Imitation of Life

Uncle Walt checking back in.

It’s been a long while since I last wrote. In that time, the Pens managed to get their act together and play up to their potential. Reeled off a giant winning streak, lost one, and came back to defeat the Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins. Evgeni Malkin is completely on fire. The level at which he is playing is truly something that must be seen to be believed. He’s everywhere. He’s scoring goals, he’s playing great defensively, he’s stickhandling through entire teams. I’m terrified that he’s going to burn out, but he’s doing the opposite. He keeps getting better. At some point his production will trail off a little, but…my God.

An alarming trend that is returning in the NHL, and this is something Jesse Marshall at Faceoff Factor has spoken about, is the system some teams are playing against the Pens (among others). That system? Slightly hold up the forecheck in the neutral zone and then collapse around the goaltender, keep all shots to the outside, and wait for an opportunity to spring someone.

It’s horribly boring hockey that takes ALL skill out of the game. Remember how magnificently boring (and therefore horribly tense) the 2010 series vs. MTL was? I don’t even want to think about that series, let alone see it Jesse does a great job of breaking down the how-and-why the system is troublesome, especially for teams like the Pens. Totally worth the read.

Continued after the break…

Continue reading “Imitation of Life”

Griggsy’s Gripes- The Pittsburgh Penguins: A Season on the Brink

It’s been a while since I’ve hurt your eyes and your sensibilities with my writing. But now is as good a time as any to burst back into your lives. Today, the Gripes sets its sights on one thing and one thing only: The Pittsburgh Penguins, A Season on the Brink….

To say the Penguins are struggling would be an understatement. At the halfway point, the Penguins find themselves in 8th place in the Eastern Conference, with 46 points. They are 12 points back of the New York Rangers for 1st place in the Atlantic Division (as well as the Eastern Conference). They sit precariously one point ahead of Winnipeg and two points ahead of the Washington Capitals for that final playoff spot. To break things down further, let’s divide things into three categories….

The Good:

—>The Penguins are one of five teams in the conference with a positive goal differential. The Bruins, Rangers, Flyers, and Maple Leafs also are on the plus side, and those teams are also currently holding playoff spots. Usually, teams on the positive end of goal differential for the season are doing well, and find their way into the post-season.

—>James Neal has been a massive contributor to the team offensively. After a hot start in October (a common feature of a Neal season), many feared that he would cool off as the season wore on (also common for Neal). While his goal-scoring pace has dwindled some, he is still in the Top 10 in goals, as well as being the top power play goal-scorer in the NHL. For a team with notorious power play struggles, Neal’s success with the man advantage has been so important.

—>Marc-Andre Fleury is (at worst) in the top 5 of goaltenders in the NHL, and his play has kept things together defensively (more on that in a moment). His positioning continues to improve, which has made his fundamentals very strong. He also still has the athleticism to make the big saves at key times, even when a goal seems so likely for the opposition. His puck-handling still could be better (even though he’s much better than the average fan gives him credit for), but overall, MAF has been nothing short of stellar between the pipes.

—->Matt Niskanen has made a huge leap in the last 11 months. During his first couple months here, Niskanen struggled greatly at times, leading to many wanting to run him out of town in the off-season. Fortunately, Ray Shero and Dan Bylsma were patient with the defenseman, and that patience paid off in a big way. Niskanen is only behind an injured Kris Letang in defensive scoring, he has the top plus/minus stat on the team, he’s replaced Letang on the top power play unit with no shakiness at all, and has taken on more minutes per game, handling that workload increase with little difficulty. In the last handful of games, Niskanen has been less noticeable, but considering how bad things have looked lately for the entire team, being unnoticed is a positive thing.

—->Also worthy of note: Pascal Dupuis had a great start to the season, with very high point totals, especially in October and November. While Dupuis has faded into his usual secondary role lately, Evgeni Malkin has come to the forefront once again. He has found his way into the Top 10 in points in the league, and continues to be a consistent threat despite being the “last man standing”, in terms of the three well-known centers in the Pens’ lineup.

The Bad:

—->On a macro level (and I am an Economics major, so this is how my brain works), the biggest problem is the lack of consistency. And I don’t just mean game to game. Sometimes, it’s period to period. Sometimes, it’s shift to shift. On occasion, it’s even a problem during shifts. This is mostly a focus and concentration problem, it seems. And that’s a rather large issue, in my eyes. It means that both the coaches and players are failing. The coaches haven’t absolutely hammered home the need to play the same way every time that the players get on the ice. And the players haven’t felt the need to play the same way every time they get on the ice. The most frustrating part of this is that there have been long stretches where the team has looked like the best in the league. Back to back performances against Buffalo and Chicago showed that they have that capability. And there have been other times where they looked just as good, if not better. But then there have been stretches that are so awful, you wonder if this team is capable of making the playoffs. Consistency needs to be the goal. And that goal needs to be achieved.

—->When he was re-signed over the summer, there was an expectation that Tyler Kennedy would get chances as a top 6 forward, and he would deliver on those chances like he showed he could last season. It just hasn’t happened for Kennedy. He missed 11 games early in the season due to injury. When he has played, however, he has not had nearly the same impact he did last season. Only 5 goals in 30 games isn’t nearly acceptable. Zero power play goals, that’s nearly unforgivable. He has had chances, playing with Jordan Staal for most games. Staal has had a great impact, scoring 15 goals on the season. Kennedy’s impact hasn’t been large enough, and due to injuries, his impact needs to increase.

—->Paul Martin’s contract is one of the highest-paying on the Penguins. With that paycheck, the responsibility is very high. It doesn’t necessarily mean that he has to be piling up points, nor does it mean that he has to be a big hitter and shot-blocker on the defensive end. But what it does mean is that he absolutely must be consistent defensively, in sound defensive position, and most importantly not making the big mistakes that lead to goals. Unfortunately, if you’ve watched him play this season, you know that Martin has struggled with that list. Inconsistency is a common theme for Martin. He has missed seven games due to injury/illness, but in the 34 games he has played, he has the worst plus/minus rating on the team. He also has looked lost defensively at times, and has lacked strength on the puck. His defensive partner, Zbynek Michalek, also hasn’t played up to his capabilities, but Martin’s been just horrendous at times, and when you make five million dollars per season, you need to be close to the best defenseman on the team, not close to the worst.

—->Marc-Andre Fleury is a fantastic goaltender, but he can’t play every single game. MAF’s backup is Brent Johnson, and in previous years, he’s been one of the best backup goalies in the NHL. At one point last season, he took over the #1 job from Fleury, and was holding onto it quite capably. This season, however, is a completely different story. Johnson has played in 9 games to this point, and has put up some horrifying statistics. 2-5-2 for a record, with a 3.47 goals against average, and a save percentage of .876, which are hideous numbers. But those don’t even fully capture Johnson’s struggles. He looks like he is flailing at pucks at times, and appears to be off his angles on far too many occasions. The Penguins need Johnson to get them points in the standings when he is between the pipes. Right now, he has only gotten them 6 out of 18 possible points. It’s not nearly good enough. And it might be time for the Pens to move on with a better backup, whether it be Brad Thiessen or an option from outside the organization.

The Ugly:

—->There is only one thing in this category, and it’s the only thing that fits right. It’s the injuries. The Penguins were plagued with bad health last season, with Crosby, Staal, and Malkin only playing 2 games together. And those two games featured Crosby’s first concussion issues. The Penguins thought they had moved on from all their injury woes as they moved ahead to the 2011-12 season. Not so fast, though.

The following is a list (in no particular order) of every Penguins player who has missed time this season due to injury/illness: Crosby, Malkin, Staal, Letang, Niskanen, Asham, Engelland, Martin, Orpik, Kennedy, Park, Michalek, Lovejoy, Despres, Jeffrey, Bortuzzo, Strait.

That is seventeen players. Yes, you read that right. Seventeen. Nearly an entire team worth of skaters. Including the highest-paid, most important skaters on the team. It’s very tough for a team to win games with all those players out. And it’s no surprise that the team is clawing and scratching to get a playoff spot, instead of comfortably sitting in a spot that allows for home-ice in playoff series.

So, with half the season in the books, the Pittsburgh Penguins are closer to last place in the Eastern Conference (10 points in front of the New York Islanders) than they are to first place in the Eastern Conference (12 points behind the New York Rangers). Things appear to be at a breaking point, especially if you read reports regarding the uncertainty surrounding Sidney Crosby at the moment. This could be a complete collapse for the Pens. Or they could rally and find a way to win the division. Or anywhere in between. I honestly think you could sell me on any scenario at this point.

Where do I think it goes from here? I’m usually a realist in my outlook on everything. But I’m an optimist when it comes to the Penguins. So, I’m seeing things finally falling into place. Players get healthy, scoring finally returns, MAF continues to play at his stellar level, and the Pens climb back into the East’s Top 4. If that happens, the rest of the East needs to look out in the playoffs.

In reality, though, the Pens will probably continue to struggle, but will find a way to sneak into the playoffs, then will exit quietly in the first round. All while the Rangers and Flyers make deep runs. And that’s where I take my leave, before I end up vomitting all over myself….

New Year, New World

I won’t bore you with the traditional year-end wrap up like most other blogs/magazines/programs will. Not because I want to be edgy or different, but because I don’t feel I’ll have much else to add outside of what the others all listed. Instead, I will take a few minutes just to talk to all of you out there on this New Year’s Eve and look to the world, both back and ahead, and share some thoughts and feelings.

First of all, it has been a pleasure writing here for everyone. Hopefully everyone has enjoyed what I’ve been able to write as much as I enjoyed writing things. I wish I could have continued the pace I started out with, but life happened and, sadly, this had to take a backseat. That isn’t fair to all of you and I want to make sure 2012 sees to it that I do a bit more regular writing, even if it is some shorter, less in-depth type of work.

Second, 2011 has truly been a wild ride of a year. It had plenty of lows, but also had an incredible amount of highs. Personally, it was a solid year for me. I was finally able to get hired doing the job I love as well as move ahead with many aspects of my life that were on hold.

It was a strange year, too. I’ve spent the last few weeks trying to get my inner self straight. Finally, after many years, I’ve been able to let go of some of the baggage and unpleasantness I’ve been carrying with me for years. I haven’t really been able to enjoy the freedom that comes with releasing myself from those shackles, but I know I’ll come to appreciate it soon. Speaking more specifically, I finally came to terms with a few people (ex girlfriends who did me wrong and I never really got closure) and have been able to move beyond through a variety of means/events. I finally felt vindicated. I finally was able to get a sense of justice in the world and I have, at long last, been able to set those ghosts free.

I don’t you to think that I’m just ignoring those parts of my life. These people were tremendously important to me then and now, but not for the same reasons. People come into and fall out of our lives all the time. These women were important then and I want to thank them for teaching me some things about life. I’ll never forget them. But now it’s time to give my sign off to them and wish them “good night, and good luck.”

2011 saw me make some new friends and some new enemies. Unfortunately, I’m a person with a big, strong personality and sometimes it can get the best of me. Earlier in the year (about the time that I started this blog) I got into a beef with the guys over at the Pensblog and we all said some things we didn’t entirely mean. I don’t fully agree with some of the things they say or do, but the internet is a pretty big place and we can both co-exist peacefully. With the troubles the Penguins have been facing, the last thing the team and the fanbase needs is a bunch of in-fighting among the blogs. Really, it’s the internet. I know we like to pretend it’s serious business, but it’s more important for us to come together and support our team. We can disagree on players and how things should be done, but it ultimately boils down to supporting the skating penguin on the front of the jersey, not the name on the back or the guys behind the benches and desks of the team. The Pens are our team, ride or die. I fully suspect Derek (of tPB) and I will continue to give one another the business, but that is ultimately what the internet is for.

As I mentioned numerous times over the last few months, I moved to a new state and started a new job. It’s been a whirlwind, honest and true, but I couldn’t be happier having done so. Moving out of PA really gave me a chance to hit the reset button on life and start over. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t lonely from time to time, but that’s bound to happen in a new town/state. I love teaching and I want to get better and better each year. I think I did a decent job of things this semester, but I have a lot of improvements I can make.

In general, 2011 was a strange, but good, year, and I look forward to what 2012 brings. I know Griggsy is looking forward to a fresh start and getting the blog back on track. God love him.

Most importantly, though – thanks to all of you who read the blog and commented and followed on Twitter.

Happy 2012, folks. See you on the other side.

 

Home for the Holidays

Folks,

 

Ol’ Uncle Walt wanted to check in with everyone and wish a Merry Christmas or happy-whatever-you-celebrate (twice as happy if you just celebrate drinking a lot of whiskey). Pittsburgh…I was gone just long enough to feel nostalgic and I’ve been back just long enough to want to get back to NC.

 

Go figure.

 

Enjoy your holiday, be safe, and let’s see what 2012 holds in store for all of us.

 

Go Pens, Go Steelers, Go winning season for the Pirates.

 

-Walt

Griggsy? Griggsy!

Folks,

Walt here. Just wanted to drop a quick update on Griggsy. After a bit of slamming my head into a wall I finally got things figured out and got Griggsy on the roll. He will be doing his own posts from here on out. If you want to keep in touch with him outside of the blog or give him direct feedback on his posts, you can do so on Twitter –@Griggsy96 or now by clap-free email, GriggsyAvoidsTheClap@gmail.com

So, even though he’s been posting here for a while, I’m finally happy to have Griggsy on board as an admin and with some free rein to post as he pleases.

Welcome aboard, sir. It truly is a pleasure to have you.

As always, you can follow the blog on Twitter at @AvoidingTheClap and by email at AvoidingTheClap@gmail.com. You can also follow me personal account at @walterflanagan (You’ll have to request to be followed by me – I keep that account locked because, well, it’s my personal account).

Back For The First Time

Folks,

I have arrived in my new town and have mostly unpacked. I am still alive. I am doing well and, frankly, couldn’t be happier.

I am still doing some amount of unpacking and needing to pick up various supplies that I forgot to bring or buy in my recent trips to the local shopping…areas. I am officially living in the middle of nowhere (but that’s what I wanted). My school is pretty much right in the heart of the city, but is honestly only a 15-20 minute drive. I am thoroughly enjoying being able to only be 20 minutes from life and activity…or from quiet seclusion in the middle of nowhere.

Being completely and totally alone hasn’t really sunk in yet. I have a friend in Asheville who is planning on coming to visit me in 2 weeks for my birthday. Hopefully she can make it for the weekend. I think I will greatly enjoy seeing a familiar face at that point.

And what move would be complete without a complete lulz moment. My lulziest of lulz so far? Trekking the old microwave all the way from Pittsburgh to Fayetteville to have it literally blow up on me the 2nd day. Now I need a new microwave. Outside of exploding microwaves it’s been a pretty easy move and adjustment period. We’ll have to come back and evaluate that statement in a few weeks time and see if I’m still so chipper.

It’s going to be a completely insane first few weeks, but I want to get one or two Pens Previews done this week, both as a means of keeping my sanity as well as getting geared up for hockey season, which is right around the corner.

Many thanks to all the kind words and well-wishing I got from everyone. Tomorrow is the first day of school for me. Things are about to get real.

-Walt

sfdhgfshdgfs

I’ve got a full day of things today, but if I get a few moments tonight (and can let my bile recede) I will discuss this more at length.

Wow.

Youtube took the video down. Whatever.

On to the next one.

What to expect…kinda

Hello everyone.

I wanted to take a moment and thank everyone who helped me come to the decision recently about getting back into the blog game. I had discussed the ups and downs of doing this with a number of people. For various reasons, many of which may or may not become evident as time goes on, having a blog is a potentially dangerous thing for me professionally. Obviously I made my decision and here we are.

I was not 100% certain what I wanted to do with this initially. I didn’t want to commit myself to simply a sports blog or a video game blog. I didn’t want to just do one thing or another, but being spread out is hard, too. I have a lot of things I like to discuss. I have many (strong) opinions, but I also like to hear what others have to say. I am hopeful that this adventure will be as fulfilling for everyone else as it is for me.

To lay out some general expectations, there will likely be a number of posts about the aforementioned sports and video games. I have been involved in “New Media Journalism” for about a decade (before it was ever called “new media journalism”) as a video game writer. Regrettably, those days came to a halt a number of years ago because of technical issues and some, erm, staffing problems. By the time things had gotten back on their proverbial feet, the season had passed and I was involved in some other things. I want to get back into that some because of how much I enjoyed writing about the things in the world I liked. Video games have been a huge part of my life and I want them to stay that way.

Sports. Boy howdy. This is always an area where people tend to get bent out of shape. I will lay it out there for everyone – I am a hockey and football type of person. My teams in their respective sports are the teams from Pittsburgh, the Penguins and the Steelers. The usual internet protocol of “haters gonna hate” pretty much applies here. I will write about them. I will write about things going on in general. Even though the blog is named after a fantastic baseball film reference, there will likely be very little baseball talk.

I will try to stay away from politics, but it always finds a way in. That, my friends, is a bridge to cross at a later date.

Personal life blogging will be a recurring event, too. Names and events will be modified to protect people’s identities, but you can expect some stories from my personal world. This is, after all, the blog I created in the hopes of providing an outlet for my thoughts, feelings, etc.

I will also talk about music. Jesus, God in Heaven, there will be music talk. Music talk will basically be this:

Yeah, I’m a music snob (with debatable snobby tastes).

There will also be baby animals. Oh, yes, there will be baby animals.

You can also follow the blog on Twitter. It can be accessed at http://www.twitter.com/AvoidingTheClap or, simply, @AvoidingTheClap

I hope this experiment works out. Hopefully everyone enjoys what I throw against the wall. Hopefully this can, in fact, live up to the billing of “a blog of (good) advice.”

 

Here goes nothing.

 

-Walt

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