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?

“C” Stands For “Crosby”, right?

Geno

Similar to my last article, let me take you back to 2009.  The year the Penguins won their 3rd Stanley Cup.

Who won the Art Ross Trophy, given to the player with the most points after the NHL regular season?

Who won the Conn Smythe Trophy, given to the the MVP of the Stanley Cup playoffs?

If you guessed Evgeni Malkin, you are correct.

After the 2008-2009 regular season, the Penguins had 2 players with more than 100 points: Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.  After that, no one else on the Penguins was close.  The third highest scorer on the Penguins that year, Jordan Staal, ended the regular season with 49 points.

It really shows you how important it is for the Penguins get production from their star players.  It is just how they are built.

Anyways, Evgeni Malkin finished the 2008-2009 regular season with 113 points, and Crosby with 103.

In the playoffs, Malkin recorded 36 points in 24 games, including 14 goals and 22 assists.  Crosby was right behind him with 31 points in 24 games, with 15 goals and 16 assists.

Although Sidney Crosby was right behind Malkin in both the regular season and post season in terms of points (heck, Crosby had one more goal than Malkin in the playoffs), who do you remember most from that Stanley Cup winning team?

I sure do remember Talbot with the all famous “shhhh” to the Philadelphia crowd, which was a huge turning point for the Pens in the playoffs.  The Penguins were down 3-0 at this point in the game, and came back to win.

I remember Marc-Andre Fleury robbing Alex Ovechkin on a wide open breakaway in game 7 of the Eastern Conference semi-finals, which turned into a 6-2 Penguins victory.

And who can forget the save that Marc-Andre Fleury made in game 7 on Nick Lidstrom, that ultimately won them the Stanley Cup?!

All of that being said, when I think about that Stanley Cup winning team, I think of Evgeni Malkin.

He was dominant.  He was hungry.  He put the team on his back during almost the entire season.  It is tough to describe, but you just had that feeling that he was in control of the Penguins.  He was in the driver’s seat.

Not Crosby.

Crosby was good, and he was an important piece to the puzzle, but Crosby just never stood out to me during that season.

When I think of 2008-2009, I think of Evgeni Malkin.  These are all 3 of his goals against the Hurricanes in game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals.  If you don’t want to watch them all, skip to 2:03 and please watch from there.

His hat trick goal will forever be one of my favorite goals I have ever witnessed in my life.  It might be my favorite to be honest with you.  I can remember watching this game, seeing Malkin score that goal, and….

Well, listen to the announcer.  It says it all: “OH MY WORD!!”

Now, let’s move into the present.

The Penguins just defeated the Minnesota Wild, a great hockey team, 4-3 at Consol Energy Center Tuesday night.  The score was close, but the Penguins did play a great hockey game.

I want to note that I am absolutely not sold just by this one game.  It was great to see the Penguins bounce back, but as I noted in my last article, it’s about this whole season being a bounce back from every season since 2009.  This season needs to be a response.  Great game by the Pens, but I need more to be convinced.

Anyways, let’s get back to this game.

I mentioned in my last article how I feel as though Malkin is the true leader of this hockey team, not Crosby, despite Sid wearing the “C” on his jersey.

Tonight just further proved my point.

I mentioned in my previous article that Malkin was the one that called the team out.  HE was the one to stand up and confront the media.  Everyone on that room was clearly disappointed, but HE was the most vocal about it.

Malkin talked the talk, and tonight, he walked the walk.  Or should I say, he skated the skate. (ignore my terrible humor)

He figured into every Penguins goal, notching 2 goals and 2 assists, including a highlight reel goal that proved to be the game winner.

Oh, so what did Sidney Crosby do?

Nothing.  At least not on the stat sheet.

This team responded, and it responded well.  But it was not Sidney Crosby that responded.  It was not his words, nor his actions.

It was Malkin’s.

Last season, the Penguins were on a 0-2-1 skid, scoring only 3 goals in these contests.  Malkin stood up: “We know we can come back. I believe this team has good guys and good players. We need to support each other, relax, and we’ll be back.”

The Penguins won both of their next 2 back to back games, and Malkin registered 2 goals, 2 assists, for 4 points during these games.  Crosby chipped in 3 assists.

So, what am I getting at here?

Malkin is the true leader of the Penguins team.  Please, tell me one time, EVEN ONCE, where Sidney Crosby called out this team, and they responded because of it.  Give me ONE TIME where he had as much impact on this Penguins team as Malkin, and I’ll take back what I said.

Crosby is a great hockey player, and I absolutely do not want to take that away from him, but he just isn’t the true leader of this Penguins team.  He leads by example (at times, certainly not this year).

I hope Crosby comes around, and I’m sure he will.  But being a leader is not just about what you do on the ice, or on the court, or on the field.  It’s about what happens off the ice, and from what I can tell, it sure seems like Malkin is more of an overall leader of this Penguins team than Crosby.

I sure hope that “C” on Crosby’s sweater stands for “Crosby,” because if it stands for “captain,” it should most certainly be worn by Evgeni Malkin.

 

“C” Stands For “Crosby”, right?

Penguins Can’t Fly

Johnston

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

It was 2009, and the Penguins were at one point the 10th seed in the Eastern Conference.  They had to do something about it.  Shero obviously felt that the players were not the problem, so he brought in a new coach: Dan Bylsma.

We all know what Bylsma did that year.  He brought the Penguins from 10th to 4th in the conference, and led the Penguins to their first Stanley Cup since 1992.  After that, however, Bylsma could not bring the Penguins back.

In 2010, the Penguins had a 3-1 series lead in the Eastern Conference semi-finals against the Canadiens, but they were stoned cold by Canadiens goaltender Jaroslav Halak in the final 3 games, and failed to win one of the final 3 games to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals.

In 2011, the Penguins were without Crosby, Malkin, and Staal for the majority of the season.  That being said, the Penguins managed to take a 3-1 series lead against Tampa Bay in the first round of the playoffs, but once again, blew the series lead and had an early exit.

In 2012, the Penguins had an early exit in the playoffs once again, this time to the Philadelphia Flyers.  This was the series, if you can remember, of “which team is going to win 8-7.”  Flyers won that battle.

In 2013, the Penguins were riding Tomas Vokoun into the Eastern Conference Final, but the Penguins forgot how to score goals against the Bruins, who swept the Penguins and advanced to the Cup Final.

In 2014, the Penguins, for the 3rd time under Bylsma, had a 3-1 series lead and blew it, this time to the Rangers.

Everyone, including myself, knew that big changes were coming.

Interestingly enough, the Penguins fired Shero first, and kept Bylsma.  However, when Rutherford was hired as the new Pens’ GM, his first order of business was to fire Bylsma, due to his lack of success with the Penguins in the playoffs.

But, at least he was able to get the Penguins to the playoffs consistently, often as a top 4 seed in the conference (4th seed 4 times, 2 seed once, 1 seed once)

The Penguins were a top 5 team in goals for per game under Bylsma in the regular season, with the excpetion of the 2010-2011 season when they were without Crosby, Malkin, and Staal for half of the season.  They actually finished 1st in goals for per game in back to back seasons (2011-2012 and 2012-2013).

That being said, Rutherford felt that Bylsma needed to go.

Rutherford continued making moves, as he traded James Neal to Nashville for Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling.  He also made the decision to hire Mike Johnston, who had success coaching in the QMJHL with the Winterhawks, but never had NHL coaching experience.

The Penguins had a new coach, new GM, a ton of new players, and a ton of questions entering last season, the 2014-2015 season.  Well, the Penguins started that season 12-3-1, and it really looked like the Penguins were rolling.

Ever since that, this Penguins team has looked terrible.

Pardon, embarrassing.

Similar to 2009, changes need to happen, and they need to happen fast.

Despite early season success, under Johnston, the Penguins were the 8th seed last year, making the playoffs by beating the lowly Buffalo Sabres on the last game of the season, and currently sit in the final wild card spot this season.

Tough to have success in the playoffs if you can’t even get there.

I was listening to 93.7 the fan this morning, keeping in mind that this is a Steelers Sunday here in Pittsburgh, and they were talking about hockey.  Yeah, I’m not kidding.

I heard multiple fans call in, most saying that they have been die-hard Penguins fans since the 70’s.  Many of them, if not all of them, said that this Penguins team is the most embarrassing thing they have ever seen.  They feel embarrassed to watch the Penguins.

Wow.  That’s powerful.

See, I’m not crazy!  This team is really just pathetic, and it seems like a ton of people have the same opinion as me. This includes the players.

Josh Yohe of DK on Pittsburgh Sports asked Malkin what is wrong with the Penguins, minutes after a 10 minute closed-door team meeting after the Penguins were pathetically defeated by the Devils 4-0.  Malkin responded, “Everything.  We don’t play right.  We don’t play hard, we’re mad at each other.”

Malkin is right.  Everything is wrong.

Rutherford made it a priority to create an offensive juggernaut in Pittsburgh.  He traded for Phil Kessel to give Malkin and Crosby an all-star winger to work with.  He signed Eric Fehr, a solid bottom 6 player.  He traded for Nick Bonino, a quick, electric 3rd line center who can kill penalties.  He drafted Daniel Sprong, who has arguably been the most energetic and dynamic Penguins player (more on him later).

How have the Penguins responded?

By scoring 36 goals in 17 games.  Those 36 goals rank 27th in the NHL.

A team with Crosby, Malkin, Kessel, Hornqvist, Sprong, Bonino…ranks 27th in the NHL in goals for.

However, this lack of goals is not a new problem.  It’s an ongoing problem.

According to DK on Pittsburgh Sports (great site, I recommend you subscribe), the Penguins have averaged 2.18 goals for per game in their last 82 games, representing a full season.

Additionally, the Penguins this season are scoring 2.12 goals per game.  On average, NHL teams are scoring 2.67 goals per game.  So the Penguins are scoring .5 goals less than an average NHL team any given night, and their record is somehow 10-7.  The Penguins should be thankful that they are at least in a hole that they can dig themselves out of.

To put these goals for per game stats in perspective, the 2003-2004 Rico Fata/Dick Tarnstrom Penguins scored 2.32 goals per game.  They finished 30th in the NHL.  Last place.

Yeah, it’s that bad.

Sidney Crosby has only 2 goals and 7 assists (9 points) in 17 games.  Even Evgeni Malkin, who leads the Penguins in points, only has 12, with 4 goals and 8 assists.

Sidney Crosby was putting up a 1.41 points per game clip under Therrien, and was putting up a 1.43 points per game clip under Bylsma.  Both of these figures would be fourth best in NHL history behind only Gretzky, Lemieux, and Bossy, according to DK on Pittsburgh Sports.

Under Johnston?  Crosby is down to .99 points per game, including a .53 points per game clip this season.  This means Crosby is on pace for 43 points this season, and that’s if he stays healthy and plays all 82 games.

Even Evgeni Malkin is only on pace for 58 points.

Oh, and Bobby Farnham, a fourth line guy that was placed on waivers and was picked up by the Devils, currently is tied with Crosby for goals, and has more goals than either Kunitz or Perron after his goal last night.  I love Farnham, but let’s just say he is not necessarily a gifted goal-scorer.

Both Malkin and Crosby need to start producing the way that they can, and it starts with being more selfish with the puck.  I still believe in Crosby and Malkin.  They are still both 2 of the best players in the game today.  But they need to PLAY that way.

When I say play selfish, I don’t mean they should never pass the puck, but these players need to realize who they are.  When Crosby first got drafted by Pittsburgh, he was pretty much the only thing the Pens had at that point.  He knew he had to step up.  He had to be selfish.  That’s not the case any more.

Now Crosby has Letang, Malkin, Kessel, and Hornqvist just to name a few.  I get the feeling that all of these players have that feeling of “spreading the wealth” around, and so they force passes and force plays instead of just playing the way they are capable.

Crosby, and even Malkin for that matter, could be right atop the scoring race if they just played more selfish.  They cannot put their talent to waste, especially on a team that is so dependent on these guys producing.  Want an example?  Watch guys like Vladimir Tarasenko, Alex Ovechkin, or Patrick Kane play.

Heck, Tarasenko predicted himself to score 50 goals this year.  That is confidence.  That’s selfishness.  And I LOVE it.

So Malkin said everything is wrong, and I just talked about offense.

So, what else is wrong?

Well, the power play is pretty bad.  Scratch that, really bad.  Pathetic, actually.  *Insert other adjectives here*.  The Penguins rank 29th in the NHL, as their power play is only clicking at 12.3%, scoring only 7 times 57 opportunities.  The so-called first unit has scored 5 of the 7 power play goals, but then again, who knows which unit is the Penguins’ top unit at this point.

I think the power play improves by having guys like Crosby and Malkin be selfish with the puck.  Watch teams that are good on the power play.  It is so simple.  One or two passes, and a quick low one-timer on net.  The Penguins power play is more like 10 or 12 passes (if one of them does not get picked off), and then someone misses the net on a wide angle shot and the puck clears the zone.

In addition to the offense and the power play, the defense has not been good.

Wait, what?  But the Penguins have only allowed 2.18 goals per game, ranking 4th in the NHL!  How has their defense not been good?

Well, the reason is because Marc-Andre Fleury.  He has been absolutely spectacular for the Penguins, and even Zatkoff has looked solid in his few starts.  Without this goaltending tandem, the Penguins could easily be 5-12, if not worse.  Goaltending has been the only consistent bright spot for the Penguins up to this point in the season.

The Penguins’ top pair of defense, Letang and Cole, are at a plus/minus of -12 and -11 respectively.  And it took Mike Johnston until 2 games ago to realize that this defensive pair was clearly not working.  This, considering that Letang noted multiple times that he felt as though he and Cole were never on the same page.

Remember that Lovejoy guy that everyone complained about us acquiring last year?  Yeah, he’s been our best defenseman this year.  Although I am very happy to see Lovejoy playing well, he should not be our best defenseman, but right now, he is.

Dumoulin is close behind him, and him and Lovejoy have actually looked excellent.

Past that shutdown pair of Dumoulin and Lovejoy, Maatta is inexistent, Letang is taking bad penalties and cannot run the power play, Cole is playing way more than he should in a role he should not be in, and Scuderi is just slow and should not even be in the NHL at this point.

I would start giving Clendening more chances to play, and even consider calling up Pouliot.  The Penguins need to get something going, and both of these players are young, fast defensemen, and Pouliot is known to be a power play quarterback.  It won’t happen, but just a thought…

So now I’ve talked about defense and offense, but once again, Malkin said that everything is wrong.

What is the biggest problem for the Penguins right now?  It should be pretty obvious at this point: the Penguins need a new coach.  Right now.

So let’s talk about what’s wrong with Mike Johnston.

First of all, he has made so many questionable moves within his lineup.

He has played Adam Clendening once, who was arguably one of their best defenseman during camp.  He continues to play Rob Scuderi, who pretty much scored the first goal of the game for the Devils last night.

He kept Ian Cole and Letang together for 16 games when they clearly continued to struggle.

He took Hornqvist away from Crosby, right when Hornqvist was finally finding his groove.

He has not given Daniel Sprong, probably the most electric Penguins forward that actually plays selfish, a chance to play with Crosby or Malkin.  Why not?

Look at the Hawks, clearly a team that has succeeded in recent years to say the least.  Last year, they had a young rookie named Teuvo Terravinen.  No one knew who he was, and then the Hawks let him play with Toews/Kane in the top 6.  He ended up playing a huge role in their Stanley Cup win.

This year, the Hawks have a rookie named Artemi Panarin.  Who is he?  He leads all rookies in scoring, and plays alongside Patrick Kane in the top 6.

Why aren’t they giving Sprong this chance?!

He has a terrific shot, he is quick, and has some slick hands.  I had a twitter conversation with Dan Kingerski of 93.7 the fan, and he said that if Sprong played with Crosby/Malkin, he would get discouraged.

Discouraged?!  He would get discouraged by playing with Crosby, who is projected for 43 points?!  If anything, I think Sprong would help Crosby and discourage HIM, because Sprong would actually shoot the puck and focus on creating offense, and would probably be successful at it.

Even with Hornqvist hurt, Sprong is never going to get that chance, because it makes way too much sense to let him play with Sid.

In addition, Mike Johnston is so neutral.  He does not have any energy as a coach, no fire, and clearly has these players playing poorly.

I hear all these reports about how Malkin’s defensive game has improved this year.  Yeah, that’s great.  How about let Malkin score some goals and creating offense rather than focusing on defense.

So the Steelers should probably teach Ben Roethlisberger how to play linebacker, and practice his tackling ability in case of a turnover right?

If Mike Johnston was the coach of the Steelers, let’s say that I wouldn’t be shocked.

Seriously, watch this guy behind the bench (if he s able to live another day with the Penguins).  He looks so disinterested and disgusted.  One of the most important jobs as a coach is to help your team through adversity.

As a coach, if your team goes down 2-0, call a timeout.  Talk to your team at intermission.  Get them pumped up.  The game isn’t over yet…well, it is under Johnston.

Even the Penguins announcer has been less enthusiastic while in introducing the Penguins onto their home ice at Consol Energy Center.  I think Mike Johnston is depressing this guy, and he isn’t even on the team.

I don’t know. Look at Mike Johnston and try to tell me he is a guy that could pump you up.  If your answer is yes, try again.  You’re wrong.

This supposed offensive juggernaut can’t score goals because they’re trapped playing a defensive minded system.  It’s that simple.  Johnston needs to go, and it needs to happen sooner than later.

Even Jim Rutherford, before this weekend’s epic collapse, said that he was not pleased with how the team was playing.  This was after the Penguins’ 10-2 run in 12 games.  He sees it, and he knows it.

Jim, make your move, and do it now while you still have the chance.  Please.  He even said he wants to make a trade for a top 3 or 4 defenseman.  Sooner than later would work better, because the Penguins need something to jump-start them right now.  Maybe that is it.

I do want to say this:  I do not think Mike Johnston is a bad coach.  He isn’t.  He is a bad coach for THIS team.  He just does not fit.

That being said, since Mike Johnston is about as energetic as me walking to my Monday morning classes at Duquesne, the Penguins players need to step up.  The role players need to step up.  Now.

Evgeni Malkin did.  He told the media straight up that this team is not playing right, and that they need to show more effort and grit moving forward.  He called out the Penguins, and every player on this team needed that.

Crosby talked with the media as well, but did not call out the team nearly as strong as Malkin did.

I think Malkin is the true leader of this team, and there are times, especially now, where I think Malkin should be wearing the “C.”

Hear me out.  I know that Sid is the franchise tag, and he is a great player, but Sid has never struck me as a “put the team on my back” kind of player.  He just doesn’t seem like a TRUE leader to me sometimes.  But I see the leadership qualities in Malkin.

If the Penguins made that switch (which again, will never happen), I think Crosby would get a wake-up call.  I think he would really feel like he has to earn his place on the team, and I really believe that Malkin is the leader here.

Remember a few years when Malkin said “Relax,” and the Penguins went on some huge winning streak?  This isn’t coincidence.

I cannot control what Rutherford does, what Johnston does, or what any of these players do, but what I will say is that they need to respond.  But I do not just mean against Minnesota on Tuesday night.

This entire season needs to be a response, from the GM, coaches, and players, and it needs to start now.  Can the Penguins do it?

Who knows, but don’t get your hopes up, because Penguins Can’t Fly.

Penguins Can’t Fly

One Down…

horny

Last night, the Penguins beat the best team in the NHL, the Montreal Canadiens, 4-3 in a shootout.  The Canadiens were without all-star goalie Carey Price, but backup goalie Mike Condon has been spectacular in his absence.

What is the more impressive thing about this win?

For the first time since January 5th of 2014, the Penguins won a hockey game when trailing after 2 periods of play.  Before last night, the Penguins were 0-31-6 in their last 37 games when trailing after 2 periods.

Well, make that 1-31-6 in their last 38, and the first win when down after 2 under Mike Johnston.

It’s nice to get that monkey off the back, but it can’t stop there.

One down, but plenty more to go.

If the Penguins plan on making a playoff run, or, dare I say it, win a Stanley Cup, this record needs to keep improving.  I understand the Penguins cannot win every game when they’re losing after 2 periods.

Heck, they won’t win the majority of them.

But they need to be a team that is able to come back in games and be a third period threat, especially considering how good the Penguins’ offense is.

Ideally, they should be winning 20-30% of these games, which would be easily top 10 in the NHL.  They did it under Bylsma with a less potent offense, and so there is no reason that they cannot win 20-30% of those games with Crosby, Malkin, Kessel, Hornqvist, Sprong, and company.

Let’s just hope this is the start of a Penguins team that shows some resilience and starts to win more of these types of games.

Anyways, let’s get into the recap from last night’s 4-3 shootout win over the Habs.  Here we go:

Recap

First Period:

PENS GOAL (00:13) – Dupuis (2) assisted by Crosby (6) and Bennett (2)

It took the Pens just 13 seconds to get on the board.  Beau Bennett carried the puck into the zone along the left side of the ice and dropped a pass to Dupuis while getting pressured.  Dupuis sent a pass around the back of the net that ended up on the stick of Crosby on the other side of the ice.  Dupuis followed his pass, drove straight to the net, and deflected in a pass from Crosby to give the Pens an early lead.

Just about 3 minutes into the period, Phil Kessel walked out in front of the net and put a shot on goal.  Condon made the save, but Kessel found his own rebound and put on another shot on goal.  It was a great chance, but Condon denied it.

HABS PP GOAL (04:12) – Markov (2) assisted by Subban (14) and Plekanec (9)

Plekanec had the puck down low on the power play and swung a pass up to PK Subban.  Subban then fed a pass that was put on a platter for Markov who blasted one home past Fleury to tie the game.  The puck just snuck through Fleury’s armpit area, and Fleury should have stopped it,  but it did look like the shot was deflected slightly by something in front.

10 minutes into the period, Hornqvist had a great opportunity.  Nick Bonino had the puck behind the goal in the offensive zone and found a wide open Hornqvist just a few feet in front of Condon.  Hornqvist got a good shot off, but Condon stood tall and kept the game tied.

With about 7 minutes left in the period, the Penguins were on the power play.  Kessel put a shot on goal that was partially blocked, but found Malkin behind the defense who put a quick low shot on Condon.  Unfortunately, once again, Condon was ready for it.

PENS GOAL (19:16) – Maatta (2) assisted by Kessel (5) and Malkin (8)

This goal originally looked like it was Kessel’s, but upon further review, the goal went to Maatta.  Maatta carried the puck into the offensive zone in a 3 on 2 situation.  He dropped a pass off to Kessel and immediately drove to the net.  Kessel then ripped a quick wrist shot on goal that deflected off of Maatta and past Condon to give the Pens the lead.  Both goals for the Pens came in the first minute and last minute of the period respectively.

After 1: Pens 2 Habs 1

Second Period:

6 minutes in, Crosby made a very bad blind behind the back pass that turned into a odd man rush for the Canadiens.  Eller came up the left wing with the puck, gave a pass to Galchenyuk, who one touched a pass right back to Eller who put a quick one-timer on Fleury, but Fleury denied it.

HABS GOAL (7:47) – Gallagher (7) assisted by Pacioretty (7)

Pacioretty had the puck in the defensive zone, and noticed that 2 of his guys were up the ice behind the Penguins defense.  He flipped a weak backhand pass that squirted through the skates of Ian Cole, and turned into a 2 on 0 rush.  Gallagher did not need to other man however, as he fired the puck past Fleury’s glove side.  Cole needed to stop that puck, even if it meant going down to a knee or whatever.  He had 2 opposing players behind him, and he cannot let that happen.

HABS GOAL (14:12) – Flynn (2) assisted by Mitchell (5) and Subban (15)

Torrey Mitchell had the puck in the neutral zone.  He passed the puck to Matt Flynn who was absolutely flying into the offensive zone.  He came down the right side and put a shot on Fleury that snuck right between his right arm and his body and found the back of the net.  This was a tough goal for Fleury to give up, and one that he normally stops.

The Habs outshot the Penguins 13-1 in the period, and the Penguins one shot was actually an attempted pass that ended up being on goal.  It was a rough period for the Pens, and a comeback seemed unlikely, especially with their recent history in that department.

After 2: Pens 2 Habs 3

Third Period:

4 minutes into the period, Kessel nearly tied the game.  Malkin found Kessel streaking up the ice and was in a one on one with Markov.  He made a slick move around Markov, deking forehand to backhand, but Condon made the stop once again.  It was a huge save.

With just 8 minutes to go, Kunitz was behind the net in the offensive zone, skated to the front, and let a quick low wrist shot go.  Condon made a save, but the puck found the stick on Bonino.  He beat Condon, but did not beat the post, and the Habs maintained their lead.

PENS GOAL (13:35) – Hornqvist (3) assisted by Crosby (7) and Letang (6)

This play happened because Sidney Crosby is Sidney Crosby.  Letang had the puck in the Penguins zone and fired a puck off the boards to get the puck out.  The puck came to Crosby with some speed, who deflected the puck with his skate/stick to an in-flight Patric Hornqvist, who skated the puck into the zone and went thin mints on Condon to tie the game at 3.  The pass by Crosby was absolutely ridiculous.

The Penguins had a power play for basically the last 2 minutes of regulation, but they were not able to capitalize.  This game needed extra time.

After 3: Pens 3 Habs 3

Overtime:

Once again, the Penguins had a power play chance in what was basically the last 2 minutes of overtime.  Except this one was a 4 on 3.  Kessel had the puck in the zone, skated it to the right circle, and fired a low shot on Condon.  The shot was saved, and the rebound came to the stick on Kris Letang, who beat Condon, but did not beat the post behind him.  This must have been the same post Zatkoff used to help him in his last outing.  Perron also hit it earlier in the game, as did Bonino.

After OT: Pens 3 Habs 3

Shootout:

The Penguins, as the home team, elected to “defer” and let the Habs shoot first.

Galchenyuk – Save

Galchenyuk came in on Fleury and looked like he wanted to pull off a backhand deke, but he came in too close, and Fleury got him with the poke-check.

Perron – GOAL

David Perron with his vintage move.  He skates up the left side of the ice moving ever so slightly to his right.  He fakes a wrist shot and goes backhand.  It sure worked for him this time.

Desharnais – Save

Desharnais made an interesting move, as he faked a shot by waving his stick over the puck.  Fleury fell to his side reaching out for the poke-check.  Although he missed, Desharnais could not beat the sprawling Fleury.

Crosby – GOAL

Crosby skated in slow on Condon, and simply just out-deked him.  He faked out Condon, went backhand, and beat him to give the Penguins the win in the shootout.

Final Score (SO): Pens 4 Habs 3

Impressions

Letang and Cole

Although Ian Cole looked good last year, he has been looking anything but good for the Pens this year.

Him and Letang are currently 2 of the worst 3 defensemen in the NHL in plus/minus, and it is not a coincidence that him and Letang are paired together.

I never understoood this pairing to be honest.  Cole is a good bottom 6 guy, but he should not be logging Kris Letang type minutes.

In addition, these 2 have not looked good as a pair.  At all.  Letang even admitted that he feels as though he and Cole are never quite on the same page, which is a cause of concern.

For the third period, Johnston FINALLY put Cole with Scuderi on the bottom pair and reunited Maatta and Letang.  It’s about time.

Although I would like these 2 to stay together, Johnston says that they will see more time together in games, but they will not be a lock for a defensive pair.  Why?

Because Maatta is apparently not in good enough shape after his rough offseason to log minutes with Kris Letang, who leads the Pens in ice time.

Let’s hope they put Maatta with Letang for the majority of the time, also considering that both Maatta and Letang had new life after being put together as a defensive pair.

Crosby

Everyone needs to chill out about Crosby.  He had 2 assists tonight, and looked absolutely fantastic.

Yeah, his game isn’t perfect, and he can make some adjustments, but he is Sidney Crosby for crying out loud.  He is going to be fine, just watch.

In the words of Evgeni Malkin, relax.

Fleury

Scary moment for Fleury in this game.  He took a stick to the face that went through his mask.

Fleury said he lost sight in his one eye for a few seconds, but he ended up okay.  He went and got stitches in the cut right above his eye, but he ended up okay.

As always, Fleury is all smiles, even with the cut below his left eye.

Photo 4 (7)

Thanks, as always, to those who keep up with me!

I want to start writing more posts/blogs not necessarily related to game action, but rather just about my opinions on some stuff every once in a while, so I will try to get that going as the season goes on.

The Penguins go from playing the best to the worst, as they face the Columbus Blue Jackets tomorrow at 7.

One Down…

You Win Some, You Lose Some

duper

The Penguins split their back to back games, ending a 4 game road trip to western Canada.

The Penguins were able to sneak by the Oilers on Friday night, but their fatigue showed early in their game Saturday against the Flames.

The Penguins had a decent game against the Oilers.  They came out flying and seemed like the better team early on.  Then Edmonton got a goal, and I couldn’t help but think “here we go again…”

That being said, the Penguins were able to battle back on goals by Daniel Sprong and Phil Kessel to win 2-1, although Edmonton did give it their all.  They hit about 3-4 posts in the game, but Zatkoff only let 1 puck in behind him.

Wasn’t the prettiest performance, but the Pens got the job done.

Against Calgary, the Penguins dug themselves into a hole.  They took 3 penalties in the first period, and 2 resulted in goals.  One of the goals was not a power play goal, but it came about 20 seconds after the power play while Calgary was still possessing the puck in the zone.

Calgary took a 3-1 lead into the 1st intermission and the tired Penguins, after playing their 3rd game in 4 nights all on the road, just did not have enough gas in the tank to come back, even though Calgary has some of the worst defensive stats in the NHL this season AND have blown 3 leads in the third period so far.

It would have been nice for the Penguins to win that game and make a comeback, but you can’t win them all.

Here’s to hoping they can bounce back against the Canadiens at home on Wednesday night.

Despite all the excitement in these 2 games, the biggest news came about 2 hours before face-off against the Oilers on Friday night.  Pascal Dupuis was sent to the hospital due to symptoms that may or may not have been related to his blood clot issues.  Although, I would bet this was the case.

Everyone in Pittsburgh was holding their breath, and I give the Penguins serious props for winning that game on Friday.  I am sure Dupuis was on their minds, and I’m sure it was extremely hard to focus.

That being said, Dupuis was tested negative and was able to return to the locker room to celebrate the victory with everyone else after the game.  He was taken to Pittsburgh to be evaluated further, but this was at least some positive news.

After the game, Nick Bonino decided to give the gladiator helmet to Dupuis, which was just so fitting.  Here is the link for the video here from the Penguins Instagram account:

To those of you that do not know, the gladiator helmet is given to a new player after each game who was the “team MVP” for the game.  Nick Bonino was given the helmet after the game against Vancouver, and so he had the power to give the helmet to anyone that night.  And trust me, there were plenty of other candidates, but it just seemed right to give it to Duper.

Anyways, let’s get into the recap of these hockey games, as well as some of my impressions from both of them.  I’ll just stick to recapping goals this time.  Here we go:

Pens @ Oilers

First Period

No scoring

After 1: Pens 0 Oilers 0

Second Period

Oilers goal (00:45) – Oscar Klefbom (2) assisted by Benoit Pouliot (5) and Nail Yakupov (9)

Eric Fehr had the puck in the offensive zone, but the puck was poke-checked off of his stick.  Yakupov made a nice pass off the boards to Pouliot who passed the puck cross-ice to a streaking Oscar Klefbom.  Klefbom carried the puck in and rifled a hard slap shot past Jeff Zatkoff to give the Oilers the lead.  Yes, his name is Oscar Klefbom.  Just an awesome hockey player name.

Pens goal (09:06) – Daniel Sprong (2) assisted by Matt Cullen (4) and Sergei Plotnikov (2)

The puck was dumped into the Penguins offensive zone, and Plotnikov was battling against 2 Oilers for the puck.  Cullen came behind the net to help him.  Plotnikov eventually shoveled the puck loose to Cullen, who gave a pass to Sprong who had his stick cocked right in the slot, and he made not mistake.  Sprong has such a quick release, and just so much skill.  More on him later, but what a huge goal for the Pens.

After 2: Pens 1 Oilers 1

Third Period

Pens PP goal (9:45) Phil Kessel (5) assisted by Kris Letang (5) and Sidney Crosby (5)

This sure looked like a vintage Kessel goal,  but in a sense, Kessel got some help.  The Penguins were on the power play and Crosby had the puck behind the net.  He fed the puck up the boards to Letang, who maneuvered towards the center of the ice and then dropped a pass off to Kessel.  Kessel let one rip that hit the glove of an Edmonton defender and just fluttered in past goalie Nilsson.  It was quite the change-up, but it still counts.

Final Score: Pens 2 Oilers 1

Pens @ Flames

First Period

Flames goal (07:37) – Joe Colborne (3) assisted by Sam Bennett (6) and Mikael Backlund (2)

The Flames had a power play that had just ended, and the Penguins had tired bodies on the ice.  They just could not clear the puck.  The Flames were able to make a one man change, which resulted in the goal.  Colborne came flying off of the bench right down the middle of the ice, Bennett found him, and he wristed a shot by Fleury who did not have much of a chance to stop it.

Pens goal (13:06) – Phil Kessel (6) assisted by Evgeni Malkin (7)

This goal happened because of David Perron.  His name doesn’t go on the score sheet, but give the guy some credit.  He out-hustled 2 Flames to the puck, and forced a turnover along the boards where Malkin took possession.  He fed Kessel a pass who was right on the goal line, and Kessel just found a way to stuff it in and tie the game.  At the time, it was a big goal, but it wouldn’t matter much in the grand scheme of things.

Flames PP goal (16:21) – Johnny Gaudreau (3) assisted by Sean Monahan (7) and Mikael Backlund (3)

I really am not sure if this goal was a result of bad defense or just terrific passing (or both).  Either way, the Flames were on the power play and the puck was shuffled down behind the net to Backlund.  Two Penguins converged, Backlund passed it to the front of the net, and Sean Monahan was wide open with the puck right in front of Fleury.  Fleury had to respect the shot, so Monahan slid the puck across the crease to a wide open Gaudreau who made no mistake and gave Calgary the lead back.

Flames goal (17:11) – Sam Bennett (3) assisted by Michael Frolik (8) and Mikael Backlund (4)

This goal was just an absolutely terrific goal by Bennett.  It was a highlight reel type of goal, it really was.  Although as a Penguins fan it was hard to appreciate, as a hockey fan, it was a sweet goal.  The play began in Calgary’s defensive zone.  Backlund won a draw that was picked up by Frolik and handed onto Bennett, and Bennett did the rest.  He carried the puck into the zone, curled the puck around Ian Cole, triple deked Fleury, and buried it short side not even a minute after the Flames took the lead.

After 1: Pens 1 Flames 3

Second Period

Flames goal (09:05) – Sean Monahan (3) assisted by Johnny Gaudreau (13) and Dougie Hamilton (2)

This goal was just ridiculous.  It was that kind of night for the Penguins.  It started with a slap shot taken from the point by Hamilton.  The puck hit Fleury and went into the air.  Gaudreau then knocked the puck out of mid-air to Monahan, who then knocked the puck out of the air and into the net.  The puck never touched the ice between Hamilton’s shot and after it entered the goal.  Crazy hand-eye coordination, and just a ridiculous goal.

Pens PP goal (14:17) – Nick Bonino (3) assisted by David Perron (3) and Ian Cole (1)

The Penguins were in the waning seconds of the power play.  Cole carried the puck up the ice and just before crossing the blue line, he dropped a pass off to Perron, who skated to the puck into the zone.  The Flames gravitated towards Perron, who then fed a pass to the left wing to Nick Bonino who was wide open.  Ramo was playing deep in the net, and Nick Bonino shot it short side and scored.

After 2: Pens 2 Flames 4

Third Period

Flames EN goal (17:41) – Johnny Gaudreau (4) unassisted

Simple.  Cole turned the puck over in the defensive zone, and Gaudreau shot the puck into the empty net.

Final score: Pens 2 Flames 5

Impressions

Switch up the D pairings

Letang has great potential, and I know he is going to rebound, but he has looked pretty bad for the Penguins early on this season.  He was a -4 against Calgary and has not been looking like the normal Kris Letang.  Then again, his defensive partner Ian Cole hasn’t looked so good either.

You catching my drift?

I think the Penguins need to switch their defensive pairs.  That being said, I love Dumoulin and Lovejoy.  How about that combo being the shutdown pair for the Pens?  Who would have thought?

Anyways, I would put Maatta with Letang to try to jump start both of them and let Scuderi play with Cole.  I do not think this solves all the problems, but Cole and Letang have just looked terrible as a D pair.  Two good players, but not good together.  That’s how it works sometimes.

Give Sprong a Chance!

I can preach about this all I want, and I am going to keep saying it until it happens: give this guy a chance.

Case and point? Artemi Panarin of the Blackhawks.  He is a rookie who has been playing among Chicago’s top 2 lines, and currently leads all rookies in scoring, and he had 2 goals and an assist tonight.

I think Sprong can be that guy.  He has elevated his play, he has been much better defensively, and I think he can be a serious threat, especially if Pascal Dupuis is out long term.

Eric Fehr played on the top unit with Crosby and Hornqvist because Johnston did not want to “mess with his line combinations.”  Although I do love Eric Fehr in a Penguins uniform, I did not like him on the top line, and he is not a natural left winger.

Just give Daniel Sprong a chance to do what he can do.  You won’t regret it, Penguins.

Power Play

After the early power play struggles, the power play has now scored in 5 games straight.  Let’s hope this continues to be a trend.

Duper

As mentioned earlier, Dupuis did not play in either of these back to back games.

Since 2013-2014, the Penguins have a 44-15-2 record when Dupuis is in the lineup, which is a .738 win percentage.  Also, during these 61 games, the Penguins have 3.16 goals for per game and allow 2.20 goals against per game.

When Dupuis is not in the lineup, the Penguins are 58-40-17, which is only  .578 win percentage.  During these 115 games, the Penguins have 2.55 goals for per game and 2.57 goals against per game.

Yeah, this guy is important.

Thanks to everyone for keeping up with me, and I am sorry for the delay.  Keep in mind, I am a college student and I often have a lot on my plate.

Anyways, my next article will be up late Wednesday or Thursday recapping and discussing the Penguins vs. Canadiens.  Puck drop at 7:30 on ROOT Sports.

You Win Some, You Lose Some

Week 2 Q and A

It’s that time of the week!

Just as a quick note before we get going: since there aren’t too many Penguins games in a week, I am going to start doing the Q and A monthly rather than weekly.

Often times, there is not too much that happens in a week that becomes “question worthy,” and I would rather answer upwards of 10 questions in one huge article every month than answer around 1-3 in a week.

So the next Q and A will be published on December 1st regarding the Penguins progress up through the end of November.

With that being said, let’s get to this week’s questions.

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Winnipeg Jets vs Toronto Maple Leafs

Tyler Godwin: I know it’s early, but what are some positions the Penguins could look to improve through trade and who could they target for those positions?

Brad Franjione: The Penguins have been playing well as of late, but I really think they need a physical presence somewhere in their lineup.  Enter Dustin Byfuglien.

I actually briefly mentioned Byfuglien in my previous Q and A article, but let’s talk about him a little bit more.

First of all, the Penguins do not have many physical players.  David Perron is tied for 2nd on the Penguins in hits.  That should not be the case.  Perron should be more busy trying to score goals instead of trying to hit people…

Dustin Byfuglien is an absolute monster at 6′ 5″ and 265 pounds.  He can hit, clear out the front of the net, and also be the guy that could even come to the aid of guys like Crosby and Malkin if need be.

The biggest upside of Byfuglien is that he isn’t just some big guy who can hit people and do nothing else.  He is actually a smooth skater and has potential offensive upside as well.  Byfuglien currently is a +4 with Winnipeg and has 6 points (2G – 4A – 6P) in 12 games.  Pretty solid stat line from a 6′ 5″ guy weighing 265 pounds.

However, one of the biggest reasons the Penguins should go after Byfuglien?

He is a power play threat.

The Penguins power play, although it converted once in their most recent game, is still 28th in the NHL.  Byfuglien would help their cause.  He has a bomb of a shot, as you would expect from a guy his size, and can quarterback a power play quite well.

Although I love Kris Letang, he never really has proven himself as a good “power play quarterback.”  That’s just my opinion.  Although Pouliot is in the AHL, I would love to see him quarterback the top power play if and when he gets called up this year.  I also would not mind giving Maatta that chance.

But if the Penguins acquired Byfuglien, I think he becomes your power play quarterback, and a guy that will help the power play numbers improve drastically.

So what do the Penguins give up to get Byfuglien?  I would use Perron in the centerpiece of that trade.  I mentioned this also in my previous Q and A.  He is a good player, but just does not seem to be meshing anywhere in the Penguins lineup right now.  He still does not have a goal, and is currently on a line with Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel.

That’s a problem.

The Penguins’ forward depth is outstanding, and although their defense could use a top 4 guy, the Penguins are tied 1st in the NHL is goals allowed per game (although this is partially due to the tremendous play of Fleury).

Byfluglien is a top 4 defenseman, a physical presence, a power play quarterback…

You fill all the potential “needs” of the Penguins with Byfuglien.

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sid and geno

Doug Godwin: After the quick start last year, the power play has been horrible ever since.  Besides just shooting the puck, what is the true issue here?

Brad Franjione: This is a great question.  Actually, it is such a good question that I am not sure if there is a clear cut answer.  That being said, I’ll let you know what I think.

So the Penguins have a top power play unit consisting of Phil Kessel, Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby, Kris Letang, and Patric Hornqvist.

Last year, the Penguins had a similar top unit, except obviously excluding Kessel.

In the first 11 games of last season, the power play was clearly working.  The Penguins scored on 19 of 46 opportunities, which is about a 41.3% success rate.  Although I would love to see the Penguins with a power play consistently clicking at 41.3%, I think we all knew the power play was going to drop off.  That being said, it dropped off way more than it should have.

After the first 11 games of last season, the power play only succeeded 30 times in 208 tries, which is about a 14.4% success rate.  About 2/5 of the Penguins total power play goals last year came in the first 11 games of the season!!

Under Mike Johnston and Rick Tocchet (excluding the first 11 games of last year), the Penguins power play has succeeded 34 times in 243 tries, which is about a 13.9% success rate.

The Penguins have, arguably, the best forward corps in the NHL.  Minimally, they are top 5 team in this category.  Their power play SHOULD be at about 25% in my opinion.  But they are not even close.

So, why?

Well, obviously they need to start shooting the puck more.  You can’t score goals by just passing the puck around in the offensive zone all night.

So, besides that.  What’s the issue?  I see two main issues, personally.  Again, who knows if these are the real issues behind this power play, but here’s what I think.

First issue, when the Penguins shoot, the puck needs to be on net.  I watched a game the other night and it seemed like every shot or one-timer was fired high and wide, banked off of the boards, and went all the way out to neutral ice.

They can’t be helping the other team do their job.

Every shot that they shoot doesn’t have to go in, but at least hit the net with it.  Even if it means taking a little bit of anger out of the shot.

Second issue, the Penguins need to shoot faster.  And no, I’m not talking about the speed of the shot.

I mean they need to shoot the puck early in the power play.

Most teams while shorthanded will play in a box-type formation in the defensive zone.  When they Penguins control the puck and refuse to shoot the puck on net, this box will stay in formation.  The Penguins can pass and pass all they want, but that box will not move.  What I do notice, however, is that when the Penguins DO shoot the puck early, that defensive box collapses, which opens the door for more opportunities.

If the Penguins power play is going to improve, they need to get the puck on net early and often, put it on goal, and get the other team out of position.  This is how I think they are going to succeed.

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Bennett

Casey Chafin: Why is Beau Bennett still on this team?  He should have been gone 3 years ago.  Most injury prone players like Bennett typically make up for it by being really good when they are healthy, but he does not seem to do that.  Considering we now have a new coach and GM, as opposed to the ones that drafted him and thought highly of him, why is he still around?

Brad Franjione: Well Casey, I see your argument here.  I have not been a huge Beau Bennett fan myself due to his consistent injury problems.

The guy got injured celebrating a goal this season.  Geez.

So, why is Beau Bennett still around? Here are some arguments in support of Beau Bennett.

First of all, he is only 23 and still has potential.  I remember last preseason, Bob Steigerwald, one of the Penguins’ announcers, was quoted saying something along the lines of “Besides Crosby and Malkin, Beau Bennett is the most skilled player on this team.”  That is saying something.

I know, he’s injury prone.  But he is young.  Give the guy a chance.  Do you really just drop a young talented player like Bennett JUST because he has been prone to injury?  That is a bit harsh…

Second of all, he is only signed to a 1 year deal at $800,000.  To have a guy like him on your team for that cheap is huge.  AND it is only a 1 year contract.  The Penguins did not want to offer him anything long term because he has been injury prone.  If Bennett had a 3 year deal woth 2 million a year, then yeah, I definitely see your argument, but that is not the case.

Thirdly, Bennett made some huge improvements in the offseason.  He knew that he has been injury prone, and he wanted to get better and earn himself a roster spot.  In the preseason, Bennett scored a team high 3 goals, and so far this year, he has 2 goals in only 6 games.

To put this in perspective, Malkin and Kessel have 4 goals each.  They have played all 11 games.  Past that, Hornqvist, Bonino, and Kunitz have 2 goals each, and they have also played in all 11 games.  Bennett has more goals than Crosby, Letang, and Perron, all of who have played all 11 games.

Give the guy some credit here.

Let’s get into some advanced statistics.  In the NHL, there are stats such as plus/minus, goals, assists, and points.  However, I am going to look at iCorsi/60 and iFenwick/60 stats for Beau Bennett.

You’re probably asking yourself “what the heck is iCorsi/60 and iFenwick/60?”  Corsi itself is calculated by the following formula:

Corsi = shots on goal + missed shots + blocked shots

iCorsi/60 is just basically an individuals Corsi for every 60 minutes that they play.

Fenwick itself is calculated by the following formula:

Fenwick = shots on goal + missed shots

Similarly, iFenwick/60 is just an individuals Fenwick for every 60 minutes they play.

Both of these stats, Fenwick especially, are strong indicators of possession, since a skater needs possession to shoot the puck.

So far this year, Beau Bennett has a iCorsi/60 of 15.84 and an iFenwick/60 of 13.2.  Out of 13 forwards, his iCorsi/60 ranks 4th among forwards behind only David Perron, Daniel Sprong, and Phil Kessel.  His iFenwick/60 ranks 3rd among Penguins forwards behind only Daniel Sprong and David Perron.

To put this into perspective even more, Crosby ranks 8th with an iCorsi/60 of 11.48 and Malkin ranks 12th with an iCorsi/60 of 8.73.  In addition, Crosby is 9th among forwards with an iFenwick/60 of 8.97, and Malkin ranks 12th with an iFenwick/60 of 5.95.

You do not have to be completely sold that Bennett is some God-send.  I am not making that claim.  But for his salary that he has and his impact to the team, even with being injury prone, I do not have a problem with where he is, and would not be surprised if the Penguins signed him to a one-year deal after this season, even with a new coach and GM.

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Thank you as always to those who participated this week!  I will begin doing this monthly now, as stated in the intro, but keep updated with everything by following me on Twitter @FranjiPensPress and like me on Facebook at Franjione Pens Press.

My next article will be posted late tomorrow night after the Penguins battle the Canucks in Vancouver looking for their 5th straight win.  Puck drop at 10 pm.

Week 2 Q and A

Fehr Shines in Debut, Pens Blank Leafs

bernier

The Penguins played arguably their best game last night against the Toronto Maple Leafs.  Yeah, the Maple Leafs are not that good this year, but the Penguins performed how they should perform against a team like Toronto.

The Penguins won this game 4-0 on Halloween night.  What was “spooky” is that Crosby, Malkin, Kessel, and Letang (arguably the Penguins’ top 4 skaters) combined for 0 points last night.

Zero.

But the Penguins still won the game 4-0 due to their forward depth, which was finally on display last night.  Finally, that whole “playing four scoring lines” really payed off.  3 of the Penguins’ 4 goals came from bottom 6 forwards, something the Penguins rarely saw last year.

The Penguins struggled last year when the star players were shut down.  It has been a problem for the Penguins, especially in the playoffs during the past few years.  They really do play their best when their star players produce, and that does not take rocket science to figure that out.

But the Penguins didn’t need star power last night.

This game really gave me some newly found hope for the Penguins.  I would imagine that the star players such as Malkin and Crosby feel a weight lifted off their shoulders when they do not feel the absolute need to produce.  There is a ton of pressure on these guys in Pittsburgh, but knowing the Penguins have the potential to score 4 goals without getting any production from their top guys is astounding.

I think this will result in them playing a looser, more relaxed game.  Sometimes when you feel too much pressure, you grip your stick a little too tight and try too hard to make things happen.  I think a game like this really has to be a confidence booster for the Penguins, and will take some of the heat off of the star players.

I am sure many of you were busy tick-or-treating, handing out candy, at Halloween parties, or maybe even a combination of the 3.  For that reason, I’ll go into a little more detail on the recap, and as always, I’ll give my impressions.

Recap

First Period

About 9 minutes into the period, Rich Clune absolutely hammered Ben Lovejoy into the boards.  Lovejoy was a bit shaken up but ended up to be okay.  Eric Fehr pounced on the loose puck after Lovejoy lost it from the hit, and gave it up to Plotnikov who one-touched a pass to Matt Cullen.  Cullen came flying down the right side of the ice, but was denied by Bernier.

With about 6:30 left in the 1st period, the Penguins were about 20 seconds into a power play, but it was the Leafs that had a great shorthanded chance that was denied by Marc-Andre Fleury.  Grabner, one of the fastest NHL skaters, found himself behind the Penguins defense, but was denied by Fleury.

Seconds following the save, Perron controlled the puck and skated it into the offensive zone.  Perron slid a pass to his right that was received by Bennett, who gave it right back to Perron on a give and go play.  Perron fired a shot from a wide angle that was stopped by Bernier.

Bernier thought he had the puck between his pads, but the puck snuck through and was sitting just behind his pads right on the goal line.  Luckily, Chris Kunitz drove the net on the Perron shot and noticed that the puck squirted through Bernier’s pads and knocked it into an empty cage.

Pens 1 Leafs 0

The Penguins spent the last 4 minutes of the first on a power play, after Rich Clune took a boarding major against Rob Scuderi.  The second power play unit came through earlier in the game, but the Penguins came up empty on this one, and did not have a ton off good opportunities.  They really could have opened the game up early, but were not able to cash in.

After the first: Pens 1 Leafs 0

Second Period

About a minute into the period, Kris Letang had possession of the puck and threw a pass across the ice that was eventually received by Bennett, who worked hard to beat a man to the puck.  Bennett knocked a pass backwards to Bonino, who fed a quick pass over to Kunitz who was streaking down the right side.  It was a great passing play by the Penguins, but Bernier said no.

2:22 into the second period, the Maple Leafs had a chance to stop the bleeding a with a power play opportunity.  Keep in mind the Leafs were only down 1-0 at this point.  The Leafs won the offensive zone draw, but Matt Cullen intercepted the pass that was intended for the point man Gardiner.  Cullen fed a pass to Fehr, and Fehr did the rest.

He skated the puck into the offensive zone on the left side, and it appeared as though he tried to pass the puck to Matt Cullen, the pass was broken up by a Maple Leafs defenseman, but the puck hit the left pad of Bernier and came back out in front of him.  Fehr crashed the net, got his own rebound, and skated across the goal mouth to the right, out-waiting Bernier, and fired it home.  Fehr scores in his Penguins debut, and makes it a shorthanded one at that.

Pens 2 Leafs 0

Later on the same Maple Leafs power play, Nazem Kadri fed a puck down low to James Van Riemsdyk who mad a twirling move to the front of the net.  JVR tried to stuff it in, but Fleury kept it out.

With just over 6 minutes to go, Evgeni Malkin received a pass from Kris Letang.  Malkin fed a pass to the middle to David Perron, who found Phil Kessel flying down the left wing.  Kessel put a hard shot on Bernier, but Bernier got just enough of it, and the puck went wide.

Half way through the period, the Leafs were in the Penguins zone.  Eric Fehr raced to a loose puck and chipped it out to the blue line.  Defenseman Martin Marincin of the Leafs could not handle the bouncing puck, and Matt Cullen took advantage and poked it ahead.  This turned into a 2 on 1 with Cullen and Plotnikov, but Cullen needed no help and beat Bernier with a great wrist shot and registered his first in a Penguins uniform.

Pens 3 Leafs 0

After the second: Pens 3 Leafs 0

Third Period

Just over 4 minutes into the period, the Leafs dumped the puck into the zone and it was played behind the net by Fleury.  Dumoulin came behind the net to retrieve the puck from the Penguins goaltender and skated the puck up the ice.  Dumoulin skated just past center ice before firing a long shot towards Bernier.  The puck took a bounce off the boards after it missed the net to the left of Bernier and came right out in front.  Patric Hornqvist with a head full of steam got to the puck first, and one timed a quick shot past Bernier.  His 2nd in as many games.

Pens 4 Leafs 0

13 minutes into the period, the Penguins were buzzing in the Maple Leafs zone.  Letang fed a pass to the point to Malkin, who faked a slap shot and slid a pass over to Ben Lovejoy who one-timed a shot on net.  There was a ton of traffic in front of the net, but the Penguins lead remained at 4.

After all was said and done, Fleury got his 40th shutout of his career, made 21 saves, and also recorded an assist on the Hornqvist goal.

Final Score: Pens 4 Leafs 0

Impressions

Eric Fehr

Wow.  Just wow.  Eric Fehr may have been the best Penguins acquisition this year besides Phil Kessel, but the acquisition did not get much attention because of the Kessel trade.

That being said, Eric Fehr played a terrific game for the Penguins last night.  He led the team with 2 points (1G – 1A – 2P), scored a shorthanded goal, and looked great wearing the black and gold.

Fehr is a big guy that can kill penalties, hit, and even score some goals in the process.  He is a great all around player and the Penguins have him inked for 2 more years after this.

I do not expect Fehr to put up 2 points a game by any means, but look for him to make a huge impact to the Penguins’ forward depth as the season progresses.

Bottom 6 Production

The Penguins’ bottom 6 forwards came though in a huge way in this game.  The top 2 lines were shut down for the most part, but when it came down to it, the Penguins found scoring from their depth guys.

All I have to say is that a game like this would NEVER have happened last year.  Unless Sutter/Downie had all 3 goals, because they were basically the only respectable offensive bottom 6 guys last year.

If you disagree, then you think that Goc, Adams, Lapierre, and Spaling could score 3 goals in a game. Ha.

MAF

The team MVP from last season is at it again.  Fleury leads all starting NHL goaltenders with a 1.71 goals against average, ranks 2nd among starters with a .942 save percentage (only trails Lundqvist who has a .943), and is tied for first in the NHL in shutouts.

If he keeps up what he is doing now, he will be the team MVP once more, and may even be a Vezina candidate (this is a long shot, but as of right now, Fleury’s name could definitely be argued)

Thanks to all who continue to read, as always.  This week I will do another Q and A session on Tuesday, so make sure you get your questions in by Monday, because the article will go up Tuesday at midnight.

Also, follow me on Twitter @FranjiPensPress and like me on Facebook at Franjione Pens Press.  Looking forward to your questions!

The Penguins’ next game is Wednesday against Brandon Sutter and the Vancouver Canucks.  The game is in Vancouver so it will be a late one with a puck drop at 10 pm, but as always, I will be writing an article afterwards with a recap and impressions in case you cannot stay up to watch.

Fehr Shines in Debut, Pens Blank Leafs

Pens Win Both of Back to Back

Bennett

The Penguins faced off against the, at the time, 6-1 Washington Capitals on the road yesterday.  The game was on NBC and was the Wednesday Night Rivalry Game of the week.

And rightfully so.

There were some monster hits dished out by both teams, mainly from the Capitals.  These teams really just do not like each other.  The Capitals are easily the Penguins’ biggest rivals behind the Philadelphia Flyers.

One huge factor that made these two teams rivals is the classical superstar vs. superstar: Crosby or Ovechkin?

Last night, neither of these players came up large, but the Penguins prevailed 3-1.  It was a huge win against a very good Capitals team…on the road too.

Tonight, the Penguins faced off against the Buffalo Sabres.  Probably the biggest story of this game going in was the return of former Penguins coach Dan Bylsma to Pittsburgh…but this time he was behind the opponents’ bench.

The Sabres, who came into the night missing 3 of their top players (Evander Kane, Tyler Ennis, Zach Bogosian), registered a whopping 53 shots on goal.  The Penguins had only 29 shots, but they outscored Buffalo where it matters the most and won 4-3 in a close game.

Although many Penguins fans (including myself) have not been completely satisfied with the Penguins so far this year.  However…

Outside of that 0-3 start, the Penguins have put up a 6-1 record while beating respectable teams such as the Predators and Capitals, both on the road.

The Penguins finally put up more than 3 goals in a regular season game for the first time since they put up 6 against the Oilers on March 12th of last season.

Crosby put up 2 points tonight, Hornqvist and Dupuis scored their first goals of the season, Malkin stayed hot, Zatkoff saved 50 of 53 shots he faced after sitting on the bench the whole season…

Is there finally a reason to be optimistic about this Penguins team?

That’s for you to decide.  I still want to see more from the Penguins in regards to the little things, but I am very pleased with the success they have had in the past 7 games…at least in regards to the win column.

I’ll recap the goals from BOTH the Washington and Buffalo games, and then give my overall impressions from both games.

Recap (Pens @ Caps)

First Period:

No scoring

After First Period: Pens 0 Caps 0

Second Period:

No scoring

After Second Period: Pens 0 Caps 0

Third Period:

Karl Alzner had the puck behind his own net.  He gave the puck to one of Washinton’s hottest forwards, Evegni Kuznetsov.  Kuznetsov skated with the puck all the way down the ice and put a dcently long range wrist shot on goal after he entered the Penguins zone.  The puck deflected twice off of Maatta then Scuderi and found it’s way past Fleury.

Pens 0 Caps 1

At this point, this game looked hopeless for the Penguins.  They were 0-4 going into this game when giving up the first goal, and have been outright terrible at coming back in game under Mike Johnston.  To add to it, the first goal of the game that gave Washington the lead was on an absolutely fluky play, one that would normally completely demoralize any hockey team.

Then Beau Bennett happened.

Just 24 seconds after the Caps took the lead, Olli Maatta had the puck in his own zone.  Maatta saw a streaking Beau Bennett and tried to feed him a pass.  The pass would have been just behind Bennett, but Bonino beautifully deflected the pass so that Bennett could take it in stride.  He came in down the right wing, took a shot that was stopped, but then buried his own rebound to knot it up at 1.

Pens 1 Caps 1

Remember when I said that Kessel should play on a line with Malkin?

Remember when I said that was going to work?

Only 1:57 after Bennett’s goal, Kessel scored to give the Penguins the lead.  As you can see, Kessel gave Malkin the puck and then drove towards the net.  Malkin saw him cutting, and completed the give-and-go with a soft pass that threaded a few needles that went right to the stick of Phil Kessel, who made no mistake about it.

Pens 2 Caps 1

Seconds after the Capitals pulled Holtby in an effort to tie the game, the Penguins turned the puck over.  Nick Bonino ended up with the puck, and lofted it up in the air from his own zone towards the empty net, and he nailed it.  Right down the middle.

Pens 3 Caps 1

Final Score: Pens 3 Caps 1

Recap (Pens vs. Sabres)

First Period:

Just 56 seconds in, the Penguins had the puck in the offensive zone.  Ben Lovejoy had the puck at the point and found Crosby who was flying coming off of the bench.  Crosby drove wide left and put a shot on goal.  Johnson could not handle the puck, and Dupuis was right in front to knock in the rebound.  His first NHL goal in almost a year.

Pens 1 Sabres 0

7:16 into the first period, the Penguins were again working in the offensive zone.  The Sabres looked like they were about to clear the puck out, but ended up turning the puck over.  Crosby found the puck, and just pushed a backhand pass to an open Patric Hornqvist, who blasted a one-timer by Johnson on the short side.  This was Hornqvist’s first of the season as well.  Nice to see him on the board.

Pens 2 Sabres 0

With 14:25 in the first, the Sabres answered.  The puck was in the Sabres offensive zone and the puck squirted out to the point to young Sabres defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen.  He put a shot on goal that got deflected by 2 Sabres players and found it’s way past goaltender Jeff Zatkoff.

Pens 2 Sabres 1

Just over 2 minutes later, the Sabres were buzzing again in the offensive zone.  Ristolainen once again had the puck at the point, but this time chose to shoot it down the boards behind the net.  Ryan O’Reilly received the puck behind the net and fed a quick pass to Deslauriers who fired a quick shot past Zatkoff to tie the game.

Pens 2 Sabres 2

After First Period: Pens 2 Sabres 2

Second Period:

8:18 into the second, the Penguins got a huge goal from an unlikely source: Ben Lovejoy.  Lovejoy skated into the zone with Malkin in a semi 2 on 1 situation.  Lovejoy dropped a pass off to Malkin, who then found Lovejoy streaking to the net.  The original shot was stopped, but Lovejoy was able to get just enough of his rebound chance to get the puck past Johnson, and gave the Pens the lead back.

Pens 3 Sabres 2

The Penguins found themselves on a power play late in the period, and they finally capitalized it, in only their 3rd power play goal of the season.  Letang fed a pass to Kessel who took a shot on Johnson right through Hornqvist providing a screen.  Hornqvist poked the puck over to Malkin who was camped out in front.  He kicked the puck to his stick, and buried the rebound.

Pens 4 Sabres 2

After Second Period: Pens 4 Sabres 2

The Sabres pulled their goalie with about 2:30 remaining, but it payed off for them quickly.  Legwand skated the puck out from behind the net and spun around a put a low shot on Zatkoff.  The shot was stopped, but O’Reilly found the rebound and put a shot on goal that was deflected in by Matt Moulson.

Pens 4 Sabres 3

The Penguins took a penalty with just under 2 minutes remaining, and played over a minute in what turned into a 6 on 4 situation.  That being said, the Pens held on and kept the Sabres off of the score sheet.

Final Score: Pens 4 Sabres 3

Impressions

Kessel and Malkin

Kessel and Malkin have combined for 8 points in the 3 games since the Pens switched lines.  I told you it was gonna work, and it absolutely has.  If you still don’t believe me, go watch the video of that Kessel goal again.

PK

In these past 2 games, the PK has come up large against 2 VERY good power play units.  They needed to come up large, and they did.  It’s as easy as that.  Props to the PK guys.

Fourth Line

Especially against Washington, the Penguins 4th line was their best line.  Although I hope that will not normally be the case, it is nice t see the Penguins’ 4th line actually producing good offensive chances, in comparison to Adams – Lapierre – Goc….

Thanks to all who keep up with me!

The next article will be up Saturday night/Sunday morning after the Pens take on the Leafs in Phil Kessel’s homecoming.  Let’s hope the Penguins can keep the win streak alive.

Also, remember to follow me on Twitter, @FranjiPensPress, and like me on Facebook, Franjione Pens Press.

Also, I will be doing Q and A next week, so keep updated with my Twitter and Facebook pages for more info.

Pens Win Both of Back to Back

Tuesday’s Q and A’s

Welcome to my first Q and A session!  For those of you that are new to my blog, I will be posting a Q and A article on every Tuesday.  Throughout the week, ask me questions via twitter (@FranjiPensPress) using #FranjiPensPress or comment your question on a Facebook (Franjione Pens Press) post. I will answer every question that I get, so feel free to ask away!  As for the first week of Q and A, let’s get underway:

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Alex Light: What are your thoughts on the new lines that just came out?  Sprong on the 3rd line is just a little bit off in my opinion.  Also, what do you think about the fact that Johnston is “experimenting” with some of the line changes?

Brad Franjione: There are a ton of elements that I love about the line changes Johnston made.  At the same time, there are elements I am not a huge fan of.  For those of you that are unsure about what the Penguins line combinations were as of this past Saturday against the Predators, here they are:

Dupuis – Crosby – Hornqvist

Plotnikov – Malkin – Kessel

Kunitz – Bonino – Sprong

Perron – Cullen – Rust

First of all, I love love LOVE the fact that Johnston finally put Kessel with Malkin, and put Hornqvist back with Crosby.  Last year, Crosby and Hornqvist really developed some awesome chemistry.  I also think that Hornqvist’s playing style of getting to the front of the net encourages Crosby to shoot more and gives him more space to work.

Kessel with Malkin is going to work.  I promise you this.  Malkin plays such a dominant game, and loves possessing the puck in the offensive zone.  This draws defensemen in towards Malkin, and gives players like Kessel more space to find the soft spots in the defense to look for opportunities.

I said it once, and I’ll say it again: James Neal was a 40 goal scorer with the Penguins, and he played with Malkin, not Crosby.

As of now, I am not a huge fan of Plotnikov on the 2nd line, but both Perron and Kunitz failed to succeed in a top 2 line role, so I guess Plotnikov is getting a second crack at it.

Finally, let’s talk about Sprong.  I would love to see him on the first or second line, BUT he is a natural right winger, and with the likes of Hornqvist and Kessel, it is highly unlikely that Sprong plays over either of these 2 guys.  The only way he plays in the top 6 if they convert him to be a left wing, which I do not think they will do.

So for now, I do not mind Sprong on the 3rd line…

BUT…

He should see way more than 8 minutes of ice time per game, which is about what he is getting.  He is one of the Penguins’ most skilled offensive forwards, and the Penguins are lacking in the goal scoring department.

2 + 2 = 4 right?  Then let Sprong do what he does best: score goals.

As for the last part of your question, I understand why Johnston wants to experiment with the line combinations, because clearly something needs to jump start this offense.  That being said, experimenting with line combinations is something that should be done in the preseason.  Johnston pretty much kept Kunitz, Crosby, and Kessel together and kept Plotnikov, Malkin, and Hornqvist together.

That’s your time to “experiment”, not now.  But line changes needed to be made, and I’m glad he at least did that.

_________________________________________________________________________

Josh Godwin: Will Bruce Boudreau coach for the Pens at some point this year?

Brad Franjione:  First, let me fill everyone in on the situation.  Bruce Boudreau is currently the coach for the Anaheim Ducks.  During the preseason, the Ducks were seen as one of the Stanley Cup favorites.  All of that being said, the Ducks are 1-5-1 to start the season, with only 6 goals scored in those 7 games.

Boudreau is probably on the hot seat, and if the Ducks continue on this downward slide, Boudreau could very easily be unemployed soon.

As we all know, the Penguins are struggling to find offense, and Mike Johnston is definitely on the hot seat here in Pittsburgh.

If both Boudreau and Johnston get fired (theoretically), I would think that there is a chance the Penguins take a look at Boudreau.  However, this would only be a realistic situation if Boudreau was fired before Johnston, and the Penguins were able to get in contact with Boudreau and initiated talks with him about coaching in Pittsburgh.

I would give a higher probability to see either Tocchet or Jacques Martin behind the bench if Johnston is let go.  But there is absolutely a chance that the Penguins would consider Boudreau if that was an option for them at the time.

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Nick Bermel: Why do the Penguins always lose to the Flyers?  Are the Flyers just the superior team?

Brad Franjione: Well, let’s start off by saying that the Flyers have not won a Stanley Cup since 1975.  The Penguins have 3 Stanley Cups since then.  Oh, and were the Flyers in the playoffs last year?

As I recall, they were not…

That being said, you do bring up a good point.  I want to say it’s been 8 games straight that the Flyers have beat the Penguins in head to head match-ups.

I think that the rivalry between the Penguins and Flyers adds some crazy intensity to every game, and I think the Flyers know how to take advantage of that.  The Flyers play in a way that really gets into the heads of the Penguins’ players, and the Penguins play into that style that the Flyers play.  Props to the Flyers for that.  In addition, the Flyers have some solid offensive threats up front in Giroux, Voracek, Simmonds, and others.

The Flyers have been the superior team in head-to-head matchups against the Penguins in recent years, but they are by no means the superior team in general.

_________________________________________________________________________

Raafay Rishi: Which NHL defenseman do you think the Penguins will trade for and who will the Penguins give up in the trade?

Brad Franjione:  To be quite honest, Raafay, right now the defense is not the problem.  The offense is.

But as I said in one of my previous articles, the defense is going to decline slightly as the season goes on.  The Penguins right now are stacked offensively and need help on defense…at least on paper.

Who do I think they should go after? Dustin Byfuglien.

The Penguins do not have many physical players, and Byfuglien answers that concern.  He hits people HARD.  He also has a bomb of a shot, and is a great power play guy, which the Penguins really need right now.

So, if the Penguins were to pursue Byfuglien, who do they give up?

Right now, the centerpiece of that trade for me is David Perron.  He has offensive skill and can be a decent player, but he just does not seem to fit anywhere into the Penguins lineup right now.  The Penguins would have to throw in something else besides Perron, but I think he would be the centerpiece.

Some other pieces that the Penguins would consider using along with Perron could be players such as Kunitz, Scuderi, or even young defenseman Derrick Pouliot.

I’m not sure if the Penguins will pursue Byfuglien, but I do not have a problem with taking advantage of the offensive surplus and helping firm up the defensive corps, especially considering that the Penguins only have two top pair defensemen and a bunch of other bottom pair guys.

Now that I think about it, I’d buy a Byfuglien shirt.

_________________________________________________________________________

Casey Chafin: Let’s jump to the major conclusion that Johnston is out.  What do you look for in a replacement, style wise?  And what immediate changes should the new guy implement?

Brad Franjione: If you do not know, Johnston’s style has a very “defense first” mentality.  The offense is created through defense and the defense move up into the play to help create offense.

So Rob Scuderi is supposed to provide offense for this team?  Yeah… Okay…

The coach of the Penguins needs to be a guy who coaches in an offensive-minded style.  The Penguins are built upon their star players’ success.  They have star power up front, and they are clearly one of the best offensive teams in the NHL, at least on paper.

The Penguins should be winning 6-3 type of hockey games, not 2-1 hockey games.  The new coach needs to be one that puts the emphasis on offense, not defense (although defense is obviously still important).

In regards to the second part of your question, I think the biggest immediate change (besides the overall strategy) is the power play.  The power play is just not working, but it needs to be.  The players are too good for it not to work.

In the last 3 years of Bylsma’s stint with the Penguins, the Penguins had power plays clicking at 19.7%, 24.7%, and 23.4% which ranked them 5th, 2nd, and 1st in the NHL respectively.  So clearly Crosby, Malkin, Letang and co. can be successful.  Obviously the power play can work, but it obviously hasn’t under Johnston and Tocchet.

The Penguins finished with a power play percentage of 19.3% last year, which is not too bad at all.  That being said, the power play was clicking at about 40% for the first 20 or so games.  This means in the last 60 or so games, the power play was not working so well.

This year, the Penguins power play is only clicking at a 7.1%, which is 29th in the NHL.

This needs to be fixed, and it needs to be a priority for the head coach that takes over Johnston, because I do not think he will be here much longer.

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Doug Godwin: What would you attribute Sid’s lack of production to over the last 2 years?  Declining skills?  Coaching?  NHL changing?

Brad Franjione: Well, let me start with this: last year, scoring in the entire NHL was down.  The Art Ross winner Jamie Benn had only 86 points.  Crosby finished with 83 points, and finished first in the NHL in points per game.

The NHL is general is changing.  Goalies are getting bigger, the pads are getting bigger, and goals are harder to come by.  It showed last year.

Although Crosby was first in the NHL in points per game, he really hasn’t looked like “vintage Crosby” over last season and this season.  Especially this season.

If you recall, Crosby had one great game against the Panthers this year where he registered a career high 9 shots on goal and had 3 points in that game.  He had some hop to his step and played an absolutely terrific game.  Past that, he has been invisible.

I think part of his problem right now is coaching.  Johnston has been questionable to say the least, and considering he had no NHL coaching experience before taking over the Penguins, I’m not sure how much respect and trust Crosby has in this guy.

His main problem?  He needs to shoot.

Hopefully this problem is partially solved through reuniting him and Hornqvist, but regardless, Sid needs to shoot.  He showed us all that when he shoots the puck, good things happen.  When you’re as good of a player as Sidney Crosby, you’ll score goals and put up points when you shoot as much as he did against the Panthers.

Case and point: Alex Ovechkin.  The guy has a tremendous shot, and shoots the puck like crazy.  He gets rewarded by collecting Rocket Richard trophies like it’s his job.

Remember that Crosby was a Rocket Richard winner himself.  He has the ability to do it, but now that he isn’t the only star player on the team, he feels the need to pass the puck.  A LOT. Like, way too much.

Yeah, Crosby is not as young as he once was, but he hasn’t lost much skill at all.  I do not think this is an issue at all.  He just needs to play with confidence and be a little more selfish with the puck.

You want to see Crosby’s production trend in the upwards direction?  Tell him to shoot.

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Grant Franjione: Two questions for you: how do you explain the Penguins complete inability to bounce back from even 1 goal deficits when trailing after 2 periods of play?  Also, when I watch the Penguins, it just seems like chances to score in today’s NHL are just super tough to come by, but yet I see less offensively talented teams have occasional outbursts of 4, 5, or even 6 goals in a game. What are those teams doing that the Penguins aren’t?  Are they just luckier?

Brad Franjione:  Well, let’s take this one question at a time.

So, from what I could remember, the Penguins were actually a pretty good comeback team when playing under Dan Bylsma.  They have been the exact opposite under Johnston.  Although some of the players change every year, the Penguins have had the same core players throughout this span.  So, is their inability to come back simply based on the head coach?

Well, the problem is that I FEEL like the Penguins were a good comeback team under Bylsma.  But I wanted to convince you AND myself that the Penguins were a much better comeback team under Bylsma than they are under Johnston.  So I decided to do some research and calculations.

From the beginning of the 2009-2010 season to the end of the 2013-2014 season, which is the time frame where Bylsma was the head coach (excluding his stint with Pens in 2009 when they won the Cup) the Penguins won 21.19% of their games when trailing going into the 3rd, which is good enough for 2nd in the NHL during that span.

Yeah, the 2nd best winning percentage when trailing going into the third period!

The Penguins are currently 0-21-5 in that category under Johnston.  Yikes.

Last year, the Penguins scored only 12 goals in 23 opportunities when they entered the 3rd period trailing.  In this situation, the Penguins were only scoring .53 goals per period, while they averaged .89 goals per period throughout the season.

This year, the Penguins are 0-3 in this situation, and have yet to score a goal when going into the 3rd down by at least a goal.

Oh, and I’m not done yet…

The Penguins, under their 5 full seasons under Bylsma, won 45.35% of their games when they allowed the first goal of the game.  Their NHL rank in this category in this 5 year span? 1st.  You heard me, 1st.  The best team in the NHL at winning games when allowing the first goal.

Under Johnston, the Penguins have only won 26.32% of these games.

Convinced yet?  If not, I have one more stat for you.

Under Johnston, it seems as though the Penguins have at least been pretty good at holding a lead when they get it.  They are 4-0 this season when scoring the first goal, and have not been trailing in any of these 4 games.

So, under Johnston, the Penguins have won 69.82% of their games when scoring the first goal.  Under Bylsma?  The Penguins won 74.47% of their games when scoring the first goal.

Why did they get rid of Bylsma again?

To answer the second part of your question, let me start with this.  The Penguins shooting percentage this year is 5%, which is 29th in the NHL.  Last year, the Penguins had a shooting percentage of 8.39%, which is less than the shooting percentage of any Penguins team under Dan Bylsma.

So, why are the Penguins not scoring a ton of goals with their offense?  Well, they aren’t scoring on many of their shots.

So, why aren’t they scoring on many of their shots?

Johnston’s strategy entails shot volume, which does seem pretty logical right?  The more pucks you throw on net, the more pucks that are going to go in.  At least, it seems that way…

To Johnston’s credit, the Penguins finished 4th in the NHL in shots per game last year, and currently sit in 4th place in the NHL this year in shots on goal per game.  But is shot volume really the answer?

Here is my thought: when a coach preaches about shot volume, as a player, you are going to focus on shooting the puck (unless your name is Sidney Crosby, then you’re never going to shoot the puck).  However, I think this gives the players a mentality of “let’s make sure we get shots on goal.”  In other words, they’re shooting to shoot.

They’re not shooting to score.

I think this is the underlying difference.  Shot volume is important, but the some of those shots need to come on quality chances, and the players have to shoot to score, not just to shoot.

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That concludes this week’s Q and A!  I’ll be doing the same thing next Tuesday!  As always, thank you again to everyone who keeps up with me, and a special thanks to those who participated in my first Q and A session.

Remember to follow me on Twitter @FranjiPensPress and like me on Facebook at Franjione Pens Press.

My next article will be up late on Wednesday night after the Penguins face off against the Capitals on rivalry night.

Tuesday’s Q and A’s

A Win Is a Win?

Kunitz

Well, the Penguins’ offense did not show much…yet again…tonight, but the Penguins were able to hold on to the Predator’s surge in the 3rd period, and won the game in overtime 2-1.

The Penguins were out shot pretty badly in this game.  The Predators peppered Marc-Andre Fleury with 39 shots, while the Penguins threw 25 at Pekka Rinne.  The shots were reasonably even after 2, but the Predators entered the 3rd period down 1-0, and out shot the Penguins 17 to 5 in the final frame.

Also note that the Penguins improved to 4-0 when scoring the first goal.  In addition, the Penguins have NEVER been trailing in any of those 4 games.  The exact opposite can be said about the other 4 games.

As always, I’ll give a quick recap of the game followed by my impressions from tonight, which includes some crazy statistical evidence calculated by yours truly.  The recap will just include the goals, because I have a lot to talk about later on.  Here we go:

Recap

First Period

No scoring

After 1 period of play, Pens 0 Predators 0

Second Period

With just about 5 minutes left in the 2nd, the Predators were on a power play and had a ton of momentum.  The Penguins shut it down.  Just after the guilty party, Malkin, was released from the box, Matt Cullen made a terrific poke check that allowed Malkin to pick up the puck.  This turned into a 3 on 2 for the Pens.  Malkin carried the puck into the zone, and dropped it off to Kunitz who fired an absolute LAZER thin mints on Pekka Rinne.  Nice to see Kunitz back on the scoresheet.  Hopefully this continues.  Pens 1 Predators 0

After 2 periods of play: Pens 1 Predators 0

Third Period

With just over 10 minutes to go in the game, the Predators had the puck in the Penguins zone.  There was a post hit and a number of crazy saves by Fleury.  This continued on for 2 minutes with no whistles. Literally.

The puck finally came out to center, but the Penguins took a penalty, so the Predators were playing 6 on 5.  Mike Ribeiro fed a pass to the slot to none other than James Neal.  His first shot was stopped, but he went thin mints on the rebound and tied the game at 1. Pens 1 Predators 1.

I was very surprised that Johnston did not challenge this goal.  It appeared as though Jackman may have prevented Fleury from making a save on the second attempt, which would have nixed the goal.  Even with his timeout available, he did not challenge the goal and the call stood.

After 3 periods of play: Pens 1 Predators 1

Overtime

It’s funny how Bob Errey actually made a comment before overtime, and he said something along the lines of “this overtime could end in 30 seconds.”  Well, it took 41 seconds, and it was all thanks for Phil Kessel.  Kessel had the puck in the offensive zone, skated it out to center ice, used his speed to fly past some Predators, shot a puck on a created 2 on 1, and knocked in the rebound to give the Penguins the win. Pens 2 Predators 1

Final Score OT: Penguins 2 Pedators 1

Impressions

So…Where the Heck is the Power Play?

power play

8 games into the season, the Penguins power play is clicking at 7.1% which is currently 27th in the NHL.  Last year, under Johnston, the Penguins finished 10th in the NHL with a power play that was clicking at 19.3%.  Although that does not sound terrible at all, it is notable that the power play was clicking at some outrageous 40% through the first 20ish games.

Excluding that red hot start to the power play last year, it really has not done anything significant under Johnston.  At all.  Here is what baffles me: if you told me to pick 10 players in the entire NHL to create 2 “all-star” power play units, I would easily pick Crosby and Malkin, and even debate picking Kessel and/or Letang.

So…why does this power play stink?  Is it Tocchet?  Johnston?  The players?  Some combination of the 3?  I’m really not sure.  But I will say this: under the final 3 years of Dan Bylsma, the Penguins ranked 5th, 2nd, and 1st in the NHL on the power play with percentages of 19.7%, 24.7%, and 23.4% respectively.  Also, this was arguably with far less offensive fire power than the Penguins have this year.

All I know is that 7.1% is not good enough.

Sprong Needs More Ice Time

sprong goal

This one is going to be quick: Daniel Sprong, one of your most gifted offensive forwards, had 2 shifts in the 3rd period, skated on the 3rd line, and logged less than 10 minutes of ice time tonight.

Johnston, what are you thinking?!  I sure don’t know…

Fleury

AppleMark
AppleMark

Thank you, Marc-Andre Fleury, for single-handedly winning this game for the Penguins.  He’s not gonna keep this up forever, so hopefully the offense decides to start scoring…

Shooting Percentage

brick

I could not help myself with researching this topic.

The Penguins are 4th in shots per game, and 29th in goals for per game.  So I thought to myself, “Wow, this team’s shooting percentage must be terrible.”

The Penguins currently rank 29th in the NHL in shooting percentage, with 4.985% of their shots finding the back of the net.  The only team lower than the Penguins is Anaheim, who is only scoring on 3.106% of their shots.

After looking at those shooting percentages, keep in mind that the NHL average is 8.895%, and the first place team in this category, the Washington Capitals (who will be facing off against the Penguins on Wednesday) are scoring on 13.997% of their shots.

So, how important is shooting percentage?

Here is where the stats come into play.

As of right now, the bottom 15 teams in shooting percentage (which accounts for one half of NHL teams) are averaging .41 wins per game and .91 points (points = 2*number of wins + 1*number of OT/SO losses) per game.  Mathematically speaking, these bottom 15 teams, on average, would be on pace for 34 wins and 75 point seasons.  Ouch…

Come to think of it…

How the heck are the Penguins 4-4?!  They are at a .5 wins per game and a 1 point per game clip, which is significantly higher than the average of the bottom 15 teams…And the Penguins are 2nd to last in shooting percentage!!  It’s almost a miracle that their record is not worse than 4-4.

On the other side of things, the top 15 NHL teams in shooting percentage are averaging .6 wins per game and 1.3 points per game.  These teams, on average, are on pace for 49 wins and 107 point seasons.

See the difference?  If not, put on some glasses and try again.

All of this being said, I guess a win is a win.  BUT, clearly, something is wrong.  Something is seriously wrong.

One fact I will point out is that Johnston has no NHL coaching experience.  I like his overall thought process and I believe he has hockey smarts, BUT could his lack of success be a lack of experience?  Who knows…

Remember to follow me on twitter (@FranjiPensPress) and like me on Facebook (Franjione Pens Press).  Also, remember that I am doing a Q and A on Tuesday, so start submitting your questions!  On Twitter, use #FranjiPensPress and your question, and on Facebook comment on one of my posts that discusses Q and A.  I will be answering every question I get!

Next game is Wednesday against Ovi and the Caps.  The Pens are gonna need at least 3 goals to win that one, because Washington’s offense is clicking on all cylinders, just like the Penguins’ should be.  So, keeping in mind the Penguins’ shooting percentage, the Penguins only need about 60 shots to score 3 goals…

A Win Is a Win?