Friday, December 31, 2010

Get To Our Postgame: While Pens and Caps Alumni Play to Unsatisfying Tie, Mario Swoops, Kevin Stevens Survives, and Gary Rissling Gets Way Too Much Ice Time

By Finesse

Like a soaring pterodactyl, Mario Lemieux swooped into the offensive zone with the puck on his stick (or was it attached to his stick?), backed off two frozen Capitals' old-timers, slowed his glide to a near standstill, and then did what Mario Lemieux did so frequently during his playing days - made a drop pass that floated seemingly into empty space, only to arrive perfectly on the stick of one of his linemates. And then the recipient of this drop pass, who too often on this day was, inexplicably, #23 Gary Rissling, did what recipients of Mario's drop passes often did in the 1990's - made another drop pass. And then the recipient of this second drop pass, perhaps a 300lb Kevin Stevens or a trying-a-little-too-hard Phil Bourque did what the second drop pass recipient often did - made another drop pass.

When the Pens' alumni weren't making drop passes on this gray yet sunny morning, they were playing the Capitals' alumni to an unsatisfying 5-5 tie, and the decision to end in a tie pleased no one, save for Kevin Stevens who was one hop over the boards away from a heart-attack.

Leaning on his stick.
It is inexplicable, inexcusable, and incredible that there was no shootout, overtime, or other resolution to this game. Honestly, a coin flip to declare a winner would have been better, although after the coin hit the ice it probably would have scored on Gilles Meloche.

I was fortunate enough to be in attendance for this memorable (albeit nearly silent) event to witness what might have been Mario Lemieux's final public appearance in any hockey-related competition. Although he may have taken one stride the entire game and glided the rest of the morning, he still was a towering presence, both literally and figuratively. He had a separate introduction to a tape of John Barbaro's voice, a heart-warming and nostalgic touch. He was followed on an isolation camera for much of warm-ups and then was, for reasons unknown but understood, given a second special individual introduction. On his first shift, the jumbo-tron camera followed only Mario. On his second shift, it pretty much did the same thing. Around Mario's third shift, Dan Potash did what Dan Potash is paid to do - lob softballs to Mario. Mario, with his trademark half-grin, knocked the softballs out of the park. On his fourth shift, or maybe even earlier, Mario banked a pass in off his personal backboard, Rob Brown.

Mario looks like their camp counselor.
This game was about one thing - Mario Lemieux. Well, except for Kevin Stevens, for whom the game was about survival. Mario played deliberately, effortlessly, and, overall, well. The same can't be said of some of the other Pens' alumni, including Frank Pietrangelo, whose career GAA of 4.08 probably couldn't even get him a spot in the Pirates' pitching rotation. (We'll chalk this up to "different era"). Unfortunately for Pens' fans, Peter Bondra decided to score the most meaningful goal of his career with under a minute to play to pull the Caps even with the Pens. From there, the game ended in a tie, the players did some glad handing, the fans chanted "shootout", Gary Bettman decided to let the game end in a tie because that worked so well for Bud Selig, and I googled antonyms for "speed" to try to describe the pace of the game while debating whether the players were shooting or putting the puck.

Definitely more exciting than shootout.
Would the morning have been equally exciting if it consisted only of isolated introductions of Mario Lemieux? Yes, it would have. Although, if this game were an actual throwback to the past, Mario would have been announced in warm-ups as scratched with back spasms.

After the jump, more thoughts and more pictures...

Penguins' Alumni Power Play Called to Active Duty

By Artistry

Feeling nostalgic?

Finesse was at the alumni game. Check back for his report.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

GTOPG: Pens Lose 2-1 to Islanders' Farm Team; Sid to Shave; More on 24/7

By Artistry

When I was in high school, kids in my neighborhood played a lot of street hockey. There was a guy we'll call Tommy Z., who was a very good athlete, good hand-eye coordination, quick feet, but he had no real hockey skill to speak of. I hated playing against Tommy Z. I felt like I should be able to beat him just by sheer force of will and superior talent, but damned if Tommy Z. didn't out-hustle, out-hack, and pretty much neutral zone trap me to my wit's end every single time. In the words of Pascal Dupuis, "F--- you, Tommy Z." You know where I'm going with this. The New York Islanders without Mark Streit and Kyle Okposo? That team the Penguins played Wednesday night was kind of like Tommy Z. with a missing leg. The Penguins actually managed to lose to a hopping Tommy Z.

Tommy Z.? Is that you?
- The same thing was on everyone's mind last night as the minutes ticked down. Could Sidney Crosby keep his consecutive game scoring streak alive? You know it was on the players' minds, because they were forcing Sid the puck at every opportunity, to the extent that Evgeni Malkin actually looked confused about what to do on the power play. Do I take this open shot, or do I cycle it over to Sid? It was unnatural. You know it was on Dan Bylsma's mind, because he kept Crosby on the ice for about four minutes in overtime. And you know it was on the Islanders' minds, because they played with a desperation the Penguins' simply couldn't match. Crosby hit the crossbar on a beautiful feed from Tyler Kennedy, and that's as close as he would come to registering a point. There were no tape-to-tape passes on this night. The puck was jumping. The streak is over at 25 games, and now Crosby can get back to scoring points in the natural flow of the game. And, mercifully, he can shave.

- I had a bad feeling about the game and the streak when Bob Errey dropped this beauty about Crosby during his pregame rambling: "I'm even starting to wonder if he's the greatest player to ever play the game." Bobby, you just lost your spot on Mario's wing in the Winter Classic alumni game.

- One of Errey's "Tips to Win" on Wednesday: "Finish the Year Off." Really? That's one of the tips to win? That's right up there with, "Remember to Breathe" and "Wear Your Skates."

- Rick DiPietro is still in the league?

- You really need to know where Josh Bailey is on the ice at all times. [Ed. Note: I'm a little bitter about this loss.]

- The Penguins are terrible at penalty shots. 0 for the last 12.

- It was difficult to watch the Pens' squander a magnificent shootout goal by Geno. When he jumped over the boards, I think I shouted, "For once in your life, Geno!" And he shook DiPietro so hard that the oft-injured Isles' goalie ended up in the corner. It didn't matter, in the end. If you didn't have an uneasy feeling watching Robbie Schremp take his turn against Fleury, you don't know anything about Robbie Schremp.

- Yeah. A bit of a one-trick-pony, Robbie Schremp, but his one trick is embarrassing people on penalty shots. In the end, the Penguins probably had the very same thought I used to have after a game with Tommy Z.: At least we got out of here with one point.

Additional thoughts on last night's episode of 24/7, after the jump...

Morning Skate: Top 10 Quotes From 24/7 Penguins/Capitals, Part 3

By Artistry

HBO gave us another stellar episode last night, with the best on-ice action we've seen in the documentary series to date. More later, but let's get the morning started with the Top 10 quotes from Part 3:

10. "It's still very blonde. We're thinking about Just-for-Menning it for the Winter Classic." Matt Cooke on Mustache Boy Paul Martin's modest showing.

9. "This goalie is not good." Head Coach Dan Bylsma, between periods, on Capitals' goalie Michael Neuvirth.

8. "You're never satisfied when you're successful. So I'm very happy with that effort." Capitals' coach Bruce Boudreau, who is going to get fired any minute now, to his team in the locker room after its third win in about a dozen games.

7. Bylsma: "Sid, you tired?"

    Crosby: "I didn't do anything."

    Bylsma: "Good point."

6. "Get to our game." Bylsma, to the team.

5. "They said the pressure would make it grow. It did. (Pause.) Can you tell I got hit?" Rookie defenseman Ben Lovejoy to Crosby and Marc-Andre Fleury, referencing his ridiculously swollen face.

Not bad, Lovejoy.
4. "Get to our game." Bylsma, to the team, again.

3. "Is that kind of like Mike Green's thing he had?" Mike Rupp, on the pink scooter his daughter got for Christmas.

2. "You look awesome. Girls love." Evgeni Malkin, on Lovejoy's bloody, swollen visage.

1. "What pearls of wisdom is that idiot going to spew?" Mrs. Artistry, as Bruce Boudreau walked into the locker room with the Capitals down 1-0 after one period against Pittsburgh. She's really had it up to here with Bruce Boudreau.

We'll have more on 24/7 and a Get to Our Postgame review of Pens/Islanders, coming up later this morning. Until then, remember, you can't stop P.A. Parenteau, you can only hope to limit him to the game-winning goal in the shootout.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

NFL to James Harrison: Next Time You Feel Like Hitting Someone in the Head, Send a Picture of Your Privates Instead

By Artistry

The NFL fined Brett Favre $50,000 today for failing to cooperate with the league's investigation into the Jenn Sterger sexual harrasment allegations. Case closed. In a related story, James Harrison was fined $100,000 for making eye contact with a wide receiver.

Next time, just drop your pants.

GTOPG: Pens Play Shorthanded For Like 46 Minutes; Beat Atlanta, 6-3

By Artistry

Time and again Big Dustin Byfuglien set up at the blueline Tuesday night at Consol, ready to uncork one of his blinding slapshots against Marc-Andre Fleury and the Penguins' top-ranked penalty killing unit. And though giving Big Buff 8 power plays last night to fire away seemed like a winning formula for Atlanta, the Penguins' penalty kill looks like a great Steelers' defense right now. It's a unit that can virtually win the game on its own. The Thrashers converted only 1 of their 8 opportunities with a man advantage, Matt Cooke and Craig Adams were unreal, combining on a shorthanded goal of their own while frustrating Atlanta at every turn, and Zbynek Michalek took a pillow and pressed it down on the Thrashers' collective face and didn't let up until they drew their last breath. Then, after they were already dead, the Thrashers had to deal with Sidney Crosby.

- Bang.

- The final score had no relationship to how the Penguins came out in the first period. It was pretty much a replay of the lackluster first period last Sunday night in Ottawa, and that's a problem this team needs to rectify quickly. The Thrashers - believe it or not - led the Eastern Conference in scoring coming into the night - and early on they were scorching the Penguins' defense off the rush. Fleury was, yet again, spectacular. He played out of his mind the first ten minutes of the game, single-handedly keeping the Pens in it.

- Then, suddenly, Chris Kunitz looked like he was shot out of a cannon and drew a penalty. And Crosby took over. After Kris Letang made a brilliant play to keep the puck in, he slid it over to Crosby in the circle for a one-timer over a sprawling and, as always against Pittsburgh, ineffective Ondrej Pavelec. Late in the period Alex Goligoski found Crosby flying up the middle, Sid spit the defense. The game was tied, but it was also over.  In the second period, the Pens' got to their game and tilted the ice, dramatically, toward the Thrashers' end.

- Geno Malkin was haunting people last night. He was all over the puck, picking off passes, turning defense into offense, and, even though he didn't score, generally doing what he does when you know he's on his game.

- 9 second into the third period, Hands of Whispering Angels with the fastest goal to start a period in Penguins' history, followed 13 minutes later by Testy Letestu absolutely posterizing Alexander Burmistrov and waiting, waiting, waiting, then wrapping the puck around Pavelec. Once you get run over by Testy like that, you're never the same.

- Another 4 points for Sid. A 13-point lead in the scoring race. But who's counting.

The Pens are in Long Island tonight for the final game of the year. Let's do this in style.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Penguins Year in Review: 10 Things We Learned in '10

By GTOG Staff

In the year 2010, the Penguins and their fans had to ask themselves, what comes next? After your 21-year-old captain lifts the Cup, the fall can be steep, the climb back to the summit long and arduous. As they sometimes like to say on our favorite reality show, it's been quite a journey. Now, as we prepare to ring in the New Year, GTOG pauses to reflect and consider, what have we learned?

1. Sidney Crosby has no competition.

Two months ago, no one thought we'd be here. HBO was previewing its 24/7 Penguins/Capitals series by proclaiming Alex Ovechkin "the best player in the universe." Steven Stamkos was edging his way into the conversation with his goal-per-game pace and wicked snipes from the perimeter. People were caught thinking, hey, maybe Alex Semin really is worth $6 million a year. Yet here we are. As of this writing, Sidney Crosby has a 24-game scoring streak and leads the league with 61 points in 37 games. Stamkos is second with 50. What does this mean? Hockey Prospectus points out a couple of things you may already know: i) Crosby is dominating the scoring race while being deployed as his team's defensive stopper, starting most shifts with a faceoff in his own zone; and ii) Crosby is the only truly elite scorer in the league taking regular shifts without a complementary superstar on his line.  Now here's something you may not know: if you take the greatest single-season scoring performances by Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux and normalize them by assuming the same number of goals scored per team per game (regardless of era), this is how they compare to Crosby's projected totals this season:

Wayne Gretzky, 1985-86:  166 pts. in 82 games
Mario Lemieux, 1988-89:  172 pts. in 82 games
Sidney Crosby, 2010-11:  149 pts. in 82 games


There is an argument to be made that Ovechkin has already peaked. Crosby's somewhere eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, thinking about how far he has to go.

2. Ray Shero knows more than you.

Look, nobody's perfect. Nils Ekman didn't work out. But in his 5 years at the helm, Pens' general manager Shero has done exactly what he said he would do: he built a team that can contend for the Stanley Cup year in and year out. And this is Shero's finest hour. Consider:

i) His oft-debated roster philosphy has been validated. Jordan Staal hasn't played a game this season. Evgeni Malkin has only really been Geno for about two weeks. Yet the Penguins are among the top 5 teams in the league in scoring. Does anybody still think the Penguins should part with a core player in favor of a goal-scoring winger?

ii) He knows who to lock up and who to let go. How's that Kris Letang contract looking? Does the $3.5 million cap hit through 2013-14 for the Norris Trophy candidate sound reasonable to you? Maybe you wish you had Sergei Gonchar on the books for $5.5 million a year through 2012-13. They're living that dream up in Ottawa.

iii) He knows what coach to hire. We always liked his record. But until HBO took us behind the scenes for a closer look at Danny Bylsma, we had no idea, and neither did you. What a stud.

iv) He knows how to develop players. The Penguins system isn't exactly brimming with elite prospects, but Shero is bringing along the youngsters we do have the right way: with patience and consistency. Eric Tangradi isn't bumping a veteran like Aron Asham out of the lineup based on his pedigree; he'll do it when he's rounded out his game and he's ready to play top 9 minutes for a Stanley Cup champion. When players like Dustin Jeffrey are rewarded with spot duty for Penguins, they know they'll be playing in precisely the same system they use down on the farm in Wilkes Barre. 

v) Shero is the guy you want at the trade deadline. He gets his man. Marian Hossa. Pascal Dupuis. Bill Guerin. Chris Kunitz. Yeah, he traded for Alexi Ponikarovsky, but what did that really cost the Penguins? Maybe you see a hall of fame career for Luca Caputi. Ray Shero knows better than you.

The rest of what we learned in '10, after the jump...

Top 5 Dave Molinari Moments of 2010

By Eloquence

The GTOG team has been working hard during the holiday season to bring you some end-of-year lists of the most memorable moments from 2010.

Today, we're excited to share the top 5 Dave Molinari comments. We felt we had to do this and make it an annual tradition. This is a Pittsburgh Post Gazette hockey writer who, in 2009, grouped ancient Chinese dynasties together with the dynasties of the Canadians and Islanders to make his point about the patterns of history. Right. We don't know how to respond to that either.

What we do know is that this sort of high-energy, witty, and coherent journalism should not go uncelebrated.

In the Hall of Fame for a Reason
We hope you're sitting down (and have literally nothing else to do) during this ride with NHL Hall of Fame Penguins' beat writer, Mr. David Molinari. Here we go, after the jump...

GTOPG: Pens Confuse First Period With Morning Skate; Fall to Ottawa, 3-1

By Artistry

The Penguins' game in Ottawa Sunday night was something very few of us - players and fans alike - were truly committed to getting to. Yes, I'm looking at you, too, GTOG Nation. Come on, you're telling me that after the pre-Christmas thriller in D.C., followed by a weekend that, in my case anyway, included no fewer than three Chinese food dinners with accompanying exotic drinks, you were bringing your best to even sitting on your couch and watching the contest at Scotiabank Place? Come on. Imagine if you had to play. This game had "hangover" written all over it. On some nights, not even Dan Bylsma's meticulous preparation and controlled intensity can prevent human nature from making an appearance.

- The first period was the Penguins' worst in memory. They came out with nothing, and if Marc-Andre Fleury hadn't been sharp, this would have gotten out of hand fast.  When is the last time you remember Eric Godard getting embarrassed in a fight?  He didn't go down - I'm not sure Eric Godard even realizes it when he gets punched in the face - but Terry Carkner really did some damage almost right off the draw.  Godsy's going to have to break out his red suit today just to draw attention from his face.

That fight was pretty much the night in a nutshell.

- Great deflection by former Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin on the Sens' first goal. Wrong net.  I love the work he and ZZ Blocks have been doing the last few weeks, but the PM needs to be a presence in every zone on a more consistent basis. GTOG has high expectations.

- As bad as it got in the first period, the Pens were thisclose to taking control of the game in the second. Sens goalie Brian Elliot denied Chris Conner on a partial breakaway, then stoned Chris Kunitz on a clean break after Sid sprung him with a pretty lead pass. Kuny tried his patented right-to-left five-hole move that any goalie who watches NHL On the Fly - and they all do, trust me - knows is coming.

- Hands of Freshly Fallen Snow had his worst game in months, a .3 out of 5 on the Bylsma performance scale. Not only did he revert to Hands of Stone, but he also took two brutal, always inexcusable, offensive zone penalties, and seemed personally committed to ending Sidney Crosby's scoring streak at 23 games.

- The smile that briefly played under the Captain's unfortunate mustache after he scored late in the final period tells you all you need to know about the importance to Sid of said streak. Normally, if Sid scores in a game where the Pens are playing that poorly, his lip wouldn't even twitch.

- A quick word about the referees in this game, with the caveat that they had nothing to do with how poorly the Penguins' came out.  They were awful.  They made phantom calls at crucial points, and now they're pretty much back to letting obstruction away from the puck go unpunished.  Have another Coors Lite, boys.

- This was a game where the grinders need to be the difference-makers. We needed one garbage goal by a Cooke or a Kennedy or a Dupuis in the second, and this would have been a different game. We didn't get it. And HCDB looked like he wanted to strangle somebody.

Tuesday night Atlanta comes to Consol. Break's over.

Morning Skate: The 'Stache Lives

The Pens lost. But Crosby scored.

The Definition of "Mixed Feelings"
Back in a few with Get to Our Postgame.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Easy Big Fella: Staal Desperate to Play in Winter Classic

By Artistry

Jordan Staal joined the morning skate Sunday in Ottawa, and the PPG quotes him as saying he won't rule out a return against the Capitals on January 1. As much as we want to see Staal back in the lineup, he shouldn't push it. Every indication thus far has been that the broken bone in his hand is a particularly tricky injury; there have been setbacks and constant questions about the timetable for getting him back in the lineup. Suddenly showing up at Heinz Field on Saturday doesn't sound like a great idea. Staal should wait until he's 100%, then wait another week just in case. No more setbacks.

Pens and Sens tonight, Sid looks to make it 24 straight games with a mustache, and we've got a big week planned leading into the New Year. Stay tuned. LGP.

Friday, December 24, 2010

GTOPG: Pens Win; Steelers Win; We All Sleep In

By Artistry

I met GTOG contributor Poise Thursday evening at a restaurant down the street from Verizon Center. I wedged my way through about 200 Caps fans - and you know they're Caps fans because, say what you will about them, they all rock the red - and made my way toward his location at the end of the bar. He had a beer waiting for me. "Bring it in," he said, and we clinked glasses. "Big night."

"Huge," I agreed.

And I don't remember much after that. Just kidding. Sort of. I usually don't care for going to games at Verizon, because Penguin fans tend to become targets of hostility in a way that we really aren't in most places. A couple of seasons ago, an elderly woman sitting in the seat next to my uncle - a longtime Caps fan and season ticket holder - told him that she really wished he'd left me at home and found his Pittsburgh ties both regrettable and nauseating. She wasn't kidding even a little bit. And old ladies tend to like me. Last night, though, was different. We had some other Penguins' fans sitting behind us, three guys down in the lower level were wearing bright yellow shirts spelling out the word "M-A-X," and there was something in the air, something aside from the pungent aroma of the sauce on Bruce Boudreau's chin. I think it was fear.

Much like seasoned farm animals, Caps fans could sense that a storm was coming. They didn't know where it was coming from, but instinct told them some force of nature would again deny them a pleasurable HBO 24/7 viewing experience. And on this night, Marc-Andre Fleury brought the thunder. From the first minute of the game, Flower was clearly feeling it. Poise and I just looked at each other and nodded. "He's on tonight," I said. He had to be, because the Caps kept getting 5-on-3 power plays. And as much as we mock them, there is really nothing more frightening in the context of an NHL game than the Capitals with a two-man advantage. After the Pens killed the first one, we had a perfect view of another patented Sidney Crosby deflection, one where he directed the puck into the net from a position at least five feet to the right of the cage. Picture the scene: Shouts from the pockets of black and gold dotting the red arena tapestry. Fist bumps with the people behind us. And an irrepressible, stunning realization spreading over the faces of the Capitals' faithful: "He's the best player in the league. Not our guy. Him. Why, God? Why? I praise you 24/7!!! And this how you do me!!!" OK, that last part was a tweet by Stevie Johnson, but I'm telling you, Caps fans were stunned.

When Mike Green finally broke through on yet another 5-on-3 caused by Matt Cooke's attempt to clear the puck out of the entire arena (Poise and I had him at a .4 on the Bylsma 5-point rating scale), Orange Scooter looked to the heavens as if some great weight had been lifted. Note to Mike Green: act like you've been there before. Wait, that's right, you haven't. But with nearly five minutes of power play time on a 5-on-3, you'd better get one goal. The way Fleury was playing, everyone in that arena had a feeling it wouldn't be enough.  The Caps were outshooting the Pens' something like 22-11 by that point, and you knew what Bylsma was saying to the boys in the locker room between periods. "Fourteen, how you feeling? Good. Because you're f---ing going. Grind these b------ down."

Like 17 seconds into the third, bang, Hands of Ivory Dishwashing Liquid.  The game was over until Gogo and Tanger got burned while working on a late game power play - inexcusable - and Mike Knuble snuck one through Fleury's pads on a breakaway.  At that point, it was our turn to be stunned.  I don't think Poise and I looked at each other or spoke until the end of regulation.

Then, in overtime...

Look at Green's reaction. After that save, I sure liked our chances in the shootout.  Even after Bylsma sent Geno Malkin out as the third shooter.  I feel nothing but genuine disappointment when Geno takes a penalty shot - I'm always lamenting the fact that we didn't just get a power play instead - so I'm not sure why it's ever a good idea to voluntarily put him out there.  Didn't matter.

After the game, I bounded out onto F street and joined about 100 Pens fans standing on some museum steps, chanting "Let's Go Pens" and "Crosby, MVP" as Caps' fans streamed down into the metro station.  I checked the clock. Still time for the second half of the Steeler game.

By the time I got home, hell had already pretty much been unleashed on the poor Carolina Panthers, and after the adrenaline rush of the Penguins' game, it was like watching a bad college bowl game. The Steelers did what they had to do, and now, assuming the Ravens take care of business against Cleveland Sunday, they have 10 days to prepare for a dangerous Browns team standing in the way of a two-seed and the chance to get Troy Polamalu and Aaron Smith healthy. I couldn't help but think though, after watching Jeremy the Punter give Jimmy Clausen the ball at the 24-yard line after a net 20-yard punt, that we're going to need to play close to perfect defense to overcome clear deficiencies on special teams and the offensive line.  Then I stopped worrying about it.  It was, you see, a pretty good night. Happy Holidays. GTOG.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

GTOPG: More 24/7; It Still Only Takes 20 Minutes to Beat Florida; Pens Win, 5-2

By Artistry

Back in November, we noted that, fortunately, the Penguins only had to show up for one period to get out of Florida with a 3-2 win.  And despite the fact that the Panthers have been relatively hot lately, nothing changed Wednesday when the clubs met in Pittsburgh.  The Pens came out flying in the first, then sat back, started giving pucks away to get BJ and MAF some work, and looked forward to watching a late night airing of 24/7 Penguins/Capitals, Part 2 in the Washington, DC Ritz.  If they actually sustain their level of play for three periods tonight, I'm going to go out on a limb and speculate that their may be some profanity emanating from the Capitals' locker room between periods. 

- From the first shift, Sid and Geno looked like they were shot out of a cannon.  Crosby's goal - his speed up the wing after taking a buttery chip pass from Chris Kunitz - looked otherworldy.  22 goals in 22 games. 

- The Buzz Line of Letestu, Connor and Kennedy continued to impress.  Great patience by Testy on his goal in the face of tremendous adversity.  He's had to overcome a lot since Dan Bylsma revealed to the world via HBO that "Testy" is, in fact, his nickname.  Fortunately, he does not have a hockey-playing twin.  If there's anything good that's come from Jordan Staal's extended absence, it's the confirmation that upon his return Bylsma can just stick him on the second line without thinking twice about it.

- Kris Letang was the most consistently dominant player on the ice last night.  He was flying, as usual, but that wasn't the most notable thing about his game.  How can such a tiny human be so strong?  He was crushing people into the boards all night, and in the first period, he went toe to toe with Bryan Allen in front of the Panthers' net, and he didn't back up one inch.  Allen is 6'5" and 230 pounds.  Letang is listed at 6'0" and 200 pounds.  Try 5'9" and 180.

- Good for Ben Lovejoy that he managed to dodge the wild right hands being thrown by the scrub who challenged him to fight for the first leg of the Gordie Howe Hat Trick (he later got a goal, but lacked the requisite assist).  We continue to question, however, the Penguins' willingness to drop the gloves regardless of the circumstances.  Steiggy hit it on the nose after Mike Rupp responded to a challenge in the second period from Darcy Hordichuk:  "He didn't need to do that."  No, he didn't need to do that, and he shouldn't have done that.  It's axiomatic in hockey - or at least it should be - don't indulge guys like Hordichuk when you have a big lead and the other team is starting to build some momentum.  It's just dumb. 

- Even though they slept through much of the latter part of the game, the Penguins just look like a well-coached, highly efficient team right now.  The puck support, the backchecking, the breakouts, it's all clicking.  They'll need to to be sharp tonight to combat the highly emotional Capitals, who reacted like they took Game 7 of a first round playoff series after beating Ottawa the other night (Editor's note: the Capitals would not know how to react if they won Game 7 of a second round playoff series).  With that, a few more notes about last night's edition of 24/7:

1.  Mario Lemieux is going to be sliding feathery backhand shots behind goalies when he's 83-years-old.

2.  Dan Bylsma always gets to his game.

3.  If you grew up going to Penguins' games and humming the team's theme song as you shot pucks in your driveway, as I did, you can appreciate how cool it was to watch the Phoenix game highlights to that soundtrack.  I am not a fan, however, of all of the HBO camera work.  The game highlights don't seem to capture as comprehensively as I would like the true beauty of some of the plays we see when watching replays of a regular old local broadcast.  It certainly looks artsy, but can't we take a minute and appreciate something like Crosby's roof job shot against the Coyotes?  How about slowing that kind of thing down AGH camera-style?

4.  It might have been worth deviating from the Pens/Caps theme to capture Paul Bissonette's reaction to Matt Cooke's prank.

5.  No need to belabor the fact that the Capitals are coming off poorly in this deal.  Sunlight is the best disinfectant, and it's shining all over Bruce Boudreau's bald pate.  But somebody needs to tell Alex Ovechkin to put a shirt on, hide his face, hide Mike Green's whole life, hide his parents, and keep Alex Semin off camera, where he belongs. 

There.  Now I think I'm ready to go tonight.  Poise and I will be at the game, and on Friday we'll be all over an explosive Penguins/Steelers Holiday Special Get to Our Postgame Spectacular.  LGP.  LGS.  GTOG.

Morning Skate: Top 5 Unfortunate Moments in 24/7 Penguins/Capitals, Part 2

By Artistry

First rule of GTOG:  Don't bury the lead.  We saw Mario Lemieux on ice for the first time in five years last night, and it was glorious.  HBO caught Lemieux taking part in a staff scrimmage in preparation for the Winter Classic alumni game, and though he's lost his wheels, the 45-year-old legend is still embarassing goaltenders.  He even nearly pulled off the same move he used to beat Al Iafrate and Mike Vernon in the 1990 all-star game.  Remember?

The entire hour of 24/7 could have been devoted to Lemieux's scrimmage.  Perhaps inevitably, the series couldn't quite live up to last week's debut, although it still gave us plenty to talk about.  We'll have additional thoughts later today in Get to Our Postgame, but we get the morning started with the Top 5 Unfortunate Moments of 24/7 Penguins/Capitals, Part 2:

5.  Nicklas Backstrom Close-up

Good player.  Looks like a member of the 1976 East German women's swim team.

4.  Eric Godard's Christmas-Red Suit

Just because you can get away with it, Godsy, doesn't make it right.

3.  Alex Ovechkin

The producers tried to endear him to us by taking us behind the scenes to his apartment, where his mother was cooking and cleaning, and his father was modeling an epic toupee.  All this did for me is make clear where he got his looks.  Mrs Artistry turned to me as Ovechkin lay writhing and moaning on a massage table in the Caps' training facility and said, "He's kind of a douche."  And I took her hand in mine.

2.  Every Bruce Boudreau Speech

If you thought Boudreau was pushing right up to the edge of pathetic last week, he jumped off the ledge last night.  He felt the need to defend his coaching record to the HBO audience, continued to make locker room speeches that lacked confidence, coherence, or any apparent thought ("Getting it deep, getting it deep...getting it deep"), and, to any unbiased observer, looked like a guy who's about to get fired.  Lucky for him, Ted Leonsis is not unbiased.

1.  Mike Green's Orange Scooter

The fact that the faux-hawked, apparently completely personality-free defenseman is emerging as HBO's featured Capitals' player tells all we need to know about Mike Knuble's previous claim that the Capitals, not the Penguins, would be more entertaining to viewers.  Much like the Washington team itself, it's an unfulfilled promise.  A ridiculous hairstyle and a goofy ride doesn't make you entertaining.  Sid and Duper sitting in their hotel room, telling stories?  That's entertainment.

See you back in a few for GTOPG.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Playing the Jets? Hide Your Wife's "Hot Mature Sexy Feet"

By Artistry

Ah, the media. There is a story making the rounds today about new evidence that New York Jets loudmouth coach Rex Ryan and his wife spend their free time making foot fetish videos. When asked about it by some Chicago reporters Wednesday morning, Ryan reportedly replied, "I know you need to ask, it's a personal matter." OK. As to the first part of that response, no, they really didn't need to ask. Secondly, uh, yeah it is. No one needs to be sitting at work today carrying the mental image of Ryan drooling over his wife's "mature" toes. Sadly, this will probably be the second story on the 11 p.m. Sportcenter tonight, right after an update on the Brett Favre investigation and about 45 minutes before a 15-second snippet on Geno Malkin's hat trick.

Seeking Barefoot Kicker

In other news fresh from the Internets, we have new respect for the Cleveland Browns organization, circa 1974. Check out the greatest response ever to a letter threatening frivolous litigation here. Hat tip to Kevin O. for the link.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Penguins' Players Pondering Whether to Invite Others to Play in All-Star Game

By Artistry

Fan voting for the January 30, 2011 NHL all-star game is picking up, and it feels like 1992 again.  Remember when Lemieux, Jagr, Stevens, and Coffey all were in the lineup for the Wales Conference?  This year is shaping up as the dawn of a new era of Pittsburgh all-star dominance, with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, and Marc-Andre Fleury all at or near the top of the voting for their respective positions.  This has ESPN's Pierre LeBrun apoplectic.  LeBrun's take:

Listen, Kris Letang is having a wonderful season, one even worthy of Norris Trophy nomination at this point. But that the Penguins blueliner is more than 100,000 votes ahead of six-time Norris Trophy winner Nicklas Lidstrom makes me sick to my stomach. Where's the respect, hockey fans??

Sick to your stomach? Really? Because it sure looks to my eye like Letang is having the better season.  He's got 29 points to Lidstrom's 26, he's a +18 to Lidstrom's +1, and, oh, he skates like the freaking wind.  This is the 2011 all-star game, is it not?  We're fans of LeBrun, but it's hardly a sign of disrespect that Lidstrom currently sits fourth in the defensemen voting behind Tanger, Duncan Keith, and Chris Pronger.  It's not those guys' fault it's so cold in the D that Red Wings fans can't click a button to vote for their aging captain.

LeBrun is just as full of righteous indignation over the fact that Malkin (3rd) currently leads Steven Stamkos (4th) in the forward voting and that Fleury (2nd among goalies) is gaining fast on Carey Price (1st).  Just so I have this straight, Pierre, we should be rewarding Lidstrom for past performance, but we should ignore Malkin and Fleury's past performance in favor of Stamkos and Price's current performance?  Got it.  In any event, we'll see who the team captains choose when it comes time to pick up sides.

GTOPG: Geno Lobbying HBO for Larger Role in 24/7 Documentary; Pens Roll, 6-1

By Artistry

Add me to the long list of people who have a bone to pick with Matt Cooke.  And Mike Rupp, you're in the dog house too, big fella.  Thoughtless, selfish penalties by those two in the second period of last night's demolition of the Phoenix Coyotes put the brakes on what could very easily have been a record-breaking night for Evgeni Malkin.  After the penalties, the Pens quickly found themselves killing off a two-man advantage, the game got chippy, and the Coyotes (or, as Bob Errey, who is apparently an American pioneer living in 1842, would say, "the Ki-yotes") realized they should probably pay some attention to Sid and Geno.  Until that stage of the game, Phoenix had done nothing to make the Penguins' stars the slightest bit uncomfortable, and Geno had already put up a 5-spot with 12 minutes to play in the second.  We've been waiting to see him get back to this level on a consistent basis for the better part of two years.  It's still too early for any kind of formal celebration, but we found GTOG contributor Eloquence grinning broadly this morning.

- "The two-headed monster is making a vicious return," he said.  "Geno's shot is getting back to scary levels.  But let's see if the PP can stay above 20% for a few weeks (17% the last two seasons; 16.8% right now).  Even from Europe, Finesse's wisdom to keep things in perspective is echoing loudly."  Until Dan Bylsma gave Malkin a few days to rest his weary bones, his shooting percentage was hovering around 7%.  Since Geno returned last week against Philadelphia, he's converting at over 26%. 

Look Out Now.
- Eloquence, coming down from his high, offers more perspective:  "Phoenix's overall performance may be the worst I've ever seen by an NHL team.  Really. They got dogged in every facet of the game.  Go down 5-0 in 30 minutes; veteran player gets KO'ed (Engelland looked like a magician undoing that poor man's helmet, waiting for him to throw a punch, dodging it, and then dropping him with a right-hander); register ONE shot on some 4 minutes of PP (more than half on a 5-on-3); and the only goal coming from a deflection off a leg, then Fleury's helmet, and trickling across the goal line.  It reminded me of Happy Gilmore's winning putt."

- Not to be overlooked on what was clearly Geno's night, Crosby turned on the afterburners against the Coyotes, and could easily have had 8 points himself.  "Sid is doing more things with one hand than I can ever remember," Eloquence said, disingenuously.  "What about 5:30 into the 3rd period when he dragged two Coyotes to the net before dishing to Letang for a missed open
cage.  Again, this is the 3rd period of a 4 goal game.  Amazing what a dead piece of wood can do."

- The Penguins have now won 13 straight games with Chris Kunitz in the lineup.  Sometimes when Little Artistry wakes up in the middle of the night from a bad dream and needs to be comforted, he asks for Chris Kunitz's hands.

So Soft.
- Marc-Andre Fleury was again spectacular and deserved the shutout.  Not only was Phoenix's single goal a total fluke, but they were put on the power play only because the officials modeled their game after their counterparts working the Steelers/Jets game on Sunday.

- And if you think Geno is on fire right now, here is one more note from Eloquence:  "Now for an edition of our favorite pastime here at GTOG: mocking ESPN.  Geno scored 5 points.  This should be the newsworthy equivalent of 40-50+ points from an NBA player; 4-5 touchdowns from a QB; or three homeruns in a game from a steroid-injected baseball player.  Does ESPN notice?  Nope.  Instead ESPN has TWO headlines about Favre, one about the emotional state of the Giants' punter, and of course something about Terrell Owens.  ESPN probably has a reporter drinking the fluid drained from Owens's knee after his surgery."

- It's OK to let yourself feel good about the Penguins right now.  But if you still feel yourself aching a little bit inside, that's understandable, too.  You miss Jordan Staal.

Trap game coming against Florida on Wednesday night.  Don't even think about the Caps and Captain Hot Sauce Bruce Boudreau until Thursday morning.

Monday, December 20, 2010

A Monumental Development

By Artistry

The Tribune Review provided some details Sunday about the Mario Lemieux statue that will eventually sit outside Consol Energy Center.  It will reportedly capture the 1988-89 version of Lemieux, which is both surprising and appropriate.  Surprising, because he only became the widely revered figure he is today after he came back from retirement in 2000, when the league and its fans came to realize what they'd been missing.  I would have expected the model for the statue to be Lemieux the elder statesman, the returning king, and the owner of the Penguins, not the younger Mario who, as most Pittsburghers know, was the more prolific and dynamic version.  Now future generations will look at the statue and get to see a snapshot of the player at what was really the peak of his physical dominance, splitting two nameless Islanders' defensemen, which is as it should be.  The helpless defensemen have no names on the backs of their jerseys, incidentally, only because Lemieux himself requested they be spared eternal notoriety as the guys getting abused by the greatest player any of us have ever seen. 

Someone should probably figure out a way to televise the Winter Classic alumni game.  Mario Lemieux is playing, and I suspect a few people will want to watch him.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

GTOPG: Somebody Might Want to Block Jason Taylor; Big Ben Drive Falls Short; Steelers Lose 22-17

By Artistry

If you take the aggravation of having to watch Rex Ryan and his smug, flabby, over-exposed face in a victorious press conference out of the equation, I would have a hard time caring terribly much that the Steelers lost on Sunday to a desperate Jets team.  The game was entertaining, and the play of the offensive line, Rashard Mendenhall, Emanuel Sanders, and the Polamalu-less defense was largely encouraging.  It also doesn't really matter that we lost.  We're not catching New England for the number 1 seed in the AFC.  And if the Steelers beat Carolina at home and the Browns in Cleveland to close out the season, the number 2 seed is ours.  That's going to happen.  If it doesn't, well, it wouldn't make too much sense to get worked up about the Jets then anyway.  Today I'm focusing on some of the positives, because there are a number of them.

- Ben Roethlisberger couldn't make the final play on Sunday, but who would you rather have with the ball in his hands when your team is on its own 8-yard line, with two minutes left and one timeout?  It's just uncanny the way he can make clutch throws time and again in circumstances like this.  After the 3rd and 24 completion to Emanuel Sanders, who didn't think the Steelers were winning that game?  Like him or not (and, um, why would you like him), as we've said before, he's the John Elway of this generation.  In the playoffs, he finds Sanders at the back of the end zone with no time on the clock.

- We take a lot of shots at them nearly every week, but the offensive line was nothing short of outstanding for much of the game.  Those guys kept Roethlisberger almost completely clean, and they knocked the Jets defense back on a number of Mendenhall runs.  If Ben hadn't been off early in the game, they probably would have gotten the game ball in a game the Steelers should have won.  I don't know what happened on the Jason Taylor safety; it could have been a missed assignment, but it could have just been a terrible play call (with a guard pulling, leaving a gap for Taylor to shoot through) from the two-yard line.  I'm sure Mike Tomlin will explain it on Monday.  But we shouldn't lose sight of how well they played for most of the game, even with Jonathan Scott's backup in the game for the final offensive series.  Let that one sink in.  We drove the ball 82 yards with Jonathan Scott's backup protecting the quarterback's blind side.

- Mendenhall was terrific.  That spring step he had going to bounce runs to the outside is the kind of thing that separates good from great backs in the NFL.  I cannot understand why he's not getting the ball at least 20 times every game.

- Lest you find yourself rolling your eyes at my rose-colored ramblings, Finesse weighs in from Italy with the following:  "I watched most of the game. We are pretenders. Super bowl caliber teams don't lose home games like that in 'December football' as a certain coach is fond of saying."

- I counted more holding penalties by Jets defensive backs than Antonio Cromartie has children.  OK, maybe not that many.

- The officiating was horrendous for reasons beyond the holding going on in the secondary.  I don't understand the unnecessary roughness call on Ryan Clark, and apparently, neither does Phil Simms.  Simms opined that "It's maybe not a foul in the sense of the word," but you still have to throw the flag there.  OK. Right.

- Jets punter Steve Weatherford showed just how important a punter can be when you're trying to unleash hell in December.  Nothing against that guy Jeremy, but we're going to continue to feel the absence of Daniel Sepulveda.

Big week ahead.  Put this one to bed.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Morning Skate: Haywood Hired; Polamalu Tired; The Price is So Wrong

By Artistry

It's a busy week in Pittsburgh, so let's hit these headlines "Net-Mouth Scramble" style:
  • Pitt on Thursday announced the hiring of Miami of Ohio coach Michael Haywood as Dave Wannstedt's successor.  What, were you expecting Urban Meyer to come out of retirement for this job?  I have no idea who this guy is.  Neither does Ron Cook, who offers this take, here for your convenience in the form of Ron Cook Poetry:
                   Really, is it so wrong to give Haywood a chance?
                   No, it isn't one of my prouder moments in journalism.
                   I believe him.
                   Sounds good to me.
                   All but the part about the scoreboard not mattering, that is.
                   But I get the man's point.
                   I'm just sayin'.
                   Give Haywood a chance.
  • Troy Polamalu is likely out against the Jets this Sunday.  Vegas preseason odds that Polamalu would be sidelined with an injury by week 15 were about 1:2.  This is just the way he rolls.  But if all he needs are a few maintenance weeks - and there is no indication so far that this is something particularly serious - then the timing is not terrible.  The Steelers will face a Jets offense that is struggling to do anything at all right now, and the last two games of the season bring Carolina and Cleveland.  The focus should be on winning 2 of 3 and securing a first round bye.  Polamalu shouldn't need to see the field to make that happen.  The concern is going to continue to be the broken down offensive line.  17 points should be enough to win all three of Pittsburgh's remaining games; now the offense will just need to score them rather than relying on defensive touchdowns.
  • Dan Steinberg has video of Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin on "The Price is Right" here.  (Trying to think of something to add. Just shaking my head.)

Thursday, December 16, 2010

GTOPG: Pens Lose 4-1; 24/7 Reactions

By Artistry

As discussed in this morning's post, my memory of this game has been almost completely washed away by the ensuing 24/7 Winter Classic documentary premiere.  But I have some notes and, despite the late hour, a responsibility to share them with you.

- The only way for a team like the New York Rangers to contain a line with Sidney Crosby and Geno Malkin is to obstruct them and pray for bad ice.  Obstruction is coming back to the NHL, but I'm not about to suggest that's why the Pens lost last night.  The ice is another story.  That game should have been at least 3-0 after two periods, but on every Penguins' odd-man rush, it looked like guys were dragging the puck through a gravel pit.

- At one point in the second period, the Penguins were outshooting the Rangers 21-10, and I found myself typing the words, "I cannot believe NYR just beat the Caps 7-0."  Oops.

- The Penguins defense was terrific during the first two periods.  In the third, everyone seemed to get impatient.  All of a sudden Kris Letang, nursing a one-goal lead, was freelancing in the offensive zone with Marian Gaborik on the ice.  Poor decision-making.

- Erik Christensen's patented wrister under the bar to tie the game once again exposed Brent Johnson's one glaring weakness.  He backs into his net way too early, leaving those upper corners exposed. 

- The officials got it right when they waived off Geno's apparent game-tying goal.  Textbook goalie interference by Dupes (F--- you, Geno.).

- Chris Kunitz scratched two games in a row, and we lose two in a row.  Not a coincidence.  We miss Hands of Johnson & Johnson cotton balls. 

Actual Image of Chris Kunitz's Right Hand

- Presumably, Sid is keeping the mustache now until his scoring streak is snapped.  I think I speak for everyone when I say, Sid, we're ready for you not to score.

- It's interesting to read the hockey blogosphere reactions to the first episode of 24/7.  It seems the show has been pretty much universally acclaimed, but there are certainly differing views on how a certain red jump-suited coach comes across.  Puck Daddy seems to think he's just terrific.  Japer's rink hasn't yet seen fit to address the issue.  Pens Blog comes down where we do on this, and it's no surprise that Penguins Nation stands united in making fun of Bruce Boudreau.  That said, and I'm really trying to speak objectively here, I thought Boudreau looked out of his depth at times.  It's all taken out of context, it's in the middle of a losing streak, it's not his fault he ate a sloppy joe just before they turned the camera on him - I get all that.  But if you came away from this thinking, hey, Bruce Boudreau made the Capitals' organization look good, I don't know what to tell you.

- Pens/Caps alumni game rosters have been announced.  Who you taking, the team with Mario Lemieux?  Or the one with Pat Ribble?  Yeah.

Top 10 Moments From 24/7 Penguins/Capitals, Part I

By Artistry

You can take all of the hype leading up to the January 1, 2011 NHL Winter Classic. The incessant NBC promotion, the alumni game, Crosby and Ovechkin appearing on a game show with entirely the wrong demographic. You can even throw in the game itself. I'm sure it will be a great one. But none of it will resonate the way HBO's 24/7 Penguins/Capitals series will for years to come. If you missed this one, shame on you for six weeks. Not a minute after I eased into bed to watch last night, exhausted from a long day and a longer Penguins loss to the Rangers (no, I'm not ready to talk about it), I was transported through the Fort Pitt tunnel toward Pittsburgh's familiar skyline, and into the Penguins' spectacular new locker room, where head coach Dan Bylsma was telling his troops to get "right to our game." And I looked at my wife, deep into her eyes, and I said, "This is (expletive deleted) awesome." Without further introduction, here are GTOG's Top 10 Moments from Part I of this epic documentary series.

10. Capitals' coach Bruce Boudreau earnestly addressing the camera with spots of orange sauce on his cheek and lips.

9. Bruce Boudreau's complete meltdown between periods of the Caps' 3-0 loss to Florida. Mrs. Artistry turned to me after Boudreau dropped about 32 f-bombs while conveying little in the way of meaningful English. "He's totally getting fired," she said. She may be right. The Caps dropped their seventh in a row last night, and Boudreau doesn't strike me as a guy in control of the ship. You?
"You f---in' need to f---in' think f---in' about how this f---in' will look on HBO."
Look, we'll see the Penguins facing some adversity in next week's episode after dropping (at least) two in a row. But how do you think Dan Bylsma will react? It won't be all smiles, but at the same time, I suspect he won't cover himself in tomato sauce and lose control of his faculties.

8. Max Talbot sitting on Santa's lap at the holiday party and whispering that what he would really like for Christmas is Santa's helpers, specifically the two good-looking elves standing nearby.

7. Bruce Boudreau remarking to his team that HBO is bound to talk about how well the Penguins are playing in contrast to the Caps, just as his hands crept dangerously close to the waistband of his unfortunate red jumpsuit, evidencing a self consciousness about the cameras that never let up the whole hour and manifesting the seemingly eternal Caps' Nation inferiority complex. Along the same lines, Caps owner Ted Leonsis later noted - and you knew he had to get in front of a camera at some point - "We have to win the Stanley Cup. Pittsburgh's already won theirs."

6. The Penguins not even acknowledging the existence of the Capitals.

5. The fights. First we got an inside look at the Deryk Engelland-Colton Orr rematch ("Let's go then!") and the brutal price guys like that pay for their team every night. Just incredible footage. Then, later, the Ovechkin-Dubinsky battle during the Rangers rout of the Caps, and the "Good job, buddy" exchange as the two team leaders tumbled to the ice, satisfied with the show they'd put on for the fans and for their teammates.

4. The Bylsma meeting with Pens' GM Ray Shero. Their conversation, their easy rapport, their sober assessment of player performance, their business-like approach to game preparation - if that didn't crystallize for you the difference between these two organizations, I don't know what would. I mean, aside from Bruce Boudreau sticking his hands down his red jumpsuit.

3. The stars emerging. No, I don't mean Ovechkin and Crosby. I mean the other guys who will come out of this white hot spotlight with endorsement deals and magazine covers. Max Talbot and Marc-Andre Fleury come off as charming, fun-loving and charismatic. No surprise there. But here's one we didn't see coming: Bylsma. Talk about charisma. The scar gives him character, he tells the camera, his eyes glistening. "I was a hockey player." F---in' right.

2. "We're going to find out who did this. And we're probably not going to do anything about it." Ben Lovejoy, after Talbot and his team of merry bandits removed every item of furniture from the hotel rooms of Lovejoy and Mark Letestu and placed it in the hallway.

1. "F--- you, Geno." Pascal Dupuis, casually, to Evgeni Malkin, after tenderly kissing his adorable kids and wife goodbye, driving to the rink while softly and thoughtfully praising Sidney Crosby as a special player and person who "does everything the right way," and walking into the locker room.

To be sure, we're fortunate that HBO trained its cameras on Pittsburgh during a 12-game winning streak - it's the best of times. But here's the thing: we're just fortunate, period. Sid Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are about as pleasant and ego-less as you could ever expect players at their level to be. How could you not like those guys (note to Sid: Please shave)? We've got players, coaches, a system, and a culture that makes us proud and that others will want to connect with and be a part of. You don't think the 2011 unrestricted free agents are watching this show? Exactly.

Pens/Rangers Get to Our Postgame is coming later today. Not because we want to, but because we don't run for cover in the face of adversity. LGP.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

GTOPG: Geno? Geno! Oh, Geno. Geno, Geno, Geno; Pens Lose 3-2

By Artistry

If Tuesday night's game between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh confirmed one thing, it's that these two teams are evenly matched right now, and one play - one classic Evgeni Malkin "I'm taking a thoughtless penalty at the other team's blueline in the third period of a 2-2 game" special - can be decisive.  And it was.  We saw the many colors of Geno Tuesday, didn't we?  The tentative first period.  Feeling his way, chasing the play a bit, finding his footing.  Then, starting to feel it, burying a ridiculous one-time slapshot high on the short side.  Firing another shot through Brian Boucher's pads for the game-tying goal in the third.  And finally, the needless hit that resulted in Scott Hartnell's game-winning goal.  When Scott Hartnell is your Bud Light Impact Player, it's a bad night.

The Penguins can beat Philly in a seven-game series this spring, but for the first time in a long time, that's not a given.  The Flyers are a deep, deep team, and they've adopted the Blackhawks' paradigm of disguising mediocre goaltending with outstanding defense.  They aren't trying to fight people all the time anymore.  And they have a few forwards - Claude Giroux, Nikolai Zherdev, and Danny Briere - who make you clench your buttocks a little when they have the puck around the net.  But my money's still on Pittsburgh, for a number of reasons.

1) The Penguins have the best two players on either team.  It's not close.
2) This loss had nothing to do with Marc-Andre Fleury.  He continues to frustrate the Flyers regularly no matter how much they carry the play.  The first goal and third goals were a bit fluky.
3) The Pens did not come close to getting to their game until the second period.  While Joe Beninati was busy pitching this "marquee matchup," this "clash of the titans," the Penguins were icing the puck about 18 times in 10 minutes.  It was the worst period Pittsburgh has played in about two months.
4) The Flyers have some guy named Nodl working on their power play and missing an open net completely.  Bad fact for them.
5) Jordan Staal is going to take out his pent up frustrations on somebody.

6) Even when the Penguins seem down and out in Philadelphia, there will always be some idiot like Darrell Powe who takes a goalie interference penalty with two minutes left in the game to give the Pens a final chance.

It just didn't work out tonight.  A few other observations:

- Beninati and Versus color guy Andy Brickley opened the broadcast by talking about the leadership of Mike Richards and Sidney Crosby.  Because lord knows we wouldn't want to explore any new storylines.

- Chris Kunitz was out tonight because he was "banged up."  You always want Kunitz in the lineup against Philly, if only so he can decimate Kimmo Timmonen, but on top of that, Hands of Keihl's Moisturizing Cream is so hot right now.

- Brooks Orpik just got undressed on Zherdev's goal, and it didn't look to me like Zherdev even made much of a move.

- Matt Cooke received a roughing penalty early in the second strictly for being Matt Cooke.
Often Mistaken For Matt Cooke
The Pens start a new streak tomorrow night in New York.  They don't lose on opening night of HBO's 24/7 Pens/Caps series.  Mark it down.

Morning Skate: Pittsburgh/Philly Rivalry Takes on New Dimension

By Artistry

Yes, the Penguins and Flyers, the NHL's two top teams at this point in the season and bitter rivals, face off tonight in Philadelphia.  The Penguins try to make it 14 wins in a row, and the Flyers have only lost once this month themselves.  [Side note:  Did you ever think it would be this Penguins' team that would challenge the all-time record for consecutive regular season wins, set by the 1992-93 Pens?  Compare this year's roster to the guys on that team.  See what you think.]  Huge game.

But the really big news this morning is that the Philadelphia Phillies have finally put together a starting rotation to challenge the Pirates' pitching quartet of Jeff Karstens, Paul Maholm, Charlie Morton, and Ross Ohlendorf.  Now maybe we can call this a rivalry. 

Good Luck To You.

Monday, December 13, 2010

GTOPG: Steelers Win; Jonathan Scott Holds; and Carson Palmer Embarrasses Himself

By Artistry

Few things in life are certain, but you can always count on death, taxes, Shaun Suisham, and football writers pointing out that Troy Polamalu and Carson Palmer were roommates at USC the morning after Polamalu picks off a Palmer pass, returns it for a touchdown, and inspires the Steelers to victory.  Happens every time.  If you didn't think the Steelers would come out flat on Sunday after the escape in Baltimore and next week's game with the Jets looming, you may be biased.

Not Completely Objective
That's OK.  But don't kid yourself regarding how important this win was for Pittsburgh.  When the Bengals took a 7-0 lead and then promptly drove deep into Steelers territory looking for more, it almost got away.  But the defense clamped down, knocked the Bengals out of field goal range, and completely took over.  The Steelers should handle the Jets next week, given that Mark Sanchez isn't very good and the Jets can't run on us, but, as Finesse points out, there is a chance that an extra-motivated Santonio Holmes will "look like Malkin circa 2009 against Carolina - galloping like a Budweiser Clydesdale" all over our secondary.  In any event, the Steelers should win at least two out of the final three games (Carolina and Cleveland are next) and secure a first round bye.  We've considered several times in this space whether any of that matters if we can't beat New England.  The answer is still "no."  But given how the media is now practically handing to the AFC to the Patriots actually makes me like the Steelers' chances more.  Premature coronations are never a good thing for a team peaking early.  Some things to consider going forward:

- Our offensive line is a catastrophe.  Jonathan Scott continued to grab passing defensive players and hold on to them like he was trying to wrestle steers to the ground at a rodeo.  Scott is right at the top of the league in holding penalties, and he's only started 6 games.  It's hard to view this as a Super Bowl-worthy offense right now.

1st and 30.
- Ben Roethlisberger continues to take a pounding.  He doesn't talk about injuries except when he's talking about how he doesn't talk about injuries, but he's operating at 70% tops.  And he got hit on multiple occasion Sunday well after releasing the ball.  No flags.  At this rate, there is a very real possibility he doesn't make it through the entire game next Sunday.

- Rashard Mendenhall should be getting the ball at least 25 times a game right now.  He ran it 16 times on Sunday.

- Finesse writes in, "Carson Palmer is the Benjamin Button of NFL quarterbacks -- a peak early on, followed by significant regression.  Last season Palmer regressed to his high school years, and I will  not be surprised if by the end of the season, he is curled in the fetal position wearing a diaper and crying in the arms of Cate Blanchett (or Marvin Lewis)." 

- Ben Roethlisberger made a comment before the game Sunday that he spoke with Mario Lemieux and Mario said, "you finally look like a hockey player."  Is anyone else as troubled by the fact that Mario and Ben seem to be legitimate friends?  I think I can come to accept Mario's friendship with Ben, so long as I can get a guarantee that Mario will not allow Sid, Geno, and/or Fleury to be around Roethlisberger.  That's all I ask.  Oh, and Mario ... maybe you could tell Ben that when the stereotype of you is as a dumb redneck who may be a little "aggressive" in certain instances (to put it mildly), it may not be such a good idea to wear a camouflage hat in your press picture.  Just a thought.

- In other news, the Caps are mired in a 6-game losing streak after getting spanked by the Rangers 7-0 last night.  If we've said the Pens' winning streak is not a big deal, then, by rule, we have to say the same thing about the Caps' losing streak.

Today in Ron Cook Poetry: Polamalu? He Cares.

By Artistry

Don't underestimate the importance of Sunday's win against the 2-11 Bengals and the quarterback formerly known as Carson Palmer.  This had "trap game" written all over it.  Lose this one, and the epic battle last week in Baltimore meant nothing.  Once again though, Troy Polamalu made the play of the game.  How does he do it?  Why does he do it?  The answer is simple, per Ron Cook.  So this morning, we're kicking it old school with "Today in Ron Cook Poetry."

It's something much simpler.
Polamalu cares.
"That's Troy,"
"You can't keep him down."
Did I mention he cares? 
The two interceptions against the Bengals. 
The fourth-quarter sack of Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco and forced fumble that led to the winning touchdown against the Ravens a week earlier. 
The diving interception at the Steelers' 1 in Buffalo the week before that. 
The rest of us are lucky to be watching him.

So true, Ron.  Did I mention Steelers Get To Our Postgame is coming?  No?  Well, it is.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Puck Daddy Wastes Everyone's Time Asking If The Pens Get Favorable Treatment

By Finesse

Puck Daddy published a story today with the unfortunate headline, "Do the refs favor the Pittsburgh Penguins?" The ultimate conclusion of the article -- thankfully -- is that the Pens do not receive preferential treatment. The article is a statistical dump of all the Pens' penalty minutes this year and it turns out that the Pens take pretty much exactly the same amount of penalties as their opponents. Sorry New York Post, no conspiracy here.

But, let's say for a moment that the Pens did get whistled for significantly less penalty minutes than their opponents. Would that mean there is a bias in favor of the Pens?


Studies have shown that GTOG readers have the highest IQ of any website on the internet, so I'm not breaking any news to you. Nevertheless, there are some Ignorants out there that need to be reminded of the following:

1) There is no rule that a team has to be called for as many penalties as the other team.

2) Sometimes, one team is better than another team. The Pens are better than most teams. Often, in order to stop a team that is better than you, you have to take penalties.

3) If you've watched the Pens play, you'll notice that they have the puck a lot. Usually, penalties are taken by the team without the puck.

4) When penalties are taken against Sidney Crosby, it's not because he is diving. It's because he is faster and stronger than the people chasing him.

5) If you find yourself getting up in arms about a perceived "dive" by the Pens or a non-call when a Penguins' player does something that should be a penalty, ask yourself the following two questions:

1) Has any player on my favorite team ever embellished to get a call?
2) Are referees human beings who sometimes miss calls?

If the answer to those two questions are yes, then put down the Larry Brooks column and get over yourself.

6) Sidney Crosby has embellished before to draw penalties. Get over it.

Get To Our Postgame: Pens Win; Cam Newton's Parents Do A Lot Behind The Scenes That Goes Unnoticed

By Finesse

The Pens extended their win streak to 12 games with a 5-2 victory over the Buffalo Sabres in a chippy, fast-paced affair. Sidney Crosby extended his scoring streak to 18 games, Dan Bylsma and Ray Shero probably spent at least an hour after the game congratulating themselves and, most importantly, Marc-Andre Fleury continued to be spectacular.

If this game had occurred in the first two weeks of the season, the score would have been flipped and the Pens would have lost 5-2. The Sabres outshot the Pens 26-13 over the first two periods. Based on Fleury's early season save percentage, that would translate into Buffalo leading 25-2. But last night, Fleury made several high quality saves just to keep the Pens in the hunt - sometimes, that's all you need from your goalie.

- Dan Bylsma and Ray Shero, in the midst of a winning streak, decided to do what most coaches and GM's are loathe to do -- change the lineup. They inserted Dustin Jeffrey for Eric Godard and Ben Lovejoy for Derek Engelland. Just a few minutes into the game, Lovejoy and Jeffrey connected for the Pens first goal and Jeffrey had a great centering pass for Rupp's goal in the third. We have it on good authority that after the game, Shero and Bylsma met in the locker room to discuss the Toyota Prius and smell their own farts

- After the Craig Adams "slew foot" on Vanek, Shane Montador attempted to stand up for Vanek by tepidly approaching Craig Adams from behind and sort of pushing his head. Let's just say, Adams was not intimidated. Later in the night, someone took Montador's lunch money .... and he got really really angry!

- To anyone who thinks the Pens don't need Evgeni Malkin, consider the Pens' PP when Crosby was in the box -- Dustin Jeffrey, Chris Conner, and Mark Letestu. Literally, an AHL power play.

- This wraps up my Division Crown Jinx stretch of games. At the start of this 10-game stretch, I said that if the Pens could get 15 of 20 possible points against a weak slate of opponents, the Pens would win the division. Well, the Pens got 20 out of 20.

1. at Florida: W 3-2
2. at Buffalo: W 1-0
3. vs. Ottawa: W 2-1
4. vs. Calgary: W 4-1
5. at New York Rangers: W 3-1
6. vs. Atlanta: W 3-2
7. at Columbus: W 7-2
8. vs. New Jersey: W 2-1
9. vs. Toronto: W 5-2
10. at Buffalo: W 5-2

As we put this win streak in perspective, let's please keep in mind the low quality of these opponents. Pens travel to Philly on Tuesday -- if they win that, then we have a discussion.

- In other news, Cam Newton won the Heisman Trophy. In his speech, he said, "My parents do a lot of things behind the scenes that go unnoticed." Um, Cam...they go noticed.

- FSN busted out the clip of Jay McKee hitting Mario Lemieux in the 2001 Eastern Conference Semifinals. Lemieux was banged up, but McKee was out for the rest of the playoffs. In other words, the Hockey Gods did their job.