Monthly Archives: February, 2007

Pens vs. Devils: 27 Feb 2007

It's been a while since we've had a stone-handed, lead-stick, every-pass-is-a-bad-one night. We were due.

It was a goaltenders duel: Marc-Andre Fleury vs. Martin Brodeur. Fleury gave up a power-play goal to Jamie Langenbrunner in the first minute of the 2nd period.

Not much else to say, really.

Final Score: Devils 1, Pens 0, number of times I yelled "Control the puck!": 7.

Three Stars:

  1. Martin Brodeur (31 save shutout, 12th shutout of the season)
  2. Jamie Langenbrunner (1G)
  3. Marc-Andre Fleury (24 of 25)

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NHL GM’s play 52 Pick-Up!

First, for the home team:

  • Clearly, Penguins GM Ray Shero isn't as enamored of Noah Welch as Craig Patrick was. Welch seemed to stall in his development this year, mostly because of his lack of speed. He was the rumored prospect sent to Florida for winger Gary Roberts. This developed yesterday, so the only mystery today was Welch's identity.
  • Now for the trades we didn't see coming, and we start with two words: Georges #@&% Laraque, acquired from Phoenix for AHL heavy Daniel Carcillo and a 3rd round pick in 2008. Since I'm a) American and b) gainfully employed, I couldn't watch TSN TradeCentre. I had to settle for Jay Onrait's liveblog. I agree with Pierre McGuire: I wouldn't want to be Colton Orr on Thursday. (Well, I wouldn't want to be Colton Orr ever, but especially on Thursday.) Really, we didn't see this coming because we wrote off the rumor weeks ago. This has been in the works for a while, but Phoenix wanted too much before.
  • Meanwhile, the Penguins' improved penalty killing this season made PK-specialist Dominic Moore mostly redundant. He was traded to the Minnesota Wild for a 3rd round pick in 2007. He'll fit in well with the Wild's NyQuil-on-ice defensive system.
  • After the official deadline, we picked up another Panther: defenseman Joel Kwiatkowski for a 4th round pick in 2007.
  • We shored up the Baby Pens' goaltending by trading a 2007 7th round pick to San Jose for Nolan Schaefer.

As for the rest…

  • John Davidson looks like a genius right now. He traded Keith Tkachuk to Atlanta over the weekend, for Glen Metropolit and 3 draft picks. If Atlanta re-signs Tkachuk, St. Louis gets another 1st round pick. Today, he traded Bill Guerin to San Jose for Ville "Mouth Of Sauron" Nieminen, the rights to college prospect Jay Barriball, and a 1st round pick in 2007. In both trades, there's a very good chance that Davidson can sign back Tkachuk and Guerin, making this the rent-a-player deal of the century.
  • Edmonton, on the other hand, will not win another Stanley Cup for 87 years, for they have Cursed themselves. In the "astonishingly evil trade" sense of the word, not the "Ryan Smyth is as good as Babe Ruth" sense. Smyth was the heart and soul of the Oilers, and he was just traded to the Islanders for Robert Nilson, Ryan O'Marra, and a 1st round pick in 2007. Yeah, I said "Who?" too. ESPN's Barry Melrose is comparing this trade to the Yankees trading Derek Jeter.
  • The Sabres made a rather interesting move. Goalie Martin Biron was in his walk-away year, so it's not a surprise that he was traded. He landed in Philly, where he'll displace either Robert Esche or Antero Niittymaki. What has western New York reaching for the Maalox is the new backup: Ty Conklin, who was one of a mess of bad goalies behind Fredrik Norrena in Columbus. No pressure, Ryan Miller.

Quick hits:

  • Rumor has it that Aaron Ward was traded to Boston because he almost got in a locker room fight with Jaromir Jagr.
  • Does anyone think Todd Bertuzzi's back will allow him to make a difference for the Red Wings?
  • Phoenix and Washington made the most obvious retooling trades.
  • The up-and-down career of Mattias Norstrom is down again, as he was traded from LA to Dallas.
  • Whoever builds the first hockey-name-compliant spell checker will make a fortune.

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Audi understands Kirchoff’s loop rules better than I do.

Got the car back last Friday. The fuel injector in cylinder 2 was fouled, so they replaced that, and I had 3 bad ignition coils. Coil-on-spark ignition is a good thing for efficiency, but it doesn't do much for reliability when the coils are wired in series. Once one coil goes, all of the coils that follow it on the circuit will fail soon after. Limping the car to the shop probably didn't help things.

By now, I've lost all faith in the Volkswagen Group to produce a car with a reliable electrical system. I've had 5 bulbs fail in the taillights, a faulty fuel pump that reported as an electrical failure, these ignition coils, and one incident when changing radio stations caused the sunroof to spontaneously open. If you have a joke about '70s British cars, feel free to substitute VW at any time.

If Infiniti built a G35x wagon, I'd have one by now.

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Pens vs. Capitals: 18 Feb 2007

10 points between 4th and 11th in the East. 2 points between 1st and 3rd in the Southeast. Detroit and Nashville are neck-and-neck in the Central. 3 points between 1st and 3rd in the Northwest. Pittsburgh has pulled within 5 of New Jersey in the Atlantic. All you sports columnists who think it's cool to ignore the NHL until playoff time, get off your asses. The playoffs have already started!

Even teams that are a long way from the 8th seed, like Washington, are playing with playoff intensity, and we haven't even reached the trading deadline. Yesterday afternoon, the Pens and Caps played an aggressive, tight-checking game from beginning to end.

With a 1:00pm matinée at the Islanders today, Coach Therrien decided that yesterday would be his best opportunity to give Marc-Andre Fleury a rest, so Jocelyn Thibault got the nod.

It didn't take long for the Pens' power play to take advantage. Mark Recchi redirected a Sergei Gonchar slapshot from the center point to make it a 1-0 game after six minutes. Richard Zednik came back a minute later, getting the last touch on a pinball from above the left circle. Tied at 1's. The rest of the first was a lot of good defense, a nice series of saves by Thibault, and Alexander Ovechkin and Erik Christensen escalating the chippiness for a moment.

The Zamboni doors almost benefited the Pens in the second, when a dump-in clanked off the glass behind Brent Johnson, skipped off the crossbar, hit Johnson's shoulder pads, and jumped straight up in the air, where Johnson was able to glove it.

It looked like a stalemate until 18:44, when Michel Ouellet dumped a pass behind the net, where Evgeni Malkin picked it up, skated to the right circle, passed it back to Gonchar at the point. Gonchar quickly looked the scene over, couldn't find a shooting lane, and passed it back to Malkin, who was in that narrow strip of ice between the bottom of the face-off circle and the goal line. The odds of finding the inside of the net from such a sharp angle are slim to none. Never tell Evgeni Malkin the odds. Geno one-timed the pass, and Johnson totally mis-read the play, dropping into the butterfly on a rising shot when he should have stayed up and hugged the post. Over the shoulder, just inside the top left corner, nothing but net. 2-1 Pens. Malkin hijacks the Crosby vs. Ovechkin hype plane, and forces it to land in Havana.

The Pens got a much-needed insurance goal early in the third, on a wrist shot by Maxime Talbot. It looked like the Caps were going to collect when Alexander Semin was awarded a penalty shot. Thibault whiffed on an attempted poke-check, and was hung out to dry, but Semin's wrister clanked harmlessly off the crossbar. Semin got a small measure of revenge, rebounding a Matt Pettinger shot with the goalie pulled, but it was too little, too late.

Final Score: Penguins 3, Capitals 2, Ovie's score line: 0G, 0A, 0 PIM, -1.

Three Stars:

  1. Evgeni Malkin
  2. Sergei Gonchar
  3. Alexander Semin

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Pens vs. Blackhawks: 14 Feb 2007

Ah, Valentine's Day. Romance is in the air, and Nikolai Khabibulin is in goal.

For any team, a big part of a long winning streak is pulling out a win when you're not at the top of your game. That's the situation the Pens found themselves in tonight. They just seemed to be a half-step behind Chicago for most of the game.

Not that the 'Hawks needed much hustle for their first goal. All they needed was a funny bounce off the Zamboni doors behind Marc-Andre Fleury, and Craig MacDonald on the spot. A dump-in becomes a shorthanded goal, and Fleury wishes for the umpteenth time that the Pens would shoot at that end twice.

Chicago's lead wouldn't last long. Two minutes later, Ronald Petrovicky took a pass in the high slot, waited for the screen from Jarkko Ruutu, and punched a half-slapper behind Khabibulin. Tied at 1's.

The second was more of the same: Chicago finding out that playing full-speed against a Pittsburgh team playing 9/10 is really an even match-up. But it's not really even when your goalie is giving up soft goals. First, during a penalty kill, Max Talbot picks up a loose puck at the point, with room to skate. He streaked through the neutral zone, swung wide right, cut around a Blackhawk at the goal line, skated to the front of the net, and found Khabibulin in a most unladylike position. Five-hole, short-handed, 2-1 Pens. With about five minutes left, Erik Christensen chipped a pass to Michel Ouellet, who ripped a wrist shot from the top of the right circle over Khabibulin's shoulder. 3-1 Pens.

Then the Pens' recent habit of giving up leads reared its ugly head. Patrick Sharp hung Fleury out to dry with under 2:00 left in the second to close to 3-2. Early in the third, Martin St. Pierre collected a rebound for a power play goal, and we're tied at 3's. Then the refs, who I found out in the post-game show were last minute substitutes, pretty much jobbed the Pens. As Denis Arkhipov was skating to the boards for a line change, Tuomo Ruutu (Jarkko's little brother) jumped on waaaaaay too early, took a pass from Martin Lapointe, and beat Fleury. 4-3 'Hawks, Michel Therrien is standing on top of the bench, screaming for a referee's attention, but they were too busy being screamed at by Sidney Crosby and Brooks Orpik.

Evgeni Malkin to the rescue! 1:10 after Ruutu's goal, Sid was stopped by Khabibulin, but Malkin poked the rebound in to tie it at 4's.

Overtime should have ended 15 seconds in. Martin Havlat took a cross-slot pass and chipped it into what looked like an open net. Fleury kicked his left skate out and stopped the puck, then sprawled out to cover it with his glove. Then overtime should have ended with 15 seconds left. Sidney Crosby was absolutely possessed on the Pens' last rush, fighting off defenders and driving the net over and over again. Chicago was saved by the bell, forcing the shootout.

  • Christensen rang a wrist shot off the post and in. 1-0 Pens.
  • Fleury gloved Havlat's backhand attempt. 1-0 Pens.
  • Crosby finally scored in Philly with the old "grip it and rip it" technique. Khabibulin must have read the scouting report, and gloved it. 1-0 Pens.
  • Bryan Smolinski decided that Havlat's move should have been foolproof, and tried it himself. Fleury wasn't fooled. 1-0 Pens.
  • Malkin not only undressed Khabibulin, he had enough time to wash the uniform and hang it out on the line before sliding the backhand in. 2-0 Pens.

And thus, once again, the Penguins find a way to win.

I also found out from the post-game show why Alain Nasreddine was a scratch tonight: His son Alec was born today. 6 pounds, 6 ounces. How's that for a sign? Congratulations Ma and Pa Nasreddine!

Final Score: Penguins 5, Blackhawks 4 (Pens win shootout 2-0), tonight's attendance in all that snow and ice on the roads: 17,051!

Three Stars:

  1. Evgeni Malkin (1G, 1SOG)
  2. Max Talbot (1G)
  3. Tuomo Ruutu (1G, 1 blown too many men on the ice call)

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Great time to have all-wheel drive…

..just as my all-wheel drive car dies.

Sunday night, I remembered that I had to be in early Monday morning, so I set out to get gas. One mile from home, I get a blinking Check Engine light and what felt like a non-firing cylinder. I limp it back home, and limp it down to a local shop Monday morning. (Dumb, I know.) Since my parents already had plans for the day, and work was otherwise slow, I called off and rescheduled that meeting. The shop checked in later to tell me that a) he couldn't get the car to start at all, and b) he didn't have the right scan tool for Audi, so he was doing things the old fashioned way.

Long story short, he's stumped, I'll have to tow it to the dealer, but I can't get a hauler because THE WEATHER HAS GONE TO SHIT!

So I'm cruising the treacherous streets of Pittsburgh in Mom's old front-wheel drive barge of a LeSabre. And, of course, the local TV news is treating this like an ice-slicked auto armageddon, so as not to affect the ratings. I hate to tell them this, but their own radio affiliate isn't on message: the roads aren't that bad.

You think this is keeping me from the game tonight? Hell, no! I'm posting from my phone, in my seat, ten minutes from face-off. Me and the die-hards, baby.

See ya after the game.

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Pens vs. Predators: 6 Feb 2007

If you saw this game on the schedule back in October, you probably thought it would be one of those marginally interesting inter-conference games that are like speed bumps in the quickening playoff race. A good Central division team that couldn't get over the Detroit hump against a young Penguins squad that would be, hopefully, within reach of the 8th seed in the East.

Fast forward to game day. The Nashville Predators, with a 37-14-3 record, are atop the NHL. The Pittsburgh Penguins are quickly climbing the Eastern conference standings, holding the 6th seed on the strength of an 8-0-2 run. Instead of a snoozer, we got an opportunity to see just how good the Penguins really are.

The Penguins had the territorial and shot-on-goal advantage (10-5) in the first period, but couldn't solve Chris Mason. Things started to look bad when, late in the period, Scott Nichol, unmarked on top of the crease, deflected a Sheldon Brookbank slapshot over Marc-Andre Fleury's shoulder to give the Preds a 1-0 lead.

Nashville used that momentum to their advantage to start the second, but Darcy Hordichuk got a little too energetic. For some reason, he decided to go headhunting, and chose Alain Nasreddine as his target. Nas dipped and dived away from Hordichuk's first attempt at boarding, but couldn't dodge the second try. As he circled behind his own net, Nas got wallpapered. To Hordichuk's credit, he immediately turned around to see which Penguin would race to Nasreddine's defense. Never bet against Maxime Talbot in a race. He literally beat Rob Scuderi to the punch. (Note to Sheldon Souray: This is how you defend a teammate! You don't jump on an opponent from behind as he's skating away.)

Talbot and Hordichuk got five each for fighting, and the Pens got their wake-up call. Less than three minutes later, Jordan Staal carried into the zone, skated to the top of the left circle, and sniped the far corner over Mason's shoulder to tie the game at 1-1. Less than three minutes after that, on a power play, a Sidney Crosby slapshot was blocked at the point, but came right to Mark Recchi at the left half-boards. Rex found Evgeni Malkin sneaking in the back door, and made a perfect one-timer pass. Malkin buried it from the right slot, it's 2-1 Pens, and the Preds are reeling. The rest of the second was a defensive struggle, with both teams collapsing around their goaltenders.

The third started in a stalemate, with a lot of back-and-forth in the neutral zone, but not many scoring chan– GOAL! Mark Recchi carried one of those takeaways up the right wing boards and toasted Mason with an innocent-looking wrist shot. Remember when it was Penguin goalies giving up those back-breaking soft goals?

From there, it wasn't the Marc-Andre Fleury Show. It didn't have to be. Instead of falling back into an over-cautious passive defense, the Pens stayed aggressive and kept Nashville from getting any offensive flow going. Jarkko Ruutu continued his goal-scoring binge with an empty-netter, Elvis' limo pulls away, and the Pens move into 5th place in the East.

Final Score: Penguins 4, Predators 1, wind chill in the Student Rush line: -4F. (Which is why Mellon Arena was 600 short of a sellout.)

Three Stars:

  1. Marc-Andre Fleury (25 of 26)
  2. Sidney Crosby (2A)
  3. Jordan Staal (1G)

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Pens vs. Capitals: 3 Feb 2007

How can a game with Crosby, Malkin, Ovechkin, and Semin have no storyline whatsoever?

Easy. Those four players were trying way too hard to make highlight reel plays. Everybody else, from both teams, was playing a don't-let-the-other-team's-superstars-beat-us defensive game.

Scoreless first.

In the second, Ronald Petrovicky won a contested puck on the right wing boards, gained the blue line, and left Olaf Kolzig wondering why he doesn't just stay in D.C. when the Caps play the Pens.

Again, the third was the Marc-Andre Fleury show. Jordan Staal adds the empty netter.

Final Score: Penguins 2, Capitals 0, Darmok's new nickname for Ovechkin: Overchicken. I am not making this up.

Three Stars:

  1. Marc-Andre Fleury (30-save shutout)
  2. Ronald Petrovicky (1G)
  3. Ryan Malone (a monster on the penalty kill today)

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Pens vs. Canadiens: 1 Feb 2007

Puck drops. Sid drops.

Maxim Lapierre popped Sidney Crosby in the gut on the opening faceoff. You stay classy, Canadiens.

I don't have to tell you that things stayed nasty for the rest of the game. The refs were hard pressed to keep it all straight, so their calls were, to put it kindly, uneven.

The first was a lot of up-and-down action and good defense. The Pens opened the scoring late in the period, with Evgeni Malkin altering the trajectory of a Sergei Gonchar rocket. 1-0 Pens after one.

The second started out like the first, only harder and faster. Then, about four minutes in, all hell broke loose. Saku Koivu circled behind the Penguins' net at full speed, but he was too busy looking for somebody to pass to. He never saw the freight train coming. Colby Armstrong, skating full speed in the opposite direction, hammered Saku Koivu so hard, his brother Mikko must have felt it all the way out in Denver. While Saku was peeling himself off the ice, Sheldon Souray came to his defense. Unfortunately for the Habs, Souray's idea of having Koivu's back was to jump on Armstrong's back, driving Colby down to the ice, throwing punches all the way down. Souray got 2 for instigating, 5 for fighting, a 10 minute misconduct, and a game misconduct. Armstrong got an escort to the penalty box, but only to keep him out of harms way until Souray left the ice. The Pens got a seven minute power play.

The Penguins cycled well, but couldn't beat David Aebischer. Then Radek Bonk got called for interference, giving the Pens two full minutes of 5-on-3. Gonchar rips a slapshot behind Aebischer, 2-0 Pens. Then the Habs got a break. Bonk blocked a Gonchar shot out to center ice, outraced Alain Nasreddine to the puck, and fired a cruise missile over Marc-Andre Fleury's glove hand for a short-handed goal. 2-1. Gonchar got revenge with another blast from the point to finish off Souray's instigating minor to make it 3-1 Pens. Bonk got another goal at the end of the second. 3-2 Pens after two.

The third started out looking good. Erik Christensen almost scored on a wicked wrist shot from the left circle, but he hit the post, then almost beat Aebischer by taking a disgusted one-handed swing at the rebound as he turned to the bench for a line change. Two shifts later, Christensen finally scored with a wrister from the slot to make the score 4-2 Pens. Time for that defense first game that shut down the Panthers Tuesday night, right?

Maybe that works against Florida, but Montreal is a much better team. The Canadiens kept cranking up the intensity, putting the Penguins back on their heels. Just as it looked like the Pens might get a little momentum back, Montreal got two sucker punches in. First came a literal sucker punch, when Tomas Plekanec socked Nasreddine in the face, resulting in a power play for the Pens and a face-off to the right of Fleury. Then came the figurative sucker punch, as Montreal won the face-off, cycled the puck to the opposite point, and scored another short-handed goal, on a deflection by Mike Johnson. 4-3 Pens, and now the Mellon Arena faithful are sweating a little bit.

With the Penguins scrambling in their own end, Montreal tied the game on a fluky goal by Mathieu Dandenault. His centering pass bounced off Fleury and Rob Scuderi before trickling oh-so-slowly across the goal line.

Overtime. Montreal dominated early, then Koivu and Brooks Orpik got into a shoving match behind the Pens' net, and were called for offsetting minors. Good news: Orpik got Koivu off the ice. Bad news: Two minutes of mind-numbing defensive 3-on-3 play. I'm talking New Jersey vs. Minnesota, dueling neutral zone trap boring. Montreal got another power play late in OT, but Fleury stood tall to force the shootout.

  • Christensen is a shootout specialist, and he didn't disappoint. 1-0 Pens.
  • Alexei Kovalev's mullet dazzles Fleury. 1-1.
  • Crosby scored a beautiful shootout goal against Montreal last year, so maybe — one move too many, the puck rolls off his stick and into the corner. Still 1-1.
  • Christopher Higgins tests Fleury's glove side, and fails it. 1-1.
  • Malkin says "Hey, Kovy, I don't need a mullet!" 2-1 Pens.
  • Plekanec is Montreal's last chance, but he is no match for Fleury's Crouching Butterfly Style.

Final Score, Penguins 5, Canadiens 4 (Pens win shootout 2-1), Sheldon Souray's official PIM: 27.

Three Stars:

  1. Sergei Gonchar (2G, 1A)
  2. Radek Bonk (2G)
  3. Evgeni Malkin (1G, 1A, SO GWG)

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Pens vs. Panthers: 30 Jan 2007

The Penguins ended January as they began it: systematically dismantling a Southeast division opponent.

The first period was mostly even, as the teams seemed to be feeling each other out. Late in the period, Michel Ouellet finished a 2-on-1 pass from Evgeni Malkin to make it 1-0.

In the second, Florida fell apart. Early on, Jarkko Ruutu went digging in the corner and flicked a backhand pass to Dominic Moore, who was able to skate into the slot uncovered and slip a backhand between Ed Belfour's legs. 2-0 Pens. In the middle of the period, the Panthers took a string of minor penalties, leading to plenty of 5-on-3 time for the Pens. Of course, they waited until it was 5-on-4 again to score. Sidney Crosby almost got decapitated for the second time in two minutes (the first resulted in one of those penalties), but was able to find Ouellet, who set up Ryan Whitney for one of his patented backdoor pinch one-timers. 3-0 Pens.

The third period was Marc-Andre Fleury's time to shine. Florida came out storming and didn't let up, while the Penguins were content to fall back on their defense. Fleury was able to withstand multiple barrages of shots. One power play shot almost got away from him. A point shot trickled under his arm and sat in the crease. Whitney lifted the stick of a Panthers forward, Jordan Staal swooped in with his long reach to clear the puck to the boards, and Alain Nasreddine plowed another Panther into the net, knocking it off its moorings and drawing a whistle, all in the span of a second.

The confidence level of this team is through the rusted shut Mellon Arena roof right now. Michel Therrien has finally found four lines that he can stick with:

  1. Ryan Malone – Sidney Crosby – Mark Recchi
  2. Jordan Staal – Evgeni Malkin – Michel Ouellet
  3. Erik Christensen – Dominic Moore – Colby Armstrong
  4. Jarkko Ruutu – Maxime Talbot – Ronald Petrovicky/Chris Thorburn

Where Nils Ekman will fit into this when he comes back from an elbow injury, who knows?

Meanwhile, on defense, an injury and a comeback from injury have shuffled the pairings for the better. With Josef Melichar on the shelf with an MCL injury, the pairings look like:

  • Mark Eaton – Sergei Gonchar
  • Brooks Orpik – Ryan Whitney
  • Rob Scuderi – Alain Nasreddine

Eaton was by far the Pens' best blueliner before he was injured. He and Gonchar make a natural pair. With Eaton's stay-at-home style, Gonchar has more freedom to create offensively at even strength. It was this pair that was assigned to stop Olli Jokinen last night, and they came through with flying colors. Jokinen was limited to one shot on goal, and was a non-factor all night.

Final score: Penguins 3, Panthers 0, Florida's winning streak in Pittsburgh before this game: 7.

Three Stars:

  1. Marc-Andre Fleury (32-save shutout)
  2. Michel Ouellet (1G, 1A)
  3. Ryan Whitney (1G)

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