Monday, February 28, 2011

Ray Shero Speaks

GTOG NHL Trade Deadline Liveblog

By GTOG Staff

With the trade deadline looming, the Twitter-verse tells us this morning that prices are sky-high even for depth players. Ray Shero clearly had an accurate read of the situation when he pulled the trigger early, sending Alex Goligoski and a 7th round draft choice out the door in exchange for James Neal, Alexei Kovalev, and Matt Niskanen. That's some deal-making right there. Expect Shero to sit back and watch prices drop as 3 p.m. approaches. If nothing happens, so be it. GTOG will be updating this post all day long.

Job: Wishes He Had Ray Shero's Patience

Artistry, 3:50 PM - Shero just spoke. Three notable comments: 1) He sees Dustin Jeffrey sticking with the team the rest of the year. Cue the "Sid is done" speculation; 2) He was asked if Washington being active made him waver after he decided to sit tight. His answer: "No."; 3) He volunteered that Eric Tangradi was never offered in a trade, going out of his way to stamp out speculation making the rounds earlier in the day.

Artistry, 3:38 PM - Now the reports are Arnott for Steckel and a 2nd rounder. Makes a lot more sense. I'm not sure I would have given up a 2nd rounder alone for Arnott.

Artistry, 3:23 PM - Higgins to Vancouver. What a house cleaning by Florida. Too bad they won't get any free agents to sign there. Looks like Caps may have paid nothing more for Arnott. Get ready for everybody to crown GMGM as the deadline winner. But he is who we think he is. If you want to crown his ass, crown it.

Artistry, 3:17 PM - Continuing to scratch our heads over Arnott reports; figure there has to be something more than Steckel involved. Word of other deals trickling in: Lapierre from Ducks to Canucks; 47-year-old Fred Modin from Atlanta to Calgary.

Artistry, 3:09 PM - Early word is Caps acquire Arnott for David Steckel. Finesse now starting the process of convincing himself Arnott sucks. We know David Steckel sucks.

Artistry, 3:00 PM - Crickets.

Artistry, 2:47 PM - Bryan Allen for Sergei Samsanov, confirmed. Rossi reports that Shero is holding a presser at 3:30 PM, indicating Pens may be done. Two possibilities here: 1) deal he was working fell through; 2) he wants the GM he's dealing with to think he's walking away from the deal. We'll see.

Artistry, 2:29 PM - TSN reporting Penner to the Kings for some prospect and a pick. Rossi continues to pound the drum about the Pens trying to make a move. Possibly for Arnott. GTOG has mixed feelings about this. Maybe a 3rd and Dustin Jeffrey gets it done. Finesse speculates that Shero is looking to acquire someone no other GM even realizes is available.

Artistry, 2:13 PM - Rob Rossi reporting Penguins may be on the verge of something big. Where did that come from? GTOG refuses to get too high or too low. Brad Winchester from St. Louis to Anaheim for 3rd rounder.

Artistry, 2:02 PM - Things finally starting to pick up again. Chris Campoli dealt by Ottawa to Chicago. Stan Bowman already negotiating a 7 yr., $82 million deal with Campoli. Marty Reasoner to Vancouver. Florida clearly angling for the top pick in the draft.

Finesse, 1:46 PM - Don't fret if Shero gives up a prospect for Arnott.  Ray knows when to sell high.  See: Esposito, Angelo; Welch, Noah

Artistry, 1:03 PM - Klesla was taken 4th overall in 2000. Rob Rossi just tweeted that Pens may be up to something. Dave Molinari just heard there is a thing called Twitter.

Artistry, 12:59 PM - Columbus sends Rotislav Klesla to Phoenix for Upshall and Sami Lepisto. Remember Klesla was a very high draft pick some years ago and got buried in Columbus.

Artistry, 12:30 PM - Caps GM George McPhee seen leaning against wall of elevator, on cell phone, sweating. Ray Shero seen meditating, getting pedicure.

Finesse, 12:16 PM - Caps get Wideman so they can move Mike Green?  I'm telling you, this is happening!!!

Artistry, 11:49 AM - Caps acquire Dennis Wideman from Florida for a #3 pick and a prospect. Wouldn't have pegged them for needing an offensive defenseman, but OK. Way to go.

Finesse, 11:30 AM - David Pagnotta on Twitter reports that Habs aren't trading Gomez.  In related news, U.S. is reporting that there is minimal interest from other countries in our spent nuclear fuel.

Artistry, 11:18 AM - Islanders trade that maniac Zenopka to the Ducks for a 2nd round pick. Isles decided they didn't need 7 criminals on the roster and can make do with 6. Good riddance. Now hearing this isn't final.

Artistry, 10:40 AM - Atlanta trades Bergfors and Rissmiller to Florida for Dvorak. I don't know Rissmiller, but sounds like vast overpayment by Atlanta. Dvorak was a decent player like 10 years ago.

Artistry, 10:38 AM - Atlanta just extended Mark Stuart for 3 yrs, $5.1 million. The fact that I felt obligated to provide that update proves I have a disease.

Artistry, 10:27 AM - Have to love how all of the hockey insiders are hedging this morning. You see a lot of "Don't be surprised if..." and "The Rangers may make a move, but I wouldn't put money on it" tweets. Here at GTOG, we make definitive statements, but don't be shocked if that doesn't happen.

Finesse, 10:23 AM - If the Pens have extra cap space, Mario will sign Marc Bergevin just because. He's also looking for way to give J.J. Daigneault money.

Finesse, 10:10 AM - I'm going to make a wild prediction based on no facts.  Caps are willing to move Mike Green.

Artistry, 10:07 AM - Rumor: Is Anisimov, a #1 pick, and a prospect the right price for Richards? Anisimov always scores against the Pens. I say they should make that deal. Richards to Gaborik will be a great combination for the 32 games they play together every year.

Artistry, 10:05 AM - LA Kings sign forward Justin Williams to a new 4 yr., $14.6 million deal. Good player. Seems like the right price.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

GTOG Podcast: Grading the Pens at the Deadline, Sushi with Hilary Duff, and Ways to Honor Ourselves

On the eve of the trade deadline, we assess how Ray Shero has done so far and what other moves are out there for the Pens to make.  We also survey some of the other big moves around the Eastern Conference and, in honor of the Oscars, discuss ways in which we can congratulate each other and celebrate ourselves.   Also at the end, you can hear the new smash hit, Sushi With Hilary Duff, inspired by this post.

[UPDATE: We talked about Chris Phillips, but he has since re-signed with Ottawa]

Sushi with Hilary Duff ... GTOG's Debut Smash Hit Single

By Artistry

[Download the hit single (explained below) here]

Listen to the single here:

My brother, Bro-tistry, loves to hang out with my dad's friend, Richard. They golf together, play cards together, eat sushi together, and my brother basically acts like a 60-year-old semi-retired person. Whatever, Richard is more fun than most 25-year-olds you know. If you doubt this, check out what happened when his daughter surreptitiously taped him watching the Steelers-Jets playoff game. Wait until the 1:57 mark for the payoff. [Rated R for language and partial nudity.]

So Bro-tristry and Richard are at Umi in Shadyside last Friday night, sitting at the bar and having dinner, and Bro-tistry checks the score of the Pens-Canes game on his phone, then mentions it aloud. The bartender says, "Aron Asham is sitting right over there. He's with Mike Comrie." My brother turns around and spots Asham, Comrie, and Hilary Duff, eating dinner and betraying no concern for the Penguin game.

After dinner, my brother gets up to use the restroom, and when he's finished, he notices Asham is wearing a goofy hat, Comrie is overweight, and Hilary Duff is no longer at the table. As he and Richard move toward the stairs to head home, Bro-tistry pauses. "I have to text my brother," he says.

"Why, to tell him this is the best sushi ever?" Richard asks, because that makes sense.

"No," Bro-tistry replies, walking down the steps toward the exit. "To tell him Aron Asham and Mike Comrie could give a s--- about the Penguin game."

When they reached the bottom of the staircase, there was Hilary Duff. "I do think this sushi is the best ever," she says. "And I'm from LA."

From LA
Mike Comrie's wife had clearly heard the entire exchange, yet Bro-tistry reports that she was as sweet and gracious as could be. The same cannot be said for Mike Comrie. As my brother and Richard stood in the restaurant lobby chatting away with Duff, the recreational hockey player waddled down the steps. "Looking grumpy and fat," Bro-tistry reports. It seems he was not amused that his wife was talking to people. GTOG was plenty amused by the whole thing. Richard may or may not have gotten Hilary Duff's number.

So moved was Bro-tistry by this experience, he wrote a song about it...

Podcast Powered By Podbean

[Download the hit single here]

GTOPG: What An Effing Shot; Pens Win 6-5

By Finesse

When the Pens were borderline melting down at various points in the third period last night, you may have found yourself saying, "here we go again."  But looking back on the game with the fresh perspective of the next day, no one should be surprised that the Pens kept coming back - that's what this team does.  And that's why this team can do some damage no matter who is in the lineup.  The Pens never get too high, and they never get too low.  Instead, they get angry...and get even.  Credit Dan Bylsma, Ray Shero, and Mario Lemieux - they know that not every game is the Stanley Cup and that you don't get anywhere by feeling sorry for yourself.  The Pens don't feel sorry for themselves, but I feel sorry for Leafs' goalie James Reimer.  What a trainwreck.

While Reimer was inspiring confidence in the Pens' snakebitten forwards -- after all, Max Talbot scored on a shorthanded breakaway on which he didn't make a move but rather skated toward the post and just pushed a backhander in because Reimer wasn't doing anything to stop it -- Marc Andre-Fleury was having his own struggles in the Pens' end.  But the thing with Fleury is that even when he is having a bad game - and last night was one of them - he still makes huge saves late just to keep the Pens in the hunt.  Fleury may have scored a shootout shutout because the Leafs are horrible, but that's what Stanley Cup Champion goalies do.

Ok, enough about everything else.  Let's talk about the Elephant in the Room.

We said it yesterday - one of the main reasons we love the Kovalev trade is that he becomes the only Penguin who not only can do something that makes you say, "$@^$%@", but who you expect to do that.  It's a great feeling to see that back on the ice.  His regulation goal was also underrated.  It wasn't his best shot, but he didn't need it to be because he had the patience to wait until James Reimer took himself completely out of position.  That's hockey sense.

Last night also reminded us that of all the Pens' rookies this season, Mark Letestu stands head and shoulders above the rest.  The guy knows what he is doing.  And so does Jeffrey.  Slowly but surely, the Pens lineup is rounding back into shape.  Oh, I forgot.  TK was scratched last night with a lower-body injury, which caused immediate speculation that he was being held out to be traded.  Rossi on Twitter put that notion quickly to rest.

Pens have three days off and then head back to Toronto.  Here's hoping we see James Reimer again.

Long overdue podcast coming soon.


Saturday, February 26, 2011

GTOG Bachelor Recap: I Want So Badly To Be Affectionate With You. Ok.

By Finesse

This was the wrong week for GTOG to be late on our Bachelor recap, as this was the crucial "hometowns" week, a made up phrase that is completely accepted on the show as common parlance.  "Hometowns is a huge week."  "These hometowns are crucial."  Etc...

With Artistry out of the country this week, the obligation to watch The Bachelor and write a timely recap of it fell to me.  I failed.  You can forgive me - the Pens had like 11 games this week and made 61 trades.  There were other things on my mind.

But that doesn't mean I didn't watch.  It may have taken me three days to get through the episode, but I did.  The storylines could not have been less interesting, but the quotes could not have been funnier.  Here are the top 5.

5. "It's an awkward situation.  We all know that."

In the understatement of the decade, Brad made this acknowledgment while contemplating his first meeting with the perfectly named Little Ricki, daughter of Mrs. Ricky Bobby and the late Ricky Bobby.  Brad apparently finds it awkward to meet the daughter of a woman to whom he is considering proposing, but doesn't find his desire to propose to this woman who he barely knows to be awkward at all.  In fact, he feels "real love" and can "totally" see Mrs. Ricky Bobby as the future Mrs. Brad Ricky Bobby Womack.  That's an awkward situation. We all know that.  Except Brad.

Similarly clueless was Mrs. Ricky Bobby herself, as she attributed Little Ricki's shyness around Brad to Brad, and not to the army of producers and camera men shoving cameras in the 5-year-old's face.  Let's analyze what's more likely to make a little girl uncomfortable -- a nice handsome man giving her presents or six 250lb camera men following her around who look like the actors who play strangers in Don't Talk To Strangers videos?

Totally Natural.
After the jump, the top 4...

GTOPG: Um, At Least Kovalev Looked Good On Those Two Power-Plays; Pens Lose 4-1

By Finesse

When your team can't score more than a goal or two in a single game, it really sucks to give up the first three to the other team.  I think the math works out on that - maybe Anonymous, who is GTOG's unofficial math corrector in the comments section, can confirm?  The obvious problem for the Pens right now is the inability to score a lot of goals.  The power play isn't good, there is almost no offensive production from the blueline, and several of the forwards who should be stepping up right now are doing next to nothing.  I don't want to name names but I'll just type "Max Talbot" and "Mike Rupp" and you can draw your own conclusions.

Shut up, Finesse.
Given the unusual circumstances of the Pens injury situation, the only thing to really analyze about this game is the play of the Pens new acquisitions - James Neal, Matt Niskanen, and Alex Kovalev.  Neal is the real deal and one of the only guys on the team who seems like he has the capacity to bury a wrist shot from more than 15 feet away.  It's coming.  Niskanen has been fine - it's not like we would have won the last two games if we had Goligoski instead.  Shero isn't asking him to set the world on fire, so as long as he doesn't take anything off the table, we'll be cool with that.

Alex Kovalev is another story.  We saw pretty much the entire package from him last night - bursts of speed, a sick shot, clever passes, and some really slow, laborious, stickhandling that ended up in turnovers with three Pens' forwards pinned down deep.  We need to get used to that.  He was definitely an improvement on the powerplay, and overall his acquisition is going to be a net positive because 1) the Pens gave up almost nothing to get him (although let's give Mario and Burkle some credit for cutting checks to him the rest of the year); and 2) he is a creative player, something glaringly absent from the current roster.

Excels at taking terrible penalties in the offensive zone.
We get spoiled with Sid and Geno and a lot of their best plays have become routine to us.  Only now, when the Pens trot out power plays of Dustin Jeffrey, Mike Rupp, and Craig Adams, do we truly realize how fortunate the Pens are to have both Sid and Geno - two guys who never do the same move twice and actually have the skill to create something out of nothing.  Part of what has been so frustrating about the past 10-20 games is that we've totally abandoned the expectation going into a game that we might see something special.  At this point, getting to overtime tied at 1-1 is special.

Kovalev has the capacity to change that feeling, even if it doesn't translate into wins and losses right away.  When he was dangling on the blueline with the man advantage last night, part of me was horrified that he was dangerously close to giving up the league's first four-on-zero shorthanded rush; but another part of me was on the edge of my seat, wondering what he would do next.  He's no Sid, and he's no Geno.  But he's also no Tim Wallace.

Pens at Leafs tonight.  If we can get the W, that's 4 out of 10 points this week.  I'll take that.

Go Pens.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Alexei Kovalev Returns to Kovy's Korner

Welcome Home
For a 6th or 7th round pick, per @TSNBobMcKenzie on Twitter.

UPDATE: Orpik Out 4-6 Weeks; Rob Rossi Dominating HOF'er Dave Molinari

By Finesse

Per Rob Rossi's Twitter feed (pronounced at GTOG as Raw Brassi):
Rob Rossi
Pens GM: Orpik will be out a while but we expect him back this season.
The link to the Trib notes on this are here. Molinari nowhere to be found.  Probably mailing in a column somewhere.

UPDATE: Orpik has broken finger, out 4-6 weeks.  We predict less than 4.

No excuses.

Go Pens.

GTOPG: Another Man Down; Pens Lose 3-2 In OT To All-Eyebrow Team

By Finesse

In our most recent podcast last Sunday, Artistry and I discussed how many points the Pens should be satisfied with during this brutal stretch.  We said that getting 1 out of every 3 points would be considered a success.  Since that podcast, the Pens have earned 4 out of 8 points.  Last night's loss sucked, but big picture, it's a huge point.  Biggest of the season.  And yes, every point from here on out is the biggest of the season.

For the third consecutive game, the talent disparity on the ice was ridiculously lopsided against the Pens.  But for the third straight game, the Pens played a solid and determined game.  We called out TK at the beginning of the month after a terrible effort in New York, but since that time, he has been the Pens' best offensive threat.  Scary to think where we would be without him.  And scary that I had to write that.

Some other thoughts...

- No prognosis yet on Brooks Orpik, who took a shot off the hand last night, but the silence is deafening.  We are supposed to get an update today.  If he's out for an extended time, it's obviously another huge blow, but we now need to just root for health at the start of the playoffs.  As we said in our fireside chat a few weeks ago, things are going to get worse before they get better.

- The only benefit of the Sharks winning in OT rather than a shootout is that my DVR was going to run out before the end of the shootout.  The culprit?  Consol Energy Center lights.  I'm sure I won't be the first to point out the irony of an arena named after an energy company having issues with lighting, but let us hope that the Consol lighting doesn't become the new Heinz Field turf.  Looked horrible on TV.

- Speaking of TV, however, I was watching on Versus and they were just showing the Sharks' feed on Comcast Sports Net.  Tremendous announcing job by the Sharks guys - best ones I've heard so far this year.  Knowledgeable, fair, and keenly aware of the Pens' unique predicament.

- Niskanen was OK last night, except for a few really bad plays. Sound familiar?

- James Neal was a little inconsistent, but I was impressed with his skating ability.  He flew through the neutral zone a few times and got to the corners on the forecheck very quickly.

- The Sharks' first goal came as a direct result of the Orpik injury.  The two d-men on the ice for the Pens were Letang and Lovejoy and I can't remember them playing together for even a shift all season.  When Letang went back to retrieve the puck, he clearly thought Lovejoy was going to support him behind the net, but when Letang chipped it over, there was no one there but the Sharks.  Letang was forced to chase and Lovejoy kind of stood by idly in front of the net.  It's hard to blame either guy individually, but this is Exhibit A of the problems with injuries and replacements.

- Overall, however, Letang was phenomenal again.  Outside of Sid, he may be the strongest skater in the league.  Huge compliments all night from the Sharks' announcers.  They were incredibly impressed.  The bad part about this is that when you rely on a defenseman to be your best player, you're in serious trouble.

Dicky T.
- Finally, unreal uni-brows on the Sharks.  You could start a brush fire in their locker room if you lit a cigarette.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Ray Shero Shows Off His Shiny New Toys Tonight

By Finesse

Tonight the Pens host the San Jose Sharks in what is always one of the most exciting games of the year.  No, not because it is against the Sharks, but because it is the annual debut game for Ray Shero's trade acquisitions.  We've been down this road for several years now, and few things are as fun, or meaningless, as coming to an immediate conclusion about a trade based solely on a player's first shift on the ice as a Penguin.

I may be in the minority, but I'm just as excited to see how Matt Niskanen fits on the blue-line as I am to see James Neal on the wing.  Even with Neal, the Pens are going to be relatively deficient offensively unless and until Crosby comes back.  Let's remember, James Neal is not a 50+ goal scorer - his career high is 27.  That's a little better than one goal every four games.  Yes, it is definitely an improvement over Ryan Craig, but let's not expect former-Ovechkin-level goal production from this guy.  And because scoring goals is going to still be a major challenge for the Pens, the team will have to continue to rely on defense and goaltending.

Huge pickup.
Niskanen is a 24-year old former first round pick.  He has a solid pedigree and that makes a difference.  We know the potential is there and he has proven himself before (+22 as a rookie in 07-08).  We're also optimistic because Shero has done this before, namely, getting a second player tossed into a deal who ultimately ends up becoming a key contributor for several years.  Don't remember who I'm talking about?

F-you, Geno.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Husband of Some Actress Who Was in One Episode of CSI:NY in 2009 is Traded to the Knicks; GTOG Reacts

By Finesse

GTOG has never been a fan of the New York Knicks.  Nor has GTOG ever been a fan of Carmelo Anthony.  Nor has GTOG ever heard of Anthony's wife, La La Vazquez, apart from hearing about her wanting to move closer to New York to pursue an acting career that can only be described as an insult to the word "fledgling."  Putting two and two together, we don't like this trade.

The NBA's Eastern Conference now features three extremely unlikeable teams: Boston Celtics, Miami Heat, and New York Knicks.  So, what does that mean for us?

Because Michelle Money Would Want Us To

Monday, February 21, 2011

GTOPG: Caps Win Elusive Third Straight Stanley Cup; Pens Lose 1-0

By Finesse

I'm not one for moral victories or "good losses," especially where you don't even earn a losers point like the Pens got Sunday against the Blackhawks.  The Pens lost, the Caps won, and now the lead for that valuable 4th seed is down to three points.  We said after the Geno injury that the Pens would probably fall out of the 4-spot.  It looks like we may be on our way.

But despite the loss, the Pens played a really strong game.  The Pens dominated in the offensive zone, winning almost every puck battle and doing a great job keeping the zone.  Of course, if you listened to the Versus announcers slobbering love all over the Caps for their improved team defense, you would have thought the Pens had lost to the '85 Bears.  The announcers must have forgotten that the Caps had just given up 39 shots to the likes of Joey Vitale and Ryan Craig.  But whatever canned, pre-packaged, easy to digest story line that Versus wants to peddle for two hours is apparently what we have to deal with at this point.

What sucks about this loss is that somewhere in some basement in Fairfax City, VA, a 16-year-old Caps fan in a Mike Green turtleneck is thinking, "Look, we beat the Pens three times in a row.  That means something."  I say to that kid, "if those wins mean something, that's more than we can say for your existence.  Or Keith Jones's."

Sour grapes on our part?  Probably.  This would have a been an extremely fun game to win, but, alas, it wasn't meant to be.  So we face that fact, start googling James Neal, and congratulate the Caps on their third Cup in 2011.  Albeit this was basically a Calder Cup, but still.

A few other thoughts...

- Brian Strait was solid as a replacement for Paul Martin, and although it was just one game, this is why we have confidence in Shero's decision to part with Goligoski.  We were coming around on GoGo, but we also know that Shero wouldn't have moved him if he didn't have a full pipeline.  Apparently, he does.

- If Strait was solid, Kris Letang was spectacular.  He played almost 28 minutes and was a positive factor on every shift.  He is built for the playoffs because his level of play rises with big minutes.  What a player.

- Michal Neuvirth was good for the Caps.  A lot of the Caps fans are still skeptical about their goaltending, but I think that is way down their list of needs.  Their biggest problem heading into the playoffs isn't on the ice.  It's in their heads.  They get too high and too low.  Slow and steady wins the race.

- Brett Sterling, hands of cashmere.  Max Talbot, feet of cinderblocks.

- Finally, no Bachelor tonight for GTOG.  The journey will continue later this week.  Stay tuned.

Pens Trade Goligoski to Dallas For James Neal and Matt Niskanen

By Finesse

Ray Shero doesn't waste time.  He heard the opening of Mark Madden's show today at 3pm where Madden and Josh Yohe from the Trib were talking about a rumor of Goligoski to Dallas for James Neal.  Both Madden and Yohe thought that was a good trade for the Pens, but probably wouldn't go through because Dallas would want more.  Well, Shero said screw Mark Madden, and then convinced Dallas to throw Niskanen in as well.

Welcome to GTOG Nation.
Let's focus first on Neal, who is a very promising player.  Neal was second round pick in 2005 and in his 3 years in the league he has 24, 27, 21 (so far) goals.  He is signed through next season at $2.875 mil/year and then is a RFA.  Niskanen is a former first round pick from 2005 and appears to be a decent player, although he hasn't quite lived up to his potential.  He is signed through next season at a very cap friendly $1.75 mil/year.

This appears at first glance to be a very solid move for the Pens, because it does two things: 1) it makes the Pens better this season; and 2) doesn't take anything off the table for the future.  The strength of this Pens team is their 6 defensemen, and with the injuries up front, there is obviously a dearth of goal scoring ability.  The Pens dealt from an area of strength to upgrade a weakness, while offsetting the damage done to the defense by getting Niskanen thrown in.  Neal's upside is similar to Gogo's, but comes at a position where the Pens need more help.

What you will not hear us do is speculate as to what this means about Crosby's health.  Some will say that getting a winger means that the Pens believe Sid is going to come back this season.  But this trade makes the Pens more competitive this season, whether Sid is back or not.  And, all Gods forbid, if Sid doesn't come back until next year, then having Neal is a serious offensive upgrade now and next season.  Be happy.

Also, don't be worried about Neal and/or Niskanen not fitting under the cap next season.  Shero and Bylsma are getting extended looks at the Pens minor leaguers right now which translates in the GM world as "cheap labor."  Saving a few hundred thousand dollars on a few positions on the 3rd and 4th lines next season is how Shero will make room for Neal.  Sorry, Max.  I have a picture of you scoring on Osgood in my office.  It's not personal.

As for Gogo, we are sorry to see him go.  It's been fun.

GTOPG: Matt Cooke and Cheddar Brett Walk 8 Mile; Pens Lose 3-2 In Shootout

By Finesse

During Pens training camp this year, they opened up a few of their scrimmages to the public so that people could come in and see Consol Energy Center.  During the scrimmages, we get a lot of answers to the question, "what would happen if AHL players played entire games/periods/shifts against the best of the best players in the NHL?"  The AHL'ers held their own, but remember, this was an intra-squad scrimmage. Yesterday, however, we got to see what happens in real life.

And for the Pens, they did relatively fantastic.  The talent disparity on the ice yesterday, especially at forward, was alarming, to say the least.  With all due respect to Brett Sterling, who may be GTOG's favorite player, this was a game the Pens had no business being in.  But in it we were, stealing a point from Chicago, at the beginning of what is probably the most brutal week of the schedule all season.


A couple quick points from Poise...

- Say what you want about Matt Cooke’s character towards opposing teams, his presence and production on the ice for the Pens is deeply valuable. He made several great passes and scored a short handed goal that altered the Pens momentum for the second half of the game. If you look beyond the questionable (i.e. dirty) hits and controversy surrounding his media persona, Matt Cooke is a very skilled offensive player with great timing and playmaking abilities.  Matt Cooke says "F the Free World."  [bad language video]

- It’s fascinating to watch the WB/S players maturation process in real time during these games without Sid and Geno. Cheddar Brett Sterling’s production has been remarkable thus far, and the rest of the cast has shown they can compete against some of the best players in the NHL on what is now becoming a regular basis. Time will tell if the WB/S players can sustain this type of pressure in the long term, but for now they are all proving why they are at least among the elite in the AHL. [more bad language]

Saturday, February 19, 2011

GTOPG: Pitt Loses; GTOG Didn't Go; But GTOG Watched

By Finesse

With an ominous tone, the announcers wondered how Pitt's loss to St. John's would affect Pitt's chances of getting a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.  I think their answer was "it doesn't help," which is obvious, but probably overstates the impact of this loss.  Losing on the road to St. John's by one point is not a bad loss.  It drops Pitt's Big East record to 12-2, which still leaves them with a 2-game lead over second place Notre Dame, and drops the overall record to 24-3.  Bottom line: a #1 seed is still completely within Pitt's reach and this loss probably won't do much to diminish those hopes.

What hurts Pitt's chances at a #1 seed more than this loss is Gary McGhee's inability to catch bounce passes.  Also an issue is Pitt's inability to stop the ball on last second full court drives by the opponent to win the game.  I believe that lesson was covered by Scottie Reynolds two years ago, but apparently Pitt wasn't paying enough attention.

But we shouldn't harp on the minor negatives just because of this loss.  The most impressive thing about Pitt is that they just seem to be a physically stronger and more mature team than their opponents (excluding the terrible rebounding job in the final minute).  Today does nothing to diminish that fact, nor should it curb any enthusiasm for what we hope will be an extended tournament run.

Friday, February 18, 2011

GTOG Movie Review: Never Say Never -- The Justin Bieber Story

By Finesse (with the counsel of Artistry)

It started out innocently enough. Artistry, a grown man with wife and child, sends me an IM in the middle of the blogging work day to tell me that he must reveal something to me. I he moving away? Has he confronted Peter King? Was he about to confess that he actually was high when he gamed out a scenario for the Pens to get Brent Seabrook and Patrick Sharp from the Blackhawks in exchange for a package headlined by Tyler Kennedy?  Nope. Instead, he said, "We have to see the Justin Bieber movie." And even after I immediately responded, "I'd definitely see that," he pressed forward with the coaxing, "Our fans want the Bieber review. Our fans demand the Bieber review." And before I could even point out that the only reason he wanted us to do this was to get hits to our site from Google Image searches for Justin Bieber, we were discussing logistics.

Good for at least 100,000 hits.  A day.
So two days later, we met at an undisclosed theater, primed with pens, tablets, and explanations for our behavior like, "It's for the blog" and "Look, he's really popular.  I'm just trying to learn."  We entered the theater and were immediately eyed up and down by everyone in there.  And by everyone in there, I mean both people.  We had our pick of seats and set up shop halfway up, dead center.  A few minutes later, two 20-something ladies entered the theater, stared at us curiously, and then clearly had an internal debate about whether they wanted to spend 2 hours with their backs to us or play it safe and keep us in their field of vision.

Bieber Fever
After the jump, MUCH, MUCH more on Never Say Never...

Thursday, February 17, 2011

GTOPG: Staal Takes a Deep Breath; Pens Win, 3-2

By Artistry

Leave it to Battlin' Bob Errey, the Penguins' tirelessly effervescent color analyst, to include "Take a Deep Breath" among his "Tips To Win" and fail to point out that Wednesday's game was being played in the high altitude of Denver, meaning this "Tip" could be interpreted both literally and figuratively. Love you, Bobby, but that was a fastball down the middle, and you got caught looking. Anyway, Jordan Staal and his merry band of Wilkes Barre elves took your advice to heart. Number One Center must have taken an enormous breath, because he logged 25 minutes of ice time in the thin air, mostly with some gigantic Irish defenseman riding his back, ripped a shot by Peter Budaj to tie the game at 2-2 late in the second period, and generally was the best player on the ice. Then he created havoc in the slot on a power play in overtime, leaving Tyler Kennedy to score one of the more satisfying goals of the season into an open net. He's not Sid, he's not Geno, but don't forget for a minute who Jordan Staal is.

Go ahead, let yourself imagine what a terror Staal would be right now as a third line center. The fact that Number One Center's wingers last night were Brett Sterling and Nick Johnson could be construed as "unfortunate" or "terrible." Except, in reality, those guys are pretty good, right? Easily the most underrated thing Ray Shero has done as general manager is stock the Wilkes-Barre roster with guys who can step into the Pens' lineup and look like they expect to be there. How about Joe Vitale? He was everywhere last night. He's lightning quick, gritty, and smart. And when in the first period, Paul Martin found Brett Sterling with a beautiful, long lead pass and Sterling led Vitale perfectly as he hopped down the slot, Jumpin' Joe knew what to do.

Laser. This is bittersweet, and not just because you've probably only heard of Joe Vitale because the Penguins are on the verge of putting Dr. Charles Burke in the lineup. It also points pretty directly to the end of Max Talbot's career in Pittsburgh. But that's a discussion for another day. For now, a few other thoughts on a crucial two points in Denver:

- Shero has got to be pestering Colorado about Milan Hejduk. That guy does not skate like a 35-year-old. He's still a point-per-game guy, a sniper, and, most importantly, he's a pending UFA making $3 million a year. Perfect fit. He may have a no-trade clause - somebody look that up - but the Avs are going nowhere this year. He would be free to pull a Recchi and resign with Colorado over the summer. For now, please join us.

- The WBS Elves are bringing great energy, but the patchwork power play makes me long for the days when the Pens just had a woefully underachieving power play. They had zero shots on 3 out of 4 power plays in regulation. And, as discussed on the GTOG podcast earlier this week, the team defense is still suffering from the lack of lineup continuity. Guys are swimming out there for long stretches.

- Kris Letang is trying to do too much right now. He needs to scale it back. Regardless of our deficiencies at forward, he can't play such a risky style in a close game. That's got to be the message from Bylsma this week.

- Brandon Yip. Yip Yip. Yip.

- Vitale, you ready? Good. Because look at the schedule.

Feb. 20 - @ Chicago
Feb. 21 - vs. Washington
Feb. 23 - vs. San Jose


Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Trade Market Heats Up; Is Doing Nothing an Option?

By Artistry

With 12 days remaining until the NHL trade deadline on February 28, playoff  contenders are starting to make their move. Let's assess what happened in the past week:

February 10 - Nashville acquires Mike Fisher from Ottawa for a 2011 1st round pick and a conditional 2nd or 3rd round pick in 2012.

February 14 - Philly acquires Kris Versteeg from Toronto for 1st and 3rd round picks in 2011.

February 15 - Boston acquires Chris Kelly from Ottawa for a 2nd round pick in 2011.

What does this tell us? Two things: 1) The market is set for forwards who are not going to be unrestricted free agents after this season. Fisher, Versteeg, and Kelly all have at least an additional year remaining on their current deals; and 2) even if Sidney Crosby's status changes for the better by the deadline, the Penguins probably won't be trading for one of them. With Crosby leading the charge into the playoffs, the Penguins are still a Stanley Cup contender if they can rebuild their second line around a legitimate offensive threat who plays with an edgy, team-oriented style. Maybe somebody like Mike Fisher, if Mike Fisher was a legitimate offensive threat. He's not. Put it this way: Tyler Kennedy may overtake Mike Fisher in goal scoring by the trade deadline. What do you think Edmonton will demand for Ales Hemsky at this point? A number one pick and Simon Despres for a floater with the same amount of goals as Matt Cooke? Pass.

Will Cost You 18 1st Round Picks, Your First Born, and Future Considerations

Ray Shero has to be thinking there's really only one way this can play out. First, he tries to add a couple of relatively low-cost rentals, moves that won't harm the team in the long run regardless of whether Sid comes back. Best case scenario would be a haul like Eric Cole (if the Canes become sellers) and Ottawa's Chris Phillips (both UFAs after the season, with a combined cap hit of $6.4 million) for second-tier prospects, maybe a second rounder, and/or a Kennedy. That probably can't happen; the bidding as we approach the deadline will likely escalate to a ridiculous level given how many teams are on the bubble right now. So Shero will look for scraps. Ottawa can probably only ask for a 4th rounder for Alexei Kovalev, at best. I know he really doesn't fit anymore. I know he's old. But I think we might be willing to scratch Tim Wallace to get him in the lineup. Whatever happens between now and February 28, here's the reality: for the first time since he took over as Penguins GM five years ago, I wouldn't bat an eyelash if Ray Shero sits this one out.

Pitt Basketball Bandwagon Drives By; GTOG Calls Shotgun

By Finesse

We should have been writing about Pitt basketball all season.  The Panthers are 23-2 overall, 11-1 in the Big East and are slated by many projections as the overall #1 seed in the NCAA tournament.  You can say that we are hopping on the bandwagon if we start to follow more closely now; we maintain that we invest our time wisely.  And when we invest our time, we go whole-hog -- GTOG will be at MSG on Saturday for Pitt vs. St. John's.

Born to look like a college basketball coach

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Bachelor Recap: Bradholm Syndrome

By Artistry

In psychology, Bradholm syndrome is a term used to describe a paradoxical psychological phenomenon wherein hostages express adulation and have positive feelings towards their Bachelor that appear irrational in light of the fact that (a) they just met him; and (b) he is blander than a piece of stale melba toast, essentially mistaking a lack of abuse from their captor as an act of kindness. Common side effects of Bradholm Syndrome include uncontrollable sobbing, toplessness, and the desire for Brad to meet their families. You could argue that the "Ladies" continued their Journey on Anguila for Episode 7 of their own free will, but I'm not sure that assertion stands up under careful scrutiny.

Emily, for one, is clearly being coerced. Here is a woman who has never introduced her daughter Ricky, by her late fiancee Ricky, to anyone she's ever dated, regardless of whether they, too, were named Ricky. Yet we are expected to believe that she's suddenly at peace with the idea of opening up her home to Brad, Chris Harrison, and the ABC camera crew? Folks, that's akin to swinging a psychological wrecking ball into Emily's walls. To her credit, Mother Theresa Barbie tried valiantly to protect her mental health, even as Brad kept the pressure on with yet another one-on-one date to open the show.

Hopefully, Ricky got out
 "What do you want to do on our date?" Brad asked, prepared to take off his shirt.

"I really don't even care," Emily replied, as I shouted "Run, Emily! Run! Go now!"

Does Emily escape? Will Britt eat something already? Who goes topless on the group date? Find out after the jump...

Matt Cooke, Justin Bieber, Sarah Palin, Baby Pandas

By Finesse

If the last three days have taught us anything, it's that there are really only 4 things that get people excited on the Internet, excluding the obvious one, and if you don't know what that is, then think about why there is now "In Private Browsing."  The other four, in order:

1) Justin Bieber, understandably
2) Panda Videos, also understandably
3) Any headline that says something to the effect of, "Sarah Palin comment raises eyebrows"
4) Debating Matt Cooke's year-old hit on Marc Savard

People have formed their opinions on Matt Cooke's hit, just as most people already have formed opinions on Bieber, pandas, and Sarah Palin.  This was more than clear from the comments section to yesterday's post about Mario Lemieux's statement.

"Free Matt Cooke, also too."
We've made our opinions on the subject clear many times, so there is not really any point to continually discussing something that happened a year ago.  It would be like continuing to debate the Nordic Combined results from last year's Olympics.  It was incredibly polarizing, but it's over and we're moving on.

So consider this a vow to look forward with the Pens, not backward.  There is a lot of business to take care of.


Monday, February 14, 2011

Steve Yzerman Offers Faint Support For Mario; Mario Responds, "I think I remember him."

By Finesse

Steve Yzerman sort-of-but-not-really agreed with Mario Lemieux's comments, although he did say that he believes Mario should get more involved in NHL affairs.

To paraphrase Mario's response, "When they hold the Board of Governors meeting at Nemacolin, I'll go."

Mario: "Do I know you?"

Mario Under Attack From Scott Burnside's Grandmother's Living Room; GTOG Responds

By Artistry

It's been three days since the Debacle on Long Island, Friday Night Raw, or whatever you want call that embarrassing display by the New York Islanders last Friday night (listen to our podcast on the events in question, here). The Isles sent their goons to ambush the Penguins, the NHL meted out its punishment late on Saturday night, and Mario Lemieux woke up on Sunday with fire in his eyes, and no Ronnie Francis to hold him back.

Lemieux lambasted the league for failing to come down harder on the Islanders for turning Friday's game into a no holds-barred steel cage match. Now the blogosphere knives are out, and they are aimed not at the thugs in Islander uniforms, but squarely at Lemieux. ESPN's Scott Burnside mocks Lemieux for being too busy "working on his short game" to comment on Matt Cooke's trangressions and labels Cooke's hit on Marc Savard "a thousand times worse" than the one that recently concussed Sidney Crosby. Burnside also blasts Lemieux for taking a stand against premeditated violence even though the Penguins are among the league leaders in fighting majors. In sum, Burnside argues, Lemieux's statement was over-the-top, hypocritical, and entirely self-serving. And, Puck Daddy adds, infantile. We here at GTOG are big fans of Scott Burnside. As far as we're concerned, ESPN should release him from his grandmother's living room and allow him to broadcast from a more suitable location.

But Burnside is dead wrong here, and we'd be remiss if we didn't call him out for what sounds like a measure of bitterness, maybe over the fact that Lemieux is intensely private and doesn't give hockey writers the time of day. Here's why he's wrong:

1) Yes, Lemieux employs Matt Cooke. And yes, Matt Cooke has thrown his share of illegal checks. Cooke plays on the edge, and about once a year throws a check that is actually suspension-worthy. But those are plays made during the normal course of a game, and to suggest that Matt Cooke is some kind of outlier is entirely disingenuous. There is a boarding penalty about once every three games in the NHL. Players on other teams commit them all the time, and usually they're a result of one player trying to separate another from the puck, with no intent to injure. One thing Matt Cooke has never done, and this is what distinguishes the events on Long Island, is turn a hockey game into a street fight. I think Burnside is fully capable of making that distinction; he just doesn't want to. Just like he doesn't want to acknowledge that Victor Hedman's hit on Crosby - though less dramatic - was every bit as bad as Cooke's hit on Marc Savard, if not worse. Marc Savard had just released the puck and his head was down. We saw even worse hits from other players last season, notably Mike Richards, and there was much debate about an ambiguity in the rules that actually suggested that kind of hit was legal. In the case of Crosby and Hedman, there is no debate. Crosby didn't have the puck. Hedman hit him squarely from behind, bouncing Crosby's face off the glass. Now the best player in the league may be gone for the season, Hedman wasn't punished, and Lemieux didn't say a word about it.

2) Leading the league in fighting majors does not make Mario a hypocrite.  I'm struggling over whether the argument that Lemieux is a hypocrite because the Penguins take penalties is even worth a response, so I'll keep it brief. Fighting is legal. Two willing combatants sometimes drop the gloves. They each get 5 minutes in the penalty box. The game continues. Assaulting somebody who hasn't agreed to fight and, in fact, isn't even aware he's about to be assaulted, is a different story.

3) This isn't Mario Lemieux's first rodeo. He's been very outspoken for decades about bringing the NHL out of the dark ages. Fans want to see skilled players play, and they do not want to see hockey continually portrayed to the general public - often accurately - as a barbaric sport. Lemieux has always understood this, and the league has always been agonizingly slow in responding to his concerns. His statement on Sunday wasn't just about the Islander game; it was about the Steckel and Hedman hits on Crosby, it was about Scott Hartnell biting Kris Letang, and it was probably about that game when Kerry Fraser wouldn't call a penalty when Mario was getting mugged up and down the ice. If this were the NBA, Matt Martin and Trevor Gillies would be suspended for the rest of the season. No questions asked. In the NHL, the league issues relatively mild suspensions in the middle of the night and hopes it all goes away. Well, Mario Lemieux wasn't going to let that happen. Was he a bit overly dramatic? Perhaps, but he knows you have to throw your gloves pretty high in the air to draw a high sticking penalty. Is he correct that the NHL still is, in too many respects, a "garage league?" Definitely. And if respected hockey people like Scott Burnside don't like it, if they think Lemieux is being childish by threatening to disassociate himself from a league that has been very good but also consistently frustrating to him, believe me, he doesn't care.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

GTOG Podcast: Mario Speaks, We Listen, Then We Speak

By Finesse

Step 1: Follow us on Twitter.

Step 2: Subscribe on iTunes.

Step 3: Get To Our Facebook Page.

Step 4: Listen to us.  This time, we're fired up.  After another rough weekend for the Pens, we discuss the aftermath of the Debacle on Long Island and the Pens' 5-3 loss to the Rangers at MSG.  We also break down the statement from Le Magnifique where he absolutely dominates the NHL.  Plus, in a radical non-sequitur, a quick preview of our review of the Justin Bieber movie.

You can listen in the player below or on our podcast page.  And, if you're really looking to be difficult, you can download the mp3 file here.

Here is the Lemieux statement.

Here is the Puck Daddy piece we discuss.

Here is the AP story with the quotes from Isles' GM Garth Snow.

NHL Suspends Honor For 10 Games; Sociopathy To Sit Out 9 Games; Cowardice Gets 4 Games

By Artistry

The NHL waited until around 11:30 p.m. on Saturday night to announce punishment for Friday's debacle on Long Island in a transparent attempt to bury the news and try to push this story under the rug. But nothing the league does is going to make us forget what happened, and its discipline czars certainly can't logically explain this: Eric Godard's automatic 10-game suspension was upheld because he prevented his goalie from being attacked by a kid who was called up from the minors the same day as part of a clearly premeditated attempt to injure Penguins players; Trevor Gillies only got 9 games for trying to drive an unsuspecting Eric Tangradi's head through the glass, concussing him, then taunting him; and Matt Martin got a paltry 4 games for a blindside attack on Max Talbot that instantly caused every hockey fan who witnessed it to think of the Todd Bertuzzi assault on Steve Moore. Oh, and the league fined the Islanders $100,000. I'm sure Charles Wang, the owner who signed Rick DiPietro and Alexei Yashin for something like a combined $130 million, is really going to sweat that. Didn't really think this one through, did you Colin?

Still Thinking

Saturday, February 12, 2011

GTOPG: Rick DiPietro's Face Is Still Broken; Pens Lose 9-3

By Finesse

According to almost every postgame quote from players on both sides, what happened last night is all a "blur."  Well, here at GTOG, we've mined the video, read the quotes, and broken down the box-score and we've discovered that what happened last night is as clear as day: The Islanders are suffering from a decades-long inferiority complex with no end in sight caused solely by their own ineptitude at managing themselves as an organization both on and off the ice.  Last night was, paradoxically, an attempt by the Isles to distract your attention away from their overall irrelevancy.

Smiling To Keep From Crying
None of us played in this game so we have to remember to cool our emotions a bit here.  We aren't tough by pounding keyboards, just like Rick DiPietro isn't tough at anything except making it difficult for the Islanders to find additional cap space to waste on more terrible contracts.  We don't really know what was happening on the ice or what was being said.  Actually, we do.  The Islanders attempted to set the sport back 10 years, which means they only have to set it back another 20 to get to a time period when anyone actually cared about them.

Ok, enough shots at the Isles.  Let's turn it over to Brooks Orpik to explain in the most rational way possible what that was last night.  From the Trib:
"I don't know what they were so frustrated about," Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "Johnny got into a fight with their goalie (earlier this month) who was very willing — and you've got guys like Trevor Gillies who are out to hurt people. The league takes care of all that stuff, and I'm sure they will."
Exactly.  The Islanders getting mad at Johnson for shattering Rick DiPietro's overpriced face would be like me getting mad at the owner of a liquor store that my brother was trying to rob for not willingly turning over the money to him.  It made no sense at the time and continues to not make sense no matter how much the Islanders try to rationalize it, as you can read in these quotes.

"No, I don't know what I'm doing."
Lost in the fighting is the fact that the Penguins lost this game by 6 goals and were largely noncompetitive throughout.  Because we are all so concerned about the brawling, it was easy to forget that on several of the Islanders' goals, the Pens were standing around watching or merely giving a courtesy effort to tie people up in front.  I'm not sure if this amateur lineup the Pens were throwing out was too busy congratulating themselves for beating the Kings or were simply overmatched.  Whatever the case, it was a dreadful performance.

No one is feeling sorry for the Pens right now.  Godard is going to be suspended and Tangradi looks like he will probably be out for at least a couple games, meaning the Pens are one injury away from having to  call up Adam Banks from The Hawks.

Wrist Healed; Will Play 18 Mins on Sunday
Some people out there will say that what is happening to the Pens is "karma," which makes no sense because in no other context has karma ever come back to hurt someone just because he/she was really really good at his/her job like the Pens are.  Oh, well.

In our fireside chat, we warned that things could get worse before they get better.  And, sad as it may be, we still might not be at rock bottom.  But things are never as bad or as good as they seem.  Things will turn around.  It's why we love hockey.

Stay The Course.

Go Pens.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Islanders Have AHL Talent; Play Like An ECHL Team

By Finesse

If it's even possible, the New York Islanders should be even more embarrassed than they ever have been.  Their arena, fans, players, goalie, DiPietro contract, Garth Snow, etc. are nothing compared to Martin, Gilles and Haley.  What jokes.

Incredible game.  One for the ages.  Islanders won the battle.  Pens won the war.  The war of relevance, life, success, intelligence, talent, interest, and skill.

Don't worry about this loss.  It's meaningless.  Tony Granato may be coaching the Wheeling Nailers at MSG on Sunday.  Buckle up.

Debacle on Long Island

By Artistry

Wayne Gretzky once famously referred to the New Jersey Devils as a "Mickey Mouse organization." I wonder what he might say tonight about the New York Islanders. Once they went up 6-0 on a Penguins' team playing five rookies at forward, one of their goons tried to pull a Todd Bertuzzi on Max Talbot. On Max Talbot's birthday.

Later, a second goon charged an unsuspecting Eric Tangradi and threw a flying elbow at his head. Then a third goon charged Brent Johnson, leading Eric Godard to rush off the bench to his goalie's defense. That's an automatic 10-game suspension for Godsy and a hefty fine for Dan Bylsma. Finally, a fourth goon tried to strangle Talbot while holding him down on the ice. You are reading all of this correctly. The Islanders dressed four goons tonight, and none were willing to look Deryk Engelland in the eye and ask him to fight.

Look at me. Look. At. Me.
It seems the Islanders may have been angry about Brent Johnson breaking Rick DiPietro's face, albeit after DiPietro tried to take out Matt Cooke and then accepted BJ's invitation to fight. Or they were upset about the Penguins' laughing on the bench after DiPietro got housed. Or maybe they were just frustrated at being a laughingstock for the better part of the last 20 years. Whatever. They're a disgrace. And so were the referees, who may as well have just excused themselves after the first period.

Also, the Pens lost 9-3. It would be good if we could trade for Pavel Bure Michael Grabner at the deadline.

GTOG Gets Bieber Fever

By Artistry

OK, this is happening. Finesse and I are going to see "Justin Bieber: Never Say Never 3D" on Sunday. Then we're going to write up a review. There's just too much momentum right now to turn back. Look at Diddy's intensity as he pitches this movie.

This began as a lark, something to take our minds off a rough week in Pittsburgh sports. Now it's all business. I'm thinking we need to pre-order tickets and get there at least 30 minutes early.

Pens Recall Tangradi. Again.

By Artistry

With Dustin Jeffrey hurt, the Pens needed a substitute for the replacement. Seriously, who is playing for Wilkes-Barre at this point?

Ryan Schnell: Playing for Wilkes-Barre

GTOPG: Pens Get To Their Skill Set; Survive The Kings, 2-1

By Finesse

Usually in a tight game when the Pens are missing some of their top players, I start rooting for overtime with about 3-4 minutes left.  You just can't afford to lose that point.  For last night's game, I started rooting for overtime at about 3-4 in the afternoon.  The day before.  All credit in the world should be given to Marc-Andre Fleury, Brett Sterling, Nick Johnson, Pascal Dupuis (22:16 of ice time), and others for their performance, but there was one true hero last night who loomed larger than the rest.

The Missing Piece
In the first period, the Kings' Justin Williams put a sick move on Fleury and had a wide open net until Michalek reached back and slapped the puck away.  Had the Kings scored there and gone up 1-0, this is a completely different recap.  In fact, we probably would have just taken our Columbus recap, changed a few names, and republished.  You just can't underestimate the importance of that save by Michalek.  His second save later in the period was nearly as important.

Sure, you could complain to me that Michalek was also at fault for the goal the Kings scored to even it up 1-1, but that was a 2-on-3 so I blame more than just him.  Plus, the key for this Baby Pens' squad is scoring first and Michalek's first period save on Williams was just as important to this game as Brett Sterling's rocket wrister to Kovy's Korner.

- Speaking of Sterling, he's a guy with NHL-caliber offensive instincts with the frame of a junior in high school.  You could tell that every time he had the puck, he knew what to do and he also knew how to get himself in scoring position when he was away from the puck.  He's probably too small to stick around long-term, but there aren't many minor leaguers who bury that wrister with the poise and confidence that he did.

- One of the hidden problems with all the injuries, other than the fact that almost all of our good players are hurt, is that it has become nearly impossible to get to the power play with this depleted lineup.  In  no way am I blaming the refs - in fact, I credit the refs for not feeling compelled to call an even amount of penalties against both teams.  The simple fact, much to the shock and dismay of Rangers and Caps fans, is that great players like Crosby and Malkin don't draw penalties because they are famous -- they draw penalties because they are incredibly talented and force the other team to take penalties.  The current Pens lineup simply doesn't have the horses for force the opponent to take penalties.  You earn powerplays in the NHL, and right now, the Pens don't have a lot of guys who can earn it.

"Do we still get paid under-the-table even though Crosby is hurt?"
- I'm not sure whether to credit Bylsma for playing the AHL guys together or whether he had to simply because there was no other choice.  But either way, it seems like a good idea.  There was clearly good chemistry between Johnson and Sterling, and it also allows the NHL guys - Staal, Dupuis, Kennedy, etc. - to continue playing together.  An all-AHL line is not sustainable long-term, but it can be effective at times.  What else do we have to lose?  (Oh right, Dustin Jeffrey to injuy).  Plus, Bylsma unveiled my new favorite Bylsmism during the interview with Errey: "get to your skill set."  GTYSS.

- Jordan Staal may have been the OT hero, but we shouldn't forget that the rest of his night was, well, forgettable.  He was almost non-existent and I don't think he even had the puck long enough to stickhandle at any point during regulation.  Obviously, you  take the win and you love the heart he showed in OT, but he needs to be a 60-minute presence.  And last night, he wasn't even close, until literally the last second of regulation when the Original Piece, Rob Scuderi, blocked his wraparound attempt that was otherwise going in. Staal is at his best offensively when he gets the puck off his stick and on net quickly, as we saw on the game-winner.

- Also not close were the Kings' shots.  They were firing like Alex Semin in the playoffs.  The Pens get all the credit on this blog, but the Kings have to be kicking themselves.  One guy from the Kings who we would love to see in a Pens' uniform - Justin Williams.  He almost scored on every shift.

- Finally, a word about Kris Letang. He's fallen dramatically off the point-per-game pace he had going for the first half of the season (he now has 41 pts in 56 games), but that's to be expected with all of the injuries. And if you're focused on that statistic, you're missing something. Something big. This guy has turned into one of the top 5 defenseman in the league in all facets of the game. He punishes people defensively, he's quicker on the puck than virtually anyone, he's got ridiculous speed with the puck, and he plays with an edge. The play in the second period where he moved in deep, then swung sharply to the net, shielded the defender from the puck, got off a backhand shot, and drew a penalty? World class.

We're on Long Island tonight to play the Islanders for like the 18th time this season. Brent Johnson's in net, and he's looking to knock someone out. LGP.