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.

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