Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Recap: Games 68-71

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Games: vs. BUF (W 3-1),  vs. MON (L 3-0) Edmonton (W 5-1), @ BOS (W 3-2 OT)

Notable Highlights:

-6 of 8 possible points. The playoff spot is nearly secured. I'm not going to roll around in a pile of $$ over these wins though. Edmonton and Ottawa are very bad. As The Pensblog points out, we are entering a stretch where 6 of the next 7 games are against playoff teams. Even though it will likely be a time to coast and get guys back in to the lineup, there is a definate chance to find out if there is reason for optimism in the playoffs.

-It seems pretty clear that the Pens go out of their way to hit and mess with Montreal D P.K. Subban. F Mike Rupp took a swipe at him in a scrum and F Max Talbot got him with a pretty good slash. This seems directly related to the opinion that Subban's injuring of F Jordan Staal in last season's playoffs was not accidental.

-The home game against Montreal was the 200th consectutive sellout for the franchise (regular season and playoffs). I've been a half-season ticket holder for 7 years and attended many games prior to that. Even though I've become jaded by the game day experience (not including playoffs), it is nice to see things going so well after being in the building for so many lean years in the early 2000s.

-Wins against Edmonton and Ottawa give the team some confidence after the poor showing against Montreal. Even though they are bad, they are on the schedule and it would be very alarming had the team looked bad again in either of these contests.

-There's been some positive news on the injury front with Mike Comrie, Arron Asham, Eric Tangradi, and Sidney Crosby all returning to the ice in one form or another. Crosby had been symptom free for enough days in a row that he was able to skate for 15-20 mins. He remained symptom free the day after that, so he skated again. Speculation that he will return is extremely premature, but after all the ridiculous rumors swirling around Sid, it is good to see that he is not, in fact, retiring as the most ridiculous rumor speculated.

Ghastly Lowlights:

-Penguins power play was 0 for 7 against the Sabres. Could have changed a close game in to a comfortable win. Nothing new, but this stood out to me.

-Terrible effort against the Canadiens. I am way too lazy to look up the day game stats of the past 3 or 4 years, but for some reason I feel they start sluggish each and every time. In this case, there was an early goal scored by Plecanic. Turnovers galore. Ugly. Lucky for them, Edmonton and Ottawa were up next on the schedule to get their confidence back.

-D Kris Letang has been playing really poorly of late. He is not showing up on the scoresheet like he did at the beginning of the year and it's like injured Evgeni Malkin has been giving him pointers on how to constantly turn the puck over. His turnovers lead to goals in both the Montreal and Ottawa games. Hopefully he will settle down and get out of this funk. I do have to point out that I don't hear many of yinz calling for the trade of Tang...guess he's lucky his name isn't Goligoski.

-The NHL has a new hot topic of discussion: the "turnbuckle" hit. The "turnbuckle" is an area that juts in near the end of the player benches or in the buffer zone between the benches. It has become a topic of discussion because of this hit by Boston's Zdeno Chara on Montreal's Max Pacioretty. He suffered a severe concussion and a cracked vertebra.

I suppose this is the point in my blogdom where people can call me a hypocrite, but I did not find the hit on Pacioretty dirty. How is that possible? Two simple answers. First, it is an unavoidable area of openness from the playing surface. Players will from time to time be hit there an knocked in to the "turnbuckle". Did Chara know what he was doing? Yes. Was it interference? Yes, but not because Chara targeted the head. He looks to rub a player out in to this area to make him pay a price for the territory he is trying to gain. I see no indication that he was trying to do any more than shove his body hard in to the "turnbuckle". Secondly, this area really isn't much different that the boards or the goal. Sure the goal has give to it, but it's still possible for injury if a guy is hit in to it. Same with the boards. It's the way a hit is carried out that makes it dirty or not. Pens D Ben Lovjoy hit a Buffalo Sabre in to the turnbuckle and the Sabres went after him hard. F Max Talbot was the near victim of a hit like this against Ottawa, but wisely skated out of trouble by slowing up.

The "turnbuckle issue" will certainly come up again, but for now the NHL has the "headshot issue" on its hands. At the GM Meetings in Boca Raton, FL the discussions were dominated by how to best protect the players from the league-wide rise in concussions. A ban on hits to the head was rejected, with support being thrown behind proposals to expand Rule 48 and have increased enforcement of existing rules for charging and boarding. It was also reported that Penguins Owner and Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux sent a letter to the league outlining a proposal for a fine scale to be used against teams based on the amount of games suspended. In it, the Penguins were used an example. Under the proposed structure, they would have been hit with $600,000 in fines based on the suspensions to players (mainly Matt Cooke) this season. These are great ideas, but it remains to be seen if the NHL brass and officiating have what it takes to be consistent and sustained in their enforcement both in-game and after the fact. As a lifelong fan of the NHL, I have my doubts but will hope for the best.

Forward Recaps:

-Guess who gets another mention?? Tyler Kennedy (...Kennedy). He scored his 16th goal of the season against the Sens.

-LW Chris Kunitz scored his 19th and 20th goals against the Oilers.

-C Jordan Staal scored his 8th and 9th goals of the season during this stretch.

Defenseman Recaps:

-Zbynek Michalek went without a goal until the Buffalo game. In a strange quirk of fate, he now has 3 goals in his past 4 games with goals against Edmonton and Ottawa. He has been a very steady piece of the defensive end, so it's good to see him get some breaks in the o zone.

-Ben Lovejoy had a goal against Ottawa and continues to play well with his expanded role.

-Corey Potter and Steve Wagner were called up from Wilkes-Barre Scranton prior to the game. Potter played in his first game for the Penguins. He has played in the NHL before.

Goalie Recaps:

-Marc-Andre Fleury played well against Buffalo and Edmonton. An early goal against Montreal did not help the cause with the team playing incredibly flat. He was pulled in that game about 7 minutes in to the 2nd period. With a 2 goal lead in the last few minutes of the Sabres game, he was attempting to get off a shot at the vacated Buffalo net. No real chance was launched. This is mainly because the puck was to his right. Fleury's best chance at a goal came a few years ago against Edmonton. The puck was settled to his left and he had time to set himself. Expect him to continue to try for a goal in any situation where the Pens have a 2 goal lead.

-Brent Johnson had a good game in relief of MAF against the Habs and then stopped 21 shots in the win against Ottawa. Good to know he's around for the playoffs as our #2. He has proven his worth time and time again this season. If there is such a thing as an "unsung hero" award for the team, he should be the unanimous winner.



-C Rob Niedermayer scored his 2nd goal of the season.

-Buffalo fans are rejoicing at the rapidly completed sale of the team to natural gas billionaire Terry Pegula. Having a billionaire fund your team is always a good thing, just like Pens co-owner Ron Burkle. Even better for Sabres fans is the fact that Pegula is a passionate hockey fan. He donated $88 million to Penn St to help develop an arena for an eventual Division 1 hockey program and his dog is named after Sidney Crosby. I'd wish him luck, but it doesn't seem like he's short on reasons to feel good about himself. This is still welcome news for their fans, and there is a real sense of optimism surrounding their fan base. They are great fans (not obnoxious) and travel well. I'm happy for their organization.


-The Canadiens are involved in their own controversial hit, with the injury to Max Pacioretty (discussed above). Montreal Police had to ask fans to stop calling to report a crime took place the outrage was so bad. I'd like to wish him the best in his recovery.

-C Tomas Plecanic scored his 21st goal of the season.

-G Carey Price recorded his 12th career shutout. This was his 61st game played of the season!


-LW Ryan Jones scored his 16th goal of the season for the Oilers only goal.

-Star Rookie Taylor Hall will miss the rest of the season due to ankle injury. He has been one of the few bright spots for the team this season.


-D Erik Karlsson has a very promising future leading the Senators in points, but after the game his +/- dropped to -36. FSN Pittsburgh's Bob Errey has a funny line about him being in contention for the green jacket (golf reference).

-RW Ryan Shannon's 7th goal of the season served as the only tally for Ottawa.

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