Tag Archives: Penguins

Malkin ‘Em Look Silly

Those crazy sports writers have done it again. They have kick-started the Russian machine.

Let me just say that I’m a fan of Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writer Ron Cook. Other than Gene Collier, he is the only local sports writer whose “writing voice” doesn’t sound like my great-grandfather trying to tell me a funny joke he heard at the VFW.

Cook’s article in the wake of the Penguins’ Game 3 showdown in Montreal, titled “Malkin needs to come alive,” caused quite a stir amongst die-hard Pens fans.

I am not a media watchdog. I cannot imagine how hard it must be to write a sports column every other day. Hell, I can barely tie my own shoes without employing the bunny-ears technique. However, I have to say that it is incredibly disappointing when a good writer like Cook not only calls out a star player in the middle of a deadlocked series, but does so in such a vague, veiled manner. Cooke phoned-in the column so hard that Verizon is going to charge him roaming fees.

He wrote:

“Malkin gets more of a pass in this town than, say, Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who will spend today and Tuesday reading and hearing how he was thoroughly outplayed by Montreal goaltender Jaroslav Halak in the Canadiens’ 3-1 win in Game 2….But it will get ugly for Malkin fairly quickly if his scoring drought continues.”

“Yo, Ron. I’m really happy for you. I’mma let you finish. But Geno is one of the best Penguins of ALL-TIME. Of All-Time.”

The reigning Stanley Cup playoff MVP gets a pass in this town? Certainly not from the local sports writers who cover him, who alternate from accusing him of pouting when he is going through a slump, to patronizing him like he’s some sort of comic-relief foreign TV side-kick when he is playing well.

Thankfully for Penguins fans, Malkin has a knack for making his detractors look silly. In January, Cook wrote the infamous “Sulking won’t cure Malkin’s slump,” which contained the derogatory phrase, “Can you say Jaromir Jagr?” Days later, Geno responded with a hat trick against the Islanders that jump-started his best stretch of the regular season.

Last night, his game-winning power play goal changed the complexion of an entire series. There are only four or five guys on earth who can do what Malkin did – beat a red-hot goaltender with a slapshot from so far away that I thought Geno was grabbing a hotdog at the concession stand.

Just when you were on hold with 93.7 The Fan to give Geno a piece of your mind…Zing. The net exploded.

The goal was Malkin’s fifth of the playoffs. For comparison, Chicago’s Patrick Kane and Detroit’s Pavel Datsyuk have six. Vancouver’s Siamese-superstar Sedin twins have six combined. San Jose’s sniper-extraordinaire Dany Heatley has one.

Malkin’s 10 postseason points are on par with Art Ross-winner Henrik Sedin, who went up against the LOLs Angeles Kings and shaky goalie Jonathan Quick in the opening round, while Malkin’s opposition has opted to play dump-and-retreat-hockey.

Yet the Pittsburgh media—hungry to stir up website hits and the angry calls that are the life-blood of a 24-hour talk radio station—would have you believe that Malkin, whom they love to point out makes nine million dollars this season don’t cha know, is underperforming compared to other NHL stars.

Pure fallacy.

Do you know what the real is difference between Malkin and those aforementioned superstars? Kane, Datsyuk, Heatley and the Sedins play alongside other All-Star talent. Malkin plays alongside rental-players and an ever-changing rotation of one-million-a-year wingers who can barely finish a Filet o’ Fish.

Cook is right about one thing: It is telling that four of Malkin’s five goals this postseason have come on the power play. When surrounded with adequate talent, he shines. In big moments, he shines so bright you need to borrow Grandpa’s shades just to watch the TV.

Nice, guy.

As the Post-Gazette’s own excellent Penguins blog Empty Netters points out, Malkin has now scored seven game-winning postseason goals in only his fourth year in the NHL. Crosby has five. Ironically, Jagr is the franchise’s leader in playoff game-winners with 14.

It took Jagr 11 season to reach that mark.

Somehow, despite winning two Stanley Cups and five NHL scoring titles in the black-and-gold, Jagr was turned into a villain in this town.

Why? Because that narrative sold papers.

Penguins fans should pray that the same story isn’t pushed on Malkin, who doesn’t have the luxury of playing on Le Magnifique’s wing.

Mr. Cook, I admire you, but can you say Jaromir Jagr? Inflammatory headlines should be the territory of blogs, remember?

For those that question Geno’s heart, just remember that the 23-year-old has a Hart in his trophy cabinet.

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Pen is Mightier: Crosby > Ovechkin

On the night before the Men’s Olympic hockey tournament began, the NHL Network premiered Sid the Kid vs. Alexander the Great. The show was filmed documentary-style and featured surprisingly personal footage of both superstars as they prepared for their inevitable (or as it turned out, inevitabLOL) Olympic showdown.

Ovy took time out from his busy modeling career to film the TV special.

As expected, there were the usual PR-lacquered platitudes and completely non-threatening jibes that Pittsburgh sports fans have become so accustomed to that the words barely even register anymore—ala elevator music. Titillating sound bites like, “He’s a great competitor” and “I won’t think twice about running him over.”

The real action was in the B-roll footage. While Sid the Kid’s idea of a good time seems to alternate seamlessly between playing hockey, talking about hockey and meticulously taping his hockey stick, Ovechkin is like Rasputin on Ice.

At various times in the show, Alexander the Great steals an equipment cart and drives it around the arena like a stuntman, sings in a rock band with Something About Mary hair, poses dourly for fashion shoots with similarly surly models, and acts out pretty much every single fantasy ever conceived by middle schoolers in the midst of a Mountain Dew binge.

What are the odds this kid grew up to be that guy in the Ed Hardy t-shirt that tried to pick a fight with you on the South Side last weekend? A whole generation of jagoffs were weaned on Jolt.

In one clip, Ovechkin is on his way to the premier of his clothing line in a stretch Hummer limo accompanied by a crew of what can only be assumed are either American used car salesmen or Russian sports agents, as well as a bullpen of stunning, evenly-spaced blonde and brunette models. After witnessing the revelry, a Russian sports journalist asked Ovechkin which type he preferred.

“Redheads,” Ovechkin grinned.

The panache of this guy! Sometimes I half expect him to take the ice with a Winston dangling out of his mouth and a ditch-digger shovel for a stick like Cool Hand Luke. Then I remember that that’s exactly the way I’ve been manipulated to feel.

You see, it’s all part of the NHL’s narrative. The producers of the show even included a segment featuring a real, live Canadian Mountie endorsing Crosby as a wonderful role model for the youth of the country, like Sid was running for Mayor. Hell, the tag-line of the program, snarled ominously by a throaty, pack-a-day disembodied narrator was – “Pick a side: Who’s better? Who’s cooler? Who has the best shot at Olympic gold?”

It was all a big set up for the biggest heavyweight title fight since Hulk Hogan vs. The Macho Man at WrestleMania V.

Kids, consider this a lesson about picking the right role models.
When you spend your youth idolizing the man above, you grow up to be a blogger.

Now all the hype seems kind of silly. Let’s review the fortunes of Alex Ovechkin and Sydney Crosby in the past two weeks: Ovechkin’s week peaked when he hit Jaromir Jagr so hard he made him sprout his old mullet, then the Russians flamed out in spectacular fashion to the Canadians 7-3, which culminated in Ovechkin smacking a video camera out of a female fan’s hands on his way out of Vancouver.

Crosby, just eight months removed from becoming a Pittsburgh legend, became a national hero by scoring an overtime Gold-medal-winning goal that will be recreated daily, around the clock, by every Canadian kid firing pucks at a net, garage door, or dryer from Vancouver to Newfoundland.

Despite Ovechkin’s awe-inspiring raw talent and unparalleled shooting power, the two superstars seem miles apart after this Olympiad. Even the Washington Capitals’ internet message board patrons are having an identity crisis, conceding that “Crosby is better than Ovechkin” (right now). How did this happen?

Pressure. During the Olympics, the sports media could barely get through a sentence without mentioning the word. How can Crosby be so unfathomably good in the face of it? How could such a powerful Russian team be so thoroughly dismantled? How could Ovechkin—seemingly the most fun-loving guy in sports—knock a fan to the ground in frustration without even a word?

It’s easy to just shrug and chalk it all up to the intangible nature of “pressure.” Some relish it; thrive off of it. Others grip their sticks a little tighter.

Just don’t go reveling in Ovechkin’s misery too heartily. There are two sides to every story. Just as Sid is often painted as a one-dimensional workaholic—which of course is largely fiction—we don’t always get to see the other side of his great rival either. Or perhaps in Pittsburgh, we choose not to see it.

This person, for instance, will probably always see Ovechkin as a villain.

Last summer, Ovechkin explained to Sovetsky Sport’s Pavel Lysenkov how much the Olympics meant to him by means of a simple story. According to Ovechkin, he was preparing to go sailing on teammate Alexander Semin’s yacht along the coast of Siberia when they made a quick stop for supplies in the middle of nowhere:

“So we stopped at this small village to go to the local store. And imagine that—we’re in the heart of Siberia in an ordinary store. There was this woman behind the counter cutting some fish. I came in and asked for water, chocolates and sandwiches. And she looked at me kind of strange and asked me: ‘Is it you or not?’ I replied: ‘Of course it’s me.’ She said: ‘Give me a smile.’”

The woman recognized Ovechkin by his trademark missing front tooth and freaked out. Ovechkin, too, was blown away by the power of the moment.

“But I couldn’t catch my breath there [in that store]. I just felt what Russia is about, how dear and big it is and how we—hockey players and the national team—are loved here. When you think of people like those you want to win the Olympics twice as much.”

Heavy stuff. Which is why Crosby’s coup de grâce in Sunday’s heart-stopping Gold medal game was so fascinating. It wasn’t very cerebral at all. It was automatic. Cold.

While those watching from the sofa could hardly compose themselves enough to keep the remote in their sweaty palms, Crosby was surgical.

With the Gold medal, not to mention four years of anguish or euphoria on his stick, no. 87 buried the puck behind the sensational Ryan Miller without even thinking. He didn’t even look up at the net. Didn’t need to. He had already made the shot millions of times. Sunday was just the culmination of years of hard work in a cold, empty basement in Cole Harbor when the only one cheering the game winner was Crosby himself.

Would you even be surprised if Sid still goes home after real games and shoots pucks at Mario’s guest house garage? I wouldn’t.

Until Ovechkin learns to harness his off-ice swagger and bravado in the big moments, he will always be the one that kids imitate during breakaway contests, while Crosby’s name will be the one that rings through the streets and the basements and the empty arenas whenever kids across the world imagine that the game is on their sticks.

At just 22, Crosby casts an awfully big shadow over any NHL superstar.

Grading the Penguins and Making Fun of Small Children

True story: I was a little brainiac as a kid. Thing is, I never read books. I could only stomach the painstaking alliterations of Dr. Seuss if it was read aloud to me. In fact, I was not intelligent in any measurable, traditional sense. Instead, I was “blue-collar Catholic smart.” I absorbed all knowledge through countless hours of television and learned to read by scouring the information section on the back of hockey cards.

This behavior pissed off my family members to no end, because they would buy me Beatrix Potter books for Christmas that I would proceed to use as coasters for my sippy cups. (Note: in later years, just substitute Potter for Fyodor Dostoevsky and Juicy Juice for Guinness and nary a thing has changed.)

More like Infinite Paperweight.

When I was three years old, I took my first trip to the Pittsburgh Zoo. Oh, that smell. Do you remember that kid from your kindergarten class who used Elmer’s glue for hair gel and always smelled like something terribly peculiar that you simply couldn’t place? Well, that little boy or girl smelled like the Pittsburgh Zoo. Either that, or the Pittsburgh Zoo smells like weird children. Whichever.

Moving on – at some point during my trek through the exotic birds and monkeys (and let’s be real; I was there for the lions), my stroller stalled at the African Savannah exhibit. Now, let me get this out of the way first, because I’m going come off like a monster here: seriously, is there any more distinct creature on planet earth than the giraffe? Giraffes literally resemble alien dinosaurs. Not only are they the tallest land mammals on earth, they are also hilarious-looking.

“LOL. Sup?”

With that preamble, back to our story:

So my stroller is parked next to a bipedal five-year-old, who seems to have all of his faculties in order. Upon seeing the giraffes moseying around their fenced-in vista, eating leaves off of 15-foot acacia trees and generally doing awe-inspiring things, this five-year-old points to the mythical creatures and says, “Mommy, look at the elephants!”

But there were no elephants sauntering about the grasslands. Only enormous, one-of-a-kind Masai giraffes. Only the animals that look like no other animal on earth. I couldn’t let it slide. Naturally, I turn to my new friend to enlighten him.

“Excuse me, dude,” I say (I liked the Ninja Turtles, who said “dude” a lot). “Um, those are not elephants. Those are giraffes.”

My new friend’s mother was not amused. She grabbed his arm and turned him away. The boy looked puzzled.

“Elephants,” he pointed again, undeterred.

“No, elephants are fat and have big ears and giraffes are tall and have little ears,” I explained. “They are the opposite. Are you thinking of the antonym?”

My father had just taught me the word antonym, and also the F-word, although the latter by accident.

The little boy’s head nearly exploded. All he had ever known—his limited knowledge of life—was a lie. Elephants were giraffes, up was down. He pointed once more, this time with a twinge of sadness. Ele-phants? On the verge of tears, his mother yanked his arm and led him away.

As they speed-walked off over the horizon, I cupped my hands over my mouth and kept yelling, “They are GIRAFFES!”

“GIRAAAAAAAFFFES!”

I was a smug little tyrant – the three-year-old version of Ari Gold from Entourage.

What does this story have to do with the 2009 Pittsburgh Penguins? Absolutely nothing, except for the fact that the dim-witted five-year-old from that day looked exactly like a baby version of Evgeni Malkin. Weird? Yes. Tangential? Sure.

Don’t you just love blogs? You know it.

(Editor’s note: According to Microsoft Word’s Readability Statistics, the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level for this article is 6.8. Damn you, Mr. Flesch-Kincaid! STOP JUDGING ME.)

Grading the Penguins

It’s more than half way through the NHL season and the Penguins are in fourth place in the Eastern Conference heading into the upcoming Olympic break. The bad news is that they are probably not going to catch the boringly efficient New Jersey Devils for the Atlantic Division crown. The good news is that the Penguins didn’t win the division last season either, and they ended up drinking Dom Pérignon out of the Stanley Cup all summer while the Devils sat around being boring in New Jersey.

As a team, the Penguins have been what you might expect: steady. As individuals, they have been…interesting. Let’s grade the boys’ seasons so far, from worst to first.

Max Talbot – D+
Ironically, the breakout star of the 2009 playoffs and the man most responsible for the Pens’ Game 7 win in Detroit has been the team’s most disappointing player through the first half of this season. After returning from injury in November, Talbot has recorded only 1 goal. Worse yet, he has not provided the kind of spark-plug energy that inspired the team in the 2009 playoffs. Relegated to the fourth line, Talbot must rediscover what made him a “superstar,” or else he could be trade fodder.

Eric Godard – C-
Can you really be an intimidating presence on the ice when you play only four minutes per game? Mike Rupp is doing Godard’s job and much, much more. However, it’s hard to argue against a salaried brawler that shows up for work wearing a candy apple red suit.

Chris Kunitz – C-
Harsh? Maybe. But Kunitz was acquired to be a top-line winger for Sidney Crosby, and he has not performed like one despite being paid like one. For $3.7 million per season (4th highest paid forward on the team), Kunitz must do better than 6 goals in 30 games when he returns from a torn abdominal muscle after the Olympic break. His unsung grit and strength in the corners, while valuable, can be found for cheaper than $2 million/year, let alone 3.

Ruslan Fedotenko – C
This summer, GM Ray Shero decided to bring back two important pieces of the Penguins’ Cup run. Wingers Bill Guerin and Ruslan Fedotenko were both inked for a final encore season – Guerin for $2 million and Fedotenko for $1.8 million. Guerin has proved to be a tremendous value, scoring 16 goals alongside Crosby. Fedotenko, on the other hand, has tallied only 8 on Malkin’s wing. His –8 plus/minus rating is tied for worst on the team alongside….

Craig Adams – C+
This Harvard grad has a suitable job: be smart; don’t give up goals as the anchor of the fourth line. His empty spot in the goal column is not a problem, but his minus-8 rating isn’t kosher. On the bright side, Adams is an integral part of the Penguins’ 11th ranked penalty killing squad and is third on the team with 137 hits. For a smarty-pants from Cambridge, the boy has some gumption.

“How do you like them apples?”

Sergei Gonchar – C+

I’ll just say it. At times, the five-time All-Star looks a bit lazy on the ice. But with Gonchar, you take the good with the bad. It’s unreasonable to expect a 35-year-old to play full bore on a Tuesday night in February against the Atlanta Thrashers. When May rolls around, Gonch will elevate his game to another level. Complain about his effort all you want – without his #55’s booming slap shot, the Penguins’ power play would go from last in the league to…well, it would somehow be even worse. The league would refuse to keep statistics.

Marc-Andre Fleury – B-
Did you know that Fleury’s save percentage (.908) ranks 19th in the NHL among starting goalies? There’s room for improvement. On the other hand, he leads the league in smiles.

Evgeni Malkin – B-

Speaking of room for improvement…As I discussed last week, Malkin has not been the lazy, huffy Jagr-ish performer that the media rushed to label him. He leads the team in assists (35) and will probably break the 30-goal barrier despite playing alongside the Winger Formerly Known as Fedotenko and a bevy of minor leaguers. The best is yet to come.

Tyler Kennedy – B
Mr. Kennedy has shot the puck 124 times this season. 120 of those were from the exact same spot on the ice. If you’ve ever watched a Penguins game in your life, you know the exact spot I’m referring to. Kennedy has largely filled Talbot’s role as the spark-plug of the team.

Kennedy Owns the Left Circle.

Alex Goligoski and Kris Letang – B
Goligoski has taken some flack lately while Letang has been praised. Oddly, Goligoski actually has more points (23) than Letang (19) while playing in three fewer games. Truth is, both young defensemen have had solid, sometimes inconsistent seasons. “Goose” needs to find the confidence to shoot the puck, especially on the struggling power play (his meager 62 shots on goal are less than Mike Rupp’s 64), while Letang must cut down on needless giveaways (he’s third on the team with 36).

The rest of the defense – B+
Mark Eaton, Jay McKee and Brooks Orpik are about as sexy as Paula Deen in pajamas, but they get the job done right. The Penguins are fifth in the NHL in blocked shots because of the fearlessness of this triumvirate. McKee alone has stepped in front of 122 pieces vulcanized rubber this season.

Young Jay McKee with the haircut that defined the 1990s.

Mike Rupp – B+
6’5”. 230 pounds. 11 goals. Makes less than $1 million per season. And guess who leads the team in mitten dropping? Not Godard, but Rupp. Another brilliant Ray Shero acquisition.

Jordan Staal – A-
Despite being only 21 years old, and despite going up against the opposition’s top line every game, Staal has been the Penguins’ best defensive player. His phenomenal penalty killing prowess makes him a contender for the Selke trophy, the NHL’s award for the forward who demonstrates the best defensive game. He is a big deal. His Wikipedia entry is even listed above all of his brothers on Google. Eat it, Eric.

Matt Cooke – A
The best instigator/agitator in the NHL, bar none. In October, he nearly made the New York Rangers’ pretty boy Sean Avery cry on the ice. In fact, you can read all about why Cooke is Awesome with a capital A in the February 2010 issue of Pittsburgh Magazine, on newsstands now.

Buy it.

Pascal Dupuis – A
Outside of Sidney Crosby, no one on the team has more hustle than Dupuis. He plays every game like it’s his last and has been rewarded for his sweat equity with 12 goals, matching his output for all of last season. Naysayers—and there were many—shouldn’t be surprised. Doopers wears his heart on his sleeve and the team on his back.

Bill Guerin – A
Dollar for dollar, Guerin might be the best value in the NHL. 16 goals for a 39-year-old? And an awesome mustache to boot? This is the stuff Disney/Burt Reynolds movies are made of. If he had decided to go for more money and jet for greener pastures this off-season, the Penguins might be heading into the Olympic break fighting for a playoff spot. Instead, they’re sitting comfortably in fourth place because of his superhuman production. No one is more thankful for Billy the Kid than…

Sidney Crosby – A+
Forget the goals for a second. Yes, Crosby has scored 33, good for 3rd in the NHL. However, nothing speaks more to Crosby’s leadership and will to win than the work he put in this off-season to improve his performance in the face-off circle. In his first four seasons, faceoffs were the one weak spot in Crosby’s otherwise flawless game. This season, Sid is ninth in the league in faceoff percentage (57.3%).

Crosby could have taken it easy during summer vacation after winning the Stanley Cup, but he did his homework instead. His commitment to the game is relentless—his leadership and hard work in practice infectious. With a strong finish, he will be a candidate for his second Hart trophy, the NHL’s regular season MVP award, in four years. How do you win the Hart? It’s right there in the name.

As Sid knows, success is all about putting in the work when no one is looking.

BREAKING NEWS: Pittsburgh Sports Writers Think Foreign Player is Overpaid, Sensitive

Less than a year ago, Pittsburgh sports journalists were tripping over one another for interviews with Vladimir and Natalia Malkin – the proud parents of Penguins superstar Evgeni Malkin. You couldn’t turn on the TV or flip through the Sunday paper without running into a feel-good story about Mrs. Malkin’s famous borscht soup (Evgeni’s favorite pre-game meal) or a harrowing re-telling of Evgeni’s secret midnight escape to America from the shackles of his former Russian team in 2006.

In 2009, “Geno” Malkin was the undisputed king of SOFT NEWS in the Steel City – a territory usually dominated by orphaned puppies and clips of Little League coaches getting pelted in the groin with errant baseballs. After winning the Stanley Cup and the NHL scoring title in the same season, Malkin flew off to Russia for summer vacation this past June as the most revered Pittsburgher since Myron Sidney Kopelman.

But, yoi, how times have changed.

This week, the Tribune-Review’s Penguins beat writer Rob Rossi penned, or I should say pecked, an article titled, “Malkin paid like Crosby; needs to play like him.” Rossi not only criticizes Malkin’s sagging scoring production this season, but finds enough column inches in his statistically sparse article to rip Malkin for using his limited grasp of the English langauge as an “excuse” for ignoring the media.

“Yes, I secret English genius. I make excuse not talk. I want play good. I want score goal.”

Mr. Rossi needs to cool it with the yellow journalism trying to paint Malkin as a sulking, standoffish Jaromir Jagr 2.0.

The sad part is that other Pittsburgh reporters are echoing Rossi’s sentiments. The Post-Gazette’s Ron Cooke recently published a loaded article, “Sulking won’t cure Malkin’s slump,” full of vague comparisons between Malkin and Jagr (summary: they both speak with funny accents and have gone through slumps at one point in their careers. Hell, they’re practically blood brothers.)

But unlike Jagr – who was chased away from Pittsburgh by the pitchfork mob of the Angry White Press – Malkin has never once complained despite playing alongside wingers like Ruslan Fedotenko, who can’t even finish tying his own skates without Malkin’s help this season. And don’t forget Malkin’s brief stint alongside minor league fill-in Chris Bourque, who is literally 5’5” with clogs on and has the scoring ability of a freshman CMU computer science major.

“HEY! I’m telling on you!”

Yet despite playing with substandard linemates and a lingering shoulder injury, you know who Malkin has blamed for his supposedly shameful scoring drought?

“Me.”

Malkin, who is still second on the team in scoring, has placed the blame squarely on his own shoulders at every opportunity. Penguins coach Dan Bylsma told reporters in December, “Geno cares deeply and greatly, and he wears it on his sleeve.

One would expect that kind of selflessness from Malkin. After all, he – not Crosby – leads the Penguins in assists with 30 this season. Strangely enough, Rossi leaves out that stat. Instead, he mostly focuses on all the things Sid the Kid does to take the pressure off of his Russian teammate – namely absorbing all the media criticism when the team is slumping – without acknowledging Malkin’s contributions to Crosby’s success this season.

For example, did you know that Malkin has assisted on 10 of Crosby’s 30 goals despite the two not even playing on the same line (outside of the power play)? Or that Geno is averaging a point per game this season, which is a better clip than many superstars in his same tax bracket, like Tampa Bay’s Vincent Lacavalier, Carolina’s Eric Staal, and Montreal’s Scott Gomez.

The title of Rossi’s insinuates that Malkin is being paid more than he’s worth this season (both Crosby and Malkin make $9 million this season). Do you really want to talk about value, Mr. Rossi? Very well then.

Last season, Malkin led the NHL in scoring in both the regular season (113 points) and the playoffs (36). Not only did he lift the Stanley Cup, he also became the first Russian player in NHL history to win the Conn Smythe trophy, the NHL’s award for playoff MVP.

Can you even put a dollar value on how much revenue that Stanley Cup run brought in to the Penguins organization and the city of Pittsburgh? The Penguins will reap millions just in the sale of Malkin’s replica jerseys alone. For years and years.

Can you put a price on the thousands of bodies that crammed onto the lawn outside Mellon Arena to watch the playoff games on Mario’s giant projector? How much value did that bring to a franchise that was on the verge of collapse before Malkin’s arrival?

And how much did Malkin’s services cost the Penguins last season? Less than $1 million.

“Talk about a return on investment.”

All of this, at age 22, while travelling hundreds of thousands of miles across North America and Canada for eight months with just a limited understanding of the language being spoken around him.

Think about that for a second. Really imagine yourself in Geno’s shoes. In the endless string of hotels. Watching TV you have to concentrate really hard to understand. Eating room service food that even Americans get sick of. Even during the good times, would you be able to handle it?

Most of us mortals get frazzled when we’re sent to a business conference in Cincinnati. Rob Rossi has to bring along a translation guide every time he ventures outside of Mt. Lebanon.

No offense, Mt. Lebanon.

Unfortunately for Malkin, it’s the middle of January and the media needs to manufacture drama where there is none (remember, the Pens are still in 4th place in the East). Which begs the question – does the Malkin bashing have more to do with his scoring record, or the fact the Steelers took an early vacation?

I could go on for eons about why the stilted, pandering, deadline-centric world of mainstream media beat reporters should make way for unfiltered outlets like Pittsburgh’s own Pensblog and Yahoo’s national Puck Daddy. But why bother when the proof is in the print? After all. the job of a beat writer is to cover daily news, not fuel controversy.

It’s funny that the mainstream media gentry have always slighted blogs for their perceived proclivity for sensationalism, reaction-baiting and aggrandizement.

As blogs become more accurate, reliable and popular than ever, it is ironically the mainstream media that seems to be stooping lower and lower for attention.

If only Malkin could start playing with Rossi’s desperation.

The New Jersey Devils as a Metaphor for Human Existence

You may not like to admit it, but being a Penguins fan is an embarrassingly easy and deliriously enjoyable experience. At least 99 percent of the time. After all, how many couch pillows have you torn asunder in frustration this season? Sure, the Penguins’ power play is hapless, but this season has been one breezy picnic on the ‘Mon. Even Pascal Dupuis’ normally feeble hands have been possessed by the carefree spirit of Jan “Funky Cold” Hrdina. When Dooper is on pace to score 20 goals in a season, your team is living the high life.

If the Pens’ brief losing streak has you feeling blue, just think of the alternative: You could have been born in New Jersey instead. The misery of Garden Staters isn’t limited to the stigma of being associated with those daffy paisans from MTV’s Jersey Shore. They also have to watch the New Jersey Devils meander around the rink every other night. You, noble Pittsburgher, get to enjoy firewagon hockey. You get to live in a city that doesn’t collectively smell like grandma’s house. Both socially and morally: Pittsburgh > New Jersey.

“Woah. Take that back, chief.”

Alas, six times a season, New Jersey gets to have a cheap laugh at our expense by torturing Pittsburgh hockey fans with THE TRAP®. The Trap is an ultra-conservative philosophy of playing defense. Instead of chasing after the puck and having fun, the Devils players sit back and let the puck come to them. The whole team agrees to do this. In fact, if they get the lead in a game, all five skaters just glide around on their side of the ice, flailing their sticks wildly like bubble hockey figurines. It’s derivative, slow and boring – just like all of Bruce Springsteen’s albums after 1987. It’s the game of hockey as if re-imagined by lawyers and Frenchmen.

Still, it works, especially against the Penguins, whose weaknesses only appear when other teams deliberately slow down the pace of the game. Tonight, when the Penguins play the Devils in New Jersey, don’t be shocked if you see four or five Devils players forming a Secret Service wall in front of goalie Martin Brodeur’s crease. The Devils play goalie by committee. Head coach Jacques Lemaire would duct tape his players to the posts if it were legal.

Just brace yourself for 60 minutes of unmitigated frustration, Pittsburgh.

The Devils may beat up the Penguins in short spurts in the regular season, but come playoff time, they don’t have the horses to compete over a seven game series. As good as star left winger Zach Parise is (look out for #9 tonight), you cannot take down the Penguins in May if your team’s second best goal scorer is 36-year-old Brian “Who?” Rolston.

Then again, Rolston did win a Cup with the Devils during the Clinton administration, so look out.

“Glory Days. They’ll pass you by, Glory Days.”

The New Jersey Devils are really just a metaphor for life itself. We’re spoiled rotten by the magic of Crosby and Malkin. No matter what happened at work or what grade you got on your math test at school that day – come 7:00 on a Hockey Night in Pittsburgh, all is right in the world. All is forgotten as soon as Matt Cooke’s bullying antics make a grown man throw a temper tantrum, or as soon as Brooks Orpik shoves his mitts into an opponent’s yapping mouth during a tussle. Watching the Penguins is delightful.

But it’s all a fantasy world. Come the next morning, life is back to running The Trap® on us again. Life isn’t bad, it’s just frustrating.  Here are just a few examples of Life-as-the-New-Jersey-Devils:

Life Frustration # 1 – The Prevalence of Study Abroad Programs

My girlfriend is Spanish. For the most part, this is pretty cool. It’s like having a forged handicap sticker on your car. It just makes things easier. When we go to Taco Bell, she explains what all the foreign burrito verbiage means. When she asks me to do anything I don’t want to do, I just pretend like she has forgotten the correct English word for it.

“Help you fold laundry, you say? What’s laun-dry? I don’t understand. I cannot comprehend. I think you better grab the Spanish-to-English dictionary. Oops, gotta’ run!”

There’s only one time having a Spanish girlfriend is a problem: when you run into Joey Abroad. These days, every underage college kid “studies abroad” in Europe for a semester to escape America’s anachronistic drinking laws, and to spend their parents’ money with the least amount of transparency possible. Think Goldman Sacks is corrupt? Joey Abroad spends his parents’ bailout money with even less honor.

For instance, Joey Abroad will send an e-mail home saying that he’s stuck on a volunteer Red Cross mission in the Balkan foothills and needs emergency funds to buy school books for a small migrant child. In reality, he’s in Madrid just padding his tequila slush fund.

Because of the sluggish economy, many recent college graduates are turning to the service industry. I can’t take my girlfriend out to dinner these days without running into a barista or waiter who detects her accent and starts blathering away in broken Spanish about his five-month glorified spring break trip to Barcelona.

“LOL and then I got totally wasted on the steps of the Castell dels tres Dracs! I’m just a free spirit.”

What’s worse, I have to sit there in silence as the whole charade unfolds, unable to communicate my urgent need for an order of onion rings in one of the romance languages. Man, study abroad programs are frustrating. But not as frustrating as a trip to a corporate restroom.

Life Frustration # 2 – The Social Behavior in Corporate Bathrooms  

During the day, I work in Corporate America in a big building. Each floor of the building has only one male bathroom, which is routinely packed. There’s nary a lonely moment in the lavatory. To make matters worse, the architects of the bathroom decided that it would be a good idea to put a four inch gap between the stall doors and the divider. Someone can literally toss a tennis ball through the gap while you have the door closed.

It gets worse. In a feat of unbridled architectural stupidity, the sinks are located directly in front of the stalls, with a giant, freshly Windex-ed mirror giving participants an unhindered, panoramic view into the hearts and minds of the unfortunate souls sitting on the John.

The stall design makes for some interesting situations. Often, some marketing manager or accountant will start combing their hair in the mirror, then actually recognize an acquaintance through the crack and start up an eye-to-eye conversation while the acquaintance is taking care of their other business.

“Say Marshall, have you heard the third quarter finanicals?”

This is not an exaggeration. Corporate bathrooms are a reminder of how emotionally taxing life can be. But just remember, my friends: the frustrations of life, much like the New Jersey Devils’ trap, can be beaten with patience. So don’t grumble tonight, Pens fans. Give a whistle.

Hockey Update: Mainstream Media Still Loves to Hate Sidney Crosby

A little more than a week ago, self-professed hockey nerd Tom Awad wrote an article on ESPN.com titled—and I’m not making this up—“Strange But True, Crosby Hurting Penguins.” [ESPN]

Awad tried to make the case that Crosby is not “pulling his weight” this season because he takes “dumb penalties” and is less-than-stellar in a convoluted, made-up statistic called Goals Created that gives goals more weight than assists.

No, you are not hallucinating. No, your morning Sunny Delight was not spiked with Quaaludes. Awad really did make up a statistic called “Goals Created” that diminishes the importance of, literally, creating goals.

There are so many ways to discredit Awad’s petty, contrarian argument that I feel like a kid with an unlimited gift card at Toys R’ Us. I’m about to pass out from choice anxiety. First of all, Crosby’s set-ups are often so scintillating that Mike Lange could jump down from his perch at Mellon Arena, slide the puck into the gaping net, and then call his own goal.

Me-eee-eeee shoots and scores!”

Case in point: Crosby’s ridiculous game-winning slap-pass to Bill Guerin that froze Avalanche goalie Peter Budaj like a Slovakian snow cone (click here to watch).

If you look up “Goal Creation” in the dictionary, there’s a picture of this goal right next to a picture of Mr. Awad gently weeping underneath the dull flicker of his Alex Ovechkin night light.

But more importantly, this little factoid: Despite playing alongside a myriad of marginally talented wingers this season, Crosby has performed like your unstable ex-girlfriend after your break-up. He scores no matter who he’s with.

“But she seemed so normal at the beginning….”

In Crosby’s last 10 games, he has racked up 9 goals and 9 assists. Plug those numbers into your Goal Creation flux capacitor, Mr. Awad. Crosby is now third in the league in points (36), six points ahead of hockey media heartthrob Ovechkin.

“But my golly, the big Russian just knows how to score goals,” they swoon. “Look how much fun he’s having out there!”

Be careful not show the mainstream hockey media any real numbers, or we’ll have a tragedy on our hands.

“Oh, what’s that? Crosby has more goals? Ahhhhh my precious worldview! It burns!”

By the way, you know you’re in for an entertaining time when a sports journalist begins an argument with the line, “It’s true that his traditional stats are pretty good, BUT [let’s take a look at some made-up numbers I scribbled with a pretty purple Crayon].”

I think President Obama should use a similar line of logic to deal with our nation’s ongoing economic crisis.

“Yes, Secretary Geithner, I know the GDP numbers look good, but let’s dig a little deeper. How many chickens are we exporting versus Skittles consumed?!”

Ray Shero is Still a Genius

In the off-season, Penguins General Manager Ray Shero brought in this little-known, veteran fourth liner named Mike Rupp. Rupp is 6”5. He is versatile – capable of playing both wing and center. Shero signed him for $800,000 per season. For comparison, the departed Petr Sykora makes $2.5 million to season.

Rupp was supposed to be a reliable fourth liner who didn’t make mistakes, who didn’t hurt the team. Instead, the former New Jersey Devil has scored 8 goals already this season, two more than his previous career high, and proven that he has the pace to play alongside Crosby and Malkin when necessary.

Oh, and he’s a good chemistry guy, too. In fact, he’s hit it off so well with the guys in the locker room that he would consider going out on a date with Bill Guerin (click here to see what I mean).

 Love is in the air.

Defense? No worries, Shero’s Got It Covered

Even better, Shero let workhorse defenseman Rob Scuderi go in the offseason and replaced him with 6”4, 201 lbs Jay McKee. Both are known for their ability to block shots.

This season, Scuderi makes $3.4 million and has blocked 33 shots. McKee makes less than $1 million and has blocked 75 shots, third-best in the NHL.

Scuderi’s play in the Stanley Cup Finals earned him the coveted, repetitive title of “world’s best defensive defenseman.” But this season McKee’s plus-minus rating is +6, while Scuderi’s is even.

On second thought, maybe the President should solicit the advice of Mr. Shero.

NHL Salivates as Penguins-Capitals Playoff Rematch is Inevitable

If you’ve slept through the first 29 games of the NHL season, you really haven’t missed much. You can pick back up right where you left off with these cliff notes:

  • The Penguins are awesome (40 points, top of Atlantic).
  • The Capitals are awesome (40 points, top of Southeast).
  • The Flyers are not awesome, but think they have a right to be.
  • The Devils, like their city, are just as boring as you remember. Their games at Mellon Arena this season have been a hot, crowded physics lecture.
  • Out west, the Red Wings are hung-over and currently out of the playoffs.
  • The Sharks, as always, are tearing up the regular season schedule with the best record in the NHL, and feature the dynamite one-two combo of perennial jerk-off Danny Heatley and tepid, pass-first center Joe Thornton – who is always afraid to hurt the other team’s feelings once the playoffs roll around.
  • The Blackhawks look a lot like the Penguins – young, extremely talented at both ends of the ice and with good chemistry. But they looked like that before Hossa returned from injury recently. Will Hossa alter that chemistry? Did they really even need to add him, or should they have spent that money on a proven goalie?

 I think we all know the answer to that question.

Thirteen Years After Jets’ Demise, White Out Lives On

Fifteen-thousand people, all clad in white. Grandmothers furiously shaking white pompoms. Babies dressed in white Onesies. College students wearing ashen facepaint and sporting powdered wigs. All screaming at the top of their lungs, petitioning the referee to just drop the puck already!

Think you’re on the corner of Center Avenue and Mario Lemieux Place in Pittsburgh? Think again.

 Collages22-1Pens fans, meet your forefathers – the Winnipeg Jets’ faithful

The white out tradition actually started in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Our story begins in 1987 at the sparsely named Winnipeg Arena – back in those wild, draconian days when financial institutions and start-up dot-coms didn’t pay millions to stamp their logos on the toilet paper in every hockey arena bathroom.

We’re a long way away from iPhone applications that let fans watch television replays while they’re at the game, and even The Simpsons are two years prenatal. We’re talking about the days of The Joshua Tree and “tear down that wall.”

With nothing enjoyable yet invented – aside from Molson and the game of hockey, or as Canadians call it, shinney – Winnipeggers spent much of their free time thinking of ways to combine the two in creative ways. Skinny shinney, a Manitobian take on skinny dipping, didn’t quite work out.

One day, some bright young hoser had an innovative idea –

“Hey lads, you know how those hosers from Calgary are always wearing their red jerseys to the Flames games, calling it the C of Red and all that? Well, follow me here – let’s all get hosed and wear white to the Jets game tonight!”

 Screen Captures20Yikes. You usually have to pass out with your shoes on at a frat party to get that kind of artwork on your face.

And thus, a tradition was born that has since been adopted by Penn State University, the Miami Heat of the NBA, New York Islanders, Tampa Bay Lightning, Anaheim Duck, Buffalo Sabres, and your Pittsburgh Penguins.

Actually, Jets fans had a lot in common with Penguins fans. Winnipeg is a city with working class roots that has undergone a bit of a transformation since the 1980s, and now features an eclectic mix of college students, independent film makers, card dealers from the nearby casinos, and financiers, as well as retired workers from the rail yards and meat packing plants.

During the grey, bleak months of March, when the piercing wind would blow in from the Forks – the confluence of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers, Winnipeg’s version of The Point – Jets fans took solace in the fact that three or four nights a week, it would be a hockey night in Winnipeg.

No matter how high the snow piled up in their driveways, no matter how backbreaking or mindnumbing their jobs were, Winnipegers could look forward to nights of glove-dropping, facewashing and bench clearing brawls (click to watch – even the coaches get involved).

Then, in 1996, after 24 years of tradition, the Jets were taken away. They were packed up, repackaged in new colors and moved to Phoenix. Because of the weak Canadian dollar and rising player salaries, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman saw a speculative economic oppontunity of the Lehman Brothers variety – and approved the team’s relocation to Phoenix, Arizona.

Recently Updated25 “Yes,” Commissioner Bettman thought, “this will work out splendidly.”

I hate to spoil the ending for you, but Mr. Bettman’s Frankensteinian hockey experiment in the southwest did not turn out as he expected. The Phoenix Coyotes filed for bankrupcy on May 5.

 Collages23Coyotes re-branding meeting, June 1996: “Okay, Marty, I love the logo – but can we add…oh I don’t know, every color of the rainbow? Nothing says “hockey” like kachina art, moons, and the color purple. Hey, can you give the coyote a cantine pouch? Actually, let’s go crazy – give him spikey hair and beddazle his stick with some sort of weird ornament. Perfecto.”

Nothing better symbolizes the 1990s – the age of “let’s take something stable and good and try to supersize it to try to make more money” – than the demise of the Winnipeg Jets. Because of a swing in global currency that has since righted itself, the NHL saw on opportunity to expand into an exploding U.S. market of Audi drivers and lattee sippers.

They ditched the meat packers and Molson drinkers of Manitoba so they could cram luxury boxes into a state-of-the-art arena and sell $9 mojitos. In a business class, this plan might fly.

One problem: hockey isn’t, and will never be, a mainstream sport like the NBA or NFL. As Penguins fans know, it’s a sport best experienced elbow-to-elbow with the stranger beside you, their rally towel slapping you in the face from time to time. It’s best to be in the stands, velcroed to the stale beer on the floor, where you can do things like catch stray pucks and mercilessly heckle the referees.

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You can’t do those things behind 3 inches of soundproof, French-imported luxury plexiglass.

Despite all the evidence to the contrary, Bettman still says he believes the team belongs in Phoenix – where they routinely draw only 5,000-6,000 television views per game. Forever jealous of the NBA, Bettman is hanging onto his pride.

But the tides are turning – recently, the Bettman and other NHL representatives have hinted that they are considering moving the team back to Winnipeg.

As a Penguins fan, this should delight you. The NHL is best when it is rife with rivalries and diehard fanbases. Bringing back the Jets would not only bring more intelligent hockey fans back into the fray, it would revitalize one of the most intense rivalries in the game – the Jets and the Edmonton Oilers.

As a hockey fan, you can’t complain about the possibility of more bench clearing brawls and goalie-on-goalie violence.

 Collages24No matter the outcome of Phoenix’s finacial situation, it’s good to see that 13 years after the Jets’ untimely demise, a little piece of their spirit lives on in Pittsburgh.

You can help Winnipeg’s cause by going to www.JetsOwner.com

Sorry for the long-winded diatribe, but all the excitement of the Penguins’ repeat Stanley Cup birth brought back memories of the early 90s, when Pulling No Punches had a rat-tail in the fashion of former Penguin Robbie Brown, and we just had to take this opportunity to wax nostalgic about another fantastic hockey town.

For more Pens-Red Wings talk, look for an all new Burgh Show podcast on Monday.

Have a hockey question or rant for the guys? Drop them a line at their brand new e-mail address theburghshow@gmail.com and you might be featured on the next show.