Archive for the ‘Evgeni Malkin’ Category

Game 7 from a Pens fan perspective

June 12, 2009

Since the Penguins’ two Cup wins were before my time (I think I was more focused on professional wrestling and “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” than hockey in those days), this is probably the biggest hockey game of my existence. It might even be safe to say that this is the biggest game in franchise history, as it is the first SCF Game 7 the Penguins have ever seen.

An irritating-to-painful sickness has dulled some of the nerves of the last week of this series, but tonight could be quite different.

That actually is the question, though: will tonight be different?

As Mirtle (and others) point out, this series has been a “homer” series if there’s ever been one. Beyond undeniably relevant intangibles like “home cooking” and the rush of playing in front of your own crowd there are big pros to being at the Joe: faceoff advantages for an expert team in the circle, the last change for a series defined by matchups and those crazy pinball boards that have given MAF fits.

If Game 5 repeats itself, the NHL will face the disappointment of a marquee matchup with a flat ending. No doubt about it; the league must hope that tonight’s game will be very different even if the winner is the same.

There are a lot of reasons to be negative. Sidney Crosby has been largely nullified, even at times at home. Chris Osgood is making a strong case for a Conn Smythe trophy and although his HoF credentials are a debate for another day, his sub-$2 million contract is probably a HoF bargain. Fleury is schizophrenic in net … going from bad to spectacular to atrocious to adequate seemingly every other game. Worst yet, Evgeni Malkin has been relatively quiet the last couple games.

But the positive thing is: they only need to be different for one game.

In the event that Crosby and Malkin find a way to transcend their seemingly hopeless matchups – or their linemates decide to finally bury the occasional golden opportunities set up by the dynamic duo – then whatever struggles (perceived or legitimate) will wash away in the boozy suds of the Stanley Cup. There’s that fear that maybe the two will assume that, after getting here two years in a row at such a young age, that they’ll make it to this stage again someday. All they need to do is ask Jaromir Jagr if that’s a safe assumption.

It might not matter if the Penguins play “with desperation.” The Red Wings are an incredible collection of talent and are nearly unbeatable at home. Few could doubt Crosby’s hustle, Malkin’s two-way genius and creativity. Those factors still haven’t added up to much for the Penguins in Hockeytown.

But one night can change everything. Or nothing.

What’s it going to be, eh?

Assessing Game 6 through a haze of cold medicine

June 10, 2009

When I had an internship, I developed a cough/flu/cold so hardcore and persistent that – instead of trying to find a way to cure it – I might as well have spent that time finding the perfect slasher movie comparison. While it did get gradually weaker as time went on, it didn’t have a weird fixation with impaling people (exit Michael Myers), sleep made it slightly weaker (sorry, Freddie) and had nothing to do with summer camp (so long Jason).

Eventually, I’ve settled on calling it a “Terminator” cough.

Regardless, ever since that happened, my immune system has been kind of like Pierre Turgeon after Dale Hunter‘s brutal, douche-bag late hit. At times it can be effective, but you know it will never be the same.

ANYWAY, being sick really reduced my stress level during a finish that normally would have sent me into cardiac arrest. Ultimately, the Penguins deserved to win this game, even if the ending was truly terrifying.

Now, let’s delve into the customary stream of puck consciousness.

Does anyone get the vague feeling that Detroit thinks they can just flick on a light switch in this series?

It’s obvious that there are a lot of things that come easier to the Red Wings – particularly transitioning from their zone through the neutral zone – but their elbow grease level seems somewhat inconsistent. At least on the road, that is.

It’s too bad that “Cycle like Staal-Kennedy-Cooke” doesn’t really roll off the tongue, because I’ve grown quite fond of that line.

Even when they don’t score, their rough and gritty cycle game can build momentum, wear down Detroit’s D and draw penalties. It seems like that line really made Nicklas Lidstrom‘s life miserable tonight.

One of the big stories of the series is Detroit’s matchup against Sidney Crosby. It’s a shame that Dan Bylsma has to react to what the Red Wings are doing even when the Pens have the last change, but when it’s clear that Detroit can shut down the Penguins’ top line it’s just a painful fact of life. The bottom line is that the Penguins need Crosby to produce if they have any prayer in Game 7.

Evgeni Malkin needs a finisher. Ruslan Fedetenko played that role nicely, but he’s missed a few golden opportunities in the SCF and it might be time to see if Petr Sykora can rekindle the chemistry he had with Geno in the talented Russian’s first two years in the league.

It’s crazy how far the Penguins have come with questionable talent on the wings.

It’s always nice to have a guy who “you hate to play against, but love to have on your team.” Matt Cooke is the number one guy, but Chris Kunitz and Brooks Orpik also deliver some real bone crunching hits. This is the most physically tenacious Penguins team I’ve been able to watch.

Chris Osgood was incredible in Game 6.

Even though Henrik Zetterberg has displayed an amazing all-around game and Johan Franzen has been a stunning goal-scoring machine, Ozzie is the only Red Wing I can accept winning the Smythe over Malkin/Crosby. Even if he’s a smarmy, Smurfy looking douche.

There have been quite a few moments in this series – for both teams – that made me think “clutch and grab.”I know that’s “playoff hockey” but maybe there’s still some cause for concern.

The officiating hasn’t been great, but I guess I’ll take “letting the players decide it” over NBA-style zebra intervention. Still, the league needs to stand its ground on holding and interference. Let the stars be stars.

I understand the Ducks-Devils parallels, although the are some pretty enormous differences.

NJ/Anaheim featured teams with star … goaltenders. In markets that aren’t necessarily the most hockey crazed. On the other hand, Detroit is the marquee franchise for American hockey and the Penguins have two of the biggest stars in the league.

Hopefully, the biggest difference will be that the home ice advantage will be broken.

Conn Smythe Winners, for $500, Alex.

June 6, 2009

Who was the only non-goalie to win a Conn Smythe trophy in a losing effort?

So its pretty much a given that if PIT wins this series, the Conn Smythe goes to Crosby/Malkin, with Malkin leading right now. No matter what happens in the next three games, short of Crosby and Malkin both being abducted by aliens, no one else on the Penguins can possibly win the Conn Smythe. The interesting discussion is what happens to the Conn Smythe if the Wings win it.

The Conn Smythe has been awarded 33 times, if I just counted correctly. 5 times it has gone to a player on the losing end of the Cup Final series. Four of those recipients have been goaltenders (Giguere 2003, Hextall 1987, Hall 1968, Crozier 1966). Only one player has ever won the Conn Smythe as the playoffs MVP in a losing effort, and not been a goaltender. That player is Philadelphia Flyer Reggie Leach, in 1976.

Leach actually won it as his Flyers were swept in the Cup Final by the Montreal Canadiens. Leach finished that postseason with 19 goals scored, a record that has since been tied by Jari Kurri. Leach had 19 goals, but of those 19 goals, 5 of them came in one game against the Boston Bruins earlier in the playoffs, and he only had 24 points total. He had 4 goals in the final, of Philadelphia’s total 9. 19 goals in a playoff is a hell of a number, but when you take out that 5 goal game, you’re looking at 14-5-19 in 15 games. Still a solid year, but hardly worthy of a losing-team Conn Smythe trophy, I don’t think. I also don’t know how many assists might have come in that 5-goal game, so his points total sans that game might be less.

Could Malkin or Crosby win the Conn Smythe this year in a losing effort? As Mirtle says, they’ve certainly had some pretty historic years. The question then arises, should they? I’m not so sure on that. They’re certainly more deserving than some past winners in losing efforts. But I have a hard time seeing handing out the trophy to one of those guys when the other has just as good of a case for it, and they’re on the same team, especially if the two of them come up short. Combined with the advantageous matchups that I believe the Penguins played (no way do they put up those numbers against some of the better defensive teams in the league), I find it harder to justify awarding the MVP to either of those guys.
On the Wings, I can see only a couple of players who could potentially earn the Conn Smythe: Johan Franzen (22 pts), Henrik Zetterberg (22 pts), Chris Osgood (2.29 GGA 0.924 SV%), and Nicklas Lidstrom (13 points, +9, general workhorse). Of course, I think it should be given to Darren Helm, but I’m not really grounded in reality. Of those, I’m thinking Henrik or Franzen is the front runner based on their point totals and sizable contributions all around. Lidstrom is probably in the mix, but I think the Wings’ defense as a whole dings him down a little bit here. To me, the most interesting choice here is Osgood.
Chris Osgood is already in the top 10 in all-time goaltender wins. If he continues to play another couple years in the league, he could definitely get into the top 8, and could very possibly end his career at #5-7. His 2.47 career GAA is good, but not great. His .906 SV% is fairly average. He currently sits in #8 in terms of all-time playoff wins at 73. A cup win gets him to 75, and he certainly could make it to the top 5 all-time, if he were to hit 88 in his career. He has a 2.11 GAA, one of the best in the modern era, and a .916 SV%. One of my favorite bloggers, the Contrarian Goaltender, will point out how Chris Osgood is a product of a team philosophy, and while I pretty much agree with him, I think there is certainly some amount of recognition due for the guy for what he is.
He has been a pretty consistent guy, though he’s certainly had his moments (and this past regular season was one of them). He’s been pretty durable, lasting in this league for 15 years. He’s redeveloped his style to stay in the game when it was clear he was on the way out. Hell, he even scored a goal. He’s received very little in the way of individual accolades and recognition. In a year where everyone pissed on him, where everyone (including myself) thought he was going to be the reason the Wings came up short in their quest to repeat, he stood up and had perhaps his best individual playoff yet, should he finally get some of that recognition? In the absence of any clear-cut 100% favorites amongst the Wings, should they win this series, could the Conn Smythe be awarded as more of a lifetime achievement award to Chris Osgood?

Salary Cap Outlook: Pittsburgh Penguins

March 21, 2009

Pittsburgh Penguins
Current cap for 2009-10: $47.3 million
Current starters under contract: 10 forwards, four defensemen and one goalie
Best contract: Tyler Kennedy ($725,000 through 2010-11)
Superstar contracts: Sidney Crosby ($8.7 million through 2012-13); Evgeni Malkin ($8.7 million through 13-14)
Worst contracts: Chris Kunitz ($3.75 million through 11-12)
Wildcard contracts: Jordan Staal ($4 million through 12-13); Marc Andre Fleury ($5 million through 14-15)

The outlook for the Penguins improved greatly when they traded away Ryan Whitney for Chris Kunitz. Although both players are probably ultimately overpaid, Kunitz gives the Penguins another young top-6 forward who brings grit and hustle to the table. Though Whitney may some day make good on his considerable potential, the Penguins have plenty of promising young offensive defensemen.

If Pittsburgh can convince Petr Sykora to take another below market value deal to finish his career alongside Malkin, the team would be pretty set on forwards. With the salary cap future in question, GM Ray Shero‘s model of keeping a core group together while rotating in veteran bargains will probably have to continue for quite some time. Perhaps Bill Guerin would be willing to take a pay cut to re-live his gravy days with a Joe Thornton-level playmaker too.

This might seem strange considering the fact that the Penguins employ two of the league’s best players, but the future of the Penguins rests on the play of Jordan Staal and Marc Andre Fleury. Barring injury, Crosby and Malkin should be among the best in the league for the duration of their contracts.

It’s Staal and Fleury that should make the difference from this team scratching and clawing to make the playoffs or rocking the hockey world.

At first, the $4 million salary cap hit from Staal was difficult to accept. On some level, it still is a bit unsettling. But it’s easy to forget how young JS is. Keep in mind the fact that his brother Eric had his “Staal trophy” breakout year at the same age Jordan will be when he enters next season. If Jordan can blossom into a 60-70 point producer (along with maintaining his smart, gritty two-way style), his contract would be a welcome steal.

Fleury’s contract is scary for a goalie of his fragility. Still, as that multiple OT masterpiece against the Red Wings suggested, Fleury can be among the elite goaltenders when he is healthy and on his game. The $5 million could either be an albatross if he flops or a steal if he frequently dominates like he’s been doing on the Penguins’ current red hot run.

It will be interesting to see if the Penguins can sign Kris Letang and Alex Goligoski to reasonable deals, along with the aforementioned Sykora.

The Penguins do not get the mind blowing steals of a team like Detroit, but they have quite a few players who were willing to take less money to keep a promising team together. It’s not crazy to think that Crosby-Malkin should be a $20 million pairing so getting them for less than $18 million – and long term – makes their contracts moderate bargains.

Time will tell, though, if Pittsburgh would need to trade Staal or Brooks Orpik to simply meet what could be a drastically cut salary cap in the 2010-11 season (and beyond). But for now, the Penguins seem to be doing a fairly solid job with their cap.

Penguins’ probable targets in free agency: A cheap top 6 winger (especially if they cannot retain Sykora); a dependable backup goalie; veteran free agent bargains at all levels

Bits and Pieces: Malkin’s ‘struggles,’ Ovechkin’s celebrations and falling giants

March 20, 2009
  • Boy, it sure is amazing how much a bad Stanley Cup Finals performance can hurt you.

Just ask Evgeni Malkin, the man who likely would have been “The Staal Trophy” winner last season with a 100-plus point performance in the regular season and a fantastic playoff run. Until the SCF, of course.

While Malkin clearly struggled against the Red Wings, his performance was slightly inflated by playing against some fairly weak Eastern opponents in previous rounds. The Penguins cruised through the playoffs (only two losses in three rounds!) so easily that they must have been shell shocked once they played against a team that was actually more talented.

Still, the idea that Malkin will lose Hart trophy votes because of last season is pretty stunning. It’s not like he has a small lead on Alex Ovechkin. Nine points is a tremendous lead.

But that’s a debate for another day. If people penalize Malkin for SCF struggles, maybe they should consider the fact that Ovechkin never even sniffed the second round of the playoffs yet.

  • Speaking of the anointed saint of hockey media, Ovechkin’s Jimi Hendrix goal celebration is getting some heat.

Frankly, for us it’s not really that he taunted his opponents. As fans of Ric Flair, we are huge fans of tormenting opponents as you defeat them (especially if you hook the tights).

No, instead, our biggest beef is that the celebration was kind of lame. If you’re going to do the Hendrix burning guitar gimmick, you really have to sell it. Kneel on your knees. Take off your gloves so you can really pantomime that “smoke coming from the stick” effect. Hell, get one of your teammates to find you an afro wig.

After all, Ovie never had any issues with using props, right?

While everyone can agree Ovechkin is awesome, it’s only fair that he gets a little cheap heat since people are always frothing at the mouth to tear apart Crosby.

  • So, the Boston Bruins and San Jose Sharks might not be the dominant forces – or at least not as dominant – as they were believed to be.

After holding a huge lead in the Eastern Conference, the Bruins are taking on water and may in fact relinquish the No. 1 spot to the New Jersey Devils or Washington Capitals. Injuries are wreaking havoc on the Sharks roster. When you combine that issue with an increase in road games, the mighty seem only strong.

The Bruins have the least to worry about, on some level. Let’s face it: this team was not necessarily primed to dominate just yet. There may be a lot of pressure on the Bruins to succeed, but this season should still be a success with or without a Cup. Of course, if they lose in the first round of playoffs, then that tune would change quite a bit.

The Sharks, on the other hand, must be wondering if their window is about to close. Although there are some great young talents in their nucleus, trading for Dan Boyle and signing Rob Blake made San Jose take a “win now” position. Sharks fans must be hyperventilating right now.

  • Finally, a lot is being made about the Montreal Canadiens having a plethora of unrestricted free agents, but this is not necessarily a bad thing. The Habs can re-construct their roster next season, focusing on good value (and maybe a headliner or two) instead of their current “big talent, high speed, no heart” model.

With the cap ceiling becoming a serious question in the short term future, the Canadiens have a chance to build a winner while remaining cap flexible. This will be an envious position sooner or later.