Sunday, October 30, 2011

Steelers Game 8 Recap - Steelers 25, Patriots 17

I talked about it in the preview that the Patriots have owned the Steelers. Tom Brady, especially, knows what the Steelers do and he can mytotically pick apart the defense and pretty much do what he wants. That was not the case today as Tom Brady was confused, sacked three times and held under 200 yards passing in a 25-17 loss to the Steelers. While the offense could have been better this was a dominating performance from the defense. It was great to see and since the Steelers haven’t really beat a good team this season and that is no longer true. There is a lot to get into so let’s look at the game.

The first thing that was curious for me was the opening coin toss. The Patriots won the toss and deferred to the second half. Now I am sure you knew before the game that the Patriots defense was bad and I am sure that Bill Belichick knew that coming into the game so why the hell would you let the defense start the game? All the Steelers did was use 11 plays to go 68 yards and chew up 5:52 of clock. Mewelde Moore caught a five yard touchdown pass in traffic and the Steelers never looked back from there.

All was well and good after scoring a touchdown but we are talking about the Patriots and we figured this was going to be a high scoring game that was going to be back and forth. What happens next is Shaun Suisham kicks the ball out of bounds. Jesus. What does the terrible Steelers defense do? Three and out. Hmm. The Steelers go on another long drive. This one was 16 plays over almost eight minutes that resulted in a field goal. Damn.

All told in the first quarter the Steelers held the ball for over 13 minutes and the Steelers ran 26 play opposed to three plays for the Patriots. Just unreal job by the offense. Actually for the entire day it was long drive after long drive. Here are the number of plays in all the drives the Steelers had: 11, 16, 3, 10, 4 (end of half), 14, 11, 6, 6. Um, Yea, that is pretty good football right there on offense. It was all great, as I will get to later, but the Steelers held the ball for over 39 minutes. That is almost 67% of the game that the Steelers had the football. Unreal.

Ben Roethlisberger was just straight cash money today. You sort of figured in the first drive it was going to be a good day for him when he was on target but he attempted 50 passes today. 50. He completed 36 of those passes for 365 yards, two touchdowns and a pick. Just an unreal performance by Ben. He was a major part of the Steelers going 10-of-16 on third downs. The only real sour note was that Ben threw a pick and it was a pretty costly one. After the 10-0 lead the Steelers got the ball back and on a third and 12 or something like that he tried to get the ball over the head of the linebacker to Emmanuel Sanders, who was in front of the safety. The only problem was that Ben didn’t get it over the linebacker. Interception that the Pats ran back to the five yard line or some junk and scored two plays later. Really ugly pick. In the past that might have been the start of things going downhill for the Steelers but on the next drive Ben got back to work and put together a 10 play drive that ended with a seven yard touchdown pass. That is what great quarterbacks do after they throw a bad pick. Other than that pick it was all good for Ben. He did a great job of really taking what the defense gave him. For much of the game the Pats played not to get beat deep and all Ben did was pick apart the secondary underneath. Ben did not discriminate as he hit nine different receivers and utilized his backs out of the backfield. Typically Ben likes get the ball down field a lot but he really made smart throws all day and just ground the Patriots down and kept the ball in his hands and kept Tom Brady off the field. You could say that Ben played his best Brady impersonation in the way he played. I love it.

Is there anything more you can say about Heath Miller? He is truly a complete tight end and one of the most underrated in the game. If you remembered what I talked about in the recap I said I thought the Steelers could utilize Miller a lot in the middle of the field against the linebackers and that is exactly what they did early. With the deep safeties the middle of the field was wide open and in the first quarter alone Miller had six catches for 76 yards and was just shredding the Pats. He only ended the game with seven catches for 85 yards but what he did early really set up things nicely for the rest of the game. Miller was also excellent blocking in the running game and blocking down field when he wasn’t thrown too. Just an unreal complete game from Miller and he was a huge factor as he continues to evolve in this offense and get more touches.

In the same aspect as throwing the football how good has the Young Money group of receivers have been. Each of them had at least five catches and at least seven targets each. Mike Wallace was actually targeted the least amount of times with seven. Antonio Brown just did work today. He was targeted 15 (!) times and caught nine passes for 67 yards and a touchdown. Sanders also had a big game with five catches for 70 yards. Wallace had seven catches for 70 yards. I mean look at those numbers. When Hines Ward was ruled out I was kind of bummed but wanted to see what this group could do. They were outstanding and made a lot of people forget about Hines Ward and that he wasn’t in the game. Brown was also good on kickoff and punt returns and it is only a matter of time before he breaks one. Earlier in the year I was critical of those guys because they weren’t on the same page as Ben. They have come a long way and Ben trusts these guys a lot.

While the running game didn’t get a ton of carries the running backs did a great job all around. A lot of people have been on Rashard Mendenhall’s case lately but he had 13 carries for 70 yards and I can’t recall a carry that went for negative yards. He also caught three passes out of the backfield for 22 yards and was so clutch on blitz pickups, as were all the backs. Isaac Redman wasn’t as used as Mendenhall as he only had seven carries for 11 yards but he picked up some crucial blitzes late in the game and gave Ben some time. As a former running back I can tell you it isn’t easy to stand in there when a guy is running through an open gap full speed and you have to stop him dead in his tracks. I am going to talk about Moore but he is so crucial to this team. He is exactly what you want from a third down back. As good as Mendenhall and Redman were at picking up the blitz there isn’t anyone else I want out there than MeMo. He also got a carry for 16 yards and two catches for 29 yards including a really tough catch for the first touchdown. He can do it all and I don’t think enough people appreciate what he does for the team and the offense.

For all the flack that the offensive line gets this was far and away their best game. This is only the first time this season that the same five lineman have started in back-to-back games and they looked really good today. Max Starks was especially good on Ben’s backside as he wasn’t touched from that spot all day. Ben did get dropped five times but I kept count during the game and three of those sacks were on Ben, by which I mean he had ample time to throw but he held onto the ball to try and make something happen and he got sacked in doing so. The other two were on the offensive line. Honestly it looked like it was Tom Brady in games past getting all kinds of time to read the field and hit the open receivers and that is what the o-line gave Ben today. What that did is opened up the running game where the Steelers averaged 4.3 yards per rush as a team. Just a big shout out to the line, it was a great performance.

Bruce Arians gets a ton of praise. For as much as people hate him and want him gone he came up with a great game plan. The Steelers are still being looked at as a run first team but this is a passing team. With Brown, Sanders and Wallace this team can open it up and throw the football. He mixed in the no huddle and attacked the clear weakness on the Patriots, the secondary. BA gets a lot of criticism, and deservedly so sometimes, but give him credit for today.

The only problem I had with the offense today was that they left a ton of points on the field. If there is one thing you want to do against Tom Brady it is not give the Pats any hope late of winning and instead of scoring touchdowns to put the game away the Steelers were settling for field goals. It almost came back to cost them, luckily it didn’t. Overall the Steelers were 2-of-5 in the red zone. They killed a ton of clock in those drives and if you watched the entire game with no idea of score you would have thought the Steelers were up by three scores, but instead they were clinging on to a six point lead late. It worked out OK today but if they play in the playoffs you want to convert a few more of those.

If there was a player of the game I would give it to Dick LeBeau. I know he isn’t a player, but what he did to prepare this team for the game was POW worthy. The Steelers are known as a zone coverage team and they never deviate from that and that is the main reason that Brady and company have beat the Steelers before. LeBeau took note of Brady saying “leave it to me” when talking to teammates about playing the Steelers and gave Brady something he probably hasn’t seen before from the Steelers. Instead of zone the Steelers went with straight man-to-man press coverage on the receivers and rerouted them all day and brought pressure up the middle. That is the blueprint to beating Brady, and it worked. In all the games that the Patriots and Steelers have played with Brady starting I have watched all of them. I have never seen Brady confused and frustrated before, until today. He had no idea what was coming or where the open spots were going to be and it was refreshing to see. Brady only threw for 198 yards. A great game plan by LeBeau and nice to see that he was willing to get out of his bread and butter to earn the win. I know this is just one game but if they can show success in playing a defensive system like this against passing teams then this defense is going to be so much better.

On the same plane as LeBeau the defense was just out of its mind tonight. They gave up only 213 yards of total offense and only played 50 snaps. They got off the field and although they are ticketed with giving up 17 points how many of those were really on the defense? The first touchdown was off the interception and Brady only needed to go like five yards for the score and the other was off a missed field goal where the Pats only had to go about 55 yards to score. Outside of that the defense was outstanding and did a great job of executing the system, even without their top two defensive ends rushing the passer. The Pats were only 3-of-10 on third downs so the Steelers got off the field when they had to.

So when can we finally stop saying that the secondary “hasn’t played anyone” or that “the quarterback missed wide open targets” and finally say that they are pretty good? This is the best passing team in at least the AFC if not the league and all they did was limit Tom Brady to 198 passing yards. On top of great coverage they limitEd Brady to a 5.7 yard per attempt average. You know what that means? When the Patriots were catching the football they weren’t getting any yards after the catch, they were being tackled on the spot. To play defense for the Steelers you have to be able to tackle and I don’t think the Steelers secondary gets enough credit for how good they are at tackling in the open field. Guys like Keenan Lewis, Will Allen, Ryan Mundy and Will Gay were constantly getting crucified for poor play but I don’t hear that this year. Where has everyone gone? Maybe we can finally admit that the secondary isn’t that bad.

While he might not have any of the huge stats (interceptions) Ike Taylor is playing Pro Bowl football and there is no other way to go about it. He was matched up on Wes Welker all day, following him all around the field, and he made him basically disappear. Welker finished the day with six catches for 39 yards and a long of 10. 39 yards on six catches. This is the same guy who leads the league in receptions and is second in the league in receiving yards. Taylor just continues to dominate anyone he lines up against. Oh yea, he also had six tackles, all solo, a tackle for loss and a pass defended. There were some people who would have been OK with Taylor wasn’t resigned. He is worth every penny of that new contract.

Um, so, LaMarr Woodley, huh?



Two more sacks on the day. The two previous games against Brady the Steelers were not able to get to Brady once. Woodley was being single blocked and he was just having the lineman’s lunch and then going to take Brady’s. IT was really a dominating performance from Woodley who is having a Pro Bowl type year after a slow start. This all without James Harrison on the field. Things didn’t go all so well as Woodley went down with a hamstring injury. Not really sure on how bad it is. After the game Woodley said that he would be in against the Ravens but there was some speculation from beat reporters that he might not be ready. I hope he is as it looks lIke Harrison might be back. Whatever it is I hope he is healthy.

Brett Keisel continues to be great. When he isn’t getting to the quarterback and causing fumbles that result in safeties he is batting down passes at the line of scrimmage. He plays on the defensive line so he never will get his just due but he had a sack, a pass defended and two tackles. A really nice day from Keisel and even though he is one of those “old guys” he is having a really good year.

Shaun Suisham has been OK this season, but not great. He hits all the field goals he should hit but anything over 40 yards has been a real stretch this season. Tonight he went 3-of-4 but the fourth one would have really put the game away and gave the Pats a chance. I do not have a whole bunch of confidence in Suisham and I think that is why you saw the Steelers try to pass the ball on their last series rather than run the ball and play for the field goal. Passing for the ball caused them to drop out of field goal range but in my mind that was OK. With how SS has been kicking if he missed the field goal from about 45 yards out you give the Patriots the ball around the 40 yard line with 30 some odd seconds to go. Rather they took a chance and took a couple of sacks in order to keep the clock running and had to punt where they were able to get the ball to the Patriots at their own 21. I will take that tradeoff with some little time left. I am not sure if that had something to do with the faith in SS outside of 40 yards, but it could be.

Overall it was a really great win. It was a win in the AFC and it gives the Steelers the tiebreaker over the Patriots. They are now atop the AFC and a huge confidence boost going into a bigger game against the Ravens. It was nice to also see the staff being flexable and changing systems a little bit and it will help in the long run. At 2-2 some people were thinking that the Steelers might not make the playoffs and now I think it is pretty safe to say our sights are a little higher than just getting into the playoffs.

Take this one in and enjoy it tonight. Tomorrow morning starts Ravens week. Bring it.

What do you think? Leave it in the comments.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Penguins Game 13 Recap - Leafs 4, Penguins 3

Well, at some point the Penguins were going to lose a game and at some point they were going to have a game like tonight. Does that make it any easier as a fan watching the game? No, it doesn’t but things like this happen and you have to move on as the Penguins dropped a 4-3 contest against the Leafs in Canada.

Actually it feels like the Penguins have played more games in Canada in the past month than they have in the good ole US of A. A crazy schedule finally comes to a halt as the Penguins will not play another game until Thursday and if tonight was any indication then they need the time off.

This was a pretty sloppy game all the way around. The first period was terrible for the Penguins and the Leafs and there was very little flow to the game and outside of a Mikhail Grabovski power play goal it was about even overall for performance. Yes, I said that a team scored a power play goal against the Penguins. The first 5-on-4 goal that the Penguins have given up all season. It was bound to happen but it sucks. To be honest the goal was pretty sick as Grabovski redirected a Dion Phaneuf shot on his backhand.

The Penguins started off the second period playing just as bad as they did in the first. It was turnover city all over the ice but they finally got their legs under them about halfway through the period and tied it up when Matt Cooke scored his fourth of the year on a rebound from an Arron Asham shot. Really nice job from Asham had an unreal shift getting the puck and getting a shot on net and Cooke was just doing what he does and picking up the garbage.

The lead was short lived as Tim Connolly scored a power play goal. That is kind of how the night way for the Penguins in a nutshell. The penalty kill that was near perfect coming in was scored on twice. Granted, there was no Jordan Staal on the ice but they didn’t look very good.

Chris Kunitz answered with a power play goal with about five minutes left in the period and tied the score again going into the break. To be honest with the way the game was going I was feeling pretty fortunate that the Penguins were tied after two periods.

The third period was the best period of hockey overall but the trend continued of the Penguins just not being able to get over the hump. The Leafs scored just three minutes into the period to take a one goal lead. Evgeni Malkin made the most of a 5-on-3 with an absolute laser to tie the game. The Penguins, however, couldn’t make it stand and the eventual game winning goal came off the stick of Phil Kessel when the Penguins basically forgot that he was on the ice and left him wide open for a one-time goal. Balls.

Like I said this was a pretty bad game the whole way around for the Penguins. That being said this is a much improved Leafs team. They are playing some good hockey right now and they are scoring a lot of goals. I don’t really like the Leafs but I think it would be good for hockey if they were strong this season. They got after the Penguins and forced them into a lot of turnovers and it just wasn’t good. If you are the Penguins you just realize that games like this are going to happen and you move onto the next one. The five game winning streak was awesome but it would be foolish to think that they were going to win the rest of their hockey games.

The Pens were playing without Jordan Staal tonight and they are still without Bing and Big Z is out of the lineup and they were still in a one goal game with a pretty good chance to tie it up at the end. The Penguins were flying at the end and just came up on the short end.

The power play was really hard to gauge. I think for the most part this season the power play has been so much better than last year and with two power play goals tonight they showed that they can make it successful even with some of the top offensive weapons out of the game. They were a little helter skelter tonight and gave up a few really good shorthanded chances to the Leafs but whatever, they scored two goals. I will take it.

There seems to be a good bit of people that are wondering by Brent Johnson started tonight. Was he the best in net tonight? No, but his defense did him no favors. That coupled with him sitting pretty deep in the net was a receipt for disaster and he did a nice job to keep disaster away and give the Penguins a chance to win. With the Penguins on a five game winning streak and Marc Andre Fleury playing so well there are a lot of people who wanted him to play. I get that, I really do, but I think this was a good chance to get Beej into the game and keep him fresh before the Penguins go into a stretch where they play two games in the next 12 days. This is the 13th game of the season and the last time Johnson got any action was October 18. If he doesn’t play tonight then he probably doesn’t get into action until November 12th. Almost a month of not playing hockey. I know there is practice but that is nothing like a game. MAF is going to play a lot of hockey this year, especially down the stretch so there is no need to play him in every game. MAF doesn’t need to play in 75 games for this to be a great team. Beej needs to get some work every now and then and with the schedule setting up for some off days and spaced out games he probably wouldn’t play for a while. I know MAF is on a roll but what if he goes down? Do you want your backup to only play in three games in three months and then have to play every night? I don’t, even if it is just for a week where you might play four games. Get him the work now and keep him sharp just in case. Hopefully it doesn’t come to that but if you don’t think that Beej can get you a win then he shouldn’t be on the team. Sure, he is the backup and he is there for a reason but he still needs to get 18-20 starts over the season to keep MAF fresh and not overwork him. Tonight was a great opportunity for him to play. Just my two cents though.

Pens finally get some days off. Should be nice for a few players to get healthy. Enjoy it.

Penguins Game Day 13 - @ Toronto Maple Leafs

Toronto Maple Leafs

7:00 p.m., Air Canada Centre, Toronto, Ontario

The Penguins will be without another key player as Jordan Staal didn't even make the trip to Toronto with a "lower body injury". I think we all know when this happened, it was when Staal absolutely destroyed Taveres and came up lame and went to the locker room. He did come back so this is some sort of a surprise but can we really be shocked at any injuries the Penguins get? I didn't think so.

Beej is in net tonight.

The last time they played:

March 2, 2011 - Leafs 3, Penguins 2 OT



The Penguins probables:

Forwards
Steve Sullivan - Evgeni Malkin - James Neal

Chris Kunitz - Richard Park - Pascal Dupuis
Matt Cooke - Mark Letesu - Arron Asham
Dustin Jeffrey - Joe Vitale - Craig Adams
Defense
Paul Martin - Kris Letang
Matt Niskanen - Ben Lovejoy
Brooks Orpik - Deryk Engelland

Goaltender
Brent Johnson

The Leafs probables:

Forwards
Joffrey Lupul - Tim Connolly - Phil Kessel
Clarke MacArthur - Mikhail Grabovski - Nikolai Kulemin
Matthew Lombardi - Tyler Bozak - Matt Frattin
Philippe Dupuis - David Steckel - Mike Brown

Defense
Carl Gunnarsson - Dion Phaneuf
Jake Gardiner - Luke Schenn
John-Michael Liles - Mike Komisarek

Goaltender
Jonas Gustavsson



The stats:

Steelers Game Day 8 - vs. New England Patriots

The Patriots are a team that no Steelers fan really like to talk about. Not only have they dashed the Steelers dreams of going to the Super Bowl on two occasions since 2000 but during that time span there was also Spy Gate that was going on during one of those AFC loss Super Bowl seasons. I have no idea if those tapes that the Patriots had helped them win, but they won. Actually they dominated the Steelers in those AFC Championship games and that might hurt me as much as the Spy Gate incidents.

It doesn’t help that the Pats are coached by a smug SOB like Bill Belichick who wears his cutoff sweatshirts like they are going to go out of style or that Tom Brady is wearing uggs around town with his model girlfriend that we all wish we could get with.

All of that being said the Patriots have been a staple as one of the best teams in the league for the last 10-12 years and no matter how many third rate receivers and defensive backs they imploy they still manage to beat down opponents and win every year. The playoff success hasn’t been there for them in the recent past but that does nothing to diminish how good of a team they are.

Under Tom Brady the Patriots are 6-1 against the Steelers and a lot of those wins weren’t close ones as we saw last season. This is a huge test for the Steelers as the combined winning percentage of the team’s they have beaten is only 8-24 and they have lost to the only two somewhat good teams they have faced in the Ravens and Titans. This is the first game of two huge ones as they will face the Ravens next week. Winning this game will give them some respect in the AFC and make it known that they are just not going to roll over against good teams.

Not gonna lie this one isn’t going to be easy, but it gets your blood going just thinking about it. Heinz Field is going to be jumpin for the 4:15 p.m. start and it should be an unreal atmosphere. Games like this can define a season and while I don’t know that will be the case a win here can go a long way in telling us what kind of Steelers team this is.


Lets take a look at the statistics on these two teams:


Last Week:

Pittsburgh 32, Arizona 20
Passing: Roethlisberger - 26/39, 361 yards, 3 TD, 0 INT
Rushing: Mendenhall - 13 carries, 32 yards, 0 TD
Receiving: Wallace - 3 rec, 118 yards, 1 TD

New England 20, Dallas 16 (Week 6, Arizona had week 7 bye)
Passing: Brady - 27/41, 289 yards, 2 TD, 2 INT
Rushing: Green-Ellis - 14 carries, 58 yards, 0 TD
Receiving: Gronkowski - 7 rec, 74 yards, 0 TD

All-Time Record vs. Arizona: 14-11 (1-3 Playoffs)

Last Five Meetings

Nov. 14, 2010 - New England 39, Pittsburgh 26
Nov. 30, 2008 - Pittsburgh 33, New England 10
Dec. 9, 2007 - New England 34, Pittsburgh 13
Sept. 25, 2005 - New England 23, Pittsburgh 20
Jan. 23, 2005 - New England 41, Pittsburgh 27

Team Stats

Offense (rank in NFL)

Total Offense
Pittsburgh: 383.3 yards/game (9th)
New England: 474.5 yards/game (1st)

Passing
Pittsburgh: 265.4 yards/game (9th)
New England: 350.5 yards/game (1st)

Rushing
Pittsburgh: 117.9 yards/game (14th)
New England: 124 yards/game (t-10th)

Points
Pittsburgh: 21.6 points/game (19th)
New England: 30.8 points/game (4th)


Defense

Total Defense
Pittsburgh: 279 yards/game (3rd)
New England: 423.7 yards/game (32nd)

Pass
Pittsburgh: 171.9 yards/game (1st)
New England: 322.2 yards/game (32nd)

Rush
Pittsburgh: 107.1 yards/game (12th)
New England: 101.5 yards/game (8th)

Points
Pittsburgh: 17.4 points/game (3rd)
New England: 22.5 points/game (t-15th)


Hit the jump for a closer look at the New England Patriots

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Penguins Game 12 Recap - Penguins 3, Islanders 2 (SO)

For two periods the Penguins dominated play. They gave the Islands little to no looks and limited them to only nine shots while collecting 21 themselves. Evgeni Malkin was outstanding, Jordan Staal was outstanding, James Neal was outstanding. I mean if you are telling me these things before the game I think the Penguins have a multiple goal lead. Problem was that the Penguins were down 1-0 after two periods of play on a first period Frans Nielsen goal with 1:01 left in the period.

Things could have obviously gone bad for the Penguins in the third period. They did not win a single game last season when they trailed after two periods of play. Good thing that was last year. After the Penguins went down 2-0 only 45 seconds into the third period on a Matt Martin goal off a rebound they started to buzz and finally cashed in.

If there was one thing that probably had to happen after that goal a minute in to the period it was a quick answer. Quick answer they got. Chris Kunitz cleaned up a shot from Pascal Dupuis to cut the lead in half only 44 seconds after the Martin goal. Things looked good. Kyle Okposo then ran MAF and put a forearm in his grill about a minute later to give the Penguins power play a chance. They cashed in.

Remember the goal that Tyler Kennedy scored in game four against the Red Wings when the Pens went tick-tack-toe? Well this goal from James Neal was about as sick as that goal. Just unreal goal. Evgeni Malkin fed the puck to Chris Kunitz in the slot and Kunitz one-timed the puck to James Neal who took about half a second to put the puck in the back of the net. Tie game. Huge goal.

The Penguins didn’t play great hockey in the third period as they gave the Islanders a ton of chances and nobody played better for the Penguins in the third than Marc Andre Fleury. He made some jaw dropping saves late to send the game to overtime.

Overtime was good back and forth hockey and the Penguins got a break when they got a power play for 35 seconds to close. Bad news was that the Pengiuns didn’t even get a shot on the power play. They passed the puck around the perimeter and never even got a shot attempt off. The game went to a shootout where it got weird.

Evgeni Nabokov played the entire game for the Islanders but was replaced by Rick DiPietro in the shootout. Keep in mind that this is the same DiPietro that is hurt every season and hasn’t even played in a game yet this year. You might have thought that Nabokov was hurt or something was wrong but there wasn’t anything wrong. It turns out that he was “fatigued” and that is why DiPietro was in. Just unreal. I would be embarrassed if I was Nabokov. Actually as I was finishing up I see that Nabokov said that he had some lower body things he was dealing with since the first period. I guess that makes it better but if you can play two periods of hockey on it why can’t you do the shootout? I guess I just don’t understand. If you can’t go then you can’t go but it was really strange.

MAF was his usual studly self stopping all three shots and Evgeni Malkin worked DiPietro for a goal as the second shooter and the Penguins now have five wins in a row and sit 8-2-2 on the season.

Evgeni Malkin might have played his best game of the young season tonight. He was all over the ice. If you were worried about his injury then I think you should feel pretty good after tonight unless he has some problems tomorrow. He skated in 25 shifts and played over 26 minutes tonight. The only player on the team that played more minutes tonight was Kris Letang. Malkin was playing keep away tonight like he does when he is on his game and when he is going coast-to-coast with the puck and creating scoring chances you know he is feeling good.

James Neal with another goal. Ho hum. Neal actually attempted 13 shots tonight, six were on net, four were missed and three were blocked. Really nice to see him getting more of those on net after he missed a ton of shots last year. Like I said before the goal he scored was sick. Even though he was just the finishing player on that and it was a lot of good work from Malkin and Kunitz he still pulled the trigger and got rid of it before Nabokov even knew what was happening. Neal also rang one off the pipe earlier in the game. Wicked release tonight, and all season for that matter.

Jordan Staal with a really solid game all around too. He had a goal taken away because of a Matt Cooke interference call which was boarder line but other than that he was really solid on the PK and was really strong on the puck in the first couple of periods. To be honest the goal he scored that was called off could have went either way. I can see why they called the penalty as Cooke did make contact with Nabokov but it was outside the paint. He didn’t really avoid the contact but he and Nabokov were moving to that spot at the same time. If the goal counted it would have been cool but I am not too worked up over it being waved off.

The Penguins are still turning the puck over way too much. The start of the game was much different tonight as they were taking care of the puck and really living in the offensive zone but in the third period they got really sloppy. The Islanders registered 10 shots in the third and most of those were really quality scoring chances and some of them were coming off egregious turnovers in the neutral zone and defensive zone. Thank God Fleury has been on his game because this game could have been over in regulation in favor of the Islanders if MAF wasn’t so sharp.

This doesn’t get talked about enough but Pacal Dupuis has been outstanding. He might turn out to be one of the most important, least talked about, resigning efforts that Ray Shero has got done over this past season. Much like Staal he does a lot of great PK work and is a real grinder but he gives you 110% every play and has some skill to go with that 110% effort. I am sure I could go into more detail about this but just watch the dude play and appreciate what he brings to this team.

Did John Tavares even play tonight? No idea.

Pens play again on Saturday before getting four days off. They are against the Leafs on Saturday. Should be interesting.

Penguins Game Day 12 - vs. New York Islanders

New York Islanders

7:00 p.m., CONSOL Energy Center, Pittsburgh, PA

Nothing like the second day of a home-and-home with a team you just dismantled a few nights ago. I am not going to sit here and tell you that the Penguins are going to do the same thing tonight. Is Marc Andre Fleury 6-0-0 in his last six against the Islanders at home? Sure. Have the Penguins pretty much owned a pretty bad Islanders team over the recent past? Yea. That means little in a one game situation.

No hockey players wants to get shut out at home, even if it is only infront of 7,000 people. Expect the Islanders to come out with a ton of jump and to play its balls off to try and get the win tonight. The problem that the Islanders have is that they just aren't talented enough to come out and beat you and themselves at the same time. The Islanders looked disinterested on Tuesday and after they got behind by a goal they mailed it in.

They are going to come with it tonight so the start of this game is going to be huge. The Penguins have been a little sloppy to start most of the recent games but MAF has been there to bail them out. Hell, MAF has only given up two goals in his last 11 periods and stopped all 33 shots on Long Island Tuesday night. Not too shabby.

It is good to see Geno again in the lineup for a second straight game. The last time he came into the lineup it was against the Capitals and he then missed the next five games because he came back too quickly. Seeing him back on the ice for consecutive games is a pretty good sign, at least in my eyes.

Previously this season:

October 25, 2011 - Penguins 3, Islanders 0




The Penguins probables:

Forwards
Steve Sullivan - Evgeni Malkin - James Neal
Chris Kunitz - Jordan Staal - Pascal Dupuis
Dustin Jeffrey - Mark Letestu - Craig Adams
Matt Cooke - Richard Park - Arron Asham

Defense
Paul Martin - Kris Letang
Matt Niskanen - Ben Lovejoy
Brooks Orpik - Deryk Engelland

Goaltender
Marc Andre Fleury


The Islanders probables:

Forwards
Matt Moulson - John Tavares - P.A. Parenteau
Kyle Okposo - Frans Nielsen - Michael Grabner
Blake Comeau - Josh Bailey - Brian Rolston
Matt Martin - Marty Reasoner - Jay Pandolfo

Defense
Mark Streit - Steve Staios
Andrew MacDonald - Travis Hamonic
Mike Mottau - Mark Eaton

Goaltender
Evgeni Nabokov


The stats:

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Penguins Game 11 Recap - Penguins 3, Islanders 0

The players who are injured are coming in and out of the lineup and most of the time you have no idea who is going to play because a handful of guys are game time decisions. What hasn’t changed this entire season is the result. Another huge game from Marc Andre Fleury and a gritty effort by the offense and defense leads to a 3-0 win over the Islanders in Long Island.

The Penguins actually got off to a really bad start as the Islanders were getting great opportunities and the Penguins were getting shots blocked like the Berlin Wall was in front of Evgeni Nabokov. It took about a half period of play before the wall fell and another few minutes before the Penguins scored the only goal they would need in the game.

To be honest it looked like the Penguins were going to be lucky to get out of the first period in a 0-0 tie. They were turning the puck over like it was their job and just weren’t in any kind of rhythm. The Penguins finally broke through with about three minutes left in the period when Brooks Orpik got the puck at his own blue line and found a streaking Pascal Dupuis who went down on a breakaway and beat Nabokov on a slick slot. 1-0. Boom.

Dupuis has been pretty money all season. Kills penalties like a boss and brings unreal energy. Complete package.

If it wasn’t bad enough for the Islanders they then gave up a goal to ex-Islander Richard Park 21 seconds into the second period. Arron Asham picked the pocket of some joke Islander and fed the puck to park who faked the forehand shock and held the puck just long enough and beat Nabokov top shelf. That was pretty much it for the Islanders.

The Islanders were pretty done after that as the Pens were able to pretty much handle play from then on out. Add in a Jordan Staal empty netter and you complete the game. The sixth goal of the season for Staal. What a player.

MAF was cash money tonight for his first shutout of the season. He has only given up two goals in his last 10 periods (maybe 11, no idea, not looking it up) and he once again was making huge save after huge save in the first period to keep the Penguins tied and giving them a chance to score that first goal. The only difference tonight was that he didn’t give up that patent goal with less than three minutes left that usually happens when he is going for a shutout.

The Pens PK killed the two Islander opportunities. Outside of the Capitals start is there really anything better right now than the Penguins penalty kill? Unreal work.

There are a lot of people who don’t think Paul Martin is worth the money he is paid. 27:18 of ice time tonight and made Tavares pretty much invisible tonight. Great game from PaulMart and he has quietly had a really nice season.

Evidently during the first intermission the MSG did a nice little montage of the brawl that took place last season and interviewed a bunch of the goons, err, players that took part in it. To be honest I couldn’t give a shit less about that. It is in the past and getting upset over it isn’t worth it. The Islanders are choosing to key on that and if that is what they want to do that is fine. Whatever. I found it actually funny that Trevor Gillies said that it was a sort of team bonding experience. Awesome. You know what helps bond a team? Winning. Try it sometime.

Islanders come to Pittsburgh in like six seconds.

Penguins Game Day 11 - @ New York Islanders

New York Islanders

7:00 p.m., Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, Long Island, New York

The last time they met:

April 8, 2011 - Pittsburgh 4, New York 3


How could anyone, especially from Pittsburgh and New York (Islanders), forget this from last season:



Some brief stuff as I don't have a lot of time to do a preview:

The Penguins are 19-4-2 over their last 25 games against the Islanders. Marc-Andre Fleury has been pretty money during that stretch of games going 8-0-2 with a 1.70 GAA.

Malkin should be in tonight. Michalek will be out the next 4-6 weeks with a busted up finger. Bleh.

The Penguins probales:

Forwards
Steve Sullivan - Evgeni Malkin - James Neal
Chris Kunitz - Jordan Staal - Pascal Dupuis
Dustin Jeffrey - Mark Letestu - Craig Adams
Matt Cooke - Richard Park - Arron Asham

Defense
Paul Martin - Kris Letang
Matt Niskanen - Ben Lovejoy
Brooks Orpik - Deryk Engelland

Goaltender
Marc Andre Fleury


The Islanders probables:

Forwards
Matt Moulson - John Tavares - P.A. Parenteau
Kyle Okposo - Frans Nielsen - Michael Grabner
Blake Comeau - Josh Bailey - Matt Martin
Jay Pandolfo - Marty Reasoner - Trevor Gillies

Defense
Mark Streit - Steve Staios
Andrew MacDonald - Travis Hamonic
Mike Mottau - Mark Eaton

Goaltender
Evgeni Nabokov


The stats:

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Steelers Game 7 Recap - Steelers 32, Cardinals 20

Well if the Steelers didn’t win the game good enough against the Jacsonville Jaguars then they sure won it good enough today as they put together the best road game of the season, and one of the most complete games, in beating the Arizona Cardinals 32-20. If anyone was worried about the offense then they probably felt pretty good today as the Steelers racked up 445 yards of total offense and Ben Roethlisberger made it rain on the Arizona secondary.

Speaking of Roethlisberger how good is this guy the week after a subpar performance? All Ben did today was complete 26-of-39 passes for 361 yards and three touchdowns. Oh yea, he didn’t turn the football over at all. Not too shabby, eh? Ben did an excellent job of moving around in the pocket and finding the open receivers while taking care of the football. After throwing five interceptions and fumbling the football four times in the first four games he has gone 62-of-96 for 789 yards, nine touchdowns and only one interception. That is how you step up after a slow start. Today I thought Ben was exceptionally good at throwing the deep ball. As you know I am pretty hard on Large Benjamin about not being very accurate on balls down the field but he was pretty on point today. He was no more perfect than on the 95 yard bomb to Mike Wallace. You missed it?



That throw and catch set a new Steelers record for the longest pass play in franchise history. Ben was also going downtown a few more times that were incomplete but this time it wasn’t because they were bad throws. They were right on the money and the receivers just couldn’t come up with them. It was really fun to watch.

Talking about Mike Wallace a little bit and I have no idea how you don’t at least bracket cover this guy with a safety when he is on the field. It was funny because Dejan Kovacevic said in a tweet that Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt said he knew that was coming. DK really ask a good question in the tweet when he asked if that meant single covering Wallace. There has been a lot of talk about who the best receiver in the NFL is and more than a few national pundits are giving the answer that it could be Mike Wallace. How do you single cover one of the best receivers in the league, and fastest, with just a corner is asking to get beat. They did. While Mike Wallace used to be a one trick pony when he first came to the league he is starting to become one of the most complete receivers. While he only had three receptions today he is now able to more effectively work the middle of the field and pick up first downs when he isn’t catches passes of 40 yards or more.

I thought, for the most part, the offensive line did a pretty nice job. Of course I was watching on a grainy online feed but Ben was *only* sacked twice and for the most part the offensive line did a decent job of giving him time to get the ball down the field and the ability to step into the throws. The line wasn’t as good in the run game where the Steelers only managed 91 yards on 28 attempts and really couldn’t get anything going. It also didn’t help when Chris Kemoeatu continues to make the same bonehead penalties that are unnecessary but overall I didn’t mind the offensive line today. Ben was hit six times total today and took some real shots but I don’t think that was indicative of how the line played overall. As I said Ben had time to throw and later in the game the Steelers were able to move some bodies and run the ball a little bit so it could have been a ton worse.

LaMarr Woodley has been on an unreal streak recently. Ever since some fans and media had sort of called him out for not performing he has taken it upon himself to be a force. He led the team today with seven tackles (six solo) and a pair of sacks. The two sacks today were huge but it could have been three if not for Arizona quarterback Kevin Kolb intentionally grounding the football when Woodley had him gripped up. Oh yea, the intentional grounding happened in the end zone which resulted in two points for the Steelers.


Not only was Woodley good in the pass rush but he was excellent defending the run which for me is just as important as him rushing the passer. In the past three games Woodley has registered 5.5 sacks and has an interception. He is taking advantage of being single blocked. Oh yea, all of this is without the services of James Harrison. Great game for LaMarr.

It was a great day for the young receivers that the Steelers employ. I talked about Mike Wallace who caught three passes for 118 yards and a score but maybe more impressive was Antonio Brown who caught seven passes for 102 yards. Brown was targeted a team-high nine times and made big catch after big catch. Emmanuel Sanders had five catches for 46 yards, a touchdown and was tied with Mike Wallace with seven targets. Having the three young guns getting the most targets on the day says a lot of what Ben Roethlisberger thinks of them and how much he truly does trust them. I know I am a little hard on Brown and Sanders because they can’t seem to get on the same page as Ben but today they both looked a ton better in that aspect and it showed. If you didn’t notice Hines Ward missed a huge chunk of the game with a foot injury but you might not have realized that because the likes of Brown and Sanders were able to step up and play good football. Also Brown is great on punt returns. Almost broke one to the house if he didn’t trip over Ryan Mundy and averaged 23.5 yards a return on two punt returns. Good stuff on the special teams front.

Another receiver that was huge today was Heath Miller. Dude is really one of the complete tight ends in the game in an age where tight ends are more like big wide receivers and can’t block. Ben is starting to go to ole reliable and Miller is not disappointing. Miller caught all four of his targets for 59 yards and just does what he always does. Miller caught his second touchdown of the season to open up the scoring and that is what he brings. He is a complete player so the defense has to respect him staying in to run block so when he releases late they are caught with their proverbial pants down and he can sneak in to the end zone. Heath Miller is as underrated as it gets. He isn’t going to make any Pro Bowls because he doesn’t put up huge offensive numbers but he truly is one of the best in the game. People better recognize.

One of the best matchups to watch today was Ike Taylor and Larry Fitzgerald. Fitz is one of the best receivers in the league and Taylor is one of the best corners that nobody knows about. Both players are big and physical and if you enjoy watching good matchups this was going to be one of the best ones you see all season. Fitzgerlad always has given Taylor problems in the few times they had played and today he gave him some fits but it wasn’t because Taylor played bad but more that Fitz is just that good. On one particular play Taylor has perfect position and Fitz just goes up and out jumps him for a ball. Taylor was also called for a couple of illegal hands penalties early that really led to the Cardinals first touchdown but he was just trying to man up with him and show that he wasn’t going to be pushed around. After that initial series Taylor was great. Fitz was targeted 10 times in the game and only ended up with four catches for 78 yards. His biggest catch was for 31 yards and that was the catch I talked about where Taylor had near perfect coverage. Overall I loved what Taylor did and even thought Fitz made some noise he was generally quiet.

I also thought that Lawrence Timmons had a pretty good game. With all the injures he has been forced to move to the outside where he is not so good, or hasn’t been in the past, but this was his best game since moving to the position. He was very effective at getting to the passer and was much, much, better against the run today. He made three tackles and had a QB hit but I think that he was much more effective than that.

One thing that can be looked as a negative is the penalty situation today. The Steelers were flagged nine times for 69 yards. I talked about getting flagged with Ike Taylor and I didn’t think those were horrible but they still did keep drives going, twice happening on third downs when the Cardinals didn’t convert. Against the Patriots and Ravens the Steelers cannot afford to get penalized nine times for almost a football field worth of yards. That will just not work. I don’t think this will be a huge problem because the Steelers average only 5.3 penalties per game, which is good for eighth lowest in the NFL, and for a total of 50 yards per game. Hopefully this is something that will not happen every week.

Something else that worries me is the Steelers punt team. I don’t mean Daniel Sepulveda because he has been nothing less than outstanding this season, but I mean the actual punt team. Today Sepulveda only punted three times but again he almost had a punt blocked. He had one blocked a few weeks ago and this is something that I don’t want to see happen again this year. All it is going to take is one time for a team to sell out and block a punt and return it for a touchdown in a close game. I know most people don’t think about it, but I do. It almost happened today and this needs to be taken care of.

I guess I should touch on the running backs but I am not sure what to say. None of them played great but I don’t think any of them were bad either. A lot of people were being hard on Rashard Mendenhall today because he “dances” too much but I didn’t hear any of that last week. I still stand by the fact that he is the best back on the team, by far, there just wasn’t much going on the ground today overall. Isaac Redman always runs hard and he picked up a few first downs and he had a pretty good day overall but just doesn’t bring what Rashard does to the table. They are different backs and I thought he held his role perfectly today. I am talking a lot about underrated players in the recap but I am going to talk about another. Mewelde Moore is the third down back. He isn’t the fastest or the shiftiest or the most powerful but he just gives you that sense of calmness on the football field. When he gets the ball in his hands, either on a run or a reception, you know you are going to get a good, smart, read and he isn’t going make the wrong cut or try and do too much. He has made so many big plays for this team since he has been here and in a late game situation you will probably see him on the field. I love having him on the team and he is that guy that splits the skills that Mendenhall and Redman have and really brings a lot.

My last thoughts for tonight are about the fans. Going into the game a lot of people like to call the Cardinals “Pittsburgh West” and this mostly comes from the former Steelers players and coaches that are on the team but today it was a full on takeover in Arizona. It was truly like a home game in Arizona and every time that Heath Miller caught a pass it was a loud “Heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeath” chant like you were at Heinz Field. Let’s please also not act like everyone there flew from Pittsburgh for the game. There are a lot of displaced fans and it just so happens we have them all over the United States, and the world. It is just always really cool to see an away game on TV and know that your city, and team, are well represented.

The Steelers are 5-2. Remember when they were 2-2 and people thought the season was over? Far from it. The meat of the schedules starts next week with New England. You know how I feel about the Patriots. Get your minds right.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Penguins Game 10 Recap - Penguins 4, Devils 1

Last season the Penguins would be in a tight game in the third period and not be able to put the game away without Sidney Crosby Evgeni Malkin. The last couple of games that is not the case and they are starting to dominate teams in the third period and give them no chance to even sniff a victory. That was the same case tonight as the Penguins were up only 1-0 after two periods of play but they put three in the back of the net in the third period and made the Devils look average at best.

Jordan Staal was the star of the show tonight and continues his great play as he contributed two goals and dominate play all night. The first goal was an absolute snipe on the power play to give the Penguins a 1-0 lead in the first period off a nice feed from Richard Park. Then with the Penguins up 2-1 in the third period Staal used his patented power backhand move and beat Johan Hedberg and virtually put the game away for the Penguins. The second of Staal’s goals was his 100th of his career and to say that he was dominant tonight would be a pretty big understatement. People are constantly giving Staal a hard time but as I said a few nights ago stats don’t always tell what the players do but Staal wanted to prove that he can put up the stats. Five goals this season for Staal. Say something haters.

A huge turning point of this game came early in the third period. The Penguins went on a four-minute power play when Patrik Elias high sticked Steve Sullivan but it wasn’t Sullivan that went to the box. Petr Sykora went to the box instead. The officials did not change that even though it was pretty clear it was Elias. What happens? Ilya Kovalchuk finds Elias for a shorty to tie the game at one. This was tough as you didn’t really know which Penguins team was going to show up but it was apparent pretty quickly which one it was. On the power Chris Kunitz sniped one past Hedberg and then Staal’s goal came 1:10 later. What a way to answer. The Penguins don’t do that last year and they have done it to the Canadians and now the Devils in the past two games. Great to see.

James Neal put the game away with just over 10 minutes left with his eighth goal of the season. Ho hum. Not much else to say about Neal as he continues to lead the league in goals. What might be unnoticed about Neal is his two way play. Tonight he was very good in the defensive zone and really plays a complete game that is required to succeed in Dan Bylsma’s system. We should probably trade Crosby or Malkin for a center for Neal.

I know a ton of people are going to talk about Staal and Neal and the offense (kinda like I have) but you really have to give MAF some big ups for playing another excellent hockey game in net. Remember this was a 1-0 game for two periods of play and didn’t get comfortable till about five minutes into the third and MAF was a brick wall, again. Last season he has a horrid start to the season before turning it on but right now he is zoned in and has only given up two goals in the last two games. He made 23 saves tonight and while he didn’t make as “big” of saves as he did against Montreal he again gave the team a chance to pull away.

The Devils play some God awful boring hockey. I mean I understand how they still only have like six fans. On the same note as the Devils its big money gun, Ilya Kovalchuk, came up pretty small on the offensive end and cost the team a goal tonight that basically put the game away. He did end up with an assist on the shorthanded goal but he didn’t register a single shot on goal and had only one attempted shot. On the second Jordan Staal goal he left the ice for a line change with the puck in his defensive zone giving Staal wide open area to work and score. I have no idea what he was doing. Just lazy and undisciplined.

I also want to touch on Hedberg and his play tonight. Granted he gave up four goals and just like the Kovalchuk mess up they were not all on him as he was hung out to dry a good bit but it was tough to root against the guy. As you remember Hedberg was the goaltender for the Penguins in the magical 2001-2002 season. I will always have a soft spot in my heart for him and what he did for the Pens and it sucks that he got hung out like he did by the Devils. Also a curious situation with him on the ice as he got the goalie chant from some of the CEC crowd after the James Neal goal. Personally I wouldn’t do that to Hedberg if I was there and I am not sure if it was just the fans being unaware or not just caring but just something I wouldn’t do. I saw on twitter that a lot of people didn’t like it. I agree, to an extent, but if you want to say that then don’t complain when you say CEC is quiet. I thought the fans were good tonight when they typically have been quiet at home games but you can’t have it both ways. They were trying to get into the game and while it wasn’t the best person to do it to (in my opinion) it wasn’t like they were all walking out after the fourth goal halfway through the third.

Another big win for the Penguins as they moved to 6-2-2 on the season. Nice start despite playing double the games as some of the other teams in the NHL.

Penguins Game Day 10 - vs. New Jersey Devils

New Jersey Devils

7:00 p.m., CONSOL Energy Center, Pittsburgh, PA

Pens and Devils for the first time this season. I am not sure what to think of the Devils because they have basically tried to be like eight different teams this season already so I don't know if they want to trap the hell out of you or if they want to try to score goals. They still have Ilya Kovalchuk for the next 15 years so that should be awesome.

Talking about Kovalchuk it is obvious he is a pretty big offensive target for the Devils and they are playing him accordingly. So far this season in five games Kovalchuk is playing an average of 28:06 minutes per game as a forward. Just let that sink in for a little bit. That is the second most minutes of any player as a forward. Kovy is actually the only foward in the top 45 ranked in terms of time on ice. Just rediculous amounts of ice time for the dude. In the last three games Kovy is averaging over 30 minutes of ice time. That is absurd for a forward.

So far this season Kovalchuk leads the Devils with five points (2+3) in five games. Like I said he is the most talented offensive player that they have. The Devils also have a Pittsburgh fan favorite on the team in forward Petr Sykora. Sykora was an intergral part of the Penguins through their Stanley Cup runs and really had a great report with the fans and the city.

Can anyone forget this?



I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing at the time. Unreal moment in Penguins history.

Here is the whole game. Unreal YouTube to watch:



MAF was just unreal.

Should be an interesting one tonight.

The last time they met:

April 5, 2011 - Penguins 4, Devils 2



The Penguins probables

Forwards
Chris Kunitz - Jordan Staal - Pascal Dupuis
Steve Sullivan - Richard Park - James Neal
Matt Cooke - Joe Vitale - Arron Asham
Dustin Jeffrey - Mark Letestu - Craig Adams

Defense
Paul Martin - Zbynek Michalek
Brooks Orpik - Kris Letang
Matt Niskanen - Deryk Engelland

Goaltender
Marc Andre Fleury


The Devils probables

Forwards
Zach Parise - Patrik Elias - Dainius Zubrus
Ilya Kovalchuk - Jacob Josefson - Nick Palmieri
Mattias Tedenby - Petr Sykora - David Clarkson
Eric Boulton - Rod Pelley - Brad Mills

Defense
Andy Greene - Adam Larsson
Henrik Tallinder - Mark Fayne
Bryce Salvador - Anton Volchenkov

Goaltender
Johan Hedberg

The Stats

Steelers Game Day 7 - @ Arizona Cardinals

After getting back on the right track against the hapless Jaguars the Steelers turn its attention to the Arizona Cardinals and head coach Ken Whisenhunt. As you can remember Whisenhunt was a member of the Steelers staff for many years as the offensive coordinator and was a part of the Super Bowl squad that brought home a title in 2005. He was then up for the head coaching spot in Pittsburgh after Bill Cowher retried after said Super Bowl.

Turns out he didn’t get the job and the Steelers told him that he could look elsewhere and so he landed in Arizona. He took Russ Grimm with him who was the Steelers line coach and also didn’t get the head coaching job and this past year he picked up Ray Horton (defensive backs coach) and Deshea Townsend (former Steelers DB) to join the staff and pretty much label the Arizona Cardinals “Pittsburgh West.”

The two met in a Super Bowl a few years back but since then the team’s have gone in very different directions. The Steelers have continued to be one of the best franchises in the NFL and the Cardinals have struggled a great deal.

This has trap game written all over it. The Steelers do not typically fair well in West Coast games and with two huge games on the horizon it would be very easy for them to look past the Cardinals to the Pats and Ravens and lose this game. Add on top of that that the ex-Steelers staff would love nothing more than to beat the Steelers and try to turn its season around. Those staffers know the Steelers very well and I am sure they are going to have a good game plan so it would be keen of the Steelers to come up with something to counter that and give them the best chance to win. I think that will happen but this might be one of the most “up in the air” games on the Steelers schedule.

Lets take a look at the statistics on these two teams:


Last Week:

Pittsburgh 17, Jacksonville 13
Passing: Roethlisberger - 12/23, 200 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT
Rushing: Mendenhall - 23 carries, 146 yards, 1 TD
Receiving: Wallace - 2 rec, 76 yards, 1 TD

Minnesota 34, Arizona 10 (Week 5, Arizona had week six bye)
Passing: Kolb - 21/42, 232 yards, 0 TD, 2 INT
Rushing: Wells - 20 carries, 60 yards, 1 TD
Receiving: Doucet - 8 rec, 92 yards, 0 TD

All-Time Record vs. Arizona: 31-23-3 (1-0 Playoffs)

Last Five Meetings

Feb. 1, 2009 - Pittsburgh 27, Arizona 23 (Super Bowl XLIII)
Sep. 30, 2007 - Arizona 21, Pittsburgh 14
Nov. 9, 2003 - Pittsburgh 28, Arizona 15
Nov. 30, 1997 - Pittsburgh 26, Arizona 20
Oct. 30, 1994 - Arizona 20, Pittsburgh 17

Team Stats

Offense (rank in NFL)

Total Offense
Pittsburgh: 373.0 yards/game (10th)
Arizona: 340.2 yards/game (18th)

Passing
Pittsburgh: 250.7 yards/game (12th)
Arizona: 237.2 yards/game (16th)

Rushing
Pittsburgh: 122.3 yards/game (11th)
Arizona: 103 yards/game (21st)

Points
Pittsburgh: 19.8 points/game (22nd)
Arizona: 19.2 points/game (t-23rd)


Defense

Total Defense
Pittsburgh: 270.5 yards/game (1st)
Arizona: 377 yards/game (21st)

Pass
Pittsburgh: 157.7 yards/game (1st)
Arizona: 258.2 yards/game (20th)

Rush
Pittsburgh: 112.8 yards/game (15th)
Arizona: 118.8 yards/game (20th)

Points
Pittsburgh: 17 points/game (4th)
Arizona: 24.2 points/game (t-19th)


Hit the jump for a closer look at the Arizona Cardinals

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Penguins Game 9 Recap - Penguins 3, Canadiens 1

After a really nice game in Minnesota it might have been easy for the Penguins to come in to a lull against a Canadiens team that hasn’t been very good this year. Luckily for the Penguins they came out and did what they had to do and that was beat a team that was down. Not only did they beat the Habs but they put out a total dominating performance.

To be honest the Penguins really didn’t do anything different from when they were in Minnesota, they worked the Dan Bylsma system and wore the Habs down until they could just finish them with a few goals in the second and third period. The grinders worked hard and they were rewarded with a Joe Vitale second period goal and an Arron Asham third period goal. Both goals were the first of the season for each of them and it was just a testament to how the night went for the Penguins.

Of course you still had a goal, and the game winning one, from James Neal who is just white hot to start the season. With his seventh goal he now leads the entire NHL. I know I talked about Neal a good bit after the game on Tuesday night but he is just working well and finding the soft spots and making teams pay. You know things are going well for Neal because he whiffed on the shot that he took but it was still able to squirt by Carey Price on the short side and barely trickle over the line.

Brooks Orpik made his return to the lineup tonight and played pretty well. Granted the Penguins didn’t give up a goal till really late so I guess that is good but with a guy like Mike Cammallari on the ice you need to be top notch even if it is your first game of the season. It was also announced right before puck drop that Dustin Jeffrey was going to play and he got just under eight minutes of ice time. Good to have those two guys back and it will be nice to see them get their lets under them over the next couple of weeks.

I think we all pretty much knew that Marc Andre Fleury wasn’t going to get the shutout and that was proven when he gave up a goal with just over a minute and a half left but this was the sharpest that MAF has been all season. When the score was still 0-0 early in the first period MAF was huge in making point blank saves and giving the Penguins time to grind down the Habs. All told he made 27 saves and early they were tough, but that is what good goaltenders do. In the first the Penguins were turning the puck over and begging the Canadiens to take the lead but MAF said no. He earned the number one star and it was much deserved.

Deryk Engelland has been quietly having a nice season for the Penguins out of the number three defensive pairing. He had two assists tonight but what is really nice to see is that he isn’t getting out of position too often. Engelland is known as the big hitter that is more than willing to drop the gloves but he hasn’t been putting himself out of position going for the big hits this year and it shows. Something else that is going pretty much under the radar is that when Engelland gets a chance to shoot the puck he always hits the net. Sometimes shooting the puck isn’t all about scoring but it is about getting that rebound around the net and letting your teammates clean it up. I like what I have seen so far and hopefully he can keep this up and be a good, solid, option on the blue line for the entire season.

Remember last year when Neal couldn’t buy a goal to save his life? Well replace Neal with Steven Sullivan and that is what you have this year. Sullivan missed a couple of empty nets tonight during play and it just has to kill him that he hasn’t been able to put one into the net. If you remember me talking last year you know that I would be more worried about a guy if he wasn’t getting chances. For the most part Sullivan is getting chances and playing some pretty good hockey so I am not worried one bit. The shots will fall if he keeps getting chances. It isn’t like these chances are by dumb luck, he is working hard and the shots just aren’t falling. They will and when they do, watch out.

The Penguins penalty kill is just ridiculously good. The Habs had four power play opportunities and didn’t even come close to sniffing a goal. Just unreal effort by that group of guys. So far this season they have only given up one power play goal and that was in overtime when it was 4-on-3. They are perfect in 5-on-4 situations and it is scary good. They already have three short handed goals in nine games and when they eventually do give up a power play goal it is going to be a huge disappointment. I want to see how far this thing can go. You want to know who is a huge part of the PK? Jordan Staal. Last night I talked about how you can’t always evaluate a player based on goals and points and that is event by what Staal does. Go watch the Habs power plays tonight and watch Staal. Absolutely dominant. Pressures the point and forces bad decisions. Just great hockey.

If there is one other thing that the Penguins dominate at besides the PK then it is face offs. They won 39-of-64 of them and that is just a huge advantage to have, especially in specialty situations and late in games. Mark Letestu was outstanding tonight winning 11-of-15 face offs and Staal won 13-of-21 attempts. Just a huge advantage to have.

Devils on Saturday night. Marty won’t be playing. Whatever.

Penguins Game Day 9 - vs. Montreal Canadiens

Montreal Canadians

7:00 p.m., CONSOL Energy Center, Pittsburgh, PA

Man, if there is something that can make me go from sane to insane in about 0.5 seconds it's Montreal Canadien fans. There might not be a group of more self absorbed fans in the entire world. Thank God the game isn't in Montreal because the first time some Habs player falls over the blue line the boo's would pour down and the officials would be baited into making a call against an opposing player that wasn't even dressed for the game.

On a more happy note I will admit that tonight will be a little special because Montreal defenseman Hal Gill will be playing in his 1,000th career game. Gill was a part of the Penguins team and was a pretty big fan favorite. Although Gill only played in 80 games for the Penguins he was a nice guy to have around that could play some hockey and he still can. It is nice to see good players stick around for the long haul and be productive.

As we continue to talk injuries on the Penguins front there was some good news in that Brooks Orpik will be back on the ice tonight after missing some time with an offseason hernia injury. Those are no jokes. I am sure it will take some time for Brooks to get back into hockey playing shape but it will sure be nice to see #44 out on the ice tonight.

Kris Letang will be out of the lineup tonight because of his suspension. Thank God it's just a suspension and he isn't hurt. I know that might be weird to hear that but with the Penguins injury situation it is almost a win when they get through an entire game withouth a major injury.

The Penguins really balled up and got a nice win in Minnesota so it will be interesting to see how they come out and play tonight. They are at home where it hasn't really felt like home. For much of the home games already the CONSOL crowd has been tame and pretty quiet. It would be nice if the student rush helped get some more energy in the building.

Mike Cammalleri is back in the lineup for Montreal. Wouldn't be surprised if he scored eight tonight.


Last time they met:

March 12, 2011 - Canadiens 3, Penguins 0



The Penguins probables

Forwards
Steve Sullivan - Richard Park - James Neal
Chris Kunitz - Jordan Staal - Pascal Dupuis
Matt Cooke - Joe Vitale - Arron Asham
Steve MacIntyre - Mark Letestu - Craig Adams

Defense
Paul Martin - Zbynek Michalek
Brooks Orpik - Deryk Engelland
Matt Niskanen - Ben Lovejoy

Goaltender
Marc Andre Fleury


The Canadians probables

Forwards
Travis Moen - Scott Gomez - Brian Gionta
Mike Cammalleri - Tomas Plekanec - Erik Cole
Max Pacioretty - David Desharnais - Andrei Kostitsyn
Mathieu Darche - Andreas Engqvist - Aaron Palushaj

Defense
Josh Gorges - P.K. Subban
Hal Gill - Raphael Diaz
Alexei Emelin - Yannick Weber

Goaltender
Carey Price

The Stats

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Rashard Mendenhall: AFC Offensive Player of the Week


Well, good thing we didn't bench Mendenhall, huh? Today it was announced that the running back was named the AFC Offensive Player of the week for his 146 yard day he had against the Jacksonville Jaguars in a 17-13 win on Sunday. Mendenhall carried the ball 23 times and also scored a touchdown for the Steelers who are now 4-2 on the season.

Mendenhall was coming off a week where he didn't play against the Tennessee Titans with a bummed hamstring but it didn't seem to bother him at all. Mendenhall even ripped off a 68-yard run where his hammy looked just fine.



Mendenhall was the second Steelers player to win a Player of the Week honor as quaterback Ben Roethlisberger won the AFC Offensive Player of the Week award last week for his performance against the Tennessee Titans. Not a bad couple of weeks for Steelers offensive players.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Penguins Game 8 Recap - Penguins 4, Wild 2

The Penguins showed no ill effects of play the most games in the NHL and playing the night before by coming out and playing some inspired hockey despite missing most of its lineup and playing over half of the game with only five defenseman. The Pens picked up the 4-2 win on Tuesday night and earned its day off tomorrow before returning to action on Thursday.

Let’s not get it twisted, this is a pretty big win for the Penguins. No Crosby, Malkin, Fleury, Orpik, Jeffrey, Kennedy and Letang and all the Penguins did was come in and take two points in regulation. This was the teams eighth game in 13 nights and they have been all over the nation but it just didn’t matter. This might be one of the signature wins of the year. I know that might seem pretty brash but for what this team is dealing with right now I think you can somewhat agree with that sediment.

Because of the back-to-back games Brent Johnson was the starter in net tonight and he gave a big time performance. He stopped 24 of 26 shots and kept the game close until the offense could put the game out of reach. There was a spot in the third period where Beej got his legs tangled up and was a little banged up but he stayed in there and made some unreal saves. I don’t know who the three stars were but he was the first star of the game. Great performance from him.

James Neal is just on an unreal tear. Going into the season a lot of people were wondering if he would ever be able to live up to the hype that he brought to Pittsburgh but right now he is the best player on the ice. With the Penguins leading 2-1 and the Wild just scoring a shorthanded goal to get back into the game Neal gather the puck and beat Niklas Backstrom between the legs to give the Penguins a 3-1 lead and really gave them some breathing room. Neal was strong on the puck all night and had a couple of really good opportunities and he just continues to make them count. Right now things just look easy for him and the Penguins really need that with the lack of offense they put out on the ice nightly.

A lot of people are also not on the Jordan Staal bus but the dude came to play tonight and had a huge goal to push the Penguins lead to 2-0. Hell, it was a power play goal too! I think people get the impression that with Crosby and Malkin out that Staal needs to provide the offense but that isn’t the type of player he is. He is an unreal two way player that will score the occasional goal but he really excels at the stuff that doesn’t show up on the score sheet. He is typically matched up against the opponent’s top line and he logs major minutes on the PK where the Penguins are damn near perfect. Keep that in mind.

Speaking of the PK the Penguins were flawless again tonight in five attempts for the Minnesota Wild. The Pens have only given up one power play goal all season but outside of that they have been spectacular. Honestly when the Wild were getting its power play opportunities I just thought “oh well this is a good way to kill two minutes of the clock. Just unreal work by the penalty kill. The highlight of the PK’s night was scoring its third shorthanded goal in the first eight games. Matt Cooke won a loose puck around the blue line and banked it off the boards to a streaking Pascal Dupuis who beat Backstrom with a sick move. That made the game 4-1 with like seven minutes left and it was officially over.

It wouldn’t be a Penguins game without an injury would it? Well there was an injury to the defense when Brian Strait went down with what looks like a wrist injury. I am not going to pretend to be a doctor but it didn’t look good. Not only is that bad because Strait could help this team out with the absence of Orpik and Letang but it meant that the team was going to have to play with five defenseman for more than half of the game. No fear though as the defense picked it up in a nice game.

With all the injures and such it has to be hard for a team to keep things together. I get the feeling that some people don’t really fully support what Dan Bylsma has done since taking over as head coach but tonight was the epitome of Disco keeping this team together. Last year without Crosby and Malkin he was able to get the team on the same page and nearly get them to the second round. This year he sticks with the grind em down attitude that sometimes is frustrating but it is still getting results and I will take that every day of the week until the cavalry comes.

Nice win tonight. Get some sleep. You deserve it.

Penguins Game Day 8 - @ Minnesota Wild

Minnesota Wild

7:30 p.m., Xcel Energy Center, St. Paul, MN

The big news out of the Penguins camp today was that they will be without the services of Kris Letang for two games. Letang was suspended by the NHL for his hit last night on Alexander Burmistrov that was called a boarding minor. Here is the video in case you missed it:



To be honest I don't have a huge problem with the suspension. I know a lot of people are really getting bent out of shape about it but this year already the NHL has taken a much harder stance on hits. Although these are split second decisions that need to be made at game speed the NHL is doing its best to get these types of hits out of the game.

With Letang not dressing tonight that means the Penguins are without Crosby, Malkin, Kennedy, Orpik, Letang and Jeffrey. I have no idea who even might be on the Penguins roster now that is capable of doing anything. This kind of still seems like the preseason when you don't dress half of your team because they don't play every night. I know it was bad this year but after the playoff loss I thought it might be a little different this season. Who am I kidding?

On top of the tough injury situation that the Penguins are in they are now playing their eighth game of the season. That will be eight games in 13 days. Just a ton of hockey to play to open the season. Not a good time to be tired.

As I am sure you will hear a million times tonight former Penguins power play guru coach Mike Yeo is now the main man in Minnesota. If you are looking to get rowdy tonight then there is a drinking game to be made.


That last time they met:

January 8, 2011 - Minnesota 4, Pittsburgh 0




The Penguins probables

Forwards
Steve Sullivan - Richard Park - James Neal
Chris Kunitz - Jordan Staal - Pascal Dupuis
Matt Cooke - Mark Letestu - Arron Asham
Steve MacIntyre - Joe Vitale - Craig Adams

Defense
Paul Martin - Zbynek Michalek
Brian Strait - Deryk Engelland
Matt Niskanen - Ben Lovejoy

Goaltender
Brent Johnson


The Wild probables

Forwards
Devin Setoguchi - Mikko Koivu - Dany Heatley
Pierre-Marc Bouchard - Matt Cullen - Guillaume Latendresse
Darroll Powe - Kyle Brodziak - Cal Clutterbuck
Brett Bulmer - Colton Gillies - Brad Staubitz

Defense
Greg Zanon - Marek Zidlicky
Nick Schultz - Marco Scandella
Clayton Stoner - Jared Spurgeon

Goaltender
Niklas Backstrom


The Stats