Monthly Archives: January 2010

Pens Catch-Up

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Pens 2 Flyers 1

Pens 4 Rangers 2

Pens 1 Senators 4

Big set of games here for the Pens with respect to their playoff position, and they get 4 out of a possible 6 points.  Not in the prettiest fashion ever, but it works.  Wins against Philly and the Rangers are great because they’re in the division.  A loss against Ottawa is excusable because they’re a buzz saw right now.  So, this is about as good as you could hope for.  With the Olympics right around the corner, the Pens are still in a really nice position.

Sunday was the first game against the Flyers, and it was a typical Flyers/Penguins game: 52 total penalty minutes and 3 goals.  In a game that relies on the special teams, Pens fans would be understandably nervous.  After all, our power play isn’t the best to ever roam the ice.  But, alas, the Pens scored 2 goals on 6 chances, and that proved to be the difference maker.  Philadelphia converted on 1 of 9 power plays.  The Pens have a very good penalty kill unit (one that doesn’t receive nearly the credit it deserves), but I think that has more to do with the Flyers awful power play than the Pens great penalty kill.  That was pretty much the game.  It was a constant stream of penalties, with every goal scored on the power play.  I have no idea how Philly fans watch that garbage every game.

The second game was a weird one.  The Pens went into Madison Square Garden to face a struggling Rangers team, and played well.  However, they just couldn’t get anything to go their way.  Going into the third period, the stats were equal and the score was tied at 1.  The break finally came for the Rangers when Artem Anisimov shoved a shot at Fleury that somehow squeaked between his skate and the post and rested right on the goal line.  The odds of that happening are slim, and the odds of the referee seeing it instead of losing sight and blowing the whistle are even greater, but that’s what happened.  The ref saw the whole thing, waited for Fleury to move which kicked the puck over the line, and called the goal.  It figured that when the refs finally got a call right, it would screw us.  Grrrrrr…  But, hey, that’s hockey.  I was about ready to say that luck was just on the Rangers side and it wasn’t our day when the Pens took luck into their own hands.  Malkin scored on a power play 30 seconds later, followed by Baby Pens call up Chris Conner putting his second goal of the game in a minute after that.  It was incredible.  Both were just quick sniper goals that showed just how much offensive power this team has when they’re on.  An empty netter later, and the Pens pulled 2 points out of an embarrassing loss.

The game on Thursday was to be expected.  Ottawa is red hot right now, and charging up the playoff seeding after a slow start.  The ice was kind of slanted when you watched the game, but the stat sheet was very even overall.  There were some stupid turnovers by the Penguins, but nothing too serious.  Malkin continued his resurgence with another goal, which was nice to see.  It was just a very well played hockey game overall, and the Sens just got lucky a couple of more times than the Pens.  It happens.  We’ve already being them earlier in the year, so it’s not a huge loss.  I didn’t really see anything to be overly concerned with here.  Just a bad day at the office.  We weren’t skating real well, and the Sens goalie, Brian Elliott, didn’t allow many rebounds at all.  He’s playing fantastic right now.  A chance for redemption is on Sunday against…..wait for it…..Detroit.  Mmmmmm…..I can’t wait.

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Pitt 63 St. John’s 53

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Game Recap

This was absolutely the tale of two halves.  In the first half, Pitt was resorting back to its bad habits of the Seton Hall game.  They were turning the ball over way too much, they were ice cold shooting, and they were being out-rebounded.  In the second half, the shots started to fall and the turnovers dried up, but the rebounding differential continued to grow.  I’m a little concerned about that, but I’ll take the win for now.

Pitt finished the first half 8 for 27 from the field.  The main thing keeping them in the game was the fact that St. John’s wasn’t doing much better (they were 11 for 28 in the first half).  The other thing keeping Pitt in the game was the fouls.  St. John’s was extremely aggressive defensively, and the referees were never afraid to use the whistles.  As a result, Pitt shot 24 free throws in the game and were able to make 21 of them.  I think a lot of the struggles from the field was because Pitt was forcing some shots.  Pitt had 5 assists on the 8 baskets in the first half.  They had 11 assists on 12 baskets in the second half when they heated up.  I think that stat is a great indicator of what happened.  In the first half, a lot of guys were shooting in a narrow window (as a defender was closing in on them).  It was just enough to throw off some shots by a bit.  When you get an assist, you generally have much more space in which to shoot.  It works.

Another thing that changed the luck of the Panthers was Ashton Gibbs warming up.  He was 2 for 7 in the first half.  That turned to 3 for 6 in the second, with most of the misses coming at the beginning of the period.  The difference was that he attempted 3 3-pointers in the first half, and only 1 in the second (at the beginning of the half).  He wasn’t feeling it from outside, so he started taking some 15 footers to get back in the groove.  I like that.  It’s smart.  He didn’t test out the outside shot again, but hopefully it will start to reappear again down in Tampa.

As I said before, the rebounding was a major concern for me in this game.  Pitt was out-rebounded 41-31 in this game.  It’s also the one thing that didn’t improve in the second half.  It grew from a 4 rebound Red Storm advantage at halftime to the eventual 10 rebound edge at the end.  It’s not hard to see where the problem was, either.  St. John’s was out-rebounding the Panthers 22-8 when Pitt was on offense.  That’s about average.  I’ll take that.  But when St. John’s was on offense, Pitt only out-rebounded them 23-19 and it was just about even all game.  You can’t be at a 50/50 split with rebounds when you’re on defense.  That’s way too many second chance opportunities and extra possessions.  And St. John’s made the Panthers pay with 17 second chance points (and it could have been much worse).  So what was the problem?  Well, it was two fold.  First of all, St. John’s was terrible at making bunny lay-ups all game.  They would make a great move to get to the basket, and then throw the ball off the glass to the other side of the court.  It wasn’t even close most of the time.  Pitt, consequently after going for the block instead of the rebound, was not in position for the board.  When you go for a block, it’s very difficult to get a rebound.  When 3 guys go for a block, you almost concede an offensive board.  There has to be some guys that just put a hand in the face and then turn around and box the guy out.  The second thing that hurt Pitt was St. John’s length.  They got a hand in on a lot of rebounds and just poked it loose until they could come up with it.  The solution is easy: grab rebounds with 2 hands and the other guy can’t poke it away.  We were going for way too many one handed rebounds in the first half, but towards the end of the game I saw a lot of strong rebounds.  I think Jamie mentioned that one during the game.  The rebounding problem should be an easy fix, but judging by the fact that its been going on for a while, it may take a while for the instruction of the coaching staff to click.

Overall, it wasn’t Pitt’s best game ever by a long shot.  But a win is a win.  Especially in this conference.  I saw a lot of improvements in the second half, and I hope they continue on through the next couple of games.  South Florida is up next on Sunday.  This is one where you have to take care of business.  Easier said then done, however, as you just saw tonight (Seton Hall just went down in the Sun Dome).  I’ll be anxious to see how the guys do.

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Pitt 61 Seton Hall 64

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Game Recap

Ouch.  This one stung.  This was the first game of the year that we lost where it was widely expected that we’d win.  I mean Indiana wasn’t a good team, but we were still in our young, inexperienced, two great players not playing stage.  And everyone realizes that Georgetown and Texas are great teams.  But I think it was universally expected that Pitt would beat Seton Hall.  I think some people who knew what they were doing were saying that this could be a trap game.  The Pirates have one of the best offenses in the conference.  But they also have one of the worst defenses.  I’ll admit I expected us to score in the 70’s and win.  So what happened?

Well, lets examine Pitt’s defense vs. Seton Hall’s offense first.  As I mentioned, the Pirates have a fantastic offense.  They’ve got a ton of guys who can shoot, they’re very very athletic, they’re deceptively experienced (most of the team are transfers), and they were hot coming off a defeat of Louisville.  Things were going our way out of the gate with Seton Hall’s best offensive threat, Jeremy Hazell, in almost immediate foul trouble.  He ended up with 9 points.  So he wasn’t it.  When you really look at the score sheet, one thing pops out at you: Seton Hall’s frontcourt scoring.  The guards combined for 27 points.  The forwards had 37 (with one less player contributing).  Worse yet, the starting forward combo of Herb Pope and Jeff Robinson had 34 of those 37 points.  So it seems like we identified the problem.  The troubling thing is that most of those were fairly easy buckets.  The frontcourt of Seton Hall was much faster/quicker/more athletic than Dante Taylor and Gary McGhee.  They used it to their advantage beautifully.  The really annoying thing was that we weren’t leveraging the size advantage we had in response.  Gary and Dante combined for 5 rebounds.  For one of them that’s bad.  For both of them, that’s inexcusable.  Especially against a team that’s not too great on the boards.  They also combined for just 6 points (all of them Gary’s).  If you’re so much bigger and stronger than the opponent, you have to post them up and rebound over them.  We got neither from our frontcourt.  But, still, the Pirates only had 64 points.  That’s not insurmountable by any means.  What happened at the other end?

Well, the lack of frontcourt scoring was a big detriment, but the biggest reason we lost was absolutely the turnover margin.  We ended the game with 20 turnovers (14 in the first half).  And it was very counter to Seton Hall’s season average (they’re only averaging a little over 10 a game).  You’re not going to win many games that way, especially when you only forced 10 at the other end.  Our shooting wasn’t great (35.3%), but it was good enough to win.  Because of the turnovers, we had 5 less shots than Seton Hall.  It was the difference in the game.  The only thing really keeping us in the game was the foul differential.  We shot 9 more free throws than the Pirates thanks to a couple of technical fouls.  We shot very well from the line and took the gifts.  That was one of the few bright spots.  Ashton lead the way with 23 points, but 15 of them came from a perfect day from the charity stripe.  He continues to be icy cold from the field.  I think defenders are clueing into the fact that he’s a good shooter and he’s hearing footsteps.  When he does have a bit of a window to shoot (which is rare), it’s usually very tiny.  Hopefully, this slump of his will get defenders to back off a bit and he can heat back up.

It was just a frustrating day, overall.  We played poorly.  We made a lot of mistakes.  We should have beaten this team.  But that’s the good news.  Seton Hall was not better than us.  There are some matchup problems there, but we killed ourselves more than they killed us.  That’s a positive message moving forward.  It’s also something to keep in mind when they make the return trip in a week and a half.

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Pens 3 Capitals 6

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Game Recap

This one was a lot like the Pitt/Georgetown game last night.  Both featured teams from Pittsburgh and DC that are at the pinnacle of their sport.  Both games spent about 2/3rds of the contest in a tight battle being played at a very high level.  Both games saw the Pittsburgh team loose focus for a minute and not be able to come back.  The Pens and Caps were tied 3-3 after 2 periods, but the Capitals put in two goals at the beginning of the 3rd, and played defense until the horn blew.  Both teams played a fantastic games overall.  It’s just something you have to be thankful you got to witness, and then move on.  A lot was being made of this game because of the budding rivalry and whatnot.  I just didn’t see it.  It’s just another regular season game.  Yeah, it stinks to lose to the Caps.  It stinks to lose to anyone.  But this game was never the Pens goal.  That has always been to give some company to those Championship banners in the rafters (I think Ovechkin is pointing at them in that picture above.  I guess he doesn’t quite know what they are yet), and this game had little impact on that goal.

If you really cared about the star matchup, however, you weren’t disappointed.  Ovie had a pair of goals.  Crosby had one for himself, and Malkin had 3 assists.  Once again, I’m not sold on whole points race thing.  Yeah, I’m sure the guys are competitive about it and want to win, but once again it has nothing to do with the ultimate goal.  I’m sure Ovechkin would trade his scoring title last year for Sid’s Stanley Cup ring in a heartbeat.  But I guess it’s still a little fun to root for your guy in the good vs. evil battle.

Overall, I think we played well.  I’d even venture to say that we out-played the Caps for most of the game.  The difference is the 5 minutes in the third period where we blinked.  That’s all.  You can’t let up for a second against a good team like the Capitals, and we made that mistake.  It happens.  Next up is the Flyers on Sunday.  Yet another rivalry game.  They’re always fun.  But, still relatively meaningless in the regular season.  So we’ll see.  Philly’s really been turning their season around lately.  I’d love to stomp on their progress a bit.

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Pitt 66 Georgetown 74

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Game Recap

This was a fantastic game for about 32 minutes that was played at an extremely high level.  All that happened is that Pitt blinked first.  It happens.  We were kind of playing with house money at this point, anyway.  Look at it this way: we don’t have to play Georgetown, Louisville, Syracuse, UConn or Cincinnati again this year, and we only have one conference loss.  The rest of the schedule is much easier (well, relatively easier considering it’s still the Big East).  So I wouldn’t get down.  Georgetown is a good team, and Pitt was able to play with them.

The whole game came down to 4 minutes in the second half.  At 7:48, Jermaine Dixon had just hit a 3 pointer to put Pitt up by 2.  Both teams were shooting the lights out and playing ferocious defense.  The zoo was really getting behind the team.  It was basically a coin flip, but I liked our chances.  At that point if it got to a free throw contest you had to favor Pitt.  Then we just inexplicably went cold.  We went scoreless over the next 4 minutes or so.  In that time, we went 0-2 shooting (0-3 counting missing the front end of a one and one), had 2 turnovers, 2 fouls and most importantly were out-rebounded 5-2.  That two point lead turned into a 7 point Georgetown lead.  Down 7 with 3 and a half minutes left, we had to take some gambles, and you’re not going to hit the lottery twice in one week.  Even when Gil Brown broke the scoreless streak with a pair of free throws, we still struggled to shoot.  Over the last 3:30, we were 4 of 11 from the field.  I’m not sure why we cooled off, though.  Maybe it was that it was late in the game and our lets got a little wobbly.  Who knows.

The reason we were shooting the lights out and still only just keeping up with the Hoyas through the first 30 minutes was that their size was really giving us problems.  Monroe and Vaughn combined for 16 rebounds and 24 points.  Gary did very well defensively, but Dante looked overmatched at points.  And when Monroe had Gilbert or Nasir guarding him, he went straight to the post and abused them.  The big thing for Georgetown, however, was the outside shooting.  They were 7 for 10 on the day, and they were fairly contested shots.  When someone does that to you, you just have to tip your cap and move on.  I mean, all in all, it just wasn’t our day.  We went cold.  Georgetown was hot.  It happens.  I’m ready to move on.  Some random thoughts:

  • I thought for sure that Georgetown’s depth would come into play here.  Their 5 starters usually play about 3/4 of the game.  That was absolutely the case in this one (with the exception of Austin Freeman who was in foul trouble).  I kept waiting for them to wear down and they didn’t.  Kudos to them for being well conditioned.
  • Ashton Gibbs had a game he would like to forget.  He went 3 for 16 from the field.  It happens.  I just hope this doesn’t mess with his mind too much.
  • Gary played very well again in the post.  We wasn’t able to post up on Georgetown’s big men which would have been a huge help, but I’ve basically given up on that thought.  He was very good defensively, and put in 7 points on offense.  That’s better than nothing.
  • Some calls didn’t go our way at the end, but that’s not why we lost.  We lost because our shooting went cold.  I’ll admit that its very frustrating when the toss-ups stop going your way in critical situations, however.
  • Chris Wright killed us.  Now, Samardo Samuels almost killed us on Saturday, but that was because of a matchup problem.  Chris Wright was matched against our best defender (Jermaine Dixon) most of the game and still put up 27 points.  He was very quick cutting to the basket, and was 3-3 from beyond the arc.  Once again, all you can do is tip your hat to a great performance and hope you meet him again.  I don’t think he would be able to have a repeat performance.
  • I bet a lot of people will make a big deal about the 8 game win streak and 31 game home win streaks coming to an end.  Don’t be fooled.  That stuff doesn’t matter.  It’s just a good story line.  What matters is getting into the tournament.  The committee cares who you beat, not how long of a win streak you were able to put together.
  • Seton Hall is up next.  We’ve got a bunch of guys from Jersey on the team.  Hopefully going home gives them some motivation (I’m looking at you, Ashton).

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Pens 6 Islanders 4

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Game Recap

Man, what a weird hockey game.  I mean, this had a little bit of everything in it.  A penalty shot (seen above), a hit that will most likely get a suspension, a hat trick, a rare goalie penalty, and a blown lead and recovery just to name a few.  I mean, what more could you ask for?  Geez.

First and foremost, this was a game to get some monkeys off of the Penguins back.  Malkin broke his scoreless streak with a freak goal in Vancouver.  I was kind of hoping that seeing the puck go into the net would maybe start something for him, and boy did it.  He came out and scored a hat trick tonight.  More than that, he scored his usual type of goals: sniping on the power play.  It was a great sign.  Speaking of the power play, that also kicked itself out of a funk tonight going 4 for 7 on the night.  That was probably the best sight.

We did give up a big lead, however.  We stockpiled a 4-1 lead in the second period, and somehow let it slip back to a tie game in the third.  I’m not sure exactly what happened.  The Islanders definitely turned up the intensity, and we couldn’t match it.  But we did eventually hit our stride with Malkin’s second goal and the game was over from there.  That’s a little bit worrisome, but with the backup in net (Fleury has a broken finger), it’s understandable.

The big news after the game is the hit on Pascal Dupuis.  I haven’t been able to find a video of it, but the basic gist of it is this: Dupuis was behind the net protecting the puck and waiting to make a pass.  Andy Sutton winds up and hits him as hard as he can.  Dupuis’ face slams into the corner of the boards and he’s bleeding pretty hard and seeing birdies for a while.  It’s a boarding penalty that was especially bad because it was unnecessarily hard.  It’s happened before, and the standard punishment has been 2 games.  However, I thought for sure Gonchar would be suspended for his hit against the Wild and was not, so you just never know with the NHL.  You can see a replay of the hit in the game recap I link to up top and make your own decision.

That’s about it.  Crazy game, but maybe it can be a springboard towards getting things on the right track.  If we can get the power play and Malkin working again, we’ll be a very dangerous team with or without Fleury.

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Pens 2 Western Canada 1

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Pens 3 Flames 1

Pens 3 Oilers 2

Pens 2 Canucks 6

Well, there’s only one way to describe this swing through western Canada: bi-polar.  The Pens entered the three games coming off a ‘taking care of business’ win in Toronto and an awful game in Minnesota.  Fleury continued his up and down play by following up one of his worst games against the Wild with one of his best against Calgary.  He played well enough to win in Edmonton, and was out in Vancouver (until it got out of hand).  But I just don’t understand where these lapses are coming from.  Some people seem to think it may be because he’s thinking too much about the next time he’ll be in Vancouver.  Others seem to think that he’s lost motivation after winning a cup.  I have no idea, but something is going on between his ears that’s taking away his consistency, and I’d love to know what it is.

Calgary was a classic game where Fleury stole it for us.  He faced 38 shots and stopped 37 of them.  The ice was heavily slanted in the Flames favor all night (we only got 27 shots ourselves).  We just continued the bad play from St. Paul.  I have no idea why.  The good news from this game is that the power play woke up a bit.  We actually went 1 for 5 in this game as opposed to 0 for 6 in Minnesota.  I know, I know.  Baby steps.  The only other notable thing in this game was how Sid continued his hot streak, putting in yet another goal.  Maybe he was just trying to impress the young lady in the crowd seen above.  Can we put her on the payroll?

We started out the game in Edmonton the same flat way as Calgary and Minnesota.  I think with the late night (stupid west coast games starting at 9:30) and the Pens down 2-0, a lot of Pittsburgh fans turned the game off.  It could have been much worse if Edmonton wasn’t such a bad team themselves.  You know how pitiful this game was?  There was 7 total shots by both teams in the first period (4 for Edmonton and 3 for the Pens).  I didn’t realize that that was possible.  I mean, with all the talent on our roster we should have one guy with 7 shots in a period.  Wow.  It wasn’t until Tyler Kennedy scored a few minutes into the 3rd period that we woke up.  The Pens scored 3 times in 7 minutes and came back to win, shoving it in the face of all those whose bedtime is 11:30 or so.

I was kind of hopeful that the momentum from the Oilers game would carry over into the Vancouver game, but unfortunately we ran into a brick wall.  That brick wall being our backup goaltender, John Curry.  Now, to be fair, Curry is a recent call up from the Baby Pens, and he’s only played in 3 career NHL games.  But, he just played awful.  Really really awful.  He let in 5 goals in 14 shots, and some of them were such bunnies that he would have benched even if he were still in Wilkes Barre.  It was so bad that it didn’t really matter how well the position players played, we just weren’t going to win that game.  Period.  The one bright spot is that Evgeni Malkin broke his streak without a goal.  He didn’t try to.  The puck just kind of bounced off his skate after a bad pass.  But I’m sure he’ll take it.  It goes to show what happens when you go to the net.  I’m just a little disappointed that he has to wait until Tuesday to try to build on that.

Overall, it was a miserable trip.  We were out-played for most of it.  We got some good and some bad goaltending.  The power play is still a mess, though we did try some new line combinations.  But there were some bright spots: Malkin broke his scoreless streak…..kinda.  Sid found some new people to give restraining orders to.  Fleury did have a good game in Calgary.  So, when all is said and done, getting 4 of 6 points out of this swing is not too bad.  It could have been much worse.  The Islanders are in town on Tuesday.  We’re not in bad shape in the conference standings, but it would be nice to get some things back working again against a bad team if we could.

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