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What to do with Sid, Ctd.

The great Tommy H chimed in on the last post with the following:

“Staal as a winger to Sid is not a bad idea, but I don’t think you are going to see it. Having the best 3 center combination in the NHL goes a long way, and we really haven’t seen it since 2010. I also would rather keep Staal with Cooke and Sullivan as Cooke compliments Staal’s defensive strengths, and Sullivan provides them with a pass-first mentality who is confident with the puck (especially in the last 10 games). I think putting Dupuis with Sid and TK could work (and maybe Jeffery!), but things are going to have to be tweaked moving into the playoffs.”

Assuming this is the way it goes, your first three lines become:

Kunitz-Malkin-Neal
Dupuis-Crosby-Kennedy
Cooke-Staal-Sullivan

In this configuration the scoring by line to this point of the year looks like: line 1) 87 goals (ha), line 2) 23 goals, line 3) 46 goals; where in my world it goes:  line 1) 87 goals, line 2) 38goals, line 3) 22 goals. Sid’s presence on the second line in Tommy’s scenario theoretically would create three lines with at least one extremely difficult player to stop. Distributing the wealth.

But would it actually work this way?

When Sid was blowing up the league at the start of the ‘10-’11 season he had Chris Kunitz on his wing. Kunitz provided a measure of on-ice protection for Crosby as well as a physical net-front presence that gave goaltenders fits and required the attention of opposing defensemen (and he’s got pretty good hands to boot). Staal plays a less net-front style of game but his size and his newly-discovered ability to finish plays requires similar attention from defensemen.

I get concerned with the idea of Sid on a line with Dupuis and Kennedy because  they aren’t particularly physical and they do similar things (with the exception being Kennedy has been somewhat of a shift killer lately and Dupuis has been all over the place). Who throws the checks on this line? Who gets into the dirty areas? I don’t want to see a line where it’s Crosby’s primary job to grind along the boards trying to create opportunities for Kennedy so he can shoot the puck into the goaltender’s chest. (Plus, when was the last time you saw Kennedy set up ANYBODY for a goal?)

The idea of Jeffrey being on a line with Sid is something I can support experimenting with. Jeffrey has a couple inches and about 20 pounds on Kennedy and has shown flashes of being a really effective player, although he is consistently scratched in favor of Eric Tangradi for reasons that escape me. (FUN WITH NUMBERS: In the 17 games Tangradi has played this season the Penguins have won 13, including 11 straight; a span over which Tangradi’s line is 0G, 1A, -1, 10PIM and 11 shots. I don’t know what this means, but there it is.) Additionally, the idea that Jeffrey will crack the lineup with another healthy body taking up a roster spot doesn’t seem reasonable.

(Thiswill be another issue for Bylsma; who to scratch on a nightly basis. Park? Asham? Vitale? I would not want to make that decision.)

For me this all boils down to putting Sid in the best position to succeed while keeping Jordan Staal involved as a key component of the offense. It seems to me Staal has benefitted from Crosby’s absence by moving up to the second line and getting to play with more offensive-minded players. I think Staal on a line with Sid will take some pressure off Sid while allowing Staal to reap the benefits of playing alongside the world’s best player, and in the process it  creates another line that is incredibly difficult to defend against. Teams sell out against the Malkin unit, putting their checking line and top d-pairing out against them as often as possible. Lately that’s been working.  A Staal-Crosby-Dupuis line would put an end to all that.

The good news is there doesn’t seem to be a wrong answer to the question of what to do with Sid when he returns to play. Maybe Sid’s greatest attribute is the way he makes everybody he is on the ice with better, so it makes sense to believe that no matter where he ends up things will work out.

What do the Pens do With Sid?

March 6, 2012 2 comments

Honest, guys, I totally planned on writing a post about last night’s game. I watched the whole thing looking for something  interesting to write about, and I had this whole post outlined in my mind about how incredibly Marc-Andre Fleury played and how I believe his lateral movement is what makes him so hard to beat. I was going to unearth some rad YouTubes to support my thesis and I had a couple of articles to reference.

But then Sidney Crosby announced today that he has been cleared for contact and that he could return as soon as Sunday, and now all I can think about are the following three questions:

 

1) When Sid returns to action, who are his linemates?
2) When Sid returns to action, what line is he on? (The answer to this is dependent upon question 1.)
3) When Sid returns to action, what does the power play look like?

 

1)
I saw some jagoff on Twitter mention he’d like to see Sid paired with Dupuis and Sullivan. This is why I sometimes hate Twitter and the internet at large. Because people are allowed to talk on it who aren’t me and if you don’t think I know best about who Sid should play with then you are like, so totally wrong man.

The reason I so strongly disagree with this alliance is it returns Jordan Staal to the third line. There was a time when Jordan Staal was the ideal third line center with his size, defensive prowess, physical nature, and moderate offensive touch. But not so much anymore. Similarly to Geno, Staal has elevated his game this season to a height that many former critics of his believed he would never reach. Staal ‘11-’12 averages nearly half a goal per game and is on pace to match and possibly surpass his rookie season goal total — where he netted a career-high 29 goals in 81 games — in only 62 games. The last thing the Pens should be interested in is reducing Jordan Staal’s ice time.

Sullivan is having a disappointing season. His production is among the worst it’s been at any point in his 14-year career. One can argue that matching Sullivan with Crosby would likely increase Sully’s opportunities as teams struggle to contain Sid’s dynamic abilities,  and I can’t argue that. But should the Pens be concerned about helping Sullivan wake up or developing a line that rivals the Neal-Malkin-Kunitz unit?

On Sid’s other wing (it is not clear to me what wing Staal would play) would be Pascal Dupuis. The chemistry that Dupuis shares with Crosby is well documented, and if I’m not mistaken Dupuis spent some time on a line with Staal in ‘08-’09 when the Pens acquired him in a trade with Atlanta. That is to say these three players are not unfamiliar with one another, and this creates a line with an all-world wunderkind (Sid), a physical presence who dominates the ice and can protect the wunderkind (Staal), and a safety net of chemistry for the wunderkind who has good speed and is responsible defensively (Dupuis, although it should be noted that Sid and Staal are responsible defensively also).

2)
I suppose Staal-Crosby-Dupuis becomes the second line by default because — I didn’t forget to mention this, I just believe it to be that much of a given — Bylsma isn’t going to do anything to disrupt Neal-Malkin-Kunitz, even if it’s something as minor as changing their designation to “second line.” Crosby’s line is #2, and who actually gives a turkey because they’ll get about the same amount of ice time anyway and Crosby is a big enough boy not to get upset by being a second line center for the last dozen or so regular season games and the playoffs.

(Okay so I will address this. Neal was brought in absolutely positively and undoubtedly to be a Winger For Sid. The problem is he never got to play with Sid, developed instant chemistry with Evgeni Malkin, and both he and Geno are having career years. It was never supposed to be this way, but then Sid was never supposed to lose nearly a year and a half of his career to a concussion and broken neck. Sid and Neal will get to work together at some point this season, but you’re nuts if you think that just because Neal was brought here to play alongside Sid Bylsma and Shero are going to rearrange the whole team.)

3)
This was a much more intriguing question during the time leading up to Letang’s injury. The Pens power play was clicking at a rather phenomenal rate. (I can’t find the statistic, but at one point the Pens were something like 8 of 18 over the course of five games). Since Letang went down on February 29th (thanks for nothing, Leap Day William) the Penguins haven’t scored once with the man advantage. With this in mind it seems a given Sid will be on the first unit, and — for the sake of argument — I believe that even if Letang was healthy and the power play was still potent Sid would still crack the top unit. There is nothing to suggest that Crosby would do anything other than improve that group. I imagine a Crosby-Malkin-Neal-Kunitz-Letang power play unit in much the same way Bran Stark dreams of the days when he could scale the castle walls of Winterfell. (Woah. Sorry).

The other happy news is that Kris Letang has not been diagnosed with a concussion and felt well enough to engage in some “light off-ice workouts today.” Clearly Kris Letang means a great deal to this team — some would argue he’s more important than Crosby at this juncture (though I would not) — and getting him back would be a spectacular and unexpected boost for the Pens. For now, I’ll take satisfaction in hearing that this season might not be a total loss after all for the greatest player in the world, and I’ll hope today marks the moment when he can finally put this concussion business behind him.

Sidney, Ben, Tim, Ryan,Todd

December 12, 2011 Leave a comment

Sidney Crosby has concussion-like symptoms. Not a concussion. He completed the tests that reveal whether or not someone is concussed and showed no signs of a new concussion. He has symptoms.

If you want to tell yourself that it’s not that bad, you might be right to do so. A concussion is an injury, concussion-like symptoms are not. The fickle nature of Sidney Crosby’s brain means he could feel great in a day, but it might also take a week, month, or longer. Sid seems to believe that he isn’t back to where he was in January, where the results of his imPACT test showed an extensive brain injury. That said, it’s impossible to say when he’ll come back. It’s hard for me to imagine that he’ll play much less than three or four weeks after he begins feeling better. He thought he was extra cautious before and it took him six weeks after being cleared for contact to return to game action. Speaking of cleared for contact – I have no idea if he has been, uh, “uncleared” for contact or not. I don’t know how this is going to go, and that’s frustrating.

But perhaps most frustrating is there is no telling what triggered this. Looking back in last Monday’s game against the Bruins – the last game Sid played – there doesn’t appear to be any particular incident that would lead to Sid feeling groggy the next day. He collided hard with teammate Chris Kunitz but at no point did his head appear to be traumatized. Crosby’s brain doctors claimed in August that once Sid’s injury was healed he would be at no greater risk than anyone else to suffer further concussions or concussion-related issues. So was Sid not fully healed?  Despite the ability of doctors to put a patient through a battery of tests and take images of the brain can they not tell with certainty that a concussion is healed short of opening up the patient’s head and actually looking at it?

I’m going to keep telling myself that it isn’t a concussion, only concussion-like symptoms, and hope.

****

But of course Sidney Crosby isn’t the only notable Pittsburgh athlete to be banged up. Ben Roethlisberger and his Stretch Armstrong ankle are probably on a couch somewhere in Allegheny County wondering along with the rest of us if he’ll be on the field next Monday in San Francisco. It’s too early to tell if he’ll even be able to put a shoe on in a week, much less play a game, but assuming he can play, should he? I think the answer has as much to do with what happens Sunday as it does with how Roethlisberger’s ankle is feeling. The Steelers are currently fifth in the AFC, two games ahead of the 8-5 Jets for the sixth playoff spot, meaning they are all but guaranteed a playoff berth. All that’s left to be determined is the seeding. At 10-3, the Steelers are tied with the Ravens in terms of win-loss but lose the head-to-head tiebreaker, meaning the Steelers need help from Baltimore in order to win the division. The Ravens travel to San Diego next week to face the playoff-hopeful Chargers for what appears to be their last challenging game of the year (week 16 they get Cleveland, week 17 Cincinnati).

If Baltimore beats San Diego there is no earthly reason to believe they’ll lose in either week 16 or 17 and the Steelers will almost definitely finish as the fifth seed. But in the event the Chargers pull the upset next Sunday night – which is a fair possibility – the Steelers will have the chance to usurp the division lead from the Ravens by beating the Niners Monday night and (assuming they can handle the Rams and Browns in the last two weeks) likely wind up with the #1 seed in the conference.

I think it’s fairly unlikely Ben will play next week. But I think the odds of him playing increase dramatically if the Chargers upset the Ravens and open the door for the Steelers to take over the division.

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Tim Tebow and the Broncos won again yesterday in typically Tebowian fashion. I’m not going to break down the full play-by-play of what happened, but they won, and Tebow was a part of it. I didn’t see the game (CBS was kindly bringing the Packers-Raiders slaughtering into my home, for some reason) but when I saw that the Broncos came back from 10-0 with under five minutes left in the game I switched immediately to ESPN to find Trend Dilfer and Tom Jackson fanning each other in an effort to keep themselves conscious. Their excitement over what Tebow had just done had them beside themselves. They even brought the Adam Schefterbot in to try to help them make sense of what they’d seen. I thought I’d missed one of the great moments in NFL history.

It turns out the Broncos won because (chronologically): 1) Marion Barber doesn’t know that stepping out of bounds inside of two minutes with the lead and the opposition has zero time outs left is stupid. 2) Matt Prater has a bionic leg and kicked a 59 yard field goal in subfreezing conditions. 3) Marion Barber cannot hang on to a football in the most crucial moment of a game (overtime with your team just about in field goal range) and fumbled possession to the Broncos. 4) Matt Prater’s bionic leg is still bionic.

I’ll give Tebow credit for the seven play, 63-yard touchdown drive that cut the Bear lead to 10-7. Beyond that this game was nothing more than a Chicago meltdown of the highest order. Tebow only drove the Broncos 39 yards in eight plays to set up Prater’s ridiculous 59-yarder at the end of regulation, and 33 yards in nine plays for Prater’s 51-yarder. That’s 72 yards in 17 plays. I’m sorry,  but that’s just not very good. If the Broncos don’t have an absolutely great kicker this game is nothing more than a loss in which the losing team’s starting quarterback only plays a four-minute game.

****

Ryan Braun, the NL MVP, tested positive for performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) over the weekend and faces a 50-game suspension pending an appeal. I saw some Pirate fans on twitter combining this news with Albert Pujols’ departure from the Cardinals as some sort of serendipitous occurrence that will result in the Pirates somehow winning the N.L. Central next year.

Somehow I don’t think Ryan Braun and Albert Pujols leaving the division will help the Bucs win more than 70 games next year.

Also, there has been some talk about whether or not Braun will get to keep his MVP award. The MVP is awarded by the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWA) and they own the award, meaning Bud Selig and the MLB ultimately have no say in this matter. It’s interesting, though, because if the BBWA did choose to strip Braun of the award it would set an interesting precedent when it comes to steroid users and the Hall of Fame. How would the writers (most of whom vote for both the MVP and the HOF) be able to justify casting Hall of Fame votes for Bonds, McGwire, Sosa, Rodriguez, Pettite, etc. if they stripped Braun of his MVP? Taking away Braun’s MVP would be an acknowledgement by the BBWA that they disapprove of steroid use, and it might close the door on some very prominent figures’ Hall of Fame candidacies.

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Todd Haley was fired today, one-year removed from winning his division. The Chiefs are 5-8 this season, which is bad, but still better than eight other teams in the NFL that haven’t fired their coaches. And I highly doubt any of those eight teams are playing without their first and second string quarterbacks, All-Pro safety, and Pro-Bowl running back. I don’t know what the Chiefs’ front-office expects Haley to do with Tyler Palko as his starting quarterback and Dwayne Bowe as his #1 offensive playmaker.

I don’t know why this bothers me, but it does. Haley won his division last year and had his team decimated by injuries this year. I think being 5-8 is actually a pretty decent accomplishment, all things considered. There was a chance – not a very good one, but still a chance – that the Chiefs could finish 8-8. Why not give him the last three weeks to see what he could do? And why give up on a guy who has proven that he can lead a team into the playoffs? Do the Chiefs really believe there is someone better sitting around that can take his spot? If so, do they have him yet? Because if not I can’t really understand this.

CrosbyWatch

November 18, 2011 Leave a comment

Are you getting a little bit grumpy about Sidney Crosby not playing yet? I am. Although I notice my frustration only really flares up after a Penguins loss. And last night’s 4-1 defeat at the hands of the beguiling Tampa Bay Lightning – a team that on one night loses to the hapless Winnipeg Jets and two nights later tame the beast that has become the Pittsburgh Penguins – has got me particularly desirous to see Sid back on the ice.

This also has something to do with my decision that Crosby will be back playing this Monday. I convinced myself of this a while ago, similar to the way many other Pens fans convinced themselves that Sid would be back on 11/11/11. I chose this Monday because it seemed like a soft spot in the schedule. Sunday is an off day, Monday is home against the Islanders, Tuesday another off day, Wednesday again at home, this time against the Blues, Thursday yet another off day, and Friday they close out the homestand against the Senators before heading out on the road for a Saturday night tilt against the Canadiens. Having three home games against middle-tier competition bracketed by off days seems like the friendliest circumstance for his return. The off day Tuesday could be used for medical evaluation, light practice, rest, whatever. Repeat this process on Thursday and, after the Friday night game – assuming he’s still feeling fine – he heads to Montreal and that’s it. He’s back.

This sounds sooooo great in my head that it must happen! Because seriously, if not Monday, then when? I don’t want to sound like a jagoff yinzer, but that’s exactly how I’m going to sound when I say: What’s the hold up here? Sid was cleared for contact on October 13th. My understanding is this was the final huge step in his recovery process. Being cleared for contact meant he would join the rest of his healthy teammates as a full participant in practices. Since being cleared, Sid has indeed been practicing with his team and he has been joining them on road trips. My understanding is he has been doing everything everybody else on the team has been doing except actually playing in games. Medically he is well enough to practice, why can’t he play? How different is practice from a game?

Well, it’s probably significantly different, but for Sid to really gauge how healthy he is practice has to replicate a real game as much as possible. Crosby needs to be hit. He needs to bump his head a few times to learn how it feels. He needs to know if he can sustain a blow to the head without feeling all concussion-y. He needs to play a balls-out shift where he skates hard and gets checked and falls down and does all the things he would do in a game scenario. This is vital to understanding whether or not he is fully recovered. It’s the same with any other injury – at some point you just have to go one-hundred percent and see what happens. Knee feels fine. I think it’s okay. Let’s go give it a shot. See what happens.

But as we know this injury is markedly different from a knee injury. It’s different than any injury for that matter. We have heard this time and again, and I won’t spend time here rehashing the ways in which it’s different. But the fact remains that he must be hit at some point. Somebody has got to lay one on him and see what happens. The problem is none of his teammates are going to do that. None of the Penguins players wants to be the guy that re-concusses The Franchise. Even though the likelihood of actually re-injuring Crosby is very, very slim, the chance exists, and nobody wants to have that on his conscience. Unfortunately this isn’t doing Sid any favors.

It seems to me the only way we’re going to get any idea if Sid can handle game contact is to expose him to some game contact. He’s been well enough to practice at 100% for almost six weeks now. At some point he’s got to pull the trigger. The Penguins are 11-5-3 (25 points) and second in the Atlantic Division, but in their last seven games they’re just 3-3-1. It’s not time to go into panic mode, but Crosby’s presence on the ice clearly would help this team. They need him back out there as soon as possible. I hope it’s Monday, lest you see me at the bridge.

Categories: NHL, Penguins Tags:

What Happens When the Pens are Healthy? (Also, NFL PICKS!)

October 23, 2011 Leave a comment

This is a problem the Penguins are fortunate to have, but it is a problem nonetheless. The Pens are 6-2-2 through ten games played largely without Brooks Orpik, Dustin Jeffrey, and Evgeni Malkin, and entirely without Sidney Crosby. Last night, Dan Bylsma went with the following line combinations:

Chris Kunitz – Jordan Staal – Pascal Dupuis
Steve Sullivan – Richard Park – James Neal
Matt Cooke – Joe Vitale – Arron Asham
Steve MacIntyre – Dustin Jeffery – Craig Adams

Kris Letang – Brooks Orpik
Paul Martin – Zbynek Michalek
Matt Niskanen – Deryk Engelland

The odd-men-out were Mark Letestu and Ben Lovejoy

The defense has been somewhat of a revolving door situation. Brooks Orpik didn’t start the season due to injury (with Lovejoy starting in his place), then returned to the lineup Thursday night while Kris Letang was serving game two of a two-game suspension. In the game prior to Thursday, in Minnesota, the Pens were without both Orpik AND Letang and had to recall Brian Strait from the AHL for a spot start. Strait suffered a hyperextended elbow in that contest and will likely miss 4-6 weeks.

Strait wasn’t meant to be a staple of this lineup, so while his injury is unfortunate it is far from critical.

Last night was the first night Dan Bylsma had a choice of 6 of 7  possible players. He chose to scratch Ben Lovejoy. Entering the season Dan Bylsma said that only Letang, Orpik, Michalek, and Martin had guaranteed spots on the defense, and the other two spots were up for grabs. With as well as Niskanen has played through the first handful of games it seems as though he has locked up the fifth defenseman spot, leaving it between Lovejoy and Engelland to duke it out for number six.

Heading into Thursday’s game against Montreal, it seemed like Lovejoy and Engelland were just about neck-and-neck. I felt that Engelland had a slight advantage because, while he hadn’t been spectacular at any point, he had simply made fewer mistakes than Engelland.  After Engelland’s two-assist performance  in the Montreal game, Ben Lovejoy found himself as the odd-man-out last night.

Late in last night’s game Zbynek Michalek suffered an injury of undisclosed severity to his hand. If he is forced to miss time it is safe to expect Ben Lovejoy’s return to the lineup. If Big Z is okay to continue playing I would think Lovejoy continues to sit unless an injury forces him back into the lineup.

So going forward, it seems to me the ideal defensive setup is what we saw last night.

It gets even trickier on offense.

I am not currently putting much stock into the lines we see each night. They change with injuries, guys returning from injuries, and the whims of Bylsma and his coaching staff as they shuffle players around to see who clicks with whom.

The current absence of Tyler Kennedy, Evgeni Malkin, and Sidney Crosby from nightly action has meant that no hard lineup decisions have had to be made. But when those three are healthy enough to return they will absolutely be re-inserted into the nightly lineup. So with the Penguins absolutely clicking right now – having played their two best games of the season without those three in the lineup – who stays and who goes?

There is one clear decision, and that is to sit MacIntyre/Letestu. Steve MacIntyre got the nod last night over Mark Letestu (a decision I’m not sure I understand) but at this point Letestu is playing poor hockey and MacIntyre exhibits zero ability to skate or handle the puck. Easy enough. They’re out. Let’s assume Geno is the first guy back, so he slots in there.

Tyler Kennedy has been ruled out “indefinitely” with his concussion, and with the way the Penguins handled Crosby’s concussion I think it’s safe to assume that TK won’t be rushed back to action. So let’s assume Sid is the next player to return. Who sits for Sid?

It seems to me the options are Vitale, Jeffrey, Park, Asham, and Adams. None of these players has done anything to warrant losing ice time. In fact, they’ve all played well above expectations.

Forced to pick one right now, I’d say Richard Park goes. Park is smaller than the others, he’s 35, and he doesn’t fill any one role as well as the others. Adams is the team’s best PK man. Asham can hit, fight, and, on occasion, score. Vitale and Jeffrey are 26 and 23, respectively, and more important to the team’s future than Park. Park is a great fill-in guy and has played very well to this point (five points in ten games) but at his advanced age it seems to me that he would benefit from playing a slightly scaled-down schedule while allowing some of the younger talent to get a shot at NHL ice time.

So we have Letestu/MacIntyre out for Geno, and Park out for Sid. Who goes for Kennedy?

I hate to say it, but I think it has to be Joe Vitale. Vitale was the 195th pick in the 2005 entry draft. He was never supposed to be this good. He’s 26, and before this season he had only appeared in nine NHL games. Through ten games he has been spectacular. He is the ultimate energy guy. Absolutely flies up and down the ice, plays much bigger than he is, and wins faceoffs at a nearly 56% clip. Throw in his three points through the first ten games and he projects as an ideal third/fourth line center. The problem for Vitale, of course, is that the Pens have roughly 268 centers. He fills a similar role to Dustin Jeffrey who is a few years younger, comparable in the faceoff dot, a couple inches bigger, and a better goal scorer.

The only other player I can think of sitting would be Asham. Although his style of play matches Dan Bylsma’s system well, he’s 33 and beginning the downside of his career. Vitale is the kind of player who will mature into a better goal scorer than Asham, but Asham brings more toughness. Perhaps these two could wind up splitting time?

Hopefully we’ll get to find out soon.

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And now, for the record, are my week 7 NFL picks!

Last Week: 6-5-2

Overall: 43-42-5 (over .500 woooo!)

Home team in CAPS

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BUCCANEERS (+1.5) over Bears (In London)

PANTHERS (-3) over Redskins

JETS (PK) over Chargers

BROWNS (-3) over Seahawks

Texans (+3) over TITANS

DOLPHINS (+2) over Broncos

LIONS (-5) over Falcons

RAIDERS (-4) over Chiefs

Rams (+14) over COWBOYS

Packers (-10.5) over VIKINGS

SAINTS (-14) over Colts

Ravens (-9) over JAGUARS

CARDINALS (+4.5) over Steelers

Categories: NFL, NHL, Penguins Tags:

Sabred

October 16, 2011 Leave a comment

It wasn’t a brutal loss. Just disappointing. It was the kind of loss that mirrored so many losses of a season ago in which the Pens set themselves up with half a dozen fantastic chances to score but lacked the finishing touch without Crosby or Malkin. The difference in these games always seems to be whether or not Marc-Andre Fleury can steal a point or two. Last night he couldn’t. That’s not to say he played a poor game. The only mistake I can recall him making was that he was ever so slightly – I mean six inches or less – off his angle on Drew Stafford’s perfectly-placed wrister 8:06 into period three that ended up being the difference. But with the offense’s lack of ability to punch in another goal or two, Flower had to be otherworldly last night. And he wasn’t.

This is the problem with the Crosby-and-Malkin-less Penguins. They lack a guy with that scoring touch. Someone who puts goalies on their stomachs on breakaways and always seems to find the corners on two-on-ones. James Neal has done a pretty terrific job trying to fill that void, but aside from him there just aren’t players on this team that have a raw scoring ability. Remember last year when Tyler Kennedy was this team’s big scoring threat down the stretch? He’s on pace for a little over 14 goals this season. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. In fact, it’s great. I’d love 14 out of Kennedy this year. But if this team is going to rely on an undersized third-liner for primary scoring they’re in trouble.

Without their two raw scorers the Penguins need to lean on being that grinding team Dan Bylsma preaches they be. Second-chance opportunity goals  – like the one Jordan Staal scored late in the third period – have got to be part of the fabric of their game. Sabres goalie Jonas Enroth kicked out several massive rebounds and fumbled around with some pucks in his crease last night enough so that the Penguins had some chances to net some scrappy goals. To the Sabres credit they did a fantastic job of winning the battle in front of their net all night (it helps when you have a 6’8″ defenseman) and boxing the Penguins out.

It’s not worth getting down on this team. It’s stupid to get down on them, actually. They lost a close game against a team that is an absolute lock for the playoffs (some even have them as a sleeper to win the East) again without Crosby Malkin and Orpik. They have 8 points in 6 games – that’s a 112-point pace – and we have yet to see what this team looks like operating a full capacity.

NUMBERS

  • Ben Lovejoy saw 3:52 minutes of ice time in the first period, 3:34 minutes in the second, and 6:18 in the third. Deryk Engelland played 6:42 in the first, 5:43 in the second, and 4:11 in the third. Lovejoy’s egregious turnover led to the Sabres second goal of the first period, after which he was promptly benched. Both Lovejoy and Engelland were on the ice in the third period when Buffalo made it 3-1. It’s easy to pick on these guys, but that’s only because they are the two weakest defensemen on this team. When Orpik is healthy I have a feeling Lovejoy will be sent to the AHL and at some point we’ll see Brian Strait called up to get a look in place of Engelland.
  • Paul Steigerwald mentioned this toward the end of the game: The Penguins have been outscored 14-7 in five-on-five situations this season.
  • The Sabres blocked 10 shots, and the Pens missed the net 19 times.
  • The Pens allowed another third period goal.
Go Pens. Go Crosby’s brain.
Categories: NHL, Penguins

Did Aaron Asham Earn the Pens a Point?

October 14, 2011 Leave a comment

I think this is the real question. There is no debate – there never was, really –  about what Asham did after knocking out Jay Beagle last night. It was classless, unsportsmanlike, unmanly. Asham clearly felt remorse moments after, while sitting in the penalty box, and he tipped his cap in the hockey way by tapping his stick against the glass as Beagle wobbled off the ice. Asham never made any attempt to defend his actions. After the game he called himself out as acting like a jerk, said he was too into the moment, and he regretted it. That should be all. (Although I can’t blame him for what he did. Knocking some dudes lights out in front of 18000+ people in the middle of a hockey game would illicit a similar response from anyone.)

(For the record, I jumped out of my barstool and cheered my face off when Asham landed his death blow. At the time I thought everything about what he did was awesome, and so did everyone in the bar I was in. After it happened I saw a couple of guys mimic Asham’s celebration. People in this bar, miles away from the arena where the fight took place, not involved in the game or in the crowd, were so pumped up on adrenaline that we lost our better sense about what we saw and high-fived the moment. How can any of us shame Aaron Asham?)

At the time this fight took place, the Pens had recently surrendered the lead to the Caps on an early third-period goal by Alex Ovechkin. The home fans were deflated. We’d all seen that fish before. The Pens grind the Caps for the majority of the game then let the Caps take over. It’s the way things have gone for the Pens against the Caps at home over the past few years. I think everyone in the building sensed it, including the players. I think Asham – who is by no means an enforcer – decided to take advantage of an opportunity to get his fans and teammates back into the game by picking a fight.

It is 100% Jay Beagle’s fault for agreeing to fight Asham. It was absolutely the wrong place at the wrong time against the wrong guy. It is never, ever advisable to agree to a fight on the road, against a rival, in a one-goal game, against a guy who knows how to fight. Asham made Beagle pay for his mistake.

Immediately after the fight the Pens had a power play opportunity. At this point, Consol Energy Center was going apeshit. This was the big moment when the Pens were going to tie this thing up and start to steamroll the Caps.

But the power play was killed. Still 2-1 Washington.

Now at this point I couldn’t tell what the crowd was like inside the arena. I assume everyone was still amped up after the fight – I know I was, and the bar was still buzzing – but I can’t make a definitive assertion about the atmosphere inside CEC. The Pens were playing hard, though. Flying all over. And with 3:45 left in the third period, James Neal tied the game at 2.

Neal’s goal came over ten minutes after the Asham/Beagle tilt. Hockey purists will tell you that at least partial credit for this goal should go to Asham’s energizing fight. The new-wave hockey analyst will tell you that the fight, regardless of its impact on the game, should have never happened.

I don’t like fighting. Generally. I don’t like boxing. I really can’t stand MMA. As a kid I liked pro wrestling, but only because all my friends were into it. Call me crazy, but I don’t get off on watching people’s lives get destroyed by other people. That said, I can’t figure out where I come out on the hockey fight debate. As much as I was horrified by watching Jay Beagle’s face explode, I loved that Asham did it, and I really think it had a positive impact for the Penguins. I think most hockey fans realize the significance that a fight can have on the outcome of a game. There wasn’t a single player on either bench last night that wasn’t in some way affected by that fight. Good or bad, everybody’s emotions were impacted. This had an undeniable meaning to the game.

But that doesn’t make it right. There was a time, not too long ago, in which hockey players weren’t mandated to wear helmets. Think about that today. It’s insane. But it was a sign of toughness to go out there without a lid, and the worst anybody thought would happen was a ding on the head. Now we know how serious those dings were and the NHL would never allow players to compete sans helmet today. They learned and evolved.

It appears clearer than ever that bare-knuckle blows to the head can have catastrophic impact to a player. Couple that with the image the NHL can’t seem to shake that it is a league of goons and incompetent leaders who can’t govern their own sport efficiently and it starts to become apparent that fighting in the NHL has run its course. I do believe fights have a place in hockey. I do believe fights can change games. And I do believe that Asham’s fight last night brought something out of the Penguins that they had been missing since the first period. They looked worn down and frustrated that they couldn’t solve Vokoun, and there was a feeling that this was just another one of those games where the Penguins skate circles around their opponent and end up with nothing to show for it. After the fight the Pens were clearly invigorated. They battled hard to create chances, draw penalties, and eventually cashed in late in the game, salvaging a point.

Does that make fighting an indispensable part of the fabric of the game, or does the concern for player safety trump all? The debate will rage on.

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