Friday, April 29, 2011

2011: A Cursed Year in Pittsburgh Sports

Call it what you will. 2011 has been an extraordinarily painful time to be a fan in Pittsburgh. Shall we start at the beginning?

It's December of 2010, and we are drunk with happiness. The Penguins hadn't lost a game in a month and the Steelers were unexpectedly rolling towards a playoff berth after a tumultuous offseason. HBO was in town filming 24/7 in preparation for the Winter Classic. It was pretty much sunshine and kittens at that point.

And then the ball dropped.

Go to hell, Times Square.

Jan 1, 2011:

On National Hangover Day, the Penguins played host to the Crapitals at Heinz Field in the Winter Classic. The atmosphere was incredible and the stage was set for a hallowed chapter in Penguins history. Little did we know.

I'm normally not one for drama or superfluous adjectives, but this is a seminal moment in Penguins history. This hit, coupled with Victor Hedman's less vicious shot several days later, left Crosby on the sidelines for the rest of the season. Yes, Crosby has skated with teammates, run through some drills and flashed his omnipresent smile. But the fact remains that since the Hedman hit, nobody has laid a hand on him. The Penguins have been all but mum on Crosby developments. The smart money says Crosby will get healthy and back to normal over this extended summer, but it's not something that's given at this point. Penguins fans may have to face the fact that Crosby may not be the same. Is it likely? No. But it's certainly not impossible.

Oh yeah, the Pens lost the game too.

February 4th, 2011:

In a 3-2 comeback win over Buffalo, the Pens suffered another freak accident when Andre the Giant...I mean, Tyler Myers fell awkwardly on Evgeni Malkin's knee, tearing his ACL. Even then, we really had no idea how long the Penguins would have to go without the services of both Crosby and Malkin. This is the point where the Crosby Watch truly gained steam.

February 6th, 2011:

Watching the Steelers lose Super Bowl XLV was like getting head-butted in the balls by Zinedine Zidane. The Steelers were outplayed and outcoached from the start. Hell, the Packers lost half their secondary in that game and still beat us. Truly, it wasn't as close as the score would indicate. No excuses on this one. Green Bay deserved that win.

February 11th, 2011:

If I were Dan Bylsma, I would have shown the team this video before Game 7. This was nothing but childish retaliation for the Brent Johnson/Rick Dipietro fight the week prior (which is really the best thing to happen sports-wise this year). Just despicable the whole way around. Trevor Gillies turned into a household name, and were it not for Max Talbot's keen eye, Matt Martin would have been just as vilified. This wasn't a hockey game, it was a street fight. Hands down the low of the entire season in the NHL.

March 19, 2011

In one of the most bizarre endings in tournament history, #1 seed Pitt was ousted by #8 Butler. With slightly over two seconds left, and Pitt up 69-68, Butler's Andrew Smith made an easy layup off a great pass from Shawn Vanzant. Game over, right? Wrong. In a completely mindless play, Butler's Shelvin Mack dogged Gilbert Brown around midcourt, eventually fouling Brown with 1.4 seconds left. Butler's fanbase collectively poop themselves. Brown makes the first free throw (after some back and forth chat with Mack), tying the game at 70 all. The next sequence would etch itself into Pitt's ignominious basketball history.

Brown shoots. Off the rim.
Butler's Matt Howard rebounds
Nasir Robinson's left arm.
Howard sinks a free throw to win.

I'm one of the few Pittsburghers who will defend Robinson here. First of all, it's a high pressure situation, and Robinson wants to win the game. He wanted that rebound badly. His crime was one of passion, and while it's staggering, it is defensible. Robinson took the blame after the loss, but it certainly wasn't deserved. Pitt squandered opportunities all game long. Regardless, it stands as one of the most painful losses in the program's history.

April 2011:

This Bolts-Pens series was just so tough to swallow. A week prior to the Game 7 loss, the Pens were flying high after James Neal's Double OT winner to put the Pens up 3-1 in the series. Most thought the Lightning would fold, and the Pens would be 2nd round bound. Not so fast. Tampa's third line (including new enemy Sean Bergenheim) took over the series, and Dwayne Roloson did what he had to do.

The whole thing culminated in one last flurry of action in Game 7s waning seconds. The season died where it was born; the choppy ice of Consol Energy Center, surrounded by a winded but hopeful Pens faithful, anxious for another day.

So where is this all leading? One would ask (and rightfully so) if things could get any worse. That question is always dangerous because the answer will always be yes.

But we're Pittsburgh; we face the present with steely resolve, and the future with cautious optimism.

Because really, could things get any worse?

Come on up to Pittsburgh, Little Ironhead

The Falcons had former Pitt Panther Craig "Ironhead" Heyward, and now the Steelers have his boy, Cameron (well, i guess he's a "Steelhead") Heyward. Truly, I didn't think he would be around for the Steelers to take at 31, but in typical draft fashion, a few guys always fall. Congrats to the Steelers, the Heyward family, and Cameron's late father Craig.

So what are we going to get out of this Ohio State DE?

Heyward is about 6'5", 290lbs, but has the agility of a much lighter player. He's very quick off the ball, and is a well-conditioned, high-motor player. He's ideal for the Steelers 3-4 system, as he is a solid run stopper as well a pass rusher. Given the Steelers age at the defensive end position, he's a very logical choice, without a standout O-lineman or corner on the board.

This is also a pick for the Steelers of old. In the recent past, the Steelers have strayed from their "character" picks, with such high-profile problem children as Ben Roethlisberger and Santonio Holmes. Heyward was a good scholar-athlete (he's already graduated from OSU), and from the looks of it, is a great character player.

Welcome (back) to Pittsburgh, Cameron.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Stairway to a Game 7 exit. Tampa moves on.

It ended the way it should have. The power play. The bane of the Pens fans existence for the past four months. Remember when we whined about how Mike Yeo ran the PP? If only we knew.

If you're looking for a scapegoat, the reason as to why there's no round two for us, it's the power play. We ended the series about 1-100000 on the PP. Very little flow. I could also jab Bylsma for playing Kovalev over Tangradi, but that seems a bit useless at this point.

Three Stars of the Series for the Penguins:

3. Arron Asham

Given his playoff pedigree, maybe we should have expected this from Asham. Big time goals, and he was a physical presence throughout the series. He (likely) won't be back next year, but let us not forget his contributions.

2. Craig Adams/Max Talbot

It was impossible to choose between these two. Max Talbot was his old playoff self. There were no Game 7 SCF heroics, but he played an admirable series. It was as if he knew every shift may be his last as a Penguin. If he goes elsewhere in the offseason, this city is forever indebted to Max, and we'll love him no matter what.

Craig Adams. I don't even know where to start with this guy. If I were a hockey player, I'd want to mirror my game off of Craig Adams. He does everything the right way, and will lay down his life for his teammates. There's a reason that Adams has a couple of Stanley Cup rings. He's a winner through and through.

1. Marc-Andre Fleury

He was our rock all season long, and he played well enough to win Game 7. Period.

Honorable mention: Jordan Staal, Mike Rupp

CEC was pure bedlam last night. But if you're the drunk who stood behind me last night yelling "Hit him!" every time a Bolt touched the puck, stop coming to games. Seriously.

Sure, it didn't end the way we wanted. We'll be depressed for a while, but eventually shrug it off and start going to Pirate games. But the truth be told, there was a certain beauty in the way Game 7 played out. People always say that sports are a distraction from everyday life, but that's not the case. Sports are a visual representation of it. When it comes down to it, we've all been exactly where the Penguins were last night: trying and trying, but failing and failing. After all, life is just a test that we all inevitably fail, whether by our minds or by our bodies. There's no shame in losing. Things like this are seldom a pleasant journey, but always an important one. Just as we learn from our mistakes and shortcomings, they learn from theirs. And just like us, they will have new opportunities and new stories, just waiting to be written.

Let's go Pens.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A New Day: Go out and get it in Game 7

EDIT: Just got my Game 7 tickets. I'm filing this under INdisposable income.

Contrary to what a lot of people around here thought last night, the sun still rose this morning, and we still have one more game to play. I'm choosing not to listen to the radio because I don't feel like hearing bandwagon Pens fans (hey, yinz guys wanna watch the 'Guins game dahntahn since there's no Stiller game?) call in to eulogize the 2010-11 season. We've got one more game to throw these past two back into the vault that contains Game 5 of the 2009 Cup Finals and other Pens games that nobody cares about. Go win it.

There's not going to be any type of recap of what happened last night, but I did feel the urge to point a few things out.

1. Was Bugsy this much of a dick when he played for us?

For real, I don't remember.

2. Jordan Staal and Craig Adams wanted to end it.

If we'd have had a team full of Staals and Adams, we would be laughing our way into the second round right now. Just when I think I can't love Craig Adams more than I already do, he puts together a performance like he did last night. That guy is just nothing but guts. Props to Staal as well for trying to take the team on his back. He was due for a big time goal, and in typical fashion, he delivered. It's a shame it had to go to waste. He played 22 and half minutes, and they were all productive.

3. Where in the world is Kris Letang?

Just an awful game last night. Not to absolve Michalek and the rest of the D, who weren't far behind him.

4. Bench Kovalev, put in Tangradi

I don't like impulse lineup changes in the playoffs, and this will probably happen on the 7th of never, but I truly fail to see Kovalev's value. He's a -3 in the series, has taken bad penalties, and plays with very little vigor. When it comes to beating the Lightning, the Pens are better off with a big body like Tangradi than a ballerina like Kovalev. Even Kovy's lone goal of the series came because he was dragging ass by the net, and James Neal made a great play.

A friend of mine said something that I totally agree with. "If you bench him, you're never dressing him again." He's right, and I'm okay with that.

5. The Lightning deserve respect.

Outside of Steve Downie and my newfound disdain for Ryan Malone, I can't help but be impressed with this team. They could have lay down and died after Neal's double OT winner, but they got a second wind, and have managed to send it to a Game 7. A playoff ready team, no doubt.

All these things aside, just go out there and want it more. I'm bringing back an old friend for this one.

Let's go Pens.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Don't Jump. Game 7 on Wednesday

Don't jump yet. Game 7 on Wednesday. If you have given up, just do us a favor and leave the fanbase forever. Thanks.

Will the NHL ever have the balls to suspend Mike Richards? Apparently not.

Throughout the whole "Head Shot" chaos in the NHL, the poster boy for the problem has been Penguins winger Matt Cooke. And deservedly so. Cooke's reckless play has jeopardized the health of other players, and needs to be curtailed. This is not an article in defense of Matt Cooke.

But I'm beginning to wonder why Philadelphia Flyers Captain Mike Richards isn't receiving the same treatment.

To adequately understand the scope of the comparison, we need to go back to the 2009-10 season.

October 2009:

This is the hit that truly galvanizes the head shot movement. Florida Panther winger David Booth skates towards the middle of the ice, when he collides with a streaking Mike Richards, who forearms him in the head/neck area. Booth never sees him coming and has no way to protect himself. He was knocked out before he ever hit the ice. Richards faced no suspension or discipline at all.

Fast-forward to March of 2010, later that season:

If Richard's hit was the one that truly started the head shot movement, Cooke's hit was the one that fast-tracked it. Again, Boston Bruin Marc Savard comes into the zone at center ice and attempts to throw a shot towards the net. Cooke comes across and decks Savard in the head in a very similar manner to how Booth was hit. Savard never stood a chance, and he too, was unconscious before he went to the ice. The only difference between this hit and the Booth hit is that Cooke was coming at Savard from behind (Savard is a lefty, Booth is a righty). However, it becomes a non-issue because both Booth's and Savard's heads were in very similar positions. Like Richards, Cooke faced no discipline for this hit.

The biggest difference between the two hits is, and I'm convinced that this is why Cooke is the poster child and not Richards, is that David Booth is fine. He's back to playing hockey at a high level. Savard is not. He attempted a comeback this season, but is a very different player, and given his age, may never play again. If the shoe was on the other foot, and it was Booth that had his career ended, the hockey world would look very different right now.

On to other instances:

February 2011: Matt Cooke boards Fedor Tyutin, gets 4 game suspension.

Stupid play all around. Tyutin looks back towards Cooke as he goes into the corner to retrieve the puck. Cooke then hits Tyutin from behind and up high, sending him into the boards. Tyutin ends up being fine, but that certainly doesn't take away from the fact that this is the type of hit that shouldn't happen. Most people end up agreeing with the four game suspension except Jeremy Roenick, who cries for a while on TV.

One month later, March 2011: Matt Cooke elbows Ryan McDonagh, gets a 10 game suspension + first round of the playoffs.

Zero excuse for this hit. Was it the most vicious elbow ever? No. But Matt Cooke knows his reputation, and needed to be a lot smarter than this. He clearly raises his elbow to hit McDonagh in the head. Like Tyutin, McDonagh is fine, but it's almost beside the point. Cooke gets a hefty penalty, now up to 16 games, including 6 playoff games thus far. Most people thought this would be the straw that broke the camels back. A hefty penalty, and a very deserved one.

Now the story turns back to Mike Richards, and this current playoff series with the Buffalo Sabres.

Game 4: Richards' elbow to Patrick Kaleta

This is pretty much as blatant as the McDonagh hit. Richards is digging for a puck along the boards, Kaleta comes in for a hit, and Richards throws his elbow up in Kaleta's face. Just as cowardly as Cooke's elbow. Richards gets a five-minute elbowing major for this hit, but faces no additional discipline.

Game 6: Richards' boarding of Tim Connolly

Yesterday, Richards unleashed the latest of his questionable hits, basically grabbing Sabres center Tim Connolly's nameplate and driving him into the boards. Connolly hits the boards with the crown of his helmet and falls to the ice. According to Sabres coach Lindy Ruff, Connolly is "not doing very good", and almost certainly won't play in Game 7. The NHL again did not hand out any discipline to Richards.

If you were trying to keep score, allow me to help. Matt Cooke and Mike Richards make three similar hits, and the suspensions go as follows:

Matt Cooke: 20/21 games, including 6/7 playoff games.
Mike Richards: 0 games

Now, when making this comparison, I'm obliged to recognize the fact that Cooke was also suspended for two games in November of 2009 after a hit to Rangers forward Artem Anisimov.

But it still begs the question, why does Richards continue to get off scot-free while Matt Cooke has been villefied? Is it because Richards isn't a repeat offender? Well of course he isn't! How can someone be a repeat offender if his dirty play is never punished? The NHL continues to hide behind the "repeat offender" cloak, in hopes that everyone forgets it and nobody asks too many difficult questions. I'm not saying that Richards should get suspended for double-digit games, but the NHL at least needs to acknowledge that this is a problem with him.

Until then, we'll just have to wait for his next victim.

Game 6. Malkin before Crosby?

Rob Rossi is stirring the pot over at the Trib.

Major league issue with Rossi's article. He tells me not to believe anything that anyone says about Malkin or Crosby, then proceeds to espouse a rumor about Malkin and Crosby. Classic Rossi. Though if he's right about Malkin possibly coming back for the ECF, holy potatoes. I always thought Malkin was tougher than people give him credit for, but possibly coming back this year after Tyler Myers sat on his knee? Tough shit, right there.

(Side note: If you try to run a Google Image search for Rob Rossi, you're going to see penises. You've been warned.)

Pens are down in Tampa for Game 6. If they aren't pissed off, they aren't breathing. The whole state of Florida sucks.

Here are a few things the Pens need to do to win:

1. Get on the board early.

The Pens should come out jumping. Nobody likes to lose 8-2 at home. If they can rattle Roloson early and take all 47 Tampa fans in attendance out of the game, it could be a blowout.

2. Reinvigorate the D

Frankly, I'm hesitant to be critical of the Pens D-men. They're perhaps the biggest reason we're even in this position, and Orpik and Letang played almost 40 minutes in Game 4. But man, they weren't even there on Saturday. Michalek may have had his worst game as a Pen, and Orpik looked winded. The D has to set the tone of this game.

3. Crash the Net

Everyone has made a big screaming deal about how much Dwayne Roloson sucks at handling pucks. So make him do it. If you crash the net on Roloson, one of two things is going to happen: he's either going to give up rebounds that can be easily stuffed home, or he'll corral the puck and force an offensive zone faceoff. Given the Pens depth of good faceoff guys, coupled with defenseman who can shoot from the point, it's a recipe for goals.

4. Rebound game for Fleury.

This is going to happen. I have zero doubt.

Wild Card:

The third line.

Quietly, the line of Chris Conner, Pascal Dupuis and Max Talbot have been pesky and effective. I look for one of these three to come up with a big goal when the time comes.

Let's go Pens.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Weekend Waylay. Series Goes Back to Tampa

We really should have seen that one coming. And oddly enough, we did. The weird start time should have been an omen.

The Pens came out blazing. Not like Wiz Khalifa blazing, but you know, fast. A bunch of good chances in the first half of the first, capped with Brooks Orpik nearly taking the net off its moorings with a slapper. Then all of a sudden, the Lightning break out of the Pens zone and make 20,000 passes, eventually setting up Simon Gagne for a a ridiculously easy goal. A half a second later, the Lightning scored again, and the wheels just came off.

Actually, this picture is an understatement.

The rest of the game was a blur, really. It ended up being a billion to 2. Mike Rupp and Chris Connor with well-deserved goals.

A few game notes:

-Steven Stamkos finally woke up. He's too good of a player to be quiet for an entire series. They're a different team when he's playing well

-The Pens defense was completely non-existent. Hands down the worst Pens defensive performance of the year. Nobody played well. From Letang and Orpik on down.

-Did Martin St. Louis even touch a puck? The fact that they could score 8 goals without much mention of St. Louis is terrifying.

-Bylsma probably tore the head off a small child after the game.

All that being said, I just don't see how the Pens can go to Tampa and lose. Given the resiliency of this team (best personified by MAF, who is unreal in games after he was pulled in the previous one), they won't go into Florida without their asses on fire. Nobody wants to be embarrassed like that. Particularly not at home. Games like that leave a very sour taste. One could easily argue that the Lightning took momentum away from the Pens in Game 5. These are probably the same people who thought the Lightning wouldn't be able to rebound from their Double OT Game 4 loss.

Momentum is a very tricky beast. If you believe that you have it, you probably don't. To believe that the Lightning will maintain that level of momentum into Game 6, then you vastly underestimate the heart of this Penguin team. Every one of these guys have something to prove.

Supposedly this was a team that could never win without Crosby and Malkin. Yet they did, and they continue to. If you want to write them off, go ahead. It's nothing they haven't heard before.

Pens will take it in six. I have no doubt. Let's go.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Neal Before Us. Pens Take a 3-1 Series Lead Home

Since James Neal netted the OT winner, get used to this, because it isn't going away:

More on that later.

Right out of the gate, this game didn't feel like a playoff game at all. You could legitimately hear individual fans during the broadcast. Steiggy and Errey pointed it out about a bajillion times. The Lightning had a bit of a bounce for the first few shifts, but then their world fell apart. Not surprising who the catalyst of that was.

Short side. No room. What a goal. Not sure where we'd be this year without TK.

After Kennedy's goal. Tampa Bay pretty much went home. They were playing with the enthusiasm of a 15 year old doing chores. Pens getting to every loose puck, putting a body on every member of the Lightning. Were it not for some stellar saves by Rolly the Goalie, the game would have been over pretty early. No idea how many shots we had in the first 30 minutes, don't care, it was a ton. The first period ended with the crowd silent and the Pens in control.

Second period was more of the same. Arron Asham and the Fourth Line (who sounds like a band that needs to open up for Huey Lewis and the News) turned in a ridiculous shift, followed by a supremely awkward goal where Asham puts a shot on net, and it apparently hits off somebody's penis, and then goes under Dwayne Roloson and in. Everyone sits back and waits for the Penguins to score 20 more goals at this point.

But that doesn't happen. Pens get chance after chance, but no dice. And then all hell breaks loose. St. Louis makes an amazing play and bashes one past Fleury.

Gotta be honest here. It's hard to dislike this guy. Undrafted, undersized, and a future HOFer. He's the little midget that could. This series would have been over in Game 2 if it weren't for this guy. He makes everyone in Pittsburgh clinch their buttholes when he touches the puck. Hell, I get concerned when St. Louis picks up a puck in practice. What a player.

St. Louis' goal woke up the slumbering crowd and electrified his team. Bad puns everywhere. Nobody was thinking that two goals would win this game, and with a bit over three minutes left, that thought came to fruition. Sean Bergenheim and St. Louis camp out in front of Fleury. Somehow the puck squirts in. That feeling is what it must be like to be a Caps fan. Talbot gets obliterated somewhere in here. He was fine. Let's go to OT.

After a couple of tense moments, OT levels out, and for the most part, the Pens dictate the play. Not surprising, the Lightning are old and upset that they're missing Modern Family on ABC to play extra hockey. Solid show, by the way. Double OT in your face. Petr Sykora buys Domino's pizza for the intermission.

Second OT starts and for some reason, Staal inexplicably dives headfirst into the boards. No clue why, he was having a great much to live for. He ends up being fine. Tough dude. And two minutes later, he factors in on this:

What a moment for Neal. Props to Steiggy and Errey for actually throwing out some good juju for once. Potentially a back-breaking goal for the Lightning.

That being said, you're an idiot if you don't think the Lightning are going to come out flying on Saturday. Can't wait.

Tons of sentence fragments in this post.

End it, Pens.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Pens/Bolts Game 4 Preview and One of the Greatest Hockey Pictures ever

This picture is so good that I don't even feel right posting it. Make the jump over to Puck Daddy, but only after you read this. Best performance that Vince Vaughn has put up since Wedding Crashers.

On to more important things.

In case you needed a reminder of how important game 4 could be:

Turning point in that series. Big time. A lot of people point to Game 3 as the biggest game in most series. I disagree entirely, Game 4 sets a tone. If the Pens win, they've got a chance to clinch it at CEC. If the Pens lose, you have to ride through the winds of momentum. I'd show a stat about how Game 4 winners fare in the series itself, but I'm lazy.

Tonight the Pens will have to face-off without Chris Kunitz, who decided to channel his inner Matt Cooke and stick his elbow in Simon Gagne's ear. Gagne probably said something about his mom. The Lightning will be without Steve Downie, but who cares? Still not sure whether we'll see Eric Tangradi or Mike Comrie in Kunitz's spot. My gut says Comrie, since he's got playoff experience, but I'm an idiot, so whatever.

Some keys to a Pens win:

1. Stay out of the box.

This is as easy as it gets. Martin St. Louis has been lights out on the power play. Why give him the chance?

2. Fourth line creating shit.

Probably the theme of the series so far. When your fourth line outplays their fourth line by a considerable margin, you're going to win a lot of games.

3. Jordan Staal

He's had a good series, but talk about someone who's overdue for a huge goal. We'll see how he holds up without Kunitz in the lineup.

4. The same Fleury we saw in Games 1 and 3.

He knows playoff pressure. Would you want anyone else guarding the cage right now?

5. Power Play.

I'll just say it right now. If we score a power play goal, we'll win. If not, we lose. Take it to the bank.

Wild Card:

James Neal.

He's had exactly one goal since joining the Pens. To say that Neal is snakebitten is the understatement of the millenium. I haven't had blue balls as bad as James Neal since I was 17. Here are some things that have happened in the world since the last time James Neal scored a goal (March 8):

-The U.S. started bombing Libya
-Elizabeth Taylor, Geraldine Ferraro and Nate Dogg all died.
-A 9.0 magnitude earthquake devastated Japan.
-Corey Perry has scored 19 goals (inc. postseason)

Holy crap. Get it done, James Neal.

We believe. Let's go Pens.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Pens Win. Pirates Win. Pittsburgh Wins.

Before this series started, I proclaimed that there was a good chance that the Penguins would put up 6 or more goals in one of these games. I gave the statistics, blah blah, whatever.

Pretty sure I'm going to be wrong on that. The Lightning are not in awe of the playoffs at all.

If any game was going to be that 6-0 or 7-1 rout, it would have been Game three. Pens came out strong, and then all hell broke loose. Not surprisingly, it was longtime Pens hater Steve Downie that provided the fireworks. Just so you remember...

...exactly what Steve Downie is about. Also remember that Downie was suspended for 20 games early in his career for a flying cheapshot to Dean McAmmond. Here's video of the hit:

Ouch. Of course, Talbot gets pissed off about the hit and roofs one on Roloson.

While we were all crying for a major penalty, Bylsma sends the fourth line out there. Oh, fourth line. Mike Rupp carries, kinda whiffs on the puck, but then makes a sweet little backhand pass to Asham who has apparently decided to start playing hockey. You start to think that this game COULD be that blowout game.

And then you remembered the Lightning have Martin St. Louis. That guy is a termite. You forget he even exists, then he chews a giant hole in your wall. He buries a power play goal and stops the momentum in its tracks.

Not sure who made this. Pretty sure it's awesome.

The second period happened. That was about it.

The third starts, St. Louis scores again, and you begin to wonder exactly how much Zbynek Michalek's stick in Game 1 pissed him off.

Side note: Zbynek Michalek may be the MVP of this series right now.

Anyway, after St. Louis scored for the millionth time, it starts to feel like a major meltdown could be coming. Cue Tyler Kennedy.

Just go to the net.

The last 15 minutes of this game lasted longer than a JAG marathon. Craig Adams' Mohawk blocks a shot to end it.

Other crap:

Downie and Chris Kunitz each will be receiving some sort of discipline from the league today. Don't know how I forgot to mention the Kunitz elbow. While not nearly as dangerous as the Downie play, it was equally as mindless.

No idea what Kunitz is thinking here. This is about as easy as it gets. It's a pretty delicate elbow, but it's still an elbow, and it's still ridiculously blatant.

Jesus, I've put like a billion YouTube videos in this post.

Gotta mention the fact that the Pirates won another road series. This is a damn impressive habit to get into. Bucs travel to Florida tonight. Let's go.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Tax Day Update.

Pay your taxes, slackers. Yeah, even you, Wesley Snipes.

Pens lost 5-1 on Friday night. Big deal. Nobody goes 16-0 in the playoffs. Fleury had a rough outing, but he's approximately 100000-0 in rebound games, so I'm sure he'll be fine. The game actually wasn't as lopsided as the score would indicate. Outside of the first half of the first period, the Pens played a decent game.

The fourth line pretty much deserve Purple Hearts at this point in the series.

Cassie Campbell from CBC posted a speculative tweet saying that she thought Crosby was missing practice because he was at the doctor's and may be cleared to play. She's cool, don't know why she just started making stuff up, but whatever. I wasn't paying attention, and it ended up being a crap report (probably).

Per Rob Rossi, Crosby hasn't skated since Friday. Can't be good news there. He's in Tampa though, so Coach Crosby will probably be donning the headset again.

The Pirates are still playing baseball. It's now the opposite of last year: they suck balls at home, but keep winning road series. Impressive stuff on the road if they can keep it up.

We'll end with some love to the Pittsburgh Power, who are coming up with some respectable performances in their inaugural season.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Lightning Crashes. Pens Win.

Really? Nobody has used this yet? For shame, Pittsburgh bloggers.

Playoff hockey is awesome. Like finding a $20 on the street awesome. We've talked so much about the Penguins without Crosby and Malkin that we forgot that we have a buttload of players with a buttload of Stanley Cup experience. That really showed tonight.

Before anyone could finish their pregame dump, Brooks Orpik tried to murder Steven Stamkos. Somehow the Lightning ended up with more hits in that game than the Pens did. I can only assume whoever came up with that stat was watching American Idol.

It was pretty much goalie central during the first two periods, but then in the third, a set of game changing events took shape.

1. James Neal put about 50,000 shots on the net.

2. Kovalev gets pasted in front of the net, then proceeds to take a nap for a while. He's old. Whatever.

3. James Neal anticipates, and finds the puck. This was a pretty pervasive theme during the game.

4. Kovalev wakes up to the sound of a beautiful slap pass at his door, and proceeds to shuffle it in.

There's some sort of cosmic injustice in that play. James Neal has a ridiculous shift, but the goal goes to Kovy, who was pouting near the crease after being hit. Sorry, but he just doesn't look like a Penguin to me. Seems to have very little fire.

Pretty much like 4 seconds after Kovalev's goal, Arron Asham apparently spots Jessica Alba standing behind Dwayne Roloson, so he blitzes down the ice, fakes a shot and buries his second attempt of a wrap-around. I'm not sure where the hell that came from, but Asham did score 7 playoff goals last year. This is one of the reasons Shero nabbed him in the offseason. As close to a life changing goal as you can get in the first game of the playoffs.

Had to post this video just because it's called "Asham Scores a Very Special Goal". What the hell? When did Sesame Street start posting Pens videos on Youtube?

Anyhow, to their credit, the Lightning buckled down and started amping up their game. Big time. You braced yourself for them to put one by Fleury, but it just never happened. St. Louis had an open net at one point, but he crapped himself and shot it over the cage.

With about three minutes left in the final frame, there was a moment that perfectly encapsulated the Pens season (at least the second half). Kunitz fights to keep the puck in the zone, corrals it and rifles a one-time opportunity over to a wide open Jordan Staal, who proceeds to completely whiff on the shot. This isn't a knock on Staal, he had a great game and was instrumental in shutting down Tampa's big three. But therein lies the Crosby difference. If he were in there and healthy, that's Crosby skating alone down the seam, and sorry, but Crosby doesn't miss that shot. The Pens go up 3-0 with a couple minutes left, and the Lightning can just phone it in from there. But that's not the way this team is going to win games. There won't be many three goal leads. They'll just be sixty minute brawls.

And you know, that's just fine with me.

Game notes:

- James Neal got absolutely robbed out of one of the three stars. I can somewhat understand Staal, but Kovy? Insane.

- Fleury continues to impress. Sooner or later, we're just going to run out of adjectives that can adequately describe the season he's having.

- Ryan Malone is going to be annoying all series long.

- The fourth line wreaked havoc. They only logged like 8 or 9 minutes of ice time, but they were incredibly productive minutes. Things like that make a huge difference in the playoffs.

And oh yeah, Craig Adams' Mohawk moves to 5-0 on the season. What a hairstyle.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

First Round Preview: Pens vs. Bolts

This is going to be the most awkward playoff series ever. First of all, it's Tampa Bay. They usually get about 30 fans for their regular season games, but considering its the playoffs, they may get up to 40. Wherever the hell they play hockey (apparently it's named for some newspaper that nobody reads because it's 2011) is going to be ripe with Penguins fans.

Truly, it's a shame that nobody comes out to support this Tampa Bay team. Their offensive firepower is nothing to scoff at. Even beyond the obvious stars like Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis, Vincent Lecavalier and Simon Gagne, the Lightning have plenty of 3rd and 4th liners that can put the puck in the net (Former Penguins Ryan Malone and Dominic Moore, along with unsung guys like Teddy Purcell and Sean Bergenheim). Their defensemen? Eh, not so intimidating. The Penguins danced laps around touted youngster Victor Hedman. With the exception of Brett Clark, they are a bevy of no-names.

Then we get to what has always been the Lightning's achilles heel: goaltending. The Lightning have given up 6 or more goals TEN times this season. The Penguins, to compare, have done it only twice. That means, playing the odds, that one of these games the Penguins will put up a six-spot. Now admittedly, the Bolts have been far better since Dwayne Roloson took the helm between the pipes. The Penguins have seen both sides of Dwayne Roloson: the guy who seems completely lost (the Pens chased him after giving up 5 goals on 23 shots), and the guy who can steal games in between cashing his Social Security checks. Without a doubt, Roloson is the story of this series. The only way Tampa Bay can win is if Roloson outplays Fleury. Teams without consistent goaltending get lit up in the playoffs (See: 2009-10 Washington Capitals).

Beyond the awkwardness of playing the Lightning in the playoffs (which still just feels weird), playing a playoff series without Crosby and Malkin really wasn't part of our plan for this year. Although we adapted very well during the regular season without the duo, the playoffs are always another beast entirely. The job that Bylsma, Fleury and our makeshift lines and defensive pairings have done is beyond admirable. But how far can it conceivably take us? The answer probably lies somewhere in between heart and momentum. We know that the heart is there. We see it every time they take the ice. The momentum may be there as well. The Penguins are 12-4 since that craptastic overtime loss against the Devils on March 4th. If the Penguins can continue to muster the same resolve during these playoffs, they'll be an extremely difficult team to eliminate.

Final prediction: Pens in six.

Series MVP: Marc-Andre Fleury. It's almost crazy to think it could be anyone else.

Tampa Bay MVP: Martin St. Louis. Again, it's ridiculous to think it could be anyone else. He's probably the least intimidating person in the world until he takes the ice.

Unsung Hero: Mark Letestu. He's only played in 64 games this season, but he's proved that he can be a force when healthy. Like most of this team, he plays with a lot of energy and guts, and he couples that play with a great goal-scoring touch. I wouldn't be surprised at all to see Letestu put 2-3 pucks behind Dwayne Roloson, and to do so at a big moment.

Let's go Pens.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

How About a Kiss for Your Cousin Dupuis? Pens Win; Close on Flyers

I swear to God this is the only time I start a blog post with a Steely Dan joke (I'm probably lying).

This was clearly the highest scoring Pens-Devils game ever, and it was actually interesting to watch. Jordan Staal went berserk. Versus was effusive in their praise for Staal. I didn't realize he played 29 minutes in a game. That's beyond insane. Nice to see him get some well-deserved kudos. And by the way, Craig Adams' Mohawk is now 2-0. This could be the start of something fun.

For the first 30 minutes, MAF was just ridiculous. Pretty sure I wouldn't want any other goalie between the pipes right now. He's bound to steal a game or two in the playoffs, circa 2009. Pascal Dupuis netted two, including an empty netter. Dupes has very quietly put up 16 goals. What a player. He should totally change the spelling of his name to the pronunciation on KAL doo PWEE

No matter, It's just nice to beat the Devils.

The Pirates blew a 2-0 first inning lead to the Cardinals last night, losing 3-2, bringing their record to that number as well. Though I must say, through the first full rotation of the five starters, their numbers have been ridiculously impressive:

3-0, 2.85 ERA, with 3 Quality Starts.

If they pitch anywhere in the same stratosphere as this for most of the season (which may be the biggest assumption in the history of the world), this could be the start of something very interesting for the Pirates. I never would have pinpointed Evan Meek-whose ERA currently stands at about three touchdowns, 21.60-as the weak part of our pitching staff. Though the smart money is that Meek will turn it around.

Regardless, one has to be quite surprised by the early season Pirates. However, I've smelled this ass before. The April Pirates are usually fun to watch, it's once we get into June-July that we initiate Operation Shutdown (props to Derek Bell on that).

In another Pirates note, Huey Lewis and the News will play a postgame concert on June 11th. Huey deserves more respect. Show the love, Pittsburgh.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Deja Vu All Over Again

"I still have a prayer, but too few occasions to pray."
-Iron and Wine "The Rabbit Will Run"

It would be very easy to write an article about exactly how bad Butler was last night. They certainly gave writers enough fodder to do so. Butler shot under 19% from the field, and they made three two point baskets all game. THREE. They had exactly two bench points. Star forward Matt Howard was a dismal 1 for 13. Perhaps more inexplicable than any statistic is the fact that, down 10 points with over a minute left, Butler didn't immediately foul, but rather they allowed UConn to aimlessly toss the ball around until they were able to get off a shot before the shot clock ran out. Almost 40 seconds of lost time. It was as if the Bulldogs wanted no part of their offensive zone.

Like I said, this sort of critique could go on ad nauseum. But that's not really what last night was all about.

While it was a poorly played basketball game, it was a beautiful metaphor for the current state of Division I College sports.

Beyond the brackets and the office pools, there's a very human connection that fans have with the NCAA Basketball Tournament. It's openness allows for things like last night to happen. Some team embarks on a magical run, and perhaps ends up in a place in which they have no earthly business being in. That was Butler. Yes, they were in last year's national title game as well, the endgame of another incredible journey. But this year was different for Butler. Two months ago, they weren't even a "bubble" team. They were 14-9, playing in the Horizon League. Not exactly the greatest tournament resume.

But yet they were the 63rd team ousted from the Big Dance. Shows how much November-January means. I digress.

Most people that watch the tournament have little emotional attachment to any of the teams involved. What that measure brings out is our undying love for the underdog. The reason that last night's game was so indicative of college sports wasn't necessarily that it was David vs. Goliath, but it was the Haves and the Have Nots. The National Championship in football pitted two programs with numerous recruiting violations, and with both teams currently undergoing investigations. The UConn men's basketball program is no different, with coach Jim Calhoun being forced to sit out the first three Big East games in 2011-12 for complying with the use of a booster for recruiting (among other things).

We cheered for Butler, as we did for most underdogs during the tournament (VCU, Richmond, etc) because they are exactly who we fashion ourselves to be: everyday people who try valiantly to fight against the forces of things often beyond our control. UConn was the boss, Butler was the day laborer. While we were rooting for the Bulldogs, we were actually rooting for ourselves, looking to grasp on to the hope that we too could defeat all that stood in front of us.

UConn was the better team, considering the pedigree of the program, they were given the ability to be so. For most of the Butler players, they could only have dreamed to be recruited by a program like UConn. Instead they were cast-offs, forced into a second-tier Division I school. The human element probably lies somewhere in there. Somewhere in the fact that Butler was the reject school for a group of players who themselves were rejected by the hierarchical element of college sports.

UConn was the team that should have one. Unfortunately for most of us, they weren't the right one.

"I still have a prayer, and I've furthered the world in my wake."

Friday, April 1, 2011

100th Post-Pens Fall to Tampa, and Holy Christmas, the Pirates are Playing!

Pens lost. Totally dominated the game, except for Grandpa Roloson hopped himself off of his hemorrhoid donut and decided to play some hockey. Great performance.

Roloson in his younger days. Does anyone even remember who that #71 character is?

The Alexei Kovalev experiment is failing. James Neal, while not scoring as much, has been the far superior acquisition.

Oh, and Ben Lovejoy apparently thinks he's Bobby Orr now. He wasn't even this good in Wilkes-Barre.

Pirate season always sneaks up on me. It never fails. I'm not going to act like I think we're playoff bound, but...

Wiz Khalifa is a believer.

Here's the thing about the 2011 Pirates though. It IS a little bit different this year. Looking up and down the lineup, it's actually (almost) impressive:

1. Jose Tabata
2. Neil Walker
3. Andrew McCutchen
4. Pedro Alvarez
5. Lyle Overbay
6. Matt Diaz/Garrett Jones
7. Snyder/Doumit/Jaramillo/Whoever
8. Ronny Cedeno
9. Pitcher #1-5

That's not bad. In fact, that's probably the best opening day lineup the Pirates have fielded in the past few years.

But the big issue that still hasn't been addressed is the complete and utter lack of starting pitching. Until the Pirates can at least have one guy that they can count on in the rotation, we can forget about a winning season. No matter how decent the bullpen may be, it's not going to be effective if it has to pitch 4-5 innings a game. I'm pretty sure if I were to show up at PNC Park on any random day, I'd probably be the fourth starter.

In fairness to the other pitchers though, I do throw a 65 mph fastball. Unhittable.

I could list more reasons why I don't think the Pirates can be a .500 team this year, but you know what? Hope springs eternal. And I'll always back my Buccos.

Let's go Bucs/Pens/Power