Downie, Sutter and Greiss Being Tested For Mumps

As reported from multiple sources, Steve Downie, Brandon Sutter and Thomas Greiss are all going to miss tonight's match-up against the Florida Panthers because they are being tested for mumps.

Reactions were as expected.

Playoffs Be Damned, Fleury Is Having a Banner Season by @ToonsBrian

It has been said repeatedly - and accurately - that Penguins' goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury is the most polarizing athlete in the city of Pittsburgh. As a fan, you're either firmly in "MAF Camp" or you're just waiting for that next soft goal, that next miscue behind the cage or that next bad night to come to point out his negative tendencies.

If you're in that second group, this is the season that you really only have the "wait until the playoffs" mantra to rely on because The Smiling One has all but eliminated half of the arguments that can be made against his performance.

At Last....Derrick Pouliot! by @ChicksDigHockey

The Pens' blue line is hurting....literally.

Christian Ehrhoff is out with a lower body injury. Jason Mackey of the Trib is reporting Ehrhoff no longer had a nameplate on a locker inside the Penguins' dressing room, although no corresponding roster move has been made. Not sure what, if anything, that means.

Paul Martin has an undisclosed injury although coach Johnston has said there is a possibility he could play. If he can't go, I'm voting for Cousin Eddie to take his place....hilarious.

 Derrick Pouliot was called up Saturday morning. I knew this because the clouds parted and the sun shined down over southwestern Pennsylvania. He will make his NHL debut and play on a defense pairing with Rob Scuderi.

Pouliot is widely thought of as the organization's top prospect and is rumored to be protected from the lustful intentions of any other franchise. He has been on a tear in the American Hockey League, with seven goals and 20 points in 23 games. The Trib reported Pouliot worked on a second power-play unit this morning with defenseman Simon Despres and forwards Brandon Sutter, Steve Downie and Blake Comeau.

Also of note, Ironman Craig Adams will miss tonight ending his record 319 games played. Chris Kunitz worked on a No. 1 power-play unit with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Patric Hornqvist and  Kris Letang. Officially, he is a game-time decision but is preparing himself as though he's playing.

WATCH: Penguins Exceptional Holiday Video

Hanukkah is here, Christmas is right around the corner, and New Years isn't far away.  The Penguins celebrated by unleashing a phenomenal holiday video on the Internet.

Game 31, Penguins vs. Avalanche Recap by @DXTraeger

Missing from this picture are the Penguins' outstanding Third Jerseys
The Pittsburgh Penguins hosted the Colorado Avalanche tonight, with the Pens enjoying their fourth consecutive game at home.

Lineup changes for the Penguins included Sidney Crosby returning to the ice after missing time with the mumps, Beau Bennett missing his second straight game (mumps), and after numerous call-ups, Scott Harrington made his NHL debut on the blue line replacing the injured Robert Bortuzzo.

This was the first of two games between Pittsburgh and Colorado.  Last year, the teams split wins, with the Avalanche shutting out the Penguins in a mid-October tilt while the Penguins won in a shootout right before the playoffs started in April.

First Period Action

The Penguins were forced to kill two early Avalanche power-plays after Simon Despres and Steve Downie went off for interference and elbowing, respectively.

Pittsburgh's penalty killers were successful in neutralizing Colorado's puck movement, and Fleury was forced to make only two difficult saves while shorthanded.

Colorado dictated the early pace of the game, with the Pens unable to generate much momentum through the neutral zone.

Pittsburgh also had difficulty establishing an offensive cycle in the first half of the period, but following a Brad Stuart call for tripping Malkin, the Pens were able to sustain momentum from the man advantage (even though they failed to score on the power-play).

Blake Comeau had the Penguins' best scoring chance on a 2-on-0 up close to the Avalanche goalie Calvin Pickard, but Comeau opted to try a phone booth pass that skittered harmlessly away.

The Penguins finished the first stanza ahead 8-7 in shots on goal, with Malkin being Pittsburgh's best player on the ice.

Second Period Action:

The Penguins and Avalanche opened the second period tied at 0-0, but Pittsburgh wasted little time in generating multiple overload situations that resulted in clear shots on net, but Pickard was up to the task each time.

Pittsburgh enjoyed their second power-play of the game following a Dennis Everberg boarding call, but once again failed to slip one past Pickard.

Following a brief scuffle in the neutral zone, Bobby Farnham and Cody McLeod faced off in an extended fight that saw McLeod ultimately topple Farnham.  Both players could be seen laughing about the altercation afterward in the penalty box.

Multiple Penguins were hobbled by shots, including Rob Scuderi and Kris Letang, who had an overall physical game that clearly took a toll on his body.

Neither team was able to generate much momentum from the donnybrook though, and despite a lot of shots by both teams (31 shots combined), the second period ended with both Marc-Andre Fleury and Calvin Pickard sporting shutouts.

Third Period Action:

The Penguins dominated play in the third period, with Hornqvist being stoned from close in front, and Sidney Crosby had his second primo scoring chance denied on a breakaway.

Nathan MacKinnon had Colorado's best scoring chance, pushing a puck into a squared Fleury, and Colorado spent the majority of the period yielding nothing but one-and-done shot opportunities.

Following his second quality scoring chance of the period, Patric Hornqvist was hobbled after blocking a shot near his own blue line.

With just two minutes left, the Avalanche enjoyed their best bout of sustained pressure, with Marc-Andre Fleury making a critical save off of an unintentional redirect off of Simon Despres in front.  Colorado would retrieve the puck but their second shot was easily shrugged off by Fleury and cleared off the glass for a much-needed line change.

Despres had a bad turnover with just over 10 seconds left in the third, but Downie recovered and fed the puck around his own boards until regulation expired.

The Penguins' 43 shots on goal were Pittsburgh's highest shot total thus far this season.


Thirty seconds into OT, Malkin skated down the center of the ice and used Colorado's defensemen as a screen for a good scoring chance.

On the ensuing faceoff, Sutter almost converted a missed shot with a wraparound goal to end it, but Pickard got his paddle down to make the save along the post.

Blake Comeau had a sustained possession in the offensive zone, and after Evgeni Malkin replaced Brian Rust on the ice, Malkin redirected a Rob Scuderi shot from the point, and Comeau was in place for an easy tap in goal to give the Penguins the 1-0 win.

For Marc-Andre Fleury, the shutout was his 6th of the season and 34th of his career.

Diagnosing the @penguins by @Nick422

Sidney Crosby has mumps.  Poor Beau Bennett has the mumps.  Fleury, Bortuzzo, and Maatta are being tested for the mumps.  It's going around the NHL like a plague.  Shockingly, no NHLer has gotten the plague.  Yet.  The Penguins, though, have come down with some odd maladies that are being covered up by the team doctor.

New team doctor

Blake Comeau Thrives in Pittsburgh by @ChicksDigHockey

Blake Comeau has been playing out of his mind lately. Injuries and illnesses have bought him precious ice time and he has not disappointed.

Being on a line with Evgeni Malkin agrees with Comeau. He potted his ninth goal just 48 seconds into Pittsburgh's 3-1 win over the Flames on Friday. On Saturday, in a game that was more scrappy than skilled, he netted one past Bobrovsky to tie the game in the second.

Comeau spent his first couple months in Pittsburgh getting shuffled from line to line but he seems at home on Malkin's wing.

 Remember that hat trick he had in Toronto in November? He hadn't scored one of those since 2010. Back then, he was an up-and-coming forward for the New York Islanders. Ironically, he scored his first NHL goal, against Dany Sabourin of the Pittsburgh Penguins, in a 4–2 Isles victory on December 21, 2007.  He established career highs in 2010–11 with 24 goals, 22 assists and 46 points, before his game disappeared in 2011.
Since then, he's been well-traveled in the NHL. Before signing with the Pens as a free agent this summer, he had stints with Calgary and Columbus. He had just 15 goals in 177 games for New York, Calgary and Columbus from 2011-14.

His performance of late, however, has made Rutherford look like a genius. 

He's made quite an impression on HC Johnston who said in an interview, ''At one time he was a very good hockey player. He had some bumps along the way, some ups and downs, and now he's really played well for us,'' Johnston said. ''He's been consistent since Day One.''

Comeau is thriving. He plays an aggressive game with a willingness to go to the net.
He's exactly what the Pens need if they're going to weather the storm without Kunitz, Dupuis, Bennett and Maatta.

From The Hockey News 12/14/14(on players who were bargain signings):
Comeau wasn’t a big name signing for the Penguins, but he’s turned out to be quite the addition.
A short hot streak which included three goals and five points over the course of four games has bolstered Comeau’s point totals, and the only reason he doesn’t take the top bargain spot is because it seems like he’s destined to slow his pace at some point. However, he is currently riding a three game point streak in which he’s registered goals on back-to-back nights.
If Comeau can keep posting points at his current clip, he’ll have billed the Penguins to the tune of a mere $13,462 per point. That’s a steal of a deal.

Shop Wars: @evil_shero vs. @ryannoble66 - Nintendo Boxes #PIShopWars

Last weeks #PIShopWars winner was Ryan Noble. The theme was Famous Paintings and though Paul brought strong edits to the war, it was Ryan who earned the most votes to win the first ever PI Shop War! Here is last weeks if you missed it.

Shop Wars is a competition between Paul Clemente and Ryan Noble to where a random theme is picked from a hat and we have to incorporate Penguins players to fit this theme. The winner is determined by YOU ... yes ... YOU. At the end of the page please vote below. The winner each week will be announced on Wednesday of this week. Shortly after, we will announce the following Mondays theme.

This week was Nintendo Boxes:

Ice Hockey
Ice Hockey did NOT come in a classic NES "black box" so I made one.

Blades of Steel
Undoubtedly one of the best NES hockey games but I could not find anything that would look right on the already existing body's so I made my own.

Mario Lemieux Hockey
This game is fictitious although one exists for Sega. I decided to make my own from scratch from undoubtedly one of the worst game companies in existence LJN. 

Duck Hunt
Catch ducks as Malkin! You can either use the Nintendo Light Gun or catch them with Geno's bare hands! 

Metal Gear
Play as Maatta in this overhead combat game. Use stealth to get your way through this "solid" game! 

Super Mario Bros. 3
No explanation is required for this one...

Who won this week's Shop Wars (NES Boxes)?
Poll Maker

Are the Refs Screwing the Pens? by @BrianK_PI

NHL referees suck.

Fact. True Statement. They really do. As do NFL refs, NBA refs, MLB umpires, and ESPECIALLY B1G college football refs. In fact, ask anyone out there who has a favorite team in any sport, and chances are that they're going to tell you that the refs suck. It's just a part of the way we view sports. Those who tune in can tell you about the clear penalties that those in black and white miss; the home crowd howls in disgust when calls go against their team. The refs are always out to get your favorite team, and they'll let the other guys get away with murder.

Sounds ridiculous, right? But what if the paranoia, well, isn't paranoia? What if the refs actually aren't just letting things slide, aren't just messing up some calls, but are rooting against the Pens and doing so with their whistles? Pensburgh recently ran a Penguins Thoughts piece (hat tip for the inspiration), with point #4 talking about some recent power play trends noted by Josh Yohe. As Yohe tweeted, the Pens were at a 49-30 disadvantage in power play opportunities in their previous 14 games, including having one or fewer power play opportunities in their previous 11. On the season the Pens are averaging 3.28 power play opportunities per game, ranking 18th in the league, though they're allowing 3.86 power play opportunities per game.

Not only that, but you'd expect a team that features both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin to be a bit more adept at drawing penalties. After all, they've finished 12th, 6th, and 7th over the past three seasons in power play opportunities. There have been questionable calls, notably Zach Sill's ejection for a clean hit on an interference penalty, and questionable non-calls. Refs have been known to call penalties to keep games from getting out of hand; could they have been calling games to take Pittsburgh's elite power play, which was operating at a historic rate in the early part of the season, off the table and prevent it from taking over games?

The above graph shows the seven game averages for power play opportunities for both the Penguins and their opponents, with the November 11th game against the Rangers that Yohe mentioned as the start of the lack of calls marked on the graph. The first 13 games of the season were fairly evenly called, with the Penguins drawing 56 power plays (4.3 per game) and their opponents 52 (4.0 per game). However, starting with that game on the 11th things started drying up for Pittsburgh as they went on the power play just 39 times in the next 16 games (2.4 per game) while their opponents stayed relatively stable with 60 power plays (3.8 per game). The difference between those two time frames for the Pens is massive; the 4.3 power plays per game would rank first in the league over the course of the season, while the 2.4 would only be saved from being last in the league only by Boston's absolute futility this season. So what exactly happened?

Well unfortunatley, that answer is probably a lot less interesting than a refereeing controversy. The above shows the same seven game rolling average for Pens' power play opportunities since November 11th, but this time compared against the team's Corsi for percentage as a proxy for puck possession, and as you can see they both plummet over the same time frame. Generally speaking, a team will take far more penalties without the possession of the puck than they will with it. Less time with the puck leads to fewer opportunities to draw penalties, which in turn leads to fewer power play opportunities.

Now, I don't think there's a particularly strong correlation between power play opportunities and CF%, but it underlies the situation happening in Pittsburgh. Coming into the season the Pens already were facing depth issues in the top six. Blake Comeau, for as good as he's been in Pittsburgh, is better suited for a third line role. However, Pascal Dupuis' blood clot diagnosis further exacerbated the problem, and it's likely not much of a coincidence that these issues have cropped up since he's been absent from the lineup the past 13 games. Add in a significant amount of injuries that have seen Beau Bennett (9 games), Olli Maatta (6), Chris Kunitz (6), Kris Letang (5), Sidney Crosby (2), and Patric Hornqvist (2) all miss games and it was inevitable that the team would see a falloff. Given that the injuries have occurred almost entirely in the top portion of the lineup, it shouldn't be surprising that the lack of talented players capable of making plays, and drawing penalties, would have an adverse effect.

So no, the refs aren't screwing the Pens, but it's understandable to see why it might seem that way. The Penguins' power play chances fell off when affected by injuries and their opponents' did not. It's likely the Pens also ran cold a bit while facing those injury problems, but this is a team that's gone 4-for-39 (10.3%) over their past 16 games on the power play after going 21-for-56 (37.5%) before that. The refs wouldn't be responsible for that, and it's likely the reason this streak has seemed that much worse. As for the discrepancy in power plays over the past 16 games, they've been taking penalties at an alarming rate all season long. Chicago leads the league with 3.90 power plays per game; the Penguins' opponents would fall closely behind with 3.86 allowed per game. Steve Downie (22) and Evgeni Malkin (19) rank 1st and t-2nd in minor penalties taken on the year.

So do the refs suck? Of course they do. But this past month has been highlighting the Penguins' issues, not those of the officials.
Radio: PI Home Community Initiative Rob Ullman Penguins Fights
1 2 3 4 5
Pens Girl by Rob Ullman