Thursday, December 9, 2010

Toronto Maple Leafs 2 at Pittsburgh Penguins 5 - December 8, 2010

The whole reason behind this week-long trip was to see the Leafs in another road arena. But this time, there was the bonus of having it be a new building, the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh. I saw a game in Mellon Arena back in January, and was excited to see how the new rink compared.

Consol Energy Center

Located just across the street from the Igloo in downtown Pittsburgh, Consol Energy Center is the newest venue in the big 4 sports leagues. It's a sparkling building but its location does make it difficult to reach in a timely fashion as the downtown core can be a traffic nightmare if you are not familiar with the area.

There are parking garages around the arena, but there's also free parking on Crawford St (which has meters which are open from 6;00) and Bedford Avenue (which is meter-free) nearby. Be careful as the side streets are permit only. Despite being a bit late, I found a free spot and from there it was just 3 minutes to the $15 lot. I also avoided the post-game traffic jam, so I would recommend getting there a bit early and avoiding the pay lots.

I mentioned that Columbus was expensive with $85 lower bowl tickets. Well, Pittsburgh is ridiculous, with the best seats going for over $200 according to TicketMaster. But that's supply and demand, when you have the best player on the planet, you get to charge a little extra.

I arrived about 40 minutes before game time as it took me a while to navigate the busy downtown streets at rush hour. I paid a visit to the box office, where the cheapest ticket was $55 for the 16th row of the second deck. I wasn't particularly happy with this option, so went to see my friendly neigbourhood scalper, who had a seat 6 rows from the ice for $60. The season ticket price was $92 and the box office price would have been even more, so I took it without haggling much.

Due to my late arrival, I didn't have as much time to walk around as I would have liked, so I didn't see everything. The entrance by the box office contains the Trib Total Media All-Time Team Zone (below) which has excellent interactive displays on the best Penguins of all time as well as the Stanley Cup. The latter exhibit allows you to zoom in on the cup to see the names associated with each winning team which really allows for a trip down memory lane. Definitely check this out.

The main concourse is wide enough, but was crowded with fans. It's still a massive improvement over Mellon Arena though, and I didn't have any trouble walking around. The high school hockey jerseys that were in Mellon are here as well, in an area known as the Highmark Wall of Champions.

As you would expect, concessions abound. Primanti Bros. Sandwiches are the signature Pittsburgh item and they have one stand near section 119. There's also Tim Horton's, which sells 1o timbits for only $2.50. Surprisingly, there was a Japanese touch with Nakama Sushi (above) offering a comprehensive menu of sushi rolls that are rather expensive. There were a few tables at which you could stand and enjoy your meal, always a nice touch.

However, I didn't see much else as I toured the lower concourse. There are club areas on either side of the rink (that's one entrance above) and these take up all lower level seats between the blue lines, which I find a bit disappointing. I prefer places like Columbus where the club seats are separate sections and the riff-raff still have a chance to sit in the best sections. Those are the club seats below, I was just one section over and we were not afforded drink holders.

After a quick circuit on the lower level, I took the escalator up to the second deck. I liked the views from here, even from the drink rail at the top of the upper deck.

With the game nearing start time, I decided to take the stairs back down and was surprised to see that every landing had a team picture and highlights from a past season. Known as the Walk Through Time, it's a brilliant touch that most fans are going to miss - take the stairs and not the escalator if you visit!

The scoreboard is amazing here, with 4 HD video screens that are almost as good as looking at the real thing. When the play was down in the other corner and I was screened by the benches, I watched the scoreboard and occasionally forgot to look back on the ice as the play came closer to me. Really impressive. There's also a couple of ribbon boards but they didn't have much useful info during the game, mostly ads.

Overall, this is a beautiful venue, but with the Penguins doing so well, a bit overpriced. I'd like to comeback for an arena football game (Pittsburgh has a new team starting next year) or another event and take my time looking around as it is a place worth exploring a bit more.

The Game

Pittsburgh came in having won 10 in a row, while Toronto sucks on the road. Well, they suck in general, but they really, really suck on the road. So I didn't have big expectations for tonight and was really just hoping that the Leafs could avoid a shutout. Marc-Andre Fleury (above) started for Pittsburgh while The Monster, Jonas Gustavsson, was in goal for the Maple Leafs.

The Pens scored early in the first when some guy named Crosby (winning a face-off above) poked in a rebound after the two previous shots hit the post. That was the only goal in the period, and the Leafs finished the frame with just 4 shots. I was already depressed.

In the second, the Leafs almost scored on the power play. Almost. Naturally, 30 seconds later, Pittsburgh scored shorthanded on a 2-on-0 break. Yep, the Leafs had 5 guys to the Penguins' 4 and yet 2 Pens managed to get behind all 5 Leafs. Pascal Dupuis was the guy who beat Gustavsson high to make it 2-0; a great goal actually and the turning point.

Toronto was deflated after giving up the shorty, and the Penguins added two more goals in the next 4 minutes, including another from Crosby, who is on a 17-game point streak. After two periods, Pittsburgh was outshooting the Leafs 24-10 and out-chancing them about 50-1. It wasn't pretty.

In the third though, Crosby took a double minor and the Leafs managed a power play goal from Tyler Bozak. I stood and cheered, much to the amusement of the local fans. After enduring some rather hurtful comments, I had to explain that I was very happy they avoided the shutout and yes, I did understand the score was 4-1.

A few minutes later, Mikhail Grabovski (above winning the faceoff) scored a great goal from 40 feet out, beating Marc-Andre Fleury high to the glove side, and the crowd was suddenly concerned. I was slightly hopeful, but deep down I knew that the Leafs weren't going to pull this one out for me. They outplayed Pittsburgh for most of the period, with a 15-2 shot advantage, but Fleury made a couple of good stops to maintain the 2-goal lead.

With just under three minutes left, Mark Letestu scored his second on another odd-man rush to make the final was 5-2. Not a shutout! A moral victory! Bah.

In all seriousness though, the difference in the talent level between these two teams is easily noticeable. Pittsburgh is fast, their passes are crisp and accurate, and they are fun to watch. Toronto is painfully slow, spends a lot of time missing defensive assignments, and seems to have little clue how to play the game with any intensity. Ron Wilson has got to be in trouble, the team had 2 too-many-men penalties today and is scrambling around far too often. Is there even a system being used?


One player I was really impressed with is Pittsburgh rookie Chris Conner. He's listed at 5'8 but he plays like 6'8 at times - at one point he sent Keith Aulie, a 6'5 defenseman, flying into the boards. Late in the game, Conner had a good hit on Grabovski that led to the Pens final goal. I always like these "little" guys who play with energy and grit that belies their size.

Before the game, I was taking pictures of the Leafs warmup and Colton Orr (above) was looking into the crowd to toss a puck. So I put my hand up, figuring there's no way he'd throw it to me. But he did! Yay, an official NHL practice puck!

Speaking of Orr, he and Derek Engelland had their second fight of the year. Engelland won the first one handily and a local fan had brought a Leafs' jersey with #28 and Glass Jaw as the name on the back. I had to laugh at that one.

There were three other fights in the game, including two involving Mike Komisarek. That's him taking on Aaron Asham above, while some Penguins watch his second bout with Michael Rupp below.

I've seen the Leafs lose in 8 road rinks in the past 3 seasons and I've had enough. So no more Leaf road games until next season. I promise!

Next Up

Over the next 5 days I'm driving from Pittsburgh to Miami with stops in Washington, Charlotte, and Jacksonville. That's about 1,500 miles, so I won't have much time to update the blog as I'll be driving, watching sports, or sleeping most of the time. Check back in a few days to see if I made it and if the record cold sweeping the east coast disappears as I make my way into Florida.



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