Friday, February 23, 2007

Pens 2, Panthers 1 (OT); Rewriting recent history

The Confluence is moving, for the Pens anyway...

I mentioned a few days ago that there would be some minor changes coming.

Well, now I can let you know what those are.

I have graciously been offered the position as Penguins blogger at the Most Valuable Network, or MVN.

The link for my site there is I still have some fixing up to do over there, but I'll get it up and running smooth within the next few days.

You'll notice that the name of my site there is called "The Confluence of the Three Rivers". I did that to avoid any potential legal mumbo-jumbo that could arise with the same site name.

Just kidding, I did it to confuse the shit out of you.

So what will happen from now on for my Penguins posts is that I will make the post at MVN, and will have it's subject with a link to MVN on this site.

My Pirates and Steelers posts will NOT be affected at all with this move, at least right now. Once they see that I'm the Pens blogosphere's version of Mickey Spillane, maybe I'll start doing Bucs and Stiller articles too, but that's for a later time.

So please add to your bookmarks, and don't delete this one.

Once again, thanks to everyone who's made these first five months fun as hell to do, and with hopefully the Pens playoffs on the horizon, I will counterbalance the doldrums of the Bucs' 15th consecutive losing season.

Just a hunch.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Pens Gameday; Will history repeat itself ?? Is "Smoke" coming back to the 'Burgh ??

The Pens visit southern Florida tonight for what has historically been a lousy experience in meeting the Florida Panthers.

Just something about facing the Panthers, no matter how good or bad they've been in the past, they've just had the Pens' number.

Jokinen needs to pull a hammy in the pregame skate, not that I wish harm upon him.

But I wouldn't shed a tear if it would happen.

That goes for the Lightning on Saturday night.

As most Pens know by now, Thibault gets the start in goal tonight.

I would expect a better defensive effort tonight, it's been widely reported in the press that Therrien has been hammering home the defensive drills for the past few days.


Got some hot rumors going around today (no, not simply Eklund, a few other places as well) that the Pens are close to reacquiring former Pen Bryan "Smoke" Smolinski. I have no idea who is being offered as going to Chicago in the deal.

In addition, I'm also reading that the deal to move badass George Laraque to the Pens is heating up as well.

Who knows how close to authentic these deals end up to be (I'd like to see some D-man rumors, although I saw some Brent Sopel rumors a couple of days ago). But I think it's pretty apparent that Ray Shero is not going to stand put through Tuesday's trade deadline.


Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Therrien benches Fleury for Panthers game

As we've all seen this year, Michel Therrien is not a shy man when it comes to making changes.

Well, just to show everyone that he's an equal opportunity unemployer, Therrien benched the slumping Marc-Andre Fleury for Thursday night's game in Florida, and Jocelyn Thibault gets the start.

But really, when you come to think about it, considering how lousy the Pens have played in the state of Florida (that being 1-17 at both Florida and Tampa Bay in recent years), it may not even matter who's in net both tomorrow or Saturday nights.

However, in a "pick your poison" point of view, I guess that I'd want Fleury back in net for the Tampa game anyways.

Whatever the goalie lineup, the Pens are gonna have to get right back up and dust themselves off after the Islanders loss. The schedule gets no easier after the Pens get back from Florida, as they're only home for one game vs. Jersey next Tuesday before going back to back on the road at the Rangers next Thursday and Carolina next Friday.

The Carolina game next Friday will be The Confluence's third road trip of the year, the second to Raleigh. It sure as hell looks like since the Pens will be at MSG the night before, I'll be sure to see Thibault against the Canes again. Hopefully it won't be a similar outcome like the last 6-2 debacle.

Bucs full squad workouts begin; Hope springs eternal...

The Buccos took the field today for their first full squad workouts of the year.

Of course, during the 40 day or so adventure commonly known as spring training, you're gonna see a lot of different combinations of players, playing all kinds of positions.

Most of which you don't give a second thought to, until at least mid-March anyways.

But perhaps it was a little more than interesting to see that for the entire day Jose Castillo was taking ground balls at third base as opposed to second base, which was where Freddy Sanchez was parked.

Should anyone read anything into it ?? Well, in my opinion, the only way you should read anything into it is if you're looking at the positioning of Castillo at third strictly as a psychological move on Jim Tracy's part.

And nothing more.

Hey, it couldn't hurt, ya know ?

In the past 45 days or so, Castillo has been called out by his double play partner and has been told by his manager that he must beat out Jose Bautista to keep his starting job.

Maybe a little more motivation is gained by sticking him at third base on the first day of practice.

Besides that, I sure hope all of the soap opera bullshit between Laverne and Shirley is put to rest.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Think that Shero should "stay the course" at the deadline ?? Read this first....

Those who think the Pens' loss yesterday in Long Island was just an aberration, a bump in the road, or whatever clique you want to throw at them, take a quick glance at the following stats and tell me if you think that Ray Shero should keep the team as is (as a lot of fans have speculate), or if they should make some moves.

Even though fans have been steadily clamoring for a right-handed D-man all year, they should be yelling from their rooftops now. Since the streak started on Jan. 13th, check these stats out;

Jan. 13th at Philly: Blew 3-1 2nd period lead in 5-3 win
Jan. 18th at Boston: Blew 2-0 2nd period and 4-3 3rd period leads in 5-4 shootout loss
Feb. 1st vs. Montreal: Blew 4-2 3rd period lead in 5-4 shootout win
Feb. 8th at Philly: Blew 4-2 3rd period lead in 5-4 shootout win
Feb. 10th at Toronto: Blew 3-0 2nd period lead in 6-5 overtime win
Feb. 14th vs. Chicago: Blew 3-1 2nd period lead in 5-4 shootout win
Feb. 19th at Isles: Blew 3-1 2nd period and 5-4 3rd period leads in 6-5 loss

The defense's play has been so poor that I'm reading fans' pleading for the quick return of career minor leaguer Alain Nasreddine. Are you people serious ??

And those defensive gems don't exactly help out the goalie's stats, as witnessed by Fleury's dropping totals;

At least 3 goals given up in 10 out of the last 17 games since streak started.
7 out of 15 games Fleury started in which his save percentage was under 90%.

So if Shero's goal is to make the playoffs, OK sure, keep the team as is.

And even that's not guaranteed, not at all.

But to make noise in the playoffs, a move for a righty-Dman is a must.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Isles 6, Pens 5; Well deserved loss....

It was just a matter of time.

Defensive lapses up the wazoo and a poor performance from MAF, including giving up the soft game-winning goal with 23 seconds to go, were enough to spell defeat for the first time in over a month today for the Pens.

Ironically, in my view anyway, today was the first game since the Pens defeated Nashville in which I thought they were very responsible with the puck and did not make many poor passes at all.

But defensively, the Pens played one of their worst games in quite a while. Both goals which got the Islanders back in the game within 15 seconds were caused by poor defensive coverage.

And MAF arguably gave up 2 or 3 soft goals today.

But let's face facts, and I've been saying it game by game for quite a while now, they've been winning games and getting points in 16 straight games, which of course for Pens fans has been fantastic, but their lack of intensity, their poor defensive play, and their mediocre goaltending lately have made them skating on thin ice for wins (no pun intended).

It simply caught up with them today.

And now the Pens must go to Florida on Thursday for a quick 2 game road trip, Florida being a place that has never historically been kind to the Pens.

So the Pens must forget about this game. They must realize that this day was going to come quicker rather than later, based on their play as of late, and work on their lapses.

Let's also not forget, the GM's are meeting now until Wednesday in Florida. While most of the "meetings" will be discussing various league issues, you can bet your ass that their will be trade talks galore as well.

Don't be surprised if the Pens have a new teammate or two by Thursday's game in Sunrise.

Pens Gameday; No rest for the weary....

This should be quite the test for the Pens.

Not because the Islanders will be any more a difficult opponent than they usually are (although they are playing better lately).

But because by the time the Pens and the Isles finish today's game on Long Island, the Pens will have played three games in 68 hours.

Fortunately for the Pens, they have relatively younger legs than just about any other team, so that will no doubt assist them in getting through today's game.

MAF will be back in goal today after Thibault filled in admirably yesterday against the Caps.

We'll see if the Pens can continue their remarkable point streak without the aid of Sid scoring goals, which now stands at 1 goal in his last 10 games.


Sunday, February 18, 2007

Pens 3, Caps 2; Redundancy in its true form...

Is this getting absolutely ridiculous, or what ?!

In yet another mediocre effort, the Pens did just enough to defeat the Caps Sunday afternoon with a 3-2 win.

That's 16 straight games with a point for the Pens, with a 14-0-2 record over that stretch.

You have to give props to the Caps. They came out strong, delivering punishing check after check. The vast majority of those were not reciprocated by the Pens.

The Pens sure looked like they were going to blow the Caps out today, especially after the early powerplay deflection goal by Recchi.

They quickly gave up the tying goal in the 1st, and it stayed that way until Malkin uncorked a laser from the right goal line on a one-timer to make it 2-1 in the 2nd.

Talbot continued his strong 2nd half play by scoring on a one-timer to make it 3-1. The Caps scored with about 40 seconds remaining in the game with an empty Caps net, but that was all they could muster.

I'm really trying not to sound like a broken record here (showing my age on that one), but I think that most knowledgeable Pens fans would concur that although the Pens continue to win, they're showing considerable chinks in the armor, so to speak.

The Islanders are up next on Monday afternoon at 1PM.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Bucs Spring Training; Must be baseball season, another pitcher hurt

  • Here we go again. The Bucs didn't even make it to the first workout of the season before they had their first pitcher injury of the season. Brad Lincoln, the Bucs' 2006 1st round draft pick, has what the Bucs are calling "irritation" in his right elbow, and although they don't believe it to be too serious, it could force Lincoln to miss all of spring training. Great, just great.
  • As probably should've been expected, Japanese pitcher Masumi Kuwata, he of the whopping 83 MPH fastball, has made Bradenton look like they kidnapped Ichiro in the offseason. The Bucs' PR people have stated that they have issued 50 credentials for the Japanese press contingent. Kuwata is expected to be headed for AAA Indianapolis.
  • We'll see if the weight that Jose Castillo is rumored to have lost in the offseason will relate to any reduction in bonehead plays he's made in the last couple of years.
  • Call me crazy, but don't the same visa delays happen EVERY year with the Central American players ?? Couldn't one time, for a change, the management and the players actually be proactive, and start these visa proceedings more in advance so that by the time they're resolved, they can actually report ON TIME ??
  • Neil Walker is permanently moving from catcher to third base. I'm sure Neil is a great athlete, but I have to admit I'm not very thrilled about this. As is the case with Ryan Doumit, the Bucs are too happy with Walker's defensive liabilites behind the plate, so they felt moving him to third gives him a better shot to get to the big club in a quicker timeframe. I'll believe that when I see it.
  • The Bucs start their spring training schedule on March 1st vs. Cincinnati, unless you count the annual slaughter vs. Manatee CC on Feb. 28th.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Pens 5, Devils 4; Flirting with Disaster....

On behalf of all Pens fans, let me exclaim, "we'll take it".

Another game, another game with a big lead, another game with a blow....

Not so fast.

The Pens combined some fortunate deflections with a less-than-Brodeur-ish effort, and then held on for dear life in defeating the Devils 5-4 in front of thousands of empty seats at the Meadowlands. The official attendance was 15,404, but obviously the weather played a part in many of those paid ticket holders staying home.

MAF let his share of bad goals in tonight. The shot from the blue line from Zajak that went in the net off of MAF's glove was really bad.

Sid finally got off of the schnide tonight with his 26th goal of the season when he beat Brodeur by the 5-hole.

Next up are Ovechkin and the Caps on Sunday afternoon on NBC.

Pens Gameday; Another mediocre effort won't do tonight...

You'll have to excuse me, I've been feeling like dog shit for a few days, so this may be short-winded.

The Pens roll into the Jersey swamp tonight on that amazing 14 point game streak.

But one thing's for sure, if the Pens play a sloppily as they have recently, they won't get close to overtime against Marty Brodeur and the Devils.

The Devils are gonna be without a couple of their starters in Colin White and Brian Gionta. In addition, defensive forward John Madden took a nasty hit to the face with a puck the other day. Madden is expected to play, but his face was awfully swollen recently.

With the Devils usual boring defensive style of play, it's gonna be difficult to get a win (or at least a point) without Sid having a good game. Sure, you can have Sid go pointless and win vs. the Caps, but you won't be able to do it vs. the Devils.

Looks like MAF will be in goal again tonight, with Thibault getting a start either Sunday against the Caps, or Monday vs. the Isles.


Some changes coming your way....

There's gonna be some changes, specificially in my Penguins posts, coming in the next few days.

Nothing too drastic, but I'll let you know when everything's ready.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Pens 5, Blackhawks 4 (SO); By the skin of their teeth...

Statistics can be a deceiving thing, ya know ?

Certainly, the Penguins' 14 game point streak is a remarkable feat for such a young team. They've earned points in those 14 games in just about every way possible.

They've had their share of blowouts and comebacks. They've had games in which their special teams were outstanding, as well as games in which their special teams were absolutely lousy.

But one common demoninator remains; They've earned points in all 14 games.

But there's one more demoninator, and this is really the reason why the Pens' streak is so remarkable;

This team is not playing good hockey at all right now.

Their power play is in complete "cutesy mode" right now, wanting to make the pretty pass for the one-timer.

Which, of course, leads to 2 on 1's the other way, because the Pens don't seem to want to backcheck in their own end.

They've completely sat back on their heels after getting 2 and 3 goal leads lately.

Sid is starting to show a resemblence to Jan Hrdina, he's not shooting on some absolutely great scoring opportunities.

If it weren't for the muckers, this team, instead of having home ice advantage in the 1st round of the playoffs, would still be fighting for the 8th spot.

But, they ARE contributing, and that's a great thing.

And let's not forget, MAF has made some incredible saves to save games late in the last several games for the Pens. That save he made on Havlat in OT was amazing.

So I really can't believe how they're surviving playing this mediocre and not only getting points, but winning most of the games.

Well, one thing's for sure, this type of effort won't do against Marty Brodeur and the Devils on Friday night.

Cowher to join CBS in the fall...

He's back with his headset.

No, not back on the sidelines, but in the studio.

Former Steelers head coach Bill Cowher signed on to be a NFL analyst on CBS' "The NFL Today" pregame show.

In a curious twist, Cowher's hiring creates an additional slot on the show, along with Marino, Sharpe, Esiason, and Brown. Doesn't look like they'll be removing anyone from the show.

Let's just hope that it shuts Shannon Sharpe up for a while.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Pens Gameday; Trap Game with a capital "T"

Danger, Will Robinson, Danger.

Sorry to say it, but tonight's game at the Igloo vs. the Blackhawks has all the makings of a trap game.

The Pens have been off for four days, and are playing at home, where they've historically not have been as focused.

They're playing a non-conference team with a poor record, but a team who has played better recently, beating teams like Calgary (twice) and Vancouver.

They've got one of the hottest players in the NHL in former Senator Martin Havlat, with 8 points in his last 4 games.

So one thing's for sure, they can't take this team lightly, like they did against the Blackhawks' divisional rivals, the St. Louis Blues.

On the positive, I look for Sid to get off of the schnide tonight in his 7 game goalless streak. It's not like the kid's not shooting, but just hasn't gotten the breaks in hitting the twine lately.

Looks like Fleury will start again in goal. It was speculated that Thibault may start tonight to get him some work. Let me say this, I'd rather have Thibault start tonight than against New Jersey on Friday. Maybe on Sunday against Washington.

Appears that Malone is back on the 1st line with Sid and Recchi. I really think that Therrien and Shero are preparing eventually to trade Malone, and are lofting him again to the 1st line to showcase him. Of course, I could be dead wrong, just a gut feeling.

Gonna need a strong start tonight, let's keep the string going.


New Pens Blog

Welcome aboard and good luck to Seth and the gang at the Pittsburgh Post Gazette on the new Pens blog that they fired up today, "Empty Netters".

I like what I see so far, a nice blend of Pens information and some well-deserved sarcasm.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

A Sunday statistical look at the Pens, for better and for worse

As has been the case all year long, the young Penguins are producing some eye-opening stats.

Some, as you will see, are simply amazing, considering how young they are.

Some, however, may show us some not-so-good trends that are creeping up on them.

Of course, we have to lead the stats post with Sid's 87 points, a full 15 points ahead of a 3-way tie for 2nd place between Ovechkin, Hossa, and St. Louis. And that's been with Sid "only" getting 5 points in his last 5 games.

Malkin is starting to pull away with the rookie scoring race over LA's Anze Kopitar, leading him now 63 points to 50.

But his teammate Jordan Staal is quickly catching up to him on the rookie goal scoring race, with Malkin only leading Staal now 27 goals to 23. Staal has 7 goals in his last 5 games.

Sticking with Staal for a minute, maybe the most impressive stats for a Penguin, outside of Sid's impressive NHL points lead, is that Staal is leading the entire NHL in shooting percentage. After Staal's hat trick last night in Toronto, he now has 23 goals in only 82 shots, for an amazing 28.0% percent, easily ahead of Calgary's Kristian Huselius at 22.9%.

Other individual Pens' stats among the league leaders are Staal's 5 and Talbot's 3 short-handed goals (#1 and tied for #3, respectively) and Malkin's 13 powerplay goals ares tied for 7th.

On the team side, the Pens are tied for 8th in the league with allowing only 1.14 5-on-5 goals per game. Their powerplay is now 4th with a 20.6%. They also are 9th in the NHL with a 38.5% win percentage if they're losing after one period. But consequently, they are only 23rd in the league with a 69.2% win percentage is they're leading after one period.

But on the other side of the tracks, the plus/minus stats are somewhat revealing. Staal now leads the team at a +14, Crosby at +13, and Nasreddine at +12. But they also have several players in a minus rating, including Ouellet at -1, Gonchar at -2, Christensen at -6, and the injured Nils Ekman at -13. Kinda surprising for a team 11-0-2 in their last 13 games, huh ??

Their PK is now down to 24th in the league at 80.5%. Their faceoff percentage is dead last at 30th in the league at 46.6%.

Also, the amount of time that Crosby and Malkin are off the ice has been a topic of discussion this year as well. While Gonchar is 8th in the league in ice time per game at 26:38 per game, you have to go way down to 104th to find Crosby at 20:41 per game and 154th to find Malkin at 19:41 per game. Crosby is 206th in the league with 24.1 shifts per game, while Malkin is 263rd at 22.8 shifts per game.

Dominic Moore "leads" the Pens in faceoff percentage with 50.9%, ranked 43rd in the league. Crosby is 53rd in the league with a 49.6%. Malkin is 82nd with 44.2%.

So overall, one can't complain about the great streak the Pens are on. There no doubt that if the Pens continue to play at anywhere close to this level, they'll not only make the playoffs, but will have home ice advantage for the 1st round.

But, you're seeing signs, as indicated by the negative plus/minus ratings, the PK%, and the falling faceoff percentages, that the team needs to tighten up on it's defense.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Pens 6, Leafs 5 (OT); Staal's Hat Trick bails out Pens' defense....

It really shouldn't have come down to Jordan Staal nailing the wrister in overtime for his first career hat trick to win the game for the Pens in Toronto tonight, 6-5.

After a very methodical first period for both teams in which the Pens led 1-0, the Pens took a 3-0 lead courtesy of Staal and Malkin.

But once that happened, the Pens defense basically stood stationary while the Leafs grabbed every loose puck, put shots on net, and were wide open for the tap-ins.

And before you knew it, the game was tied at 3-3 after 2 periods.

Make that 4-3.

Malone tied it up after a nice feed from Recchi to make it 4-4.

After yet another Leafs goal in which McCabe was wide open from the point to make it 5-4, Max Talbot scored on a nice wrister to the top shelf to tie it at 5.

Ron Petrovicky knocked Newbury clean out cold in a fight with a little over 5 minutes left in the 3rd period. I'm not really sure if Newbury was out old before he hit the ice, or when his head hit the ice. Either way, that really brought the crowd down to a hush.

Which leads us back to Staal's heroics in OT.

You can't help but be impressed with the Pens' determination and willingness to not give up, especially in a hostile environment like Toronto.

But the Penguins defense, especially around the net, is definitely not protecting Fleury as well as they have been since the Pens' hot streak began, and it needs to change.

The Penguins, The NHL Trade Deadline, and the hype it causes; One schmuck's opinion....

This is one of those posts that I feel a blogger, webmaster, journalist, or whomever should tread lightly on.

Blogging in itself has skyrocketed in popularity the past few years. It must have, it brought my hairy ass out of the woodwork to do it.

The matter of those people jotting down ideas or opinions online, or even those who simply type a couple of sentences then just cut and paste other website's posts on their own sites (and I really dislike those, you know who you are), open themselves up for opinions coming back at them (unless they don't allow comments, and what fun would that be ??).

Then you get to pro sports blogs. What a different animal these are.

The thing that separates these from other blogs is the speculation aspect of them. You know, free agency, trades, drafts, contracts, and the like. That portion of the sports world has exploded over the last several years, so now there are these types of speculation shows in all venues of the media, TV, radio, newspapers, and now, the Internet.

And of course, that has further caused the formation of those types of shows/blogs to focus more intensely on the opinion and rumor aspects of the sport. Unfortunately, it has also caused more and more people in that business to become too wrapped up in their own opinions and causes them to speak more in "absolutes", or shall I say, their own perceived absolutes.

The best example recently came in the days prior to the Superbowl, when ESPN blowhard #1 Sean Salisbury boldly exclaimed "If Devin Hester runs back a kickoff for a touchdown, I GUARANTEE that the Bears will win the Superbowl".

We saw how far that prediction went, huh ??

Moreover, who in the hell do you think you are even to suggest a guarantee on national television ??

Anyway, the hockey world is no different, although understandably, as hockey is next to breathing in Canada, the NHL trade deadline annually causes speculations in the thousands as it leads up to this year's Feb. 27th deadline.

The Canadian big media boys, like TSN, Sportsnet, CBC, and the others all have big plans heading into that day.

Sportsnet has even gone one step further this year, enlisting the often-discussed anonymous hockey blogger Eklund into it's trade deadline special on the 27th. Of course, in true Bruce Wayne-ish fashion, his identity will be hidden, all the while on the phones behind a Wizard of Oz-ish partition to his supposed contacts around the NHL.

I'm not going to turn this into an Eklund post, I tire of it, to be honest. I personally enjoy reading all rumors, not just from Eklund, but from the others as well, like Spector (Lyle Richardson), but just as personal speculations that I like to think about myself.

In the States, I haven't read anything specifically that ESPN will be doing, but I'm sure that they'll have some sort of special that afternoon on ESPNEWS, such as having Barry Melrose and E.J. Hradek on there. Nothing too elaborate, as compared to what TSN and Sportsnet will be having (I mean, let's not get carried away, this IS the States after all), but they'll have all of the big deals listed just as much as their Canadian counterparts, just without as much speculation on them, that's all.

So anyway, that leads us to a discussion on how this year's trade deadline will affect (or won't affect for that matter) the Penguins.

This will be most difficult trade deadine for a Pens GM in several years, arguably since the Cup years for Craig Patrick.

These Pens are close, THIS close, to being a Stanley Cup contender.

Hell, if you consider last year's Stanley Cup playoffs, when the #5 through #8 Western Conference seeds all advanced to the 2nd round of the playoffs, and the #8 seed, Edmonton, went all the way to Game 7 of the Cup finals against Carolina, this makes the trade deadline for Pens' GM Ray Shero even more enticing.

He's got the best player in the game in 19 year old Sidney Crosby. He's got the overwhelming choice for the Calder Trophy as the NHL's Rookie of the Year in Evgeni Malkin. He may have the Calder runner-up in Jordan Staal, although LA's Anze Kopitar will have something to say about that. He's got the hottest goalie this side of Martin Brodeur in Marc-Andre Fleury. He and head coach Michel Therrien have the team's chemistry flowing at a rate not seen since Mario's magical return in '00-'01.

So the question becomes, do you disrupt that chemistry, and if so, how much ??

In my opinion, for as much (or little) as that's worth (emphasis on the little), I say you need a few tweaks to this club.

If I were GM on the 27th, my priorities at the trade deadline;

  • Scoring winger for the 1st line - Sorry, but I'm continue to not be impressed with Ryan Malone, in terms of having him on the 1st line with Crosby and Recchi. He does not generate hardly any scoring opportunities, and while he has done a good job at penalty killing and freezing the puck again the boards when it's needed, the Pens need more production out of that slot on the 1st line. Rumors a couple of months ago indicated that the Pens and Rangers were talking about a Malone-Prucha swap, possibly also involving Brooks Oprik. While Prucha may not be the ideal choice, his type (that of a right-handed young sniper), certainly would be better on the 1st line than having Malone clod his way around the ice. I don't feel that Malone specifically needs traded, as I think he'd also be good on the 3rd line, or 2nd in a pinch, but Malone, in my view, is expendable.
  • Right-handed defenseman - While the Pens' overall defense is no doubt one of the primary reasons for the team's improvement this year, mainly due to the addition of Mark Eaton, it certainly is not without it's liabilities. Nearly all of the Pens' D-men have had their times in the spotlight of making horrendous defensive lapses. The Pens' penalty killing is starting to hurt them. The lack of a right-handed D-man restricts their ability to put more shots on net from the point. It's for these reasons that I believe it would do the Pens good to acquire a right-handed D-man for the postseason run. I'm not talking about a Pronger-like, who would cost the Pens way more than they'd be willing to take, but simply a decent D-man who can also play the powerplay. Who to give up ?? In my view, I think there are several players on the team right now who are realistically expendable. Malone, Ouellet, Welch, Petrovicky, Thorburn, even Armstrong should be considered if the right D-man or scoring winger is offered.
  • Enforcer - This is the controversial one. Does Sidney Crosby really NEED an enforcer, one that can pummel someone on the opposition, because of Crosby's nightly muggings on the ice ?? Or do the muckers that just so happen to be able to throw a few punches after the fact, such as Malone, Ruutu, Petro, Army, or Thorburn suffice for the retaliations ?? Well, going back to the chemistry of the team, if you do acquire one, you bench someone off of the 4th line most likely. In that respect, I have no problem with someone such as Phoenix's George Laraque (my #1 choice) replacing Petrovicky or Thorburn. Moreover, with 20 points in 51 games in Phoenix, Laraque would be MUCH more of an offensive asset to the Pens than any of the current 4th liners. As a matter of fact, if the Pens were to acquire Laraque, not only would they have arguably the top enforcer in the league, but he would be the 9th highest scorer on the team as a "goon", with his scoring totals higher than players such as Malone (17 points - 1st line), Christensen (18 points - 3rd line), and Dominic Moore (13 points - 3rd line). If I'm Ray Shero, I pull this trigger, and pull it quick.

Of course, we have literally no idea how many, if any, of these types of ideas are going through the minds of Shero and the Pens' front office. I'm sure that with the stable of young stars the Pens have (the majority of which are untouchable), a lot of calls will be made to the Igloo over the next 17 days.

In addition, how much leeway do Lemieux and Burkle give Shero in terms of future payroll ?? If the right deal comes along, but will require adding a few million to the payroll, will Shero get the go-ahead, or will the ownership reject it due to the instability of the franchise and the eventual change in ownership ??

All of which leads to much speculation, which always makes the NHL trade deadline day so exciting.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Pens 5, Flyers 4 (SO); Don't be fooled by the wins...

It's true in every sport, professional and otherwise.

Good teams will find a way to win games in which they played poorly.

So in that respect, yes, it's nice to see that for the first time in six years, we're getting confirmation that indeed, the Pens are a good team.

But while they continue to win and get points, they've won and/or gotten points in three out of the last four games in which they've played quite badly.

The Pens 2-0 win vs. the Caps last Saturday was just as much a result of a lousy Caps offense (less Ovechkin and Semin) as it was the Pens performance.

They then went to Montreal the next day and for the most part should have walked out of there with zero points. They played that poorly, especially the defense.

The Pens rebounded on Tuesday against the Predators, leading the NHL in points. After a very sluggish first period, they refocused and played inspired hockey, dominating the Preds.

But then they went right back to their lackadaisical play last night against the Flyers.

Constantly trying to make the pretty pass, the Pens were fortunate to get two of their goals on tips, not deflections, but tips that made their way into the net.

I know I counted at least five turnovers for Malone alone. I don't care what anyone says, his presence on the first line is hurting this team. His ability to freeze the puck along the boards just doesn't cut the mustard to keep him with Sid's line.

Even after the Pens scored twice in the 3rd period to make it 4-2, they still found plenty of time to play on their heels to allow the Flyers to tie it up to force overtime and the shootout.

Speaking of the shootout, I think it's time Christensen gets a new move. The league has seen him plenty by now.

Malkin's move was decent, and I think he had Nittimaki beat, but he just shot it wide.

And FINALLY, Sid puts one past the goalie, and combined with MAF's goose egg, sealed the win for the Pens.

But make no mistake my friends, this team had better take it up a notch, or they WILL get blown off the ice by the Leafs tomorrow night.

New Pens Blog

Welcome to the latest Pens blog around the blogosphere, Faceoff Factor.

Some of the guys from Let's Go Pens have started it, and have gotten off to a good start.

Welcome aboard, boys.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Pens Gameday; Let's keep the goose egg going...

Might as well keep a good thing going, ya know ??

The Pens visit Philly tonight in search of their 7th straight win against the Flyers without a loss.

That in itself is such a remarkable statistic, considering the Pens' absolutely horrendous record in Philly over the last 15 years.

The Flyers might be dragging a little tonight, especially early on, since they played (and got shutout) against the Islanders last night.

It's because of that we may see Esche tonight instead of Nittimakki as well.

The Flyers gameplan, you may be asking ?

Let's see if we've heard this one before; Hammer Crosby everytime he touches the puck.

Well, it's a good thing that the Pens are very used to this type of physical play.

And it's even better that they've adapted a retaliatory attitude themselves, 'cause tonight they'll be sure to get plenty of practice.

Earlier in the year, this post would have been filled with sayings like "trap game" and "letdown".

But I really think the Pens are extremely focused now as they realize that they're in a prime playoff position, and they can't afford to blow two points because they took the night off against Philly.


Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Pens 4, Preds 1; Landmark win, or a telling sign ??

Gotta admit, I was not a happy Pens fan after the 1st period.

It might have been the Pens' worst period in a looooong time in terms of their tentativeness and lousy passes all over the place.

Combine that with the obligatory goal from the point, and the Pens were down 1-0 after one period.

I really thought it was gonna be a long night for the Pens.

But give the Preds your thanks for pumping up the Pens, courtesy of Darcy Hortichuck, who absolutely leveled Nasreddine, which prompted Max Talbot to jump in and at least make an attempt to fight, which failed for both players.

After that, things sort of went easy for the Pens.

Jordan Staal got a nice lucky bounce off of the D-man's stick and then the post to tie the game at 1.

Geno nailed a one-timer from Recchi on the power play to make it 2-1.

Recchi got would be construed as a soft goal by Mason to make it 3-1.

Ruutu's empty netter finished the scoring at 4-1 Pens.

But having said that, I like the way Nashville plays, really very similar to the Pens. The only major difference is that I believe their defense is much faster.

Certainly, one can see why their record is so good.

However, there is one statistic that could very well be a telling sign for the Predators.

The Preds are 16-2-1 against Columbus, Chicago, and St. Louis. Those are 33 big points in the hunt for a playoff spot.

Now I don't think there's any doubt that Nashville was a playoff team even without having the luxury of playing weaker divisonal opponents.

But now those same complaints that people used to say about Detroit's record in prior years is now being said about the Preds.

The Flyers are next up on the Pens schedule on Thursday night. I won't say anything about a letdown because I think the Pens realize that every game is a playoff game now, and also the fact that Philly is playing much better nowadays.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Pens Gameday; Preds present potential speed bump for Pens...

I could very well be wrong, but the Nashville Predators coming to town for tonight's game doesn't come at the best time of the season for the Pens.

The Preds don't have the best record in the NHL by sheer luck.

The combination of a very speedy, talented team along with the Pens returning home from an exhausting trip to Montreal may not bode very well.

Fortunately for the Pens, they've got one of the hottest goalies in the league in MAF. So if they come out flat (for the 3rd game in a row), they've still got a shot at staying in the game if MAF is still standing on his head.

It's reported that Army will be back in uniform tonight as well.

The Preds do have a couple of significant injuries to two of it's main players, D-man Shea Weber and winger Jordan Tootoo, which will keep them out of tonight's game.

Should be an exciting one, let's keep the momentum going.


Monday, February 05, 2007

Confluence Soapbox; Don't look now NHL, the "garbage league" is making a comeback...

You'd have thought the NHL would have earned their lesson by now.

You all remember those times, the quite often boring, clutching, hooking, grabbing, holding, slashing, tripping and cross-checking game of hockey that came to prominence in the mid '90's.

The same type of game that was a primary reason that the greatest hockey player (notice I didn't say "scorer" Gretzky fans, don't start whining just yet) in NHL history, Mario Lemieux, hung up his skates (the 1st time anyway) at the early age of 31. Lemieux famously referred to the NHL during that time as a "garbage league".

So when the NHL and it's players finally came back after it's yearlong absence in '05, the league took the opportunity to tweak many of it's rules, such as eliminating the redline and allowing the tag-up offsides.

But more imporantly, both the players and the league agreed that they would finally start enforcing the rules concerning hooking, holding, and the like.

But after a season and a half, and this is not only me opining on it, I've heard it on several different media outlets, but the NHL is slowly but surely going back to it's old ways.

You do get your officiating crews that call a tight game from time to time that call the penalties that should be called.

But the majority of games you watch nowadays has plenty of no-call hooking, holding, interference, you name it.

And now, the NHL is turning a blind eye to the game by game mugging of the best player in the league, Sidney Crosby.

It's not an exaggeration.

Nearly EVERY GAME now, Crosby is getting speared, buttended, slashed, high-sticked, and cross-checked to the head.

And that's just within the last two weeks !!!!

To make matters worse, when the NHL reviewed the spearing of Crosby by Jason Blake a couple of weeks ago, the league tapped Blake on his ass and fined him $1000, which is equivalent to a night's tab for he and his Islanders buddies at one of the NYC titty bars.

Moreover, the sentiment (not officially stated by the league, but inferred) was that Crosby was embellishing the spear, therefore that resulted in the low fine, and no suspension.

Last Thursday, at center ice on the opening faceoff of the game, Canadien goon Max Lapierre buttended Crosby in plain view of the referees.

Again, no penalty, no suspension.

Then yesterday afternoon, Crosby was high-sticked to the face by the Canadiens' Francois Bouillon.

You guessed it, no penalty.

We can even go back to last year, when Darian Hatcher high-sticked Crosby to the mouth, chipping 3 of his teeth and gashing his mouth.

I shouldn't have to tell you that there was no penalty.

I'm not stumping for preferential treatment for Crosby, hell that would be the day.

But for Christ sakes, Crosby not only is receiving physical abuse that should be warranting many more penalties than have been getting called, but some of these not only should be getting penalties, but warranting suspensions.

But so far, not a damn one.

So if you're Ray Shero, what do you do ??

Go out and get a goon of your own (he's got Eric Cairns, but he's out indefinitely with post-concussion symptoms, so he doesn't count) ??

Do you make a trade like the recent rumors indicated like George Laraque or Brian McGrattan ??

I'm sure it's tempting for Shero, but I doubt he'll pull the trigger. Here's why;
  • There's no way that a goonish teammate will be playing on the same shift as Crosby if/when he gets roughed up
  • Who do you remove out of the lineup to put the goon in ??
  • Do you really want to trade away a player and/or draft pick for someone for realistically 30 games or less, since playoff fights are a rarity nowadays ??

But it's not just Crosby, Brendan Shanahan recently aired similar remarks in reference to the nightly abuse that Jaromir Jagr is taking.

The NHL has enough problems as it is, and with the renewed Versus contract, they're just digging the grave deeper with bonehead moves like that.

But if they continue to allow the "garbage league" antics to continue, and it's stars to get Hack-a-Shaq'd every night, you might as well yank it off of Versus and the regional networks too, 'cause no one wants to watch this horseshit again.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Habs 4, Pens 3 (OT); Flat-footed defense dooms Pens

Be glad they got a point out of it.

After leading the game 2-1 going into the 3rd period, the Pens defense did nothing to combat the Habs' crashing of the net, giving up two quick goals and nearly cost them a regulation loss.

But a late powerplay goal, by Ouellet on the second unit, tied the game up with 2 minutes and change left in the game.

The Pens looked like they had a decent chance to win the game in overtime, as Sid was controlling the puck for several seconds around the net, but held onto it for one second too long. The puck was batted away, led to a 3 on 1 break, and Souray nailed a one-timer.


I have no doubt in the post game interviews that Sid will accept full responsibility for the OT loss.

But once they look at the game tape, the defense better look in the mirror.

Super Bowl XLI; Take the Colts, and the points....

I would have said "Colts in a blowout" before today.

But now, it's due to be raining on and off all day, including during the game tonight.

If it does rain, it will (amazingly) be the 1st time that it rained during a Super Bowl.

So, with the wet conditions, I'm still going with the Colts, and they'll still cover, but no longer in blowout.

Let's see, let's go with Colts 27, Bears 17.

Pens Gameday; Intensity should be no problem today...

This is gonna be a difficult test for the young Penguins.

Going into the hockey hotbed that is Montreal, only 3 days after a highly-energized, highly-physical game between the two teams, the Habs and their rabid fans will no doubt take their intensity up a notch when they take the ice at 2PM today.

If the Pens win today, they'll move up to 5th in the Eastern Conference. It could've been for 4th place, but the Leafs blew a 2-0 lead against Ottawa and gave the Sens a point in the Leafs' shootout win.

[ By the way NHL, thanks for scheduling this one in the afternoon, so I don't have to listen to 3 hours of "expert" blowhards on ESPN, including the newly Hall of Fame inducted crackhead criminal Michael Irvin. ]

If the Pens are smart, they need to focus on playing a DEFENSIVE game in the 1st 10 minutes or so of the game.

You know the Habs are gonna be pumped. You know they're going to be hitting everything that moves in a Pens uniform.

Withstand the emotion, play a good defensive game, and keep the puck out of your net in the 1st period.

If they do that, the Pens have got an excellent chance to win this game.

Let's not forget, both teams played yesterday. Both teams are playing in the 3rd game in 4 days. If the Habs expend so much energy early in the game simply to throw elbows, they'll be pooped by the 3rd period.

Sorry to say for Habs fans, they won't have a chance to exact their revenge on Colby Armstrong, who'll miss his 2nd straight game after twisting his knee sometime during the Habs game.

This should be a good one. Sid was shutout yesterday by the Caps, I'd lay odds that it won't happen for a 2nd game in a row.


Crosby selected as Dapper Dan Sportsman of the Year...

To those outside of the Pittsburgh area, winning the Dapper Dan Sportsman of the Year is probably sounds like Michael Corleone winning the Meucci Foundation's Man of the Year in Godfather, Part III.

Ya know, big frickin' deal.

Au contraire, monfraire. (No, never took French, stole that one from George Carlin)

The Dapper Dan award is no doubt the ultimate honor for a Pittsburgh athlete, and this year's award recipient is none other than Sidney Crosby.

Especially for a 19 year old young man.

So for Sidney Crosby, winning this award at this point in his career (hell, his life) is certainly a noteworthy achievement.

Just another of what will no doubt be many, many awards for this young man.

Steelers and Saints to play in 2007 HOF game...

Hey, another home game for the Stillers.

Well, sorta.

The NFL announced yesterday that the Steelers and Saints would play in the 2007 Hall of Fame game in Canton on Sunday, August 5th.

However, next year's game will be televised on the NFL Network, so the regular griping that has taken place this year concerning it's limited viewership will no doubt take place once again.

Bucs sign Kolb, avoid arbitration with Freddy...

The Bucs added some more insurance to their bullpen after the trading away of Mike Gonzalez by signing Dan Kolb to a minor league deal.

If he makes the team, he'll earn 1.25 million, plus the possibility of earning an additional 1.3 million in performance bonuses.

Also, the Bucs avoided arbitration with Freddy Sanchez by signing him to a one year, 2.75 million clam contract.

It appears that the Bucs and Sanchez's agent were close to a 2 year contract, but couldn't finalize it.

I'm not a big fan of this one year deal, but also not a huge 5 or 6 year deal at the same time. I would have thought that a 2 year deal would have been perfect. Freddy obviously had a great year last year, but I believe it's fair to see if that performance is going to be the norm for Freddy, or a one year wonder.

Pitchers and catchers report in 12 days.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Pens 2, Caps 0; Muckers bail out flat Pens....

I could've sworn that was the Devils out there as the Pens opponent today.

An obvious flat effort this afternoon, combined with a good defensive effort by the Caps, aided by new arrival Milan Jurcina from the Bruins, really turned this into a snoozer.

But we'll take a 2-0 win as a snoozer, as opposed to a 2-0 loss.

MAF registered his 2nd shutout in his last 3 games, as well as the Pens winning their 6th straight, with points in their last 9 games.

In addition, I believe I also recall the stat that this is the 1st game that the Pens have won in which Sid has not scored at least one point.

And oh by the way, as of this writing, the Pens are a paltry two points away from the Habs and Senators in 4TH PLACE in the Eastern Conference (the Habs lead 2-1 right now late in the 2nd period against the Isles as I type this).

Speaking of defensive efforts, the Pens played an excellent defensive game themselves. I would also give high marks to Ryan Malone, who really did a great job today against the boards.

Ron Petrovicky's wrister kinda fooled Ollie Kolzig for the Pens only main goal. Jordan Staal had an empty netter in the final minute to close the scoring.

Well, the Pens got away with one today. There is no way that they can have that type of effort tomorrow afternoon in Montreal and come away with a win.

And I don't think they will. That place will be jumping tomorrow, and I'm sure that the Habs will be throwing plenty of elbows to wake up the Pens really quickly.


UPDATE: Montreal lost 4-2 to the Islanders this afternoon. If the Leafs beat Ottawa tonight, and the Pens beat the Habs tomorrow afternoon, your Pittsburgh Penguins will be in 4TH PLACE in the Eastern Conference.

Pens Gameday; Alex and the boys pay a visit...

For as much as the prospect of Alex Ovechkin and the Caps visiting the Igloo this afternoon should be enticing to the Pens, I'm a little concerned about the Pens overlooking the struggling Caps while looking forward to the rematch in Montreal tomorrow afternoon with the Habs.

I firmly believe the Caps look forward to facing the Pens nowadays much like they would face a divisional rival.

In fact, I would love to eventually see the Caps and Pens back in the same division, like the old Patrick Division days.

But if the Pens overlook the Caps today, and aren't as mentally sharp as they've been the past week, I have no doubt that the Caps will take advantage of that and pounce.

This will not be an easy game.

In much the same way that opposing teams have recently turning up the heat and applying physical pressure to Sid, I would hope that Therrien will call out the dogs and start doing the same to their opponent's stars, starting today with Ovechkin today, and definitely tomorrow with Koivu or anyone else they deem necessary.

Also gonna be interesting to see if Therrien plays MAF in both games today and tomorrow, or if he'll play Thibault for example tomorrow.

I'd also expect now that Chris Thorburn is back from his personal departure from the team that he'll be back in the lineup to apply more muscle.


Buccos negotiating with Dan Kolb

Hey, it can't hurt.

The Bucs have been talking for a few days with Kolb's agent.

Kolb's a hard throwing righty reliever, previously an All-Star closer with Milwaukee, and recently has bounced between Atlanta and back to the Brewers.

And while his numbers have not been as good as compared to previous years, his signing can do nothing more than fuel more competition with an already good bullpen.

Let's see if Littlefield can actually get Kolb to sign on the dotted line.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Guy Carbonneau = Contradict much ??; Malkin visits Sportsbeat

You can't have it both ways, Guy baby.

Canadiens' coach Guy Carbonneau still has his panties in a bunch after Colby Armstrong's vicious, but very clean, hit on Saku Koivu last night.

In what may be the most contradictory comment of the year (and it takes a helluva comment to grab that title), Carbonneau said "I know it was legal, he hit him with his shoulder, but when a guy's battling one-on-one and (another) guy comes from a blind spot and hits him, I don't like that. It should have been called. And I don't see how they got seven minutes on the power play out of that. It was definitely a cheap shot, I'm not afraid to say it."

So it was a legal hit, but it was a cheap shot ?? Is that what you're actually try to tell us mortals, Guy ??

Uh, how about the buttend to the sternum of Crosby, Guy ?? What say you on that ??

Been doing a lot of reading about last night's game. I'm really getting tired of every non-Pens fans claiming that Crosby embellishes every cheap shot he gets.

One thing's for sure, Sunday's rematch should be another outstanding hockey game.


Malkin made his appearance on Sportsbeat tonight. Pretty bland interview because of the translations going back and forth, but Geno appears to be just a normal 20 year old kid, just one that can't speak English very well just yet.

They're giving away 20 Malkin bobbleheads for the 1st 20 responders who correctly answered that Malkin's 1st NHL goal came against Brodeur. Of course, I jumped on that, and I know I was among the 1st 20 people. That email was gone within 10 seconds. I sent them a 2nd email later on with my mailing address, so I hope that didn't screw up my chances.

Bucs sign Armas Jr., avoid arbitration with LaRoche + Grabow

You'll have to forgive me if I'm not making plans to grab playoff tickets just yet.

The Pirates signed that elusive contender for the 5th starters job, that would be Tony Armas Jr., signed for about 3 million clams, with a 2008 option for $5 million.

Uh, hooray.

I guess this is the horrendous state of MLB economics nowadays, that a sub .500 pitcher with a history of arm trouble still gets 3 million a year.

In more positive Bucs news, they did avoid arbitration today with both Adam LaRoche ($3.2 million) and John Grabow ($832,500). That only leaves Freddy Sanchez and Jose Castillo as being arbitration-eligible.

Pitchers and catchers report in 13 days.

Pens 5, Habs 4 (SO); Now that was a hockey game....

Doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that Sunday's rematch in Montreal will be, shall we say, physical.

Tonight's game had just about everything you'd want in a great hockey game, including ferocious hits, end-to-end action, and most importantly, a big 5-4 Penguins win.

Yeah, I'm still pissed off that they gave the Habs a point by playing on their heels for the last half of the 3rd period.

But give them credit. They got it to overtime, killed a penalty in overtime, and for the 2nd time in row, won in a shootout.

By the way, how many spears does Crosby have to take before 1) the other guy at least gets a penalty, and 2) he gets suspended ?? It's absolutely ridiculous the shots that Sid is taking nearly every game now.

Army's vicious hit on Koivu was completely clean, and Souray deserved every minute of the penalty that he got, although I believe he was right for standing up for his captain.

But like I said, the Pens should have never been in that predicament late in the game, I hope they'll learn from it.

Next up for the Pens is Ovechkin and the Caps on Saturday afternoon.