Archive for April, 2012

At one end of the rink between the pipes stood Tim Thomas of Boston, defending Stanley Cup Champion goalie.

At the other a 22-year old starting in his very first playoff game.

That was April 12. But after a seven-game series, the young buck Braden Holtby finds himself playing in the second round of the playoffs.The brilliant display of goal tending during the Boston-Washington series, where each game was decided by one goal and four went to overtime, provided one of the most-entertaining series in the first round.

The defending Stanley Cup Champions just couldn’t seem to figure out Holtby. The young goalie showed poise when the Bruins came at him. Goal tending wins championships, and the Capitals have found a goalie who, if he plays the way he did against the Bruins, will be a good start to their Stanley Cup dreams.

Now Holtby faces Henrik Lundqvist, arguably the best goalie this season. A Hart Trophy finalist against a rookie. This series will test Holtby more than the first. The Rangers were a force to be reckoned with during the regular season and sat atop the Eastern Conference for a reason. Washington finds themselves down by one in the series, but even if they lose, they have found a goalie they can build with. If Holby can play like he did against the Bruins for a season, the Caps could find themselves in a better position when it comes to the playoff picture.

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Now that Pittsburgh has had a few days to let the result of Sunday’s game sink in, it’s time to look back and ask, “What went wrong?”

What went wrong was, well, everything. At the end of the day, Pittsburgh didn’t show up and play the way they did during the season. This series will be known as the “should have” series – they should have won, but they didn’t.

Imagine for a moment that Pittsburgh scored first in the overtime in Game 1. How would the series have been affected? If the next two games would have gone the same way, the series would be 2-1 Philadelphia.

In the first game of the series, for the most part, the Penguins played well enough to win. In games 2 and 3, however, they did not. They deserved the losses handed to them at the hand of the Flyers.

The next two games were won by Pittsburgh. Now going with the hypothetical situation, the score would be 3-2 Pittsburgh in the series.

This series would have gone to seven games, not six. Of course, in Game 1, there was a blown call from the referees – even the NHL acknowledged it. But that call did not lose the Penguins the game or the series.

Even if the team made it to Game 7, if they played the way they did in games 2, 3 or 6, it just wouldn’t happen. In the last game of Pittsburgh’s season, they looked good on one shift – the shift where Evgeni Malkin scored.

Before that shift happened, Dan Bylsma called his troops together and rallied. The only problem was, that play only lasted one shift.

The Penguins need to look at what they did wrong, and how to fix it for next year. The team may look different for next season, but Bylsma has shown he can make a team rattled with injuries win. A team with new faces shouldn’t be a problem for him.

– as published in The Penn 4-27-2012

Nobody wants to see this again.

“We want blood.”

Unfortunately for the Flyers fans, they did not get any blood, but they may have a player suspended.

Zac Rinaldo cross-checked Penguins Zbynek Michalek, and as Michalek tried to stand, Rinaldo viciously punched him in the face without provocation. The unnecessary, nasty play by Rinaldo may earn him the first Flyer suspension of this series. But if the on-the-ice antics weren’t enough, the fans booed when the Penguins player finally rose from the ice.

That is uncalled for.

Regardless of how much you hate the team you play against, seeing a player injured is horrible. I was in the Mellon Arena when Matt Cooke elbowed Marc Savard a few seasons ago. The agony of waiting to see if he was alright was excruciating. The arena was silent as fans both of Boston and Pittsburgh watched as Savard was taken off on a stretcher. He has not returned since.

But hearing the Philadelphia fans booing when a player gets up from a clearly vicious hit is ridiculous. It is not only a testament to the fans, but to the NHL of what the fans in Philadelphia believe in.

Illegal hits are illegal. They can cause injury, they can even, in extreme cases, cause death. In no situation is it OK to boo when I player gets up after a hit.

But that wasn’t all that happened during the game. Have a watch at what happens after Jordan Staal scores a goal.

Frustration will happen when your team is down by six, or more, goals in one game. But that does not give fans the go-ahead to act the way they did. The lack of class by Philadelphia both on the ice and off is disgusting. But I’m sure if there is a Game 6, it will be seen again.

There are no words to express what happened on the ice Sunday against the Philadelphia Flyers.

But what’s worse is the Penguins came out of it looking like fools. The lack of self-discipline showed by the club not only embarrassed themselves, but also the fans and the city. The once-favored Stanley Cup winners are now in no-man’s land.

And as announced by the NHL late Tuesday, they will be without Arron Asham and James Neal for the crucial Game 4. Asham may not be a large loss for the team, but Neal will be. He scored half of the Penguins goals in Game 3, and his shot is needed if the Penguins can even stand a chance against the Flyers.

The Penguins may be able to deal with the loss of Neal, however, if they are able to correct the atrocious defense they have been playing. They need to come out, take the body, and get back to the hockey they used to play that made them get so many nods as Stanley Cup favorite.

Early Wednesday the Penguins recalled defensemen Simon Depres, who played 18 games for the team this season. During a time where the team had a plethora of injuries, Depres helped them push through and gave them a fighting chance for staying in contention.

Fans can only hope tonight that the losses of Asham, Neal and Adams will not be too much to overcome for Pittsburgh to have a fighting chance to stay in this series. A loss tonight means more than just elimination from the playoffs, it means embarassment for a team that had so many putting them in the Stanley Cup Final.

The unthinkable has happened for Penguins fans. Their team is down 0-3 in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

With such high hopes going into the quest for another cup, perhaps the Penguins just weren’t able to live up to expectations. Pittsburgh needs to change drastically if it will even have one win to its name this post season.

Goaltending:  To say that it has been a problem is an understatement. The Flyers scored 20 goals in three games, all but two of them on Marc-Andre Fleury. In Sunday’s game he was shaky and it wouldn’t be a surprise if he had little or no confidence left against the Flyers. Despite his play, coach Bylsma will start him Wednesday. This could be the nail in the coffin for this team. They’ve scored enough goals to win a normal game, but couldn’t keep the puck out of their own net to hold on for a win. It’s a significant problem.

Defense:  This no doubt has had an impact on the goal scoring as well, so it isn’t just one man’s fault. As a whole the team needs to play better defense. They need to stay with their man, work hard and make good decisions with the puck. The turn overs in every area of the ice, the giving up of short-handed goal after short-handed goal have killed the Penguins in each of the games.

No Malkin:  The Penguins MVP hasn’t scored a goal yet. They need Malkin to return to his goal-scoring streaks of past and get his team on the board.

Don’t drop the gloves:  The Penguins have fallen into letting the Flyers dictate the game in terms of physicality. Sunday’s game was a disgrace to the organization with what ensued on the ice. Bylsma said they did not want to be involved with that, but clearly, the message was not received by his players. Sidney Crosby even instigated a situation with Scott Hartnell, something the captain should not have done. Crosby needs to help rally his team before they even step on the ice for Game 4. They should have won the first two games, but they didn’t.

If the Penguins get swept in this series, it will be remembered by Penguins fans as the season of what could and should have been.

Yes, the first game’s loss stings, but Pittsburgh can come back.

This isn’t like football, one loss and you’re done. There are still at least three more games left in this series and the Penguins came close in the first game.

The issue for the Penguins was simple, they didn’t play 60 minutes. If the game had been 20, they would have won easily. Pittsburgh can, and needs, to dominate Philadelphia Friday. If they do this, they not only get a win, but also the much-needed momentum heading into the set in Philadelphia.

The Penguins lost the game Wednesday because they failed to play a complete game, using the Flyer’s first goal as an excuse does not push under the rug the fact that they let them back in. It should have ended in regulation with a Penguins advantage in the series. Instead, now the Penguins have to fight back.

No one said Pittsburgh would win in four games, but being down 2-0 in the series against a team who kicked the fluffing out of Pittsburgh during the season, that doesn’t bode well for dreams of Lord Stanley.

A 60-minute team effort will be the Penguins key to win. But premature worrying and screaming that they’ll lose to the Flyers is not warranted. They weren’t blown out, they gave up a lead. That’s an easy fix for the talented team and the coaching staff.

When they get blown out or get down 3-0 in the series, then it’s time to panic. Pittsburgh has the talent, work ethic and ability to win this series. They just need to come out and do it.

The Pittsburgh-Philadelphia hockey rivalry has been growing stronger since Jaromir Jagr joined the Flyers for this season. The games between the two teams have featured physical play, great goal scoring, fights and of course, the usual trash talk.

With all the hype surrounding the Penguins-Flyers games this season, it’s only fitting that the first team Pittsburgh must pass through on their way to Lord Stanley would be their in-state rivals. The plots going into this series not only feature the rivalry of players like Crosby, Malkin and Jagr, but also of the coaches. Throw in the added comments from Mike Milbury, and we have ourselves a playoff circus.

Whether or not the Penguins have a more-talented team than they Flyers going into this series is immaterial. Philadelphia has proved itself to be the toughest customer for the Penguins this season. In fact, up until the game ended Saturday, Pittsburgh had yet to beat Philadelphia in Consol Energy Center. That win was important for many reasons. The first and foremost being that they proved to themselves that they could beat the Flyers on home ice. The second, that they now have the momentum going into the series. And last, but not least, they have home-ice advantage.

The Penguins run into problems when they let Philadelphia dominate the style of play. Saturday’s game saw the Penguins stick to their system, and the outcome was desired. When they stick to their game and don’t get caught up in the distractions Philadelphia has to offer, they win.

Pittsburgh needs to make sure that they remain focused on the goal, and not get caught up with all the trash talking that their in-state rivals will bring to the table.

They clinched a playoff spot, and then they started to slide.

Call it being comfortable, or whatever else you like, but the playoffs are rising, and the Penguins are falling. Since the team clinched a playoff spot with a 5-1 win over the Nashville Predators March 22, the team lost four of its following six games.

The backup goalie situation looks like it has finally fixed itself with a healthy Brent Johnson returning to his form of brilliance last season. This could not have come a moment too soon.

With the Penguins poised to play the first playoff round against Philadelphia, and the two teams playing each other in the last game of season, making the game important in multiple ways.

The 4 p.m. match up will be a game that could possibly decide which team gets the home ice advantage and momentum going into the series, both things Pittsburgh would like in their favor.

For the Penguins to have any shot at advancing to the next round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs they must fix the cracks that have begun to show. Poor defense, giveaways and breakaways on the power play are just some of the problems the Penguins have faced in their last few games.

Pittsburgh needs to fix the issues before heading into the playoffs. The Flyers are a tough opponent, even when the team is playing at its finest. The Penguins need to focus on having a strong defensive game, making tape-to-tape passes and overall getting back to their style of hockey. It’s clear that when team is playing its system, they are almost unstoppable.

Regardless of the final score of Saturday’s game, this playoff series has the makings of being the best one of the first round.