Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Pens pick up School-uhhhh and Bourque off waivers...Roster at 23

-I predicted the Pens would go after Skoula sometime in July, not in September, a couple of days before opening night. Skoula was placed on waivers on Monday by the Blue Jackets and a day later the Pens picked him and released a series of their own players: Bayda, Conner, Bissonnette, Engelland and Guenin. Bayda agreed to a 2-way contract on Monday which means he can be sent to WBS and play with the big team as well. Only Bissonnette has been lost from the waiver wire so far.

-Bayda worked hard enough in pre-season to earn a spot on the roster, but I guess Shero has other plans. Skoula isn't your household defenseman name but he's very solid in his own zone. I liked him a lot in his Colorado days where he won a Cup and since then he's been playing for 9 seasons and averaging 80 games a year. As a 7th defenseman, he's an excellent luxury to have. This year's Philippe Boucher if you will. Shero was looking for that 7th D-men to be a veteran player for some time now, thus youngsters Engelland and Guenin didn't fall into the Pens plans.

-As the roster was trimmed down to 21, the Skoula signing plus the Chris Bourque signing bring the roster up to 23, where it needs to be. Bourque is the son of hall-of-famer Ray Bourque and at only 23 the kid's got a lot of potential. He hasn't gotten the chance to play everyday at the NHL level, limited to only 12 games and 1 goal to show for it. But the Pens have now filled out the roster and Bourque could be on the 3rd line playing alongside Staal/Cooke on Friday or on the 4th line with Rupp and Godard. Fact is, he should get more playing time than he did in Washington.

-Why was Bourque released? Isn't he a top prospect? The Capitals have had this ongoing issue of trying to deal forward Michael Nylander. Now it turns out he might be a healthy scratch to start the season in favor of some guys much less accomplished than Bourque. Capitals nation is very angry at this specific player going on waivers, especially when he's going to a conference rival in the Pens. Biz Nasty (Bissonnette) has departed for Phoenix and he will be missed. He played with a ton of energy and was a spirited fighter who was always fun to watch. Biz will replace some of the antics and passion that Phoenix lost when another former Pen, Danny Carcillo left town.

-The Pens roster is now officially set and with Crosby healthy (ish) i'm amped up for opening night on Friday. Who will/could be scratched? Dupuis/Adams? Bourque? I'm predicting Bourque will play in the Islander game on Sat night as it will be a back to back situation. Ray Shero has done an excellent job with the waivers this week in picking a quality veteran D-men and an up and coming NHLer in Bourque. As much as we wish it was Rene Bourque from Calgary, we'll stick with this one in the meantime and see what damage he can do. At 5'8 and 180 lbs, Bourque isn't the biggest or toughest guy in the world but he's an extremely fast skater, and his 21 g/52 assists (including 21 pts in 22 post-season games) with the Hershey Bears of the AHL are evidene of that.

In Ray Shero we trust...

Monday, September 28, 2009

Pre-season ends with another loss, this time to the Wings in Motown

-If Jason Williams (pictured above) is the best player on the ice in a Wings/Pens game, you know something is wrong. As was the case Sunday night at the old Joe Louis Arena, where only 3 months ago the Pens shocked the world by dominating the Wings on their own home turf in game 7. Only this game featured no Zetterberg, Lidstrom, Ozzy, Geno, Sid, or Gonch. Although Franzen and Datsyuk were in the lineup and both had very good games.

-Jordan Staal was given the assignment of centering the 1st line with Kunitz and Guerin. He did a good job but he also had 4-5 great looks at the net (including a penalty shot) and he wasn't able to convert on any of those chances. One positive was his faceoff winning %, which was 61% on the night. The Pens were clearly the better team in the 1st period and seemed like the more solid overall team for the majority of the game. But there were way too many stupid penalties. Orpik, Adams, Guerin, etc. The Wings scored 3 PP goals on the night and that was basically the whole story: penalties penalties, and more penalties.

-It was fun seeing a 4th line of Godard Bissonette and Rupp muck their way on the ice against the likes of WW II vets Kirk Maltby and Kris Draper. There were plenty of scrums in this game, Franzen and Letang were going at it and then Guerin comes in and starts punching and Kunitz just tackles Franzen from behind and stars wailing punches. Orpik and Maltby were also going at it throughout the game, Adams and Draper were jawing, and the funniest moment was when Godard tried to get Mattias Ritola (young 'spect) to drop his mits. The ref broke it up before anything went down, but Godard still got a good punch away on him.

-Chris Conner has shown some good speed and forechecking thus far during the pre-season. Whether he makes the team or not is still in question, I think Bayda has the edge on him because of his size and strength. Conner is much quicker but he is also muscled off the puck very easily by opposing players. At 5'8 it's going to be hard to be succesful in the "new" NHL, unless your name is St. Louis or Gionta or some other guys. Defenseman Nate Guenin is the lock to get the #7 Dmen spot. Lovejoy hasn't been impressive at all this pre-season and on top of that, he's now injured.

-I know it's the pre-season and Sid/Geno/Gonch weren't even playing but still the Pens should've had a better effort, particularly the D-men and the PP. The Pens have had problems scoring on breakaways/shootouts for the past couple years. I'm not talking about scrubs like Adams who had a backhand sail far and away on a 1 on 1 chance in this game, I'm talking about Geno, Sid, Staal, and the list goes on. These are top notch players performing atrociously on breakaways, doesn't make sense. The Pens did show a lot of toughness in this game, Godard was out to kill someone and one camera angle showed the most angry and mean looking face a man could ever have. I think Godard was mad Detroit didn't have an enforcer, who would fight him?

-Next Friday night I expect to see Geno and Sid fully recovered from their groin strains and in the lineup against the Rangers. What an opening night, ay? The banner gets raised, Godard will likely fight Brashear, Avery will get punched by someone, and Geno will have a hat trick. Management has some tough decisions to make regarding the roster and who gets cut/sent down. Curry was sent down shortly after the game so that signifies Brent Johnson as the backup goalie on opening day. Conner, Bayda, and Guenin are the top candidates to break the lineup, which two stay still remains in question.

Stay tuned for more news tomorrow....

Sunday, September 20, 2009

PensBuzz is back!!!...Who are some new Pens?...Are the Leafs the new Flyers?

No the guy above is not Dan Onorato (future Governor of PA). It's camp invite Ryan Bayda. The name should ring a bell considering it was Bayda who elbowed Letang in the face at the end of game 2 in the East. Conf. finals this past spring. The game was a 7-4 smackdown by the Pens over the Canes and I will always remember the fight Satan had with Eaves shortly after that Letang melee. Satan looked like Donald Brashear and was wailing punches faster than you can say Stanley Cup.

Bayda has an excellent chance of making the Pens roster as the last forward. He plays with an edge and adds a lot of grit as well. The Canes hardly ever played their 4th line in the Pens series so it was hard to get a good assesment of his game. But coach Dan Bylsma has spoken very highly of Bayda the first couple weeks of training camp. He specifically likes his sound two-way game and ability to complement all 4 lines.

Several players have been very impressing during camp, most notably Eric Tangradi. Tangradi was acquired as the centerpiece of a deal along with Chris Kunitz, for Ryan Whitney in mid February. He played alongside Crosby Tuesday against the Jackets and he had two assists, a couple huge hits and was making something happen on every shift. At 6'4 and 220, there's not much to dislike about the potential of 22 yr old Tangradi. He is expected to start camp in WBS but if more impressive pre-season games start appearing he could fill in nicely for Max Talbot on the 2nd line. I doubt it will happen, but you never know.

The Pens strength going into the season
will be at the forward position. Dupuis, Rupp, Godard, Bayda, Jeffrey, Adams will all compete for jobs on the 4th line, and that is great to see. The defense on the other hand isn't as strong as it has been in years past. There are no Sydor/Boucher esque veterans in the 7th/8th positions. Lovejoy has had a very weak camp so far and I don't think management wants Lovejoy playing minimal minutes in the big's. Send him to WBS for a little bit longer to perfect his skills. Gogo(alex goligoski) has had an excellent pre-season so far, as has Kris Letang. What the defense lacks in physicality and size they make up in speed and puck moving ability. Gogo, Letang, Gonchar are tremendous at it, and Mckee/Eaton aren't so bad either.

The story is simple, Phil Kessel wanted big money the Bruins weren't able to pay him without damaging the core of the team. Kessel didn't want to take less and instead the 40 goal scorer was shipped for a couple 1st round picks and a 2nd round pick to Toronto earlier this week. A couple hours later he signed a long term deal for $5.4 mil/yr. This is very odd that they traded him to a division rival team who's improved drastically over the offseason, but it's better to get something for him than to let him walk for free. Bruins GM Chiarelli also had the issue of re-signing Savard for next year once he becomes a UFA. Kessel won't be able to play until November because of shoulder surgery. But this will definetely give the Maple Leafs an elite offensive player they don't have and haven't had since well, Alexander Mogilny? HAHA, sad but maybe true.

The Leafs are packed with talented mid-tier wingers who have potential but no numbers to prove it. Kessel has a resume with his 20 goal then 40 goal seasons the past couple years. He's a sniper with speed, and wait he's only 21. Having a guy like Kessel will make the current Toronto wingers that much better. Grabovski, Kulemin, Hanson, and Tlusty are immensely talented but they've lacked the proper role models during their time in Toronto. Kessel is a winner and a gamer, the type of player GM Brian Burke loves. But he doesn't fight? It's ok neither did Selanne but Burke liked him.

Toronto has become a worse version of the Flyers as this pre-season has clearly showed. They are taking cheap shots, taking runs at players, fighting and providing no skill whatsoever. Sound familiar? Oh yeah those guys from Philly do a lot of that. But they actually have some skill in Carter, Richards, Briere, and even Hartnell to some extent. The Leafs don't have much skill, well unless you saw Niklas Hagman's moves last night you might disagree
and I won't blame you.
But I looked at the box score for the Leafs/Flyers game last night and there were a
combined 19 penalties (3 fighting majors) thru 1.5 periods of play. So apparently the strategy in hockey has now become one in which you win by going to the penalty box as much as possibe. Where's Bobby Clarke when you need him? He would approve of this hockey strategy.

Exelby and Laperriere got into a couple bloody affairs last night, Orr(above)/Cote as well, and even Leafs sniper Lee Stempniak of all people. But the point is, it's sad to see these teams just muck it up the whole time and play stupid Canadien hockey. Yes the Flyers improved their defense by adding Pronger, but they lost 51 goals in production from Lupul/Knuble and they have Emery starting in goal. Which means you don't know if he'll be Patrick Roy one night or Dany Sabourin the next. The Leafs did improve a lot on D, with Exelby/Komisarek/Beauchemin, but this team has a ways to go before it can be compared to the Ducks cup team Burke built a couple years ago.

How weird is it to see a Senators team without Danny Heatley on it. Instead they have Michalek, Cheechoo, and Alex Kovalev. Have they improved from last year? I think yes, they now have two deep scoring lines and if history tells us anything, it's that Kovy plays very well every other year, so we're due for a spectacular season from the man once called "Le Magnific" in Montreal. Boy oh boy do I miss Kovy from the Pens days, Kovy/Straka/Lang that was a sexy 2nd line. Comrie and Hilarry Duff is also sexy but we won't get into that.

The Pens face the Canadiens tomorrow night, the game will be on the NHL network and I will have a preview ready for that tomorrow afternoon.

It's good to be back.

-M to the Bizzle