Tag:Pittsburgh Penguins
Posted on: March 9, 2012 9:37 am
Edited on: March 9, 2012 9:48 am
 

Pregame Skate: Southeast slug race crawls on

Florida just looked behind and saw the rest of the division on its heels. (Getty Images)

By Brian Stubits

The Pregame Skate is back. Every morning for the rest of the season we're going to take a look at the games that have the greatest significance in the push for the postseason for you to digest while you drink your java. We'll throw in some miscellany for the fun of it.

7 ET, Florida at Pittsburgh

The Panthers continue to go back and forth. One day you are thinking they are pretty secure in their playoff chances, the next they are getting blown out 5-0 on the road in Philadelphia as they were on Thursday.

As a matter of fact, this first-place team in the Southeast Division (really) has lost its last two road games by a combined score 0f 12-0. So really, the last thing they want to see on the schedule is the second half of a back-to-back being on the road at the Penguins. They're only 22-8-2 at home and have won seven straight, nothing too impressive.

Florida still does have the benefit of games in hand -- although they lose that tonight in their battle with the Capitals -- but their grip on the Southeast is no stranglehold. The Caps and Jets are just two behind them and the Lightning are five back with a home-heavy stretch to come.

You'd think they would have to start playing better beginning in Pittsburgh, but in all honesty they might not have to in the Southeast. A .500 finish could get them in and they have an even home/road split to the finish. But it certainly would behoove them to play better, that's for sure.

They have handled injuries all season in Florida, but the most recent one seems to hurt more than most have as leading scorer Kris Versteeg remains out with a hip injury.

9 ET, Winnipeg at Calgary

Two Canadian bubble teams, doesn't get a whole lot better in March than that.

The Jets are going to have to prove they can pick up points on the road if they are going to make the playoffs this season. After failing to do so on Thursday night in Vancouver, they have a bit better of a shot on Friday at the Flames. As mentioned above, they have a struggling division leader only two points ahead of them and others champing at the bit behind.

But the Flames are in a similar situation. They have the same point total at this point as the Jets but the race for eighth in the West is slightly better. Hey, I said slightly. Whereas the Jets are tied in points for that last spot, the Flames are three back. They also have two teams in between them and the Sharks.

This certainly isn't a loser-leave-town match (or in this case leave the playoff race) but it's a big opportunity for each to get points against beatable opponents. How else would you describe bubble teams this season?

7:30 ET, Los Angeles at Detroit

The L.A. Kings; the latest victims of the streaking Blue Jackets. Poor Jeff Carter just can't win when he's in Columbus.

If that challenge was tough, wait to see what the schedule has in store for them on Friday night: a trip to Hockeytown, USA and a date with the Red Wings. You wouldn't think that an optimal destination to pick up points in the race for eighth out West.

L.A. has seen a bit of an uptick in scoring recently but it is still mostly feast or famine for them. In the last seven games they have four wins and three losses. In each of the three losses they scored one goal, in each of the four wins they scored at least four. There's not a whole lot of middle ground there.

However, a win not only puts Los Angeles ahead of San Jose and into a playoff spot for the moment, it would actually pull the Kings even with the Coyotes at the same time in points and games. So not even a loss to Columbus could dash their hopes.

Others worth watching

8:30 ET, Rangers at Chicago: Here's the question I have: Can the Penguins actually catch the Rangers? By night's end Pittsburgh could be only four points back of New York. The Blackhawks will try to help revive the Atlantic race.

Your promised miscellany

  • Thursday's Winners & Losers
  • Speaking of those streaking Blue Jackets, coach Todd Richards sounds like he's enjoying the Jack Johnson-Jeff Carter swap. (Columbus Dispatch)
  • Jeremy Roenick remains not a big fan of Patrick Marleau's abilities with his old team in San Jose. (CSN Bay Area
  • Wait, now Don Cherry might be silenced by the NHL? Boy, the next Coach's Corner is going to be good. (Toronto Sun)
  • With this empty-netter last night, Max Pacioretty became the first American to score 30 in a season for the Canadiens. He's turned into quite a player.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter and like us on Facebook.

Posted on: March 7, 2012 11:11 pm
Edited on: March 7, 2012 11:15 pm
 

Injuries starting to build for the Maple Leafs

MapleLeafsBy: Adam Gretz

PITTSBURGH -- The Toronto Maple Leafs are losing ground in the playoff race, and they're also starting to lose bodies on the ice.

Just one night after losing forwards Joffrey Lupul and Colby Armstrong, Toronto lost two more players on Wednesday night in Pittsburgh when defenseman Cody Franson and forward Mike Brown went down on their first shifts of the night and did not return during a 3-2 loss to the Penguins, a game that saw the Maple Leafs blow a two-goal lead, losing for the 11th time in their past 13 games.

Franson did not return after getting hit in the eye with a stick, and Brown left with what was described as a lower body injury.

"We showed signs of enthusiasm and kind of stuck with our game plan," said Maple Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle, coaching his third game with the team after replacing Ron Wilson last week. "I thought we were better from a defensive standpoint in the critical areas. I thought our work ethic was stronger, but we ran out of bodies. We lost two bodies in the first ten minutes tonight and taxes it everybody else. Then it showed on some of the ... I would call them questionable decisions. When to pinch, when not to pinch, turnovers, position versus the regroup, all that kind of stuff. It's the little things that are costing us in these situations."

It wasn't hard to see how outmanned the Leafs were on Wednesday night, spending much of the night tied up in their own end of the ice. For the most part, goaltender Jonas Gustavsson did everything he could to keep his team in the game, only allowing two goals, one of which was deflected right in front of him on its way into the net, before giving up what can only be described as a soft goal to Pascal Dupuis early in the third period for the eventual game-winner.

Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf did not want to use the injuries, including the one to Lupul and Armstrong, as an excuse as it should give other players an opportunity to make an impact in the lineup.

"It's an opportunity for guys to step up," said Phaneuf. It gives guys a little more opportunity, but when you lose a guy like [Lupul] and you lose Army in the same game, and we lose two more guys tonight, guys have to step up. Injuries are a part of the game and you can't use it as an excuse.

"Guys have to adapt to it. Every team goes through injury problems. Look over there [at Pittsburgh]. They have one of the top players in the world, if not the top player out, and they're winning hockey games. You've got to adapt, you've got to have guys step up, and guys did step up, but we just made more mistakes than they did tonight."

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter and like us on Facebook.
Posted on: March 7, 2012 10:49 pm
 

Winners & Losers: Pominville keeps Sabres in race



By: Adam Gretz


There's always a winner and a loser in the NHL, and this is a new nightly look at some of the winners and losers in the biggest games and biggest situations across the league.

Winners

Buffalo Sabres: Thanks to Jason Pominville's overtime goal (as seen above) the Buffalo Sabres managed to gain a little more ground in the Eastern Conference playoff race on Wednesday night.

Their 3-2 win against the Carolina Hurricanes pulled them to within two points of a playoff spot in the East, and they've now won seven of their past nine games, with one of the losses coming in overtime (meaning they still gained a point in the standings). There isn't going to be much time to celebrate this one, however, as they have to get right back into it just 24 hours later when they visit the Boston Bruins.

The Sabres controlled much of the game and after falling behind 1-0 early in the first period, they stormed out in the second period and received a pair of goals from Thomas Vanek and Nathan Gerbe less than two minutes into the period.

Ryan Miller, one of the biggest reasons for the late season turnaround, stopped 22 of the 24 shots he faced.

[Related: Sabres 3, Hurricanes 2]

Brad Thiessen and the Penguins: Rookie goaltender Brad Thiessen was a surprise starter for the Penguins on Wednesday night and he ended up playing a heck of a game, stopping 22 of 24 shots and holding down the fort in Pittsburgh as his teammates erased a two-goal deficit to earn a 3-2, come-from-behind win against the Maple Leafs.

His biggest save of the night came late in the third period, with Toronto on a power play, when he slid across his goal crease and made a fantastic pad save on a Phil Kessel one-timer, preserving what was a one-goal lead for the Penguins one-goal.

The Penguins have only won five games that Marc-Andre Fleury did start this season, and two of them have gone to the rookie Thiessen, his only two starts of the year.

[Related: Penguins 3, Maple Leafs 2 -- Letang: the missing piece]

Losers

Toronto Maple Leafs: On a night where one of the teams they're chasing in the playoff race -- the Sabres -- picked up two points, the Maple Leafs letting a two-goal lead against the Penguins slip away, the second time they've done so in as many trips to Pittsburgh, is not what they were looking for.

Especially as they suffered even more injuries, losing defenseman Cody Franson and forward Mike Brown within the first 10 minutes of the game, just one night after losing forwards Joffrey Lupul and Colby Armstrong.

Toronto is falling fast in the standings, and with injuries starting to mount the season seems as if it's on the verge of slipping away.

[Related: Playoff race]

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter and like us on Facebook.
Posted on: March 7, 2012 2:53 pm
Edited on: March 7, 2012 3:18 pm
 

Kris Letang: the missing piece for the Penguins



By: Adam Gretz

Pucks and Numbers: a weekly statistical look at what's happening around the NHL. This week: A look at the importance of Kris Letang to the Penguins' postseason chances.

When it was announced on Tuesday afternoon that Sidney Crosby has been cleared for contact, the next major step in his latest attempt return to the lineup, it sent a wave of excitement and optimism through the Penguins fan base.

It's not hard to see why. He is, after all, their captain, their best player, and the best player in the league when he's healthy.  With him in the lineup the Penguins should go from being a Stanley Cup contender to, perhaps, one of the top two or three favorites -- if not the favorite -- in the NHL ... if their lineup remains intact.

His return, whenever it happens (it apparently won't be before Sunday's game against Boston) will certainly have a significant impact on their chances. But, and as crazy as this may sound, there is still another player they are currently without that may be even more important for any sort of Stanley Cup run in Pittsburgh -- defenseman Kris Letang, who is currently out of the lineup after being hit by Eric Nystrom of the Dallas Stars at the end of February.

It's the second time this year he's missed time with a head injury, missing over 20 games with a concussion earlier this season after he was hit by Montreal's Max Pacioretty.

The Penguins have been without Crosby, minus the eight games he played earlier this season, since the beginning of last January, which is over a full calendar year and nearly a season-and-a-half worth of games, and they have still managed to be one of the top teams in the NHL.

In 65 games this season they are the third-highest scoring team in the league (in terms of goals per game) and have the second most points in the Eastern Conference, trailing only the Atlantic Division-leading New York Rangers. It's a testament to the depth they've acquired over the years and the 1-2 punch they still have down the middle at center with Evgeni Malkin (arguably the best player in hockey right now) and Jordan Staal, a duo that few teams in the NHL can match up with.

Even without Crosby they still have another No. 1 center, a darn good No. 2 center, and a pretty potent offense overall. One of the best in the league.

What they don't have without Letang is another No. 1 defenseman, and that's a pretty glaring weakness to have on a potential Stanley Cup team. Their blue line takes on an entirely different look without him, and it simply isn't anywhere near as effective. Just looking at the raw numbers this season: with Letang in the lineup the Penguins are 25-10-5, average over 3.2 goals per game, only allow 2.4 and have a total goal-differential of plus-31.

Without him those numbers drop down to a 14-11-0 record, 2.68 goals for per game, 2.56 against and a total goal differential of just plus-3.

Is Letang by himself worth that entire difference? Well, not exactly, because the Penguins have had other players out of the lineup at various times, but his absence is still huge given the number of roles he's asked to play, and the way he's able to perform within them.

He plays over 25 minutes a night, he is their power play quarterback, a regular on the penalty kill, and during even-strength situations he takes on some of toughest assignments on the Penguins defense, as the scatterplot below, which uses Corsi Relative Quality of Competition and Offensive Zone starts, helps to illustrate. The closer to the top left (meaning tougher opponents and fewer offensive zone starts) the more difficult the assignments, and the closer to the bottom right the "softer" the assignments.

PenguinsDefense

As you can see, the Penguins have a pretty set group of top-four defensemen that stand out from the pack when it comes to their 5-on-5 assignments with Letang, Paul Martin, Brooks Orpik and Zbynek Michalek. Everybody else that's played on their blue line this season has been relatively protected. And when Letang is out of the lineup, as he's been for 25 games and counting this season, one of those other players has to step into a top-four role, and the results aren't always pretty.

Letang not only draws some of the toughest assignments on their blue line, he also outperforms everybody else. He has a positive Relative Corsi rating (a sign that when he's on the ice the Penguins are controlling the puck far more than they are when he's not on the ice) and he is by far their leading scorer on the blue line despite appearing in just 40 games. Orpik is a great physical presence on the blue line, and Martin hasn't been anywhere near as bad as his many critics in Pittsburgh want you to believe that he's been, but none of them are as valuable to the Penguins blue line as Letang.

His ability to get the puck out of danger, lead the rush and control the game is unmatched by any other player on their defense.

Crosby's return will be huge news, and it will give the Penguins pretty obscene depth down the middle. But the return of Letang is what would potentially put the the Penguins over the top, on paper anyway.

I'm still convinced they could win without Crosby due to the presence of Malkin and Staal at center. I'm not convinced they can win without Letang (even with Crosby) because they have nobody else that can fill his skates on defense.

(Corsi, Quality of Competition and Zone Start Data all via BehindtheNet.ca)

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter and like us on Facebook.
Posted on: March 7, 2012 12:52 pm
Edited on: March 7, 2012 1:14 pm
 

Penguins honor Mario Lemieux with statue

The new statue up close. (Kevin McGran)

By Brian Stubits

The Pittsburgh Penguins honored one of the all-time greats and the multi-time savior of their franchise on Thursday, unveiling a statue of Le Magnifique, Mario Lemieux.

The ceremoney, held on a warm, 66-degree day (so perfect) in Pittsburgh was attended by a large amount of Penguins fans who came to not only honor Lemieux as a great player, but thank him for saving the franchise on multiple occassions.

The statue depicts Lemieux splitting a pair of defenders on the ice on his way to a breakaway goal.

"I'm very happy [with the statue]. We went through hundreds of pictures that they showed me and this is the one we picked," Lemieux told Root Sports. "It really illustrates my life off the ice and my life on the ice. I was known in the late 80s, early 90s to break away from people at center ice and this is the perfect statue to illustrate that."

It's an interesting choice, I thought you might see something more of him celebrating or hoisting the Stanley Cup, some thing that makes him the focal point.

But it certainly does represent classic Lemieux, so there's that.

Here is video of the play that they used for the statue.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter and like us on Facebook.

Posted on: March 7, 2012 9:39 am
Edited on: March 7, 2012 10:09 am
 

Pregame Skate: Sabres, Leafs continue push

Lindy Ruff and Buffalo return home. (Getty Images)

By Brian Stubits

The Pregame Skate is back. Every morning for the rest of the season we're going to take a look at the games that have the greatest significance in the push for the postseason for you to digest while you drink your java. We'll throw in some miscellany for the fun of it.

7 ET, Carolina at Buffalo

The first of only two games on an even quieter than usual Wednesday, all eyes will be on the Sabres after a good road trip. They went 3-1-1 on a trip that included stops in Madison Square Garden, Vancouver and Winnipeg. It resurrected their previously dead season.

However the question remains if it was more of an anomaly or the Sabres have turned the corner and shown flashes of the team many thought they would be. They can start to find that out with Wednesday's game against the Hurricanes.

Buffalo starts the night four points back of the Jets for eighth place in the East and tonight will play its one game in hand on Winnipeg. So not only would a win bring them to within just two points of the Jets, it would also pull the Sabres even in points with the Capitals in ninth.

The small bit of irony there is they would have to thank the Hurricanes for helping them achieve that as the 'Canes head to Buffalo just 24 hours after taking down the Caps in Washington with a bonus-hockey goal.

Obviously Carolina isn't going to roll over and the idea of an easy win in the NHL is almost non-existent, but this is a game the Sabres should and almost need to win. They can't make that road trip feel like it was for naught by laying an egg in their return home if they want to keep belief in a playoff berth.

7:30 ET, Toronto at Pittsburgh

The Maple Leafs are still trying to regain any semblance of their season. One way they were hoping to do that was with the hiring of Randy Carlyle. The good news? In the two games he has coached, the Leafs are outscoring their opponents by a goal. There's a plus.

The bad news is that they have still lost 12 of their last 13 games and only one of those losses came beyond 60 minutes. That's five out of the last 26 points up for grabs that they have taken. Is it any wonder then that they are almost as close to the bottom of the East as they are to Winnipeg in the playoff push?

NHL Playoffs
2011 NHL Playoffs
More NHL coverage

Now the good news is that it isn't too late to salvage their hopes even if the prospect is dire. But going into Pittsburgh and taking two points from the Penguins could potentially move them back over a pair of teams and just three points out. That's life at the bottom of the East this season, you have to fail really hard to make the playoffs out of reach.

It's pretty tough to go through a stretch of Boston, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia in five days but that's where the Leafs are. Then it's on the road for five straight. It's safe to say you'll see a very desperate team playing the Penguins tonight, but the Pens have been handling that a lot lately and are doing just fine.

Don't forget, the Penguins will be unveiling the much-anticipated Mario Lemieux statue outside of the arena.

Others were watching

There's nothing else. That's all we've got.

Your promised miscellany

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter and like us on Facebook.

Posted on: March 6, 2012 2:49 pm
Edited on: March 6, 2012 2:57 pm
 

The Playoffs have already started for Coyotes

CoyotesBy: Adam Gretz

PITTSBURGH -- After cruising through the month of February without a loss in regulation or overtime, the Phoenix Coyotes have hit a rut at the beginning of March, losing three consecutive games, including Monday's 2-1 decision in Pittsburgh.

For a team that's already in what it considers to be playoff mode, needing every win it can get along the way in what is a completely unpredictable and constantly changing playoff race, that's a tough, and potentially costly, stretch of games.

The Western Conference race is so close right now that the Coyotes dropped from the No. 3 seed, and the top spot in the Pacific Division, all the way down to the No. 7 seed, losing the top spot in the division due to a tiebreaker to the Dallas Stars -- a team that didn't even play on Monday night. Entering Tuesday's game in Columbus the Coyotes are just three points ahead of the ninth seeded Avalanche, and one of four teams, along with Dallas, San Jose and Los Angeles, fighting for the Pacific Division crown.

Needless to say, it's a tight race.

After winning 11 of 12 games in February (the only loss came during a shootout in Vancouver), the Coyotes skyrocketed up the standings and had an opportunity late last week and over the weekend to continue their impressive run, only to drop home games to Calgary, and even worse, the Blue Jackets, the worst team in hockey for much of the season. It's turned into a small three-game losing streak that continued on Monday night, and slow starts have doomed them in each of the past three games.

They were out-chanced and outplayed for much of the game against the Flames on Thursday, and didn't start to generate any substantial or sustained offensive pressure against Columbus until mid-way through the third period on Saturday, at which point the game was already well in hand in favor of the Blue Jackets.

NHL Playoffs
2011 NHL Playoffs
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There are no such thing as moral victories in professional sports, and there can't be, especially when it's this late in the season and playoff spots are on the line (as forward Radim Vrbata put it on Monday night game, "Points are what count and tonight we didn't get any") but Monday's game at least felt like it was a step back in the right direction, and even though they came up short, the vibe in the Coyotes room after the game was that they probably deserved a better fate. Facing one of the top teams in the NHL, on the road, the Coyotes at least seemed to get back to the style of hockey that resulted in their near-perfect month of February.

"I thought our compete level was very good," said head coach Dave Tippett. "We did a lot of things hard in the hockey game, it's unfortunate we didn't get rewarded around the net a little more. We created some opportunities there we didn't capitalize on, but we gave them a couple outnumbered breaks and they capitalized, and it ended up being the difference in the game."

Added captain Shane Doan, "We felt we controlled the game for most of the night, and then we had some moments where they kind of found some momentum, but we played the game the way we wanted to."

It was one of those nights where they outplayed their opponent for much of the game, only to lose because the other goaltender simply stole one in what turned out to be a pretty impressive goaltender duel between Marc-Andre Fleury and Mike Smith.

Smith, Phoenix's surprisingly strong and steady replacemen for Ilya Bryzgalov, seemed to be disappointed with his performance on Monday after giving up two early goals, including one to former Coyotes defenseman Zbynek Michalek, and talked about his need to be better. But it would be difficult, if not impossible for him to be much better than he's been this season, seeing as how he's already been one of the best goalies in the NHL. The Coyotes don't need him to record a shutout every single game (which is what it would have required to win on Monday), they simply need more consistent offensive pressure and efforts like the one they received in Pittsburgh, even if it came in defeat.

If they play like that over their remaining 16 games, they're going to win a lot more than they lose.

So what's facing the Coyotes the rest of the way? Their remaining schedule is split evenly, with eight home games and eight road games, and eight games against teams that are currently in playoff spots and eight games against teams that are not currently in playoff spots. The biggest issue they have within the division, as of Tuesday, is that San Jose and Los Angeles still have games in hand, and while they have no remaining games with the Kings, they still have to play the Sharks three more times, including two in Phoenix, a series of matchups that could determine whether or not the Coyotes win the division, or perhaps miss the playoffs entirely.

Whether they make it or not, every game the rest of the way is essentially a playoff game anyway.

Said Smith, "They started a month ago for us."

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter and like us on Facebook.
Posted on: March 6, 2012 12:22 pm
Edited on: March 6, 2012 2:32 pm
 

Crosby cleared for contact, could play on Sunday

Crosby has two goals and 10 assists in eight games this season. (Getty Images)

By Brian Stubits

Sidney Crosby has one again been cleared for contact and could be returning very soon. How soon? Perhaps as soon as Sunday.

"I'll give myself days with contact," Crosby said. "We have two more practices this week. No sooner than Sunday, I would say, but I'm not going to sit here and put a date on it. It would be total guesswork. I just want to make sure I get through these days fine and that would be a great decision to make if I get to that point.

"The big step is contact. Hopefully, I can do that for a few days and get back out there."

If he does make his return on Sunday it will come against the Boston Bruins -- NBC already has it scheduled to be the national game of the week. The interesting angle there, of course, is that it was against the Bruins that Crosby played his last game.

Crosby has been practicing with his Penguins teammates for a while but there were no updates coming from the Penguins about his status until after the team's skate on Tuesday. That's when Crosby revealed he has been cleared.

You'll remember that Crosby played eight games earlier this season after sitting out for nearly a full year because of a concussion. He returned to the sideline later with what many were assuming was another concussion. It was later discovered that Crosby had a neck issue that was causing many of the problems since its symptoms can be very similar to those of a concussion.

If -- and this remains an If until Crosby is able to return for an extended time -- he is healthy, is there any question that the Penguins will be one of the favorites to win the Stanley Cup? They already have the second best record in the Eastern Conference with Crosby out for all but eight games thus far.

As he showed earlier this season, it shouldn't take long at all for him to get back into top form -- which makes him in my and plenty of other's opinions the best player in the league.

"I've been through this before. Contact is the big step," Crosby said. "It's nice to be symptom free, but it's not as fulfilling until you get out there. I just want to make sure that I take the right steps here and get back out there soon."

It might not be a great day for the rest of the league per se, but it's a great day for hockey.

More from Eye on Hockey

Crosby has 'soft tissue injury'

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter and like us on Facebook.

 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com