Sprong Deserves the “Kessel” Treatment

sprong goalIt was December 19th.  Daniel Sprong, one of the Penguins’ brightest future prospects, was sent back down to his QMJHL team, the Charlettetown Islanders.  In his 18 games with the Penguins, Daniel Sprong scored 2 goals, had no assists, and was a -1.

One of the biggest criticisms of Sprong is that he has not quite developed a solid defensive game yet, which led to him playing somewhere between 4 and 7 minutes per game on the fourth line.

So yeah, Daniel Sprong’s defensive game is not spectacular, but I do not think it ever will be.  He can and will get better and has to be more responsible in the defensive zone, there’s no doubt about it, but the Penguins need to accept that Sprong isn’t going to be winning any Selke Trophies any time soon.

Since Daniel Sprong’s return to the QMJHL, he has posted 15 goals and 29 assists, which is good for 44 points in only 31 games.  This would give him his best points per game total, 1.42 PPG, since he started playing in the QMJHL.  During his previous 2 years he posted 1.01 points per game and 1.29 points per game respectively.  This may be in the QMJHL, but the stats don’t lie.  He is posting impressive numbers.

Daniel Sprong may not be the most sensational defensive forward out there, but boy is he gifted offensively.  He has a fantastic release, super quick hands, is a fast skater, and can pass the puck too.  But the difference is that he was a constant healthy scratch, played on the 4th line, and barely got to play at all.

So you’re probably asking “what difference? You said the difference is…The difference between what?”

Phil Kessel.

Kessel pens

Phil Kessel was brought to the Penguins to score goals and provide offense.  Many believed, including myself, that Kessel could easily post 40+ goals being that he was a lock to play with either Crosby or Malkin.  Although Penguins’ fans did set high expectations, I do think Kessel has absolutely under-performed as a whole.

In 70 games, Kessel has 21 goals and 27 assists, giving him 47 points.  This is not an awful output, but from a guy like Kessel playing with guys like Malkin and Crosby, it should be higher.  Also, he has been insanely inconsistent.  Although he just had a goal and an assist last night against the Hurricanes, he scored his first goal in 8 games (and his previous goal was an EN goal), and often follows performances up like these with a dud.  That being said, I want him to prove me wrong, and gosh darn it I hope he does against Philly tomorrow.

Similar to Sprong, Phil Kessel is not any threat defensively.  Currently, Phil Kessel is a +2 for the Penguins.  His only other season he was a “plus player” was 2008-2009 with Boston when he posted a +23.  That being said, Phil Kessel was not brought here to play defense: he was brought here to score goals.

Kessel has not left Crosby or Malkin’s side for the most part.  And, well, he’s Phil Kessel.  It doesn’t make much sense to move him down to the 3rd or 4th line.  He has been kept on the first PP unit until only recently, despite not shooting as often as he should or scoring for that matter.

Meanwhile, Daniel Sprong never had any legitimate chances to play with Crosby or Malkin because the coaches felt he was a liability.  Then, when it came time for power plays, which is where Sprong would be extremely effective on the right side, the coaching staff still did not use Sprong, and continues to use guys like Kessel and, at the time, Perron.

It should also be noted that Sprong not only did not get these opportunities, but he played almost all of his game under Mike Johnston’s system.  He played only 2 games under Sullivan, which were within that 0-4 start when Sullivan was hired.  Now, the Penguins have an identity, and for me, Daniel Sprong fits right in.

So, although I am not advocating for Sprong to play over Kessel, my argument is this: if Kessel gets a chance on the top PP, and a chance to play with Malkin and Crosby, why not let Sprong have his chance next year?

Kessel hasn’t been “demoted” due to his lack of defense.  Rather, the coaching staff feels he can score, and so they give him his chances.  Okay, fair.  So give Sprong a chance.

Kessel, until recently, continued to be put on the top PP unit despite his lack of quality shots and goals.  But the coaching staff felt he would turn around.  Again, fair.  So why not let Sprong, who is often selfish with the puck (in the best sense of the word), a chance with the top PP, or at least one of the power play units?

Let Sprong do what he does best and provide offense.  Sprong is only 19, and will only be getting better, but the Penguins need to give him a chance to do so in the top 6 if they want him to develop correctly.

Sprong Deserves the “Kessel” Treatment

“Wilkes Guys” Come Through

Wilson goal

Last night, the Penguins defeated the Red Wings at Consol Energy Center by a final score of 6-3.  It was a great game for the Penguins’ offense, and more importantly, their young guns came through.

Scott Wilson scored his first NHL goal, celebrating by immediately skating to Conor Sheary, who set him up with a beautiful pass in the slot, which Wilson fired 5-hole on Mrazek, giving the Penguins, at the time, a 4-2 lead.

Ben Lovejoy after the game was asked about how he felt the Wilkes-Barre guys were contributing to the Penguins’ success.  His response was easily the quote of the night for me: “They’re not Wilkes guys.  They’re Penguins now.  They’re Pittsburgh Penguins.”

Kind of reminds me of the Mighty Ducks movies…and in that regard, these guys are finally “Ducks,” and absolutely deserve to be wearing that sweater.  That being said, the Penguins have some bottom 6 guys injured, such as Fehr, Bonino, and Bennett that will be pretty much guaranteed a spot back in the lineup when they return.  So unfortunately, some of these guys will be demoted, but that does not take away from their impact on this team.

They bring energy, passion, speed…exactly what the Penguins need.  We’ll have to see how Rutherford handles that situation when the time comes.

Anyways, back to last night’s game.  The Penguins announced their lines before the game on their official twitter account, and nothing seemed different than the previous couple of games in regards to lines.  Then, Crosby’s line started the game, but he had a new right winger, whose name is Phil Kessel.  Sullivan, minutes before the game, broke news to Kessel that he was going to swap him with Hornqvist in the line combos, giving Phil his first legitimate chance with Sid on a line since October 22nd.

The good news: it worked.  For both guys may I add.

Ben Lovejoy, surprisingly enough, got the Penguins on the board early.  The Hornqvist-Cullen-Hagelin line was out on the ice, and Cullen carried the puck into the zone.  He took a shot, but it was blocked by a Detroit skater.  The puck bounced over towards the boards to the right of Mrazek, and Hornqvist beat 3 Detroit Red Wings to the puck, eluded 1 guy, and ripped a pass over to Lovejoy at the right point.  Lovejoy corralled the puck and put a quick wrist shot on goal that deflected off of the stick of Helm and went 5-hole on Mrazek.

Detroit would answer and tie the game at 1.  Athanasiou came flying into the zone right down the slot, and then dished the puck off to the right to Nyquist.  Athanasiou’s speed drew the Penguins toward him in the slot, and then Nyquist made a brilliant pass to Jurco who was flying down the slot wide open, and fired one past Fleury.

Later in the period, the Penguins were in the offensive zone battling behind the net for the puck.  Hornqvist would win the battle and get the puck up to Trevor Daley, who some have criticized in recent games for not shooting as much as he should.  Well, this time he did.  Hornqvist deflected the shot which was stoped by Mrazek, but Cullen buried the rebound to give the Penguins a 2-1 lead that they carried into the intermission.

Early in the 2nd, the Red Wings once again tied the game at 2.  Quincy carried the puck into the zone and dropped it off to Glendening at the blue line.  He fired a shot on net that was blocked, but the first man on the puck was Red Wings young superstar rookie Dylan Larkin who made a quick backhand move on Fleury to score.

Just 24 seconds later, Phil Kessel gave the Penguins the lead right back.  Crosby was being hounded by 4 Detroit defenders, including one of the best defensive forwards in that of Datsyuk, but Crosby was able to shed them all off and give a pass to Kessel who was flying into the zone on the right side.  He ripped his shot far side on Mrazek to give the Penguins a 3-2 lead…he wasn’t done.

Then it was Scott Wilson scoring his first NHL goal to give the Penguins a 4-2 lead.  Although Wilson scored the goal, I give about 90% of the credit of that goal to Conor Sheary.  I mean this, he looked Crosby-esque on this shift.  He turned a 2 on 3 into a 2 on 1, then battled for the puck behind the net against 3 Red Wings, then somehow got control, and whipped a pass out to Wilson.  Easily the best shift I’ve seen Sheary play.  The Penguins would take that 4-2 lead into the 2nd intermission.

6:26 into the 3rd, Kessel would strike once again.  Kunitz passed the puck to Maatta at the point who put a quick shot in on Mrazek.  Kunitz deflected the shot, and Kessel pounced on the rebound.  The puck was on edge, and Kessel did not get all of his first shot, but he continued fighting and found his own rebound and buried it, giving the Penguins a 5-2 lead.  Mrazek was pulled as a result of the goal.

Zetterberg closed the gap a little bit late in the third.  He received a pass cross ice from Abdelkader and made a backhand deke right in front of Fleury and roofed it.  It was a pretty goal I admit, but the good news is that it only made the game 5-3.

Crosby would add an empty net goal to cap off the victory, and the Penguins would win 6-3, scoring 6 goals without superstar center Evgeni Malkin.  Now try and tell me that’s not impressive?!

  • Hornqvist had 2 assists and Kessel had 2 goals as a result of the new line change.  Until Geno comes back, expect Kessel to be with Sid and Hornqvist to be with Cullen.  Even when Geno comes back, there is a good chance Kessel stays with Sid if Kessel gets going in these next few games.
  • The Penguins are now 8-3-1 in their last 12 games under Mike Sullivan.  7 of those games are without Malkin, and almost all of them are without Fehr, Bonino, and Bennett.  Column on Sully late tonight/early tomorrow.
  • This marks the 3rd time in 8 games that the Penguins have scored 6 goals, which is a season high.
  • Fleury may have allowed 3 goals but I actually felt that he played excellent.  He made a couple of huge saves, and the goals he did allow were simply beautiful plays by Detroit that Fleury could not do much about.
  • The Penguins play back-to-back afternoon games at 12:30 against the Lightning at home on Saturday and then against Buffalo on the road on Sunday.  I would expect Fleury to start on Saturday against TBL and Zatkoff on Sunday, given that Zatkoff was in net against Buffalo earlier this season when he stopped 50 of 53 shots.

 

“Wilkes Guys” Come Through

Just 1 Point This Time…

crosby panthersJust over a week ago, the Penguins played the Florida Panthers in Florida, just like they did tonight.  The Panthers scored a goal towards the middle of the 3rd period, and a shorthanded one at that, to put them ahead 2-0.  All hope seemed lost.

Then, with 5 minutes left, the Penguins began their comeback magic.  They scored 2 goals, tying up the game, and then winning it in overtime on a goal by Kris Letang, his second of the game.

This game tonight played out in a similar fashion.

Florida jumped out relatively early in the first period on what I believed to be somewhat of a lucky goal.  Alex Petrovic fed the puck through the slot, and I swear it went by almost every Penguins player, and at first, I was mad they weren’t playing good defense.

However, it ends up that the puck deflected off of a Penguins stick, which then caused the puck to hop over Kessel’s, but the puck still landed perfectly on Bjugstad’s stick and he made it 1-0.

Florida, in general, dominated the first period.  Fleury kept them in it, but the Penguins needed to pick things up.

The second period was better for the Penguins, but they still couldn’t find the back of the net.  Sid had some chances to shoot, but passed up on some opportunities.  In the words of Mark Madden, who I got to watch the game with today down at Buford’s Kitchen in downtown Pittsburgh “Crosby is at his best when he’s shooting the puck.  He needs to shoot there.”

Couldn’t agree more, Mark.

Anyways, the Penguins entered the 3rd down 1-0.  Hagelin had a breakaway shorthanded early in the period, but he tried to go five-hole on Montoya and was denied.  When the game was in the late stages of the 3rd period, all hope seemed lost.  But then…

The Penguins found a spark that gave them a chance in Florida once again.  This time, it came off of the stick of Chris Kunitz.  Crosby tied his man up on the faceoff to Montoya’s left, and Kunitz came in and dug the puck out.  He skated to the slot and absolutely rifled a shot off of the crossbar and in past Montoya to tie the game with 3:19 remaining.

The game would go to overtime, where I believe the Penguins outplayed the Panthers but were unable to score.  Bryan Rust had 2 glorious chances that would not go, Letang had a great chance…but the greatest chance of all came off of the stick of Phil Kessel.

Crosby skated the puck into the zone and the entire Florida team flocked to him, only for him to find Kessel streaking down the middle of the ice.  The guy has a dangerous shot, and he was as wide open as wide open can get  in the 3 on 3 overtime, but Montoya denied him.

Also, honorable mention to Crosby who somehow disrupted a Florida 3 on 1 chance.  It was a tremendous defensive play and at the moment, gave the Penguins a chance to get an extra point.

Then…onto the shootout.

Huberdeau was first for the Panthers.  The left-hander skated from right to left and tried to fool Fleury with a wrist shot and wait Fleury out.  Well, he did fool Flower, but the post gave Fleury some love.

Crosby then shot for the Penguins and scored on Montoya.  Crosby loves to go high glove or 5-hole (between the goalies legs).  Tonight, he went 5-hole and put the Penguins up 1-0 in the shootout.

Next shooter for the Panthers was USC guy Vincent Trocheck.  Trocheck tried to open up the 5-hole of Fleury, but Fleury made sure that he closed the door.  The Penguins now had a chance to win it.

Onto the ice came Chris Kunitz.  He made a great move, as the left-hander skated right ro left, faked the shot, and went backhand.  Unfortunately for Kunitz, Montoya made a fantastic glove save.

However, the Penguins had yet ANOTHER chance to win, and Fleury just needed to stop Bjugstad, but could not.  Fleury went with the poke-check, but Bjugstad’s long reach allowed him to go to the backhand and avoid Fleury’s poke-check to keep the shootout going.

Despite Fleury not being able to make the save, the Penguins once again had to chance to win the shootout on the stick of Letang, who had just won them a shootout on Friday night.  Letang tried to make a similar backhand move, but Montoya was ready for it and didn’t buy what Letang was selling.

Reilly Smith then shot for the Panthers, but he was quickly poke-checked by Fleury, as he came to a dead stop right in front of the net.

Kessel then had a chance to end it for the Penguins.  He came in flying and just took a straight up wrist shot.  My goodness was it a rifle, but it pinged right off of the crossbar and back out.  Montoya had no chance of stopping the shot, it was just a fraction of an inch too high.

Florida then had its chance to go on top, and who else but former Penguin Jussi Jokinen.  He did the same move as Huberdaeu essentially, but he did not hit a post.  He found the back of the net.

Cullen then came in with a chance to tie the shootout.  He deked a few times, tried to go 5-hole, but was denied by Montoya.  Not the same result for the Penguins as last time they were in that building…

Impressions

I know he has not been producing, but I am really high on Bryan Rust right now.  The guy has some serious speed and has been creating chances for himself.  I think he will benefit once some of the veterans come back, and I do not think he will leave the lineup.

Flower had a strong performance.  The team has struggled to score goals in its past 3 games, but it should be noted they have gotten 0 production from their bottom 6 AHL guys and they are without Geno.  Hopefully he is ready to go on Thursday against Detroit.  I have heard he is progressing, so we will see what his status is come Thursday.

The Penguins shot low on Montoya a lot.  I do not know if he is not as good when the puck is shot low or if that’s just where the puck was going tonight.  Ironically, the only goal in the game came on a shot from Kunitz where he DID go high on Montoya.  Just felt that was an observation I should share…

Well hey, you win some you lose some, but the fact that the Penguins could get a point out of this game where they were down for the majority of it is still a huge confidence booster, even though they had the potential to get 2.

Don’t be concerned about this game or even the Penguins 3 game funk with goal scoring.  When 39-year-old journeyman Matt Cullen is centering your 2nd line of Hagelin and Kessel, your team is not going to score many goals.  That is not, however, a knock on Cullen.  He is a good hockey player, but he is a fourth line center and PK guy.  He shouldn’t be centering 2 speedy snipers.

Malkin will be back soon, the bottom 6 will no longer be all AHL guys soon enough (although I do like Sheary and Rust), and the team will improve.  There is no doubt about that.  The fact that the Penguins got a point out of tonight…I’m happy with that.

I can confidently say this: the Penguins would have NEVER got that point under Johnston.  This team has much more resolve/comeback ability under Sullivan and will only get better as the injured guys get healthy again.  Looking forward to see what’s to come…

I really do want to try my best to keep up with the recap articles, so I will do my best to post one after the Thursday game against Detroit.  Let’s hope they get Geno back for that one.

Until next time…Let’s Go Pens.

Just 1 Point This Time…

All-Star Break Q and A

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BUT…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Okay, let me start with this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The list goes on…

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

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

Sidney. Crosby.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All-Star Break Q and A

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

What To Think of Sullivan

SullyMike Sullivan has now been behind the Penguins bench for 10 games now.  The Penguins have a 4-5-1 record under Sullivan, however, they boast a 4-1-1 record in their previous 6 games after their 4 game losing skid when Sullivan was hired.

So, was the Sullivan hire the right move?

Oh my gosh, yes.

I wrote an article after the first game that the Penguins played under Sullivan.  It was a 4-1 loss to the Capitals.  Although they lost that game, and the next 3 after that, I wanted to make a point clear: I believed in Sullivan, and I still do.

If you are a Penguins fan, you need to believe in him, too.

So let’s look at some statistical analysis here:

First, the Penguins are starting to score again.  Although the Penguins are still only averaging 2.4 goals per game under Sullivan (they averaged 2.35 under Johnston this year), they have now scored 5 goals in three of Sullivan’s 10 games behind the bench.  The Penguins only had 1 game in which they scored 5 or more under Johnston this year.

Second, the stars are producing.  This is arguably the most important and most significant difference between Johnston and Sullivan.  Johnston was extremely structured in his coaching from what I have read through multiple sources.  He was very particular about guys playing a certain way and this, that, and the other.  Sullivan has similar beliefs, but he believes that the superstars are superstars because of their instinctive abilities.

He wants to back of them a little bit and let them do what they do best: score goals.

Although the Penguins have a plethora of great players, I want to look at their 4 elite skaters: Kessel, Letang, Malkin, and Crosby, and break them down one guy at a time.

Under Johnston this year…

  • Kessel played 28 games, racking up 17 points (9 G – 8A), which is good for approximately .608 points per game and .321 goals per game
  • Letang played 25 games, tallying 14 points (1G – 13A), which gave him .56 points per game and .04 goals per game
  • Malkin played 28 games, leading the Penguins with 26 points (13G – 13A), which gave him .929 points per game and .464 goals for per game
  • Crosby played 28 games and tallied only 19 points (6G – 13A) which gave him .679 points per game and .214 goals per game

Under Sullivan this year…

  • Kessel’s numbers have dropped slightly, but I believe this is because he played a ton of time on the third line, which gave him less ice time.  That being said, in 10 games under Sullivan, Kessel has 5 points (3G – 2A), which gives him a .5 points per game and .3 goals per game.  This will improve, however, as Kessel has been reunited with Malkin
  • Letang has only played 4 games under Sullivan, but thus far has 8 points (2G – 6A) which is good for 2 points per game and .5 goals per game.  By no means will Letang keep that kind of pace up, but he looks more confident on the ice and is beginning to shoot the puck more on the power play and in general
  • Even Malkin’s numbers have increased, despite his dominant performances early in the season.  In 10 games Malkin has 11 points (5G – 6A), which gives him 1.1 points per game and .5 goals per game
  • Crosby has by far seen the most improvement under Sullivan, and thank goodness, because the Penguins need him to play like what he is: the best player in the world.  In 9 games, Crosby has 10 points (5G – 5A), which gives him about 1.1 points per game and .55 goals per game

Stats speak for themselves. Although it may be a small sample size, the stars are really beginning to find their stride under Sullivan, and if they continue to do so, look out NHL.

Third, the power play is clicking.  They are shooting the puck, creating movement, screening the goalie…you name it.  The Penguins are finally beginning to have a power play that LOOKS like it should.  The Penguins power play was darn near last in the league, clicking at only 15.6% (15 of 96).

In only 10 games under Sullivan, the power play has been clicking at a 27.3% rate (9 of 33), which brought the Penguins all the way up to 19th in the league in that department.  AND that includes an 0 for 10 stretch in Sullivan’s first 3 games before he even had a practice with the team.  Take away that 0 for 10 stretch, and the Penguins are at a ridiculous 39.1% clip (9 of 23).

I know it’s hard sometimes, but believe in these Penguins.  Believe in Sullivan.

Just a few side notes:

The Penguins play a home-and-home against the Balckhawks on back-to-back nights (Tuesday and Wednesday).  This should tell us a lot about how this team stands as it is right now.

Also, just because I am a huge fan, Daniel Sprong now has 6 goals and 1 assist in 4 games since behind shipped back to juniors.  He may not play for the Pens this year, but he is going to be special.

 

 

What To Think of Sullivan

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:

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

Fehr Shines in Debut, Pens Blank Leafs

bernier

The Penguins played arguably their best game last night against the Toronto Maple Leafs.  Yeah, the Maple Leafs are not that good this year, but the Penguins performed how they should perform against a team like Toronto.

The Penguins won this game 4-0 on Halloween night.  What was “spooky” is that Crosby, Malkin, Kessel, and Letang (arguably the Penguins’ top 4 skaters) combined for 0 points last night.

Zero.

But the Penguins still won the game 4-0 due to their forward depth, which was finally on display last night.  Finally, that whole “playing four scoring lines” really payed off.  3 of the Penguins’ 4 goals came from bottom 6 forwards, something the Penguins rarely saw last year.

The Penguins struggled last year when the star players were shut down.  It has been a problem for the Penguins, especially in the playoffs during the past few years.  They really do play their best when their star players produce, and that does not take rocket science to figure that out.

But the Penguins didn’t need star power last night.

This game really gave me some newly found hope for the Penguins.  I would imagine that the star players such as Malkin and Crosby feel a weight lifted off their shoulders when they do not feel the absolute need to produce.  There is a ton of pressure on these guys in Pittsburgh, but knowing the Penguins have the potential to score 4 goals without getting any production from their top guys is astounding.

I think this will result in them playing a looser, more relaxed game.  Sometimes when you feel too much pressure, you grip your stick a little too tight and try too hard to make things happen.  I think a game like this really has to be a confidence booster for the Penguins, and will take some of the heat off of the star players.

I am sure many of you were busy tick-or-treating, handing out candy, at Halloween parties, or maybe even a combination of the 3.  For that reason, I’ll go into a little more detail on the recap, and as always, I’ll give my impressions.

Recap

First Period

About 9 minutes into the period, Rich Clune absolutely hammered Ben Lovejoy into the boards.  Lovejoy was a bit shaken up but ended up to be okay.  Eric Fehr pounced on the loose puck after Lovejoy lost it from the hit, and gave it up to Plotnikov who one-touched a pass to Matt Cullen.  Cullen came flying down the right side of the ice, but was denied by Bernier.

With about 6:30 left in the 1st period, the Penguins were about 20 seconds into a power play, but it was the Leafs that had a great shorthanded chance that was denied by Marc-Andre Fleury.  Grabner, one of the fastest NHL skaters, found himself behind the Penguins defense, but was denied by Fleury.

Seconds following the save, Perron controlled the puck and skated it into the offensive zone.  Perron slid a pass to his right that was received by Bennett, who gave it right back to Perron on a give and go play.  Perron fired a shot from a wide angle that was stopped by Bernier.

Bernier thought he had the puck between his pads, but the puck snuck through and was sitting just behind his pads right on the goal line.  Luckily, Chris Kunitz drove the net on the Perron shot and noticed that the puck squirted through Bernier’s pads and knocked it into an empty cage.

Pens 1 Leafs 0

The Penguins spent the last 4 minutes of the first on a power play, after Rich Clune took a boarding major against Rob Scuderi.  The second power play unit came through earlier in the game, but the Penguins came up empty on this one, and did not have a ton off good opportunities.  They really could have opened the game up early, but were not able to cash in.

After the first: Pens 1 Leafs 0

Second Period

About a minute into the period, Kris Letang had possession of the puck and threw a pass across the ice that was eventually received by Bennett, who worked hard to beat a man to the puck.  Bennett knocked a pass backwards to Bonino, who fed a quick pass over to Kunitz who was streaking down the right side.  It was a great passing play by the Penguins, but Bernier said no.

2:22 into the second period, the Maple Leafs had a chance to stop the bleeding a with a power play opportunity.  Keep in mind the Leafs were only down 1-0 at this point.  The Leafs won the offensive zone draw, but Matt Cullen intercepted the pass that was intended for the point man Gardiner.  Cullen fed a pass to Fehr, and Fehr did the rest.

He skated the puck into the offensive zone on the left side, and it appeared as though he tried to pass the puck to Matt Cullen, the pass was broken up by a Maple Leafs defenseman, but the puck hit the left pad of Bernier and came back out in front of him.  Fehr crashed the net, got his own rebound, and skated across the goal mouth to the right, out-waiting Bernier, and fired it home.  Fehr scores in his Penguins debut, and makes it a shorthanded one at that.

Pens 2 Leafs 0

Later on the same Maple Leafs power play, Nazem Kadri fed a puck down low to James Van Riemsdyk who mad a twirling move to the front of the net.  JVR tried to stuff it in, but Fleury kept it out.

With just over 6 minutes to go, Evgeni Malkin received a pass from Kris Letang.  Malkin fed a pass to the middle to David Perron, who found Phil Kessel flying down the left wing.  Kessel put a hard shot on Bernier, but Bernier got just enough of it, and the puck went wide.

Half way through the period, the Leafs were in the Penguins zone.  Eric Fehr raced to a loose puck and chipped it out to the blue line.  Defenseman Martin Marincin of the Leafs could not handle the bouncing puck, and Matt Cullen took advantage and poked it ahead.  This turned into a 2 on 1 with Cullen and Plotnikov, but Cullen needed no help and beat Bernier with a great wrist shot and registered his first in a Penguins uniform.

Pens 3 Leafs 0

After the second: Pens 3 Leafs 0

Third Period

Just over 4 minutes into the period, the Leafs dumped the puck into the zone and it was played behind the net by Fleury.  Dumoulin came behind the net to retrieve the puck from the Penguins goaltender and skated the puck up the ice.  Dumoulin skated just past center ice before firing a long shot towards Bernier.  The puck took a bounce off the boards after it missed the net to the left of Bernier and came right out in front.  Patric Hornqvist with a head full of steam got to the puck first, and one timed a quick shot past Bernier.  His 2nd in as many games.

Pens 4 Leafs 0

13 minutes into the period, the Penguins were buzzing in the Maple Leafs zone.  Letang fed a pass to the point to Malkin, who faked a slap shot and slid a pass over to Ben Lovejoy who one-timed a shot on net.  There was a ton of traffic in front of the net, but the Penguins lead remained at 4.

After all was said and done, Fleury got his 40th shutout of his career, made 21 saves, and also recorded an assist on the Hornqvist goal.

Final Score: Pens 4 Leafs 0

Impressions

Eric Fehr

Wow.  Just wow.  Eric Fehr may have been the best Penguins acquisition this year besides Phil Kessel, but the acquisition did not get much attention because of the Kessel trade.

That being said, Eric Fehr played a terrific game for the Penguins last night.  He led the team with 2 points (1G – 1A – 2P), scored a shorthanded goal, and looked great wearing the black and gold.

Fehr is a big guy that can kill penalties, hit, and even score some goals in the process.  He is a great all around player and the Penguins have him inked for 2 more years after this.

I do not expect Fehr to put up 2 points a game by any means, but look for him to make a huge impact to the Penguins’ forward depth as the season progresses.

Bottom 6 Production

The Penguins’ bottom 6 forwards came though in a huge way in this game.  The top 2 lines were shut down for the most part, but when it came down to it, the Penguins found scoring from their depth guys.

All I have to say is that a game like this would NEVER have happened last year.  Unless Sutter/Downie had all 3 goals, because they were basically the only respectable offensive bottom 6 guys last year.

If you disagree, then you think that Goc, Adams, Lapierre, and Spaling could score 3 goals in a game. Ha.

MAF

The team MVP from last season is at it again.  Fleury leads all starting NHL goaltenders with a 1.71 goals against average, ranks 2nd among starters with a .942 save percentage (only trails Lundqvist who has a .943), and is tied for first in the NHL in shutouts.

If he keeps up what he is doing now, he will be the team MVP once more, and may even be a Vezina candidate (this is a long shot, but as of right now, Fleury’s name could definitely be argued)

Thanks to all who continue to read, as always.  This week I will do another Q and A session on Tuesday, so make sure you get your questions in by Monday, because the article will go up Tuesday at midnight.

Also, follow me on Twitter @FranjiPensPress and like me on Facebook at Franjione Pens Press.  Looking forward to your questions!

The Penguins’ next game is Wednesday against Brandon Sutter and the Vancouver Canucks.  The game is in Vancouver so it will be a late one with a puck drop at 10 pm, but as always, I will be writing an article afterwards with a recap and impressions in case you cannot stay up to watch.

Fehr Shines in Debut, Pens Blank Leafs

Tuesday’s Q and A’s

Welcome to my first Q and A session!  For those of you that are new to my blog, I will be posting a Q and A article on every Tuesday.  Throughout the week, ask me questions via twitter (@FranjiPensPress) using #FranjiPensPress or comment your question on a Facebook (Franjione Pens Press) post. I will answer every question that I get, so feel free to ask away!  As for the first week of Q and A, let’s get underway:

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Alex Light: What are your thoughts on the new lines that just came out?  Sprong on the 3rd line is just a little bit off in my opinion.  Also, what do you think about the fact that Johnston is “experimenting” with some of the line changes?

Brad Franjione: There are a ton of elements that I love about the line changes Johnston made.  At the same time, there are elements I am not a huge fan of.  For those of you that are unsure about what the Penguins line combinations were as of this past Saturday against the Predators, here they are:

Dupuis – Crosby – Hornqvist

Plotnikov – Malkin – Kessel

Kunitz – Bonino – Sprong

Perron – Cullen – Rust

First of all, I love love LOVE the fact that Johnston finally put Kessel with Malkin, and put Hornqvist back with Crosby.  Last year, Crosby and Hornqvist really developed some awesome chemistry.  I also think that Hornqvist’s playing style of getting to the front of the net encourages Crosby to shoot more and gives him more space to work.

Kessel with Malkin is going to work.  I promise you this.  Malkin plays such a dominant game, and loves possessing the puck in the offensive zone.  This draws defensemen in towards Malkin, and gives players like Kessel more space to find the soft spots in the defense to look for opportunities.

I said it once, and I’ll say it again: James Neal was a 40 goal scorer with the Penguins, and he played with Malkin, not Crosby.

As of now, I am not a huge fan of Plotnikov on the 2nd line, but both Perron and Kunitz failed to succeed in a top 2 line role, so I guess Plotnikov is getting a second crack at it.

Finally, let’s talk about Sprong.  I would love to see him on the first or second line, BUT he is a natural right winger, and with the likes of Hornqvist and Kessel, it is highly unlikely that Sprong plays over either of these 2 guys.  The only way he plays in the top 6 if they convert him to be a left wing, which I do not think they will do.

So for now, I do not mind Sprong on the 3rd line…

BUT…

He should see way more than 8 minutes of ice time per game, which is about what he is getting.  He is one of the Penguins’ most skilled offensive forwards, and the Penguins are lacking in the goal scoring department.

2 + 2 = 4 right?  Then let Sprong do what he does best: score goals.

As for the last part of your question, I understand why Johnston wants to experiment with the line combinations, because clearly something needs to jump start this offense.  That being said, experimenting with line combinations is something that should be done in the preseason.  Johnston pretty much kept Kunitz, Crosby, and Kessel together and kept Plotnikov, Malkin, and Hornqvist together.

That’s your time to “experiment”, not now.  But line changes needed to be made, and I’m glad he at least did that.

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Josh Godwin: Will Bruce Boudreau coach for the Pens at some point this year?

Brad Franjione:  First, let me fill everyone in on the situation.  Bruce Boudreau is currently the coach for the Anaheim Ducks.  During the preseason, the Ducks were seen as one of the Stanley Cup favorites.  All of that being said, the Ducks are 1-5-1 to start the season, with only 6 goals scored in those 7 games.

Boudreau is probably on the hot seat, and if the Ducks continue on this downward slide, Boudreau could very easily be unemployed soon.

As we all know, the Penguins are struggling to find offense, and Mike Johnston is definitely on the hot seat here in Pittsburgh.

If both Boudreau and Johnston get fired (theoretically), I would think that there is a chance the Penguins take a look at Boudreau.  However, this would only be a realistic situation if Boudreau was fired before Johnston, and the Penguins were able to get in contact with Boudreau and initiated talks with him about coaching in Pittsburgh.

I would give a higher probability to see either Tocchet or Jacques Martin behind the bench if Johnston is let go.  But there is absolutely a chance that the Penguins would consider Boudreau if that was an option for them at the time.

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Nick Bermel: Why do the Penguins always lose to the Flyers?  Are the Flyers just the superior team?

Brad Franjione: Well, let’s start off by saying that the Flyers have not won a Stanley Cup since 1975.  The Penguins have 3 Stanley Cups since then.  Oh, and were the Flyers in the playoffs last year?

As I recall, they were not…

That being said, you do bring up a good point.  I want to say it’s been 8 games straight that the Flyers have beat the Penguins in head to head match-ups.

I think that the rivalry between the Penguins and Flyers adds some crazy intensity to every game, and I think the Flyers know how to take advantage of that.  The Flyers play in a way that really gets into the heads of the Penguins’ players, and the Penguins play into that style that the Flyers play.  Props to the Flyers for that.  In addition, the Flyers have some solid offensive threats up front in Giroux, Voracek, Simmonds, and others.

The Flyers have been the superior team in head-to-head matchups against the Penguins in recent years, but they are by no means the superior team in general.

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Raafay Rishi: Which NHL defenseman do you think the Penguins will trade for and who will the Penguins give up in the trade?

Brad Franjione:  To be quite honest, Raafay, right now the defense is not the problem.  The offense is.

But as I said in one of my previous articles, the defense is going to decline slightly as the season goes on.  The Penguins right now are stacked offensively and need help on defense…at least on paper.

Who do I think they should go after? Dustin Byfuglien.

The Penguins do not have many physical players, and Byfuglien answers that concern.  He hits people HARD.  He also has a bomb of a shot, and is a great power play guy, which the Penguins really need right now.

So, if the Penguins were to pursue Byfuglien, who do they give up?

Right now, the centerpiece of that trade for me is David Perron.  He has offensive skill and can be a decent player, but he just does not seem to fit anywhere into the Penguins lineup right now.  The Penguins would have to throw in something else besides Perron, but I think he would be the centerpiece.

Some other pieces that the Penguins would consider using along with Perron could be players such as Kunitz, Scuderi, or even young defenseman Derrick Pouliot.

I’m not sure if the Penguins will pursue Byfuglien, but I do not have a problem with taking advantage of the offensive surplus and helping firm up the defensive corps, especially considering that the Penguins only have two top pair defensemen and a bunch of other bottom pair guys.

Now that I think about it, I’d buy a Byfuglien shirt.

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Casey Chafin: Let’s jump to the major conclusion that Johnston is out.  What do you look for in a replacement, style wise?  And what immediate changes should the new guy implement?

Brad Franjione: If you do not know, Johnston’s style has a very “defense first” mentality.  The offense is created through defense and the defense move up into the play to help create offense.

So Rob Scuderi is supposed to provide offense for this team?  Yeah… Okay…

The coach of the Penguins needs to be a guy who coaches in an offensive-minded style.  The Penguins are built upon their star players’ success.  They have star power up front, and they are clearly one of the best offensive teams in the NHL, at least on paper.

The Penguins should be winning 6-3 type of hockey games, not 2-1 hockey games.  The new coach needs to be one that puts the emphasis on offense, not defense (although defense is obviously still important).

In regards to the second part of your question, I think the biggest immediate change (besides the overall strategy) is the power play.  The power play is just not working, but it needs to be.  The players are too good for it not to work.

In the last 3 years of Bylsma’s stint with the Penguins, the Penguins had power plays clicking at 19.7%, 24.7%, and 23.4% which ranked them 5th, 2nd, and 1st in the NHL respectively.  So clearly Crosby, Malkin, Letang and co. can be successful.  Obviously the power play can work, but it obviously hasn’t under Johnston and Tocchet.

The Penguins finished with a power play percentage of 19.3% last year, which is not too bad at all.  That being said, the power play was clicking at about 40% for the first 20 or so games.  This means in the last 60 or so games, the power play was not working so well.

This year, the Penguins power play is only clicking at a 7.1%, which is 29th in the NHL.

This needs to be fixed, and it needs to be a priority for the head coach that takes over Johnston, because I do not think he will be here much longer.

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Doug Godwin: What would you attribute Sid’s lack of production to over the last 2 years?  Declining skills?  Coaching?  NHL changing?

Brad Franjione: Well, let me start with this: last year, scoring in the entire NHL was down.  The Art Ross winner Jamie Benn had only 86 points.  Crosby finished with 83 points, and finished first in the NHL in points per game.

The NHL is general is changing.  Goalies are getting bigger, the pads are getting bigger, and goals are harder to come by.  It showed last year.

Although Crosby was first in the NHL in points per game, he really hasn’t looked like “vintage Crosby” over last season and this season.  Especially this season.

If you recall, Crosby had one great game against the Panthers this year where he registered a career high 9 shots on goal and had 3 points in that game.  He had some hop to his step and played an absolutely terrific game.  Past that, he has been invisible.

I think part of his problem right now is coaching.  Johnston has been questionable to say the least, and considering he had no NHL coaching experience before taking over the Penguins, I’m not sure how much respect and trust Crosby has in this guy.

His main problem?  He needs to shoot.

Hopefully this problem is partially solved through reuniting him and Hornqvist, but regardless, Sid needs to shoot.  He showed us all that when he shoots the puck, good things happen.  When you’re as good of a player as Sidney Crosby, you’ll score goals and put up points when you shoot as much as he did against the Panthers.

Case and point: Alex Ovechkin.  The guy has a tremendous shot, and shoots the puck like crazy.  He gets rewarded by collecting Rocket Richard trophies like it’s his job.

Remember that Crosby was a Rocket Richard winner himself.  He has the ability to do it, but now that he isn’t the only star player on the team, he feels the need to pass the puck.  A LOT. Like, way too much.

Yeah, Crosby is not as young as he once was, but he hasn’t lost much skill at all.  I do not think this is an issue at all.  He just needs to play with confidence and be a little more selfish with the puck.

You want to see Crosby’s production trend in the upwards direction?  Tell him to shoot.

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Grant Franjione: Two questions for you: how do you explain the Penguins complete inability to bounce back from even 1 goal deficits when trailing after 2 periods of play?  Also, when I watch the Penguins, it just seems like chances to score in today’s NHL are just super tough to come by, but yet I see less offensively talented teams have occasional outbursts of 4, 5, or even 6 goals in a game. What are those teams doing that the Penguins aren’t?  Are they just luckier?

Brad Franjione:  Well, let’s take this one question at a time.

So, from what I could remember, the Penguins were actually a pretty good comeback team when playing under Dan Bylsma.  They have been the exact opposite under Johnston.  Although some of the players change every year, the Penguins have had the same core players throughout this span.  So, is their inability to come back simply based on the head coach?

Well, the problem is that I FEEL like the Penguins were a good comeback team under Bylsma.  But I wanted to convince you AND myself that the Penguins were a much better comeback team under Bylsma than they are under Johnston.  So I decided to do some research and calculations.

From the beginning of the 2009-2010 season to the end of the 2013-2014 season, which is the time frame where Bylsma was the head coach (excluding his stint with Pens in 2009 when they won the Cup) the Penguins won 21.19% of their games when trailing going into the 3rd, which is good enough for 2nd in the NHL during that span.

Yeah, the 2nd best winning percentage when trailing going into the third period!

The Penguins are currently 0-21-5 in that category under Johnston.  Yikes.

Last year, the Penguins scored only 12 goals in 23 opportunities when they entered the 3rd period trailing.  In this situation, the Penguins were only scoring .53 goals per period, while they averaged .89 goals per period throughout the season.

This year, the Penguins are 0-3 in this situation, and have yet to score a goal when going into the 3rd down by at least a goal.

Oh, and I’m not done yet…

The Penguins, under their 5 full seasons under Bylsma, won 45.35% of their games when they allowed the first goal of the game.  Their NHL rank in this category in this 5 year span? 1st.  You heard me, 1st.  The best team in the NHL at winning games when allowing the first goal.

Under Johnston, the Penguins have only won 26.32% of these games.

Convinced yet?  If not, I have one more stat for you.

Under Johnston, it seems as though the Penguins have at least been pretty good at holding a lead when they get it.  They are 4-0 this season when scoring the first goal, and have not been trailing in any of these 4 games.

So, under Johnston, the Penguins have won 69.82% of their games when scoring the first goal.  Under Bylsma?  The Penguins won 74.47% of their games when scoring the first goal.

Why did they get rid of Bylsma again?

To answer the second part of your question, let me start with this.  The Penguins shooting percentage this year is 5%, which is 29th in the NHL.  Last year, the Penguins had a shooting percentage of 8.39%, which is less than the shooting percentage of any Penguins team under Dan Bylsma.

So, why are the Penguins not scoring a ton of goals with their offense?  Well, they aren’t scoring on many of their shots.

So, why aren’t they scoring on many of their shots?

Johnston’s strategy entails shot volume, which does seem pretty logical right?  The more pucks you throw on net, the more pucks that are going to go in.  At least, it seems that way…

To Johnston’s credit, the Penguins finished 4th in the NHL in shots per game last year, and currently sit in 4th place in the NHL this year in shots on goal per game.  But is shot volume really the answer?

Here is my thought: when a coach preaches about shot volume, as a player, you are going to focus on shooting the puck (unless your name is Sidney Crosby, then you’re never going to shoot the puck).  However, I think this gives the players a mentality of “let’s make sure we get shots on goal.”  In other words, they’re shooting to shoot.

They’re not shooting to score.

I think this is the underlying difference.  Shot volume is important, but the some of those shots need to come on quality chances, and the players have to shoot to score, not just to shoot.

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That concludes this week’s Q and A!  I’ll be doing the same thing next Tuesday!  As always, thank you again to everyone who keeps up with me, and a special thanks to those who participated in my first Q and A session.

Remember to follow me on Twitter @FranjiPensPress and like me on Facebook at Franjione Pens Press.

My next article will be up late on Wednesday night after the Penguins face off against the Capitals on rivalry night.

Tuesday’s Q and A’s

The Three Headed Monster Leads Pens to OT Win

Malkin goal

In Pittsburgh, it has always been about how the star players perform.  Thus far, the stars for the most part have been lacking.  But tonight, the star players finally began to shine and helped the Penguins to victory.

In Pittsburgh, Crosby and Malkin have been known as “the two-headed monster.”  After the arrival of Phil Kessel in the offseason, there is a new monster in town.

The three headed monster: which consists of Crosby, Malkin, Kessel.

Crosby, Malkin, and Kessel each had a goal en route to a 3-2 OT win against the Panthers.

The monster isn’t just good.  It’s SCARY good.  And all the members of the three headed monster brought their ‘A’ game tonight.

Crosby finally looked like himself.  He was flying on his skates, stick-handling with ease, making great passes…and FINALLY, he was shooting the puck. He had 9 shots tonight.

9 shots!!!

Crosby shot the puck at almost every opportunity he had, and that’s what he needs to do to be successful.  I can’t say much else besides “wow” about Crosby’s game.  He really turned it around 180 degrees from his first 5 games.  I’m not sure what changed, but he needs to keep doing whatever he’s doing.  He had a goal and 2 assists tonight, tallying his first 3 points of the season.

In the early going of the season, Malkin has been arguably the Penguins’ most dominant forward from game 1 until this point.  Malkin is technically on pace for 41 goals, which would be quite impressive.  Malkin registered a goal and an assist tonight, and had plenty of chances to add even more to his point total.

Kessel has been fairly consistent as well, although he has not stood out quite as much as Malkin has.  He is getting opportunities every game, and it’s just a matter of time before he really hits a hot streak.  I still believe Kessel would work better with Malkin (and I will stand by that regardless of what others may think), but him and Sid did look better tonight than they have so far this season.  Kessel had a goal in the 3rd period.

Although the three headed monster shined tonight, Kris Letang also put up 2 assists.  Letang looked decently solid in this game, and got rewarded with 2 points.  I really would love to see Letang win the Norris Trophy this year, but he has a long way to go.  Getting 2 points tonight does help his cause though.  That being said, Letang was on the ice for both Panthers goals.  That was his downside tonight, but even the good players have some bad moments and bad/average games. Not a concern at all.

This game was a very crazy one, especially the third period.  So for those of you that didn’t get to watch or maybe didn’t follow what was going on, here is my reap of the game tonight.

Recap

First Period

The Penguins had yet to score a power play goal this season, which seems quite odd with the personnel that they are able to put on the ice.  Tonight, it wasn’t a problem.

Captain Sidney Crosby rifled a shot past Luongo after receiving a beautiful cross-ice pass from Malkin.  It was Crosby’s first point of the season AND the Penguins’ first power play goal of the season, and he was “smiling like a butcher’s dog.”

I will note that a ton of credit goes to Kunitz on this goal.  He was parked in front of the net and never really allowed Luongo to even see the puck clearly.  Kunitz did not get an assist on the goal, but he played a huge part in the power play goal by Crosby.

Pens 1 Panthers 0

With just over 5 minutes left in the period, Crosby came flying through the neutral zone with the puck.  He split the defense, was tripped up, and still got a shot away while lying on his stomach.  Crosby really just played an incredible game.  If he buried this chance, he has what could have been the goal of the year in the NHL… but not to be.  The Penguins got a power play chance out of Sid’s great effort, but could not score.

The Penguins simply dominated the first period, registering 16 shots and kept the Panthers on their heels.

Second Period

About 4 minutes into the period, the Penguins came into the zone in a 3 on 2.  Kessel skated the puck into the zone and dropped a pass to the trailing player Chris Kunitz, who fired a one-timer from the high slot.  It was a great chance, but Luongo made a huge save.

With just under 2 minutes to play in the period, the Panthers were possessing the puck in the zone towards the end of a power play.  Pirri wound up and took a hard low slap shot that was directed on goal by Florida forward Vincent Trocek, but Fleury found a way to keep the puck between his legs.

There were no goals in the 2nd period, and score remained 1-0 Penguins.

Third Period

Get ready, this period was full of some interesting action.

Just over a minute into the period, Florida defensemen Gregory Campbell took a slap shot from the point.  The shot was a high one, and was deflected in by Reilly Smith past Fleury.  After the puck went in, Fleury immediately began telling the referees that he thought it was a high stick on the puck.

It was an awfully close call, and considering it was a goal on the ice, I personally did not think there was quite enough evidence to overturn it.  After review, the call WAS overturned, and they determined that the puck was deflected in by a high stick.  The Penguins caught a huge break here, and remained up 1-0.

Not long after that, the Penguins took advantage of the no goal call, and scored a goal of their own.  Crosby once again came flying into the zone with the puck, split the defense, but just lost control of the puck.  However, Crosby got control of the puck back right after losing it and whipped a quick pass to the point where Rob Scuderi fired a quick one-time shot on Luongo.  Kessel then pounced on the rebound and buried it, and gave the Penguins a huge goal.

Pens 2 Panthers 0

With just under 10 minutes to play, the Panthers finally struck back.  Quinton Howden made an absolutely spectacular play in front of Fleury.  He somehow corralled the puck on a rebound while being pressured from Letang, and found a way to get air under his shot and put it past Fleury.  Credit to Howden on this goal.  Incredible effort, not much the Penguins could do on that one.

Penguins 2 Panthers 1

Just a few minutes later, the Penguins seemed to have scored their third goal of the game.  Crosby fired a bad angle shot on Luongo, and Kunitz skated hard to the net like he always does and just stuffed the puck home.  It was determined, however, that Kunitz forced the pads of Luongo into the net, and therefore, the goal did not count.  The score remained 2-1.

Not even a minute after what looked like a possible 3-1 Penguins lead, the Panthers tied the game at 2 on a goal by Derek MacKenzie.  This goal was really the result of a lucky play.  A shot was fired wide by a Florida Panther player, and one of the players behind the net whacked the puck out into the slot, and it just happened to find the stick of MacKenzie, who ripped a shot past Fleury before he could react.  All of a sudden, it wasn’t looking good for the Penguins.

Pens 2 Panthers 2

With seconds remaining, the Panthers had the puck in the Penguins zone and had a ton of pressure.  It almost looked like they were going to end the game in regulation.  Fleury was without a goal stick, and the Penguins were in full chaos mode.  Then, Panther forward Jonathan Huberdeau took a cross checking penalty against Brian Dumoulin that put the Penguins on the power play with 24 seconds left.  They did not score, but the PP carried into overtime.

Overtime

The power play came through again in overtime, as Evgeni Malkin rifled a one-timer past Luongo to end the game and give the Penguins the victory.

The Panthers challenged that the Penguins entered the zone offside before the goal, but there was no conclusive evidence to overturn it.

The call stood, and the Penguins came out with the W.  Their 3rd straight.

Final OT: Pens 3 Panthers 2

This recap went into a little more depth, so I will keep my impressions extremely brief (there are only 2):

  1. The power play finally came though.  Twice actually.  Hopefully that is a continuing trend.
  2. Sprong did not play tonight because he had to deal with Visa problems.  My hope?  He is extending his Visa to stay in Pittsburgh a little longer than expected.  I am not sure if that is true, but that is what I hope is the case.  Expect to see him back in action of Thursday.

As always, thanks for those who keep up with me!  I will try to have a blog up either Thursday night or Friday mid-day discussing the Penguins final game of their current 5 game home stand against the Dallas Stars.

A little chance for some revenge…

The Three Headed Monster Leads Pens to OT Win