Enough Is Enough

The Penguins just lost 3-1 to the Tampa Bay Lightning in game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals at Consol Energy Center.  It was a game where Tampa Bay did not carry the play nor have the majority of the scoring chances, but they had high quality chances and capitalized where the Penguins didn’t.

This game had very weird, and also very unfortunate, moments for both teams:

  • The Penguins’ Kris Letang was hit from behind by Lightning forward Ryan Callahan into the boards.  Interestingly, Callahan received a 5 minute major, but not a game misconduct.  This hit will be looked at by the league for sure, and Callahan could very well be suspended.  Letang did return and played the rest of the game.
  • Lightning goalie Ben Bishop had to be carried off by a stretcher in the 1st period after falling awkwardly on his left leg.  Although no one is exactly sure what the issue with Bishop is yet, it seems unlikely he will return any time soon.  Vasilevskiy finished the game for the Lightning.
  • Tyler Johnson, Lightning’s top line center with Steven Stamkos out, was hit knee on knee by Kunitz against the boards.  Johnson exited and needed help off of the ice, but he did return.
  • Brian Dumoulin got hit hard into the boards and went down to the ice and appeared unconscious.  He did not return.

Despite injuries to both sides, the Lightning players stepped up and buried the opportunities that they needed to bury.  The Penguins did not.  It really is that simple.

The first Lightning goal was simply Olli Maatta getting burned.  Again.  Hedman fired the puck down the length of the ice to Killorn who was waiting at the blue line.  Maatta had awful position on him, and allowed him to skate right on in, and Killorn made no mistake on the breakaway, beating Murray 5-hole.

The second Tampa Bay goal came on the power play, as a shot was deflected in front from a point shot and found a wide open Palat who had a 4 x 6 staring him down.  He didn’t miss, either.

The final Lightning goal came off of a bad pass from Malkin that could not be handled by Dumoulin.  The result was a 3 on 1 for the Lightning, and it only took 1 pass and a one-time shot by Drouin which put the Lightning up 3-0.

Hornqvist would add a power play goal late in the 2nd, but the game had already been decided by that point.

Although the Penguins out-chanced the Lightning and even out-shot them, I did not feel like they came out with any type of desperation at all.  I just never sensed it.  This could be attributed to coming off of 2 series wins against 2 of the Penguins’ biggest rivals.  It could just simply be that they weren’t ready.  Regardless of the reason, the Penguins need to buckle down and win game 2.  If they fail to do so, this series will be a quick one, and might not even be coming back to Pittsburgh.

Although the Penguins did not play their worst game, enough is enough.  Well, what do I mean by that?

Maatta has gotten his fair share of chances, and yet he continues to get burned by the opposition.  Enough is enough.  He is a smart kid and I still like that the Penguins signed him to a 6-year deal, but ever since he’s battled back from injuries this year, his reaction time and skating has been too slow, especially against a fast Tampa Bay team.  The guy is pretty much a lock for at LEAST 1 breakaway allowed per game.

Oh yeah, also considering the Penguins have Justin Schultz on their bench who skates very well, has great speed, and has been on the ice for five goals against since being aquired by Pittsburgh.

Sorry Olli, enough is enough.  If Sullivan knows what he is doing, Schultz should play game 2 and Maatta should sit.

The Penguins need to learn to shoot when they have a high scoring chance.  Enough is enough.  I saw the Penguins not shoot on a 2 on 1 OR a 3 on 2, both of which occurred in the same minute or 2 span.  Quit trying to make the pretty play and get some garbage goals.  Oh and shoot when you have odd man rushes.  Take a note from Tampa, they had 2 tonight.

Also the Penguins were lacking net front presence tonight.  It seemed like their shots would either be blocked, or Vasilevskiy/Bishop saw it the whole way.  I don’t care who is in net, both of these guys are good.  Yeah sometimes the bounces will go your way, but the Penguins need to shoot the puck with traffic in front if they want to win game 2.

Finally, and probably the biggest issue, Malkin and Crosby need to start producing…and I mean NOW.  Enough is enough.

genosid

I get that these 2 along with Kessel are 3 of the only active 4 NHL players that have above a point per game in the playoffs, but they sure aren’t living up to that recently.

Both players played very well against the Rangers, and as a result the Penguins toppled them in 5 games.  Meanwhile against Washington, the Penguins received 1 goal from Crosby and Malkin combined.  One. measly. goal. AND it was scored in game 1 from Malkin.  Neither Sid or Geno scored in games 2-6 of the Washington series, and neither of them scored in game 1 against Tampa Bay.

I understand that there are plays made that don’t show up on the score sheet.  I know these guys want to score.  But they haven’t.  They got away with it against Washington, but it is only a matter of time before the Penguins begin to slide without their top 2 players producing.  And for that matter, Letang has been very quiet offensively, too.

However I think it is time that just “making a good play here and there” and “playing hard” just isn’t enough for Sid or Geno.  Malkin did have some good looks on the power play, as did Sid, but to me neither player really seemed like they had that extra push or energy to jolt them over the top.  Neither of them looked like generational talents. This is a huge issue for the Penguins going forward. It helps to have depth scoring, but they can only pick Geno and Sid up so often.

So, how do the Penguins get Geno and Sid going?  Here are my thoughts:

  • Sid needs to have a shot first mentality.  He has always been his best when he shoots before he passes, but he seems to be deferring way to often lately.  He had an assist on Hornqvist’s goal, but Sid needs to start shooting the puck. Period.
  • In the words of @EvgeniMalkinEgo on Twitter, Evgeni Malkin has “two pieces of cheese as linemates.”  He isn’t wrong.  It is hard for Malkin to get going with the likes of Fehr and Kunitz, neither of who are stellar offensive players.  Rust is the only somewhat legitimate offensive player that could plug in on Malkin’s line, but he admitted to not liking playing with Geno due to their clashing playing styles.  My solution?  It’s Daniel Sprong time.  The kid has a shot and isn’t afraid to use it.  The Penguins need to give Malkin a somewhat legitimate forward to work with, and Sprong fits the bill.  Will that actually happen?  Never in a million years.  Should it happen?  In my opinion, yes.
  • My final idea: play Geno on Sid’s wing. Kessel, Bonino, and Hagelin is your 2nd line regardless of where Malkin plays. Why not try to get both Sid and Malkin going by playing them both on the top line? It’s an idea that the coaching staff should seriously entertain, considering I doubt they will recall Daniel Sprong this year unless it becomes necessary.

Until Malkin and Sid get going, this series will be a short lived one for the Penguins.

Game 2 is Monday night at Consol Energy Center.  A win for the Penguins could be a huge momentum builder going into Tampa Bay.  A loss puts them down 2-0 in 2 home games to open up the series, and the Penguins are lucky to come back to Pittsburgh for a game 5 if that is the case.

Enough is enough.

Advertisements
Enough Is Enough

Pittsburgh, We Have A Problem

I am really getting to that point of not knowing what to say.  This Penguins team, on paper, sure seems like it is capable of doing some incredible things.  Unfortunately for them, their skilled roster is not showing that skill on the ice.

The Penguins fell 3-0 against Boston, which really felt like a continuation of the series in 2013 where the Penguins scored 2 goals across the span of 4 games.

They had to go with backup Jeff Zatkoff and also played without Bonino who was ill, but those 2 alone are no excuse for the Penguins to put up a goose egg.

So Rutherford wanted an offensive juggernaut.  It didn’t work.  He fires Johnston as hired a new coach.  So far, no luck, but he has only been here 2 games so Sullivan has time to impress me.  Rutherford trades Rob Scuderi for offensive defenseman Trevor Daley who scored 16 goals last year.  Still, no luck.

So what do the Penguins do now?  What CAN they do?  Pittsburgh, we have a problem: our hockey team.

Nothing makes sense.  It just doesn’t.  A team with Crosby, Malkin, Kessel, Hornqvist, Letang, Maatta, Daley (just to name a few) should be a top 5 offense.  Period.  I am running out of excuses to give this team.  At this point, there are no excuses.  This team needs to start producing.  How?

First of all, the Penguins need a game-changer.  A guy that can come through clutch.  I think they have a ton of players like that in their roster, but none of them have proven to be a game-changer, except maybe Malkin at times.

Think back to the Stanley Cup playoffs in 2009.  The Flyers were killing the Penguins 3-0, and then Rinaldo gets in a fight with Talbot.  Talbot may have not won the fight, but following Rinaldo pumping up the crowd, Talbot famously “shhhhhh”-ed the Flyers crowd.  The Penguins stormed back to win that game.

I understand that something like this cannot happen every game.  But the Penguins need a guy like Talbot.  They need a game changer.  Whether it is a goal, a fight, a save, whatever…they need someone who can turn a game around for them.

Second of all, they need Sid to produce.  He has no excuse.  Absolutely none.  He has wingers capable of scoring, he plays first line, he plays first power play unit…for him to have no points in 17 of 30 games is absolutely pathetic, especially from Crosby.

Although scoring is down, Crosby needs to play better.  Patrick Kane went on a 26 game scoring streak.  It can happen, it just isn’t as common.  Either way, the Penguins will always be a team that wins or loses based on their stars’ success.  Right now, Crosby is in a rut, and so are the Pens.  He needs to get it together, and fast.

Third of all, the Penguins have to start scoring on the power play.  It is once again inexcusable for the Penguins to have a power play that is not in the top 5.  They actually have a power play in the bottom 5.  Yeah.

So how can they fix it?

First of all, they need to do 2 things: have a shot first mentality and get traffic in front.  It is that easy.  The Penguins had only 2 shots on 3 power plays last night.  That is not good enough.  They need to shoot, which as we all know is something the Penguins are terrible at on the power play.

I could care less how pretty the power play looks when they pass the puck.  You can’t score if you don’t shoot.  Period.  The Penguins need to focus on scoring.  It doesn’t matter if it is pretty.  Score the garbage goals if necessary.  Just shoot.

Second of all, I have no idea why Sullivan did what he did with the power play.  He moved Malkin to the point (who is not a defenseman, bad idea).  He put Perron in front of the net, rather than either Kunitz or Hornqvist, who are both far better net front presences than Perron.  They put Kunitz in the high slot for whatever reason.  They put Crosby on the left side and then Warsofsky on the right.  It just didn’t make sense.

Maybe there was a method to his madness, but it certainly didn’t work.  Here would be MY first power play unit:

At the point: Trevor Daley.  Even when Letang comes back, he can’t run a power play.  Daley can lug the puck, he can shoot, and he has proven he can score.  Daley should be over Warsofsky every time on the first unit.

Net front: Patric Hornqvist.  This man is one of the most aggravating guys to play against.  How do I know?  Watch how teams react to him going to the front of the net.  He is one of the best in the business: he screens, has great hand-eye, and drives goalies nuts.  Park him in front, and good luck to the goalie, because Hornqvist will not let him see the puck.

Slot: Sidney Crosby.  Putting Crosby in the slot, to me, puts a heavier emphasis on him shooting the puck.  He won’t have the puck on his stick all the time, but then again, the Penguins don’t really want that, because all Sid does is pass any more.  I think this leads to him shooting more, which he needs to do.

Right wall: Evgeni Malkin.  This was easy.  He has a great one-timer and has always had success there.  Keep him there and let him continue to thrive where he has had success.

Left wall: Daniel Sprong.  Yeah, I said it.  So why Sprong?  Well, what is his strength?  His shot.  He has one of the better wrist shots on the entire Penguins team, and he loves to shoot.  So if he is just an asset defensively, why not let him play to his strengths and put him on the power play, where he does not necessarily need to be an asset defensively?  It makes almost too much sense.  To add, Connor Sheary in his first NHL game had almost 2 minutes of power play time, while even Matt Cullen had some time on the 2nd unit.  No Sprong on the power play?!  Unbelievable.

Luckily for the Penguins, they have another shot at Boston tomorrow, this time at Consol Energy Center.  Let’s hope the Penguins start getting some bounces and turn the tide.  They have lost 5 of their last 6.

 

Pittsburgh, We Have A Problem

Johnston, Agnew Out. Sullivan, Martin In.

JohnstonI want to begin this article by apologizing to everyone who actually keeps up with my blog.  I know it may not be many, but I have not been posting nearly as much as I would like.

For me, I got late into the semester and just found that I was so busy and did not have time to write.

But I assure you, recap articles are coming back, a Q and A will be coming up soon, and I’ll be getting back on track now that finals (for the most part) are over.

Anyways, let’s move onto the news of the day: Mike Johnston (and Gary Agnew for that matter) are finally gone.  It surprisingly took the Rutherford 28 games to make the move.   The Penguins are  currently 15-10-3 and not in the playoff picture, keeping in mind that this includes a stretch where they went 9-1 in a 10 game span.  Take those 10 games away, and the Penguins are 6-9-3.

Under Johnston, the Penguins ranked (oh what fun it is to use past tense when talking about Johnston) 27th in goals for per game (2.36), 27th on the power play (15.6%), 6th in goals against (2.32), and 19th in Corsi for percentage (48.3%).  For those of you that do not know, Corsi for percentage basically tells you how often your team has possession of the puck.

The only reason the goals against isn’t also horrendous is because of the guy playing the role of brick wall.  Because it certainly is not the talent of the defensive corps.  That being said, I want to once again acknowledge the pairing of Dumoulin and Lovejoy.  These 2 continue to be the shutdown pair night in and night out, so props to these 2 guys.

But without Fleury, the goals against would be probably right around that 27th range, considering the Penguins are allowing the 3rd most shots against per game at 31.8.  Letang has not been nearly what anyone expected him to be this year, many even thought he could win a Norris including myself but that is not going to happen.  Cole has been awful as of late.  Scuderi shouldn’t be in the NHL…

Anyways, Fleury has been doing everything he can to help this team win.  And honestly, he is a big reason as to why Mike Johnston’s firing did not happen earlier, as he was able to help the Penguins maintain a somewhat respectable record.

Heck, Evgeni Malkin kept Johnston behind the bench for a few more games after that ridiculous run he had after calling out the team against New Jersey.

Even Beau Bennett may have gave Johnston one more game, as he helped the Penguins mount a comeback 2 games ago against the Avalanche while scoring 2 goals in the 3rd period.

All of that being said, Johnston is finally gone.  An early Christmas present.  Thanks Santa.

I do want to say this:  Johnston is not a terrible coach.  The players respected him for the most part, according to GMJR’s interview today, and his philosophy was not bad.  His problem was that he was with the wrong team.

After a 2-1 loss against the Ducks, he said that the Penguins need to tighten up defensively….

You’re kidding right?  A team with Crosby, Malkin, Kessel and co. need to tighten up defensively after losing 2-1?  Give me a break… They need to start scoring goals is what they need to do.

Sullivan

So who was hired?  Mike Sullivan.  Who is he?  Oh, you know, the guy who has Wilkes-Barre at a 18-5 record with one of the top offenses (3rd) in the AHL.  I have faith Sullivan can be that guy to really bring a spark to this offense.  Plus, who remembers last time the Penguins made a mid-season coaching change?

2009 cup

Yeah, that.

So now that you are up to speed, I want to share some of my personal opinions on what Sullivan can do to really get this team rolling.

1. Let the stars play their game

From my understanding based off of what I have read from multiple sources, Johnston was extremely structured and wanted his players to play a certain way.  He really was a junior coach.  These coaches tend to want more structure and need to be more of a mentor to the younger hockey players.  In the NHL, the coach should not be all that influential.  Let the stars play their game.

I watched an interview with Sullivan, and he was quoted saying this:

“I’ve always been a believer that you have to allow your top players the latitude to make plays and act on their instincts.  There’s a fine line as a coach between making sure you stay out of the way in certain circumstances but you provide the necessary structure so that you don’t become a high risk team.”

I love this.  Guys like Crosby, Malkin, and Kessel need to cut loose and start doing what they’re getting paid to do: score.  If Sullivan words are true, I’m excited to see what could happen to this offense.

2. Young guns

I just find it hilarious that in Johnston’s last game, after being told multiple times by GMJR to play Clendening/Sprong, he plays Scuderi over Clendening when the Penguins needed a puck moving defenseman on the back end against the Kings, and sits Sprong for the last 31 minutes of the game because he pinched in the offensive zone…..

31 minutes?!  Yeah, for pinching in the offensive zone.

In that case, may as well sit Crosby, Malkin, Kessel, and every other offensive minded forward because they are not responsible enough defensively.  And to Sprong’s credit, I saw him make multiple, solid defensive plays in the Penguins’ defensive zone.

He’s called a forward, Mike.  Let him play his game and do the thing that you apparently didn’t want this team to do: score.

My point?  Give these young guys a shot, and sit Scuderi…unless you REALLY have to play him…

3. Power play

This may possibly be one of the biggest expectations after the coaching change.  Although the power play was kicking it up a little bit as of late, they still rank 27th in the NHL which is just absurd considering their offensive talent.

The power play should easily be top 5, at least on paper.  They need to have a shot first mentality, and plenty of traffic around the net.  Heck, watch Malkin’s goal he scored last night when the Penguins had a man advantage because they pulled their goalie.  David Perron literally threw a puck on net with traffic in front, and Malkin knocked the puck home past Quick to tie the game late, 2-2.

The power play production will lead to more goals, which can only play to the Penguins’ favor.

_______________________________________________________

If I were Mike Sullivan, here would be my line combinations for Monday night against Ovechkin and the Caps:

Forwards:

Kunitz – Crosby – Bennett

Perron – Malkin – Kessel

Sprong – Bonino – Hornqvist

Plotnikov – Cullen – Fehr

Defense:

Dumoulin – Lovejoy

Maatta – Warsofsky

Clendening – Cole/Scuderi

I kept the first 2 lines the same that they have been, but these lines could very well change.  Kessel has not been getting puck luck, but has looked good offensively the past few games.

I moved Sprong to the third line because he needs to be given a chance.  He should be playing 10-15 minutes per night, and he only has until the 40th game, because after this the coaches and GM can still send him back to juniors.  They need to give him a chance to see what they really have in Sprong, because if he can increase the scoring, then he needs to stay.  I wouldn’t even be at all opposed to giving him a shot with Crosby/Malkin, but I don’t think it will happen realistically.

Also, I did not put Letang in the lineup because he is reportedly out around 2 weeks with an upper body injury.  I put Warsofsky with Maatta because he has actually silently surprised me in his short stint with the Penguins.  He should be playing in every game until he shows he should not be.

Clendening should play, and the scratch could be Scuderi or Cole.  In this case, I would play Cole even though he has been terrible as of late, because Scuderi is just absolutely pathetic at this point.  Oh by the way, he makes $3.875 million.  Yikes.

Can the Penguins start to turn this season around?  I think they can.  If Sullivan can get this offense clicking how it should, I think this team can be dangerous.  It just feels like there is a ticking bomb waiting to go off.  Here is to hoping it happens soon…

The Penguins, as mentioned earlier, are currently 15-10-3, one point out of the playoff picture.  The hill they have to climb is not too steep, but they still need to begin improving.

It starts Monday against Washington, who currently leads the Metropolitan Division with 40 points.

I’ll have an article up on Monday night recapping the Penguins vs. Caps game, and giving my impressions on Sullivan behind the bench.  Let’s Go Pens.

Johnston, Agnew Out. Sullivan, Martin In.

You Win Some, You Lose Some

duper

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After the #Pens defeated the Oilers, Nick Bonino decided to award the Gladiator helmet to Pascal Dupuis.

A post shared by Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) on

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

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

Pens @ Oilers

First Period

No scoring

After 1: Pens 0 Oilers 0

Second Period

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

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

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

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

After 2: Pens 1 Oilers 1

Third Period

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

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

Final Score: Pens 2 Oilers 1

Pens @ Flames

First Period

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After 1: Pens 1 Flames 3

Second Period

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

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

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

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

After 2: Pens 2 Flames 4

Third Period

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

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

Final score: Pens 2 Flames 5

Impressions

Switch up the D pairings

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

You catching my drift?

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

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

Give Sprong a Chance!

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

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

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

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

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

Power Play

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

Duper

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

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

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

Yeah, this guy is important.

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

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

You Win Some, You Lose Some

Coyotes Edge Penguins

mike smith

Okay, this article is being published a few days too late, and I am sorry about that.

Although I am only 20, I had a very busy weekend on top of being a little under the weather, but I am absolutely keeping my commitment to the site.  So yeah, it might be a few days late, but here we go: Let’s talk about the Penguins vs. Coyotes game that occurred this past Saturday night.

Well, the Penguins are now 0-2, but they have their home opener this week (tomorrow, actually) against the Montreal Canadiens.  Hopefully, they can start to turn things around.  I still would not worry too much about an 0-2 start, but at the same time, the Penguins cannot let this pattern continue, or they may be in trouble.

Here is my recap of the game, followed by my impressions.  Here we go:

Recap

Early in the first period, the Penguins looked very sluggish.  They were stuck in their own zone for almost the entire first 2 minutes of the period, and Fleury needed to make a few big saves.  Luckily, shortly thereafter, Arizona player Stefan Elliott took a holding penalty against Evgeni Malkin, and the Penguins had a chance to convert early on the power play.

Only 20 seconds into the power play, it was Arizona that had a brilliant chance to open the scoring, but Marc-Andre Fleury robbed Martin Hanzal of a stuff-in attempt to keep the game tied 0-0.

With a little over 3:30 left to play in the first period, Plotnikov fed a pass to Daniel Sprong who was absolutely flying while coming fresh off the bench.  His shot beat Mike Smith, but his shot hit the post and stayed out.

The Penguins had another power play late in the period.  During the power play, Phil Kessel possessed the puck and finessed his way right into the slot, after stick-handling around multiple Coyotes defenders.  Smith saved Kessel’s wrist shot, and then had to react quickly after Perron corralled the rebound and put another shot on goal.  Right after the Penguins had this glorious chance, the Coyotes came down in a 2 on 1 with Letang as the lone defeneseman, but Letang made the play defensively and both teams were kept off of the board.

Going into the second period, the game was tied 0-0, and the Penguins had not scored a goal this season during 4 periods of hockey.

Just 5 minutes into the second, the Coyotes came in on a 3 on 3 rush.  The puck circled around the net and was controlled by young Arizona forward Anthony Duclair.  He then fed a pass right in front to an essentially wide open Tobias Rieder who ripped a quick shot past Fleury and put Arizona up 1-0.

Just 17 seconds later, Penguins fans finally had a reason to cheer.  The first goal for the Penguins in the 2015-2016 season.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you… Phil Kessel:

Kessel did it all himself here.  He takes the puck away from Doan, skates into the Coyotes zone, and absolutely rifles a shot past Smith.  It gives you the chills a little bit.  Just listen to Bob Errey’s reaction in that video between the 21 and 24 second mark in that video.  What a player this guy is going to be with the Penguins.

Later in the second, the Coyotes were possessing the puck in the zone well.  The puck came to the front of the net, and a ton of players crashed Fleury’s crease.  I had no idea where the puck was watching on TV for a good 5 seconds, until I heard the Coyotes’ goal horn go off and saw Coyotes’ forward Jordan Martinook celebrating his goal.  That’s a tough goal to give up, but a goal is a goal, and it put Arizona up 2-1.

Just over 11:00 to go in the third, Plotnikov breaks into the zone and sets up Nick Bonino with a beautiful pass.  Bonino got all of it, but somehow Mike Smith made the stop.  It just seems like the Penguins can’t get a break.

Unfortunately, that break would not come in this game, as the Penguins dropped this game 2-1 and were unable to comeback in the 3rd period.  This is something they were terrible at last season.  I do not know their exact record, but I can tell you this: last season, the Penguins had 0 wins when trailing after 2 periods.  Although you never would expect that record to be good, a good hockey team should be able to scrape out a few wins here and there in that situation.  But the Penguins have not been able to do that under Mike Johnston.

Impressions

Plotnikov Isn’t Ready

Although Plotnikov made a few decent plays here and there, he is still adjusting to the NHL after playing in the KHL (Russian hockey league) for a few years.  To back up my argument, today at the Penguins’ practice, Johnston moved Plotnikov down to the 3rd line and moved Perron up to the 2nd.

I still think Plotnikov can be effective and he maybe even could be a second line player.  However, at this point, I do not think he is ready.  He should be playing 3rd or 4th line until Johnston and the coaching staff feels that he has fully adjusted to the NHL.  Then they can consider playing him on the 2nd line with fellow countryman Evgeni Malkin.

Crosby STILL Has No Shots

Okay, I think he at least attempted a shot in this game, but he did not register one.  The Penguins now have 65 shots through 2 games, and Crosby does not have a single one of them.  Despite this team having a ton of offensive talent, the guys like Crosby and Malkin need to step up and play well.  This team still depends on their success.

Sid, you gotta shoot the puck.

Where Are The Goals?

As I stated above, the Penguins have 65 shots through 2 games.  They have scored only once.  Their defense has looked fine throughout the first 2 games.  Not spectacular, but who would have expected that?  Their defense is playing well enough for this Penguins team to win games, especially with their offensive talent.

So, where are the goals?

Are you going to buy the “well, we ran into a hot goaltender tonight” argument?  To me, that’s just making an excuse as to why a team isn’t scoring.  Get ready for Tuesday, when the Penguins face a stout Canadiens defense and a goalie who will probably win the Vezina Trophy (best goaltender after the NHL regular season) in Carey Price.

“Oh, well, Carey Price is at the top of his game right now.”

Well guess what?  He always is.  You have to focus on how to beat him and how to get inside his head.  Shooting the puck is important, but some of those shots need to be quality shots, and the Penguins are going to need plenty of those on Tuesday if they want to avoid starting 0-3

Maybe the Penguins will get some goals coming up.  Maybe the Penguins just need a few lucky bounces.  That happens too.  Only time will tell.

Remember Daniel Sprong?

Daniel Sprong logged only 7:57 of ice time, which was by far the lowest on the Penguins.

So, why in the world did Johnston keep him here again?

Oh yeah, he scores goals.  So why not give him a chance?

Sprong was arguably the best Penguins forward in training camp, and he has earned his spot on the roster.  Sprong had 3 goals this preseason, tied for Beau Bennett for tops on the Penguins during the preseason.

I understand he is a young player, and I know he has a lot to learn.  That being said, give him a chance to do what he did in the preseason: score.  I would have him at least on the third line, if not the second line, but it looks like he will be stuck on the fourth line where he will likely log less than 10 minutes again versus Montreal.

The Penguins are stuck with 1 goal in 2 games.  Playing Sprong minimally on the fourth line is not going to help that goal total climb, just saying…

Once again, thanks for those who follow me and keep up with me.  I am sorry this article was a bit late, but I will make a promise that I will write and publish my next article directly after the Tuesday night game concludes against the Canadiens.  Hopefully that one will be written in high spirits.

Coyotes Edge Penguins

Projected Lineups

Article 3 of 7, here we go!

The Penguins made their final roster moves today.  Technically, they reduced their roster to 25 players, but forwards Eric Fehr and Tom Kuhnhackl are currently injured, which puts them at the NHL limit of a 23.

Let’s talk about who went where after the final roster cut.

  • No shock here, Derrick Pouliot was sent to the AHL along with forwards John-Sebastian Dea and Bryan Rust.  Dea and Rust were destined to stay in the minors starting from the beginning of training camp.  Both of these players could be NHL ready in a few years, but the Penguins lineup right now has no space for these guys. On the other hand, many predicted Pouliot to be a top 4 defenseman this year going into camp.  I am a huge Pouliot fan myself, but he did not show any promise in preseason action.  This could have been the result of having a mindset of having a spot locked up, or it could be simply that Pouliot isn’t ready.  He has great talent, and he’ll see NHL action this year for sure, but he will start the season with Wilkes-Barre to help his development.
  • Although this was not a huge shock, it was the most shocking move the Penguins made today: they released Sergei Gonchar from his professional tryout contract.  Because of this, defenseman Tim Erixon will make the roster, since Pouliot also did not make the roster.  Although Gonchar did not play great during preseason action, not many of the Penguins defensmen played well overall.  Many thought Gonchar would stick around to be able to mentor the young defensemen such as Clendening and Pouliot, and also because he is one of Evgeni Malkin’s best buddies.  Malkin attributes a lot of his success to Sergei Gonchar, but he will not be with the team this year.  Either way, Gonchar will always be remembered by Penguins fans everywhere.  I would love to see Gonchar stay with the Penguins in some type of managerial role, but who knows what he wants to do.  Thanks Sarge.
  • This may be shocking to some, but if you’ve been keeping up with my blog, you’re not shocked at all: Daniel Sprong made the Penguins roster, as did the wrecking ball himself Bobby Farnham.  I’ve talked enough about Sprong, but I am very excited to see him in NHL action.  He has at most 9 games to make a good impression, and if he does, he could be with the Penguins all year.  If not, we get a glimpse of what is to come.  On the other hand, there is Bobby Farnham.  He may not be skilled, but he plays with some crazy passion.  He is 5′ 10″, but he doesn’t care.  He would engage in a fight against a 6′ 6″ monster if he had to.  He is a guy the Penguins are going to need, and he is so good at getting under opponents’ skin.  Finally, it is time to Free Farnham.

After the final roster cuts, here are the players that remain on the Penguins roster:

Centers: Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Nick Bonino, Matt Cullen

Left Wings: Chris Kunitz, David Perron, Sergei Plotnikov

Right Wings: Phil Kessel, Patric Hornqvist, Beau Bennett, Daniel Sprong, Pascal Dupuis, Bobby Farnham

Defensemen: Kris Letang, Olli Maatta, Ian Cole, Brian Dumoulin, Ben Lovejoy, Adam Clendening, Rob Scuderi, Tim Erixon

Injured: Eric Fehr, Tom Kuhnhackl

The Penguins had some very interesting line combinations in yesterday’s game.  They split Crosby and Malkin on the power play, they played David Perron on the 4th line, and they split Letang and Maatta.  I believe most of this was just a result in trying to find chemistry, but who knows.  Anyways, here are my predictions as to what the opening night roster is going to look like:

Forwards:

Kunitz – Crosby – Kessel

Plotnikov – Malkin – Hornqvist

Perron – Bonino – Dupuis

 Bennett – Cullen – Sprong

(Farnham)

In regards to the forwards, the first 2 lines seem pretty obvious to me.  I don’t think those lines change, and Mike Johnston used these 2 lines in the final preseason game.  I believe Perron moves up to the third line to play with Bonino and Dupuis, since Perron is just too skilled to be considered a fourth line guy, even though he hasn’t looked great in the preseason.  This leaves Bennett and Sprong to play with Matt Cullen, which is almost unfair to these guys.  Both Bennett and Sprong had terrific camps and preseasons, but there is just no other place for these guys to play.  But hey, a fourth line of Bennett, Cullen, and Sprong is impressive.  I think Farnham is scratched for opening night, but don’t be surprised if we see him in game action soon.

Defense:

Letang – Scuderi

Maatta – Cole

Dumoulin – Lovejoy

(Clendening – Erixon)

In regards to the defense, I actually think the Penguins will keep Letang and Maatta split.  Why?  Because you don’t put Crosby and Malkin on the same line.  The Penguins have 2 terrific defensemen in Letang and Maatta, but everyone else is pretty much considered a 5th or 6th defensemen (besides maybe Ian Cole, who could be considered a 4th defenseman).  That being said, why stack one line, and leave the other 2 D pairs hung out to dry? I put Scuderi with Letang only because I think this would allow for Letang to hop up into the play more, being that Scuderi is a stay-at-home defenseman.  Olli Maatta will likely play with Ian Cole, that is if Scuds plays with Letang.  The 3rd D pair was very hard to determine, because Clendening has had such a great camp, but I would be shocked if they hold Lovejoy out of the roster.  However, Clendening will get his chances even if he doesn’t play.

Goalies:

Marc-Andre Fleury

Jeff Zatkoff

In regards to goalies, well, that one was easy.

Keep in mind these are my personal predictions.  This does not mean these will be the lines on opening night, this is just my hunch.  We should find out more and more as the week progresses, because the Penguins will have a few practices, and likely practice line combinations that they want to see on opening night.  They want to, and NEED to, develop some chemistry, but that just comes with reps and reps and more reps.

Also, don’t be surprised if they put Crosby and Malkin back on the same power play unit, but I guess we will have to see.

As always, thanks for keeping up with me!  Tomorrow I’ll be writing an article about this year’s team vs. last years team.  You won’t want to miss this one.

Projected Lineups