Archive for the ‘Jordan Staal’ Category

Thoughts on the big win for the Penguins (and the NHL)

June 5, 2009

It just seemed … fitting.

The Red Wings were up 2-1 with a second consecutive powerplay. For a while, the game seemed like it would be Geno Malkin vs. the Detroit Red Wings. As superhuman as Malkin was playing, it was obvious someone else would have to step up.

All of a sudden, Jordan Staal muscled the smaller Brian Rafalski and scored a spectacular shorthanded goal. Easily the biggest of his career. After fighting through Red Wing checks and cycling hard enough to make Lance Armstrong proud through the playoffs, Staal received a rare reward for his rugged, determined play.

Then the floodgates opened. Despite a nice pass block, Malkin second chanced it to Sidney Crosby who got that SCF “Outbreak” monkey off his back with what would ultimately be the game winning goal.

With an uncharacteristically flustered Red Wings team on their heels, the Penguins did their NBA Finals impression with a display of passing that would make Dean Smith ejaculate into his Dockers. The tic-tac-toe play resulted in a gorgeous Tyler Kennedy goal and the game was effectively over at 4-2.

This was, almost certainly, the greatest single period in the short history of the Crosby-Malkin connection. If the Penguins beat the odds and raise the Stanley Cup, pundits will point to that three goal explosion as the turning point of the series. If not, it will be a nice bookend to Marc Andre Fleury‘s miraculous Game 5 performance last year.

Some scattershot musings from the game:

  • For my money, Johan Franzen is currently the most dangerous Red Wing. Watching him amble toward the net feels like rooting for a woman trying to escape Michael Myers (even though he walks faster than she runs). Please, Fleury, DO NOT go up the stairs/inspect that loud noise outside your house.

  • I expected a lot more from the Red Wings in that third period. Naturally, there were some tense moments but it was actually a lot more serene than expected. Do the Red Wings simply feel that they can win every game at home? Could it be a matter of arrogance?
  • Fleury really bounced back admirably at home. He played fantastically in Game 4 and also saved Game 3 in the second period. Detroit is going to be pissed in Game 5, though, so this is just the beginning for Flower. It might be getting close to the right time to start sanding down those goat horns, though.
  • Now, I’m no Red Wings expert. But I have to admit that I found the scratching of Abdelkader (or AfroGator) quite perplexing. One Red Wing who actually seems to age like a human is Kris Draper (although he’ll be a bigger factor in Joe Louis Arena, where his world class faceoff abilities could make a difference).

  • With the notably low amount of powerplay opportunities, Tomas Holmstrom‘s impact has been quite minimal. Still, he’s probably the best at what he does and could make a difference as these games become more contentious.
  • Henrik Zetterberg seems like he’s really picked his game up in Pittsburgh. Marian Hossa might not be putting up points, but he really scares the shit out of me. (He’s not worth ruining the Red Wings’ cap space, though, IMO.)
  • Speaking of Hossa, Pens fans need to decide if they are going to boo him once and for all. They sound wishy-washy and it comes off as pathetic. Then again, even if it has nothing to do with his struggles, Hossa has been pretty quiet so maybe they should keep doing what they’re doing.

  • I discussed this on Twitter, but the “OS-GOOD” chant started a bit early. I’ve always felt that goalie mockery should come in blow outs, not games that are still to be decided. You don’t want to give a goalie more motivation, you want to kick him when he’s down. Right?
  • The Red Wings must lead the league in defensemen who can keep the puck in the zone under duress. That shit’s really going to stress me out going forward.
  • Special teams has been ENORMOUS in this series so far.

Just look at the Game-by-Game breakdown:

Pittsburgh: 1 for 3 (Game 4); 2 for 3 (Game 3); 1 for 1 (Game 2); 0 for 2 (Game 1)
1 SHG (Game 4)

Detroit: 0 for 4 (Game 4); 1 of 2 (Game 3); 0 for 2 (Game 2); 0 for 1 (Game 1)

With such a tiny sample, you can really have fun with stats that probably won’t even hold up by the next game. For instance:

The Penguins penalty kill has tied the Red Wings Powerplay.
The Penguins powerplay has scored in all but one SCF game; the Red Wings Powerplay has only scored in one SCF game.

The bottom line, though, is that the Pens went 4 for 9 and the Red Wings went 1 for 9 with a SHG allowed. Going into this series, I figured the Pens would have a slight special teams advantage. So far, though, it’s been a gigantic advantage.

  • This might be from the Department of the Painfully Obvious, but the Penguins’ best chance to win one on the road is probably in Game 5. I don’t buy into the Red Wings being “worn down” when they are a deeper team. Pavel Datsyuk might enter the building by Game 5 or 6 (or 7 or never), which would be a big boost.

Now, I’m an excessively negative fellow. But this is honestly the first time in this series that I think the Penguins could actually pull this one out. The Red Wings might be the better team, but the Penguins might want it more.

Chances are, though, that we’ll find out a lot about both teams in the next 2-3 games.

I’ll guarantee one winner after tonight:

The NHL, silly.

Almost time to panic, but not quite

June 2, 2009

I’ll be honest, my only real exposure to “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” was half-watching the movie in a drunken stupor. (It seemed OK … Mos Def is amusing and it has pre-Jim/protoJim/Tim from the British Office in it.) Let’s face it, though, it’s the first thing that came up in a Google Image search.

ANNNNYWAY, with the SCF under way (and Jesus lord let’s hope it’s not halfway done) and the NBA Finals about to start, it dawned on me that I’m pretty fucked in about two weeks. Baseball is not my sport, unless I’m drunk in the shade with an avalanche of peanut shells at my feet. The shade at home doesn’t count.

(Shit, maybe I might need to panic, not the Penguins.)

Just to illustrate the depth of badness, I watched “About Last Night” because there was nothing better on my X-Box Netflix queue. Even though my hatred for Jim Belushi rages beyond Chris Osgoodian proportions.

Good God I can’t believe I watched this movie.

(To be fair, there was a shocking amount of pre-ruined by Bruce Willis and Ashton Kutcher-Demi Moore boobs in that movie. Remember kids: small boobs need love too.)

So, the Penguins are in a lot of trouble right now. Being down 0-2 to Detroit is a problem. I’d compare the difference between overcoming the Red Wings versus the Capitals as the jump from hopping a suburban fence to scaling the Great Wall of China.

(Sorry, 80’s movies breed hyperbole. Re-read that sentence as “the Red Wings are tougher than the Capitals”, please.)

This post really isn’t going anywhere, so I’ll leave you with two goats and two semi-heroes.

(For the Penguins, that is.)

From far away that foot behind that goat looks like something … else. Don’t judge me.

Goat #1: Marc Andre Fleury

Sorry, he’s been awful.

Goat #2: Bill Guerin

For some reason, I constantly overreact to Guerin’s struggles. Maybe it’s his “Just for Men” beard. Either way, he had two wide open chances you have to bury and he came up dry. Dammit, Bill.

Semi-Hero #1: Jordan Staal

In true Jordan Staal fashion, he’s been awesome without putting up any points. Joe and I have discussed the fact that the Penguins might be better off spending $4 million on a winger, but I must admit the last two and a half rounds have made me feel better. Staal might not have his elder brother’s finishing touch, but he’s shown some serious balls. He might just be a gamer going forward.

(Besides, he won’t “fail to earn” his contract until next year. Right now, he’s a genuine bargain.)

Semi-Hero #2: Rob Scuderi

It’s going to be hard to stomach watching Brooks Orpik cough up pucks at $3.7 million next year if it means that the Penguins cannot retain Scuderi. While playing against Detroit hasn’t made him look qute so impressive, he’s still the kind of defensive defenseman the Penguins need to be competitive.

Let’s hope they can sign him to a reasonable deal.

Staal vs. Staal vs. tired storylines (and other Conference Finals nuggets)

May 18, 2009

  • The Staal brothers clash being a generic storyline has … become a generic storyline. You’ve got to love the way the Internet deep fries cliches. Lazy throwaway crutches get trotted out and then everyone makes fun of those crutches. When calling something a cliche jumps the shark*, then we’ve officially gone a little bit insane.

That being said, the interesting thing is that Staal vs. Staal might be a more “legitimate” matchup than Ovechkin-Crosby for a simple reason: there’s the fairly solid chance that Jordan will actually be given the task of shutting down his big brother’s line. After all, Staal-Matt CookeTyler Kennedy was the forward combination thrown out against Alex Ovechkin.

Could it be that the mainstream media’s cliched headline act might actually decide the series? My head hurts now.

  • Will it even matter who wins Canes-Penguins?

It’s the opinion of myself (and many others) that the team with the best chance of knocking off the defending champions was the Anaheim Ducks. The Blackhawks are a team with a nice combination for a playoff run: young legs, a couple veterans and key contract year performers. But after Sunday’s game, it’s pretty obvious they’ll need more than a couple lucky bounces to make the Red Wings worry.

The only place the remaining three teams can look to for hope is the Red Wings’ penalty kill. The Ducks’ PP outscored the Wings’ PP despite having less chances. The Blackhawks went 1/1 on Sunday, one of the few bright spots in a game Chicago was fortunate to have tied going into the third period.

  • Many people (rightly) complained that Evgeni Malkin has often been unfairly overlooked in all the Crosby-Ovechkin hoopla, but despite a nice 10-point effort, Geno was rightly overshadowed in the second round.

Could Geno have a big round three? The odds are in his favor: home ice, a nice break between rounds and another Southeast Division opponent. That being said, the Carolina Hurricanes seem to be quite a bit scrappier than their division neighbors.

While the Capitals seemed quite sleepy at home, the Canes fed off their rabid fans (and … Bill Cowher) to take some upset victories. Few were impressed by Washington’s unconvincing win against the Rangers in game 7; we don’t need to tell you about their performance against the Pens. Yet on the opposite end of the spectrum, Carolina shocked the Devils in the last minute in Newark, NJ and then managed to out-hustle the Bruins to an OT win.

  • It’s hard to imagine the Penguins taking a playoff foe lightly.

Just look at last year’s playoffs: they finished their Eastern rivals off in 5 games or less, never taking a game off. This year’s edition has had to battle quite a bit more (about to enter their 14th game of the playoffs, which was all they – amazingly – needed to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals last year), but they are lead by the relentlessness of Sidney Crosby and a nice group of character players.

That being said, it also wouldn’t be outrageous if there is a BIT of letdown after the super-hyped second round matchup.

Of course, the Hurricanes might end up being flat-out better than the Penguins …

  • There’s a simple reason that Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane saw only about 15 minutes of ice time in Game 1: they were awful. Kane, in particular, produced very little beyond turnovers.

Perhaps this comes from missing most of their games, but my impression is that the Hawks’ dynamic duo tends to feed off of advantageous matchups at home. Don’t be surprised if they struggle in Game 2 and then “magically” find their fire** back in the Windy City.

But please don’t make this just about experience. The Red Wings have Nicklas Lidstrom, Brian Rafalski, Johan Franzen and a soul crushingly deep group of quality players to torment any team young, old, hairy or whatever.

It’s fun to make something “the factor” in a playoff series, but sometimes one team just grossly out-classes another.

* – I actually prefer using “Jump the Cheeseburger,” an ode to the seminal Canadian TV comedy “Trailer Park Boys” but feel the reference will be too obscure. Sadly.

** “Find the fire” = “Get a more favorable matchup.”

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

That’s how you live up to hype

November 12, 2008

If you missed tonight’s Pittsburgh – Detroit 7-6 OT game, go ahead and cut yourself.

The Pittsburgh Penguins seemed dead at least three times, but a timely 5-on-3 goal by Evgeni Malkin started a crazy swing in momentum that was like a 10-minute version of Talbot’s huge goal in last year’s SCF.

The big story of the game, obviously, was the unreal play of Jordan Staal. If Brooks Orpik had the “$1 million shift” when he knocked over 1,000 Red Wings in the span of 30 seconds, could this be Staal’s million-dollar game? He had three goals and masterfully set up Ruslan Fedetenko Tank Johnson for the OT GWG.

It’s not every day when Sidney Crosby is your third best center, but tonight that was the truth. Staal is a big, lanky player with great defensive instincts and he’s shown flashes of that 29-goal rookie season every now and then this season. Alex Goligo(GO! GO!)ski looked solid out there and Kris Letang looked REALLY good at times. Surely it couldn’t hurt those two young players to get to play in a borderline playoff atmosphere like tonight’s game.

The NHL should use this game as a marketing chip for the game. The Red Wings showed why they are a dominant team and the Penguins showed that anything can happen in the (is it still New?) NHL.

Aside from Gary Bettman getting decapitated by an errant puck, you cannot really ask for much more.