Sunday, March 31, 2013

Thanks a lot, Jesus; Crosby, Martin injuries suck joy out of everything

By Artistry (follow me on Twitter)

WTF, Jesus. SOME EASTER. And your hands aren't clean either this Passover, Yahweh. Sorry, no offense to anybody. Not blaming anybody except Brooks Orpik - this is no one's fault. It just all feels very fresh right now, very raw. Right as we're basking in the excitement of Jarome Iginla's debut with the Penguins and a potentially record-breaking winning streak, this happens.

What an awful, awful break for Sidney Crosby, who is out indefinitely with a broken jaw. Just sickening, as he had the Hart and Art Ross Trophies, to say nothing of the league itself, by the throat. Can he make it back by the playoffs? No one knows, but Google says the average recovery time for this injury is 6-8 weeks. My mind goes immediately to 1991, when Paul Coffey took a puck to the face in Game 1 of a second round series against the Capitals. He had surgery, missed 10 games, and showed up at less than full capacity in the Stanley Cup Finals, looking like this and not doing much:

Make no mistake, this is a really, really bad development. And Paul Martin missing 6 weeks (including the first round of the playoffs) with a broken wrist may be an even bigger setback for this team. They've got high end forward depth - not so much on the back end. Kris Letang better get healthy.

Sufficiently devastated? OK, the good news after the jump....

Friday, March 29, 2013

Pretty damn good Friday: Pens stomp the Jets, 4-0

By Artistry (follow me on Twitter)

Two months ago, the Penguins looked stale, disinterested, and mediocre. They were coming off a brutal 4-1 loss to the Islanders, Eric Tangradi was on the second line, and Dan Bylsma realized his job was in jeopardy unless he shaved a really unfortunate goatee. Now? Now they look fresh, engaged, and dominant, among other things. They are coming off a 4-0 win over the Jets that probably shot their team Corsi rating into the stratosphere (read: they had the puck, like, the whole time). We need to figure out if it'll be Captain Morrow or Captain Iginla on the second line. Eric Tangradi is now missing the net for Winnipeg. The Penguins have won 14 games in a row, and they are powering right along without Kris Letang. Things have changed.

"We are, once again, enormous beasts"
Before you read on, make sure to listen to our two podcasts recapping the Pens' recent moves.  If you're listening on your smartphone, the best ways to make sure that you have an uninterrupted experience are: 1) download the podcast from iTunes OR 2) download the Spreaker app by going to the App store and searching for "Spreaker." Then search for "Get To Our Game."

1) Our stats-free, emotion-filled reaction to the stunning Iginla deal:

2) Our analytical discussion with Neil Greenberg of ESPN Insider and The Washington Post about why the advanced statistics still don't have the Pens as Stanley Cup favorites.

More thoughts on the game and what's ahead, after the jump...

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Podcast: Neil Greenberg of ESPN and The Washington Post tells us what the stats say about Morrow, Murray and Iginla

Neil Greenberg of the Washington Post and ESPN Insider joins us to discuss what the advanced stats are saying about the Penguins' acquisition of Brenden Morrow, Douglas Murray, and Jarome Iginla. Are the Pens the favorite? If not, who is? We also talk about the pros and cons of advanced stats, whether it's teaching us anything we don't already know, and what the stats are telling us are the best (and worst) of the playoff teams.  Whether you know a lot about advanced stats or know nothing at all, you will learn a lot.

[And make sure to check out our stats-free, emotion-filled podcast on the Pens' big trades by clicking here]

Click here to subscribe on iTunes (if you were already a subscriber, you will have to resubscribe because this is a new feed).

***If you're listening on your smartphone, the best ways to make sure that you have an uninterrupted experience are: 1) download the podcast from iTunes OR 2) download the Spreaker app by going to the App store and searching for "Spreaker"

Your lunchbreak podcast: Talking Jarome Iginla and the Pittsburgh Penguins

Incredibly exciting times as the Pens add Jarome Iginla from Calgary. Here's your emotional lunch-break podcast.

If the player below is not working for you, click here to listen.  If it's taking a while to load, just stick with it.  LGP.

Stunner: Pens acquire Jarome Iginla from Calgary for almost nothing

By Finesse (follow me on Twitter)

You can listen to our lunch-break podcast breaking down the Iginla trade in the player below, or by clicking here.

Like everyone else, we awoke to the news that the Pens had acquired Jarome Iginla from the Calgary Flames after spending much of last evening hearing that the Bruins were on the verge of landing the prized winger.  This is an absolute stunner.

To get Iginla, the Pens gave up Bruce Gradkowski, Kenny Powers, and a first-round pick in the upcoming draft which, clearly, Ray Shero hopes is the 30th pick.  I was prepared to say that this move meant Ray Shero not only went all-in but then topped that off by putting his testicles on the poker table.  But giving up only those guys makes this more of WHAT THE HELL JUST HAPPENED?!?!!?

Wait.  Their names are Ben Hanowski and Kenny Agostino?

Hanowski is graded as a "C" prospect by Hockey's Future.  He was drafted in the 3rd round of the 2009 draft.  He's currently playing for St. Cloud State.  He's 6th in scoring there with 29 points in 34 games.  (As a point of comparison, when Crosby was 4 years out of the draft, he won the Cup).

Ken Agostino was a 5th round pick in 2010.  He's graded as a "C" prospect.  He is the leading scorer for Yale with 37 points in 33 games.

To recap: The Pens just got Jarome Iginla for Yale's best player, St. Cloud State's sixth best player, and a (hopefully) late first round pick.

Flames' GM Jay Feaster will get destroyed for this deal, but remember that Iginla had a no-trade clause. He must have really wanted to come to Pittsburgh, so much so that he didn't mind screwing the Flames over (at least compared to the rumored Boston offer) to get here.

You don't bring in a guy like Iginla and NOT give him a shot at the top-two lines which means there is an odd-man out somewhere.  I think the most likely scenario is that Brenden Morrow drops to the third line with Sutter and Cooke, meaning Kennedy plays on the 4th line with Craig Adams and hopefully anyone but Tanner Glass.  Based solely on name recognition, it seems crazy to keep Dupuis on the top lines over Morrow, but Dupuis has great chemistry with Crosby and Malkin, is familiar with the system, and is, oh yeah, better at scoring goals than Morrow at this point.

As for the first two lines, Bylsma now has unlimited options.  He could give Iginla a shot with Crosby which was probably a big selling point to bring him here.  That would move Dupuis to down to play with Malkin and Neal where he would undoubtedly do the same thing he does for Crosby -- forecheck like a crazy person and get pucks to the big guy.  Or Iginla could play with Malkin and Neal, which seems almost unfair, although we should remember that sometimes chemistry trumps pedigree when it comes to a line being effective.

Either way, these seem like great problems for the Pens to have.  We never really thought the Pens would be in on Iginla, especially after getting Brenden Morrow.  But we also didn't think that either Iginla wanted to come to the Pens so badly or Jay Feaster was dumb enough to take two college kids back for Iginla.

This is a time for optimism, but it doesn't mean shit unless the Pens win the Stanley Cup.  The Pens are on a 13-game winning streak without Iginla, Murray, or Morrow (for 12 of them).  On paper, these guys make the Pens look incredible.  But being Paper Champions doesn't matter.  Being real champions is what matters.

Isn't that right, Lee Flowers?

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Pens win 1-0; Time to get healthy

By Finesse

The Pens continued their incredibly impressive defensive play last night, shutting out the Montreal 5'10" Guys With Goatees Canadiens, 1-0.  Fleury was strong, Vokoun was strong, and the post was strong.  Pens have given up 9 goals in the last 9 games.

Now the bad news.

Fleury looked like he got pretty banged up last night when Tyler Kennedy tripped and seemed to push Fleury's neck in a very weird position. He stayed in the game for the next 47 seconds, so at least that's something.  Hopefully it's just a sprained neck/whiplash situation and not a concussion.  But even if it is a concussion, it doesn't mean he's out for a year and a half like Crosby was.  The Pens got pretty pissed at Brian Gionta for allegedly tripping Kennedy into Fleury and while Gionta certainly knew what he was doing, it still takes a guy falling over to cause the injury.  We'll say this -- if that was Sid and not Kennedy tied up with Gionta, Fleury finishes the game.  Not a lot of fault here, it's just hockey.

There's also a report from Renaud Lavoire from RDS in Canada that Kris Letang has a broken toe.  That's not good, but with absolutely no medical credentials whatsoever, I think he can play through it. Or as Artistry said this morning, "DO NOT WORRY ABOUT THE TOE."

Evgeni Malkin still hasn't returned after a week of speculation that his return was imminent.

There are only 14 games left in the season.  It's time to get healthy.  This is a stacked lineup with all-hands on deck.  The Pens have been relatively lucky injury-wise so far this year, probably as part of an evening out of fortune after 2011.  Everyone should be treated cautiously.

More notes after the jump...

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Ray Shero's next target: Isn't it Ott-vious?

By Artistry (follow me on Twitter)

With Brenden Morrow and Douglas Murray in the fold well in advance of the April 3 trade deadline, what do the Penguins do for an encore? Because they're not done. Ray Shero will still look to bolster a weak fourth line and a suspect penalty kill. We've mentioned this guy before, but this morning it really hit me. What if I told you a team was looking to unload a player with the following resume:

* 57% on faceoffs
* Kills penalties
* Decent offense with 5 goals, 12 assists
* Knows all the Dallas guys well (Neal, Morrow, Niskanen)
* Affordable $2.9 million cap hit through next season
* Just an enormous pain in the ass

Oh, and his team is about to have a fire sale. You would immediately deal a mid-level prospect and a mid-round pick for Steve Ott, right? RIGHT?

Definitely Steve Ott.
Though we both think Ott is a perfect fit, Finesse has another name for you after the jump.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Pens acquire Douglas Murray from Sharks for two second-round picks; he once almost killed Alexej Morozov

By GTOG Staff

The Pens are going for it.  Per everyone on Twitter, they've acquired 6'3, 240lb defenseman Douglas Murray from the San Jose Sharks for a 2nd and 3rd round draft pick (the 3rd becomes another 2nd if the Pens advance past the second round of the playoffs).

If all you know about Murray is he dated Tiger Woods' ex, let us fill you in: he's a guy that we've watched for a while and thought to ourselves, "The Pens would be better if we had some of the beast-like defensemen in San Jose." He's gigantic and has played a lot of minutes (17 minutes a game this year) on a team that's been good the last seven years.  This is exactly what we've been advocating for: a crease-clearing monster who will be the yin to Letang/Niskanen/Martin's yang.

Look at this f-ing guy.
He also once nearly killed Alexei Morozov when he was playing for Sweden in the 2008 IHF World Championships.


Penguins forced to settle for 22-point lead over Flyers; win, 2-1

By Finesse (follow me on Twitter)

The positive for Philly: Claude Giroux and the Flyers are congratulating themselves for playing a game "they could have won" against a team with 2 of the best players in the league wearing street clothes, while the Pens have to settle for only taking a 22-point lead on the Flyers in the standings.  It could have been 23-points.  Oh, what could have been.

Nice try, Bryz.
The Flyers' forecheck gave the Pens problems as it always does, but they failed to finish, thanks in large part to the continued excellence of Marc-Andre Fleury, and a defense that is working to correct its mistakes in real-time.  Giving up only one goal to the Flyers is huge, and we're now looking at an 8-game stretch where the Pens have given up a total of 9 goals.  What we considered a pleasant stretch of defense only a few games ago may be becoming the unthinkable for the Pens: an identity.  If the Pens continue to be tough to score against, while becoming tougher to play against with the addition of Brenden Morrow, then [censored for jinx purposes].

After the jump, much more analysis of the Morrow-Morrow trade (you can find our initial reaction here)...

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Choosy Morrows Choose Pittsburgh: Penguins acquire Brenden Morrow from Dallas for Joe Morrow

By Finesse

Tremendous drama just unfolded on Twitter, but all is well that ends well.  The Pens acquired winger Brenden Morrow and a 3rd round pick from Dallas in exchange for defensive prospect Joe Morrow and a 5th round pick.

First: The future is bright.  Maybe B. Morrow can't carry a line like he once could, but he won't have to.  Assuming he skates with Malkin and Neal -- and you don't trade for another team's captain with a track record like B. Morrow's and not give him every opportunity to play with Geno -- all he will have to do is hammer defensemen and jar pucks loose for Malkin to collect and feed to James Neal.  Basically he will have to fill the exact same role Kunitz filled on that line last year when it was supposedly "untouchable."  For a team that showed a tendency to unwind emotionally last year, bringing in a 34-year old veteran like B. Morrow, who has been the Stars' captain for several years, is nothing short of huge.

Second: The drama on Twitter was riveting.  Early reports said the Pens had B. Morrow.  Then it was reported that he still needed to waive his no-trade clause.  Then it was reported that Boston was involved as well.  Then it was reported that the Stars and Bruins also had a trade in place and it was entirely up to Morrow to decide.  Then Brenden texted someone that he would make his decision within 15 minutes.  Then he chose Pittsburgh.  As unprofessional as this entire exercise was, it was fascinating drama.  And remember, the Washington Capitals were heavily involved in the Bill Guerin trade rumors in 2009.  If they had gotten him instead of the Pens, it could have easily swung the 2009 playoffs.  The importance of keeping the Bruins from getting B. Morrow (if he's still good) cannot be overstated.  This is true regardless of whether Boston ends up with Iginla, because it's not certain that the Pens had a Plan B for a top-6 forward if it wasn't B. Morrow.

Third: It's impossible for us to shed any tears over losing Joe Morrow, a player with zero NHL experience.  We will be more honest with you than almost every other pundit offering an opinion on Joe Morrow: we've barely seen him play.  He may turn out to be fantastic or he may turn out to have been completely overhyped.  We don't know.  But we do know that the Penguins, and every team for that matter, have every incentive to artifically inflate perception of its own prospects to inflate their trade value.  Just because Rob Rossi was supposedly hearing that the Pens considered Joe Morrow their top prospect doesn't mean that was remotely true -- it means they wanted other teams to think the Pens considered Joe Morrow their top prospect.

Pictures like this make us feel a lot more comfortable trading him.
Fourth: This trade should not be considered in isolation.  Consider it another piece of the Jordan Staal trade.  Getting Brian Dumoulin and the 8th pick in the draft (Derrick Pouliot) likely made Joe Morrow expendable.  So the score right now for the 2013 Cup run is: Staal for Sutter AND Brenden Morrow.  That's going for it, and we love it.

Finally: As much as the Pens seem to have fleeced Joe Nieuwendyk and the Stars in the Goligoski-Neal trade, remember that B. Morrow had a no trade clause.  Nieuwendyk's options were very limited.  He got what he could for Brenden Morrow, and maybe Joe will be great.

There's nothing like the adrenaline rush when your team pulls the trigger on a major trade.  Unlimited cautious optimism.

Pens look to go up 23 points on Flyers; how embarrassing for them

By Artistry 

The lights are almost out in Philadelphia. The Flyers have like an 8.1% chance of making the playoffs. Danny Briere is a scratch tonight. People are talking about bringing back Jaromir Jagr at the trade deadline, as if that's the key to elevating Claude Giroux to the rarefied level he reached for like 8 days that one time.

Sid is also twice as good with a mustache.
But Letang and Malkin are out again with lingering injuries. There are a few cracks showing in this thinned-out Pens lineup. And the streak has to end sometime. I'm going to the game later, and I'm telling you right now, that's a bad sign. Still, something tells me Fleury puts a stake in Scott Hartnell's hair tonight.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

11 in a Row: Pens flummox Islanders, 4-2

By Artistry

Remember when we were concerned about the Penguins winning the supposedly hyper-competitive Atlantic Division? No longer an issue. We know the Penguins are winning the Atlantic Division. They're now 14 points up on New Jersey. They're 16 points up on the Rangers. And the Pens are 21 points up on the Flyers, who come to town on Sunday night. This is all after playing 32 games, mind you.

Even though they were awful for much of the game in Long Island Friday night, the Penguins got heroic efforts from Tomas Vokoun, Brandon Sutter, Paul Martin, and Finesse, who led what looked like a stampede of Pens fans into Nassau Coliseum. And can't forget Matt Niskanen, who played 23 minutes and fired 5 shots on net almost immediately after we identified him as trade piece #1 on the roster. Touche, Matty Niskanen. Touche.

No parades, obviously. Still, fun times.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Podcast: Mike Colligan joins us to talk Penguins trade deadline

Mike Colligan of The Hockey Writers and Forbes SportsMoney joins us to dissect the Pens heading into the NHL trade deadline on April 3rd. What do the Pens need? What can they afford? Who is expendable? Who are realistic targets? What will Malkin and Letang's next contracts look like? This podcast gets deep.

We are switching to a new podcast host so it may be a while before the new feed shows up in iTunes. If the player above is not working, you can listen or download here.

NHL Trade Deadline Talk: Pens Wish List

By Artistry (follow me on Twitter)

We're going to need a Top 6 forward, a Bottom 6 forward, make that 2 Bottom 6 forwards, a Top 4 defenseman, a person who is respectful of others and who can kill penalties, somebody who can make a good locker room speech between periods, and maybe a guy who will coordinate pregame hacky sack.

Is it possible that one player can fill all of these roles? Can we get him without giving up a roster player? Find out tonight, when we welcome Penguins/NHL analyst extraordinaire Mike Colligan to the GTOG podcast.

What a pleasant looking fellow.

GTOG's March Madness Preview!

By Finesse

It's tournament time so you know what that means! We re-post our obituary on Pitt from 2 years ago!!

You'll recall that the first 3 months of 2011 were some of the most tumultuous times in Pittsburgh sports in the past several decades -- the Steelers lost the Super Bowl, Crosby and Malkin were out for the season, Alex Kovalev came back weighing 320lbs, and #1 seeded Pitt lost in heartbreaking fashion to #8 seed Butler in the second round.  Looking back on how that game unfolded, with missed free throws and then committing an offensive foul with under 2 seconds left on the missed free throw rebound to put Butler on the line in a tie game, the Pitt lost may have been the hardest of all to stomach.

You can read our not-uplifting recap here.

But this is a new year, so it's time to be optimistic again.

Exactly how we want our college basketball coaches to look.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Links, housekeeping, and some random thoughts

By Finesse

- If you missed it yesterday, make sure to check out our podcast with Dan Steinberg of The Washington Post's D.C. Sports Bog.  You can listen below. We discuss the current state of the Pens-Caps rivalry, but also a whole lot more including what drives traffic to blogs, whether Ted Leonsis gets too down in the weeds with the fans, Fred Davis's bottle throwing incident, and more.  If you really just went Pens analysis, skip ahead to the 36:45 mark.  But you'd be making a mistake.

- Continuing the trend of great podcasts, Mike Colligan of the Hockey Writers will be joining us tomorrow night to talk about the trade deadline.  And Neil Greenberg of The Washington Post is mature enough to ignore our incessant trolling and will join us next Thursday night to discuss Alex Ovechkin and advanced "fancy" hockey stats.

- Offline, we've been having endless discussions about what Malkin and Letang's next contracts will look like.  I remain optimistic that the Pens can sign both at reasonable prices; Artistry is a little more skeptical.  In fact, he thinks one of them may have to be traded this offseason.  That post should be coming shortly.

- There's a lot of talk about how high the term-limits on the new CBA will push the average annual value (cap hit) of future contracts.  One factor that I think has been under-discussed in speculation about how high salaries may get is the ENORMOUS pressure that would be put on any player who accepted a max deal.  The biggest difference between hockey and basketball, which also has "max" contracts, is that having the best player in basketball means you're probably winning the title.  LeBron taking a max deal doesn't prevent Miami from signing anyone who would actually make a difference. But if the Leafs were to sign Stamkos to a max deal in 2016, it would mean they'd have significantly less money to invest in positions that actually determine their success or failure.  A 3rd and 4th line comprised of 6 guys making the league minimum means your team is probably going to be bad.

This won't restrain every owner in the league from offering someone a max contract, but it may restrain a player from taking one.

- I'll be at the game in Long Island on Friday night.  Make sure to follow me on Twitter.  And follow Artistry, too.

Pens beat Caps, 2-1; Our recap, and a podcast with the DC Sports Bog

By Finesse (follow me on Twitter)

[Listen to our podcast with Dan Steinberg of the Washington Post's DC Sports Bog. We talk about the state of the Pens-Caps rivalry, Ted Leonsis, internet trolls, and much more.]

If ever the Pens were ripe to lose a game, last night was it.  Thankfully they were playing a team incapable of winning it.

This isn't meant to be critical of the Pens; every team has an off night, especially when you're playing your 5th game in 7 days and are missing Malkin and Letang, both of whom welcomingly take on more responsibility than almost anyone else on the team.  When both the crowd and the team were uninspired throughout much of the first period, we had already forgiven, forgotten, and got mentally prepared to withstand a loss to the Capitals.  We were even fully prepared for an Ovechkin hat trick as a result of our post on Monday.  A 9-game winning streak in a 48-game season, equivalent to a 15-game win streak in an 82-game season, seemed like enough.

But that's why you pay a goalie $5 million.

More after the jump...

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Podcast: Pens beat Caps 2-1, we discuss that and more with Dan Steinberg of the Washington Post

Dan Steinberg of the Washington Post Sports Bog joins the podcast to talk Pens-Caps, Ted Leonsis, internet trolling, and everything else you can think of that's entertaining.  This may be the best GTOG Podcast yet.  A must listen.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Alex Ovechkin's All-Time Great Statistical Decline

By GTOG Staff (follow us on Twitter)

Sometimes we have trouble letting things go.

Last month, Neil Greenberg of the Washington Post compared Alex Ovechkin's current statistical decline to the supposed decline at age 27 of the 13 other NHL players who have scored 50 goals in at least four different seasons (the "4x50 group").  Greenberg concluded:
Collectively, they reach their goal-scoring peak around the age of 23 and see a downturn after age 27. Ovechkin turned 27 this past September. So you see, this scoring performance drop is well within the confines of what we have seen from the NHL’s elite in years past.
We immediately pointed out that this conclusion was completely wrong and insulting to the legacy of not only Mario Lemieux, but all 13 players in that 4x50 group.  Neil incorrectly called our post "wrong and misguided on almost every level" and refused to engage us in a debate until we learned more about Corsi and Fenwick and just generally did more research.

He wanted research.  We did research.  Click to continue reading...

Five in a row, not nine in a row; Pens win 2-1

By Finesse

The Pens' winning streak hit nine games yesterday, but even more impressive, their play-the-right-way streak reached five games.  In the last 5 games, the Pens have given up 1, 2, 1, 0, and 1 goals.  In the 4 games before that it was 6, 3, 4 and 4.  Both goalies are playing well and even though we disagree with Bylsma scratching Despres, it didn't matter yesterday.  Whatever buttons he's pushing, it's working.

Green jerseys, not working.
We have a few other things in the works so there's no time for a full recap, but we will have comprehensive Pens/Caps coverage this week, including a big feature on Ovechkin (following up on this post) and hopefully a podcast with Dan Steinberg of the Washington Post's DC Sports Bog.  For those who don't know, the DC Sports Bog is a DC Sports Blog with no L.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Pens put the Rangers down humanely; win 3-0

By Finesse

This was pretty much a 7-0 game that the Pens won 3-0.  The good times are rolling.  In the last 4 games, the Pens have given up a total of four goals and are 9-for-10 on the PK.  90% on the PK is great, but only having to kill 2.5 penalties a game is better.  Fleury had his third straight very good game and finally closed on a shutout opportunity.  (Thanks to Tanner Glass taking a tripping penalty in the third, this game had garbage goal written all over it).

The defense is rounding into form.  The Pens are undefeated since Eaton came back and Simon Despres is improving every game.  The first line is running practice drills, Kris Letang is sharpening his carving tools for the Norris Trophy and even Tyler Kennedy is starting to produce at the level he has in the past.  As we've maintained all year, TK has a place on this team because he does something that Adams-Glass-Vitale can't: produce offensively.  Here's the ideal scenario: the Pens get another third-liner to play with Sutter and Cooke, and bump TK and DJ down to the fourth line with Craig Adams.  You lose a little bit of 4th line physicality and Vitale's right-handed faceoff presence, but you would immediately create a 4th line that is capable of scoring instead of its current job which is to spend 45 seconds in its own zone before trying to feather a clearing attempt hard enough that it gets out of the zone but soft enough that it isn't icing.

As for the Rangers performance yesterday, ooof.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Pens beat Leafs 3-1; some great numbers on Simon Despres

By Finesse

The most important development in the last two games is not the four standings points or the team showing extreme confidence in being able to overcome large deficits.  It's only giving up a total of 3 goals.

The fact that the Pens came back twice from late deficits is important because it creates a certain confidence that they can do it again in the playoffs.  But the late goals the Pens scored against Boston and Toronto weren't the result of flipping some switch and coming on late in a game.  The Pens were relentless and energetic for almost a full 60 minutes in both games.  When they play that way, as the last two games showed, it's almost impossible to keep them under 3 goals.  As John Madden would have said, if you're scoring three goals every game, and you're giving up less than three, you're probably almost always going to win.

Numbers on Despres and other thoughts after the jump...

Thursday, March 14, 2013

NHL Realignment: Winners, losers, and other thoughts

By GTOG Staff

The NHL Board of Governors approved a realignment plan today.  It will go into effect next season.  Here it is.

Division A and B are the "Western Conference" and Division C and D are the "Eastern Conference."  Under the new plan, the top 3 teams in each division will make the playoffs, and then the remaining two teams with the best record in each conference will claim "wild-card" spots.  The division winner in each conference with the best record will play the lowest wild-card in the conference; the other division winner will play the other wild-card team.  The #2 finisher in a division will play the #3 finisher from the same division. The winner of that series plays the winner of the series involving the division winner. During the regular season, the Pens will play each team Division D either 4 or 5 times (rotates by year), each team in Division C 3 times per year, and each team in the Western Conference twice.

Got it?
Our quick thoughts after the jump...

Panic in Philadelphia: A Celebration

By Artistry

As I tucked my children into bed last night, I leaned close and whispered, "Never delight in the misfortune of others, unless it's the Flyers." There is a code that governs our conduct as decent human beings, and then there are some nuances they should know about, so I tell them. In my view, this is part of being a good parent.

Don't talk to strangers, but boo this one.

If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all, except this is not the best player in the world.

Respect your elders, but appreciate that this man has lost his locker room.
The Flyers are a mess right now. After last night's listless 5-2 loss to the Devils, they are 3 points out of a playoff spot, players are pointing fingers, and Ilya Bryzgalov is humangous disappointed about it. What does it all mean?  Probably that they'll sneak in as an 8 seed and play the Penguins in another harrowing first-round playoff matchup that may just be the death of us. But for now, enjoy kids!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Pens complete a well-earned comeback; beat Bruins 3-2

By GTOG Staff

Almost immediately after Tyler Seguin scored to put the Bruins up 2-0 with 6:30 remaining in the first period, the Penguins started cobbling together one of their finer efforts of the season, even though they spent the next 33 minutes getting shutout by a goalie whose name was either a Mexican restaurant (Qdoba) or the Supreme Leader of Iran (Khomeni).  If the Pens had gone on to get shut out, we would not have been overly discouraged.  The Pens were playing a disciplined game, were limiting the Bruins' chances, and were without Malkin.  The Bruins are a different animal than the rest of the Eastern Conference -- they are supremely talented AND very well coached and difficult to play against.  It can take a while to figure out how to beat them.  Consider the Pens record against the Bruins in the last 3 seasons:  In 2009-10, the Pens lost the first game then won the next three.  In 2010-11, the Pens lost the first two then won the next two.  In 2011-12 the Pens lost the first game and then won the next three.  The Bruins take some getting used to.  They're also beatable.

We've written at length in the past that the Penguins are a nightmare matchup for Zdeno Chara, because aside from having to chase Crosby around the rink, he needs to endure an onslaught from Chris Kunitz and James Neal. Here's a sampling:

December 5, 2011: "James Neal ain't afraid of no man. There is not one ounce of back-down in Neal, and if there is one thing Zdeno Chara was thinking about when he found himself startled and awake at 3:30 am Tuesday, it's this: 'I have to play 30 minutes a night. It's exhausting enough. Please don't make me do it against that guy.'"

February 4, 2012: "Come on, when Kunitz chopped down Zdeno Chara like he was a piece of wood Saturday during the Pens' 2-1 win in Boston, we were all thinking the same thing: You cut him! He's not a machine. He's a man! Chara is Drago - bigger, stronger, faster, and the worst nightmare imaginable for a team relying heavily on one line for offense. But here's the thing. Chara doesn't like to be hit. And that makes Kunitz and the equally fearless James Neal his worst nightmare."

Coming to get you...
March 11, 2012: "What we saw today was a 6 foot 9, 260 pound Zdeno Chara who was quivering like a little fawn in the forest in the face of an onslaught by James Neal and Chris Kunitz."

Well, Tuesday night we found a new lumberjack. Pascal Dupuis absolutely pummeled the Bruins in the third, and they wilted.

Dupuis, Kunitz, and Neal are not bruisers; they're fast, relentless, and very strong on the boards.  They hit defensemen when it's necessary to hit them; they go for the puck when it's not necessary to hit them.  They will only get more effective when Malkin is back and not just because of how talented Geno is, but because of how much better James Neal will be with Malkin.  Neal was the Pens best player against Boston last season, and that was with Chara matched up against him.  Put Neal and Malkin against the Bruins' other defensemen, and it's a nightmare for Boston.

One caution, though, before we plan the parade. The Bruins clearly have another gear.  They were running on fumes after their shootout win over Ottawa on Monday.  16 shots on goal.  That's like two shifts for the Giroux-Hartnell-Simmonds line against the Pens.  We also don't recall Lucic's name being mentioned once even though he played 16 minutes.  They were trying to escape with a 2-1 road victory, or at least steal a point, while expending as little energy as possible.  That's a terrible strategy against the Penguins.  The Pens will score if you give them enough chances.  They will also give up a ton of goals if you keep trying to score.  The Bruins will know this going forward, and will do it when they have their legs.

Much more after the jump...

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

GTOG Instant Reaction: Brandon Sutter

By Finesse (follow me on Twitter)

Except for a brief stretch in the first period, this was an encouraging performance from the Pens even when Boston was still up 2-0.  The Bruins are the class of the Eastern Conference and have the #1 PK unit in the league.  They can frustrate you, even if you feel like you're playing well.

But what a f***ing breakthrough by the Pens late in the third.  Yes, the Bruins were on the second of a back-to-back, but good teams -- teams with expectations of winning the Stanley Cup -- win these games.  They plug away, and plug away, knowing that eventually they'll get a break.  That's what the Pens did.

Underrated performance by Fleury.  Full recap in the morning.  What a win.

The one Penguin regular who may be moved at the trade deadline

By Finesse

It's no secret that we believe the Pens' #1 priority at the trade deadline has to be a top-4 quality defenseman (with forward depth emerging in importance daily).  Not one who is considered a "puck moving" defenseman, but someone who eats up space, clears the front of the net, and who opposing forwards generally find tough to play against.  The farm system is supposedly loaded with young defensemen who can and should be included in any package to bring back an NHL-ready defenseman.  But because a top-4 defenseman is not a need that's unique to the Pens, the asking price will be high.  In addition to prospects, most teams will probably demand at least some current NHL-level talent in return.  Looking at the Pens roster, there isn't much to spare.  Except one guy.

Stunned at what we're about to say about him.
Matt Niskanen was a wonderful throw-in to the trade sending Alex Goligoski to Dallas for James Neal.  And he's a bargain with his $2.3 million cap hit through the end of next year.  But he's also the most expendable player on the Pens' roster for that very reason.  The Pens don't need a bargain in their top-4.  They need a stud.

According to CapGeek, the Pens can add an additional $18.6 million in salary today for the remainder of this season.  By the time the deadline rolls around on April 3rd, that number will have jumped to $35.7 million.  The Pens are in a similarly enviable cap position next season.  Even with the cap shrinking, the Pens are projected to be about $10.6 million under the cap with only three unrestricted free agents to potentially sign -- Matt Cooke, Pascal Dupuis, and Craig Adams -- none of whom will be expensive.  Tyler Kennedy and Dustin Jeffrey are restricted free agents, but they can either be signed or replaced for very little money.

That means that for this year and next year, the Pens have plenty of cash to invest on the defense.  Like, almost unlimited.  For example, Jay Bouwmeester makes $6.68 million.  We're not saying that he's the type of defensemen the Pens should target, but they could afford a guy making that much money, as long as his deal expires after next season.

The development of Simon Despres and Robert Bortuzzo, coupled with the addition of Mark Eaton means the Pens' D runs at least 8 deep.  (Look how charming Mark Eaton is in this video talking about seeing Mario in the locker room after Game 5 of the 2009 Finals in Detroit and ask yourself if you would really rather root for Niskanen than Eaton). Niskanen is a nice piece of that group, but far from indispensable.  Because he has such a low cap hit and is signed through next season, he would be a very valuable addition for a team that's looking to not only get its hands on one of the Pens' defensive prospects, but also save-face and add a real NHL-player to its current roster. Including him might also be enough to keep the Pens from having to trade Despres, who shows flashes of brilliance almost every game.

Whatever moves the Pens make at the deadline, the focus has to be on winning the Cup this season because the Pens are built for that.  With or without Matt Niskanen.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Raw Emotion Podcast: The Bachelor Finale Recap

The culmination of the most emotional of journeys. We recap the finale of Sean's season on this week's Raw Emotion Podcast. A must-listen.

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Breaking down the Eastern Conference playoff picture

By Finesse (follow me on Twitter)

Saturday night in Toronto, Sidney Crosby played what may have been the best one point game of his career.  Last night's five assist performance against the Islanders -- four of which were second assists -- could have been viewed as a market correction, but for the fact that he deserved every single one of those assists.  He should have had ten points this weekend. The "Pens need a top-6 winger" notion has been moved to its rightful place at the bottom of Ray Shero's to-do list at the trade deadline.  Even Ron Cook comes to this conclusion in his War on Declarative Sentences in this morning's PG. (Ex. "Do you think Crosby is loving what Kunitz and Dupuis are doing?"  Gee, Ron.  I guess I'm not sure?)

Is it just me, or do you think Kuntiz would rather score three goals than two goals?
The Pens have a 7-point lead over the Devils in the Atlantic with a hectic week of games starting tomorrow.  The shortened schedule might suck if you have a wife and family who expects to see you on occasion, but if you don't, then the idea of Boston, Toronto, New York, Boston, Washington in a 7-day period gives you an ooey-gooey feeling.  The Pens, with 36 points, are two points behind Montreal for the #1 seed, but the Bruins are lurking with 35 points and 4 games in hand.  Boston is the class of the East, which is why tomorrow night's matchup is the first of the season to get the following Official GTOG Designation: HUGE.

With the season halfway done, let's take a spin around the East and look at each team's playoff chances (according to this site) and where we think things will wind up.  Click to continue reading...

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The best one point game of Crosby's career? Pens win 5-4

By Finesse

Giving up at least four goals a game is a big problem that will bite the Pens.  And soon.  But in the meantime, we can enjoy watching Sidney Crosby's re-ascendance to his rightful status alone atop the league.

He was outstanding last night.  It was a fluke that he didn't bury that chance in overtime, although it wasn't all that bad.  Because we got to see him do this.


Full recap of the weekend tomorrow.  Huge chance tonight for the Pens to put a lot of distance between themselves and the rest of the division.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Two teaspoons of goaltending and a half cup of discipline; Pens beat Flyers 5-4

By Finesse (follow me on Twitter)

Early in the third period last night and shortly after the Pens took a 5-4 lead, Kris Letang and Zac Rinaldo collided behind the Pens' net.  It was a big collision, leaving the puck loose and Letang struggling to keep his balance.  Evgeni Malkin swooped in and pushed the puck aside, but not before having his own collision with Max Talbot.  After a whistle about 10 seconds later, Rinaldo "accidentally" bumped into Letang.  Letang stumbled for a moment before regaining his balance and doing the unthinkable: skating away.  Meanwhile, Talbot started chirping Malkin.  Geno smiled, then skated to the bench.  Then the puck dropped and play continued.

Imagine that.

What happens when you act right.
The first period last night was a worst-case scenario gone worse.  The only penalty the Pens had enough discipline to avoid was a delay-of-game minor for closing their hand on the puck and throwing it in their own net.  Fleury looked like he usually looks against the Flyers.  Scott Hartnell looked like he was buying real estate in your nightmares.  And James Neal looked like he was thinking to himself, "I've already out-crazied Kris Letang, I'm coming for you, Ron Artest!"

If you look to the left, I believe this is a rare photo of James Neal not taking a penalty against the Flyers.  Hang on to this one.  Could be worth something someday.
But finally, for reasons unknown, the Pens got their act together.  The first few minutes of the second period were as dominant as the Pens have been all season.  They appeared to be trying out a new strategy: making the Flyers play extended stretches of normal, 5-on-5 hockey.  Not the hockey where you launch flying elbows, check from behind, and bite people after the whistle, but the hockey where you get the puck out of your zone, in deep in the offensive zone, and then work for it on the boards.  It proved two things we already knew but thought we may never see again in this matchup: the Pens are really good at a normal hockey game.  The Flyers?  Not as much.

"Don't forget me and Bryz! We suck, too!"
If you want to know how badly the Flyers are struggling, consider: If the Caps lose two of their next three games, they'll have the same record as the Flyers.  Right now Philly's odds of making the playoffs are at 15.5% if you believe whatever this site is.  After the first period last night it looked like the Pens were subsidizing rocket fuel for the Flyers launch back into the playoff picture.  By the time the game was over, the Pens might have stomped on Philly's jugular.

It doesn't matter what caused the 180 degree change between the first and second periods last night.  It just matters that it happened.  It doesn't mean all is well -- the Pens still gave up four goals, Fleury looked embarrassing, and it's just one game.  It means there's hope.  Not hope that the Pens are good -- we know they are.  But hope that they might finally be grasping just how good they can be when they don't get in their own way.

More thoughts after the jump...

The best sign yet the Pens will win the Stanley Cup

By Finesse (follow me on Twitter)

It's June 2009.  The Pens are down two games to none in the Stanley Cup Finals against Detroit.  You lay down to go to bed that night and you can't get the Game 2 loss out of your head.  But you close your eyes harder and really try to clear your mind.  Then something else pops into your head.  And all of a sudden, everything is OK again.

You've heard the commercial 26 times during every playoff game and finally it's working.  You spend the morning of Game 3 buying three pairs of khakis and you know -- you just know -- that everything will be ok.  Something about that song comforts you, and it's not the wrinkle-free cotton.

Well, it's back.  Sort of.

Last night during the Stars-Kings game a Dodge Ram commercial came on.  Forget the Pens' epic comeback against the Flyers last night.  This is the omen we needed.

If this commercial plays during a Penguins game this season?

See you at Center Ice.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

GTOG Instant Reaction: Best Player in the World; Pens Stun Flyers, 5-4

Things looked grim early. Hartnell and Simmonds were in Fleury's kitchen. Giroux was smirking. Fleury was leaking. Then the Penguins came out in the second period and just took it.

Crosby was absolutely possessed. When he wasn't stick handling with his butt end and fending off three defenders, he was flinging delicate saucer passes all over the rink. Geno was galloping. Chris Kunitz was serving notice that our focus at the trade deadline should be on defensemen and depth forwards only. Beau Bennett was grabbing a top 6 role by the throat. And Tomas Vokoun reminded us of the power of being still.

Playing the Flyers always highlights our flaws as well as our strengths - not sure how you let Giroux walk in with a wide open look late in the third - but tonight, our strengths were glorious.

"I slashed your wrists. Now I'm going to take your heart."

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

GTOG Trade Targets: No Rumors, Just Facts

By Artistry (follow me on Twitter)

It's trade rumor season in the NHL, and along with the free agent frenzy in July, it's probably the most underrated part of the best sport in the world. If your team is in contention for a playoff spot, there is every opportunity to speculate about what move it might make to put it over the top. And if you have the right general manager, there's every possibility your team will make a move you never see coming.

Thanks to Rob Rossi at the Pittsburgh Tribune Review of Twitter Speculation, the focus over the past 24 hours has been on the possibility that the Penguins are targeting Columbus defenseman Jack Johnson. According to Rossi, the Pens want an elite defenseman to pair with Kris Letang. First of all, it's bizarre to allege that Jack Johnson is "elite" unless you expand the definition to include about 40 players. Second, that theory only holds together if your "elite" defense partner has a contract that expires before the summer of '14 (Johnson is at $4.35 million through 2018). By next summer, Letang will command at least $7 million per, Evgeni Malkin will get $9 or $10 million per, and Sid makes $8.7 million. You think there's room long term under a shrinking cap for another elite defenseman, especially with Morrow, Despres, Pouliot et al. in the fold?  It gets sticky.

If you believe the guy in my office whose brother knows someone in the Penguins front office, Letang is on the block. Don't believe the guy in my office. That makes absolutely no sense right now (although I believe it's on the table this summer if Letang decides to price himself out of Pittsburgh.)
Considers guy in my office to be a trusted source
The most likely scenario: the Pens look for a top 4 defenseman with a contract that expires by 2014 (think Stephane Robidas) and some forward depth that gives them some size and makes them tougher to play against (think Jason Chimera). A top 6 forward is a possibility if the price is right, but no way you overpay for a Jarome Iginla. We're not talking about Marian Hossa in his prime here. Our top 6 forwards are not the problem - the focus should be on the bottom 6 guys who are basically killing time until Sid and Geno catch their breath.

With all that in mind, let's stick to the facts: which teams are out of the playoff picture and might go into "sell" mode this month? And which players on those teams have expiring contracts in 2013 or 2014? Take a look, after the jump...

Ben Roethlisberger: Hurt but no excuses; on track to weigh 350lbs

GTOG Staff

The NFL offseason is usually a smorgasbord of Mel Kiper trying to hold off Todd McShay's ascendance, an aging Steeler talking about brotherhood in the hopes that his emotional appeal will keep him from getting cut for another year, and Herm Edwards on the radio indiscriminately shouting, "IN THE NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE YOU HAVE TO BE SUCCESSFUL AT RUNNING THE FOOTBALL AND GET A HAT ON A HAT IF YOU WANNA BE A BALL CARRIER IN THE NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE THERE'S A LOT OF GUYS TRYING TO DO WHAT YOU DO AND GET WHAT YOU GOT."  We don't pay a lot of attention to it.

But every once in a while you get a gem.  And it's almost always when Ben speaks.

Ed Bouchette scored an interview with the Leader of Men, who last week restructured his contract to clear cap space and make it clear to everyone that he was willing to carry the contracts of all his Men on his back.  Ed and Ben spent some time reflecting on last season's disappointment and how Ben is feeling this offseason.  As always, no excuses (but Ben was hurt):
"Sometimes, certain passes just weren't right. I didn't trust myself to get enough zip on it to throw it out there. I tried to guide it too much instead of just throw it. ... But that's making excuses ... I'll be better, health-wise. ... I feel great. I think I ended the season healthier than I have in a long time. I know that sounds crazy because of my ribs and chest, but I played three or four games at the end of the season and I was actually getting healthy as the season was ending. ... Not one person in this locker room ends the season 100 percent. I didn't end the season 100 percent but I felt healthier and better than I have in a long time. I'm working out earlier this year. I took one week off, one week. I have no issues."
Ben is so Ben. No word on whether he used his week off to take "mental reps" at St. Andrews Golf Club.

By the looks of his picture, there's no ceiling to how much Ben we might see when he retires. Maybe up to 350lbs worth.

More Ben, please.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Podcast: Pens beat Lightning, 4-3

Recapping the Pens 4-3 victory over the Lightning.

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