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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Penguins previewed

I reviewed all of the Wilkes- Barre/ Scranton Penguins video available on line. It really doesn’t tell much, as it consists of lots of fight highlights and very short clips of the Penguins goals against various opponents.

If you insist on showing, as a highlight, the final seconds of a goal and focus on the celebration, it is difficult for anyone to analyze what happened. Jane Rickard, whose blog Powderhornhockey, watched the clips with me and commented that the Penguins seemed, at one point, to be celebrating all of the high sticking penalties missed by the refs.

The coming series isn’t likely to see the Penguins taking a lot of penalties, illegal, or otherwise. I won’t argue that the Penguins aren’t a physical team, but in the post-season, the Chicago Wolves have averaged about 23 penalty minutes per game. Only the Syracuse Crunch have averaged more penalty minutes per game, in the post season, than the Wolves. The Penguins, despite the videos of fights and hits and high sticking, have averaged just 12 minutes in penalties per game.

The Wolves have done well in the post season against undisciplined opponents, notably against the Toronto Marlies. The Rockford IceHogs, who faced the Wolves in a very emotional series that proved to be a physical and emotional high for the season so far, were able to defuse the Chicago special teams, even taking advantage of the man advantages to beat the Chicago PK unit.

So, the first thing I expect, in this series, is that we’ll see fewer opportunities for the Chicago PP unit to score against a more disciplined team than they have faced before.

At the same time, the Penguins are accustomed to a physical form of hockey in the form of the Hershey Bears and the Philadelphia Phantoms. These two teams were unable to shock the Penguins. I don’t think Chicago physical play is going to be able to be used as an advantage against the Penguins.

Now there are two other things I saw in the videos. First, the practice video showed a play that we saw bits and pieces of in the highlights. The puck was taken across the blue line close to the left center of the ice. A cross-ice pass to the far right was immediately dumped down the right boards. The lively boards in Chicago are likely to let the puck leak into the left corner, although the video indicates the Penguins want to play the puck in the right corner.

The Wolves have fought very well in the corners and against the boards. Boris Valabik, in particular, can create plays behind the net that confound the opposition. The other thing I’m thinking about this play, it can be easily thwarted with defense in the neutral zone. It can be forced further to the point and cross ice presence can make it difficult to complete.

The other interesting feature of the video is a short piece, posted by the Penguins on YouTube of a recent practice. Is it for real or is it disinformation? Time will tell, but it shows the players practicing shots high, especially to the right side of the goalie.

I don’t recall any weakness by Ondrej Pavelec on the right side, but months ago he had a tendency to go down early. Looking at highlights from January is like examining fossils. Maybe it has some interest to the current situation. Maybe not. The Rockford IceHogs publicly said they planned to challenge Pavelec by shooting high, after drawing him to drop.

That didn’t work.

Now, the AHL will require the two teams to name 17 players. Here is a list of the players expected to play, based on the stats. I don’t believe any are currently injured.

Tim Brent C
Ryan Stone C
Kurtis McLean C
Nathan Smith C
Connor James C
Dave Grove C
Dustin Jeffrey C
Mark Letestu C
Now, that is 8 centers. I am mystified. Why does this team have so many centers? They must be playing wing.
Here’s a list of their wings, as you might expect, it is a light list, as there are so many centers.
Chris Minard LW
Tim Wallace LW
Luca Caputi LW

Finally, on the blue line:
Alex Goligoski D
Mark Ardelan D
Ben Lovejoy D
Alain Nasreddine D
Ryan Lannon D
Deryk Engelland D

And in net, John Curry.

Goligoski has had a great post season. He is a rookie and is averaging, as a blue liner, two points per game; He only averaged about half point per game in the regular season. Missing is Dennis Bonvie. He has appeared in five of the post season games.

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