Series Recap: Halfway Home, Pens going to ECF, Will Play Boston

The Pens won this series the way we would have expected them to win the first round. They were clearly the better team and they proved it in every aspect of the game: Tomas Vokoun made the saves that he needed to make, the defense kept the Senators from reaching, let alone controlling, any dangerous spots in the d-zone, and then there’s the offense. Goodness gracious that offense. The Pens are the first team in decades to advance to the Conference Finals while averaging more than 4 goals per game. And it’s not like they’re doing it against scrub goalies. After John Tavares nobody was more responsible for the success of the Islanders than Evgeni Nabokov and Craig Anderson set the pace for GAA and save percentage during the regular season. What else can you say?

Even more impressive is the way they’ve been scoring. Or should we say the ways. They’ve scored via amazing individual efforts, through amazing puck movement and possession, and through hard working forechecking efforts.

The Pens played a complete game in every game of the series and there’s no way to expect anything different moving forward. Next up for the Pens will be the Boston Bruins and there will be no shortage of media manufactured drama. What will happen between Jarome Iginla and the team he shunned, the Bruins? Will this be the last opportunity Jaromir Jagr ever has to gain an edge over the team he made his name with, the Pittsburgh Penguins? Does it matter? Probably not.

This is going to be a fiercely competitive series and those storylines probably won’t play a big role. Whats going to matter is goaltending, defense, and which system can break through: the Bruins’ systematic forechecking offense or the quick strike potential of the Penguins. What happens, no clue. Can’t wait to watch though.


Recap: Conference Semis #4: When the Levee Breaks

 

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Remember when everyone said there was no chemistry between Iginla-Malkin-Neal? Remember when everyone said that the Pens were going to get Halak-ed again? Remember when the “Pesky Sens” won Game 3 and everyone knew what was going to happen next? Remember it all. Because that makes yesterday’s game feel so much sweeter.

Contrary to what everyone on the Twitter-verse is saying, this series isn’t over. The Pens still need to come home and continue that effort on home ice tomorrow night. Although it is pretty bad when a so-called “class act” leader, face of the franchise Daniel Alfredsson doesn’t believe in his team anymore.

Pretty certain that he, Gonch, and Chris Phillips are going to carpool to League offices in Toronto to file their retirement papers all together.

A couple more thoughts:

  • Mark Eaton and Douglas Murray were both nearly invisible on the ice. And that’s a good thing. Neither are especially young and neither are fleet of foot, when you notice them that means they’re more than likely out of position. Neither were. They both played about 16 minutes, and seemingly a lot of it came on the penalty kill. Good stuff.
  • Vokoun made what was far and away his worst start of the playoffs yet still managed 30 saves and a .909 S%. Simply put, he made the plays that he needed to make.
  • James Neal finally looks like he’s figuring out how to play in the playoffs, and that’s scary indeed. Even if he hadn’t scored two goals yesterday he would have stuck out as one of the best Pens on the ice last night.
  • Jokinen and Bennett are doing perfectly fine work. It’s almost impossible to grasp how versatile Jokinen is, he literally played in every situation, even strength in a checking role, even strength in a scoring role, on the PK, and on the PP, and although you can tell he’s not 100% he helped in all of those situations. Bennett is just so electrifying, you can’t not watch him. No doubt, when Morrow is healthy again he’ll be back, but it’s just so nice to know that Beau will be around for years to come.
  • You can teach better team defense. One thing you can’t teach is scoring. Occasionally the team didn’t look great in the defensive zone (ahem, the second goal) but they also played well in a good defensive posture after the floodgates opened in the other end. Could the Pens have scored more against Lehner? Probably yes, they got one past him on four shots. But that wasn’t the nature of the beast. They needed to make sure they didn’t sacrifice defense for offense and they walked that line beautifully.

(Not that you weren’t already) but wear black on Friday. We have a burial to attend.


Recap: Conference Semifinals #1: v. Ottawa Senators

Ottawa Senators v Pittsburgh Penguins - Game One

Not too much to say about last night’s game. Pens offense, especially their PP is just scary good right now, between their puck movement and their pure shooting skill this team reminds me so much of the teams from the late ‘90s, except with better defense and goaltending.

But with that said I do have two minor critiques of the Pens forwards, it was easy to look past these faults yesterday but they could become more obvious in time. The Pens still need to work on creating a better forecheck in the offensive zone, we saw some amazing shifts, but they were separated by long stretches of dump and chase, and it seems like Anderson knows how to move the puck quickly. Additionally, the forwards were a little flighty in their own end last night. Occasionally the forwards were aggressive on the backcheck, but the Senators were able to get a lot of bodies in front of the net over the course of the game. If Jason Spezza can get back in the lineup (which is anticipated by most) and he can play even 80% of his game, he could actually exploit the Pens and the big bubble they left between the goal line and the points. Can one forward turn the series around? Probably not, but he can at least show the young impressionable Sens a plan for the future.

One thing that struck me is that this game was simultaneously closer, and less close than the 4-1 final suggested. It was closer because of the Penguins lack of forecheck, it was closer because the Pens (read James Neal) took way too many undisciplined penalties, and anytime you’re allowing 36 shots to a road team that’s just too many. It was less close than the score would indicate because answer yourself this, when were you scared in this game? Not very often if you ask us. Sure the Senators managed a lot of shots on goal, but they weren’t good shots. They were shooting from all over the ice, from the points, from the sidewalls, from the goal line, they were just trying to throw things at the net, but from there they didn’t have enough skill or resolve to actually punch the puck into the net. I won’t complain about the Pens allowing low percentage shots, but it would be nice to see fewer attempts in general.

I think we can comfortably say there isn’t a goalie controversy in Pittsburgh now. After yesterday’s game Vokoun is 3-0 with a 1.28 GAA and a .962 S%, he’s been named a three star in each game he’s played, and he’s just a calming influence. Voki has an uncanny ability to know when to play a puck and when to freeze a puck, that’s how he’s managed to keep the team collected in front of him.

Great TOI distribution again. As these playoffs go on you’ll see the benefits to only playing Sid 17 minutes a night, and Geno even less. If you’re looking for a critique of the TOI, what’s the point in playing Deryk Engelland if he’s going to play less time than your fourth line winger Craig Adams? We don’t know, but if we saw all the fight that the Senators are capable of then I also don’t expect we’ll see Engo play a lot of games this series.

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Long break til Friday night before Game 2. Could that impact the momentum that the Pens have or that the Sens lack? Probably, Pens need to not let up.

peguin-o


Gameday #26 Recap: v. New York Islanders, It’s a Sock Monkey Trick

Now this is exactly what the Penguins needed to do against a team like the Islanders. Sidney Crosby with his fifth career 5+ point night, Chris Kunitz with his first 5 point night, Duper with 2 goals, Neal with 3 points, Letang with 2 assists, solid defensive work and underrated goaltending made this game pretty much easy from start to finish. NOW it’s not unfair to look forward to Tuesday’s smackdown against the Bruins for command of the Eastern Conference. That is going to be a huge, huge game. At least the Pens are on home ice.

Holy Cow

Holy Cow

If you ask us, the defensive composition of this game is exactly what the Pens should roll with going forward.

  • For starters, it was obvious that Bylsma was determined to use his last change to play Brandon Sutter and co. along with Brooksie and Paul-Mart against the Islanders’ top line, and guess what? It worked. The only time it didn’t work was when Simon Despres got caught at the end of a shift and blew a tire. If not for all that, the Pens probably would have gotten a shutout.
  • You want to know why the six defensemen who played yesterday are the Penguins’ best defensemen? Check out these TOI stats from yesterday’s game:
    • #2 – 18:44
    • #4 – 16:04
    • #7 – 22:15
    • #44 – 20:11
    • #47 – 18:32
    • #58 – 23:31
  • That’s a little different from Saturday night’s game which saw Engo play 14 and Despres play 12 while Paul-Mart played over 24 and Letang went for more than 30. Again, we like Engo, but he’s not a better defensive player than Eaton and he’s not a game changer like Despres, when you have both of those two in the lineup you can roll with 3 full pairings, as evidenced above, whereas with Engo in the lineup the third pairing somehow needs to be protected. (Don’t believe me, check the official boxscores here @ TOR, and v. NYI).
  • Further, although we’re all on board with the Penguins pursuing a “hockey move” to bring in a young defensive defenseman, looking at the “rental options,” guys who are pending UFAs in the offseason, there isn’t much to get warm and fuzzy feelings about. With that said, we wouldn’t be mad to see the Pens stand pat if they can’t bring in a player that will actually improve the team long term.

Don’t look now but Tomas Vokoun has only allowed one goal (on a shot that was indefensible, essentially a 2-0 breakaway) in his last 5 periods of play. We’re definitely not here to say that Vokoun is back to challenging Fleury for the starting job, but we are at the very least moving back to a position of goaltending parity, which can only be good for the Penguins as the season moves forward. Make no doubt, over these last five periods the Penguins have insulated Vokoun well, but that’s not a bad thing, playing good team defense is the surest way to help a goaltender.

The only bad news coming from yesterday’s game is that Geno is expected to miss 1-2 weeks with a non-descript “upper body injury.” As with any injured player, hopefully he’ll be back in the lineup before we have the opportunity to miss him.

Again, huge game coming up, and in case you haven’t seen it yet, it’s time to start hating the B’s.

Stud of the Week will be back! Although you shouldn’t have a hard time guessing who wins this week, his name rhymes with Kidney Ross Bee.

That’s a lot of sock moneys…


Gameday #22 Recap: @ Montreal Canadiens, Pens Win, can you count to 13?

 

 

 

PENS Win

This wasn’t a good win, but it was a win of a good team. Well, it was sort of a win of a good team, what it really was was a win earned by a few good players who rose to the occassion over the opponent. The Pens scored 7 goals but only 4 guys contributed in that way. The Pens gave up 6 goals but only 8 players ended up with a negative plus/minus. And while this kind of game won’t work in the playoffs, the Pens rose to the occasion and beat a very good team. What follows is a brief synopsis of the guys who won this for the ‘Guins. Read the rest of this entry »


Gameday #15 Recap: @ Winnipeg Jets, The Beau’s are Back in Town

CFA0215

The Pens really wanted a win and so did the Jets. At times the Pens struggled in their own zone, but they proved themselves the better team and walked away with the win. Lt. Col. Craig F. Adams was the Penguins’ best skater (only missed the assist on the Gordie Howe Hat Trick) and MAF had his best game of the year.

Beau Bennett made his NHL debut, he didn’t log big minutes, and he didn’t score but he showed a lot, especially when he went down to block a Jets point shot attempt. The only critique I have is that the Pens really ought to move him to the Malkin Neal line full-time ASAP. He’s good in the offensive zone but he didn’t look like a natural fit with Sutter and Kennedy, and I don’t think that helped the Pens with their in-zone defense.

Joe Vitale was flying and apparently he’s won nearly 2/3 of his face offs this year.

All in all this game felt good if you’re a Penguins fan. Pens are in Buffalo for a Hockey Day in America matinee on Sunday.


Gameday #13 Recap: v. New Jersey Devils, the Walking Dead Resumed Yesterday

The Pens ran up against a really good team that is playing really good hockey. It’s not any different than last Saturday when the Pens, a really good team playing really good hockey, destroyed the Devils 5-1.

You don’t like it because all of a sudden the Pens are a large 3 points behind the Devils for the Division and Conference lead, but honestly, the Pens really played a fairly solid game. Get the breakdown after the jump.

Read the rest of this entry »