Tuesday, December 7, 2010

GTOPG: Pens Defeat 18 Guys Dressed in Devils' Uniforms

By Finesse

The storyline of the Pens current 12-0-1 streak has often been about how well the Pens have played, with little attention being paid to the opponent.  Last night, the Pens played fine, giving up few good scoring chances, getting timely excellences from their captain, and generally dominating puck possession en route to a 2-1 win over the Devils.  But the real reason that the Pens won this game -- and the real reason the game never felt in jeopardy despite the Pens being down 1-0 -- was the complete abomination that is the New Jersey Devils.

The Devils manufactured almost no quality chances and their two biggest off-season acquisitions, Ilya Kovalchuk and Anton Volchenkov, were largely invisible.  In Kovalchuk's case, you could probably even say that he was obesely invisible.  (Obesely ≠ a word).  What a disaster.  Steiggy kept talking about how awe inspiring Kovalchuk was when he broke into the league as a rookie, but, unfortunately for the Devils, that was in 2001.  This season, he has 5 goals and 6 assists in 26 games and is a -17.  By contrast, Chris Kunitz has 8 goals and 9 assists in 29 games and is a +7.  Or, if you prefer, Tyler Kennedy has 5 goals and 6 assists with an Even +/-. In Lou We Trust offers a well-reasoned semi-defense of Kovalchuk's play this season, pointing out his linemates and lack of production from the blueline as his partners-in-suck, but still...11 points in 26 games?  To break out of his slump, Kovalchuk may want to start by going within 30 feet of the net.

"Look! I can count my goal production on one hand!"
In sum, these are rough times for the Devils.  If you look at their roster, they have the same familiar names (minus the injured Zach Parise) who have been giving the Pens fits for years.  The difference this season is either that the Devils simply don't care, or they have been kidnapped by an AHL team.  Irregardless, as they say in Mean Girls, I don't feel bad for them.  They've spent the past 15 years being, along with the Red Wings, the most difficult opponent to play against.  Now that they are so bad they make trainwrecks look like a pleasant experience, I can only be thankful that the Pens get to play them 6 times this year.

Some other thoughts on the Pens and the rest of the sporting world.

- Despite the 0 for 6 power play effort last night, the unit as a whole looks to be improved.  Is it a coincidence that it coincides with Dan Bylsma's decision to follow GTOG's advice and put Paul Martin on the #1 unit over Alex Goligoski?  Absolutely not.  During the early season struggles on the PP, one of the main culprits was not over passing or lack of shooting -- it was the Pens inability and unwillingness to get the puck out of their own zone.  Instead, opposing teams would burn 10-15 seconds playing with it in our corners because no one - not Letang, not Goligoski, not Sid, not Geno - wanted to go and work to take it back.  Now, Paul Martin brings a more defense-first mentality that, if he can just get the puck out of the Pens' zone quickly to save 20 seconds, will pay huge dividends.  It's also a bonus that he can cross up opposing penalty killers on the blueline like Allen Iverson.

- Loved the tribute to Bill Guerin, but what is up with the Hawaii vacation?  I don't have a problem with giving rich people free stuff - after all, isn't the point of becoming famous to get free stuff? - but won't it be awkward when Guerin gets back to Pittsburgh and has to submit an envelope of his receipts to the Pens' payroll office?  "Ok, that's $11 on Auntie Anne's pretzels at LAX for the son with the afro."

- Craig Adams was spectacular again.  Picking him up at the 2009 trade deadline may be the best move of Shero's tenure with the Pens.

- On to football, where the Patriots dismantled the Jets, proving emphatically that they are the favorites in the AFC.  If I had to vote on the Steelers' chances of beating New England in the AFC Championship Game in Foxboro, I'd give it a vote of "no confidence."  So, for the Steelers' path to the Super Bowl, the first order of business is to win the division.  At this point, it's an absolute must.  That would most likely give the Steelers the #2 seed meaning they could avoid the Patriots until the AFC Championship game.  Of the teams who may make the playoffs, only Baltimore, in my expert opinion, has the ability to beat the Pats in New England (like they did last year).  That means that Steelers' fans need to root for, 1) the Steelers to win the division; 2) the Ravens to make the playoffs; and 3) assuming the Ravens get the #5 seed, the Ravens to win their wild card game and have the other wild card team lose, leaving the Ravens as the lowest-seeded team entering Round 2, setting them up for a game in New England.  Does it make me disgusted that I'm gaming out scenarios for avoiding the Patriots?  Yes, it does.

- The key to the Pats' success, from my untrained eye, is the offensive line.  If Brady can stand in the pocket for 7 seconds with no one within 10 feet of him, the Patriots are going to win.  This protection is developed in the draft.  The left side of the Pats' line is protected by Matt Light and Logan Mankins, second and first round picks respectively.  Big Ben's blind side is protected by Jonathon Scott and Chris Kemoeatu, fifth and sixth round picks.  The Steelers hit a home run on the Pouncey pick in the first round of the 2010 draft.  Here's hoping they pick some more linemen with pedigree next season.

- And finally, Ron Cook writes a column interviewing himself interviewing Isaac Redman.

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