Games: vs. NYR (L 5-2), @ DET (W 5-4 SO), @PHI (W 2-1 SO), vs. NJ (W 1-0 SO)
-6 of 8 possible points. The team is 2 points behind Philly for the division and conference lead, but at this moment have played 2 more games. If a division/conference crown is still within reach, it will take some help. If not, the Penguins seem relatively settled in the #4 spot. Currently Tampa Bay holds the #5 spot, trailing the Pens by 7 points. They have played 1 less game. A first round matchup against the 'Ning would be very exciting if it comes to be.
-I've felt for a few months that Philly will be the team to beat in the east. Seeing the Pens shut them down was very encouraging. One game does not a 7 game series make, but it's good to see the guys get in to that "do what it takes" mindset that is necessary against tough teams in April and (hopefully) May/June.
-Sid contines to work out and by all accounts the pace and intensity of these sessions have been increasing. "Symptom free" continues to be the best news any Pens fan can hope for. Not to turn in to a complete nerd (as if blogging isn't bad enough), but the video of him snapping a wicked backhander to the top of the net in practice 3/25 definitely got an audible response out of me.
-RW Arron Asham returned to the lineup against Philly, logging 9:15 TOI. He was also on the ice for 7:41 against the Devils. In the Devils game, C Mike Comrie also returned to the lineup for the first time since his hip surgery. He logged 8:07 TOI.
-Tyler Kennedy scored his 18th goal of the season against the Flyers. According to Bob Grove of the Pens Postgame Show (105.9 The X), he leads the team with 10 goals in the 27 games that Sid and Malkin have missed.
-You can probably chalk it up to the rivalry, but giving up a 4-0 lead to the Red Wings really stuck in my craw (whatever that is). I wouldn't care if the Pens were playing without sticks once they got up that much, you can't quit on good hockey teams at this time of year and expect to win. They got it in the shootout, but it's of little consolation to me. That type of crap just doesn't fly in my eyes.
-I don't know if anyone ever thinks about it aside from hardcore hockey fans and the GMs, but I think the shootout has run its course. 3 of the 4 games in this stretch were decided in the shootout. Personally, I don't get much enjoyment out of them anymore. I would much prefer going to a 3-on-3 porition of overtime until someone scored. With that much space on the ice, I find it hard to believe there'd be many marathon games during the regular season.That space would also lead to more creative plays and more excitement than the shootout can muster up at this point as well.
-C Mark Letestu continues to be out of the lineup and C Dustin Jeffery joined him on the shelf. He was the victim of an awkward fall in to his leg against the Flyers. It looks very similar to the play that ended Malkin's season, but no word has come from the Penguins on the extent of Jeffery's injury.
-Isn't it great to watch the brand of hockey the Devils play? 0-0 after 65 minutes of hockey, a lot of standing around in the neutral zone, minimal offensive chances. I have said it before and will say it until the day I die, hockey is meant to be fast paced and back and forth. NO MORE TRAP!
-It didn't take long after the Pacioretty hit for the focus to shift right back to headshots. Thank none other than Pens villain Matt Cooke for it. His early 3rd period elbow of Ranger defenseman Ryan McDonagh was uncalled for, wreckless, detrimental to the team, and deserving of every bit of the suspension he received. The NHL handed down a suspension that puts Cooke out for the rest of the regular season AND the first round of the playoffs, regardless of length.
Pens GM Ray Shero was in full support of the suspension. He added, "The suspension is warranted because that's exactly the kind of hit we're trying to get out of the game. Head shots have no place in hockey. We've told Matt in no uncertain terms that this kind of action on the ice is unacceptable and cannot happen. Head shots must be dealt with severely, and the Pittsburgh Penguins support the NHL in sending this very strong message."
Cooke's timing for this stupidity couldn't have been any worse on a few fronts. Injuries to Mark Letestu and Dustin Jeffery again have the team scrambling to shuffle guys in and out of the lineup to fill forward spots. From a legislative standpoint, the GM meetings concluded in Florida with the intent to crack down harder on illegal hits, yet stopping short of creating a new rule specifically for such instances. This time the NHL got it right, but let's not pat them on the back too hard. This is the NHL equivalent of a multiple time violent offender getting out on parole and gravely and intentionally injuring someone in front of a police officer. Let's see what the NHL does with players that don't have Cooke's cringe worthy name recognition. Yes, Matt Cooke is a dirty player. You can't dispute that. But what happens the next time a star like Dany Heatley throws a blatant elbow as he did 3/15? That's where the NHL can really take control of the situation. As I've said time and time again, I won't hold my breath for them to do the right thing...but I sure am hoping they will.
-James Neal had the shootout winner against the Red Wings and Devils. He continues to battle hard and had a great pass to set up a Jordan Staal goal against the Rangers. Both Ranger Dmen went to hard to the wall and Neal made them pay by setting Jordo up at the blue line.
-Chris Kunitz had what seemed like a huge shorthanded goal in the 3rd period against New York. At the time, it gave the Pens a 2-1 lead. The goal was his 21st of the season.
-Pascal Dupuis scored 2 goals against the Red Wings (12, 13). One of them was shorthanded.
-Orpik will return to the lineup 3/27 against Florida. I expect Matt Niskanen to be the odd man out/scratch.
-The reason I think Niskanen will sit is a combination of his overall stale play combined with the increasing confidence and potential that Ben Lovejoy is showing. Benny has become very comfortable with the puck and his decisions and is minimizing his d zone mishaps. As with any young defenseman, there will be lapses, but with the other dmen on this team the Penguins can afford to let Lovejoy find his place. There are plenty of vets to support him and hopefully bail him out when times are tough.
-Marc-Andre Fleury looked awful against the Rangers. He played very well against the Flyers with 19 saves, and the Devils lacked punch, yet Fleury managed to get the shutout by stopping 21 shots against the Devils. In one of the stranger stats you'll ever see, MAF has recorded a shutout the past 4 times he has played on March 25th.
-Brent Johnson got the start against the Red Wings. All in all, he didn't play terrible in stopping 37 of 41 shots. I blame the entire team for the collapse in this one. BJ has been scratched the past 2 games with what has been called an "upper body" injury.
-Brad Thiessen was called up from Wilkes-Barre Scranton to serve as the backup to MAF for the past 2 games. I'm hopeful that he will get the start against Florida on 3/27. Thiessen has earned it with his AHL play this season, posting a record of 32-7-1. Consider his play down there even more impressive then the record would indicate. Remember, there have been many times where the best players from WBS have had to spend time on the NHL roster, which means the Baby Pens weren't always at their fullest in terms of the lineup. He is wearing #39.
-New York Rangers
-Chief punk Sean Avery was a healthy scratch for the 3rd time in the Rangers' last 4 games.
-G Henrik Lundqvist made 38 saves in the win.
-RW Ryan Callahan scored his 23rd goal of the season and added 2 assists.
-LW Henrik Zetterberg scored his 21st goal.
-G Jimmy Howard was replaced by Joey MacDonald after the 4th goal against.
-C Mike Modano scored his 3rd goal of the season. Modano has recovered from an injury earlier this season. He is the all time leading US-born goal and point scorer in NHL history. He is also Married to entertainer Willa Ford.
-Uber-leader Mike Richards scored his 21st goal of the season.
-Rookie G Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 30 of the 31 shots the Guins sent his way. He looked sharp. Flyers fans will hope for this to continue in to the playoffs as it seems that the only thing holding them back from a return to the Finals could be the man or men between the pipes.
-G Martin Brodeur stopped 26 shots in earning his shutout. Since the teams did not score in regulation or OT, no player gets credit for a shootout goal. It is instead a team goal awarded.
-It appears that the push for the playoffs will come up just a bit short for the Devils. Their horrendous start cost them, as they have played pretty very good hockey (in terms of points, not entertainment) since the coaching change.