Habs Spoil Pens’ Home Opener

pac

Well, after starting the season 0-1, it was no big deal.

Even after going 0-2, the Penguins had a chance to get a win at home tonight against the Canadiens.

Now the Penguins are 0-3 after dropping their season opener at home 3-2 to Montreal.  Yes, it is still very early in the season, but this is the first 0-3 start the Penguins have had since 2005, when they began the season with 9 straight losses in Sidney Crosby’s first year in the NHL.  The Penguins have 4 more home games in a row before going back on the road, and it would be big to win at least 3 of 4, but we will just have to see.

By the way, remember how I mentioned putting Kessel with Malkin and Hornqvist with Crosby?  There were only 2 Penguins’ assists tonight, and both came on the second goal by Letang.  Who had the assists?  Malkin and Kessel.  Not that this means anything significant, but I just want to put that out there…

Anyways, here is the recap and my impressions from tonight.

Recap

1st Period

Just under 6 minutes to go in the third, the Canadiens opened the scoring.  (Just a side note that the Habs are now 4-0 and have scored first in all 4 of their games, AND all 4 have been on the road.  Very impressive)  Andrei Markov flipped one into the Penguins zone right in the middle of 2 defensemen.  Forward Brendan Gallagher outworked the 2 Penguins defensemen to get to the puck and took control.  Gallagher spun around quickly and fed a pass to Max Pacioretty, who one-timed a hard low shot on Fleury that went in for his 3rd of the season.

Letang and Fleury talked for a few seconds after this goal was scored.  Letang and another Montreal player was right in front of the net, and my guess is that Fleury never saw that puck.  If he did, it was one he should have stopped.

Just under 5 minutes left in the first, the Habs were controlling the puck in the zone.  the puck came up to defenseman PK Subban who ripped a shot that dinged right off the crossbar and stayed out of the net.

Not long after, Crosby and Kunitz came down the other way in a 2 on 1.  Crosby did decide to shoot the puck, but Carey Price made the save.

After 1 period: Habs 1 Pens 0

2nd Period

With about 14:30 to go in the 2nd period, Montreal was once again possessing the puck in the zone.  A rebound came out to Montreal defensemen Nathan Beaulieu, but Beau Bennet stole the puck and took it the other way.  The Penguins had a 2 on 1, but Beau didn’t use his partner, as he sniped his 5th shot of the game right past Carey Price’s blocker to tie the game at 1.

The Penguins seemed to have a ton of momentum after this goal.  They were really buzzing.

But then the Penguins took a penalty for too many men on the ice.

This is one of those penalties that almost always comes back to bite, and it did once again tonight.  Montreal went on the power play and were passing the puck around the zone.  After around 30 seconds of passing and skating with the puck, Pacioretty skated away from the boards towards the middle of the ice and scored on a quick and hard wrist shot that beat Fleury on his glove side.

However, not long after the Canadiens retook the lead, Letang tied the game up once again.  Kessel brought the puck into the zone and put a shot on goal that was sticked away by Price.  Malkin found the rebound and fed the puck behind the net for Kessel.  He then attempted to feed a pass to Letang that was tipped by a Montreal player.  The pass lost some gas, but it did get to Letang, who fired a knuckling puck past the glove of Carey Price.

After 2 periods: Habs 2 Pens 2

3rd Period

The Canadiens came out in the 3rd period ready to play, and it showed early.

Just over 4 minutes in, the Canadiens forced a turnover in the Penguins’ offensive zone.  It is noted, however, that Plotnikov was severely interfered with, but the referee made no call on the play.  The Canadiens went the other way with the puck, and Penguin killer Tomas Fleischmann shot the puck past Fleury on his blocker side.

Although the goal should have never happened (since there should have been an interference penalty drawn by Plotnikov), Fleury should have made this stop.  He made some great saves throughout this game, but he also let in some bad ones, and this was one of them.

With just over 2 minutes to go in the game, the Penguins put out Crosby, Malkin, and Kessel in the same line.  The Penguins had the puck in the zone.  Letang one-timed a shot on goal that was stopped by Price.  The rebound squirted out to Malkin who fed a perfect pass to Crosby.  Crosby one-timed the puck and got all of it, but he did not elevate the puck, and Price’s pad got over to make the save.

This was one of the Penguins’ best chances all game, and had Crosby got about a foot of elevation on the shot, it was going in.

Final Score: Habs 3 Pens 2

Impressions

3rd Line

I’m not even going to talk too much about this.

The 3rd line of Plotnikov, Bonino, and Bennett was outstanding tonight.  It was easily the Penguins most consistent line, and it had a ton of scoring opportunities.

Seeing production from this line is a bright spot for the Penguins, but Crosby and Malkin need to start stepping up, espeically Sid who still does not have a point.

Also, I want to note that Plotnikov looked far more comfortable on this line than he did on Malkin’s line.  I think Plotnikov feels less pressure on the 3rd line and is able to play his game.

Beau Bennett

Bennett, by far, was my favorite Penguin on the ice tonight.

Not only did he have a goal tonight, but he just looked dominant.

I mentioned that I think he can have a breakout season even if its in a 3rd or 4th line role.  If Bennett stays healthy, he is going to be a big part of this team going forward.  That is, if they can start stringing together some wins!

Transition Game

This is where my real hockey analysis comes into play.

Mike Johnston puts a heavy emphasis on moving the puck as a team, and sticking together.  Although I see that at time, I do not see it all the time.  I do not see it a lot of the time actually.

Most of the time, a Penguins defenseman will have the puck in the defensive zone, and all 3 forwards will be skating right around the other teams blue line. Now, unless a long stretch pass gets through, this will not work.  Additionally, you need speed getting into the zone.  By having forwards stand near the blue line, they have no time to gain speed going into the zone, so if a defenseman were to dump the puck into the offensive zone, none of the Penguins forwards will recover it since they have no speed going into the zone.

Anyways, I’ll leave it at that for tonight.  As always, thanks to those who read my blog.  I appreciate your support!

I’ll be posting another article on Thursday night after the Penguins take on the Ottawa Senators at home.

If the Penguins are 0-4 after that one, the article probably won’t be pretty…

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Habs Spoil Pens’ Home Opener

Coyotes Edge Penguins

mike smith

Okay, this article is being published a few days too late, and I am sorry about that.

Although I am only 20, I had a very busy weekend on top of being a little under the weather, but I am absolutely keeping my commitment to the site.  So yeah, it might be a few days late, but here we go: Let’s talk about the Penguins vs. Coyotes game that occurred this past Saturday night.

Well, the Penguins are now 0-2, but they have their home opener this week (tomorrow, actually) against the Montreal Canadiens.  Hopefully, they can start to turn things around.  I still would not worry too much about an 0-2 start, but at the same time, the Penguins cannot let this pattern continue, or they may be in trouble.

Here is my recap of the game, followed by my impressions.  Here we go:

Recap

Early in the first period, the Penguins looked very sluggish.  They were stuck in their own zone for almost the entire first 2 minutes of the period, and Fleury needed to make a few big saves.  Luckily, shortly thereafter, Arizona player Stefan Elliott took a holding penalty against Evgeni Malkin, and the Penguins had a chance to convert early on the power play.

Only 20 seconds into the power play, it was Arizona that had a brilliant chance to open the scoring, but Marc-Andre Fleury robbed Martin Hanzal of a stuff-in attempt to keep the game tied 0-0.

With a little over 3:30 left to play in the first period, Plotnikov fed a pass to Daniel Sprong who was absolutely flying while coming fresh off the bench.  His shot beat Mike Smith, but his shot hit the post and stayed out.

The Penguins had another power play late in the period.  During the power play, Phil Kessel possessed the puck and finessed his way right into the slot, after stick-handling around multiple Coyotes defenders.  Smith saved Kessel’s wrist shot, and then had to react quickly after Perron corralled the rebound and put another shot on goal.  Right after the Penguins had this glorious chance, the Coyotes came down in a 2 on 1 with Letang as the lone defeneseman, but Letang made the play defensively and both teams were kept off of the board.

Going into the second period, the game was tied 0-0, and the Penguins had not scored a goal this season during 4 periods of hockey.

Just 5 minutes into the second, the Coyotes came in on a 3 on 3 rush.  The puck circled around the net and was controlled by young Arizona forward Anthony Duclair.  He then fed a pass right in front to an essentially wide open Tobias Rieder who ripped a quick shot past Fleury and put Arizona up 1-0.

Just 17 seconds later, Penguins fans finally had a reason to cheer.  The first goal for the Penguins in the 2015-2016 season.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you… Phil Kessel:

Kessel did it all himself here.  He takes the puck away from Doan, skates into the Coyotes zone, and absolutely rifles a shot past Smith.  It gives you the chills a little bit.  Just listen to Bob Errey’s reaction in that video between the 21 and 24 second mark in that video.  What a player this guy is going to be with the Penguins.

Later in the second, the Coyotes were possessing the puck in the zone well.  The puck came to the front of the net, and a ton of players crashed Fleury’s crease.  I had no idea where the puck was watching on TV for a good 5 seconds, until I heard the Coyotes’ goal horn go off and saw Coyotes’ forward Jordan Martinook celebrating his goal.  That’s a tough goal to give up, but a goal is a goal, and it put Arizona up 2-1.

Just over 11:00 to go in the third, Plotnikov breaks into the zone and sets up Nick Bonino with a beautiful pass.  Bonino got all of it, but somehow Mike Smith made the stop.  It just seems like the Penguins can’t get a break.

Unfortunately, that break would not come in this game, as the Penguins dropped this game 2-1 and were unable to comeback in the 3rd period.  This is something they were terrible at last season.  I do not know their exact record, but I can tell you this: last season, the Penguins had 0 wins when trailing after 2 periods.  Although you never would expect that record to be good, a good hockey team should be able to scrape out a few wins here and there in that situation.  But the Penguins have not been able to do that under Mike Johnston.

Impressions

Plotnikov Isn’t Ready

Although Plotnikov made a few decent plays here and there, he is still adjusting to the NHL after playing in the KHL (Russian hockey league) for a few years.  To back up my argument, today at the Penguins’ practice, Johnston moved Plotnikov down to the 3rd line and moved Perron up to the 2nd.

I still think Plotnikov can be effective and he maybe even could be a second line player.  However, at this point, I do not think he is ready.  He should be playing 3rd or 4th line until Johnston and the coaching staff feels that he has fully adjusted to the NHL.  Then they can consider playing him on the 2nd line with fellow countryman Evgeni Malkin.

Crosby STILL Has No Shots

Okay, I think he at least attempted a shot in this game, but he did not register one.  The Penguins now have 65 shots through 2 games, and Crosby does not have a single one of them.  Despite this team having a ton of offensive talent, the guys like Crosby and Malkin need to step up and play well.  This team still depends on their success.

Sid, you gotta shoot the puck.

Where Are The Goals?

As I stated above, the Penguins have 65 shots through 2 games.  They have scored only once.  Their defense has looked fine throughout the first 2 games.  Not spectacular, but who would have expected that?  Their defense is playing well enough for this Penguins team to win games, especially with their offensive talent.

So, where are the goals?

Are you going to buy the “well, we ran into a hot goaltender tonight” argument?  To me, that’s just making an excuse as to why a team isn’t scoring.  Get ready for Tuesday, when the Penguins face a stout Canadiens defense and a goalie who will probably win the Vezina Trophy (best goaltender after the NHL regular season) in Carey Price.

“Oh, well, Carey Price is at the top of his game right now.”

Well guess what?  He always is.  You have to focus on how to beat him and how to get inside his head.  Shooting the puck is important, but some of those shots need to be quality shots, and the Penguins are going to need plenty of those on Tuesday if they want to avoid starting 0-3

Maybe the Penguins will get some goals coming up.  Maybe the Penguins just need a few lucky bounces.  That happens too.  Only time will tell.

Remember Daniel Sprong?

Daniel Sprong logged only 7:57 of ice time, which was by far the lowest on the Penguins.

So, why in the world did Johnston keep him here again?

Oh yeah, he scores goals.  So why not give him a chance?

Sprong was arguably the best Penguins forward in training camp, and he has earned his spot on the roster.  Sprong had 3 goals this preseason, tied for Beau Bennett for tops on the Penguins during the preseason.

I understand he is a young player, and I know he has a lot to learn.  That being said, give him a chance to do what he did in the preseason: score.  I would have him at least on the third line, if not the second line, but it looks like he will be stuck on the fourth line where he will likely log less than 10 minutes again versus Montreal.

The Penguins are stuck with 1 goal in 2 games.  Playing Sprong minimally on the fourth line is not going to help that goal total climb, just saying…

Once again, thanks for those who follow me and keep up with me.  I am sorry this article was a bit late, but I will make a promise that I will write and publish my next article directly after the Tuesday night game concludes against the Canadiens.  Hopefully that one will be written in high spirits.

Coyotes Edge Penguins

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.

Stars Shine, Niemi Blanks Pens

Shoot the Puck!

crosby scores

How many times have you watched a Penguins game and yelled at the TV with something along the lines of “C’mon [insert player here], shoot the puck!”

If your answer is 0, try again.

If your answer is a few times every game, then that’s more like it.

Nothing makes me more angry than when the Penguins are in the zone, particularly on the power play, and Sidney Crosby (or any player for that matter) passes up a shot to try to thread a needle to a man who is on the opposite end of the ice with 3+ guys standing in the passing lane.  If the pass gets through, there’s a chance it goes in, and it looks like a spectacular play.  But when it doesn’t get through?

Yeah, it’s not a shot.  Last time I checked, you can’t score without shooting the puck.  The Penguins need to do more of that this season.

Head coach Mike Johnston always emphasizes shot volume.  His thought process is simple:  The more shots you take, the more goals you get.  So, is it really that simple?

Yes.  It really is that simple.

Let’s take a look at last season.  Mike Johnston specifically said that if the Penguins could register 35 shots on goal every game, they would be very successful.  So let’s go based on this.

Last year, the Penguins record was 27-22-5 when they did not record 35 shots or more.  This means that through these 54 games, the Penguins had only 59 points and put up 1.09 points per game.  This means that in an 82 game season, they would be on pace for 89 points, which would probably miss the playoffs most years.

Now, let’s look at their record when they registered 35 shots or more.  The Penguins had 28 games where they accomplished this task, putting up a 16-5-7 record and 39 points and 1.39 points per game.  This means that in an 82 game season, they would have been on pace for 114 points! This would not only put the Penguins in the playoffs, but possibly win them a Presidents Trophy as well.

Shooting the puck is even all the more important now, especially with the lineup the Penguins are putting out there.  They are absolutely stacked up front, and if they shoot, they will score at least a few.

If the Penguins want success this year, it really is as easy as 3 simple words:

Shoot. The. Puck!

Finally, the 7th article in 7 days is done!  Now, buckle up baby.

The Penguins season is right around the corner.

Expect a blog post from myself after Thursday night’s game about my impressions on the game action.  Let’s Go Pens!

Shoot the Puck!

So…What Went Wrong Last Season?

pens lose playoffs

Going into last season, there were some major questions to be answered.

The Penguins fired both Dan Bylsma and Ray Shero, and brought in Coach Mike Johnston and GM Jim Rutherford.  Not long after Rutherford came in, he traded former 40 goal scorer James Neal for Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling.

Well, Spaling didn’t work out, but Hornqvist certainly did.

He even made plenty of successful trades during the regular season, including adding David Perron to the top 6 forward core, and absolutely stealing former first-round pick Ian Cole for Robert Bortuzzo and a 7th round pick.  Although his trade for Ben Lovejoy wasn’t a very well-liked trade among the Penguins’ fan base, Rutherford assembled a half-decent team with what he had to work with, as well as the time he had to accomplish it.  It wasn’t his fault.

Was it Mike Johnston’s fault?  Well, not necessarily…

The Penguins came out of the gate looking better than ever.  They started out 13-3-1 and were clicking at about 40% on the power play, which is just absolutely absurd.  Clearly, his strategy was working.

Then something happened.  Something stopped working for the Penguins.  After this fantastic start through 17 games, the Penguins finished 30-24-11 in their final 65 games.

This may not look awful, but if we grouped regulation losses with overtime and shootout losses, the Penguins finished 30-35 in their final 65 games.

Johnston’s strategy seemed to work fine in games 1-17, so I’m not so concerned about him either.  In addition, I have read glowing reports from the players that they are really believing in Mike Johnston’s coaching strategies and ideals.

So it wasn’t the new coach, it wasn’t the new GM…so let’s start looking at the players.

Well, there were a lot of injuries…  The Penguins 30-24-11 streak began the game after Pascal Dupuis was diagnosed with a blood clot.  Around this time, Olli Maatta was diagnosed with a cancerous tumor.  Ehrhoff dealt with multiple concussions during the year.  Letang suffered a concussion late in the season that looked like it may be devastating to his career, so thank goodness he is okay.  And even Pouliot, who played a lot for the Penguins last year, was injured going into the post-season.

Yeah, something tells me a top pair of Paul Martin and Ben Lovejoy aren’t going to get things done.  Unfortunately, it didn’t.

So yes, I believe injuries were a major factor to the major downfall of last year.

Also consider these things:

1) Mike Johnston’s system depends on puck moving defensemen and defensemen who can contribute to the offense.  Well, all of those kind of guys were in and out throughout the season.  Heck during the playoffs, Letang, Maatta, Ehrhoff, AND Pouliot were out with injury.  Yikes.

2) Surprisingly, the Penguins ranked 10th in the NHL in goals against despite their lack of a healthy defensive corps.  The place they struggled the most was in the goals for category, in which they placed 19th in the NHL.

I understand that in Mike Johnston’s system, the defense is important even to the offense.  That being said, the forwards have to produce, too.  That’s what they’re getting paid to do.  So let’s look at the forwards.

Neither Crosby or Malkin came up big in the playoffs (besides maybe game 2), however, both were battling significant injuries, so I will try to let that slide.

However, the supporting cast for future hall of fame forwards Crosby and Malkin was absolutely unacceptable, especially when a player such as Dupuis missed a large chunk of the season.  Perron played great in Pittsburgh his first 10 games or so, then fell off the face of the earth.  Comeau was not the same after coming back from his wrist injury.  And Kunitz had a major drop off last season, and just couldn’t find the back of the net.

Hornqvist was about the only man who consistently did his job, and this includes Crosby and Malkin.

Overall, my three key factors to the downfall of last season are the following: injuries, injured puck moving defensemen, lack of offense/supporting cast.

Want to know which factor I think most contributed to this downfall?

Lack of offense.  Lack of a supporting cast for Crosby and Malkin.

Well guess what.  Rutherford fixed that.  The Penguins are rolling with 4 lines that can score this year.  They have Crosby, Malkin, Kessel, Hornqvist, Plotnikov, Perron, Bennet, Sprong, Kunitz, Dupuis, and the list goes on… They were 19th in goals for last year. 19th!  With 2 of the best forwards the NHL will ever see.

No excuses can be made this year for this team.  Regardless of whether their defense performs extraordinary, this team should be top 5 in goals for and power play percentage by the end of the year, which ideally, will put them atop the Eastern Conference once again.

So, how does one score goals?  I’ll be discussing that tomorrow (technically, later today) in my final article leading up to the Penguins season opener: Shoot the Puck!

So…What Went Wrong Last Season?

NL Central VS the Metropolitan Division

This article is going to change things up a bit.

It’s not only going to analyze the Penguins, but it’s going to analyze the entire division: the Metropolitan Division.

How good can the Metropolitan Division be this year?  My answer: it’s going to be really good.  Scary good.  I think it will be NL Central-esque.

Let’s talk about the NL Central really quick for those of you that are not familiar with baseball.  The NL Central, like the other divisions in baseball, contains 5 teams.  Now, what is interesting about this division, which include Pittsburgh’s team, the Pirates, is that it includes the best 3 teams in the MLB.  Not in just in the division, not just in the National League, but in the entire MLB.

The St. Louis Cardinals won the division winning 100 games, the Pirates came in at 2nd with a franchise-tying record 98 wins, and the Cubs were nipping at the Pirates heels ending with 97 wins.  The Cubs, who came in 3rd place in the NL Central division, would have placed first in any other division in the MLB.

Currently, the NL Central has been talked about as one of the best divisions in MLB history, and with pretty good reasoning too.

So, why am I talking about baseball on a Penguins blog?!  Well, because I think the Metropolitan Division may just be the NL Central of the NHL.  There are just too many great teams.  Let’s take a look at the teams in the Metropolitan Division:

Pittsburgh Penguins: The Penguins have, arguably, the strongest offense on paper in the NHL.  They are rolling with 4 lines that can score, which is not a very common scheme in the NHL.  But hey, when you have Crosby and Malkin on your team (and now Kessel for that matter), you may as well build a team that’s meant to score goals.  The Penguins should be a huge threat offensively, and could very well win the division this year.

New York Islanders: The Islanders aren’t a joke any more.  A few years ago, the Penguins would play the Islanders and the biggest question was “how many goals are the Penguins going to score?”  Well, not any more.  This Islanders team is dangerous.  They are moving into a new arena, which will provide some sort of “hype” for this team.  They finished last year 3rd in the division and finished tied for 3rd in the NHL with 252 goals.  They will be looking for a division title this season to put in the rafters of the Barclays Center.

New York Rangers: So yeah, the Rangers lost Martin St. Louis, Carl Hagelin,and maybe a few other guys.  But this team won the President’s trophy last year, and finished 3rd in the NHL in goals for and goals against.  They have tons of speed on offense, and arguably one of the best defensive lineups in the NHL.  And, well, future hall-of-famer Henrik Lundqvist.  The Rangers could easily take this division once again.

Columbus Blue Jackets: Yeah, yeah.  They didn’t make the playoffs last year.  But keep in mind they were missing top center Ryan Johansen, goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, and others for significant amount of time.  Towards the end of the season, the Blue Jackets finally got healthy, and they showed the NHL how dangerous they can be.  They ended the season at a just ridiculous 16-2-1 clip, making an improbable push for the playoffs, although they fell just short.  Also, they acquired Brandon Saad in the offseason to bolster the offense.  Look out for CBJ.

Washington Capitals: Personally, I have the Capitals taking the division this year.  Alex Ovechkin will undoubtedly take the Rocket Richard (that is, unless Phil Kessel challenges him for it).  TJ Oshie will be on a line with Backstrom and Ovechkin, and he will absolutely benefit from it.  They have a lot of young forwards and defensemen that are primed for great seasons, and a solid goalie in Braden Holtby.  Many think he will be a Vezina candidate (best goalie in the NHL after the regular season), and even though I don’t think Holtby is in the Carey Price, Henrik Lundqvist category, he is a great goaltender behind a solid defense.

Now the question becomes: who the heck wins this division?!  Yeah, I have the Caps winning the division, but you could make an argument for really any of these 5 teams in the Metropolitan to win the Division, and I would believe you 100%.

This division could be the NL Central of the NHL.

It is also notable that the Flyers, Hurricanes, and Devils are also in this division.  The Flyers may have a decent season, but they will not finish in the top 5.  The Hurricanes should improve slightly, but they will hardly be noticeable.  And then the Devils, yeah, forget about them.  They have some rebuilding to do.

The way the NHL playoff format is now set up (for those of you unfamiliar with it), is that the top 3 teams of each division make the playoffs.  Looking at just the Eastern Conference, the top 3 teams from the Metropolitan Division and Atlantic Division make the playoffs.  Then, there are 2 “wild card” teams.  These teams are the 2 teams that finish with the most points outside of the top 3 teams in each division.  These teams can come from either one division, or both divisions.

Don’e be surprised if the Metropolitan Division sends 5 teams to the playoffs.

Don’t be surprised if these 5 teams are near the top of the entire NHL standings.

Don’t be surprised to see another NL Central.

It could be one of the best divisions in NHL history.

As always, thank you to those who keep up with me!  I appreciate your support, and I’m glad you share my interest for hockey and for the Penguins.

Only 2 articles remain:  Tomorrow I’ll be writing about what went wrong last year, and Wednesday I’ll be writing about a very simple yet important aspect of hockey: shoot the puck!

And just in case you want to get pumped up a bit…

NL Central VS the Metropolitan Division

This Year Vs. Last Year

Any one else getting super hyped for Thursday?  It really started to hit me today that the Penguins play a REGULAR SEASON game this Thursday.  Can’t wait.

Anyways, let’s delve into the 4th article in 4 days: this year versus last year.

Jim Rutherford made some bold moves in the offseason.  He traded Brandon Sutter for Clendening and Bonino, he traded a bunch of prospects for Kessel.  He acquired Fehr, Cullen, and Plotnikov via free agency.

This guy is not messing around.

He wants a Stanley Cup back in Pittsburgh.

However, we must also note the Penguins lost plenty of talented players in the offseason.  They lost blue-liners Paul Martin and Christian Ehrhoff, they lost bruiser Steve Downie, and they lost Blake Comeau, who showed a lot of success with the Penguins…just to name a few.

So the question is: how different is the Penguins lineup this year as compared to last year?  Are they better?  Are they worse?  Well let’s check it out:

Below is last years Penguins opening night roster.

Note: these line combinations may not be exactly correct.  But just go with it:

Forwards

Kunitz – Crosby – Hornqvist

Comeau – Malkin – Dupuis

Spaling – Sutter – Downie

Sill – Goc – Adams

Defensemen

Letang – Martin

Maatta – Ehrhoff

Despres – Scuderi

Now, let’s compare this team to the team Mike Johnston will be sending out on Thursday night, line by line. (Note: this is based off of what my predictions are for the lines.  This can be found in my previous article, click here)

FWD 1:  Kunitz – Crosby – Hornqvist  VS  Kunitz – Crosby – Kessel

Not terribly too much has changed here.  The main difference is that Kessel is on a line with Crosby and Kunitz rather than Hornqvist.  Hornqvist is a great player, but Kessel is an elite sniper.  “Crosby to Kessel” should be a popular phrase this season.  This line definitely upgraded, although not as much as others believe it or not.

FWD 2: Comeau – Malkin – Dupuis  VS  Plotnikov – Malkin – Hornqvist

Well, Malkin is a constant on this line, but his wingers have once again changed.  Comeau is gone, but he is replaced with Sergei Plotnikov, who I think can do just as much, if not more damage, than Comeau did with Malkin.  Additionally, Hornqvist, who played on the first line last year, will get to see some time with Malkin.  Hornqvist is definitely an upgrade to Dupuis on this line, even though Duper is a terrific hockey player.  This line also has clearly upgraded from last year.

FWD 3: Spaling – Sutter – Downie  VS  Perron – Bonino – Dupuis

Okay, this line got a HUGE upgrade.  Downie was a solid player for the Penguins, but he took way too many penalties to be legitimately effective.  Sutter was also very strong for the Penguins, but Bonino, who replaces Sutter this year, has better upside offensively and better possession numbers.  And Perron vs. Spaling?!  Yeah, I’ll take Perron on that one.  Huge upgrade for the 3rd line.

FWD 4: Sill – Goc – Adams  VS  Bennett – Cullen – Sprong

Ha ha.  Ha.  Do I need to even analyze this one?  Sill, Goc, and Adams were all a complete joke.  Yeah sure, Adams and/or Goc could kill a penalty or 2.  But does another team even feel somewhat worried if that line was out on the ice?  I wouldn’t be.  On the other hand,  Bennet and Sprong but had fantastic preseasons, scoring 3 goals each.  Both have looked great, and Bennett looks as good as he ever has.  If he stays healthy (knock on wood), he may have a breakout season, even if he is on the fourth line.  Cullen will put up decent numbers as well, but not anything special…then again, he will probably put up as many (if not more) points and Sill, Goc, and Adams did all of last year, because it wasn’t many.

Rutherford really put some focus in the bottom 6 forwards and he did his job well.  The Penguins are rolling with 4 lines that can score.  Even if the Rangers put Staal and McDonagh against Crosby’s line, the Penguins have 3 other lines that know how to score goals.  It should be fun to watch.

Let’s take a look at the defensive side:

Def 1: Letang – Martin  VS  Letang – Maatta

If you noticed, I have Letang with Maatta to start this year rather than Letang with Scuderi, which I put in my article I posted yesterday.  I did not think they would start the season together, but Mike Johnston has come out since then to say that they will start the season as the top pair.  I do not necessarily agree, but let’s go with it.

I see this comparison as a washout.  Letang is still Letang, and Maatta is upcoming.  He might not have Paul Martin’s experience, but he has the hockey smarts, and I think him and Letang should blend well.

Def 2: Maatta – Ehrhoff  VS  Cole – Dumoulin

Well, we hit our first bump in the road.  I think the Penguins had a better 2nd D pair last year than they do this year.  Cole and Dumoulin have played well together during the preseason, but both of these guys are seen as “bottom 6” kind of guys.  They would really need to step it up to be considered a top 4 pairing.  On the other hand, I do see Ehrhoff – Maatta as a top 4 pairing, so the Pens downgraded here.

Def 3: Despres – Scuderi  VS  Lovejoy – Scuderi

Oh.  That was awkward.  Scuderi is the constant, and the change between Lovejoy and Despres was due to the trade of these players, straight up.  I don’t mind that the Penguins traded Despres for Lovejoy, but they should have got more value back for Despres, who is only in his 20’s and has decent potential.  Therefore, based off of that, I would say the Pens downgraded just slightly on their third D pair.

Overall, the defense downgraded.  However, Rutherford decided he wanted to let some of the young guys play.  We will just have to see how things work out.

On a side note, regarding defense, I have heard rumors circulating that Rutherford wants Dustin Byfuglien… but it is way too early to talk about trade rumors.  We can discuss that later if it really becomes something that is legitimate.

That being said, don’t be surprised if GM Jim Rutherford goes after a top 4 defenseman, because that is one of the only spots where the Penguins are really lacking right now.

Overall, considering everything, the lineup definitely improved.  The defense did downgrade, but the upgrade of the offense way overpowers the losses on the blue line.  If the Penguins want to be successful, they need to learn how to score goals, and win the high scoring hockey games.  That is how this team is built, and it is how they should play.

Once again, thanks to those that keep up with my blog!  Tomorrow (or technically, later today) I’ll be writing an article regarding the NL Central vs. the Metropolitan Division.  It should be a good one.

This Year Vs. Last Year