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 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.

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