Archive for the ‘Game Preview’ Category

After a booming start to the season against the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers, the Pittsburgh Penguins looked to have returned to their old form of the Stanley Cup years of recent times. But a few days later it became apparent that the team still had a long way to go.Consol_Energy_Center--indoors

The Toronto game, Jan. 23, left fans stunned as the Maple Leafs crushed the team and the fan’s enthusiasm about the 2-0 start. Thinking the team would rebound two days later in Winnipeg seemed silly as the team’s defense, goaltending and scoring failed to make an appearance.

Everyone has placed such a high importance in starting the short season off well, unlike the Capitals, who earned their first win against the Sabres Sunday, or the Flyers, though….I’m sure many a fan were happy about their start to the season. So when the Penguins dropped to 2-2 on the season, the scrambling began. Talks of trades and sending down players to the minors became prevalent on social media.

But when Sunday’s game against Ottawa came around the fans were treated to exciting, sit-on-the-edge-of-your-seat hockey. Different from the past two games, the defense showed up. Fleury played better against Ottawa than he had in the past, including some remarkable saves in the shootout.

Matt_Niskanen_2_2012-03-11Even though he seemed to be a little off during the game, Evgeni Malkin took it to Craig Anderson and scored the game-winning goal. The question remains, what will happen when the Penguins take the ice against the Isles? Will the Penguins of a week ago with a lacking defense show up? Or will the goaltending and defense stand strong as they did against Ottawa?

The Penguins have to keep their defensive efforts at a maximum, especially if their scoring continues to struggle. The team needs to gel and get back to the well-oiled machine seen last year.

One issue that might affect the Penguins immensely is the loss of Matt Niskanen. Though the organization said the lower-body injury isn’t serious and he’ll only be out two-four weeks, Nisky’s presence on the ice is important. The Penguins went through defensive roulette last season when injuries plagued the blue line. Only five games in, the team already finds itself with one sidelined. It’s imperative the defense stay healthy during this short season.

The Penguins performance against the Islanders will be the first indicator if the loss of the first Penguins player to injury will have an impact on the team.

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While the Eastern Conference teams continue to battle for spots in the conference final, the Western teams prepare for their matchup.

The LA Kings made a clean sweep of the St. Louis Blues to earn their spot, while the Phoenix Coyotes took the series against Nashville 4-1. This conference final brings together two teams that many didn’t expect to see battling for a place in the Cup Final.

In LA’s first two rounds they faced defending west champ the Vancouver Canucks, who played a pathetic series but fought back to hold back elimination. The second featured the Blues, who couldn’t seem to figure out the Kings’ system while they didn’t give themselves a chance to win. The Kings will be the most-rested team going into the conference finals, which can be either a good or bad thing. But to go head-to-head against the Coyotes who are tearing up their opponents, they will need all the rest they can get.

The Coyotes have been a part of one of the most entertaining first round series, controversy and now have knocked off one of the picks to hoist the Stanley Cup. The Phoenix-Chicago series featured five overtime games before the Coyotes blew out the Blackhawks’ hopes of hoisting a cup with a 4-0 win. During that series the most-controversial hit of the playoffs was made by Raffi Torres against Marian Hossa, a hit that led the league to suspend Torres for 25 games, a suspension he would later repeal.

Knocking off the Western team favored to win the Stanley Cup in five games gained Phoenix some well-deserved notice. A matchup between these two teams will be interesting to watch as they both were off of many people’s radar for making it this far.

With as unpredictable as these playoffs have been, it’s hard to say who will and why. The Pittsburgh meltdown, elimination of cup favorites and controversy over hits, this post season has been one for the books.

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.

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.