Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Penguins Game 50 Recap - Penguins 5, Leafs 4 (SO)

Some nights you come out and play like your hair is on fire. Some nights you come out and play like you just woke up 30 minutes before game time. For 50 minutes the Penguins played like the latter and were dominated by the visiting Leafs. Too bad for the Leafs that the Penguins played the last 10 minutes like their lives were on the line.

The Penguins were dominated for the better part of 50 minutes. It really wasn’t pretty. The Leafs were getting odd man breaks almost every other rush down the ice and the Penguins defense was nowhere to be found and when they were around they were throwing the puck away creating the odd man breaks.

With the Penguins trailing 2-1 the Leafs pretty much put the game away with a pair of goals 19 seconds apart to make it 4-1 with 13:33 left in the game. People were leaving the building and things were in a bad way. That all changed when Steve Sullivan picked up a puck and blasted a shot past Jonas Gustavsson to make it 4-2. OK, a little momentum for tomorrow night.

They did much better than that. After the Penguins go the one and only power play of the night (only the 12th penalty in the last 12 games for the Leafs) Joe Vitale worked his ass off in front of the net and beat Gustavsson to cut the lead to one with five minutes left in the game. Things stayed that way the rest of the third even though the Penguins were brining the heat but things didn’t look good. The Penguins never score with the goalie pulled.

With MAF out of the net and under a minute left the Penguins went to work. The puck only left the zone for a brief second but the Pens got the puck right back in. Steve Sullivan worked the puck from the point to James Neal on the right dot. Neal fired a one-time shot that was off the mark but hit Evgeni Malkin in the chest and deflected into the goal. Just an unreal ending. 6.6 seconds left and the game was tied. What a time to be alive.

Overtime was a mad house. Sullivan pretty much held the puck for the entire overtime period and the Penguins were all over the place. If overtime was 10 minutes instead of five the Pens would have won in OT. They went a shootout and MAF was brilliant, stopping all three shots. Malkin scored a shootout goal. Five straight times he’s scored in the shootout. Remember when he was bad at this stuff.

Honestly during the final five minutes of this game I didn’t move. When MAF left the net I had goose bumps and when the puck went into the back of the net I threw my hands up in the air and screamed. This was what playoff hockey is about and it was only in game 50.

I gotta give the Leafs credit, they are a fun team to watch. They have some guys that can really move and get the puck and they really pack the defensive end when they get everyone back. Goaltending seems to be the real down on the team, especially tonight, as Gustavsson really melted down the stretch tonight but it really wasn’t all on him. The Leafs were floundering the final 10 minutes of the game and it cost them.

It is not too often that a goaltender can give up four goals and still probably deserve to be the number one star but that is exactly what Fleury did tonight. He made 35 saves but honestly if he wasn’t in net this would have probably been an eight goal night for the Leafs. I talked about how the Leafs were getting odd man breaks like every other rush and MAF was there to stop nearly every single one of them. It was great to watch. Not sure there are many better goaltenders in the league right now. Just a brick wall.

While MAF was great the defense was not. The pairing of Niskanen and Engelland were pretty bad all night and the pairing of Martin and Michalek were pretty bad as well. As you know I am a pretty big Martin supporter but he was pretty terrible tonight. Out of position and just didn’t look good. Granted, this was the first game off a lengthy break so there must be some time to shake the rust off but that should be only attributed to tonight. They must be better tomorrow.

You can’t say enough about how good Steve Sullivan was tonight. Sullivan has been a little frustrating this year when he passes the puck one too many times and passes up some great looks at the net but he might have played his best of the season tonight. He showed up for the full 60 minutes and completely took over the final 10 minutes of the game and the entire overtime session. Just a really great effort form him and the team fed off that.

Tyler Kennedy needs to show up. No idea where he has been.

Just a really gutty effort by the team. They were down and out and they were not showing and signs of coming back. To be honest I was relegated to the loss when they scored those back-to-back goals. Games like this are bound to happen to teams every once in a while. What is really amazing about this is when your team has a “game like that” and still wins it you know you have something special going on. Eight wins in a row and they are still looking strong.

Penguins will be back at it tomorrow night against the Leafs.

Penguins Game Day 50 - vs. Toronto Maple Leafs

Toronto Maple Leafs

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

The Penguins are finally back after the All-Star break and doesn't it seem like it's been longer than a week since they have played their last game. Well don't fear because the Penguins are going to be playing a ton of hockey this week so you will be thrust right back into it. Tonight kicks off a home-and-home for the Penguins and Leafs before they play another back-to-back games this weekend against the Bruins and Devils. Wouldn't have it any other way.

The Leafs are coming in fighting for a playoff spot. Currently they sit in ninth place in the East and have the exact same number of points as the Devils, who are in eighth place.

Jonas Gustavsson has started in 10 of the last 11 contests and is actually playing some pretty decent hockey although he is not exactly what you would call a stable goaltender if you asked many of the Leafs fans that are out there. Joff Lupul should be a pretty familiar name as he was a Philadelphia Flyer and has always played pretty well against the Penguins. This year he is playing really well for the Leafs as he leads the team with 52 points and 32 assists. Phil Kessel is also pretty good even though he looks like that chubby kid that everyone makes fun of but you are still friends with.

MAF is going to be in net tonight. Shocker. He has played in like every single game this season but I would expect that his workload is going to be a little lighter the second half with a ton of back-to-backs.



The season series (Toronto leads 1-0):

October 29, 2011 - Toronto 4, Pittsburgh 3





The Penguins probables (via Seth at Empty Netters):

Forwards
Chris Kunitz - Evgeni Malkin - James Neal
Pascal Dupuis - Dustin Jeffrey - Tyler Kennedy
Matt Cooke - Richard Park - Steve Sullivan
Colin McDonald - Joe Vitale - Colin McDonald-*

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

Goaltender
Marc Andre Fleury


The Leafs probables:

Forwards
Joffrey Lupul - Tyler Bozak - Phil Kessel
Clarke MacArthur - Mikhail Grabovski - Nikolai Kulemin
Matthew Lombardi - Tim Connelly - Nazem Kadri
Joey Crabb - David Steckel - Mike Brown

Defense
Dion Phaneuf - Luke Schenn
Carl Gunnarsson - Mike Komisarek
Jake Gardiner - Cody Franson

Goaltender
Jonas Gustavsson


The stats:



Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Four Pirates On MLB.com Top-100 Prospect List

Tonight on MLB Network they unveiled the top-50 prospect list while giving out numbers 51-100 online and the Pirates were rewarded with four selections. The Bucs had three prospects in the top-50 and then one more player in the 51-100 category to give them four total prospects. On the MLB Networking breakdown they finished with three top-50 prospects which tied for the second most in all of baseball.

The Pirates prospects included Jameson Taillon (8th), Gerrit Cole (11th), Starling Marte (40th) and Josh Bell (69th).

What was pretty interesting is that MLB.com broke down the list into points. They gave 100 points to the number one prospect, 99 points for the number two prospects and so on and then added up all the points for those positions. The Pirates finished third overall with 276 points which trailed only the Mariners and Royals who finished with five and four prospects, respectively.

To put this list in a little more prospective the Pirates only had one prospect in the 2010 top-50 and only one in the 2009 top-50. I think it is pretty easy to say that the Pirates minor league system has come a long way in the past couple of years.

Here is the MLB.com breakdown of the Pirates prospects:

Jameson Taillon - Taillon uses all of his 6-foot-6-inch frame well on the mound, with a good downward plane, which should allow him to keep the ball down in the zone and continue to generate groundouts. He has a plus fastball that touches the upper 90s that he can maintain deeper into starts. His curve is a plus pitch, and his second breaking ball, a slider, can be as unhittable at times. He has a good feel for the changeup and just needs to throw it more to give him four outstanding offerings, all of which he can throw for strikes. With the gloves coming off in 2012, he should be able to become a more complete pitcher.

Gerrit Cole - With the exception of a rough outing in the Rising Stars Game, Cole avoided overthrowing and opening his front side too much, the pitfalls that caused him to be hittable at times during his junior year at UCLA despite plus stuff across the board. He can reach the upper 90s easily with his fastball, even registering some triple digits, and sits at 95-96 mph deep into starts. He throws a hard slider in the upper 80s and even his changeup is a power pitch. All three are plus offerings, and he can throw all for strikes. He was catching too much of the plate at times last year at UCLA, but when he’s repeating his delivery correctly, he keeps things down in the zone, making him even tougher to hit.

Starling Marte - Marte has always shown an ability to hit for average, and he proved he can do it at a higher level, winning the Double-A Eastern League batting title in 2011. Improved plate discipline will help that even more. He started to grow into his power as well and there could be more as he matures. He has the speed to be a successful basestealer but needs to work on cutting down his caught-stealing rate. With more work, he’ll be a good basestealer, and he is an excellent defensive center fielder with more than enough arm to move to a corner if needed.

Josh Bell - Bell was one of the best high-school bats in the 2011 Draft class but was deemed unsignable until the Pirates took a shot and got an above-slot deal done in the second round. He is a legitimate switch-hitter who has plus hit and power tools from both sides of the plate. He has an advanced approach at the plate and will work counts and draw walks along the way. He played center field in high school, but with average speed, he’ll probably move over to a corner spot, where he should be an above-average defender. He has the arm, and certainly the bat, to profile well in right field.

It was also really interesting to note that when they talked about Gerrit Cole they brought up the comparison with his UCLA teammate Trevor Bauer. I think the breakdown of this was great by the analysts on the show when they said that Cole was drafted as more of the prototypical pitcher with the size and the power and while he needs some work they Pirates would be able to get him in the system and work on those things. They talked about the drafting of Bauer was a win now move because he can come up and pitch immediately. The difference between the two according to Jonathan Mayo was that Cole probably has a much higher ceiling that he can attain, but it would take a year to tweak some things, while Bauer is about as close to his ceiling as he is going to get. So while you are looking at Bauer saying that the Pirates could have had that arm in the majors now the Pirates might have, and probably did, looked at it as they didn't need a pitcher for this year (they weren't going to compete) so they could go with prototypical guy with the higher ceiling rather than going for the right now guy with Bauer. You can agree or not with what the Pirates did but that was a really nice explanation from Mayo as to why the Pirates went with Cole over Bauer.

This has to make you feel good as a Pirates fan. I mean for much of my lifetime they have been starved of any sort of tanagble talent in the minor league system. Sure they had Andrew McCutchen and more recently Pedro Alvarez but they have never had more than two or three really top end talented players that people would look at and give any respectability to. They do now. Bash Neal Huntingon and Frank Coonley all you want but you can't deny that they have did wonders with the sytem. Sure it might be a little top heavy but look at what they had when they took the job, Brian Bixler? I mean if you want to bash them that is fine but give them a little bit of credit for what they have done.

When you watch shows like this it gets me pumped up that outside people are really thinking highly of what the Pirates have and while they might not be players that can come up and get the Pirates in the hunt this year but they will hopefully be ready when the Pirates themselves are ready to compete.

I know this might seem like empty enthusiasm but it is a step in the right direction and it gets me excited about baseball season.

Chris Hoke To Retire

Word coming out of Steelers camp is that Chris Hoke is going to hang it up after 11 years with the Steelers and the retirement presser will come tomorrow (Thursday).

Word of a backup nose tackle retiring usually wouldn't make a ton of news but when you are a member of one of the best defenses in the league that runs a 3-4 and depends so heavily on the nose tackle to get the work done then this begins to be news. Hoke's job wasn't to get tackles or sack the quarterback, but it was to stop the run and eat up blockers to keep the lineman off the linebackers so they could make the tackles and headlines.

Hoke was an undrafted free agent that the Steelers signed in 2004, a few years after they drafted Casey Hampton in the first round. It wasn't easy but Hoke was able to crack the roster and he has paid huge dividends in making the Steelers a Super Bowl contender more often than not.

When you talk about defensive guys you usually talk about tackles and sacks. Over Hoke's 11 year career he only amassed 83 tackles and two sacks but it goes way beyond that. What he did do was play in at least 14 games a year for 10 years and would have been 11 years if he didn't suffer a neck injury that required surguery and really forced him to retire. He was a mainstay on the line and if you ask anyone that watches the game of football you will really hear what Hoke meant to this Steelers teams.

When Casey Hampton went down in 2004 Hoke stepped in and helped the team win a Super Bowl. Some will say that you are only as good as your weakest line, and Hoke was never that link.

What will go unnoticed is how good of a person Hoke was. There might not have been a happier guy and when you heard him talk in interviews or even just saw him on the sideline or on the practice field you knew he loved what he was doing. He wasn't a nice guy on the field, and he shouldn't have been, but that is a different story. When you hear about how he used to start fights at practice just to catch the eye of the coaches you should understand that was his on field persona. This was a great guy on the field and an even better guy in the locker room and as a person.

I guess the gist of this isn't to tell you he was a great guy and made a few plays, but to really try and illustrate how good of a player and human he was. Most people will roll their eyes if you talk about a backup nose tackler retiring but for what Chris Hoke brought to the Steelers it deserves that talk and for you to smack that person who rolls their eyes in the face.

Good luck to Hokie in his retirement and I hope he enjoys it.

Marc Andre Fleury's Overtime in St. Louis

Great find by Seth over at Empty Netters with a video from YouTube of Marc Andre Fleury's overtime last night.



Pretty easy to say he stole the show last night. Three times the game could have easily been over if not for MAF.

Enjoy.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Penguins Game 49 Recap - Penguins 3, Blues 2 (SO)

The few weeks heading into the All-Star break there were some big games and some emotional moments. Tonight they were playing their toughest competition and they were able to come out with two points, albeit in a shootout, and extend the winning streak to seven games.

The Pens played some pretty good hockey early on and built up a two goal lead on scores from James Neal (non All-Star) and Steve Sullivan and things looked pretty good. The Blues battled back like champs though and really got better as the game went on. They tied the score with a pair of Patrik Berglund goals, one of which was on a penalty shot five minutes into the third period to tie the score.

If you remember the earlier game this season between these two teams really had a physical battle and tonight was no different. The Penguins and Blues exchanged blows during the game and really were playing on that clean/dirty line the whole night and it really led to a physical battle that was entertaining to watch. Officially the Blues outhit the Penguins 32-27 but most of you know how I feel about the hits statistic but this was a really gritty game which luckily comes on the brink of a week off.

Maybe the best part of this game was the overtime period. If there was ever a time you wanted to see the NHL go to a 10 minute overtime instead of five it was this game. If you weren’t on the edge of your seat then you weren’t watching the Pens/Blues game. Each team was back and forth getting scoring chance after scoring chance. If not for Marc Andre Fleury this game would have been over in favor of the Blues.

Speaking of Fleury he was outstanding. I mean he has been great the past two weeks but tonight he was on another world. He finished as the number one star of the game and it really wasn’t even close if he should have been named it. He made 32 saves and at least 6-8 of those were jaw droppers including three in overtime that should all be tied for the top play on SportsCenter tomorrow morning. I actually saw some people bashing on Fleury during the game to Seth from Empty Netters and while I thought those people were kidding I came to find out they weren’t. I have no idea what games those people watch of MAF but he is the team MVP as of right now. As good as Evgeni Malkin and James Neal has been MAF has been that good and maybe better. Just a treat to watch him right now. One of the best in the league.

While Malkin might not have scored a goal and had his six game goal scoring streak snapped he did get a goal in the shootout. It was pretty sick. He is pretty much doing whatever he wants right now and it is working.

James Neal continues to make even more of a mockery of the NHL All-Star game than it already is. He now has 27 goals on the season and isn’t in the mid-winter classic (yea, I made that up). He was stopped in the shootout but he was outstanding all game and was tied with Malkin with a team-high six shots on goal. Pretty funny to think back when we were thinking it would be great if Neal would score 30 goals. He has 27 at the break. Man.

Paul Martin gets ridiculed a good bit for his play which is a direct result of his $5M salary he is getting played but on the Neal goal he really made it happen. He fought the puck off a Blues defender and got it to Neal from behind the net for him to get a great scoring chance. Overall though Martin didn’t play very well as he was beaten a few times off the puck but luckily MAF was there to pick him up. Not sure what is up with Martin lately but he has been pretty up and down as of recent. I think he will be good going forward but it is just frustrating sometimes.

Matt Cooke might be making some news, but not in the right way. It was near the end of the game and he was going into the corner and semi shoved Barret Jackman into the boards. Here is the video:



In my opinion (and only seeing one replay) it didn’t look as bad as it did in real time. Jackman sort of turned his back at the last second and sort of threw himself into the boards. Sure, Cooke did extend his arms but he did not leave his feet or even come close to hitting Jackman in the head and while it was called boarding I just don’t see how it was a terrible hit. It might get looked at because of Cooke’s past and I guess I wouldn’t be surprised if he got some supplemental discipline but what do we really know?

The Blues are a pretty good hockey club. While they toe the line in their physical game they have a ton of talent and I think this really showed where the Penguins were as a team after the six game losing stream and the following winning streak (now at seven). They have strong goaltending and some really talented forwards who can move the puck and skate pretty well. It was an entertaining hockey game and one in which I wouldn’t mind seeing more often.

Hopefully the Penguins can enjoy some time off and get their legs back under them because they have a home-and-home with the Leafs next Tueseday/Wednesday. All-Star game is this weekend, I guess. Actually I have no idea when it is. All-Star games are dumb.

Penguins Game Day 49 - @ St. Louis Blues

St. Louis Blues

8:00 p.m., Scottrade Center, Saint Louis, Missouri


This will be the final game before the All-Star break and while I think it is imporant to get the week off (for Marc Andre Fleury) but I think the Penguins want this break to be pushed back a little bit. I think that the biggest monmentum killer in sports is halftime/period break but one of the other ways to kill momentum is to have the All-Star break which for the NHL is smack dab in the middle of the season.

This might be the biggest test of the past couple of weeks as the Blues are as hot as they come. They are 8-1-1 in their last 10 and that only loss came last night against the Red Wings when they lost 3-1. This is going to be a huge task as they face one of the best goaltenders in the league in Brian Elliot as he leads the league in goals against average (1.68) and is second in save percentage (.937). While he has been one of the best he has given up three goals in four of his last six starts but that doesn't guarantee anything if you are the Penguins.

The Penguins haven't been too shaby either going 6-0-0 in their last six games and riding the back of Evgeni Malkin who holds the points lead and also is third in the league with 26 goals, which is only six goals back of Steve Stamkos for the NHL lead. Oh yea, non-All-Star James Neal also has 26 goals.

Marc Andre Fleury might play every game the rest of the season. Dude has been a rock in goal and a huge reason the Penguins are where they are in the standings (6th) despite having a brutal six game losing streak. As I said before I don't agree with playing MAF in each of these games where the Penguins played five games in eight days but I guess stacking the wins will make it a little easier to swallow.

Should be a really fun game between a couple of teams that are playing some great hockey right now.




Season series (Penguins lead 1-0):

November 23, 2011 - St. Louis 3, Pittsburgh 2 (OT)




The Penguins probables (via Seth at Empty Netters):

Forwards
Chris Kunitz - Evgeni Malkin - James Neal
Pascal Dupuis - Dustin Jeffrey - Tyler Kennedy
Matt Cooke - Richard Park - Steve Sullivan
Eric Tangradi - Joe Vitale - Craig Adams

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

Goaltender
Marc Andre Fleury


The Blues probables:

Forwards
David Perron - David Backes - T.J. Oshie
Vladimir Sobotka - Patrik Berglund - Matt D'Agostini
Jamie Langenbrunner - Jason Arnott - Chris Stewart
Chris Porter - Scott Nichol - B.J. Crombeen

Defense
Carlo Colaiacovo - Alex Pietrangelo
Barret Jackman - Kevin Shattenkirk
Kris Russell - Roman Polak

Goaltender
Brian Elliott



The stats:



Sunday, January 22, 2012

Penguins Game 48 Recap - Penguins 4, Capitals 3 (OT)

Remember earlier in the year when the Penguins played like no overtime games and we could count on a game being completed in 60 minutes? Well, not anymore. The Penguins went to overtime today with the Capitals which marks the third time in the last four games where they gave the fans some free hockey. Instead of winning the game in a shootout they decided to end it in overtime when Evgeni Malkin beat Michal Neuvirth just a minute and a half into the extra session.

The Penguins got on the board in a fast way with a pair of goals 1:01 apart. Kris Letang scored a power play goal just eight seconds into a Dennis Wideman penalty and then James Neal sniped one past Neuvirth directly off a faceoff win by Evgeni Malkin. Honestly it looked like this was going to be a route with how the Capitals have struggled and how good the Penguins have been but that wasn’t the case. As much as the Penguins dominated the first period the Capitals controlled the second period and tied the score up with goals from Brooks Laich and Alex Semin while the Penguins only managed five shots.

Alex Ocechkin came out and gave the Caps the lead just 1:08 into the third and you would be kidding if you didn’t feel that “here we go.” The Penguins have been known to play great hockey at the onset and then let teams back into the game and lose games they probably shouldn’t but that wasn’t the case today.

The Pens bounced back and got a James Neal goal, his 26th of the season, with 13 minutes to go in the third on some great work by Malkin. He split three Caps players into the board to win the puck and then got it to James Neal who went top shelf on a pretty remarkable shot. Just a great all around play by that line.

The overtime was really just the Penguins toying with the Capitals and then putting them out of their misery. First it was Kris Letang skating with the puck for about 40 seconds with nobody able to take the puck off him then it was Malkin who did the same thing in the offensive zone which led Paul Martin keeping the puck in on a pinch and then getting the puck to James Neal who shot the puck wide of the net and Geno picked up the puck off the boards and ended it. What an ending.

When Neal struggled last season I think everyone kind of knew it might take some time and he would eventually get things going but I don’t think anyone had this in mind. He now has 26 goals and maybe getting to 40 isn’t so ridiculous after all. What might be more impressive about James Neal is the unreal chemistry that he has with Evgeni Malkin. Those two just know what each other is going to do and the most impressive play by those two came in the third but it didn’t result in a goal. Neal and Malkin were on a rush and Neal was at the blue line and gave a pass to Malkin who was pretty much directly in front of him and as the pass was coming from directly behind him Malkin was able to get a one-time shot on net. Most might not remember this but not a lot of players and teammates can do that kind of stuff and make it look so easy.

Talking about Malkin I probably shouldn’t need to say this but he is the best player in the league and I don’t really think it is close anymore. He had three more points tonight and the game winner, but much more than that he has been working his balls off to get loose pucks and put his teammates in positions to succeed.

Chris Kunitz might not have a ton of points on a night-to-night basis but he is just as important to the top lines success than Neal and Malkin. That might seem ridiculous to say but he is the one that is the grinder on that line and he is in front of the net which was huge on Kris Letang’s opening goal on the power play. Don’t overlook what Kunitz means to this team.

What is the best way to get over a six game losing streak? Go on a six game winning streak. Really nice job by the team as a whole to not go into full panic mode when they were on the losing streak and now they are pretty much back where they were before the streak. There is no panic in the team and that starts from the top with Disco and resonates through with the leaders of this team. Brooks Orpik stepped up and called out the team and Malkin put the team on his back and everyone is contributing. It is really fun to watch.

I guess I will touch on the Ovechkin hit on Zbynek Michalek. Here is the hit in case you didn’t get to see it:



I mean should we really be surprised that OV did something like this? Throughout his career he has made hits like this with nobody telling him that he couldn’t do it. It will be interesting to see if he gets slapped with a fine but I wouldn’t hold my breath. I think if Michalek got hurt this would be a different story but until that happens I don’t see this being made a big deal of. Luckily Michalek is OK (that we know of) but these are the kinds of hits that are supposed to be out of the game. It will be interesting.

The Penguins get a day off tomorrow before they take on a really hot St. Louis Blues team on Tuesday. That should be an outstanding game.

Penguins Game Day 48 - vs. Washington Capitals

Washington Capitals

12:30 p.m., CONSOL Energy Center, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

This finishes up a three game in four day stretch for the Penguins and after two shootout wins they are looking for a clean sweep over a struggling Capitals team. The Capitals team has only scored five goal in its last four games and has been shutout two of the last three games. Just not good times for the Caps but that doesn't mean that the Penguins shouldn't pick up two points today.

I think a lot of people are really off the ledge about the Penguins missing the playoffs but Washinton, as of right now, is in the eight spot, but just barely. Getting a win over them would further separate themselves from that number eight spot while pushing the Capitals down.

Marc Andre Fleury is in net for the start and this will mark the 21st straight game that he will play in (started 19 of those games including today). A lot of work for the Flower but I guess you can't really break up his good play in the five game winning streak. He did give up four goals to Montreal so hopefully he gets refocused for this one.



The season series (Washington leads 2-1):

October 13, 2011 - Washington 3, Pittsburgh 2 (OT)



December 1, 2011 - Pittsburgh 2, Washington 1

January 11, 2012 - Washington 1, Pittsburgh 0




The Penguins probables (via Seth at Empty Netters):

Forwards
Chris Kunitz - Evgeni Malkin - James Neal
Pascal Dupuis - Dustin Jeffrey - Tyler Kennedy
Matt Cooke - Richard Park - Steve Sullivan
Eric Tangradi - Joe Vitale - Craig Adams

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

Goaltender
Marc Andre Fleury


The Capitals probables:

Forwards
Alex Ovechkin - Marcus Johansson - Troy Brower
Mike Knuble - Brooks Laich - Alexander Semin
Jason Chimera - Jeff Halpern - Joel Ward
Matt Hendricks - Cody Eakin - Mathieu Perreault/Jay Beagle

Defense
Karl Alzner - Dennis Wideman
Dmitry Orlov - John Carlson
Roman Hamrlik - Tomas Kundratek

Goaltender
Tomas Vokoun



The stats:


Saturday, January 21, 2012

Penguins Game 47 Recap - Penguins 5, Canadiens 4 (SO)

After the Penguins win last night in New York it would have been very easy for them to come out and lay and egg against a bad team tonight. For two periods that is exactly the way the game played out and every time the Penguins got within a goal the Habs were there to push another goal past MAF.

Things just felt like they weren't going to fall but then the third period came around with the Penguins down 4-2 and Dustin Jeffrey and Evgeni Malkin tied it up to force overtime and Geno scored the only goal in the shootout to bring the Penguins winning streak to five games as they head into another game with Washington on Sunday.

Malkin was outstanding. The Habs put their top defensive pair on him and for the most part they did their job. Malkin only had one shot before he buried the tying goal with less than three minutes in the game. Any time you needed a big play you look toward Malkin and he has been coming through every single time. Nobody is better in the NHL than him right now.

Jeffrey has had problems with a torn ACL last season and is just coming back from injuries this year and it was only a matter of time before he broke out. He is kind of that unsung guy that is a good all around player and tonight he came through with two beautiful goals and added an assist. I talked about the secondary scoring a few games ago and it has come up huge the past two games. Jeffrey is just another example of how good this team can be if the secondary guys are on. It's a great thing to watch.

Kris Letang logged almost 29 minutes of action and was great. His first goal was a thing of beauty and it really looks like he hasn't missed a beat. What an unreal player.

Marc Andre Fleury started this game which if you read the pregame knew that I thought this wasn't the best idea. You almost have to think that MAF isn't going to play against both the Caps on Sunday and Blues on Tuesday so it should be interesting to see how HCDB handles it. As I said on twitter I trust his judgement but MAF is logging a ton of games so far and you have to wonder how they feel about their backup goaltending situation.

Whatever. PK Subban sucks. I don't like the Habs. Good for them.

Bring on the Caps.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Penguins Game Day 47 - vs. Montreal Canadiens

Montreal Canadiens

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

Coming of the huge win last night at MSG the Penguins are going to have to get their minds right when they come back to the CONSOL to take on a struggling Montreal team. I guess struggling would be an understatement for Montreal. They are better than only two other teams in the East (point wise) and nothing has gone right. Do I feel bad? Hell no.

The Penguins are playing some good hockey but this is the second night of back-to-back games so hopefully the CONSOL crowd gives them a little something to put pep in the step. This will be Kris Letang's second game back since getting smashed in the teams last meetup. That meetup was a Penguins win where Letang came back for overtime and beat Carey Price. Maybe that is why Price isn't in goal (I know that's not why).

This is also the middle game in a series where the Penguins play three games in four days so Marc Andre Fleury is going to get the rest that he desperatly needs. Get him fresh for Sunday against Washington and hopefully the Penguins can pull off a fifth straight win. I am pretty surprised that MAF is playing, not going to lie. He is playing some good hockey of late so hopefully this means a win.


The season series (Penguins lead 2-0):

October 20, 2011 - Penguins 3, Canadiens 1



November 26, 2011 - Penguins 4, Canadiens 3 (OT)




The Penguins probables (via Seth at Empty Netters):

Forwards
Chris Kunitz - Evgeni Malkin - James Neal
Pascal Dupuis - Dustin Jeffrey - Tyler Kennedy
Matt Cooke - Richard Park - Steve Sullivan
Eric Tangradi - Joe Vitale - Craig Adams

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

Goaltender
Marc Andre Fleury


The Canadiens probables:

Forwards
Rene Bourque - Tomas Plekanec - Mike Blunden
Travis Moen - Lars Eller - Andrei Kostitsyn
Erik Cole - David Desharnais - Max Pacioretty
Mathieu Darche - Scott Gomez

Defense
Josh Gorges - PK Subban
Hall Gill - Yannick Weber
Alexei Emelin - Raphael Diaz
Tomas Kaberle

Goaltender
Peter Budaj



The stats:


Bruce Arians To Retire

Today it was announced that Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians will retire and not return to the team next year. This isn't something that is a shock, today, as we probably knew this was going to happen from a few days ago when it was hinted that BA would not be back.

I really covered a lot of this a few days ago when I talked about BA probably not coming back so if you would like just click the link and read that over real quick.

I might be one of the few people that actually like BA and didn't mind him as the offensive coordinator of the team but that is not the sediment across Steelers Nation. I heard some people saying that BA lost the Steelers games through his tenure but in the same respect he won them a ton of games more than he lost.

I do not like him not being back next year but you really can't fault a guy for retiring, especially if it is for health reasons like last year. There is some talk that he was forced to retire as the Steelers really didn't want to "fire" him but who knows. Not sure if I buy that. Anyways, I wish him all the luck in his retirement.

There are a lot of names being thrown out there by fans. It will be interesting to see if the Steelers decide to stay in house or go outside. Some sediment (I used that word twice already?) that Randy Fichtner might be in line to be the offensive coordinator after serving on the staff as the quarterbacks coach. It was also rumored that Kirby Wilson was in contention before his terrible accident that leaves him in critical condition in the hospital. As always Coach Wilson is in our prayers and we all hope for a speedy and healthy recovery. There are outside guys but there are too many to name. Mike Tomlin and some staff will be at the Senior Bowl so I assume they will talk to people there.

Gonna be a different type of off season.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Penguins Game 46 Recap - Penguins 4, Rangers 1

Going into Madison Square Garden and getting a win is a tough thing to do but all the Penguins did was go into MSG and beat the Rangers 4-1 behind unreal performances from Marc Andre Fleury and Evgeni Malkin. The Penguins haven’t beat a ton of good teams this year but this was a time that they got a much needed victory over a really strong team. Feels great.

The Penguins played a strong game for 60 minutes and while the Rangers came on strong in the second period the Penguins shut the door in the third period when they scored three goals, including an empty netter, to get out of New York with a big victory.

The first period was all Penguins all the time. They were outshooting the Rangers 8-0 about half way through the period and were up 1-0 on a Chris Kunitz goal just 3:16 in. Kuntiz won a battle for the puck along the boards and fed it to a wide open Paul Martin who got a good chance off that Henrik Lundqvist stopped but Kunitz followed the play up with a roof job for the lead. Great play by Kunitz.

The Rangers then got the next six shots of the game and MAF was holding the fort. Thje Penguins finished up the period with six of the next eight shots. It was really a dominating period for the Penguins and it was a much needed one against a good team. We have all seen this movie though, the Penguins play a solid first period and then just get waxed in the second and third. Not this time.

The Penguins held the fort in the second period even though the Rangers tied it up. Meh. The third period was a different story. Just over two minutes into the period the Penguins got a three on one and Richard Park beat Stunnedqvist on the short side. The Penguins usually struggle with those odd man breaks but Park buried it this time.

Evgeni Malkin pretty much put the game on ice around five minutes later. Kris Letang threw the puck around the boards and Marc Staal tried to kick the puck out of the zone and totally missed. Luckily for the Penguins Malkin was there, picked up the puck and rocketed a backhander past Lundqvist where mama keeps the cookies. Sick goal.

Malkin iced it with an empty netter. Money.

Letang was back for his first game since November and looked like he didn’t miss a beat. I knew how good he was while he was out but you really didn’t understand how much the Penguins missed him till you saw him play tonight. He is one of the smoothest hockey players in the league and while the Penguins said they were going to manage his minutes they had him out there for 24:17 which led the team. Just a really great performance for Letang and it made a huge difference for the team.

Evgeni Malkin is just on an unreal pace right now. He is the best player on the ice every night and with his two goals tonight still leads the scoring race. He has scored something like six of the Penguins last eight goals and when the Penguins need a huge play or a huge goal he is right there. You really can’t say he isn’t the best player in the game because he is. Not many players can do what he does on a night in and night out basis. In his last six games he has eight goals and two assists and he really just can’t be stopped.

As good as Malkin was tonight my first star of the night goes to Marc Andre Fleury. He made 30 saves on 31 shots and never gave the Rangers much of a chance. When MAF is on there really isn’t too many goaltenders better than him and as of recent he has been outstanding. Without him the Penguins would be in some trouble. He has played in the last 19 games (17 starts) and has been as solid as can be. Malkin and Neal are getting a ton of credit, and deservingly so, but MAF is the real reason this team is playing so well and didn’t falter with all the injuries.

The Penguins got some clutch secondary scoring from Richard Park. The Penguins have been so hinging on Malkin and Neal so much that they really didn’t need the secondary scoring but they needed it tonight and got it. A clutch goal from Richard Park that was created Matt Cooke and Deryk Engelland scored what ended up being the game winning goal and it was all good. Joe Vitale and Pascal Dupuis played a real solid game and the fourth line was all over the Rangers.

This was a total team win for the Penguins. With Kris Letang back in the lineup they were finally able to have the core group of defenseman playing the same game and with the third and fourth lines rolling they were able to open up some more ice for the high profile players which lead to a big victory over the Rangers. Paul Martin and Zybnek Michalek played unreal hockey tonight and you can just tell they felt more at ease with their defensive teammates all there with them. Let’s not kid ourselves this is a good Rangers team and the Penguins were able to pretty much control the flow all night. Feels great.

Montreal in like six minutes.

Penguins Game Day 46 - @ New York Rangers

New York Rangers

7:00 p.m., Madison Squre Garden, New York, New York


Good and bad news coming out of the morning skate for the Penguins as we learned that Arron Asham will be out with concussion like symptoms. Asham missed the game on Tuesday night because of an "illness" but that turned into a concussion just like it did earlier in the year with Zbynek Michalek. Just add him to the concussion list.

The good news is that Kris Letang is returning the to lineup tonight after not playing a game since late November when he got his bell rung in Montreal. The Penguins are getting back its best blue liner and it should help out the Penguins a ton. I am not sure if he is going to log a ton of minutes but any time you get a top pair defensive guy you are going to be better.

Ben Lovejoy will take a seat tonight in favor of Letang. Sucks for Lovejoy because he is playing pretty well but so are Matt Niskanen and Deryk Engelland so it puts a capable defense man on the outside looking in. With the way injuries and things go it will be important to have that number seven d-man waiting because he will need to be used at some point.

The Rangers are coming in playing some great hockey as they are 7-3-0 in the last 10 games and a full 10 points ahead of the Penguins with a game in hand. This is a huge test for the Penguins and while this is far from a "must win" game it would be nice to finally crack the win column against the Rangers, especially in MSG.


Season series (Rangers lead 2-0):

November 29 - New York 4, Pittsburgh 3



January 6, 2012 - New York 3, Pittsburgh 1




The Penguins probables (via Penguins Report):

Forwards
Chris Kunitz - Evgeni Malkin - James Neal
Pascal Dupuis - Dustin Jeffrey - Tyler Kennedy
Steve Sullivan - Richard Park - Matt Cooke
Eric Tangradi - Joe Vitale - Craig Adams

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

Goaltender
Marc Andre Fleury


The Rangers probables (via Seth at Empty Netters):

Forwards
Brandon Dubinsky - Brad Richards - Ryan Callahan
Carl Hagelin - Derek Stepan - Marian Gaborik
Ruslan Fedotenko - Brian Boyle - Brandon Prust
Mike Rupp - Artem Anisimov - John Mitchell

Defense
Ryan McDonagh - Dan Girardi
Michael Del Zotto - Anton Stralman
Marc Staal - Stu Bickel

Goaltender
Henrik Lundqvist


The stats:


Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Bruce Arians Future In Pittsburgh. Retire? Returning?

The headline might seem like this is an instance of Bruce Arians being let go and not having his contract renewed by the Steelers. Sure, that might be it but we might have seen the last days of Bruce Arians on the sidelines for the Steelers as word from Gerry Dulac is that Arians might not return because of retirement (or not getting his contract renewed).

I can actually hear people in Pittsburgh planning the parade route for the second that BA announces his retirement/doesn't get renewed. Personally I don't think Arians has been that bad, but I think I am in the minority on this. Sure he runs the bubble screen a lot and the red zone efficiency has been less than desirable but what team is 100% happy with their offensive coordinator? I doubt too many.

I have always had the thought that coaches are overrated in the realm of game day. Bruce Arians could call 50 bubble screens in a row and if all of those screens go for 20+ yards you would probably say that "BA really went with what is working and attacked a weakness of the defense, what a coordinator." On the other hand if one of the passes fails because a receiver drops the pass with nothing but green grass in front of them it would be a terrible play call. Sure there could be times that one play would seem to work better but the players on the field largely determine how good a coordinator is.

Listen, if BA wants to retire because of health reasons then nobody can really blame him. As the article from Dulac says he did think about retiring last year because of health so this might have been a long time coming but this should be no reason for people to be happy. BA took over in 2007 and got the Steelers two Super Bowls and has helped Ben Roethlisberger become one of the best quarterbacks in the league. I guess that is pretty terrible for a coordinator, huh?

I think either way it goes where BA doesn't return it is going to be bad for the Steelers. Roethlisberger is entering the prime of his career and the last thing you want to do is throw a new coordinator in his lap, especially if that is someone he has never worked with before. I don't know about you but I don't want Ben having to go through an entire year trying to figure out a new offense when these are supposed to be his best years. It is no secret that BA and Ben got along well and BA was alright with Ben calling plays in the game running the no huddle and it worked. The Steelers were winning and while they weren't scoring 30 points a game like the Patriots they were winning playoff games and division titles. Give me that every day of the week.

If this is a situation where BA retires he deserves it. He has done a lot of good things for the organization and stepped in when Ken Whisenhunt took the head coaching job in Arizona and has helped this franchise continuing to win games. Sure most people don't like the guys but who can really sit here and say that any other team doesn't have it any different? What fan base doesn't roast their offensive coordinator throughout the season. If Arians does leave he should get some respect for what he has done here. Dealing with a patchwork offensive line and a lack of big play receivers (until recent) isn't easy but the Steelers still win. Give the guy some credit. Whether you like it or not he will be missed.

None of this is official and it is all just here say so stay tuned to see what happens.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Penguins Game 45 Recap - Penguins 2, Hurricanes 1 (SO)

The Penguins found themselves in an up and down hockey game that resulted in their first overtime contest since November but was able to best the Carolina Hurricanes 2-1 in the shootout. Two points it two points and when you are giving up that extra point to a team that isn’t going to make the playoffs then you can deal with that. The Penguins were all over the ice and really playing some good hockey.

Things weren’t that great early on as the Penguins were behind the eight ball just 2:11 into the game when Jamie McBain scored from the slot to give the Canes a 1-0 lead. Really ugly play by Paul Martin on the play which led to people wanting to cut him on the spot. No idea.

The Penguins played some really great hockey in the period, which translated into the entire game, but their hard work paid off late in the first period when Evgeni Malkin tied the game at one. Matt Niskanen and Martin got assists but this was all Malkin. Malkin took a puck that was deflected off his shins from Eric Staal and beat Cam Ward short side, top shelf, in a window that was just bigger than the puck. No idea how he did it. Ward has nightmares about Malkin the night before Pens/Canes games.

The Pens won the shootout when Geno and James Neal threw goals past Ward and MAF made a sick toe save to clinch the win.

Quick hits:

-This was the most physical game that the Penguins have played in some time. Joe Vitale was right in the middle of it and from start to finish he was laying the lumber. No idea how you can make Vitale a healthy scratch for some time.

-Brooks Orpik laid the hit of the season on Jeff Skinner:



Skinner was down and out and this was his second game back from a concussion and it didn’t look good as you can see from the video. Skinner was back to the game after about 10 minutes but that doesn’t mean anything. The Hurricanes better hope that Skinner doesn’t have any concussion related symptoms after that hit. It’s going to look really bad on the Hurricanes and the ATC staff if he does. Could mean huge ramifications for them if this is true. Either way there is no way Skinner should have been back in that game. Orpik also got a penalty for the hit. Interference. The official thought the puck was away but evidently after seeing the replay the official apologize to Orpik.

-Deryk Engelland and Tim Gleason threw down. It was unreal.



-Marc Andre Fleury has been a brick wall lately. He gave up the early one on a defensive breakdown but made tough saves look pretty routine the rest of the game. This has been his best full season so far in his career and with the injury situation the way it has been he has answered the bell and played some great hockey.

-Pascal Dupuis might have been the best player on the ice tonight for either team. On the Penguins there might not be a single player who works harder than Dupuis. He might have had 100 chances tonight but just couldn’t get one to fall but his continued hustle and gritty play created those chances for himself and his teammates. Unreal work by Duper. He should have been one of the three stars tonight.

-Malkin has been nothing less than dominating. Also the chemistry between him and James Neal is so ridiculous it isn’t even funny. Neal is not going to be playing with Sidney Crosby when he eventually comes back and if he does it will be a huge mistake.

Whatever. Bring on the Rangers and Habs on Thursday and Friday.

Penguins Game Day 45 - vs. Carolina Hurricanes

Carolina Hurricanes

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

Today is the first day of a busy week for the Penguins. Starting today the Penguins will play four games in six days, three of which will be played in the friendly confinds of the CONSOL Energy Center. The Penguins have played three pretty good games over the past week so hopefully that will continue tonight against a below average Carolina team.

The Penguins are getting healthier as Kris Letang practiced with the team today. While he will not be in the lineup tonight he is going to be back very soon. I would anticipate he won't be back until after the All-Star break but that is creeping up on us quickly.

The Pens have scored 10 goals in the last two games which includes four by Evgeni Malkin and three by James Neal. MAF has played much better lately and will get the start again for the Pens. They are playing for their playoff lives now, even though it is just over the mid point, so stacking points against bad teams is a must.

I hope I get to hear a Cam Ward chant.



The season series (Pittsburgh leads 2-1):

November 12, 2011 - Carolina 5, Pittsburgh 3



December 3, 2011 - Pittsburgh 3, Carolina 2



December 27, 2011 - Pittsburgh 4, Carolina 2




The Penguins probables (via Seth at Empty Netters):

Forwards
Chris Kunitz - Evgeni Malkin - James Neal
Pascal Dupuis - Dustin Jeffrey - Tyler Kennedy
Matt Cooke - Richard Park - Steve Sullivan
Eric Tangradi - Joe Vitale - Craig Adams

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

Goaltender
Marc Andre Fleury


The Hurricanes probables:

Forwards
Jiri Tlusty - Eric Staal - Tuomo Ruutu
Jussi Jokinen - Jeff Skinner - Alexei Ponikarovsky
Andreas Nodl - Brandon Sutter - Patrick Dwyer
Brett Sutter - Tim Brent - Anthony Stewart

Defense
Bryan Allen - Tim Gleason
Derek Joslin - Jamie McBain
Jay Harrison - Justin Faulk

Goaltender
Cam Ward



The stats:


Sunday, January 15, 2012

Penguins Game 44 Recap - Penguins 6, Lightning 3

Well guys, I am back. It was a long week of work and I didn’t get to follow much of the Penguins during that time but now that I am back home and finally starting to get a little deeper into the past couple of games and things are good. Today was no different. The Penguins dominated today against the Lightning but had to hang on. I know it’s tough to say a team had to “hang on” when they win 6-3 but it was a weird game.

Not too bad when you have a guy like Evgeni Malkin that can take over a game after letting a substantial lead slip away. After the Lightning tied the game at three, after being down 3-0, Malkin went on to score a natural hat trick (which included an empty net goal) and just took over the game and put the team on his back. You gotta love watching stuff like that.

During the Penguins six game losing streak they scored six goals. In the last two games, both wins, they have scored 10 goals. It’s nice to score more than one goal a game.

This game was really all Penguins all the time through two periods. They scored two first period goals, by James Neal and Richard Park, and the Lightning went into the intermission with only five shots. Just dominating play. The second period was much of the same with the Penguins outshooting Tampa Bay 15-8 and they held on to a 2-0 lead.

After James Neal got on the board again with a power play goal things got interesting. In just under a five minute span the Lighting tied the game and with about 13 minutes left in the game things did not feel so well. Then it happened. Right after the Tampa third goal Dominic Moore starts to chirp Malkin. Hard. So bad that James Neal had to skate over and take over Malkin’s spot on the left and Malkin moved over to the right. Bad move by Moore. Malkin scored a goal in less than a minute and then almost two more minutes after that. Ballgame.

Malkin has been outstanding all year and is now only one point off the league lead in points after the five point game. This was just another dominating game but the difference here was that he really just took it upon himself to win the game. He told the team to get on his back and he would carry them to a win. So much fun to watch when Malkin gets like that. With as much as the Penguins have struggled to score goals and get a flow going these past two games have been so important. They are back on the right track and hopefully this can propel them as they get more players back from injury.

James Neal has been so good this year. He scored a couple of power play goals and this year is almost the complete opposite of how things went for him last season. The bad angle goal he scored in the first was shot from the goal line and when things are going well they are going well. He now has 24 goals on the season which is only three goals off his career high, for a season. I would assume he is going to surpass that since this is only game 44. He stays healthy he probably hits 40.

Today it was the big guns scoring the goals for the Penguins but what has changed recently is that the secondary players are starting to find their groove and contribute in a big way. This Penguins team is much different when you have to worry about Tyler Kennedy and Richard Park scoring. It opens up a lot more offensively.

Brooks Orpik has been playing some really good hockey lately and really leading this team from the blue line. I think he gets out of position when he tries to go for the body and the big hit (as he did today) but overall he has played some good hockey over the recent past.

Interesting to note that of the six Penguins goals today three of them were unassisted and only six players recorded points. Not very often do you see that few players record a point in a game where the team scores six times.

Lost in all the good today was the Penguins getting dominated in the faceoff circle. They only won 33-of-70 face offs and two of the worst today were Malkin who was 9-of-29 (31%) and Dustin Jeffrey who was 6-of-18 (33%). Craig Adams was the only player who won more face offs than he lost (8-of-11).

Penguins Game Day 44 - @ Tampa Bay Lightning

Tampa Bay Lightning

1:00 p.m., Tampa Bay Times Forum, Tampa, Florida


The Season series (Tampa Bay leads 1-0):

November 17, 2011 - Tampa Bay 4, Pittsburgh 1




The Penguins probables:

Forwards
Chris Kunitz - Evgeni Malkin - James Neal
Pascal Dupuis - Dustin Jeffrey/Joe Vitale - Tyler Kennedy
Matt Cooke - Richard Park - Steve Sullivan
Eric Tangradi - Craig Adams - Arron Asham

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

Goaltender
Marc Andre Fleury


The Lightning probables:

Forwards
Steve Downie - Steven Stamkos - Martin St. Louis
Dominic Moore - Vincent Lecavalier - Brett Connolly
Ryan Malone - Nate Thompson - Teddy Purcell
Pierre-Cedric Labre - Tom Pyatt - Dana Tyrell

Defense
Pavel Kubina - Eric Brewer
Matt Gilroy - Brett Clark
Bruno Gervais - Brendan Mikkelson

Goaltender
Dwayne Roloson



The stats:


Friday, January 13, 2012

Penguins Game Day 43 - @ Florida Panthers

Out at work so you won't get the typical pregame. Actually this pregame is going to be like a few sentences.

Crosby isn't going to be playing but he did stay skating with the team today. Good times.

The Pens have lost six straight games. Really bad times.

Pens win tonight.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Penguins Game Day 42 - @ Washington Capitals

Washington Capitals

7:30 p.m., Verizon Center, Washington, D.C.


The season series (Tied 1-1):

October 13, 2011 - Washington 3, Pittsburgh 2 (OT)



December 1, 2011 - Pittsburgh 2, Washington 1



The Penguins probables:

Forwards
Chris Kunitz - Evgeni Malkin - James Neal
Eric Tangradi - Pascal Dupuis - Tyler Kennedy
Steve Sullivan - Richard Park - Matt Cooke
Arron Asham - Joe Vitale - Craig Adams

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

Goaltender
Marc Andre Fleury

The Capitals probables:

Forwards
Alex Ovechkin - Brooks Laich - Troy Brouwer
Alexander Semin - Marcus Johansson - Mike Knuble
Jason Chimera - Jeff Halpern - Joel Ward
Matt Hendricks - Mathieu Perrault - Jay Beagle

Defense
Karl Alzner - John Carlson
Roman Hamrlik - Dennis Wideman
John Erksine - Dmitry Orlov

Goaltender
Tomas Vokoun


The stats:


Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Penguins Game 41 Recap - Senators 5, Penguins 1

Just brutal. Again. The Penguins got smoked by the Senators 5-1 at the CONSOL tonight. Granted Ottawa is now 9-1-2 in their last 12 games, which they have beat the Penguins twice, but tonight was just brutal.

Not too much to say about this game. Nothing looked right and the Penguins were all over the place. Brent Johnson got the start in net and was yanked after only 22 minutes and giving up three goals on eight shots. Last season Johnson was a brick wall behind Fleury but this year he has just not had it. Granted all of this is far from his, or MAF's, fault but he just looks awful in net.

Evgeni Malkin finally put one past Craig Anderson in the second period, but that was after four goals by Ottawa. There was just no jump after the second Ottawa goal and things just went down the tank really fast.

Ben Lovejoy has been good all year but he was terrible tonight. He was embarrassed on the first two scored by Ottawa, one by Chris Neil. Vomit.

Eric Tangradi was pretty bad tonight too. No idea what he was doing on Ottawa's fifth goal.

The Penguins are still in the playoffs as of now but really it's way too early for that stuff. This was game 41, the exact halfway point of the season. If you think the season is over already then just stop watching. There is a lot of hockey to be played. Sure, the Penguins have only earned four points in the last seven games but just as quickly they could earn 10 in the next seven and this is a moot point. Like I said before being a fan is about the ups and downs and you have to be able to handle that.

I think the Penguins will be alright in the long run, just hard to see that right now but this team has talent. I know some people might want to see a huge trade but in reality that won't change the problems we have now, just have to keep playing hard and good things will happen. Stay the course.

Washington in like six minutes.

Penguins Game Day 41 - vs. Ottawa Senators

Ottawa Senators

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

Penguins back in business tonight and they are hurting. Jordan Staal is going to miss four to six weeks with a banged up knee and word is that Paul Martin isn't going to skate tonight with an illness which is probably true since they called up Simon Despres about an hour ago.

There is good news though as James Neal will be in the lineup as will Craig Adams and possibly Dustin Jeffrey. Neal was thought to be out "weeks" with a broken foot but it turns out that when he got an MRI it proved to not be a break that the x-ray showed. Who knows. Some people aren't buying that but stuff like that does happen. He took the morning skate today and said it actually feels good in a skate and it hurts a lot worse when he walks. It is just a bone bruise (if you believe the Penguins) so it will just be pain tolerance and he will not injure himself further by playing.

With all the bad news the Penguins got over the weekend today was just filled with good news. No word on Jeffrey playing but I bet he wouldn't. Kris Letang also skated hard for the second consecutive day which means he did not suffer any setback from his concussion. Maybe things are starting to work out a little better? I won't hold my breath.

Actually really excited for the game tonight. No idea why. Let's get it.


Season series (Tied 1-1):

November 25, 2011 - Pittsburgh 6, Ottawa 3



December 16, 2011 - Ottawa 6, Pittsburgh 4




The Penguins probables:

Forwards
Chris Kunitz - Evgeni Malkin - James Neal
Eric Tangradi - Pascal Dupuis - Tyler Kennedy
Steve Sullivan - Richard Park - Matt Cooke
Arron Asham - Joe Vitale - Craig Adams

Defense
Simon Despres - Zbynek Michalek
Brooks Orpik - Deryk Engelland
Matt Niskanen - Ben Lovejoy

Goaltender
Brent Johnson


The Senators probables:

Forwards
Milan Michalek - Jason Spezza - Colin Greening
Erik Condra - Kyle Turris - Daniel Alfredsson
Nick Foligno - Zack Smith - Bobby Butler
Kaspars Daugavins - Zenon Konopka - Chris Neil

Defense
Filip Kuba - Erik Karlsson
Jared Cowen - Sergei Gonchar
Chris Phillips - Brian Lee

Goaltender
Craig Anderson


The stats:








Monday, January 9, 2012

Steelers Wild Card Recap: Broncos 29, Steelers 23 (OT)

If you come to this blog often, hell even if you don’t, and read the headline I think you know what this is. This is the recap of the final game of the Steelers 2011 season which consequentially was an early end to the Steelers Super Bowl hopes. While a lot of people might not have had the Steelers in the Super Bowl there was no clear favorite in the AFC and it was pretty much up in the air for what was thought to be the three favorites in New England, Baltimore and the aforementioned Steelers. All good things must come to an end, however, and after a 12-4 regular season it is easy to see why people had high hopes, but only one team can be left standing in the end.

I am going to get into end of the year stuff and personal decisions in the next couple of weeks in a season wrap up but this is just going to be solely focused on the game against the Broncos. Not sure when I will get to the post season stuff but it will come as my work and personal schedule permit. OK, who are we kidding, it just depends on my work schedule.

The game overall wasn’t pretty for the Steelers. Sure, they came back and forced overtime but this went in the same way as all their games did against competition that was below them. They played down to their competition and this time they weren’t able to snatch the victory. Even at the half when the Steelers were down 20-6 I still felt pretty good that they were going to be able to come back and get the win and until I saw Demaryius Thomas sprint past Ike Taylor and Ryan Mundy I really thought the Steelers had it. They didn’t, overconfidence and brashness did them in along with some poor play from one of their top defenders and an offense that couldn’t get going. It leaves you at a loss for words and scratching your head but isn’t that what sports do a lot? Should we be surprised though? Look at Pitt football and basketball and the situation the Penguins are in. It’s bad times in the city right now. Hide Andrew McCutchen.

Here are some thoughts on the game:

-Although it really didn’t seem like it at the time the two field goals the Steelers hit in the first half really came back to haunt them as they scored six points instead of 10 or 14. With the way Denver’s offense was playing coming into the game making it a two touchdown game would have been huge in the first quarter, but it didn’t work out like that. Actually, the Steelers dominated the first quarter of football. They held the Broncos to only eight yards of total offense and I thought the game was going to be a route. The Steelers, however, couldn’t find the end zone either time and it killed them at the end.

-Maybe the biggest play of the game happened in the first Broncos series of the second quarter. Denver was playing on its own 18 yard line and was in a 3rd and 12 after an a catch by Eric Decker was ruled incomplete after a review. On third down Tebow was flushed out of the pocket and hit Thomas downfield for 51 yards and a first down. Ike Taylor got beat, bad and that opened up the floodgates that would never close. Two plays later Tebow hit Eddie Royal for a touchdown. Vomit.

-I guess we can’t go much farther in this recap without talking about how bad Taylor was in this game. He was beat time and time again and the two biggest plays of the game happened on his watch. The first was the Thomas catch I talked about above and the second was the final touchdown where he was matched up with Thomas and gave up an 80 yard touchdown pass on the first play in overtime. As you know I am one of the biggest Taylor supporters around and I still am. What he did during the regular season was Pro Bowl caliber even though he got snubbed. This was his worst game of the season and one of the worst of his career and unfortunately it happened in the playoffs. Ken Laird threw out a stat today that during the first 10 games of the season Taylor gave up 211 yards. Yea, Taylor should probably be cut for one bad game. If you really think Taylor should be cut then stop reading now and get off the internet and reevaluate your life and don’t talk about football for a long time. It was a bad game, but it is a statistical outlier in what was a superb season.

-The other thing we need to touch on is Tim Tebow finally stepped up and took advantage of things in the passing game. He led the Broncos to four scoring drives in the second quarter in four straight drives. It was the first time the Steelers have given up scores in four consecutive drives since the 2007 season and it killed. After he hit Royal for the touchdown he ran one in from eight yards out. He threw for 316 yards on only 10 completions. That is 15 yards per attempt and almost 32 yards per completion. The Steelers dared him to throw the football and for him to beat them and he did. I didn’t give him much of a chance to beat the Steelers but he proved me wrong and I will eat my crow. Do I think that he is a good quarterback? No, I don’t, but he is winning football games and beat the Steelers in the playoffs. That gets my respect.

-There were some good things about the game. Isaac Redman stepped up in a big way and ran for 121 yards on 17 carries and was the horse of the ground game. I thought Redman was going to play well but I didn’t envision him dominating as much as he did. The line was doing a nice job of blocking and he made the them pay with some good, hard, runs. If the Steelers could have got on top more it could have been an even better day for Ike but alas the Steelers were forced to throw a bit more than they probably wanted to which limited his carries. Should be fun to see him next year.

-Ben Roethlisberger actually played a pretty nice game for a guy who was supposed to be too banged up to even walk on Wednesday the week of the game. The first half wasn’t great for Ben, and to be honest it was pretty much the second quarter, but he had a really solid second half and almost was the reason the Steelers came back and won the game. He threw a brutal pick in the second quarter that led to a Broncos field goal which was after the back-to-back touchdowns so that sucked but the 31 yard strike he threw to Jerricho Cotchery to tie the game was vintage Ben. He moved in the pocket well and actually pulled it down and ran a few times. Much more than I thought he could do but it all came up short. When the Steelers got the ball with a little over a minute left and the score tied I thought it was over. All the Steelers needed was three points and Ben is the guy you want under center. There was a brutal delay of game call and then Ben took a sack he shouldn’t have and the Steelers went into overtime. You know how that went. Overall with the way Ben’s ankle was I think he played pretty well but the overall like of 22-fo-40 and 289 yards isn’t typical Ben.

-Heath Miller was the best player on the field last night for the Steelers. His numbers aren’t flashy with five catches for 60 yards but he was a complete tight end last night. On most of the big runs that Ike Redman got you can see Heath Miller out in front throwing a key block to break things open. He was all over the field. Another thing that might get overlooked is the fumble he recovered at the end of the first half. The Steelers were in field goal range but the shotgun snap went over Ben’s head and Miller was able to cover it up. If he doesn’t hustle back and cover the football up and the Broncos get it then they turn that into a field goal. Huge swing on a bad play.

-The injury situation if you are a Pittsburgh sports team is pretty dire. Already without a couple of key players the Steelers lost two defensive lineman in the first quarter when Casey Hampton was forced out with an ACL injury and Brent Keisel was sidelined with a groin injury. That left the Steelers with only three down lineman for the rest of the game and that was Steve McClendon, Cam Hayward and Ziggy Hood. Those three had no rest on defense for a team that was used to rotating d-line guys and that might have forced the Steelers into playing the safeties in the box a little more to stop the run. Later in the game Max Starks busted up his ACL so the Steelers were down three important guys and none of them would have probably been available for the rest of the playoffs so that would have just added to the list of banged up guys.

-I talked about the Steelers losing because of arrogance and I will explain now. Going into the game the mindset was to make Tim Tebow beat you through the air. That was a good game plan because he proved that he wasn’t able to do that in the past and with the experience and skill the Steelers have it shouldn’t have been a problem. It was. Tebow made some great throws through the air but the Steelers did not change. The Steelers went a lot of cover zero, which is man to man with no safety help, and the Steelers were having a really hard time covering that but time and time again Tebow was able to expose it. While Mike Tomlin said that the first play of overtime, and final play of the game, wasn’t cover zero it basically did. The Steelers ran an inverted cover two on that play which is basically a cover zero and Tebow knew that if he stuck the throw it was a touchdown. It was. The Steelers were arrogant in their approach and didn’t change when Tebow proved that he could take advantage of it. The Steelers got zero pressure on him and that can be just as much blamed on Dick LeBeau as the play on the field. You have to set up your players for success and last night the Steelers didn’t really do that. The coaches and decision weren’t all of the problem but it definitely was part of the problem.

I could go on for a lot longer about this but there really isn’t much more to say. The Steelers defense didn’t show up to play last night and gave up 447 yards to an offense that is below average at best. They let Tim Tebow beat them through the deep ball which is something the Steelers never give up. Make no mistake about it though, this was a total team loss by the Steelers. The coaches, offense and defense are all responsible for some portion of this loss and I don’t really think you can point out one player and say they were the reason, as much as you might want to. I know people want to bang on Ike Taylor but let’s not get ridiculous. He should not be cut and should be back. He was great all year and you can’t judge an entire season off of one game. That is silly.

All in all the Steelers had a good year. They didn’t get it done in the playoffs but that stuff happens. The Broncos were the better team on the field and the Steelers didn’t come to play. There is a small margin for error in the NFL and the Steelers found that out the hard way. This team is going to look very different come next year and it should be interesting to see what the Steelers do in the offseason. Just remember that it was a good year. 12-4 wins you the division most years, but it didn’t this year. 12-4 is a great year regardless of getting knocked out by the Broncos. We are spoiled as Steelers fans and isn’t it nice to expect to go to the Super Bowl every year and it be realistic? I wouldn’t trade it for any other team.

One last thing I want to touch on has to deal with the fans. Remember these players that we cheer for every Sunday are real people too. They have lives outside of football and they make mistakes. I saw a lot of people really going after certain players after the game and everyone just needs to cool it. Football at the end of the day is just a game. The sun still came up today and the 2012 season will be here in no time with another chance to bring home that seventh trophy. If you are one of those people that did that then I don’t even want you to be a fan of the Steelers or associate yourself with this great franchise. When you do shit like that you sound like a child and it is embarrassing so just don’t say anything if you want to say stuff like players should be thrown out of the plane or you hope certain players get hurt. Just don’t be that person that gives Steelers fans a bad name across the league. Basically, don’t be an idiot.

I would also like to thank everyone for coming on the blog and following me on twitter this season. I may not have always agreed with everyone but I can always find great discussion and incite and I hope you can do the same by coming here. It was a hell of a ride and I already can’t wait for the 2012 season.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Steelers Wild Card Prelim Recap: Denver 29, Pittsburgh 23 (OT)

Well that really wasn't the ending we thought was going to happen was it? The first overtime game with the new NFL overtime rules and all the Broncos did was take the first play and go 80 yards for a touchdown. I don't have a ton of time for what I thought of the game so I just wanted to throw up a few key points before I completely forget everything. Full recap will come tomorrow or Tuesday.

-Ike Taylor might have played his worst game as a Steeler. I am the biggest Taylor supporter as anyone out there but tonight was brutal. He gave up big play after big play and really looked lost. It was easily the worst game of the season for him. Bad games happen, it just sucks it happened in the playoffs.

-Hats off to Tim Tebow. I bashed him pretty hard in the preview and all he did was come out and throw for 316 yards and the game winning score in overtime. While it wasn't pretty he got the job done and also ran for 50 yards. I will eat my crow. Big ups.

-Heath Miller was outstanding tonight. It wasn't just catching the football it was running the ball as well. He was outstanding in his blocking assignments and made big plays all the time.

-The Broncos were just a better football team. It was really remarkable the Steelers were able to be in this game with how bad they played. This defense never gives up big plays and that is all they did today. Not having Ryan Clark proved to be bigger than anyone else thought.

-Ike Redman was also good today. I still think Mendenhall is the best back on the team but situations like this make you wonder how a running back gets selected in the first round, ever.

-The Steelers were banged up, but that is what happens when you are as old as the Steelers are, especially on defense. Kiesel and Hampton went down in the first quarter and the defense had the Steelers had only three down lineman. Bad times.

-I love Mike Tomlin and he is the coach of this team for a long time to come but his clock management is bad. The Steelers left a lot of points on the field before both halves. Sucks.

-This team is going to look a lot different next year. Should be a lot younger.

-Lastly I am always and will always be a Steelers fan. 12-4 is nothing to sneeze at. It was a good year, just a bad way to end it.

Like I said I will get a recap out in the next couple of days. Leave your thoughts in the comments if you want to see something covered.