Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Pens Review Part 2: The Good

By Jeff

Yesterday I shared how the Pittsburgh Penguins season ended in disappointment and why. It wasn't fun to do, as pointing out how your favorite team didn't live up to expectations never is fun.

Well, today we're looking at reasons to have hope for the 2012-2013 season, because there are a lot of positives to takes away from this season.

  1. Malkin is back to kicking ass: Evgeni Malkin not only won the Art Ross Trophy for most points in the league, but he's going to win the Hart Trophy for league MVP. He scored 50 goals and 109 points. Last offseason he dedicated himself to getting in better shape and getting better at faceoffs, and it showed during the season. If he carries that work ethic over, next year will be a lot of fun.
  2. Crosby is healthy: Sidney Crosby scored 37 points in 22 games this season. He's sickly good at hockey. You know this playoff loss is going to piss him off. He's going to put in work this summer and come out in October ready to set the league on fire, like he was doing before the concussion that sidelined him for over a year. It's scary thinking about how good this team can be with a motivated Malkin and healthy Crosby. And it won't be like the playoffs this year. Crosby is going to be in shape and won't be disappearing in the third period
  3. The defense is that bad: Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek are good players. Simon Despres and Brian Strait will be a year older. Like Malkin after last season, I see this group as going into the offseason with something to prove. If they have any pride in their jobs and living up to the big contracts they signed two summers ago, they're going to work their asses off this summer and be the strength they were in 2010-2011.
  4. Fleury can be great: Last season, this season and the 2009 Stanley Cup Finals have shown us Marc-Andre Fleury can be a great goalie. I'm terrified he is going to take a few months to overcome his terrible playoff performance, but you don't win 40+ games in a season if you're as bad a goaltender as Fleury appeared to be the last two weeks.
  5. The powerplay: Remember how bad that thing was this time last year? What was it, 1-for-38? It, like the rest of the team, came up short against the Flyers, but now they will have a complete offseason with James Neal, Malkin, Crosby, Kris Letang and another person to work out the man-advantage. If that kind of talent does not result in a top 5 powerplay, something is seriously wrong.
I know another early playoff exit has fans worked up. I know it has them questioning if this team is missing something and needs major change. But we need to remember this was a 100+ point team this season, and that was without the greatest player in the world for 60 games. They have championship talent, they just need to step up when they need to.

As sad and upset we all are about the early loss, we also have to remember that this team brought us a lot of joy from October through March. Sure, there were down times, but for the most part, it was a great ride and helped me get through living in friggin Philadelphia.

I can't wait until next year.

The Clash - Lost in the Supermarket

Monday, April 23, 2012

Pens Review Part I: The Bad

By Jeff

This is tough for me. My usual ritual when the Pittsburgh Penguins make an early postseason exit is to shut down for the next day. I avoid all sports media mentioning the Pens and hockey, so ESPN is safe. I try to avoid any conversations about the loss. I just ask for a day to digest.

Well, that was impossible this year, as I live in Philly and people in my office took turns stopping by my cube to talk about the loss to the Philadelphia Flyers. Even people that don't know shit about sports or even watch hockey except for Sunday's 5-1 Flyers win.

So here I am with the first part of my review. Because I'm still bitter, this will be focusing on all the things that didn't work, mostly in the postseason.

  1. Marc-Andre Fleury: This pains me. Fleury helped the team win a cup and was the main reason this team didn't fall apart last season when Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin went down. He was the team MVP last season and was great for the majority of this season. 

    Unfortunately that greatness didn't carry over to the postseason.  He was got flustered early and often against a very good Flyers offense. Granted his defense didn't help, but there were plenty of goals that were all Fleury. I immediately think back to three of the four goals in Game 6, and Talbot's shorthanded goal in Game 3.

    I've always been a big supporter of Fleury and will continue to be, but I can't defend this most recent postseason performance. It was weak, and I'm terrified it might carry over into the season just like it did after he had a poor series against the Montreal Canadiens two years ago.
  2. The defense: What the hell happened? Like Fleury, this group came together and played amazing last season. They were one of the best units at even strength and shorthanded a year ago. The last month of this season they started sucking and they never stopped. You shouldn't lose games where you score four, four and five goals.

    And it was the whole defense, not just Paul Martin! Martin had a poor year and did not live up to his $5 million/year salary. In Games 1 through 3, he had his good moments and his really bad ones. But so did every defenseman on the team. Kris Letang handed the Flyers their OT goal in Game 1 and Ben Lovejoy made one of the worst passes I've seen that led to goal in Game 2 just to name a few.

    The penalty kill also got embarrassed. How does the No. 3 penalty kill unit in the league turn into crap in the playoffs. The Flyers' powerplay was good, but operating at 60 percent says a lot more about the deficiencies of the Pens.
  3. Two-head monster: Malkin and Crosby were outplayed by Claude Giroux and Danny Briere. Diving Danny Briere, damnit! Crosby started great scoring the opening goals in Games 1 and 2. But then he faded as the series went on. Malkin never got it going aside from Game 5. These are the two greatest players in the world, yet they have struggled the past two playoff series they played in.

    In the case of Crosby, I don't think he was physically ready for playoff hockey. He started the series and games strong, but didn't do anything in the third periods. That's when stars are supposed to step up, not disappear. Crosby will be better next postseason.

    Malkin was awesome this season and looked like the Malkin of the 09' playoffs and not the Malkin we saw the past two seasons. But in the playoffs we saw that immature Malkin who takes stupid penalties and gets flustered.
  4. Coaching: I said in previous posts that I think Dan Bylsma got out-coached by Lavy. Disco Dan didn't do a very good job of making in-game adjustments. When his team started losing control, he let it ride. When Lavy's Flyers were getting outworked and outplayed, the man called them together and lit a fire under their asses.

    Now I'm not the type of person that blames coaching and reffing for losses. That being said, Bylsma should have been better, like the rest of the team. He shouldn't be fired, but he is in trouble if the team starts slow next year. I mean, Scotty Bowman was fired by the Pens. Everyone is fair game when it comes to coaching in the NHL.
Tomorrow will be Part 2, which will focus on how while this season ended in disappointment, the team did some great things and we as fans should still be thankful for their effort through 82 games.

The Get Up Kids - Close to Me

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

'First Take' reached new low

By Jeff

Anyone else see Jalen Rose make fun of ESPN 2 "First Take's" Skip Bayless last week?

It was a funny comment that I caught on YouTube. Rose was annoyed about Bayless ripping NBA players like Russell Westbrook. So what does Rose do? He points out how Bayless never played as a senior in high school and that he was nicknamed Water Pistol Pete Jr.

If you saw the show, you saw Bayless wanted to cry, but was strong and held back the tears.

But that is not the reason for this post. The next day they brought Rose back and they had a whole segment explaining why Bayless was offended by Rose's comments, and then they had Stephen A. Smith come on and yell at Rose for taking offense to Bayless always ripping pros.

Here is the segment.

If you watched the whole thing, I'm sorry I just wasted 25 minutes of your life. I wanted others to feel my pain.

First, no one cares that Bayless allegedly got screwed over by his high school coach in favor of the coach's son. No one feels bad for Skip. Especially when you hear him rip professional players, accuses MLB umpires of helping their friend (Mark Buehrle) pitch a perfect game, and says on air he thinks he could hit major league pitching as if he is a great athlete. Oh, and then there is the whole he put in a book that Troy Aikman was gay. When you take these types of shots at people, disrespect people and dive into people's personal lives, you open yourself up to the type of thing Rose said.

Second, Rose comes off as an ass. Telling Smith and Bayless, that they have never played the game, so they have no right to call Kwame Brown a scrub. I get what Rose is saying when he argues a NBA player who has been in the league for 10 years can't be a scrub. But he has to realize the way the term scrub and others like it have come to be used in today's sports vocabulary.

High school, college and pro teams have scrubs. The guys that are on the team but don't get a lot of minutes or play any sort of significant role. They're not saying Brown and others like him have no skill and don't belong. They're saying he is a bench guy that doesn't bring much to the table.

Third, if Rose came off as an ass, Smith came off as one of the biggest asses I've ever seen. His persona has grown incredibly stale. Yelling at people, cutting people off and making stupid faces while others are talking are things we learn at a young age is disrespectful and rude. Smith has made a second career of being a rude and disrespectful ass. While he was right in saying how embarrassed by Rose and Bayless, he then went on a ridiculous rant. Rose would be making a point and Smith would start yelling four questions at him and keep yelling "Answer my question, Jalen!" while Rose was talking.

It was the perfect example of the type of character Smith is on television. He is a loud, arrogant ass who LOVES to hear himself talk more than he likes to listen to anyone else.

It was really a low point for all three commentators and ESPN for airing the segment. The reason for the segment? Twitter backlash.

Wow. Just wow.

Gin Blossoms - Hey Jealousy

Pens on the brink

By Jeff

It's hard not to feel a Pens second consecutive first-round exit in the Stanley Cup Playoffs is inevitable.

They are not playing well. At least not in the second and third periods. Especially not in the third period!

Sunday's game was possibly the worst game I have seen this group play. They were undisciplined, careless with the puck and they became what Pens fans have come to hate about the Flyers. They were being outplayed, responded by letting their emotions get the best of them and they started playing dirty hockey.

James Neal and Aaron Asham should be suspended for going after Flyers players. Craig Adams has already been suspended for Game 4.

Now there are reports that Jordan Staal is unhappy with his role.

Put it all together, and it feels like this team that seemed on top of the world coming into the playoffs is in danger of falling apart. And this is with two of the best players in the world leading them.

I hope I am just overreacting. I hope that the Pens will take this latest disappointment as a sign that they all need to up their focus. I hope that if they are swept they will come back next season with the biggest chip on their shoulders the NHL has ever seen.

 But I can't help but fear that the team crumbling in front of our eyes this postseason is just the start of something terrible.

I don't know what else to say. This series has caused me deep distress.

Of course, all that could change with a dominating performance Wednesday night. A performance where the mature, composed, skilled and smart Penguins show up. That kind of performance could lead to one of the biggest rallies in NHL history.

It probably won't happen, but what kind of fans would we all be if we didn't believe?

The path to redemption starts Wednesday.

Go Pens.

Bob Marley and the Wailers - Redemption Song

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Ozzie being Ozzie is no longer an excuse

By Jeff

Miami Marlins skipper Ozzie Guillen has once again made an ass of himself.

Despite working in Miami, and managing a team that plays in an area called Little Havana, Guillen said in an interview that he respects how Cuban dictator Fidel Castro has stayed in power over the years. Actually, he said "I love Fidel Castro.... I respect Fidel Castro, you know why? A lot of guys have wanted to kill Fidel Castro for the last 60 years, but that guy is still here."

He said this despite having a huge Cuban American population in the Miami area. Cuban Americans who most likely all have a horror story of family or friends being killed or arrested by Castro.

Guillen came out later and said it was a misinterpretation of what he said, since English is not his first language. I'm sorry, I'm not buying it.

Guillen has a history of saying whatever he wants, and facing little consequences because it's just Ozzie being Ozzie. What words did he or could he use that sounded like the statements above that led to a misinterpretation?

Then there are the people who are defending Ozzie by making the classic First Amendment defense. These individuals don't really understand the First Amendment. Yes, it gives us the freedom of speech. But that is in the sense that we can't be arrested for sharing our opinions. We can say our president is an idiot, or the government is corrupt and there isn't a damn thing Congress can do about it.

Nowhere in the First Amendment does it say that you can say whatever you want and not have to suffer consequences for doing so. Ozzie's statement could hurt the Miami Marlins and their business. They have every right to suspend him like they did, or fire him if it comes back to really hurt the Marlins.

Your boss can do the same thing if you say something that is clearly offensive.

This isn't the first time he's been incredibly insensitive. A few years ago he called a columnist a gay slur. I get that English isn't his first language, but the same goes for a lot of Major League Baseball personalities and I don't hear them praising dictators and using slurs in public.

I'm glad there was some punishment and I'm hoping he learns to keep censor himself a little better. Chances are he won't, but maybe MLB and others will finally stop giving Ozzie a free pass since he is a character.

Girl Talk - All Day

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Flashes of rage: Pens lose 3-4

By Jeff

It's only one game, but letting a team rally from 0-3 is not a way to start a series. Staal got caught watching the play at the end after having a great game. Letang played the puck right to Voracek's stick.

Working in an office surrounded by Flyers fans is going to make Thursday a very long day.


Speechless: Game tied 3-3

By Jeff

Pens lose this game I will cry.

Of course it's Briere: Pens up 3-1

By Jeff

Danny friggin Briere. The man can do two things well. Cherry pick and finish. He did both right there. I was about to post about the sick save Fleury made 30 seconds prior. I jinxed him...

Dupes: Pens up 3-0

By Jeff

Nothing the man does is very pretty, but Pascal Dupuis knows where to be and when to be there. He was in perfect position capitalize on a nice little play by Steve Sullivan. Crosby had the second assist with a nice dump over the head of a Flyers defender.

Someone must have sent Bryzgalov a picture of a bear before the game, because he is looking very shaky.


TK hits the net: Pens up 2-0

By Jeff

Good things happen on that rare occasion Tyler Kennedy gets the puck on net. Staal was a monster on the play and created the golden opportunity Kennedy took advantage of.

Quick edit on the last post; Dupuis has a point in 18 straight games. My bad.

Also, it's fun hearing how other markets complain about the local Pens broadcasters being biased. It's no question they are, but you should hear these Philly guys. They are constantly complaining that the Pens are hitting the Flyers late. Yet they made no mention of how Coburn hit Crosby late (by their standards) before his goal and then Grossman hit him in the head twice after the goal.


Crosby sucks: Pens up 1-0

By Jeff

Sidney Crosby just made it 1-0. He sucks. For those keeping score at home, Pascal Dupuis did get an assist and now has a point in 17 straight games.

Pretty sure the Pens jumped out to a lead in at least four of the six games played this season, so let's not get too carried away.

My favorite time of year

By Jeff

Would you believe that as a young boy I didn't like The Pittsburgh Penguins? I didn't like any Pittsburgh team prior to middle school.

Why? I just didn't like following the crowd. I was also a chronic wagon hopper. In the early 90's I loved the San Francisco 49ers, and then the Indianapolis Colts for two seasons when Jim Harbaugh was leading them to the playoffs.

I'm not proud of those days, but can't deny they happened. I don't know specifically what point the Penguins became my favorite sports team in all of sports. Yes, I love them even more than the Pittsburgh Steelers.

At some point in high school my friends and I started going to Pens games through student rush. Best seat in the house for $20 in the dark days usually meant pretty damn good seats. There was one game against the Rangers where Swan, Special K and I were about 8 rows from the glass.

Those were the days of the X Generation made up of Alexei Mirozov, Rico Fata, Matthew Bradley and Ramzi Abid to name a few. Brooks Orpik, Ryan Whiney and Marc-Andre Fleury were a part of that as well, but in general they were a bunch of no-names that never did anything of note.

So when the likes of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal and Kris Letang stepped up and provided the best hockey I had ever seen and understood, it was like being rewarded for surviving the X Generation years.

That's why I never take this time of year for granted. It's why I rush home on game days and mentally prepare myself for the intensity of playoff hockey, where I am on the edge of my seat for 60 minutes. It's why I go into a comatose state for at least a day and refuse to watch, listen or read about sports in that time if the Pens lose.

It's like I've grown up with this core of players. I don't live through them (I'm not that lame), but I feel a connection to them. They just don't know it!

It helps that the team is filled with genuinely likeable players (If you don't hate them because of they win a lot and the national media loves them). They do great things for the Pittsburgh community. They never call out their teammates or coaches in the media. They never whine about getting paid. They never end up on the front page because they were found to be driving at twice the legal limit or other run ins with the law. Hell, they hand out pizza to the kids in the student rush line.

With all that being said, excuse me while sit down with a bowl of buffalo chicken dip and watch the Pens shut up the 50 genuine Flyers fans.

Pens in 6.

Doobie Brothers - China Grove

Monday, April 2, 2012

Bylsma needs to get better in-game

By Jeff

I'm going to make this short and sweet. Pittsburgh Penguins coach Dan Bylsma needs to improve his in-game coaching.

The past two contests against the Philadelphia Flyers has shown he can prepare a team very well, maybe better than anyone else in the league. But when it comes to adjusting during the game, he leaves something to be desired.

We saw it last year in the playoffs, and we're seeing it again down the stretch. While Peter Laviolette make changes that sparked his team, Bylsma continued doing the things that weren't working, like putting five forwards on the power play, meaning Kris Letang wasn't out there.

Bylsma also needs to realize Malkin is the best player we have on the half wall on the power play. He scores from ridiculous angles and makes goals happen. Put Letang on the point and Malkin on the half wall. Good things will happen.

Bylsma is one of the best coaches in the league, but recently he has been faltering during games.

Kiss - God Gave Rock n Roll To You

Laviolette is an idiot

By Jeff

The title says it all. The Philadelphia Flyers coach Peter Laviolette called Pittsburgh Penguins coach Dan Bylsma "gutless" after Sunday's 6-4 Flyers win over the Pens.

Laviolette did so because Bylsma put his fourth line on the ice in the final 90 seconds of a 6-3 game. Pens Joey Vitale ended up crushing Danny Briere because Briere forgot there was still time on the clock and he probably shouldn't skate up the ice with his head down. It was a clean hit and Briere was said to be injured on the play.

First, the game is over, why is Laviolette playing a scoring line in the closing seconds? If he cares about their health so much, put a checking line out there to grind out the rest of the game.

Second, the hit was completely clean. Briere had the puck, Vitale hit him in the chest and Briere crumbled while the Flyers players and bench went nuts as if he was cracked in the skull from behind with a stick.

Third, with the way the Flyers were targeting Sidney Crosby, why wouldn't Bylsma put out a checking line? Not to mention, he probably wanted to deliver a little pay back for the cheap shot Brayden Schenn gave Crosby earlier in the period.

It was hilarious listening to some of the Flyers fans call in and saying their team needed to avenge themselves by taking out Crosby in Saturday's season finale. They scream at the top of their lungs that Crosby is a cry baby and a bitch, yet here they are, crying and bitching about a legal hit.

What a joke.

This speaks to a bigger problem occurring in the NHL more and more often. Players take offense to completely legal hits. I understand the desire to drop the gloves and defend your teammates when they are hit with cheap shots. Hockey has always been allowed to police itself. Yet recently teams are dropping the gloves because they take exception to their players being hit cleanly. And Crosby is considered a cry baby.

Now I am pretty sure this was all an act by Laviolette. If he thought it was gutless to play hockey the way everyone is taught to play hockey, then he's an idiot that needs to shut up.  Maybe win a Cup?

He probably acted the way he did (A tantrum-throwing child) because the Flyers respond to that. They are team that agitates and talks a lot. He was just leading by example.

Johnny Cash - Cry Cry Cry