightning front office. Even if he didn't, he still bears a striking resemblance to Spucoli from "Fast Times at Ridgemont High".

-Only goal of the night was scored by former-Pen Adam Hall.

-Rough night for the goalies. We saw both Dwayne Roloson (acquired from the Islanders recently) and Dan Ellis.


-Benoit Pouliot borrowed a page from Peter Forsberg's guide to shootouts for the wining goal.

-G Carey Price has heard some criticism of late, but overall he is doing well for the Habs. They have 3 more points than the Blues (where Jaro Halak was traded) and as a team have allowed 9 less goals. The only thing their fans care about is the playoffs, and trying to be the first Canadian team to lift the Cup since they did it following the 1992-93 season.


-F Cal Clutterbuck scored his 13th goal of the season. Good output for one of the league's fiestiest hitters.

-G Jose Theodore had a shutout, the 1st at Consol Energy Center.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Review: 24/7 Episode 4

screencap courtesy of 961kiss.com/pages/morningfreakshow

Over the course of the past month, the HBO cameras have taken us behind the scenes in ways that many of us always dreams of, but never thought would be possible. Whether you are a dedicated fan of one of the teams, the sport, or a casual observer, chances are that you saw the passion and humanity of the people involved in the sport of hockey in ways that moved you. Unfortunately, Episode 4 of this series means that has come to an end. The series would have to be considered a success overall, and while the last episode doesn't break any new ground, it shows us the main event.

The beginning of the episode starts with the preparation for the field and rink at Heinz Field and discussion of the weather. Throughout we will see snippets of non-winter classic games, but they are brushed over. They do take the time out to show the Penguins families in a suite at the Thrashers game. Afterwards, we see Matt Cooke taking his son around to show off a new suit. As goaltending coach Giles Meloche points out, it is the exact same suit that his dad has.

We also see a Caps-Canadiens game brushed over, with the following sequence detailing an outdoor practice. The Caps guys have some fun with the eye black, and then they have a practice. There, Bruce Boudreau utters his strangest curse of the series, "shitbums".

After the Pens-Islanders game, there is a discussion between GM Ray Shero, Dan Bylsma, and Jordan Staal about his possible return for the Winter Classic. Staalsy plays it cool, despite having a sleeve on his hand. Even if he had any doubt, he played the cards so close to the vest, it probably helped his cause. After he leaves the roo, we get what I believe is the comedic scene stealer of the series. Shero stiffly turns to Bylsma (surely aware of the comedic affect) and says "What the fuck happened last night?" in regards to the Islanders loss. We didn't see much of Shero's personality in the show, so this was a nice addition.

As the eyes continue to turn to the Classic, the weather become more a part of the discussion. WPXI Meteorologist Scott Harbaugh is interviewed. He gives a pretty good line about doing it for 17 years and nobody caring unitl now.

The scene shifts back to a Caps practice. There we see concern over the Capitals Power Play, and it's struggles (sound familiar Pens fans?). After that, they board a plane and we are shown their arrival. Some nice shots of Pittsburgh follow as they go through the Fort Pitt Tunnels and make that exit to see the city that many of us love, and the view that just can't be beat for Pittsburghers.

New Year's Eve day is the next segment, and surprisingly there is no mention of the Alumni Game. I can understand the desire to keep the focus on the main event, but come on. There were so many legends on both sides of the rink that it's a disservice to hardcore fans watching the series. But then again, everything surrounding the Alumni game was from what it seems like, so maybe that's an accurate, documentarian depiction of the event.

In the Penguins practice, Marc-Andre Fleury steals the show by cussing out players as they compete in a practice ending shootout. The loser (Jordan Staal) has to run up the steps in the closed end zone of Heinz, up to the top of Section 527.

The Capitals take the ice and the quality of the surface is discussed. The concensus is that the ice is slow, soft, and sticky. This will likely have an affect on the game, and the way the players have to handle the puck and approach plays. New Year's Eve approach and the Capitals have a team, family, and friends dinner at their hotel.

New Year's day arrives and Coach Bylsma tells Jordan Staal the news that he (and Pens fans) have been waiting for, he's officially back in the lineup. After this we see the bus ride over to the stadium, as they head across the Roberto Clemente Bridge. I may be a nerd, but there's something about seeing the city I love shown on tv like that that makes me swell with pride.

Before the game, the pregame speeches are interspersed again. The message isn't as inspiration this time to be honest, but it's still very cool to see this.

During the course of the game, we see a lot of interesting moments. I'll comment on a few.

-A ref tells Ovechkin that he can "hit all night, but not to leave his feet." Ovie does tend to charge by taking more than 2 deliberate strides at a player, and/or leaving his feet. I can live with strides, but it's nice to see a ref keeping players on their skates. Leaving one's skates can cause injury, especially a head injury.

-Sid is tripped up and the ref calls a penalty, but does not award a penalty shot. There is chirping between him and the ref, to which the ref says something along the lines of: I give you a penalty, and you're still on my case. Crosby replies, "Yeah, I've watched like 80 games and it's a penalty shot every time." I'd be interested to hear what non-Pens fans think of Crosby vs. the refs in this series. It's no secret that many think he is a whiner. I think he's gotten much better, but this was a moment I'd prefer to not have. The refs and linesman take too much abuse. I'm still amazed they put up with it.

-Matt Cooke tells a ref that he was crosschecked in the back seven times, prompting the ref to say if I missed seven crosschecks, I'm pretty lousy. Cooke says that he could "dive to embellish it if he wants".

-The rain comes in the 2nd period and seems to have an affect on the ice condition and ability to control the puck.

-A moment that I had to chuckle, narrator Liev Schreiber calls "a rare lapse by Marc-Andre Fleury" in refernce to the 2nd Caps goal. My guess is that Sabretooth doesn't write these himself, or watch many Pens games. Even when he's on top of things, Fleury makes the most calm Pens fan fidget when handling the puck sometimes.

-Lots of incidental contact talk between the Rupp non-goal and the Ovie non-goal The ref explains to Ovie, "it's either no goal or I give you a pentalty." Actually, why not both? I hate this rule, this interpretation of the rule, and think that either a defensive or offensive player should be going to the box in these cases.

-There is some time spent on the headshot to Sid at the end of the 2nd. As we now know, Sid has a concussion. What isn't known is if this hit was the cause, but incidental or not, the play should be reviewed by the league. I'm not in the camp of 100% certainty that this was an intentional head shot, but like I've discussed with the hits from the behind, the intention doesn't matter...a player should and must be in control of themselves, or at least responsible for themselves at all times when not in the act of shooting/passing/playing the puck.

-The end of the game scrum was interesting. The linesman seems to be toying with the puck (as they are often guilty of doing) and the players square off. A ref says "is this the way you want to end it?" followed by saying "drop the puck".

-As I've said, I would prefer that the teams shake their hands for this special event. A regular season game is not more heated than playoff series, and they are expected to do so after that. It is stricly a "for TV" moment, but this league needs some of those. Neither team did themselves any favors. The Pens look like babies, and the Caps look like sore winners by saying "make 'em come to us, we'll wait.".

That last point actually leads me to my summation of this episode, and the series as a whole. One thing I found was that I gained more respect for the Caps players and coaches. Respect is an important part of sports, and it is often overlooked. While this series documented the ebbs and flows of life in hockey, the end of the Winter Classic was a black eye on all of it. I'm sure many Pens fans hate the Caps. I don't. Okay, actually I do...but I also love them. I love their style of play, their intensity, and the fact that they are a rival of the team that I deeply love. They are good for the sport. I respect them. Respect for the opponent is something that is lost in today's sports landscape. Without the opponent, you don't have competition, and subsequently, don't have a sport. Every time I see the Capitals, I think of the interrogation of The Joker in "The Dark Knight" when Batman asks "why do you want to kill me?". The Joker laughs and says "I don't want to kill you. What would I do without you? Go back to ripping off mob dealers? No, no, no. No. You complete me." As much as any other opponent, I truly think the Pens and Caps complete each other. What a treat it has been to peek behind the curtain for a month.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Crosby's Unreal Season

This seems like the ideal time to breach this subject on this blog...Sidney Crosby's 2010-2011 season. At the halfway point of the season, he is having not only one of the finest seasons in recent memory, but in NHL history as well. To be honest, I really didn't think of it in these terms until recently when I came across a great article on ESPN Insider. Occasionally, ESPN will have great articles written by Hockey Prospectus. On Dec. 22nd, Kent Wilson wrote a gem about the season Sid is having.
To give you some background, hockey prospectus articles create a great union of sensible, logical writing with the emerging knowledge of sabermetrics. In many of barroom debates, I have argued for Lemieux as the finest player of his age. Many times, people would simply quip that Gretzky's mind-boggling statistical campaigns are far-and-away the best and I am an idiot for even arguing anyone other than him in the G.O.A.T. But in my mind, comparing seasons or statistics from decade-to-decade is arbitrary. Finally, one day hockey prospectus verified what I've always felt; Mario was comparable statistically. I would argue also, as a blatant homer, that he was superior because of the talent he had to work with and the lack of breaks he got as a Francophone. How did they determine this? By considering the scoring on a league-wide level from year to year. In other words, according to Wilson:
"Keep in mind, however, that Lemieux and Gretzky were operating at a time when scoring was significantly higher. For example, in Gretzky's peak season of 1985-86 (215 points in 80 games), the NHL averaged about 7.94 goals per game (or 3.97 per team per game). For Lemieux's 199-point effort in just 76 games in 1988-89, scoring was around 7.48 goals per game (3.74 per team). In contrast, this season the NHL is at just 5.53 goals per game (2.76 per team)."

This last sentence sets the stage for Crosby to enter stage right. Using these adjusted metrics, Gretzky's best season (85-86) adjusts to 166 points, Lemieux's best season (88-89) adjusts to 172 points. At his current pace, Crosby is on pace for 149 points, based on these same metrics. At this point, you may be where I was when I read this the first time..."cool, what a great season he is on pace for!"
Still, there is more to consider here, as Wilson aptly points out.
"The absence of Staal in particular has caused coach Dan Bylsma to deploy Crosby primarily as a defensive option through the first 34 games of the season. The Penguins captain has spent most nights matched against the opposition's best players at even strength, with the difficulty of his assignment reflected in his ratio of offensive zone faceoffs to defensive zone faceoffs (or zone start), which currently sits at 46 percent. More often than not this season, Crosby is starting his shifts inside his zone. To put that number in context, Malkin's zone start is 54.7 percent, while Ovechkin has started in the offensive zone 52.0 percent of the time this season. Henrik Sedin, last season's Hart trophy winner, has been privileged with a 70.6 percent zone start so far."

The article continues by expressing how Crosby's season measures up to any in history, simply based on the fact he has fringe top-six forwards flanking him for most of his shifts. This is hardly earth shattering to Pens fans. Wilson also makes fine points about how Sid is currently defying norms, and that may change (as we've seen this week so far). However...he leaves us with some optimism.

"There are reasons to believe Crosby will eventually fall off his current pace, though. His shooting percentage is a career-high 20.6 percent -- well above his normal rate of approximately 15.0 percent. The Penguins' combined on-ice shooting percentage (12.35 percent) and save percentage (9.12 percent) with Crosby on the ice (103.5) is above the league mean (100) and also bound to regress over time. However, it's also possible that Crosby's circumstances will improve as the season progresses, primarily when Staal returns from injury and starts shouldering the defensive responsibilities up front. Bylsma may also choose to play Malkin on Crosby's wing with the return of Staal, which will also improve Crosby's chances to sustain his lead for the scoring title."

Of course, anyone who is not an unabashed Crosby hater is hoping to see Sid get an honest shot at a career season. Based on his career to this point, the biggest threats seem to be injuries/health and being schemed against by opposing coaches (somehow I guess?). We're halfway there, can he do it? I am going to sit back and enjoy. You know why? Its probably not going to get better...Soak that in; Sid's prime in his early 20's? At first glance it does not seem to make sense. However, consider the abbreviation of some good work from John Buccigross on ESPN.com a few years back (2-24-2009):

As we have mentioned before, hockey is a young man's game. Wayne Gretzky scored 92 goals when he was 21. He was 23 when he had his most astounding season -- 87-118-205 in 74 games. Had he played all 80 games that season, we can assume a line of 93-130-223...Mario Lemieux had his 85-114-199 season at age 23....Bobby Orr's peak years were from ages 22 to 27...His career high in assists came when he was 23...Maurice Richard had his 50 goals in 50 games campaign when he was 23, during the 1944-45 season. Steve Yzerman's best season was 1988-89, when he had a line of 65-90-165. He was 23. So, as you can see, age 23 was arguably Gretzky's best statistical year, Lemieux's most prolific season, Orr's best assist year, The Rocket's iconic season and Stevie Y's best season.
Ovechkin is 23, so we can assume his peak came last season or will come this season or next (whoa, Nostradamus alert!)
So far, Crosby's best season came when he was 19. His points per game have decreased each of the past two seasons, although he was injured last season and the Penguins have been a bit of a mess in 2008-09. He also is shooting less. His shots per game have decreased from 3.43 in his rookie season to 3.00 this season. He is 21, so his monster season could be coming (I'd say its here...). If he shoots more (!!!!) and gets good linemates, I imagine his peak in the next couple of years could read 45-101-146, although 38-94-132 might be more realistic given the parity, the continued evolution of better skaters and a net size that hasn't changed.

So whats the big point here? Should we go nuts and keep on "Crosby Watch". NO...we need to appreciate the moment. As Buccigross continued (in reference to Crosby, Malkin, and Ovechkin - again keep in mind this is 2 yrs ago):

Appreciate these three now while you can. You are seeing just about the best they have to offer, and it will be gone before you know it. With their physical style of play and the quickening of the NHL's pace, I also worry that their peaks could be shorter, more along the lines of an NFL player's.

Agreed. Lets keep hoping Sid stays healthy and his linemates can help him keep this great season going. Will he top this season? Maybe, but I wouldn't bank on it.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Review: 24/7 Episode 3

Episode 3 of the HBO series figured to be the best segment to date given that we would likely see behind the scenes access to the December 23rd matchup in Washington, DC. This episode didn't disappoint in that area, and in my opinion, this was a fantastic episode from start to finish.

For starters, we see the physical toll that the game takes on its players. It starts off with some repair work to Caps F Mike Knubles' broken jaw. Despite the horrific injury, he talks about how "eventaully your card gets pulled" and that he is thankful it wasn't worse. Such is life in the NHL. If you ever doubted how tough these guys are, you are seeing the proof. We see the aftermath of a puck to face on Penguins D Ben Lovejoy. In one of the more touching moments, we see F Evgeni Malkin deliver the team shovel (awarded to the player who impacts that night's game most) to the room where Lovejoy is being attended to by the team physician, Dr. Charles Burke. Geno even lightens the mood a bit, offering to Lovejoy: "You look awesome. Girls love." Lovejoy is near tears while descriping his first NHL goal, which is funny because his face is swollen beyond recognition, yet it is his lifelong dream that provides .

screencap courtesy of Puck Daddy

After that, the team departs and the two most startling moments of the episode are revealed on the Penguins flight. First, we see G Brent Johnson in a sleeveless half-sweater. He makes sure to let us know that is only done "out of solidarity" with fellow G Marc-Andre Fleury. As Fleury starts to talk, Sid mentions Lovejoy's face. Nonchalantly he offers that "They said the pressure would make it grow. It did."

The majority of the episode deals with the Penguins-Capitals in game showdown. It starts with a glimpse at how the coaches break the matchup down. This is the moment hardcore fans have been waiting for. Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau mentions how Malkin is prone to being easily agitated and will respond by taking bad penalties. As we see in game, his words come true. Pens coaches Dan Bylsma and Tony Granato break it down at the hotel. Granato discusses the transition game the Caps employ and how turnovers and changes of possession require quick backtracking.

In possibly my favorite moment of the series, the HBO producers split up the Bylsma/Boudreau pre-game speeches. They are intertwined in a such a manner that you could think both teams are in the same room, giving the same speech, working towards the same goal. Remarkable. If you haven't seen this, please do yourself a favor and find it immediately.

In game content, provides more glimpse at how the referees and linesman work and a huddle to decide on a delay of game call for the Penguins shooting it over the glass. There are explanations to coaches, and abusive from the stars. Ovie nearly goes postal at center ice after a tripping call and Sid drops six f-bombs after a non-call on an offensive rush. I'm actually surprised at how much abuse the refs take. To be honest, I don't think it's necessary. They must have very thick skin to not ring up more penalties for this interaction with the players.

As I requested, we see Sid discussing strategy with Chris Kunitz and Geno. He is discussing contingencies for what to do depending on the move a defenseman makes. Again, the locker room footage of each team's is interspersed, including Bylsma saying "keep hitting Green, Rupper" and "this goalie isn't that good". He does. This repeats after the 2nd period. Truly a pleasure to watch.

The third period provides more referee time. We hear an explanation to Washington D Scott Hannan about what is and is not acceptable in a post-whistle scrum with Pens F Tyler Kennedy, ending with ref Kelly Sutherland stating very matter of factly, "if he's going to go in there, he's going to take a little shit".

By the overtime, we hear Sutherland discuss why they are taking their time after a potential Mike Green goal. We then see the Warroom in Toronto, which handles all video replay for the NHL. If you've ever been watching or in arena during the delay, you know know what is being said and how it goes down. Again, thank you HBO.

After the shootout, the action moves to Heinz Field right after the Steeler game (which took place on the same night). We see Steeler coach Mike Tomlin, TE Matt Spaeth, and QB Ben Roethlisberger. LB's James Farrior and James Harrison are interviewed. Harrison declares that while he can't sake enough to play well, he thinks he could be an NHL enforcer. I'm certainly not going to tell him he can't.

The NHL's Christmas break (yes, teams are required to be off and close their locker rooms) shows us a shopping trip for Boudreau and his sons. Give the guy credit, he's not afraid to play to the camera by declaring, "it's never too early for ice cream." Caps F Eric Fehr and his stunning wife Rachel prep toys for some of Washington's residents in a gift outreach program. We also see what a Swedish Christmas looks and sounds like courtesy of Nicklas Backstrom, that Mike Green is douchey enough to wear a Yankees hat, what goes on at Mike Rupp's house, and how Dan Bylsma preps a turkey. While there may be things that happen in the episode after this, if I've learned anything in life, it's that you always go out with a laugh.

Photo courtesy of Puck Daddy

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Recap: Game 40 (Winter Classic)

Games: vs. WAS @ Heinz Field (L 3-1)

Notable Highlights:

-If one wanted to, one could find any number of negatives about the Winter Classic: weather, ticket prices, sound quality at Heinz Field until the 2nd period, a regular season game being your league's marquee event despite it not being at the usual speed or standard condition, etc. I would much rather focus on the positive of the event.

First off, is the fact that I can call this an "event". It has become something that even non-NHL fans care about. Even though you can make an argument to the contrary, I would say that is a good thing. While it may not be something that brings droves of fans to the gates and tv, it certainly will increase the curiousity of a non-fan.

Next, I commend the fans of both teams. I'm sure there were some instances of trouble, but I didn't see any from 4pm until the end of the game. This is a heated rivlary, but the fans managed to co-exist in relative peace. Most of the times, a fan attending a game at an NFL stadium in the opposing teams jersey is taking their life in to their own hand. That wasn't the case both in terms of tailgating and inside the game.

The NHL brass isn't something that gets many accolades, but I also want to congratulate them on the event. The ice held up. While it is reported that they were close to delaying the 3rd period during the heaviest of rains, it didn't appear that safety was compromised. The game was completed and was a good contest. The decision to change the start time was a great one. Despite months of advertising that the game would be at 1pm, the switch did not harm ratings (won the night in 18-49 demo, avg of 4.65 million viewers, and had NBC 3rd overall among networks according to NHLfanhouse.com) and the NHL held its own. That may not sound like a win, but when it comes to the NHL on tv in America, believe me, it is.

Lastly, the players themselves. It can't be easy to remove yourself from the routine that they build for the regular season. Each of these players did so, and did so with a smile on their face. It was a chippy game. All the distractions and hype really didn't affect the 60 minutes that count. Washington earned 2 points, and maybe some bragging rights (I'll still take the Stanley Cup though).

-Sidney Crosby did not have a point in the game. Why is that a good thing? I'm very glad the Islanders stopped his point streak in the previous game. It would be gut-wrenching to think of the greastest point streak the league has seen in years being derailed by a game that isn't quite at NHL speed or quality. I'd suppose you could argue that about most Islanders games though too...

Ghastly Lowlights:

-The Weather was a bit of a disappointment, but it didn't ruin the event. If you live in Pittsburgh you know how odd our weather is. If you don't, let's just say this: Nobody was all that surprised that, despite an aveage temp of 24.7 F for the month of December (nearly 8 degrees below normal), there were a few days with spring-like weather. Boo on you mother nature. The one time everybody wanted it to be cold and snowy...

-Have to say, I would prefer a handshake after the game between the teams. I understand things are heated because this game counts, but this is a national showcase. Sportsmanship is one of the hallmarks of the sport. That is truly important, especially in a sports landscape where bad behavior and disrespect reigns.

-I'll be sad to see the HBO series come to an end Wednesday. It has been nothing short of excellent. A sincere thank you to everyone involved with it.

-"Incidental Contact" wiped a potential tying game off the board from the Penguins, and also took away an Alexander Ovechkin goal. I'm not sure when this became fashionable, but to me, any contact with the goalie that disallows a goal should be a penalty on either the offending offensive player, or the defender if they are deemed to have caused the contact between offensive player and the goalie. Just like you have to be in control of your stick, you should be in control of your body around the crease.

Forward Recaps:

-Jordan Staal truly looked like he had not missed one game this season. He some great work in the defensive end, and seemed to fit well on both the PK and with Evgeni Malkin. Good to see him back in the lineup. It will be interesting to see what kind of chemistry he and Malkin can develop. In their rookie season, they both were very strong together.

-Evgeni Malkin scored a goal on a breakaway. This was easily the biggest suprise of the game. He had a goal in the shootout against the Islanders (despite a terrible night). Maybe he is feeling more comfortable at an area that he struggles with historically.

Defenseman Recaps:

-Brooks Orpik saved a goal on one of the times where Fleury was out of position/wandering. The game could have taken a worse turn without some head's up stick-work by Brooksie. I told you I'd say something positive about him!

Goalie Recaps:

-Mark-Andre Fleury got an assist on the Malkin goal, but the story of the night was his puckhandling. He was caught out of a position at least 3 times. When he wanders from the crease, every Pens fan holds their breath. I am not a believer that one play wins or loses a game, but the 2nd Caps goal was certainly a back breaker considering that it was handed right to the stick of Eric Fehr with an open net.



-F Mike Knuble has scored in 10 straight games against the Pens. Maybe somebody will pick him up before he gets to the crease. I'd imagine nearly all of these goals came from right around the net.

-D John Erskine had a decent scrap with Pens F Mike Rupp in the 1st Period.

-F Eric Fehr had 2 goals for the Caps, helping propel his team to the win. Between that and his wife, wins both on and off the ice for him.

-F Alexander Ovechkin was celebrating the win demonstratively before it even happened. I typically do not have a problem with celebration for achievement, but I would prefer that it waits until after the horn sounds.

-G Semyon Varlamov made 32 saves and was truly the difference in the game.