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The NHL All Star-Game is coming up in a bit, and there have been some interesting twists and turns along the way. Ovechkin falling in the standings amid his sudden goal scoring drought, Kris Letang becoming the #1 voted for defenseman despite being a write in candidate, Sean Avery actually getting votes, etc. But one thing stands out here: this is a popularity contest, plain and simple. In general the good players get a lot of votes, but sometimes players who are truly elite but just aren’t flashy or as promoted league-wide as other ones and don’t receive as many ballots. If you voted for Marc-Andre Fleury or for that matter Sergei Bobrovsky because you believe that they’re really the best goalie in the league, well then you’re full of shit. If you voted for them because they are your teams’ goalie and you want to see them play in the All-Star Game, fine. I honestly have no problem with people voting for their team’s players because they have team loyalty. Like I said, it’s a popularity contest. People vote for who they want to see. However, I think a lot of people would like to see who’d be going to the All-Star Game if everyone voted based on skill. It would be interesting wouldn’t it? So I’m asking you, who would you put out there? Three forwards, two defensemen, and one goalie. Don’t completely disregard position, but feel free to put three centers out there if you feel like two of them could play left & right wing effectively. Assume all the players injured or sick right now are healthy. Give it a thought and write it out, and defend your choices. Leave your answer in the comments section below, I don’t wanna see this crap on facebook or whatever, I promise I only sell the email addresses to spam-bots when I’m strapped for cash.

Go.

The following article was written by a friend of mine, Michael Bartlam. The article he has written is on the topic of theoretical changes to the NHL in order to improve it. I have posted his article and followed it up with my personal response. Here is the article:

I first got the idea to try to improve the NHL from a podcast called the B.S. Report.  On May 15th, 2009, host Bill Simmons from ESPN.com had Pittsburgh native Dave Dameshek on and they discussed, amongst other things, how to improve the NHL (http://espnradio.espn.go.com/espnradio/clipArchive?showID=bsreport&page=12).  Their ideas were the following, embrace being a regional sport and contract down to 24 teams, eliminating mostly southern teams, switch the jerseys so that the home team wears white, and fire Gary Bettman as commissioner.  Switching the Jerseys would be quite easy to do and allow fans to see the opposing teams colors since they already know what colors their team wears.  Firing Bettman?  He has had 2 Lockouts in his tenure as NHL commissioner, the 2nd one being caused by the 1st.  In my opinion, if you have to oversee 2 lockouts with the 2nd one being as a direct result of the 1st, then obviously you aren’t qualified for the job and have to go.  As for cutting teams?  Bill and Dave chose to cut the following teams; Tampa Bay, Atlanta, Florida, Nashville, Columbus, Phoenix, Anaheim.  After that they proposed moving a team to Hamilton, Alberta so that they could have another Canadian team.  I’m going to choose to cut a few different teams and actually rearrange them as well as rename the divisions and conferences.

In the Wales Conference (formerly the Eastern Conference); the Bobby Orr Division, consisting of Boston, Buffalo, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, and Hamilton (moving the Islanders to Hamilton), and the Mario Lemieux Division, consisting of Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, New York Rangers, New Jersey, Washington, and the Hartford Whalers (moving Carolina back to Hartford).

Next in the Campbell Conference (formerly the Western Conference); the Gordie Howe Division, consisting of Detroit, Chicago, Minnesota, St. Louis, Dallas, and Colorado, and the Wayne Gretzky Division, consisting of Edmonton, San Jose, Calgary, Vancouver, Los Angeles, and Anaheim.

As you can see, these changes eliminate some of the southern teams however now we have 120 NHL players who need jobs.  We then have a dispersal draft for all players on teams who were cut out.   We raise the salary cap $10 million so teams can just add the players onto their cap, at the same time for any player they draft, they can cut one player and not have their cap count against their cap number (they are still responsible for paying that player).  The draft order would be as follows.

Edmonton, Toronto, Hamilton, Hartford, Minnesota, New York, Dallas, Anaheim, Calgary, St. Louis, Montreal, Boston, Ottawa, Colorado, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Detroit, New Jersey, Vancouver, San Jose, Chicago, Washington, Philadelphia.

However, I hesitate to allow Washington and Philadelphia into this draft because well, I hate them.

Next I want NHL players out of the Olympics.  Yes the Olympics are awesome but the best players get too tired having to play in a tournament in the middle of the actual NHL season.  Instead, have amateurs play in the Olympics again.  This will improve the quality of play in the NHL (which is the focus), and decrease the chances of injuries to its players.

Free Agency has also become a problem.  Marian Hossa has a 10 year deal, Ilya Kovlachuk is signed for 15.  Rick DiPietro is signed for 25 years.  Is this practical?  Maybe, if you’ve just had a brain injury.  You don’t know how a player will perform 3 years from now much less 25.  Plus which such a huge long term guaranteed contract, certain players stop trying (this has been a problem in the NBA as well, once a player gets paid, he regresses, only superstars are immune from this) To fix this, I propose a maximum contract length of 6 years.  Heck that may even be too long.  Notice the smart teams (Pittsburgh being one of them) aren’t handing out these long-term deals.  They are handing out 5 and 6-year contracts yes, however none of these deals have been cap killers.  Notice Crosby’s base salary of 8.7 million.  When the best player in hockey is making that much, why should anyone else be making more?  (Hint to Malkin, you don’t deserve an equal salary to Crosby)  We can’t stop teams from handing out these stupid contracts, however we can at least make it so that it doesn’t kill them 20 years down the road.

Overall, I feel these changes should improve the NHL.  It doesn’t get into the issues such as the T.V. Deal ($79 to watch the Stanley Cup Playoffs on VS?) or the All-Star game (Once again, it’s on VS, I pray that ESPN gets back the NHL to fix this) but making these changes should defiantly improve the quality of play.

MKN here – that’s his article. I agree with just about all of his points except for two things. First, if the NHL were to be reduced down to only 24 teams, I don’t think letting California keep the San Jose Sharks, the Anaheim Ducks, and the Los Angeles Kings is a good idea. I think having three teams out of thirty in one state is too much as it is, having one eighth of the teams in one state would be way too much concentration. Two, I’d still like to see players in the Olympics. I know that it ‘tires players out’, but it’s once every four years, and it’s really cool to see players from the same team playing against each other, for their countries. Perhaps the NHL could shorten the schedules by a few games each year the Olympics happen, or perhaps the players could just tough it out, but the Olympics is supposed to be the best of the best, and I wouldn’t want to see elite players sitting it out. Other than that, I generally love what he has to say, though it’s all theoretical and we probably won’t see any of these changes. But it’s fun to talk about it. Hope you enjoyed.

Let’s go Pens.

Pens vs Leafs: Recap

For the first time ever, I’m home long enough before the game starts to write an intro to the recap, woo!

Players to Watch:

Pens: Kris Letang – Letang is now the most voted for Defenseman in the All Star Game in the league. And he’s not even on the ballot. Look for that to be a confidence boost.

Sidney Crosby – 16 Game points streak. Will it stop tonight? Let’s hope not. He’s also 8 points ahead of Stamkos, and 3 goals ahead of him. Though Stamkos has one game less played than Sid. (Prediction, Stamkos scores 3G and 5A in his next game to keep on pace with Sid. Not.)

Marc-Andre Fleury – Has managed to pull himself up to 25th in SV% and 11th in GAA after having a dismal season start. He’s 11-0-1 in his last 12.

Derek Engelland – Made his name as a fighter KOing the Leafs’ Colton Orr. Will we see Round 2? (Hint: Yes)

Leafs – Clarke McArthur. 9G-12A in 26 Games. Mikhail Grabovski 6G-12A in 26GP. Nikolai Kulemen 9G-8A in 26GP. Phil Kessel 10G-5A in 26GP. Kris Versteeg 8G-7A in 25GP, (on my fantasy team, but screw him nonetheless!)

Colby Armstrong (former Penguin and teammate to Sid), but he hasn’t been a factor. 1G-0A in 10GP

Jonas (Yo-ness) Gustavsson AKA “The Monster” is .908 SV% and 2.75 GAA in 13 starts with a 4-7-2 record.

Colton Orr – Got KOed by Engelland last time the two teams met. Looking for Round 2? (Hint: Yes)

Team Stats: The Pens are 19-8-2, but have dropped the only game against the Leafs this season. The Pens are 8th in Goals/Game at 3.07, and 3rd in Goals Against/Game at 2.31. Pens PK is 2nd in the league at 88.8%.

The Leafs are 10-12-4. They are 27th in Goals/Game with 2.19 and 20th in Goals Against/Game at 2.85. Their PK is second to last in the league at 75.3%

MKN’s key comments:

Last night, the Leafs were down 4-1 at the start of the third to Washington. They came back and won in the shootout. Do not count them out at any point. Let me say that again. DO NOT COUNT THE LEAFS OUT AT ANY POINT.

Last time we played, the Leafs won 4-3 with only 14 shots. MAF’s been playing much better, so if we hold them to a similar number of shots we should pull this one out.

The Flyers are playing against the Sharks tonight. The Flyers will start and end the night with 1 game less than us, but are currently only 2 points behind us. If the Pens pull more points out of this game than Philly, we won’t have to worry about them catching us once they even the Games Played number tomorrow.

A lot of people say that Engelland got lucky with his KO of Orr, and that he’s not a good fighter. Round 2 holds a lot of meaning if Engelland wins or draws.

Game Start! Pens win the faceoff, Sid taking the draw.

Kunitz rings it off the outside of the post less than 50 seconds in.

Looks like with Malkin out the second line is Cooke-Talbot-Asham. Sounds like a good line.

Michalek’s getting better at keeping his shots on net. Good scoring chance.

Leafs ice the puck. Faceoff in the O-Zone.

A lot of possession time for the Pens, the Leafs get it but go offsides. Wait, they got called to too many men on the ice. PP Pens!

Paul Martin stops two, yeah two, clearing attempts. Nice work. Love Martin’s play on the PP. Gustavsson stops it. Sid takes a penalty for goaltender interference, after shoving Colby Armstrong into Gustavsson when Armstrong tried to check him into the goalpost. 4 on 4, then a short PK for the Pens.

Martin makes a good play, and Conner(?) almost scores, but Gustavsson makes a good play and saves it.

PP starts for the Leafs, but the Pens kill it. Sid carries the shot into the zone, and shoots it! He hits the post! Kunitz on the rebound, and another post! AND SID TOUCHES IT IN! 1-0 PENS!

After a little while, the Buzzer line (Conner-Letestu-Kennedy) gets a 3 on 1. Conner takes a pass right in front of the net, dekes, backhand! But Gustavsson stops it!

Flower makes a great long pass and Talbot almost helps Flower pick up an A with a shot, but Gustavsson stops it…and holds another shot. After Gustavsson stops it, Asham roughs up Armstrong to respond for his run at Sid. Asham gets a roughing call, and the Pens are on the PK. However, as long as they don’t score, I wholeheartedly approve of this.

PK is pretty boring for a while. Until Michalek blocks a shot out of play. Asham gets out of the box, and gets a good rush, and shoots! Stopped, but it sets up good zone time. Way to send a message Asham.

Here comes Round 2! Engelland and Orr drop the gloves. Engelland knocks Orr’s helmet off with the first punch. Holds Orr’s right arm out of the fight, and lands some good punches. Engelland dodges some punches, and hits Orr with a few good shots. Not too many shots, but I felt a clear win for Derek, known as the ‘King of Engelland’ in Pittsburgh, because of his ability to hold Orr’s right arm out of the play, and a few really nice punches on Orr.

Kennedy gets buried. Didn’t see the shot coming, and the puck barely was on his stick. Hits his head off the ice, and he looks tired getting up.

Phil Kessel gets a good shot off in the crease! But Fleury stops it. Pens ice the puck, and use their timeout.

Conner gets the puck, and feeds Letestu. Great shot stopped by Gustavsson.

Cooke almost bangs it in short side, but his stick snaps. The Pens maintain possession and end the period in the Leafs’ end.

Period Recap: Pens lead Leafs in shots 13-4, and faceoffs 14-4. The Leafs had not a single shot on either of their powerplays. The Pens had one shot on their abbreviated PP. And Engelland wins his fight against Orr, at least in my eyes. We’ll see what hockeyfights.com has to say about it later.

Period two starts. Kris Letang moves in deep into the zone, and ends up behind the net. Feeds Dupuis right in the net, Gustavsson’s out of position, but he can’t make the shot!

Fleury moves behind the net to play it but whiffs on the pass! The Leafs could have scored if they’d had a man coming down the middle, but Fleury back gets into position.

The Leafs’ Kessel takes a shot off the rush, but Fleury stops it.

Kunitz almost buries a rebound!

Interesting stat on the screen now. The Pens have only allowed 15 Goals on this 10 game win streak.

Martin moves in and weaves the puck between the Leafs players for a shot! No dice, but I like to see that play.

And the Leafs take another too many men penalty, haha. Pens PP. Don’t take a penalty again here, Sid.

Martin makes a rare turnover, but the scoring chance is blocked.

Offside call on the Pens, replay shows it was onside. Ugh, refs this year.

PP dies, not so great. But Conner knocks one of the Leafs who was much bigger than him off his feet. Decent consolation prize.

Kessel gets a shot alone in the slot, but it’s bouncing and he fans. Phew.

Some really good shots from Crosby, Martin, Kunitz, and Dupuis, but Gustavsson, stops, stops, stops, and gloves those shots, respectively. Faceoff.

Adams goes off for boarding. PP Leafs. Phil Kessel gets to the crease, but Cooke pokes it off his stick, and Fleury grabs it. Michalek blocks a shot, and he’s slow getting back up. Fleury stops another good shot.

Dupuis pokes the puck through a defender’s legs. And we’ve got a 2-on-0! Kunitz gets the puck and taps it to Dupuis. Gustavsson tries to anticipate a pass and moves a bit right, but Dupuis shoots it as soon as he does and scores! 2-0 Pens!

Penalty Killed, and Adams gets a breakaway! But Gustavsson tips it with his glove wide.

Kennedy brings it in, Conner taps it, Kennedy wins a board battle, falls down, the puck bounces off a Leafs’ defenseman, and Letestu buries it! There’s our Buzzer line! 3-0 Pens!

And before you can say “We seem to be running away with this…” Kunitz and Crosby get a 2-on-1 from a beautiful outlet pass from Orpik. Kunitz dishes to Sid, and do I have to tell you the rest? Sid buries it! 4-0 Pens!

The backup goalie for the Leafs is nursing an injury, so Gustavsson stays in.

And Asham’s fighting. As expected, the guy has like 5 inches on him. Komisarek is the Goliath this time. Asham starts out taking a few jabs and getting press up the boards. He can’t seem to get any shots in, so he dumps Komisarek to the ice. I’ll call that a draw, but we’ll see what hockeyfights.com has to say later.

The Leafs’ Phil Kessel takes a penalty for slashing Cooke. Pens PP is 0/2 with 1 shot, let’s see how this one goes. Letang gets tripped, and the puck is cleared, no penalty. PP dies, without a shot I think. Hm…

Kessel hits the crossbar! That guy has almost had a goal like four times.

Fleury takes exception with Versteeg being too far into the crease. Shoves him, and Versteeg slashes Flower retaliating. Both take penalties. 4 on 4 for the last few seconds of this period, and first minute or so of the next one.

Orpik gets into a shoving match with a Leaf when the buzzer sounds.

Period Recap: Shots are 24-10 favoring the Pens, faceoffs are 27-13 Pens. The Powerplays are not going well for either team. Both are 0-3 on the man advantage, and the Leafs have 2 shots to the Pens 1. I feel like we can count the Leafs out now, but that’s the same mistake the Caps made two nights ago. Keep your heads in the game boys.

Third Period starts. The announcers denote that no team has more shorthanded goals now than the Pens. 6 shorties. Nice.

Kunitz tips the puck to Sid to the side of the net, Crosby dances Gustavsson off the post and slips it behind him! BUT IT GOES RIGHT THROUGH THE CREASE! Almost a hat trick for Sid. Would have been neat, three goals from Sid, all feeds from Kunitz. Could still happen.

Letang gets tripped again. No call. Again.

Rupp takes a penalty, but Komisarek drops the gloves with him to send a message since he hit Kessel (one of the Leafs’ stars). Rupp puts him down to one knee and starts hitting him in the head, but Komisarek pick his leg up and puts him on the ice, but continues to punch him once he’s down. I feel like that’s a draw. Komisarek takes the extra roughing penalty, so it evens out.

Rosehill tries to run Crosby. He then takes a penalty for charging Rupp, but a lot happens here. Martin touches up the icing, but Rosehill runs him anyway. Martin (in the first signs of aggression I’ve seen from him) jabs him in the face. Crosby and Godard get involved, and Rosehill drops the gloves with Godard. Godard wins, but he hits him once when he’s down, and splits his forehead open off the ice, ouch. He gets an instigator and unsportsmanlike conduct to go with the fighting major. Crosby gets two penalties for cross-checking and roughing, which doesn’t make that much sense, because the cross-check looked like it was the roughing too. 4 minute PP for the Leafs.

The Leafs score on the PP, guy named Bozak gets a rebound and backhands it over Fleury’s pad. 4-1 Pens. Might be a game again.

Versteeg gets a good shot, but it goes over the net. Fleury grabs a shot from the point and holds it.

Letang goes down to the ice and blocks a pass. Cooke gets a breakaway, but his backhand shot gets shouldered away. Another shorthanded chance gets set up, but the Pens can’t get a shot off. PP dies, and Sid’s out of the box.

The Leafs score again. Fleury misses the glove save when Grabovski uses Engelland as a screen. Like I said, don’t count the Leafs out. 4-2 Pens.

Someone takes a penalty, and the Leafs will get the extra man on for a while, but Martin bowls the puck holder over and Michalek touches it up. This PK is crucial. Looks like Cooke’s in the box for tripping.

Versteeg gets a shot, and Orpik clears the rebound. Kessel shoots it, Fleury saves. Faceoff. Fleury stops a point shot. Faceoff. Sid clears. Martin clears. Michalek clears. Penalty killed. Big kill there. And Fleury makes a save for a faceoff after the penalty ends.

Toronto has 12 shots this period, and Pittsburgh has 1. That needs to change, and if the Pens can shift that momentum back, they should win, but Toronto has some good possession in the Pens end. The Buzzer line tilts the ice back a little, but an icing moves it back to the Pens end.

Puck bounces off the glass and then netting. Faceoff in the Pens end.

Icing against the Pens. Kunitz takes the puck to the other end, but loses it and Fleury comes out to challenge a shooter and stops it.

Icing. Again. Faceoff in the Pens end.

Finally there’s a faceoff that isn’t in the Pens end.

Conner almost sets Letestu up, backchecks after a turnover and gets it back, lays out a Leaf, and gets the puck to Kennedy, who passes to Goligoski, who feeds Letestu on the rush, he out-waits the defensemen who’s down to block the shot, roofs the shot and scores! 5-2 Pens! That two goals for the rookie!

Under a minute left, and the Buzzer line’s back out. Maybe Letestu gets the empty net for the hat trick? The Pens ice it, and Letestu’s still out there, but the Leafs don’t pull their goalie…and the time ticks down to zero.

Final: 5-2 Pens, and the streak goes to 11 games.

I’d usually do the game stats recap here, but in the interest of the Pens standings, I’m going to change to the Flyers’ game. The Flyers blew a 4-1 lead with less than 13 minutes to go in the third and are now in OT against the Sharks, so consider this bonus coverage. If the Sharks win, the Flyers can’t catch us in points when they catch us in games tomorrow. I come in with 2 minutes left in OT, and there are offsetting penalties. 3 on 3 hockey for the rest of the overtime. This is good stuff, really open ice and speed means just about everything. The puck goes back and forth for a while, Sharks fire it from the point, stopped. Flyers counterattack, shot, stopped. 20 seconds left, and Mike Richards gets dropped. 6 seconds left, and the Flyers are on the rush, Richards shoots and it goes in! But the horn sounds at the same time! Will it count? It goes to review, and on the replay it looks like the puck crosses crosses the line too late! The ref comes out, and calls it. It’s too late! No goal! Here comes a shootout! (Go Sharks!)

Flyers shoot first, Danny Briere is up. 43% on his career. Starts in. Deke, deke, deke, backhand! But Nittymaki gets the stop!

Couture is up next, he drags it right, taps it five-hole and scores!

Giroux misses his shot wide!

Clowe comes in, backhand, roofed! Sharks win! And that puts the Pens as the undisputed Eastern Conference Leaders!

Now that’s a pulse raising game!

But back to Penguins news. I’m going to do a recap of the game’s stats and fights and award my choices for the three stars.

After being down 24-10 in shots, the third period went 15-1 in shots favoring the Leafs. Wow. Game ends at 25-24 shots to Pens. The Powerplay is 1/6 for the Leafs, and 0/3 for the Pens. But remember that with the shorthanded goal scored by Dupuis the Toronto PP is a net 0 for the night.

Let’s check in with hockeyfights.com to get results on the fights (Wow there were FOUR of them!) I predict Engelland, Draw(w/ Asham), Rupp, Godard. Also, these percentages will shift as more people rate, and if the two %s don’t add up, it’s cause some voted ‘Draw’.

Engelland(80%) vs Orr(8%) [75 Votes]    - http://www.hockeyfights.com/fights/99675

Asham(44.4%) vs Komisarek(29.6%) [54 Votes] - http://www.hockeyfights.com/fights/99676

Rupp(80.0%) vs Komisarek(12.0%) [25 Votes] - http://www.hockeyfights.com/fights/99678

Godard(71.1%) vs Rosehill(13.2%) [38 Votes] - http://www.hockeyfights.com/fights/99679

My three star predictions are…

3. Chris Kunitz. No goals, but three great assists, two to Crosby and one for Dupuis’s shortie.

2. Sidney Crosby. Two goals, including the Game Winner to extend his streak to 17 games.

1. Mark Letestu. Two goals, and he gets the edge over Sid since the Leafs scored on the one of three PPs where Crosby was in the box.

The Pens have these all flipped. Letestu #3, Crosby #2, and Kunitz #1. I can see it.

And that’s all she wrote folks, Pens go to 11 straight and take the East, and probably the league (unless the Wings win three in a row).

Thrashers vs Pens – Game Recap

Puck Drop, Atlanta wins.

First shot comes almost two minutes in, and MAF stops it.

Asham and Thorburn drop the gloves off the faceoff. Asham takes a few shots to the head, but for the rest of the fight Asham dodges most of the rest of the blows, and lands some solid shots here. Thorburn is four inches taller than Asham. Gotta love Asham’s willingness to fight people bigger than him. Hockeyfights has this fight as Draw-53.5% Asham Win-40.8% ad Thorburn Win-5.6% I’d say it was a draw, but if a winner had to be picked I’d go with Asham.

http://www.hockeyfights.com/fights/99452 – Asham vs Thorburn

Goligoski shoots about six inches wide of an empty net, after Pavelec falls out of position.

Crosby steals and feeds Dupuis in front of the net, great shot. No dice.

Atlanta sets up some good zone-time, and the play comes to an end when Flower stops a bomb from the point, fired by Dustin Byfuglien.

Conner makes a great rush and gets the right side to himself. He feeds it to Kennedy, but Pavelec’s a wall.

Flower makes a great save off a puck poked to the net off Ladd’s pass.

Conner gets a breakaway! Not the best shot and Pavelec stops it. Two great goalies here,

Malkin takes a interference penalty, and here comes a battle, the third highest PP in the league vs the leagues best PK.

Starts out with a couple good steals and clears by the Pens, mostly by Michalek. Single strongest factor of the Pens PK? Michalek.

And the Thrashers score on the PP. A rebound gets buried. That sucks, but it happens. Alt 1-0.

The third line gets out and starts generating some strong scoring chances. TK, Conner and Letestu, great line.

Crosby gets a pass right to the right side of the net and fans on the shot, but maintains possession, and makes sure he buries it the second time. 1-1 Pens!

Talbot lets a blast go from the faceoff circle off the rush, but Pavelec stops him.

As I’m watching the third line play, I’m amazed that they don’t have more points than they do. They’ve been generating a notable level of scoring chances.

Letang gets blatantly tripped in on the first-pass out of the zone. And Ladd, Atlanta’s captain no less, goes to the box.

PP isn’t going very well, two easy clears and a bad pass. Sets up a little possession time, but a shot gets cleared and the Pens only get one more chance before it’s killed.

Action in front of the net and Byfuglien gets a backhand chance which soars high.

Rupp and Byfuglien get into an argument in front of the net and the game goes to commercial before you see the resolution. Looked like just a shove or two and some yelling.

Sid and Geno get a great setup, and Pavelec falls all the way out of the net, but no one can get the puck to a shooter in time, and it’s moved out.

Letang moves in on the rush to take a good shot. Conner carries the puck in and Kennedy takes a good shot. And the time ticks down to 0. Period one over, Pens tied 1-1.

Shots: Pens 10-Atl 8

What stand out as the big difference in this period is the Thrashers’ conversion of their single Powerplay, and the Pens inability to. Score on their.

Second Period

Letang gets a good one timer from the point.

A really good shot from Malkin gets stopped, and Cooke takes a wraparound shot which the Pens can’t find the rebound of to bang home.

Enstrom moves in and blasts a point shot, but MAF stops it.

I have no idea how Atlanta let Sidney Crosby about 50 feet down ice, but they did…and he pots it on the breakaway! 2-1 Pens!

Game gets kind of boring for a bit, but all of a sudden Dupuis gets a shot, but Pavelec stops it.

The Pens next set up some good zone time, and Letang feeds over to Orpik, and he shoots. The shot would have been about 4 feet wide, but Sid gets a stick on it and deflects it…in the net. 3-1 Pens! Sidney Crosby scores his 7th career hat trick!

Kunitz gets a bad angle shot, which Pavelec stops, and Goligoski gets a good point shot but Pavelec lets up no rebound.

Letang heads to the box. Powerplay Atlanta.

The sad thing here is that no matter how well the Pens PP is, Atlanta ended the 32 streak of killed penalties.

Enstrom takes a Penalty pretty shortly in, and the PP ends before a minute is over, here comes some 4 on 4, and an abbreviated PP for the Pens.

Kris Letang almost gets a breakaway pass, but its broken up.

The PP dies, but a few seconds later the Thrashers end up scoring off a clearing pass to no one, which they bang in on the short side. Pens still up, 3-2.

Third Period

Good offensive zone possession and a few shots for the Pens in the first minute of the period.

Most of this game has been stretches of time with a strong possession battle, followed by several shots, and then more possession battle.

Michalek blocks two consecutive shots. Way to go.

Talbot almost scores when Malkin dances in the zone for an extended time, but it’s stopped and cleared.

Excellent defensive work results in a boring game for a few minutes.

Two Penguins run into each other and Altanta sets up a good chance off that little mess up, but Fleury stops it.

Sidney gets a good shot, but can’t net number 4.

Time is running out slowly, and the Pens are leading by a goal with less than 4 minutes left.

Ladd gets a bad angle shot, but Fleury stops it, and Pavelec stops Letang on the counter-attack.

Pavelec’s out of the net, and Flower uses the first effective poke check I’ve seen from him in ages.

28.8 seconds to go, and it’s a faceoff in the D-Zone.

7.9 seconds, and we’re facing off in the same circle. Net still empty.

Max Talbot absorbs the last shot of the game, a Dustin Byfuglien slapshot. What a price to pay, but we walk out with the W.

Final Score: Pens 3 – Thrashers 2

The Pens clip Atlanta’s win streak at 6, and move their own to 8. This win puts us at first in the division, but Philly does have one game less played with 2 less points. If they beat New Jersey in a few days, they’ll retake the lead. Beating jersey shouldn’t be that hard for them, but for the moment Penguins lead the division.

Recap: Penguins defeat Canucks 3-1



I’d start writing a foreword to these Recaps, like stats and news they throw at you before puck drop, but I usually come crashing into my room right as puck drop happens…maybe next time.

First Period:

Fleury makes the first stop off a quick wrister, glad to see he’s stopping those initial few shots.

Good shot on Luongo bounces high in the air, but he gloves it.

Bieksa bumps Adams into Luongo, which knocks both Adams and Luongo over, and proceeds to fight Adams. Bieska punches Adams on the chin, and Adams falls over. Kind dull.

Some good zone possession time leads to a chance for the Pens, Rupp feeds Sid right in front of the next, but Luongo makes a great stop.

Then Daniel Sedin takes a shot from the point, but it’s blocked, Erhoff slaps it, blocked again, and the Pens counter attack.

Conner steals the puck from a d-man, and puts a solid shot on goal that Luongo stops.

Letang dives to touch up an icing, and goes careening into the boards followed by Ryan Glass, but he’s ok.

Asham steals it from a d-man, but can’t get it to Malkin for the slot shot.

Samuelson sends a slapper to the goal off the rush, but Flower knocks it out of play.

Letestu takes a bad angle shot and the Pens almost set up the umbrella for some slappers, but they lose it, and Fleury stops Kesler’s point shot.

The Sedins start making some good passing in the zone, and start making me nervous. These two are both phenomenal players, and definitely rival Sid and Geno’s dynamic duo prestige. I think we’ve got the edge with our boys though.

Malkin gets a nice breakout pass, and starts some good offensive zone possession, which leads to a few chances before Luongo gloves a shot and stops it for a faceoff.

Crosby gets called for a hold, he grabbed the guy’s stick for a second, but it caused the guy to crash into the boards. Powerplay Vancouver. They are an astounding 33% on the PP on the road.

Daniel gets a point blank shot, but Fleury’s there to stop it. After a clear, Michalek block another shot for a quick clear. A little more action on the PP, but it dies.

As the Vancouver PP ends, Crosby gets out of the box, and Talbot chips it past the defense who hasn’t realized that Sid’s back on the ice. Sid gets the breakout pass. BREAKAWAY. SHOT. GOAL. Sid bombed it between Luongo’s pad and blocker. 1-0 Pens.

Malkin and Crosby are together on the ice and they set up some really solid chances that either miss, get blocked, or Luongo stops.

Time ticks down, period ends.

First Period Recap:

Very physical period. 10 hits from Vancouver and 11 from Pittsburgh. Vancouver took a decisive lead on faceoffs. But what really makes the difference is Pittsburgh’s successful PK, since it lead to Crosby’s breakaway goal, the only goal so far. Incidentally, during the TV break, they play one of those player showcases where you see the player striking a dynamic pose and hear the announcers yelling that they score. But this one was on Paul Martin, who only has one goal (an empty netter against NJD) so I didn’t understand where the ‘he shoots, he scores!’ audio came from…

Second Period:

Sid tries to walk through the Vancouver defense, and it almost works, but the puck gets sent out. Sid gets slew-footed by Hansen, but it was incidental and unnoticed.

Mike Rupp takes a penalty and here comes the Vancouver PP again. Daniel Sedin centers a pass, but Michalek slides on the ice and blocks the pass. A blocked shot results in a clear. Samuelson shoots it past Fleury from a bad angle but it goes through the crease harmlessly.

The penalty ends, and Mike Rupp almost gets a breakaway, but instead Hamhuis throws on the brakes and takes the check in his back. It gets called as a boarding, kinda bullshit.

Flower makes a phenomenal stop on Henrik Sedin, and Daniel shoots right off the rebound, but misses! Cooke and Talbot get a 2 on 1 chance the other way, but Luongo stops it, the Canucks counter-attack but they miss the net, it bounces up the ice, and Cooke and Talbot get another 2 on 1 shorthanded attempt, Talbot shoots, blocked, bounces, Talbot takes it behind the net. Wraparound. GOAL!!! 2-0 Pens!

The Pens then kill the penalty. Geno almost gives Sid a breakaway in the slot, but Sid can’t take the pass.

The puck comes around the boards, and Martin jabs at it to keep in the offensive zone, it flies high in the air, the Vancouver D-man can’t control it and Asham shoots it, Luongo blocks it. Rebound. Jousting. Asham bats it in! GOAL! 3-0 Pens!

Kesler brings the puck in, sends it to Daniel Sedin, who passes to Henrik. Shoots. Blocked. Henrik gets the rebound, crease action, Henrik tips it to Hamhuis. Shot. GOAL! Vancouver scores to make it 3-1 halfway through the second.

Crosby walks into the slot alone, he misses the net, but Dupuis gets hooked and we’re looking at the Pens first Powerplay!

Malkin gets a good shot, a lot of crease action. Couple point shots, Letang gets a shot from up close, Luongo blocks it. It’s cleared. The Pens bring it back in, Luongo goes to play the puck but falls over the side of the net! One of the Pens shoots it at the open net, but Dan Hamhuis makes an amazing sliding block! The penalty dies, but it’s one of the best Powerplays I’ve seen the Pens have this year.

Talbot makes a good steal, but the Pens are changing, he dumps it in.

Fleury makes an amazing point blank save on Kesler’s shot after Orpik turns it over in his own zone. The Canucks win the faceoff, and Fleury stones Kesler for the second time on a point blank save.

Dupuis trips someone, and here comes another Vancouver PP. They are 0/3 with only 4 shots.

Cooke steals and has a shorthanded breakaway! But Luongo stops it and they go the other way, and Fleury makes a few great saves without leaving any rebounds. Flower’s really on his game tonight. Penalty killed, but a lot of good saves.

Sid gets a partial breakaway, and drops it to Geno, but the shot’s blocked. Sid and Geno set up some more good chances, but nothing gets on net.

Flower makes another good save, and the period ends.

Second Period Recap:

Talbot’s shorthanded goal is the first shorthanded goal the Canucks have let up this year. Shots are 19-18 Pens, but faceoffs are 25-16 Vancouver. Vancouver’s PP has basically gone 0/4 and allowed 2 goals against, since the first goal was a breakaway from the box. Too bad Flower won’t get the shutout, he’s been playing pretty damn well, he’s stopped 17 of 18 shots.

Third Period:

Cooke-Malkin-Asham starts off a fierce offensive in the third. This line is clicking pretty well, and generating some good chances, and scored that third goal.

Letestu has two really good shots on two rushes. Don’t know why he’s not on the score sheet more.

Shot gets deflected just wide of the Canucks goal.

Remember when I was talking about Cooke-Malkin-Asham? Yeah, they just started some sick offense zone chances. Luongo made the saves though.

Conner walks in the Canucks zone and pretends he’s Sidney Crosby by power skating behind the net, sets up a good chance that the Canucks defense breaks up. Kunitz throws the puck towards the net and Crosby deflects it on goal, but Luongo stops it.

Couple good chances for the boys from Canada, but Flower is on his game tonight.

Fleury makes a mask save, looks fuzzy for a minute, but shakes it off.

Geno walks in to the Canucks zone off a good steal, give and go with Cooke, and takes a shot alone in the slot! But Luongo stops it.

Crosby sends the puck out of play…Vancouver PP again. Martin tried to convince the ref he did it, I guess to keep Crosby on the ice? Nice try.

Flower isn’t letting up as many rebounds as usual, and I haven’t seen any disastrous poke-check attempts.

Henrik Sedin gets called for holding Cooke’s stick. We’ll be skating 4 on 4, and this game is almost over. Funny that both captains are in the box right now.

How do you tell Daniel and Henrik Sedin apart? Well the one passing is Henrik and the one scoring is Daniel. Or Henrik is an inch taller than Daniel. Both work.

Sid’s out of the box and we’re on a shortened PP.

The net’s empty, and Talbot gets a breakaway, but Bieksa makes a diving poke check to knock the puck away.

Vancouver calls timeout.

Sid gets all the way to the red line with the puck, but misses the shot! Vancouver blocks two shots at the empty net at point blank range, and the game is over.

3-1 Pens. Final.

Third Period Recap:

So no scoring to speak of in this period. Amazing job by the Canucks to defend the empty net.

Game Recap:

Good job on the PK, Vancouver’s PP is second in the league, and they went 0/5 tonight. Not to mention letting up 2 goals. Pittsburgh is now the team that lets up the least shots per game in the league. Game winning goal comes from a nice shorthanded effort from Talbot and Cooke. Way to go guys, we’re second in the conference now.

Let’s go Pens.

PERIOD ONE:

Asham gets a pass right in front of the net, but can’t handle it and a good scoring chance goes by.

Flower stones a good Del Zotto backhand. Glad to see Flower’s on his game early.

Seeing a lot of good defense, not many shots. And before I can use the word boring Malkin flips a shot towards Lundqvist and seconds later trades roughing penalties with Del Zotto. Looks like it’s 4 on 4 time.

Crosby gets a breakaway chance but Lundqvist beats him to the breakout pass and kills that opportunity.

Comrie drops the gloves and trades a few punches before his dance partner manages to fall over for some reason. Not the most exciting fight, can we get Engelland out here? However, the Pens are leading the league in fighting majors, and I love it.

Cooke-Malkin-Asham line is looking good, always thought that Cooke and Asham would work well together, and Geno really could use some good chemistry on that line.

Letestu has a good shot off the faceoff. Have I mentioned that I really like that kid? I do. He’s got some good potential.

Some idiot on the Rangers uses Gogo for javelin practice, and Gogo heads down the runway to the dressing room. Dude lost his stick in the bench.

Sid gets a partial breakaway, but Lundqvist gets a piece of it and sends it wide.

Asham has a little fun with Sean Avery, and we’re skating 4 on 4.

Fleury stops a nice little combo, and the Pens set up some nice offensive zone time.

Gogo isn’t injured and is back on the ice, he gets a nice feed from Martin that Lundqvist knocks out of play.

One minute left in the period. Martin and Michalek play catch in the D-zone until the 4 on 4 runs out, and nothing really happens until the period ends.

Period One Recap: 15/20 faceoff wins for the Pens, and that results in some serious possession time. Shots are 12 to 5 favoring the Pens, but we’re scoreless after one. Hoping to see the same team come out for Period Two. We’ve had excellent containment of Marian Gaborik (who those of you who don’t know he’s basically their best forward coming off a hat trick last game).

PERIOD TWO:

Fleury uses the pokecheck! And it causes him to lose his stick. Flower, please.

Comrie misses the goal. Surprise!

Malkin and Crosby get a two on one, but Lundqvist stops Crosby’s shot. Good save.

First powerplay goes to Pittsburgh. Cross your fingers, fans.

Malkin tries to take the puck through the Rangers D, and it ends up in Lundqvist’s glove.

Gogo hits the crossbar!

Someone breaks a stick, but Sid hits someone’s legs and it gets cleared.

Gogo gets a feed from Geno, but Lundqvist is just a wall. PP killed.

Flower stops a few shots in tight, including a Gaborik wrap-around.

The Rangers Offense seems to have rolled out of bed today to find themselves in the middle of a second period hockey game.

Shot by Martin, rebound ends up nowhere, glad to see him stepping up though.

Christensen sees some dog crapped on the ice. Then he realizes that it’s actually the puck and flings it towards the net. Engelland thinks this is soccer for some reason and tries to kick it, and it goes in. 1-0 Rangers.

Conner sets up on the boards and gives Comrie a good shot at the goal, but Lundqvist blocks it.

Gaborik gets a great shot off and Flower makes a good falling save. If you remember the last save Fleury made with about 3 seconds to go in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals, same save.

Lundqvist stops three good shots. Pens can’t get on the board. Creeping up on 20 shots on no goals here.

Rangers call timeout because Lundqvist is tired from stopping everything.

Pens keep getting some good offense, but its all angles, we need to get into the slot or take some point shots.

Flower has some good positioning and makes a blind save off a nice shot.

Staal (no not Jordan, Mark Staal is a Ranger) gets his stick up in Dupuis face and tries to clear an eyelash off his cheek. Dupuis was saving that eyelash for a wish after the game, and headbutts the stick. Or Staal highsticks Dupuis, I wasn’t paying too much attention. Power Play Pens! 4 minutes of 5 on 4.

Nice little combo that Lundqvist stops, and a shorthanded chance develops, Malkin gets a stick lift and turns a good chance into crap.

And all of a sudden it looks like the Rangers are on the PP (even though it’s our PP), because we’re in the D-Zone for a good chunk of time.

Powerplay is looking like crap, more shots for the Rangers than for us. Offsides call. Someone tries to walk through 3 Rangers alone, and it gets cleared instead. Period over. At least we get a little over a minute of Power Play time to start the second.

Period Two Recap: Still got the edge on shots, now 24 to 14. Powerplay makes me sad, and Lundqvist has continued to be a wall. Rangers up now 1-0

PERIOD THREE:

Powerplay dies looking like trash. Seems like the Rangers had more chances than we did.

Letestu gets a breakaway and tries the same move he used against Bryzgalov in the shootout against Phoenix, but it doesn’t work.

My friend calls me and starts bugging me about something and I miss a few minutes. Nothing big happens, apparently.

Lundqvist won’t give up many rebounds, and on the few he has, Comrie or someone blows the chance.

Fleury stops a few shots. Any other team and we’d be up right now, but we can’t get any shots in the slot and point shots keep getting blocked. Lundqvist has his angles down.

Gaborik hooks the crap out of Dupuis, and the Pens go on the Powerplay. If we don’t score here, we might be in serious trouble.

Powerplay is still not doing very well, especially with the whole ‘let’s sit around with the puck at the point and not shoot’ mentality. Power Play gets killed, but Pens maintain possession, and Lundqvist saves.

Cooke and Marc Staal trade penalties, here comes a 4 on 4. I feel like the Pens get an advantage when it 4 on 4, but we’ve got to watch out for Gaborik. That guy is fast and more open ice sounds like exactly what he’d like to have. The 4 on 4 ends without too much action.

Malkin gets hooked and the Pens are on the Power Play.

Kunitz scores in some alternate universe where Henrik Lundqvist isn’t ridiculous, but in our existence Lundqvist makes a ridiculous toe-save.

One of the Rangers takes what looks like a high stick and starts bleeding, and I’m thinking we’re about to end the game on the PK, but turns out he got hit with the puck. He’s alright, but goes down the runway to get some stitches.

We’ve got just under 4 minutes of game time left and just over 1 minute of PP time left. We might be looking at a 1-0 or 2-0 loss if we don’t score here.

Three Penguins are unable to keep one Ranger from harassing them into staying in the D-Zone, and before I’m done bitching to my roommate about our PP, it ends, but Crosby shoots, Malkin pokes at it, and Kunitz finds the puck on the doorstep. He blasts it in before the Ranger gets back from the penalty box to the Ranger’s zone.

I’m cheering, and before I’m done Matt Cooke scores. Amazing shot, right between the glove and chest of Lundqvist. And to make things even better Lundqvist gets so angry that he breaks his stick and throws it. That’s going to mean the Pens end the game on the Power Play up 2-1. All we have to do to win is what we normally do, have a Power Play where nothing interesting or skillful occurs on the ice.

But oh no, that’s not easy enough for the Penguins. For some reason no one realizes that the Rangers aren’t going to be penalty killing their way to a loss, instead they are obviously trying to score shorthanded, and the defense plays like they’re safe from offensive chances. The offense doesn’t seem to realize that they need to contribute to the ‘Don’t get scored on shorthanded’ effort. The Rangers walk in on a 2-on-2 situation and a good pass lets Mark Staal score short side.

(Edit: I didn’t learn this until later, but Bylsma really screwed up here. When the Pens got their PP with under 2 mins left, instead of putting ANY defensive players on the ice Bylsma put out his top line (Kunitz-Crosby-Malkin) which was a slight oversight, but he also put out Letang and Goligosky, our two offensive-defensemen. This was a SERIOUS error. The objective should have been “Stop Shorthanded Chances” and two DEFENSIVE-defensemen should have been on the ice, instead of having the usual powerplay scorers trying to score an extra goal, or whatever he was trying to do.)

The Power Play is deflated, and works its usual magic of turning a one-year removed from being Defending Stanley Cup Champs into 5 guys on the ice who can pass, and none who can shoot, much less score. Here comes overtime.

Third Period Recap: The Pens were 3 minutes from defeat, and OT looked like a sure thing once Kunitz scored. When Cooke scored, and Lundqvist threw a fit to end the game on the PK for the Rangers we totally should have had this thing in the bag, but for some reason we counted the game as over and pretended like the Rangers were going to Penalty Kill their way into the night, (and Bylsma messed up bad and put scorers instead of defenders on the ice). Now we’re in overtime, great. If you’d have told me when the Rangers were up 1-0 with 3 minutes left we’d be going into overtime, I’d be thrilled, but now I’m pissed instead. Funny how that works.

OVERTIME:

I’m going to skip the boring garbage the Pens called offense here and skip to the end. Michalek falls over NOTHING at the red line and the Rangers get a 2 on 1. Paul Martin is back to defend, but instead of taking out one of the defenders or something helpful he goes down too early and slides out of the play. A 2 on 0 now exists in front of the net. Quick pass, Flower can’t stop it, goal. Game over.

OT Recap: Well that sucks.

VERDICT:

The Pens PP was better for the Rangers than the Pens, as it goes 0/6 tonight and allows a terrible shorthanded goal to send them into OT, which they lose off of a blatant defensive error. If the Powerplay offense had been interested in playing it safe, or playing at all, that 2-on-2 shorthanded chance at the end of period three never develops. And again, the Pens check out of the game before the 60 minutes is up and lose.

Of the Pens three problems this season: (Offense Problems, PP Problems, and Goaltending Problems) only Fleury get a pass here. The first goal wasn’t really a stoppable shot, and the OT goal was a 2 on 0 chance because our defense crapped its pants, and although I thought the short handed goal was a little his fault, the PP cannot end up 0/6 with no goals for and one goal against. Looking for a scapegoat? Tonight it’s the Penguins Powerplay.

Pittsburgh’s Goalie Situation

Anyone who calls themselves a Pittsburgh fan should immediately know what the title of this article is referring to, and a lot of people who aren’t but follow hockey closely should as well. However, for the sake of those who are unaware of this dilemma I’ll take it from the top.

Last season and post-season left a lot of people disappointed in Marc-Andre Fleury, the Pens franchise goaltender, including myself. Many people believe that stats don’t paint the whole picture, but his final SV% and GAA were significantly below what a goaltender who hoisted the Stanley Cup the year before were expected to be. Flower ended the regular season at .905 SV% (35th) and 2.65 GAA (24th). I’d mention my opinion about the post-season goaltending I saw but I think I’ve repressed so much of it I can only remember Brian Elliot and Pascal Leclaire trading off ‘Get Lit Up by the Pens’ shifts. I know I must have seen Fleury play as well as whoever was in goal for the Canadiens, but those memories are currently pushed into a dark corner of my brain labeled “Halaked – Do Not Open”.

Over the summer, many people were content to let last season go in favor of focusing on the year ahead, and Fleury was given a clean slate to start anew. The pre-season yielded an astounding 5-1 record for the Pens, and although I can’t find any hard records I believe Fleury’s SV% was somewhere in the mid .94Xs. He looked great and it boded well for Flower that he was performing well, and would hopefully continue to in the regular season.

Unfortunately for Pittsburgh fans, nothing could be further from the truth. After starting 8 games, his record is a dismal 1-6-0, and if you noticed that doesn’t add up to the 8 games he started, it’s because yesterday in Phoenix he was pulled after letting in two embarrassing goals off of 5 shots. Last night’s game was an accurate narrative of the goaltending in Pittsburgh. Fleury lets in 2 less than quality goals off of 5 ‘shots’ if you could call the second goal a shot, and gets replaced by Brent Johnson, who stops 22 of 23 shots and 3 of 3 shootout attempts to grab the W from the jaws of defeat. As a sidenote, the only goal scored against Johnson in this game was a terrible turnover by Alex Goligoski that resulted in a shot which accidentally deflected off of Pittsburgh Defenceman Paul Martin’s stick and drastically changed angles at the last moment to slip into the net, in other words not a situation where you could blame the goalie.

Backup goaltender Brent Johnson has been putting Fleury to shame all season, posting a .943 SV% and 1.63 GAA and a 6-1-1 record, his only losses coming in a 1-0 OTL against the St. Louis Halaks- I mean Blues, and an admittedly bad game where the Pens lost 2-5 to the Dallas Stars. Fleury on the other hand has a .853 SV% and 3.55 GAA with the previously mentioned 1-6-0 record, his only win coming in a 4-3 overtime victory over Nashville where his SV% was .875. To put those numbers all into perspective, of the 50 goalies in the NHL Johnson is 5th in both SV% and GAA and Fleury is 49th in SV% (only beating the Devil’s backup, Johan Hedberg) and 46th in GAA. And for those of you who place less of an importance on statistics than myself…Fleury has let in at least one soft goal in every game, and that’s ended up costing the Pens in the standings. It is early in the season, but like many fans I take a certain comfort in seeing the Pens safely in the top 8 in the conference, and we are ninth and not even a comfortable ninth.

I want to make a few things clear here. First, I do not want to trade Fleury. The people yelling “Trade Fleury!” are the same ones that want to trade Staal and Malkin, and I have significantly less respect for most of these fans. Not because I disagree with them, but because they only say such things when these players go into a slump. If you’ve solidly been saying trade Staal or Malkin or Fleury many months (and no, you haven’t), fine, I disagree, but I’ll respect you as a fan. However (most of) these people calling for Fleury to be traded need to shut it. He’s had 7 or 8 bad games (depending on how you look at it) and the only thing I have to say to you is that if it takes 16 wins to earn the cup, it should take at least that many TERRIBLE losses to deserve to be traded, so knock it off. It’s a slump. It happens.

Second, I don’t blame Fleury for our poor standings. If he’d been playing better we’d be doing better, but he’s not the one who chooses which goalie starts, that’s Byslma’s call. I thought it was pretty obvious that Fleury was having trouble and Johnson was on fire, and yet I’ve found myself groaning three or four different times to see Fleury in the crease at puck drop. Bylsma needs to get it through his head that Fleury isn’t going to suddenly turn it on, and even if he did, Johnson is still playing like a man possessed. When you have one goalie playing like Rick DiPietro and another playing like Tim Thomas YOU DON’T BENCH A .943 SV% FOR A .853 SV%. Maybe Johnson stopping 22 of 23 shots and 3 of 3 shootout chances after walking into a 2-0 deficit only seven minutes into the game but coming back to win will finally snap Disco Dan out of it.

Finally, I realize that the Pens have been having other problems than Flower’s play. The PP has failed us in its most crucial situations, and we went from ending last year at 5th in Goals per Game (3.04) to 17th this year (2.8). If the PP and offense had been better Fleury would probably be say…3-4 (we’d have won against Philly the third time we met, and Anaheim) but Johnson would be 7-1-0 (instead of losing 0-1 in overtime against the Blues and Halak).

There are three final arguments I’d like to make as a case for Brent Johnson:

1. Brent has previously been a starting goalie (for the St. Louis Blues). He played 58 games in 01-02 and 38 games in 02-03.

2. He’s also performed well in the playoffs. In the 2002 Stanley Cup Playoffs Brent Johnson managed to defeat the Chicago Blackhawks before being trounced by the Red Wings (who won the cup that year). In the series against the Hawks he allowed 5 goals in 5 games, posting 3 consecutive shutouts in games 2, 3, and 4, before knocking out the Hawks in game 5. His overall numbers were 5 Wins, 5 Losses, 3 Shutouts, with a 1.83 GAA and .929 SV%.

3. It’s not totally unheard of for a goalie to reach the peak of his career in his later years. Look at Tim Thomas, he wasn’t even a starting goalie until 2006 when he was 32! Johnson’s 33 years old, and has been considered a solid backup since he stopped being the starter for the Blues in 03-04, there’s no reason we should consider him ‘too old to be a starter’ seeing as how Brodeur looked great last regular season at the age of 37 (even if he’s sucking this year).

Here’s the bottom line: Johnson needs to become the Pens starter, at least for now. Johnson might lose his hot streak, and Fleury might find his game and start playing well, but the Pens can no longer sacrifice their place in the standings to get Fleury in the game. And why would they? If Brent is playing well enough to be in the same vicinity as Tim Thomas, why wouldn’t you put him in net? Some people have made the argument that we need Fleury to come back, and to that I say: Why? I see no reason why we should be starting Fleury. If you feel that we should, please leave me a comment. My personal prediction is that Johnson will start slowing down in about 10 games, and Fleury will start playing better and retake his starting position, but don’t hold me to that. If we’re still looking at a shaky Fleury and solid Johnson at the end of game 82, I want Johnson in net come the post-season.

But we in Pittsburgh don’t have to worry about that, we just need to decide who starts in the next few games. We Pens fans should feel blessed that when our starting goalie is struggling we have such a solid backup that we are still a competative team, instead of looking like the last-in-the-league/can’t-stop-the-puck/have-to-put-up-with-Snooki, New Jersey Devils. If we make it to the playoffs and have a dependable starting goalie at that point, I don’t care if we strap two-by-fours to Mario Lemieux and send him into the crease until then.

Update: I found a couple quotes you all might appreciate in an article on the Post-Gazette’s website. http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/10313/1101857-61.stm#ixzz14ocXsgVH

Here are two passages:

“Goal-tending coach Gilles Meloche estimated that “80 percent” of Fleury’s current troubles can be traced to confidence issues, and Fleury acknowledged that his faith in his abilities has eroded as his slump has dragged on.”

“It’s on me,” Fleury said. “It’s a team game, but I don’t like the way it’s going now, and I have to be the one to get me out of this.”

I think a lot of people thought that his slump was mostly about his confidence, and personally I’m glad to see that it’s not anything more serious than that, and that he’s aware of it and taking responsibility for it. You’ve got to love Flower, and I think we all hope he gets back on his game soon.

Let’s go Pens.

Atlantic Overview

Now that each team has played at least 7 games, it’s about time to take an initial look at the Atlantic Division’s regular season. So far the standings are:

1st – Pittsburgh Penguins

The Pens overcame a slow 1-3 start to move to 5-3-1 in 9 games, giving them 11 points, and the division lead. They avenged the loss of their home opener (2-3L) at the hands of the Flyers by beating them (5-1W), which puts them 1-1 against the Flyers. They’ve also taken a game against the Devils (3-1W) and Islanders (3-2W), putting them at 1-0 against both of those clubs, meaning they win tiebreakers against every team in the division at the moment. I’m not surprised that the Pens are in first, but I am surprised that it’s the Islanders that are challenging their title.

Pittsburgh is suffering from a few injuries, Michalek (one of the shutdown defensive pairing for the Pens), Asham (Forward) who is returning today against Tampa Bay for his Penguins regular season debut, and Staal (Center). But even with these injuries, the Pens scoring is not suffering too badly, as not only have Sidney Crosby 6G-5A and Evgeni Malkin 3G-5A shown up to play, but they have had three strong contributors coming out of the defense corps as well, with Kris Letang 2G-6A, Paul Martin 1G-6A, and Alex Goligoski 3G-4A. But even more surprising than the unsuspected surge in defensive scoring, is the Pens new second line center Mark Letestu who is tied for the lead in rookie points with an astounding 4G-3A. Two of these goals are game winners (he is tied for the lead in rookie Game Winning Goals as well). He seems to have earned himself the Center position on the second line, now that Staal is injured and Malkin is playing Right Wing, and it seems safe to say he’s played his last AHL game. The special teams for the Pens started off pretty slowly, but the Powerplay has climbed to 13th in the league and 2nd in the division, at 16.3%, and they have a PK of 82.4%, 20th in the league, and 4th in the division.

Now the Penguins have a situation on their hands regarding their goaltenders. Marc-Andre Fleury dropped 3 games in a row, before rebounding enough six days ago against Nashville to pick up his first win. His save percentage has been an unsatisfactory .859% with a 3.25 GAA. However, their backup goaltender, Brent Johnson, has backstopped Penguins victories against the Devils, Islanders, Flyers, and Senators. His numbers have been good enough to appear in the GAA, SV%, and Wins leaders, with a .951 save percentage, 1.39 GAA, and 4 Wins in 5 games, his only defeat coming in a 1-0 overtime loss to St. Louis, where he was beaten in a goalies duel against the infamous (in Pittsburgh) Jaroslav Halak. The question now is, will Johnson continue to shine and pick up more starts while Fleury has trouble getting things together? Or will ‘Flower’ get back on top of his game and extinguish the questioning about the starting goaltender position?

The Pens are off to a good start after dropping 3 of their first 4 games. They have not been defeated in regulation in the last 5 games, and have won 4 of those last 5. The lines are beginning to click together and hopefully they’ll stay that way all season. This team will easily skate into the playoffs, they’ll almost certainly take the division title as well, as who would be first if not the Pens is a murky situation. The Pens and Devils were solidly above the three other teams in points at the end of the season, and the Devils don’t look like they’ll be winning the division this year. Look for the Pens as either the 1, 2, or 3 seed come season’s end.

2nd – New York Islanders

The Islanders have played 8 games (4-2-2), and picked up 10 points thus far. They’ve defeated the Rangers once (6-4W), and lost the Penguins once (2-3OT). This loss to the Pens puts them in a tight spot, because the Pens have 11 points, but in 9 games instead of 8, giving the Islanders a chance to retake the division lead, but only if they win their next game.

I don’t think there are many fans of Atlantic teams who expected to see the Islanders in the race for first place in the division this season, at any point. Especially without the services of Okposo and Streit, who are both out of the lineup with injuries. Other players have stepped up in their absence however: Moulson 4G-3A, Comeau 3G-4A, Tavares 5G-2A, and Parenteau 2G-7A. Their Power Play is doing nicely as well, currently at 5th in the league and 1st in the division with 26.2%, and a 84.6% Penalty Kill, 15th in the league and 3rd in the division.

Goal-tending has been pretty solid as well, at least for their backup, Roloson, who has posted 2 wins in 3 games, coupled with a .942 SV% and 1.65 GAA. DiPietro has been looking bad comparatively, with 2 wins, 1 loss, and 2 OT losses in 5 games, and a .882 SV% and 3.31 GAA.

The Islanders are making a strong case for their best season in a few years, and if they’re really lucky, a playoff appearance. But don’t be surprised when you see them start to slump, and fall to fourth or fifth in the division, and 9th-12th in the conference.

3rd – New York Rangers

7 games in and the Rangers have amassed 9 points along with a record of 4-2-1. They’ve been defeated at the hands of the Islanders (4-6L) but managed to sink the struggling Devils with a (3-1W). Being in third in the division is probably what most Rangers fans were hoping for or better. Don’t expect to see them in the lead this season.

After a disappointing failure to make the playoffs by 1 game last season, the Rangers are rebounding with hopes of seeing the first round this year, and that’s not entirely out of reach. They’re in a little trouble at the moment with Gaborik and Prospal out of the lineup, but a solid effort by these boys could very well land them in the 8th seed. Scoring leaders are Stepan and Anisimov both with 3G-2A, Rozsival 2G-4A, and Dubinsky 4G-3A. Rozsival is the most surprising out of these lot, being one of the Rangers defensemen. Their special teams are struggling with a 12.5% Power Play (22nd – league, 4th – Division) and a 79.4% Penalty Kill (24th – league, last in the division)

Lundqvist is spending his early season being classic Henrik Lundqvist. Although he’s posted 3 Wins and 3 Losses (one being an OT loss), he’s holding a .912 SV% with a 3.00 GAA. The save percentage is what I’m referencing here. In a division where every other starting goaltender is looking less than at the top of his game (Fleury, DiPietro, Bobrovski/Boucher, and Brodeur) Lundqvist is looking consistent and more importantly consistent at a strong level. The backup goalie for the Rangers has posted a 1.00 GAA and .960 SV%, but considering that he’s only played in one regulation game it isn’t a large enough sample size to say anything about.

The Rangers are hoping for a playoff appearance this year, but it’s far from a sure thing, though still possible. They’ll most likely find themselves between 8th and 10th in the conference come the end of game 82, and either 3rd or 4th in the division.

4th – Philadelphia Flyers

After picking up 5 of 6 points in their first three games, the Flyers went on to lose four of their next five to fall to fourth in the division. They’ve gone 1-1 against the Penguins (3-2W) and (1-5L), but lose the tiebreaker should they have the same number of points and games.

After an unfortunate, but somewhat expected at this point, injury to their starting goaltender, Michael Leighton, the Flyers are facing the same problems they did last season, only with an earlier onset. A 4th place position is definitely a disappointment to the fans who saw their team make it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals before being defeated by the Blackhawks, but there is still plenty of time to rebound. The Flyers have been seeing scoring from mostly who you’d expect. Briere 6G-2A, Giroux 4G-3A, Richards 1G-6A, and Carter 3G-3A. Special Teams isn’t lacking, but neither is it wowing anyone, with a 15.0% Power Play, at 18th in the league and 3rd in the division, and a penalty kill of 84.8%, 11th in the league and second in the division by only 0.9% behind the Devils.

Flyers goaltending is back where it was last year, with one exception, although injuries leave them with Boucher instead of Leighton, Sergei Bobrovski has stepped out of obsscurity and performed at least decently. While Boucher has posted a .898 SV% and a surprisingly low 2.26 GAA along with a 1-2-1 record, Bobrovski has won 3 of his 5 contests, managing a .904 SV% and 2.83 GAA. Make no mistake, there will be no usurping of Leighton’s starting position, this is just a scrape over who becomes the number 2.

Although the Flyers have had a slow start, their ability to rebound is still likely. Fans would probably be satisfied if they did not have to wait until the end of game 82 to know their team was headed to the playoffs, and they probably won’t have to. Making the playoffs will still be a small challenge to the Flyers this year, but what will really be tough will be coming anywhere close to the Eastern Conference Champions again. Expect to see the Flyers from 5th-7th in the conference at the end of the season, and 2nd or 3rd in the division.

5th – New Jersey Devils

How did it come to this? After 9 games, the Devils are parked in dead last in the division, conference, and even the league. Netting only 5 points with a 2-6-1 record, the Devils look terrible. They’ve dropped games to division rivals twice with a loss to the Pens whom they went 6-0 against last season, and been defeated by the Rangers also, both games final scores at a (1-3L) for the boys in Red. They’ve got to start making up for lost time IMMEDIATELY if they want to have any chance of coming anywhere near their division title and 2nd place in the conference last year. At this point concerns about making the playoffs at all are surfacing.

In many people’s opinions, the sinking of the Devils to 5th is even more surprising than the Islanders rising to 2nd. The only notable injury to the Devils roster is Anton Volchenkov who is set to rejoin the team in games in about a week. Scoring has been practically non-existent, and the Devils are in last in Goals per Game by a gap of .67 Goals/Game to the team ranked 29th. To put that in perspective the gap between teams ranked 5th-8th all with 3 Goals/Game and the team in 29th in the league with 2.33 Goals/Game is the same as the gap from 29th – 2.33G/G to the Devils 30th 1.67G/G, in other words – nothing short of a canyon. There are really only three forwards on the Devils who shouldn’t be hiding their faces for terrible lack of scoring, and that’s Zubrus 1G-5A, Kovalchuk 3G-3A, and Arnott 3G-2A, and the defensive corps haven’t done anything special (like what we’ve seen from the Pens D-Men). The Devils Power Play is 7.1%, 29th in the league and obviously last in the division. Their Penalty Kill is the one of two lone shining gems of their performances this year, as they’ve somehow managed a division leading (and 10th in the league) 85.7% PK.

In New Jersey goal-tending means Marty Brodeur, his stats are only looking decent at the moment because in the two wins he’s managed to post he’s had two shutouts. Brodeur has a record of 2-5-1, and there’s almost certainly no relief coming. Johan Hedberg is currently 0-1 having replaced Marty once in Washington, and having been replaced against Buffalo. His save percentage and GAA both involve the numbers 7, 5, and 0. being .750 SV% and 7.50 GAA respectively. It’s extremely confusing to see Brodeur’s face on the top of the shutouts category (T-1st – 2 shutouts, being the second of two lone gems of the Devils perfomances), considering his under .900 SV% without those two games. Maybe Marty will rebound, maybe he’s run out of good years and should be looking to retire. He’ll need to answer his doubters soon if he wishes to avoid the latter conclusion.

The Devils were 2nd in the conference and 1st in the division last year, but that’s a pipe dream at this point. It’s very difficult to tell whether or not a team that looks plain broken will repair itself and become competitive. If the Devils rebound, look for them to be extremely relieved when they make the playoffs after a hard last 15-20 games or so to make their way to 5th-7th in the conference, and 2nd or 3rd in the division. Otherwise, they’ll be last in the division, and somewhere around 11th-13th in the conference. I know they’re struggling, but I couldn’t imagine them ending up as last years 30th-in-the-league Oilers. I wouldn’t wish that on any team.

I think the Penguins and Flyers will make it to the post-season, accompanied by one other Atlantic team, though who it is remains questionable. If New Jersey rebounds, New York’s two teams both sit out of the post-season. If not, they’ll be slugging it out to make it to the post-season, but only one will cross the finish line, probably the Rangers.

My final calls for each team’s end of the year division rank, conference seed, and playoff depth are as follows:

Penguins: 1st in the Division – 1st to 3rd in the Conference – Eastern Conference Loss or Stanley Cup Loss

With their defensive improvements the Pens almost certainly going to make it as far in the the playoffs as they did last year, most likely even farther. They are doubtful to be leaving before the Conference Finals, which they might even win, but they aren’t exactly looking cup worthy this year: Goal-tending problems are their first hurdle, Fleury has to get back to his game or Johnson has to step up to start regularly, otherwise another early exit is what Pittsburgh will see. The second is two teams from the Southeast: Washington and Tampa Bay, both are just as high-octane scorers as the Pens, and they are both back with a vengeance after losing in the first round and not making the playoffs, respectively.

Islanders: 4th or 5th in the Division – 9th to 12th in the Conference -  No Playoff Appearance

Yeah, they started strong, but all the other teams in the division had weak starts that they either are or soon should be coming out of. The Islanders will certainly have a better season than their last few, but a playoff appearance is about a 80% chance at least another year away. Their goal-tending is not consistent enough, and their scoring is not robust enough to make it to the post-season under normal circumstances, but they have a not-quite-insignificant shot due to their strong start. If they do manage to make it to the post-season they’ll be quickly shown the door by a division leader with too much experience with the post-season for the Islanders to handle.

Rangers: 3rd or 4th in the Division – 8th to 10th in the Conference – First Round Loss or No Playoff Appearance

The Rangers are about where they were last season, and it’ll probably be up to a few final key games to see if they make the playoffs. However, if New Jersey continues to struggle and the Rangers can continue to win games against them, they should make the post-season. Should they accomplish this feat, they’ll get knocked off first round. After missing a year of post-season action, they’ll need a little reminder of how it works to go much deeper than round 1.

Flyers: 2nd or 3rd in the Division – 5th to 7th in the Conference – Second Round Loss

No way do these boys end up in the Cup Finals again. If they do I’ll eat my hat. (Note to Self – Purchase tiny, edible hat, just in case) But they’ll see playoff action again. Their goalie troubles have started earlier but will last a shorter duration than last year. They’ll struggle until Leighton gets back, and he’ll manage to get them to a good seed in the post-season. They could win a series, but expect no repeats of their amazing 4 game winning streak against the Bruins to overcome a 0-3 deficit.

Devils*: 2nd or 3rd/5th in the Division – 5th to 7th/11th to 13th in the Conference – Second or Third Round Loss/No Playoff Appearance

* – the / indicates whether or not they pull their team back together or continue to under-perform for most of the season.

It’s difficult to say whether or not the Devils will find cohesion again, and it’s going to depend on Brodeur and their offense coming together consistently. If Brodeur really is as past his prime as he was looking in the Olympics, last post-season, and the 6 games he’s dropped so far, or the offense remains unable to string several games together fairly regularly, the Devils will end up wondering what happened from among the dregs of the East. However, should this team make it to the post-season, they’ll have so much to prove between the last few years early exits and their struggling start this year that they’ll make it to either the second or third round.

That’s my breakdown and early predictions for the Atlantic Division. I’ll probably do another update somewhere around when each team has played 20 games. I strongly encourage feedback and comments, and even private discussion. Feel free contact me at michael.k.nel@gmail.com

Statement of Intent

This blog was created for the purpose of discussing Pittsburgh Penguins hockey in the NHL. General news, statistics, and opinion about the division, conference, and league will be discussed as well. At this time I am looking for other correspondents to write articles about any other hockey related topic they’d like to write about.

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