Games: vs. FLA (W 2-1 SO), vs. PHI (L 5-2), @ TB (L 2-1), @ FLA (W 4-2)
-4 of 8 possible points. Nothing that impressive in the wins. Team hit the 100 point mark for the 7th time in Franchise history. If the Penguins win their 3 remaining games, they are the #4 seed. If not, Tampa Bay has to win all of their remaining 4 games to have a chance to pass the Penguins in the standings. There are 3 games left in the season! Expect my next update to be pretty light and mainly stats and any big news since I will be in Nashville for 2 of the last 3. I will be seeing the Preds and Blue Jackets there though, so rest assured I'll be thinking hockey even when I'm away from the Pens.
-Good to see RW Alexei Kovalev get a goal on a 2-on-1 against Philly (16). He has been struggling in a lot of facets of the game to put it politely. He's here to score. When he's not doing that, he really isn't helping the team. On the Lovejoy goal against Florida (game 1), he had an assist. In the Tampa game, there was an assist and then he had a lousy penalty under 5 minutes left in a 2-1 game. That penalty was pretty much a disgrace. A vet should know better.
-Sid was able to fly with the team to Miami for the 2nd Florida game. He will be skating with the team at times, working on dry land sometimes, and at other times only skating by himself. "Symptom free" continues to be a good thing. He will not return during the regular season, if at all this season. You can view the Ray Shero press conference on the matter here.
-C Mark Letestu returned to the lineup against Philly. He had an assist and 14:12 TOI.
-That crazy D Zbynek Michalek must have been playin' 'possum all year. He scored his 4th goal of the season against Florida (game 2). It was the GWG.
-As excited as I was in the last segment with the Philly win, I was even more disappointed with the loss to them in this one. 2 points behind the Flyers. Game in your building. Win and your are tied and anything can happen, including winning the conference. 13 shots after 2 periods. 5-2 letdown. This is why I think the Flyers are the team to beat in the East.
-The 1st Florida game wasn't exactly a treat to watch either. Very slow pace of play. It was like the guys were playing down to the Panthers' level. Zzzzzzzzz.
-FSN (now Root) provided the fact that the Pens have not won this season when trailing after 2 periods. Remember early in the season when I bemoaned the loss of identity and goal scoring? I do. The team of the past 3 season always seemed capable of a comeback. It all can't be blamed on missing Sid and Malkin either, that's excuse making at its finest. There are still plenty of guys on the team. The problem is too much grit, not enough goal scoring. Remember folks, hits aren't goals.
-On LW Ville Leino's 2nd goal (Philly), both D's Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek were on the red line or behind it. It was poor positioning and Leino took advantage by getting open for the pass from the end wall area.
-A lot was made about Tampa's 1-3-1 system. This means that they send 1 player in on the forecheck and as the attack comes back to center, 3 players stretch across the ice to make gaining the zone tough. The other player remains back near the defensive zone. To beat this style of play, it takes short, precise passes, hustle, and patience. In the past, the Penguins typically have shown that they want to "play their game" which can work but it can also flop against this style of trap. Those Penguins teams were a lot more skilled than this one though, so maybe all the grit can come in handy in the 1st round of the playoffs.
-Typically, I organize my thoughts for this nonsense in a little notebook and back track through it all and jump around until I feel that I've completed something worth reading. I've done that this point, yet I"m still writing! Why!? Because of my guest blogger's column about Marc-Andre Fleury and the MVP (Hart Trophy). I didn't really want to talk awards, but I want to be clear that I do not view Fleury's performance this season to be MVP-worthy. Balderdash you say? If I had a vote, it would go to Boston G Tim Thomas. He has a .939 save percentage and a 1.98 goals against average and 33 wins. Fleury's save percentage is .918 and goal against average is 2.32, with 34 wins. Boston leads the league in 5-on-5 Goals For/Against Ratio, so yes they do score more goals. It is very rare that a goalie even gets mentioned in the Hart discussion, so I think you need to be out of this world in all categories to get to the final 3. Thomas has done that.
If I was filling out a final 3 for the Hart, it would be Thomas, Anaheim's Corey Perry, and Vancouver's Daniel Sedin. Spucoli Stamkos fell off my list because he has hit a real slump down the stretch. Perry passed him for the "Rocket" Richard Trophy (most goals). Special mention does go out to Chicago's Jonathan Toews. A few weeks back I literally scoffed out loud at the idea, but then I did the research at the nudging of a friend with a Chicago bias. When I'm wrong, I"m wrong...I could see Toews being worthy of being a finalist based on my criteria. I still don't think he should win, but the argument was that he deserved to be a candidate.
Also, according to FSN's Bob Errey, D Kris Letang has 0 goals in his past 20 games. Remember when there was talk of him as a Norris Trophy (best defenseman) candidate? Seems like a lifetime ago. Where has Tang been!? Norris Trophy caliber guys are made up of more than racking up points because Sidney Crosby is on the ice.
-Craig Adams was sporting a new haircut (shown at the top) for no real reason prior to the 2nd Florida game. He cashed in with an empty netter at the end for his 4th of the season. It will be interesting to see if the team goes with a mohawk theme for the playoffs instead of beards (not likely, but possible). Can't say that I think Sid or MAF would look very good that way, but that's the fun of team unity.
-Tyler Kennedy scored his 19th against the Flyers and his 20th against the Florida. Congrats to him for hitting the 20 goal mark for the 1st time in his career! He also has a career high in points.
-Mike Rupp scored his 7th goal of the season against Tampa Bay. Pascal Dupuis got his 14th against Florida (game 2). Give all the credit on the Dupuis goal to Chris Conner. He did some real work down low to set it up.
-James Neal had a very encouraging shift against the Lightning where he showed a burst of the power forward we all hope he will be. He went right at D Victor Hedman and Eric Brewer 1-on-2, tried to cut between them and nearly pulled it off.
-Ben Lovejoy scored a beautiful goal against the Panters in the 1st game of this segment for his 3rd of the season. He put the puck up high over G Tomas Vokoun's shoulder. Coach Bylsma even joked that it must have been an "out of body experience" because he didn't think Ben could make that shot. Keep your eye on Benny in the playoffs though. While he's playing with exceptionally high confidence now, the NHL Playoffs can take that away real quick. It's a different game, and this will be his first time in a 7 game series.
-Proving that I'm not right all the time (shocking huh?), Matt Niskanen was the 6th defenseman instead of Deryk Engelland for each game of this stretch. I'm not in favor of the move. At the very least, I think the guys should alternate time. One thing in Coach Bylsma's defense on the decision, is that he may feel Nisky needs time to get comfortable and sitting out won't accomplish that.
-Marc-Andre Fleury was exceptional against the Panthers (game 1), stopping 37 pucks and all shootout attempts. He looked very bad against Philly, with 19 saves and 5 goals against. he was so-so against Tampa with 22 saves, but was outshined by 'Ning G Dwayne Roloson's 36 saves and let in a cruddy goal to Marty St. Louis.
-Brent Johnson played against Florida (game 2), getting the win and stopped 28 shots.
-Brad Thiessen was returned to Wilkes-Barre Scranton. He did not see game action during his time up.
-Bizarre moment for the Panthers in the 1st game of this set. G Tomas Vokoun was forced to leave prior to the OT due to injury. G Scott Clemmensen had to come in for the OT and shootout. Tough situation for him to be put in to. He did the best he could with it.
-Clemmensen made 30 saves in the loss of game 2.
-D Kimmo Timonen was caught pinching the wall in the neutral zone a bit too hard twice in this game, leading to both Penguins goals. He'll likely take the blame for both of them, but on the Kovalev goal, RW Jeff Carter went to the bench when it appeared the puck was going to go deeper. Since it didn't and shifted back to the Flyers end, it left them in a bad spot.
-Carter scored his 35th goal of the season.
-RW Claude Giroux scored his 25th of the season with a real nice shot from the slot. As of that moment, he lead the Flyers with 71 points. He also has 5 goals against the Pens this season.
-LW Ville Leino scored 2 goals (18, 19).
-I didn't fully hear the stat provided by FSN's (now Root's) Paul Steigerwald, so if this is wrong I apologize. Nearly certain he said that Steven Stamkos (aka Spucoli) had 4 goals in his past 24 games. That will take you out of the Hart Trophy discussion real quick.
-LW and Upper St. Clair's own Ryan Malone returned from injury. He missed 21 games. It is of note that he wears #6 this season, having given the #12 to new teammate LW Simon Gagne.
-RW Martin St. Louis scored his 30th goal of the season.
-The win clinched a playoff birth for the 'Ning. While I may have missed on a few teams in or out of the playoffs, I'm pretty proud that I had them making it in my Eastern Conference previews. Go ahead. Look it up. I'll wait here.