Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Penguins Game 77 Recap: 5-2 L vs. PHI

This was originally published on Sports Haze Pittsburgh:

Elton John visited CONSOL Energy Center last Tuesday, so none of the Flyers were in attendance when the rock legend belted out his vintage hit “Philadelphia Freedom.”

This season, though, Philadelphia has played with all the freedom of a flamboyant pop star in the Pittsburgh Penguins’ new hockey palace.

In the most significant game of the campaign for both teams, the first-place Flyers beat the second-place Penguins 5-2 Tuesday night to increase their Atlantic Division lead to four points. Philadelphia claimed all three games in Pittsburgh between the cross-state rivals.

With a regulation win, the Penguins (45-24-8, 98 points) would’ve tied the Flyers for first in the Atlantic and the Eastern Conference, but with Philadelphia extending its lead and still holding a game in hand on Pittsburgh, it appears the race is practically over. There are no more head-to-head matchups and the Flyers (46-20-10, 102 points) hold the relevant tiebreakers.

Even if the Penguins can somehow squeeze their way closer to the Flyers in the remaining two weeks before the playoffs, they will likely look back at a game that was well within their grasp midway through.

Alexei Kovalev scored on a 2-on-1 rush, his first goal in more than a month, to give Pittsburgh the first-period lead, but Jeff Carter tipped Braydon Coburn’s half-board shot off the post and in to tie it up after 20 minutes.

Nine minutes into the second Tyler Kennedy’s surprising burst through the neutral zone led to his career-best 19th of the season, and the Pens continued to press for a 3-1 lead after that. But after Kennedy and Chris Kunitz missed out on promising opportunities, the Flyers snatched the game right back.

An interference penalty to defenseman Paul Martin led to Scott Hartnell’s power-play goal, as he charged to the crease and jammed the puck past Marc-Andre Fleury at 13:45 to make it 2-2.

Less than a minute later, Pittsburgh’s Mark Letestu was stripped inside the Flyers’ blue line, and Claude Giroux buried a hard shot in transition, ringing it off the left pipe behind Fleury.

Kris Letang and Pascal Dupuis each had prime chances to draw the Pens even early in the third, but Flyers’ rookie goalie Sergei Bobrovsky turned them both away dramatically. The athletic Russian started his NHL career with a 3-2 win Oct. 7 on opening night in Pittsburgh.

Ville Leino added a pair of goals to close out the scoring, with both scores the result of strange bounces around the Pittsburgh crease. The first, at 5:30, caromed off Leino’s pants and in and the second, three minutes later, hopped over Fleury’s shoulder and barely crossed the goal line before Zybnek Michalek swept it out.

The Penguins had two late power plays to try to save some face, but despite looking dangerous for the first time in a while, failed to convert and finished the game 0-for-4. The usually tentative unit is now 3-for-59 in its last 18 games.

Give a Stick Tap To:

Kennedy is playing with more confidence than ever before, and his goal capped a world-class effort. He quickly controlled Brooks Oprik’s lead pass off the boards, accelerated around Flyers’ all-star defenseman Kimmo Timonen, and snapped the puck under Bobrovsky despite Timonen’s hook between his legs.

Not Good Enough:

The Penguins have not defended their new home very well against the better teams in the NHL. They are 4-10-1 at CONSOL vs. clubs currently in playoff position, including a troubling 0-11-1 against the Flyers, Caps, Bruins, Habs and Rangers, all from the Eastern Conference.

Box Score:

http://scores.espn.go.com/nhl/boxscore?gameId=310329016

Highlights:







Next Up:

The second and final Florida trip of the season begins Thursday night in Tampa Bay. The match with the Lightning (40-24-11, 91 points) could very well provide a first-round playoff series preview, provided the Penguins stay in fourth position in the East and Tampa remains at No. 5.

More from Matt Gajtka:

Hope floats in Pittsburgh, even though offense sinks

Pittsburgh Penguins Game 76 Recap: Pens 2, Panthers 1 (SO)

Twitter: @MattGajtka

Facebook: Sports Haze Pittsburgh

Matt Gajtka is a Featured Writer and Penguins Beat Reporter for Sports Haze Pittsburgh. He also hosts the Polish Prodigy Podcast, an audio exploration of sports and culture, on Blog Talk Radio (http://www.blogtalkradio.com/mattgajtka).

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Polish Prodigy Podcast featuring Joe Depto

Joe Depto of The Fourth Period magazine and TheFourthPeriod.com joins me to talk Penguins as we head into the final two weeks of the regular season. Joe is the Penguins writer and Pittsburgh market correspondent for The Fourth Period.

Follow Joe for Pens news on Twitter @PensDeptoTFP.

This is the first edition of the podcast on Blog Talk Radio. Enjoy! Visit the show page at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/mattgajtka to access archived shows and preview future podcasts.

Listen to internet radio with Matt Gajtka on Blog Talk Radio

Hope floats in Pittsburgh, even as offense sinks

This was originally published on Sports Haze Pittsburgh:

Even though the Pittsburgh Penguins won both games at home this past weekend in crowd-pleasing shootouts, the most beautiful images of recent vintage for fans of the club came from the practice rink.

In videos posted on the team’s website, convalescing captain Sidney Crosby has almost literally put on a clinic in exact stickhandling, precise shooting and explosive movements under the purview of Penguins’ strength coach Mike Kadar during early-morning sweat sessions.

Sid should’ve charged a fee to witness his sublime ability on display. Most fans would’ve handed over their money without protest; after all, it’s been so long since the World’s Best Player™ had performed his craft for all to see.

According to Penguins beat writer Rob Rossi of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, the return of Crosby from his persistent concussion rehab draws near. Especially in the context of the Penguins’ last three games, the prospect of No. 87 lacing up the skates once again seems like a shaft of white light from the heavens.

Yes, the Penguins (45-23-8, 98 points) have won four in a row, all by way of shootout, but since netting four regulation goals last Monday night in Detroit, the team has only lit the red light twice during the course of normal play. During that span of 10 full periods, plus four five-minute overtimes, Pittsburgh’s attack has looked anywhere from uncreative to nonexistent.

Of course, recent trade additions James Neal and Alex Kovalev have shone in shootouts, going a combined 5-for-8 over the past week. Those crucial conversions, in addition to Marc-Andre Fleury’s sublime goaltending, have almost solely kept the Penguins within range of first-place Philadelphia, whom they host Tuesday night.

But the welcome injection of Kovalev and Neal into the lineup a month ago has largely been inconsequential to the Penguins’ attack. With the two newly-acquired wingers have been toiling predominantly on the same line, the “second” unit of Chris Kunitz, Jordan Staal and Tyler Kennedy have done the vast majority of the damage during March.

That supposedly unglamorous trio has combined for 12 goals and 15 assists during the last four weeks, while Kovalev and Neal have merely chipped in two goals and six helpers since their respective arrivals in Pittsburgh. One could argue that all the new guys need is a playmaking center to feed them pucks, and their scoring troubles, shootouts aside, will vanish.

Luckily for the Penguins, that playmaking center is on the verge of a re-debut, and he happens to still be the team’s leading scorer by 18 points (defenseman Kris Letang is second with 48 points, in case you're wondering).

Yeah, that should help.

More from Matt Gajtka:

Pittsburgh Penguins Game 76 Recap: Pens 2, Panthers 1 (SO)

Twitter: @MattGajtka

Facebook: Sports Haze Pittsburgh

Matt Gajtka is a Featured Writer and Penguins Beat Reporter for Sports Haze Pittsburgh. He also hosts the Polish Prodigy Show, a daily sports and culture podcast, on Blog Talk Radio (www.blogtalkradio.com/mattgajtka).