All-Star Break Q and A

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BUT…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Okay, let me start with this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The list goes on…

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

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

Sidney. Crosby.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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All-Star Break Q and A

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

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.

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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.

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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.

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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

This Year Vs. Last Year

Any one else getting super hyped for Thursday?  It really started to hit me today that the Penguins play a REGULAR SEASON game this Thursday.  Can’t wait.

Anyways, let’s delve into the 4th article in 4 days: this year versus last year.

Jim Rutherford made some bold moves in the offseason.  He traded Brandon Sutter for Clendening and Bonino, he traded a bunch of prospects for Kessel.  He acquired Fehr, Cullen, and Plotnikov via free agency.

This guy is not messing around.

He wants a Stanley Cup back in Pittsburgh.

However, we must also note the Penguins lost plenty of talented players in the offseason.  They lost blue-liners Paul Martin and Christian Ehrhoff, they lost bruiser Steve Downie, and they lost Blake Comeau, who showed a lot of success with the Penguins…just to name a few.

So the question is: how different is the Penguins lineup this year as compared to last year?  Are they better?  Are they worse?  Well let’s check it out:

Below is last years Penguins opening night roster.

Note: these line combinations may not be exactly correct.  But just go with it:

Forwards

Kunitz – Crosby – Hornqvist

Comeau – Malkin – Dupuis

Spaling – Sutter – Downie

Sill – Goc – Adams

Defensemen

Letang – Martin

Maatta – Ehrhoff

Despres – Scuderi

Now, let’s compare this team to the team Mike Johnston will be sending out on Thursday night, line by line. (Note: this is based off of what my predictions are for the lines.  This can be found in my previous article, click here)

FWD 1:  Kunitz – Crosby – Hornqvist  VS  Kunitz – Crosby – Kessel

Not terribly too much has changed here.  The main difference is that Kessel is on a line with Crosby and Kunitz rather than Hornqvist.  Hornqvist is a great player, but Kessel is an elite sniper.  “Crosby to Kessel” should be a popular phrase this season.  This line definitely upgraded, although not as much as others believe it or not.

FWD 2: Comeau – Malkin – Dupuis  VS  Plotnikov – Malkin – Hornqvist

Well, Malkin is a constant on this line, but his wingers have once again changed.  Comeau is gone, but he is replaced with Sergei Plotnikov, who I think can do just as much, if not more damage, than Comeau did with Malkin.  Additionally, Hornqvist, who played on the first line last year, will get to see some time with Malkin.  Hornqvist is definitely an upgrade to Dupuis on this line, even though Duper is a terrific hockey player.  This line also has clearly upgraded from last year.

FWD 3: Spaling – Sutter – Downie  VS  Perron – Bonino – Dupuis

Okay, this line got a HUGE upgrade.  Downie was a solid player for the Penguins, but he took way too many penalties to be legitimately effective.  Sutter was also very strong for the Penguins, but Bonino, who replaces Sutter this year, has better upside offensively and better possession numbers.  And Perron vs. Spaling?!  Yeah, I’ll take Perron on that one.  Huge upgrade for the 3rd line.

FWD 4: Sill – Goc – Adams  VS  Bennett – Cullen – Sprong

Ha ha.  Ha.  Do I need to even analyze this one?  Sill, Goc, and Adams were all a complete joke.  Yeah sure, Adams and/or Goc could kill a penalty or 2.  But does another team even feel somewhat worried if that line was out on the ice?  I wouldn’t be.  On the other hand,  Bennet and Sprong but had fantastic preseasons, scoring 3 goals each.  Both have looked great, and Bennett looks as good as he ever has.  If he stays healthy (knock on wood), he may have a breakout season, even if he is on the fourth line.  Cullen will put up decent numbers as well, but not anything special…then again, he will probably put up as many (if not more) points and Sill, Goc, and Adams did all of last year, because it wasn’t many.

Rutherford really put some focus in the bottom 6 forwards and he did his job well.  The Penguins are rolling with 4 lines that can score.  Even if the Rangers put Staal and McDonagh against Crosby’s line, the Penguins have 3 other lines that know how to score goals.  It should be fun to watch.

Let’s take a look at the defensive side:

Def 1: Letang – Martin  VS  Letang – Maatta

If you noticed, I have Letang with Maatta to start this year rather than Letang with Scuderi, which I put in my article I posted yesterday.  I did not think they would start the season together, but Mike Johnston has come out since then to say that they will start the season as the top pair.  I do not necessarily agree, but let’s go with it.

I see this comparison as a washout.  Letang is still Letang, and Maatta is upcoming.  He might not have Paul Martin’s experience, but he has the hockey smarts, and I think him and Letang should blend well.

Def 2: Maatta – Ehrhoff  VS  Cole – Dumoulin

Well, we hit our first bump in the road.  I think the Penguins had a better 2nd D pair last year than they do this year.  Cole and Dumoulin have played well together during the preseason, but both of these guys are seen as “bottom 6” kind of guys.  They would really need to step it up to be considered a top 4 pairing.  On the other hand, I do see Ehrhoff – Maatta as a top 4 pairing, so the Pens downgraded here.

Def 3: Despres – Scuderi  VS  Lovejoy – Scuderi

Oh.  That was awkward.  Scuderi is the constant, and the change between Lovejoy and Despres was due to the trade of these players, straight up.  I don’t mind that the Penguins traded Despres for Lovejoy, but they should have got more value back for Despres, who is only in his 20’s and has decent potential.  Therefore, based off of that, I would say the Pens downgraded just slightly on their third D pair.

Overall, the defense downgraded.  However, Rutherford decided he wanted to let some of the young guys play.  We will just have to see how things work out.

On a side note, regarding defense, I have heard rumors circulating that Rutherford wants Dustin Byfuglien… but it is way too early to talk about trade rumors.  We can discuss that later if it really becomes something that is legitimate.

That being said, don’t be surprised if GM Jim Rutherford goes after a top 4 defenseman, because that is one of the only spots where the Penguins are really lacking right now.

Overall, considering everything, the lineup definitely improved.  The defense did downgrade, but the upgrade of the offense way overpowers the losses on the blue line.  If the Penguins want to be successful, they need to learn how to score goals, and win the high scoring hockey games.  That is how this team is built, and it is how they should play.

Once again, thanks to those that keep up with my blog!  Tomorrow (or technically, later today) I’ll be writing an article regarding the NL Central vs. the Metropolitan Division.  It should be a good one.

This Year Vs. Last Year