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.

 

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Our Penguins Are Back

Believe

Just 2 nights ago, the Philadelphia Flyers marched into Pittsburgh with a 13-2-1 record at Consol Energy Center.  Heck, the Philadelphia Flyers Twitter account tweeted this photo below with the caption: “Home sweet (second) home #PHIvsPIT”

And unfortunately, it has been their second home.  The Penguins haven’t beat Philadelphia, regardless of venue, since October 17, 2013 going into this game.  Last time the Penguins won at Consol Energy Center against Philadelphia was March 24th, 2013 in a game that took OT to decide.  Tyler Kennedy had the game-winner in OT.

After the 1st period, the Penguins gave up 2 power play goals to Brayden Schenn and Jake Voracek, and were trailing 2-0 after the first.

Given the history of these 2 teams at Consol, I along with many other fans I would assume, thought this game was over and done.  I was wrong.

The Penguins battled back in the 2nd, and went into the 2nd intermission up 3-2, scoring 2 power play goals from Daley and Kessel, and adding 1 more from Crosby that was a ridiculous shot at a ridiculous angle.  Kessel netted another goal in the 3rd to make it 4-2.  Giroux did respond for the Flyers, but the Penguins held on and won 4-3.

This was not only a great come from behind win, but an absolute HUGE 2 points against a Flyers team that is chasing them in the standings.

This afternoon, the Penguins took on the Canucks despite the snowy conditions here in Pittsburgh.  Once again, the Penguins found themselves down 2-0 at the intermission on 2 goals by Canucks’ forward Jannik Hansen, who had a terrific game, and looked like one of the fastest forwards in the league.

Evgeni Malkin scored a 5 on 3 power play goal in the 2nd period to cut the lead in half, but the Penguins were still trailing 2-1 going into the 3rd.

A few minutes into the 3rd period, Canucks’ forward Bo Horvat fired a shot top corner on Fleury, using Letang as a screen, and gave the Canucks a 3-1 lead with only 14 minutes remaining in the game.  Once again, it did not look so good for the Penguins.

Then, just a minute later, Evgeni Malkin was at it again.  He carried the puck into the slot and was skating right to left.  He tried to get Miller off of his angle, but Miller never gave Malkin a good chance to shoot.  Malkin ended up carrying the puck behind the net, but was able to throw the puck to the front.  Luckily for Malkin, the puck went right off of a Canuck stick and into the net.  It was 3-2 now, and the Penguins had life.

Not much longer the Penguins tied the game 3-3.  Who scored?  Well, who else???

Malkin notched his 10th career hat trick on this goal, and single-handedly brought the Penguins back in this game.  What a great game for Geno.

With only 7 minutes to go, Bryan Rust notched his 2nd of the season, and his 1st since returning from injury, and what a big goal it was.  Kuhnhackl got his first NHL point on the assist.  Although Rust scores the goal, it never would have happened without Eric Fehr.  Fehr screened Miller and never allowed Miller to see the sneaky quick shot that Rust took.  It wasn’t a hard shot, but because Miller never saw it, he did not fall into the butterfly, and the puck went 5-hole and gave the Penguins the lead.

Crosby then scored on an empty net, which ended up being a huge empty net goal.  That being said, Hagelin could have easily scored on the empty net, as he was in a 2 on 1 with Sid going towards an open net, but he passed it and Sid buried it.  Classy play from Hagelin, who has yet to score as a Penguin.  Although, he has been getting his chances and has been playing very well.  I love how much he can create with his speed.

Jannik Hansen scored with 16 seconds remaining to cap a hat trick of his own, but it wasn’t enough to tie the game, and the Penguins held on and won 5-4.

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

Can you all remember earlier in the year, when the Penguins could not come backto win games under Johnston?  It seemed, at least to me, that if the other team scored the first goal, the game was over.  The Penguins just could not come back in games.

Now, that is different.

The Penguins just overcame back-to-back 2 goal deficits in the first period.  Although I wish the Penguins wouldn’t continue to give up the first 2 goals in games, it is just visible that this team believes in itself and that they believe in their coach.

Their power play is clicking, their offense is clicking…

They are starting to play Penguins hockey.

So yeah, their record under Sullivan isn’t great yet, but I can tell you from watching the Penguins recently, they are playing with some desire.  They want to win.  They believe that they can win.  I believe they can win.  And you should too.

I feel a win streak coming on…

 

Believe

Don’t Count Them Out Yet

We’re now over halfway through the season, and the Penguins are still on the outside looking in.  It just seems as though they can’t string more than 2 or 3 wins together to make a legitimate playoff run.  That being said, don’t count them out yet.

Now this may almost sound too obvious.  You may be thinking, “well they’re only two points out of a playoff spot and they have a game in hand on some of the teams that are ahead of them.  Plus there are 37 games left.  Of course I can’t count them out.”

But think about it, this has been the story for the past 3 weeks or so.  The Penguins are winning enough games to keep them in the wild card race, but they are not winning stretches of games to really give them a boost in the standings.  Most of the teams fighting for the wild card will win 1 of 2, which is basically what the Penguins are doing.

Just a few nights ago, the Penguins played arguably their best 60 minute game of the season, dominating the Carolina Hurricanes 5-0.  It once again felt like a win that was going to get the Penguins trending upward.

They then go to St. Louis the night after to take on the Blues.  They did play well the first 2 periods, but the game was tied 2-2 due to a bad play by Zatkoff and due to Ben Lovejoy getting burned by Blues superstar Vladimir Tarasenko.  In the 3rd the Penguins seemed to have lost energy and dropped the game 5-2.

The Penguins have a chance, but if they’re going to start stringing together some wins, it needs to start now.

And no, I’m not saying they need to win 12 in a row like the Blackhawks, who are probably going to win the Stanley Cup…again…

But they need to at least start some winning stretches: Win 7/8 in 10, put together a 4 game win streak, win 2 back-to-back games, which have absolutely tortured the Penguins this year…If they can do that, then I give them a great chance.

But it can’t start in a few games, or next week, or next month…it has to start Thursday night against the Flyers, who the Penguins haven’t beaten in over 2 years.

Why?

The Penguins have 37 games remaining.  Of those 37 remaining, they play 20 (more than 50%) within their own division.  This includes a stretch in March where the Penguins play 11 of 13 games against division opponents.

They play the Flyers 4 times (have not played them yet this season), Rangers 4 times (have not played them yet this season), Capitals 3 times, Devils 3 times, Islanders 3 times, Hurricanes twice, and Blue Jackets once.

In the new playoff format, the top 3 teams in the division have a playoff spot locked, so placing high in the division is extremely important.  If the Penguins can find a way to start winning games, they will be beating the teams within their division, and will find themselves climbing the ladder quite quickly.

On the contrary, if they continue to play about .500 hockey or worse, especially against the division where the Penguins have performed poorly in the past few years, the Penguins could kick themselves right out of the playoffs and onto the golf course.

Just to give you can idea on where the Penguins stand, they are currently 5th in the division with 49 points.  No one is going to catch the Capitals, who lead the division by 18 points.  But believe it or not, the Penguins could have their eyes set on 2nd if they can buckle down throughout the home stretch.

The Rangers are in 2nd place and have 55 points, but the Penguins play them 4 times AND have a game in hand.

The Islanders are in 3rd with 54 points and the same amount of GP as the Pens, but the Penguins play them 3 more times.

The Devils have 51 points in 4th place, but the Penguins play them 3 more times and have 2 games in hand.

The Flyers are in 6th and have 48 points plus a game in hand on the Penguins, but the Penguins play them 4 more times which gives them a great chance to separate themselves from their cross-state rival.

The Hurricanes, in 7th, also have 48 points, but the Penguins have 2 games in hand.  The Penguins do play the Canes twice more, but I do not see Carolina being a playoff threat.  Not yet.  They’re still rebuilding.

So can the Penguins pull this off?

Yes, but here is what has to happen:

  • Sid needs to keep being Sid
    • Sid has been on fire as of late.  He is scoring goals, making sweet passes, and just looks more confident than he has at any point under Mike Johnston.  I think Sid is benefiting from Sullivan’s system, but Sid needs to keep his production trending up to give the Penguins a chance at legitimate playoff contention.
  • Kuni Kaze
    • Kunitz has also been playing very well as of late.  His legs seem to have gotten younger.  He is starting to score goals again, and looks much more like the Chris Kunitz of a few years ago.  Hopefully those legs can stay young, because the Penguins are going to need a guy like him to keep producing at a decent clip, especially playing with Sid.
  • Kessel…SHOOT!!
    • Kessel has great play-making ability, and I do not want to take that away from him, but the Penguins traded for him to be a goal scorer.  Period.  I still believe in Kessel, but he just needs to find some confidence and start shooting the puck relentlessly.  The guy has a wicked shot.
  • Give Pouliot a chance
    • Derrick Pouliot, high-end defensive prospect for the Penguins, was called up recently due to the unfortunate injury of David Warsofsky in the game against Carolina.  Pouliot played a bit last year, and more often than not, was not living up to expectations.  That being said, he has been fantastic in the AHL and deserves to play.  I would personally scratch Ian Cole, who has been way underperforming, and give Pouliot his shot.  He should help the defense get involved and possibly quarterback the 2nd powerplay unit.
  • Hagelin
    • For those of you that were not aware, the Penguins traded away David Perron and Adam Cledening to acquire the speedy Carl Hagelin from the Ducks.  I like the trade and I like what Hagelin can bring.  He fits much better in the Eastern Conference, as he is a small, fast forward who is a great back-checker and PK guy.  That being said, he can score goals.  He scored 17 with the Rangers not too long ago.  He is currently on a line with Evgeni Malkin, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he has a chance to play with Sid.  Hagelin looked good in his first 2 games despte not even being able to practice with the team, but I think he needs to step up and chip in 10 goals the rest of the way.

Well, here’s to hoping the Penguins start stringing together some wins tomorrow against the Flyers…

Don’t Count Them Out Yet