Thursday, March 15, 2007

Thursday, March 15, 2007

-- It was a beautiful day, then night, then tomorrow for the Penguins.

-- Panthers preparing to choke again?

-- Pirate offense coming from the wrong places. Pitching also dubious.

-- Next broadcast of Steeltown Sports: Live! on WMBS-AM.

---Fabulous Forty-Eight---

As in "hours".

Unless you've been living under a rock, then you know that as of late Monday night, announcements were flying around on all the media outlets in Pittsburgh that a deal for a new arena was reached, and the Penguins were going to sign on for another 30 years in the 'Burgh (Of course, if you listened to "Steeltown Sports: Live" two nights earlier and heard Adam and Derek from talk about how they'd heard at Saturday's Rangers/Pens game that the deal had already been struck and they were to announce it "next week", you were ahead of the curve).

Then, prior to Tuesday night's game vs. the Sabres, Mario Lemieux, the Penguin who saved Pittsburgh, twice, made it three times. Along the lines of, "The only thing we have to fear..." and "Ask not what your country can do for you...", Mario spoke words that were instantly immortalized:

"Tonight, I'm proud to announce that your Pittsburgh Penguins will remain right here in Pittsburgh. Where they belong."

Remarkably, the fans had enough collective vocal chords to get through the ensuing game that went to a shootout (though it should have been over in regulation). The Pens outshot Buffalo 38-19, further improving their Shots-on-Goal Differential (a.k.a. Steeltown Mike's magic hockey stat) to -1.6, which is certainly acceptable.

Come playoff time, I'll compile the league standings as how they relate to the SOGD.

Then, less than 24 hours later, the Penguins blanked New Jersey on the road for the first time since the Colorado Rockies became the Devils.

So, recapping:

11PM Monday - City abuzz with anticipation of a new arena.

7:30PM Tuesday - Mario makes the official announcement

10:30PM Tuesday - Marc-Andre Fleury stonewalls Thomas Vanek for a shootout win against the top team in the Eastern Conference.

10:00PM Wednesday - The horn sounds, ending the most unlikely of shutouts.

Oh, yeah. And because Monday's game went to a shootout, the Penguins twice screwed over New Jersey, by allowing a point to Buffalo, then denying them any the following night.

Fan. Tas. Tic.

---Different Sort of Madness---

At least, that's what I'm expecting for this tournament: the Panther fans being angry after Pitt's 2nd round exit at the hands of 6th-seeded Duke.

I'm not even sure how Duke stayed in the top 25 this year, considering their losses this year, and the controversial win against Clemson due to a time-keeper error. Maybe there truly is an East Coast media bias, as a radio host from Seattle I spoke with said in my first chat with him last January.

Anyway, all the focus has been on the Panthers making it to the Elite 8. I believe the focus is in the wrong place.

If the Panthers lose to a higher-seeded team (in this case, we'd be looking at a Sweet 16 matchup with #2 UCLA for that to be possible), then it's only disappointing. It can't really be called "underachieving". If you want to venture that the Panthers should have played better during the regular season and been the higher seed to begin with, that argument works well enough for me.

Panthers losses this season have not really been ones of hard luck. Simply being outplayed, especially the higher-profile the game and with the most on the line.

Wisconsin is a tough place to play, but Pitt's experience should have shone instead of shuddered in the late going.

Oklahoma State was a classic ball game, but the Panthers were the first to blink.

Their first game against Marquette, they had a chance to pretty much put the hammerlock on the Big East regular season title. At home. They lose in overtime. They had to overcome a double-digit deficit to even get it to go that far.

Then, with Georgetown nipping at their heels, the Louisville Cardinals come to the Pete and rip the Panthers on their own turf, bringing the Hoyas to within striking distance.

The showdown in Georgetown goes south in the waning minutes, giving Georgetown control, but a loss by the Hoyas afterwards gives Pitt the opportunity to salvage a share of the title if they can exact some revenge on the Marquette Golden Eagles. No dice.

In the quarterfinal round of the Big East tournament, though, they were able to get that same squad in foul trouble and take advantage of their own fresh legs to grind out a win. It's just the quarterfinals.

I'm not exactly sure what happened in the 2nd half of the semi-final game against Louisville. Probably the Cardinals being worn out from playing two overtimes the night before.

But, with all the chips on the table and an even number of games played in the tournament, Pitt played their worst all-around game of the season. Star Aaron Gray had only 3 points. The team shot under 30%. Sam Young sounded like the only one with any desire to win that game, and he was the only Panther in double figures, scoring 10 of Pitt's 42.

Now, here we are in the tournament. Yes, Pitt should be able to grind Wright State into the boards, especially in the second half, but a likely matchup with Duke in the 2nd round has me worried.

There's that "mystique" that is synonymous with Duke in the tournament. Coach shih-SHEV-skee is one of the best in the game. Meanwhile, despite absolutely no physical similarities that I can discern, coach Jamie Dixon reminds me of another Pittsburgh sports figurehead:


TheJim over at is holding a "celebrity" bracket contest with folks from around the Pittsburgh media. I am in this group. My official tournament picks are there (or soon to be posted), but the reader's digest version: all #2 seeds in the Final Four. UCLA over Georgetown for the title.

Like my NFL picks last year, I sadly note that I didn't pick very many low-seed upsets, so I don't expect to do very well. There's always some 3 or 4 seed that lands in the Final Four. We'll see.

---Honeymoon is Over?---

The Pirates, despite their Grapefruit League record, seem to have been hitting the ball well. But, as I noted previously, much of the offense is coming from people expected to open the season in the minor leagues, and probably stay there for the balance of the relevant season. Neil Walker has homered in his last two games, for example. I could be wrong here, but I don't believe Jason Bay has (in his admittedly short playing time). Sanchez is injured. Duffy's not doing a whole lot of good lead-off work...

The folks who are supposed to be in the starting lineup are looking pretty sub-average right now, except for maybe Ronny Paulino. Adam LaRoche has been getting some hits, but nothing to get you excited about a 40-home run hitter, and maybe more with the short right field porch (and, for God's sake, it's not's friggin TALL! It's probably easier to sneak one inside the left field foul pole!).

Despite all this, it's the spotty pitching that's been keeping me up nights (no, not really). Ian Snell has been pretty damn good. Zach Duke has been ok. Other than that, it's been hit and miss at best. Tom Gorzelanny and Paul Maholm give up lots of first inning runs. Tony Armas, Jr. and Shawn Chacon have been decent so far, but you need a bit more encouragement before you jump on either of those guys' bandwagon. Shane Youman should make the squad. He could end up being this year's Tom Gorzelanny of '06.

Salomon Torres and Matt Capps, the present and future of Pirates closers, are also inconsistent. Again, I'm not getting too analytical as pitchers are still using this opportunity to try new things in games as the results don't truly count, but some of the signs don't point to good things.

While you're over at, you should check out the opening day T-shirt that they have on their site (I refer to the black one). I really hope their wrong, but I can't disagree with the sentiment.

If I had money, I'd buy one. That one could have a lot of life to it...

---WHYGAVS: Take 2---

And speaking of Pirates, the next broadcast of "Steeltown Sports: Live!" is scheduled for Saturday, March 24th from 12:05PM until 12:30. (Re)Scheduled guest is Pat Lackey from Where Have You Gone, Andy Van Slyke? We'll talk Pirates baseball because, at that point, Opening Day will be just a bit over a week away.

By that time, I also hope I'll have an opportunity to compile my MLB preview for this season. Maybe it'll be less hit-and-miss than last year's (see the link on the sidebar if you're interested).


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mike...Nice recap of the past week...Pens fans all over screamed either at the game or wherever they were watching the game…for the news they so wanted to hear from Super Mario…"Tonight, I'm proud to announce that your Pittsburgh Penguins will remain right here in Pittsburgh. Where they belong."

To say “Fan. Tas. Tic.” has got to be the perfect phrase. Thanks for your contribution!

Pens fan…Karri

3/17/2007 4:45 PM  
Anonymous tiffany said...

Mike, nice recap. I still can't believe it was finally announced that the Pens are staying in Pittsburgh AND getting a new arena!!!
What I especially liked from Mario's speech was the fact that he said YOUR Penguins. I'm not sure if we, as fans, can ever truly repay him for what he's done for us....
Fan. Tas. Tic.....can't say it much better than that. ;)

3/17/2007 7:56 PM  

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