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Sunday, April 30, 2017

Hockey After Dark: Night 18 (Our BBB Party / My Reaction to the Game Edition) by @DXTraeger

1:54:00 AM 3
"....Where Insomnia Hits the Ice."
(Welcome to "Hockey After Dark," a late-night recap of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.  Topics will include scores, injuries, controversies, the Twitter-verse, and random jokes at the expense of the Philadelphia Flyers.  I strongly encourage clicking on the links)

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Saturday, April 29, 2017

Game Preview: Pens-Caps (Game 2) by @msteiner90

3:30:00 PM 0
Game 2 of the Pens-Caps series kicks off at 8:00PM EST at the Verizon Center tonight.

MATCH: Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Washington Capitals
SERIES: NHL Playoffs Second Round, PIT leads the series 1-0
TIME: 8 p.m. EST
LOCATION: Verizon Center
RADIO: 105.9 FM, the X
SUMMARY: Both the Penguins and Capitals returned to the drawing board after Thursday night's bout in the Verizon Center.  The Penguins won, despite being handedly outshot (35-21, Capitals) and Head Coach Mike Sullivan has acknowledged that the Penguins must play a better game in Game 2 if they want to win again.  The Capitals, on the other hand, played the type of game that they wanted but couldn't get the pucks past the shot blocking Penguins (29 total shots blocked, Ian Cole leading with 8).

The Penguins' morning skate (which was optional) did not feature Carl Hagelin, who is a game-time decision.  The Penguins' certainly hope to continue their success at preventing the Capitals' highly efficient power play from touching the ice in this important Game 2.
The Capitals hope to continue their pummeling of the net with pucks, and hope that Marc Andre Fleury will be less successful as time goes on.  
  • Conor Sheary has played horrendously in recent games, and the coaches have noticed.  His demotion to the third line didn't seem to motivate his play in the first game of the series - watch to see if he is benched for Carl Hagelin, or another line shake up occurs.  Conor Sheary is -4 in the playoffs, worst on the team.  Head Coach Mike Sullivan may use this as an opportunity to show the team that roster spots aren't owned, they are earned.

  • The Penguins' success can be attributed to staying out of the penalty box.  Expect the Penguins to do their best to stay out of skirmishes and after-whistle antics if they want to keep the scoreboard tilted in their direction.  The Penguins are decidedly not keeping the Sabre-metricians happy (especially in the Corsi % category) but sometimes those statistics can be more irrelevant than anyone has the courage to admit.  A statistic that is relevant is PP% and PK%.  Those numbers do not bode well for any team if they can't keep out of the box against Washington.  
  • Success in the face-off circle must continue for the Penguins.  The Penguins are a team who succeed when they are dictating the pace of play, and there's no better way of doing that than when you win the face-off.  They won 54% of their face-offs on Thursday night, and expect for the coaches to try to push that percentage even higher tonight.  

Tonight is the ultimate test for the Washington Capitals.  One game can be a fluke, and I'm sure that Barry Trotz has told everyone to shake it off - but two games is a trend.  If the Caps have to come back to Pittsburgh bearing the cross that would be being down 2-0 to the Penguins...their fanbase will want blood.  The Capitals are going to put it all on the line tonight, and try to score early and often.  This will be the hardest game of the series for the Penguins to win, in my humble opinion, and I will be surprised if they come out on top of the Capitals tonight at the Verizon Center.  

Expect Alexander Ovechkin to find an extra gear tonight, expect Braden Holtby to be sharp, and expect Justin Williams to attempt (poorly, probably) to be a playoff leader.  And if by some miracle the Penguins can hold the Capitals off, expect cheap shots from the Capitals.  They're a dog backed into a corner tonight.
What I'm trying to say is, it'll be a good game.  You sure won't want to miss a second of it.
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Hockey After Dark: Night 17 ("Caps/Anti-Pens Fans Make Excuses" Edition) by @DXTraeger

2:47:00 AM 0
"...Where Insomnia Hits the Ice"

(Welcome to "Hockey After Dark," a late-night recap of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.  Topics will include scores, injuries, controversies, the Twitter-verse, and random jokes at the expense of the Philadelphia Flyers.  I strongly encourage clicking on the links)

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Friday, April 28, 2017

Keys to Overcoming the Capitals by @MedinaMarie_PI

4:35:00 PM 0

The Pittsburgh Penguins made it through Round One of the playoffs with no small amount of guts and gumption. Their play was sloppy and, at times, it seemed as if the entire team was sleep walking.

I will not even get into the needless penalties taken.

Those mistakes cannot happen during round two. Once again the Penguins will face their Metropolitan division rivals, the Washington Capitals, who have a knack for pouncing on every little mistake and taking advantage of it.

The Penguins have won eight out of the last nine series they have played against the Caps. In fact, the last time the Capitals won a series against the Penguins in the playoffs was in 1994.To put that into perspective, rookie forward Jake Guentzel had not been born yet and Sidney Crosby was still playing pee-wee hockey.

Past success is not proof or validation of the now.

The now is that the Capitals are still the same juggernaut they have always been, with the same players who like to try and break an opposing team to bits. They are a team that seemed to struggle against a fast Toronto Maple Leafs club that was lucky enough to even be in the playoffs. However, the Capitals hunger to overcome their usual post-season fate seems to be more fervent this year.

The now is that the Penguins do not have the same defense they are used to having in the past but have made up for it with the development of four well- balanced scoring lines. The now is the Penguins are finally getting (almost) every injured player back at the right time. The now is a possible swan song for a beloved goalie, thrown back into the spotlight at the last minute, who is eager to make one last run to the finals with the team he loves.

The NOW is the fact that this series will go one of two ways; it will either end quickly or be drawn out for all seven games and possibly cause fans on both sides to reach for the closest alcoholic beverage.

The "experts" (you know, all those people ESPN just let go) have the Capitals as heavy favorites and this should surprise no one. Though the President's Trophy winners claim that they are or are feeling like the underdogs due to the Penguins being the defending Stanley Cup champions, the betting pool and "expert" picks would show otherwise.

The mountain placed before the Penguins is a daunting one, but one that has not climbed the summit of before. It will take the entire team and no small amount of willpower to make it to the top. Along with possessing and executing the play with the heart of a warrior, here are a few other keys to overcoming the Washington Capitals.

  • No slow starts: In the first series against the Blue Jackets, the Penguins formed a nasty habit of starting the game slow and flat footed. The first period would be played almost entirely in the defensive zone and the Pens would register few shots on goal. Though the team would rebound in the other two periods, having a mediocre or downright terrible first period will not bode well against the Capitals. It will be up to Head Coach Mike Sullivan to utilize short shifts in order to keep his bench fresh and manage the ice time accordingly as to keep players from lagging behind due to over-exertion.  
  • Limit defensive zone time and shots on goal: This goes along well with my first point. The Penguins have to make sure to get on their forecheck, win puck battles, and get in the way of shots on Marc-Andre Fleury. The Pens cannot afford to leave MAF hanging out to dry. The fewer shots that get through the defense, the better. Taking away neutral ice is also important as it can force puck turnovers that can be used for scoring opportunities. The Penguins are fortunate to be getting back Chris Kunitz and, quite possibly the best forechecker in the NHL, Carl Hagelin at the right time.
    Hagelin set to return during series versus Caps
  • Speed: The return of Carl Hagelin not only brings back his aggressive forechecking abilities, it also brings back his speed. The Penguins will have to use Hagelin's speed skating ability, along with that of Bryan Rust, Conor Sheary, and Jake Guentzel to their advantage. As mentioned before, the Capitals seemed to struggle to keep up with the quick feet of the Toronto Maple Leafs and it's hard to lay a heavy on someone that can't be (or is hard to be) caught.  Getting up and down the ice and into the offensive zone quickly and efficiently, and perhaps create some odd man rushes, will be another big factor.
  • Crash the Net: There are few things a goalie hates more than having an opposing player constantly in his wheelhouse. Luckily for the Penguins, there are multiple members of the team that tends to make their living right in front of the net: the notorious Patric Hornqvist and, as of late, Bryan Rust. Pair those two with the various other forwards and their "shoot first" mentality and you have scoring threats across the board. It will be imperative that the Penguins start as picking up rebounds and deflections off goaltender Braden Holtby more and more because the more you pepper him with shots at close range, the better chance the Pens will have of putting one or more pucks past him.
  • Stay out of the sin bin: One thing the Capitals bank on is getting power play opportunities. The Penguins have to play a disciplined and smart game and limit unnecessary penalties as much as possible. Controlled stick handling, clean checks, and staying out of the "after the whistle" garbage will all be important if the Penguins hope to move on in the playoffs

The saying "Buckle Up, Baby" is used a lot but in this case, strapping in for this ride will not be enough. The boys in Black and Gold, as well as fans, are going to need a seat belt, over the shoulder harness, and maybe even an extra helmet by the time it is all said and done.

How this series plays out is anyone's guess. The Penguins know what and who they are up against. They also know how to get the job done, even if it means putting in a little (or a lot) of overtime.

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Hockey After Dark: Night 16 ("I HATE SIDNEY CROSBY!" EDITION) by @DXtraeger

1:21:00 AM 0
"...Where Insomnia Hits the Ice."
(Welcome to "Hockey After Dark," a late-night recap of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.  Topics will include scores, injuries, controversies, the Twitter-verse, and random jokes at the expense of the Philadelphia Flyers.  I strongly encourage clicking on the links)

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Thursday, April 27, 2017

Pens vs Caps - A One-Sided Postseason History by @LCJS

12:00:00 PM 0
The last two times Pittsburgh faced the Washington Capitals in the playoffs, the Penguins went on to win the Cup. In fact, the Capitals haven't beaten the Penguins in the playoffs since 1994.

Let's take a look back at those seasons.

The defending Cup champions need no introduction, as one needs only to reference the names etched on the Stanley Cup to know who they were. They ran roughshod over all comers, finishing the postseason with a record of 16-8.

The Capitals were the second victim, losing to the Pens in the 2nd round, 4-2.

The Pens bested the Caps in the 2nd round, 4-3 on route to the Stanley Cup.

Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin won their 1st Cup during this 2009 playoff run, registering 67 playoff points between them. Bill Guerin, Ruslan Fedotenko and Sergei Gonchar also played prominent roles. Winning twice as many games as losing, the team again went 16-8.

Captained by Jaromir Jagr, the 2001 Pens took down the Caps in the first round, 4-2.

Featuring a 35 year old Mario Lemieux and a 35 year old Kevin Stevens, the Pens lost in the Conference Finals to New Jersey 4-1. This team starred players like Martin Straka, Alexei Kovalev, Robert Lang, Darius Kasparaitis and fan favorite Johan "Moose" Hedberg in net.

The 2000 Pens featured a similar roster to the 2001 Pens, except no Lemieux and Ron Tugnutt was in the crease. The team lost in the Semi-Finals 4-2 to the Philadelphia Flyers; which included the 5OT loss that broke the Pens backs in the series, causing them to lose the next two games and the series.

Still, they beat the Caps handily in the first round, 4-1.

Back in 1996, the Pens beat the Caps 4-2 in the first round.

Featuring Lemieux, Jagr, Ron FrancisPetr Nedved, Sergei Zubov and Tom Barrasso / Ken Wregget in net, they eventually lost to the Florida Panthers and their rats in the Conference Finals, 4-3.

The 1995 team was captained by Francis, and featured players like Larry Murphy, Luc Robitaille, Joe MullenUlf Samuelsson and Kjell Samuelsson (no relation).  While the team had Jagr, they didn't have Lemieux; so after besting the Caps in the first round 4-3, they lost to the Devils in round two, 4-1.

While each season is an entity unto itself, remember that there is a rich history of the Penguins sending the Capitals to the golf course over the last 20+ years.

My Prediction: Pens in 6.

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Grading Out Fleury for Round 1 by @AlfaM1keFoxtrot

9:00:00 AM 0

I'm always interested in knowing why things happen and I hope the following breakdown presents a clearer picture of this past series for all of you. Marc-Andre Fleury is a good goaltender who has dealt with a lot of ups and downs. This series was no different.

The following charts are from @DTMAboutHeart on Twitter.

Game 1 -- Grade 97% 

MAF was the difference here as the Jackets controlled territory better than the Penguins through two periods even though the Pens were winning 3-0.

What doesn't make this performance a 100%, is allowing a goal late, plus the fact that Fleury wasn't under heavy fire, AND the defense did a great job of limiting the chances in between the circles. Shots in that area are often referred to "high danger" chances because they occur in between the face-off dots.

Game 2 -- Grade 97%   

This game was tighter from a territorial standpoint. Even so, MAF weathered multiple pushes from the Jackets while also seeing a lot more high danger scoring chances. The lone goal against is the only knock against him here.

Game 3 -- Grade 80% 

Many will point to MAF's ability in this game to "shut it down" and allow the Penguins to come back after giving up three early goals in the first period. But the Penguins dominated possession after their second goal and the Jackets had a lot of shots from the perimeter. This comeback is a credit to the defense. The Jackets only had 15 shots in between the dots and scored on three of them.

That combination of poor play in the first period and minimized attack from the Jackets did not help MAF's grade. He gave them a chance to win on the road, and that's why it's just above passing.

Game 4 -- Grade 85%  

This game was territorially even after MAF gave up the first goal, and continued to be until just over five minutes to play in the first but then the Jackets took over. The Penguins were utterly dominated possession-wise in this game and the score was a reflection of it. Their ability to battle back can only be attributed to the talent on the roster. While MAF didn't play well he saw 30 high danger chances in this game alone. The Jackets earned this win.

Game 5 -- Grade 95% 

The couple of concentration lapses that MAF had in the middle of the second hurt him. While the Penguins weathered a couple pushes from Columbus, they were in full control when these goals went in. Similar to Game 2, Columbus threw a ton of high danger chances at MAF. Once again he handled it well.

Final Grade -- 91%

MAF played very well as his grades from the games average out to a 90.8 or 91% which is a B+. However, the Jackets don't have enough fire power to compete with the Pens. A better opposing goaltender (see: Washington Capitals) and more talented team (see: Washington Capitals) would have made those games a lot tighter and potentially a longer more difficult series for Pittsburgh.

Final thoughts

  • Six out eight teams who are still in the playoffs had higher even strength save percentages during the first round than MAF's (.933). So, he has to be better moving forward simply because of the competition.

  • The good thing is that the other team outside that top 6 is....the Washington Capitals. So, outplaying their goaltender is paramount.

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