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.

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Recap: Conference Semis #4: When the Levee Breaks

 

ecsfgame4

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.


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.


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.


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.

toi-consem1

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 Conference Semifinals #1: v. Ottawa Senators

penguinsvssens

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS v. Ottawa Senators

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

On Saturday we released the tension and fears of three years of abject playoff failure. But what does that get us now? The Penguins are still 12 wins away from anything. And today they begin the process of moving one win closer to that goal.

And they have a very different opponent tonight. The Ottawa Senators are an experienced playoff team, they handily dismantled the Montreal Canadiens in only 5 games in the preliminary round, and now will face the Penguins for the 3rd time in the last seven playoffs, that’s a lot. We have already detailed the head-to-head matchups in a lot of detail here, here, and here. Check them out if you haven’t had the opportunity. I feel vindicated because my viewpoints seem to match up with Al Willig, a Sens writer, who shared his thoughts and feelings with Brian Metzer over at From the Point. Check it out for a good, honest, take on what the Sens actually have going on.

By this time you’ve undoubtedly heard that Tomas Vokoun will be starting in net for the Penguins tonight. Obviously we haven’t hidden our point of view, but here are two big time statements representing each side of the argument. The first comes from Hooks Orpik at Pensburgh, he’s on the “Start Fleury” side of things.  Jesse Spector, in 140 characters or less sums up the latter point of view:

spector-voki

The last word I will say about this is, the Penguins have been in “win now” mentality all year long, do you seriously want to endanger that by stroking one player’s ego? I didn’t think so.

The line rushes in today’s morning were the following:

Dupuis-Crosby-Iginla
Kunitz-Malkin-Neal
Morrow-Sutter-Cooke
Adams-Vitale-Kennedy

Orpik-Martin
Letang-Niskanen
Murray-Engelland

No question about it, all eyes are going to be on that new-look third d-pairing. Engo is probably a little underrated as a puck-mover but if they get trapped out there against one of the top lines for the Sens or with Erik Karlsson on the ice, look out, they could really struggle.

Click on this link here for a player usage chart from Greg at Some Kind of Ninja for some truly horrifying stats on Deryk Engelland’s playoffs so far. Basically, when Engo played (in Games 1 and 2) he played against the worst players on the Islanders, despite that, the Islanders tended to control play when he was on  the ice and the Penguins were outshot (Corsi rating) a lot with him on the ice. Luckily, Murray, although also having been outshot, played against good competition and only allowed a few more shot attempts than his teammates took with him on the ice.

In non-playoff related news Sidney Crosby was named a finalist for the Bill Masterton Perseverance Award along with Adam McQuaid (defenseman of the Boston Bruins) and Josh Harding (goaltender for the Minnesota Wild). Josh Harding is playing hockey despite having been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, if he doesn’t win then I probably won’t watch the NHL anymore. Admittedly I don’t know why McQuaid was named a finalist, but it was probably also for a better reason than why Sid is nominated. Nothing against Sid, but coming back from an injury (only to get injured again) isn’t dealing with a life altering disability.

From 16 only 8 remain, it will take four more wins to get down to the final 4. That starts tonight.

The race to one starts tonight. Go Pens.