Wednesday, April 16, 2014

PODCAST: Everything that could go wrong did go wrong. But only for a little. Pens win, 4-3

Pens win 4-3. This was a big win. We discuss.

Listen to the podcast above or check out our Spreaker page. To download the podcast directly from iTunes, click here.  Or you can download, listen, and subscribe via the Spreaker app on iTunes by clicking here, or on Android by clicking here.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Tale of the Tape, with a podcast: Pens vs. Blue Jackets

By GTOG Staff

Listen to the podcast below or check out our Spreaker page. To download the podcast directly from iTunes, click here.  Or you can download, listen, and subscribe via the Spreaker app on iTunes by clicking here, or on Android by clicking here.

OK everybody, time to wake up. Let's go, people! Attention, please. We don't blame you for dozing off after six weeks of meaningless games spent wondering just how Brian Gibbons might mesh with Jussi Jokinen and trying to convince yourself that it's important for the Penguins to play THE RIGHT WAY in front of Jeff Zatkoff when Crosby, Kunitz, Sutter, Maatta and Orpik are all out with upper bodies. Now it's time to buckle that chin strap a little tighter and re-focus. So what if the regular season is 20 games too long and the new playoff format only highlights the problem? That's enough out of you. It's playoff time, and the Pens are heading for a showdown Wednesday--not against Philadelphia or Detroit thank you lord--but against the least intimidating team in recent playoff history (God is so good) a new arch nemesis: the Columbus Blue Jackets. Once again, GTOG brings you the Tale of the Tape.

1. Obstacle Overcomeability

This is always the most important category, because obstacles abound in the NHL playoffs. Down a goal late in the game? That's an obstacle. Missing a top forward? That's an obstacle. Is your goalie shooting and scoring on himself again? Obstacle. The Penguins have plenty of experience in this regard, and they've overcome some obstacles while slamming face-first into others. We know little about how these Blue Jackets will respond in the face of adversity. The promise of elite goaltending from Sergei Bobrovsky and a playoff coming-out party for Ryan Johansen can overcome a lot, but here's the dispositive question: can the Penguins win this series even with Jeff Zatkoff in net? You bet.

Advantage: Penguins

2. Emergeability

Determining which team has more Emergeability is a two step process.  First, you have to ID the potential Emergers.  Then, you have to evaluate their chances of actually Emerging.

The Pens have only a few potential Emergers, with Beau Bennett being by far the most promising, followed by Olli Maatta (he's already sort of Emerged), Brian Gibbons, and Jayson Megna.

Columbus has Ryan Johansen, who has already Emerged, but might still have some Merge in him that could take him to truly elite status.  Boone Jenner is twenty years old, which is much scarier to us than if he were 27 (hockey is a young man's game).  Matt Calvert (24 points in 56 games) could be OK, though we have absolutely no idea.  We're probably missing some people but, newsflash, we don't watch a lot of Columbus Blue Jackets games.

A lot of people might give the edge to the BJs here because the Pens are the much more established team, but this is a very close call.  The Pens are on notice of how good Johansen is, and Boone Jenner is playing over 17:30 a game -- they're going to be the focus of the Pens' defensive gameplan (to the extent the Pens have one) whether they deserve it or not.

But Beau Bennett is a different story.  He lurks in the shadows behind much more established superstars, which is the perfect place from which to emerge.  Bennett was squeezed out of the lineup in the playoffs last year, but it finally seems like he's going to be given a meaningful opportunity.  Our expectations for Bennett are tempered by the reality of his production (3 goals in 21 games), but that's looking in the rear view mirror.  The real question is whether you could score 4 goals in his next 6 games, and the answer to that question is definitely yes.

Advantage: Even

3. Underdogability

Pens' fans (including us) spent the majority of the season complaining about the obvious flaws in this team, an exercise that is part-tradition among a notoriously pessimistic fanbase but was also partly a subconscious attempt to lower expectations for this team so they could finally go into the playoffs as something other than an overwhelming favorite.

It was working, but then Columbus got the #7 seed.

Nothing against Columbus, but there is no way for even the most pessimistic, expectations-lowering Pens fan to view the Pens as anything other than a prohibitive favorite against the BJs.  And then if the Pens win -- as is expected -- it will be very difficult to put the expectations back in a bottle.  You can save the expectations game until the Pens -- if they win -- face what will be a daunting opponent in New York or Philadelphia.  (See, we're already playing).

Columbus, on the other hand, has every hallmark of an underdog.  They're middle-of-the-pack in most categories, have solid players but no singularly great performer, and don't stand out in any particular category.  They're like Ottawa last year, but not as stingy defensively.  It's not that they can't beat the Pens, it's just that they're a huge underdog when it comes to beating the Pens 4 times in 7 games.  And sometimes that's a good thing.

Advantage: Columbus.

4. Sex Appealability

The Foligno Smolder
The Passion of the Bobrovsky 

Woman on the right has seen this too many times.
Hugs babies that aren't even his.
Advantage: Penguins

5. Coiffability

 Joel Quenenville had a powerful mustache. Darryl Sutter has waves.  Claude Julien is bald but owns it.  We're not saying you can't win the Cup with bad hair, but we are saying that neither Bylsma nor Richards has great hair.

Advantage: Even

6. Game Breakability

We often obsess about the Penguins' lack of third line punch, reasoning that any elite team can effectively check two lines. It's that third line that separates great teams from the very good ones. Apply this logical and time-tested reasoning to Columbus, and you will quickly realize that--leaving aside for the moment the issue of a third line--the Jackets feature a second line of Brandon Dubinsky-Matt Calvert-Cam Atkinson. Yes, they have a Bottom 9.

Advantage: Penguins

7. Bottom Sixability

Just how bad is the Pens Bottom 6? Not as bad a few weeks ago, when it featured a third line of Brandon Sutter-Taylor Pyatt-Tanner Glass. But as much as we enjoy the totally competent Lee Stempniak, he's not carrying Sutter, Glass, Pyatt, Craig Adams and Jayson Megna/Joe Vitale to anything approaching suitability. Here's the only question: would we swap the Pens' bottom two lines for these guys?

Derek Mackenzie
Artem Anisimov
Jack Skille
Corey Tropp
Mark Letestu
Jared Boll

We know Anisimov is big, skilled, and a bit of a Penguin killer. Corey Tropp is exactly the kind of little shit-disturber who can get under a superstar's skin and swing a series. No idea who Jack Skille is, but he sounds like a guy who played in the 1920s and had a trophy named after him. Mark Letestu is sort of like having Brandon Sutter as a third line center, but Mark Letestu is a fourth-line center making $1.25M. The rest of those guys CANNOT POSSIBLY BE AS BAD AS TAYLOR PYATT.

So, yes?

Advantage: Columbus

8. Boy Band Nameability

We covered this in comments to previous posts, but the Pens have a serious problem when it comes to their players' first names.  Lou Pearlman, founder of Backstreet Boys and NSync, is definitely a Pens fan. Look at this:


That's not a hockey team, that's the manifest at the maternity ward at the UCLA Medical Center in Santa Monica.  The Pens seem like runaway winners in this category.

Not so fast.

The Blue Jackets have Boone Jenner, a name that combines the worst of weird Texas oil man names with the worst of yuppie Los Angeles names.  We're trying to come up with a more perfect combination, but are falling woefully short.  (T. Madison McCombs? Red Pinkett-Smith?).  Throw in AVN Performer of the Year Nikita Nikitin on defense, and this is actually a landslide the other way.

First line center.
Advantage: Columbus

9. Meltdownability

The Blue Jackets have nowhere to go but up. The Penguins feature the Ill-timed Infraction Line ("ILL") of Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, and Jussi Jokinen, a defenseman who once cross-checked a referee (and it wasn't even that surprising), and a goalie who observers cannot appraise without the qualifier "none of this matters if he melts down again in the playoffs."  We think they have this category pretty much nailed down.

Advantage: Penguins

10. Intangibility

We understand the advanced stats, but we aren't going to throw out puck possession percentages, yell into the Internet ether about the Maple Leafs, and then circle up with everyone else doing the same thing so we can all pat each other on the back.  There's a place for that, and it's called Twitter.

The Pens are a better team than Columbus.  We can try to talk ourselves into being terrified of Ryan Johansen, but he had fewer points than Chris Kunitz and two more than James Neal (in 23 more games).  He's not Pavel Bure.  We can worry about Bobrovsky, but why force it?  We can worry that the Pens bottom six is terrible, but if that ends up costing the Pens this series, then something else is terribly wrong.

What worries us more than anything is the lingering feeling over the last 5 years that under Dan Bylsma and Ray Shero, the whole is less than the sum of its parts.  That's a lack of Intangibility.

We'd comment on Columbus' Intangibility, but who knows?

Advantage: Columbus

Final tally: 4-4-2

That makes it look like an even series, but we're talking about Lou Pearlman and coaches' hair.  And while there's no doubt that hair matters, Crosby and Malkin matter more.

Pens in 5.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Reason for optimism after Pens beat Winnipeg? Plus a Brandon Sutter GIF.

By GTOG Staff (follow Finesse and Artistry on Twitter)

The Pens clinched the Metro division last night and officially eliminated the Winnipeg Jets from playoff contention.  The Jets were unofficially eliminated from playoff contention when the Atlanta Thrashers drafted Ondrej Pavelec in 2005.

Is this cause for optimism, or can we bury this win in the Meaningless drawer along with many of the Pens' most recent losses?

Read on...

Thursday, April 3, 2014

GTOG Inbox: Answering emails on every topic, including the Pens, Huffington Post, and God Shammgod

By GTOG Staff (follow Finesse and Artistry on Twitter)

We get a lot of fan email.  If you search "Go" and "Daddy" in our inbox, there are literally thousands of results.  It's like that.

We have our emails printed and then delivered to us by this mailman.
We haven't done a good job of answering these emails, so we're going to unload just a tiny, infinitesimally small fraction of them on you today.  This is a long post that touches on many subjects beyond just Pittsburgh sports.  These emails are very real to us.

Question: Can either of you explain what is happening with Rob Rossi? In his game story this morning, he writes:
Orpik, the longest-tenured Penguin, was joined only by fellow veteran defenseman Rob Scuderi and captain Sidney Crosby inside a somber dressing room as reporters entered.
Actually, winger Brian Gibbons was there, too, but unlike the other veterans at their locker stalls, he was not a member of the Penguins squads that lost in the 2008 Stanley Cup Final and returned to win it the next season.
It seems to me that Rob Rossi wrote the first paragraph, realized that Brian Gibbons was also there, but then didn't feel like going back and fixing the first paragraph. It's like writing: "I was alone in my house with my wife. Actually, my two children were there, too, but unlike my wife, they are not my wife."

This comes only a few weeks after the following sentence appeared in his there's-definitely-no-one-editing-this Chipped Ice Blog: "Until that happens, him playing again this season is only a what-if scenario – and while those are the easiest to discuss, with regards to Letang let the silence that comes with waiting and seeing prove the sound of sanity."

You already have Ron Cook Poetry. Is it time for Rob Rossi Poetry? Should we rank all Pittsburgh sports writers on a scale of Decipherability? I need help.

-Dave M., Downtown

(Artistry) Don't know, Dave. Maybe you're asking the wrong questions. Maybe the question is, what does Rob Rossi intend for us to take from his work today? You don't know. I don't know. A wise man once tweeted:
"Anybody who presumes intention is probably somebody to whom you should not pay much attention." - Rob Rossi
So what if some of Rob Rossi's sentences are denser than Dante's Inferno? Others are quite clear. Take these lines from Rob Rossi's recent blog about the friendship between Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby:
Crosby was the best player, Malkin said.Crosby was the top center, Malkin said.Crosby was the captain, Malkin said.
And then, later:
However, these athletes are human.
Indeed. You may not always understand it, but Rob Rossi taps into universal truths about the human condition, i.e. that we are human.

Question: "Players have failed playing alongside Crosby, so the excuse that Kunitz is only thriving because of Crosby is erroneous in my opinion."

- Actual sentence written on a blog that has 22.6 times as many Facebook followers as GTOG.

Many Pens fans would appreciate GTOG, so you not telling 22.6 of your friends to start reading GTOG is erroneous in our opinion.

Read on for more...

Monday, March 31, 2014

Eight thoughts on the Pens' two game streak, including Brooks Orpik's hit on Jonathan Toews

By GTOG Staff (follow GTOG on Twitter)

Eight thoughts on the Pens coming out of the weekend...

1. Much is being made of Brooks Orpik's devastating check on Jonathan Toews, so we might as well comment on it.  What a check.  Mike Milbury was near tears on the intermission report and reasoned that because Orpik hits to hurt people, he should be required to fight afterwards.  It's so stupid on a number of levels and Puck Daddy does a good job covering most of them.  But of all the stupid things about Milbury, the stupidest is probably that hitting to hurt is somehow different from hitting to ... umm ... not hurt?  The whole point of hitting is to hurt people.  Otherwise, there is no point -- truly, no point -- in finishing your check.  Saying that a physical game is "wearing the other team down" is another way of saying that the other team is tired of you hurting them by hitting them.  Hitting hurts.  It's supposed to.  When guys are in vulnerable positions, hitting hurts more.  Even the folks in Chicago know what's up.

Not supposed to feel good.
2. The biggest takeaway from the back-to-back wins this weekend is the play of Marc-Andre Fleury.  The Pens' defense is never going to be smothering no matter who is healthy, so he will have to make saves like the stop on Patrick Sharp after Brooks Orpik guarded the rope line along Sharp's red carpet to the net.

More thoughts after the jump...

Friday, March 28, 2014

Pens fall to Kings, 3-2; Good loss, bad loss, or meaningless loss?

By Finesse (follow me on Twitter)

The case for a good loss: The Pens went toe-to-toe with the best of the West without three of their best players and were a bad no-goal call away from tying the game.  The game was teetering on the edge after the Kings' second goal, but the Pens top line -- with some help from Jayson Megna -- responded the way a top line should: driving to the net and scoring an even strength goal.  Taylor Pyatt and Brandon Sutter played with more assertiveness last night than they have shown over the course of the entire season (combined).  The Pens may not have scored on the PP, but their secondary players drew seven penalties (Gibbons (2x), Goc, Megna, Engelland, Stempniak, Sutter).  If they're not going to contribute regularly on the scoresheet, drawing penalties and setting the table for the big guys is a decent alternative.  Jeff Zatkoff didn't give up a clean goal and, more importantly, doesn't feel like a big drop off from Fleury anymore.  In fact, they have the exact same save percentage over the course of the season (.915%), but if you throw out Zatkoff's first two games when he was obviously overwhelmed, he's 12-3-1 with a .926 save percentage.  There's always an obscure goalie who comes out of nowhere to lead a long playoff run.  Why not Zatkoff?

You don't bring that weak shit into Jeff Zatkoff's house.
The case for a bad loss: It took a bizarre no-goal call by the refs to wake the Pens up.  Before that, the game was close but it was flat and emotionless.  The Pens are not playing desperately, which is understandable given that they aren't desperate.  But now we're down to the final 10 games of the season, and for the past 15 games, all we've been hearing from the team is how they have to be more passionate blah blah blah.  Brooks Orpik is channeling his inner Brett Keisel to conspicuously exercise his leadership "behind closed doors," while conveniently avoiding 2 central questions: 1) is anyone listening; and 2) why would anyone listen to Orpik when he is playing as bad as anyone upon whom he is thrusting his leadership?  It's encouraging to see the Pens shift into an extra gear, but it's discouraging that it took the waved-off goal to get there.  Of the top 8 teams in the East, the Pens are tied with Detroit for worst record over the past 10 games (4-5-1).  The penalty killing is slipping and as we saw against Philly in 2012, when the PK disappears, it REALLY disappears.

Here's Brian Gibbons, probably getting knocked over and drawing a penalty.
The case for a meaningless loss: We already know that unless Malkin, Martin and Letang are all healthy for the playoffs, it could be a short spring.  So what happens without them in the lineup is irrelevant because the team without them isn't any more likely to win the Cup than Columbus or Dallas.  They're not going to play a team close to the Kings' level in the first round, and even the scariest teams in the East -- Boston, Tampa, Montreal, NYR, Philly -- are not on the agenda for the Pens in round 1.  So while the long-term concerns may remain, the relevant question is whether the Pens can win a series over Columbus, Detroit, Washington, or Toronto with efforts like last night.  That answer is much closer to a yes.

Bobby B's "flop like a fish" defense could work against Mark Letestu
The verdict is probably somewhere between meaningless and good, with a leaning toward good. Artistry attended the game and describes it thusly:
Good loss: At the start of the first period, I turned to the guy I was with and said, "Forget the score, just watch how much they have the puck and how much we have the puck. I bet it's a 2-1 ratio." When the Pens went down 2-0, I had visions of a total meltdown, Bylsma being fired in the morning, and Orpik acknowledging that his "Let's go boys, come on boys" routine needs a little work. In fact, the boys started to come on. Though he'll never be a fit as a play-making center on the third line, Brandon Sutter looked possessed out there. Jayson Megna and Brian Gibbons made the bottom 6 look positively threatening at times. And the Pens outshot the Kings. Crosby was the best player on the ice in the third against a stifling defense. No quit in that team last night.
Amen. At least it's something.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Podcast: Pens lose to Phoenix, is there anything to be optimistic about right now?

The Pens lost to the Coyotes and, all things considered, this is a pessimistic time for a team that's still comfortably in first place. It's the GTOG Podcast.

Listen above or check out our Spreaker page. To download the podcast directly from iTunes, click here.  Or you can download, listen, and subscribe via the Spreaker app on iTunes by clicking here, or on Android by clicking here.