Believe

Just 2 nights ago, the Philadelphia Flyers marched into Pittsburgh with a 13-2-1 record at Consol Energy Center.  Heck, the Philadelphia Flyers Twitter account tweeted this photo below with the caption: “Home sweet (second) home #PHIvsPIT”

And unfortunately, it has been their second home.  The Penguins haven’t beat Philadelphia, regardless of venue, since October 17, 2013 going into this game.  Last time the Penguins won at Consol Energy Center against Philadelphia was March 24th, 2013 in a game that took OT to decide.  Tyler Kennedy had the game-winner in OT.

After the 1st period, the Penguins gave up 2 power play goals to Brayden Schenn and Jake Voracek, and were trailing 2-0 after the first.

Given the history of these 2 teams at Consol, I along with many other fans I would assume, thought this game was over and done.  I was wrong.

The Penguins battled back in the 2nd, and went into the 2nd intermission up 3-2, scoring 2 power play goals from Daley and Kessel, and adding 1 more from Crosby that was a ridiculous shot at a ridiculous angle.  Kessel netted another goal in the 3rd to make it 4-2.  Giroux did respond for the Flyers, but the Penguins held on and won 4-3.

This was not only a great come from behind win, but an absolute HUGE 2 points against a Flyers team that is chasing them in the standings.

This afternoon, the Penguins took on the Canucks despite the snowy conditions here in Pittsburgh.  Once again, the Penguins found themselves down 2-0 at the intermission on 2 goals by Canucks’ forward Jannik Hansen, who had a terrific game, and looked like one of the fastest forwards in the league.

Evgeni Malkin scored a 5 on 3 power play goal in the 2nd period to cut the lead in half, but the Penguins were still trailing 2-1 going into the 3rd.

A few minutes into the 3rd period, Canucks’ forward Bo Horvat fired a shot top corner on Fleury, using Letang as a screen, and gave the Canucks a 3-1 lead with only 14 minutes remaining in the game.  Once again, it did not look so good for the Penguins.

Then, just a minute later, Evgeni Malkin was at it again.  He carried the puck into the slot and was skating right to left.  He tried to get Miller off of his angle, but Miller never gave Malkin a good chance to shoot.  Malkin ended up carrying the puck behind the net, but was able to throw the puck to the front.  Luckily for Malkin, the puck went right off of a Canuck stick and into the net.  It was 3-2 now, and the Penguins had life.

Not much longer the Penguins tied the game 3-3.  Who scored?  Well, who else???

Malkin notched his 10th career hat trick on this goal, and single-handedly brought the Penguins back in this game.  What a great game for Geno.

With only 7 minutes to go, Bryan Rust notched his 2nd of the season, and his 1st since returning from injury, and what a big goal it was.  Kuhnhackl got his first NHL point on the assist.  Although Rust scores the goal, it never would have happened without Eric Fehr.  Fehr screened Miller and never allowed Miller to see the sneaky quick shot that Rust took.  It wasn’t a hard shot, but because Miller never saw it, he did not fall into the butterfly, and the puck went 5-hole and gave the Penguins the lead.

Crosby then scored on an empty net, which ended up being a huge empty net goal.  That being said, Hagelin could have easily scored on the empty net, as he was in a 2 on 1 with Sid going towards an open net, but he passed it and Sid buried it.  Classy play from Hagelin, who has yet to score as a Penguin.  Although, he has been getting his chances and has been playing very well.  I love how much he can create with his speed.

Jannik Hansen scored with 16 seconds remaining to cap a hat trick of his own, but it wasn’t enough to tie the game, and the Penguins held on and won 5-4.

I want to take you back in time for a second…

Can you all remember earlier in the year, when the Penguins could not come backto win games under Johnston?  It seemed, at least to me, that if the other team scored the first goal, the game was over.  The Penguins just could not come back in games.

Now, that is different.

The Penguins just overcame back-to-back 2 goal deficits in the first period.  Although I wish the Penguins wouldn’t continue to give up the first 2 goals in games, it is just visible that this team believes in itself and that they believe in their coach.

Their power play is clicking, their offense is clicking…

They are starting to play Penguins hockey.

So yeah, their record under Sullivan isn’t great yet, but I can tell you from watching the Penguins recently, they are playing with some desire.  They want to win.  They believe that they can win.  I believe they can win.  And you should too.

I feel a win streak coming on…

 

Believe

Don’t Count Them Out Yet

We’re now over halfway through the season, and the Penguins are still on the outside looking in.  It just seems as though they can’t string more than 2 or 3 wins together to make a legitimate playoff run.  That being said, don’t count them out yet.

Now this may almost sound too obvious.  You may be thinking, “well they’re only two points out of a playoff spot and they have a game in hand on some of the teams that are ahead of them.  Plus there are 37 games left.  Of course I can’t count them out.”

But think about it, this has been the story for the past 3 weeks or so.  The Penguins are winning enough games to keep them in the wild card race, but they are not winning stretches of games to really give them a boost in the standings.  Most of the teams fighting for the wild card will win 1 of 2, which is basically what the Penguins are doing.

Just a few nights ago, the Penguins played arguably their best 60 minute game of the season, dominating the Carolina Hurricanes 5-0.  It once again felt like a win that was going to get the Penguins trending upward.

They then go to St. Louis the night after to take on the Blues.  They did play well the first 2 periods, but the game was tied 2-2 due to a bad play by Zatkoff and due to Ben Lovejoy getting burned by Blues superstar Vladimir Tarasenko.  In the 3rd the Penguins seemed to have lost energy and dropped the game 5-2.

The Penguins have a chance, but if they’re going to start stringing together some wins, it needs to start now.

And no, I’m not saying they need to win 12 in a row like the Blackhawks, who are probably going to win the Stanley Cup…again…

But they need to at least start some winning stretches: Win 7/8 in 10, put together a 4 game win streak, win 2 back-to-back games, which have absolutely tortured the Penguins this year…If they can do that, then I give them a great chance.

But it can’t start in a few games, or next week, or next month…it has to start Thursday night against the Flyers, who the Penguins haven’t beaten in over 2 years.

Why?

The Penguins have 37 games remaining.  Of those 37 remaining, they play 20 (more than 50%) within their own division.  This includes a stretch in March where the Penguins play 11 of 13 games against division opponents.

They play the Flyers 4 times (have not played them yet this season), Rangers 4 times (have not played them yet this season), Capitals 3 times, Devils 3 times, Islanders 3 times, Hurricanes twice, and Blue Jackets once.

In the new playoff format, the top 3 teams in the division have a playoff spot locked, so placing high in the division is extremely important.  If the Penguins can find a way to start winning games, they will be beating the teams within their division, and will find themselves climbing the ladder quite quickly.

On the contrary, if they continue to play about .500 hockey or worse, especially against the division where the Penguins have performed poorly in the past few years, the Penguins could kick themselves right out of the playoffs and onto the golf course.

Just to give you can idea on where the Penguins stand, they are currently 5th in the division with 49 points.  No one is going to catch the Capitals, who lead the division by 18 points.  But believe it or not, the Penguins could have their eyes set on 2nd if they can buckle down throughout the home stretch.

The Rangers are in 2nd place and have 55 points, but the Penguins play them 4 times AND have a game in hand.

The Islanders are in 3rd with 54 points and the same amount of GP as the Pens, but the Penguins play them 3 more times.

The Devils have 51 points in 4th place, but the Penguins play them 3 more times and have 2 games in hand.

The Flyers are in 6th and have 48 points plus a game in hand on the Penguins, but the Penguins play them 4 more times which gives them a great chance to separate themselves from their cross-state rival.

The Hurricanes, in 7th, also have 48 points, but the Penguins have 2 games in hand.  The Penguins do play the Canes twice more, but I do not see Carolina being a playoff threat.  Not yet.  They’re still rebuilding.

So can the Penguins pull this off?

Yes, but here is what has to happen:

  • Sid needs to keep being Sid
    • Sid has been on fire as of late.  He is scoring goals, making sweet passes, and just looks more confident than he has at any point under Mike Johnston.  I think Sid is benefiting from Sullivan’s system, but Sid needs to keep his production trending up to give the Penguins a chance at legitimate playoff contention.
  • Kuni Kaze
    • Kunitz has also been playing very well as of late.  His legs seem to have gotten younger.  He is starting to score goals again, and looks much more like the Chris Kunitz of a few years ago.  Hopefully those legs can stay young, because the Penguins are going to need a guy like him to keep producing at a decent clip, especially playing with Sid.
  • Kessel…SHOOT!!
    • Kessel has great play-making ability, and I do not want to take that away from him, but the Penguins traded for him to be a goal scorer.  Period.  I still believe in Kessel, but he just needs to find some confidence and start shooting the puck relentlessly.  The guy has a wicked shot.
  • Give Pouliot a chance
    • Derrick Pouliot, high-end defensive prospect for the Penguins, was called up recently due to the unfortunate injury of David Warsofsky in the game against Carolina.  Pouliot played a bit last year, and more often than not, was not living up to expectations.  That being said, he has been fantastic in the AHL and deserves to play.  I would personally scratch Ian Cole, who has been way underperforming, and give Pouliot his shot.  He should help the defense get involved and possibly quarterback the 2nd powerplay unit.
  • Hagelin
    • For those of you that were not aware, the Penguins traded away David Perron and Adam Cledening to acquire the speedy Carl Hagelin from the Ducks.  I like the trade and I like what Hagelin can bring.  He fits much better in the Eastern Conference, as he is a small, fast forward who is a great back-checker and PK guy.  That being said, he can score goals.  He scored 17 with the Rangers not too long ago.  He is currently on a line with Evgeni Malkin, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he has a chance to play with Sid.  Hagelin looked good in his first 2 games despte not even being able to practice with the team, but I think he needs to step up and chip in 10 goals the rest of the way.

Well, here’s to hoping the Penguins start stringing together some wins tomorrow against the Flyers…

Don’t Count Them Out Yet

What To Think of Sullivan

SullyMike Sullivan has now been behind the Penguins bench for 10 games now.  The Penguins have a 4-5-1 record under Sullivan, however, they boast a 4-1-1 record in their previous 6 games after their 4 game losing skid when Sullivan was hired.

So, was the Sullivan hire the right move?

Oh my gosh, yes.

I wrote an article after the first game that the Penguins played under Sullivan.  It was a 4-1 loss to the Capitals.  Although they lost that game, and the next 3 after that, I wanted to make a point clear: I believed in Sullivan, and I still do.

If you are a Penguins fan, you need to believe in him, too.

So let’s look at some statistical analysis here:

First, the Penguins are starting to score again.  Although the Penguins are still only averaging 2.4 goals per game under Sullivan (they averaged 2.35 under Johnston this year), they have now scored 5 goals in three of Sullivan’s 10 games behind the bench.  The Penguins only had 1 game in which they scored 5 or more under Johnston this year.

Second, the stars are producing.  This is arguably the most important and most significant difference between Johnston and Sullivan.  Johnston was extremely structured in his coaching from what I have read through multiple sources.  He was very particular about guys playing a certain way and this, that, and the other.  Sullivan has similar beliefs, but he believes that the superstars are superstars because of their instinctive abilities.

He wants to back of them a little bit and let them do what they do best: score goals.

Although the Penguins have a plethora of great players, I want to look at their 4 elite skaters: Kessel, Letang, Malkin, and Crosby, and break them down one guy at a time.

Under Johnston this year…

  • Kessel played 28 games, racking up 17 points (9 G – 8A), which is good for approximately .608 points per game and .321 goals per game
  • Letang played 25 games, tallying 14 points (1G – 13A), which gave him .56 points per game and .04 goals per game
  • Malkin played 28 games, leading the Penguins with 26 points (13G – 13A), which gave him .929 points per game and .464 goals for per game
  • Crosby played 28 games and tallied only 19 points (6G – 13A) which gave him .679 points per game and .214 goals per game

Under Sullivan this year…

  • Kessel’s numbers have dropped slightly, but I believe this is because he played a ton of time on the third line, which gave him less ice time.  That being said, in 10 games under Sullivan, Kessel has 5 points (3G – 2A), which gives him a .5 points per game and .3 goals per game.  This will improve, however, as Kessel has been reunited with Malkin
  • Letang has only played 4 games under Sullivan, but thus far has 8 points (2G – 6A) which is good for 2 points per game and .5 goals per game.  By no means will Letang keep that kind of pace up, but he looks more confident on the ice and is beginning to shoot the puck more on the power play and in general
  • Even Malkin’s numbers have increased, despite his dominant performances early in the season.  In 10 games Malkin has 11 points (5G – 6A), which gives him 1.1 points per game and .5 goals per game
  • Crosby has by far seen the most improvement under Sullivan, and thank goodness, because the Penguins need him to play like what he is: the best player in the world.  In 9 games, Crosby has 10 points (5G – 5A), which gives him about 1.1 points per game and .55 goals per game

Stats speak for themselves. Although it may be a small sample size, the stars are really beginning to find their stride under Sullivan, and if they continue to do so, look out NHL.

Third, the power play is clicking.  They are shooting the puck, creating movement, screening the goalie…you name it.  The Penguins are finally beginning to have a power play that LOOKS like it should.  The Penguins power play was darn near last in the league, clicking at only 15.6% (15 of 96).

In only 10 games under Sullivan, the power play has been clicking at a 27.3% rate (9 of 33), which brought the Penguins all the way up to 19th in the league in that department.  AND that includes an 0 for 10 stretch in Sullivan’s first 3 games before he even had a practice with the team.  Take away that 0 for 10 stretch, and the Penguins are at a ridiculous 39.1% clip (9 of 23).

I know it’s hard sometimes, but believe in these Penguins.  Believe in Sullivan.

Just a few side notes:

The Penguins play a home-and-home against the Balckhawks on back-to-back nights (Tuesday and Wednesday).  This should tell us a lot about how this team stands as it is right now.

Also, just because I am a huge fan, Daniel Sprong now has 6 goals and 1 assist in 4 games since behind shipped back to juniors.  He may not play for the Pens this year, but he is going to be special.

 

 

What To Think of Sullivan