Monday, August 5, 2013

GTOG's Crystal Ball, where we tell you the score of every Pens game. Part 3: December 2013

By Finesse (follow me on Twitter)

Part 1: October 2013
Part 2: November 2013

To catch you up: The Pens enter December on a 7-1-1 hot streak.  Crosby is only two back of Steven Stamkos for the league lead in points.  Evgeni Malkin has had an up and down season, with long stretches where he's the best player in the world but not producing as many goals as he should based on how dominant he looks.  Orpik is recovering from a broken hand and is expected to be out a few more weeks.  Vokoun has been eating into some of Fleury's playing time, but Bylsma steadfastly refuses to back off his stance that Fleury is the Pens' #1 goalie.  His stubborness pays off, to some degree, as Fleury is having another typically solid but not spectacular regular season.  Paul Martin is out with a concussion that isn't believed to be serious and Beau Bennett took a slash on the wrist and has missed 2 games.

TUE DEC 3, 2013 PENGUINS @ ISLANDERS

The Islanders are leading the Metro division, but are mired in a mini-slump that continues early as they take two questionable penalties early and Kunitz and Neal put the Pens up 2-0 early on the PP.  Fleury is caught flopping on the ice for a Tavares goal early in the second period and spends the rest of the night fighting off relentless punishment from the Nassau crowd.  Dupuis buries two even strength goals in the third, and all of a sudden the Pens are only 1 point out of the division lead.  Pens win, 4-1.

Record: 16-10-3, 35 PTS



THU DEC 5, 2013 SHARKS @ PENGUINS

Paul Martin is back from his concussion (Bennett is still out, and there are rumors he's seeking a second opinion on whether he has a fracture ... and yes, we're all confused about why it's so hard to tell), but the real story is the return of Tyler Kennedy.  The Pens appropriately play a tribute video, and TK actually makes a nice pass, confirmed by ELIAS to be the first of his career.  Jokinen ties it at 1 for the Pens late in the first period, but trouble comes in the second.  Crosby flies down the wing but has his legs taken out by a completely outmatched Brad Stuart.  He goes into the boards awkwardly and his head snaps back violently.  Grown men climb to their roofs to prepare themselves for worst-case scenario.  But when Sid gets up, it's not his head that you worry about.  It's the fact that he's not putting any pressure on his right leg.  Almost as if on cue, Malkin scores two third period goals, and an all-too-familiar story-line reemerges.  Pens win, 3-1.

Record: 17-10-3, 37 PTS


How long is Crosby out?  Keep reading to find out ...

SAT DEC 7, 2013 PENGUINS @ BRUINS

Sid doesn't make the trip and hasn't been heard from in two days.  Now it's not just Pittsburgh coming to a slow boiling panic, but all of Canada as the Olympics are only two months away.  The Pens play a smart, disciplined game in Boston, but can only must a goal from Despres.  The opportunistic Bruins score two early in the third and add an empty netter, but it's still four very good games in a row for Fleury.  Pens lose, 3-1.

Record: 17-11-3, 37 PTS


MON DEC 9, 2013 BLUE JACKETS @ PENGUINS

Still no word on Crosby, other than he hasn't skated.  The radical fringe is starting to design their worst-case scenarios.  But first there's a game to be played, and for whatever reason, the Pens have Columbus' number, and handle the Jackets relatively easily for the third time this season.  Malkin picks up two assists, and Neal and Jeffrey each pick up two goals.  Artistry considers how he might approach his wife to advocate changing their son's name to Dustin.  To seem reasonable, he will actually allow her to choose from either Dustin or Jeffrey. Pens win, 4-1.

Record: 18-11-3, 39 PTS


This is the year.
FRI DEC 13, 2013 DEVILS @ PENGUINS

Despite 4 straight days of denials from Ray Shero and Dan Bylsma that Crosby's injury is serious, Artistry's co-workers are hearing that Sid's collision with the boards knocked loose a cancerous gland in his hip, which will require full amputation of the lower body.  They're also not ready to rule out the possibility that in addition to collecting the remainder of his $104 million salary, Crosby will be suing the Pittsburgh Sports and Exhibition Authority for an additional $100 million.  Meanwhile, Artistry's cousins have it on good authority that Evgeni Malkin is unhappy in Pittsburgh and will be exercising the "defection" clause in the contract he secretly signed with the KHL over the summer and will not return to the Penguins after the Olympics.  Somehow, in the face of all these distractions, the Pens win again.  Pens are 11-2-1 in their last 14 games. Pens win, 3-2.

Record: 19-11-3, 41 PTS


SAT DEC 14, 2013 PENGUINS @ RED WINGS

The Pens give Vokoun a start and he gives up a softy early, but keeps the Pens from getting blown out in the first period, despite being outshot 17-4.  For the first time since Sid got hurt, the Pens look legitimately outmatched.  Kunitz and Dupuis look horrible, and Artistry texts me, "Hands and Dupuis look old. I'm very uncomfortable with this."  I write back, "I'm following on my phone. Hands will come around. I'm not that worried."  Pens lose, 3-1.

Record: 19-12-3, 41 PTS

MON DEC 16, 2013 MAPLE LEAFS @ PENGUINS

On Monday morning, we finally get positive news that Sid is skating again.  He takes the ice with Orpik and Bennett before the morning skate.  Dave Molinari tweets, "It looks like this #87 kid still knows what he's doing," after Crosby goes 5-hole on a Shooter Tutor.  In the four full games with Sid out of the lineup, Malkin only has a total of 3 assists and zero goals.  Ron Cook writes, "Where the Malkin we used to see?  I mean, really?"  Malkin picks up a goal and an assist, but it's Kris Letang who steals the show with 2 goals, plus the shootout winner. Pens win, 4-3 in a shootout.

Record: 20-12-3, 43 PTS



WED DEC 18, 2013 PENGUINS @ RANGERS

The first place Rangers!  Brad Richards has enjoyed a renaissance season under Alain Vigneault and Chris Kreider has 12 goals, which is great validation for the people who insisted he was good despite the fact that he entered the 2013-14 season with a total of two regular season goals in the NHL.  A classic no-show game for the Pens in MSG, which causes Artistry, for the second straight season, to simply do an angry sarcastic recap of the loss after the second period, then call it a night.  At least it wasn't Fleury getting lit up. Pens lose, 5-1.

Record: 20-13-3, 43 PTS

THU DEC 19, 2013 WILD @ PENGUINS

Brooks Orpik returns, and as if on cue, Rob Scuderi takes a shot off the foot and hobbles to the locker room.  Paul Martin follows up on the next shift with a terrible turnover.  Now not only are the Pens down 1-0, but Artistry is getting bombarded with more emails about how the Pens should have traded Paul Martin instead of Zbynek Michalek and how it doesn't matter what anyone says, Paul Martin is soft.  With Letang off for a coincidental roughing minor midway through the third, Paul Martin jumps into a 3-on-2 rush and floats a wrister top shelf.  Pens win, 3-2.

Record: 21-13-3, 45 PTS


SAT DEC 21, 2013 FLAMES @ PENGUINS

Beau Bennett scores on his first shift back in the lineup with an assist from Brian Dumoulin in his first ever NHL game.  The rest of the game is a huge no-show from the Pens big guns, and the fans wonder how it is possible that the Pens are still tied at 1 against a team as bad as Calgary.  Boyfriends all across Allegheny County who splurged on tickets are assuring their girlfriends that games are usually more exciting than this.  Matt Stajan with the winner in a shootout.  Pens lose, 2-1 in a shootout.

Record: 21-13-4, 46 PTS


MON DEC 23, 2013 PENGUINS @ SENATORS

Crosby does not accompany the team to Ottawa, but he did practice with the team for 10 minutes in a non-contact jersey.  Crosby panic is subsiding, which means the heat turns to Malkin's relatively pedestrian level of play with Crosby out.  He elevates in Ottawa, and it's an old-school game for the Kunitz-Neal-Malkin line.  They each end up with a goal and two assists, and Brian Dumoulin scores his first career goal.  We might have a player on our hands.  Pens win, 4-2.

Record: 22-13-4, 48 PTS


FRI DEC 27, 2013 PENGUINS @ HURRICANES

With four days to search for story lines, it's discovered that Fleury hasn't given up more than 3 goals in a game since November 20th (and has only given up three goals three times).  He hasn't answered the long-term goaltending controversy, but he's at least quieted the game-by-game debate.  Malkin scores again and adds an assist on a Tanner Glass goal (it was a long shift), but the Pens are still struggling to find consistent scoring depth without Crosby.  Bylsma scores big with the fan base by leaving Dumoulin in the lineup even with the return of Rob Scuderi.  Jordan Staal's first big goal as a Hurricane comes in overtime.  Pens lose, 3-2 in overtime.

Record: 22-13-5, 49 PTS 

SUN DEC 29, 2013 PENGUINS @ BLUE JACKETS

The domination of the Blue Jackets continues, and so does the stat padding.  Hatty on the road for Malkin, and Letang comes within a post of getting his own hat trick.  A five point night for both of them.  At the halfway point of the season, the Pens are on a 102 point pace.  Pens win, 7-2.

Record: 23-13-5, 51 PTS

TUE DEC 31, 2013 PENGUINS @ DEVILS

Jagr's out with a groin, Brodeur is out with an ab, and Ryan Clowe has 5 goals in 40 games.  In other words, it's not a good season for the Devils.  Malkin scores two more goals, giving him 12 points on the 4-game road trip.  All of a sudden, he's 4th in the league in scoring.  And by the way, Crosby joined the team in Newark and participated fully in the morning skate.  Pens win, 4-2.

Record: 24-13-5, 53 PTS

Even with an injury to Crosby and inconsistent play for Malkin, the Pens clawed their way to a 9-3-2 December, which means they're on a 16-4-3 run.  They're within 4 points behind the Bruins and Rangers for first place in the East.  Brian Dumoulin is playing like a younger Brooks Orpik, Beau Bennett may not be scoring but he's playing well, and Marc-Andre Fleury is posting the highest save percentage of his career.  Crosby is 13 points off the scoring lead, but his return is imminent.  Can he catch Stamkos?  Will Malkin pass them both?  These are the questions that a team with nothing to gain from the regular season is annually asking itself at the season's halfway point.

Part 1: October 2013
Part 2: November 2013

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