Gameday Conference Semifinals #2: v. Ottawa Senators

penguinsvssens

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS v. Ottawa Senators

Consol Energy Center, NBC Sports, CBC, RDS, 105.9 the X

Well guess what? It’s Game 2, again, and we all know what happened the last time the Penguins played a Game 2 in the playoffs coming off of a very dominant Game 1. But there is reason to believe that things will be different this time: we have talked often about how the Penguins just match up better against the Senators and yesterday James Conley, the man in charge over at Slew Footers, delivered an in-depth examination of the matchups on the Yahoo Contributor’s Network.

But you can rest assured that the Senators are going to be in full-on pushback mode tonight. What choice do they have? The most alarming statistic from Tuesday’s game is the hits totals: the Pens recorded 40 hits while the Sens only managed 26, that is a pretty pathetic total. The Senators are planning to lay a lot more hits and they are making one fundamental lineup change to make that happen: Guillaume Latendresse will be in the lineup, probably skating with Chris Neil. Latendresse is an enigma, looking at his stats it looks like he played some really quality third line hockey for the first four years of his career. Signed a new deal with Minnesota where he played one breakout season, scoring 25 goals, and then fell off the face of the Earth, so much so that he isn’t even a full-time player with the Senators now. I can’t profess to know what his history is, but if he’s counted on to make a difference in the hitting department he must not have been injured. One good thing about playing Latendresse is that his 35 PIMs in 14 playoff games suggest that he could give the Pens an opportunity to succeed on the PP, which is obviously really good. Eric Gryba is hurt from that unreal hit that Brooks Orpik levelled against him so instead Andre Benoit will join the Sens’ defensive corps. Don’t know what that means or why it should matter.

Zero lineup changes are expected for the Pens tonight, at least according to the morning skate line rushes. That’s unfortunate because anybody would have been better than Deryk Engelland.

The most compelling story for us tonight is that this will be Tomas Vokoun’s fourth start. After this you can’t say he’s not the starter. So presumably, if he plays well, the Pens will have a new starter, if he doesn’t, well that’s when things get really interesting. Certainly, there is only one thing we’ve come to expect from Voki: he’ll play the game to the best of his ability and that’s typically pretty good, but who knows, things are so peaceful with the team right now maybe the hockey gods will decide to make life for Penguins fans less wonderful again.

We’ll see if the Pens have learned anything about not letting their feet off the throats of an inferior opponent.

The race to one starts tonight. Go Pens.

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Gameday Conference Quarterfinals #4: @ New York Islanders

penguinsvsisles

 

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS @ New York Islanders

Nassau County War Veteran’s Coliseum, 7:00 PM, Root Sports, NBC Sports, 105.9 the X

I’m sick of this series. If you would like to read my previously unpublished thoughts on game 3 and the media (both mainstream and “new”) check out my Google doc here. If you would like to read some informed critiques about the Penguins take a gander at Sean Griffin’s piece at The Hockey Writers, and this seriously good read from Dejan in Monday’s Trib.

We know, we know, the Islanders are fast, they almost seem hungrier than the Penguins, and this is not what most dreamed about after the game one beatdown. But here are the facts of the series: the Pens are up 2-1, they can play .500 hockey and still win the series, Fleury has posted better numbers than he has in his postseason career, and the scorers are doing exactly what they need to do.

As such, the Pens need to keep their composure and suck the life from the Islanders faithful. We suspect that they will get some help in the form of Brooks Orpik returning to the lineup.

molinari-orpik-game3

They sure need someone to come in and not be a liability, something they have not gotten from Deryk Engelland or Simon Despres so far this series. It also seems possible that James Neal could return tonight, although Coach Dan won’t say anything one way or the other regarding those two.

potash-roster-game4

If and when Neal is able to return the Penguins are going to have to make a move to swap Jarome Iginla to Sid’s right wing, and bring Chris Kunitz to Geno’s left. Mike Colligan wrote about it so I won’t say another word.

The Pens have had two days to fix their flaws, have they done it? We shall see.

Get three. Go Pens.


Gameday Conference Quarterfinals #1: v. New York Islanders

penguinsvsisles

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS v. New York Islanders

Consol Energy Center, 7:30 PM, Root Sports, 105.9 The X

There is no boundary to the expectations that people have about this Pittsburgh Penguins team. There haven’t been for several years really, but this is something else. Merely making the playoffs isn’t the goal for these Penguins, but, perhaps dangerously, their opponent is in just such a situation. This team, already elite in nearly every metric, didn’t rest. They took a long hard look at themselves, they magnified every real or imagined insecurity, and they got better. Going back to the off season they strengthened their goaltending position, they traded away a guy set to become a distraction and brought in a perfect system player, perhaps the most undervalued on the team all year. And then it got really interesting. In the midst of a historic winning streak that saw the Penguins become the first franchise to go undefeated for an entire month they set themselves up for all the scrutiny you could dream of. In came former captain Brenden Morrow, in came the human monolith Douglas Murray, in came the eminently adaptable Jussi Jokinen, and then there was the insanely surreal acquisition of all-time great Jarome Iginla. You talk about putting yourselves in the crosshairs.

We can get ahead of ourselves as much as we want, but this team can only achieve immortality one game at a time. And number one starts tonight. It takes 16 wins. It won’t be easy, in most cases it won’t be pretty but this is the greatest time of the year. Heroes will rise, those that we expect, those that we don’t expect.

As much as anything that’s what tonight’s game is about. It’s the return to the playoffs, the desire to settle scores, to avenge wrongs, and to celebrate the joy of sports.

The New York Islanders have come to town, they have no playoff expectations. They have it easy. If they win one game that could be more than what a lot of so-called experts would have given them. And they have some talent. We’ve already written that John Tavares deserves to win the Hart Trophy. Matt Moulson has a tendency to destroy the Penguins, and how many breakaway goals on the PK will Michael Grabner get, 3 or more? Probably.

Before we talk about the Penguins lineup, another absolute must read from Mike Colligan of The Hockey Writers. If you’re into the brass tacks of how to play hockey and this doesn’t have you screaming at the top of your lungs in excitement, nothing will.

Unsurprisingly (to us) Sid and Brooks Orpik are both out of the lineup tonight. Sid was very veiled in his comments to the media, but what it comes down to is that he wasn’t cleared to play. Between a lack of ability to condition himself and the fact that he broke his jaw, it sounds like Sid is still another several days or at least a week away from really getting that clearance, and that’s okay. I would rather have Beau Bennett at 100% than Sid at 60%, especially because he could be a target for the Islanders if he isn’t playing at his best. Orpik is also out tonight, he has resumed skating in practice but has yet to resume work with a defensive partner. Looking at the pairings from the morning skate it seems likely that Deryk Engelland will get the call tonight in Brooksy’s absence. The lines from the morning skate are as follows:

Kunitz-Malkin-Neal
Morrow-Sutter-Cooke
Dupuis-Jokinen-Iginla
Glass-Adams-Bennett
Jeffrey-Crosby-Kennedy

Eaton-Letang
Martin-Engelland
Murray-Niskanen
Bortuzzo-Despres

Looks like no TK tonight, sick. Marc Andre Flower will be in the cage tonight.

Get your head straight, the race to 16 starts tonight. Go Pens.