Penguins Look Better on Ice than on Paper

The Avalanche wrap up the Presidents Trophy. Gerard Gallant will be interviewed by the Rangers. A first peek at the Montreal vs. Toronto series.

So, it's the favored Penguins taking on the hard-to-figure Islanders in the first playoff round.

Thanks to the splendid coaching of Mike Sullivan, time and again Pittsburgh has constantly surpassed expectations and weathered more storms than an outdoor tornado-watcher. 

Those who've watched Pitt from afar have suffered problems figured how they do it; apart from the leadership of Sidney (Himself) Crosby and the rest of his rascals. To solve my curiosity, I had to seek out a Pennsylvanian who knows what's going on and that's where Pete Sicerka comes into play.

First off, never in a million years did I suspect the Penguins would finish in first place in the Mass Mutual division. Given their highly disappointing first-round exit in last year’s playoffs, and the loss of several key players during the off-season, I predicted a mediocre campaign for the Pens this year, with the team finishing no better than fifth. 

I envisioned motivated teams on both Long Island and in New Jersey, as well as those in Washington, Boston and Philadelphia, so I figured the BEST Pittsburgh could do was fifth place.  And I was wrong.

The acquisitions many thought were inconsequential – Kasperi Kapanen, Cody Ceci, Mike Matheson and Colton Sceviour to name a few – have proven to be great roster fits, and have been interchangeable parts in a season where the team has once again seen a lot of man games lost due to injury.

But the team’s top line of Bryan Rust, Jake Guentzel and captain Sidney Crosby has had a very consistent season with each potting 20-plus goals and staying relatively injury-free.

That in a nutshell, is why the Penguins have done so well.


Stan’s Java Jive

HEADLINE: S.O.S. THE PENGUINS ARE BEATABLE

THE JIVE: Granted, Pittsburgh is in a wonderful position to beat the Islanders. Any Pennsylvanian west of Philadelphia will tell you that. Fortunately, Rob Taub lives on Long Island. Without tea leaves, a crystal ball or ouija board, Rapid Robert has a five point plan that may or may not interest Barry Trotz; but it interests me: 

1. Grind them out defensively; 2. Win the special teams battles; 3. Get to (goalie) Jarry early and then often; 4. Get Kyle Palmieri to break out; 5. Get under Sidney Crosby's skin -- but not with a stick, harpoon or fire extinguisher. P.S. Whatever you do, don't leak this to Mike Sullivan.


HEADLINE: HAIL AVALANCHE AND HOCKEY NEWS

THE JIVE: The NHL's Presidents' Trophy is the most undervalued, exceptional award in the hockey world. The fact that it goes to the team with the best overall record means a heck of a lot; mostly that the winner -- in this case proud Colorado -- won an extremely keen war of attrition over a long haul. 

The challenge that g.m. Joe Sakic and coach Jared Bednar met and then triumphed over cannot be minimized, although it annually is because The Stanley Cup, deservedly, overshadows all around it. 

As difficult as it is producing the NHL’s best overall record, on the journalistic side, it's no less of a huge task to predict before the start of the season which team will win the Presidents' award at the end. Very, very tough.

Yet, our sport's bible, The Hockey News, pulled off that rare feat. I have the THN Annual in front of me and there it is, the Avs forecast as No. 1. Congratulations to Publisher Graeme Roustan and Editor In Chief Jason Kay -- and the superb staff -- for yet another job well done. (Now, guys, tell me who's going to win The Cup!)


HEADLINE: GALLANT HEADING FOR RANGERS INTERVIEW

THE JIVE: TSN's gallant and intrepid "insider" Darren Dreger reports that Gerard Gallant will be interviewed -- among others -- for the Rangers coaching vacancy. 

According to Dreger, Rangers new boss Chris Drury got permission from Vegas -- by the way, a mere formality -- to speak with Gallant. As I predicted earlier, if Hartford's Kris Knoblach wasn't going to get the gig, 

then it has to be Gallant. Sure, the competition is good -- especially Rod Brind'Amour if he decides to leave Carolina -- and Drury knows that Steve Yzerman would love Gallant if he could get him. For both the Rangers and Gallant, taking the Blueshirts is too good a situation to be true. Now, let's see how correct my call turns out to be. (Gallant, by the way, will be heading for Latvia where he'll coach Team Canada in the World Tourney.)


HEADLINE: SENATORS NEEDED MORE COFFEE -- EARLIER.

THE JIVE: Ottawa's coach D.J. Smith must have been ordering decaf Java for his troops during the first 15 games of the season. The Sens skated to a desultory 2-12-1 record and looked like a good candidate for an expansion franchise in the Southern Hockey League. Eventually, D.J. must have switched to double espresso because the skaters from Canada's capital finished the campaign with a 10-3-1 record. Armed with the No. 3 selection in the first round of the October Draft, g.m. Pierre Dorion picked Tim Stuetzle. The German ace has turned into a gem. He's a four-direction speedster with finishing hands. And there's that best of Tkachuks, Brady, who's career will go up-up-up. (Hot Tip for coach Smitty. Start ordering espresso for the fall training camp.)


HEADLINE: SHOULD THE HABS BE PITIED FOR HAVING TO FACE THE MIGHTY LEAFS?

THE JIVE: Talk to any Torontonian in the alleged "Hockey Capital of the World," and he/she will tell you that playing Montreal in the first playoff round is like a mere rest stop on The Stanley Cup Highway. And that may be since the Leafs are so top-heavy with scorers, that when John Tavares gets a goal, there's talk of a national holiday in The Pyjama Boy's honor. 

Well, the Habs deserve to be ridiculous underdogs but -- despite an unsettling season -- they are not the canines of the NHL

And where Montreal just might be better than Toronto happens to be in goal. Fast-fading Fred Andersen finally finished his rehab and faced Ottawa last night and lost 4-3 in overtime. He appeared rusty. It's possible that coach Shelly Keefe will start inexperienced Jack Campbell in the opener and pray that Auston Matthews scores six, just to play it safe. 

Which means that the Habs could open with an advantage at the most important position. After that we'll see whether Canadiens g.m. Marc Bergevin's moves can inspire an upset.


HEADLINE: SMART THOUGHTS FROM A SMART MAN

THE JIVE: You'd be a very lucky person if you knew Rich Ackerman, long time New York sports personality. He's an all-sports wise man but is especially savvy when it comes to Rangers shenanigans. When I asked Ack-Ack what he thought of the Blueshirts Burlesque show, he had some incisive comments.

"I always believed that the Rangers should have hired Barry Trotz three years ago. That said, I liked David Quinn and thought he did a credible job. Then again, Chris Drury had no choice but to make the move. -- unless he was absolutely sure Quinn could win a Cup within two years. Drury couldn't afford to start the season with him under the present circumstances; and then make a move if the team started slowly.

"My biggest critique was related to their identity. Did they have one and if so what was it? My conclusion: given the new direction, a change was necessary and better for all parties."


TRIVIA CORNER: What does the CH on the front of the Montreal Canadiens jersey stand for?

(Answer below.)


CLASSIC LINES FROM THE PAST:

"Good luggage!" Glen Sonmor on what is needed to be an NHL coach.


TRIVIA ANSWER:

The CH means Club de hockey Canadien.