“Wilkes Guys” Come Through

Wilson goal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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“Wilkes Guys” Come Through

Who Is At Fault Here?

Johnston

The Penguins lost a tough one 4-1 to the Dallas Stars on home ice Thursday night.  The Penguins dominated the first 6 minutes of the game, and arguably played their best hockey they have played all season.

There is just one problem: they didn’t score any goals during this span.

Following the 6 minute dominance by the Pens, Stars defenseman Johnny Oduya took a wrist shot from the point that literally floated in on goal.  The puck found it’s way past Fleury, and the Stars took a 1-0 lead and never looked back.

This is really all you need to know in regards to a recap.  There wasn’t much else exciting that went on.  The Penguins had a 5 on 3 late in the game down 3 goals, where they pulled Fleury and made it a 6 on 3 situation.  As usual, the powerplay was a little something like “Crosby to Malkin to Crosby to Kessel to Letang to Hornqvist to Crosby to…intercepted by Dallas and cleared.”

Adding to the stats, the Penguins are now 0-4 when allowing the first goal, and have been either trailing or tied throughout the entirety of these 4 games.

In addition, that 1.67 goals per game drops to 1.57 goals per game after they only scored 1 goal tonight.  AND the defense gave up 4 goals against a very good Dallas Stars offense, who play a lot like how the Penguins SHOULD play.  This put the Penguins goals against average at 2.14.

Didn’t I just publish an article about this?  Oh yeah… What a coincidence!!

So, who is at fault here?

Here is the guy that is not at fault: Jim Rutherford.  He went out this offseason and gave the coaching staff the pieces to work with, which is his job.  Yeah, their defense isn’t necessarily anything fantastic, but it shouldn’t have to be with the offensive players that Rutherford brought in during the offseason.

So ruling out Jim Rutherford, there are only 2 “people” to blame here.  One is the players, and one is the head coach.  Let’s talk about the players first.

The Penguins have been getting their fair share of chances.  They still rank 2nd in the NHL in shots per game.  So why is the goal total so low with all the talent they have?

Here is NOT the answer to that question: Well, they ran into a hot goaltender tonight…

Is anyone else tired of that argument?  I certainly am.  Every once in a while, a team runs into a goalie that is playing well, but it should not be an every game thing.  I don’t really care about Neimi’s history against the Penguins, today was a new game and the Penguins had a chance to beat him and didn’t.  It’s as simple as that.

It’s on the players to do what they’re supposed to do and score.  It’s on the players to be able to keep their heads in the game when they give up a goal early in the first period to go down 1-0.  Those kind of things are on the players.

The rest is on the coach.

I have no idea what upper management is thinking right now, but I would have Mike Johnston on a very very VERY short leash right now.

Even though the Penguins are 3-4, which is actually a pretty good record considering their team statistics right now, they have not been scoring goals.  To me, this is mainly attributed to the coach.

He has stuck with the line of Kunitz, Crosby, and Kessel since day one.  I have news for you Johnston: it’s not working.  He has stuck with Hornqvist, Malkin, and Perron for most of the time, after making the obvious move of shifting Plotnikov to the 3rd line.  This line hasn’t worked either.

To top it off, one of your best offensive players, Daniel Sprong, has been logging a team-low in ice time while getting an occasional shift on the fourth line.

Something doesn’t add up here…

Johnston needs to make a change, and I mean as early as Saturday when the Penguins play the red hot Predators.  (Pekka Rinne will be in goal, and I’m already ruling out the “we ran into a hot goaltender” excuse, because I can almost guarantee the Penguins won’t score more than 2 on Saturday)

One thing that may help is making some line changes.  Clearly, the line combinations Johnston has right now are not working.  Kunitz has been below average for at least a year now, Hornqvist has not looked as effective as he can be with Malkin, and Kessel and Crosby just have not found that chemistry yet.

In addition, the top pairing of Cole and Letang has looked a bit sloppy, and understandably so.  Ian Cole is not a top 2 defenseman.  This is not a knock on Cole, he is just not quite that good.  I like him on the team a lot, but he is playing way too large of a role to be effective.

With Johnston, it starts with some line changes if he wants this team to start scoring.  They are getting the shots he wants, but the goals are not there.  Here would be my lines for Saturday night’s game if I was in Mike Johnston’s position:

Forwards

Sprong – Crosby – Hornqvist

Dupuis – Malkin – Kessel

Kunitz – Bonino – Perron

Rust – Cullen – Porter/Plotnikov

Defensemen

Letang – Maatta

Cole – Dumoulin

Lovejoy – Scuderi/Clendening

Let’s talk about what I changed here (at least the big changes).

First of all, put Hornqvist back with Crosby.  They worked together so well last year, but because Phil Kessel is here clearly Crosby has to be the one that plays with him…

Put Sprong on the first line.  Does he deserve anything less at this point?  The Penguins need goals, and that’s exactly what Sprong gives you.  He has speed, finese, and an NHL shot that he is not afraid to use at any time.

Move Kessel with Malkin.  Malkin has been the most dominant Penguins player by a long shot thus far in the season.  I think Kessel’s production increases with Malkin rather than playing with Sid who is just gonna play the “you shoot it, no you shoot it” card with Kessel.  One more time: remember James Neal?  That guy who scored 40 goals for the Penguins a few years ago?  Yeah, he played with Malkin…just saying.

Let Dupuis play on the second line.  Dupuis plays with energy and hustle and it’s a treat to watch him play.  He makes the second line complete and provides the “defensive presence” if Malkin and Kessel get trapped deep in the zone.  Plus who else slots here?  Kunitz/Perron?  Ummmm…no.

Kunitz and Perron get dropped to third line.  Both of these guys have been so subpar this season.  Kunitz is looking like the Kunitz of last season, which is not good.  Kunitz has 1 point in his last 26 games dating back to last season.  1 singular point.  Perron is invisible out there for the most part, and still has not looked like the David Perron they acquired that lit up the stat sheet in his first 10 or so games with the Pens.  I do not mind them as third line players on this team, but as 1st and 2nd line guys respectively?  I don’t think so.

Put Letang and Maatta together.  I was not for this early in the season, but the Penguins cannot get anything working on their back end, and I think this pair would be a great first pair.  Plus, I like Cole and Dumoulin partnered up.

Overall, I am placing the blame on Johnston more than the players.  The players need to produce, but if Johnston is continuing to play a dwindling Chris Kunitz on the first line and sit one of his best forwards, then it makes it very hard for the forwards to do anything effective.  They’re just banging their heads off of a cement wall at this point.  That cement wall being the one that is put in front of the goal they’re trying to shoot at.

Also, just remember, this isn’t just a little bit of a “rough patch” at the beginning of the season.  This is a carry-over from last year.  The Penguins in their last 27 games, including last year and the playoffs, are 8-19 with a 1.63 goals for per game.  They have scored more than 3 goals only once during this stretch, and have been held to 0 or 1 goals in 14 of the 27 games.  This is concerning.

Look out Johnston, because if management knows what is best for this team, you better do something about this team… and FAST.

On the bright side of things, congrats to Nick Bonino for his first goal in a Penguins uniform.  His goal was entirely an individual effort, and a great one at that.  Glad to see him on the score sheet.

Anyways, thank you for everyone who read my stuff!  I’ll be posting an article Saturday night about the Penguins vs. Predators game.

Also, remember to like me on Facebook (Franjione Pens Press) and/or follow me on twitter (@FranjiPensPress) if you like what you’re reading.

Who Is At Fault Here?