Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Pens 3, Panthers 0; Arena deal by Friday ???

If you notice, this sort of stuff is starting to become a habit.

Pens blank the Cats last night for their first win against them in a long time.

Earlier in the year, it was the Leafs.

Before that, of course it was the Flyers.

Common demoninator; The Pens are starting to beat the teams that they've had big problems with in the last several years.

I'd say that's a good sign.

Have to say though, the Panthers sure put the pressure on for most of the game. If it were not for Fleury's solid game (again), last night's outcome may have been quite different.

In addition, the Panthers played a clean but physical game against Sid as well, holding him to only one assist. Of course, that one assist may have put the game away, on yet another backdoor goal on the power play by Whitney.

And once again, the muckers had a good game, contributing with a goal that was a result of great hustle by Ruutu combined with a nice backhand to the 5 hole of Belfour. Maybe Eddie would have had that in his late 30's.

Big, big game on Thursday, as the Canadiens come to town. The Pens turn around and travel to Montreal on Sunday afternoon. Sandwiched between the two is Alex Ovechkin and the Caps on Saturday afternoon at the Igloo.


KDKA's Andy Sheehan is now reporting that the new arena deal between the government officials and the Pens could be completed by Thursday, with an announcement possibly by Friday.

Continued great news. Outside of a catastrophic collapse in negotiations, put this one in the books.

Then I'll be interested to see all of those "I told you so" experts. Yeah, right.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Pens Gameday; Negative vibes emanating from the Igloo...

No, not because of the arena talks.

Moreover, I continue to read that talks are progressing very well, and a deal could be on it's way soon.

But back to the on-ice product, I don't like the quotes that I'm reading from the Pens as they prepare to face the Panthers tonight.

Seems apparent to me that the success of the Panthers when they face the Pens has gotten into the Pens' collective heads.

Brooks Oprik says "It seems like we lay an egg against them every time. Maybe some of the teams that are ahead of us that we always play well against, [we] just match up well against them," Orpik said. "Maybe we just don't match up well against [Florida]."

Not exactly ringing in confidence, eh ??

So it would behoove the Pens to get off to an early lead, 'cause if they don't, you might be hearing a lot of those "we don't match up well against them" quotes after the game.

Something tells me that tonight may be different, though.

The Pens are playing their best hockey of the year now, their most complete hockey anyhow.

They're also becoming very difficult to play against, both because of their obvious offensive talent and speed, as well as starting to really play a physical brand of hockey as well.

Tonight starts a tough stretch, with 4 games in 6 nights, including two against the Canadiens.


Monday, January 29, 2007

Meadville in Da House; Steelers hire Fichtner as new WR coach

Remember during the cheesy rock movie Rock Star with Mark Wahlberg, when Wahlberg's character "Izzy" gets the gig with Steel Dragon and is holding their press conference ??

Then they go back to his old bandmates in the 'Burgh and his buddy simply says, "Holy Shit !".

Well, I have to admit, that was me this afternoon.

I checked my regular sites after getting home from work today, and I came upon KDKA's story about the Steelers finishing up with their assistant coach hires.

And it was there when I was pleasantly surprised to see that the Steelers have hired Randy Fichtner as their new wide receivers coach.

The reason for the "holy shit", you may ask ??

Well, you see, Randy is a friend of mine, we both graduated from Meadville H.S. in '82. We were also teammates on several baseball teams before we went our separate ways, him to Purdue on a full ride and me to the Navy on a full ride.

Go ahead, Google it.

WANNABE BUDDY OF A PRO FOOTBALL COACH DISCLAIMER: Let me admit right now, I have not spoken to Randy probably since I left town in '83. So it's not like I have his cell number or something like that. It's not like I have visions of 50 yard line tickets for life.

But you have to admit, this is some cool shit.

Stan reported it briefly on Sportsbeat tonight, only mentioning that this will be Randy's 1st pro coaching job.

OK, noted.

But it's not like this is his 1st rodeo.

Randy was an outstanding athlete, certainly the best one that my sorry ass had the pleasure to be around. He earned the scholarship to Purdue, even though his dad Russ went there (as well as playing for the Browns in the '60's). His college career was just starting to blossom, but he had to hang up his cleats after a couple of years due to back problems.

His coaching jobs that I've found are as follows: Fichtner, 43, spent the last six seasons (2001-06) as offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach at the Memphis, where he had also previously coached from 1990-93. Prior to joining Memphis for the second time, Fichtner was the offensive coordinator at Arkansas State (1997-00) and the wide receivers coach at his alma mater Purdue (1994-96). He began his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Purdue (1985-86) and Michigan (1986-87), before joining Southern California as a volunteer coach in 1988. In 1989, Fichtner earned his first full-time coaching position when he coached tight ends at UNLV.

But it's the Arkansas State job that's the key right now, 'cause it was there that he coached with, you guessed it, one Mike Tomlin. According to this Memphis online site, "Tiger offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner also worked with Tomlin at Arkansas State during the same period and played a role in getting Tomlin on the Indians staff after he'd served a brief stint at UT-Martin".

Nice to see that Mike's rewarding those that helped him along the way.

Anyway, congrats to Randy and his family.

KDKA; Arena deal may be reached this week....

According to KDKA's Andy Sheehan, who's done a great investigative job on the Penguins arena and ownership issues, talks between the Penguins and the government official are very close to a deal and if all goes well, they could have an announcement in the next few days.

Of course, I think we all won't be content until we see Mario and Gov. Rendell together in the press conference, but if it holds true, and there's no reason not to believe Sheehan, this is obviously great news.

In addition, Sheehan quotes Mayor Ravenstahl as stating "it's my hope that sometime this week we can get back to talks with the Penguins and ultimately reach a deal".

Great timing as well, with the Pens starting a three game homestand tomorrow night vs. Florida.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Pens 7, Yotes 2; A complete team win, to be sure...

For all of the sensational headlines about Gretzky and Crosby that preceded the Pens/Yotes game, it turned out that the game was turned into a laugher by the muckers.

And yeah, the Crosby kid helped too.

The Pens played a great team game last night in Phoenix, especially with the contributions of the 3rd and 4th lines, in their 7-2 win.

Goals by Ruutu and Petrovicky (sandwiched by just another highlight goal by Sid) turned a tight game into a blowout.

I don't expect guys like those two to be bigtime scorers, but if the Pens start getting occasional goals from those lines, watch the hell out.

I also liked the fact that the Pens did not back down from the physical play that goons like Laraque and Jovanoski were inflicting. And all the sucker punches that Gratton laid on Petrovicky got him nothing but an early shower.

Ryan Whitney is really starting to impress me on the power play. Opposing teams better start being aware of Ryan going back door on those passes from Sid. What a nice problem to give them !! Overall, after another impressive 3 for 6 on the PP last night, the Pens are now 5th in the NHL on the PP with a 19.7% success rate.

Thibault didn't really face too much action at all, with 22 saves. The second goal may have been construed as soft, but there was so much traffic in front of him, that would be a tough assessment.

And then there's Sid.

Ya know, for as great as his backhanded goal was last night, nearly all of the reading I've done this morning almost glosses over his great diving feed to Malone 24 seconds into the game.

But that goal is just another one for the highlight reel this year. He's had, what, seven or eight of those types this year. Just incredible.

Pens fans, we are truly going to be a spoiled bunch, if we're not already.

The Panthers come back to the Igloo on Tuesday night.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Poll Results; Interesting, to say the least

So I've had the latest Confluence poll up for a couple of months, "What do you think is the Penguins most pressing need ??", to gauge the opinions of fellow Pens fans.

And the results were pretty interesting.

Out of 52 votes, 28 of them, or 54%, voted for a "Decent defenseman, preferably right-handed".

15 votes, or 29%, said the Pens need "Scoring winger to play alongside Crosby".

And finally, 9 votes, or 17%, said a "New backup goaltender".

I'm wondering if I kept the poll up longer, now that Eaton is back, if those numbers would change percentage-wise.

But, nah.

Time to change it up.

Let's make it a relatively easy question, but I want those who vote to tell me what you THINK, not what you HOPE.

Thanks again to those who're participating.

Pens Gameday; The Next One visits the land of The Great One

This should be a great atmosphere tonight, at least if you're going to the game anyways, on a number of fronts.

First and foremost, from what I heard on XM Home Ice anyway, this will be the 1st sellout of the year for the Yotes. Good for them.

But the obvious motivation in this one is the first time that Sid and Geno "match up" against the Yotes head coach, some dude named Wayne.

I guess it really shouldn't be an extra motivating factor to get pumped up to play against your opponent's head coach.

But when that coach is Wayne Gretzky, and you don't play against the team he coaches for what seems like a decade, that rule goes by the wayside.

And I think we all "know" Sid by now, you can just imagine how internally he's licking his lips to have a big game tonight in front of #99.

Let's not forget though; Both teams played last night on the road (Yotes were in Denver), both teams had to go to a shootout, with both teams winning.

So we could also see some tired legs out there.

In addition, we could also see some backup goalies out there.

Uh oh.

I would think that it makes it imperative that the Pens get off to a fast start tonight, and build a decent lead for Thibault, assuming he gets the start.

This trip also for the first time involves the Pens' fathers. I think that is a great idea, just to show appreciation for what had to be hundreds of hours of sacrifice during their son's upbringing.

It got me to thinking though; I wonder if they've arranged for the dads to meet Gretzky sometime today ?? Would that be cool, or what ?? Also, I don't believe I heard if Mario has followed the Pens to Phoenix. Can you imagine if you're, I don't know, Mr. Christensen or someone like that, and get a Polaroid (dated term, I know) of yourself, Wayne, and Mario. Talk "aboot" priceless.

So it should be an exciting night for the Phoenix crowd, let's just make sure they go home sad.


Wilson throws Castillo under the Bucs' bus; Will signing Armas actually be an asset ??

Do as I say, not as I do.

Give Jack Wilson credit, he's got some major-league cojones.

Jack appeared on Sportsbeat with Stan last night, along with LaRoche, Snell, and Jim Tracy.

Wilson, he of his whopping 35 RBI's and a career-high 18 errors at shortstop last year, completely bitch-slapped Jose Castillo while talking with Stan. Jack boldly said, "Right now, Freddy is my second baseman, in my mind. He's the guy I can trust to go 100 percent and get the job done. Castillo's got to show me something. You're going to see it in spring training. If he's slimmed down and ready to work, he's going to have a good year. But, if it's the other way around, we're going to have some problems".

Now, let me say this; You won't see me defend Castillo too much at all. I concur with Jack's statements for the most part. He's been inconsistent far too much, his mind wandering off and missing defensive assignments. I would not disagree at all if, as Jack desires, Freddy Sanchez started the season as the starting second baseman.

But Jack Wilson needs to clean up his own house before worrying about Jose Castillo's.

When Jack gets back to playing his game, both offensively and defensively, then he can start making these bold statements to the media. That includes moving runners into scoring position, something he hasn't done as well as he used. In addition, cutting down on those 18 errors would be appeciated.

To his credit, Jack stated last night that he's dropped about 10 pounds, so hopefully that means he'll be a little more mobile out there at shortstop this year.


As most Bucs fans could've predicted, they quickly fell out of the Jeff Weaver sweepstakes, as Weaver signed with the Mariners for 1 year, 8.325 million clams. Forgive me if I'm not too upset over that.

So that reportedly has the Bucs focusing in on Tony Armas Jr. It's not like Armas' numbers are earthshattering, to say the least. Last year, he was was 9-12 with a 5.03 ERA, and he's been quite injury prone.

But the question really becomes, would the signing of Armas actually be an improvement to the pitching staff, or will it turn out to be a liability ?

The alternatives ?? Chacon ?? Burnett ?? VanBenschoten ?? Bullington ??

Part of me just says to pocket that money, and use it to aid in more constructive means, like locking up either Sanchez or LaRoche to long-term contracts.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Pens 4, Stars 3 (SO); There's a first time for everything...

Yup, that is a correct score.

For the 1st time ever at home, the Dallas Stars lost a shootout, going down 4-3 to the Pens.

MAF stoned Zubov, Jokinen and Ribiero during the shootout, while the most reliable Penguin on the shootout, Erik Christensen, scored again on his attempt, and that was all the Pens needed.

To be quite honest, I'm in a state of shock.

The best shootout team in the NHL, against one of the worst ??

What was that saying about the sun shining on a dog's ass ?? Well, let's not go that far, but this was a great two points to get.

Pretty physical game, some good checks on both sides of the ice. That former Capital punk-ass Jeff Halpern and Sid were sparring quite a bit early in the game.

And congrats to the old man Mark Recchi, who got two more goals tonight for #500 for his career. Class act, and a great role model for the youngsters, some of which are young enough to be his sons.

What a pleasant surprise, and sure to be a great confidence boost to the young Pens, who have to get right back on the plane and head west once again to take on Phoenix tomorrow night.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Freddy close to 2-year deal, and "Bob Walk Bobblehead Night" ???

I still something's in the water at PNC Park, but at least they're making strides in the right direction.

First was the Laroche trade a couple of weeks ago, now they're reporting that
they're close to a two year deal with NL batting champ Freddy Sanchez.

Of course, they still need to go to arbitration with LaRoche, by the way, but if they're smart, they'll lock him up as well for a few years.


Will the Bucs sign Jeff Weaver ?? Looks like the Bucs are among the finalists for a two year deal with him. As is the case with just about every other pitcher out there, Weaver had a losing record last year at 8-14, but he surprised everyone during the playoffs, and was the winning pitcher in Game 5 for the Cards.

Gonna take some dinero, so I'd still be surprised if he signed in the 'Burgh, but we'll see if 'ol Bobby Nutting releases some of the cash strings.


Oh boy, those promotional folks who work for the Pirates are really something, aren't they ??

No less than five bobblehead nights.

Including the much-heralded BOB WALK BOBBLEHEAD NIGHT.

Bob, I love ya, but come on.

And another bobblehead night for that crusty veteran Ronny Paulino.

Just enough bobblehead and firework nights to show everyone in MLB that the Pirates have GREAT attendance, eh ??

Well, let's just see how great the attendance is on that Wednesday night in May against Milwaukee.

DB coach Perry, uh, "resigns" from Steelers staff

You could see this one coming.

As dominant as the Steelers have been defensively over the past umpteen years, the last decade or so (or since Rod Woodson left) has had one common denominator on the defensive side of the ball.

The Steelers' pass defense sucks.

So in addition to the special teams, in which that coach, uh, resigned, the 'Burgh Tribune-Review reported that DB coach Darren Perry has resigned as well.

Something has got to be done with this secondary. No secondary is going to be perfect, but the Steelers' cornerbacks routinely give their WR's way too much room, and if they're not backing off the line of scrimmage too much, they're getting burnt over the top.

So anyway, Gerry Dulac reported on Sportsbeat tonight that new coach Tomlin told Perry that is he didn't "resign", he'd fire him.

It's always unfortunate, especially for a former Steeler like Perry, but if there was one area that the Steelers need a drastic change, it's the secondary, and the coach always get the ax.

Goose Egg for Sid at All-Star game; Pens roller coaster ride coming back up

Well, hope he had fun anyways.

All of the hype surrounding Sid's first All-Star game, the matching up of Sid and Ovechkin on the 1st line, the new uniforms, yadda, yadda....

Well, it kinda went off like a dud, if you were looking for fireworks anyway.

Neither Sid nor Alex really had any flashes of their collective brilliance during the game, although Alex did get a tap-in goal late in the game.

But Sid was either bottled up or was the subject of poor passes the entire game, and never really got off a good shot.

I read some articles today that said the Western Conference's D-men had already agreed that they would simply clutter up the middle of their own zone in order to eliminate the chance of the usual spectacular cross-ice passes.

Thanks for playing along, boys.

And, not unexpectedly, I thought that the line that had the most chemistry, and therefore looked the best, was the one with Lecavalier and St. Louis.

A lot of the hockey articles today also mentioned that Gretzky had a goose egg in his first All-Star game.

At least Sid's got that going for him.


It's also been widely reported that Gov. Rendell had a lengthy conversation with Ron Burkle Tuesday night discussing some of the details that had been a sticking point during last Thursday's heated negotations.

Everyone needs to understand, Rendell and Burkle are longtime buddies. They've negotiated business deals for many years.

Does anyone SERIOUSLY think this isn't going to happen ??


Demolition will begin in February on 11 buildings that will be cleared in preparation for the construction of the new arena.

I say again, still think it's not going to happen ??


And finally, Noah Welch probably has worn out the PA highways (dunno how those guys make the trip, I-79 to I-80 to I-81, or Turnpike to I-81 ? Who knows) going up and down from Pittsburgh to Wilkes-Barre. So a couple of days after being sent down, he's now on his way back up. I guess the thinking is that they want the extra D-man just in case Eaton isn't quite ready.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

NHL All-Star Game; Sid does it once again

Night one of the NHL All-Star Game festivities was most definitely Penguin-laden.

The NHL Young Stars started the night off in, sorry to say, boring style.

Nice to see Phil Kessel keep rebounding from his testicular cancer treatments with his hat trick.

But boy, I kinda feel sorry for Geno Malkin.

Everyone knows, Geno speaks very little English, so when the coaches told him to stand at the blue line and wait for the pass, well, that's sure enough what the hell he did.

Of course, the Canadian idiots in the press gave him a hard time, as if that was HIS intention. Grow the hell up, and get off of your Canadian high horse.

Staal and Whitney looked pretty good as well.

But overall, the game was really too slow for the majority of the game. It's just that all of these guys don't want to be like Iverson and be a super gunner during these games. But what that does is slow the game down way too much, with too many passes.

Then the big boys came out, and I guess there were some more decent moments.

Ovechkin being the slowest skater on the ice, when everyone said he would dominate, got a good chuckle out of me.

But when I saw Sid come out for the shootout, I was thinking that some demented Leafs fan in the NHL front office must've selected him.

But like Sid just seems to do everytime we think he can't do it, he was the star of the show again, smoking Luongo on 2 out of 3 shots during the final shootout phase. He also beat Kiprusoff on his 1st shot during the initial shootout round.

If we know Sid by now, I think it's going to be a good bet that he's gonna work like a dog to improve on the shootouts for the rest of the year. I'm not worried about him at all.

Gonna be fun to watch Sid and Alex on the top line tonight. Danny Briere is their linemate to start with, but I heard on XM Home Ice 204 that one of the other linemates they'd have sometime during the game is Brendan Shanahan.

Steelers coaching staff takes shape; 'Burgh PG mentions Confluence again

Well it appears at least the Steelers coaching staff won't look too different, at least in the coordinator positions.

Expectedly, Bruce Arians got boosted up to offensive coordinator. Although history is not on Arians' side in terms of his results as an O.C. for three years with the Brownies, it's the smart move. The last thing the Steelers want to do is start from scratch with the offense. Surely, they are not far away at all in making that offense start clicking again.

Maybe keeping Ben away from motorcycles in the off-season, for a start.

The PG also reports that Russ Grimm may have misread the situation with his hiring status. I'm not so sure with that, although of course it's strictly my opinion. I really think that there was something related to Grimm that just didn't set well with the Rooneys, whether it was his discussions during the interview, or maybe that the Steelers thought that the team's coaching staff was starting to head too much in the buddy-buddy direction. In terms of Grimm, as I've said a couple of times recently, he's had several interviews over the past few years, but no 2nd interviews, and of course, no head coaching jobs yet.

Lastly, my thanks once again to the Blog N' Gold section of the PG for linking to The Confluence's post concerning the Steelers' hiring of Mike Tomlin. Appreciate the pub, as well as your kind words, boys.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Lemieux continues his posturing (to his credit)....

I really don't want to be portraying my opinions of the arena deal in a denegrating fashion towards Mario Lemieux.

Christ, how could I, or anyone else for that matter ??

He's an incredible role model, and I consider him (along with Roberto Clemente) one of my lifelong idols.

But boy oh boy, Mario is playing his cards like he should be on ESPN on one of those poker shows (don't get me started on that).

Mario used the occasion of media day at the NHL All-Star game to once again portray the gloom and doom of the Penguins' arena situation.

Lemieux said "I heard it wasn't very good. Our people were offended and very disappointed. Now, as always, we have to go out and explore our options. Once we find a deal we like, we'll sign it up."

Pretty strong comments, touche' Mario.

As I said, I give Mario all the credit in the world. He's gonna get the best deal for the Penguins (and his wallet) that he can.

However, having said all of that, in my humble opinion, it is all pure posturing, nothing more.

Get your money Mario, you deserve it.

But you aren't moving the Penguins, sure I'll call you out on it.

You've been living in Pittsburgh long enough, you fully know irregardless of how bad you've gotten screwed over by the politicians, you will get vilified if you move this team.


On a more positive note, Stan Savran reported on Sportsbeat tonight that the majority of the current investment group of the Penguins, plus a couple of other outside investors, are in the process of increasing each of their investments up to $10 million a piece, in order to purchase the Penguins, and get Mario his money due. Of course, this is a separate evolution to the arena issue, so we'll have to see what happens with this as well.

It's Tomlin; Steelers get new boss....

I would have liked to have been a fly on the wall during Mike Tomlin's interview with the Rooney's.

But one thing is for sure, Tomlin must've blown them away.

After a flurry of speculation, in what has to be described as a major surprise to Steeler fans, Tomlin is the next head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

In the press conference this afternoon, Tomlin confirmed that Dick Lebeau would be retained as defensive coordinator, but would not comment on any other Steeler assistants, all of which are under contract for 2007.

He also said that the Steelers would at least go a season or two using the 3-4 defense, but the possibility exists that he may switch to a 4-3 eventually.

The signing of Tomlin throws about 200 questions into the air now, some of them being;
  • How does this change the offense, specifically the "run first" philosophy ??
  • Will it get Heath Miller a pass thrown his way more than every 300 throws ??
  • Does it change the priorities that the team may have had in the upcoming draft ??
  • If he's eventually considering going to a 4-3, will they draft positions such as defensive ends and middle linebackers in the high rounds now ??

Geez, and a whole lot more. We'll know a lot more over the next couple of weeks.

Congratulations Mike, Steeler Nation expects a hell of a lot from you, I hope you know that by now. If you don't, you'll know it very soon.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

For once and for all, is it Grimm or Tomlin dammit !!!

This is getting ridiculous, especially for an organization run as effectively as the Pittsburgh Steelers.

First, we talked about the report that stated that the Steelers have picked Mike Tomlin as their next head coach.

Then, ESPN refuted that report, with Chris Mortensen quoting Tomlin that he had not been offered the job.

Then ESPN recanted their own refutement (is that a word ?), stating that they had confirmed with their own Steeler sources that Tomlin was indeed going to be chosen head coach.

However, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review are reporting this morning that Russ Grimm has been chosen as the next head coach. Not only are they claiming that Grimm is the guy, but they also claim that the Steelers have offered Grimm the job, that Grimm has accepted the job, and the decision will be announced Monday at a press conference.

However, ESPN's Chris Mortensen is sticking with his story just now on Sportscenter. Mortensen reports that he is staying with his sources who claim that Tomlin is still the man.

Of course, another wrench could be thrown into this about 7PM tonight if the Bears lose, which would allow the Steelers to interview Ron Rivera again, under the assumption that the Steelers don't make an official announcement today, which I would consider highly unlikely given that the conference championships are today.

If I had to guess, 'cause that's really my only option, I'd say it's Grimm. Seems that the Trib's sources have some pretty specific information relating to Grimm's hiring.

We'll just have to see what happens.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Pens 8, Leafs 2; Good old-fashioned ass whoopin'....

Now THAT was one fun game to watch.

With probably the best puck movement of the year, the Pens absolutely beat the dog shit out of the Leafs tonight, 8-2.

And it could have been worse, if it were not for Therrien's calling off of the dogs late in the 3rd period, when the pissed off Leafs really got goony.

The game was filled with 34 penalties, which included 19 on the Leafs. The difference in the game was that Pittsburgh was 5 for 10 on the power play, while the Leafs were only 2 for 8, and one of those for the Leafs was directed into the net very nicely by Whitney.

Malkin was a passing machine tonight with 5 assists. Sid was his usual self with a goal and 2 assists.

And oh yeah, Recchi had the hat trick and an assist. He's now 2 goals from 500.

The crowd looked to be the usual mix of a large throng of Leafs fans. It looked in the 3rd period that there were a couple of fights in the stands, based on the entire section of fans near there looking away while the play was going on. Anyone who went to the game, was that the case ??

I did a glance at some of the Leafs message boards before my post tonight, boy those are some whiners on there. Don't you think you should be placing blame with some of your defensive liabilities like Hal Gill, rather than bitching about Crosby every 5 seconds ?? I mean seriously, some of those D-men remind me of Hatcher in Philly.

So now it's onto Dallas and the All-Star festivities for Crosby, Malkin, Staal, and Whitney, and some much-needed time off for everyone else. The Pens travel to Dallas and Phoenix late next week.

Pens Gameday; Sixty-Seven !!! Sixty-Seven !!!

No motivation needed tonight, boys.

The Leafs and their few thousand fans head on down I-79 to face the Pens tonight.

Fairly big game. Last one before the All-Star break. Pens two points behind the Leafs for the last playoff spot.

The Caps and Rangers have already lost earlier today, so that helped the Pens as well.

So as usual when the Leafs and Pens get together at the Igloo, the sellout crowd should provide plenty of energy.

The last time these two teams played on Dec. 29th, the Pens' power play looked very good, and they need a similar effort to put the pressure on the Leafs.


Breaking News,or is it ??? Tomlin next Steelers coach ???

You gotta love the world of the "insider", or shall we say, "wannabe insider". is reporting that the Steelers have chosen Mike Tomlin as their next head coach.

But hold the phone.

ESPN says not so fast, claiming the report is untrue, as well as a quote from Tomlin that it was untrue.

So who frickin' knows. Maybe SI has a source among management claiming what they going to offer Tomlin

Or maybe it's just a slow sports news day.

Confluence Home/Road Trip; Norfolk 5, Baby Pens 2

All good things must come to an end, or so they say.

So, for the first time in my seven occasions of seeing the Baby Pens here in Norfolk, they went down in defeat, and went down hard, losing 5-2.

[[ For those of you geographically challenged, Norfolk and Virginia Beach are joined at the hip. ]]

Playing before the largest Norfolk crowd in their AHL history (7,209), the atmosphere was certainly nothing like I had been used to in the dump known as the Norfolk Scope, which basically looks like the Igloo's ugly stepsister. I was amazed as we walked up towards the ticket booths (I never usually buy tickets in advance there) that there was a huge line.

As soon as we eventually got in the building, Dennis Bonvie and his old buddy David Koci were throwing haymakers at each other. Our seats were about 3 feet behind the Admirals penalty box, and Bonvie and Koci didn't stop yakking at each other the entire 5 minutes. Bonvie was really entertaining the Norfolk hicks in the crowd as well, it was pretty hilarious.

But back to the ice action, sorry to say, this Baby Pens squad is nothing like previous years' teams.

Filewich is certainly impressive, I'd have to concur with those who say he would be the next forward to be called up to the big boys in the 'Burgh.

Dupont looked steady as well, I'd have no problem with him coming back up to fill a D-man slot.

And, like father like son, the Baby Pens had a FULL 2-minute 5 on 3, and whiffed on it. What is it about 5 on 3's with this organization ???

By the way, guess who was in goal for the Admirals ?? Our old buddy Patrick Lalime.

In the Baby Pens' net, Jeff Deslauriers basically stunk. Didn't even last one period before he was pulled for Andrew Penner, who was decent the remainder of the game.

So, overall, we had a good time, the crowd was really pumped, and for the 1st time in my 7 visits, they went home happy.

Friday, January 19, 2007

The Confluence's Blurbs from the Burgh

  • You have to forgive the Buccos for continuing to be absolute giddy after the announcement of the LaRoche trade. I'll admit it, I was pretty damn excited myself. But let's not kid ourselves; This trade simply makes the Bucs a closer bet to finish .500 or better, and that's about it. At the very best scenario, it may give the Bucs an outside shot at a wild card spot. Come on people, after 14 years of futility, let's not get carried away.
  • Seems that as soon as the 'Burgh press started mentioning the renewed possibility of signing Trot Nixon, the Indians signed him. Coincidence ??
  • Speaking of coincidence, isn't it a small MLB when immediately after the LaRoche trade was announced, the Braves signed Craig Wilson. Decent signing for the Braves, I just hope they realize he hasn't hit a curve ball since his wiffleball days.
  • Bucs also signed Shawn Chacon to a ridiculous 1 year, 3.825 million dollar contract today. Ya know, I knew when I joined the Navy in '83 at the age of 19 I was going into the wrong line of business. I wish I would've known how much they were looking for left-handed junk pitchers, 'cause I would have stuck with it.
  • Still no news from Steelers HQ after the Round 2 interviews of Tomlin and Grimm. Who knows, maybe the Steelers will be waiting until after Ron Rivera and the Bears are eliminated (which I really hope is Sunday). As I told my buddy Pojo Risin the other day, something seems fishy to me about Grimm. Russ has had several interviews over the last few years, and not only hasn't he gotten a head coach job, he hasn't gotten a 2nd interview yet. That isn't adding up to me, and makes me think that maybe Grimm isn't the #1 choice. I could very well be wrong, we'll see.
  • Looks like new Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt will grab Steelers special teams coach Kevin Spencer. Two words; Good Riddance.
  • How about that Michael Vick. What an idiot. Enough said.
  • I've read a lot of the comments concerning the Pens inability to win shootouts. There's one common theme I agree with, especially thinking back to the Pens' recent shootouts; Get the Puck up. Really seems like the Pens shooters are deking the goalies well enough that the goalies must sprawl, but the shots are simply not high enough. Take a look at Christensen's goals, top shelf. Remember Malkin's successful shootout goal; deke, then roof it. Even Sid's jock drop on Theodore last year; deke, then backhand top shelf.
  • Shero poo-poo'd the trade rumors for Malone going to the Rangers recently. I'm not buying it just yet. I agree with some of the other bloggers recently who say that Malone was propped on the 1st line to boost his trade value, and even that the trade rumors may have been put out there on purpose as a motivation tool, although I feel that eventually he's going to pull the trigger on the deal.
  • I was probably a little harsh on MAF last night, trust me it was only 'cause I was pissed off. MAF stood on his French-Canadian head last night.
  • I continue to love that 2nd line of Staal/Malkin/Ouellet.
  • Part of me wants to see Petrovicky given more of a shot. It's not like Ruutu is really doing anything recently.
  • The Pens not cashing in on that 5 on 3 for 1:50 last night absolutely lost them the game. Once again, they're way too reliant on Gonchar on the PP.
  • More negotiations last night on the new arena deal between the Governor, city officials, and the Pens. More progress, but no new deal just yet. Getting some impatient fans out there, but everyone needs to realize, there's dozens of details that need to be negotiated, one by one. The deal's gonna get done, just be patient.
  • And when the deal's done, I'm gonna be firing off some emails to some "experts" who were so sure the Pens were gone. I can't wait for that.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Bruins 5, Pens 4 (SO); Another point lost...

Bad loss. Just a bad loss.

Don't even feel like talking about it.

Frickin' incredible that the Pens are so bad at the shootout, just incredible.

But it shouldn't have gotten to that point. Defensive lapses and a couple of soft goals on MAF proved costly.

The Pens raced to a 2-0 lead after the 1st period, but went back on their heels once again and let the Bruins get the next 3 goals.

If not for the heroics of Malkin, this one might have been a loss for the Pens in regulation.

Oh well, I'm done talking about this one, it stinks.

Leafs back in town Saturday night for what is sure another consecutive sellout.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Buccos FINALLY make the deal for LaRoche

Better late than never, I guess.

The Pirates finally made the deal, tentatively, to land Adam LaRoche, while dealing away closer Mike Gonzalez. According to our colleagues at Bucs Dugout, the complete deal is Gonzalez and Brent Lillibridge for LaRoche and outfielder Jamie Romak. I'll give Littlefield credit (if true) for not giving up players that were reported to be included such as Duffy, Maholm, or Castillo.

Several different stories spawn out of the deal finally being made;
  • Tough to see Mike go. Good guy, reportedly a good teammate and clubhouse guy. Not a Mariano Rivera-like shutdown closer, but pretty damn close. 24 for 24 last year, obviously perfect, although many of those were pretty hairy during those 9th innings.
  • Tough to lose a closer like that. However, the Bucs were going absolutely nowhere unless they at least pulled the trigger on this trade. Shit, they still might not be going anywhere. Personally, my goal for the team is just to finish over .500 for a change.
  • So does this annoint Solomon Torres as the defacto Bucs' closer. Not a bad selection at all. Torres won't be your typical 98 MPH closer, but I love his sinker, that in itself gives the job to him.
  • LaRoche is the perfect PNC Park hitter. I used to think Brian Giles was that type of player, but in retrospect I don't think he took advantage of it as much as I expected. LaRoche has a little bit more of a golf swing for a lefty, perfect for the short porch in right and the Clemente wall.
  • I would imagine that puts LaRoche in the cleanup position, with Bay 3rd and Nady 5th. Now if we can only get Jason to cut down on the K's this year....
  • I continue to wonder if this was spawned by the "Bob Nutting coming out of hibernation party".
  • Come on McClatchy, quit stalling, when's Adam's bobblehead night, you need another sellout.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Pens 5, Isles 2; Determination pays off...

Another game that could've swung either way after two periods.

Another game that had you pulling your hair out, as the Pens refused to shoot the puck, again and again.

But the Pens really turned the switch on in the 3rd period, and pulled away for a 5-2 win.

Super-sniper Erik Christensen and Sid both scored two goals each, while Ouellet added a goal for the first time in a long time.

The Isles did their best to play physical, as Witt nailed Sid with a massive but clean hit, in which I was glad to see both Whitney and Malone go after Witt, with Malone and Witt dropping the gloves.

Jason Blake topped off the night by spearing Sid in the last minute of the game, and of course, Sid gets the penalties out of it. Look for a suspension for that one.

MAF played another solid game, and had some key saves in the 3rd period as the Isles started to get desparate.

The Pens travel to Boston for their next game Thursday.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Steelers' Head Coach search down to three

Well, it's down to three candidates to determine the next head coach of the Steelers.

The finalists are Russ Grimm, still considered the frontrunner, Mike Timlin, and Ron Rivera.

Timlin has his second interview Tuesday, and Grimm will have his on Wednesday. The Steelers will be unable to talk to Rivera again until either the Bears lose Sunday, or after the Super Bowl on Feb. 4th, which continues to make Rivera a longshot.

Chan Gailey only got the one interview last week, and he has a second interview with the Dolphins on Tuesday.

Mike Sherman did not get an interview as was reported late last week.

Steelers 2006; What the hell happened ??

I've dreaded this post, even contemplated not making it.

But now, the Steeler season is over, my self-imposed Steeler posting hiatus has expired, so now it's time to reflect.

So, to repeat the title, what the hell happened ??

First of all, let's stay off of the field to begin the analysis.

  • Coaching - As I opined when Coach Cowher announced his resignation on Jan. 5th, he had, in my view, lost his edge. In fact, I believe he'd lost it about 3 years ago. But specifically this past year, Cowher made several questionable coaching decisions, such as going for it on 4th downs that were much more risky than ones he'd done in the past. The continued placement of Santonio Holmes as punt returner, as well as Ike Taylor as starting cornerback, were head-scratchers indeed.
  • Playcalling - The Steelers playcalling has become so predictable, it's not even funny. Ya know, pass on 1st down, run on 2nd down after the 1st down pass is incomplete, then incomplete pass after the predictable run on 2nd down is stuffed, then punt. But to be more specific, what really irks me is the playcalling when the Steelers are facing the tough blitz-crazy defenses like Jacksonville and Baltimore. Everyone in the free world knew what those teams were doing every snap, blitz, blitz, and more blitz. But what the Steelers didn't do, and in fact what they've NEVER done since the Ravens' defense has come to prominence, is counteract those blitzes with plays to punish those teams, with plays such as draws, screens, and slants. They kept calling the same vanilla plays, as if they were playing against a 4-3. That resulted in some brutal hits this year on Ben, and more importantly, resulted in three embarrassing losses to those teams, that included two shutouts.

Now onto the field;

  • Quarterback - Wow, Ben had, shall we say, a tough year. I mean, the guy was THIS close to being "the late Ben Roethlisberger". I'm still amazed the guy came out of it with only a cracked up mug, and moreover, I'm still amazed that his face is not deformed in some gruesome way, but that is the marvel of today's medical science. Then as everyone is preparing for the opener, Ben is rushed to the hospital for an emergency appendectomy. And then the concussion. So I guess in retrospect, it's really not surprising to see what his stats ended up to be. He led the entire NFL in interceptions with 23, while his QB rating, which was easily in triple digits thus far in his NFL career, crashed down to 75.4. But as I've said a helluva lot of times over the years, if you don't have an offensive line to protect you, I don't care if you're Joe Montana, you won't be a good QB, which leads me to the next item;
  • Offensive Line - I think everyone would agree that this was the worst year for a Steelers offensive line in several years. The O-line gave up the 6th most sacks in the NFL this year with 49. Lots of talk around the Steelers blogosphere concerning the play of the two tackles, Marvel Smith and Max Starks. And while they did assist Willie Parker to the be 6th leading rusher in the NFL this year with 1494 yards, that was greatly aided by 2-200 yard games against New Orleans and Cleveland. While those games were certainly noteworthy, including breaking the Steelers' game record, we'd be remiss if we didn't include the duds against Jacksonville (20 yds.), San Diego (57), Atlanta (47), Cleveland (43), Baltimore (22), Tampa (61), and Baltimore again (29). Want another stat for a poor rushing game ? How about the Steelers being 5th in the NFL in passing for 1st downs with 201.
  • Wide receivers - I have to admit, I think this group shows a helluva lot of promise in the years ahead. Hines Ward, well, is simply Hines Ward. Clutch as clutch can be. Blocks his ass off. Plays hurt. I also think that Cedrick Wilson could be a good receiver as well, if he's stop bitching after every ball that he doesn't catch. Nate Washington had several big drops, but he made good strides this year. Santonio Holmes, after a slow start, really came on strong at the end of the year. I'd be really surprised if he isn't a starter next year. What we didn't get to see is what Willie Reid can do, both as a WR and as a PR. This group as a whole gets a pass (no pun intended) this year, they didn't win many games, but in the same respect, they didn't lose games either.
  • Running backs - As I said earlier, Willie Parker had a good year, statistically, with 1494 yards. But whether it was due to poor playcalling, or poor offensive line play, or whatever else, Parker did not deliver in the important games of the year vs. conference and division opponents. And while it's not fair to completely point the blame on Willie for those poor performances, it cannot be discounted that the failure to run the ball as a whole most definitely was a prime factor in several games this year. Elsewhere, count me as one who thought that Najeh Davenport had a pretty good year, I love this guy's running style. He's as close to Bettis as the Steelers are gonna get, and they'd be stupid for letting him leave. Verron Haynes got hurt and was put on IR pretty early in the year, and after the signing of Davenport, I don't think that was as big a loss as it could have been.
  • Defensive Line - This group did what they were paid to do in a 3-4 defense, that being stopping the run. The Steelers were 3rd in the NFL in rushing defense, averaging 88.2 yards per game. Also, two of the three D-linemen got their fair share of sacks as well, with Aaron Smith getting 4.5 sacks, and Brett Keisel getting 5.5. This unit isn't the problem.
  • Linebackers - For all of the notoriety and press this group gets, they're full of holes now. First and foremost, they're getting long in the tooth, NFL-wise. Farrior's 32 now, Haggans' 30, Porter will be 30 in March, and Foote is the baby of the group at 26. In my view, that has resulted in more missed tackles, more times of getting blocked vice shedding tackles, and wider gaps in pass coverage. And while they've certainly still done a good job in sacks, with 22 among the group, their pass defense has become a liability. Porter makes $5 million next year, counting $6.6 million against the cap, in the last year of his contract. Gonna be interesting what they do with him, 'cause I don't see him taking any pay cut at all.
  • Secondary - Oh boy, I saved the best for last. Personally, I continue to be shocked at the lack of negative coverage that this group gets in the Pittsburgh press. How many times have we seen, not just this year, but for the last several years, a QB throw seemingly at will, at wide receivers that are completely wide-open, all game long. How many times have we seen Ike Taylor or Deshea Townsend bite on the double move ?? How many times have we seen the cornerbacks rush the line, only to miss a makeable tackle which leads to a big gain ?? The Steelers have used 3 high draft picks since '03 on cornerbacks (Taylor, Colclough, McFadden), and yet they still are porous as they've ever been on pass defense. I hate to say it, but this upcoming draft the Steelers need to expend yet another high draft pick on a CB. Probably not a 1st rounder, 'cause I think they need to go LB, but I wouldn't be surprised if they go CB in round 2 or 3.
  • Special Teams - Kevin Spencer should be proactive and box up his belongings while he has the chance, 'cause he needs to be GONE. Terrible coverage on both kick and punt returns. In addition, sorry to say, I think BOTH punter Chris Gardocki AND kicker Jeff Reed should be released. Gardocki was 4th from the bottom of the league in gross punting average with only a 41.3 yard average. And although he's a fan favorite, Reed didn't do much better. Reed only got 4 touchbacks out of 76 kickoffs this year, tied for 4th from the bottom of the league. His kickoffs routinely averaged between the 5 and 10 yard line. In addition, his 74.1 pct. average on successful field goals is near the bottom of the league as well. The Steelers should be able to do much better with this group next year.

Well, that's it. Are the Steelers that far away from a playoff team next year ?? Hell no. If they wouldn't have blown the Atlanta, Cincinnatti, and Oakland games last year, they would have been a playoff team this year.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Breaking News: Whisenhunt takes Arizona job

UPDATE: Now that the Bears have escaped by the skin of their teeth today in their OT win vs. Seattle, I would think that eliminates Ron Rivera from any chance to be the next Steelers head coach.

NFL hiring rules prohibit teams from interviewing prospective coaching candidates while that candidate's team is still in the playoffs, UNLESS that team is in their bye week, or in the first week prior to the Super Bowl. That is how the Steelers were able to interview Rivera last week. But now that the Bears are alive for another week, I would think the Steelers would have their next head coach by next Sunday.

The PG's Ed Bouchette, widely regarded as the #1 Steelers beat writer, speculates that Russ Grimm may be offered the job soon.


Well, there goes my prediction.

According to Jay Glazer at Fox Sports, Ken Whisenhunt has been offered and accepted the head coaching job with the Arizona Cardinals.

This really throws the Steelers' head coaching vacancy into a number of directions, and I don't know if there really is a frontrunner right now.

Sunday tidbits at The Confluence

  • Let me just say first of all that today is a little brighter after a day in which the Ravens, Flyers, and Eagles all lost. Not to mention the opportunity to shut Ray Lewis the hell up for another 9 months.
  • The Colts impressive but surprising defense has me thinking that they just might make it to the SB this year. Well, maybe. Let me say this; If the Chargers win today, the Colts will go to the Dance, if the Pats win, then those bastards will go again.
  • Speaking of the Pats/Chargers game, I'm just not following the coaches' record angle that so many are. Rather, I'd say the ability to stop LT, and therefore the ability of Rivers to throw the ball will be the determining factor. I think the Chargers' run defense will slow down Dillon/Maroney at home, but give me the Pats by a TD.
  • I have to admit that I was dead wrong on Deuce McCallister. That guy has done some impressive power running all year, and the Cinderella Saints are one game from the Big Dance.
  • That early game hit on Reggie Bush may have been the hit of the year. Just brutal, clean but brutal.
  • Give Jeff Garcia and the Eagles credit, most people didn't think they'd get anywhere close to this point in the season. By the way, I wonder if Jeff is still boinking former Playmate Carmella Decesare. Yeah, he's gay alright, just ask T.O.
  • Will ANYONE out there be surprised if/when the Bears choke at home today ?? Weather looks to definitely be a factor though, but we'll see if Grossman can "not lose" vs. the Seahawks today.
  • Some in the Pirates blogoshere are predicting that the coming out of Bob Nutting may preclude the pulling of the trigger of the LaRoche trade. While I'd welcome that, I'll believe it when I see it.
  • The Chicago Tribune is reporting that the Cubs are considering trading Jacque Jones to the Bucs for either Duffy or McLouth. So let me get this straight, Littlefield won't include Duffy in the LaRoche trade, but he may trade Duffy to the Cubs for Jones ?? Geezus, just do something for Christ sakes.
  • The trade winds are also a-brewing in the hockey world, if you believe the NY Post's Larry Brooks, anyways. Brooks is reporting this morning that the Rangers are talking to the Pens on a trade that would trade Malone, and possibly Orpik, to the Rangers for Prucha and possibly another player. Also, Brooks reports that GM Ray Shero himself was in NY on Thursday scouting the Rangers/Sens game. This might very well be the reason that the underperforming Malone has remained on the 1st line with Crosby, when he really hasn't deserved it. My view, if I'm Shero, and I'm not, I do this trade in a NY heartbeat. Prucha is a young sniper, a 30 goal scorer last year, and RIGHT-HANDED. He would be an outstanding replacement on the 1st line.
  • Mark Eaton looks due to come back after the All-Star Game, when the Pens make their 2nd trip out West to Dallas and Phoenix. The sooner, the better. If anyone needs a reminder, the Pens were 7-3 when Eaton got hurt, he would really shore up the Pens inconsistent defense.
  • The NHL announced the All-Star reserves and the participants in the YoungStars game. Kinda surprisingly, the Pens got no other players besides Crosby to represent them in the big boys' game, but are well represented in the YoungStars game, with Malkin, Staal, and Whitney selected.
  • I'm really looking forward to seeing Sid and Ovechkin on the same line in Dallas.

Until next week.....

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Pens 5, Flyers 3; Beat them at their own game....

Boy I would have LOVED to have been at this game.

In easily the most physical game of the year, the Pens went to 6-0 on the year vs. the Flyers in the 5-3 win.

This was a very revealing game to me.

But I was one pissed off Pens fan after two periods.

Not only had the Flyers tied the game up at 3 after the Pens had completely dominated the game, but the Flyers' goonery caused the Pens to lose their composure and get out of their gameplan.

I give the Pens credit though, they didn't turn the 3rd period into one cheap shot after another, because they would have found out that they would lose that kind of game.

Having said that, that was one fun hockey game to watch.

Army's hit on Carter was the hit of the year for the Pens, in my opinion anyway. His hit on Letowski was basically a blind hit, while this one was one in which Army was already pissed off because of himself getting decked by Fedoruk. Kinda surprised that Army wasn't called for charging on it to be honest, he left his feet by a wide margin.

And even Sid dropped the gloves, for a few seconds anyway. What I didn't understand is why Sid got a double minor, while Zhitnik only got 2 minutes. What-ever.

The line combination of Malkin and Staal had another great game, I really like the chemistry that these two have. It's not Malkin/Crosby, but if the goal is to keep Crosby and Malkin off of the same line, Staal is the best linemate I've seen for Geno.

The NBC broadcast was average, nothing earth-shattering.

Meanwhile, some blowhard called The Bellowing Moose on says that the Pens are considering firing Therrien. I don't believe that for a second. Yes, it's true that Shero was forced to accept Therrien as his head coach. But I do not believe that Therrien has done a bad job at all. You're going to get inconsistent results with a team this young.

And guess who the Pens next opponent is on Tuesday back at the Igloo ?? That's right, it's the Islanders !!!!

Confluence Soapbox; Hey Bob, open the books....

I just continue to be furious over the sham of a press conference the Pirates pulled on the fans yesterday.

And as I suspected, I'm not alone.

All over the Pirates blogosphere, the same feelings are portrayed, albeit written in bloggers' respective styles.

But it's just the outlandish and completely ridiculous comments that they made that are an insult to me and all other Pirate fans that have put up with this nonsense for so many years.

"I will say this: I am absolutely committed to having the team win,"

"It's a plan that absolutely can work, and I expect it to work,"

Give me a frickin' break.

But here's the one that's got me steamed;

"Ownership is not taking money out of the team and putting it in their pockets. It is going right back into the team."

You want to earn some brownie points with Pirate fans now that you've come out of hibernation with your Daddy, Bob ??


Do like your divisional rivals, the Milwaukee Brewers, did when they were pressured to do so by their fans.

If you're so confident that your team is doing the right thing, and not spending that money against the regulations that MLB has set forth, open up the books and PROVE IT.

Kevin McClatchy said as much a couple of years ago in an interview with FSN 'Burgh. He admitted that the money that they received from MLB's revenue sharing was going toward paying off debt, completely against the "spirit" of the rules of revenue sharing.

I would love to see fans continue to pressure Pirate ownership to open up the books, and show us where the hundreds of millions have gone over the past 14 years.

But I'm also realistic enough to realize that that day probably will never come.

Pens Gameday; Flyers a welcome sight...

There have been several good sights so far in the Pens season.

Evgeni Malkin FINALLY showing up in a Pens uniform.

Sid taking it up ANOTHER notch, when a lot of people thought that was not possible.

MAF finally showing signs of goaltender maturity.

The Pens' defense not giving EVERY game away (OK, it still happens from time to time).

But one of the best sights this season has been the continued dominance the Penguins have had over the Flyers this year.

Most of the games haven't even been close, in fact, they've been embarrassingly bad for the Flyers.

So it's certainly a good thing that after the latest 3 game losing streak that the Pens invade Philly this afternoon at 2PM.

This game also is the first of the season for NBC's NHL coverage.

I guess I should take that as a good thing.

But come on, let's face it, short-term coverage on NBC is a nice band-aid (hell, the NHL needs every ounce of U.S. coverage it can get), but as I said when I was on the Confluence Soapbox, until the NHL gets back on ESPN, it's simply a drop in the bucket.

Noah Welch is back with the team again, this time courtesy of Melichar's sprained MCL. Joe is expected to be out 3-4 weeks. Welch will be paired with another one of Therrien's man-crushes, Alain Nasreddine (along with Michel Ouellet, of course).

I'll be interested to see the lines for this one. I can't imagine Malone being allowed to stay with the first line for much longer. He's simply not producing, and outside of one night that he was fortunate enough to get three great feeds from Sid for the hat trick, he's done literally nothing all year.

Oh well, just stepping on the Flyers' ice should provide enough intensity to get another win for the Pens.


Friday, January 12, 2007

Bucs ownership changes; Big Frickin' Deal

I was like most Pirate fans today.

I saw the headline, Nutting To Replace McClatchy As Controlling Owner, and of course, I completely misunderstood what it really meant.

Because, of course, it means absolutely nothing to Pirate fans.

Why would I give a shit if the Nuttings own more of the Pirates than they used to ??

Bob Nutting showed his face today, let's all run out and buy season tickets !!!

McClatchy still runs the day-to-day operations, so what's the difference ??

Will they all of a sudden produce an influx of money ??

No ?? Then it doesn't mean a f#$king thing !!!!

Littlefield hasn't done a damn thing. If fact, if you count the signing of Jose Hernandez for the 37th time, they've gotten worse.

The ownership does some completely cosmetic crap today, thinking that fans will be gullable enough to really think it's going to make any difference.

I'm so tired of this spew coming from this group of malcontents, and I hope everyone else is as well.

I'll tell everyone this right now, if Littlefield does relatively nothing before the season starts, my Pirate coverage will be maybe once a week.

Lots of folks have given some nice compliments in relation to my Pens coverage, and I had intended of doing the same for the Bucs upcoming season, but not the way they're going now. I've got enough gray hairs as it is, I don't need any more.

If they make the trade for LaRoche, or maybe Chad Tracy, I'll reconsider it. But not with the status quo.

I'll resume my Steelers coverage as well. After all, it's time for draft talk for us non-playoff teams, right ??

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Panthers 5, Pens 2; Time to change mindsets, boys

Pretty pathetic performance down there in balmy south Florida last night.

Thibault was, well, Thibault.

That great experiment with Malone on the first line. Jesus H. Christ, when will they learn ??

Just how many centering passes with no one going to the net did they attempt ??

And I have to say, for as great as he looks with the puck, I'm really starting to have a problem with Malkin's impersonation of Jagr on the forecheck, or more accurately, lack thereof a forecheck. Geno, when he wants to anyway, really knows how to use his body and lay solid, clean checks (yes, I know, a lot of times the elbow is too high). And ESPECIALLY since he's getting the vodka knocked out of him on a nightly basis.

But I shouldn't single out Malkin, with the exception of the 4th line, this team as a whole needs to do a whole lot more hitting. I'm not talking about goon-type hitting, but as I just said, Ray Charles (if he were still with us) could've seen the amount of checks that the Pens opponents lay on them EVERY GAME.

But here's the biggest thing, in my view. And the funniest part is, the Pens don't have to do anything about it ON THE ICE.

I have to give credit to this to Jay Caufield, who regularly does Pens postgame on FSN 'Burgh. I think Jay does a very good job, by the way.

And when you see what he says, you realize that right now, the Penguins and the Steelers face the same problem.

Jay hit the nail right on the head last night when he said that from now on, the Penguins are a huge game on opponent's schedule, because now they're facing "the big boys", of course referring to Crosby and Malkin, among others.

It's the same thing that the Steelers failed at miserably this past season. They failed to realize that even as much as their opponents hated them before, as the Super Bowl Champions that hatred and intensity went up a notch. And when the dust cleared, the Steelers are already planning their golf tournaments.

So boys, as said in tonight's post title, it's time to change your mindsets.

You see, the opponents no longer view the Pens as laughable losers.

Penguins opponents know now that they can't skip into Mellon Arena and expect an easy victory, that is if they get a win at all. And with more frequency, those teams are coming out losers. But what that also means is that teams are now coming into Pittsburgh and thinking it will NOT be an easy game.

And when the Pens go on the road, when the Pens themselves admit to have more jump in their stride, their opponents, with usually close to a sellout crowd for a change, are more focused and intense themselves.

So what the hell does all of that crap mean ??

It's pretty simple actually.

For as humble as all of the Pens have been this year, the youngsters that they are, they collectively all need to get one concept in their head; Your opponents now have given you the respect that you've deserved, even as incredibly young the majority of you are.

That means that NOTHING short of the type of effort that they put out recently vs. Toronto, Carolina, and Buffalo will suffice. It's apparent at the halfway point that the Pens opponents aren't taking the night off anymore, so if the Pens do, they're in deep kimchee.

The Flyers are next on Saturday afternoon. They'd better heed what Jay said (I just piggybacked what he said), or even the Flyers, whom the Pens have beaten 5 times this year, will beat them.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Bolts 3, Pens 2; Let's just face facts....

There are just some things in life that one must simply acknowledge and move on, such as;

1. No one cares about Van Halen unless David Lee Roth is in the band (and if you think otherwise, you've got serious issues)

2. I can't handle my beer as much as I used to (oh, could I tell some stories, but I'd just bore ya)

3. The Tampa Bay Lightning have cursed the Pittsburgh Penguins.

I mean, damn, talk about not matching up well.

Even in games where the team is skating well, defense is playing relatively well (considering the group we're talking about), and they jump to an early lead after ANOTHER sensational goal by Sid, the trio of Lecavalier/St. Louis/Richards uncanningly push the right buttons at the absolute right time.

The lack of goals by anyone other than Sid or Geno is getting ridiculous, outside of the rare one like was scored by Army's elbow last night. Coach Therrien was obviously pissed off, and as usual he didn't mince words, saying "our forwards are doing not such a good job of producing," Therrien said. "We rely on one line. It's pretty simple. Then, we've got three lines that give us one goal every four games. It's not normal. You have to score at least three goals to win a hockey game, and we didn't find a way to score three goals. Defensively we seem not bad, but we don't go hard enough to the net, and we don't do the little things right. It's not normal."

So now it's onto Sunrise, FL and the Panthers. Just to jog your memory, one of the worst losses of the year to date came at home vs. the Panthers with a 3-2 loss on Dec. 5th.

Let's just hope that the Pens have enough legs to be aggressive against the Panthers tonight.


Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Pens Gameday; Time for some revenge, or so we hope...

Sorry about the lack of posts, work has been a pain in the buttocks lately.

Going back to the Bolts game in the Igloo, I hate to say I told you so.

But I told you so.

Just reading the Pens' comments after the games reaffirms what I had hoped wouldn't happen, but did.

No intensity, no energy, slow to the puck, you name it.

Another absolutely incredible goal by Sidney, just ridiculous.

Is anyone else besides me starting to get the feeling that Crosby's spectacular goals are beginning to become commonplace, a la Mario, and that is just par for the course for him ??

I'm sure I could have worded that a helluva lot better, but you know what I mean.

So onto tonight, I don't think it would be a stretch to predict that the Pens will have a much better showing in Tampa tonight.

I would say that the Pens might want to think about consistent intensity at home, especially since you read their comments that they're looking forward to their road trip.

No changes to the scoring lines once again, might as well keep a good thing going.


Sunday, January 07, 2007

Pens Gameday; Beware of the mighty Letdown...

Some might say it wouldn't be surprising at all.

Coming off emotional wins against Toronto, Carolina, and Buffalo, the Pens come back home tonight to host Tampa Bay in the first of a home-and-home series.

But unlike the last 3 games, the Lightning aren't the kind of team that the Pens would naturally get pumped up for.

Meaning, the Leafs came into town with their 3,000 fans or so and it created a great atmosphere.

The Canes are the defending Cup champs, and since the Pens played two of their worst games of the year previously against them, a spirited effort was not a surprise, in fact, one of their best games of the year.

And then on Friday night in Buffalo, against one of the best teams in the NHL, another great effort resulted another great win.

But Tampa Bay just isn't the sexy matchup for the Pens. And it's because of that that I believe we might unfortunately see a mediocre game from the good guys tonight.

Beating Tampa means stopping the Big 3 of Lecavalier, St. Louis, and Richards. Unfortunately, in recent games the Pens haven't done a good job at that, including the OT winner earlier this year.

Let's hope they keep their momentum going.


Saturday, January 06, 2007

Cowher resigns; Bill, Steeler Nation says Thank You...

It was a day of mixed emotions, to be sure.

Bill Cowher did the expected on Friday, and hung up his chin.

Well, you know what I mean.

I've been going back and forth on how I was going to draft this post.

I initially was going to go the way of downplaying Cowher's resignation, and moving onto his possible replacements. I've always been one that feels that pro sports coaches are overrated in the overall reasons for a team's success or failure.

But this post shouldn't be about my opinion about pro coaches, and how that applied to Bill.

This post needs to be about Bill Cowher's accomplishments as coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers for 15 years.

10 playoff appearances, 8 division championships, 6 AFC Championships, 2 Super Bowl appearances, and the Super Bowl XL Championship.

Not a bad run, not bad at all. Matter of fact, no one can touch it in the contemporary NFL.

That equates to a ticket to the Hall of Fame, my friends.

Yes, I'd be remiss if I failed to mention the lowlights;
  • The 3 AFC Championship losses at home, boy, those hurt, especially the San Diego game in '95
  • The debacle with the failed Kordell Stewart experiment
  • Too many kissing incidents (OK, just a joke thrown in there)

But those lowlights are few and far between. You don't get much more successful than Cowher's been in today's NFL.

So why did he go ??

Did money have something to do with it ?? He keeps saying no, and for the most part I tend to agree, but not completely.

I can more clearly agree with the reasoning that he gave during the press conference.

His family.

For you young and single folks out there, if you take anything away from reading this post, don't dismiss so quickly the effect that being away from your spouse and children has on a person.

Ask anyone who has been deployed overseas in the military for several months or over a year what it's like to be away from your wife and kids.

Well I'll tell you, as one who's done it, it's terrible, no two ways to describe it.

Not only in the military, but there are hundreds of pro athletes and coaches who are away from their family, albeit not in a military scenario, but away nonetheless.

So I see exactly where Bill is coming from when he said he wants to be with his family. His wife and youngest daughter now live in Raleigh, in their new multi-million dollar home. So I don't think it's foolish at all to suggest that Bill will be away from coaching until his daughter graduates from high school in a couple of years.

And even though he said it wasn't a reason, in my view, Bill was burned out. I think it was apparent in the last couple of years.

He simply shrugged off the bad losses that seemed to accumulate over the last couple of years, such as when they went 7-5 before they went on the remarkable Super Bowl run, or this past year, when they stumbled out of the gate at 2-6, to finish 8-8. Terrible losses, such as the Oakland loss, would have previously brought out a possessed Cowher, one that would ensure you wouldn't see that lousy version of the Steelers again for a long time. Instead, you just kept seeing Bill shrug his shoulders, and give generic answers like "we just have to keep working hard".

So now, Bill's gone. Who's gonna replace him ??

Who CAN replace him ??

One might say, no one can "replace" Bill Cowher, in an emotional sense. The jaw, the spit, the snarl, gonna be tough to replace that.

So how do you find someone ??

I'm gonna throw this out right now.


I say that as a Western Pennsylvania native, for those of you who haven't read my profile.

I'm sick of that, I really am, not only with the Steelers, but the Pirates are just as guilty of it. As if where you grew up gives you an advantage in coaching ability. Please.

Who do I "think" will be the next coach of the Steelers ??

My guess is that it'll be Ken Whisenhunt, if he isn't gobbled up by Atlanta or Arizona first, which I don't think will happen, because Whis will give the Rooney's the courtesy of meeting with them before he makes any decision.

The main reason I think it'll be Whis is because of his interaction with Big Ben. That's huge in my opinion. You give Ben a new coach, and you'll most likely have a new offensive coordinator, meaning a completely new offense. The Rooneys do not want to give the Steelers an overhaul.

Russ Grimm is the secondary choice, to me anyway. Yes, he's Cowher-like, meaning he's got that spunk, that snarl. But as I said, if you hire Grimm, you're gonna lose Whis, and that means a new offense for Ben.

The external candidates are interesting as well; Ron Rivera, Mike Singletary, Kurt Ferentz. All of those guys would be excellent choices, I have no doubt of that.

But to me, it's gonna be Whis, because if anything is apparent, after 38 years of having two coaches, it's that the Rooney's like their consistency.

Farewell Bill, and thanks for the memories.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Pens 4, Sabres 2; OK, so was THAT the game of the year ??

Hey, I'm flexible.

Third SOLID game in a row, and in today's NHL, beating Toronto, Carolina, and now Buffalo in a row is one helluva accomplishment.

These kids are starting to put it all together.

I have to be honest, I didn't think it was in the cards for about half of the game. The Pens weren't getting any good bounces of the puck, while the Sabres were getting every crazy ricochet off of the boards and every loose puck was landing right on their stick.

MAF played another good game, both goals really couldn't be blamed on him. On the first goal he was basically shielded by the entire Pens defense, the second was a fortunate bounce off of a rebound that Drury planted.

Even though Sid didn't score a goal tonight, he was flying out there, creating havoc for the Sabres' defense. And while their defense was trying to stop Crosby, Malkin took full advantage of that. His laser beam goal to the top shelf with 2.3 seconds left in the 2nd period shifted the momentum, and proved to be the game winner.

So now it's back home to the Igloo for the start of a home-and-home against Tampa Bay on Sunday, then they'll head to Florida next Tuesday.

Trib's Conte: New arena deal may come next week

Andrew Conte, who has been on top of the Pens arena and ownership situations since day one, reports in today's Tribune-Review that "talks between the Penguins owners, Lemieux and billionaire investor Ron Burkle, and Gov. Ed Rendell, county Chief Executive Dan Onorato and Mayor Luke Ravenstahl went so well there could be a deal as soon as next week, sources said".

This follows comments made from Mario after last night's meeting with local officials which he described as "very optimistic" and "very positive".

Hopefully we'll continue to get more promising news as the days go on.

Pens Gameday; Keeping up the "Big MO"

This should be a helluva game in Buffalo tonight. Wide-open, to be sure.

As is usually the case, special teams should be the key to the game. The Pens' PP and PK have both been excellent in the last two games. If they can keep it up tonight, I like the Pens chances, at least to get a point.

Looks like Therrien's not making any changes on the top two lines, and that can only be a good thing. The combination of Crosby/Malkin is good for at least a goal or two.

Fleury is in net again tonight. As usual, if MAF is on his game again tonight, as he has been against the Leafs and against the Canes, just gives me more reason to like their chances.


Thursday, January 04, 2007

K.C. offers Mario everything but the kitchen sink, but he's still "very optimistic" about new 'Burgh arena deal

Five words.

The proof is in the pudding.

All over the hockey 'Net world this afternoon, the only phrase you saw was "free rent", emanating from today's meeting with Kansas City's Sprint Center representatives. The Pens would indeed play rent-free if they accepted the offer proposed in their meeting today in K.C.

Then, the Pens' boys hopped on Ronny Burkle's private plane and headed back to Pittsburgh, were they met this afternoon with Gov. Rendell, County Exec. Dan Onorato, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, among others.

Mario briefly met with the media after the meeting, using terms that he was "very optimistic" after the meeting and that the meeting was "very positive".

Those are his words folks, not mine (I know, I know, hence the quotes, duh).

So what I'm saying is for those who may be making hotel reservations for Kansas City for next October's season opener, ya'll need to chill out. No one outside of those two parties knows what's in the fine print of that K.C. proposal. Unless you're 18 years old, you should know by now that nothing in this world is free.

In addition, and more importantly, anyone paying close attention to the arena and/or ownership situation has seen and read that Mario Lemieux has been extremely careful about how he is wording his comments and his statements to the media. Monsieur Lemieux absolutely would not be throwing out words like "very optimistic" and "very positive" towards the new arena deal just to blow smoke up the collective asses of Pens fans.

He and his ownership group are doing what they need to do in terms of exploring ALL of their options. Although it's unpleasant to see photos of Lemieux in K.C.'s arena and watch press conferences in K.C. discussing a possible timeline of the Pens playing in K.C. next season, it's the necessary due diligence that businessmen MUST DO with a multi-million dollar investment.

But this deal will get done, my friends. Is it possible they're still headed to K.C. ?? Absolutely, I'm not that naive.

But the deal is on the table, the terms have obviously been sweetened for the Pens, it's a matter of time.

Monsieur Lemieux will, once again, save the Pens, and in Pittsburgh.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Lemieux heads to Kansas City; Mario's playing his hand like a pro...

Irregardless of your views of the Pens' arena and ownership situations, you gotta give Mario Lemieux credit; He is absolutely pulling all of the right strings right now.

Once Jim Balsillie pulled out of the ownership bid, then the IOC failed to win the slots license, Mario quickly pulled the Pens off of the table, and stated that they would explore ALL options in order to secure the franchise, including those outside of Pennsylvania.

The Mayor and County Executive immediately hit the airwaves, telling anyone who would listen that the new arena deal is there for the Pens to sign, and that nearly every section of the deal is negotiable. They made it known; If the Pens left town, it wouldn't be because the city let them leave.

The Governor and the local officials then invited the Pens to a meeting in Pittsburgh tomorrow (Jan. 4th), in which the Pens accepted. In their response, they requested an afternoon meeting.

Kinda got everybody a little warm and fuzzy, ya know ?? The deal won't get done tomorrow, but ya know, a few meetings here and there, a tweak here, a tweak there, and voila, you've got yourselves a new arena deal.

Well, now we know why the Pens wanted an afternoon meeting for Thursday.

That's because Mario and the gang are in Kansas City today, doing the obligatory dog and pony show with the officials that represent the soon-to-be-completed Sprint Center.

Have to say Mario, brilliant business move, seriously, brilliant.

What a better leverage move than to have the Pens in enemy territory talking business the day before you meet with your current landlords.

Mario's gonna get his sweetheart deal for the New Igloo (hell, it's already a sweetheart deal according to some financial analysts), it's just a matter of time in my opinion.

Especially if he continues to "play the game" like he did today.

Pens 3, Canes 0; Game of the Year ??

May very well have been.

I mean, it wasn't the blowout win like vs. the Flyers, but against one of the best teams in the NHL, that was one complete team win by the Pens last night.

The Pens last night hustled their asses off, the thing that when they've lost, was one of the main culprits. They got nearly every loose puck, and if not for Cam Ward's efforts, might have made this game 6-0, or worse.

I don't know if I've ever seen the Canes that sluggish, they just did NOT have it last night. But it's those games that the Pens have to take advantage of.

Oh yeah, that Crosby kid was pretty good again. Three more points, ho-hum. Of course, I'm joking, he juked Ward out of his jock on his first goal.

MAF was stellar once again. Great time for him to get on a roll, the schedule doesn't get any easier, with the Sabres on Friday night.

I want to see the Pens put another complete game together and knock off the Sabres. I don't think they're going to get rid of that inconsistency until they see that they can beat the best team in the Eastern Conference.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Pens Gameday; Let's hope for a better effort....

Well, let's put it this way, they couldn't play much worse vs. the Canes this year.

Their first game vs. Carolina was an absolute stinker at the Igloo on Oct. 14th, losing 5-1.

And they followed that one up with another doozy on Nov. 11th in Raleigh, also just so happened to be The Confluence's first road trip of the year, losing 6-2.

So all signs point to a much improved effort tonight for the Pens.

Now whether that will result in a win, we'll just have to see about that.

Appears that Sid and Geno will once again be paired together on the first line. It's the smart move, especially now that Ekman will be out for a while.

Gonna have to get a good outing from MAF tonight. Both previous games vs. the Canes, the first one with MAF and the second one with Thibault, were quite bad performances.


Monday, January 01, 2007

NHL realignment; I like it for the Pens, and I'll tell you why...

By now you've all read about the NHL's reported new realignment proposal, which for the Penguins point of view, would reportedly place them in the new version of the Northeast Division, along with current divisional teams Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Buffalo, and Boston, along with the movement of Columbus into this division as well.

The main argument against this proposal that I've read by Pens fans is that it eliminates the Pens' rivalries.

Let me start right there.

I don't know what your definition of a rival is, but in my view the vast majority of the Pens' opponents in the Atlantic Division do not fit it.

OK, I'll give you Philadelphia, but I'll tell you this, it's not the slam dunk that some of you think it is.

Yes, I'm well aware of the recent heated games led by the goonish exploits of Darien Hatcher, causing the chipping of three of Sid's teeth.

But those games are the exception rather than the rule, my friends.

The Rangers ?? If anyone seriously puts them as a legitimate rival is really grasping at straws.

The Islanders ?? Nope.

The Devils ?? Dear Lord, no.

You want to see rivals ?? Look at the NFL's AFC North with the Steelers, Ravens, Bengals and Browns. Now THOSE are rivals.

Every one of those teams, and the fans that follow them, absolutely HATE the other teams.

The NHL's Atlantic Division simply does not have that kind of rivalry, not even close.

For teams in the East in the NHL, that rivalry exists most clearly in the Northeast Division.

Montreal, Ottawa, and Toronto despise each other.

Buffalo and Toronto are geographical rivals as well.

So count me in as one who would love to see the Pens be placed into this division.

The only minor thing that disappoints me is that the Capitals wouldn't be in the Pens' division after this realignment. The Caps fit the "rivals" bill as well in my opinion.

But let me provide some more justification for the Pens movement.

Having the Pens in this new division creates new (and closer) geographic rivalries as compared to it's current divisional opponents.

Columbus (185 miles from Pittsburgh), Buffalo (216 miles) and Toronto (317 miles) all are easily reachable to and from Pittsburgh for both team's fans.

Anyone who has been to a Leafs game at the Igloo knows how well Toronto fans travel to the Leafs game in the 'Burgh. I've been to the Leafs/Pens games at the Igloo two years straight now, and both of those have been among the most exciting hockey atmospheres I've ever been at. That atmosphere is almost sure to be a constant if/when the Pens join the Northeast Division.

While I wouldn't put Montreal at the same level as Toronto in terms of a prospective heated rival, it's not that far away. Montreal fans travel very well also, and it's obvious that having a strong contingent of an opponent's fans in the building provides an overall boost to the atmosphere.

Buffalo fans, whether those are Bills or Sabres fans, generally don't like anything to do with Pittsburgh, whether that's the Steelers or Penguins. Having these two in the same division is simply common sense, and is a great idea. Just watching the four times these teams go at it in the current scheduling format can see that these are great games, and the crowds are very loud and boisterous with large contingents from the away team's fans. This is a no-brainer.

Ottawa is similar to the Rangers, in my view anyway. Talented team, with smug, arrogant fans with very little success to back it up. While the geographic rivalry argument doesn't fit here (548 miles), I can take the Senators or leave 'em.

Boston falls into that category as well. Take 'em or leave 'em, kinda like the Islanders.

Some might not care right now for having the Blue Jackets as a divisional opponent. With this NHL and the salary cap, the Blue Jackets are not going to be bad team for very much longer. And having the two cities generally so close to each other makes this another natural rival.

In terms of overall NHL exposure, what better way to publicize the talents of the young and talented Pens than having them in a division with hockey-fanatic Toronto, Montreal, and Ottawa ??

Want to give Pittsburgh a little boost in attendance (even though they're damn good right now at 93.4%) ?? Put them in the Northeast Division, and you'll get sellout crowds on weekday nights when nearly any of those divisional teams are in town.

And as for attendance in those other towns, while the Canadian teams (plus Buffalo) have no problem with sellouts, put the Pens with Crosby and Malkin in Columbus and Boston, and all of sudden you have sellouts there as well.

Compare that to the 10,000 that the Islanders and Devils are getting nowadays. Ugh.

So there you have it. It's a no-brainer to me. I say do it, the Flyers will get over it, believe me.