OUT OF THE GATES: December to remember

When the 2009-10 schedule was released, this stretch leading up to the holiday break stuck out to me as a time where the Penguins would prove themselves.

They haven’t disappointed.

After dropping back to back home games against Chicago and Carolina, the Penguins have strung together five straight wins. Most recently they took care of Philadelphia — which is always difficult given the rivalry — in a home and home series and then traveled to Buffalo and won in a shootout, 2-1.

In one week the Penguins have proven they are every bit as good as last year, if not better. And with games against New Jersey tonight and Ottawa on Wednesday, the Penguins can enter the three-day holiday break playing their strongest hockey of the year.

What’s scary is Pittsburgh has shown they still have a lot of improving to do.

Continue reading “OUT OF THE GATES: December to remember”

Rant: Fighting is good for hockey

I couldn’t have been happier today.

The Penguins blew out the Philadelphia Flyers, 6-1, in embarrassing fashion Tuesday. And if that wasn’t enough, there’s the excitement and anticipation for the rematch Thursday. However, my elation died almost instantaneously after reading Ron Cook’s column in today’s (Wendesday’s) Post-Gazette.

It’s another writer with his own take on the idea of fighting in hockey — something we’ve heard before. In a nutshell, his point is that it’s a shame Dan Bylsma had to sit Max Talbot for Eric Godard, because Godard’s presence was in a response to the type of game Philadelphia likes to play: rough and physical with your occasional fight.

I understand his point and, honestly, by the third fight in 16 seconds I was thinking we need to get back to playing hockey. But if you take fighting out of hockey the result will be far worse.

Continue reading “Rant: Fighting is good for hockey”

Pens bully back, beat Flyers

It’s hard to imagine a more positive result for the Penguins than their 6-1 beatdown of the Philadelphia Flyers Tuesday night.

Flyers 1 — Penguins 6

Pittsburgh’s struggling power play looked stellar, while the penalty killing unit put two goals on the board. The Penguins controlled play from start to finish, visibly frustrating the Flyers, and several of Pittsburgh’s top goal scorers got on the board.

More importantly,  the Penguins earned another two points against a division rival and moved back in to first place in the Atlantic Division. And for at least a few hours, moved back in to first place in the Eastern Conference as well.

And all the while they matched Philadelphia’s intensity, proving that physicality isn’t lacking in Pittsburgh.

“I loved the response from our team,” coach Dan Bylsma said. “…I loved the fact our guys hung in there, answered the bell. It’s not a surprise with the rivalry, the two teams and the situation both teams are in. It felt close to a playoff intensity. There was a lot of intensity, a lot of jam in that first period.”

Continue reading “Pens bully back, beat Flyers”

Streaks end in win over Florida

One win can’t solve all problems.

Penguins 3 — Panthers 2 FOT

But the Penguins sure tried to Saturday night, putting an end to multiple streaks they’d prefer not to be associated with.

Carrying a struggling power play and a few struggling scorers in to the contest, Pittsburgh saw Ruslan Fedotenko and Evgeni Malkin each score to end personal droughts in a 3-2 win against Florida. Malkin’s came on the power play in overtime — a power play ranked 29th in the league entering the game.

“I hope it’s what we needed,” said coach Dan Bylsma of the power play goal. “We have had some good power plays (lately) and not scored.

“Sometimes the only thing we hadn’t done was score the goal. Tonight I think you saw us squeezing our sticks a little bit out there on the power play and sometimes you need a goal to release that. We were pretty happy to see that slap shot go in.”

Continue reading “Streaks end in win over Florida”

Penguins finding their identity

December is typically where teams develop their identity.

Florida Panthers (11-14-6, 28 pts.) vs. Pittsburgh Penguins (21-10-1, 43 pts.)

October is for shaking off the rust of the offseason, November is where players begin to get comfortable and find their groove, and when December hits, it’s time to find out who’s for real and who’s not.

So far, the Penguins have established their identity as a pretty complete team. They’re right on pace with the 1992-93 Penguins, which was the best regular season team in franchise history, displaying scoring strength, stout defense and toughness throughout the roster.

“I think that we’ve worked on our identity the last 15 games a lot,” Matt Cooke said. “I think that teams underestimate how physical our team is. That’s probably a good thing for us. We realize where we have to play to be successful. If we make the commitment to play there then on most nights we’re giving ourselves the best chance to win.”

Continue reading “Penguins finding their identity”

Malkin passing up his shots

Only in rare cases does four points in five games raise an eyebrow in concern.

But when you’re Evgeni Malkin, things are just different.

The Russian superstar has been held without a goal in the last five games. His trio of assists against Colorado on Dec. 3 combined with another against Chicago a week ago are the only points he has registered in the last five contests.

Malkin has been caught passing in situations he would normally shoot, and in Pittsburgh’s recent 3-2 win at Montreal, passed up on four different opportunities in which he had an open look to shoot. In each situation he passed and in each situation the result was nothing.

“Sometimes, in trying to make the right play, he might look to pass when his confidence is lower,” coach Dan Bylsma said. “He is a guy who attacks, attacks through the defense and attacks the net. When he is shooting the puck he is a threat to score and he is a better player all around. Getting him focused in the right direction is what he is trying to do right now.”

Continue reading “Malkin passing up his shots”

Woe is the Pens power play

Eighteen power play goals in 31 games just isn’t cutting it.

What’s worse is the Penguins and their coaching staff know it, but haven’t been able to rectify the situation. Pittsburgh currently ranks 28th in the National Hockey League in power play efficiency with a success rate of 14.3 percent.

Assistant coach Mike Yeo is the orchestrator of the power play and, at times since joining the staff in Pittsburgh, has been criticized for the unit’s lack of consistency with the man advantage.

“We continually try to work on the fundamentals in our practices,” coach Dan Bylsma said Tuesday after practice. “We try to keep reiterating what we need to do to try to have success.

“Really, I think focus is the biggest issue. Last game we had a very good power play in the second period. We executed, we had zone time, we moved the puck around, we had a great scoring chance — didn’t go our way — and in the third our focus and execution … was not there.”

Continue reading “Woe is the Pens power play”