Friday, May 20, 2011

Sid, Jordo, Talbo, and Paul Martin at The Cannes Film Festival

I'm not one for blogging about players, personal lives but I find this too cool, odd, and fascinating so I wanted to put a link to The Steel City Sports Fan's pictures of this. Sid, Jordan Staal, Maxime Talbot, and Paul Martin were guests of billionaire co-owner Ron Burkle. The pictures are them hob-nobbing on some yacht. Enjoy!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Player Recaps: Guys That Played In 61-82 Games (Including Fleury, Letang,

As promised, I now complete the recap of each player that got in to 61-82 games for the Penguins this year. These are the guys that avoided injury and had the weight of the team on their shoulders time and time again. Again, I'm not doing anything incredibly in depth. If you want to see their detailed stats and things of that nature just go to the Penguins website or something. My template will cover the basics: games played, the highs, the lows, additional comments, and the future. All photos are courtesy of Yahoo! Sports or Getty Images.

Name: Brooks Orpik
Position: D
Games Played: 63

The Highs: Blocked 94 shots and registered 194 hits. A great skating defenseman and knows his role, playing it perfectly both at even strength and on the penalty kill.

The Lows: Had his hand broken while blocking a shot against the Sharks 2/23/2011

Additional Comments: I may be in the minority in this opinion, but I believe that Brooksie is the Captain of this team. No disrespect to Sid intended, but because of Sid's image and endorsements he can't say certain things in the media. Orpik has never shied away from saying those things.

The Future: Orpik will be handing out "free candy" for the next 3 seasons. That should make teammates sleep well at night.

Name: Deryk Engelland
Position: D
Games Played: 63

The Highs: Literally fought his way on to the team, and with his stable defense earned a 3 year contract extension. Had some highlight reel knock-outs of opposing players in his fights.

The Lows: Did not see much time after the arrival of Matt Niskanen.

Additional Comments: Has become regarded as one of the new heavyweights of the NHL when it comes to fighting.

The Future: Should stick around with the team because of his defensive-mindedness. The team's depth at the lower levels is more of the puck moving defenseman types.

Name: Mark Letestu
Position: C
Games Played: 64

The Highs: Letestu had a great training camp and earned his way on to the team. Excelled at 3rd and 4th line duties, and also turned up on the score sheet most during those times.

The Lows: Did not have a strong showing late in the season with the skilled players left in the lineup, especially when serviing as the "#1" center. As he moved up the depth chart, he became the embodiment of "the Peter principle".

Additional Comments: Expect a bounce back type performance from him when he is back down to the 3rd and 4th lines.

The Future: Letestu has 2 more years on the extension he signed. I believe that he will be a solid contributor to the team in a proper role.

Name: Marc-Andre Fleury
Position: G
Games Played: 65

The Highs: Despite slow start, managed 36 wins. When he is "on", he is aggressive, plays angles well, and uses his poke check as an extra defender. Has a personality that allows for a bad game to be laughed off, which is crucial for a goalie.

The Lows: Fleury was awful to start the season, and for a time was benched in favor of Brent Johnson. Had a .900 save percentage in the playoffs. Being beaten for a second year in a row by a lesser goalie is a strong concern. When he is "off", he is down on the ice way too much. Is terrible at side to side puck recognition when the play originates behind the net.

Additional Comments: Is one of the most polarizing athletes in Pittsburgh. Perhaps only Ben Roethlisberger draws more scrutinity on his every play. It was suggested that management told him in no uncertain terms thathe must play better in the next season (this past one). He had a great bounce-back in the regular season, but at times in the playoffs just did not rise to the level of a dominant goaltender.

The Future: His contract has 4 more years at a $5m cap hit. Even if the team wanted to deal him, it would not be easy to find a partner with the league wide trend moving towards cheaper goalies. In all of my hockey experience, I've never witnessed a franchise goalie blossom from start to finish, so I will say that with the proper level of consistency, Fleury is still a valuable piece of this team and its plans for the future.

Name: Chris Kunitz
Position: LW
Games Played: 66

The Highs: Netted 23 goals.

The Lows: Had a difficult stretch run and playoffs.

Additional Comments: I spent most of this season thinking he was gonig to be UFA, when he actually has 1 more year left on his deal. Kunitz played well most of the time without a contract on the line. Hopefully he will do so next season with a potential big deal on the line.

The Future: Kunitz is a $3.75m cap hit in his final season. He plays well with Sidney Crosby. I'm not sure the Penguins are going to break the bank to sign Kunnie no matter he does next season. They will have a price in mind, as will he, and if they sides can't meet somewhere in between then they part company.

Name: Matt Cooke
Position: LW
Games Played: 67

The Highs: His value as a penalty killer was never more obvious than during his suspension at the end of the season.

The Lows: Multiple suspensions and the reputation as being the "dirtiest player in hockey".

Additional Comments: Sources indicate that Cooke sought "help" for some issues he was dealing with and that there may have been a situation with his family during the season.

The Future: Ray Shero seems committed to giving Cooke another chance here. If Cooke can remove the stupidness from his game, he is a valuable asset. If not, he is a liability of the worst kind.

Name: Zbynek Michalek
Position: D
Games Played: 73

The Highs:

The Lows:

Additional Comments:

The Future:

Name: Paul Martin
Position: D
Games Played: 77

The Highs:

The Lows:

Additional Comments:

The Future:

Name: Tyler Kennedy
Position: LW
Games Played: 80

The Highs:

The Lows:

Additional Comments:

The Future:

Name: Craig Adams
Position: RW
Games Played: 80

The Highs:

The Lows:

Additional Comments:

The Future:

Name: Pascal Dupuis
Position: LW
Games Played: 81

The Highs:

The Lows:

Additional Comments:

The Future:

Name: Mike Rupp
Position: C
Games Played: 81

The Highs:

The Lows:

Additional Comments:

The Future:

Name: Kris Letang
Position: D
Games Played: 82

The Highs:

The Lows:

Additional Comments:

The Future:

Name: Max Talbot
Position: C
Games Played: 82

The Highs:

The Lows:

Additional Comments:

The Future:

Monday, May 9, 2011

Player Recaps: Guys That Played In 21-60 Games (Including Sid, Malkin, and Staal)

As promised, I continue the recap of each player that got in to 21-60 games for the Penguins this year. These are the guys that were affected most by injury and/or were the people that carried the majority of the weight in place of the injury list through spot duty. Again, I'm not doing anything incredibly in depth. If you want to see their detailed stats and things of that nature just go to the Penguins website or something. My template will cover the basics: games played, the highs, the lows, additional comments, and the future. All photos are courtesy of Yahoo! Sports or Getty Images.

Name: Mike Comrie
Position: C
Games Played: 21

The Highs: Comrie scored the last goal of the season, in to an empty net against Atlanta. This was largely symbolic, but you could tell the guys on the ice wanted to get the puck to him.

The Lows: A hip injury and eventual surgery robbed Comrie of any chance at continuity early in the season.

Additional Comments: Comrie is married to actress/singer Hillary Duff still and comes from a rich family. By all accounts, he's still way ahead of the rest of us.

The Future: Comrie will be a UFA July 1, so he is free to go wherever he chooses. Demand will not likely be high, including from the Penguins. He may have to sign a 2-way deal to get a situation he really wants (winning team or location such as Los Angeles).

Name: Brent Johnson
Position: G
Games Played: 23

The Highs: Posted the same save percentage as Marc-Andre Fleury (.920) and had a lower goals against average (2.17).

The Lows: At times, can look off his angles and tends to give up goals in bunches when he's "off".

Additional Comments: Will forever be remembered in Pittsburgh sports history for his "fight" with Islanders G Rick DiPietro.

The Future: Johnson is under conract for the 2011-12 season, so he will serve as the #2 guy once again. A solid backup who can start and win when called upon. A bargain at a $600k cap hit.

Name: Dustin Jeffrey
Position: C
Games Played: 25

The Highs: Only scored 7 goals on the season, but some were timely such as his goal 2 goal effort agaisnt Boston 3/5/2011.

The Lows: Season was effectively ended by a knee injury in late March.

Additional Comments: Spent much time bouncing back and forth between Pittsburgh and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Showed an incredible work ethic and "whatever it takes" attitude in his situation.

The Future: Dustin is a RFA so the Penguins will most likely be able to retain his services. It seems likely he will make the NHL club out of camp next season, and probably won't be on a 2-way contract as he was this past season.

Name: Sidney Crosby
Position: C
Games Played: 41

The Highs: Early season scoring pace (including a 25game scoring streak) with had hockey writers seriously debating whether this was the greatest season in terms of scoring in NHL history.

The Lows: Back to back blows to the head January 1st and 5th turned in to a "mild concussion". Crosby never returned to the lineup. He skated during the playoffs, but later admitted to a recurrance of "symptoms" near the end of those workouts.

Additional Comments: Despite missing half the season, was the teams leader point scorer (66).

The Future: Anyone pretending to know is an asshole. Quote me on that. Crosby will return if he remains symptom free. If not, he waits. When/if he returns to the lineup, this could never happen again, or he could become the next Marc Savard. The NHL rules committee does not seem likely to ban hits to the head, so it's anybody's guess if we will see Sid's career cut short.

Name: Jordan Staal
Position: C
Games Played: 42

The Highs: 11 goals and 19 assists in his brief time this season.

The Lows: Seemed "snakebitten" at times, with setback after setback delaying the start of his season until the Winter Classic.

Additional Comments: Continues to go through ups and downs offensively as a young player. He has a power move to the net that comes out when he is confident and is quite difficult to stop.

The Future: One would think with the emergency of guys like Dustin Jeffrey and Mark Letestu, the plan will be to have Staal paired with Evgeni Malkin and either Chris Kunitz or James Neal.

Name: Evgeni Malkin
Position: C/RW
Games Played: 43

The Highs: Had a 5 game scoring steak 12/14/2010-12/23/2010

The Lows: Season was ended against Buffalo 2/4/2011 during a freak knee injury.

Additional Comments: Was a minus player and was not consistently producing for a good bit of his season. Showed dedication to the team by apologizing to GM Ray Shero and rehabbing hard. He said if the team would have made it to the 3rd round, he would have been ready to play.

The Future: Malkin did not overwhelm this past season. While he has not had the luxury of anything resembling quality wingers, the fact remains that at an $8.7m cap hit he will have to produce for this team to be successful.

Name: Arron Asham
Position: RW
Games Played: 44

The Highs: Lead the team in playoff goal scoring with 3.

The Lows: Missed large chunks of time due to injury including a concussion.

Additional Comments: Turned out to be a pretty good pickup. Did not take stupid penalties as I feared at the start of the season.

The Future: UFA status clouds where he will play, but you can't rule out a reutrn to Pittsburgh. Whoever gets him will have a gritty player that seems to step his game up in the playoffs.

Name: Ben Lovejoy
Position: D
Games Played: 47

The Highs: Played with high confidence after the trade of Alex Goligoski. A switch flipped in his game when he received steady playing time.

The Lows: The puck to the face against Florida 12/22/2010 may have marred the game he scored his first NHL goal in, but it was forever caputres in the "Penguins/Capitals 24/7" series on HBO.

Additional Comments: "Girls love" - Evgeni Malkin on the scarring to Lovejoy's face after taking that puck. Truth be told, a large majority of the hits this website receives, is because of a picture of his facial swelling in the aftermath.

The Future: Has a high ceiling. Could develop in to a power play type defenseman with patience. Also could be expendable in a trade due to high ceiling, low salary, and the eventual need to move junior D-man Simon Despres in to the lineup.

Name: Alex Goligoski
Position: D
Games Played: 60

The Highs: Gogo continued to show high potential in the offensive zone, scoring 9 goals and 22 assists.

The Lows: Assumed the "whipping boy" position that was vacated by Sergei Gonchar's departure.

Additional Comments: Was traded to Dallas at the trade deadline. There were times where the criticism of him went way overboard. Goligoski still can be a top flight defenseman in the NHL. While his ups were not as high as Kris Letang, they were similar in many ways. I've felt that Goligoski was more consistent than Tang, but if the choice was to trade one or the other...Shero made the right move.

The Future: Goligoski fits in to the plans with the Dallas Stars, and made the most of his increased role there. He scored 5 goals, 10 assists in 23 games.

Name: Chris Conner
Position: RW
Games Played: 60

The Highs: Conner showed incredible hustle and cycling ability.

The Lows: His size at 5'8", 180 lbs makes him a long shot for extended success.

Additional Comments: Does not stop skating, which is exactly the quality you want in a grinder type like him. Does his best to keep his legs moving and not let the size issue limit him.

The Future: UFA that may not return, but if he does it will be to compete for a spot on the 3rd or 4th line. His return will largely depend on who leaves via free agency.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Player Recaps: Guys That Played In 1-20 Games (including Kovalev and Neal)

As promised, I am now going to start the recap of each player that got in to at least 1 game for the Penguins this year. The nice part of this season was that the team got a chance to see what was in the cupboard with so much injury time. I"m not doing anything incredibly in depth. If you want to see their detailed stats and things of that nature just go to the Penguins website or something. My template will cover the basics: games played, the highs, the lows, additional comments, and the future. All photos are courtesy of Yahoo! Sports or Getty Images.

Name: Corey Potter
Position: D
Games Played: 1

The Highs: Corey made it back to the NHL, playing in his 9th career game.

The Lows: Played in only 1 game, which surely disappointed him.

Additional Comments: Potter showed a strong fire in preseason camp. He leveled a forward in a team scrimmage I was at. I can't remember who it was, but it was an NHLer. This is risky because you don't want to hurt your own guys, but he was demonstrating his willingness to do what it takes.

The Future: Potter is 27, so the fact that he hasn't caught on at the NHL level is a concern. He won't get his break here as the team has a glut of defenseman at both the pro and minor league levels. Hopefully he will get his shot. If not, there's no real shame in earning a living in the AHL or any other hockey league around the world. He is capable of playing for pay somewhere.

Name: Brian Strait
Position: D
Games Played: 3

The Highs: Strait saw his first NHL action after 2 season with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

The Lows: Strait looked a bit nervous here and there, but can hardly be blamed.

Additional Comments: Strait had a successful career with Boston University previous to joining the Penguins organization.

The Future: Strait has the potential to be a Ben Lovejoy type. He will likely need some roster movement to get that chance here. Personally, I would keep him in the fold of defenseman at the minor league level for as long as possible in case he is needed.

Name: Nick Johnson
Position: RW
Games Played: 4

The Highs: Had a goal and 2 assists in his time with the Pens.

The Lows: Suffered a concussion and went on IR 2/18/2011.

Additional Comments: Johnson has decent size at 6'2", 202 lbs

The Future: With the potential departure of so many forwards this off season, Johnson may have a shot at a roster spot next season IF he works his tail off and proves a willingness to do what it takes to make the club.

Name: Andrew Hutchinson
Position: D
Games Played: 5

The Highs: Saw his first NHL action since the 2008-09 season.

The Lows: Wasn't particularly much so that I forgot he saw action.

Additional Comments: Has played in 140 career games.

The Future: Hutchinson is 31 so it is likely his shot at NHL regularity has passed him by. I wish him the best in whatever chances he gets though.

Name: Ryan Craig
Position: C
Games Played: 6

The Highs: Had 12 PIMs against the New York Islanders in the brawl game.

The Lows: Didn't seem to handle the defensive responsibilities well with a -3.

Additional Comments: Was willing to drop the mitts on more than one instance.

The Future: He's played in 190 career NHL games, so his limiatations are pretty well known at this point. Will continue to be a fringe guy unless he catches on with a team that is need of a player of this mold.

Name: Brett Sterling
Position: LW
Games Played: 7

The Highs: Had a 5 game point scoring streak from 2/10 to 2/20. Also had 12 PIMs vs the Islanders in the brawl game.

The Lows: His size at 5'7".

Additional Comments: Has played in 26 career NHL games.

The Future: He has the desire, but his size likely limits his chances. He handled himself well in his time with the Pens.

Name: Tim Wallace
Position: RW
Games Played: 7

The Highs: Stepped up to fight then Washington Capital David Steckel to stand up for the somewhat questionable hit on Sidney Crosby in the Winter Classic.

The Lows: Didn't fare well on the score sheet.

Additional Comments: He is from Anchorage, Alaska.

The Future: I have a bias towards Wallace, I love the intangibles he brings to the table (does not back down ever). If there is a mass exodus of forwards, would like to see him compete for a spot near the bottom of the lineup.

Name: Joe Vitale
Position: C
Games Played: 9

The Highs: Scored 1st NHL goal 2/16 at Colorado.

The Lows: Hard to cite anything in particular, but it is evident why he did not make the pros until now.

Additional Comments: Is a native of St. Louis, Missouri

The Future: Management was impressed with Vitale's work ethic by all accounts. He will likely get a shot as a 4th liner somewhere in this league based on his time up this past season.

Name: Eric Tangradi
Position: RW
Games Played: 15

The Highs: Created a screen of Tampa G Dwayne Roloson on the Pens only Power Play Goal of the playoffs.

The Lows: Suffered a concussion at the hands of the construction worker from the Village People in the Islander brawl game.

Additional Comments: Scoring only 1 goal in the regular season is a real concern.

The Future: Tangradi has the size at 6'4", 221lbs. He has the ability and desire to be around the net. The question mark will be his hands. Hate to put too much pressure on the guy, but in theory if he's not a 20 goal guy next season, it may be time to worry. Some have already suggest that if another team calls about him, GM Ray Shero should not hesitate to make a move if it serves the Pens needs.

Name: Matt Niskanen
Position: D
Games Played: 18 (with Pittsburgh)

The Highs: Played exceptionally well 3/2 against Toronto with 1 goal and 1 assist.

The Lows: Nearly every shift he took was a turnover or anxious moment late in the season.

Additional Comments: Has already developed the nickname "Riskanen" due to his substandard play.

The Future: He is a $1.5 million cap hit so if he is around he will see some form of playing time. The team is hoping he can live up to his status as a former 1st round draft pick. To do that, Niskanen has to be confident in his handling of the puck and possibly pared with a steadier partner than Ben Lovejoy. It may do him well to be with a Brooks Orpik or Zbynek Michalek.

Name: Eric Goddard
Position: RW
Games Played: 19

The Highs: Goddard will be remembered as one of the best enforcers in Penguins history. Unlike Georges Laraque, he didn't take no for an answer. Ever.

The Lows: Served an automatic 10 game suspenstion for leaving the bench to come to the aid of G Brent Johnson during the Islander brawl game.

Additional Comments: Was held in high esteem by teammates by all accounts. Wore outlandish suits and generally helped keep the mood light when not in the lineup. Will be missed by anyone that "knows" the game.

The Future: Will almost certainly not be retained after free agency starts July 1. KHL teams have already expressed interested, at the very least.

Name: Alexei Kovalev
Position: RW
Games Played: 20 (with Pittsburgh)

The Highs: He scored his 1,000th point in the NHL this season (while with Ottawa), becoming the 3rd Russian born player to reach that milestone.

The Lows: 5 minor penalties and a -3 in the playoffs.

Additional Comments: Looked like a shell of himself. I had taken to calling him "Ghost of Kovalev", which is a play off of a nickname I had for another former Russian star at the end of his career, Sergei Fedorov.

The Future:  All signs point to Kovy returning to Russia to play in the KHL. I do thank him for his time here in the past. It just didn't work the 2nd time around.

Name: James Neal
Position: LW
Games Played: 20 (with Pittsburgh)

The Highs: Scored in the 2nd OT of Game 4 against Tampa to give the Penguins a 3-1 series lead.

The Lows: His scoring drought lead some to call him "James Ponikarovsky".

Additional Comments: Often times he was counted on to carry the puck too much. This does not appear to be his strength.

The Future: Hopefully will get to be paired with Malkin or Crosby, and he can just get to an open spot on the ice and use his lethal shot to score goals instead of hitting goalies in the logo.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

What is missing from the Detroit Red Wings right now?

I spent the first 25 years of my life living in Pittsburgh so even when I moved to Detroit, I remained a Penguins fan even though it brings on an onslaught of criticism from the locals. Even though I still rep the Pens, I suppose that there could be worse hockey cities in which to live and over the past few years, I’ve watched the Red Wings play some great hockey including the back to back Stanley Cup Finals appearances against the Penguins.

This post season began with the Red Wings coasting through the Phoenix Coyotes and the 4 quick wins were a result of very solid, very consistent team efforts as they scored 18 goals and allowed just 10. However, as the Wings entered the second round against the San Jose Sharks, things have been a great deal more difficult – scoring only 2 goals in the first two games and allowing 4 – resulting in two quick losses. So what is going wrong for the perennial powerhouse from the Motor City?

If you look back at the strongest Detroit teams from the past decade along with most other championship contenders you have at least one of these two constants -

1. - a player or two who stands out above all others and literally takes over the series

2. - a stellar, unbeatable goaltender

Let’s start with goaltending as that is and always has been one of Detroit’s lesser problems. Even though the Wings haven’t always had a game-changing goaltender like Patrick Roy or Martin Brodeur, they’ve gotten strong performances from guys like Chris Osgood and Dominic Hasek - both of which many will argue belong in the discussions with Roy and Brodeur (especially in Detroit). Both of those players have gotten into those series’ where they were simply unbeatable - like the 2008-2009 finals against the Pens where Osgood posted two shutouts and only allowed 3 goals in the Wings’ 4 wins en route to winning the cup. Even in their more successful seasons in the modern era when their goaltending hasn’t been unbeatable, this is a team that has won by getting “good enough goaltending” while winning by simply overpowering their opponents offensively.

Jimmy Howard wasn’t stellar last year and they lost to the Sharks in 5 games and while he has been strong this year – he hasn’t been strong enough. The 2nd (and winning) goal scored by San Jose in game 2 this past Sunday is probably the worst goal of Howard’s NHL career and maybe his entire hockey career – and it couldn’t have come at a worse time. I am not one to quickly put the blame on a goaltender (having been a goaltender myself) but for a goaltender playing in the NHL playoffs to simply flub a shot like that and cost his team the game is inexcusable. Game 2 was back and forth at 1-0 and their perfectly-executed powerplay goal in the third should have forced an overtime if not for Howard misplaying a pretty routine save. However, even in allowing that embarrassing goal the fault still can’t be wholly placed on the young netminder because for the second game in a row, the Red Wings only managed to score one goal.

Why aren’t the Red Wings scoring? It seems to me that with this year’s team, they don’t have “that guy” who is controlling the play and setting the pace for the rest of the team. When the Wings are firing on all cylinders they have at least one guy who seems to always be making the big play or who is always around the puck. Before they retired or went elsewhere, the Wings had guys like Steve Yzerman, Brendan Shanahan and Sergei Fedorov…guys who seemed to always be on the ice and when they were on the ice – they seemed to control the play. When the Wings have found ways to win it has been because of one or two guys who gave the other team no choice but to worry about them every time they touched the ice. Right now, none of the Wings are stepping up and being that guy who is a constant concern to the Sharks. It doesn’t need to be the superstars, as even when high profile guys like Datsyuk or Zetterberg were slowed down in the past, “role players” like Valtteri Filppula or Johan Franzen stepped up and took over the games while the “stars” were slowed by the opposing defense. A fine example of that happening is the 2008-2009 Stanely Cup Finals where those two created a seemingly constant headache for the Penguins, even though the Pens eventually won that series.

The Red Wings have gotten a very consistent effort out of every player on every line this season but in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, that isn’t enough. The Wings head back to the friendly confines of Joe Louis Arena tonight and the Wings face what should be looked at as a must-win game. Whether they get their first line or fourth line taking over – they need someone to step up and become the line that has the Sharks scrambling to figure out a new defensive plan. The Red Wings best chance to win this series is to put up bigger numbers against a Sharks defense that has been very strong throughout the first two games but when you look at the fact that San Jose gave up 20 goals in 6 games against the Kings in round 1, the Sharks can be scored against…now the Wings just need to do it. That is easier said than done but with the Wings’ precise execution of the power play late in Game 2, a little more powerplay time for Detroit and the support of the home team crowd could spur the Red Wings offense to do what the home crowd expects – score a ton of goals in fantastic fashion and run the Sharks out of town with a 2-2 series tie.

The other option is for Jimmy Howard to show the rest of the league that he deserves a place among the best in the history of the playoffs and take over the series on his own. Howard absolutely has to spring back from his struggles in the last game if the Wings are to have a chance – even though he only allowed two goals for the second time in a row. Unless the Wings can get their offense going similar to what they did in the first round against Phoenix, they are going to have no choice but to fall into a goalie dual and right now, San Jose has the advantage as Anti Niemi has been the hotter or the two goaltenders.

The Red Wings and Sharks faceoff at 8pm Wednesday night and you can catch the action on Versus.