Gameday Conference Quarterfinals #6: @ New York Islanders

penguinsvsisles

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS @ New York Islanders

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

The Penguins have a 3 games to 2 lead in the series. One more win means they live to fight another day. One more game like Thursday’s effort means that the Penguins have a good chance to win one more game. If, however, they decide to get caught up in their own arrogance, as they did after Game 1, and it takes another three games to regain their composure,  this series could be over by the end of the weekend with a much different result.

Whether we have a “gut feeling” one way or the other about what this team will do today it doesn’t really matter, we’ve seen this fish before and we won’t celebrate anything until the battle is over. And even if the battle ends favorably for the Penguins that doesn’t mean the war will be anywhere near over. That sounds horribly cliche but guess what, it’s incredibly true.

The big storylines for the Penguins heading into tonight’s game is the emphasis on rest. Coach Dan cancelled an organized practice yesterday. We’re fine with that. On average, thanks to the addition of five players over the age of thirty in the last year, the Penguins are in fact the oldest team in the NHL. As such they SHOULDN’T need instruction on how to line up, what they need is rest and time in the film room. We’re fine with this decision.

In addition, for the first time in the series all 18 Penguins skaters played at least 10 minutes in Game 5. To further that, only 3 players even topped 20 minutes (the Pens 3 best defensemen, including Paul-Mart and Tanger, both of whom tend to play heavy minutes of both PP and PK time). That’s good TOI distribution. That’s what keeps your guys fresh for a deep playoff push. It doesn’t seem coincidental to us that Sid played far and away his best game since coming back in only 17 minutes of ice time. His conditioning has shown through a little bit in the first few games, and in Game 5, with the 4th line finally ready to play quality minutes, he looked sharp and focused, able to take over the game as it were.

cq5-toistats

Obviously we would find it really unlikely for the Pens to make any changes to the lineup from Game 5. Also hard to say what the Islanders will do but we can say without any fear of being wrong, Nabokov will still be in the goal for the Islanders and Frans Nielson was able to take the morning skate. Nielson hasn’t been quite the Pens killer that he normally is in the regular season, but after leaving the game earlier on Thursday we wouldn’t have been too upset to see him replaced in this game.

*UPDATE*: Huge post from the Pensblog on the Penguins’ history in Game 6’s.  You need to read it.

The race to one begins today. Go Pens.

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Gameday Conference Quarterfinals #5: v. New York Islanders

penguinsvsisles

 

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS v. New York Islanders

Consol Energy Center, 7:00 PM, Root Sports, NBC Sports, TSN, 105.9 the X

Really don’t know what else to say, after each game we (and countless contemporaries) have said that the previous game’s events should and WOULD serve as a catalyst for this team. After game one this looked like an easy series, maybe the Pens would fall in one game but they would get out in good shape. After the surprising loss in Game 2 we expected a strong rebound for Game 3. After the Pens were lucky to escape with a win in Game 3 you felt like they were finally going to wake up. After Game 4 we have no more words left. They’re either going to do what they have to to move onto another day, another series, or they won’t. We have absolutely no clue which it is.

It looks, though, like the Pens won’t go down without a fight. Obviously, we know that Vokoun will take his place between the pipes, but according to Sam Kasan, it looks like the Pens are making a number of other fundamental roster changes. The top three forward lines will remain the same, but the fourth line will be radically different:

Craig Adams-Joe Vitale-Tyler Kennedy

The Pens forecheck has been so unconscious this is the only decision they could make. The Pens need some energy, not because that is somehow going to slow down the Isles transition game, but mostly because they need to keep the puck in the Islanders end of the rink for longer stretches of time. Tanner Glass and Jussi Jokinen were the two demoted to the “5th line” in the morning skate.

It looks like the Pens will be making one defensive change too: Mark Eaton is out and Simon Despres is in. Eaton never had much for wheels to begin with but he has looked occasionally awful as a result of the Islanders’ impressive breakout speed. Despres is the best skating defensemen not currently in the Pens lineup, and it seems like the Pens are making a smart move to pair him with Kris Letang, when they played together earlier in the regular season they each seemed to bring out the best in each other.

You may look at our opening remarks and think that we’re down on the Pens. Not true. This has become a war, and as any truly just war, the outcome is uncertain. We have our hopes and our expectations, we just don’t know what’s going to happen. We’re too disillusioned after the last 10 playoff games to make a bold exclamation of the Penguins’ impending dominance. They have 3 games left, if they win 2 of them, they’ll have earned the right to play in the next round. If they don’t then they haven’t.

The road to one starts tonight. Go Pens.


Tomas Vokoun is in for Game 5

tomas-vokoun-caps

No surprise for us here. MAF has been just awful. By no means is he the only problem on this team at this time, and we would never pretend that he is, but you can only play so many playoff games in a row BELOW AVERAGE before you get benched. And here’s the facts: in the last two playoff series MAF has given up an insane 40 goals in 10 games, since 2009 he hasn’t even come close to a .900 save percentage in the playoffs, he’s been fighting the puck all day every day, and he’s been culpable to more “soft” goals than we can count.

And yesterday was the final straw. Really Game 6 of the 2012 Conference Quarterfinals was the last straw, as far as the Penguins trusting in Fleury explicitly went. That’s why they brought Tomas Vokoun in at a not cheap $2.5 million/year (for a little perspective, excepting the two next most expensive back ups put together, Martin Biron and Peter Budaj, Vokoun’s deal is worth more than any two “back ups” in the Eastern Conference Playoffs combined) deal in the offseason. From the moment he came to Pittsburgh we here at Reggie’s House have always viewed him as a “1a” type option, our belief was that he could be the second half of potentially one of the best goaltending tandems in the whole league. Minus a couple of meaningless games in mid-February, Vokoun has held up his end of the bargain. So well in fact that we felt the need to write in favor of his continued play during the playoffs. In that piece we made one tragic faux pas. We claimed that in 2008 Chris Osgood played the entire postseason and was occasionally spelled by Dominik Hasek. We were wrong: Hasek started the first four games (which the Wings split 2-2 with the 8th seeded Stars) before turning to the venerable Osgood. I think that worked okay for them. By no means do we promise the same success this year, but it can’t hurt.

Game 5 is the right time for Vokoun to start a game. He doesn’t enter with all the pressure of elimination, it will be on friendly home ice,  he’s got a couple days to prepare, and as we always say when it comes to contracts: better to move on a little early than a little late.

As to what happens with MAF from here: the rest of this series is Vokoun’s. Personally I wouldn’t be opposed to running with Vokoun until he drops two in a row, whether that should be in this series or if it should be in the conference finals. I could concede possibly giving the first game of the next round (if the Pens can make it there) to MAF, but chances are pretty good that IF the Pens advance, Vokoun will likely have played pretty well, thus complicating that argument. It’s impossible to say what could happen after that.

And what happens if Vokoun struggles? Well, then the Pens as you know them now will cease to exist. The best thing that could happen for MAF is that Vokoun does play well, if he doesn’t then we would say it’s a certainty that MAF and his $5.25 million/year would get bought out. Bylsma will be gone, and you have to wonder if either Kris Letang and or Geno would get traded as well. We sure hope that doesn’t happen.

We know, we know Fleury has not been the whole problem. We have repeatedly stated that the Pens D has been way too soft and given way too much respect to the Islanders forwards. In order to help with that we’ve said that the Pens’ forwards need to backcheck a lot better. And Tuesday’s game highlighted the failure of the Pens’ forecheck too. But you can’t bench the whole team. You can bench the goaltender, you can do that to send a message to the rest of the team. Fleury hasn’t earned the moniker as “THE Go-To Guy,” if you think he has you’re still living in 2009, and that’s a shame because Twitter is really cool.


Gameday Conference Quarterfinals #4: @ New York Islanders

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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 #3: @ New York Islanders

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PITTSBURGH PENGUINS @ New York Islanders

Nassau Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum, 12:00 PM, NBC, 105.9 the X

The Isles got their pushback Friday night. And you know what the most annoying part about it was? The media. The self-same media that decreed the Penguins paper champions in early April were the first to gloat over one loss, by a one goal margin, in a best of seven series.

There are many tirades I could make: that no one on the Pens roster named themselves champions at the trade deadline, that no team in the history of the NHL has gone undefeated for the whole playoffs, even in the uncapped years, so why should a team playing with a cap be any different, or that the consensus amongst all media types had “Pens in 5” which would in fact require the team to lose a game. But outside of what has already been said, it’s just not worth it. If you want to know why the Pens lost I point you back to this article. Justin Bourne was prophetic in his prediction of what would happen when Sid returned for the Pens. He (and Geno) were great, the other guys took their respective feet off the gas. Sid and Geno were accountable for all 3 Pens goals and literally more than half of the team’s shots (18/33). And that can’t happen again. And it won’t, now the Pens can pushback at will. And they will.

The Pens will enter a proverbial hornet’s nest this afternoon, but there is no cause for panic. The Islanders managed 10 home wins in 24 attempts this year (0-2 against the Pens), advantage Penguins (who also went 18-6 on the road this season). The Pens went a combined 8-1 in day games during the regular season (1-0 against the Islanders), doesn’t matter what the Islanders did, advantage Penguins. And when it comes down to skill, experience, and willpower, advantage Pittsburgh Penguins.

Yesterday Sam Kasan reported that Evgeni Malkin did not practice with the team but no status was given at the time or by Coach B in the post practice scrum. We suspect he is playing but a change in the lineup could be coming on the defemsive end: Deryk Engelland particularly stuck out as having a bad game Friday, he took two undisciplined penalties, one of which resulted in a goal, and failed to make the kinds of plays the Pens need from him.

With that said, no strong feelings as to who will get the call today. You have to feel that Despres sits above Bortz on the depth chart, but the Pens got thoroughly out muscled on Friday which might give the bruiser Bortz the edge.

If we had a say in the lines we would make a couple tweaks as follows:

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

Letang-Despres
Martin-Eaton
Murray-Niskanen

Dupuis and Iginla clearly have some chemistry from playing the last couple regular season games and game one of this series together. That’s more than we can say between Malkin and Iginla. If Malkin should be unable to play, TK will have to be the next man up and Jussi would move back to that top 6 role.

Time to set the tempo. Go Pens.


Gameday Conference Quarterfinals #2: v. New York Islanders: Oh Captain, My Captain

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PITTSBURGH PENGUINS v. New York Islanders

Consol Energy Center, 7:00 PM, Root Sports, NBC Sports (local blackout), 105.9 the X

You want to know what the best part of the playoffs is? When two teams play each other 4 to 7 times in a row you are bound to get pushback. For a definition of what “pushback” is, see last night’s Red Wings/Ducks matchup. The Wings got outplayed in the first game, as such they came back to jump out to a 4-1 lead in this one before ultimately getting a 5-4 OT win. Don’t get us wrong, the Red Wings are a different story than the New York Islanders, half their roster is unchanged from their 2008 Stanley Cup-winning team, some pieces are the same as the 2002 Cup team. These are grizzled veterans who were never going to go out of the playoffs without a fight. Whether the Islanders will show any resolve in this series remains to be seen, they are almost 100% different from their last playoff team, from 2007, and most of the key players: Tavares, Moulson, Grabner, etc. have no experience outside of Wednesday’s game.

But you have to know that the Islanders are going to play like a different team tonight. The shock of playing in the playoffs is gone, now it’s time for them to see if they can make this a series. And there will be pushback. The Isles started to push back in the third period of Wednesday’s game when the refs decided to ref to the score, they stopped calling things against the Isles until ultimately it boiled over into Marty Reasoner’s dangerous and malicious attempted kneeing on Jussi Jokinen. Can the Islanders turn that kind of pushback into actual goals? Well, it’s tough to say.

The Penguins will offer their own pushback tonight, in the form of Sidney Crosby. This was like the worst kept secret yesterday when Pens reporters shared with everyone the fact that Sid had resumed skating between Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis and that Jussi had been moved down to the fourth line. So think about this, James Neal does look doubtful (it looks like he really tweaked his ankle), but by exchange they get the best player in the world back.

We expect Sid to play some reduced minutes tonight, this is why the Pens brought in Jussi and it doesn’t seem right to demote the guy fulltime to the fourth line after scoring 2 points in game 1. Jussi can also take the left-handed, defensive zone faceoffs that the Pens relied on Sid for so heavily during the regular season. That seems like a win to me.

Lineups tonight for the Pens:

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

Martin-Engelland
Eaton-Letang
Murray-Niskanen

Marc Andre Fleury

No changes are expected in the Islanders lineup. It looks like Nabokov will be in goal although you have to wonder if he isn’t still reeling from that JATO to the face.

Keep the pressure on. Go Pens.


Gameday Conference Quarterfinals #1: v. New York Islanders

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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.