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Friday, April 9, 2010

Happy Birthday Alexei Ponikarovsky...here's your gift


A 2-GAME SUSPENSION

On this day in 1980, Alexei Ponikarovsky was born.  For his birthday present, the NHL gave him a 2 game suspension for the boarding against Josh Bailey late in the third period last night.  The hit in question was just that...a question.  Was it or wasn't it?  Should he have or shouldn't he have?   Blah, Blah, Blah.  I for one am tired of all the head shot, boarding call, intent to injur arguments.  IT'S HOCKEY, PEOPLE!!

Poni got a boarding major penalty (which the Pens nicely killed off) and a game misconduct for the hit.  Bailey is apparently done for 4-6 weeks with a fractured face and some cuts.  Considering the injuries, I'm kind of surprised their wasn't a bigger suspension but in typical NHL fashion, Poni isn't a repeat offender so he walks.  If it was Cooke...he'd have been gone forever.  Or at least until July.
The Pens will finish the season without him.  In 16 games since coming to the Pens in a trade with Toronto for Luca Caputi and Martin Skoula (who was then dealt to New Jersey), he has 2 goals and 7 assists.  He has 50 points total for the year. 

Kunitz is still nursing a shoulder so I am expecting the Baby Pens phone to be ringing shortly since Bylsma hates loading the defensive spots.

I was going to post about the awesome night and a recap of the game but I just haven't had the time and I am still sort of speechless.  Maybe later.

Had A Bad Day #2

With baseball season kicking off, I thought I would take a moment and reflect on day #2 in my look at the worst days of being a Pittsburgh sports fan.  This was the day that started my downward decline of interest in the majesty of our National Pasttime.



2. 1992 NLCS Game 7 - Sid Bream beats his old team - Sid Bream should have still been a Pirate at that point.  But in typical Pittsburgh fashion, they don't pay players to play ball here.  If they did, this game would have had a different outcome.  Or at least in my mind it would have.

Doug Drabek had pitched an almost flawless game through 8 innings, not surrendering a single run and getting out of his bases loaded jam up during the sixth.  Drabek was an animal that day and I hadn't seen him pitch like that, well, ever in my life to that point.  The Bucs took a 2-0 lead into the ninth and were inching closer to a World Series birth.  That's when the wheels fell off.

Jim Leyland, who must have been high on Jim Beam and cigarettes at the time, decided to let Doug finish it out, despite the obvious fatigue setting in.  Terry Pendleton led off with a double.  Jose Lind decides to play the ball off his foot instead of his glove, sending David Justice to first (who I don't think was quite married to Halle Berry, yet).  Drabek then walked Sid Bream.  I always liked Sid Bream.  He was always very accomadating and humbled by the fan attention before and after games and was always obliging when it came to autographs.  He always signed bible verses to his signature too.  Turns out...he was the DEVIL.

Finally Stan Belinda came in for relief.  Here we go!!  Close these guys out.  Ron Gant blasts one almost out but is instead caught at the warning track.  Pendleton scores.  2-1.  Belinda then walks Damon Berryhill on at least two if not three questionable ball/strike calls and the bases are loaded again.  Brian Hunter pops out and I am ready to jump out of my skin.  Francisco Cabrera, the last guy on the Atlanta bench, and pinch hitter was due up.  He had only had 10 at bats all season.  This one was over....CRACK!!

A single to left field!!  What?  Justice came trodding across the plate and the pokey Bream decided to head for home.  Bonds launched the ball from left and I was sure that Spanky would have caught that ball and had plenty of time to establish position and tag Sid out.  The ball was about a foot too far toward first and as LaValliere turned to swipe at the slide, Bream was called safe at home.  There was definitely crying in baseball for me that day. 


(Bream slides past the tag of Mike Lavalliere (from Getty Images; Sports Illustrated Pictures Collection))

The last play of the game single handily changed the course of baseball history in Pittsburgh.  Oh, and not for the better, in case you were wondering.  Bonilla left, John Smiley left, and Bill Landrum was let go at the end of the season.  After 1993, Drabek and Bonds weren't resigned.  Van Slyke left...the list goes on and on.  For the sake of my fingers, that's enough detail of the epic dismantling of the team that began after that fateful game.  They haven't had a winning season since.  17 consecutive years of losing.  Go Bucs!!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Tkachuk Hangs Up The Jersey

Another hockey great (legend?) that I have watched since their start in the NHL has called it quits.  Keith Tkachuk announced yesterday that he will retire at the end of the season after 19 years in the NHL.  His final game should be tomorrow night vs. the Ducks, followed by, what I can only imagine will be, a glowing tribute. 

As I said, Keith has spent the better part of 19 seasons in the NHL.  He was drafted 19th overall in the first round of the 1990 Entry Draft by the Winnipeg Jets out of Boston University.  After moving to Phoenix and becoming the Coyotes, he eventually went on to play for his current team, the St. Louis Blues (with a brief stint in Atlanta).


The question now comes up as to whether or not Tkachuk's career is HOF worthy.  I say yes considering some of the exclusive company he shares.  In my opinion, anyone that falls in the top 50 in goal scoring should at least get a few votes.  A quick look at his career statistics...


He has played in 1,200 regular season games, putting up 1,063 points on 538 goals and 525 assists.  He has also amassed 2,219 penalty minutes.  I can't forsee many other players going forward to be able to score over 500 goals and amass over 2,000 PIM.  Today's game has changed so much from how it used to be, those kinds of numbers just don't seem likely anymore.


Keith also was able to assist his teams when it counted in 89 playoff games by scoring 28 goals and 28 assists.  In 2008, Keith became the 72nd player and only the 7th US born player to hit 1,000 points.  He also is only the 4th player in NHL history to combine 2,200 penalty minutes and over 1,000 career points. 


In international play, he is a four-time US Olympic Hockey player and won the Silver Medal in 2002.  Keith played in five All-Star games throughout his career.  Among all left wingers, he is tenth on the NHL’s all-time power play goals list with 212, seventh all time in goals with 538 (30th overall), and eighth in points with 1,063.  Among US born players, he is second in career goals, fifth in total points and has the distinction of being the first American born player to lead the league in goals in 1996-97 with 52 while playing for Phoenix.

Like I said, I think those numbers should be enough to get him into the hall.  There are far more mediocre players that have contributed less to the sport than Keith that are sitting in there now.

In his own words...

"It's always tough after you've played that long, but I know it's the right decision," said Tkachuk, "I'm honored that I was able to play that long, and the thing I'm most proud of, I get to retire as a St. Louis Blue. That means the world to me.


“I have been privileged to have a long career in this terrific league and play for first class organizations. My thanks go out to my current and former teammates, the St. Louis Blues, Phoenix Coyotes/Winnipeg Jets and Atlanta Thrashers organizations and most of all to my parents, my wife Chantal, my kids Matthew, Braeden and Taryn along with all of my other family members for all of the support they have given me throughout my career.”

"No question I wanted to win it, but it didn't happen," Tkachuk said. "Not everybody gets a chance to carry the Cup. But this organization will win a Stanley Cup. Even though I won't have a jersey on, I know I'll be a piece of it ... maybe a building block because it takes a lot of building blocks to win."

Blues President of Hockey Operations, John Davidson, said about Tkachuk, “Keith is a true warrior who had an excellent career and I was hoping this day would never come.  The NHL is losing an individual who gave a lot of time and dedication to the game and I wish him and his family a happy retirement and the best of luck.”

Good luck to Keith, indeed.  He will be missed.

The End Of An Era

(The Pittsburgh Civic Auditorium/Arena shortly after/during construction in 1961.)

The Pens play host to the NY Islanders for their season finale at home tonight.  Looking back on this now, it would have seemed more appropriate for the league to schedule this as a "throwback" jersey game against the Canadians but that is why I do what I do and don't work for the NHL.  Why?  This isn't just any "last game" of the year scenario.  If you have paid any attention around here at all, you know that this is the last season for Mellon Arena.  Next year the Pens move to their new digs across the street at the Consol Energy Center.  In celebration of the team and this great building they have played in since 1967, More than 50 former Penguins players and coaches will be on hand. 

One of the featured guests will most certainly be HOFer Andy Bathgate, who scored the first goal in Penguins history in thier inaugural 2-1 loss to Montreal on Oct. 11, 1967.  It was called the Civic Auditorium/Arena back then, named for Pittsburghs Civic Light Opera.  In fact, it was the Civic Arena up until December 1999 when the city entered into a contract to rename the stadium.  I still call it the Igloo and probably always will...just like I sometimes call Heinz Field, Three Rivers; Cellular Field in Chicago is still Comisky; etc., etc. 

Other Pens greats in attendance include: current owner Mario Lemiux, All Star MVP's Syl Apps and Greg Polis, HOFers Paul Coffey, Bryan Trottier, Craig Patrick and Larry Murphy, fan favorites Jean Pronovost, Dave Burrows, Pierre Larouche and Bryan Watson, player/coaches Eddie Olczyk, Rick Kehoe, Ken Schinkel and Gene Ubriaco.  I'm sure there will also be quite a few surprises in store for the fans.

The alums will attend the Penguins’ morning skate on Thursday, then take a tour of the Consol Energy Center construction site in the afternoon.  Thursday also will be Fan Appreciation Night, and current Penguins players will give 20 lucky fans the “Shirts Off Our Backs’ following the game.

My brother scored tickets for this game a few months ago and I have been jealous ever since.  Considering his luck all the time in giveaways and contest, he will probably be one of the 20.  Either way, it is going to be a memorable moment that those in attendance won't soon forget.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Central Scouting's List of Wishful Thinking or Future Card Set In The Making

I found an interesting article that came out of the NHL either yesterday or today about the upcoming 2010 Entry Draft.  This years event is scheduled for June 25-26th at the Staples Center in L.A.  The article focuses on some of the strengths and weaknesses of all the players in the final rankings of top skaters eligible for the draft. 

Tyler Seguin of the OHL's Plymouth Whalers is ranked as the No. 1 prospect followed close behind by Taylor Hall of the OHL's Windsor Spitfires.  Both of these young guys have been flip flopped throughout the year as the overall #1 and #2 respectively.  Because of his second half improvements, the final rankings put Seguin ahead by a very small margin. 

They also ranked the overall top 210 North American players and 30 goalies as well as 150 international players.  You can check out the article here

The most interesting thing I found was the comparisons that were made of each skater to a NHL counterpart either current or retired.  It is amazing to see some of the talent that is being predicted to come from this draft class.  Here is Central Scouting's list of the top 30 North American skaters and who they feel is a best comparison for style and playing ability.  This gives me a great idea (albeit recycled) for a card set...
1. Tyler Seguin, C -- Steve Yzerman (retired)

2. Taylor Hall, LW -- Zach Parise, Devils

3. Brett Connolly, RW -- Peter Forsberg (Sweden)

4. Erik Gudbranson, D -- Dion Phaneuf, Maple Leafs

5. Cam Fowler, D -- Mike Green, Capitals

6. Brandon Gormley, D -- Chris Phillips, Senators

7. Mark Pysyk, D -- Duncan Keith, Blackhawks

8. Emerson Etem, RW -- Glenn Anderson (retired)

9. Derek Forbort, D -- Erik Johnson, Blues

10. Ryan Johansen, C -- Jason Spezza, Senators

11. Alexander Burmistrov, C -- Maxim Afinogenov, Thrashers

12. Nino Niederreiter, RW -- Erik Cole, Hurricanes

13. Nick Bjugstad, C -- Andrew Brunette, Wild

14. Austin Watson, F -- Kris Draper, Red Wings

15. John McFarland, C -- Brenden Morrow, Stars

16. Tyler Toffoli, C -- Tim Connolly, Sabres

17. Dylan McIlrath, D -- Ed Jovanovski, Coyotes

18. Tyler Pitlick, C -- Mark Parrish, Lightning

19. Quinton Howden, C-- Todd Bertuzzi, Red Wings

20. Stanislav Galiev, RW -- Alexander Frolov, Kings

21. Jonathon Merrill, D -- Jordan Leopold, Penguins

22. Riley Sheahan, C -- Jordan Staal, Penguins

23. Petr Straka, RW -- Pavol Demitra, Canucks

24. Charlie Coyle, F -- Bob Sweeney, Bruins

25. Brock Nelson, C -- David Backes, Blues

26. Kevin Hayes, RW -- Eric Staal, Hurricanes

27. Ryan Martindale, C -- Steve Bernier, Canucks

28. Jaden Schwartz, C -- Derek Roy, Sabres

29. Alexander Petrovic, D -- Brent Seabrook, Blackhawks

30. Jordan Weal, C -- Jason Blake, Ducks



(Not mine but a good example)

This reminds me of the 1997-98 Donruss Limited, (I think), subset that was labeled as the Counterparts which featured a veteran player on one side and a young star on the other.  Sounds to me like a card set in the making.  I'm just thinking out loud here...30 cards; each would feature the prospect on the front and their comparison on the back. 

(Again, not mine but you get the point)

Or, it could be like the Idols subsets that Pinnacle used to do where the main player would be in color on the front and their comparison would be muted in the background in either black and white or the classic sepia color.  The backs could have an explanation about the comparison or some background that links the two players.  You could even have a parallel version with GU pieces or autographs. 

Now I am just going off on a tangent.  I'd buy that set though. 

Any card creators out not named Upper Deck or Panini want to take a stab at this one?

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Well wasn't that just a kick in the nuts

Not much to talk about here.  I thought the Pens played a pretty uninspired game of hockey and really went out there with indifference and a general malaise that made me think they all had the flu.  Fleury got pulled after allowing 3 goals, 2 of which should have been stopped.  Johnson wasn't much better, giving up 2 more. 

Ovechkin gets two goals and is inching closer to another Rocket Richard Trophy.  Crosby scored one and had assists on the other two Pens goals.  Leopold got his second and third as a Penguin.  He gets my star of the game, the rest of you can go to your rooms and think about what you did.

The Devils won their game against Atlanta (surprise, surprise...) and Fatty, I mean Marty Brodeur got his 600th career win.  In all seriousness, that is a feat that no other goaltender in NHL history has achieved so congratulations to you Mr. Brodeur.

Other than that, I am pretty disappointed.  After having that game hyped up beyond belief, it was a let down.  Nothing else describes how I feel at this moment other than...

The Rangers lost and Philly won, making it a bit rough on NY's chances of getting that 8th spot.  With the loss to New Jersey, Atlanta is mathematically eliminated from playoff contention.  The Sabres also won putting them into a solid #3 spot.  The Pens still need another game in the books to get at least home ice in the first round.  I hope there is a chance we can meet the Caps again very soon.

Ice Time Pregame: Caps vs. Pens

Notice how they refuse to look each other in the eye...INTENSE!!

This is a matchup with some major playoff implications if not bragging rights momentum going into the playoffs.  The Caps travel to Mellon Arena for the second to last regular season game at that stadium.  The Pens are looking to pull as many points out of the last four games as possible to get out of the tie with New Jersey.  1 win and they have home ice for the first round.  If they can win out and Jersey stumbles, we would have the #2 spot in the East, barring the surging Sabres. 

The Caps have already sealed up the President's Trophy, their division, and the #1 seed in the East.  Not much to play for but that doesn't mean they are going to roll over.  They sat Mike Green in their last game because they will need their Norris Trophy candidate down the stretch.  I wouldn't be surprised if some other key elements of their game get parked for longer periods of time tonight either.

For any non-hockey fans tired of having Crosby/Ovechkin shoved down your throat...too bad because this is what it is all about.  The Pens have thus far been unable to get a victory in the previous three meetings with Washington this year, but not without putting up a fight.  Everytime these two meet, it seems like everyone is on their 'A' game.  I don't think tonight will be any different as the Pens try to get one last victory over Washington at Mellon Arena.  Expect to see lots of intensity and emotion and some great hockey.

That isn't the only game tonight, though.  There are 11 games on the docket total for this evening and all but maybe two have playoff implications.  It is going to be a great night for hockey.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Season Ending Team Awards

The Penguins honored their players over the weekend with their annual season ending Team Awards.  Now before everyone goes chastizing the team for giving out their own awards, let me remind you that every team that I know of does this so it isn't some conceited Pittsburgh tradition. 

Team MVP - (self-explanatory) Sidney Crosby
Ed DeBartolo Community Service Award - (again, self-explanatory)  Sidney Crosby
*A.T. Caggiano Booster Club Award (the most 3-star games voted by the Pens Booster Club) - Sidney Crosby
*Baz Bastien Good Guy Award - (from the Professional Hockey Writers Association for cooperation with the media) TIE - Sidney Crosby and Marc-Andre Fleury
Masterson Trophy Nominee - (NHL award for perserverance, dedication, and sportsmanship in the game) Bill Guerin
Players Player - (nominated by their teammates as the best player on and off the ice) - Jordan Staal
Defensive Player of the Year - Brooks Orpik

*Baz Bastien was the Pens GM from 1976-1983 who died unexpectedly from injuries (and a heart attack) suffered from a car-motorcycle crash in 1983.  He was on his way home from a PHWA dinner event at the time.
*Caggiano was a Pens locker room attendant for many years and also a member of the Booster Club.



Oh did I mention there was a game on Saturday?  Well the Pens won in overtime over the Thrashers 4-3.  The Thrashers pretty much had the 2 points wrapped up with the third period winding down.  Jim Slater got called for a boneheaded holding penalty with time ticking off the clock.  Sergei Gonchar scored on the power play, taking it into overtime. 

Jordan Leopold was able to get that extra OT point by scoring 2:50 into the period.  That was his long awaited first goal as a member of the Penguins. 
"To tell you the truth, it was just a shot that I put on net in the hope that someone was driving there." - Jordan Leopold on his overtime goal.
The win put Pittsburgh back in front temporarily until the Devils blanked the Hurricanes, knocking Carolina out of playoff contention and moving back ahead for the lead in the Atlantic.  The Devils hold the tie breaker against Pittsburgh since the Pens couldn't muster even 1 win vs. New Jersey this year. 

The magic number for home ice in round 1 is 1 game because of Ottawa's loss on Saturday.  We got the Caps on Tuesday, the Islanders on Thursday (last regular season game at Mellon Arena, EVER!!), the Thrashers again on Saturday in Atlanta, and the final game in NY against the Islanders for the second time in a week.