Murray or Fleury?

matt-murray-marc-andre-fleury-900x506In game 5, Matt Murray stopped 16 of 19 shots.  Although his stat line in this game was not exactly impressive, (.842 save percentage and just above a 3.00 goals against average) you can hardly blame the kid.

The first goal he allowed was an absolute howitzer of a one-timer from Ovechkin.  Not much Murray could do on that goal.  Ovechkin made a great shot, and the defense needs to start reading that play.  It’s almost way too predictable, but its starting to work.  Ovi has been taking that shot all series long, and it was only a matter of time before he scored on it, and he will continue to do it until the Penguins shut it down.

The second goal he allowed was on a near identical play.  Ovechkin let a one-time shot go, although this time Murray made a great pad save.  However, TJ Oshie outworked the Penguins defense in front and knocked in the rebound.  Again, Murray could not have done much to prevent that goal from happening.

The third and final goal for the Capitals was one Murray probably could have stopped, however you can’t put all the blame on him.  Brian Dumoulin attempted to clear the puck and put it right on the stick of Justin Williams, who could have sat down and enjoyed a nice 3 course meal before shooting the puck while skating in on Murray.  The puck went 5-hole, but Williams never even gets this golden chance without the turnover from Dumoulin.  In addition, the shot was deflected by a Penguins stick, and did not go where Williams intended.  If he gets the shot of clean, Murray just may have made the save.

And yet, many Penguins fans, analysts, and even nhl.com are claiming that Fleury may, and even will, get the nod in game 6 on Tuesday night at Consol Energy Center.

Ha. Ha.

Wait, this isn’t a joke?

Matt Murray should be your starter in game 6.  And if the Penguins lose game 6, he should be your starter in game 7, and potentially in round 3 against Tamba Bay.  In my opinion, the earliest that the Penguins should even consider using Marc-Andre Fleury is in game 1 of round 3.

So why would I not play Marc-Andre Fleury in game 6?  There are plenty of reasons to support my argument, which is the right decision, involving keeping Matt Murray in net.

In the words of Rob Rossi, the Penguins have 2 options in net for game 6: “a rookie, or a Cup winner.”  Ok, that’s fair.  Here, I would say the Cup winner…but only if I’m basing a decision solely off of that statement.

Let’s rephrase this scenario to make it more accurate.

The Penguins have 2 options in net for game 6: a 21-year-old goaltender with promising potential that has a .937 save percentage and a 1.96 goals against average in the playoffs, or a 31-year-old goaltender who hasn’t played a game in a month, and is coming off of his 2nd concussion of the year.

Hmmm…I’ll take the 21-year-old guy.

Crazy how a little rephrasing can totally change the scenario.

So what, we should all be calling for Matt Murray’s head since he let in 3 goals on 19 shots? Well, Holtby let in 3 goals on 23 shots in game 3, and I do not recall many people calling for his head following that loss.

Heck, if Fleury was healthy, played in every game thus far, and had Matt Murray’s stats up to this point…are we calling for Matt Murray after Fleury lets in 3 goals on 19 shots, in which he couldn’t really do anything about each goal?  I would say no, but that’s just my opinion.  However, when the “franchise guy” Fleury is on the bench, it seems as though yinzer nation just wants an excuse to put him in. I get it, but it’s ridiculous.

Ride the hot hand.  The Penguins guy is still Matt Murray.  Oh, and I’m not done yet.

Let’s start thinking hypothetically (although I do not always enjoy thinking hypothetically, it makes sense for this situation).  Say the Penguins start Fleury in game 6.

If he wins, then great.  The Penguins will move on and the coaching staff will decide which goalie starts game 1 of the next series against the Lightning.

If he loses, notably if he plays subpar or even just lousy, then what?  Do you, yet again, turn to the Cup winner/franchise goaltender to try to muster up a game 7 win in Washington?  Or do you go back to Murray, who is the main reason the Penguins are at where they are to begin with.

Now the Capitals go into game 7 with confidence and momentum, and the Penguins coaching staff is scratching their heads as to which goalie they want to play in game 7.  The risks are just not worth it.  Not to mention that starting Fleury over Murray in game 6 would be taking a huge shot at Murray’s confidence, considering he didn’t really do much wrong in game 5, or in the playoff in general, to warrant being taken out of the lineup.

Let me draw you an almost identical parallel.

It was 2004.  The Pittsburgh Steelers lost Tommy Maddox to injury in game 2 of the regular season, which was a loss to the Ravens 30-13.  He was replaced by rookie Ben Roethlisberger, who everyone figured would be a half-decent quarterback, but nothing fantastic.  He ended up leading the Steelers to 15 straight wins, 14 in the regular season, and a 15-1 record.

Now tell me this: say Maddox was ready for game 12, and despite the Steelers winning game 11, in addition to games 1-10, Roethlisberger had 3 interceptions, but none of which were really on him.  Do you put Maddox back in?

No.  And it’s not even close.

My final argument is that Matt Murray deserves to finish was he started.  As a referred to in my previous article, the Penguins would never have owned a 3-1 series lead if not for Murray.  He is the reason the Penguins are in the position they are in, and he deserves to finish the job.

Heck, even if Murray and the Pens finish the Caps off in game 6, many will be calling for Fleury to start game 1 against the Tampa Bay Lightning in round 3.  To this, I still say the starter should be Matt Murray.

Why?

Well, let’s look at the stats.  The Penguins are 0-3 against the Lightning this year.  In the first game, the Lightning won 5-4 in OT.  Fleury posted a .800 save percentage.  In the second game, Fleury had a horrid .714 save percentage, allowed 4 goals, and was pulled in favor of Zatkoff, who started the 3rd and final game against the Lightning.  Murray has yet to face the Lightning, but I like to think he can’t be much worse, especially with how he has been playing this year.

 

Game 6, I’ll take Matt Murray.

Game 7, if needed, I’ll take Matt Murray.

If the Penguins advance to play Tampa Bay, I’ll take Matt Murray.

If they advance to the Stanley Cup, well, it’s hard to not go with Matt Murray.

I love Fleury, and regardless of what happens in the playoffs this year, he will be the starter for the Penguins next year.  However, for now, the Penguins need to keep riding Matt Murray.  Case closed.

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Murray or Fleury?

Don’t Worry…At Least Not Yet

The Penguins had a 3-1 series lead over the President Trophy winners.

They had a 3-1 lead against a goalie who will likely win the Vezina Trophy as best NHL goaltender, Braden Holtby.

They had a 3-1 lead against a Capitals team with stellar offensive power and a strong defense.

holtby

It was only a matter of time before the Capitals found their game, as the they went on to beat the Penguins 3-1 in Washington DC in game 5, trimming the Penguins’ series lead to 3-2 and forcing game 6 Tuesday night at Consol Energy Center.

Throughout Twitter, word of mouth, text messages, the radio, and other forms of media, I seem to be getting 2 different vibes about this Penguins team: one side of the spectrum believes that the Penguins will respond well in game 6 at home and finish of the Capitals.  The other side of the spectrum is saying, “Oh no, here comes a repeat of 2011 and 2014: blowing that 3-1 series lead..”

To those of you that truly believe the Penguins will win game 6, I’m glad you believe in this hockey team.  For those of you on the other side of the spectrum, aka the “Pens are gonna blow a 3-1 series lead again” side, I simply say don’t worry…at least not yet.

First of all, the Penguins just lost 1 game.  They didn’t lose the series.  The have a chance to win at home, and even if they fail to do that, they could still win game 7 in Washington…which they did en route to a Stanley Cup in 2009.

Although the Penguins did have a chance to finish off the President’s Trophy winner Washington Capitals, did anyone (not Penguins fans alone) think that the Pens would even win this series? It seemed to me that many analysts were picking the Capitals in this series.  So, in that fact alone, the fact that the Penguins are even up 3-2 in this series thus far is still pretty incredible.

Finally, although the Penguins had a 3-1 series lead, which is now a 3-2 series lead, it really did not feel that way going into game 5.  Going into game 5, every game was decided be a goal excluding game 2 (which was a 2 goal win by the Penguins due to a late empty net goal by Letang), which included 2 games, game 1 and game 4, both decided in overtime.  The Caps won game 1 on an OT winner by TJ Oshie, capping off a hat trick, and the Pens won game 4 on a goal from Patric Hornqvist.  It also includes a game 3 where the Capitals probably deserved to win and played much better hockey than the Pens, but Matt Murray simply stood on his head while making 47 saves, the most ever by a rookie goaltender in a playoff win.

Say the Capitals win game 3 without Murray’s heroics, and say they score the winning goal in OT in game 4.  All of a sudden, Washington just won this series tonight 4-1.  Crazy, huh?

My point I want to make is that this series has been way closer than it appears.  Heck, the Capitals win game 5 while being outshot 32-22 by the Penguins.  Holtby played his best game of the series, their power play came through large by scoring 2 goals, and Murray played just alright.  The Penguins did not play a terrible hockey game.  They just didn’t get the result they wanted.

So I say once again, don’t worry just yet.  The Penguins can still close this out at home.  If they don’t…then we can start worrying.  But remember, it’s not over ’til it’s over.

Some quick observations about game 5…

  • Patric Hornqvist, a player that everyone on the team loves including Sullivan, played only 10:36 of ice time in game 5.  Only Fehr (10:13) and Kuhnhackl (8:09) had less ice time.  It did not appear Hornqvist was ever injured, but he did not see his normal ice time in this game. Something to keep note of going forward.
  • The Penguins need to neutralize Ovi.  He had the opening tally tonight, and his first via his classic one-time slap shot on the power play.  He has had one too many open chances in this series, and it was about time he buried one.  He is starting to feel it, and the Pens need to shut him down before he really gets hot.
  • Crosby and Malkin need to step up.  I know there is more to it than just putting points up, but these 2 guys need to do what they’re paid to do.  The other guys have been picking up the slack, but its about time one of them has a big game.  Game 6 would be preferable.  It won’t be easy, however, as the Caps get probably their most physical defensemen Brooks Orpik back for game 6 after serving his 3 game suspension for his hit on Olli Maatta.
  • The Penguins power play needs to just shoot the puck.  The one goal they had tonight was because their power play was moving and kept Washinton’s defense scrambling by getting the puck to the net.  Kunitz jammed in the rebound.  They seem to be looking for the perfect chance, but that just can’t happen every time.  Fire the puck quickly on goal, good things will come.  This needs to be addressed. Also, noted, the pens despite terrific zone time didn’t register a shot after pulling Murray with 3 minutes to go.  Let that sink in.
  • I felt as though there were 2 very large moments in this game that really put it away for the Capitals.  First was the goal by Williams, which resulted after a clear from Dumoulin fell right on his stick, and he made no mistake with it and curried it 5-hole on Murray giving the Caps a 3-1 edge.  Then after the Pens went down 3-1, Justin Schultz had a miraculous chance in a 4 on 2 rush for the Pens, but Holtby made an unbelievable stop.  It really felt like the game was over right there and then.
  • The Penguins should stick with Murray for the rest of this series.  Even if they lose game 6, I would not even consider putting in a cold Marc-Andre Fleury in for a game that means that much, even though he is your franchise goaltender.  Let the kid that got you there play this one out.  He deserves to finish what he started.  If they advance, we can discuss who starts from there on out.
  • Oh yeah, almost forgot. Pens in 6.

 

Don’t Worry…At Least Not Yet

Eastern Conference Playoff Probabilities

2016 playoffs.gifAs some of you may know, I love statistics.  Although I could easily just wait 2 days to see what the playoff match-ups will be in the Eastern Conference, I wanted to do a little probability calculating to see what the probability was of certain teams making the playoffs, and what match-ups are most likely to see.

As of right now, the Panthers and Lightning have clinched 1st and 2nd place in the Atlantic Division, respectively, and the Capitals and Penguins have clinched 1st and 2nd place in the Metropolitan Division, respectively.  Although both of the Rangers and Islanders have at least solidified a playoff spot, where they place is not yet determined.

The 3 remaining teams in playoff contention are the Bruins, Red Wings, and Flyers.  Here are the probabilities of each of these teams making the playoffs:

P(Bruins making playoffs) = 60.6%

P(Red Wings making playoffs) = 84.7%

P(Flyers making playoffs) = 54.6%

If the Bruins make the playoffs, they could finish as a 3rd seed in the Atlantic, as the 2nd wild card team, or they could miss the playoffs.  It is slightly more likely that if the Bruins do make the playoffs, they will end up as a wild card.  Here are the probabilities that they place 3rd in the Atlantic, end up in the 2nd wild card spot, and miss the playoffs:

P(Bruins 3rd in Atlantic) = 25%

P(Bruins 2nd wild card) = 35.6%

P(Bruins miss playoffs) = 39.4%

If the Red Wings make the playoffs, they could also finish as a 3rd seed in the Atlantic Division, as the 2nd wild card team, or they could miss the playoffs.  If the Red Wings do make the playoffs, it is far more likely that they would place 3rd in their division as opposed to being the 2nd wild card, as represented by the following probabilities:

P(Red Wings 3rd in Atlantic) = 75%

P(Red Wings 2nd wild card) = 9.7%

P(Red Wings miss playoffs) = 15.3%

If the Flyers make the playoffs, they cannot finish any higher than the 2nd wild card spot, and so their probabilities of finishing either as a 2nd wild card or out of the playoffs is:

P(Flyers 2nd wild card) = 54.6%

P(Flyers miss playoffs) = 45.4%

As you may recall, both the Islanders and Rangers have clinched a playoff birth, however, where they finish in the standings is not yet determined.  One of these teams will finish 3rd in the division and play the Penguins in the first round.  The other team will finish as the 1st wild card, and will hop over to the Atlantic Division to play Florida in the first round.  As of today, the most likely opponent for the Penguins is the Islanders, as seen in the probabilities below:

P(Rangers 3rd in Metropolitan) = 31.9%

P(Rangers 1st wild card) = 68.1%

P(Islanders 3rd in Metropolitan) = 68.1%

P(Islanders 1st wild card) = 31.9%

Based on all of this information, here are all of the possible playoff match-ups from most likely to least likely, along with their probabilities:

There is a 32.4% chance that the playoff match-ups are:

WSH v. BOS

PIT v. NYI

FLA v. NYR

TBL v. DET

There is a 25% chance that the playoff match-ups are:

WSH v. PHI

PIT v. NYI

FLA v. NYR

TBL v. DET

There is a 14.4% chance that the playoff match-ups are:

WSH v. PHI

PIT v. NYR

FLA v. NYI

TBL v. DET

There is a 11.6% chance that the playoff match-ups are:

WSH v. PHI

PIT v. NYR

FLA v. NYI

TBL v. BOS

There is a 6.9% chance that the playoff match-ups are:

WSH v. DET

PIT v. NYI

FLA v. NYR

TBL v. BOS

There is a 3.7% chance that the playoff match-ups are:

WSH v. PHI

PIT v. NYI

FLA v. NYR

TBL v. BOS

There is a 3.2% chance that the playoff match-ups are:

WSH v. BOS

PIT v. NYR

FLA v. NYI

TBL v. DET

There is a 2.8% chance that the playoff match-ups are:

WSH v. DET

PIT v. NYR

FLA v. NYI

TBL v. BOS

I would like to note that I calculated all of these probabilities myself.  I only say that because I am sure I made a few errors somewhere in my calculations, but I can guarantee that these probabilities are generally correct (and hopefully most are 100% accurate).

Now, we wait 2 days and see what happens….

Eastern Conference Playoff Probabilities

Our Penguins Are Back

Bones and HagsJust recently, I was in attendance for the Penguins’ dominant 6-2 against the NHL-leading Capitals.  Something about the atmosphere of that game was just absolutely incredible.  The fans were into the game.  They started chants without being prompted, including “HOLTBY” during the third period.  And oh boy was that place BUMPIN.

It almost felt like the atmosphere that the good ol’ Mellon Arena had.

Josh Yohe of DK on Pittsburgh Sports noted that after this game, he felt it was the louded he has heard that arena since it was erected.  Incredibly, it did not take long for the fans to change his mind.

Just 2 night ago, the Penguins fell behind to the Buffalo Sabres 3-0 early in the game.  It looked like it was going to be another loss against another subpar game.  However, the Penguins responded in the 2nd period, rallying to score 4 goals, 2 shorthanded on the SAME Buffalo power play, and ended up winning the goal in overtime.

Yohe reported after the game that although he had nothing against the Washington crowd, he said that after the Penguins scored their 4th goal, the crowd was even louder than before.

Our Penguins are back.  They have brought themselves from not being able to score goals early in the season to now being 4th in the NHL in goals for.  They have electricity again.  They have speed.  They are playing like the Penguins are SUPPOSED to play.

Credit GMJR for upgrading the Penguins’ speed.  He traded Perron for the speedy Carl Hagelin.  He traded Scuderi who looked like he was skating in mud for Trevor Daley who has been an absolute perfect fit in the Penguins system, and I still don’t know how he pulled that trade off.  Even the guys that started in Wilkes-Barre including Rust, Kuhnhackl, Wilson, Sheary, etc, have brought energy and speed to the lineup.

Credit Mike Sullivan.  He really has been getting to these players, and they are clearly buying into his system.  These players believe in what they are doing, and it has been clearly reflective in their play.  They’re having fun, and the fans are clearly feeling it as well.

Something just feels different about these playoffs than the past few years.  I can’t help but think about 2009: coaching change mid-season, getting hot at the right time…its all in the cards.

The Penguins went 14-2-3 starting March 1st in 2009 when they went to win the Cup.  They got hot at the right time, and they rode their momentum right into the playoffs.  They are currently 12-4 since March 1st this season, and playing undoubtedly their best hockey of the season.

Heck, the Penguins have been rolling without Evgeni Malkin!  They are now 9-1 in their last 10 games without Malkin in the lineup.  And no, that is not a typo.  9-1.  More impressively, the Penguins have scored 5 or more goals 4 times in 10 games without Geno. So, how in the world have the Penguins been able to put up a record like that without their second best player?

They’ve been getting contributions from everyone.  Cullen has stepped up.  Bonino has come out of nowhere.  Kessel looks like the player many people believed he would be when he was first acquired, and is also developing tremendous chemistry Carl Hagelin.  Murray has been great when called upon, and despite his rough start in Buffalo, he made the big saves when he needed to.  Letang looks like a legitimate Norris candidate, and Crosby is looking more and more likely to make a strong case to win the Hart Trophy.

The Penguins have been lacking role players for the last few years.  If a team wants to make a deep playoff run, they need not only their star players to step up, but they need role players to come through as well.  If you recall, the Penguins won the Stanley Cup due to 2 goals from Max Talbot, who was a 3rd/4th line guy.

talbot.jpg

This team is winning hockey games, and they’re prepped to win plenty more come mid-April.  It’s almost playoff hockey time in Pittsburgh…thank goodness our Penguins are back.

 

Our Penguins Are Back

Just Maybe, This Team is For Real

kuhn and cullenAs the calendar changed from February to March, the Penguins were clinging onto the last wild card spot in the playoff race.  To top it off, they had a 16 game month ahead of them, 12 games being against division opponents.  It looked like it was going to be a tough hill to climb for the Penguins.

In February, the Penguins played some tremendous hockey games, and some not so tremendous hockey games.  They failed to produce more than 2 wins in a row.  They were not a bad hockey team by any means, but they were absolutely inconsistent.

Going into the month of March with an inconsistent team was a scary thought, also considering the standings.  The Islanders, Rangers, and even Flyers could have all jumped on the Penguins and buried them in the standings, potentially even right out of the playoffs.

But the Penguins have turned the tables.

The Penguins are 8 games into a 9 game streak all against the Metropolitan Division.  They are 7-1 in those 8 games, and have also won 6 games straight, the longest such win streak under Mike Sullivan.  Oh, and 5 of these games are without Evgeni Malkin, but the Pens are 5-0 in those games.

During this stretch the Penguins have been defying the odds.

They beat the mighty New York Rangers in New York, against the same goalie that has been giving them fits in the regular season and playoffs the past few years: Henrik Lundqvist.  Not only that, but the Penguins scored 4 on Lundqvist and added an empty net goal.

They beat the Flyers this Saturday in absolute dominant fashion.  The Flyers did strike first, but the Penguins dominated the game and won 4-1, while only allowing 17 shots on goal, which is the Flyers’ season low.  This is a team the Penguins have not beat, regardless of venue, in the past 2 years.  This year, the Penguins are 2-0 against them.

They beat the best team in the NHL yesterday.  Not only did the Penguins beat the Capitals, they controlled the game and won in dominant fashion, 6-2, allowing the Capitals only 18 shots.  The Capitals had not allowed 6 goals this season until last night.

Heck, the Metropolitan Division as a whole has given the Penguins fits in recent years.  Just last year, the Penguins had a 9-17-4 record.  This year, since Sullivan took over behind the bench, the Penguins are an incredible 14-5-1 (Johnston’s Penguins were 1-2-1 against division foes)

Maybe, just maybe, this team is for real.

So, what can the Penguins attribute to this sudden resurgence?

Mike Sullivan has turned this team around.  He has given them an identity, and the players are embracing it.  Since Sullivan took over the Penguins are 3rd in the NHL in goals for (135), 4th in goal differential (+25), 2nd in high danger scoring chances for percentage, (56.0%), 1st in shots for/60 minutes (33.9), 8th in shots against/60 minutes (28.5), and they lead the NHL in Corsi for percentage at 54.7%, which essentially indicates possession.  That being said, even coming from a stats guy, the stats alone do not tell the tale of Sullivan.

To start off, he has made the players more disciplined.  The story that stands out to me is the one of Kris Letang.  The Penguins just lost a game at home against the Lightning on February 20th, 4-2, in which Letang took 3 penalties, 2 of them in the 3rd period, and most of them were just bad penalties to take.

After the plane arrived in Buffalo, where the Penguins would play the day after, Sullivan kept Letang on the plane and had a chat with him.  They both agreed that Letang is at his best when he plays with passion, but is able to keep disciplined.  He responded by turning his penalties into points, literally.  He turned 3 penalties into 3 points (3A), which helped the Penguins defeat the Sabres 4-3.  Since then, Letang has been noticeably more disciplined on the ice, and his play has been the best it has been all year.

Look back at the Penguins vs. Flyers game this past Saturday.  The Penguins did not stoop down to the level that Philadelphia likes to play at.  I believe this is the main reason they have struggled against the Flyers in the past years, because the Penguins were undisciplined, played into the Flyers game, took bad penalties, and the Flyers made them pay.  However, in this 4-1 dominant win by the Pens, they maintained their cool and did not let the Flyers so much as budge them, and made it hurt where it hurts the most: the scoreboard.

Another huge reason for the Penguins recent success is scoring depth.  The Penguins entered the season looking like it would be one of the best teams in the NHL given its apparent forward depth, but this was entirely untrue.  These “depth guys” were not scoring, and neither was the whole team.

Now, the team does not have to rely on Crosby, Kessel, Malkin, and Letang to win hockey games, even though Sid is on a roll with an 11 game point streak.  Last night, the line of Rust, Kuhnhackl, and Cullen had 7 points for crying out loud!  If the Penguins want to make a legitimate run in the playoffs, they need the depth guys to continue producing.  It has something they have been lacking since the 2009 Stanley Cup year.

Also, something that many of us did not see coming, is that the defensive corps is playing some kind of hockey.  2 of the Penguins 6 goals yesterday came from defensemen, including one from Schultz who has been tremendous since he has arrived in Pittsburgh, which was his first as a Penguin.

But it isn’t just about offense.  The Penguins allowed just 35 shots in the last 2 games combined, and seem to finally be clicking on all cylinders.  Dumoulin and Daley has been working as a tremendous 2nd pair, and Cole and Schultz have found some tremendous chemistry as a 3rd defensive pair…AND the Penguins still have Pouliot and Lovejoy scratched!

I’ve said it before: all of these division games could make or break the Penguins season.  Well, the Penguins currently find themselves in 2nd place in the Metropolitan Division, and they do not seem to be slowing down any time soon.  This is a hockey team that shouldn’t be messed with.

Dare I say this team is reminding me more and more of 2009?

 

Just Maybe, This Team is For Real

Have Faith in Sullivan’s Penguins

Sullivan
The Penguins fell to the Capitals last night, 4-1, at Consol Energy Center in Sullivan’s Penguins coaching debut.  The score may not look impressive, but I am here to tell you to have faith in Sullivan’s Penguins.

First of all, the Penguins did what Sullivan wanted them to do.  They played towards their strengths: skill and speed.  They had more jump and more passion to their game.  It was clearly visible, and this guy has been here all of 2 days.

For those of you that did not watch the game, the first shift for the Penguins was arguably the best shift I have seen from a Penguins line in the last 2 years.  They did not score, but had 2 or 3 quality chances, and they played like they wanted the puck.  They played like they wanted to score.

Being that the Penguins had a few chances of their own, they gave up a few chances to the Capitals, who just seemed to capitalize (no pun intended) on their chances more than the Penguins unfortunately.

That being said, the Penguins registered 45 shots on goal, which is a season high.  Holtby played out of his mind (he leads the NHL in GAA), but if the Penguins can play like they did last night, they are going to start winning hockey games.

I also want to add that although the Penguins gave up their fair share of chances, so did Johnston’s Penguins.  Except Johnston’s Penguins had no jump, no energy, and no desire for the puck.  Sullivan’s Penguins had numerous scoring opportunities, and had some bounces gone the Penguins way, the game may have been different.

Whether the Penguins won 7-1 or lost 4-1, it is just 1 game, so either way, we can’t make too much of this.  But, all I am telling you is to have faith.  Seriously.

I also want to bring up that Sullivan has been here a very short time, and lost to a Capitals team that is now first in the Eastern Conference and atop the Metropolitan Division.  Considering that Bylsma’s first game behind the bench for the Pens was a shootout loss against, at the time, a lowly New York Islanders team, I am not concerned with the result of this one game.

On top of Sullivan being behind the new guy behind the bench, there is a ton of new Penguins news that I would like to enlighten you all about that has happened in the past 24 hours.  Some bad, some good.

Beau Bennett out 4-6 weeks: Beau Bennett was crushed into the boards by Capitals forward TJ Oshie.  It was a questionable hit, but no penalty was called.  Bennett got up gingerly holding his shoulder and immediately went to the locker room.  I would assume that he broke his collar bone after going shoulder first into the boards.

I really do feel for Beau Bennett.  He must be so frustrated being that he always gets hurt.  However, this is also why a guy like him should remain as a 3rd or 4th line guy, regardless of his skill.  If he is injury prone, letting him develop chemistry with guys on a top line is pointless.  Let other plays who are not injury prone to be put into that role.  When Bennett does come back, I would keep him on the 3rd or 4th line because of his injury history.

Since Bennett is out for 4-6 weeks, this means that more than likely either Hornqvist or Sprong will get a chance with Crosby on the top line.  Although I would love to see Sprong with Crosby on a consistent basis (we saw a little bit of it last night), I would think Hornqvist will move up being that he has played with Sid before.  That being said, I think Sprong actually benefits more from the system and would perform better on this line with Sid.  That’s just my thought…

Fleury concussed: Fleury said he did not feel right after the game and was tested for a concussion today.  The results, unfortunately, came back positive, and he will like be out 1-2 weeks. Zatkoff will start tomorrow and Matt Murray was recalled to be his backup.

Sullivan will have the ability to control the goalie rotation. I would like to think, and hope, that Matt Murray is the starter in general while Fleury is out. But that will be up to Sullivan. We’ll find out later this week.

Pens trade Scuderi for Daley: Jim Rutherford, I have one question for you: HOW?!  Trevor Daley (33) is an offensive defenseman who was on the Blackhawks for a short stint, after being sent there as part of the Patrick Sharp deal between Dallas and Chicago.  Last year, Daley had 16 goals as a defenseman!  That is impressive, and something the Penguins need.

They end up trading Scuderi, who has been, to put it lightly, pretty bad with the Penguins.  The Pens did maintain 1/3 of his contract, but the fact that Rutherford got Daley out of this deal…wow.

One main reason he was able to make it was that apparently Daley did not fit into the Blackhawks’ system.  They felt Scuderi would be a better fit for them, and similarly, Daley would be a better fit for the Pens.

I feel the Pens definitely won this trade, but I guess time will tell…  Daley will wear #6 and I would expect him to be in the lineup against Boston tomorrow night.

Sullivan mixes up lines at practice: Today, the Penguins announced they have recalled Connor Sheary and Kevin Porter from the AHL. I would like to think Sheary plays tomorrow, since he has more potential offensively. But again, that’s up to Sullivan.

Sullivan really mixed up the lines at practice, going with the following line combos:

Kunitz – Crosby – Perron
Plotnikov – Malkin – Hornqvist
Kessel – Fehr – Sprong
Cullen – Bonino

The biggest changes here are that Kessel moves to the third line, Perron gets bumped up to 1st line, and Plotnikov goes back with Malkin. Sullivan wants to find some lines that mesh, so let’s hope this works.

By the way, I want to note that I actually like Kessel on the 3rd line. In Toronto he played with Bozak and had great success. Bozak is good, but he is no superstar. I think this allows Kessel to really focus on his game since he is not playing with a Crosby or Malkin. Heck, it worked in Toronto.
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Anyways, that’s all I’ve got for now!  Thanks for those who continue to read my blog, as always!  My next blog will be recapping and talking about my impressions from the game against Boston tomorrow at 8 pm.  Hopefully the article will be up by midnight.

 

Have Faith in Sullivan’s Penguins

NL Central VS the Metropolitan Division

This article is going to change things up a bit.

It’s not only going to analyze the Penguins, but it’s going to analyze the entire division: the Metropolitan Division.

How good can the Metropolitan Division be this year?  My answer: it’s going to be really good.  Scary good.  I think it will be NL Central-esque.

Let’s talk about the NL Central really quick for those of you that are not familiar with baseball.  The NL Central, like the other divisions in baseball, contains 5 teams.  Now, what is interesting about this division, which include Pittsburgh’s team, the Pirates, is that it includes the best 3 teams in the MLB.  Not in just in the division, not just in the National League, but in the entire MLB.

The St. Louis Cardinals won the division winning 100 games, the Pirates came in at 2nd with a franchise-tying record 98 wins, and the Cubs were nipping at the Pirates heels ending with 97 wins.  The Cubs, who came in 3rd place in the NL Central division, would have placed first in any other division in the MLB.

Currently, the NL Central has been talked about as one of the best divisions in MLB history, and with pretty good reasoning too.

So, why am I talking about baseball on a Penguins blog?!  Well, because I think the Metropolitan Division may just be the NL Central of the NHL.  There are just too many great teams.  Let’s take a look at the teams in the Metropolitan Division:

Pittsburgh Penguins: The Penguins have, arguably, the strongest offense on paper in the NHL.  They are rolling with 4 lines that can score, which is not a very common scheme in the NHL.  But hey, when you have Crosby and Malkin on your team (and now Kessel for that matter), you may as well build a team that’s meant to score goals.  The Penguins should be a huge threat offensively, and could very well win the division this year.

New York Islanders: The Islanders aren’t a joke any more.  A few years ago, the Penguins would play the Islanders and the biggest question was “how many goals are the Penguins going to score?”  Well, not any more.  This Islanders team is dangerous.  They are moving into a new arena, which will provide some sort of “hype” for this team.  They finished last year 3rd in the division and finished tied for 3rd in the NHL with 252 goals.  They will be looking for a division title this season to put in the rafters of the Barclays Center.

New York Rangers: So yeah, the Rangers lost Martin St. Louis, Carl Hagelin,and maybe a few other guys.  But this team won the President’s trophy last year, and finished 3rd in the NHL in goals for and goals against.  They have tons of speed on offense, and arguably one of the best defensive lineups in the NHL.  And, well, future hall-of-famer Henrik Lundqvist.  The Rangers could easily take this division once again.

Columbus Blue Jackets: Yeah, yeah.  They didn’t make the playoffs last year.  But keep in mind they were missing top center Ryan Johansen, goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, and others for significant amount of time.  Towards the end of the season, the Blue Jackets finally got healthy, and they showed the NHL how dangerous they can be.  They ended the season at a just ridiculous 16-2-1 clip, making an improbable push for the playoffs, although they fell just short.  Also, they acquired Brandon Saad in the offseason to bolster the offense.  Look out for CBJ.

Washington Capitals: Personally, I have the Capitals taking the division this year.  Alex Ovechkin will undoubtedly take the Rocket Richard (that is, unless Phil Kessel challenges him for it).  TJ Oshie will be on a line with Backstrom and Ovechkin, and he will absolutely benefit from it.  They have a lot of young forwards and defensemen that are primed for great seasons, and a solid goalie in Braden Holtby.  Many think he will be a Vezina candidate (best goalie in the NHL after the regular season), and even though I don’t think Holtby is in the Carey Price, Henrik Lundqvist category, he is a great goaltender behind a solid defense.

Now the question becomes: who the heck wins this division?!  Yeah, I have the Caps winning the division, but you could make an argument for really any of these 5 teams in the Metropolitan to win the Division, and I would believe you 100%.

This division could be the NL Central of the NHL.

It is also notable that the Flyers, Hurricanes, and Devils are also in this division.  The Flyers may have a decent season, but they will not finish in the top 5.  The Hurricanes should improve slightly, but they will hardly be noticeable.  And then the Devils, yeah, forget about them.  They have some rebuilding to do.

The way the NHL playoff format is now set up (for those of you unfamiliar with it), is that the top 3 teams of each division make the playoffs.  Looking at just the Eastern Conference, the top 3 teams from the Metropolitan Division and Atlantic Division make the playoffs.  Then, there are 2 “wild card” teams.  These teams are the 2 teams that finish with the most points outside of the top 3 teams in each division.  These teams can come from either one division, or both divisions.

Don’e be surprised if the Metropolitan Division sends 5 teams to the playoffs.

Don’t be surprised if these 5 teams are near the top of the entire NHL standings.

Don’t be surprised to see another NL Central.

It could be one of the best divisions in NHL history.

As always, thank you to those who keep up with me!  I appreciate your support, and I’m glad you share my interest for hockey and for the Penguins.

Only 2 articles remain:  Tomorrow I’ll be writing about what went wrong last year, and Wednesday I’ll be writing about a very simple yet important aspect of hockey: shoot the puck!

And just in case you want to get pumped up a bit…

NL Central VS the Metropolitan Division