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Road Warriors

Winning road games in the NHL is exceedingly difficult. There are crowd factors, locker room oddities, dealing with the hotel stays and travel nonsense. Each arena has its own quirk that makes it unique, like the bouncy boards at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit or the jazz-club lighting in Madison Square Garden where it is so dim it makes watching on my HDTV look like the old cathode ray tube days. Most importantly the home team gets the last line change, thus allowing the home coach to dictate on-ice matchups.

Winning road games on the west coast has been something of a sore spot for the Pens in years past. I don’t have the time or inclination to do the research to verify this, but I can say after having lived in San Francisco the previous four hockey seasons that the couple of times I saw the Pens play against the Sharks were disastrous. (With one especially embarrassing evening the season after the Pens won the cup during which I was nearly murdered for carrying a balloon Stanley Cup over my head after the Pens got clobbered by the Sharks 5-0. I contend that the attempted clobberers were merely afraid of the foreign object I was holding over my head, as San Jose has never seen a Stanley Cup before). There are some good teams out west; Sharks, Kings, Canucks, Ducks, Coyotes (to a lesser extent, but still solid), we could throw Colorado and Dallas in there I suppose (they’ve had their moments). Since they’re so far away meetings against these teams are typically one-off affairs, which I think leads to two things: 1) There isn’t much game tape of the Pens playing these teams, making game preparation a little tougher, and 2) There’s no rivalry in these games. No anger for the other team. How can the Pens have anything against Calgary? Los Angeles? They never play each other. What one team does, outside the confines of their head-to-head matchup, has no bearing on the other. I get frustrated with the Penguins when they come out flat and disinterested in a mid-February game against the Rangers, but when they come out flat and disinterested in a mid-February game against the Coyotes in Phoenix, I can understand it. Who cares about the Coyotes?

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Calgay is pretty bad, but hey caught the Pens napping in the first period a bit and jumped out to an early lead. The second period was flat-out Penguin dominance from the drop o the puck. Kennedy, Niskanen, Adams, Malkin. Two power play goals on eight shots. 16 shots to 5. It was a bloodbath.

Along the way Cory Sarich – this is apparently the name of a pro hockey player for the Flames – threw a high shoulder into Matt Cooke’s face. Cooke appeared to be a bit wobbly after the hit and after official review Sarich was penalized two minutes for roughing. There was some discussion on twitter following the hit as to its legality. Some believed it was meant to be a clean body check that got away from Sarich while others viewed it as a blatant head shot. I lean toward the latter but I have no idea how the league will rule (Dean of Discipline B. Shannahan will have a look-see). It was clearly a high hit but whether or not it targeted Cooke’s head is another issue altogether, and I think the most important. The league needs to be prudent about penalizing hits to the head, but  it’s a fine line to walk in situations like this. There are more than a few grey areas here (was it a hit specifically to the head, was it intentional, does Cooke shoulder some of the blame here for skating with his head down, etc). I can’t find anything about Sarich to indicate he has a history of cheap-shotting behavior. It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out.

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Quick stat: Through two games the Penguins have been outscored 3-0 in the third period. This is an all-too-familiar refrain for pens fans for whom no lead was safe last year. In both games the Pens had the lead heading into the final frame. In Vancouver they were forced into overtime, last night they were fortunate (Calgary came close to tying it up a couple of times) to get out of town with a regulation win. I would love for the Pens to be the kind of team that just crushes opponents in the final period. I want them to get the reputation that the Steelers had the past few years where the opposition knew that if they weren’t leading heading into the second half they pretty much had no chance.

But it’s only two games.

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Categories: NHL, Penguins
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