Game 24 of Remaining 29: Pittsburgh at New York Islanders

Pittsburgh Penguins: 47-23-6 (100 points)

4th in the Eastern Conference

VS.

New York Islanders: 32-33-11 (75 points)

13th in the Eastern Conference

Pittsburgh laid an egg two days ago at the Consol Energy Center against the Islanders, losing 5-3. Marc-Andre Fleury looked shaky (and was shaken up on a play in which he collided with defenseman Paul Martin) and the Pens’ defensive play was downright awful. Multiple players for Pittsburgh admitted that they have ignored some parts of the defensive game because of their high scoring abilities.  It’s true that if you can simply score more goals than the other team, you will win. But even if your team is the highest scoring in the league, you still have to play some defense. After all, the old adage is “defense wins championships.” One major problem with the defense right now is the injury situation of Kris Letang. The Pens just aren’t the same without him and reports say that he won’t be back tonight or tomorrow against Buffalo. Hopefully, the fill-ins from the Baby Pens can hold the fort while Tanger recovers. I picked the Pens to win last game and was wrong. I’m picking them to lose tonight and hoping I am wrong. My pick: Pens LOSE.

My remaining 29 record: 10-13

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Game 23 of Remaining 29: New York Islanders at Pittsburgh Penguins

Pittsburgh Penguins: 47-22-6 (100 points)

4th in the Eastern Conference

 

VS.

New York Islanders: 31-33-11 (73 points)

14th in the Eastern Conference

 

 

 

 

 

Even though the Islanders are nearly the worst team in the Eastern Conference, they are always dangerous at this time of year. It is a team that plays carefree hockey because there is no hope for a playoff berth. It will be aggressive and its players are always chippy when it comes to playing Pittsburgh. No need to remind anyone of the debacle that occurred on Long Island last season in which there were 65 penalties, including 15 fighting majors and 21 game misconducts, resulting in a total of 346 minutes. I wouldn’t expect that same type of game, but you can’t forget when a team has played that dirty in the past. This season, I don’t expect a series sweep by the Pens, but I think Pittsburgh will get the W tonight. My prediction: Pens WIN.

My final 29 prediction record: 10-12

Game 22 of Remaining 29: New Jersey at Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh Penguins: 46-22-6 (98 points)

4th in the Eastern Conference

VS.

    New Jersey Devils: 42-27-6 (90 points)

6th in the Eastern Conference

Pittsburgh is coming off of one of its worst losses of the season against Ottawa in which rookie Brad Thiessen allowed eight goals. Don’t expect the same game in this matchup. Marc-Andre Fleury will get the start and I expect him to be excellent, as always. My prediction: Pens WIN.

My final 29 prediction record: 9-12

Game 21 of Remaining 29: Pittsburgh at Ottawa

Pittsburgh Penguins: 46-21-6 (98 points)

4th in the Eastern Conference

 

 

VS.

Ottawa Senators: 37-28-10 (84 points)

7th in the Eastern Conference

 

 

 

 

 

I’m starting to sound like a broken record, but 20 games ago I made some predictions that were…well…not good. Again, tough to predict things months away, but I’ll take my medicine. The Preds game certainly seemed like a toss-up, but the Pens pretty much dominated. It could be the same story tonight, but unfortunately I picked otherwise. Pittsburgh has started yet another winning streak while the Sens have lost three straight. It certainly seems like things are trending in Pittsburgh’s favor for this one, but my prediction is: Pens LOSE.

My final 29 prediction record: 8-12

Sidney Crosby: So Far Soooooo Good

A less-than-amazing shot by yours truly.

It is common knowledge that when healthy, Sidney Crosby is one of (if not the best) hockey players in the world. And just to remind you why this is common knowledge, let’s take a quick look at what Sid has done so far after his second return this season.

Tonight marks the fifth game back for Sidney Crosby after he suffered a neck/head injury in only his eighth game this season. Since his comeback against the New York Rangers on March 15 in Madison Square Garden Sid has been nothing short of extraordinary, as usual. In the four games back, he has notched nine assists, is a plus-7 and has won 50.7 percent of his face offs. Sure, the goal scoring hasn’t been where he would like it to be, but there is no doubt that will come. If you look at the chances he has had to score goals so far, he has been absolutely robbed.

But let’s focus on the assists right now.

Sid has become a specialist in distributing the puck. He is a pass-first player right now, and with the guns he has around him, no one is complaining. On the power play, he has mostly played the point, but Dan Bylsma allows his PP to rotate around the offensive zone so there is constant movement, so it’s not uncommon for Sid to end up next to the net, on the half wall or in the slot. Regardless of where Crosby ends up, he is always finding a passing lane to the player that has the best position for a shot on goal. Much of the time, Crosby will take a quick look and then play the puck blindly to one of his teammates, to the dismay and astonishment of the penalty killers around him. Two such plays were in New Jersey and in the last game against Winnipeg.

You can see that even after losing his footing and getting pounded from behind by a defender, Sid is cool as a cucumber and sends the puck the width of the ice to Geno, who no one but Sid knew was there.

http://video.penguins.nhl.com/videocenter/console?hlg=20112012,2,1090

In the above link, there are a few things to note. Check out how quickly Sid acquires the puck with his head up and finds a teammate instantly for a quick shot on net. This happened twice with Tyler Kennedy when Sid was below the goal line, a la Wayne Gretzky. In a different situation, Sid finds Evgeni Malkin to his right on a 6-on-5 delayed penalty situation. Crosby has a clear shot to the net, but he knows there is a howitzer a few feet away from him at a different angle to the goaltender. The goalie was square to Crosby when he gets the puck, so Sid changes the angle to a different teammate. It is brilliant, unselfish hockey.

Speaking of Tyler Kennedy, let’s address the line that Crosby is on during 5-on-5 play. It is a nontraditional third line of Matt Cooke, Sidney Crosby and Tyler Kennedy. In the four games that Sid has been back, his line-mates have been filling the net. Cooke has four goals since Crosby’s return and Kennedy has two. Before Crosby’s return, Cooke had gone eight games without a goal, then notched four in his next four. Kennedy had gone 18 games without a goal before burying two in one night. These two players were in the right position and regardless of where Crosby was, he put the puck on their tape with precision.

Even though Crosby has played only 12 games this season, he is averaging 1.75 points per game. That puts him on pace to score 38 points this season (and believe me, those won’t all be assists). And one most fun to examine is where Sid ranks in assists this season. He has 19 and ranks 217th in the NHL. But that is still better than 655 other NHL players right now. This counts players that may have played even fewer games than Sid, but still, interesting to note.

Once again, it’s the status quo in Pittsburgh for Sidney Crosby and in a word it simply means: Greatness.

Game 20 of Remaining 29: Nashville at Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh Penguins: 45-21-6 (96 points)

4th in the Eastern Conference

VS.

Nashville Predators: 42-23-8 (92 points)

5th in the Western Conference

What a matchup. There are so many intriguing story lines for this game that I don’t even know if I can cover them all. First, let’s talk about the goalies. This is a battle of the two top wins leaders in the NHL. Both Marc-Andre Fleury and Pekka Rinne have 39. Something has to give. This game also features the third best penalty kill in the NHL (Pittsburgh at 89.0 percent) and the best powerplay in the NHL (Nashville at 21.6 percent) battling head to head. Once again, something has to give. Finally, this is only the fifth game after the return of the Penguins most skilled player, Sidney Crosby. To shadow that, this marks the return of  Alexander Radulov, possibly the most skilled player for Nashville. Tonight will be a battle of great defenses, solid goaltending and consistent scoring. Twenty games back I predicted the Preds to take this one, but it very well could be a toss up at this point. My prediction: Pens LOSE.

My final 29 prediction record: 8-11

Game 19 of Remaining 29: Winnipeg at Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh Penguins: 44-21-6 (94 points)

4th in the Eastern Conference

VS.

Winnipeg Jets: 34-30-8 (76 points)

9th in the Eastern Conference

The Jets are 5-4-1 in their last 10 games and they are playing for their playoff lives. The Pens, however, are 9-0-1 in their last 10 and sit in 4th overall in the East. Pittsburgh is only three points away from the East leading Rangers and a win brings them within 1, which most people thought would be impossible. I love that motivation and I think the Pens do too. My prediction: Pens WIN.

My final 29 prediction record: 7-11

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