Archive for March, 2012

This is my experimentation with writing notes while the game is going on. I know it’s a little rough, but I still wanted to try it and hopefully by next season I’ll be better at this!

First Period Notes:

Nice to see Matt Niskanen and Joe Vitale back.

Kunitz-Malkin-Neal reunited after Coach Bylsma dappled with the lines last night.

Brent Johnson looks strong in return game, even though he let in a goal.

Penguins do not seem to be making the poor defensive decisions seen last night.

Vitale’s energy is unreal, what a different he makes on the ice.

PP1:  Penguins convert early on Malkin’s 48th goal of the season – that’s a career high for him.

Buffalo’s Tyler Myers down on ice after being struck by a puck. He’s back on the bench, appears to be alright.

Great save by Johnson followed by a goal by the captain Sidney Crosby. The puck just trickled between Miller’s pads, but the Penguins have managed to take the lead in the third period. Assist by Pascal Dupuis on the goal gives him a career high.

Tyler Ennis gets one past Johnson as it bounces off the net minders pads. That’ll be one Johnson wants back at the end of the night.

2-2 tie.

Talk of pulling Johnson has already lit up my Twitter feed. Give the guy some credit, and remember that last’s performance by Marc-Andre Fleury wasn’t his best either but there weren’t calls to yank him. Johnson looked pretty decent in that first period and made a few nice saves. If he lets in a goal or two more though, I would say it’s time for the Flower to come in.

Here is my column for the Friday edition of The Penn.

http://www.thepenn.org/sports/analysis/brent-johnson-returns-to-pittsburgh-as-playoffs-approach-1.2834251#.T3YLanLdJ6Y

His play this season has been nothing short of remarkable, earning him consideration for the league MVP title and scoring champion. But there is one dream Evgeni Malkin would like to make come true this season, and it isn’t just winning the Stanley Cup.

The 25-year-old Malkin came close in 2007-2008 with 47 goals, but failed to reach the 50-goal mark. This season Malkin has gone on a rampage, becoming a terror for opposing goalies and defenses. But will he make it to the big 50 before time runs out?

With five games to go and three goals left before the mark, time is crunching down on the Russian superstar. Not to mention the schedule for the Penguins and their new-found defensive woes will make scoring those last three goals more difficult. The Penguins face Buffalo, who is fighting for a playoff spot; the Flyers twice, who this season have provided exciting and hard games for the team; the Bruins, who have finally began an upswing and may come out and surprise the Penguins after poor performances in the last two match ups; and then there are the division-leading New York Rangers.

The Russian’s last chance to score No. 50 will be April 7 against Philadelphia if he has not hit the mark before then. As the standings sit right now the Penguins will be seeing the Flyers more than twice in April as the two teams are poised to meet in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

“MVP,” the fans chant. “Score and save us.”

In one game he records 10 shots on goal and scores a hat trick, the game after that he assists on four of five goals scored by the Penguins. Well-rounded player? I think so.

Just a month after signing his six-year deal with the Penguins that will keep him a Penguin through the 2017-18 season, James Neal has continued to show not only fans, but ownership that he will earn every dime of the $5 million. (See http://penguins.nhl.com/club/news.htm?id=617794 for full story.)

This season alone he has established career highs in goals, assists and points, played in his first All-Star game and scored his second-career hat trick.

Neal has always been known as the guy who goes out and scores goals, and with 35 so far this season and still a few games left, the winger could hit 40 while playing on the line with league-leading scorer Evgeni Malkin. A statistic Neal and Malkin share is shots on goal. Neal ranks only second to Malkin with 302 shots, that’s an average of four shots per game.

The game March 20 against Winnipeg made the record books for Neal in three categories:  his hat trick, a career-high point total (4) and 10 shots on goal. But those statistics are almost expected with Neal’s reputation as a shooter. What was not expected, however, is what happened in the next game.

March 22 against the Nashville Predators he assisted on four of the five goals scored by Pittsburgh, marking another career high for Neal.

With seven games left before the regular season comes to a close and the Penguins posed for a deep Stanley Cup run, Neal has a chance to make an impact on not only the Penguins scoring, but the outcome of the playoff series as well.

A Saturday-night game in Ottawa became a nightmare to watch for Penguins fans. There would be no patting of the helmet with smiles following this game.

Before the game could even begin, there were smiles on the Penguins bench, though they wouldn’t last for long.  Take a short listen and watch as the players, especially James Neal, react during “O Canada.”

In Brad Thiessen’s first road start the end result can be called less than desirable. But to be clear, the Penguins gave up breakaways and allowed passing not previously seen by the squad. A total of 12 goals were scored during the 60 minutes, but unlike the Winnipeg game, it was Thiessen who felt the sting of loss after giving up eight goals because Dan Bylsma did not pull the rookie.

Many times during the game there were glimmers of hope that maybe the Penguins scoring would come through again. In the second period the Penguins would give up a goal to make the game tied at 2. Then they give up two quick goals and score one of their own, the score 4-3. But one more goal for Ottawa in the second put any hope of points a little further out. Even in the third period, after Sidney Crosby finally scored a goal, it looked like maybe, just maybe the Penguins could come back. But then the Senators put the nails in the coffin. The score went from 5-4 to 8-4 in a matter of minutes, placing the game, and any hope of points, out of the Penguins grasp.

Two things became very clear in this game. One:  Brad Thiessen is not ready for NHL action yet. Two:  Fleury’s talents are needed on nights when the defense leaves the goalie to fend for himself. At least Marc-Andre’s talent shines through even on bad defensive nights by the Penguins.

This is my weekly column for the IUP paper The Penn. 
http://www.thepenn.org/sports/analysis/penguins-have-found-themselves-in-an-atlantic-division-race-1.2826494#.T2yxQsVmIUo

Tonight’s match up against the Nashville Predators not only matches two teams set to make playoffs runs, but also two stellar goaltenders.

Both Marc-Andre Fleury and Pekka Rinne sit atop the league’s goalies with 39 wins apiece. The game tonight will decide which goalie becomes the first to hit 40. We know about MAF and how he has been this season, but what about Rinne?

Rinne, when he wins his 40th game, which will happen, hopefully not against the Penguins though, will win 40 for the first time in his career. At 39 wins he already has the Nashville Predators record for wins. Going into tonight’s game, Rinne has a .923 save percentage to Fleury’s .916. But Fleury has something Rinne does not. He has the Pittsburgh Penguins firepower.

The Penguins have scored 30 more goals collectively than the Predators and also  have the league’s leading scorer in Evgeni Malkin. The Penguins have multiple players on hot streaks, and even though Brad Thiessen let in four goals Tuesday against Winnipeg, the Penguins scored eight goals to ensure the win.

With the current hot streaks of James Neal, Pascal Dupuis, Tyler Kennedy scored two in the last game, maybe he gets another tonight, Malkin and Sidney Crosby, Fleury may have an easier time than Rinne between the pipes.

There has been talk throughout the NHL that this game could be a preview of the Stanley Cup Final. Tonight’s game is the last the Penguins will play against Western Conference opponents, but they have fared well against the conference this season. Stanley Cup preview or not, this game will be an exciting one as both starting goalies chase the big 40.

Sidney Crosby has scored two goals since his return this season. Those were in his first game.

The net has been silent since.

In his most recent return, Crosby has had some great looks at the net. During the Saturday game against New Jersey, Crosby had many great looks, but was robbed by Martin Brodeur.

His play hasn’t been lacking though. Crosby does have an on-the-ice presence, one that has caught the attention of opposing teams and media, but not by fantastic goals being scored. At least…not by Crosby himself.

Since Crosby’s most recent return, an unlikely fit has been discovered. The search was always on for “that winger,” the one who would be like James Neal to Evgeni Malkin.

At this point last season, Matt Cooke was always under the eye of the league for his “dirty play.” This season, the forward has turned heads as he scored two goals in back-to-back games – on a line with star Sidney Crosby.

It may seem weird that Crosby has failed to record a goal, but his presence is felt in assists. It doesn’t matter who he is paired with, whether powerplay or not, Sid is getting players the puck, and those players are scoring. In fact, the Penguins seem to do much better when Crosby assists on a goal.

In the four games Crosby has been back, he has recorded assists in three of them: two in his return, three against New Jersey and four against Winnipeg. The only game he failed to record an assist in was against Philadelphia – the only game the Penguins lost thus far in March.

This is telling for the simple fact that the Penguins have become a seemingly unstoppable force with Crosby back in the lineup. If he can manage to stay healthy through their playoff run, which looks very promising, the Penguins could be hoisting a cup for a fourth time.

This just in! Sidney Crosby has been cleared for contact. So….now what happens?

Crosby has been down this road before, and so have the fans. Was anyone really jumping up and down for joy that the Penguins captain has been cleared? Yes, it’s wonderful that Crosby has been cleared for contact, which obviously means he is a step closer, but how long will it really be before he steps onto the ice for a game?

Let the Crosby Watch begin again. The media frenzy at every little whisper, the false claims of which date he will return.

“I’m going to give myself days, for sure, of contact.” Crosby said. (pittsburghpenguins.com) “If you look at our schedule, we have two more practices this week.. No sooner than Sunday, I would say.”

Let the speculation begin! Will it be Sunday against the Boston Bruins or after?

The Penguins have won their last six contests and have not had much trouble producing goals. Scoring has been coming from lines other than the top one, and defensemen Zbynek Michalek and Deryk Engelland have pitched in as well.

If Crosby’s return is less than a month away, possibly less than a week away, and he is able to stay healthy this time, (He played only six games before being knocked out again Dec. 5.) the injured player to watch next would be Kris Letang, who also is suffering from concussion symptoms.

The Penguins are a force to be reckoned with, after all, they do have No.71. Now imagine a Pittsburgh team with a healthy Malkin, Staal, Crosby and Letang. Opposing teams’ defenses will have to come up with ways to stop the Penguins scoring, not something easily done with so many talented players.

Published 3-6-12 on former blog site.

Pittsburgh Penguins original story:  http://penguins.nhl.com/club/news.htm?id=620791