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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Penguins Bid Farewell to 2013: Don't Let the Door Hit You in the Butt. by @ChicksDigHockey

9:00:00 AM 0

2013 was a fairly turbulent year for  Penguin hockey. When the ball dropped on 2013, the NHL was  in the throws of a lockout. Fans felt like they were held hostage by greedy owners who cared more about their wallets than the greater good of the sport. Neither side seemed willing to budge while fans and those who make their living from what hockey brings to their city faced a bleak winter.

On January 12 both the NHL and the NHLPA announced that both sides signed the agreement reflecting the terms of the new 10-year CBA officially ending the lockout. They announced a 720 game (48 per team) regular-season schedule that would begin on January 19, 2013.  When the smoke cleared and an agreement was reached, we were left without The Winter Classic and The All-Star Game but something was better than nothing, right?

Let's take a look back at 2013 and the roller coaster ride it turned out to be.

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Friday, December 27, 2013

Really Dramatic Shampoo Commercial starring Evgeni Malkin

Pascal Dupuis to have ACL Surgery, Likely Out For the Rest of The Season

1:50:00 PM 0

Welp, we expected bad news about Pascal Dupuis and boy did we get it. The Pittsburgh Penguins' winger will most likely miss the rest of this season as he will need ACL surgery to repair his knee. Dupuis. The 34-year old forward has a huge role with the Pens' team, playing on the top line alongside Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz, and also is a key component to the team's penalty-kill, which is the best in the NHL.
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Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Penguins Could Face an Uphill Battle by @griffTHW

10:32:00 PM 0
The Pittsburgh Penguins are the Led Zeppelin of the NHL: blessed with the rarest of talent that most can only dream about, yet, afflicted with more misfortune than many could handle.  And, while an alleged curse brought about the band's hardships, it has been the injury bug that seemingly decimates the Penguins year in and year out.

The latest to fall victim?  Pascal Dupuis.  An apparent knee injury suffered Monday night has the coaching staff hoping the damage isn't too severe but things certainly appeared grim as the winger was helped off the ice.

Time will tell how long Dupuis finds himself on the shelf but, in the meantime, the Pens will have to find a way to overcome the loss of yet another key contributor.

A History of Perseverance

The Penguins have long been a club forced to overcome injuries to key players.  From Mario Lemieux's courageous and improbable return from Hodgkin's Disease to the club overcoming his broken hand in 1992 en route to capturing Pittsburgh's second consecutive Cup,
a precedent has long existed for overcoming adversity in Western Pennsylvania.

Fast forward to the Sidney Crosby Era and you'll find more of the same. 

In Game 7 of the '09 Stanley Cup Finals, for example, Max Talbot's pair of tallies allowed the Pens to overcome a second period injury to their captain in the biggest game of the season. 

In the years that followed, severe injuries to Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and others have threatened entire campaigns.  In fact, Sid has missed a mind-boggling 113 games since the start of the 2010 season while Geno has missed 70 in the same time frame.  Yet, the team has always marched on, finishing no worse than fourth in the East during any of those injury plagued years.

This season, though, the injury bug continues to wreak havoc like never before.  With injuries to Rob Scuderi, Brooks Orpik, Paul Martin, Kris Letang (twice), Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, Beau Bennett, Tanner Glass, Tomas Vokoun, and, most recently, Pascal Dupuis, the Penguins have lost more man games to injury than anyone in the league.  But, despite the loss of their back up goaltender, a former scoring champion and MVP and their top four defensemen, the Penguins amazingly lead the Eastern Conference in points as we enter the Christmas break.

With this latest injury, though, one has to wonder...

Is Dupuis' Injury the Straw that Broke the Camel's Back?

The Penguins have overcome a plethora of injuries thanks in large part to their depth along the blue line and strong play in net.  Sure, it's advantageous that Crosby continues to pace the league in scoring, helping to ensure that Pittsburgh's attack remains one of the most potent on the circuit.  And, no, it doesn't hurt that the Pens own the NHL's second ranked power play (first until an abysmal performance in Ottawa Monday night). 

But it was the adversity overcome by an incredibly green defensive unit that proved paramount to the club's recent hot streak, allowing Pittsburgh to further establish a stranglehold on the Metropolitan Division.  With Matt Niskanen and Olli Maatta anchoring the blue line, the likes of Simon Despres, Robert Bortuzzo, Brian Dumoulin and Philip Samuelsson stepped up to ensure the Penguins remained stingy in their own end.  Indeed, the group's strong play consistently exemplified the incredible depth Ray Shero has brought to the organization's blue line.

A significant injury to Dupuis, however, presents an entirely different situation. The Penguins dont possess the organizational depth at forward that they do along the blue line. Sure, they've overcome injuries to Malkin and Neal but a big part of that perseverance results from others, such as Crosby and Chris Kunitz, stepping up to fill the void of offensive production. 

However, in Dupuis, the Penguins could be missing one of the most versatile players in their lineup, someone who missed only two games since the start of the 2009-'10 campaign. He's a heart and soul player, a beloved teammate who gives every ounce of everything he has during every shift of every game. Not only can he be counted on for roughly 20 goals a year (virtually all of which come at even strength since he doesn't play on the power play) but he's also one of the club's most effective penalty killers. Logging nearly two minutes per game of short handed ice time, Pascal has become a mainstay on the Pens' second ranked penalty killing unit.

Ultimately, Dupuis' blinding speed, tenacity and heart and soul character won't be traits that Dan Bylsma can easily replace. Sure, maybe a Tanner Glass (likely to return to action Friday night) can help soften the blow, at least on the penalty kill. But, if "Duper" finds himself on the shelf for the long haul, Ray Shero may need to look at the trade market to make up for such a significant loss.  Of course, that likely depends on how long Dupuis will be out.

Regardless, replacing Dupuis will present new challenges for a squad already ravaged by injuries.  But, hey, at least it's the type of adversity the Penguins have somehow managed to overcome again and again over the years.
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A Penguins Carol by @Nick422

10:00:00 AM 0
It's Christmas Day!  The best way to celebrate?  A Christmas Carol!

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Tuesday, December 24, 2013

For the Love of Hockey Hair by @ChicksDigHockey

10:00:00 AM 0

Hockey hair makes me happy. Every guy who ever laces up his skates dreams of having flow on the ice. Hockey guys don’t always change their lucky socks or air out their stinky gear but they all want to look like Ryan Smyth did in warm ups: Head up, doing laps with brown mane blowing in the wind behind his neck.

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Saturday, December 21, 2013

Another Amazing Goal Scored By Sidney Crosby

#Pens sign Zatkoff to a 2 year extension.

11:07:00 AM 0

The Pittsburgh Penguins have announced today that they have signed back up goalie Jeff Zatkoff to a 2 year contract extension.

The contract will take begin in the 2014-15 season to 2015-16.

The contract is worth an average of $600,000 annually.

So far this season Zatkoff has played in 8 games. He has a 6-2 record and has won all 6 of his last 6 games. He has a 2.46 GAA and a .912 save percentage.
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Youth Statement by @LCJS

9:00:00 AM 0
As of 12/21/13

This team has the makings of something special.

In their 37 games, the Pens have scored first 23 times.  They have won 21 of those games.  That's a .913 win percentage and an incredibly powerful statement about this team.

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Friday, December 20, 2013

The Heart of the Maatta, By @LuigiLemieux

10:15:00 AM 0
The Heart of the Maatta

Article by: Kyle Fritz (@LuigiLemieux) for Pens Initiative

What a night for hockey.

What a night for a resilient Pens team written off by the media as "Exhausted" and "Decimated by injury".

The best part was seeing the guys on the bench, each one with eyes almost as wide as the grins on their faces as the 19 year old Defenceman from Jyvaskyla, Finland made his way back to them, having just laid the Minnesota Wild firmly to rest on a Thursday night in the Steel City.

So the story went during last nights 5-2 scoring festival against Mike Yeo and now Matt Cooke's Minnesota Wild, a game that saw almost as many gloves dropped as goals scored.

Perhaps no star shined as bright as the rookie Maatta, who is proving every night that he has just what it takes -and more- to not only justify his spot on a pro roster, but perhaps even bring home a Calder Trophy at the end of the season.

The question of whether or not Olli is ready for the big time is no longer a question at all. His smooth skating and solid defensive play have been a welcome shoulder on which a team plagued by injury, specifically but not limited to the Defence, can rely. Playing far beyond his years and demonstrating a work ethic that shines through not only in his game, but also in the praise of his more veteran teammates.

Don't look for his impact on the score sheet alone, although you could find it there last night. The young blue-liner put on quite a show for the Penguins 305th consecutive sell-out crowd, adding three points to the spreadsheet with two assists and a huge short-handed penalty shot goal that he snuck past fellow Finnish countryman Niklas Backstrom to put the fifth tally on the board, and the game thoroughly out of the reach of the "wildly" determined squad from St. Paul.

The gritty resolve of the Penguins organization, from the very top, all the way down to the AHL and ECHL is on full display for the League. The drafting know-how, and foresight of the management team and coaches evident through the depth of talent the Pens have to pull from. Could it be that only a year after a Free Agent spending spree that sent players such as Jarome Iginla, Brendan Morrow, and Douglas Murray to the Pens ended in heartbreak against the Bruins, that the secret for sustained success all the while lay in our very own system the entire time?

It was only one year ago that Maatta, 18 at the time was suiting up for the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League. Splitting his time between his OHL responsibilies and his appearances in the World Junior Classic U-18 tournament for his native Finland, Scouts had no idea just where he would be right now, besides back in London.

Who would have thought that Olli Maatta would be in the top defensive pairing of the number one team in both the Metropolitan Division, and the Eastern conference?

Who would have thought that in a lineup that features the likes of Kris Letang, Brooks Orpik, Rob Scuderi, and Olympic hopeful Paul Martin, that his line mate up at the top would be Matt Niskanen, who was thrown in with James Neal in the trade that sent Alex Goligoski to Dallas?

Who would have predicted that the very same top D-pairing would combine for 2 Goals and 3 Assists in a game that put the Penguins in the win column for the 6th straight game?

 My guess is nobody.

Well, as it turned out Nobody was right, and for that we can be thankful.

Let's Go Pens.
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Thursday, December 19, 2013

Olli Maatta Scores On a Penalty Shot!!!

Random Defensive Musing by @ExcitedBobErrey

1:00:00 PM 0

With 5 of the 8 defensemen that made the Penguins opening night roster currently out with injuries or suspensions, the young players have gotten a chance to not only see the ice in a Pittsburgh Penguins jersey, but also to play big minutes in important situations. Also, they've given a glimpse of the future and have done an incredible job for a group that young and inexperienced. Most importantly, they've given Ray Shero a chance to see where they're at in their developments, and their success gives him more options moving forward. A few thoughts and observations on the play of the defensemen and how that might affect the team going forward:

Matt Niskanen has been good -- Really good. With all the uncertainty surrounding the cap situation in the offseason, it had appeared that Ray Shero had no choice other than to trade Matt Niskanen, although he has claimed that the team would have been able to fit a healthy roster under the salary cap without making any trades. Not only did he remain a Penguin for opening night, but he's been the team's most improved player. Niskanen has shown the ability to elevate his game with more responsibility in the past, and with the constant injuries on the blueline he's been given the opportunity to play big minutes and he's made the most of it.

In fact, his play has been so good that it's no longer inconceivable to imagine Shero signing him to another contract instead of letting him walk this summer in free agency. While there are still many things working against that happening, the combination of Niskanen's strong play and the large increase expected in next season's salary cap could make a deal happen. However he should have plenty of attention if he makes it to free agency, and it's possible that the price tag rises above what Shero would be willing to pay, especially considering the depth at the position in the organization.

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Pittsburgh Penguins Winning The Jordan Staal Trade by @MadChad412

9:23:00 AM 0

With everything that has gone wrong in the past week or so in the sport of hockey, I figured I'd actually like to write about something involving the actual sport. Something positive to boot. Going in a positive direction, I wanted to write about a certain player for the Pittsburgh Penguins that hasn't got enough credit and/or fanfare that I truly believe he deserves. He's a player that plays well on both sides of the rink, wins face-offs, and kills penalties for the second best team in the Eastern Conference. He's the most underrated and under-appreciated player on the Penguin's roster. He's Brandon Sutter.
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Morning Drive: 412 Sports Talk 12/18/13

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Last night on 412 Sports Talk Mad Chad and Mike "Buzz Saw" Asti talked Steelers with Dale Lolley of the Steelers Radio Network and the Observor-Reporter in Washington, PA.  They also break down the new 412 Sports Talk Drinking Game (please play responsibly) and more!

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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

When to Wear Their Jersey? by @Nick422

9:00:00 AM 3
Last week my friend Jeff sent me a text with an important question:

With Max Talbot now no longer a Flyer is it okay to not feel dirty wearing his jersey again?

It's a solid question that got me thinking: when is it okay?

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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Must Watch: 2013 Pittsburgh Penguins Fake Holiday Album

'D'-light for the Penguins by @ChicksDigHockey

9:00:00 AM 0

When the season started, many people were clamoring that the Pens had too much depth at defense. “Trade Nisky!” was a daily cry on Twitter. I don’t blame anyone for being so cavalier with poor Niskanen’s future but in hind-sight that would have been stupid! Now that Letang is on IR (along with Martin and Scuderi ),  Orpik is in concussion limbo and Engelland is facing the wrath of Shanahan, Nisky is the elder statesman of the defense. If the defensive squad were a village, Matt Niskanen would be their King.

Before Monday’s contest against the Leafs, Matt Niskanen said in an interview:  “It'll be me and five pretty young guys tonight, so a big challenge,” Niskanen smiled. “The young guys are excited and they’re full of enthusiasm and young legs….I’ll get to know some of them a little bit more now going through some games with them. Kind of a crummy situation having guys out, but exciting for young guys to get a chance. They’re going to get a chance to play a lot, too, so it’ll be fun.”

Suddenly, the defensive depth we languished in back in October doesn’t seem nearly deep enough. Remember how excited you were to see Scuderi and Letang together? If you blinked, you missed it. The Penguin’s defense has been fully healthy for a total of four periods this season.  Young players like Olli Maatta and Brian Dumoulin who may have been integrated slowly into the line-up have been thrown in with the big boys at full speed. Even then, the Penguins have only allowed 2.18 goals per game, which ranks fourth in the NHL. With Letang out of the lineup, Maatta played a career-high 22:08 on Saturday against the Red Wings and scored his second NHL goal. 

Simon Despres entered training camp slow and out of shape. The Pens had the luxury of sending him to AHL affiliate, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins to think about how he spent his summer and get into shape. Since being recalled from the WBS, Despres has viewed his time with Pittsburgh as an opportunity to make the impact he was unable to make last season. He has three assists in nine games and is four points shy of matching his seven-point total from 2012-13. 

Monday night’s game against Toronto saw five young defensemen with a total of 134 games of NHL experience combined between them take the ice: Simon Despres has the most with 60, followed by Robert Bortuzzo (39), Maatta (34), Dumoulin (1) and Philip Samuelsson.   

Ray Shero told Michelle Crechiolo : “It's always a great opportunity for these guys no matter what to get an opportunity to play,” Shero said. “To see some of these guys, from Olli Maatta from the drop of the puck to play the way he's playing, and certainly some of the other guys who get a chance with veteran guys being out, I actually look forward to seeing them play and see how they do.It’s a great experience for these young players and that's what happens with injuries. So far, they've acquitted themselves quite well.”
How did the young defensemen answer the call? They answered it with a loud resounding noise: Dumoulin, assisted on the first goal of the game and Robert Bortuzzo took zero crap from anyone while getting an assist in the third. Maatta left no gap at the blue line, had over 24:00 ice time and was ROOT Sports player of the game. As for Matt Niskanen: over 25:00 ice time, 5 SOG and the 3rd star of the game. Toronto may have entered CEC thinking they had nothing to fear from the Penguin's rag-tag defensive unit but they left thinking they were 'Un-be-Leaf-able'.
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Morning Drive: Case and Point 12/16/13

Monday, December 16, 2013

Jaromir Jagr: A Polarizing Legend by @griffTHW

4:00:00 PM 0
In his Friday column, Dejan Kovacevic primed Penguins fans for what may have been Jaromir Jagr's final game in Pittsburgh with the glowing recollection of a time when "Jags" represented one of the Steel City's greatest heroes.  For most, though, those memories have long since faded.

Because the divorce between Jagr and Pens' fans was as caustic as they come.  Sure, in hindsight, Jaromir will tell you he looks back fondly on his time in Western Pennsylvania but the Penguins faithful aren't so forgiving.

Whether they are too young to remember Jagr's mullet flowing out from underneath his helmet as he undressed would-be defenders or too bitter regarding the fallout created by the superstar's departure, many still consider Jaromir's name to be taboo in Pittsburgh.

The hatred isn't necessarily unwarranted.  From the sentiment that he was "dying alive" and his subsequent trade to Washington to the way he snubbed Mario and the Pens when everyone thought he was coming "home" a couple of years ago, more than one reason exists to hold a grudge against "68".  As a result, more than a decade after his departure, he still remains one of Pittsburgh's most polarizing athletes.

So, as might be expected, Dejan's column elicited a plethora of responses from Pens' fans.  Ranging from the idea that Jagr was a selfish quitter to the recognition of all he accomplished in a Pittsburgh sweater, no shortage of opinion was uncovered.

One, response, though, really stood out.  After an incredibly logical, well-thought-out explanation regarding why he surmises people in Pittsburgh still loathe Jagr, the gentleman concluded his argument with a question:

...If you had a choice of any player from the last 30 years to build a team around, to be your franchise cornerstone, to be THE guy for you, would you pick Jagr? He's definitely a great player. But in my opinion, he's not and never has been a true cornerstone guy in the way that a Lemieux, Gretzky, Messier, Yzerman, Sakic, Crosby, etc. are. In my opinion, he wouldn't be anywhere near as valuable in that role as someone like a Ron Francis or Bryan Trottier. And that's precisely because you can't trust Jagr not to be a petulant flake, which is perhaps the biggest pity of his career. He could have been one of the true greats, justly revered for his career. But have to discount everything BUT the numbers. Even when you include the numbers, you have to end up saying "great statistical player...but absolutely not a guy you could try to build a championship team around."
And, maybe there's something to that.  After all, Jagr never led a club to a Stanley Cup title.  Sure, he was instrumental in the Penguins' first two Cup runs (particularly the second) but, as a fresh-faced teenager, Jags was more adjusting to life in North America than leading the Pens to their place in hockey history.

What's more, he's bounced around as much as any great player in the history of the sport.  Whether he was simply chasing money, trying to escape his own financial woes or it was something else entirely, only he really knows.  Whatever the case, Jagr never seemed to have a problem moving on to the next chapter.

So, maybe he wasn't the cornerstone player you'd build a team around.  Maybe you would take a Lemieux or a Gretzky or a Yzerman before Jaromir in your quest for that franchise player or championship ring.

But, you know what?  That doesn't lessen all that Jagr achieved here.  Because, before things went south, it wasn't just about the numbers. 

It was about a city enamored with their long-haired superstar who lusted for life in the fast lane.  It was about the highlight-reel goals that brought fans out of their seats on an almost nightly basis.  It was about the gutsy performance that Dejan brought back to life in his piece, the effort an injured star came up with way back in 1999 that may have kept this franchise in Pittsburgh.

On top of all that, though, there was a time that Jagr was not only the face of a franchise but, also, the greatest player in the game.  Because, after Wayne Gretzky hung up his skates, he passed the figurative torch to Jagr as the game's brightest star.  After all, Jagr found himself in the middle of collecting a Hart, three Lester B. Pearson and five Art Ross Trophies at the time of The Great One's retirement.

Of course, to some, those awards may still represent nothing more than the individual accolades Jagr achieved for himself over the years.  Because, despite all those accomplishments, all the fame, all the money, he ultimately failed in the quest to put a team on his back and lead them to a championship.

Should, however, that failure alone define Jaromir as a player? 

Put all the goals, all the awards, all the milestones aside. One can't deny that Jaromir Jagr was the game's most dominant offensive force for a significant period of time.  One-on-one?  Forget about it.  The guy was virtually unstoppable; his blend of size, strength and skill went unmatched.  Trying to separate him from the puck was like climbing Everest.  Simply put, the NHL was his playground. 

Jaromir, alone, was worth the price of admission because, on any given night, he could create something out of nothing.  He captured the imagination of his fans while terrorizing his opponents.  And, before their relationship went off the rails, the Pittsburgh faithful loved him for it.

But, as is often the case, times changed and the bond deteriorated.  The adoration turned to feelings of betrayal as Jagr moved on with his career.  As he transitioned from hero to villain, his reputation began to take on water in the Steel City.  And, for many, his spurning of the Penguins for a second time to join the hated Philadelphia Flyers caused that reputation to forever sink into the abyss.

So, by all means, hate Jagr for his perceived selfishness, if you must.  Hate him for turning his back on the Penguins...twice.  Just don't forget that, at one time, he carved out a place for himself as one of hockey's all-time greats.  And he did it in a Penguins' sweater.

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Sunday, December 15, 2013

An Evening With Mario Lemieux by @PandaPSU

9:39:00 PM 0
I'm not really THAT short...

There are some moments in life that a person never forgets. For a sports fan, those moments usually revolve around your team winning a championship or meeting one of the figures you look up to the most. Then there are those rare occasions where you have the opportunity to meet THE person you have idolized since you were young. Such was the case for me this past Friday night up at the beautiful Frameworth complex in Toronto, ON.

For those of you that do not know, Frameworth is a sports memorabilia and marketing company located in Toronto, ON. They are incredibly gracious with giveaways and frequently reach out to their followers. This past week they announced their "largest giveaway to date" with the winner receiving a ticket to the Lemieux Gala event. I found out on Wednesday that I was the random winner and needed to be in Toronto on Friday night. I made the necessary arrangements with work, and without hesitation, my wife and I drove through the beginnings of Winter Storm Electra to be at the hotel by the afternoon. With the event starting at 6:30pm, I had just enough time to try to collect myself and get ready for the event.

From the moment I walked into the door, I was absolutely blown away. For me, this had to be what heaven is like. Aside from the absolute enormity of the occasion itself, I thoroughly enjoyed all of the sports memorabilia throughout the large event space. Growing up, I was an avid collector of trading cards and various memorabilia. I found myself in awe of all of the collector's items. Before I knew it, I was reminiscing on all of the fond memories I had as a kid collecting these signature pieces and occasionally meeting someone famous to get the "holy" autograph. Enough about my background, though... on with the show!

As you read from the information above, the first hour of the evening consisted of hors d'oeuvres, an open bar, and a photo session with Mario Lemieux and the Stanley Cup. While most of my counterparts enjoyed food and drinks, I hurried to find my table number so I could organize my belongings and wait in line to meet my idol. To be honest, eating or drinking was the furthest thing from my mind. I waited in line for 10-15 minutes and finally had my photo. Mario, like many hockey players, is much taller in person than I thought, and it certainly shows in our photo (I was just happy to be slightly taller than the Stanley Cup).

After all of the attendees had their photo taken, the next part of the evening broke the tables up into different sections. My table made our way back to the cup for a photo with more childhood idols in Paul Coffey and Bryan Trottier. We needed to hurry through, because Mario would be making his way to our table immediately after the photo session. As he came around to greet us individually, pose for photos, and answer some short questions, I felt as though I needed to pinch myself to make sure this was all really happening. Because the photo session ran longer than expected, Mario did not have as much time at our tables. He did have time to pose for a photo with me, and tell the gentlemen seated next to me about a story when he was four or five. His mother would bring a small amount of snow into the house and put it onto the living room floor so he and his siblings could "skate around". It seems like even at such an early age, Mario was destined to be a hockey player.

As Mario finished meeting everyone, we made our way up to enjoy a delicious buffet-style dinner. Toward the conclusion of the meal, the emcee for the evening, comedian Jim Jerome, started the auction portion of the event. A portion of the ticket price had benefited the Mario Lemieux Foundation, and the auction was the other way Frameworth was raising money. I sat and watched as autographed gloves, autographed handmade banners, and even two seats to the February 27 Penguins game in the suite with Mario were auctioned off. The two seats netted the most money as two couples ended up spending thousands each for a great cause. They also had a "joker card" game, which I participated in. You pay per chance, picking any unclaimed card on the board and writing your name on it. At the end of the evening, the cards are turned over one by one until a joker is found. If the joker is never found, the ace of spades wins the prize. All of those chances also benefited the Mario Lemieux Foundation, but we will come back to that a bit later.

The final event of the evening consisted of Bryan Trottier and his band playing a half  hour set. They were very talented, and it was a joy to watch. The highlight for me was their cover of "Wagon Wheel." While I did not want the event to end, I grabbed my pickup ticket and collected my autographed plaque, jersey, and goodie bag. I then made my way over to Bryan Trottier to get his autograph and take a photo with him.  We spoke for five to ten minutes, and he was a very down-to-earth person. I made sure to wait around again to speak to Brian Ehrenworth, the owner of Frameworth, to express my gratitude once more. Obviously, without his generosity, none of this would have been possible for me.

If I were to craft a perfect evening for a Pittsburgh Penguins lifetime fan, I do not think I could have dreamed up a better four hours. I met some of the players I admired as a kid, and the player I looked up to the most. It also conjured up some great childhood memories (the photo Mario autographed in the frame above was the exact photo I had in my bedroom all throughout school). I received some amazing collectible pieces, that along with all of my personal photos, will make a great story for my own kids someday. It really was the perfect evening. Oh, I almost forgot... That "joker card" game I mentioned earlier... My card was unfortunately not the joker. It was the ace of spades, however, and the joker was never found. I ended up winning a custom built pool table from one of the sponsors of the event. It was just icing on one of the biggest cakes I have ever had. An evening with Mario Lemieux was one I will certainly never -- ever -- forget.

Thank you again to Brian and his staff at Frameworth Sport.
Frameworth can be found on Twitter @FrameworthSport and on Facebook under Frameworth Sport.

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The Pens and The Cap by @ToonsBrian

10:27:00 AM 0
    Few teams were as interested as the Pittsburgh Penguins' front offices were in this week's NHL Board of Governors meetings.  Yet, the Pens interest in the meetings at Pebble Beach, California had little to do with the drama surrounding the Thornton/Orpik fiasco. Rather, one integral topic that was being covered had the potential to affect the immediate futures of over half of the league's franchises: the salary cap.

   Following the annual conference, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman - incidentally celebrating his 21st year as Commish this past week - announced that the hard cap, per the NHL and NHLPA's Collective Bargaining Agreement, would be increasing more than 10% for the 2014-15 NHL season. This increase would see the cap jump from $64.3 million to the $71.1 million projected by the League.

    For several teams, this increase could drastically affect moves made at the deadline, as much as moves made going into next season. The Penguins fall into that category with large increases in salary due to both Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang in the upcoming season.

    Currently, the Penguins are set to spend $55.9 million dollars against next year's cap. At the current cap, that would allow them to spend a mere $7.4 million dollars in new contracts. With only 15 players under contract through at least the 2014-15 season, that small amount of money would burn up pretty quickly and leave huge holes that make this season's lack of depth look minor. The $15.2 million of space left under the new cap should go a long way towards avoiding any major issues.

    Until somebody begins overpaying in the free agent market, at least.

    In the meantime, here's a list of the Pens who are facing Free Agency and what you can expect out of the market as a result of the increased cap.

Pens' UFAs


Jussi Jokinen:

Jokinen and his $2.1M cap hit....okay, his $1.2M cap hit....for the Pens is likely to not go up at all. Of course, it won't go down either. He is still an excellent veteran presence at forward. His forechecking remains top-notch even though his puck-handling is suspect more times than not.


Tanner Glass:

Glass has quietly been one of the pleasant surprises this season. At the beginning of the hockey year, it would have been difficult finding someone not willing to ship him and his $1.1M contract elsewhere. His worth to the team has increased and, thus, his asking price will as well. Look for somebody - whether the Penguins or some other team - to pay him close to $1.5 or $1.75M.


Chuck Kobasew:

Having spent most of this season on the shelf, it's tough to get a read on where Kobasew stands with the Pens. In the preseason, he was lights out, clearly earning his spot on the Pens roster. In the games that he has played in the regular season, he's been largely unremarkable. I would classify Chuck "I'm Chuck Kobasew, Steiggy, Not Jarome Iginla" Kobasew as an expendable resource for Pittsburgh at this point. Either by trade or through the expiration of his  contract, unless he earns his way back, look for his stay in Pittsburgh to be a "one and done."


Joe Vitale:

The St. Louis native shows flashes of brilliance at times and his youth at other times. His speed is a definite plus. So far this season, he's spent more time up in The Bigs than he has in the AHL. Presently, his is a $550K contract that will undoubtedly go up after this season, especially if he continues his marked development. Since his hit will remain under $800K, look for him to remain a Penguin.


Chris Conner:

Chris Conner is a victim of genetics. In a world filled with 6'4" athletes, his 5'8" frame does absolutely nothing to help him. It's unfortunate for him that tenacity can only go so far. If Conner is a Penguin after this season, it will still be at that league minimum level.


Brooks Orpik:

In 2014, Brooks Orpik will be a Penguin. Fortunately for the Penguins he will be in 2015 as well. The Pens will do what it takes to keep "Brooksy," short of naming him captain. Due to his recent injury at the hands of Shawn Thornton, how much he gets could depend on his recovery. If his recovery is rapid and he shows no ill-effects, his $3.75 will increase dramatically as one of the best defensive defensemen in the league. The longer he's out, the less he will get, but look for Orpik to land a best-case $4 to $4.5 million contract.


Matt Niskanen:

As Sean Griffin told us just this week here on, Niskanen could very well go down as the best trade that Ray Shero didn't make. It's pretty much an undeniable fact that he and his $2.3 million contract placed him at the top of the "Pens Most Likely To Be Moved To Make Cap Room" list of every observer of the team. He has proven himself to be a more than capable defender, worthy of a Top 4 label.
    Unfortunately for Nisky, and maybe the Pens, he will attract a lot of attention in the free agent market.  His $2.3 million will likely bump up considerably. For that reason, barring significant long-term injuries to the defensive corps, he could be dealt still, if only to minimize the loss felt by the Pens.


Deryk Engelland:

For the role he plays and the versatility he's shown, Deryk Engelland has been a steal for the Penguins. He has played defense. He's played on the wing. He's been the enforcer. And all for barely more than the league minimum. Some teams may come calling via free agency but reality remains the same: Engelland will continue to make far less than $1.0 million each year and could still provide grit and, more importantly, options for the Pens down the road. Or a young team looking for that same type of player could come along and get a decent deal on a quality 18th skater.


Tomas Vokoun:

What can be said about Tomas? He's a great guy. A great teammate. And, after his latest bout with DVT, staring down retirement. Certainly not by choice, however. That said, it is possible that Vokoun returns for another season, if only to "go out on his own terms." That would be a best case scenario for the Pens and they could expect to pay his current salary of $2 million or perhaps a little less. Of course, the Pens may not be interested given a younger option that has emerged in the organization.


Jeff Zatkoff:

When it was announced that Tomas Vokoun was out indefinitely with blood clots in his hip, 21 year old Jeff Zatkoff was thrust into the backup role. That development was met with much apprehension. When he made his regular season debut in a 3-6 loss to the lowly Florida Panthers, that apprehension turned into something much worse. Since then, the rookie out of Miami (OH) University has shined, increasing his value with every appearance. While he's not ready for his big money contract quite yet, the Pens will want to lock him up and it may cost them $1 million or so to do just that.

Pens' RFAs 


Brandon Sutter:

Since being acquired from the Carolina Hurricanes in exchange for Jordan Staal, nobody has been treated as unfairly as Sutter. Many fans expected him to be as good or better than Staal. That's a lofty expectation and one that never should have been saddled on him. Sutter is good in his own rite, to be sure. His game is just different than Staal's is/was. As such, Brandon Sutter is an excellent third line center, has decent speed and is dependable in his own zone. Offers will be made for his services and the Penguins will match. Look for him to get a decent raise to about $2.5 million.


Jayson Megna:

Jayson Megna is another young player who, thanks to injuries and a lack of depth at the forward position, has had an excellent opportunity to showcase himself. His performance has impressed many and should garner him many offers from teams looking to add youngsters with great offensive instinct and a hunger for the game. Megna is that type of forward, showing great potential at only 23 years of age. Megna is another player the Pens will likely match offers for should another team attempt to sign him.


Zach Sill:

Sill's worth to the team is much the same as Deryk Engelland. While Sill is explicitly a forward, his job is to agitate and be physical. His weakness seems to come with the lack of offensive ability. Look for him to become an unrestricted free agent barring any developments over the next few months.


Simon Despres:

Adding to the depth of the Pens defensive corps, Despres' fate with the team could hinge on the status of Matt Niskanen. If the Pens re-sign Niskanen, look for Despres to be shopped. But if the Pens do decide to cash in their chips with Nisky in the form of a trade, Despres will most certainly be re-signed himself. At 22, the young defenseman will probably receive offers in the $1.5 to $2 million range - a decent bump from the $840K that he currently accounts for.

    All in all, the bump in the salary cap should give the Pens at least a little bit of breathing room for maneuvering in the upcoming NHL season given the big money they'll be paying Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby, Kris Letang and company. Couple that small amount of relief with the surprising development of many youngsters within the organization and the prospects for the team's long term future look to be quite good.

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Saturday, December 14, 2013

Win A 2014 Penguins and Paws Calendar Tonight!

5:16:00 PM 0 and The Animal Rescue League want you to have your very own 2014 Penguins and Paws calendar in time for the new year.
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NHL video explaining the Thornton suspension:

Shawn Thornton Wheel of Suspension by @ChicksDigHockey

12:41:00 PM 0
It's punishment day! Care to take a guess at how many games Shawn Thornton will get? Brooks was on the ice this week for what was described as very light exercise.

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Game Recap: #Devils @ #Penguins by @ryannoble66

11:31:00 AM 0

Last night the Penguins hosted the New Jersey Devils. The team only really showed up in the first period but that would be enough to get a 3-2 win with great support by Marc Andre Fleury. Jaromir Jagr was there so luckily all the boo birds showed up at the arena to show "love" to the former Penguin star.

First Period 

The Penguins didn't wait long to get up on the score board. Lets be honest, terrible goal. I think it is clear why Schneider might not be getting the starts he wants in New Jersey. I could try to explain how bad the goal was but... 

Because Schneider can't be credited with goals against, Dupuis got the goal (5th) with assists going to Kunitz (15th) and Crosby (28). Penguins have the lead 41 seconds in.

Though the entire team was looking incredible, Malkin especially was flying. Skating through everyone and getting a bunch of pucks towards the net. For the boo birds, Jagr looked nothing like Malkin... 

The Penguins dominated the majority of the period and it wouldn't take long for them to cash in again when Chris Conner would get his second goal on the season after receiving a great pass from Sutter (7th) and Vitale would get the second assist (7th). The Devils looked awful on this goal. Nobody was anywhere near Conner. That is their problem, not ours.  

The Penguins go up 2-0.

 Almost 7 minutes later the Penguins would score again when Jayson Megna score to increase the Pens lead 3-0. It was Megnamans 4th on the season and assists went to Despres (3rd) and Engelland (3rd).

That would be it for goals in the period. The Penguins dominated the period out shooting the Devils 12-7 and looked like they had enough going for them to get an easy win. Of course this means everything had to fall apart, right? 

Second Period 

The Devils wouldn't wait long to get on the board after coming out hard. 3:24 into the period the Devils would get on the board with a goal by P. Elias to cut into the lead. 3-1

If that wasn't enough under a minute later the Devils would score again when Zubrus would score. Everyone's favorite Devil would be credited with an assist on the play... HE LOOKS SO COCKY! 

The score is now 3-2 in favor for the Pens.

The Penguins sucked... Looked nothing like the team that showed up to dominate the first period. Luckily for them Flower showed up, stopping 17 of 19 shots on the period. The Penguins only managed to get 5 shots on Schneider. 

Third Period

The Penguins looked terrible again, but don't worry because Flower was still incredible. Stopping all 13 shots thrown at him. 

Including this monster save.

He continued to be incredible. And it was enough to get the win 3-2 over the Devils.

The Penguins only really showed up in the first period. They were outshot 39-23. Flower is AWWWWESOMMMME!


  • Adam Henrique took a broken stick penalty. What an idiot.
  • Letang played just over 23 mins and looked good. #FanGirlExplosion
  • Flower is still awesomeeeeee!
  • Devils suck
The next game is TONIGHT @ Detroit. The game is set for 7pm. 

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Friday, December 13, 2013

Jagr Throwback by @robullman

Wait... There's a game tonight? By, @LuigiLemieux

9:24:00 AM 0

Wait... There's a game tonight?

Article by Kyle Fritz (@LuigiLemieux) for Pens Initiative

It's been a long week.

I have been pretty busy, after all Christmas is coming. I have been trying to keep up with my mounting bills, and on top of it all I have been house hunting alongside an overbearing and quite long -winded real estate agent that looks eerily like Joan Rivers. Oh and it's also like 2 degrees outside, such is life here in Western Pennsylvania I guess.

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Morning Drive: Radio:PI 12/12/13

8:00:00 AM 0
Last night Radio:PI hosts Mike the "Buzz Saw" Asti and Brian Blystone tackled the last week of Penguins hockey the only way they knew how: with attempts at humor.  Let us know how it went!

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Thursday, December 12, 2013

The NHL's Boston Problem by @ExcitedBobErrey

4:00:00 PM 0

March 8, 2011 - Off a faceoff both Zdeno Chara and Max Pacioretty are racing towards the far boards for the puck. The puck gets hit up ice at the Bruins' blueline, Chara and Pacioretty race up the ice for it, and Chara slams Pacioretty's head off the stanchion at the red line as the puck is already past the Canadiens' blueline. Pacioretty got a step on Chara and Chara takes him out a good 4 strides after the puck is played. He doesn't just take him out with a hip check or his body but extends his arms out and drives him into the stanchion. Intentional or not, it was well behind the play and incredibly reckless.

Claude Julien on the hit:
"I think what people have to understand is Zdeno is not a dirty player. He certainly never meant for that to happen. I think if anything he tried to rub him out in the boards"

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