Stars Shine, Niemi Blanks Pens

NHL: Pittsburgh Penguins at Dallas Stars

“Fire Johnston!”

“The offense stinks!”

“Bring back Therrien!”

Okay yinzers, calm dahn.  It’s just one game.

The Penguins put up a goose egg in their season opener against the Stars in Dallas, despite putting up 37 shots on goal.  Although many of those shots were in the last 3 minutes, when the Penguins were in desperation mode, more than likely if the Penguins keep putting up shot totals like this, the puck is going to go in.

Props to Antti Niemi.  He was 4-1-1 against the Penguins going into this game, and is now 5-1-1 against the Pens.  Keep in mind this was the same guy that made 40 saves against the Penguins last year while he was in San Jose in a 2-1 Sharks win, despite this game being arguably the best game the Penguins played all season, especially on the road.

Moral of the story: calm down.  It’s one game, and the Penguins have 81 left.  They have a ton of new guys and they’re still finding chemistry.  As the chemistry builds, the Penguins will get better, and they will score goals.  Look for that to be the case against the Coyotes on Saturday.

For those of you that missed the game, I’ll give a little recap.  Then I’ll go into my impressions from the Penguins’ season opener.

Recap

The Stars got on the board early, as rookie Mattias Janmark scored for Dallas just 1:39 into the game.  The Stars were coming in on a 3 on 2, and Janmark was trailing the rush by just a step.  David Perron was backchecking and tried to lift the stick of Janmark, but Janmark would not be denied as he one-timed a pass from Ales Hemsky right between the legs of Fleury and into the net.

Late in the first, Kessel carried the puck into the zone along with Crosby and Kunitz in a 3 on 2.  Kessel stopped up and fed a pass to Rob Scuderi, who one-timed the puck on net.  Niemi, with some traffic in front, made a terrific glove save to keep the Penguins off the board.

5:42 into the 2nd period, Ales Hemsky gave the Stars a 2-0 lead on the power play.  He brought the puck into the zone and came in on what was essentially a 1 on 1 against Scuderi.  Hemsky did what many great hockey players will do: he used Scuderi as a screen and fired a quick shot past Fleury’s blocker side.  I don’t think Fleury thought the shot was coming, but then again, he also never saw it.

The 2nd period in general saw the game open up a bit.  The Stars had plenty of 2 on 1 opportunities, and the Penguins had a few of their own.  This game was looking like it could shape into a 6-5 thriller, but Niemi, and even Fleury for that matter, stood tall.

The Penguins went into the 3rd down 2-0, and proceeded to take 4 penalties that period.  Not a recipe for coming back in a hockey game.  Luckily, the first 3 didn’t cost them, but the 4th one did.  Last year’s Art Ross winner Jamie Benn parked himself right in front on Fleury and deflected in a point shot to make it 3-0 Stars.  Once again, not much Fleury could do about that one.

Fleury was pulled with about 3 minutes to go, and the Penguins did generate a ton of offense in the final 3 minutes, but Niemi just would not let the puck get past him, and preserved his shutout.  3-0 Dallas was the final score.

Impressions

Okay, I’m not going to go all “fire the coach,” “trade Crosby,” or “this offense stinks,” but my impressions are mainly going to include some adjustments I think should be made to help the Penguins improve moving forward based on what I saw Thursday night:

Line Changes

Sidney Crosby, for just the 2nd time in his entire career, did not attempt a shot last night.  Why?  Because he is playing with Phil Kessel.  Don’t get me wrong, I love the concept of Kessel with Crosby, but the problem is that Crosby is diverting into a “pass only” mentality because he knows Kessel can score.

Guess what Sid, so can you!  If you shoot!

I would swap Hornqvist with Kessel for game 2.

Why?

With a guy like Hornqvist and the way he plays, Crosby will shoot more, but also has that right-handed shot that he loves to have.  And we all know Honqvist will shoot…and park himself in front of the net and cause havoc.  Plus, Kunitz, Crosby, and Hornqvist played terrific last season, so “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”.

Putting Kessel on Malkin’s line will not change Malkin’s play (but it obviously did change Crosby’s).  Malkin plays the same regardless of who his wingers are.  He plays strong on the puck, and he is not afraid to pull the trigger… neither is Kessel.  These 2 will spend less time trying to thread passes to each other and more time shooting.  (I want to note Kessel did shoot a lot in the season opener, but it came as a result of Crosby NOT shooting).  Remember that James Neal guy?  Yeah, he played with Malkin, not Crosby.

Look at what they did.  Just sayin…

In addition, I think Sprong should be on the 3rd line, not the 4th.  This guy is in the NHL because he can score goals.  He only played a shift of 2 in the third period, which absolutely shocked me, because he really is one of the better offensive players the Penguins have.  I don’t know what Johnston will do, but I think Sprong should be moved up, and he should get his chance to play.  He deserves it.

Power Play

Although the power play did not score, they did look okay.  However, there is one thing I just do not understand: Why split up Crosby and Malkin?

I get that you do not want to play them on the same line during a 5 on 5 situation, because you do not want to “stack a line.”  But…isn’t the whole idea of a power play to put your best guys out there?

I don’t think this will change any time soon, but it SHOULD change soon.  The Penguins top unit should consist on Crosby, Malkin, and Hornqvist down low with Letang and Kessel at the points.  That is deadly.  Use it to your advantage and put your best 5 guys out there.

Also, notable, the Penguins 2nd power play (even with a “stacked” first unit) would be Perron, Bonino, Bennett/Kunitz with Sprong and Maatta at the points.  So, the coaches are worried that unit won’t score on the power play?!

I don’t get it.  But I’m not the coach…

Team Built for Offense?  Play That Way

Mike Johnston’s system is not a bad one, but I am not 100% sure if it fits this team.  Time will tell.  His system is based off of a “defense-first” mentality that relies on puck moving defensemen to lead the rush and turn defense into offense.

There is one problem: this team is not built around defense.  It’s built around offense.

I do think the Penguins have some great puck moving defensemen in their system, but that being said, the Penguins need a system focused on offense.  If the Penguins are going to roll with 4 scoring lines (which I do not have a problem with), the Penguins need a system that plays to their advantages.

That advantage is offensive fire power.

Who knows, maybe the system will work fine.  Maybe it works great.  Again, I know it is only one game, and the Penguins did not play terrible, but the Penguins should not be playing a defensive-minded style built to win 2-1 hockey games.  It just doesn’t make sense.

Letang

Letang was the Penguins’ best player against Dallas.  Hands down.  He registered a game high 13 shots on goal and played extremely solid defensively.

Remember, I picked this guy to win the Norris.

If he stays healthy and can play like he did in Dallas, good things are going to happen to this guy (knock on wood).

Once again, thanks to everyone who keeps up with my blog!  My next post will probably come after the Penguins play the Coyotes late Saturday or early afternoon Sunday.  The setup will be similar, as I will recap and give my impressions of the game.

Keep up with me, and let’s hope the Pens turn around quickly and bring a 1-1 record back to Consol for the home opener next week.

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Stars Shine, Niemi Blanks Pens

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