Another day, another chance at redemption.
First off, nobody’s panicking here. I said NOBODY’S PANICKING HERE but maybe just a teensy and perhaps a little urgency might be good?
Last night, playing against the Blue Jackets and their preposterous annoying cannons (can we dump those in a river pleeeease), we didn’t see as much of the sloppy play visited upon us since mid-January. Still, we did see too many penalties and overall our game still isn’t looking as tight as it had been looking. Time for a little more yelling we think, Coach Trotz.
The good news is that the Caps have traditionally been able to get up for the games that, if they’re not the big ones that count, they are the ones where team pride is on the line. This is going to be the second of four meetings against the Penguins during regular season, and judging by our last outing, we’re still able to get it up. As it were. And beside, could there be any sweeter way to break a four-game skid than against the Pens?
But before we break out our Deadguins tees and laugh and laugh at sad Sidney Crosby as he pouts his way off the ice, let’s remember they’re a team that, like us, is pretty good when they’re good… and this season, they seem to be getting better.
We reached out to Jim Rixner, a.k.a. Hooks Orpik, a writer up at the Pensburgh blog and clearly one of the sharpest knives in the drawer when it comes to Pens hockey, for his thoughts on tonight’s match.
First off, I’m not a huge fan of the All-Star game, but Ovi seemed to bring the right attitude this year: don’t take it seriously. Would it have hurt Sidney, or Geno, that much to have a light skate in Columbus, as Fleury did?
Yes, it would be impossible since both were injured. Malkin missed a game last week, the game last night and won’t even be back to practice for the next 3-4 days, his participation would have been impossible. Crosby got an injection last week for a lower-body injury that he can’t play with until it wears off (which forced him to miss practice Monday) so it’s difficult to say.
Surely the all-star game isn’t taxing, but these players were dealing with more than the everyday bumps and bruises of being a player in the NHL, despite what common cries against. Should Crosby have shown up anyways to shake hands and kiss babies? I guess you can hold that against him if you want, but as a Penguin fan I’m happy he got a long weekend to recupe and gear up for the most important part of the season.
Other than the inexplicable Islanders, the Caps, Pens, and Rangers are all getting bunched up at the top to no-one’s surprise. Who’s more of a threat to you, the Rangers or the Caps, and why?
The Rangers, mainly because of recent results against them and the fact that Lundqvist is in their heads. Holtby is 1-4-0 with a 3.40 GAA career against Pittsburgh– with the win coming earlier this season against a badly banged up Penguins team. The Pens have feasted on him in the past but have had no success against Lundqvist recently. I could see any series between any of the 4 Metro teams going any way depending on health, luck and goal-tending and because of that, as a Penguins fan, the Rangers probably bug me the most, just since they last beat the Pens.
Orpik has been even more physical than usual– not sure if it’s to establish himself in front of his new teammates or what but he’s been looking for hits this season more than the past few. Niskanen’s basically been steady and the same– except with worse boxcar stats since he’s being used in a different role and getting less power play time, as to be expected.
Surprisingly, I don’t think the Pens have missed them all that much– Christian Ehrhoff has been really good and Paul Martin and Kris Letang have been mostly healthy this year, which is a solid core to start. The loss of Olli Maatta sucks, but Simon Despres has played well and the pipeline of prospects in Derrick Pouliot and Scott Harrington is coming along nicely. It was a good time for both the players and the team to move on to better options.
You’re certainly getting great play from Crosby and Malkin, and while the rest of your squad aren’t slouches, the Caps seem to be getting good play from a larger cross-section of the team. What’s going on here?
That’s great that the Caps are getting more balance, getting a good coach helps on that, Pittsburgh will be fine once health returns. Adding David Perron to a top six of Crosby, Malkin, Hornqvist, Kunitz, and Bennett is as good and as balanced as any in the league with 3rd line depth for Sutter, Downie, and Comeau to keep it rolling.
The stats aren’t there yet because of injuries, but due to the way guys like Downie and Comeau have played, plus adding Perron and hoping Bennett stays healthy all adds up to the Penguins finally being a deeper team, unlike the past couple of seasons when it’s been all 87 and/or 71 or nothing. It’s definitely shaping up to be interesting since the Caps are deeper (and well coached now), the Rangers are always deep, the Islanders are playing well, the division playoffs should be very intense.
Fleury’s had six shut-outs so far I think, and while he and Holtby are definitely playing great, he seems just a little more consistent. What’s the best way to get goals on your guy? (I promise, we won’t tell a soul.)
I don’t think there’s many secrets– Fleury’s improved his positioning and has been pretty good with his PK save %, but the Penguins are an aggressive team that tends to give up transition shots against. Traffic in front has been an issue at times too with the Penguins not clearing the net and Fleury occasionally not tracking pucks well from long shots. Rebound control can be an issue and like almost every goalie, Fleury’s vulnerable glove high.
It seems clear Trotz was just what the Caps needed. Would you say the same of Mike Johnston?
Not sold on Johnston just yet. The verdict will be delivered with the playoff results. If he gets results, he’s a success, if not he’s a failure. Opposite situation from Trotz who has come in, established a lot of structure and been a breath of fresh air after a slew of rookie coaches, most of whom weren’t very good in DC.
Johnston is the rookie coach. Which isn’t always a bad thing, but it’s difficult to make a judgement just yet, unlike for the Caps who clearly can tell they have an upgrade with a professional back there. I’m not sure the Pens really know what they have yet, but so far, so good. Johnston seems to have good strategies, he is well organized and composed and his record was pretty great when the team was healthy.
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