Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Caps Make Sensible Trade

By Finesse

I get worried every time I see the Caps make a move that I agree with.  Today, they traded Tomas Fleischmann to Colorado for veteran defenceman Scott Hannan. This is a good trade for the Caps, if only because it breaks from their mold of bringing back the same dead weight players every year and expecting a different result.  I'd be lying if I started telling you I knew a lot about Scott Hannan because he spent the last 11 seasons in San Jose and Colorado.  Whatever the case may be, he can't be worse than this.

GTOPG: Pens Dominate Least Interesting Event in MSG History, Win 3-1

By GTOG Staff

Steiggy was all over what was plainly evident to anyone watching the Pens demoralize the Rangers Monday night -- the MSG crowd was absolutely dead.  MSG is usually a tough place to play, but there were times when the fans, and by proxy the team, resembled Shawn Kemp in sex ed class -- uninterested.

Rangers Locker Room
-How excited must Marian Gaborik be to be playing on a line with Erik Christensen and Ruslan Fedetenko?  That's like Meryl Streep in a movie with Ashton Kutcher and Rob Schneider, only if Meryl Streep missed 35% of her scenes with injuries.

-We were ready to slam the activist linesman for calling a hand pass on the Pens in the middle of the second period that prevented a Kunitz-Crosby two-on-one, although the crowd did have the energy of a crowd that would show up to watch an activist referee put on a bad-hand-pass-call clinic.  Well, it turns out that the linesman was correct, as the rule states that in order for a hand pass to be waved off, both the passing and receiving player have to have their skates in the zone.  GTOG is a resource.  Use it.

-The Penguins could easily have had 7 goals last night.  Sid was involved in about that many odd-man breaks.  Kunitz was dangling like he knew what he was doing.  And Guy Letang was flying all over the ice.  But they're not the Washington Captitals.  They are a team with the best penalty killing unit in the league.  They're a team that grinds down the opposition with speed and grit.  And they're a team with a couple of guys who can get you a goal in third period of a tight game.  The Pens are a team built for the playoffs.  Embrace it.

- We love it when HCDB throws out Sid and Geno together immediately after the Pens kill a penalty.  Imagine how much more effective that move will be when he can roll out Jordan Staal on the next shift. 

- Chris Conner owns Henrik Lundqvist (3 goals in 2 games), with an option to buy the three guys he beat from behind the net in the second period.

- It's particularly entertaining that Brandon Dubinsky threatened to take the puck and go home last night after Crosby made him feel bad, for two reasons.  First of all, Brandon Dubinsky is the perfect name for the kid at the playground creating all kinds of unnecessary drama.  Second, Brandon Dubinsky has Sean Avery on his team. 

Picks fights with Tyler Kennedy
- Would have been nice if Geno hit that open net.  His shooting percentage is down to 7%.  For a guy with so many open looks at the net, that's Shaq free throw level bad.  If he gets hot, Brandon Dubinsky is running straight home to mommy.

Finesse's Division Crown Jinx Countdown: 10 out of a possible 10 points.

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
7. at Columbus
8. vs. New Jersey
9. vs. Toronto
10. at Buffalo

Morning Skate: Sidney Crosby Leases 500,000 sq. ft. of Space Inside the Rangers' Heads

By Finesse

The Pensblog gets it done again, posting video of Brandon Dubinksky, the best third-line center playing on a first-line in the entire league, complaining about a slew foot he believes Crosby delivered on Dubinksy's partner-in-averageness Ryan Callahan.  Here at GTOG, we like to stay above the fray of traditional "Crosby Sucks!!" and "Crosby is dirty!!" discussions, but we are not above laughing at the Rangers, undoubtedly the whiniest team in the league.


Monday, November 29, 2010

Thanks a Lot, God

By Artistry

Buffalo Bills wide receiver Steve Johnson had the game against the Steelers in his hands on Sunday, and he couldn't hold on. But don't be deceived. According to Johnson, it was the Almighty who dropped the ball. "I praise you 24/7!!!! And this how you do me!!!!!" he tweeted. If we've said it once, Steve, we've said it a thousand times. God is a Steeler fan.

Touchdown, Jesus?

GTOPG: Shaun Suisham: Great Kicker, or Greatest Kicker?

By Finesse

It was a cold and windy day in Buffalo, also known as a day in Buffalo.  The Steelers' offense had ground to a halt.  Ben Roethlisberger stood in the pocket frozen with indecision, pumpfaking like he was the last guy left in a dodgeball game and didn't want the other side to catch his throw.  Rashard Mendenhall coughed up the football on...guess what...a spin move!  Chris Kemoeatu held on for dear life as he watched a parade of Buffalo Bills d-linemen pressure his quarterback.  But then, Shaun Suisham walked across Lake Erie into Ralph Wilson Stadium and made Steelers fans forget all their memories of Jeff Reed, memories which Reed probably has forgotten after two weeks of binge drinking.

The least amount of holding Trai Essex did all game
The frustrating part about this Steelers team is that they should be better than they are.  There are always one or two plays every game where if the Steelers just avoided doing stupid things, they would make like a lot easier on themselves.  Like say getting a first down to ice the game so the Bills don't get the chance to make their comeback.

All in all, the Steelers should have won easily, but ended up being lucky to win at all.  It sets up a huge game with the Ravens next Sunday night, and while you can say a win is a win, there are significant issues with this team.

Gene Steratore's 2nd cousin

After the jump, some further reflection...

Morning Skate: Suisham If You Got 'Em


Steelers GTOPG coming soon.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

GTOPG: Pens Win Sixth in a Row; Home Crowd Still in Food Coma

By Artistry

There is no small measure of hypocrisy in what I am about say, as I don't currently live in Pittsburgh, have yet to attend a game at Consol Energy Center, and am much more of a silent and pensive game watcher than a shouter, or even a murmurer. Still, after watching the Penguins dominate the Saturday matinee against Calgary by a 4-1 margin, one thing stuck with me more than the game itself: our home crowd sucks.  These fans bring virtually nothing to the table.  They are so quiet as to render Consol a virtual neutral site.  No matter what's happening in the game, a great save, a momentum-turning goal, a Sidney Crosby penalty shot, they can't seem to muster more than a stunted "woo hoo."  Their "Let's Go Pens" chants fade away after like 1.5 rounds.  They offer no real enthusiasm, no inspiration, and no advantage.  Why?  There are a number of theories.

1) Penguin fans are spoiled.  Yeah, OK.  So it would be easier to cheer for a consistently bad team?
2) Higher ticket prices have driven away the true fans and left behind a muted corporate crowd.  I don't know about this one.  There are plenty of young people at these games, and I don't think they're white shoe types.  Besides, I know from my work experience that sometimes rich people yell, too.  At the very least, they know how to berate and make people uncomfortable.  They could easily use these powers on the referees.  They should do so.
3) Penguin fans are just more civilized than fans in Philadelphia or New York.  This happens to be true.  But no one is asking them to hang Mike Richards in effigy, no matter how much he deserves it.  Just cheer for the home team.  

Anyway, GTOG would like to see the media start calling out the people attending Penguin games.  We know that's probably not going to happen.  But we'll be vocal about it here.  Now, about Saturday's beat-down of Calgary.  Let's discuss, after the jump...

Saturday, November 27, 2010

GTOPG: Pens Defeat Ottawa 2-1; What Can You Say

By Finesse

Since I'm back in Pittsburgh this weekend, I've had the pleasure of listening to the Bob Grove postgame show on The X (I know, I can listen online, but it isn't the same). For home games, Grover is joined by the Old 29'er, Phil Bourque. Here is a rough transcript of yesterday's post-game show, recapping the Pens 2-1 victory over Ottawa.

Grove: "Phil, Fleury was phenomenal. I mean, what can you even say."
29'er: "I don't know, what can you say."
Grove: "Ok, Connie from North Braddok texts to the McDonald's Inbox, 'Fleury. Nothing more I can say.' Connie, couldn't have said it better myself."

I'm not a communications major and I have no background in radio, but I think the reason you hire people for the radio is precisely so they can think of things to say. But that's just me.

But Fleury, really, I mean, what can you say.

Finesse's Division Crown Jinx Countdown: 6 out of a possible 6 points.

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

What can you say.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Big Game Today

By Finesse

To those who check the site religiously, thank you, and sorry for no post yesterday or GTOPG from the Pens win over the Sabres.  Quick thoughts, then preview of game today:

  • Huge shutout by Fleury.  The Pens are Cup contenders, if not favorites, if he is sharp.  That's really all that matters.
  • Sid = MVP
  • Buffalo = garbages
Finesse's Division Crown Jinx Countdown: 4 out of a possible 4 points.

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

Completely winnable game today against Ottawa.  We'll toast to Kovalev's 1000th career point from the other night, because he is one of our favorites.  LGP.

Final thought.  Pitt vs. WVU is a big game today.  Wannstedt will probably lose it.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Get To Our Facebook Page

By Finesse

It's the holidays, so spirits are high.  You're spending this Thanksgiving wondering why the Detroit Lions are hosting a Thanksgiving Day game again, remembering the Pens' epic 6-5 shootout victory over Ottawa in 2007 that turned a dismal season around, and wondering why it is that Ron Cook seemingly wants Joe Paterno to just die already.

We'll try to get to the blog as much as possible, but if you're looking for something to fill your time, like us on Facebook.

Pens play at Buffalo tonight, the second game in a 10-game stretch that includes 8 teams at or below .500 and the Rangers and Columbus as the other two.  As I said a few days ago, these are the stretches during which division titles are won -- 20 points on the line, and the Pens should get at least 15 of them.  Yeah, that may be greedy, but the team is good.  Mark it down in your iPhone now that if the Pens take 15 or more of these 20 points, it's another division crown.  (Artistry just cringed at the jinx).

Finesse's Division Crown Jinx Countdown: 2 out of a possible 2 points.

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

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

GTOPG: You Need to Play 20 Minutes to Beat Florida; Pens Win 3-2

By Artistry

The first thing Penguins TV analyst Bob Errey does on a game day morning is watch film of the opposition.  He breaks down tendencies, assesses strengths and weaknesses, analyzes power play and penalty kill strategy, and by lunch, he knows the other team better than they know themselves.  Why does Bob Errey do this?  Because he's the one responsible for coming up with Penguins' "Tips to Win."  And Monday night in Florida, he was on the money.


Granted, the Pens only really Got to Their Game in the first period of play, but that was enough.
  • This looked like it was going to be a 7-2 rout early on.  Everybody was flying.  Pittsburgh's newly constructed fourth line of Asham, Adams, and Godard looked better than Florida's first line.  Sidney Crosby was toying with people.  It's obvious why this happened.  The first night of the Dad Trip.  The Penguins always come out flying on the Dad Trip.  This is when all the players' fathers join them for a road trip and watch the games from a luxury box.  The boys were clearly ready to play, but that is one stoic group of Penguin fathers.  Alex Goligoski's dad appeared to be sedated during a first period interview.  They all celebrated goals by taking a quick  nap.
  • The power play looked particularly sharp in the first against a pretty good Panther penalty kill.  I don't feel like looking it up, but I'm guessing that's the first time we've had two power goals in a period all season.  And it comes after Dan Bylsma finally heeded GTOG's call to insert Paul Martin on the number one unit.  Coincidence?  I think not. 
  • The penalty kill continues to be maybe the best the Penguins have ever had.  What patience by Max Talbot to create a shorthanded 2 on 1 with Matt Cooke, who hit the post.  Meanwhile, Zybnek Michalek was blocking everything.  There's the guy we signed.
  • Things are much easier when Kris Letang hits the net, right?  Especially with Chris Kunitz Impeding Vokoun's Vision.  And what a hit by Letang on Sean Higgins late in the second.
  • Ben Lovejoy may have a little bit of Letang 2009 disease.  He had a few glorious opportunities and couldn't hit the net.  I like his potential, but I am going to be calling for Ray Shero to upgrade that Goligoski and Lovejoy/Engelland pairing right until the trade deadline.  Who was on the ice for that bunk Florida goal with 35 seconds left in the first?  You guessed it.
  • Evgeni Malkin looked slightly off.  He was chasing the play a bit.  He's clearly banged up, but he's also clearly making $8.7 million a year.  I have no doubt - none - that in the playoffs he will show why.  But he needs to be great more consistently.  No excuses.
  • We've complained many times in this space about the ice at Consol, but seeing conditions in Florida gives us something to be thankful for.  Letang looked like he was playing basketball trying to lead a 3 on 1 in the third.
  • It was heartwarming to see Chris Conner score the winner for his dad, John Conner.  Bad idea to leave mom at home.


  • Steiggy and Errey were speculating that Brent Johnson may be in goal on Wednesday in Buffalo, because Bylsma wants everyone to get a chance to play on the Dads Trip.  What is this, little league?  Whatever.  Make your father proud. 

Morning Skate: The GTOG Network and Richard Seymour

By Artistry

I'll make this brief, then we'll get back to business.  GTOG now has a Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Get-To-Our-Game/164726490234797.  Click on the box in the right hand column to tell us you like us on Facebook.  And tell all your friends.  And your colleagues.  And former lovers.  The first 200 people to do so will be entered into a drawing, with the winner receiving a very special GTOG memento.  (We'll think of something.)

Now let's get something straight.  Steelers linebacker and destroyer of men James Harrison gets fined $75,000 for tackling Cleveland receiver Mohammed Massaquoi high in week 6, on a play that was arguably legal, at least before Roger Goodell decided to come up with new legislation in the middle of the season, with no warning to the players.  This week, Oakland defensive lineman Richard Seymour nearly decapitates Ben Roethlisberger after the whistle, when the play is completely over and Roethlisberger isn't even looking at Seymour, and Seymour gets a $25,000 fine.  Apparently, the NFL buys the rationale that Seymour was just caught up in the moment and couldn't entirely help himself when he completely sucker punched the quarterback like 10 seconds after the play was over.  But Harrison, on the other hand, was three times more culpable, because he clearly should have stopped himself from tackling Massaquoi in the millisecond after the receiver caught the ball, in the middle of a football play.  Do I have this right?  OK.  Just checking.



We've got Pens/Panthers Get to Our Postgame coming in a few.  Keep hitting refresh.

Monday, November 22, 2010

"Goon" Interview, Part II: Sign Marc-Andre

By Artistry

The movie "Goon," starring Seann William Scott and Liev Schrieber and currently shooting in Winnipeg, may be what we've been waiting to see in theaters for decades:  a worthy successor to 1977's "Slapshot."  In Part I of our interview with producer Jesse Shapira of No Trace Camping, he told us about the inspiration for a story he hopes will make us laugh but also honor the sport and its players, gave us a behind the scenes look at the Hollywood meeting that launched the project, and explained why only true hockey fans could make the movie the right way.  Now, in Part II, Shapira dishes about what's happening on set.

GTOG:  Have any of the actors impressed you in terms of their hockey skills?  Can anybody actually play?

Shapira:  A guy by the name of Marc-Andre Grondin plays Xavier LaFlamme, the best player on [the goon] Doug Glatt's team.  We had a pre-shoot skate, and we're all in the locker room, suiting up.  I was with him when he put his gear on.  I felt like I was sitting next to, you know, Pat Kane.  He looked like a player.  Then we step out on the ice, and this guy starts pulling out these ridiculous moves.  We asked him to create this French Canadian superstar.  And he kind of already is one. 

Grondin
GTOG:  What about the guys who never played before?

Shapira:  Well, the next guy that comes to mind is Liev Schreiber.  He's just unbelievable.  He plays Ross Ray, Doug's rival and one of the most feared guys ever to play.  Originally the charactor was Ross Reardon, now it's Ross Ray.  Anyway, Liev, as an actor and as a player, this guy has basically become [1970's Flyer enforcer the "Hammer"] Dave Schultz.  There's just not many actors you can cast in this kind of a role.  It's a well recognized problem in Hollywood.  Who are you going to believe in this role?  We spent, literally, years trying to cast this.  We got lucky.  I don't know.  People underestimate Liev.  He didn't know how to skate, and now he's going to impress a lot of people with how great he is. 

Schreiber
GTOG:  Speaking of guys who are believable in a role, Georges Laraque has a cameo as another one of the toughest guys in the "Goon" league.

Shapira:  In keeping with the authenticity we're going for in the movie, we wanted to cast actual players to portray some of the other goons.  Who better?  Georges is great.  He's also one of the scariest guys I have ever seen.  If you're going to get one guy, he's it.  If you see him on the ice, actually standing with him on the ice, you think, "There is absolutely no way on earth I would fight that guy."  It made me realize what it must have meant to the Penguins to acquire him.  If you took a shot at Sid or Malkin, you had to know Laraque was going to step out the next shift, and somebody would have to answer to him.

GTOG:  You think it's still essential to have a one-dimensional enforcer in the lineup?

Shapira:  As long as there's hockey, there will be a role for enforcers.  It's the nature of the game.  It'll never change.  You need to protect your best players.  People stand up just as quickly when two guys drop the gloves as when somebody scores.  I don't think any suit in New York can ever change that.

GTOG:  You would dress Eric Godard over Mike Comrie.

Shapira:  I would dress Eric Godard over Mike Comrie.

GTOG:  I would dress Liev Schreiber over Mike Comrie.

Shapira:  [Nodding.]

GTOG:  When do we get to see "Goon" in the theater?

Shapira:  We finish shooting in a few weeks.  We'll edit for a few months.  We've already gotten a lot of interest from U.S. distributors, and we're going to stay true to our plan.  We're going to work with a distributor who shares our vision.  I think there is a huge market for this movie.  People love the cast [which also includes Jay Baruchel, Allison Pill, Eugene Levy, and a number of other highly regarded character actors].  It's a long process, and we're going to do it the right way. 

GTOG:  Thanks for your time.  Now go punch destiny in the face. 

Get To Our Postgame: Jason Campbell Reaches the 'Marathon Line'; Steelers Crush Raiders 35-3

By Finesse

When the Steelers play the Raiders, the announcers go to great lengths to remind us of those classic matchups of the 1970's, when John Madden roamed the sideline, Jack Lambert drank steroids out of a Gatorade bottle during games, and half of the NFL's fan base wasn't alive or was too young to remember those games. Nonetheless, the optics of a Steelers-Raiders game can't be beat, if only because quarterbacks in silver and black helmets look great throwing groundballs to their receivers. All in all, a nice 35-3 win for the Steelers -- if you claim to be a good team, then you should comfortably beat the mediocre teams at home. Some reaction:

--At some point, the refs are just going to have to start announcing 15-yard penalties for "being James Harrison." He is the Matt Cooke of the NFL -- he gets no benefit of the doubt and is presumed guilty because of his number and reputation. The hit he had on Jason Campbell that led to the called-back Ike Taylor pick-6 was textbook -- square on the chest and followed through all the way to the ground. Awful call.

--Speaking of textbooks, Jason Campbell also had a textbook day, if that textbook was Introduction to Horrendous Quarterbacking. He finished 7 of 19 for 71 yards. Have you ever seen someone so remarkably below average? Baseball has the Mendoza line -- named for Mario Mendoza -- which is defined by Wikipedia as the "threshold of incompetent hitting" and is used for anyone batting below .200. Well Jason Campbell just inspired the Marathon Line for football quarterbacks. Why? His QB rating was 26.2.

The Marathoner
--At the opposite end of the spectrum from Campbell was Shaun Suisham, the Steelers' new kicker. He was a perfect 5 for 5 on extra points and 3 for 3 on not blaming everyone but himself.

--Artistry wondered this morning how anyone could buy Richard Seymour's explanation that decking Ben Roethlisberger after the whistle was "a natural reaction" and that he's just trying to "protect himself" out there. He almost knocked Roethlisberger's head off for no apparent reason. "That wasn't very nice," Artistry said. "Way to make me feel sympathy for Ben Roethlisberger."

--I had to listen to Bill Hillgrove-Tunch Ilkin-Craig Wolfley call for the first half of the game on Sirius. Hillgrove is a legend in Pittsburgh so I hate to be negative, but here's a rough transcript of a typical Hillgrove call:
    Ben back to pass! He rolls right! Throws! It's Mike Wallace! In for a Steelers touchdown! No, they're saying he dropped it! Oh no! He dropped it!! No, wait, now they're saying he's in! Touchdown? Waiting for the call here...What's the ref going to call!?!? It's intercepted and the Ravens are running with it down the sideline!!!

    Unbiased
    --It was only a couple years ago that the punditry was admiring the skills of one Carson Palmer. One completely legal Kemo Von Oelhoffen tackle later, Palmer may very well be the worst quarterback in the league. He's like Steve Blass, only if Steve Blass didn't have ACLs.

    --Back to the Steelers. A time machine performance from James Farrior today - that's fantastic linebacking. Same goes for James Harrison, although his performance Sunday does nothing to make me retract my prediction that his career will end by being led off the field in handcuffs.

    --Let's go around the NFL. Manning and Brady operate on a different plane than the rest of the QBs in the league. I know Manning had 3 picks, but his TD passes are works of art....What would be a more depressing game to go to now -- a Cleveland Cavaliers game or a Minnesota Vikings game?....Why do columnists end their columns with giant paragraphs where all the sentences are separated by ellipses?.....Big win for the Redskins over the Titans, helping the Skins get closer to their destiny of being 8-8 for the next 4 years....New Orleans may be back....If Larry Fitzgerald just stayed home for the rest of the season, could anyone blame him?....Would be nice to still have Santonio. Why did we trade him again?

    --Enough of that gimmick. Let's get to the real news. Pens have a joke schedule coming up. 8 of their next 10 games are against teams .500 or below and the others are against the Rangers and Columbus. These are the stretches during which divisions are won. 20 points on the line. No reason not to get 15 of them.

    Sunday, November 21, 2010

    "Goon" Interview, Part I: "We're Making a Hockey Movie"

    By Artistry

    Hockey movies worth getting excited about don't come along all that often. Slapshot.  Miracle.  Youngblood.  D2:  The Mighty Ducks, starring Emelio Estevez.  See how quickly we reached the bottom of the barrel?  That's why we've been so intent on following the casting and the production of the promising feature film "Goon," a comedy starring Seann William Scott, Liev Schreiber, Jay Baruchel, Allison Pill, Marc-Andre Grondin, Eugene Levy, Big Georges Laraques, and many others. "Goon" is brought to you by Judd Apatow proteges Baruchel and Evan Goldberg, but the inspiration came from native Pittsburgher and longtime Penguin fan Jesse Shapira of No Trace Camping.  I managed to get him on the phone Sunday for an interview between all night shoots in Winnipeg. Here's the first of our two-part conversation.

    GTOG:  How's it going? [Ed.'s note:  I am a trained journalist.]

    Shapira:  It's going great.  Seann (William Scott) has created a pretty interesting character.  The hockey scenes are pretty much done.  We're scheduled to finish shooting on December 5th.

    GTOG:  Where did the idea for "Goon" originate?

    Shapira:  It all started a few years ago.  I wanted to come up with an idea for an original sports movie.  One of the first things I thought about was centering a film around an enforcer on a hockey team.  I grew up watching Mario Lemieux.  It always killed me when other teams would go after him.  This young, super-talented kid, and he was so vulnerable.  Guys would rough him up, and a lot of the time there were no repercussions.  Then we started surrounding him with guys who would protect him.  That made everybody on the team more comfortable.  It made everybody better.

    GTOG:  You didn't think Terry Ruskowski was enough of a deterrent?

    Pulling Ruskowski From Under the Pile

    Shapira:  We didn't have a heavyweight.  I feel like Wayne Van Dorp, the guy that came over in the Coffey trade, was the first heavyweight we had.  The guy who, just looking at him, you didn't want to answer to.  He only had one purpose.  Half the fans were coming to see Lemieux score, and half were probably coming to see a guy like that fight.  I went on the Internet looking for stories about that kind of character.  And there it was on page one of Google:  "Goon" by Doug Smith and Adam Frattasio.  So I read the book, and it was basically the story I wanted to tell.  A guy was looking for meaning in his life, and he found it as an enforcer for a minor league hockey team.  I called up Doug Smith.  I told him I'd never made a movie before, but that I understood his story, and I asked if I could option his book.  We talked for like an hour.  He knew I got it.  I got him.  And that's how it started.

    GTOG:  Then you probably had to convince people in Hollywood that there was a story here.

    Shapira:  Right.  My partner, David Gross, and I had set up a meeting with Evan Goldberg to try to pitch him on a completely different project.  It was a comedy about some guy who privatizes prisons in California and sets up a jail in his house.  Evan hated it.  Hated it.  Now, this was three months before "Superbad" came out, and Evan had just written a script for the "Pineapple Express."  We knew he was going to be a big deal, so it was a big deal for us just to get this meeting.  So we're sitting there having coffee, he hates our idea, and at the end of the meeting I say, "Hey listen, I know you're Canadian..." and I tell him about "Goon."  He said his friend Jay Baruchel was a huge hockey fan, and he wanted to run it by him.  I never thought we'd hear from him again.  The next day, he called.  And we made a deal.

    Baruchel
    GTOG:  It's obviously important to get big names attached to the project.  But one thing hockey fans are probably wondering right now is whether this is just going to be a Judd Apatow-type movie that happens to be set in a hockey rink, or whether you're actually going to pay respect to the sport, and to the enforcer role.

    Shapira:  One thing Jay, Evan, David and I agreed on at our very first meeting was that we were going to make this authentic.  We're making a hockey movie.  We're making the movie we want to make.  The beauty of this character isn't that he's funny.  It's that he's a hero to his teammates.  We knew there could be comedic elements to the script, but we were going to make a serious hockey movie because we're serious hockey fans.  I mean, Jay has a red maple leaf tattooed on his chest.  He bleeds Canadiens hockey.  I think people are going to be surprised at how true we are to the sport.

    GTOG:  The director, Michael Dowse, is also a Habs fan.

    Shapira:  We discussed many different options for a director.  But it was clear that we needed a guy with the proper hockey background and knowledge of the game.  We couldn't just have some random, commercial director.  There's too much to learn.  There's too much shorthand about the game we couldn't take the time to spell out for somebody.  And in Hollywood, it's tough to find the right person for something like this.  Michael is the single most important element here.  It's his vision that's the most significant part of the movie.  Jay came up with the idea to talk to Michael.  He's a major cult director in Canada, but he's more than that.  He's made a movie for Universal called "Kids in America," so it's not like he's an Indie director.

    GTOG:  But aren't you guys making an Indie movie?

    Shapira:  We had a chance to make this at a studio.  We decided that we wanted to put our own stamp on it and make the movie we want to make.  A lot of people make the mistake of thinking if you have a certain amount of money, the movie will be better.  That's not true.  We can do whatever we want, and we don't have anybody looking over our shoulder.  Look, it's not like it doesn't cost anything.  This is an $11 million movie.  We feel like we have what we need to tell the story we want to tell.

    GTOG:  There must be immense challenges inherent in making a movie on ice.  If the actors can't skate, you know it.  It's pretty transparent.

    Shapira:  It's incredibly challenging.  That's why we started getting guys comfortable on skates months before we started shooting.  Otherwise it would look foolish.  Having the camera equipment on ice as well, we just have to be very precise with every scene.  We've created two different hockey leagues for the film, and Orangetown league and a Halifax league.  It's like a little hockey universe.  We have full teams, stunt doubles.  It's complex.  This isn't like shooting a romantic comedy with people just walking down the street.

    In part 2 of our interview with "Goon" producer Jesse Shapira, we'll discuss the actor whose performance as one of the toughest enforcers of all time will blow audiences away, Big Georges Laraques' cameo in the movie, and whether there's still a place for enforcers in today's NHL.  Watch for it Monday night.

    Saturday, November 20, 2010

    GTOPG: Hands of Stone Turn Gold; Hands of Gold Go Platinum; Pens Win

    By Artistry

    Every once in a while Chris Kunitz plays like he's a top-line winger worth $3.75 million a year.  And sometimes Sidney Crosby plays like he's trying to remind us that we should stop crushing on Steven Stamkos.  Both things happened Friday night against Carolina, and that was enough for a 5-4 shootout win at Consol.  
    • Sid had it all going on Friday.  He just exploded past Eric Staal to create the 3-on-1 that led to a ridiculous goal mouth pass to Tyler Kennedy for a tap-in.  Crosby's positioning on the game's second goal, where he banged home a rebound from the high slot, was perfect.  Not many guys have ever been able to skate and pass like Crosby on one occasion, and make like Tim Kerr on another.  By the time the shootout came around, Crosby looked almost bored as he pulled his patented, "I'm going to stick-handle so rapidly you'll have no idea where this is going" wrist shot.  He was five points behind Stamkos coming into the game, and don't think he wasn't aware of that, as well as all the chatter this week about his new rival.  Now he's one point back, and he may ask Dan Bylsma to put Mike Rupp on his line in place of Kunitz just to make things more challenging.
    • Kunitz did much more than score two goals last night.  He was skating well and punishing people on the forecheck.  He helped that first line "tilt the ice" against Eric Staal's unit, and, as Bob Errey pointed out in the first period, that is Coach Dan Bylsma's prescription for the Penguins "gettin' to their game."  As for the controversial game-winning goal by Kunitz, the Canes and Paul Maurice were probably right to raise hell over it.  It would have helped if the on-ice official bothered to explain the call, rather than just pronouncing it a "good goal."  You know, like how the big boy leagues explain instant replay decisions, right or wrong.  
    • Not to be ignored is that the Pens had a terrible start to this game and are lucky it didn't get away from them early. The Canes were all over the puck, and nobody bothered to backcheck on Brandon Sutter's first period goal.  The Pens also played poorly in overtime.  Brutal turnovers by Alex Goligoski and Mark Letestu, who were both trying to force the puck to Geno, almost gave us a different headline this morning.  Going into the game, Pittsburgh led the league in limiting shots per game, but that's a pretty meaningless statistic as long as the shots they do allow come off of such monumental defensive breakdowns.
    • As bad as our power play is, the Carolina penalty killing is worse (28th in the league).  Take whatever positives you saw last night for what they're worth.
    • We've been quick to credit Kris Letang for his Norris Trophy-caliber early season performance, but in the interest of being fair and balanced, he did not play well last night.  
    • That is, until the shootout.  Backhand roof job.  Then you knew Sid would score.  And you also knew Jussi Jokinen would try to pull a Forsberg to keep Carolina alive.  MAF was expecting it.
    • Geno Malkin scored his 400th point last night in his 329th regular season game.  His 1.21 points-per-game average currently puts him 13th on the all-time list, just ahead of Guy Lafleur [Ed. note: somebody check my math].  The top 13 all-time also includes Mario Lemieux (1.883), Sidney Crosby (1.375), and Jaromir Jagr (1.256).  This Thursday, give thanks that you're a Penguin fan.
    • Before the first period intermission, I found myself wondering how things went with the Alyssa Milano meet-and-greet prior to the game.  How many creepy, older men were in attendance?  Was Milano wearing a Rob Brown jersey?  Dan Potash wasted no time at the break before giving us the live interview we'd been waiting for.  The "Hollywood starlet," as Paul Stiegerwald calls her, told Danny P. she created a clothing line for the "lady female fans," leading to this awkward exchange between Steiggy and Errey:
    Errey:  "You know she dated my old linemate Robbie Brown."
    Steiggy:  "I remember.  She's looking great, is she not Bob."
    Errey:  "Yeah.  I think that's great stuff, I do.  Not that I'd wear it, Steiggy, but, you know, it's good stuff.  Good stocking stuffers."      
    Steiggy:  "Heh, heh."

    Steiggy, Bobby, that's getting to your game.

    Friday, November 19, 2010

    Morning Skate: Glen Sather Told BP Not to Drill in Deep Water

    By Finesse

    If we have two passions at this blog, it's making fun of bad general managers and pointing out when we are right about things.  This morning presents us with a unique opportunity to do both.

    With respect to our first passion, you'll recall in early August that Rangers' GM Glen Sather, who makes $800 toilet seats purchased by the U.S. Army seem like a bargain, pretended to Larry Brooks of the NY Post that he had a deal in place to trade for Steven Stamkos during the phenom's rookie season, but that it only fell through because the Tampa owners backed out.  Sather even said, "We had him.  Well, I thought we did."  The timing of this reeked of excuse making, given, you know, the Derek Boogaard signing and all the other tragic contracts signed by Sather during his tenure with the Rangers.  I'm struggling with more stuff to say about this -- it's just hilarious on its own.

    With respect to our second point, our dedicated readership will remember that we (Artistry) were higher on Stamkos before this season than almost any other hockey site.  In fact, we had him ranked as the 3rd best center in the league, inspired to create such a list by Versus, who inexplicably ranked Mikko Koivu ahead of Stamkos.  Well, Stamkos has gone out of his way to validate our prediction, tallying 5 points last night (3 goals) in a wild 8-7 win over the Sergei Bobrovsky led Philadelphia Flyers to take a 6-point lead over Sidney Crosby in the points race.  We're nice guys so there is room on the bandwagon if you want to hop on.

    Glen Sather in 2004 to Army Corps of Engineers:
    "You guys need to reinforce those levees in New Orleans."

    Thursday, November 18, 2010

    GTOPG: Penguins Keep Foot on the Snake; Fleury Outstanding in 3-1 Win Over Vancouver

    By Artistry

    When Max Talbot scored shorthanded to put the Penguins up 2-0 in the second period last night, the question became whether they possessed the killer instinct to put one of the better teams in the league away.  Or, as Bob Errey put it after Talbot's goal, they had to "keep their foot on the snake."  I was still processing Errey's metaphor - a pretty good one, actually - when Aron Asham and Evgeni Malkin simultaneously threw themselves, and the puck, into Roberto Luongo's net for a third goal, dropping a flying elbow on the snake.  Then, after a defensive lapse leading to a Dan Hamhuis goal, Marc-Andre Fleury picked the snake off the ground, whispered softly in its ear, and calmly released it back into the wild.  Fleury stopped 29 of 30 Canuck shots, many of them high quality scoring chances, and his rebound control was exceptional.  That's four consecutive quality starts for Fleury, and no has even thought about Brent Johnson this week.  "Everyone looks better when you get competent goaltending and aren't worried about untimely soft goals all game," GTOG co-founder Finesse said this morning.


    Absorbent Pads
    Other thoughts on last night:
    • This was the money quote after the game. Daniel Sedin on the Penguins:  "This is a team I think we should beat," he said. "They give up a lot of chances, and we didn't capitalize. We need to be better. That's the bottom line."  I have no problem with Sedin being confident in his team.  If something like this bothers you, it's probably because you think what he said is true.  But I saw something different last night.  I saw a Canucks defense that coughed up the puck repeatedly in the first period, and it looked to me like it was the Penguins who couldn't capitalize.  And that's the source of unceasing frustration for Penguins' fans:  except for Sidney Crosby, the team has no finish.  Evgeni Malkin, you're not exempt from this particular criticism.  Geno leads the league in shots, and he only has 7 goals in 20 games.  Does the lack of goal-scoring touch, particularly on the wings, mean the Pens can't contend this year?
    • No.  Remember what GTOG special correspondent Eloquence identified as the keys to the Penguins' season in our NHL Preview?  Marc-Andre Fleury and the power play.  Fleury is starting to re-emerge.  Check.  The power play?  It's clicking at 12.8%.  That's real bad.  25th in the league bad.  12 goals in 20 games despite having more opportunities than anybody else in the league bad.  Despite this, the Penguins are tied for 7th in the league in goals-per-game.  If this team can score even one power play goal per game, just one, if they can just be average, can anybody really make an argument that they don't have enough scoring to win?  Because currently, that kind of output would make them the fourth highest scoring team in hockey.  Just by virtue of having a completely pedestrian power play.  Putting Paul Martin on the number one power play, as GTOG has been clamoring for Dan Bylsma to do from Day 1, is a good start.
    • Sidney Crosby made himself great on breakaways.  At the start of his career, he was pretty good in games, but terrible in the shootout.  Now he's just the best there is.  Ask his Olympic coach, Mike Babcock.  It would have been gratifying to see Crosby swoop in free on Roberto Luongo after jumping out of the penalty box last night, but FSN Pittsburgh made the snap decision to use a camera angle showing only Sid's knees and the side of his sweater as he scored the first goal of the game.  So we had to wait for the replay.  Somebody needs to tell FSN producers that they don't get points for creativity.
    • Dan Hamhuis must have made the following note to self when he was trying, and failing, to stay with Sid behind the Canucks' net in the first period:  "I'm glad I didn't sign with the Flyers."  Do you think Sid was sending a message to last year's Hart Trophy winner, Henrik Sedin?
    • Between the bright red scar and the fu manchu, Max Talbot looks like your worst nightmare right now.  Don't know where he's been, bur it's good to have him back.
    • The Malkin, Asham, Cooke line has some undeniable chemistry, although they may be getting carried away with the cross-ice passes.  Give it to Geno and go to the net, boys.
    • Finesse liked Chris Kunitz's game last night and notes that Zybnek Michalek looked more comfortable.
    • Even though Mark Letestu's scoring has, predictably, fallen off, I keep seeing things to like about his game.  A small but meaningful play at the end of the second:  Instead of forcing the puck to Malkin, who was waiting at the blueline at the end of his shift, Letestu challenged the Vancouver defenseman one-on-one and took the puck to the net.  He knows how to play the game.
    The Pens caught Vancouver at the perfect time - the end of a long road trip.  But that's a very good team.   Big win.  LGP.

    Morning Skate: Halak Scores on Himself in Detroit

    By Finesse

    As if the Red Wings haven't already had their share of luck at Joe Louis Arena with opposing goalies scoring on themselves, Jaroslav Halak pulled such a feat last night in an even more embarrassing fashion than Fleury did (multiple times) in the 2008 and 2009 Finals.  Have a look:



    I'm not surprised that this happened.  I'm just surprised that the Wings' fans didn't subsequently cry for a delay of game penalty on top of the goal.

    Wednesday, November 17, 2010

    Pens' Marketing Department in Time Warp; Touched by Robbie Brown's Ex-Girlfriend

    By Artistry

    Either I just stepped into a zamboni time machine or somebody in the Penguins' organization hasn't gotten over a teenage crush.  From the team's website:

    Starting Monday, November 15th at 11am, the first 150 fans who purchase 'Touch by Alyssa Milano' merchandise at the main Pens Gear store or the Touch PensGear Store on the main concourse will receive a free autographed gift, and will get the chance to meet Alyssa Milano in person on Friday November 19 before the Penguins take on the Hurricanes. Fans do not need to have a ticket to the game in order to win.

    This would have made perfect sense in 1989 when Pens' winger Robbie Brown was serenading the "Who's the Boss" siren with his stirring, open road version of "Every Rose Has Its Thorn."  Now?  You know, I guess I'll take it over the Justin Bieber photo-op.

    Ex-Penguin Flame

    New Flyer Mascot

    Breaking News!!!!!!!

    By Finesse

    At 10:30 this morning, I took a screen shot of the right hand side of ESPN.com.  It's boring enough to make me pine for the Verizon Wireless intermission report.  Aside from the tragic story about the Southern Miss football player, look at what we're working with today:



    Is there any story on here that you would consider reading?  If so, I'll save you the time and summarize as follows:

    1. UConn women's basketball team beats everyone.
    2. There was a baseball trade between two of the least interesting teams in the league involving one of the least interesting players in the league.  And one of them may get a new catcher.  Keep in mind that baseball season doesn't start for another 4 and a half months.
    3. A college football star is under investigation for taking money.  In other breaking news, defense wins championships.
    4. Some parent is complaining that his kid was tackled in Cleveland.  The real headline should be why a parent would take a kid to Cleveland.
    5. Nothing sells internet advertising like a story about the will-be 21-61 Wizards beating the will-be 20-62 Toronto Raptors in a November NBA game with an "announced" crowd of 11,500.
    6. Roy Halladay wins the Cy Young award.  Snore.
    7. Gonzaga basketball loses, and Digger Phelps "analyzes" the loss by discussing the San Diego State team as follows: "You talk about [name of center/power forward] on the inside.  You look at [name of small forward] on the wing.  You look at [name of point guard] running the point.  You have [name of coach] as coach.  You talk about getting it done and you look and they got it done."
    8. I'm bored of even writing this now.
    9. John Daly is less fat than he was before.
    10. If you get ESPN Insider to read about baseball rumors in late November, you have a serious problem.
    I hear they are announcing the AL Cy Young winner later today.  Or maybe it's tomorrow.  Whatever.  Bookmark us because God forbid you miss that breaking news.

    Morning Skate: Stanley Cup Preview

    By Artistry

    And by "Stanley Cup Preview," I mean Penguins' fans will get a look tonight at one team likely to make it to the Finals when the Vancouver Canucks visit Consol Energy Center:  the Vancouver Canucks.  The Penguins?  Who can say.

    But Vancouver is demonstrating some balanced scoring to complement its typical Roberto Luongo-driven goaltending advantage, and looks like one of the clear favorites out west.  Tune in tonight, particularly to watch these guys:

    Tuesday, November 16, 2010

    Steelers Cut Jeff Reed; Reed Immediately Trashes Restroom

    By Artistry

    We don't know if Jeff Reed actually took his frustrations out on a paper towel dispenser, but news did in fact just break that he's been cut.  It seems his little tirade yesterday rubbed just about everyone the wrong way, and maybe the Steelers were just waiting for an excuse to let Reed - who, let's face it, is sort of a P.R. nightmare - take his platinum blond hair down the road. 

    The new kicker, Shaun Suisham, formerly of the Redskins and Cowboys, is unlikely to be an improvement on the field.  The Redskins cut him in favor of some guy you've never heard of.  And for all his shenanigans, Reed is used to kicking in the swamp that is Heinz Field.  Suisham is not.  Looks like the Steelers are gambling he can at least hit those 26-yarders with some consistency, and maybe not pose for pictures like this.


    Maybe tolerable when you're hitting at 85%.  Not anymore.

    GTOPG: Pens Briefly Overcome Finesse Jinx; Fall to Rangers in OT

    By Artistry

    For the first time since Game 7 of the 2010 playoff series with Montreal, which, you'll recall, went badly, GTOG team members gathered last night at Chez Artistry for dinner and a hockey game.  The idea being to wipe the slate clean.  Start fresh.  The Pens were hosting the New York Rangers and trying to build some momentum coming off big wins against Tampa Bay and Atlanta.  The following is a verbatim transcript of last night's discussion. 

    Finesse:  Lundqvist doesn't scare me.

    (At which point Rangers' goalie Henrik Lundqvist proceeds to shut out the Penguins for the next 57 minutes.)

    Jinx.

    Finesse:  You've been high on Letang.

    Artistry:  I have indeed.

    Finesse:  I just hope he doesn't turn into Mike Green.

    Artistry:  He's 23-years-old, and he's already better than Mike Green.

    (Bob Errey points out that as Brooks Orpik shuts down the right side, Letang is cutting off Marion Gaborik's ability to cut towards the center of the ice.)

    Finesse:  Why don't we bracket Ovechkin like that?

    Poise:  We should trade Goligoski.

    Artistry and Finesse:  (nodding vigorously.)

    (Nothing is going on in the game at this point.)

    Finesse:  What's a worse signing, Derek Boogaard or Donovan McNabb?

    Poise:  If you can give McNabb $40 million guaranteed a week after benching him, don't you have to do that?

    Much, much more scintillating discussion after the jump...

    Monday, November 15, 2010

    Jeff Reed Doesn't Pay Attention to Percentages; Quotes His Percentage

    By Finesse

    Lots of posts today, but then again, there is lots to talk about, including this gem by Jeff Reed:
    "Some big kicks, I've missed some important kicks. It's sports. It's not an excuse, but it's life. You can't sit here and say, man, you've been an 85 percent here and there and now you're whatever percentage. I've lost track. It hurts me that I don't help this team get points. But percentages are way overrated, and on a night like tonight when I felt great, kicked off well, did everything I was supposed to do and you miss a 20-something yard field goal, everyone wants to focus on that in a game like this.''
    Let's dissect.
    1. Reed is quick to note his 85% success rate (which is very good) in the same paragraph in which he says that percentages are overrated.  Could it just be that they are overrated when you are 2 for 8 from 40+ yards?  Um, could be.
    2. Shame on the fans for focusing on his missed 26-yarder instead of the fact that he "felt great."  I can only speak for myself, but when I turned the game off last night I thought, "Well, Reed hasn't been making any big kicks this year, but at least he felt great tonight.  Now I can sleep."
    3. It hurts Jeff that he didn't help the team get points.  You know who else it hurts?  The team.
    Skippy's one of our favorites - a reliable Steeler, through-and-through.  But seriously man, start making some more kicks.

    Anyone else uncomfortable with this picture?

    Today in Stories I Don't Believe: Clint Hurdle "turned down" 2nd Interview With Mets, Becomes Pirates' Manager

    By Finesse

    The Pirates are starting off the Clint Hurdle era with one of the most transparent lies ever concocted.  According to Hurdle, he turned down a second interview to manage the Mets to accept the Pirates job.  That's the equivalent of Chris from the Bachelorette saying that he turned down Ali to go date the ugliest girl from his high school.  Just like Chris, Hurdle should fess up to what really happened -- the Mets found someone who looked better in a baseball uniform.

    Time to Change the Channel?

    By Artistry

    I think I'm going to live blog Sarah Palin's Alaska next Sunday instead of watching the Steeler game.  I haven't decided if I'm kidding.

    
    Whose Hair Has More Body and Sheen?

    GTOPG: D-Line counts to 7 Mississippi; Steelers Lose; Media Blackout Underway

    By Finesse

    There are two scenarios which will really drive me into (sports) media darkness - when the Caps beat the Pens and when the Patriots beat the Steelers.  It's not just the loss, or the decline in the standings, or the fact that this seems to prove that the Steelers may be among the most overrated teams in the league -- no, it's that this is going to lead to a slobber fest over Bill Belichick and how much of a genius he is.  I would rather watch Comcast intentionally bill me for channels I don't get than listen to people talk about how great of a coach Bill Belichick is.

    Some thoughts...
    • Make no mistake about it -- this was a complete abomination.  There is no way to sugar coat it.  The first series of the game by the Steelers was one of the tightest, most timid 3-and-outs of all time.  The offensive line is a travesty.  The coaching was awful.  Troy Polamalu is guessing like he is on Deal or No Deal and isn't getting the million dollar case.  Mewelde Moore could be one of the worst players in the league.  Randle El makes Martin St. Louis look tall.  This game was more about exposing the Steelers' numerous flaws than anything about the Patriots.
    • At no point ever in this blog will Bill Belichick receive any credit, but that won't stop me from slamming the Steelers' coaching staff.  I know the offensive line is a joke and I know that Hines had to be kept out of the game after the head injury, but this game was a repeat of the last 6 times we have played New England.  Spread out the Steelers D and throw 8 yard passes, don't run, and keep Brady from getting hit.  This was pioneered by Rich Gannon earlier this decade when he completed 20+ straight passes against the Steelers' D.  As we've said all season, there is a formula to beating the Steelers -- have a good quarterback.  Did Tomlin and Lebeau not expect this?  Every single Steelers' fan knew what was going to happen, so why didn't the coaching staff?
    • That being said, there is only so much you can do when William Gay is on your team.  He makes me pine for Dwayne Washington.
    • 
      Laughing to Keep from Crying
    • As I tweeted last night, the Patriots' offensive line gave Brady enough time in the pocket to watch tape of the Steelers' defensive signals.  If he is going to just stand back there with 5+ seconds every time, then the Steelers have literally no chance.  I'm not sure if Harrison, Woodley etc. just had a bad game or if the Pats' O-Line is just that good, but you don't need to be an inarticulate ex-jock to get on TV and break the tape of this one down.
    • A few more goats from last night:
      • Ben Roethlisberger: I wish the national media would stop talking about his escapability because it encourages him to take 5 step drops, freeze, scramble around, and then get sacked for being in the grasp on half of his dropbacks.  Ben, throw the ball.  I'm not a QB, but I've never seen anyone hold the ball this long.  It can't just be the terrible secondary receivers or the terrible O-Line -- after all, the Steelers aren't the first team with a bad O-Line.
      • The Crowd: The only thing tighter than the Steelers at the beginning of the game was the crowd.  Dreadful performance.  As a fan base, Pittsburghers are great.  But, as in-game participants, we leave a lot on the table.  Consol has been a dead zone and the Heinz Field crowd is notoriously terrible when the Steelers get down
      • Stunned. And Silent.
      • Jeff Reed: Time to cut the cord.
      • James Harrison: Invisible.
      • NBC: The EKG thing was idiotic.
    In the grand scheme of things, this is a turning point, not just because the Steelers lost, but the way they lost.  We're still tied for first, but the trending is downward.  The D is not as good as everyone says it is, Roethlisberger is as maddening as ever, and the coaching staff seemed to be outclassed (as has happened before).  Oh, and everyone is injured.  Is this the beginning of another second-half collapse, or a wake-up call that will spark the team for the rest of the season?  At this point, I'm leaning toward the former.

    Go Pens.

    Sunday, November 14, 2010

    GTOPG: The Stars Come Out in Georgia; Pens Kill It, 4-2

    By Artistry

    Turns out that when Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Marc Andre Fleury come to play, the Pittsburgh Penguins are tough to beat. The Thrashers probably aren't a playoff team, but they were rested, the Pens always have a target on their back, and we had to travel Atlanta immediately after the Friday night game. Just the kind of situation that calls for leaders to lead and a spectacular performance from a battle-tested goalie.
    • Nobody is pronouncing Fleury all the way back until he puts a solid quarter of season together, but he was last night's number one star. His 31 saves on 33 shots won this game, period. The first goal of the game, a seeing eye wrister from the blueline by Bret Sopel, came courtesy of Zybnek Michalek, who could not have done a more effective job of completely blocking Fleury's vision. [We're still on board with the Z-Mickle signing, but he's standing out this week for the wrong reasons.] After that, Atlanta surged, and Fleury stood tall. His only misplay of the night came on the second Thrashers' goal, when Niclas Bergfors scored, wait for it, on a weak shot off a pass from behind the net that somehow dribbled through Fleury's pads. Happens a lot. But Fleury saved the Pens' bacon tonight, and that's all there is to it.
    • Sid and Geno had one of those games where you can almost see them levitating above the ice, literally raising themselves above the other skaters. Atlanta coach Craig Ramsay probably put it best: "Malkin is a monster, and Crosby is as strong on the puck as there is."  
    • The most important thing aside from getting a strong game out of Fleury was actually getting a power play goal.  I don't want to count how many opportunities the Pens' went between man-advantage goals.  But suffice to stay I had started leaving the room instead of watching power plays to do other, more desirable things, like pricking myself in the leg with Mrs. Artistry's sewing needles.  At least that made me feel alive.
    • By contrast, the Pens' penalty kill has been phenomenal.  They are 6th in league on the kill, and their performance on the road is better than that.  Home teams have had 44 power plays against the visiting Pens, and they've only scored 3 times.  That's exceptional.  This is without Jordan Staal.
    • Finesse's post about the Penguins all of a sudden turning into the Oakland Raiders is holding up this weekend.  No problem with Mike Rupp trying to get the blood flowing by pounding on Chris Thorburn's helmet (although that seemed like a bad strategy), Matt Cooke's subsequent attempt to go with Evander Kane showed a remarkable lack of discipline.  We were down 1-0 at that point, Kane saw no reason to fight, but Cooke threw his body into Kane anyway and took an interference penalty.  Stupid move, on two levels.  Cooke should know 1) to keep his eye on the scoreboard; and 2) to stay as far away from Evander Kane as possible.
    • Everybody wondered what Atlanta was thinking moving Big Buff back to the blueline after his stellar performance at wing in Chicago's Stanley Cup run.  Now we understand.  What a force.
    • Hey, guess who's leading the league in scoring?

    My cousin, Artistry's Cousin, asked me to come with him to Verizon Center this afternoon to see more of Big Buff as Atlanta visits the Capitals.  My instinct was not to go.  It's way too loud, there will be like 17,000 Capitals' fans there, Ted Leonsis will probably be in attendance, and I'll have to endure Scarlet Caps videos on the jumbotron.  Wait, and I have to watch the Atlanta Thrashers twice in 24 hours.  Mrs. Artistry said, "Think of it just as time spent hanging out with your cousin."  OK.  But he will never know how much I've sacrificed for him.  

    Saturday, November 13, 2010

    GTOPG: We Have a Pulse; Pens Win 5-1

    By Artistry

    A little adversity is good for a hockey team.  But losing at home last night to the 1996 Florida Panthers Tampa Bay Lightning after jumping to a 2-0 lead and with Marc Andre Fleury's confidence as fragile as a quivering little lamb?  Too much adversity.  When Matt Cooke took a boarding penalty in the third period with the Penguins already shorthanded and clinging to a 2-1 lead, somebody needed to stand in front of Steven Stamkos's inhuman shot.  Brooks Orpik was there.  And for the love of Gilles Meloche, Marc Andre Fleury was there.  He only had to make 15 saves on a night when the Lightning were trapping like an unholy hybrid of the New Jersey Devils and the Jacque Lemaire Wild, but the stops he made were quality, "I'm still here" level plays.  Then Max Talbot found himself cruising in on a 2 on 1, and I suppose muscle memory kicked in, because what he did looked exactly like this.



    Except last night's goal against Mike Smith was probably a better shot.

    The implications of losing this game likely would have been more extreme than the benefits of winning it, but it was by any measure an important moment.  Fleury finally showed signs of getting out of his own head, even though he didn't have the chance to overcome his tendency to give up an early goal, if only because the Lightning didn't shoot.  A few other thoughts:

    • I DVR'd the game, and beginning late in the first period, I fast forwarded through the Penguins' power plays.  Like they were commercials.  Seriously.
    • Can anybody else shoot a puck like Steven Stamkos?  Has anybody ever shot the puck quite like Steven Stamkos?  Mario Lemieux, Brett Hull, and Alex Ovechkin are in the discussion, but in terms of velocity and placement of that one-timer, I mean, you have got to be kidding me. 
    • Every time Chris Connor shows up, he generates something and adds a little more speed and skill to the lineup.  I think we have enough grinders on the roster, no?  It would be good to see Bylsma stick with the Letestu, Kennedy, and Connor combination for a few games and see where that goes.  No I do not miss Mike Comrie.
    • The Kris Letang Norris Trophy watch continues:  3 goals, 13 assists, 16 points, and a +8 in 17 games.
    The Pens travel south to face Atlanta tonight.  We're on it.

    Friday, November 12, 2010

    Killing Him Soff-ly

    By Artistry

    We didn't see this one coming two months ago when we made our over-under predictions for NHL coaches getting thrown under the bus this season, but maybe we should have.  More than any other league, the NHL treats its head coaches like Ronnie treats Sammi on Jersey Shore.  Once a coach has great success, it only means he'll be taken for granted until he's discarded, then recycled.  He and the league will break up and get back together like 16 times.  The NHL is a fickle, fickle mistress.

    And so the speculation over job security begins this week for Penguins' coach Dan Bylsma.  I was going to wait and see how things go tonight against Tampa before raising the issue, but there's already too much talk this morning about Bylsma taking the fall for his underachieving team.  We wouldn't be having this discussion if Marc Andre Fleury were even mediocre this season.  And we probably wouldn't be having it if Jordan Staal was in the lineup for the past month.  It seems silly, but it's the way hockey works.  It's not like football, where when you fire a coach you need to worry about changing the entire identity and infrastructure of a team.  In hockey, to some degree, you tap the boys on the shoulder and let 'em play.  Modern coaches break down a lot of video, and tactics do matter, but not so much that you can't change horses in midstream.  That's why jumpy GM's don't hesitate to do it as soon as things start to go south.  I think Ray Shero will stay calm, and I hope he does.

    There is no indication that Bylsma has lost the locker room.  To say that his system has worked for the Penguins over the last 123 games is an understatement.  He has a 77-39-12 record in the regular season.  He has a Stanley Cup and 5 playoff series wins in two post-seasons.  Mike Rupp once said he would skate through a wall for Bylsma.  This coach has done a fantastic job.  I'd like not to hear that he's in danger of losing his job for the rest of this regular season.  But I'm afraid that if the Pens lose to Tampa tonight, we'll hear plenty.  Ask Michel Therrien how much time his success - and his honesty - bought him. 

    Morning Skate: Pens Getting To Flyers' Game

    By Finesse

    Yesterday, Artistry accurately quoted me (as he always does) saying that the Talbot and Godard fights in the first period were reminiscent of the 2008 Philadelphia Flyers.  I stand by that statement.  The pre-Laviolette Flyers had a stacked roster - they just didn't know how to get the most out of it because they got sidetracked and baited into ridiculous penalties and fights.  

    Admittedly, it is way too early to tell, but it's worth wondering:  Are the Pens trending in a similar direction?

    In the team's 7 wins, Penguin players had 6 fights.  In 8 losses, the Pens dropped the gloves 13 times.  This is skewed a little by the Dallas and Boston games, but it is still alarming.  The Pens' philosophy is supposed to be about getting to a very particular kind of game, using speed, puck pressure, and puck possession to overwhelm the opposition, and any focus on fighting or exacting some sort of retribution on a player who dares hit Sid or Geno diverts precious energy away from that ultimate objective.  The Boston game was a perfect example.  The Pens were completely dominating the first period.  Two ridiculous fights and a Kris Letang penalty later, they are down 2-1.  Sure, they got the lead back, but the opportunity to suffocate the Bruins from the beginning was lost.

    The internets are rumbling today with complaints about Dan Bylsma (Artistry will have more on this later).  My message to Bylsma is simple: do what you say you want to do -- get to your game.  Fighting is not your game.

    Message Delivered.

    Thursday, November 11, 2010

    GTOPG: Total Collapse of the Pens

    By Artistry

    It started with maybe the best shift of the season.  Evgeni Malkin, Aron Asham, and Matt Cooke took the ice about 30 seconds into last night's 7-4 debacle against the Bruins, and they were all over the puck.  When Asham punched a rebound past Tim Thomas for the first goal of the game, the Pens were just warming up.  They had 18 shots in the first period.  Tyler Kennedy had 8 shots on the night.  Pascal Dupuis had 7.  Rebounds were juicy and plentiful.  And when he wasn't experiencing discomfort, Malkin was torturing the Boston defense.  After two periods, Pittsburgh had a 4-2 lead.  No other team scored four goals against Thomas in an entire game this season.  He had a 1.05 GAA coming in.  The Pens were on the way to reasserting themselves as a top team in the East.  Then they did jello shots in the locker room before coming out for the third period.  Or whatever it was that led to the subsequent five unanswered Boston goals.

    • Here's Finesse:  "You know, it's tough when you completely dominate a game for the first 8 minutes and then have two needless fights grind your momentum to a halt.  What you saw in the first eight minutes was a beautiful collective harmony of movement. What you saw with the Godard and Talbot fights was the 2008 Philadelphia Flyers.  The Pens lead the league in fighting majors.  Unacceptable."
    • The Pens also lead the league in power play chances (Steiggy was bringing the knowledge last night), and it's equally unacceptable that those chances are detrimental to the team.  Boston actually benefited from most of its penalties last night.  Could the team with the most PP chances end up having the league's worst power play?  Has this ever happened?  
    • Before the game, I applauded Dan Bylsma's choice to reconfigure the defensive pairings.  Putting Letang and Orpik together made perfect sense to me.  They know each other.  They're compatible.  Z-Mickle and Paul Martin seem like an equally logical fit.  And sitting Deryk Engelland for Lovejoy after  Engelland's poor showing in Phoenix was the right move.  But after that third period, it was clear none of it made any difference.  Boston's first goal came off of a bad play by Martin - a no-look drop pass next to his own net on the penalty kill.  Michalek made some terrible decisions in his own right.  And what of a certain third pairing defenseman with big potential and maddening inconsistency?  Finesse points out that "The Confounding Case of Alex Goligoski" may have to be solved in the AHL.
    • Is Brett Johnson the new starting goalie?  Well, BJ, with great power comes great responsibility, and now you're being held to the same standard as Marc Andre-Fleury.  I don't care what happened to the defense in the third, five goals allowed in that period is inexcusable.  Get out from inside your net.  Actually, never mind, because it says here you just lost the starting job back to Fleury.
    • Malkin took a lot of abuse last night, but one thing is now abundantly clear.  He needs to play center.  Geno standing along the boards waiting for a pass is Geno wasted.  Let the man run free like a gazelle.  That's what he is.
    • Aron Asham's game had everything last night:  a goal, a fight, a check of Milan Lucic into the Pittsburgh bench, a bad penalty in the offensive zone, and terrible hair.  

    • Steiggy reported last night that Consol now has an entirely new sheet of ice.  Good that the organization recognized the problem.  Not so good that the ice was still poor.
    • Do you think the Penguins could use a guy like Nathan Horton?  Here's what we wrote about Horton in June, after Boston got him from Florida:  "Isn't Nathan Horton the type of player you build around when you're a bad team? A 25-year-old power forward who pots 25 goals a year and still has upside? His $4 million cap hit is certainly reasonable in a world where Chris Kunitz lives. So I'm a bit confused as to why Dale Tallon came to town and shipped Horton and Colin Campbell's son to Boston for Dennis Wideman and two picks."  Well, we were wrong.  Horton should score 30 goals, easy.
    Pens host Tampa Bay on Friday.  MAF, come back to us.