Pittsburgh, We Have A Problem

I am really getting to that point of not knowing what to say.  This Penguins team, on paper, sure seems like it is capable of doing some incredible things.  Unfortunately for them, their skilled roster is not showing that skill on the ice.

The Penguins fell 3-0 against Boston, which really felt like a continuation of the series in 2013 where the Penguins scored 2 goals across the span of 4 games.

They had to go with backup Jeff Zatkoff and also played without Bonino who was ill, but those 2 alone are no excuse for the Penguins to put up a goose egg.

So Rutherford wanted an offensive juggernaut.  It didn’t work.  He fires Johnston as hired a new coach.  So far, no luck, but he has only been here 2 games so Sullivan has time to impress me.  Rutherford trades Rob Scuderi for offensive defenseman Trevor Daley who scored 16 goals last year.  Still, no luck.

So what do the Penguins do now?  What CAN they do?  Pittsburgh, we have a problem: our hockey team.

Nothing makes sense.  It just doesn’t.  A team with Crosby, Malkin, Kessel, Hornqvist, Letang, Maatta, Daley (just to name a few) should be a top 5 offense.  Period.  I am running out of excuses to give this team.  At this point, there are no excuses.  This team needs to start producing.  How?

First of all, the Penguins need a game-changer.  A guy that can come through clutch.  I think they have a ton of players like that in their roster, but none of them have proven to be a game-changer, except maybe Malkin at times.

Think back to the Stanley Cup playoffs in 2009.  The Flyers were killing the Penguins 3-0, and then Rinaldo gets in a fight with Talbot.  Talbot may have not won the fight, but following Rinaldo pumping up the crowd, Talbot famously “shhhhhh”-ed the Flyers crowd.  The Penguins stormed back to win that game.

I understand that something like this cannot happen every game.  But the Penguins need a guy like Talbot.  They need a game changer.  Whether it is a goal, a fight, a save, whatever…they need someone who can turn a game around for them.

Second of all, they need Sid to produce.  He has no excuse.  Absolutely none.  He has wingers capable of scoring, he plays first line, he plays first power play unit…for him to have no points in 17 of 30 games is absolutely pathetic, especially from Crosby.

Although scoring is down, Crosby needs to play better.  Patrick Kane went on a 26 game scoring streak.  It can happen, it just isn’t as common.  Either way, the Penguins will always be a team that wins or loses based on their stars’ success.  Right now, Crosby is in a rut, and so are the Pens.  He needs to get it together, and fast.

Third of all, the Penguins have to start scoring on the power play.  It is once again inexcusable for the Penguins to have a power play that is not in the top 5.  They actually have a power play in the bottom 5.  Yeah.

So how can they fix it?

First of all, they need to do 2 things: have a shot first mentality and get traffic in front.  It is that easy.  The Penguins had only 2 shots on 3 power plays last night.  That is not good enough.  They need to shoot, which as we all know is something the Penguins are terrible at on the power play.

I could care less how pretty the power play looks when they pass the puck.  You can’t score if you don’t shoot.  Period.  The Penguins need to focus on scoring.  It doesn’t matter if it is pretty.  Score the garbage goals if necessary.  Just shoot.

Second of all, I have no idea why Sullivan did what he did with the power play.  He moved Malkin to the point (who is not a defenseman, bad idea).  He put Perron in front of the net, rather than either Kunitz or Hornqvist, who are both far better net front presences than Perron.  They put Kunitz in the high slot for whatever reason.  They put Crosby on the left side and then Warsofsky on the right.  It just didn’t make sense.

Maybe there was a method to his madness, but it certainly didn’t work.  Here would be MY first power play unit:

At the point: Trevor Daley.  Even when Letang comes back, he can’t run a power play.  Daley can lug the puck, he can shoot, and he has proven he can score.  Daley should be over Warsofsky every time on the first unit.

Net front: Patric Hornqvist.  This man is one of the most aggravating guys to play against.  How do I know?  Watch how teams react to him going to the front of the net.  He is one of the best in the business: he screens, has great hand-eye, and drives goalies nuts.  Park him in front, and good luck to the goalie, because Hornqvist will not let him see the puck.

Slot: Sidney Crosby.  Putting Crosby in the slot, to me, puts a heavier emphasis on him shooting the puck.  He won’t have the puck on his stick all the time, but then again, the Penguins don’t really want that, because all Sid does is pass any more.  I think this leads to him shooting more, which he needs to do.

Right wall: Evgeni Malkin.  This was easy.  He has a great one-timer and has always had success there.  Keep him there and let him continue to thrive where he has had success.

Left wall: Daniel Sprong.  Yeah, I said it.  So why Sprong?  Well, what is his strength?  His shot.  He has one of the better wrist shots on the entire Penguins team, and he loves to shoot.  So if he is just an asset defensively, why not let him play to his strengths and put him on the power play, where he does not necessarily need to be an asset defensively?  It makes almost too much sense.  To add, Connor Sheary in his first NHL game had almost 2 minutes of power play time, while even Matt Cullen had some time on the 2nd unit.  No Sprong on the power play?!  Unbelievable.

Luckily for the Penguins, they have another shot at Boston tomorrow, this time at Consol Energy Center.  Let’s hope the Penguins start getting some bounces and turn the tide.  They have lost 5 of their last 6.

 

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Pittsburgh, We Have A Problem

Have Faith in Sullivan’s Penguins

Sullivan
The Penguins fell to the Capitals last night, 4-1, at Consol Energy Center in Sullivan’s Penguins coaching debut.  The score may not look impressive, but I am here to tell you to have faith in Sullivan’s Penguins.

First of all, the Penguins did what Sullivan wanted them to do.  They played towards their strengths: skill and speed.  They had more jump and more passion to their game.  It was clearly visible, and this guy has been here all of 2 days.

For those of you that did not watch the game, the first shift for the Penguins was arguably the best shift I have seen from a Penguins line in the last 2 years.  They did not score, but had 2 or 3 quality chances, and they played like they wanted the puck.  They played like they wanted to score.

Being that the Penguins had a few chances of their own, they gave up a few chances to the Capitals, who just seemed to capitalize (no pun intended) on their chances more than the Penguins unfortunately.

That being said, the Penguins registered 45 shots on goal, which is a season high.  Holtby played out of his mind (he leads the NHL in GAA), but if the Penguins can play like they did last night, they are going to start winning hockey games.

I also want to add that although the Penguins gave up their fair share of chances, so did Johnston’s Penguins.  Except Johnston’s Penguins had no jump, no energy, and no desire for the puck.  Sullivan’s Penguins had numerous scoring opportunities, and had some bounces gone the Penguins way, the game may have been different.

Whether the Penguins won 7-1 or lost 4-1, it is just 1 game, so either way, we can’t make too much of this.  But, all I am telling you is to have faith.  Seriously.

I also want to bring up that Sullivan has been here a very short time, and lost to a Capitals team that is now first in the Eastern Conference and atop the Metropolitan Division.  Considering that Bylsma’s first game behind the bench for the Pens was a shootout loss against, at the time, a lowly New York Islanders team, I am not concerned with the result of this one game.

On top of Sullivan being behind the new guy behind the bench, there is a ton of new Penguins news that I would like to enlighten you all about that has happened in the past 24 hours.  Some bad, some good.

Beau Bennett out 4-6 weeks: Beau Bennett was crushed into the boards by Capitals forward TJ Oshie.  It was a questionable hit, but no penalty was called.  Bennett got up gingerly holding his shoulder and immediately went to the locker room.  I would assume that he broke his collar bone after going shoulder first into the boards.

I really do feel for Beau Bennett.  He must be so frustrated being that he always gets hurt.  However, this is also why a guy like him should remain as a 3rd or 4th line guy, regardless of his skill.  If he is injury prone, letting him develop chemistry with guys on a top line is pointless.  Let other plays who are not injury prone to be put into that role.  When Bennett does come back, I would keep him on the 3rd or 4th line because of his injury history.

Since Bennett is out for 4-6 weeks, this means that more than likely either Hornqvist or Sprong will get a chance with Crosby on the top line.  Although I would love to see Sprong with Crosby on a consistent basis (we saw a little bit of it last night), I would think Hornqvist will move up being that he has played with Sid before.  That being said, I think Sprong actually benefits more from the system and would perform better on this line with Sid.  That’s just my thought…

Fleury concussed: Fleury said he did not feel right after the game and was tested for a concussion today.  The results, unfortunately, came back positive, and he will like be out 1-2 weeks. Zatkoff will start tomorrow and Matt Murray was recalled to be his backup.

Sullivan will have the ability to control the goalie rotation. I would like to think, and hope, that Matt Murray is the starter in general while Fleury is out. But that will be up to Sullivan. We’ll find out later this week.

Pens trade Scuderi for Daley: Jim Rutherford, I have one question for you: HOW?!  Trevor Daley (33) is an offensive defenseman who was on the Blackhawks for a short stint, after being sent there as part of the Patrick Sharp deal between Dallas and Chicago.  Last year, Daley had 16 goals as a defenseman!  That is impressive, and something the Penguins need.

They end up trading Scuderi, who has been, to put it lightly, pretty bad with the Penguins.  The Pens did maintain 1/3 of his contract, but the fact that Rutherford got Daley out of this deal…wow.

One main reason he was able to make it was that apparently Daley did not fit into the Blackhawks’ system.  They felt Scuderi would be a better fit for them, and similarly, Daley would be a better fit for the Pens.

I feel the Pens definitely won this trade, but I guess time will tell…  Daley will wear #6 and I would expect him to be in the lineup against Boston tomorrow night.

Sullivan mixes up lines at practice: Today, the Penguins announced they have recalled Connor Sheary and Kevin Porter from the AHL. I would like to think Sheary plays tomorrow, since he has more potential offensively. But again, that’s up to Sullivan.

Sullivan really mixed up the lines at practice, going with the following line combos:

Kunitz – Crosby – Perron
Plotnikov – Malkin – Hornqvist
Kessel – Fehr – Sprong
Cullen – Bonino

The biggest changes here are that Kessel moves to the third line, Perron gets bumped up to 1st line, and Plotnikov goes back with Malkin. Sullivan wants to find some lines that mesh, so let’s hope this works.

By the way, I want to note that I actually like Kessel on the 3rd line. In Toronto he played with Bozak and had great success. Bozak is good, but he is no superstar. I think this allows Kessel to really focus on his game since he is not playing with a Crosby or Malkin. Heck, it worked in Toronto.
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Anyways, that’s all I’ve got for now!  Thanks for those who continue to read my blog, as always!  My next blog will be recapping and talking about my impressions from the game against Boston tomorrow at 8 pm.  Hopefully the article will be up by midnight.

 

Have Faith in Sullivan’s Penguins

Johnston, Agnew Out. Sullivan, Martin In.

JohnstonI want to begin this article by apologizing to everyone who actually keeps up with my blog.  I know it may not be many, but I have not been posting nearly as much as I would like.

For me, I got late into the semester and just found that I was so busy and did not have time to write.

But I assure you, recap articles are coming back, a Q and A will be coming up soon, and I’ll be getting back on track now that finals (for the most part) are over.

Anyways, let’s move onto the news of the day: Mike Johnston (and Gary Agnew for that matter) are finally gone.  It surprisingly took the Rutherford 28 games to make the move.   The Penguins are  currently 15-10-3 and not in the playoff picture, keeping in mind that this includes a stretch where they went 9-1 in a 10 game span.  Take those 10 games away, and the Penguins are 6-9-3.

Under Johnston, the Penguins ranked (oh what fun it is to use past tense when talking about Johnston) 27th in goals for per game (2.36), 27th on the power play (15.6%), 6th in goals against (2.32), and 19th in Corsi for percentage (48.3%).  For those of you that do not know, Corsi for percentage basically tells you how often your team has possession of the puck.

The only reason the goals against isn’t also horrendous is because of the guy playing the role of brick wall.  Because it certainly is not the talent of the defensive corps.  That being said, I want to once again acknowledge the pairing of Dumoulin and Lovejoy.  These 2 continue to be the shutdown pair night in and night out, so props to these 2 guys.

But without Fleury, the goals against would be probably right around that 27th range, considering the Penguins are allowing the 3rd most shots against per game at 31.8.  Letang has not been nearly what anyone expected him to be this year, many even thought he could win a Norris including myself but that is not going to happen.  Cole has been awful as of late.  Scuderi shouldn’t be in the NHL…

Anyways, Fleury has been doing everything he can to help this team win.  And honestly, he is a big reason as to why Mike Johnston’s firing did not happen earlier, as he was able to help the Penguins maintain a somewhat respectable record.

Heck, Evgeni Malkin kept Johnston behind the bench for a few more games after that ridiculous run he had after calling out the team against New Jersey.

Even Beau Bennett may have gave Johnston one more game, as he helped the Penguins mount a comeback 2 games ago against the Avalanche while scoring 2 goals in the 3rd period.

All of that being said, Johnston is finally gone.  An early Christmas present.  Thanks Santa.

I do want to say this:  Johnston is not a terrible coach.  The players respected him for the most part, according to GMJR’s interview today, and his philosophy was not bad.  His problem was that he was with the wrong team.

After a 2-1 loss against the Ducks, he said that the Penguins need to tighten up defensively….

You’re kidding right?  A team with Crosby, Malkin, Kessel and co. need to tighten up defensively after losing 2-1?  Give me a break… They need to start scoring goals is what they need to do.

Sullivan

So who was hired?  Mike Sullivan.  Who is he?  Oh, you know, the guy who has Wilkes-Barre at a 18-5 record with one of the top offenses (3rd) in the AHL.  I have faith Sullivan can be that guy to really bring a spark to this offense.  Plus, who remembers last time the Penguins made a mid-season coaching change?

2009 cup

Yeah, that.

So now that you are up to speed, I want to share some of my personal opinions on what Sullivan can do to really get this team rolling.

1. Let the stars play their game

From my understanding based off of what I have read from multiple sources, Johnston was extremely structured and wanted his players to play a certain way.  He really was a junior coach.  These coaches tend to want more structure and need to be more of a mentor to the younger hockey players.  In the NHL, the coach should not be all that influential.  Let the stars play their game.

I watched an interview with Sullivan, and he was quoted saying this:

“I’ve always been a believer that you have to allow your top players the latitude to make plays and act on their instincts.  There’s a fine line as a coach between making sure you stay out of the way in certain circumstances but you provide the necessary structure so that you don’t become a high risk team.”

I love this.  Guys like Crosby, Malkin, and Kessel need to cut loose and start doing what they’re getting paid to do: score.  If Sullivan words are true, I’m excited to see what could happen to this offense.

2. Young guns

I just find it hilarious that in Johnston’s last game, after being told multiple times by GMJR to play Clendening/Sprong, he plays Scuderi over Clendening when the Penguins needed a puck moving defenseman on the back end against the Kings, and sits Sprong for the last 31 minutes of the game because he pinched in the offensive zone…..

31 minutes?!  Yeah, for pinching in the offensive zone.

In that case, may as well sit Crosby, Malkin, Kessel, and every other offensive minded forward because they are not responsible enough defensively.  And to Sprong’s credit, I saw him make multiple, solid defensive plays in the Penguins’ defensive zone.

He’s called a forward, Mike.  Let him play his game and do the thing that you apparently didn’t want this team to do: score.

My point?  Give these young guys a shot, and sit Scuderi…unless you REALLY have to play him…

3. Power play

This may possibly be one of the biggest expectations after the coaching change.  Although the power play was kicking it up a little bit as of late, they still rank 27th in the NHL which is just absurd considering their offensive talent.

The power play should easily be top 5, at least on paper.  They need to have a shot first mentality, and plenty of traffic around the net.  Heck, watch Malkin’s goal he scored last night when the Penguins had a man advantage because they pulled their goalie.  David Perron literally threw a puck on net with traffic in front, and Malkin knocked the puck home past Quick to tie the game late, 2-2.

The power play production will lead to more goals, which can only play to the Penguins’ favor.

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If I were Mike Sullivan, here would be my line combinations for Monday night against Ovechkin and the Caps:

Forwards:

Kunitz – Crosby – Bennett

Perron – Malkin – Kessel

Sprong – Bonino – Hornqvist

Plotnikov – Cullen – Fehr

Defense:

Dumoulin – Lovejoy

Maatta – Warsofsky

Clendening – Cole/Scuderi

I kept the first 2 lines the same that they have been, but these lines could very well change.  Kessel has not been getting puck luck, but has looked good offensively the past few games.

I moved Sprong to the third line because he needs to be given a chance.  He should be playing 10-15 minutes per night, and he only has until the 40th game, because after this the coaches and GM can still send him back to juniors.  They need to give him a chance to see what they really have in Sprong, because if he can increase the scoring, then he needs to stay.  I wouldn’t even be at all opposed to giving him a shot with Crosby/Malkin, but I don’t think it will happen realistically.

Also, I did not put Letang in the lineup because he is reportedly out around 2 weeks with an upper body injury.  I put Warsofsky with Maatta because he has actually silently surprised me in his short stint with the Penguins.  He should be playing in every game until he shows he should not be.

Clendening should play, and the scratch could be Scuderi or Cole.  In this case, I would play Cole even though he has been terrible as of late, because Scuderi is just absolutely pathetic at this point.  Oh by the way, he makes $3.875 million.  Yikes.

Can the Penguins start to turn this season around?  I think they can.  If Sullivan can get this offense clicking how it should, I think this team can be dangerous.  It just feels like there is a ticking bomb waiting to go off.  Here is to hoping it happens soon…

The Penguins, as mentioned earlier, are currently 15-10-3, one point out of the playoff picture.  The hill they have to climb is not too steep, but they still need to begin improving.

It starts Monday against Washington, who currently leads the Metropolitan Division with 40 points.

I’ll have an article up on Monday night recapping the Penguins vs. Caps game, and giving my impressions on Sullivan behind the bench.  Let’s Go Pens.

Johnston, Agnew Out. Sullivan, Martin In.

Where Is The Depth?

Wow, it has been a while since I have blogged.  Mainly due to business of my schedule, and the fact that I was sick over break.  Unfortunately, this is not my full time job, so I kind of put off the blogging for a while.

But, I am back.

So I wanted to discuss my thoughts on the scoring depth for the Penguins.  It was supposed to be good, right?  In regards to the guys the Penguins have playing in the bottom 6 on a given night, you’re looking at Hornqvist, Dupuis, Kunitz, Bonino, Plotnikov, Sprong, Bennett, and Cullen.

That sure sounds good doesn’t it?

Well, it hasn’t been good, unfortunately.  And neither has either of the Penguins’ superstars, especially Crosby.

However, I will say that Malkin has actually been on FIRE lately.  In case you didn’t see it, here was his goal that left me speechless for a good 24 hours.  My favorite Malkin goal besides his goal in the playoffs in ’09.

I also want to note that since Malkin stepped up to the media after that terrible 4-0 loss to New Jersey, he has 10 points in 6 games, and has scored the Penguins’ last 4 goals.

Crosby is getting a little bit better, and Johnston has decided to reunite him with Dupuis and Kunitz on the top line tonight against the Sharks.  I do not know how well this is going to work, but here’s to hoping all of these players find their chemistry and skill they had 2 or 3 years ago.

Anyways, back to the depth guys.

So when the stars don’t produce, the depth guys need to be helping out, right?  GM Jim Rutherford made sure that should be the case after acquiring plenty of solid bottom 6 players.

Well, let’s see how these guys are doing.

Patric Hornqvist has 8 points in 23 games and is a -4.  This is also considering that he has played a good half of the season on the top line.

Dupuis looked great for that one game he came back after his potential blood clot scare, but has not looked the same since.  I just get that sense that Dupuis is just hitting that wall of age.  Love him as a locker room guy, but he only has 4 points in 15 games.

Kunitz has looked better as of late, but only has 3 points, all 3 are goals, in 23 games playing on both the top line with Crosby and the 3rd line with Bonino.

Bonino is a good 3rd line center, and I do like him as a Penguin, but even he has only 5 points in 22 games played.

Plotnikov has also been much better as of late, especially against the Blues where the 4th line of the Penguins tortured them.  That being said, he only has 2 assists in 17 games and has yet to find the back of the net.

Sprong has 2 goals in 14 games, but it’s hard to blame the guy.  He plays with passion and energy but even when he is dressed, he rarely ever sees ice time.  I’ll have an article on him specifically later this week.

Bennett looked so good in the preseason and even early on in the season, but it just does not seem like this guy fits in the NHL.  I want too like Beau Bennett, but he is a -8 with 6 points in 18 games.

Cullen has 5 points in 23 games and is a +6.  I am actually okay with what Cullen has done, especially in a 4th line role.  A few more points wouldn’t hurt, but he has at least been doing what he needs to do.

So yeah, you can blame Crosby, Malkin, and Kessel for not scoring, but it is not always on them.  The depth guys need to start panning out.  But then again, having a head coach that has this offense ranked 25th in the NHL probably isn’t helping too much…

 

Where Is The Depth?