Sunday, December 29, 2013

Podcast: The end of the Steelers; the mid-point of the Penguins

The Steelers were officially eliminated from the playoffs in a painful and awkward way while the Pens reached the season's half way point with a win over Columbus and a huge lead in the division.  A little Sunday night chat about it all.  It's the GTOG Podcast.

Listen above or check out our Spreaker page. To download the podcast directly from iTunes, click here.  Or you can download, listen, and subscribe via the Spreaker app on iTunes by clicking here, or on Android by clicking here.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Penguins lose Dupuis for season; this is pretty awful

By Finesse (follow me on Twitter)

For a team that is already too top heavy, the enormity of the loss of the only winger who can credibly bridge the gap between top 6 and bottom 6 cannot be overstated.  Forget that Pascal Dupuis' numbers are down this season from their historic heights last season -- that was to be expected.  The guy is an absolute puck hound who capably and willingly can play in any situation.  He may be slightly overpaid and slightly underperforming ... but that doesn't mean he isn't extremely valuable.

(Word is that Joe Vitale is going to get a look on the top line with Sid and Kunitz tonight.  The guy has no hands (neither did Kunitz, at one point) but of all the options for tonight, he's not a bad pick.  He's been creating more havoc in the offensive zone than just about anyone recently).

The only long-term benefit that can come from this is that it will force the Pens to give younger guys (like Beau Bennett and Jayson Megna) legitimate AND SUSTAINED opportunities to prove they can play with Malkin and Crosby.  The short term downside, of course, is that they probably can't do what Dupuis does.  The Pens were already in critical need of upgrading their depth up front, and now it's reached an emergency.  Forget about team goals per game ... depth up front is about having 4 credible lines that can regularly share the burden of scoring.  If the Pens score the most goals in the Eastern Conference by relying almost exclusively on 87 and 71, that's going to mean a #1 seed.  But it's a recipe for disaster in a playoff series.

Whatever the Pens end up doing, here's hoping they do it soon.  It's clear that the team needs help up front ... if Shero can identify and acquire his target with half a season left, that's much preferred over expecting a high profile deadline acquisition to fit in under Bylsma's notoriously hard-to-adjust-to system with only 15 games to go in the season.

Pas-QUALE.  You will be missed.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Steelers emerge from 90 car pileup unscathed; somehow have reasonable chance of making the playoffs

I don't know what that was I just watched, but I know it was a huge clusterf**k.  There were bizarre calls by the refs, horrifying decisions by the quarterbacks, and timeouts that were more awkward than Ben's next vacation to Lake Tahoe.  It was played, coached, and managed as if it was a Choose Your Own Adventure book.  But somehow, someway, the Steelers emerged with a win and a realistic chance at making the playoffs next week if everyone else in the AFC goes 8-8.  Which looks entirely possible.

There's no need to break down all the crazy / weird / terrible plays in this game, but one stands out above all.  When the refs spotted the ball on 2nd down with 10 seconds left in the 4th quarter at the Steelers' 6 yard line, Matt Flynn WAITED SIX SECONDS TO SNAP THE BALL!  And obviously, after he threw one incomplete pass, the game was over.  How he could possibly let six seconds tick off the clock an give himself only one shot at the endzone is beyond me, but is clearly the explanation for why some guys are stars and others are backups.  When you're analyzing clock management, just ask yourself what Tom Brady or Peyton Manning would do ... and if they answer is obvious, and your quarterback didn't do that, then your quarterback did the wrong thing.  Imagine Brady or Manning waiting six seconds to snap the ball.  It's laughable.  

Anyway, the Steelers' dream season lives on and should all the right dominoes fall, the Steelers could be facing a totally winnable wild card game in Cincinnati or Indianapolis.  

Pens beat Flames, 4-3, to keep rolling, as usual

By Finesse (follow me on Twitter)

When the book on the 2013-14 season is written and the Minnesota and Calgary games are discussed, they will be such a distant memory that you will demand video evidence that they actually happened.  But they count just the same as the ones you remember, and the Pens are continuing to roll despite the absence of several of their best players.  Bylsma at his best.

Some things that stood out ... Chris Kuntiz set what may be the greatest screen of all time on Niskanen's goal against the Wild ... Crosby's goal against Calgary was disgusting, but his backhand pass to Kunitz in the Wild game was more impressive ... the Flames game was a nice win, but was more a product of playing a bad team than anything ... Sutter scored in 3 straight games ... BRANDON SUTTER SCORED IN THREE STRAIGHT GAMES ... Brandon Sutter's line continues to routinely get pinned deep in its own zone ... Matt Niskanen is playing Paul Martin right onto the trading block ... Speaking of the trading block, Mike Cammalleri is a lethal sniper on a terrible team who will be a UFA at the end of the season ... hilarious cameo by Sid on 24/7.

More after the jump...

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Pumping the brakes on the Brandon Sutter hype ... sort of

By Finesse (follow me on Twitter)

Brandon Sutter scored a beautiful goal last night after undressing Michael Del Zotto, but here's why I'm a little hesitant to declare that he's turned some kind of corner.

Great goal.
After allowing Sutter to march right through him 6 minutes into the 3rd period, Del Zotto didn't take another shift for almost four minutes and actually only played two more shifts the entire 3rd period.  Put simply, Del Zotto got benched for letting Sutter do that to him.  If the NHL were Little League, Sutter would be the guy who when he came to the plate, the opposing manager screamed to the outfielders, "MOVE IN! EVERYONE MOVE IN!" and Del Zotto would be the pitcher who let Sutter hit a home run anyway.  When a Sutter goal isn't greeted with shock by Pens fans and embarrassment by the opponent, then we're talking.

But maybe we're getting closer?  After all, Sutter has played only 84 games as a Penguin, and Dan Bylsma's system has not exactly proven to be the easiest system to pick up.  If he's ever going to be close to what was promised, the time to do that would be right now.  So let's consider this the official start of Sutter's second season with the Pens.

(Would it be overly negative to point out that Brandon Sutter is still the biggest drag on the team in the advanced stat stuff?  Sorry, I know, I know.)

Go Pens.  And yes, Sutter, too.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Podcast: Pens beat Rangers in shootout thanks to Brandon Sutter

Big night on the scoresheet for Brandon Sutter.  We discuss that and much more.  It's the GTOG Podcast.

Listen above or check out our Spreaker page. To download the podcast directly from iTunes, click here.  Or you can download, listen, and subscribe via the Spreaker app on iTunes by clicking here, or on Android by clicking here.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Dear God, Bob Bortuzzo. Pens defeat Maple Leafs, 3-1

By Finesse (follow me on Twitter)

In January of this year, we said that 2013 was going to be the year of Bob Bortuzzo.  Because of organizational stubbornness, we were wrong for 11 months.  It turns out we were right all along.

Most efficient agitator per minute in the NHL
Bob Bortuzzo was a complete tour de force, so deep inside Toronto's head that their city council called an emergency meeting to enact legislation prohibiting a second NHL team in Toronto to protect their citizens from having to see Bob four more times every year.  Even the NHL Department of Player Safety wants no part of him.
It was extremely encouraging to see the Pens' young defensemen play with such poise last night.  Maatta is the anti-Orpik, stepping up with regularity on puck carriers to prevent screened wrist shots through his own legs.  Dumoulin has a knack for not being very noticeable, which is an excellent trait for a young defensemen.  Despres isn't playing like a guy afraid to get benched every shift.  And Samuelsson, despite some obvious first game jitters (especially with the puck), looked decent in getting his feet wet at the NHL level.

We're not ready to declare that the Pens are set for a generation on the blueline, but Ray Shero's plan to have a lot of options on defense appears to be working.  This plan is a journey, however.  It is not a destination.  Shero has to take these assets and maximize them for the playoffs this year and his most marketable asset now -- Matt Niskanen -- is playing himself into one of the single most valuable deadline trade chips in the entire NHL.  As we said this weekend, he's a 27 year old pending UFA who will likely command at least $4 million/year on the open market (especially with a rising cap).  There is actually a reasonable chance that any impending Niskanen trade will be -- gasp! -- an actual hockey trade between two teams trying to make the playoffs.  Will we be spending the rest of today figuring out which 2nd line-caliber forwards in the Western Conference the Pens should be targeting?  Yes, yes we will.

More after the jump, including praise for Brandon Sutter...

Sunday, December 15, 2013

It was a much better night than you think; Pens trounce Wings, 4-1

By Artistry

It's not often when low expectations meet stunning success, and then stunning success gets undercut by gut-wrenching setback, but that was the scenario Saturday night in Detroit. No, the Wings didn't look too impressive, but if you're the Penguins, you still don't go into that game thinking "No Neal, no Bennett, no Fleury, no Letang, no Scuderi, no Martin, no Orpik, no problem." Still, the Pens rolled. Then came the stomach punch. From Pensblog:

So at that point all the positives - which we'll get to in a second - got swallowed by the awkward leg-injury blues. But then came reports that Malkin was walking around the locker room after the game. Today, this:

Listen, we're the last people - really, the very last - to take an unsubstantiated, unsourced, probably premature tweet from Rob Rossi seriously, but combine it with the walking around the locker room news from late Saturday night, and this looks preliminarily like a disaster averted.

Now, here's the other good news, after the jump.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Shawn Thornton is about to be suspended; Plus we explain how the Pens handle injuries

By Finesse (follow me on Twitter)

Shawn Thornton's in-person hearing began today.  A decision may not come out until tomorrow.

Huh? What is there to consider that they haven't been able to consider over the past week?

Our punishment would be 40 games, mainly because the conduct itself deserves it -- it wasn't during play, it was clearly premeditated, and it was an attack from behind leaving Orpik no ability to protect himself.  Not much different from the Steve Moore incident, if at all.  Truly, Orpik could have died.  But from a strategic standpoint -- assuming the NHL actually wants to deter these things -- a bombshell suspension would be a win/win for the league because it leaves the NHLPA (several former players are suing the league over concussions) with only two options.  The NHLPA can accept the punishment, which hopefully would have the actual practical impact of deterring this stuff in the future (and preventing more concussions).  That's a good thing for everyone except Shawn Thornton.  Alternatively, the NHLPA could fight it as being too harsh, which would put them in the uncomfortable and legally precarious position of having to defend this behavior.  That's a win for the league even if the NHLPA could ultimately get such a suspension reduced.

This is the Roger Goodell approach.  The NFL arguably over-punishes hits to the head and basically destroyed the New Orleans Saints for a whole season.  But Goodell is trying to box the players and the union into a corner where if they continue to hit each other in the head even in the face of overwhelming punishment from the league, they will have no one to blame (or sue) but themselves.

The way forward is obvious.  But the will probably isn't there.

Explaining the Pens' injury protocol, Mark Madden's latest column, and some thoughts on Jaromir Jagr after the jump...

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Ben is being Ben, but the Steelers' playoff odds are at 0.5%. What's going on?

By Finesse (follow me on Twitter)

In our highly unacclaimed Steelers season preview, we said the key to the season was that Ben needed to be more than Ben.  The unanswered but obviously impending question was: what is Ben capable of if the defense slips?  Now we have our answer: about the same as Ben is capable of when the defense is great.  In other words, Ben is being Ben.

First double finger point to 'Tonio; Next double finger point to the Lord.
Here are the Steelers' offensive and defensive ratings over the course of Roethlisberger's career:

This season, the defense has fallen to 12th (15th in scoring).  The offense, on the other hand, is basically the same as it has always been ... 16th in yardage (19th in scoring).  The difference, of course, is that the Steelers are 5-8 and on the verge of the first losing season of Roethlisberger's career.

Find out what's going on after the jump...

Pens beat Columbus, 2-1; Do you remember these 19 goals?

By Finesse (follow me on Twitter)

The Pens beat Columbus last night, 2-1, off the strength of goals from the NHL's two leading scorers, Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby.  There's no reason to apologize for this.

But to beat a drum that's we've beaten to death already, it would take an absolutely Herculean effort on the part of those two players to continue carrying what is essentially the Pens' entire offensive burden throughout the playoffs.  A good team that devotes all of its resources to shutting down two lines can probably do it, especially when Byslma isn't that interested in keeping Sid and Geno away from tough matchups.

This season, the Pens have scored 19 goals on which none of their 5 best players -- Crosby, Malkin, Kunitz, Neal, and Letang -- had a point.

1. San Jose, 12/5 - Megna from Despres
2. Florida, 11/30 - Vitale from Megna and Engelland
3. Toronto, 11/27 - Conner from Ebbett and Sutter
4. Anaheim, 11/18 - Sutter from Maatta and Gibbons
5. Nashville, 11/15 - Dupuis from D'Agostini and Sutter
6. Nashville, 11/15 - Sutter from Jokinen and Martin
7. Columbus, 11/2 - Engelland from Vitale and Jeffrey
8. Columbus, 11/1 - Sutter from Glass and Adams
9. Boston, 10/30 - Sutter from Dupuis and Orpik
10. Boston, 10/30 - Jokinen (unassisted)
11. Carolina, 10/28 - Glass from Megna and Orpik
12. Islanders, 10/25 - Jokinen from Sutter and Niskanen
13. Islanders, 10/25 - Engelland from Vitale and Niskanen
14. Florida, 10/11 - Adams from Glass and Vitale
15. Carolina, 10/8 - Glass from Vitale
16. Carolina, 10/8 - Jokinen from Maatta and Sutter
17. Buffalo, 10/5 - Kobasew from Sutter and Niskanen
18. Buffalo, 10/5 - Adams from Martin (empty net)
19. New Jersey, 10/3 - Kobasew from Sutter and Bennett

Some ways to look at these numbers:

That's one out of every five goals the Pens have scored this season.

It's 7 total goals since November 1st (19 games).

Only 14 of the Pens 32 games have had these type of goals.

And maybe most ominous of all, only 5 of these goals have come in the 13 games the Pens have played against teams with winning records.  In other words, you're basically getting 2 or 3 of these goals per playoff series against a decent team.

The Pens are scoring plenty of goals -- they're the highest scoring team in the Eastern Conference.  The problem isn't goals, it's who is scoring them.  Or, more accurately, who isn't scoring them.

To end on an optimistic note, the Pens are excelling in the one area that can cover their otherwise fatal lack of scoring depth: goals against.  The Pens give up the 4th fewest goals per game in the entire NHL.   If that keeps up, everything else is moot.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Shawn Thornton batters Brooks Orpik; Pens lose 3-2

By Finesse (follow me on Twitter)

Some sporadic thoughts this morning on a game I didn't see that much of, but certainly heard a lot about.

- Obviously the Thornton battery of Orpik was terrible and worthy of a huge suspension.  The slamming of the head into the ice was the most dangerous part, but the slew foot by Thornton that took Orpik down to the ice was the most revealing thing about his intent.  Any ridiculous attempt to justify Thornton's actions by saying that Orpik should have "answered for" his clean hit on Loui Eriksson are just that -- ridiculous -- but are made even more ridiculous when Thornton himself has to make a bush league move to exact his "vengeance."

- Speaking of Orpik on Eriksson ... it's very unfortunate that Eriksson has a concussion, especially given that he missed time earlier in the season with a concussion.  We hope he's ok, even if he has all the makings of a Penguins killer.  But the Orpik hit was clean (I haven't seen any angles where there was contact with the head, but let me know if one exists).  It's a hit that can be avoided by the player if the player keeps his head up, which is exactly the reason why Orpik (and guys like Niklas Kronwall) make that hit ... so the next time a winger gets a breakout pass in his own zone, he's trying not to get hit instead of taking the pass.

- The Neal knee to Marchand's head was not so clean and it was, actually, the least surprising thing that happened in the game given that it was James Neal taking a penalty in the offensive zone.  He should be suspended for a few games.  The bottom line for Neal is that as fantastic as he is, he really needs to reign in the fire a little but more, or at least figure out how to not take penalties in the offensive zone.  Nothing he did justifies Thornton's battery, but too often, the little things the Pens do end up taking the game from a hockey game to a sideshow.  

- And that's why how the Pens respond the next time these two teams play will be critical.  Do the Pens try to get some of their own revenge, or do they try to play a hockey game?  Fortunately -- or maybe unfortunately -- these teams won't meet until the playoffs.  In most circumstances, we'd think that means the Pens would let this go ... but we know that even the playoffs don't always change things.

- The loss itself is meaningless.  Pens are 1-1-1 against Boston this year.  If they meet in the playoffs, it's basically a coin flip.  Assuming everyone's healthy, that is.

Go Pens.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Pens win with emphasis; beat Sharks 5-1

By Finesse (follow me on Twitter)

When the going gets tough, we wish the Pens got a little tougher.  But when the going gets going, the Pens get going better than anyone.  The ability of this team to go from a 0-0 chess match to a 4-0 steamrolling faster than you can Google all those tweets from 2 months ago about Chuck Kobasew being on an 82-goal pace is unparalleled, and it all starts with Sidney Crosby Simon Despres.

The Pens are 5-0 with him in the lineup this year.  They were 27-6 with him in the lineup last year and 3-0 in the playoffs.  It's possible that these numbers are misleading because everyone's record on the Pens is good.  But it may just be that after years and years of hearing about how stacked the Pens are with young defensemen, we're finally starting to see it bear fruit with Maatta and Despres playing nearly 40 combined minutes.  (That is, of course, until Scuderi and PMPM come back and the coaching staff still refuses to sit Deryk Engelland).

Perhaps the best part of the win was the distribution of minutes.  After a game that saw 5 forwards play fewer than 10 minutes and Sid, Geno, Neal, and Letang each play over 25 minutes, it was nice to sit back and watch Joe Vitale, Jayson Megna, Chris Conner, Andrew Ebbett, and Chuck Kobasew grind for 15 minutes each, if only because we don't get to see a lot of Wilkes-Barre games.  In all seriousness though, if just one of those 5 guys can establish himself as a legit bottom-6 guy -- and not in a "Dan Bylsma has a man crush on me so I will never be scratched" kind of way -- it makes the Pens significantly more formidable.  We know it's probably not Conner (29), Kobasew (31), or Ebbett (30).  We know what we're getting with Joe Vitale, which is considerable hustle and about 4 goals every 82 games.

Megna is the wild card because he's only 23 years old, doesn't have a track record of being mediocre, and is actually over 6 feet tall.  Five points in ten games is too small of a sample size to get excited about and we could really do without the Y in Jayson (are you listening, Deryk?), but there is some room for blossoming.

Other quick thoughts ... Fleury was great, and is doing everything we could possibly want him to do so far ... saw a tweet last night that the Pens are 17-2 in their last 19 games without Malkin ... Pens have scored the most goals in the Eastern Conference and given up the 3rd fewest ... Letang hit the net ... our thoughts and prayers are with Pascal Dupuis' lower body this morning.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Podcast: Crosby and Malkin lead Pens over Isles, 3-2; Talking Tomlin on the field

Talking the Pens' big OT win over the Isles and the Mike Tomlin incident. It's the GTOG Podcast.

Listen above or check out our Spreaker page. To download the podcast directly from iTunes, click here.  Or you can download, listen, and subscribe via the Spreaker app on iTunes by clicking here, or on Android by clicking here.