Saturday, February 12, 2011

Recap: Games 54-57



Games: @ WAS (L 3-0),  vs. CBJ (L 4-1 ), vs. LA (W 2-1 OT), @ NYI (L 9-3)

Notable Highlights:

-2 of 8 possible points. Not exactly a highlight, but 1) I don't feel like moving the points from this spot and 2) considering the lineup that's heading out there, any points are a plus.

-F Tim Wallace (6'1", 207 lbs) made the most of his call up from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton by engaging a much bigger (6-5'', 222 lbs) David Steckel (The Capital that hit Sidney Crosby at the Winter Classic, which may have caused a concussion). Wallace has proven to be unafraid of going up against other team's giants. Last season he fought Boston's Milan Lucic (6'3", 228 lbs).

-Even a person like me has to be impressed with the Kings game win. Inserted in to the lineup were minor leaguers Ryan Craig, Nick Johnson, Brett Sterling (scored a goal), and Joe Vitale. Combine that with the fact that we've also seen Mark Letestu, Dustin Jeffery, Chris Conner, Tim Wallace, and Eric Tangradi fill spots during the season and the Penguins record is all the more impressive. I'm beginning to be convinced of what I thought all along this season: we aren't going to have the scoring depth to make a deep run. Even though I believe that, I'm fully prepared to cheer on the guys for as long as the run takes us. Maybe I'll be pleasantly surprised.

-Congrats to Coach Dan Bylsma. The win against Los Angeles was his 100th NHL win. FSN Pittsburgh also did a nice job of featuring Assistant Coach Tony Granato during that game. He played 6 season for the Kings.

Ghastly Lowlights:

-Chris Kunitz's last minute scratch before the Columbus game made an already depleted team look lighter. The forward group was spread thin, as evidenced by all forwards but Eric Tangradi and Eric Goddard having more than 10 mins of ice time.

-The team "toughness" that gets heralded when the team is winning doesn't seem to be doing much for the offense. Fighting majors aren't goals...hockey is still about scoring more than the other team. That is something the Pens are clearly incapable of right now. (I'd actually like to note that I wrote this prior to the Islanders game...which makes it even more prophetic)

-LW Matt Cooke basically made a mockery out of the first two games of this stretch. He took a run at Ovie, could have killed Fedor Tyutin, and received a 4 game suspension for his troubles at a time when the team needs every healthy body possible. Coach Bylsma even defended him on both counts. Is this just a case of finger pointing at mislabelled agitator or a player that deserves every game of his suspenstion? Let's break it down...

Alexander Ovechkin has a reputation for hitting guys dirty. Some would say that he charges on the majority of his hits. He also has been accused of attempting to hurt players via knee on knee contact (see Sergei Gonchar's injury in the last Cup year, or his suspenstion for a similar hit). Some would also say that Ovie probably has brought dirty hits on himself because of this. While I wouldn't disagree with any of that, I would also state that this should have been worthy of a suspension on its own. Just like when we were kids, two wrongs do not make a right. There was clear intent to injure in my opinion. Just because the result wasn't what Cooke desired doesn't make it any less cheap.

Cooke has a clear resume of questionable plays (just google "Matt Cooke cheap shots"). I'm sorry if that offends any Pens fans, but it is what it is. As I've said before, Cooke is veteran, and he knows damn well what he is doing. Look at someone like Boston's Marc Savard. His career now may be over due to one of these questionable hits.

Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau was quoted as follows (from the Washington Post online): "It was Matt Cooke. Need we say more? It's not like it's his first rodeo."

Bylsma (from the same WP online): "I didn't think much contact was made. Maybe their skates get wound up together. Buy you know, Ovechkin was out on the ensuing power play."

Coach Dan Bylsma not only is wrong on that point, but his logic is flawed. For example, if a player took a baseball style swing at someone's head with a stick and didn't connect...would that mean it wasn't dirty? I think not.

 Disco Dan is also wrong about the Tyutin hit, in my opinion. According to prohockeytalk.nbcsports.com he stated, "(Tyutin) makes sure that he keeps his numbers (on the back of the jersey) towards him." The debate over what role a player has in avoiding injury is a long one, and most likely a post of its own (one that I"ll try to take up during the summer). I just think is nothing more than a Coach sticking up for his player, but I consider that a disservice to the league when it's such a questionable group of plays.

Tyutin is entitled to make a play along the back wall in his defensive end to move the puck without potential paralysis. Cooke can still apply pressure without blasting him from behind in to the glass. This was not a situation where the victim turned at the last second to embellish. He was establishing position in case of a scrum at his feet for the puck, and preparing to move the puck.

As I've said a few times this season, Cooke's saving grace is that he is able to chip in goals and kills penalties well. At this point though, is he really any different than Jarkko Ruutu or Sean Avery? I find both of them to be buffoons that find ways to constantly hinder their team due to their reputations and actions. For my money, Cooke deserves every game of this suspension and I hope that there isn't another one.



-As of Friday night about at 7pm, I figured that my detailed piece for this segment would be on the Cooke fiasco(s). I had everything written up for the first three games, and whatever the Islanders game added would be a minor add on. Have you ever heard the bad joke that somebody went to a fight and a hockey game broke out? Well, that's what happened as Reggie Dunlop and the boys from "Slapshot" snuck in to the Islanders dressing room. Now there are 2 "features" for the recap in this segment. I feel pretty passionately about this, so it's going to shoot from the hip. Just my heated opinions.

At any rate, I believe that pregame speech went a little something like this:

Reggie Dunlop: I am personally placing a hundred-dollar bounty on the head of Max Talbot. He's the head coach and chief punk on that Pittsburgh team.

Islanders players in unison: A bounty? Hundred-dollars!? That's more than twice our entire franchise and arena are valued at!

Reggie Dunlop: Yeah, a hundred bucks of my own money for the first guy that really nails that creep.

I'd like to state again, for the millionth time, that I have no problem with fighting in the sport of hockey. It certainly isn't the be all, end all to me...but I think it belongs. With that being said, I feel the need to define that as a clean fight, between two particpants that are willing.

One of the problems with the boxing match between the Islanders and the Penguins was that the referees were clearly unable to handle everything that was going, let alone sort it out. There was too much focus on "evening things up" as opposed to getting the offenders penalized in a way that would keep the game under control. I'm not sure what role any off ice officials have with the on ice crew, but there may need to be consideration for a contingency plan and cooperation from the off ice officials in these rare situations where all hell breaks loose. I find it incredibly hard to believe that there were only two instigator penalties out of 65 penalites (183 PIM for NY, 163 PIM for Pit) and 15 fighting majors. Even crazier is that these occurred for Islanders that fought Deryk Engelland and Eric Goddard. Come on. Those guys are willing combatants. I see plenty of guys on both teams that don't necessarily want to go, but did because of the circumstances. The refs failed by not assessing more instigators.

Another travesty that is sure to come out of this game is the debate of whether or not the NHL should ban fighting altogether. No. NO. NO. NO. Most of the NHLs conduct penalties are not called properly by the officials. If you enforce your rule book, this becomes less of a problem. Plus, don't lose sight of the fact that this is an isolated incident. Rather than restate all the rules, just go here and take a look at 46.4, 46.5, and 46.12. There was a lot of lollygagging when it was time to get off the ice because players knew the on ice officials couldn't get everyone. Also, there was a lot of fighting under 5 minutes left in the game. My hope is that suspension will follow for any player from either time found to have violated these rules.

A lot of people will feel that the Islanders were out of line. If they conducted themselves within the rules, they would not be out of line. I can understand that they want to stick up for their teammates, as they indicated in post-game interviews. There is no real issue with a million fights in a game, if they are done to a player's face and with willing combatants. This isn't football, there is still plenty of room for men to be men. But that's the thing, men don't act like punks and attack players from behind. Unfortunately, Islanders LW Matt Martin didn't believe in fighing like a man. He dropped his gloves and tried to attack/sucker punch C Maxime Talbot from behind. This was an awful moment. No defense for it. Being born in 1989, maybe Martin is too young to remember the Todd Bertuzzi assault of Steve Moore. That assault took place during a hockey game (after Matt Cooke had already fought Moore earlier) and broke Moore's neck. I call it an assault because it was done from behind. The court system in British Columbia also called it an asault, charging Bertuzzi with a crime in June 2004. It was a gutless move that has no place in society, let alone sports. We weren't far from having another giant black eye on the sport, just like the video below.



There were other ugly cheap shots in this game one both sides. RW Eric Goddard elbowed an Islander, which resulted in a concussion from what I've read. D Brooks Orpik took a few liberties with RW Michael Grabner. Believe me just because these are Penguins doesn't mean I consider them immune to punishment. They deserve anything they get.

The ugliest incident of the night came when Isles LW Trevor Gillies delivered a headshot on Eric Tangradi, causing contact with his elbow to the head, and thus the head to the glass. Tangradi was injured and was on the ice for quite some time. In a total classless move, Gillies refused to go to the locker room, instead stood in the runway and taunted an injured Tangradi in one of the more disgusting things I've ever witnessed in this sport. Gillies has played in 47 NHL games, logging 1 game in 2005-06, then returning in 2009-10. In between he spent his time re-uniting with The Village People, resuming his role as "The Biker".

Eric Goddard also left the bench to intervene with the fight between G Brent Johnson and C Michael Haley. I give Johnson credit. He said that he felt responsible for much of went on during this game. It's not required of him to have dropped the gloves there, but surely his thinking was that if went with Haley, the Islanders would have what they truly wanted, a shot at him. Goddard will face a minimum 10 game suspension for his actions. This is wrong according to the rules, and he deserves what he gets here. I won't criticize him though. To expect a guy whose job it is to protect players to sit by during this nonsense is foolish. Goddard felt this was what he needed to do, much like the Isles guys feel that their actions were merely their way of being a good teammate.

I hope that NHL takes strong and decisive action against the cheap shots that went on during this game from both sides. I think If there's anything positive to come out of this, it's the word from TSN's Darren Dregger reported via his Twitter:

"NHL has a lot to digest. "Unacceptable" is how one high ranking official views last night. Fines and suspensions may not be decided on today





Reggie Dunlop photo courtesy of dryden.eastmanhouse.org

Forward Recaps:

-Evgeni Malkin had knee surgery to repair the damage done to his MCL and ACL. He is expected to be out for 6 months.

-Despite the rumors, there is still no word that Sidney Crosby is done for the season. While the length of this injury has been longer than expected, they team is hoping for a March return for the team's Captain. While Sid himself could not rule out the possibility that he could be done, in his words: "I expect to play".

-Dustin Jeffery joins the list of Penguins players on IR with a "lower body injury". He cannot return until after the Colorado game at the earlierest. No word on the severity of whatever is wrong with him, so that may or may not be an option.

Defenseman Recaps:

-Brooks Orpik let Columbus RW Rick Nash get behind him near the faceoff circle and a split second later the puck was in the net. Nash is simply too good of a sniper to allow him an uncontested one-timer.

-Zbynek Michalek made multiple saves in the crease during the Kings game, which helped the Pens overcome the Kings in a tight game.

-Kris Letang had some bad turnovers at both ends of the ice during the Islanders game. Not to pick on him, because nobody played well, but just merely pointing out that it happens to him as well. Just like Goligoski, he is a young defenseman and is still learing his craft.


Goalie Recaps:

-Mark-Andre Fleury had a rough game against Columbus. You could argue that the team also played lousy in front of him, but considering the fact that a lot of media types such as Dan Potash (in an interview on 93.7 The Fan) spent time crowing about Fleury's excellent play since his early season troubles, I'll suggest that this was a game that the team needed Fleury to keep them in. With so much offense out of the lineup, they're going to need a lot of that unless they like the idea of being a 6, 7, or 8 seed in the conference.

-Brent Johnson was very unimpressive against the Islanders, but I give him credit for tossing off the gloves and mask (again) in an attempt to calm the storm of fights that overtook the game.

Opponents:

-Washington

-G Michal Neuvirth stopped all 22 shots he faced for the shutout.

-RW Mike Knuble tallied an empty netter, his 13th of the season. I believe this was the 11th consecutive game against the Penguins in which he has scored a goal.

-LW Brooks Laich's 11th of year served as the game winner.

-Columbus

-RW Rick Nash scored his 24th goal and added an assist.

-LW R.J. Umberger added 2 assists in his first game at the Consol Energy Center. R.J. is a native of Plum and was drafted 16th overall in the 2001 draft by Vancouver.

-Columbus entered the game in 13th place in the Western Conference, yet only 5 points out of the 8th spot (the last playoff spot).

-Los Angeles

-The Kings will spend 10 games on the road in February becuase of the NBA All-Star Game and Grammy Awards.

-D Drew Doughty is a stud on the Kings' blue line. He has it all. Plays good D and can absolutely blow by a guy with skill or speed when he has the puck.

-D Rob Scuderi played in his first game in Pittsburgh since leaving as a free agent after the Stanley Cup win. He must have been chanelling Game 6, because he stopped a Jordan Staal goal at the buzzer. That earned the Kings one point by making it to Overtime.

-New York Islanders

-I rescind any support I've previously offered for this franchise to stay on Long Island or the New York area.

-The Islanders are last in the league attendance wise, averaging 9,893.

-Quebec City and the Provincial Government have agreed to funding on a $400 million arena project. This will be completed for the fall of 2015. The NHL had previously stated that Quebec City had to have a new arena before they would be considered for NHL expansion or relocation.

-Kansas City still has a very new, empty arena. Surely they would throw their hat in to the ring for the Islanders as well.

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