Tag Archives: Penguins

Big ‘Ole Catch Up

image from itomsbykids.com

Well, it’s been quite a while since I got off my duff and wrote a post, and every team I follow had at least one game.  So to get on with things quickly, here are some thoughts I’ve had on each.

Steelers

Well, the hail mary pass to end the season was complete so to speak.  We won each of the last 3 games and held up our end of the bargain.  But, alas, the hole we dug was just a little bit too deep and there’s no one to look at but the man in the mirror.  When you lose to Oakland, Kansas City and Cleveland in the same season there’s no way you deserve to be in the postseason.  So the attention turns to just what went wrong and how do we move forward?

Well, what went wrong was fairly obvious.  You can blame the offense for their red zone failures this year, but we had a fourth quarter lead in almost every single game.  To me, its obvious that the finger should get pointed squarely at the defense.  Not just the defense, but the secondary.  I’ve said this in prior posts, but the biggest reason we lost so many games this year is that when we had a lead in the fourth quarter, teams were forced to throw on us and many of them had a lot of success.  Now, that’s not to say to say that the offense is blameless.  As previously mentioned, the red zone numbers for this team are ugly, and that doesn’t bode well for the future of the team.  I’d say that the main reason for this is the lack of a run game.  When you get in the red zone, there’s less room to work with, and it’s much easier for a team to cover you in a passing play.  I’ve said this as well in previous posts: the Steelers second biggest problem is the lack of balance in the offense.  Mendenhall has been pretty good, but we need to use him a lot more than we are.  And the only way we can do that is to get some 3 or 4 yard runs with consistency.  Right now its pretty much 20 yards or -2 yards.  That won’t work.

So what needs to be done in the offseason?  Well, first and foremost, we need to decide on which free agents to keep.  We have a lot of them: Ryan Clark, Casey Hampton, Brett Keisel, Justin Hartwig, Jeff Reed, Willie Colon and Willie Parker are the big ones.  Besides Willie Parker being an obvious release, you’ve got a lot of tough decisions.  Whomever is left will decide where we then go in the draft.  I’m not an expert on these kinds of things.  I haven’t the foggiest clue what the money or cap hit or anything will be.  I’ll leave that up to the Steelers.  What I will say is that for us to be a better team when we take the field next year, it will have to be a great effort by the front office.  We’re also going to have to revamp the secondary.  Not to be a pessimist, but things are not looking good for the Steelers as a franchise right now.

Pitt Basketball

Well, as opposed to the Steelers disappointment right now, the Pitt hoops team has been a very pleasant surprise.  DePaul at home was expected, but road wins against Syracuse and Cincinnati were big upsets and will look very nice come March.  All year I’ve been talking about how this team needs to keep improving and that has continued.  You see a lot less turnovers and the defensive lapses are becoming much more rare.  We’re also being much stronger with rebounds.  Those kinds of little things are what’s making this team play at a higher level (not to mention the return of some seniors).  Now, the big complaint I’ve had with this team is the interior scoring.  We’ve got no one who can post up.  Well you only saw it a little bit against Syracuse and Cincinnati, but Taylor and McGhee made a few moves down low.  They weren’t very good moves, and they didn’t score on any of them, but I’m encouraged that they’re trying.  Also, once again, I’m not talking about the wide open dunks and layups off rebounds.  I’m talking starting with your back to the basket and making a move.  They at least showed the potential so that maybe the guards will start backing off the perimeter a bit which will open things up for our backcourt.  I’d like to see them try some more.  Taylor especially has shown a lot of improvement.  He’s getting much stronger around the hoop, but he can still be even more aggressive.  Especially when he has the ball.  I haven’t seen any kind of hunger out of him yet.  When he shows some aggression down in the paint, he’ll be a phenomenal player.  I hear he’s on the verge of taking Gary McGhee in the depth chart.  I couldn’t agree more.  Especially because he’s got a much higher ceiling.  Gary’s just not a smart player at all, and he can’t seem to hold on to the ball.  I don’t see that changing at all.  He showed some flashes against some weaker opponents, but now that we’re picking on some teams that are our own size he’s disappeared again, and worse yet become a liability in a lot of cases.  Going into the season, I said that if Gary was a major contributor, we would be in trouble.  He’s done nothing to quell my fears.  If you look at the past two games, we’ve won because we can score a lot easier than we’ve been able to at any other point in the season.  That’s because we have multiple guards who can shoot and drive the lane.  Well, that’s fine.  But I’m scared of the time when more than one of them has an off night.  Or when a team doesn’t shoot 7% from beyond the arc like Syracuse.  But, overall, you have to be pleased with the progress of this team.  If we can continue this curve for the rest of the season we’ll be in fine shape.

Penguins

It’s been a big disappointment for the Penguins of late as well.  They tore off a 4 game losing streak complete with a pair of collapses and loses to inferior teams like Toronto, Tampa Bay and Florida.  The other loss was to New Jersey which is understandable.  I think it’s definitely reason to worry a bit, but you have to keep the long season in perspective.  The good news is that this is a long season, and just tonight we ended the losing streak against Atlanta.  The bad news is that it took the worst team in the NHL to break the streak and the style of the losses is troubling.  Besides the choke jobs, there are some other troubling patterns that are shaping up.  This team is getting smoked in the puck possession battle.  That’s because of two main reasons.  First of all, a lot of teams have noticed that we’re weak against the trapping defenses.  Now, the trap isn’t something you can implement overnight, but I’ve noticed a lot more pressure at the blue line in the past 5 games or so.  More troubling is that we’re still trying to dance into the zone and take too much on the individual.  We’re not learning.  It’s creating a lot of turnovers before we even get a chance to set up a play.  Second of all, and probably more troubling, we’re getting out-hustled.  I’m not sure if it’s just me, but it seems like we’re getting beat to loose pucks more now than we ever have before.  Just a lot of mental errors.  It’s very troubling, but it can be easily corrected.  Not by the coaching staff, but by individuals taking it upon themselves.  Maybe it’s just me that’s seeing this.  Maybe a lot of guys are looking forward to Vancouver,  but that’s got to stop.  But, like I said before, it’s a little 4 game stretch.  In the course of a season, that’s nothing.  It’s not time to panic yet.

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Pens 4 Avalanche 1

image from espn.com

Game Recap

Well, this one was a game where the stats didn’t nearly tell the story.  First of all, there was no way that this game should have ended with a 3 goal margin.  The Pens put in two empty netters at the end, but other than that this game was tight the whole way through.  Secondly, the shots don’t nearly tell the story in this one, either.  Pittsburgh out-shot the Avs 33-16 but it wasn’t nearly that bad.  The Pens threw a bunch of shots at the goal, but neither team could really get many quality looks.

The Avalanche played a really staunch defense.  All night we had trouble gaining the offensive zone and setting up plays.  All the credit in the world to them.  I think the one telling stat is the 13 giveaways by the Pens.  A lot more of those should have been takeaways because they were certainly forced a little bit.  Unfortunately for Colorado, they couldn’t turn their defense into much of an offense.  They made Fleury work about twice during the game, but other than that they didn’t apply much pressure at all on offense.  In fact, a vast majority of their time on offense was spend digging in the corners.

The long-term trends for the Pens are still holding true.  First, they are very physical and very good at finishing their checks.  We out-hit the Avalanche 38-28 tonight.  That’s a part of our game not many people are talking about yet.  Second, Sid continued his tear with 3 more points tonight.  I don’t know what got into him, but I hope it doesn’t leave.  Finally, our power play is terrible.  We did go 1 for 4 tonight, but for the majority of the night we could not get anything going at all.  We were even having trouble setting up a play for the first three power plays.  It was very discouraging to watch because we’re starting to get the full complement of players back, and it’s still not improving.  Oh, well.  As long as the wins keep coming all is well I guess.  Next up is Chicago coming to town on Saturday.  I think they’re bringing some guy named Hossa with them.  At least that’s what I hear.

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Pens Catch Up

image from espn.com

image from espn.com

Pens 5 Flyers 4

Pens 5 Maple Leafs 2

Pens 4 Senators 1

Well, it’s been too long since I’ve put up a Pens post, and I apologize.  But the good news is that in the mean time, we’ve started out the road trip 3-0.  The game in Philly was exactly what you expect out there: dirty.  I think the rivalry even took a new low this week.  Scott Hartnell bit Kris Letang.  It’s completely obvious to everyone, but there was no discipline handed down by the NHL.  I’m with Seth at the Empty Netters blog.  The NHL couldn’t hand down a punishment because they didn’t have video evidence.  However, I would expect some retribution the next time we play them.  As for the actual hockey, it was another sloppy game.  The trend of a lot of stupid penalties continued, and it’s gatta stop.  That’s a bad achilles heel to have.  But hey, it’s a win.  I love a win in Philly no matter how it comes.

The game against Toronto was a dominant performance.  We out-shot them, held the puck for long stretches of time, and just generally out-classed them.  The power play was cooking, too, going 3 for 5.  We looked like the dominant offensive team everyone thinks of us as.  There were a few dumb penalties, but I’ve seen it worse this season.  I guess saying “it could be worse” with 21 penalty minutes is a sad commentary.  But you can get away with that against the Maple Leafs.  It’s a shame what’s happening to Toronto.  For a city that loves the sport as much as Toronto to have a team like the Maple Leafs is sad.

We finished out the Ontario tour in Ottawa tonight with another dominant performance.  Or at least a dominant performance on the scoreboard.  The actual game was much much closer than that.  Ottawa kept missing with shots and squandering chances.  It seemed like the puck just bounced our way tonight.  Nowhere was that more evident than the goal that hit off a Senator defenseman and bounced just around the goalie’s glove and in.  I don’t think Kennedy could do that again with 1,000 shots.  The best news of the game?  Only 16 penalty minutes!  Woo hoo!  It’s even lower than that because a few of those came in a closing minutes fight.  Finally a ray of sunshine in that dark trend!  The only other problem I saw was that we had some pretty bad giveaways in the defensive zone.  But that’s not a trend as of yet.

This sure looks like a pretty good team so far.  We’ve shown some toughness in Philly, some finesse in Toronto, and some luck in Ottawa.  Jay McKee is a great pickup and a tremendous asset on defense.  Fleury looks dominant in goal.  Crosby is playing very very well (even by his standards).  Everyone is chipping in.  I think we may have some more big things in store for this team.  Hold on to your war bonnets! (that’s for you, Meg)

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Pens Double Dip

image from espn.com

image from espn.com

Pens 3 Rangers 2

Pens 4 Islanders 3 (SO)

Well, the Pens played back to back games on Friday and Saturday.  Since I didn’t get a chance to put up a post on the Friday game, I’ll knock them both out right now.  The NHL schedule is a bit condensed this year because of the Olympics, so this may not be the last time I do this.

Game one started out with a bang: the raising of the Stanley Cup Championship banner.  The Pens jumped out to a quick lead behind Geno before the Rangers tied it up.  Halfway through the game, we got a couple of quick strikes and held the Rangers off from there.  That makes 6 straight losses in the Burgh for the blueshirts.  We came out really physical as you can tell by the hits chart, and, unfortunately, the penalty minutes.  The difference in penalty minutes also contributed to the shot differential.  When it was even strength, the Pens had a slight advantage.  Not much, though.  I always make a rough estimate of puck possession time, and in my eyes it was pretty even.  The most amazing stat for the Penguins?  Just five turnovers.   That bodes well for the rest of the season.

Out on the Island, it was a little bit different story.  We again took the first goal, but gave the lead back.  This time John Taveras, the first overall pick in last years draft, put in the tiebreaker.  The Pens come back from a one goal deficit in the 3rd period, and won it in a shootout (behind a pretty move by Crosby no less).  We looked much better in this one, however.  We really controlled the puck a lot more than the first game, and were dominating the time of possession.  Penalties were a huge problem, though.  I hope that’s not a developing trend.

You have to love the fast start out of the gates, but these weren’t a pair of exceptional hockey teams.  I want to see us against a Philly or a Boston or a Washington before I make any broad statements.  But there are some developing trends: the penalties have to come down a bit.  We’re taking excellent care of the puck.  The more aggressive offense is still working as long as Fleury can continue to make saves.  Phoenix comes in on Wednesday, immediately followed by our first real test against the Flyers on Thursday.

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Drafting

image from congressofthesports.com

image from congressofthesports.com

Pittsburgh has interests in both the NBA draft last night and the NHL draft tonight.  To make life easier, I’m wrapping both of the recaps into one big post here.  I hope you don’t mind.

So last night was a major disappointment to Pitt fans everywhere.  Both DeJuan and Sam fell into the second round.  I don’t think anyone saw that one coming.  You have to imagine that no one feels worse than those two, however.  They lost out on millions of guaranteed dollars each.  The most common complaint I’ve heard from Pitt fans is that the NBA is looking too much into potential and not enough into actual results.  I kind of disagree.  I think being too willing to take a risk on potential is part of it, but I think this had more to do with the injury questions.  DeJuan and Sam are both talented enough to play.  I fully expect both of them to make rosters and play significant minutes.  But the teams that passed on them were thinking long term.  Yeah, they’ll probably give you at least a few good years, but if they can only play 4 or 5, you can’t sink millions of dollars into them.  That being said, I’m surprised that someone didn’t take a risk.  Both guys played in the most physical league in the college level for at least 2 years and flourished.  I think that if they didn’t get hurt playing 30 minutes of Big East basketball per game, they’re not going to get hurt by 10 or 20 minutes of the glorified pick-up games we call the NBA.  I guess to sum it up: passing on Sam and DeJuan was the conservative move.  I’m disappointed that just about every team chose that path.  I think the 2 teams that took a chance will be rewarded.  Remember, DeJuan plays his best when he feels disrespected.

I think the one silver lining, however, is that both guys will now get the chance to go to teams where they’re needed and will have a great shot to make the teams.  There are a few teams out there that are pretty much set down low, and would just bring one of them in to challenge a vet and keep them honest.  That’s not the case in San Antonio and Memphis.  Especially in San Antonio.  Tim Duncan is pretty much it down low, but he’s a heck of an it for DeJuan to learn under.  I look forward to watching both guys succeed on the next level, and I wish them both the best.

One final note before I move on to the NHL draft: the effect this has on the Pitt program.  The one knock on coach Dixon is that he’s never placed a first rounder.  The last Pitt player to go in the first round was Vonteego Cummings in 1999.  I remember watching him in a mostly empty Field House.  This was the year we were going to smash that reputation and get two in one year.  It would have been a great recruiting tool.  Now that Dixon’s streak of non-first rounders continues, you can bet that coaches recruiting against him will turn up the volume on that argument.  But just remember, Jamie has a great answer for that: look at where Sam and DeJuan were ranked coming out of high school.  No one expected Sam to ever get to the NBA.  DeJuan was a highly touted recruit, but the knees were still an issue and he never would have been drafted out of high school.  The fact remains that Jamie makes his players better, and that’s what my pitch would be if I were him.  He hasn’t had the highest rated recruits come in, but when he gets one (this fall, actually), look out.

Ok.  On to the NHL draft from earlier tonight.  The Pens had the 30th selection which took forever and a million years to get to, but when it finally came to their turn they took Simon Despres (a defenseman from Quebec).   Now, this may be a bit of a surprise to some, but I don’t actually follow the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League too much, so I had to do some research on what others are saying about him.  The quick analysis is that he fell hard.  He was supposed to go around 20, 25 at the latest, and we stole him at 30.  He’s a huge kid.  He’s supposedly got a good head on his shoulders.  He’s extremely strong and hard to take off the puck, and he’s a decent skater.  But this isn’t a DeJuan Blair situation where there’s an injury that’s scaring everyone away.  There’s a major flaw in Simon’s game that made a lot of teams pass on him: his decision-making skills.  From what I’ve read, he doesn’t play the body enough, and he gets caught out of position quite a bit.  So, I don’t know.  If the minor league coaches in our system can get him making plays, he’s got a shot.  I have a feeling, though, that decision making is a gift that you have or you don’t.  Hockey’s a fast game, and you have to quickly process information about where to be and what to do next.  Some guys can do it, some can’t.  But the front office must see something.  Maybe they think there are some bad habits that they can change.  Who knows?  We’ll see in a few years.

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Pens 2 Red Wings 1…..aaaaaand Championship!

image from postgazette.com

image from postgazette.com

Game Recap

Wow.  Euphoria is an understatement.  Hey, remember this commercial?

Oh, yeah.  The circle becomes complete.

So what in the world happened tonight?  How did we do the impossible and beat Detroit in their own barn?  Well, the way I see it, we did two things.

1) We capitalized on Detroit gifts.  The Wings were turning the puck over like a ’57 Chevy.  We were able to cash in on two of them, and that’s all we needed.

2) We flooded the inside on defense to limit the Red Wings cross ice passes.  A lot of the goals Fleury has given up this series have been rebounds and cross-ice passes that Marc-Andre can’t get to.  This time we forced them to hurt us from the outside, and it worked.

Everyone on the team played poorly last time we were in the Joe, and everyone played outstanding this time around.  A total team effort.  The Wings got their chances in this one, but no one can say the Pens didn’t deserve the win.  Best of all, you can’t claim Bettman gave the cup to the Pens.  Detroit was starting to get a serious case of Philly-itis.  By which I mean starting to blame losses on the theory that Gary Bettman is giving victories to the Pens so Sidney Crosby can win a cup and they can market the heck out of him.  Just look at this cartoon in the Detroit Free Press today:

image from freep.com

image from freep.com

That’s classy.  But with an advantage in penalties (3-2) in the deciding game, its hard to defend that theory.

So how about Max Talbot being the hero?  Now he really CAN call himself a superstar.  He’s been flying around like a maniac throughout these finals, and he’s been consistently pushing himself.  I have to say that I’m happy to see him get rewarded for his hard work.  He deserves this.

You’ve also got to tip your cap to Fleury.  I have no idea how he didn’t get to be one of the 3 stars of the game.  As I said before, the Pens forced to Wings to take some shots from distance.  When you do that, you put pressure on your goalie to make the save.  And Fleury made almost all of them (one hiccup can be excused, I guess).  He even made a game clincher with 1 second left that was all desperation.  I have to admit, were I in that situation, I probably would have been thinking about skating the trophy and not making the save and blown it.  But that’s why he’s an NHL goalie and I’m not.

So Pittsburgh gets its 3rd Stanley Cup trophy.  I think the 80’s Oilers comparisons will continue to roll in, which is a bit harsh.  They’ve won one trophy.  Let’s not claim this as the start of a dynasty quite yet.  But it’s still a great win for the players and the city.  Enjoy it.  On my way home tonight, I saw a lot of people doing just that.  A LOT of people.

…and for the record.  I had a huge grin on my face when they showed Hossa in the handshake line.

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Pens 2 Red Wings 1

image from freep.com

image from freep.com

Game Recap

That, um, face wash above (if you can call it that) comes from the Detroit Free Press.  The home town paper is putting up pictures like that?  That’s harsh.  But I’ll take it.  So we got a lot of luck today (payback for the first two games), and combined that with desperate hockey to get a win.  Textbook playoffs.

I explained how to attack the Detroit defense in the post after game 4.  It was working well, but we went away from it a bit in this game.  Tonight, we went for quantity over quality.  We were basically throwing as many pucks on net as we could and going for rebounds.  It carried the day tonight…..barely.  Usually I’m all for shooting as much as possible.  I’m a big fan of the saying ‘any shot on net is a good play’.  But Detroit is so good at clearing rebounds, and they cluster around the net so much, that I wonder if that’s the best attack.  I don’t know.  You can’t argue with success, but I have to admit I’m a bit worried.  I really do think that the consistent way to fill the net against Ozzy is to get him moving.

You have to admit that our desperation played a huge part in this game.  We were facing elimination and we played like it.  We were blocking shots left and right (though I’d like to see a few more diving blocks instead of trying to stand up against them), and we were diving after clearances trying to make a play.  Detroit, naturally, couldn’t match it.  In game 7, however, we’re on a level playing field.  The one consolation is that we’ve been banging them around all series.  Game 7 is where playing that style really pays off.

Ozgood stood on his head today.  Both goalies did, actually.  But Ozgood was tested way more often.  He made all the routine saves.  That’s his game.  He’s not athletic.  If you get him moving, he’s terrible.  I still maintain that he’s got some huge gaps in his game.  However, you won’t ever find him out of position and he’s very smart about when to be aggressive.  Fleury plays on the edge more, and saves himself with his athleticism a lot.  Who would I want more?  Well, being in solid position and knowing how to play smart is something you can learn.  Athleticism is not.  Fleury has a LOT of upside.  He showed that tonight.  That break away save on Cleary with a minute left?  Clutch.  We need that again on Friday.

Rob Scuderi had the game of his life.  He was johnny on the spot a couple of times.  First with 10 minutes left he clears a rebound that had goal written all over it if he loses the foot race to the puck.  Lindstrom is going to be seeing that one in his sleep.  After that he makes another heads up move (and a couple of saves) clogging up the crease.  Anyone else notice him trying to cover up the puck?  Smart move now that we’ve established that that’s legal now.  Scuds was just solid overall tonight.  He was winning the battles against the boards, he was hitting, he didn’t make too many errors.  Great game.

Finally, I’m going to do one last thing.  I’m not really into the cheap shots (I like to actually show some knowledge of the game), but I can’t pass this one up.  I’m going to miss one thing after the finals: Mike Babcock press conferences.

Mike Babcock:

The Sweedish Chef:

Man.  So THAT’s what happened to him!  I always wondered.  Jeez.

So that’s my one low blow for the series.  I’ll be more classy from now on.  I promise.  Game 7 on Friday night.  As they say: anything can happen in game 7.  Time to make history.

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