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.

Welcome Rust and Farnham by @LCJS

Bryan Rust

After Jason Megna received 4 penalties last night against the Calgary Flames, he was sent back down to Wilkes-Barre.  Also, Zach Sill has an "upper body" injury and is expected to miss a few weeks.

As replacements, the Pens have recalled forwards Bryan Rust and Bobby Farnham.  Both right wingers; Rust is a right-handed shot while Farnham is left-handed.

Rust was a 3rd round draft pick of the Pens back in 2010. He played for 4 years at Notre Dame, where he scored 97 points in 161 games.

Last season, Rust appeared in only 3 games for the Baby Pens, one of which was a playoff game.  He didn't register a point.

This season, Rust has 10 goals and 4 assists in 25 games for Wilkes-Barre.

The website Hockey's Future describes Rust in this way:

Rust plays a high motor game that allows him to be effective in many different assignments all over the ice. He has excellent hockey sense but is not an overly creative forward, meaning he will produce offense but it will be through hardwork, playing to his strengths, and of course having complementary linemates.  He rarely takes a penalty or makes a mistake on the ice and consequentially is often deployed when the game is on the line. His bread and butter is on the penalty kill, but he looks more than comfortable on the powerplay as well.

Bobby Farnham

Farnham, a 2013 free agent signing, played college hockey for Brown University where he had 54 points in 129 games.  He improved his point totals every year there.

Over the last 2 seasons for Wilkes-Barre, Farnham had 25 points also in 129 games.  This season, he has 1 goal and 3 assists in 23 games.  He also has 113 penalty minutes.

Hockey's Future describes Farnham like this:
Farnham will play for one of the Penguins minor league affiliates in 2013-14. He projects as a pesky energy player who can drop the gloves and take a regular shift on the fourth line.
Seems like these two are the perfect replacements for the likes of Megna and Sill.  Both are expected to make their NHL debut tonight against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

What's Ailing Sidney Crosby? by @DXTraeger

Pittsburgh Penguins' captain Sidney Crosby, channeling his inner "Painfully Awkward Rob Lowe."
**Pens Initiative UPDATE**  After this article was posted earlier this morning, Sidney Crosby missed practice for the Penguins.

Stop me if you've heard this one before: "Sidney Crosby skates out onto the ice, and fails to score a goal for the seventh game in a row."

You probably have heard something similar about Crosby during last year's aborted Stanley Cup playoff run, and the variables Crosby faced then mirror those that Crosby faces now.

The little depth that Pittsburgh had at forward has all but evaporated, with Chris Kunitz, Pascal Dupuis, Patric Hornqvist, and Beau Bennett all missing time due to injuries, effectively forcing Pittsburgh to skate out a roster largely devoid of talent up and down the lines.

Ordinarily, citing poor linemates would seemingly justify #87's ho-hum 35 point total (second in the NHL to Dallas's Tyler Seguin), but Crosby posted 120 points in 2006 while playing Mike Therrien's defensive shell brand of hockey, and Crosby registered those points skating between 700-year old Mark Recchi and Colby "Out of the NHL" Armstrong.

Current head coach Mike Johnston's transition system is predicated on the Penguins attacking in swarms, and such an offensive emphasis was supposed to enhance Crosby's scoring efficiency, leading to more goals for Pittsburgh and more Art Ross Trophies for the Penguins' captain.

The @Pensinitiative Pets: Win a Pens & Paws Calendar from @AnimalRescueLg

2015 Pens & Paws Calendar

Starting in 2014, +Pens Initiative and +Animal Rescue League Shelter & Wildlife Center began working together to promote the Annual Pens & Paws Calendar.  It's only $20 which proceeds go right back to the center. Animal Rescue League has an "Open Door Policy" which means that no animal is turned away ever for any reason. The heal and rehab sick animals and even take in wild animals. They take in about 13,000 animals annually, he-homed around 7,000 animals, and helped 2,700 injured wild animals. They have a tough job let's help them out.

We decided to share our furry friends here with you. We may disagree on alot, but loving animals is not one of them!

To win your own calendar check on and leave a pic of your pet and if you get the most "likes" you can win one for free!

You can purchase a calendar here: >>>

Beth Mincin

Name: Zulu

Age: 4

Breed: Silver Bengal

Likes: Rubber Bands, Cuddle Time

Dislikes: Not getting attention when he wants it.

Chris Barron

Name: Auggie (aka Huberdeau)
Age: 3

Breed: Mini-Dachshund 

Likes: Laps, Eating Hats

Dislikes: Going Outside

Name: Winchester (aka Big Buff)

Age: 8

Breed: Dachshund/Corgi Mix 

Likes: Eating Everything, Stealing Toys, Eating

Dislikes: Auggie 

Name: Hali

Age: 13

Breed: Basenji Mix

Likes: Sleeping, Being Away from Everyone Else

Dislikes: Everything Else

Paul Clemente

Name: Tink (aka Smores, Tinker Tank, Fat Horse)

Age: ???

Breed: Siamese

Likes: Belly Scratches, Soft Blankets, Food

Dislikes: Belly Scratches, Vacuum, Poof

Name: Poof )aka Poofy, Smoochie, Smooch Booch, Smoo-Boo)

Age: 2

Breed: Himalayan 

Likes: Feet, His Blankie, Xmas Trees

Dislikes: Closed Doors, Vacuum, Tink

Nicole Tee

Name: Easton

Age: 2

Breed: French Bulldog

Likes: Rubber Duckies, Escaping the Yard, Carrots, Farting

Dislikes: Vacuum, Hairdryer, Flyers, 

Name: Calder

Age: 4

Breed: Chocolate Lab

Likes: Barking, Collecting Human Clothes, Sitting on the Couch like a Person

Dislikes:Garbage Trucks, Having His Ears Touched,  Collars

Name: Rooney

Age: 6

Breed: Shih Tzu

Likes: Sleeping, Sock Chewing, M&Ms

Dislikes: Haircuts, 

Lee Sobotka

Name: Artemis

Age: 1

Breed: Jack Russel Mix

Likes: Licking Faces, Digging

Dislikes: Apollo

Name: Apollo

Age: 10 months

Breed: German Schnauzer

Likes: Pooping in the Kitchen

Dislikes: Apollo

 Mike Traeger

Name: Mercedes

Age: 13

Breed: Papillon 

Likes: Food, Neighborhood Watch, Pillows

Dislikes: All other Dogs.

Brandon Marinacci

Name: Dino

Age: 2 

Breed: Boston Terrier

Likes: Naps, Snow (not water), Ice, Hiding Under Things

Dislikes: Water, Water, Vacuum, Water

Kyle Fritz

Name: Victor

Age: Timeless

Breed: Asgardian

Likes: Kyle, Saving the World, Buddy-Cop Movies

Dislikes: Poverty, Warm Beer, Unfaithful Women

Rob Ullman

Name: Louie

Age: 3

Breed: Lab-Mutt

Likes: Frisbee, Rob's Side of the Bed, Sunbeams

Dislikes: Davis

Liz Thompson

Name: Lola

Age: 4

Breed: Domestic Short Hair

Likes: Music

Dislikes: Sports

Ryan Noble

Name: Malek

Age: 6

Breed: Dogo Argentino

Likes: Tucked in Bed, Gatorade Bottles

Dislikes: Laying on the Floor

Name: Leopold

Age: 1

Breed: Bengal

Likes: Dogs, Boxes, Counter Jumping

Dislikes: Rock and Roll, Minding His Own Business

Name: Sage

Age: 10

Breed: Lab

Likes: Everything

Dislikes: Empty Cat Food Dish

Name: Rock N Roll

Age: 8

Breed: Black Cat

Likes: Dirty Laundry, Water

Dislikes: Leopold (90% of the Time)

Nick Case

Name: Bella & Stitch

Age: 4 & 6

Breed: Big Cats

Likes: Food, Food, and Food

Dislikes: Belly Rubs

Brian Blystone

Name: Shi-Fu

Age: 3

Breed: Can't Fixed

Likes: Fallout 3, Boarderlands, Assasins Creed

Dislikes: Call of Duty

Ken Clawson

Name: Albert

Age: 5

Breed: American Bulldog

Likes: Sleeping, Laziness, Ramming Things with his Head

Dislikes: Own Shadow, Car Rides, Vacuum, Rain, NY Islanders

Feedback From "Defining a Late Hit in Pittsburgh" by @ChicksDigHockey

For me, there is no better feeling than getting feedback from a post I put a lot of time and thought into. That happened for me today with my "Defining a Late Hit in Pittsburgh" post. I thought I'd share some of the more interesting comments I got:

From Dave Sandford, NHLI/Getty photographer who has shot 16 Stanley Cup Finals:

You mainly wrote that post with the same feelings as I have. I've been around the game so much and so many of my friends are officials that I find myself defending them a lot simply because as you say, it's a fast game and split second decisions have to be made. In the end, officials are human
& humans make mistakes. It's always miffed me that the league doesn't say more publicly about officiating.
That having been said they are, after all, a major part of any game. Without them games don't happen. Without great officials the game isn't as great as it is today. I think that they are under appreciated. We don't hear about 95% of the things they do, because they do it right most of the time. That's professionalism at it's best in my eyes.
The league, however, should celebrate the good & point out the bad when it happens. In a silent way, I guess it happens once we get to the playoffs. The officials who are working are being rewarded for being the best. So when your talking .25 or .50 of a second… I say good on them for getting it right most of the time.

From Facebook: 

 Kevin J. Alexander The pendulum has to swing both ways. Usually officials will try to even things up when they realize after the fact that they've made a bad or questionable call. But I don't see that happening lately. Last night's game was a perfect example - the Rangers committed their share of crimes against the Pens... but only one of them was called. / I thought Bortuzzos shoulder to shoulder hit on Jagr was legal and thought Jagr should have been thrown out of the game for trying to slewfoot Bortuzzo and spearing him with his stick right in front of the official about three minutes earlier. It was dirty, dangerous and wasn't committed in the course of playing the game like Bortuzzos hit was. The same favoritism for Jagr works in reverse against Steve Downie - he gets called for just about anything and everything... but if a player on the opposing team trips him or takes a whack at him they don't get penalized. The personal biases need to be eliminated - if it's a penalty it's a penalty. Period.

 Bryan Madden There needs to be some level of transparency from the NHL on this subject. It appears as though the standard for penalties has become somewhat dynamic. I doubt this is the intent of the rules. Officials are human and therefore subject to making mistakes as any other human. What needs to happen is when a mistake occurs, acknowledge it, take ownership of it and live with the consequences. Since everything relating to Officials is done in secret, it does not appear that there is any accountability. This undermines the integrity of the game.  
Now I understand that this is a very fast game and the on ice Officials have a very very difficult job. The smaller in tenths of a second that these standards are pushed the more mistakes human Officials are going to make. That is inevitable. So either ease the standard or show some transparency. Personally I would like to see both.

From Twitter: 

Thanks to everyone who took the time to reply to my post. We always welcome your feedback.
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