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.


We’re Talking Playoffs

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.

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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.

Read the rest of this entry »


Gameday #47: @ New Jersey Devils

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PITTSBURGH PENGUINS @ New Jersey Devils

Prudential Center, Newark, New Jersey, 7:30 PM, Root Sports

This looked like it was going to be another stupid pointless, meaningless regular season game, but as it turns out there is at least a lot of news. The biggest has to deal with Sidney Crosby, Dave Molinari broke the news earlier today that Sid would seek medical clearance to resume playing. The rationale is that he wouldn’t play again in the regular season but that he could try to make his return when the playoffs start, which seem very likely to be Wednesday May 1. Justin Bourne wrote something about it and it really puts the whole process into a lot of perspective. Obviously you’re going to feel a lot of highs when word comes down that the world’s best player is gearing up to get back into the game at it’s most important part, but I think we do need to temper the excitement and Bourne’s piece is pretty epic in that regard.

Molinari’s piece also informs us on all the other injuries the Pens are dealing with: James Neal and Paul Martin traveled with the team to New Jersey, they skated this morning, but neither will be in the lineup tonight. It seems doubtful that either will play Saturday either, but it definitely sounds like they could be ready when the second season starts. Unfortunately it looks like Brooks Orpik is going to be missing some time as he did not travel with the team, and no statement has been given on what happened to him aside from a “lower-body injury.” Joe Vitale also did not travel with the team as he’s been nursing some sort of injury off and on for a few weeks.

The playoff picture is crystallizing a little bit: technically there are still five teams that could finish in the 8th seed but the odds are good to meet either the Senators or the Rangers. We’ll write a detailed synopsis on this later.

Check out this monster read from Mike Colligan. What a human.

Who knows what’s happening with New Jersey. Go Pens.


Answering Questions Asked and Unasked – Sidney Crosby and his Broken Jaw

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.

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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.

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Pens are looking for 16 in a matter of hours.


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 »


Pens/Flyers: Nothing Learned? Maybe Not

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.

I wouldn't lie to you...

I wouldn’t lie to you…

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.