Pens Struck by Lightning, Edge Sabres

stamkos

The Penguins, despite going 1-1, did not have am awful weekend in my opinion.  They fell to the Lightning once again at home, 4-2.  They did not play a terrible game, but it definitely wasn’t their best either.

First of all, Jeff Zatkoff got the nod to start the game early in the morning.  Everything was indicating towards Fleury starting the 12:30 match-up, but Fleury woke up under the weather, and told the coaching staff he was unable to play.  Zatkoff obviously had no formal practice to warm-up due to the early game, and he woke up thinking he was the backup.  Some of Zatkoff’s goals he let up were soft, but they were also due to lucky bounces for Tampa Bay, or on the 4th goal, poor defense.

Zatkoff was extremely bothered by the 3rd goal he allowed, according to DKonPittsburghSports.com.  He was quoted after the game saying “That third one, I can’t let it go through me.  I sound like a broken record.  I’ve got to find a way to find it.”

I do feel for Zatkoff, and sometimes the bounces just do not go your way.  It didn’t for the Penguins in this game, and frankly, the calls didn’t go in their favor either.

Late in the game, the Penguins were down 4-2 with about 8 minutes left.  Kris Letang was cross-checked by Paquette, and then had his stick obviously slashed out of his hands, but the refs did not make either call.  As a result, Letang got tangled up with Paquette, and somehow ended up with Paquette’s stick.  Letang, unknowingly that playing with an opposing players stick was a penalty, played the puck with Paquette’s stick and got 2 minutes for that, and another 2 for arguing.  He said after the game something along the lines of “Well he took my stick, so I took his.”

Although Letang’s emotions did get  a little out of control, he absoolutely had the right to be mad.  Paquette could have been called on 2 penalties on the play, but instead, Letang ends up in the box for 4 minutes.

All of that being said, the Penguins had a chance to win this game.  The Penguins had yet another sloppy first period performance, which has been a big problem under Sullivan.  They have been able to come back in a few of these instances, but falling behind 2-0 is not something the Penguins want to make a habit.

Unfortunately, the Penguins would fall down 3-0 instead of being the next team to score in the 2nd, which often times, they have.  The Lightning then went on a power play up 3-0, and all hope seemed lost for the Penguins.  Then Tom Kuhnhackl gave them, and the building, some life.  Shorthanded, he chipped the puck past Victor Hedman in the offensive zone and caught him flat footed.  Kuhnhackl found himself on a breakaway, turned to the backhand, and popped it top shelf.  It was a very pretty goal to call his first in the NHL.  Congrats to him.

Then, there was a turning point.  A chance for the Penguins to comeback in a game they seemed out of for most of the game.  They found themselves on a 5 on 3 for over 1 minute right at the end of the 2nd period.  The Penguins could have made the game 3-2, and potentially 3-3, as they would have still had a 5 on 4 advantage if they scored on the 5 on 3.  Unfortunately, the power play could not come through, and really, it hasn’t been very good since Malkin was injured.

The Lightning would go up 4-1 in the 3rd, which was ultimately the dagger in the heart of the Penguins.  Wilson would add his 2nd goal in as many games to make it 4-2, but the Penguins were unable to comeback, despite outshooting the Lightning 39-20.  Again, the Penguins did not play a terrible game, they just dug themselves into too deep of a hole early, and did not get the bounces/calls that they needed.  That’s hockey.

The Penguins were now off to Buffalo, in what really felt like a must win game, considering where the Penguins are in the standings.  Every game is an important one, and the Penguins really needed 2 points after falling short to Tampa Bay.

After the plane landed, Mike Sullivan waited for all the players to exit.  Except for one.  Kris Letang.  According to DKonPittsburghSports.com, Sullivan had a long chat with Letang about controlling his emotions and anger.  Obviously, if you watch Kris Letang play, he does play with so much passion and energy every night.  However, sometimes that passion turns into dumb penalties and bad on-ice play in Letang’s case.  He took 3 penalties against the Lightning.  Sullivan made the point clear: Letang has to control himself.  He is at his best when he controls his emotions, but still plays with that passion that he has.  And oh boy, did Letang and the Penguins respond.

They topped the Sabres 4-3, although the 3rd Sabres goal was scored late in an empty net situation.  Letang would have 3 assists on the day, and was easily the Penguins’ best player.  Clearly, he took Sullivan’s thoughts to heart and performed exactly the way that Kris Letang can play.

Patric Hornqvist got the Penguins in front 1-0 on a beautiful deflection goal, but Bogosian, who had a terrific game for the Sabres, tied the game at 1.  The score would remain 1-1 going into intermission.  That said, the Penguins once again had a terrible 1st period.  The score was tied, but Buffalo was absolutely the better of the 2 teams by a long shot.  Fleury was fantastic all game, especially in the 1st.

Scott Wilson would net his 3rd of the season in as many games on an absolute beautiful setup from Kris Letang.  Although, the shot by Wilson was a pretty one, too.

Pens buff.jpg

Kessel then netted his 19th of the season, once again, on a beautiful setup from Letang.  He was at the point and faked a slap shot with traffic in front.  He kept his stick cocked, froze the goalie Lehner, and gave a slap pass to Phil Kessel who took his time and fired the puck into the wide open 4 by 6.  The Pens went into the 2nd intermission 3-1, and played like a completely different team than the one that played the first.

The Sabres had a power play early in the 3rd period with a chance to cut the deficit in half, but the Penguins would score what ended up being the game-winning goal.  Hagelin had the puck in the defensive zone and saw Matt Cullen hop up ice.  Hagelin lofted a pass that pass the defenders stick and left Cullen on a partial breakaway.  The puck did not go in right away, but it would evetually trickle past Lehner, who did all he could to try to keep the puck out.

The Sabres would cut the lead to 2 by scoring on the same power play that the Penguins had just scored shorthanded on a shot by Bogosian that was deflected in front by Bran Gionta.  Bogosian would add yet another with 22 seconds left, but the Penguins held on to win.

Some notes on both games…

  • Lovejoy left the game against the Lightning.  No word on the extent of his injury yet.  As a result, Ian Cole played against the Sabres with Pouliot and played a strong game.
  • The Penguins recalled Matt Murray for Sunday’s game against the Sabres in case Fleury was unable to play.  I figured that maybe Murray may have also been called up to backup Fleury until seasons end based on his performance earlier in the season, but he was just sent back down to Wilkes-Barre this morning.  So, it looks like the Penguins will be rolling with Zatkoff and Fleury the rest of the way.
  • Scott Wilson is hot.  He has 3 goals in his last 3 games.  Keep in mind he led the AHL in goal scoring when he was recalled, so clearly, the guy can score.  If he keeps his hot streak up, he will absolutely remain in the bottom 6, even when the veterans return.
  • Pouliot has looked good in his 2nd stint with the Penguins (his 1st being last year).  That being said, management/coaching need to lengthen his leash a little bit.  Last year, I felt that Pouliot was a little bit too aggressive and made some bad defensive plays as a result.  This year, I feel like he is not quite as aggressive as he should be, being that he has elite offensive talent as a defenseman.  The Penguins really want to mold him to be a Letang type, and if that is the case, I would love to see him a little more involved in the offense.
  • Trade deadline is less than a week away, so keep an eye out.  I’m sure GMJR will do something…
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Pens Struck by Lightning, Edge Sabres

Don’t Let The Record Fool You…

johnston v sullivan

At of this point in the Pittsburgh Penguins season, they have played 56 games.  Exactly 28 of those games were played under Mike Johnston, and exactly 28 of them have been played under Mike Sullivan.  This is the perfect chance to begin comparing the 2 coaches.

I have been clear from the start of Sullivan’s debut: he was, and still is, the better coach even though the Penguins started 0-4 with him behind the bench.

So, who is the better coach for the Penguins?  Well, I’ve done enough trying to convince you all with what I see and what I say, but sometimes that isn’t enough.  It takes more than that some times, and this time, I’m gonna go there.  Let’s start looking at the stats, because we all know that stats do not lie.  Let’s break it down:

  • Record
    • Johnston: 15-10-3 with 33 points
    • Sullivan: 14-9-5 with 33 points
      • I understand it is extremely easy to look at the record of 2 coaches to compare them, because the record is the stat that matters.  In this case, both coaches produced an identical amount of points (33) in 28 games, which would put them both on a pace of about 97 points in an 82 game season.  So basically the Penguins now are just a little more exciting, but they’re the same right?  WRONG!  The biggest stat that favors Sullivan in this case is man games lost.  The Penguins only suffered 54 man games lost under Johnston.  The only significant injury was to Eric Fehr, who everyone knew would not start the season with the Penguins due to an elbow injury.  Under Sullivan, they have had 109 man games lost, including injuries to Bonino, Fehr, and Malkin long-term.  In addition, in Sullivan’s last 14 games, the Penguins are 9-3-2, good for 20 points and on pace for 118 points in an 82 game season.  Johnston in his last 14 was 6-5-3, good for 15 points and only 88 in an 82 game season.  In Johnston’s argument, Sullivan got to work with Daley as opposed to Scuderi, which definitely helped the offense.  Also, although Rutherford also traded Perron and Clendening for Hagelin, he has not been doing much more than Perron, so I do not see this as a notable difference.
    • Advantage: Sullivan, by a hair
  • Power Play
    • Johnston: 15 of 96 (15.7%)
    • Sullivan: 20 of 85 (23.6%)
      • Sullivan’s Penguins not only have the PP clicking, but it has scored 5 more goals than Johnston’s Penguins in 11 fewer opportunities.  To give you an idea on how big that increase is, a 15.6% PP in the NHL right now would rank 28th of 30 teams.  On the other hand, the 23.6% PP would have the Penguins tied for 1st in the NHL with the Washington Capitals. 1st!!
    • Advantage: Sullivan
  • Penalty Kill
    • Johnston: 80 of 95 (84.3%)
    • Sullivan: 70 of 83 (84.4%)
      • Luckily for the Penguins, the PK has remained a constant.  It is currently 4th in the NHL, and it was right around there when Johnston was fired.  Despite Sullivan’s Penguins technically having a .1% better PK, this one is pretty even.  Johnston did not have Fehr, a great PK guy, for the first month of the season.  That being said, Sullivan has also had to deal with injuries to Fehr and Bonino, both solid PK guys.
    • Advantage: none
  • Goals for/Goals for per game
    • Johnston: 66 goals for/2.358 goals for per game
    • Sullivan: 80 goals/2.858 goals for per game
      • Clearly, the advantage goes to Sullivan here.  He has really opened things up as head coach of the Penguins.  The stars are producing the way they should, and the Penguins are beginning to score goals like everyone thought they would at the beginning of the season.  Sullivan has really helped the Penguins establish an identity, and by goodness it seems to be working.  In the NHL right now, Sullivan’s Penguins would rank 6th in goals for per game (despite some significant injuries), while Johnston’s would rank 28th, keeping in mind he had Crosby, Malkin, and Letang healthy for almost every game.
    • Advantage: Sullivan
  • Goals against/Goals against per game
    • Johnston: 65 goals against/2.322 goals against per game
    • Sullivan: 75 goals against/2.679 goals against per game
      • This is one stat that absolutely does lie in Johnston’s favor.  He had them playing a very defensive-style 200 foot hockey game, and this led to keeping teams in check.  Also, Fleury was playing out of his mind early in the season (more on that later).  Although I am not advocating for the fact that Sullivan’s Penguins are allowing 2.679 goals against per game,  which would rank them 18th in the NHL, they are playing how the Penguins should be playing.  This team is built to win 4-3 or 5-4 hockey games with their offense, not 2-1 hockey games with their defense.  Their defense is okay but it isn’t anything special.  Johnston wins this category for sure, but Sullivan’s style will naturally lead to this number being higher than Johnston’s.  But note that despite the increase in goals against per game, Sullivan’s Penguins are scoring .179 more goals than the opponent per game, while Johnston’s were only scoring .036 more goals than the opponent.  My point here is that whether the final score is 5-4 or 2-1, it still goes down as a win if the Penguins score more goals than the opponent, which has been the case more evidently under Sullivan than Johnston.
    • Advantage: Johnston
  • Record when trailing after 1
    • Johnston: 2-6-2
    • Sullivan: 4-7-1
      • In today’s NHL, this stat will never necessarily be a great one, but Sullivan’s Penguins have been better trailing after 1.  Johnston’s Penguins put up 6 points in 10 chances (.6 points/game), whereas Sullivan’s Penguins put up 9 points in 12 chances (.75 points/game).  This stat obviously hurt Johnston because the Penguins were not scoring goals during his time with the Penguins (for the most part).  So when they found themselves in a hole, it was harder to dig out of.  That being said, Sullivan has gotten the scoring going, and has led them to a better record in this regard.
    • Advantage: Sullivan
  • Record when trailing after 2
    • Johnston: 1-9-1
    • Sullivan: 3-7-3
      • Once again, this stat favors Sullivan.  His team has been much more resilient than Johnston’s Penguins, who had a very hard time coming back in games.  If I remember correctly, they were something along the lines of 0-19-2 in this category last year.  Again, although 3-7-3 (9 points in 13 games, good for .693 points per game) may not look great, considering the situation, this is actually quite an incredible accomplishment, especially in today’s NHL where scoring is generally down across the entire league.
    • Advantage: Sullivan
  • Record when trailing by 2 at any given point
    • Johnston: 0-7-1
    • Sullivan: 4-7-3
      • I want to clear up that I did NOT count games for either coach when the Penguins were down 1 goal and then an empty net was scored to make the deficit 2, because counting these type of games depletes the point in the statistic.  Anyways, once again, advantage Sullivan.  Johnston’s Penguins were often down and out if they as simply as allowed the first goal of a game.  If the Penguins allowed the first 2 of a game or trailed by 2 at some point, the game was over.  Sullivan’s Penguins are just different.  As I mentioned earlier, they have found resilience, and hold a 4-7-3 (11 points in 14 games, good for .786 points per game).  Johnston’s Pens did not record a win in this scenario.  I want to specifically site the 3-2 OT win against Florida about a week or 2 ago.  The Penguins were down 1-0 for almost the entire game, and then the Panthers scored a goal shorthanded mid-way into the 3rd period.  It seemed like it was the dagger into the heart of the Pens, and it WOULD have been under Johnston.  However, even with Geno out of the lineup, the Penguins stormed back in the final 5 minutes, tied the game, and won it into overtime.  letang ot winner.jpgMeanwhile, we were all happy if the Penguins could just get the next goal if they gave up the first one under Johnston, yet alone the first 2.
    • Advantage: Sullivan

Do I even need to keep going???  ….if you’re convinced, you don’t even have to read on.  But I’m not just going to try to pull a few stats that favor Sullivan and just include those, (when in reality, they almost all favor Sullivan), I just want to show you all that they do.  So if you aren’t sold on the guy yet, stay with me, we’re going to look at some individual player stats as well as some advanced hockey statistics such as Corsi, Fenwick, etc (I’ll explain them when we get there).  Anyways, let’s keep the ball rollin…

  • Patric Hornqvist
    • Johnston: 5G-5A-10P, +2 in 28 games
    • Sullivan: 6G-16A-22P, +2 in 28 games
      • Hornqvist’s numbers have more than doubled under Sullivan, and he was a +2 under both coaches (for those that do not know, +/- measures if you are on the ice for a goal (+1)/goal against (-1) with a few exceptions such as goals scored on a PP and goals allowed on the PK).  Under Johnston, he would have been projected for about 15-15-30 in an 82 game season.  Under Sullivan, he would be projected for about 18-47-65.  I do understand a ton of this is because the offense is scoring more goals, but the offense is scoring more goals because of Sullivan.  At least that’s what the stats are saying…
    • Advantage: Sullivan
  • Chris Kunitz
    • 4G-7A-11P, +4 in 28 games
    • 7G-8A-17P, +18 in 26 games
      • Kunitz’s numbers have not quite doubled, but they have certainly increased, especially his goal-scoring.  Notably, Kunitz’s +/- has been ridiculously good under Sullivan.  So good that he is currently 5th in the entire NHL in +/-, behind only Kuznetsov, Toffoli, Kane, and Kopitar.  Great to see Kunitz looking slightly more like the Kunitz of a few years ago.
    • Advantage: Sullivan
  • Kris Letang
    • 1G-13A-14P, -12 in 25 games
    • 8G-19A-27P, +4 in 21 games
      • At the beginning of the season, I was wondering what had happened to Kris Letang.  I thought for sure he would be a top 5 candidate to win the Norris Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable defenseman, and meanwhile, early on it seemed like he was lucky to play in a top 6 role.  Letang put up a horrendous -12 and scored only 1 goal in 25 games.  Although defenseman do not score all that often, a guy of Letang’s caliber should have more than a goal through 25 games.  This showed under Sullivan, where he is averaging more than a point per game and has 8 goals in 4 fewer games while posting a +4.  He has been looking much more like the Norris candidate Letang that I expected to see at the beginning of the year.
    • Advantage: Sullivan
  • Sidney Crosby
    • 6G-13A-19P, -6 in 28 games
    • 19G-17A-36P, +9 in 27 games
      • It’s no coincidence that Sidney Crosby has become vintage Sid again, producing at a ridiculous 1.334 points/game clip, which is surprisingly just above his career average of 1.331 points/game.  He is benefiting from Sullivan’s system.  Sullivan’s focus is to let the stats do what they do best and score/possess the puck, which opens up the game for the Penguins.  When things open up, Sid is the best in the business and he has shown that with recent play.  Johnston had Sid playing a 200 foot game and had him focusing entirely too much on defense.  His defensive metrics spiked last year because of this.  I believe that although Sid’s production was way down under Johnston, the process he went through made him more aware/responsible in his own end and made him a better player.  That being said, under Sullivan, he has found his offensive touch again, but is still showing signs of good defense with his +9 as opposed to his -6 under Johnston.
    • Advantage: Sullivan
  • Marc-Andre Fleury/Backups
    • Johnston: 2.25 goals against average/.929 save percentage
    • Sullivan: 2.5 goals against average/.916 save percentage
      • Clearly Fleury and his backups had the better statistics under Johnston, and I think this is partially due to 2 things: 1) I believe Fleury was in another universe early in the season.  He saw the puck like a beach ball, and I think we all knew he couldn’t keep his stats up as high as he had them.  2) The Penguins were a more defensively structured team under Johnston, and so they had a tendency to favor defense rather than offense, which allowed for the defense to help Fleury out and reduce some high quality chances against.  Under Sullivan, Fleury in particular has a 2.5 GAA and a .914 save percentage.  However, his career averages are a 2.57 GAA and a .912 save percentage.  So really, Fleury has been playing like his “normal self” under Sullivan.  This also shows you how well he was playing in the beginning of the season when  he boasted a 2.2 GAA and a .927 save percentage.  That being said, the goalies stats were better under Johnston.
    • Advantage: Johnston
  • Corsi for %, Fenwick %, shooting %, % of offensive zone faceoffs vs. defensive zone faceoffs, high danger scoring chances for %, high danger scoring differential, NHL rank for each during coaching tenure
    • Johnston: 48.3/22nd, 48.2/25th, 7.7/26th, 49.1/20th, 49.7/15th, -3/15th
    • Sullivan: 54.0/2nd, 53.9/2nd, 8.3/20th, 52.3/9th, 55.1/4th, 70/3rd
      • Corsi: Corsi can be calculated by adding up a teams shots on goal, missed shots, and shots blocked by the opposing team.  Corsi for % is simply just Corsi for divided by the total Corsi registered by both teams in a given game, or in this case, 28 games.  Johnston’s Penguins had a Corsi for % of 48.3, which ranked 22nd in the NHL during his tenure as head coach.   This also means that the Penguins allowed the other team to attempt more shots than them, which normally goes hand in hand with possession, which is why Corsi is such a popular statistic in hockey.  In other words, Johnston’s teams were getting out-possessed in a general sense.  Sullivan’s Penguins, on the other hand, have a Corsi for % of 54.0, which ranks 2nd in the NHL since he took over as head coach.  Pretty impressive turn around, huh?
    • Advantage: Sullivan
      • Fenwick: Fenwick is an extremely similar stat to Corsi.  The only difference is that Fenwick does not include shots that get blocked by the opposing team.  Johnston’s Penguins had a Fenwick % of 48.2, which was only 25th in the NHL.  Sullivan’s Penguins rank 2nd in the NHL during his tenure with a Fenwick % of 53.9.  From 25th to 2nd?!  Yeah, that happened.
    • Advantage: Sullivan
      • Shooting %: Although the Penguins have not been a very good shooting % team all year, they have been better under Sullivan.  The Penguins had a lowly shooting % of 7.7 under Johnston, which ranked 26th.  The Penguins are still only shooting at 8.3% under Sullivan, but the number is still improved.  One big reason I think Johnston’s number was so low is that he preached shot volume, and getting shots early.  When I got to talk to Mark Madden, he brought up the fact that often times players would just through low quality shots on goal just to get the shot volume that Johnston desired, and it was definitely something that I sensed.  That being said, I do not sense that as much from the Penguins under Sullivan, and it has showed by increasing slightly.  Heck, the Penguins are actually averaging MORE shots on goal per game under Sullivan (34.6) than Johnston (30.6).
    • Advantage: Sullivan
      • % of offensive zone faceoffs vs. defensive zone faceoffs: I decided to look at this stat because where a team is taking faceoffs is important.  Obviously, you want to be taking draws in the offensive zone to get chances on net, rather than defend them.  This also is a good indicator of offensive production, because if a goalie freezes the puck/deflects it out of play for example, the team will get an offensive zone faceoff as a result of their shooting the puck on net.  That being said, Johnston’s Penguins were at 49.1%, while Sullivan’s Penguins are at 52.3%, ranking them 20th and 9th respectively.  Johnston’s 49.1% also means that the Penguins were taking more defensive than offensive draws, which is not a good thing…
    • Advantage: Sullivan
      • High danger scoring chances for %: This stat kind of backs my argument that Johnston’s Penguins would just kind of “shoot” sometimes.  If his team was getting high danger scoring chances, it should show in this stat.  That being said, the team ranked 15th with 49.1%, meaning that the Penguins’ opponents had more high danger scoring chances.  Sullivan’s Penguins are 4th in the NHL in this category with a for percentage of 55.1.
    • Advantage: Sullivan
      • High Danger scoring chances differential: This stat is similar to the previous one, but this one takes HDC for – HDC against.  Johnston’s Penguins had a differential of -3, which ranked 15th.  Sullivan’s Penguins rank 3rd with a +70 differential.  If a team went from -3 to +6, that is improvement, but to go from -3 to 70?!  That is no coincidence…
    • Advantage: Sullivan
  • Corsi for %, Fenwick %, shooting %, % of offensive zone faceoffs vs. defensive zone faceoffs, high danger scoring chances for %, high danger scoring differential, NHL rank when down by 1 goal for each during coaching tenure
    • Johnston: 50.2/26th, 50.1/23rd, 8.2/19th, 51.1/22nd, 52.9/14th, 8/12th
    • Sullivan: 56.3/10th, 53.7/16th, 5.9/26th, 55.3/16th, 59.8/4th, 35/3rd
      • Corsi: Johnston’s Penguins did manage to break the 50% barrier in this category with a 50.2% Corsi for when they were down by 1 goal.  That being said, it ranked 26th in the NHL.  Sullivan’s Penguins rank 10th in the NHL with a 56.3% Corsi for when down by 1 goal.  This is positive to see, as it shows that the Penguins are getting more shots to the net than their opponents when they are losing in a game, giving them a better chance at a comeback.
    • Advantage: Sullivan…what else is new?
      • Fenwick: Once again, Johnston’s Penguins remained about the 50% clip with a Fenwick % of 50.1, but it only ranked 26th in the NHL.  Sullivan’s Penguins did not improve dramatically, but they moved up to 16th in the NHL with a Fenwick % of 53.7.  Definitely not the biggest change, but a change that favors Sullivan nonetheless.
    • Advantage: Sullivan
      • Shooting %: This is one of those random stats that happens to favor Johnston.  The Penguins had a shooting percentage of 8.2 under Johnston when down 1, but even that only ranked 19th.  Sullivan’s Penguins rank 26th in the NHL with a terrible shooting percentage of 5.9.  Both coaches did not really produce a number to brag about, but Johnston has the edge.
    • Advantage: Johnston
      • % of offensive zone faceoffs vs. defensive zone faceoffs:  Once again, Johnston’s Penguins were able to keep this number above 50% at 51.1%,  but it only ranked 22nd in the NHL.  Sullivan’s Penguins increased that number somewhat significantly to 55.3%, but it only ranks 16th in his tenure.  Although the rank did not increase by much, Sullivan’s Penguins absolutely improved here.
    • Advantage: Sullivan
      • High danger scoring chances for %: Credit to Johnston, the Penguins remained about 50% in this category as well, coming in at a 52.9%, good for 14th in the NHL which is absolutely respectable.  That being said, Sullivan’s Penguins have boasted a high danger scoring chances for % of 59.8, which ranks 4th.  Sorry, Johnston, you were outdone again.
    • Advantage: Sullivan
      • High Danger scoring chances differential: Johnston kept the Penguins in the positive end of the differential with a +8, meaning that they were generating more high danger scoring chances than their opponent when down by 1.  They ranked 12th which, again, is pretty respectable.  But…sorry Johnston, Sullivan outdid you again.  His Penguins have a differential of +35 when down 1, which ranks them 3rd in the NHL.  Credit to johnston, but Sullivan still improved the Penguins in this category.
    • Advantage: Sullivan
  • Corsi for %, Fenwick %, shooting %, % of offensive zone faceoffs vs. defensive zone faceoffs, high danger scoring chances for %, high danger scoring differential, NHL rank when down by 2 goals for each during coaching tenure
    • Johnston: 54.8/25th, 43.7/24th, 3.9/29th, 54.4/25th, 42.9/28th, -8/28th
    • Sullivan: 61.8/8th, 61.8/5th, 11.9/2nd, 67.2/3rd, 59.2/14th, 9/13th
      • Corsi: Johnston’s Penguins once again put up a Corsi for % of 54.8, which seems pretty respectable.  That being said, it was ranked 25th when down by 2, as the tendency is for teams to kick it up a notch offensively when down by 2.  Sullivan’s Penguins are much better at a 61.8 Corsi for %, which ranks 8th in the NHL, and it shows from all of the comebacks Sullivan’s Penguins have had while down 2 goals.
    • Advantage: Sullivan
      • Fenwick: In this case, Fenwick tells us a lot about the 2 different teams.  Remember, Femwick is the same thing as Corsi, but without shots that were blocked.  Johnston’s Penguins plummeted down to a 43.7% which ranked 24th in the NHL.  Sullivan’s Penguins, on the other hand, boast a 61.8% Fenwick, which is 5th in the NHL over his coaching tenure.  This tells us that the Penguins under Johnston panicked when down by 2, and simply flung pucks on goal from everywhere that often got blocked.  It’s the only explanation for having a Corsi for % of 54.8 and a Fenwick % of 43.7.  Sullivan’s Penguins, on the other hand, remained constant, meaning that they are getting shots through when down by 2.
    • Advantage: Sullivan
      • Shooting %: This stat is so simple, and yet so telling about the resiliency of both of these Penguins’ teams.  Johnston’s Penguins had a pitiful 3.9 shooting percentage when down by 2, which ranked 29th of 30 NHL teams.  Sullivan’s Penguins on the other hand boast an incredible 11.9 shooting percentage, good for 2nd in the NHL.  Wow.  Just wow.  I just find that extremely fascinating, I really do.
    • Advantage: Sullivan
      • % of offensive zone faceoffs vs. defensive zone faceoffs: Johnston’s Penguins once again held what seems like a decent percentage of offensive to defensive zone faceoffs at 54.4%, but it ranked only 25th in the NHL.  Meanwhile, Sullivan’s Penguins are in the offensive zone 2 times out of 3 when down 2, with a 67.2% rate of offensive to defensive zone draws, which ranks 2nd in the NHL.
    • Advantage: Sullivan
      • High danger scoring chances for %: Johnston’s Penguins had low high danger scoring chances for % of 42.9, which is especially low when a team is down by 2.  This means that when down 2, the other team was getting significantly more high danger scoring chances!  This is a sign of a team shutting down and giving up.  Sullivan’s Penguins on the other hand have a high danger scoring for % of 59.2.  Even this number only ranks 14th, but it is a dramatic improvement, and it statistically shows that the Penguins do not fold over and die under Sullivan
    • Advantage: Sullivan
      • High Danger scoring chances differential: Johnston’s Penguins low high danger scoring chances for % led to his team’s differential to be a -8, which ranked 28th in the NHL.  Sullivan’s Penguins kept the differential positive, posting a +9 which ranks them 13th.  Again, a sign of a resilient team.
    • Advantage: Sullivan

For those of you that actually made it all the way through, I really hope that you have come to the realization that Sullivan is not just some coach that is the same as Johnston, or that he is just some fill-in kind of guy…he is the guy for this organization going forward.  That being said, I do not want to make it seem like Sullivan is the Christ.  He has been behind the bench for 28 games and hasn’t produced the greatest record, and I acknowledge that.  All that I wanted to get at is that he really is the guy, and you should feel not good, but great, about him moving forward.

Same record means same coach, right?  WRONG!!!

Just as a side note, all of the stats used in this article were either calculated by hand myself or retrieved from war-on-ice.com.

 

Don’t Let The Record Fool You…

“Wilkes Guys” Come Through

Wilson goal

Last night, the Penguins defeated the Red Wings at Consol Energy Center by a final score of 6-3.  It was a great game for the Penguins’ offense, and more importantly, their young guns came through.

Scott Wilson scored his first NHL goal, celebrating by immediately skating to Conor Sheary, who set him up with a beautiful pass in the slot, which Wilson fired 5-hole on Mrazek, giving the Penguins, at the time, a 4-2 lead.

Ben Lovejoy after the game was asked about how he felt the Wilkes-Barre guys were contributing to the Penguins’ success.  His response was easily the quote of the night for me: “They’re not Wilkes guys.  They’re Penguins now.  They’re Pittsburgh Penguins.”

Kind of reminds me of the Mighty Ducks movies…and in that regard, these guys are finally “Ducks,” and absolutely deserve to be wearing that sweater.  That being said, the Penguins have some bottom 6 guys injured, such as Fehr, Bonino, and Bennett that will be pretty much guaranteed a spot back in the lineup when they return.  So unfortunately, some of these guys will be demoted, but that does not take away from their impact on this team.

They bring energy, passion, speed…exactly what the Penguins need.  We’ll have to see how Rutherford handles that situation when the time comes.

Anyways, back to last night’s game.  The Penguins announced their lines before the game on their official twitter account, and nothing seemed different than the previous couple of games in regards to lines.  Then, Crosby’s line started the game, but he had a new right winger, whose name is Phil Kessel.  Sullivan, minutes before the game, broke news to Kessel that he was going to swap him with Hornqvist in the line combos, giving Phil his first legitimate chance with Sid on a line since October 22nd.

The good news: it worked.  For both guys may I add.

Ben Lovejoy, surprisingly enough, got the Penguins on the board early.  The Hornqvist-Cullen-Hagelin line was out on the ice, and Cullen carried the puck into the zone.  He took a shot, but it was blocked by a Detroit skater.  The puck bounced over towards the boards to the right of Mrazek, and Hornqvist beat 3 Detroit Red Wings to the puck, eluded 1 guy, and ripped a pass over to Lovejoy at the right point.  Lovejoy corralled the puck and put a quick wrist shot on goal that deflected off of the stick of Helm and went 5-hole on Mrazek.

Detroit would answer and tie the game at 1.  Athanasiou came flying into the zone right down the slot, and then dished the puck off to the right to Nyquist.  Athanasiou’s speed drew the Penguins toward him in the slot, and then Nyquist made a brilliant pass to Jurco who was flying down the slot wide open, and fired one past Fleury.

Later in the period, the Penguins were in the offensive zone battling behind the net for the puck.  Hornqvist would win the battle and get the puck up to Trevor Daley, who some have criticized in recent games for not shooting as much as he should.  Well, this time he did.  Hornqvist deflected the shot which was stoped by Mrazek, but Cullen buried the rebound to give the Penguins a 2-1 lead that they carried into the intermission.

Early in the 2nd, the Red Wings once again tied the game at 2.  Quincy carried the puck into the zone and dropped it off to Glendening at the blue line.  He fired a shot on net that was blocked, but the first man on the puck was Red Wings young superstar rookie Dylan Larkin who made a quick backhand move on Fleury to score.

Just 24 seconds later, Phil Kessel gave the Penguins the lead right back.  Crosby was being hounded by 4 Detroit defenders, including one of the best defensive forwards in that of Datsyuk, but Crosby was able to shed them all off and give a pass to Kessel who was flying into the zone on the right side.  He ripped his shot far side on Mrazek to give the Penguins a 3-2 lead…he wasn’t done.

Then it was Scott Wilson scoring his first NHL goal to give the Penguins a 4-2 lead.  Although Wilson scored the goal, I give about 90% of the credit of that goal to Conor Sheary.  I mean this, he looked Crosby-esque on this shift.  He turned a 2 on 3 into a 2 on 1, then battled for the puck behind the net against 3 Red Wings, then somehow got control, and whipped a pass out to Wilson.  Easily the best shift I’ve seen Sheary play.  The Penguins would take that 4-2 lead into the 2nd intermission.

6:26 into the 3rd, Kessel would strike once again.  Kunitz passed the puck to Maatta at the point who put a quick shot in on Mrazek.  Kunitz deflected the shot, and Kessel pounced on the rebound.  The puck was on edge, and Kessel did not get all of his first shot, but he continued fighting and found his own rebound and buried it, giving the Penguins a 5-2 lead.  Mrazek was pulled as a result of the goal.

Zetterberg closed the gap a little bit late in the third.  He received a pass cross ice from Abdelkader and made a backhand deke right in front of Fleury and roofed it.  It was a pretty goal I admit, but the good news is that it only made the game 5-3.

Crosby would add an empty net goal to cap off the victory, and the Penguins would win 6-3, scoring 6 goals without superstar center Evgeni Malkin.  Now try and tell me that’s not impressive?!

  • Hornqvist had 2 assists and Kessel had 2 goals as a result of the new line change.  Until Geno comes back, expect Kessel to be with Sid and Hornqvist to be with Cullen.  Even when Geno comes back, there is a good chance Kessel stays with Sid if Kessel gets going in these next few games.
  • The Penguins are now 8-3-1 in their last 12 games under Mike Sullivan.  7 of those games are without Malkin, and almost all of them are without Fehr, Bonino, and Bennett.  Column on Sully late tonight/early tomorrow.
  • This marks the 3rd time in 8 games that the Penguins have scored 6 goals, which is a season high.
  • Fleury may have allowed 3 goals but I actually felt that he played excellent.  He made a couple of huge saves, and the goals he did allow were simply beautiful plays by Detroit that Fleury could not do much about.
  • The Penguins play back-to-back afternoon games at 12:30 against the Lightning at home on Saturday and then against Buffalo on the road on Sunday.  I would expect Fleury to start on Saturday against TBL and Zatkoff on Sunday, given that Zatkoff was in net against Buffalo earlier this season when he stopped 50 of 53 shots.

 

“Wilkes Guys” Come Through

Just 1 Point This Time…

crosby panthersJust over a week ago, the Penguins played the Florida Panthers in Florida, just like they did tonight.  The Panthers scored a goal towards the middle of the 3rd period, and a shorthanded one at that, to put them ahead 2-0.  All hope seemed lost.

Then, with 5 minutes left, the Penguins began their comeback magic.  They scored 2 goals, tying up the game, and then winning it in overtime on a goal by Kris Letang, his second of the game.

This game tonight played out in a similar fashion.

Florida jumped out relatively early in the first period on what I believed to be somewhat of a lucky goal.  Alex Petrovic fed the puck through the slot, and I swear it went by almost every Penguins player, and at first, I was mad they weren’t playing good defense.

However, it ends up that the puck deflected off of a Penguins stick, which then caused the puck to hop over Kessel’s, but the puck still landed perfectly on Bjugstad’s stick and he made it 1-0.

Florida, in general, dominated the first period.  Fleury kept them in it, but the Penguins needed to pick things up.

The second period was better for the Penguins, but they still couldn’t find the back of the net.  Sid had some chances to shoot, but passed up on some opportunities.  In the words of Mark Madden, who I got to watch the game with today down at Buford’s Kitchen in downtown Pittsburgh “Crosby is at his best when he’s shooting the puck.  He needs to shoot there.”

Couldn’t agree more, Mark.

Anyways, the Penguins entered the 3rd down 1-0.  Hagelin had a breakaway shorthanded early in the period, but he tried to go five-hole on Montoya and was denied.  When the game was in the late stages of the 3rd period, all hope seemed lost.  But then…

The Penguins found a spark that gave them a chance in Florida once again.  This time, it came off of the stick of Chris Kunitz.  Crosby tied his man up on the faceoff to Montoya’s left, and Kunitz came in and dug the puck out.  He skated to the slot and absolutely rifled a shot off of the crossbar and in past Montoya to tie the game with 3:19 remaining.

The game would go to overtime, where I believe the Penguins outplayed the Panthers but were unable to score.  Bryan Rust had 2 glorious chances that would not go, Letang had a great chance…but the greatest chance of all came off of the stick of Phil Kessel.

Crosby skated the puck into the zone and the entire Florida team flocked to him, only for him to find Kessel streaking down the middle of the ice.  The guy has a dangerous shot, and he was as wide open as wide open can get  in the 3 on 3 overtime, but Montoya denied him.

Also, honorable mention to Crosby who somehow disrupted a Florida 3 on 1 chance.  It was a tremendous defensive play and at the moment, gave the Penguins a chance to get an extra point.

Then…onto the shootout.

Huberdeau was first for the Panthers.  The left-hander skated from right to left and tried to fool Fleury with a wrist shot and wait Fleury out.  Well, he did fool Flower, but the post gave Fleury some love.

Crosby then shot for the Penguins and scored on Montoya.  Crosby loves to go high glove or 5-hole (between the goalies legs).  Tonight, he went 5-hole and put the Penguins up 1-0 in the shootout.

Next shooter for the Panthers was USC guy Vincent Trocheck.  Trocheck tried to open up the 5-hole of Fleury, but Fleury made sure that he closed the door.  The Penguins now had a chance to win it.

Onto the ice came Chris Kunitz.  He made a great move, as the left-hander skated right ro left, faked the shot, and went backhand.  Unfortunately for Kunitz, Montoya made a fantastic glove save.

However, the Penguins had yet ANOTHER chance to win, and Fleury just needed to stop Bjugstad, but could not.  Fleury went with the poke-check, but Bjugstad’s long reach allowed him to go to the backhand and avoid Fleury’s poke-check to keep the shootout going.

Despite Fleury not being able to make the save, the Penguins once again had to chance to win the shootout on the stick of Letang, who had just won them a shootout on Friday night.  Letang tried to make a similar backhand move, but Montoya was ready for it and didn’t buy what Letang was selling.

Reilly Smith then shot for the Panthers, but he was quickly poke-checked by Fleury, as he came to a dead stop right in front of the net.

Kessel then had a chance to end it for the Penguins.  He came in flying and just took a straight up wrist shot.  My goodness was it a rifle, but it pinged right off of the crossbar and back out.  Montoya had no chance of stopping the shot, it was just a fraction of an inch too high.

Florida then had its chance to go on top, and who else but former Penguin Jussi Jokinen.  He did the same move as Huberdaeu essentially, but he did not hit a post.  He found the back of the net.

Cullen then came in with a chance to tie the shootout.  He deked a few times, tried to go 5-hole, but was denied by Montoya.  Not the same result for the Penguins as last time they were in that building…

Impressions

I know he has not been producing, but I am really high on Bryan Rust right now.  The guy has some serious speed and has been creating chances for himself.  I think he will benefit once some of the veterans come back, and I do not think he will leave the lineup.

Flower had a strong performance.  The team has struggled to score goals in its past 3 games, but it should be noted they have gotten 0 production from their bottom 6 AHL guys and they are without Geno.  Hopefully he is ready to go on Thursday against Detroit.  I have heard he is progressing, so we will see what his status is come Thursday.

The Penguins shot low on Montoya a lot.  I do not know if he is not as good when the puck is shot low or if that’s just where the puck was going tonight.  Ironically, the only goal in the game came on a shot from Kunitz where he DID go high on Montoya.  Just felt that was an observation I should share…

Well hey, you win some you lose some, but the fact that the Penguins could get a point out of this game where they were down for the majority of it is still a huge confidence booster, even though they had the potential to get 2.

Don’t be concerned about this game or even the Penguins 3 game funk with goal scoring.  When 39-year-old journeyman Matt Cullen is centering your 2nd line of Hagelin and Kessel, your team is not going to score many goals.  That is not, however, a knock on Cullen.  He is a good hockey player, but he is a fourth line center and PK guy.  He shouldn’t be centering 2 speedy snipers.

Malkin will be back soon, the bottom 6 will no longer be all AHL guys soon enough (although I do like Sheary and Rust), and the team will improve.  There is no doubt about that.  The fact that the Penguins got a point out of tonight…I’m happy with that.

I can confidently say this: the Penguins would have NEVER got that point under Johnston.  This team has much more resolve/comeback ability under Sullivan and will only get better as the injured guys get healthy again.  Looking forward to see what’s to come…

I really do want to try my best to keep up with the recap articles, so I will do my best to post one after the Thursday game against Detroit.  Let’s hope they get Geno back for that one.

Until next time…Let’s Go Pens.

Just 1 Point This Time…

All-Star Break Q and A

Well, we’re a little bit over half-way through the NHL regular season.  The Penguins are currently clinging to the 2nd wild card spot in the East, but with plenty of other teams nipping at their heels.

I received some great questions about the Penguins up to this point in the season, and even some questions about the season’s future.  Let’s dive right in…

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Dakota Eckenrode: I saw a picture of Malkin and Neal at the all-star game and I really miss that guy.  Him and Malkin had such good chemistry.  Has Hornqvist been anywhere close to Neal production-wise on the Penguins?  I don’t mind him, but Neal was a pure goal scorer, and I would love to have him back.

Brad Franjione: To everyone that is not Dakota, we were talking about this just the other day.  He told me how much he missed James Neal on the Penguins and how effective his chemistry was with Evgeni Malkin.  And, well, you aren’t wrong there Dakota.

To play devil’s advocate, I brought up some stats of Hornqvist since being dealt to the Penguins vs. Neal since being dealt to the Predators (these were stats that were in an article about a week ago, but it only excludes 1 or 2 games for each player which doesn’t make a dramatic difference).  Anyways, here are the stats:

As of about a week ago, Patric Hornqvist has played 111 games with the Penguins.  He has 35 goals, 41 assists, which is good for 76 points.  24 of his 76 points have come on the power play.  He has 372 shots on goal, 58 penalty minutes, and 59 games in which he did not record a point.

Neal has played 115 games with the Predators, scoring 40 goals, 26 assists, which is good for 66 points, 13 of which are power play points.  Neal has 375 shots on goal, with 114 penalty minutes, and 67 games in which he did not record a point.

Looking at these stats sure looks like that trade was worth it.

However, Dakota brought up a good point to me in our debate of Neal/Hornqvist.  Hornqvist is playing with Crosby and Malkin, while Neal is playing with no one of the sort in Nashville.  The Predators have a solid team, don’t get me wrong, but Neal isn’t playing on Geno’s wing any more.

So Dakota challenged me to compare Hornqvists stats with the Pens vs. Neal’s stats with the Pens.  Keep in mind that I would absolutely expect Neal’s numbers to be better in every category, since Neal was more of a pure goal scorer than Hornqvist is.  The big question is how large is that gap?  Well, let’s find out.

Currently, Patric Hornqvist has played 112 games with the Penguins.  He is averaging about .31 goals/game, .38 assists/game, and .69 points/game.  This would lead to Patric Hornqvist scoring about 26 goals, 31 assists, and 57 points if he were to play at that pace for a full 82 game season.  In addition, Hornqvist averages about .51 penalty minutes/game.  In other words, he takes about 1 minor penalty every 4 games (since a minor penalty is 2 minutes).

During the playoffs, Hornqvist has played only 5 games (small sample size, I know) with the Pens, while averaging .4 goals/game, .2 assists/game, .6 points/game, and only .4 penalty minutes/game (he had only 1 minor penalty in 5 games played).  He was a +1 in a series where the Penguins lost 4-1 to the Rangers, which is actually quite impressive.

Neal, with the Penguins, played 199 games.  He averaged .45 goals/game, .48 assists/game, and .92 points/game.  If Neal played at this pace for a full 82 game season, he would be on track for 37 goals, 39 assists, and 76 points.  Also, Neal averaged .87 penalty minutes/game.  This is much closer to 1 minor penalty/ 2 games.

During Neal’s Pittsburgh time, he played in 38 playoff games.  He had .29 goals/game, .29 assists/game, .58 points/game, and a whopping 1.32 penalty minutes/game.  He was also a -5 during his playoff stint.

So, interpret the stats how you would like to interpret them.  The one thing I want to bring up is penalty minutes.  Neal is a guy that takes a lot of bad penalties and that killed the Penguins in the playoffs, and it shows with his 1.32 penalty mins/game.

The Penguins never had trouble making the playoffs.  They had trouble succeeding in the playoffs.  If you want my opinion, I would rather Hornqvist then Neal in a playoff situation, but that is just me.  On the other hand, I really do miss that Malkin/Neal combo.

Despite everything, I will say this: the Penguins need a player like Hornqvist.  They need the net front presence and passion of a guy like him on the team.  I can say that with certainty.

Plus Dakota, Nick Spaling was part of the Neal trade, and the Penguins got a 2nd round pick out of him in the Kessel trade.  Need a remind you who the 2nd round pick of the Penguins was this year?

___________________________________________________

Tyler Knupp: Can we finally be confident in these Penguins?

Brad Franjione: This is such a simple question, and yet, it is such a difficult question to answer.  That being said, my answer is yes.

I must say, it is really difficult for me to say yes, because in recent history, it seems as though every time that the Penguins have a decent run going, it gets killed by a bad game or 2, and the confidence in them tanks again.

But…

  • The Penguins are on a 3 game win streak coming out of the all-star break, with 2 of those wins being ones in which they came back from 2-0 deficits after the first period.  This is the first 3+ game win streak under Sullivan, and the first for the Pens since they had a 6 game win streak under Johnston stretching from late October to early November.
  • Crosby is on a tear right now.  He looks like the best player in the world, which is exactly what he is, and he is not slowing down any time soon.
  • Hagelin is looking great in a Penguins uniform.  He doesn’t have a goal yet, but he has 4 assists in 5 games for the Pens playing with Malkin and Kessel.
  • Fleury is back and healthy, and oh boy did he look good against NJ.
  • Pouliot is up and has been playing over Ian Cole in recent games, which I think benefits their defense for the time being, as Cole has been playing far below what everyone was expecting from him.
  • After that ugly 0-4 start under Mike Sullivan, the Penguins are 9-3-4, giving them 22 points in 16 games.  If the Penguins were to produce at this points/game rate (1.375) across 82 games, they would finish the season with about 112 points, which would easily get them into the playoffs.

So I’m going to be bold here, but I think we can finally start feeling confident about these Penguins.

__________________________________________________

Grant Franjione: Barring major injuries, what is your prediction for how the rest of the season and playoffs turn out for these Penguins?

Brad Franjione: Well, first let’s get a feel for where the Penguins stand at the moment.

They are currently 4th in their division with 55 points and hold the final wild card position.  Boston holds the top wild card spot with 59 points, but the Penguins have a game in hand.

In regards to the Metropolitan Division, the Islanders are 1 point up on the Penguins, although they do have a game in hand.  The Rangers are 4 points up, but the Penguins have a game in hand on them.  And then there’s the Capitals, who nobody is going to catch, so let’s ignore them for the moment.

In the new NHL playoff format implemented a few years ago, the top 3 teams in each division have an automatic playoff berth.  Then the top 2 remaining teams in points, regardless of division, get the 2 wild card spots.

I’m going with another bold prediction here: I think the Penguins will finish 2nd in the Metropolitan Division.  They are not far behind the Rangers and Islanders, and they have plenty of time to make up ground.

To add to my argument, the Penguins have 34 games remaining.  17 of them, exactly 1/2, are against division foes.  4 of these 17 are against the Rangers who the Penguins have not played yet this season, and 3 are against the Islanders.  That is a potential 14 point swing.

The Penguins really do control their own destiny with all of these division games remaining.  They can put themselves 2nd in their division, or skate themselves right out of the playoffs.

BUT…

I think the Penguins are finding their stride, and I think that they can take 2nd in the Metro Division pretty easily if they win the important games.

As for the playoffs, WHEN the Penguins get there (not if), the Penguins are going to get to the Eastern Conference Final and lose to the Capitals.  The Caps have not had playoff success, but again, barring major injuries, their team is just too good.  I don’t see the Penguins beating the Caps in a 7 game series.  I would take the Caps over the Pens in the Eastern Conference Final in 6 or 7 games.

____________________________________________________

Grant Franjione: Another prediction question: When the 2015-16 season is complete, who will lead the Pens in goals (currently Malkin), assists (currently Letang), and points (currently Malkin)?  Will any Penguin rise to finish top 3 in the NHL in any of the above?

Brad Franjione: Let’s take this one category at a time: goals, assists, then points:

The Penguins have 37 games remaining right now, and Malkin has a 6 goal lead on Crosby, 9 on Kessel, and 13 on Hornqvist.  I think that Malkin will lead the Penguins in goals after the season’s end, but I would not be shocked if Crosby catches him or at least comes close.  Also, who knows, maybe Kessel finds his groove.  Here are my top 3 Penguins goal scorers at the end of the year:

  1. Malkin – 38G
  2. Crosby – 36G
  3. Kessel – 28G

Malkin has a slim chance to crack the top 5 in goals (currently 7th), but I doubt he cracks the top 3 unless he channels his inner Russian monster.  I think the top 3 goal scorers in the NHL this year crack 45 pretty easily, so unless Malkin, or Crosby for that matter, goes on an absolute tear, then no Penguin is finishing top 3 in goals.

As for the assists department, Letang leads the team with 27, but Crosby and Malkin are not far behind him with 24 a piece.  It also should be considered that Letang has played 10/9 games less than Malkin/Crosby respectively.  That being said, I think Sid is on fire, and I think that he passes Letang up for the assist lead at the end of the year, but not by much.  Here’s my top 3 Penguins assist leaders at the end of the year:

  1. Crosby – 48A
  2. Letang – 47A
  3. Malkin – 43A

No Penguin is even top 10 in assists currently, so I can tell you with a ton of confidence that no Penguin will finish top 3 in the NHL in assists.

Finally, let’s talk points.  Malkin leads the Pens with 47, then behind him is Crosby with 41 and then Letang with 33.  I’ll stay consistent with my earlier numbers, and so based off of that, I am going to say that Crosby finishes the season with the lead in points.  He really is playing at another level right now.  Here are my top 3 point scorers for the Pens at the seasons’ end:

  1. Crosby – 84P
  2. Malkin – 81P
  3. Letang – 58P

Despite my decision to put Letang as the 3rd best Penguins scorer, I would not at all be surprised if Kessel ends up there, espeically if him and Malkin start to click on the 2nd line.  Kessel’s numbers will go as Malkin’s do, so if that line starts really clicking, Kessel will finish top 3 in points.

In addition, Malkin could easily finish above Crosby, but I figured I would stay consistent with my goals/assists predictions.

Malkin is currently 9th in point scoring.  I could see a Pittsburgh Penguin being top 3 in the NHL in points (Crosby or Malkin), but I still would say it is very unlikely at this point in the season.

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Matthew Tonkovich: Do you think it would be reasonable to try and get Buf (Dustin Byfuglien) or David Hamhuis before the NHL trade deadline?

Brad Franjione: I actually wrote about Byfuglien earlier in the year and how I would love for the Penguins to acquire him.  That being said, I think the Byfuglien is going to be extremely difficult to acquire, and unless the Penguins want to trade Murray, Pouliot, or Sprong (one of who would probably be in that trade), then I would say absolutely not.

But by goodness I would love to see him in a Penguins uniform.

I think that Hamhuis is a far more realistic guy to add, but I do not know if he is going to be the guy.  Rutherford obviously does not want to give up any of our young/upcoming guys, but if he can get Hamhuis for a bargain, given that he is 33 in the last year of his contract, then it might not be a terrible acquisition.

I think Rutherford adds a defenseman before the trade deadline, but I am guessing it is unlikely that he acquires a legitimate top 4 defenseman.  I am thinking he adds a Lovejoy-type of guy just for depth, but by all means, if he can get Hamhuis for a good price then do it.

Ideally, I think the Penguins should be hunting for a bottom 6 forward more than anything.  Due to injury, the bottom 6 for the Penguins is currently Eric Fehr chaperoning the top 6 of Wilkes-Barre Scranton, the Penguins AHL affiliate.  Although I will say the one guy that has impressed me is Bryan Rust.  He has speed, plays with passion, and has a decent release as well.  I would not mind him in the Penguins lineup even with everyone healthy.

However, even when healthy, the Penguins’ bottom 6 has been very underperforming.  Bonino has not been playing up to his expectations at all, Fehr has been okay, Bennett has been injured as usual, Plotnikov was a complete failure, and Cullen has been…alright.

I do not have any players in mind necessarily, but if Rutherford can go out and find a solid bottom 6 guy that can contribute in the goal-scoring department, he should do it.  I loved Downie with the Penguins, but he took way too many penalties.  A Downie-type guy (who doesn’t take useless penalties) would be perfect for the Penguins right now in their bottom 6, but that’s just my opinion.

I can say this almost for certain: Rutherford is not done in the trading department.  We’ll have to see what he has up his sleeve.

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Doug Godwin: So beyond the obvious buzzword (consistency), what is the reason for the Pens’ lack of faith in Pouliot?

Brad Franjione: Consistency has been the biggest issue with Pouliot for sure, but let’s just ignore the word “consistency” for now.

I think that their lack of faith in Pouliot was due to his lack of defensive responsibilty.  Pouliot is gifted offensively without a doubt.  He is a great power play quarterback, can stick-handle as well as most forwards in the NHL, has a decent shot, and is a very smooth skater.

That being said, the coaches/GM want Pouliot to play more like what he is: a defenseman.  Pouliot has looked much more defensively responsible in his 2 games up with the Pens, and I think that is the main reasoning behind them calling him up and playing him over Ian Cole, who has not been playing good hockey lately to say the least.

They want Pouliot to become more of a Kris Letang: be able to turn it up offensively but still be responsible defensively.  If you can remember, early in his career Letang was strictly an offensive defenseman and wasn’t a very good defenseman overall.  However, over the past few years, Letang has still been providing the Penguins with offense from the defense, but he has also been defensively responsible and making great plays.

Early in the season, I remember Pouliot was interviewed and talked for a few minutes about how he can improve offensively and just kind of added a “oh yeah, I have to play defense too” kind of thing right at the end.  I think this mindset is what was keeping him out of the NHL lineup, but I think that he is beginning to find his game.  He has a ways to go, but I think he is at least on his way.  I would love to see him make an impact in the NHL in these past 37 games.  I’m a big Pouliot fan myself.  Had an assist the other night!

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Tyler Godwin: What do you think is the biggest difference between the Johnston coached team and the Sullivan coached team?

Brad Franjione: This might be one of my favorite questions to answer, because there isn’t a wrong answer.

Okay, let me start with this.

Under Johnston, the Penguins were 15-10-3 and were 9th place in the Eastern Conference.  Under Sullivan, they are 9-7-4, and now sit 8th in the Eastern Conference.  Andrew Fillipponi kind of “bashed” Sullivan by tweeting out both records with a comment saying “but hey, they’re more fun!”

Sorry, Mr. Fillipponi.  You’re wrong.  Yes, they are more fun, but they are a much better hockey team under Sullivan than under Johnston.

First of all, Fleury was playing OUT OF HIS MIND for the Johnston Penguins.  The only reason the Penguins maintained a respectable record was because of Fleury.  He has still been good, but he has since been more average than not.

Second, Johnston did not have to deal with injuries for the most part.  Meanwhile Sullivan is playing the Wilkes-Barre top 6 in the bottom 6, and he still holds a decent record.  AND Fleury was out for a few games (although Murray did play great in his absence), and it is never easy for a team to lose their starter.  But, again, they have a respectable record under Sullivan.

My third and final point (for now), is that Sullivan started 0-4 behind the bench.  I mentioned earlier than the Penguins have since been 9-3-4, which in an 82 game span, would give them 112 points.  If you can’t remember, Sullivan had little to no time to legitimately implement his system in his first few games as coach, as the Penguins played a few back-to-backs and did not have time for practice.

So what is the biggest difference between the Sullivan coached team and the Johnston coached team?  Oh, well there is a whole bunch of em!

  • The Penguins could not come back in games under Johnston because they couldn’t score goals.  If they gave up the first goal or were losing after 2, you may as well have just shut the TV off and called it quits for the night.  On the contrary, Sullivan’s Penguins have trailed by 2 goals at some point in 7 of the past 11 games.  The Penguins have managed to earn a point in 6 of those 7 opportunities.  Now, try to tell me that Johnston’s Penguins could do the same thing.  Absolutely no way.
  • The Penguins averaged 2.36 goals per game under Johnston.  Under Sullivan? 2.7 goals per game, and it’s only going to go up.
  • Johnston’s Penguins averaged 26.3 scoring chances/60 minutes, while Sullivan’s have averaged 32.1
  • Johnston’s Penguins averaged 29.8 shots per game, while Sullivan’s average 34.5
  • Johnston’s Penguins had a powerplay clicking at only 15.6%, while Sullivan’s Penguins have been clicking at 26.2% (which would put them 2nd in the NHL behind the Caps)
  • This is more of an observational thing, but the players seem to respect Sullivan much more.  He is an “in your face” type of guy, and knows how to get through to the players.  Johnston, on the other hand, looked miserable behind the bench.  There was no emotion/passion/anything (at least, not that could be seen)

(quick acknowledgement to DK Pittsburgh Sports for some of those stats!)

The list goes on…

You could pick any one of those reasons as the main difference between Johnston’s Pens and Sullivan’s Pens.

My biggest difference?  Well it’s easy, isn’t it?

Sidney. Crosby.

It was clear that Sidney Crosby became a better defensive player under Johnston.  Most of his defensive metrics spiked.  But, this caused his offensive numbers to fade, even though he was right among the top scoring leaders in the NHL last year.

Johnston wanted all of his players to play a 200 foot game and be responsible defensively, and I personally believe that this led to Crosby focusing too much on defense and not as much on offense.

Sullivan, on the other hand, unleashed Sid.  He wants the stars to show him what they’ve got.  He wants to give them time and space.  He wants them to create offense and score goals, and he is not going to lecture them how to do that, because they KNOW how to do it.

Under Johnston, Crosby had only 6 goals in 27 games. 6!!!!!!  This was good for a .22 goals/game average.  He had only 13 assists, good for .48 assists/game, which gave him .70 points/game under Johnston.

Under Sullivan, Sid is on fire.  He has 11 goals in 20 games, good for .55 goals/game, 11 assists wich gives him .55 assists/game, and 22 points which is good for 1.1 points per game.

The Penguins success will always be based on how their stars perform, and now, Sullivan has their stars performing.  Look out NHL.

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Thank you so much to everyone who participated!  I love answering Penguins related questions and I’m sure Ill be doing another Q and A real soon.  Hope you all enjoyed!

All-Star Break Q and A