Pens Top Sens

sprong first goal

Ladies and Gentlemen: ELVIS. Has just. Left. The building.

And FINALLY, the Penguins found their first win of the season.

They topped a pretty good Ottawa Senators team 2-0, but it felt like it could have been 6-0 Penguins.  The Pens came out and played desperately and it showed on the ice.  They were finishing their checks and pouncing on every loose puck.  They looked the best they have looked this season by far.

However, Ottawa did play last night, so they were probably slightly fatigued.  But then again, Phoenix also played the night before they played the Penguins, but the Coyotes looked like the far better team.  Take that in for what it’s worth…

Unfortunately, the Penguins announced this morning that forward Beau Bennett is out with an injury.  Multiple sources reported Bennett not seeming like he was in pain after the game against Montreal, so it may be an unrelated hockey injury.  Either way, Bennett was injured, so Mayhem himself Booby Farnham got a chance to play.

In addition to Bennett getting injured, the Penguins recalled forward Bryan Rust and sent down Tim Erixon to the Penguins’ AHL affiliate team, the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins.

The most surprising news of the day for me were the players and line combinations that Johnston went with today.  First of all, he made the decision to scratch Rob Scuderi and play Adam Clendening, who looked fantastic during camp.  Scuderi has looked like nothing more than a traffic cone in the first 3 games.

Sorry Scuds, you were important to the team in 2009, and I thank you for your contributions, but you’re just not an NHL caliber player right now.

The Penguins kept Letang with Cole, paired Maatta with Clendening, which left Dumoulin and Lovejoy as the bottom pair.  I think these are the Penguins best 6 defensemen right now.  That being said, I’m sure Scuderi will get his share of games, but after tonight, it should be less.

Also, one of the Penguins top prospects projected to make the team Derrick Pouliot is still in the minors, and I would imagine he gets a chance at some point to step in and make an impression on the coaches.

Besides the scratch of Scuderi, Johnston also made the decision to scratch newcomer Sergei Plotnikov, which I found very interesting.  I would imagine Johnston was more of just giving him a day off since he is currently dealing with adjusting to the life of the NHL and life in the US.  He will be back as soon as next game, but I was surprised by the scratch.

The Penguins top 2 lines looked the same as it did the last game, Daniel Sprong and Kevin Porter got a chance to hop up onto the 3rd line with Bonino, and Cullen centered Farham and newly called-up forward Bryan Rust.

Since I had to talk a lot in the early parts, I’ll simply recap the goals (which were only Penguins goals) and give a few quick impressions.  Here we go:

Recap

1st Period

No Scoring

2nd Period

Just 23 seconds into the period, Evgeni Malkin put the Penguins on the board, and gave them their first lead of the season.  The play actually began in Ottawa’s offensive zone.  Some Penguins and Senators players were battling for the puck.  Just as none other than Patric Hornqvist came out of the scrum with it, Evgeni Malkin bolted up the ice.  Honqvist fed the puck to Malkin who went down the ice on a 2 on 1, and made no mistake as he ripped a shot past the blocker side of goalie Craig Anderson.  Pens 1 Sens 0.

Later in the period, Kevin Porter came up the ice with the puck.  At about center ice, he gave the puck to Matt Cullen who was flying down the middle of the ice.  Cullen carried the puck into the zone, and dropped a pass into the slot for who?  Daniel Sprong.  Sprong took advantage of the great pass by Cullen and went thin mints (where mamma keeps the cookies: top shelf!).  Congratulations to Sprong on his first NHL goal.  Pens 2 Sens 0.

3rd Period

No Scoring

Final: Pens 2 Sens 0

The Senators had some decent chances throughout the game but Fleury came through large.  In addition, the Penguins really did play the better game here.  They deserved to win, and came out with just that.

Impressions

Sprong

Please Rutherford.  Keep this guy in the NHL.  I’ve said so much about this kid, and it’s because I really believe he can do great things.  I understand the Penguins have Dupuis and Fehr out, but now they have Bennett out, and I imagine the Penguins would scratch Farnham and Rust before they would scratch Sprong (and this is nothing against either of these guys, who also had excellent games).

Daniel Sprong deserves to be here, and the Penguins need him here.  Plus, what if other injuries plague the Penguins this year (which we all know is going to happen).  Why send down Sprong when he is clearly capable to play at an NHL level?

I have no clue what management thinks, but Sprong is making it a tough decision for management.  I hope he stays, and it’s because he SHOULD stay.

No Scuderi? No Problem

Although I do not know exactly what Rob Scuderi said, during the offseason, Scuderi said he would make the roster because he was the only defensive minded guy they have, and teams don’t play 6 offensive defensemen.

Well guess what, Scuds.  The Penguins went with 6 offensive defensemen tonight, and they not only won, but they didn’t even let up a goal!

How about them apples?

Crosby Needs a Point

Crosby is STILL without a point.  Malkin finally scored tonight (he is now at 1G 1A – 2P), which marks his first goal in about 20 games or so.  Crosby on the other hand needs some help.

I don’t think he’s washed up or anything like that.  He is still the best player in hockey.

I honestly think they guy is trying too hard.  Ease up on your stick a bit Sid, you’ll be just fine.

I’m noticing that Crosby is forcing passes into traffic…A LOT.  I think this comes mainly because of Kessel, but also because Crosby thinks of himself as a playmaker, so that’s what he needs to do.  However, Crosby has a Rocket Richard (which is the trophy for most goals scored in a season).  Crosby has proven he can score, he just has to execute.

I still think they should swap Hornqvist and Kessel, but I’ll try to stop beating a dead horse.

Here’s to hoping Johnston does something about it…

Well, let’s hope the Penguins stay in the win column after Saturday night’s showdown with Kessel’s former team the Toronto Maple Leafs.  The Maple Leafs are just straight up bad this year, and this should be a win for the Penguins, but you never know…

Thanks to all who keep up with me!  As usual, I will be posting a blog late Saturday night talking about the Penguins and Maple Leafs.  And keep those heads held high tomorrow, Pens fans: your team finally won!

Advertisements
Pens Top Sens

Stars Shine, Niemi Blanks Pens

NHL: Pittsburgh Penguins at Dallas Stars

“Fire Johnston!”

“The offense stinks!”

“Bring back Therrien!”

Okay yinzers, calm dahn.  It’s just one game.

The Penguins put up a goose egg in their season opener against the Stars in Dallas, despite putting up 37 shots on goal.  Although many of those shots were in the last 3 minutes, when the Penguins were in desperation mode, more than likely if the Penguins keep putting up shot totals like this, the puck is going to go in.

Props to Antti Niemi.  He was 4-1-1 against the Penguins going into this game, and is now 5-1-1 against the Pens.  Keep in mind this was the same guy that made 40 saves against the Penguins last year while he was in San Jose in a 2-1 Sharks win, despite this game being arguably the best game the Penguins played all season, especially on the road.

Moral of the story: calm down.  It’s one game, and the Penguins have 81 left.  They have a ton of new guys and they’re still finding chemistry.  As the chemistry builds, the Penguins will get better, and they will score goals.  Look for that to be the case against the Coyotes on Saturday.

For those of you that missed the game, I’ll give a little recap.  Then I’ll go into my impressions from the Penguins’ season opener.

Recap

The Stars got on the board early, as rookie Mattias Janmark scored for Dallas just 1:39 into the game.  The Stars were coming in on a 3 on 2, and Janmark was trailing the rush by just a step.  David Perron was backchecking and tried to lift the stick of Janmark, but Janmark would not be denied as he one-timed a pass from Ales Hemsky right between the legs of Fleury and into the net.

Late in the first, Kessel carried the puck into the zone along with Crosby and Kunitz in a 3 on 2.  Kessel stopped up and fed a pass to Rob Scuderi, who one-timed the puck on net.  Niemi, with some traffic in front, made a terrific glove save to keep the Penguins off the board.

5:42 into the 2nd period, Ales Hemsky gave the Stars a 2-0 lead on the power play.  He brought the puck into the zone and came in on what was essentially a 1 on 1 against Scuderi.  Hemsky did what many great hockey players will do: he used Scuderi as a screen and fired a quick shot past Fleury’s blocker side.  I don’t think Fleury thought the shot was coming, but then again, he also never saw it.

The 2nd period in general saw the game open up a bit.  The Stars had plenty of 2 on 1 opportunities, and the Penguins had a few of their own.  This game was looking like it could shape into a 6-5 thriller, but Niemi, and even Fleury for that matter, stood tall.

The Penguins went into the 3rd down 2-0, and proceeded to take 4 penalties that period.  Not a recipe for coming back in a hockey game.  Luckily, the first 3 didn’t cost them, but the 4th one did.  Last year’s Art Ross winner Jamie Benn parked himself right in front on Fleury and deflected in a point shot to make it 3-0 Stars.  Once again, not much Fleury could do about that one.

Fleury was pulled with about 3 minutes to go, and the Penguins did generate a ton of offense in the final 3 minutes, but Niemi just would not let the puck get past him, and preserved his shutout.  3-0 Dallas was the final score.

Impressions

Okay, I’m not going to go all “fire the coach,” “trade Crosby,” or “this offense stinks,” but my impressions are mainly going to include some adjustments I think should be made to help the Penguins improve moving forward based on what I saw Thursday night:

Line Changes

Sidney Crosby, for just the 2nd time in his entire career, did not attempt a shot last night.  Why?  Because he is playing with Phil Kessel.  Don’t get me wrong, I love the concept of Kessel with Crosby, but the problem is that Crosby is diverting into a “pass only” mentality because he knows Kessel can score.

Guess what Sid, so can you!  If you shoot!

I would swap Hornqvist with Kessel for game 2.

Why?

With a guy like Hornqvist and the way he plays, Crosby will shoot more, but also has that right-handed shot that he loves to have.  And we all know Honqvist will shoot…and park himself in front of the net and cause havoc.  Plus, Kunitz, Crosby, and Hornqvist played terrific last season, so “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”.

Putting Kessel on Malkin’s line will not change Malkin’s play (but it obviously did change Crosby’s).  Malkin plays the same regardless of who his wingers are.  He plays strong on the puck, and he is not afraid to pull the trigger… neither is Kessel.  These 2 will spend less time trying to thread passes to each other and more time shooting.  (I want to note Kessel did shoot a lot in the season opener, but it came as a result of Crosby NOT shooting).  Remember that James Neal guy?  Yeah, he played with Malkin, not Crosby.

Look at what they did.  Just sayin…

In addition, I think Sprong should be on the 3rd line, not the 4th.  This guy is in the NHL because he can score goals.  He only played a shift of 2 in the third period, which absolutely shocked me, because he really is one of the better offensive players the Penguins have.  I don’t know what Johnston will do, but I think Sprong should be moved up, and he should get his chance to play.  He deserves it.

Power Play

Although the power play did not score, they did look okay.  However, there is one thing I just do not understand: Why split up Crosby and Malkin?

I get that you do not want to play them on the same line during a 5 on 5 situation, because you do not want to “stack a line.”  But…isn’t the whole idea of a power play to put your best guys out there?

I don’t think this will change any time soon, but it SHOULD change soon.  The Penguins top unit should consist on Crosby, Malkin, and Hornqvist down low with Letang and Kessel at the points.  That is deadly.  Use it to your advantage and put your best 5 guys out there.

Also, notable, the Penguins 2nd power play (even with a “stacked” first unit) would be Perron, Bonino, Bennett/Kunitz with Sprong and Maatta at the points.  So, the coaches are worried that unit won’t score on the power play?!

I don’t get it.  But I’m not the coach…

Team Built for Offense?  Play That Way

Mike Johnston’s system is not a bad one, but I am not 100% sure if it fits this team.  Time will tell.  His system is based off of a “defense-first” mentality that relies on puck moving defensemen to lead the rush and turn defense into offense.

There is one problem: this team is not built around defense.  It’s built around offense.

I do think the Penguins have some great puck moving defensemen in their system, but that being said, the Penguins need a system focused on offense.  If the Penguins are going to roll with 4 scoring lines (which I do not have a problem with), the Penguins need a system that plays to their advantages.

That advantage is offensive fire power.

Who knows, maybe the system will work fine.  Maybe it works great.  Again, I know it is only one game, and the Penguins did not play terrible, but the Penguins should not be playing a defensive-minded style built to win 2-1 hockey games.  It just doesn’t make sense.

Letang

Letang was the Penguins’ best player against Dallas.  Hands down.  He registered a game high 13 shots on goal and played extremely solid defensively.

Remember, I picked this guy to win the Norris.

If he stays healthy and can play like he did in Dallas, good things are going to happen to this guy (knock on wood).

Once again, thanks to everyone who keeps up with my blog!  My next post will probably come after the Penguins play the Coyotes late Saturday or early afternoon Sunday.  The setup will be similar, as I will recap and give my impressions of the game.

Keep up with me, and let’s hope the Pens turn around quickly and bring a 1-1 record back to Consol for the home opener next week.

Stars Shine, Niemi Blanks Pens

Shoot the Puck!

crosby scores

How many times have you watched a Penguins game and yelled at the TV with something along the lines of “C’mon [insert player here], shoot the puck!”

If your answer is 0, try again.

If your answer is a few times every game, then that’s more like it.

Nothing makes me more angry than when the Penguins are in the zone, particularly on the power play, and Sidney Crosby (or any player for that matter) passes up a shot to try to thread a needle to a man who is on the opposite end of the ice with 3+ guys standing in the passing lane.  If the pass gets through, there’s a chance it goes in, and it looks like a spectacular play.  But when it doesn’t get through?

Yeah, it’s not a shot.  Last time I checked, you can’t score without shooting the puck.  The Penguins need to do more of that this season.

Head coach Mike Johnston always emphasizes shot volume.  His thought process is simple:  The more shots you take, the more goals you get.  So, is it really that simple?

Yes.  It really is that simple.

Let’s take a look at last season.  Mike Johnston specifically said that if the Penguins could register 35 shots on goal every game, they would be very successful.  So let’s go based on this.

Last year, the Penguins record was 27-22-5 when they did not record 35 shots or more.  This means that through these 54 games, the Penguins had only 59 points and put up 1.09 points per game.  This means that in an 82 game season, they would be on pace for 89 points, which would probably miss the playoffs most years.

Now, let’s look at their record when they registered 35 shots or more.  The Penguins had 28 games where they accomplished this task, putting up a 16-5-7 record and 39 points and 1.39 points per game.  This means that in an 82 game season, they would have been on pace for 114 points! This would not only put the Penguins in the playoffs, but possibly win them a Presidents Trophy as well.

Shooting the puck is even all the more important now, especially with the lineup the Penguins are putting out there.  They are absolutely stacked up front, and if they shoot, they will score at least a few.

If the Penguins want success this year, it really is as easy as 3 simple words:

Shoot. The. Puck!

Finally, the 7th article in 7 days is done!  Now, buckle up baby.

The Penguins season is right around the corner.

Expect a blog post from myself after Thursday night’s game about my impressions on the game action.  Let’s Go Pens!

Shoot the Puck!

So…What Went Wrong Last Season?

pens lose playoffs

Going into last season, there were some major questions to be answered.

The Penguins fired both Dan Bylsma and Ray Shero, and brought in Coach Mike Johnston and GM Jim Rutherford.  Not long after Rutherford came in, he traded former 40 goal scorer James Neal for Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling.

Well, Spaling didn’t work out, but Hornqvist certainly did.

He even made plenty of successful trades during the regular season, including adding David Perron to the top 6 forward core, and absolutely stealing former first-round pick Ian Cole for Robert Bortuzzo and a 7th round pick.  Although his trade for Ben Lovejoy wasn’t a very well-liked trade among the Penguins’ fan base, Rutherford assembled a half-decent team with what he had to work with, as well as the time he had to accomplish it.  It wasn’t his fault.

Was it Mike Johnston’s fault?  Well, not necessarily…

The Penguins came out of the gate looking better than ever.  They started out 13-3-1 and were clicking at about 40% on the power play, which is just absolutely absurd.  Clearly, his strategy was working.

Then something happened.  Something stopped working for the Penguins.  After this fantastic start through 17 games, the Penguins finished 30-24-11 in their final 65 games.

This may not look awful, but if we grouped regulation losses with overtime and shootout losses, the Penguins finished 30-35 in their final 65 games.

Johnston’s strategy seemed to work fine in games 1-17, so I’m not so concerned about him either.  In addition, I have read glowing reports from the players that they are really believing in Mike Johnston’s coaching strategies and ideals.

So it wasn’t the new coach, it wasn’t the new GM…so let’s start looking at the players.

Well, there were a lot of injuries…  The Penguins 30-24-11 streak began the game after Pascal Dupuis was diagnosed with a blood clot.  Around this time, Olli Maatta was diagnosed with a cancerous tumor.  Ehrhoff dealt with multiple concussions during the year.  Letang suffered a concussion late in the season that looked like it may be devastating to his career, so thank goodness he is okay.  And even Pouliot, who played a lot for the Penguins last year, was injured going into the post-season.

Yeah, something tells me a top pair of Paul Martin and Ben Lovejoy aren’t going to get things done.  Unfortunately, it didn’t.

So yes, I believe injuries were a major factor to the major downfall of last year.

Also consider these things:

1) Mike Johnston’s system depends on puck moving defensemen and defensemen who can contribute to the offense.  Well, all of those kind of guys were in and out throughout the season.  Heck during the playoffs, Letang, Maatta, Ehrhoff, AND Pouliot were out with injury.  Yikes.

2) Surprisingly, the Penguins ranked 10th in the NHL in goals against despite their lack of a healthy defensive corps.  The place they struggled the most was in the goals for category, in which they placed 19th in the NHL.

I understand that in Mike Johnston’s system, the defense is important even to the offense.  That being said, the forwards have to produce, too.  That’s what they’re getting paid to do.  So let’s look at the forwards.

Neither Crosby or Malkin came up big in the playoffs (besides maybe game 2), however, both were battling significant injuries, so I will try to let that slide.

However, the supporting cast for future hall of fame forwards Crosby and Malkin was absolutely unacceptable, especially when a player such as Dupuis missed a large chunk of the season.  Perron played great in Pittsburgh his first 10 games or so, then fell off the face of the earth.  Comeau was not the same after coming back from his wrist injury.  And Kunitz had a major drop off last season, and just couldn’t find the back of the net.

Hornqvist was about the only man who consistently did his job, and this includes Crosby and Malkin.

Overall, my three key factors to the downfall of last season are the following: injuries, injured puck moving defensemen, lack of offense/supporting cast.

Want to know which factor I think most contributed to this downfall?

Lack of offense.  Lack of a supporting cast for Crosby and Malkin.

Well guess what.  Rutherford fixed that.  The Penguins are rolling with 4 lines that can score this year.  They have Crosby, Malkin, Kessel, Hornqvist, Plotnikov, Perron, Bennet, Sprong, Kunitz, Dupuis, and the list goes on… They were 19th in goals for last year. 19th!  With 2 of the best forwards the NHL will ever see.

No excuses can be made this year for this team.  Regardless of whether their defense performs extraordinary, this team should be top 5 in goals for and power play percentage by the end of the year, which ideally, will put them atop the Eastern Conference once again.

So, how does one score goals?  I’ll be discussing that tomorrow (technically, later today) in my final article leading up to the Penguins season opener: Shoot the Puck!

So…What Went Wrong Last Season?