Wednesdays With Stoosh 10.19.2011

 

In which I come to the harsh realization from last week's post that the Hockey Gods don't read my posts…

 

Let’s recap, shall we?

Sidney Crosby, Brooks Orpik and Dustin Jeffrey started the season on the shelf. Great, grand and wonderful. That was at least expected.

Two games into the season, Evgeni Malkin experiences some injury issues that have now kept him out of five of the eight games the Pens have played, and he may not be back tomorrow night for Montreal.

On Monday morning, prior to the Winnipeg game, it was announced that Tyler Kennedy was experiencing concussion-like symptoms. He’s now missed two games. He’s supposed to be re-evaluated this week, but as we know (all too well) with these things – say it with me – there is no timetable. And yes, even Derek is upset about this. I think.

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Wait, there’s more.

During the Winnipeg game, Kris Letang took a boarding penalty for a hit he leveled on Jets forward Alex Burmistrov. Yesterday, he was Shana-banned for two games; he missed the Minnesota game and will also miss tomorrow’s game against Les Habitants.

To bolster the lineup in Letang’s absence, the Pens called up defenseman Brian Strait. On his second shift of the second period, Strait took what looked to be a light-but-awkward hit into the boards and immediately skated off clutching his arm. I believe the team classified it officially as an “upper-body injury”, but it looked to be something with either his wrist or forearm.

Not fifteen seconds later on the same shift, Joe Vitale took a high stick to the face. Thankfully, he returned to the game in the third period. The Pens collective fanbase wipes its brow and lets out a “whew”. Injury bullet dodged, right?

 

Not so fast, my friend!

(and yes, I absolutely see that sign in the background)

Later on in the game, Brent Johnson got caught in a goal-crease scramble and knocked backwards into his net. A teammate fell across his right leg, bending Johnson’s knee at an angle that is pretty much only reserved for the spider-walk scene in the The Exorcist.

 

Want instant nightmares? Go Youtube "Spider Walk Scene". Happy early Halloween from your crazy Uncle Stoosh.

It was very reminiscent of the way Crosby’s knee bent when he got tangled up with Tampa’s Steve Downie a couple of years ago. It’s the type of bend that has you wondering not so much whether he tore a ligament in his knee, but how many he tore.

Have to admit, if you threw a remote at your TV or maybe even swore that if Beej was hurt, you were done watching the team for the next month, I don’t think anyone would blame you. It's reached the point that I’m almost pretending the second half of 2010-11 didn’t even happen, and the last thing any of us want to do is relive that. So to see this season already careening in that direction, well…bad times, man. Bad times.

But then, barely noticeable, a thin ray of light shone down from above, right into the goal crease, illuminating Brent Johnson in its soft glow. Off in the distance, you heard an orchestra beginning the earliest measures of one of those sweeping, dramatic scores. And while it may have been initially drowned out by the boos of a Minnesota crowd angling for some penalty to be called, a crescendo of another kind began building. This one wasn’t so much audible, but rather it began building down in the bottom of your chests, in the cockles of your heart, maybe below the cockles, maybe in the sub-cockle area, maybe in the liver or the kidneys, or maybe even in the colon. We don’t know.  But it built nonetheless, and you know what it felt like. It felt kind of like this…

Just as Crosby did during that game in Tampa, Johnson got up, slowly. He staggered a bit, wobbled a little and then stretched out the leg a little. He looked at the trainers and nodded. Somehow, almost miraculously, he was uninjured. And he stayed in the game. And he got the win.

Unbelievable. Brent Johnson wears cement underpants.

The Pens were playing their eighth game in 13 nights last night, a ridiculous pace by any league’s standards. They have 13 games in October, which is a schedule normally reserved for Olympic years (they opened the 2009-10 season by playing 14 games in both October and November). And when you consider that the first of those games wasn’t actually played until October 6 and that the last will be played October 29, they’re actually playing 13 games in 24 days. Again, that’s a pace that would wear down just about anyone, world-class athletes or not.

Look, there isn’t another fanbase in the league that’s looking at this situation with any pity or sympathy. There are 29 other fanbases that would love to simply have the “problem” of waitng on just one of either Crosby or Malkin to get healthy, much less both of them.

We’re pretty lucky as fans. Yes, it’s frustrating and I don’t think anyone can really be blamed for that. Just be a little more patient, and enjoy the fact that this team is working its ass off for the better part of sixty minutes each night they play.

 

Thoughts, dudes…

Not sure there’s a better backup in the league than Brent Johnson. He’s a veteran. He’s been around the league long enough to know that his only real options as a starter are for teams that’ll be chasing lottery picks as opposed to playoff spots, so he embraces his role as a backup.

The Pens already have secure starting goaltending in Fleury, so they need to mostly focus on making sure he isn’t overworked for the playoffs. Recent history shows that goaltenders who play more than 70 games in the regular season tend to falter early in the postseason. With that in mind, it’d be nice to see Fleury limited to something around 65 starts during the regular season.  That means Brent Johnson’s in the cage for at least 17 nights, guaranteed. You obviously hope to get wins in those starts, but you really just want your backup to perform well enough in those games that you can give your starter the whole night off.

Brent Johnson does that. How often was Beej given a start last year and had to be pulled because of a subpar performance? How about never. Beej went the distance in every game he started last season, and that includes the string of games early on as Fleury was getting his game together.

It’s a far cry from the days of Dany Sabourin, and it’s a nice luxury for the Pens to have.

As you know, I am not a doctor and Malkin’s injury hasn’t been (and won’t be) disclosed in any detail by the team. But there’s some talk that it’s definitely the knee he had repaired and it’s not hard to put two and two together here. IF it’s the knee, then it’s probably a typical by-product of the major knee surgery that he had done. Maybe it’s the occasional swelling that comes and goes with the overall recovery from a procedure like this; this may be something he battles on and off all year. It’s probably not anything alarming at all. It may just be something that forces him to take a couple of nights off here and there this season. So get ready for that, just in case.

When I first saw the announcement of it, I initially disagreed with the Letang suspension, or at least thought it should’ve been limited to one game as opposed to two. But Shanahan has already lowered the two-game boom on Pierre-Marc Bouchard for a high stick to Matt Calvert. And just as a player needs to be responsible for his stick, a player also needs to be responsible when delivering a check.

RootSports PGH led off the Minnesota game with a shot of that hit from the far end of the ice, up behind the net. It gave a good look at the official’s vantage point that made the call, and it looked like a textbook board from that angle. Suspendable? Yes, if the league is serious about getting those kinds of hits out of the game. It sucks for the Pens as Letang is a huge part of the team, but it's still early, it's just two games and as many fans pointed out on Twitter, Letang has been racking up a ton of minutes so far this year and could always use the rest.

One thing the league DOES need to guard against with the hits from behind, though, is the possibility of an incident like Letang’s touching off this epidemic of players turning themselves into the boards to help draw penalties and now even suspensions. NHL officials have reportedly been asked to watch for “headsnaps”, which are attempts to embellish hits to the head. Here’s hoping they do the same with players purposely turning into the boards and creating the illusion of a hit from behind.

James Neal. 8 games played. 6 goals. That…doesn’t really get old, does it?

Kudos and plaudits to the USS Hal Gill, who sets sail on NHL ice for his 1000th career game tomorrow night in Pittsburgh. Gill was an integral part of that 2009 Cup team and a class act when he was here. Another one of those guys I couldn’t really stand until he became a Penguin, and then loved watching him play when he was here.

Old school Pensblog/Mellon Arena F1 stuff right there.

Next time you watch NHL On The Fly, keep an eye out to see if Jamie McClennan is on. Dude is either borrowing his sportcoats from David Byrne, or he’s using Garth Snow’s old coathanger shoulder pads.

 

Same as it ever was.

Interesting statistic department: Caps are 5-0-0 and Ovechkin’s stat line so far is one goal, two assists and three points. That’s either funny or terrifying. Speaking of which,…

I hope Phil Kessel keeps this up (except against the Pens, of course), just so he can take a picture from the dais of everyone else when he’s the first pick in the All-Star draft this year.

Still way too early to make any judgments about any team this year. But it’s nice to see the Pens take 10 of 16 possible points while battling through so many injury issues. It’s great to see, especially considering they’ve yet to get anything this year from Crosby, Orpik and Jeffrey. Bunch of slackers, those three.

Enjoy the games this week, kids. Got a couple of dances with the Isles around the corner.

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