Gameday Conference Finals #4: @ Boston Bruins

Because if you don't what is there?

Because if you don’t what is there?

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS @ Boston Bruins

TD Garden, 8:00 PM, NBC Sports, 105.9 the X

This could be our last gameday post of the season. This could be the Penguins’ last game of the season. Or the Penguins can win one game, and earn an opportunity to come home and play in front of the home crowd once more. We can’t tell you which will happen. All we know is that the Penguins are going to go out and play one more game against the Boston Bruins.

We can tell you, based on the morning skate, that it looks like Tyler Kennedy will be back in the Penguins lineup and Joe Vitale, mostly due to his completely undisciplined penalty in the first period of Wednesday’s game, will be out of the lineup. Paul Martin did not participate in the morning skate but we doubt he’s out for the game. Mark Eaton skated with Kris Letang during the rushes, don’t know if that means he’s playing, but the Penguins might as well try something. I can’t wait til the next person asks who the goaltender will be.

There’s no safety net now. One loss and a large percentage of this team will never wear the Penguins sweater again. One loss and the team will have to listen to another year of gloating media types talk about how they couldn’t live up to the hype, to talk about how they don’t assign the Stanley Cup winner based on paper (when they were the ones who did it in the first place), to speculation on who could be traded, who should be traded, and who should simply have their employment terminated by the Penguins. One loss tonight and the fans final home memory of this team is booing them off the ice following a 6-1 embarrassment. One loss and we’re going to be bored stiff watching two teams we don’t like play for the Stanley Cup.

And that’s where we are now. One win gives the Penguins one more game. That’s all we are prepared to say at this time.

Never has this statement been more true: the race to one starts tonight. Go Pens.


Gameday Eastern Conference Finals #3: @ Boston Bruins

penguinsvsbruins

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS @ Boston Bruins

TD Garden, 8:00 PM, NBC Sports, CBC, RDS, 105.9 the X

Nothing for us to say here. The Penguins are either going to do what they need to to make this series or they won’t. There isn’t a single thing any professional media member or amateur hack like myself can say that will actually change what happens tonight. With that said, all we can do is comment on the decisions that the Penguins have made, will make, or at the very least should make.

Tomas Vokoun will be the Penguins’ starting goaltender tonight. And tonight is the only sure thing about Tomas Vokoun starting in a Penguins uniform. We’re not here to debate Marc-Andre Fleury’s future with the Penguins, right now we believe that this team needs to win one game, and Tomas Vokoun gives the Penguins the best chance to do that. If MAF were really back on his game he wouldn’t have given up the back-breaking and easily avoidable 4th goal with 8 seconds left in the period just as his team seemed on the verge of clawing back to consciousness. If Vokoun had done anything to relinquish the starter’s job we might be a little upset about things, but this is how the two still stack up despite Vokoun’s 6 goals in 4 periods this series:

g3ecfgoalies

I’ve been fond of this expression, at least when Vokoun let in goals it was because of a horrible team effort, unfortunately when MAF let in goals it was a result of bad goaltending.

The Penguins ought to make some lineup changes as well. Bylsma pretty much alluded to the fact that he wanted to explore what changes were possible, but nobody has a confident feeling as to what those changes will be.

This will sound annoying and very bandwagon-ish but our vote goes to Simon Despres and Beau Bennett. With Chris Kunitz and Brenden Morrow (among others) clearly playing at a low level due to injuries it seems foolish to not play Bennett. He has an uncapped potential and would easily be better than those guys playing at 60% or less. Despres makes sense for reasons we’ve expressed before, and just because Matt Niskanen needs a day off. He’s rapidly plunged down my personal preference list and if not for Kris Letang trying to out-suck him there would be a lot more burning eyes on his game. At a certain point you have to take a risk to find a spark. If the opportunity cost is Niskanen for a possible future Norris Trophy-potential type defensemen that sounds like a good deal to me.

If you haven’t heard a million times already, there is a very good precedent for a team coming back from 0-2 in the final round before the Cup. In 1991 the Penguins overcame an 0-2 deficit against the Boston Bruins enroute to their first Stanley Cup. And the most recent team to overcome an 0-2 deficit on their way to winning the Stanley Cup was the 2009 edition Pittsburgh Penguins (in fact they did it twice in both the ECSF and the SCF).

For a crystal clear explanation of why the Penguins have struggled so bad check out this monster telestrator from Jesse Marshall.

For a frustrating piece on how the Toronto Maple Leafs were able to take the Bruins to 7 games in the Conference Quarterfinals check out this solid piece from Rick at the Pensblog.

All we can say about those factoids is this:

BRUINSKILLING-JUSTINDOY

Stop the stupid. Save sanity. The race to one starts tonight. Go Pens.


Gameday Eastern Conference Finals #2: v. Boston Bruins

penguinsvsbruins

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS v. Boston Bruins

Consol Energy Center, 8:00 PM, NBC Sports, CBC, RDS, 105.9 the X

This is the first time all postseason the Penguins have actually been behind in a series. The Bruins came to town Saturday and played the perfect road game. The Bruins played with grit, determination, and they capitalized on chances, whether those chances were earned or not. With that said, there isn’t much to be too disappointed about in the way the Penguins played. They dominated the offensive zone for a majority of the game. They generated impressive chances, more or less controlled the neutral zone, and even maintained a pretty impressive physical edge against the “Big, Bad, Bruins.” But Tuukka Rask refused to allow himself to be beat and a few defensive zone lapses by the Penguins made the final score something of an anomaly compared to what we all watched.

But here are a couple of things to consider:

  • The last time a goaltender decided to not allow himself to get beat, and still got hung out to dry so badly by his defense was Craig Anderson in Game 3 of the Senators series. The Penguins went on to put up 11 goals in the next two games against him.
  • The greatest thing we can hope for is that the Bruins walked into their locker room after Saturday’s game and said, yeah we were awesome, we won 3-0. You could tell that the Bruins were more or less pleased with their effort. But despite that, a few different bounces and better objectivity by the refs and the Pens could have won 5-3 or better. We’ll take that.

Nonetheless, the key to tonight’s game for the Penguins will be focus. I had no problem with Geno’s fight: think about it this way. He took with him Patrice Bergeron, the best 2 way center in the NHL, sure the Pens had a power play to protect after the fight, but on that power play the Penguins replaced Geno with future first-ballot hall of famer Jarome Iginla, the Bruins didn’t have anyone comparable with which to replace Bergeron. I would call that a tradeoff worth taking for the Penguins.

But there was unneeded chippyness. And it seemed like after the halfway point of the game the Penguins just didn’t have the same awareness, the same will to win the game. They started doing things they didn’t need to do. They tried to prove their toughness when they should have been trying to win a 1-0 hockey game. If they can get back to business tonight, I don’t reckon there is anything to fear.

Looking at the morning skate lines I wouldn’t expect any lineup changes today. And if you actually thought there was going to be a goalie controversy for tonight’s game, you’re wrong. Tomas Vokoun played well in Game 1 and there is no reason to think he’ll do anything different tonight. We’ve said it all along, if the team in front of him gives Voki a chance, he’ll hold up his end. On Saturday he held up his end, it was the occasional weak play of his forwards and defensemen in the defensive zone that led to problems.

Right the ship. Go Pens.


Gameday Eastern Conference Finals #1: v. Boston Bruins

penguinsvsbruins

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS v. Boston Bruins

Consol Energy Center, 8:00 PM, NBC, 105.9 the X

For a few hours short of a full 7 day week the Pittsburgh Penguins and Boston Bruins have known they would be facing each other in the Eastern Conference Finals. What they, and all of us fans, didn’t know, is when that series would begin. And now we finally have our answer. The long wait is over and the Penguins and Bruins finally have the opportunity to answer the unending stream of questions posed by the Talking Heads in both cities and abroad.

There’s no question that the break has probably been most beneficial to the Penguins. With half the team or more playing through nagging injuries including 2/3 of the top 6 forwards (Kunitz, Crosby, Malkin, and Neal) as well as others like Brenden Morrow, Jussi Jokinen, and most of the defense this has been a time to get healthy. And in that time this veteran team, so different in makeup from 2 months ago, has had the opportunity to gel and convalesce. They’ve had the opportunity to watch so much game film they know exactly what to expect from the Bruins. And as Mike Colligan informs us, the Bruins do what they do and they’re unlikely to change. This is an absolute MUST READ piece so I’m going to give you a couple minutes to do that before we continue on. In short form, the Bruins hope to overcome the Penguins’ speed and skill solely on the strength of their smarts. With so much time off the Penguins really have the ability to match that level of smart hockey.

And that has to start with the goaltender on out. With the week off a lot of people, especially in the national media, have tried to learn more about Tomas Vokoun, whether they SHOULD have done it sometime in the previous 16 years is not for us to debate. What deserves saying though is that in many ways this guy has become THE story of the playoffs. With that kind of expectation though, he will also need to keep playing at a high level, and he tends to do his best when he’s playing smart. Quick thinking will also have to be the MO for the defense in this round. Yes Kris Letang emerged as something of a game breaker in the Senators series but he’ll need to cut out more of his mind-bogglingly bad turnovers in this series, because if he doesn’t the Bruins will do what the Senators were unable to do so often, score. And then there’s the offense: a strong, quick-moving forecheck is absolutely the key to this series for the Pens. The Bruins are a little thin in terms of who they can send out to cover Kunitz-Crosby-Dupuis AND Iginla-Malkin-Neal constantly skating around in their own zone will likely break this team given enough time.

As per everyone who saw the morning skate the forwards will remain the same as they were at the end of the Senators series:

Kunitz-Crosby-Dupuis

Iginla-Malkin-Neal

Cooke-Sutter-Kennedy

Morrow-Jokinen-Adams

For all the seemingly dozens of people I follow on Twitter who saw the morning skate nobody mentioned what the defensive pairings seemed to be. I can tell you that Brooks Orpik and Paul Martin will both be in the lineup, playing together, Matt Niskanen and Douglas Murray will both be playing today as a pairing and Kris Letang will definitely be in the lineup with either Deryk Engelland or Mark Eaton as his partner. As with Ottawa, this seems like a perfect series to play Eaton, he’ll be safe and responsible and he won’t have any skating issues against the big slow Bruins.

The Penguins have 8 wins, they need 8 more to win the Stanley Cup. It’s time to go get number 9 tonight.

Don’t stupid. The race to one starts tonight. Go Pens.


Gameday Conference Semifinals #5: v. Ottawa Senators

penguinsvssens

 

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS v. Ottawa Senators

Consol Energy Center, 7:30 PM, NBC Sports, CBC, RDS, 105.9 the X

The Penguins have the ability to end this series tonight. They have the opportunity to be the first team into the Conference Finals. They have the opportunity to win their first series at home since 2008. But that doesn’t mean it will be easy. The Senators will come to play today and they will be fighting for the future of so many of their franchise cornerstones. We joked about Daniel Alfredsson, Sergei Gonchar, and Chris Phillips carpooling to file their retirement papers, but it really could be true. Alfredsson and Gonch are both without contracts for next season, and especially in Gonch’s case, the money he could receive in Russia could be significantly more than he could expect to see in the NHL. So in other words, it’s up to those guys to make this series what they want of it.

No idea if the Pens are planning any lineup changes. The only one we could reasonably foresee would be Brenden Morrow returning and Beau Bennett coming out of the lineup. In the morning skate Morrow did participate, but he only skated with the “fifth line” of black aces.

And now for the news stories of the day: if you are going to the game bring a little cash. The Penguins and the Penguins Foundation will be teaming up with the American Red Cross to help raise money for victims of the tornado in Oklahoma. They will be collecting donations at the entrances from 6:00 PM until the start of the game. Check the official announcement here.

If you want to go to the game but you don’t have a ticket you can now enjoy an even bigger TV in the Civic Arena Parking Lot. We would have to assume this is not a cheap investment but the Penguins along with the Trib have sprung for a new 27’ x 15’ screen, which is actually way bigger than the previous 16’ x 9’. So party down.

Just before Game 4 Sean Conboy published this wonderfully honest and abrupt piece on how the Penguins should really try to play in the playoffs. Which is to say they should try to outscore their opponnents. Then on Wednesday they decided to do just that. Read it for some good times.

We can only hope that the Pens will continue to follow that. It is amazing how much more comfortable it is to watch the Penguins in 6-4 games than it is to watch them in 3-2 games. With a Bruins loss yesterday and the Kings and Sharks looking poised to go the distance, the Pens are in line for a decent rest if they finish it out tonight.

The race to one starts tonight. Don’t stupid. Go Pens.


Gameday Conference Semifinals #4: @ Ottawa Senators

penguinsvssens

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS @ Ottawa Senators

Scotiabank Place, 7:30 PM, NBC Sports, CBC, RDS, 105.9 the X

In Game 3 the Penguins were 28.6 seconds from a 3-0 lead over the Senators. Now they can only claim a 2-1 advantage. Perhaps the most crippling aspect of that loss is the way it has continued to taint the air around Pittsburgh. You still can’t listen to the radio, read the paper, look at the Internet, or watch TV without being inundated with “experts” blabbering on about what the Penguins should have done, who was to blame, and how that one loss ruined all hopes of ever winning another hockey game forever.

But all that’s past us now. The guys on the ice get to go back to doing what matters: playing hockey and trying to win a game. And we have very little reason to believe that the Penguins will approach today’s game with any other mindset. This has become a series but the Pens still have it in their power to end that thought tonight.

There could be a number of changes to the Penguins’ lineup tonight. We would be absolutely shocked to see Tanner Glass play again this postseason. In fact we might be surprised to see him ever wear a Penguins uniform again. In a game that lasted more than 87 minutes Glass failed to even play 10 of it. When he was on the ice he took a horribly needless penalty against a guy in his first game back after back surgery and generally speaking he was a waste of space. The only thing that is more shocking than how bad Glass played is this little tidbit from Rossi:

rossi-joeyv

The assumption had been that Vitale was scratched for injury considerations, and that Jokinen didn’t play in his place for the same reasons. Turns out we were wrong. Something compelled Bylsma to play Tanner Glass, and that’s almost more inexcusable than choosing to keep his first power play on the ice with a minute and a half left in a game they led 1-0.

Yesterday Brenden Morrow left practice and did not return. Bylsma failed to comment on whether it was a serious injury or anything like that. He also didn’t take the morning skate but it was optional. Assuming both of those players are out that gives you two forward positions to fill. One of them has to be Jussi Jokinen. One area where the Penguins have been getting slaughtered is on faceoffs, Jokinen is over 65% on faceoffs in the postseason, that’s almost unheard of. Yohe chimed in with a good piece on him today. As for the second spot, I would certainly give the nod to Vitale. All he really did was add spark to a team that has desperately needed it. His 56.1% faceoff record in the four games he’s been in is second best on the team behind only Jussi and his forecheck has been some of the best defense the Pens have mustered all series.

If by some chance the Pens feel that they need a true winger to step in for Morrow than Beau Bennett could be a good fit. If Craig Anderson continues to play the way he did in Game 3, the Pens will likely need more offense, and unlike most teams in the league they can add it. A new look fourth line of Bennett-Jokinen-Kennedy is pretty frightening for it’s cycling and skill. That would do a lot to wear down a Senators defense that would also have to deal with Sidney Crosby, Pascal Dupuis, Chris Kunitz, Jarome Iginla, Evgeni Malkin, and James Neal. Also, hopefully, the lines will go back to looking like this:

You know, like they did at the end of the Isles series and into Game 1 of this series. No changes are expected amongst the defense and goaltending.

Don’t stupid. Go Pens.


Gameday Conference Semifinals #3: @ Ottawa Senators

penguinsvssens

 

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS @ Ottawa Senators

Scotia Bank Place, 7:30 PM, NBC Sports, CBC, RDS, 105.9 the X

For the first time since 2009 the Penguins are up 2-0 in a series. As fans, that opens up a little bit of satisfaction, we can breathe a little sigh of relief. But that’s not the case for the guys on the ice. Being up 2-0 only means that the Penguins will have to play twice as hard if they want to earn their third win of the series. And that’s on them. The Pens have been doing well late in the first two games of this series to suffocate the Sens, and Rob Rossi has a pretty decent read on it, if they want to keep winning they’ll have to keep it up.

The Senators should get a huge boost with the return of Jason Spezza to their lineup. He is coming off of back surgery to repair a herniated disc. No question, people around Pittsburgh have often been vicious to Spezza over the years. But that’s because he’s good. He is a game-changer and one thing that’s seemed obvious throughout the first two games of the series is that with any kind of elite offensive presence the Sens might look like a totally different team in the offensive zone. The Pens have done a good job of keeping the front of the net open to prevent garbage/grinder goals. Now they’ll also have to guard against skilled goals, something they struggled with against John Tavares and the Islanders. Of course, who knows how healthy and effective Spezza will be? We could be making mountains of mole hills, or he’ll record 3 points and chase Vokoun from the net. For what it’s worth, according to Dejan, Spezza did not participate in a full team practice before declaring himself good to go. At best he has only participated in “Black Aces” practices with the guys who have been healthy scratches.

After going -3 on all three even strength goals the Senators have scored in this series we would be amazed to see Deryk Engelland remain in the lineup. The Pens had an optional skate yesterday so there is no indication as to what could happen. We’ve said before that Mark Eaton seems custom made for this series, but a swap for Simon Despres would be okay too. Either way we would expect whoever comes into the lineup will skate with Kris Letang and Matt Nikskanen will take up position with Douglas Murray. At this point the Sens haven’t been as chippy as was expected and I should think that Murray is a big part of that. The reasoning behind Engo made sense at the time but he’s failed to make the most of his opportunity, time to move on. No other changes should be expected.

The race to one starts tonight. Go Pens.