A couple of notes: Sid has been cleared to practice without his jaw protector. I’m sure he wants to get rid of it as soon as he can, but at the same time I don’t think a lot of home fans would be too mad to see him wear it at least to the end of this series.
It seems likely, with both Western Conference series going to Game 7’s, that this series will kick off on Thursday evening, after the other series have concluded. No source on that, just taking a guess.
There’s no question we are a little pissed off from Sunday’s game. Not because the Penguins made a 10 second lapse in ability and skill, mostly just because everyone is somehow viewing this game as a catastrophic ending to the season. We didn’t know that you could lose a best of 7 series 1 loss to 2 wins. Nonetheless, we’re going to have some fun to alleviate the stress of this week by playing our favorite game: Stud of the Week! This week with a defense-first tilt.
Paul Martin: If Paul-Mart had played the whole regular season, and if he had played it the way he’s played the last 5 games (minus the whole 28.6 situation, of which he was part of) Paul Martin WOULD BE the Penguins’ finalist for the Norris Trophy. I’m not kidding. So far this series he has earned almost three more minutes of TOI than Kris Letang, not an insignificant amount over a three game stretch. He’s produced the same 9 points in 9 games as Kris Letang and perhaps most tellingly, he’s a +8 (tops amongst all defensemen) compared to Tanger’s +3. Not bad for a guy who is half of the “shutdown pairing” for the Penguins.
Speaking of the other half, there’s no question that Brooks Orpik has been instrumental in helping Paul-Mart to such success and confidence. But you know what? Paul Martin has been one of the true superstars on this team all playoffs.
Brenden Morrow: man did he have a bad opening series. I nearly wrote a piece suggesting he be benched. Now we know that it had a lot to do with the Islanders, and not him, but he has rebounded nicely. He made his first goal of the postseason count netting the game winner in Game 2 off of a nifty redirect. Even more important, though, has been his play on the forecheck and in the d-zone.
There’s nothing else we can say about Morrow being a “heart and soul” player. But he sure is proving it. Has he been the best player on the ice? No. Has he tried harder than everyone else on the ice? Yes. I just like watching him play so here’s a video.
Brandon Sutter: as with Morrow, it’s hard to fathom how bad he was in the first round. Unlike Morrow, he didn’t have the excuse of age or diminished skating ability. All year we’ve used Sutter’s smooth skating and quickness as a distinguishing factor between him and the departed Jordan Staal. But he didn’t have it against the Isles. He was slow, he was lost, he looked weak, exactly unlike what we’ve come to expect.
It was nerves, playoff nerves for a 23 year old without any playoff experience. And that’s okay, because once he got his bearings he’s been the cornerstone of the Penguins’ late-game efforts to forecheck the game to a successful conclusion. And he’s been good at it.
But this week our Stud goes to the guy who has picked up the team in both ends of the rink, the guy who is most hungry for another Cup and another Conn Smythe.
Evgeni Malkin: he’s only managed three points this series after scoring 11 in round one, but he’s been a thousand times better in this series. His back pressure has been essential in creating the effective 1-2-2 which has totally stifled the Senators attempts to gain the zone. After a slow start, Geno is up to 7 takeaways, and nearly all of them have come in this series. That’s great for a guy who Mike Milbury once described as a “crack fiend” who can only play offense.
He looks like the best player in the world. A man possessed in every sense of the word. Wait, did I just call Geno the best player in the world? Yes I did. And I mean it. Who has been as great in both ends of the ice as Geno? I’ll be the first to tell you Sid hasn’t, especially with his plummeting faceoff percentage. The next two answers are also teammates: Hank and Datsyuk. Well they’ve defied the odds with their good play, but with 10 and 8 points respectively they aren’t in the upper stratum of offense. And who else even deserves mentioning? Geno has this team right now and he will carry them well. That’s why he’s our Stud of the Week.
PITTSBURGH PENGUINS v. Carolina Hurricanes
Consol Energy Center, 7:30 PM, Root Sports
The last week of the regular season has been almost unbearable to watch if you’re a Penguins fan. The Pens have dropped 2 of their last 3, but none of it has mattered because for the last seven days they’ve had their spot in the postseason locked in. There’s been lots of intrigue around the rest of the league. In the East, 5 teams clinched playoff berths, the Capitals in particular have been impressive. Nobody really wants to earn the number 2 spot and the Northeast Division championship. In the West, the Blackhawks won the President’s Trophy and the Blue Jackets are still possibly capable of making the playoffs. But the Pens haven’t been doing anything, and you know what? That’s just fine with us. The Pens have been getting rest, they’ve been getting healthy, and there hasn’t been any of the traditional drama of the last week of the season.
But in some way, shape, or form, tonight’s game does matter. Before the start of tonight’s game the Penguins will have a much better understanding of who they’ll be playing in the Conference Quarterfinals: the Islanders played their final regular season game last night, which ended in an overtime loss. By earning one point the Isles moved up to sixth in the conference. However, the Rangers just dismantled the Devils 4-0, leaving only the Islanders and Senators as possible opponents.
And then there are the players. As we reported yesterday, Paul Martin and James Neal will be back in the lineup tonight and the Penguins are expected to utilize the following lines (at least amongst forwards):
So in other words, the Pens look to reunite the “Best Line in Hockey, 2012 Ed,” and it seems likely that Sid will resume skating between Duper and Iggy when he’s healthy. From there Jussi will probably drop to the fourth line flanked (definitely) by Craig Adams and one of Tanner Glass, Tyler Kennedy, and Beau Bennett depending on matchups. We’re not expecting the world from either Paul-Mart or James Neal, but we hope they can come in, look comfortable, and play in control.
And maybe we’re just being sentimental, but we want to win this one. The Pens have dropped their last two, and it would look much better to win your last regular season game going into the playoffs than to lose three in a row on your way. Also, Jordan Staal finally returns to Consol Energy Center ice tonight. The Pens should want to beat him. Speaking of, Josh Yohe wrote a greatly condescending piece comparing his season to Brandon Sutter’s. Hard to believe that Sutter hasn’t played in the postseason yet, he must have joined the big team in 2010.
Does today’s game matter? Not in a literal sense, but from a symbolic sense this is not one to take lightly.
So ready for the playoffs. Go Pens.
In the news today: Sean Gentille with a solid scoop on what the Pens are likely to do when they have their full complement of players back. We’re on board.
Somebody confirmed that Paul-Mart and Epic Neal Time will be back in the lineup tomorrow.
Updated from yesterday’s gameday post, the 8 Eastern Conference playoff teams are set with the Senators and Rangers in and the Jets just missing. Further, the Leafs have separated themselves from the 8th seed, leaving only the Islanders, Senators, and Rangers as possible first round matchups for the Penguins. What follows will be an examination of what it would take for the Penguins to get to match up against a possible team, and how well they would match up in a seven game series.
The Pens have made it to 15 wins in a row, but at what cost? Before the game Saturday we learned that Paul Martin would miss 4-6 weeks with a broken hand. After the game Coach Dan confirmed that Paul-Mart had to have surgery to repair his hand, putting to rest any chance that he could come back early from that.
Then of course there was Sidney Crosby getting a full slapper to the chops, and it broke his jaw. Now it seems there is good and bad news with Sid’s condition. The good: the doctors did not need to wire Sid’s jaw shut, it can’t be stressed how important that is. Rather than having to go upwards of a month or more on Ensure, hopefully Sid should be able to maintain a more or less normal diet, that means his muscles won’t turn to jelly. Further, even if Sid isn’t playing, if he can keep his jaw open he can do some skating and workouts, when it’s closed, breathing is nightmarish. The bad: it’s a broken jaw. The Pens refuse to give a timetable for Sid because he could get back to the game in a couple weeks, or it could easily become a couple months, you just don’t know. The Pensblog linked to this article but it is probably the definitive source on sports and jaw injuries, so check it if you can.
Just saying, but how smart does Shero look now that his two best defensemen and the greatest player in the world are hurt? Well according to Randy Carlyle, coach of the amazingly still relevant Toronto Maple Leafs, Shero brought this on himself. Cool dude. We’re pretty sure that’s a bizzaro April Fools joke.
Mike Colligan decided that he needed to set the world back in order, so he wrote this. Just another unreal effort. I really like it when people can actually explain why they stand by a choice and Colligan makes Boyd Gordon sound like the reckoning. We were big on the Pens looking for a PK and faceoff specialist. If they have to go without Sid, adding more to the bottom could be the right call.
After meeting with Sid in the hospital yesterday Ray Shero had two significant nuggets: that he expected Crosby to be ready for the playoffs, and that he thought he had made the moves he was going to make. Our read on what Shero had to say is that he hasn’t even started dealing yet.
Pens are looking for 16 in a matter of hours.
No doubt about it, the Pens are still falling for the same cheap antics that got them eliminated by the Flyers in last year’s playoffs. That is to say they’re trying to out-physical the Flyers (something they aren’t the best at) instead of out-play them (which they clearly did in the third period when they just started playing hockey). But to me there’s no doubt that the majority of the Penguins players did learn something, and perhaps the two biggest who didn’t, Geno and Neal, can’t be faulted because they made up for it on the scoresheet.
In some ways though the Pens really overcompensated. That was the problem for Brooks Orpik, who played his worst game since he wore a number 29 jersey, and Matt Niskanen both of whom allowed own goals by playing too aggressively, trying to play the puck and not the man.
Now mind you, some guys, read Deryk Engelland and Tanner Glass, did play over the top and it was bad news for both of them, but there were some guys who had a downright good game, so let’s take a look at them and how the team and coaching staff can learn from them.
Here’s the truth: Paul Martin had one of the best games he’s played all year, and he’s had a lot of good ones. Unlike his d-partner Brooksie, who ended up a minus 2, Paul-Mart was a net zero plus/minus, and almost silently netted three assists. He didn’t try to do too much. He just played the game and did what he’s done all year. He didn’t let the national audience or the rivalry get into his head.
Sidney Crosby: he’s often been leading the charge for extra aggression against the Flyers, but on Wednesday he played in control. He ended up a minus-3, but he logged huge minutes and did what he needed to do. He logged 27 minutes of ice time in all three facets of the game, at even strength, on the PP and on the PK. He probably played his most shorthanded time he’s ever played in a game, and generally speaking, the Pens PK played well, the killer was just the stupid penalties other guys took to get on the penalty kill. Also doesn’t hurt that Sid made a difference in the faceoff circle, 75%.
Brandon Sutter: his late goal to get the score even is the stuff of legends. No doubt Sutter is always going to have to own up to comparisons to Jordan Staal, he took a huge step towards that comparison on Wednesday. The biggest things that advanced statisticians stress about Staal’s game is his puck possession numbers. In less than 13 minutes of ice time on Wednesday Sutter finished a plus-2. Further, the 3 wingers who played with him–Beau Bennett, Tyler Kennedy, and Matt Cooke–were the only other plus rated players for the Pens.
So there you have it, we’re not going to pretend that the Pens didn’t beat themselves, we’re not going to pretend that composure wasn’t still a major issue for this supposedly veteran, well-coached team. But when you really look at it, the Pens look to be turning the corner when it comes to the Flyers, the best players played well, and more and more guys seem to be learning to turn the other cheek. Given that the Flyers are literally rubbish we can’t wait to get back at it again.
We created this award to recognize the best player for the Penguins in the past week. This doesn’t have to be the leading scorer or anything like that, this is the guy who contributes the most to victory–it could go to a guy who was dominant in the faceoff circle, who drew a bunch of penalties that resulted in goals, or laid some game changing hits.
Pens went 3-0 this week and, generally speaking, they won three games they should have won. Admittedly none of these were that simple: Ottawa, especially before losing their two best players, were occasionally dominant, and still ought to be considered a playoff contender. Playing the Jets in Winnipeg is never easy and coming from behind with less than 10 minutes left in the game is no mean feat.
With that said there does not seem to be one guy who stood above all others this week, so what follows are several strong candidates.