Wednesday, November 12, 2008

More Than Just Two Points

Going into last night's showdown between the Penguins and the Red Wings I had pretty easily convinced myself that it was, despite all the hype surrounding the game, 1 out of 82 games the Penguins will play this season and nothing more. I'm not one of those people who thinks beating a team in the regular season after they beat you in the playoffs the season before is any kind of revenge, so that angle was lost on me. It was 2 points just like any other game.

Somewhere in the third period last night that all changed. The Penguins came back from 5-2 and 6-4 defeceits in the third period on the road against one of the best teams in the NHL. That counts for a lot more than just two points. This will be one of those moments that this team can look back on for the rest of the season and remember that even when they are down, they are never out of a game. Even under some of the worst possible circumstances.

Here are my thoughts on the game:

  • Have to start with Jordan Staal. The way he played in the last 10 minutes of the third and OT was a dominant a performance as you will ever see from any player. Jordan made himself a lot of money this offseason with this game. And it was not lost on me that #11 had the game of his life on 11/11 and set up the OT winner with 1:11 remaining.
  • Red Wings fans are a joke. Nice of them to show up in time for the second period.
  • Letang and Goligoski both looked really good to me. They did not have mistake free games, but they both looked really poised down the stretch.
  • I know he had 2 assists, but really... did Marian Hossa even play last night?
  • Mike Zigomanis may be the pick-up of the year. His dominance on face-offs can not be overhyped as it is a big boost for the Pens both in the defensive zone and on the power play. If he doesn't win that offensive zone draw at the end of the third I'm writing about a 6-5 Detroit win right now.
  • Red Wings fans are a joke. This game was so big and such a statement while they were winning, but as soon as Fedo sent them packing in OT it was just another regular home game against some random non-conference team.
  • Marc-Andre Fleury was much better than the numbers tell. The Hudler goal was the only one he had any chance of stopping. The bottom line is that right now if MAF can see it he is going to stop it 99% of the time.
  • Red Wings fans are a joke. They love to go on and on about how good Datsyuk and Zetterberg are defensively and all the turnovers they create and then turnaround and dismiss Staal picking Datsyuk's pocket in overtime as lucky or a fluke. Just watch Zetterberg flop around on the ice during the Pens' 5-on-3 goal and then explain to me how great he is defensively.
  • I have never been happier watching one of my fantasy goalies give up 7 goals.
  • Hearing Hossa getting booed on his "home" ice was priceless. Penguin fans definitely had the edge at "The Joe" last night.
  • Red Wings fans are a joke.
And this post would not be complete without a highlight package:

Friday, November 7, 2008

Sympathy For The Devil

Miroslav Satan scored a highlight reel goal against Edmonton last night that was very similar to one scored by Rick Nash last season. The only problem is that while the hockey world was abuzz after the Nash goal, I have yet to here a peep about Satan's beauty. Coincidence? Anti-Penguin bias? Anti-Euro bias? People forgetting that there are players on the Pens not named Crosby, Malkin, or Staal? Whatever the cause, sit back and enjoy this beauty.

That Satan signing is looking pretty good right about now. As always, in sHERO we trust.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Error Jordan?

Every season in recent years for the Pittsburgh Penguins it seems like there is some storyline bubbling just under the surface and 2008-09 is no different as all eyes seemed to be focused on 20-year old Jordan Staal. Many Pens fans, and I am guessing people within the organization as well, are wondering just what the Penguins really have in Staal. Jordan set the bar (too?) high in his rookie campaign scoring 29 goals and 42 points in 2006-07. Last season Staal's totals sagged to a modest 12 goals and 28 points. As Jordan enters the final year of his entry level contract it remains to be seen if he can rediscover his scoring touch or if he continues to plug along as a third line center.

I said as early as the start of last season that it could be a while before Jordan approached 29 goals in a season again. His rookie season just felt a little too good to be true to me. It was like almost everything he threw at the net just found a way in. Having said that, I do think he can produce more offensively than he did last season or so far this season.

Offense is just one facet to Staal's game however. While centering the Penguins third line for almost all of last season Staal found himself serving as one of the key pieces to the Penguins defensive puzzle. Jordan thrived in this role, even if his stats may have said otherwise, and was a key contributor in Pittsburgh's trip to the Stanley Cup Finals.

Staal's defensive contributions can not be taken lightly, but as many NHL media outlets continue to suggest that Staal should command an annual salary around $4.5-$5 million one has to wonder if that is enough. The Penguins are flirting with the salary cap and can ill afford to pay anywhere near those dollar amounts for a third line center. At this point I would argue that Max Talbot, another Penguin headed for free agency, is more valuable to the Pens and could give them everything Staal does at a much more affordable price. If you came to me right now and said the Penguins can only keep Talbot or Staal heading into next season I would start asking who the Pens were planning to trade Staal too.

That brings us to the second part of this discussion... did the Penguins make the right move in drafting Jordan Staal? For the sake of simplicity I will only consider the eight players taken after Staal in 2006 who rounded out the top 10 picks. Here are some of the guys the Pens could have nabbed instead of Staal:

  • Jonathan Toews - Toews does not even have a full season worth of NHL experience, but he has already been named the Captain of the Blackhawks and is (along with Patrick Kane) the face of the franchise. For the record, Toews has one fewer goal than Staal so far this season... zero.
  • Nicklas Backstrom - Another player with a grand total of zero goals so far this season, Backstrom had an outstanding rookie season with 69 points in 82 games, yet he is probably best known for a goal he scored for the opposition. Very much a playmaker, Backstrom wouldn't add anything that the Pens don't already have.
  • Phil Kessel - Kessel has had a turbulent start to his pro career, but he is quietly developing into a top notch goal scorer. He only has 37 goals in 164 career games, but he also has 7 goals already this season in just 12 games. Kessel was also strong for the Bruins in the playoffs last April.
  • Derick Brassard - Brassard has just 28 NHL contests to his name, but he has 11 points through Columbus' first 11 games this season and is the team leader in scoring. He was also just named the Rookie of the Month in the NHL for October. Brassard may yet prove to be the jewel of the 2006 draft.
  • Kyle Okposo - Okposo is another player just getting his feet wet in the NHL, but it has been so far so good for the Islanders prospect. 8 points in 20 games is a decent start for Okposo as he should be the centerpiece of the Islanders rebuilding process.
  • Peter Mueller - Peter Mueller is a player I really like a lot. He got off to a blazing start last season and then hit the wall a bit in the second half, but he still finished with 54 points. Mueller is off to another solid start in 2008-09 and he should be a cornerstone of the Phoenix attack for many years to come.
As of right now I think a lot of Penguins fans would be happy to swap Jordan Staal for Phil Kessel. I think Kessel would be a nice compliment to Sidney Crosby and could realistically be a consistent 40-goal scorer riding shotgun with Sid. Most of the other guys on that list are scoring centers, something the Penguins are not really in need of. Toews may just be the best player of the six and could excel on the wing in Pittsburgh, but I would still take Kessel who is much more of a pure goal scorer than the others.

I want to close this out by saying that I am a big Jordan Staal fan (and I have the Staal jersey tee to prove it) and would love nothing more to see him blossom into a regular 40-goal scoring left winger for the Penguins. With that on the table I understand that this is the salary cap era and the Penguins are not in the position to be throwing around $5 million contracts to anyone who asks for one. Just ask Ryan Malone. I know that Ray Shero has an exact amount in his mind that he thinks Jordan Staal is worth to his Penguins team. If Jordan Staal's offensive output does not increase then I think the gap between that number and the one Staal's agent will be asking for in July will be too much for Shero, and that could pave the way for a Staal trade in February. I for one hope it never comes to that.

A Cold Day In Hell?

TSN is reporting that New Jersey Devils netminder Martin Brodeur will be out for the next three to four months after having surgery to repair a torn bicep tendon in his elbow. This is a huge blow for the Devils who were already starting to come back down to Earth after a hot start in the Eastern Conference. Could this pave the way for a Nikolai Khabibulin to New Jersey trade, or are the Devils going to simply write off this season?

I really do not see a way for the Devils to keep pace in the Atlantic Division without making a move to shore up their goaltending. Kevin Weekes is a decent backup, but he is simple not good enough to carry this Devils team for the next three or four months.

This injury will also put a hold on Brodeur's assault on the NHL record book as he was looking to become the NHL career leader in wins and shutouts this season. Martin is currenly seven wins behind all-time leader Patrick Roy.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

October 2008 NHL Team Of The Month

It has been a while, but I am back and here with the first Team of the Month for the 2008-09 NHL season. The first month of the season is in the books and it is time to name the best players at each position in the NHL for October.

  • Left Wing: Alexander Semin - Alexander Ovechkin has been nearly invisible during the first month of the season, but the Caps have survived in large part thanks to the scoring of Alexander Semin. Semin has paced the Caps with eight goals and eight assists through nine games and has given Washington fans cause to wonder just who their top left winger is.
  • Center: Brandon Dubinsky - The Rangers were the NHL's best team in October and Brandon Dubinsky was a big reason why. His 12 points are not leading the league, but his three game-winners do. If the Rangers can continue to get this kind of production from Dubinsky while getting their higher profile players going they could be real tough to catch in the East.
  • Right Wing: Marian Hossa - The big prize of the free agent market has fit right in with his new club, as his six goals and nine assists would attest. After getting off to a bit of a slow start Hossa may just be the hottest player in the NHL right now. I can sense NHL GMs getting their offers ready for next July already.
  • Defense: Filip Kuba - Not much was made of Kuba moving to Ottawa in a trade with Tampa Bay, but Kuba has been huge for the Sens as his 11 points (all assists) are tops among defenders in the NHL. Kuba will undoubtedly come back to earth at some point, but he is more than capable of continuing to shine on the point of the Senator's power play and helping them stay in the thick of things in the Eastern Conference.
  • Defense: Shea Weber - Weber has had a great start for Nashville as his four goals and 11 points are both tied for the lead among defenders. Weber also has an excellent plus/minus rating of +5. The Predators could have a tough time staying afloat in the competitive Western Conference, but continued excellence from Weber will be a big boost for them.
  • Goalie: Henrik Lundqvist - As previously stated, the Rangers were the toast of the NHL through the first month and one of the biggest keys to that has been Lundqvist. He has yet to record a shutout after leading the NHL in that category last season, but he is pacing the league in a much more important stat... wins. King Henrik has eight wins to go along with his 1.99 GAA and .928 save percentage. Lundqvist was my pick to win the Vezina this season and so far that pick is looking on target.