Pens Win Both of Back to Back

Bennett

The Penguins faced off against the, at the time, 6-1 Washington Capitals on the road yesterday.  The game was on NBC and was the Wednesday Night Rivalry Game of the week.

And rightfully so.

There were some monster hits dished out by both teams, mainly from the Capitals.  These teams really just do not like each other.  The Capitals are easily the Penguins’ biggest rivals behind the Philadelphia Flyers.

One huge factor that made these two teams rivals is the classical superstar vs. superstar: Crosby or Ovechkin?

Last night, neither of these players came up large, but the Penguins prevailed 3-1.  It was a huge win against a very good Capitals team…on the road too.

Tonight, the Penguins faced off against the Buffalo Sabres.  Probably the biggest story of this game going in was the return of former Penguins coach Dan Bylsma to Pittsburgh…but this time he was behind the opponents’ bench.

The Sabres, who came into the night missing 3 of their top players (Evander Kane, Tyler Ennis, Zach Bogosian), registered a whopping 53 shots on goal.  The Penguins had only 29 shots, but they outscored Buffalo where it matters the most and won 4-3 in a close game.

Although many Penguins fans (including myself) have not been completely satisfied with the Penguins so far this year.  However…

Outside of that 0-3 start, the Penguins have put up a 6-1 record while beating respectable teams such as the Predators and Capitals, both on the road.

The Penguins finally put up more than 3 goals in a regular season game for the first time since they put up 6 against the Oilers on March 12th of last season.

Crosby put up 2 points tonight, Hornqvist and Dupuis scored their first goals of the season, Malkin stayed hot, Zatkoff saved 50 of 53 shots he faced after sitting on the bench the whole season…

Is there finally a reason to be optimistic about this Penguins team?

That’s for you to decide.  I still want to see more from the Penguins in regards to the little things, but I am very pleased with the success they have had in the past 7 games…at least in regards to the win column.

I’ll recap the goals from BOTH the Washington and Buffalo games, and then give my overall impressions from both games.

Recap (Pens @ Caps)

First Period:

No scoring

After First Period: Pens 0 Caps 0

Second Period:

No scoring

After Second Period: Pens 0 Caps 0

Third Period:

Karl Alzner had the puck behind his own net.  He gave the puck to one of Washinton’s hottest forwards, Evegni Kuznetsov.  Kuznetsov skated with the puck all the way down the ice and put a dcently long range wrist shot on goal after he entered the Penguins zone.  The puck deflected twice off of Maatta then Scuderi and found it’s way past Fleury.

Pens 0 Caps 1

At this point, this game looked hopeless for the Penguins.  They were 0-4 going into this game when giving up the first goal, and have been outright terrible at coming back in game under Mike Johnston.  To add to it, the first goal of the game that gave Washington the lead was on an absolutely fluky play, one that would normally completely demoralize any hockey team.

Then Beau Bennett happened.

Just 24 seconds after the Caps took the lead, Olli Maatta had the puck in his own zone.  Maatta saw a streaking Beau Bennett and tried to feed him a pass.  The pass would have been just behind Bennett, but Bonino beautifully deflected the pass so that Bennett could take it in stride.  He came in down the right wing, took a shot that was stopped, but then buried his own rebound to knot it up at 1.

Pens 1 Caps 1

Remember when I said that Kessel should play on a line with Malkin?

Remember when I said that was going to work?

Only 1:57 after Bennett’s goal, Kessel scored to give the Penguins the lead.  As you can see, Kessel gave Malkin the puck and then drove towards the net.  Malkin saw him cutting, and completed the give-and-go with a soft pass that threaded a few needles that went right to the stick of Phil Kessel, who made no mistake about it.

Pens 2 Caps 1

Seconds after the Capitals pulled Holtby in an effort to tie the game, the Penguins turned the puck over.  Nick Bonino ended up with the puck, and lofted it up in the air from his own zone towards the empty net, and he nailed it.  Right down the middle.

Pens 3 Caps 1

Final Score: Pens 3 Caps 1

Recap (Pens vs. Sabres)

First Period:

Just 56 seconds in, the Penguins had the puck in the offensive zone.  Ben Lovejoy had the puck at the point and found Crosby who was flying coming off of the bench.  Crosby drove wide left and put a shot on goal.  Johnson could not handle the puck, and Dupuis was right in front to knock in the rebound.  His first NHL goal in almost a year.

Pens 1 Sabres 0

7:16 into the first period, the Penguins were again working in the offensive zone.  The Sabres looked like they were about to clear the puck out, but ended up turning the puck over.  Crosby found the puck, and just pushed a backhand pass to an open Patric Hornqvist, who blasted a one-timer by Johnson on the short side.  This was Hornqvist’s first of the season as well.  Nice to see him on the board.

Pens 2 Sabres 0

With 14:25 in the first, the Sabres answered.  The puck was in the Sabres offensive zone and the puck squirted out to the point to young Sabres defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen.  He put a shot on goal that got deflected by 2 Sabres players and found it’s way past goaltender Jeff Zatkoff.

Pens 2 Sabres 1

Just over 2 minutes later, the Sabres were buzzing again in the offensive zone.  Ristolainen once again had the puck at the point, but this time chose to shoot it down the boards behind the net.  Ryan O’Reilly received the puck behind the net and fed a quick pass to Deslauriers who fired a quick shot past Zatkoff to tie the game.

Pens 2 Sabres 2

After First Period: Pens 2 Sabres 2

Second Period:

8:18 into the second, the Penguins got a huge goal from an unlikely source: Ben Lovejoy.  Lovejoy skated into the zone with Malkin in a semi 2 on 1 situation.  Lovejoy dropped a pass off to Malkin, who then found Lovejoy streaking to the net.  The original shot was stopped, but Lovejoy was able to get just enough of his rebound chance to get the puck past Johnson, and gave the Pens the lead back.

Pens 3 Sabres 2

The Penguins found themselves on a power play late in the period, and they finally capitalized it, in only their 3rd power play goal of the season.  Letang fed a pass to Kessel who took a shot on Johnson right through Hornqvist providing a screen.  Hornqvist poked the puck over to Malkin who was camped out in front.  He kicked the puck to his stick, and buried the rebound.

Pens 4 Sabres 2

After Second Period: Pens 4 Sabres 2

The Sabres pulled their goalie with about 2:30 remaining, but it payed off for them quickly.  Legwand skated the puck out from behind the net and spun around a put a low shot on Zatkoff.  The shot was stopped, but O’Reilly found the rebound and put a shot on goal that was deflected in by Matt Moulson.

Pens 4 Sabres 3

The Penguins took a penalty with just under 2 minutes remaining, and played over a minute in what turned into a 6 on 4 situation.  That being said, the Pens held on and kept the Sabres off of the score sheet.

Final Score: Pens 4 Sabres 3

Impressions

Kessel and Malkin

Kessel and Malkin have combined for 8 points in the 3 games since the Pens switched lines.  I told you it was gonna work, and it absolutely has.  If you still don’t believe me, go watch the video of that Kessel goal again.

PK

In these past 2 games, the PK has come up large against 2 VERY good power play units.  They needed to come up large, and they did.  It’s as easy as that.  Props to the PK guys.

Fourth Line

Especially against Washington, the Penguins 4th line was their best line.  Although I hope that will not normally be the case, it is nice t see the Penguins’ 4th line actually producing good offensive chances, in comparison to Adams – Lapierre – Goc….

Thanks to all who keep up with me!

The next article will be up Saturday night/Sunday morning after the Pens take on the Leafs in Phil Kessel’s homecoming.  Let’s hope the Penguins can keep the win streak alive.

Also, remember to follow me on Twitter, @FranjiPensPress, and like me on Facebook, Franjione Pens Press.

Also, I will be doing Q and A next week, so keep updated with my Twitter and Facebook pages for more info.

Pens Win Both of Back to Back

Tuesday’s Q and A’s

Welcome to my first Q and A session!  For those of you that are new to my blog, I will be posting a Q and A article on every Tuesday.  Throughout the week, ask me questions via twitter (@FranjiPensPress) using #FranjiPensPress or comment your question on a Facebook (Franjione Pens Press) post. I will answer every question that I get, so feel free to ask away!  As for the first week of Q and A, let’s get underway:

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Alex Light: What are your thoughts on the new lines that just came out?  Sprong on the 3rd line is just a little bit off in my opinion.  Also, what do you think about the fact that Johnston is “experimenting” with some of the line changes?

Brad Franjione: There are a ton of elements that I love about the line changes Johnston made.  At the same time, there are elements I am not a huge fan of.  For those of you that are unsure about what the Penguins line combinations were as of this past Saturday against the Predators, here they are:

Dupuis – Crosby – Hornqvist

Plotnikov – Malkin – Kessel

Kunitz – Bonino – Sprong

Perron – Cullen – Rust

First of all, I love love LOVE the fact that Johnston finally put Kessel with Malkin, and put Hornqvist back with Crosby.  Last year, Crosby and Hornqvist really developed some awesome chemistry.  I also think that Hornqvist’s playing style of getting to the front of the net encourages Crosby to shoot more and gives him more space to work.

Kessel with Malkin is going to work.  I promise you this.  Malkin plays such a dominant game, and loves possessing the puck in the offensive zone.  This draws defensemen in towards Malkin, and gives players like Kessel more space to find the soft spots in the defense to look for opportunities.

I said it once, and I’ll say it again: James Neal was a 40 goal scorer with the Penguins, and he played with Malkin, not Crosby.

As of now, I am not a huge fan of Plotnikov on the 2nd line, but both Perron and Kunitz failed to succeed in a top 2 line role, so I guess Plotnikov is getting a second crack at it.

Finally, let’s talk about Sprong.  I would love to see him on the first or second line, BUT he is a natural right winger, and with the likes of Hornqvist and Kessel, it is highly unlikely that Sprong plays over either of these 2 guys.  The only way he plays in the top 6 if they convert him to be a left wing, which I do not think they will do.

So for now, I do not mind Sprong on the 3rd line…

BUT…

He should see way more than 8 minutes of ice time per game, which is about what he is getting.  He is one of the Penguins’ most skilled offensive forwards, and the Penguins are lacking in the goal scoring department.

2 + 2 = 4 right?  Then let Sprong do what he does best: score goals.

As for the last part of your question, I understand why Johnston wants to experiment with the line combinations, because clearly something needs to jump start this offense.  That being said, experimenting with line combinations is something that should be done in the preseason.  Johnston pretty much kept Kunitz, Crosby, and Kessel together and kept Plotnikov, Malkin, and Hornqvist together.

That’s your time to “experiment”, not now.  But line changes needed to be made, and I’m glad he at least did that.

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Josh Godwin: Will Bruce Boudreau coach for the Pens at some point this year?

Brad Franjione:  First, let me fill everyone in on the situation.  Bruce Boudreau is currently the coach for the Anaheim Ducks.  During the preseason, the Ducks were seen as one of the Stanley Cup favorites.  All of that being said, the Ducks are 1-5-1 to start the season, with only 6 goals scored in those 7 games.

Boudreau is probably on the hot seat, and if the Ducks continue on this downward slide, Boudreau could very easily be unemployed soon.

As we all know, the Penguins are struggling to find offense, and Mike Johnston is definitely on the hot seat here in Pittsburgh.

If both Boudreau and Johnston get fired (theoretically), I would think that there is a chance the Penguins take a look at Boudreau.  However, this would only be a realistic situation if Boudreau was fired before Johnston, and the Penguins were able to get in contact with Boudreau and initiated talks with him about coaching in Pittsburgh.

I would give a higher probability to see either Tocchet or Jacques Martin behind the bench if Johnston is let go.  But there is absolutely a chance that the Penguins would consider Boudreau if that was an option for them at the time.

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Nick Bermel: Why do the Penguins always lose to the Flyers?  Are the Flyers just the superior team?

Brad Franjione: Well, let’s start off by saying that the Flyers have not won a Stanley Cup since 1975.  The Penguins have 3 Stanley Cups since then.  Oh, and were the Flyers in the playoffs last year?

As I recall, they were not…

That being said, you do bring up a good point.  I want to say it’s been 8 games straight that the Flyers have beat the Penguins in head to head match-ups.

I think that the rivalry between the Penguins and Flyers adds some crazy intensity to every game, and I think the Flyers know how to take advantage of that.  The Flyers play in a way that really gets into the heads of the Penguins’ players, and the Penguins play into that style that the Flyers play.  Props to the Flyers for that.  In addition, the Flyers have some solid offensive threats up front in Giroux, Voracek, Simmonds, and others.

The Flyers have been the superior team in head-to-head matchups against the Penguins in recent years, but they are by no means the superior team in general.

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Raafay Rishi: Which NHL defenseman do you think the Penguins will trade for and who will the Penguins give up in the trade?

Brad Franjione:  To be quite honest, Raafay, right now the defense is not the problem.  The offense is.

But as I said in one of my previous articles, the defense is going to decline slightly as the season goes on.  The Penguins right now are stacked offensively and need help on defense…at least on paper.

Who do I think they should go after? Dustin Byfuglien.

The Penguins do not have many physical players, and Byfuglien answers that concern.  He hits people HARD.  He also has a bomb of a shot, and is a great power play guy, which the Penguins really need right now.

So, if the Penguins were to pursue Byfuglien, who do they give up?

Right now, the centerpiece of that trade for me is David Perron.  He has offensive skill and can be a decent player, but he just does not seem to fit anywhere into the Penguins lineup right now.  The Penguins would have to throw in something else besides Perron, but I think he would be the centerpiece.

Some other pieces that the Penguins would consider using along with Perron could be players such as Kunitz, Scuderi, or even young defenseman Derrick Pouliot.

I’m not sure if the Penguins will pursue Byfuglien, but I do not have a problem with taking advantage of the offensive surplus and helping firm up the defensive corps, especially considering that the Penguins only have two top pair defensemen and a bunch of other bottom pair guys.

Now that I think about it, I’d buy a Byfuglien shirt.

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Casey Chafin: Let’s jump to the major conclusion that Johnston is out.  What do you look for in a replacement, style wise?  And what immediate changes should the new guy implement?

Brad Franjione: If you do not know, Johnston’s style has a very “defense first” mentality.  The offense is created through defense and the defense move up into the play to help create offense.

So Rob Scuderi is supposed to provide offense for this team?  Yeah… Okay…

The coach of the Penguins needs to be a guy who coaches in an offensive-minded style.  The Penguins are built upon their star players’ success.  They have star power up front, and they are clearly one of the best offensive teams in the NHL, at least on paper.

The Penguins should be winning 6-3 type of hockey games, not 2-1 hockey games.  The new coach needs to be one that puts the emphasis on offense, not defense (although defense is obviously still important).

In regards to the second part of your question, I think the biggest immediate change (besides the overall strategy) is the power play.  The power play is just not working, but it needs to be.  The players are too good for it not to work.

In the last 3 years of Bylsma’s stint with the Penguins, the Penguins had power plays clicking at 19.7%, 24.7%, and 23.4% which ranked them 5th, 2nd, and 1st in the NHL respectively.  So clearly Crosby, Malkin, Letang and co. can be successful.  Obviously the power play can work, but it obviously hasn’t under Johnston and Tocchet.

The Penguins finished with a power play percentage of 19.3% last year, which is not too bad at all.  That being said, the power play was clicking at about 40% for the first 20 or so games.  This means in the last 60 or so games, the power play was not working so well.

This year, the Penguins power play is only clicking at a 7.1%, which is 29th in the NHL.

This needs to be fixed, and it needs to be a priority for the head coach that takes over Johnston, because I do not think he will be here much longer.

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Doug Godwin: What would you attribute Sid’s lack of production to over the last 2 years?  Declining skills?  Coaching?  NHL changing?

Brad Franjione: Well, let me start with this: last year, scoring in the entire NHL was down.  The Art Ross winner Jamie Benn had only 86 points.  Crosby finished with 83 points, and finished first in the NHL in points per game.

The NHL is general is changing.  Goalies are getting bigger, the pads are getting bigger, and goals are harder to come by.  It showed last year.

Although Crosby was first in the NHL in points per game, he really hasn’t looked like “vintage Crosby” over last season and this season.  Especially this season.

If you recall, Crosby had one great game against the Panthers this year where he registered a career high 9 shots on goal and had 3 points in that game.  He had some hop to his step and played an absolutely terrific game.  Past that, he has been invisible.

I think part of his problem right now is coaching.  Johnston has been questionable to say the least, and considering he had no NHL coaching experience before taking over the Penguins, I’m not sure how much respect and trust Crosby has in this guy.

His main problem?  He needs to shoot.

Hopefully this problem is partially solved through reuniting him and Hornqvist, but regardless, Sid needs to shoot.  He showed us all that when he shoots the puck, good things happen.  When you’re as good of a player as Sidney Crosby, you’ll score goals and put up points when you shoot as much as he did against the Panthers.

Case and point: Alex Ovechkin.  The guy has a tremendous shot, and shoots the puck like crazy.  He gets rewarded by collecting Rocket Richard trophies like it’s his job.

Remember that Crosby was a Rocket Richard winner himself.  He has the ability to do it, but now that he isn’t the only star player on the team, he feels the need to pass the puck.  A LOT. Like, way too much.

Yeah, Crosby is not as young as he once was, but he hasn’t lost much skill at all.  I do not think this is an issue at all.  He just needs to play with confidence and be a little more selfish with the puck.

You want to see Crosby’s production trend in the upwards direction?  Tell him to shoot.

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Grant Franjione: Two questions for you: how do you explain the Penguins complete inability to bounce back from even 1 goal deficits when trailing after 2 periods of play?  Also, when I watch the Penguins, it just seems like chances to score in today’s NHL are just super tough to come by, but yet I see less offensively talented teams have occasional outbursts of 4, 5, or even 6 goals in a game. What are those teams doing that the Penguins aren’t?  Are they just luckier?

Brad Franjione:  Well, let’s take this one question at a time.

So, from what I could remember, the Penguins were actually a pretty good comeback team when playing under Dan Bylsma.  They have been the exact opposite under Johnston.  Although some of the players change every year, the Penguins have had the same core players throughout this span.  So, is their inability to come back simply based on the head coach?

Well, the problem is that I FEEL like the Penguins were a good comeback team under Bylsma.  But I wanted to convince you AND myself that the Penguins were a much better comeback team under Bylsma than they are under Johnston.  So I decided to do some research and calculations.

From the beginning of the 2009-2010 season to the end of the 2013-2014 season, which is the time frame where Bylsma was the head coach (excluding his stint with Pens in 2009 when they won the Cup) the Penguins won 21.19% of their games when trailing going into the 3rd, which is good enough for 2nd in the NHL during that span.

Yeah, the 2nd best winning percentage when trailing going into the third period!

The Penguins are currently 0-21-5 in that category under Johnston.  Yikes.

Last year, the Penguins scored only 12 goals in 23 opportunities when they entered the 3rd period trailing.  In this situation, the Penguins were only scoring .53 goals per period, while they averaged .89 goals per period throughout the season.

This year, the Penguins are 0-3 in this situation, and have yet to score a goal when going into the 3rd down by at least a goal.

Oh, and I’m not done yet…

The Penguins, under their 5 full seasons under Bylsma, won 45.35% of their games when they allowed the first goal of the game.  Their NHL rank in this category in this 5 year span? 1st.  You heard me, 1st.  The best team in the NHL at winning games when allowing the first goal.

Under Johnston, the Penguins have only won 26.32% of these games.

Convinced yet?  If not, I have one more stat for you.

Under Johnston, it seems as though the Penguins have at least been pretty good at holding a lead when they get it.  They are 4-0 this season when scoring the first goal, and have not been trailing in any of these 4 games.

So, under Johnston, the Penguins have won 69.82% of their games when scoring the first goal.  Under Bylsma?  The Penguins won 74.47% of their games when scoring the first goal.

Why did they get rid of Bylsma again?

To answer the second part of your question, let me start with this.  The Penguins shooting percentage this year is 5%, which is 29th in the NHL.  Last year, the Penguins had a shooting percentage of 8.39%, which is less than the shooting percentage of any Penguins team under Dan Bylsma.

So, why are the Penguins not scoring a ton of goals with their offense?  Well, they aren’t scoring on many of their shots.

So, why aren’t they scoring on many of their shots?

Johnston’s strategy entails shot volume, which does seem pretty logical right?  The more pucks you throw on net, the more pucks that are going to go in.  At least, it seems that way…

To Johnston’s credit, the Penguins finished 4th in the NHL in shots per game last year, and currently sit in 4th place in the NHL this year in shots on goal per game.  But is shot volume really the answer?

Here is my thought: when a coach preaches about shot volume, as a player, you are going to focus on shooting the puck (unless your name is Sidney Crosby, then you’re never going to shoot the puck).  However, I think this gives the players a mentality of “let’s make sure we get shots on goal.”  In other words, they’re shooting to shoot.

They’re not shooting to score.

I think this is the underlying difference.  Shot volume is important, but the some of those shots need to come on quality chances, and the players have to shoot to score, not just to shoot.

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That concludes this week’s Q and A!  I’ll be doing the same thing next Tuesday!  As always, thank you again to everyone who keeps up with me, and a special thanks to those who participated in my first Q and A session.

Remember to follow me on Twitter @FranjiPensPress and like me on Facebook at Franjione Pens Press.

My next article will be up late on Wednesday night after the Penguins face off against the Capitals on rivalry night.

Tuesday’s Q and A’s

A Win Is a Win?

Kunitz

Well, the Penguins’ offense did not show much…yet again…tonight, but the Penguins were able to hold on to the Predator’s surge in the 3rd period, and won the game in overtime 2-1.

The Penguins were out shot pretty badly in this game.  The Predators peppered Marc-Andre Fleury with 39 shots, while the Penguins threw 25 at Pekka Rinne.  The shots were reasonably even after 2, but the Predators entered the 3rd period down 1-0, and out shot the Penguins 17 to 5 in the final frame.

Also note that the Penguins improved to 4-0 when scoring the first goal.  In addition, the Penguins have NEVER been trailing in any of those 4 games.  The exact opposite can be said about the other 4 games.

As always, I’ll give a quick recap of the game followed by my impressions from tonight, which includes some crazy statistical evidence calculated by yours truly.  The recap will just include the goals, because I have a lot to talk about later on.  Here we go:

Recap

First Period

No scoring

After 1 period of play, Pens 0 Predators 0

Second Period

With just about 5 minutes left in the 2nd, the Predators were on a power play and had a ton of momentum.  The Penguins shut it down.  Just after the guilty party, Malkin, was released from the box, Matt Cullen made a terrific poke check that allowed Malkin to pick up the puck.  This turned into a 3 on 2 for the Pens.  Malkin carried the puck into the zone, and dropped it off to Kunitz who fired an absolute LAZER thin mints on Pekka Rinne.  Nice to see Kunitz back on the scoresheet.  Hopefully this continues.  Pens 1 Predators 0

After 2 periods of play: Pens 1 Predators 0

Third Period

With just over 10 minutes to go in the game, the Predators had the puck in the Penguins zone.  There was a post hit and a number of crazy saves by Fleury.  This continued on for 2 minutes with no whistles. Literally.

The puck finally came out to center, but the Penguins took a penalty, so the Predators were playing 6 on 5.  Mike Ribeiro fed a pass to the slot to none other than James Neal.  His first shot was stopped, but he went thin mints on the rebound and tied the game at 1. Pens 1 Predators 1.

I was very surprised that Johnston did not challenge this goal.  It appeared as though Jackman may have prevented Fleury from making a save on the second attempt, which would have nixed the goal.  Even with his timeout available, he did not challenge the goal and the call stood.

After 3 periods of play: Pens 1 Predators 1

Overtime

It’s funny how Bob Errey actually made a comment before overtime, and he said something along the lines of “this overtime could end in 30 seconds.”  Well, it took 41 seconds, and it was all thanks for Phil Kessel.  Kessel had the puck in the offensive zone, skated it out to center ice, used his speed to fly past some Predators, shot a puck on a created 2 on 1, and knocked in the rebound to give the Penguins the win. Pens 2 Predators 1

Final Score OT: Penguins 2 Pedators 1

Impressions

So…Where the Heck is the Power Play?

power play

8 games into the season, the Penguins power play is clicking at 7.1% which is currently 27th in the NHL.  Last year, under Johnston, the Penguins finished 10th in the NHL with a power play that was clicking at 19.3%.  Although that does not sound terrible at all, it is notable that the power play was clicking at some outrageous 40% through the first 20ish games.

Excluding that red hot start to the power play last year, it really has not done anything significant under Johnston.  At all.  Here is what baffles me: if you told me to pick 10 players in the entire NHL to create 2 “all-star” power play units, I would easily pick Crosby and Malkin, and even debate picking Kessel and/or Letang.

So…why does this power play stink?  Is it Tocchet?  Johnston?  The players?  Some combination of the 3?  I’m really not sure.  But I will say this: under the final 3 years of Dan Bylsma, the Penguins ranked 5th, 2nd, and 1st in the NHL on the power play with percentages of 19.7%, 24.7%, and 23.4% respectively.  Also, this was arguably with far less offensive fire power than the Penguins have this year.

All I know is that 7.1% is not good enough.

Sprong Needs More Ice Time

sprong goal

This one is going to be quick: Daniel Sprong, one of your most gifted offensive forwards, had 2 shifts in the 3rd period, skated on the 3rd line, and logged less than 10 minutes of ice time tonight.

Johnston, what are you thinking?!  I sure don’t know…

Fleury

AppleMark
AppleMark

Thank you, Marc-Andre Fleury, for single-handedly winning this game for the Penguins.  He’s not gonna keep this up forever, so hopefully the offense decides to start scoring…

Shooting Percentage

brick

I could not help myself with researching this topic.

The Penguins are 4th in shots per game, and 29th in goals for per game.  So I thought to myself, “Wow, this team’s shooting percentage must be terrible.”

The Penguins currently rank 29th in the NHL in shooting percentage, with 4.985% of their shots finding the back of the net.  The only team lower than the Penguins is Anaheim, who is only scoring on 3.106% of their shots.

After looking at those shooting percentages, keep in mind that the NHL average is 8.895%, and the first place team in this category, the Washington Capitals (who will be facing off against the Penguins on Wednesday) are scoring on 13.997% of their shots.

So, how important is shooting percentage?

Here is where the stats come into play.

As of right now, the bottom 15 teams in shooting percentage (which accounts for one half of NHL teams) are averaging .41 wins per game and .91 points (points = 2*number of wins + 1*number of OT/SO losses) per game.  Mathematically speaking, these bottom 15 teams, on average, would be on pace for 34 wins and 75 point seasons.  Ouch…

Come to think of it…

How the heck are the Penguins 4-4?!  They are at a .5 wins per game and a 1 point per game clip, which is significantly higher than the average of the bottom 15 teams…And the Penguins are 2nd to last in shooting percentage!!  It’s almost a miracle that their record is not worse than 4-4.

On the other side of things, the top 15 NHL teams in shooting percentage are averaging .6 wins per game and 1.3 points per game.  These teams, on average, are on pace for 49 wins and 107 point seasons.

See the difference?  If not, put on some glasses and try again.

All of this being said, I guess a win is a win.  BUT, clearly, something is wrong.  Something is seriously wrong.

One fact I will point out is that Johnston has no NHL coaching experience.  I like his overall thought process and I believe he has hockey smarts, BUT could his lack of success be a lack of experience?  Who knows…

Remember to follow me on twitter (@FranjiPensPress) and like me on Facebook (Franjione Pens Press).  Also, remember that I am doing a Q and A on Tuesday, so start submitting your questions!  On Twitter, use #FranjiPensPress and your question, and on Facebook comment on one of my posts that discusses Q and A.  I will be answering every question I get!

Next game is Wednesday against Ovi and the Caps.  The Pens are gonna need at least 3 goals to win that one, because Washington’s offense is clicking on all cylinders, just like the Penguins’ should be.  So, keeping in mind the Penguins’ shooting percentage, the Penguins only need about 60 shots to score 3 goals…

A Win Is a Win?

Who Is At Fault Here?

Johnston

The Penguins lost a tough one 4-1 to the Dallas Stars on home ice Thursday night.  The Penguins dominated the first 6 minutes of the game, and arguably played their best hockey they have played all season.

There is just one problem: they didn’t score any goals during this span.

Following the 6 minute dominance by the Pens, Stars defenseman Johnny Oduya took a wrist shot from the point that literally floated in on goal.  The puck found it’s way past Fleury, and the Stars took a 1-0 lead and never looked back.

This is really all you need to know in regards to a recap.  There wasn’t much else exciting that went on.  The Penguins had a 5 on 3 late in the game down 3 goals, where they pulled Fleury and made it a 6 on 3 situation.  As usual, the powerplay was a little something like “Crosby to Malkin to Crosby to Kessel to Letang to Hornqvist to Crosby to…intercepted by Dallas and cleared.”

Adding to the stats, the Penguins are now 0-4 when allowing the first goal, and have been either trailing or tied throughout the entirety of these 4 games.

In addition, that 1.67 goals per game drops to 1.57 goals per game after they only scored 1 goal tonight.  AND the defense gave up 4 goals against a very good Dallas Stars offense, who play a lot like how the Penguins SHOULD play.  This put the Penguins goals against average at 2.14.

Didn’t I just publish an article about this?  Oh yeah… What a coincidence!!

So, who is at fault here?

Here is the guy that is not at fault: Jim Rutherford.  He went out this offseason and gave the coaching staff the pieces to work with, which is his job.  Yeah, their defense isn’t necessarily anything fantastic, but it shouldn’t have to be with the offensive players that Rutherford brought in during the offseason.

So ruling out Jim Rutherford, there are only 2 “people” to blame here.  One is the players, and one is the head coach.  Let’s talk about the players first.

The Penguins have been getting their fair share of chances.  They still rank 2nd in the NHL in shots per game.  So why is the goal total so low with all the talent they have?

Here is NOT the answer to that question: Well, they ran into a hot goaltender tonight…

Is anyone else tired of that argument?  I certainly am.  Every once in a while, a team runs into a goalie that is playing well, but it should not be an every game thing.  I don’t really care about Neimi’s history against the Penguins, today was a new game and the Penguins had a chance to beat him and didn’t.  It’s as simple as that.

It’s on the players to do what they’re supposed to do and score.  It’s on the players to be able to keep their heads in the game when they give up a goal early in the first period to go down 1-0.  Those kind of things are on the players.

The rest is on the coach.

I have no idea what upper management is thinking right now, but I would have Mike Johnston on a very very VERY short leash right now.

Even though the Penguins are 3-4, which is actually a pretty good record considering their team statistics right now, they have not been scoring goals.  To me, this is mainly attributed to the coach.

He has stuck with the line of Kunitz, Crosby, and Kessel since day one.  I have news for you Johnston: it’s not working.  He has stuck with Hornqvist, Malkin, and Perron for most of the time, after making the obvious move of shifting Plotnikov to the 3rd line.  This line hasn’t worked either.

To top it off, one of your best offensive players, Daniel Sprong, has been logging a team-low in ice time while getting an occasional shift on the fourth line.

Something doesn’t add up here…

Johnston needs to make a change, and I mean as early as Saturday when the Penguins play the red hot Predators.  (Pekka Rinne will be in goal, and I’m already ruling out the “we ran into a hot goaltender” excuse, because I can almost guarantee the Penguins won’t score more than 2 on Saturday)

One thing that may help is making some line changes.  Clearly, the line combinations Johnston has right now are not working.  Kunitz has been below average for at least a year now, Hornqvist has not looked as effective as he can be with Malkin, and Kessel and Crosby just have not found that chemistry yet.

In addition, the top pairing of Cole and Letang has looked a bit sloppy, and understandably so.  Ian Cole is not a top 2 defenseman.  This is not a knock on Cole, he is just not quite that good.  I like him on the team a lot, but he is playing way too large of a role to be effective.

With Johnston, it starts with some line changes if he wants this team to start scoring.  They are getting the shots he wants, but the goals are not there.  Here would be my lines for Saturday night’s game if I was in Mike Johnston’s position:

Forwards

Sprong – Crosby – Hornqvist

Dupuis – Malkin – Kessel

Kunitz – Bonino – Perron

Rust – Cullen – Porter/Plotnikov

Defensemen

Letang – Maatta

Cole – Dumoulin

Lovejoy – Scuderi/Clendening

Let’s talk about what I changed here (at least the big changes).

First of all, put Hornqvist back with Crosby.  They worked together so well last year, but because Phil Kessel is here clearly Crosby has to be the one that plays with him…

Put Sprong on the first line.  Does he deserve anything less at this point?  The Penguins need goals, and that’s exactly what Sprong gives you.  He has speed, finese, and an NHL shot that he is not afraid to use at any time.

Move Kessel with Malkin.  Malkin has been the most dominant Penguins player by a long shot thus far in the season.  I think Kessel’s production increases with Malkin rather than playing with Sid who is just gonna play the “you shoot it, no you shoot it” card with Kessel.  One more time: remember James Neal?  That guy who scored 40 goals for the Penguins a few years ago?  Yeah, he played with Malkin…just saying.

Let Dupuis play on the second line.  Dupuis plays with energy and hustle and it’s a treat to watch him play.  He makes the second line complete and provides the “defensive presence” if Malkin and Kessel get trapped deep in the zone.  Plus who else slots here?  Kunitz/Perron?  Ummmm…no.

Kunitz and Perron get dropped to third line.  Both of these guys have been so subpar this season.  Kunitz is looking like the Kunitz of last season, which is not good.  Kunitz has 1 point in his last 26 games dating back to last season.  1 singular point.  Perron is invisible out there for the most part, and still has not looked like the David Perron they acquired that lit up the stat sheet in his first 10 or so games with the Pens.  I do not mind them as third line players on this team, but as 1st and 2nd line guys respectively?  I don’t think so.

Put Letang and Maatta together.  I was not for this early in the season, but the Penguins cannot get anything working on their back end, and I think this pair would be a great first pair.  Plus, I like Cole and Dumoulin partnered up.

Overall, I am placing the blame on Johnston more than the players.  The players need to produce, but if Johnston is continuing to play a dwindling Chris Kunitz on the first line and sit one of his best forwards, then it makes it very hard for the forwards to do anything effective.  They’re just banging their heads off of a cement wall at this point.  That cement wall being the one that is put in front of the goal they’re trying to shoot at.

Also, just remember, this isn’t just a little bit of a “rough patch” at the beginning of the season.  This is a carry-over from last year.  The Penguins in their last 27 games, including last year and the playoffs, are 8-19 with a 1.63 goals for per game.  They have scored more than 3 goals only once during this stretch, and have been held to 0 or 1 goals in 14 of the 27 games.  This is concerning.

Look out Johnston, because if management knows what is best for this team, you better do something about this team… and FAST.

On the bright side of things, congrats to Nick Bonino for his first goal in a Penguins uniform.  His goal was entirely an individual effort, and a great one at that.  Glad to see him on the score sheet.

Anyways, thank you for everyone who read my stuff!  I’ll be posting an article Saturday night about the Penguins vs. Predators game.

Also, remember to like me on Facebook (Franjione Pens Press) and/or follow me on twitter (@FranjiPensPress) if you like what you’re reading.

Who Is At Fault Here?

Is A 3 Game Win Streak Enough?

niemi save

The Penguins are currently riding a 3 game winning streak, beating the Senators, Maple Leafs, and Panthers all on home ice.

They’re 3-3 overall, but that was due to a rough 0-3 start.

So the Penguins are right back on track, right?  They’ve won 3 in a row now!

Ehh… Not exactly…

Let’s start with looking at the opponents the Penguins have played so far:

The Penguins started the season with 2 road games, the first being in Dallas against the Stars.  The Stars have Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin, who are currently both tied for 2nd in the NHL with 10 points.  The Stars are a potential playoff hockey team, and the Penguins were held without a goal and lost 3-0.

After playing Dallas, the Penguins traveled to Arizona to play the Coyotes.  The Coyotes have been a huge surprise.  No one expected them to be good, but they do have a lot of young talent, and Domi and Duclair are showing they belong in the NHL.  The Yotes are still in a rebuilding stage, but their young team is playing well right now, and they are a bubble team that could sneak into the playoffs.  The Penguins lost 2-1.

The Canadiens are the only undefeated team in hockey, and understandably so.  The Penguins dropped this game 3-2 to a definite playoff bound hockey team.

So the Penguins scored 3 goals in the first 3 games against three potential playoff teams.  Ouch.

Now let’s talk about who they beat in the past 3 games.  They got their first win of the season against the Senators in a game where they played decent, but still only snuck out a 2-0 win, thanks to a great game by Marc-Andre Fleury.  Personally, I consider Ottawa a bubble team as well.  They’re a solid hockey team, but they’re nothing super special.

The Penguins then beat the Maple Leafs…yeah they have Babcock behind the bench now, but the Leafs have one of the worst teams in hockey.  The Penguins should have pounded on the Maple Leafs at home, especially with their offense, but once again, just edged them 2-1.

Just 2 nights ago, the Penguins beat the Panthers.  The Panthers are also a decent hokcey team that should be fighting for a playoff spot.  That being said, the Penguins had a 2-0 lead in the third period, blew the lead, and ended up winning in overtime courtesy to Jonathan Huberdeau taking a terrible penalty that gave the Penguins a 4 on 3 in OT.

Moral of the story, even with 3 wins in a row, the Penguins have not convinced me at all.  They have beat 3 teams that are either bubble playoff teams or teams that will not make the playoffs, and lost to the 3 potential playoff teams that they faced.  To top it all off, they are barely squeaking by these bad teams.

Also, during the Penguins 0-3 stretch, they were either tied or were losing throughout all 3 games (they never had a lead at any point during these 3 games).  They allowed the first goal in all three of these games.  The Penguins need to be better in this category.  They did not have a win last year when they were trailing heading into the 3rd period.  Now, that record will never be a good one, but you have to be able to win games on occasion when playing from behind.

On the other hand, during the Penguins 3-0 stretch, they have been either tied or winning throughout all 3 games (they have never been trailing at any point during these 3 games).  They have scored the first goal in all three of these games.  This is a good sign, but the Penguins cannot just rely on scoring the first goal and holding a lead to win hockey games.

Before I take a look at some more stats, I want to note that the Penguins have a far better offense than defense on paper.  Their offense is stacked with the likes of Crosby, Malkin, Kessel, Hornqvist, Bonino, and Dupuis (who will be back in action tonight!!!) just to name a few.  Considering there are 30 NHL teams, I would expect the Penguins to finish the season in the top 5 in goals for per game, and about 13-18th in terms of goals against, which is middle of the pack.

Knowing this, let’s look at where the Penguins stand so far this season.

Through 6 games, the Penguins are scoring only 1.67 goals/per game, which is tied for 27th in the NHL.  On average, NHL teams are scoring 2.57 goals per game.  So the Penguins are scoring almost 1 goal less per game than the NHL average!

On the other hand, the Penguins are only allowing 1.83 goals per game, which is tied for 2nd best in the NHL.  On average, NHL teams are allowing 2.58 goals per game, which means the Penguins are allowing .75 goals per game less than the NHL average.

Wait…what?!

Yes, you read that right.  The Penguins OFFENSE is ranked 27th and the Penguins DEFENSE is ranked 2nd.

Once again, that’s not a typo.

The defense, as well as Fleury, has been spectacular so far.  They have exceeded expectations, at least in regards to allowing goals.  I am very proud with what the defense has been able to do to keep the Penguins in hockey games.  That being said, the defense is not going to keep up what they’re doing.  Fleury isn’t going to be able to maintain his 1.85 GAA (goals against average) and .937 save percentage.  The defense will definitely decline as the season goes on.

When that happens, the offense needs to start scoring…which it hasn’t been.

I’m not saying the offense needs 5 goals every game, but when our defense starts allowing upwards of 2-2.5 goals per game, the offense needs to be scoring around 3 goals per game, not 1.67.

The Penguins eclipsed 2 goals for the first time 2 days ago, which is hard to believe, and the 3rd goal came in OT.  Notable players such as Patric Hornqvist, Chris Kunitz, David Perron, and Nick Bonino all have 0 goals.

Interestingly enough, the Penguins actually rank 2nd in the NHL in shots on goal, with 33 shots per game.  This can be seen as both encouraging and discouraging.  It is encouraging in the sense that if the Penguins can keep putting 33 shots on goal per game, the goals should come.  The discouraging part about this is that the goals have not come so far, despite the high shot totals.  Yeah, the Penguins will end the season averaging better than 1.67 goals per game, but can this team become the elite offensive juggernaut that we all thought they would be?

Time will tell.

Until that happens, I am not entirely convinced this Penguins team is all it is talked up to be.  Yeah, they’re great on paper (one of the best teams on paper actually), but in the NHL, it’s all about production.  Until they show more production from their offense, don’t have high expectations.  This team is allowing more goals than they’re scoring on average…with the 2nd best goals against average in the league.

It is early in the season, but the Penguins need to start scoring goals.  It’s that simple.

The Pens play Dallas again tonight, but this time, it will be at home. Expect the Penguins to have trouble scoring once again tonight against Antti Niemi, the probable starter for the Stars, who blanked the Penguins in the season opener.

On the brighter side of things, as mentioned earlier, Pascal Dupuis is back in the lineup tonight.  Look for him to make an impact.

Also, Daniel Sprong will not play tonight, due to the fact that he wasn’t able to practice with the team while having Visa issues.

Also, I might be having my first Q and A this coming week…so keep up with my facebook (Franjione Pens Press) and twitter (@FranjiPensPress) pages!!

I will also be publishing an article tonight after the Stars vs. Penguins game with a recap and impressions as usual.

As always, thanks to all who read my blog!  Let’s hope the Penguins keep the winning ways going, whether through offense or defense…

Is A 3 Game Win Streak Enough?

The Three Headed Monster Leads Pens to OT Win

Malkin goal

In Pittsburgh, it has always been about how the star players perform.  Thus far, the stars for the most part have been lacking.  But tonight, the star players finally began to shine and helped the Penguins to victory.

In Pittsburgh, Crosby and Malkin have been known as “the two-headed monster.”  After the arrival of Phil Kessel in the offseason, there is a new monster in town.

The three headed monster: which consists of Crosby, Malkin, Kessel.

Crosby, Malkin, and Kessel each had a goal en route to a 3-2 OT win against the Panthers.

The monster isn’t just good.  It’s SCARY good.  And all the members of the three headed monster brought their ‘A’ game tonight.

Crosby finally looked like himself.  He was flying on his skates, stick-handling with ease, making great passes…and FINALLY, he was shooting the puck. He had 9 shots tonight.

9 shots!!!

Crosby shot the puck at almost every opportunity he had, and that’s what he needs to do to be successful.  I can’t say much else besides “wow” about Crosby’s game.  He really turned it around 180 degrees from his first 5 games.  I’m not sure what changed, but he needs to keep doing whatever he’s doing.  He had a goal and 2 assists tonight, tallying his first 3 points of the season.

In the early going of the season, Malkin has been arguably the Penguins’ most dominant forward from game 1 until this point.  Malkin is technically on pace for 41 goals, which would be quite impressive.  Malkin registered a goal and an assist tonight, and had plenty of chances to add even more to his point total.

Kessel has been fairly consistent as well, although he has not stood out quite as much as Malkin has.  He is getting opportunities every game, and it’s just a matter of time before he really hits a hot streak.  I still believe Kessel would work better with Malkin (and I will stand by that regardless of what others may think), but him and Sid did look better tonight than they have so far this season.  Kessel had a goal in the 3rd period.

Although the three headed monster shined tonight, Kris Letang also put up 2 assists.  Letang looked decently solid in this game, and got rewarded with 2 points.  I really would love to see Letang win the Norris Trophy this year, but he has a long way to go.  Getting 2 points tonight does help his cause though.  That being said, Letang was on the ice for both Panthers goals.  That was his downside tonight, but even the good players have some bad moments and bad/average games. Not a concern at all.

This game was a very crazy one, especially the third period.  So for those of you that didn’t get to watch or maybe didn’t follow what was going on, here is my reap of the game tonight.

Recap

First Period

The Penguins had yet to score a power play goal this season, which seems quite odd with the personnel that they are able to put on the ice.  Tonight, it wasn’t a problem.

Captain Sidney Crosby rifled a shot past Luongo after receiving a beautiful cross-ice pass from Malkin.  It was Crosby’s first point of the season AND the Penguins’ first power play goal of the season, and he was “smiling like a butcher’s dog.”

I will note that a ton of credit goes to Kunitz on this goal.  He was parked in front of the net and never really allowed Luongo to even see the puck clearly.  Kunitz did not get an assist on the goal, but he played a huge part in the power play goal by Crosby.

Pens 1 Panthers 0

With just over 5 minutes left in the period, Crosby came flying through the neutral zone with the puck.  He split the defense, was tripped up, and still got a shot away while lying on his stomach.  Crosby really just played an incredible game.  If he buried this chance, he has what could have been the goal of the year in the NHL… but not to be.  The Penguins got a power play chance out of Sid’s great effort, but could not score.

The Penguins simply dominated the first period, registering 16 shots and kept the Panthers on their heels.

Second Period

About 4 minutes into the period, the Penguins came into the zone in a 3 on 2.  Kessel skated the puck into the zone and dropped a pass to the trailing player Chris Kunitz, who fired a one-timer from the high slot.  It was a great chance, but Luongo made a huge save.

With just under 2 minutes to play in the period, the Panthers were possessing the puck in the zone towards the end of a power play.  Pirri wound up and took a hard low slap shot that was directed on goal by Florida forward Vincent Trocek, but Fleury found a way to keep the puck between his legs.

There were no goals in the 2nd period, and score remained 1-0 Penguins.

Third Period

Get ready, this period was full of some interesting action.

Just over a minute into the period, Florida defensemen Gregory Campbell took a slap shot from the point.  The shot was a high one, and was deflected in by Reilly Smith past Fleury.  After the puck went in, Fleury immediately began telling the referees that he thought it was a high stick on the puck.

It was an awfully close call, and considering it was a goal on the ice, I personally did not think there was quite enough evidence to overturn it.  After review, the call WAS overturned, and they determined that the puck was deflected in by a high stick.  The Penguins caught a huge break here, and remained up 1-0.

Not long after that, the Penguins took advantage of the no goal call, and scored a goal of their own.  Crosby once again came flying into the zone with the puck, split the defense, but just lost control of the puck.  However, Crosby got control of the puck back right after losing it and whipped a quick pass to the point where Rob Scuderi fired a quick one-time shot on Luongo.  Kessel then pounced on the rebound and buried it, and gave the Penguins a huge goal.

Pens 2 Panthers 0

With just under 10 minutes to play, the Panthers finally struck back.  Quinton Howden made an absolutely spectacular play in front of Fleury.  He somehow corralled the puck on a rebound while being pressured from Letang, and found a way to get air under his shot and put it past Fleury.  Credit to Howden on this goal.  Incredible effort, not much the Penguins could do on that one.

Penguins 2 Panthers 1

Just a few minutes later, the Penguins seemed to have scored their third goal of the game.  Crosby fired a bad angle shot on Luongo, and Kunitz skated hard to the net like he always does and just stuffed the puck home.  It was determined, however, that Kunitz forced the pads of Luongo into the net, and therefore, the goal did not count.  The score remained 2-1.

Not even a minute after what looked like a possible 3-1 Penguins lead, the Panthers tied the game at 2 on a goal by Derek MacKenzie.  This goal was really the result of a lucky play.  A shot was fired wide by a Florida Panther player, and one of the players behind the net whacked the puck out into the slot, and it just happened to find the stick of MacKenzie, who ripped a shot past Fleury before he could react.  All of a sudden, it wasn’t looking good for the Penguins.

Pens 2 Panthers 2

With seconds remaining, the Panthers had the puck in the Penguins zone and had a ton of pressure.  It almost looked like they were going to end the game in regulation.  Fleury was without a goal stick, and the Penguins were in full chaos mode.  Then, Panther forward Jonathan Huberdeau took a cross checking penalty against Brian Dumoulin that put the Penguins on the power play with 24 seconds left.  They did not score, but the PP carried into overtime.

Overtime

The power play came through again in overtime, as Evgeni Malkin rifled a one-timer past Luongo to end the game and give the Penguins the victory.

The Panthers challenged that the Penguins entered the zone offside before the goal, but there was no conclusive evidence to overturn it.

The call stood, and the Penguins came out with the W.  Their 3rd straight.

Final OT: Pens 3 Panthers 2

This recap went into a little more depth, so I will keep my impressions extremely brief (there are only 2):

  1. The power play finally came though.  Twice actually.  Hopefully that is a continuing trend.
  2. Sprong did not play tonight because he had to deal with Visa problems.  My hope?  He is extending his Visa to stay in Pittsburgh a little longer than expected.  I am not sure if that is true, but that is what I hope is the case.  Expect to see him back in action of Thursday.

As always, thanks for those who keep up with me!  I will try to have a blog up either Thursday night or Friday mid-day discussing the Penguins final game of their current 5 game home stand against the Dallas Stars.

A little chance for some revenge…

The Three Headed Monster Leads Pens to OT Win

Pens Top Sens

sprong first goal

Ladies and Gentlemen: ELVIS. Has just. Left. The building.

And FINALLY, the Penguins found their first win of the season.

They topped a pretty good Ottawa Senators team 2-0, but it felt like it could have been 6-0 Penguins.  The Pens came out and played desperately and it showed on the ice.  They were finishing their checks and pouncing on every loose puck.  They looked the best they have looked this season by far.

However, Ottawa did play last night, so they were probably slightly fatigued.  But then again, Phoenix also played the night before they played the Penguins, but the Coyotes looked like the far better team.  Take that in for what it’s worth…

Unfortunately, the Penguins announced this morning that forward Beau Bennett is out with an injury.  Multiple sources reported Bennett not seeming like he was in pain after the game against Montreal, so it may be an unrelated hockey injury.  Either way, Bennett was injured, so Mayhem himself Booby Farnham got a chance to play.

In addition to Bennett getting injured, the Penguins recalled forward Bryan Rust and sent down Tim Erixon to the Penguins’ AHL affiliate team, the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins.

The most surprising news of the day for me were the players and line combinations that Johnston went with today.  First of all, he made the decision to scratch Rob Scuderi and play Adam Clendening, who looked fantastic during camp.  Scuderi has looked like nothing more than a traffic cone in the first 3 games.

Sorry Scuds, you were important to the team in 2009, and I thank you for your contributions, but you’re just not an NHL caliber player right now.

The Penguins kept Letang with Cole, paired Maatta with Clendening, which left Dumoulin and Lovejoy as the bottom pair.  I think these are the Penguins best 6 defensemen right now.  That being said, I’m sure Scuderi will get his share of games, but after tonight, it should be less.

Also, one of the Penguins top prospects projected to make the team Derrick Pouliot is still in the minors, and I would imagine he gets a chance at some point to step in and make an impression on the coaches.

Besides the scratch of Scuderi, Johnston also made the decision to scratch newcomer Sergei Plotnikov, which I found very interesting.  I would imagine Johnston was more of just giving him a day off since he is currently dealing with adjusting to the life of the NHL and life in the US.  He will be back as soon as next game, but I was surprised by the scratch.

The Penguins top 2 lines looked the same as it did the last game, Daniel Sprong and Kevin Porter got a chance to hop up onto the 3rd line with Bonino, and Cullen centered Farham and newly called-up forward Bryan Rust.

Since I had to talk a lot in the early parts, I’ll simply recap the goals (which were only Penguins goals) and give a few quick impressions.  Here we go:

Recap

1st Period

No Scoring

2nd Period

Just 23 seconds into the period, Evgeni Malkin put the Penguins on the board, and gave them their first lead of the season.  The play actually began in Ottawa’s offensive zone.  Some Penguins and Senators players were battling for the puck.  Just as none other than Patric Hornqvist came out of the scrum with it, Evgeni Malkin bolted up the ice.  Honqvist fed the puck to Malkin who went down the ice on a 2 on 1, and made no mistake as he ripped a shot past the blocker side of goalie Craig Anderson.  Pens 1 Sens 0.

Later in the period, Kevin Porter came up the ice with the puck.  At about center ice, he gave the puck to Matt Cullen who was flying down the middle of the ice.  Cullen carried the puck into the zone, and dropped a pass into the slot for who?  Daniel Sprong.  Sprong took advantage of the great pass by Cullen and went thin mints (where mamma keeps the cookies: top shelf!).  Congratulations to Sprong on his first NHL goal.  Pens 2 Sens 0.

3rd Period

No Scoring

Final: Pens 2 Sens 0

The Senators had some decent chances throughout the game but Fleury came through large.  In addition, the Penguins really did play the better game here.  They deserved to win, and came out with just that.

Impressions

Sprong

Please Rutherford.  Keep this guy in the NHL.  I’ve said so much about this kid, and it’s because I really believe he can do great things.  I understand the Penguins have Dupuis and Fehr out, but now they have Bennett out, and I imagine the Penguins would scratch Farnham and Rust before they would scratch Sprong (and this is nothing against either of these guys, who also had excellent games).

Daniel Sprong deserves to be here, and the Penguins need him here.  Plus, what if other injuries plague the Penguins this year (which we all know is going to happen).  Why send down Sprong when he is clearly capable to play at an NHL level?

I have no clue what management thinks, but Sprong is making it a tough decision for management.  I hope he stays, and it’s because he SHOULD stay.

No Scuderi? No Problem

Although I do not know exactly what Rob Scuderi said, during the offseason, Scuderi said he would make the roster because he was the only defensive minded guy they have, and teams don’t play 6 offensive defensemen.

Well guess what, Scuds.  The Penguins went with 6 offensive defensemen tonight, and they not only won, but they didn’t even let up a goal!

How about them apples?

Crosby Needs a Point

Crosby is STILL without a point.  Malkin finally scored tonight (he is now at 1G 1A – 2P), which marks his first goal in about 20 games or so.  Crosby on the other hand needs some help.

I don’t think he’s washed up or anything like that.  He is still the best player in hockey.

I honestly think they guy is trying too hard.  Ease up on your stick a bit Sid, you’ll be just fine.

I’m noticing that Crosby is forcing passes into traffic…A LOT.  I think this comes mainly because of Kessel, but also because Crosby thinks of himself as a playmaker, so that’s what he needs to do.  However, Crosby has a Rocket Richard (which is the trophy for most goals scored in a season).  Crosby has proven he can score, he just has to execute.

I still think they should swap Hornqvist and Kessel, but I’ll try to stop beating a dead horse.

Here’s to hoping Johnston does something about it…

Well, let’s hope the Penguins stay in the win column after Saturday night’s showdown with Kessel’s former team the Toronto Maple Leafs.  The Maple Leafs are just straight up bad this year, and this should be a win for the Penguins, but you never know…

Thanks to all who keep up with me!  As usual, I will be posting a blog late Saturday night talking about the Penguins and Maple Leafs.  And keep those heads held high tomorrow, Pens fans: your team finally won!

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