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.

Advertisements
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:

_________________________________________________________________________

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.

_________________________________________________________________________

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.

_________________________________________________________________________

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.

_________________________________________________________________________

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.

_________________________________________________________________________

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.

_________________________________________________________________________

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.

_________________________________________________________________________

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.

_________________________________________________________________________

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

Coyotes Edge Penguins

mike smith

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

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

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

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

Recap

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you… Phil Kessel:

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

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

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

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

Impressions

Plotnikov Isn’t Ready

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

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

Crosby STILL Has No Shots

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

Sid, you gotta shoot the puck.

Where Are The Goals?

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

So, where are the goals?

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

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

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

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

Remember Daniel Sprong?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coyotes Edge Penguins

Stars Shine, Niemi Blanks Pens

NHL: Pittsburgh Penguins at Dallas Stars

“Fire Johnston!”

“The offense stinks!”

“Bring back Therrien!”

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

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

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

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

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

Recap

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

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

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

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

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

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

Impressions

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

Line Changes

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

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

I would swap Hornqvist with Kessel for game 2.

Why?

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

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

Look at what they did.  Just sayin…

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

Power Play

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

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

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

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

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

Team Built for Offense?  Play That Way

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

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

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

That advantage is offensive fire power.

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

Letang

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

Remember, I picked this guy to win the Norris.

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

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

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

Stars Shine, Niemi Blanks Pens

This Year Vs. Last Year

Any one else getting super hyped for Thursday?  It really started to hit me today that the Penguins play a REGULAR SEASON game this Thursday.  Can’t wait.

Anyways, let’s delve into the 4th article in 4 days: this year versus last year.

Jim Rutherford made some bold moves in the offseason.  He traded Brandon Sutter for Clendening and Bonino, he traded a bunch of prospects for Kessel.  He acquired Fehr, Cullen, and Plotnikov via free agency.

This guy is not messing around.

He wants a Stanley Cup back in Pittsburgh.

However, we must also note the Penguins lost plenty of talented players in the offseason.  They lost blue-liners Paul Martin and Christian Ehrhoff, they lost bruiser Steve Downie, and they lost Blake Comeau, who showed a lot of success with the Penguins…just to name a few.

So the question is: how different is the Penguins lineup this year as compared to last year?  Are they better?  Are they worse?  Well let’s check it out:

Below is last years Penguins opening night roster.

Note: these line combinations may not be exactly correct.  But just go with it:

Forwards

Kunitz – Crosby – Hornqvist

Comeau – Malkin – Dupuis

Spaling – Sutter – Downie

Sill – Goc – Adams

Defensemen

Letang – Martin

Maatta – Ehrhoff

Despres – Scuderi

Now, let’s compare this team to the team Mike Johnston will be sending out on Thursday night, line by line. (Note: this is based off of what my predictions are for the lines.  This can be found in my previous article, click here)

FWD 1:  Kunitz – Crosby – Hornqvist  VS  Kunitz – Crosby – Kessel

Not terribly too much has changed here.  The main difference is that Kessel is on a line with Crosby and Kunitz rather than Hornqvist.  Hornqvist is a great player, but Kessel is an elite sniper.  “Crosby to Kessel” should be a popular phrase this season.  This line definitely upgraded, although not as much as others believe it or not.

FWD 2: Comeau – Malkin – Dupuis  VS  Plotnikov – Malkin – Hornqvist

Well, Malkin is a constant on this line, but his wingers have once again changed.  Comeau is gone, but he is replaced with Sergei Plotnikov, who I think can do just as much, if not more damage, than Comeau did with Malkin.  Additionally, Hornqvist, who played on the first line last year, will get to see some time with Malkin.  Hornqvist is definitely an upgrade to Dupuis on this line, even though Duper is a terrific hockey player.  This line also has clearly upgraded from last year.

FWD 3: Spaling – Sutter – Downie  VS  Perron – Bonino – Dupuis

Okay, this line got a HUGE upgrade.  Downie was a solid player for the Penguins, but he took way too many penalties to be legitimately effective.  Sutter was also very strong for the Penguins, but Bonino, who replaces Sutter this year, has better upside offensively and better possession numbers.  And Perron vs. Spaling?!  Yeah, I’ll take Perron on that one.  Huge upgrade for the 3rd line.

FWD 4: Sill – Goc – Adams  VS  Bennett – Cullen – Sprong

Ha ha.  Ha.  Do I need to even analyze this one?  Sill, Goc, and Adams were all a complete joke.  Yeah sure, Adams and/or Goc could kill a penalty or 2.  But does another team even feel somewhat worried if that line was out on the ice?  I wouldn’t be.  On the other hand,  Bennet and Sprong but had fantastic preseasons, scoring 3 goals each.  Both have looked great, and Bennett looks as good as he ever has.  If he stays healthy (knock on wood), he may have a breakout season, even if he is on the fourth line.  Cullen will put up decent numbers as well, but not anything special…then again, he will probably put up as many (if not more) points and Sill, Goc, and Adams did all of last year, because it wasn’t many.

Rutherford really put some focus in the bottom 6 forwards and he did his job well.  The Penguins are rolling with 4 lines that can score.  Even if the Rangers put Staal and McDonagh against Crosby’s line, the Penguins have 3 other lines that know how to score goals.  It should be fun to watch.

Let’s take a look at the defensive side:

Def 1: Letang – Martin  VS  Letang – Maatta

If you noticed, I have Letang with Maatta to start this year rather than Letang with Scuderi, which I put in my article I posted yesterday.  I did not think they would start the season together, but Mike Johnston has come out since then to say that they will start the season as the top pair.  I do not necessarily agree, but let’s go with it.

I see this comparison as a washout.  Letang is still Letang, and Maatta is upcoming.  He might not have Paul Martin’s experience, but he has the hockey smarts, and I think him and Letang should blend well.

Def 2: Maatta – Ehrhoff  VS  Cole – Dumoulin

Well, we hit our first bump in the road.  I think the Penguins had a better 2nd D pair last year than they do this year.  Cole and Dumoulin have played well together during the preseason, but both of these guys are seen as “bottom 6” kind of guys.  They would really need to step it up to be considered a top 4 pairing.  On the other hand, I do see Ehrhoff – Maatta as a top 4 pairing, so the Pens downgraded here.

Def 3: Despres – Scuderi  VS  Lovejoy – Scuderi

Oh.  That was awkward.  Scuderi is the constant, and the change between Lovejoy and Despres was due to the trade of these players, straight up.  I don’t mind that the Penguins traded Despres for Lovejoy, but they should have got more value back for Despres, who is only in his 20’s and has decent potential.  Therefore, based off of that, I would say the Pens downgraded just slightly on their third D pair.

Overall, the defense downgraded.  However, Rutherford decided he wanted to let some of the young guys play.  We will just have to see how things work out.

On a side note, regarding defense, I have heard rumors circulating that Rutherford wants Dustin Byfuglien… but it is way too early to talk about trade rumors.  We can discuss that later if it really becomes something that is legitimate.

That being said, don’t be surprised if GM Jim Rutherford goes after a top 4 defenseman, because that is one of the only spots where the Penguins are really lacking right now.

Overall, considering everything, the lineup definitely improved.  The defense did downgrade, but the upgrade of the offense way overpowers the losses on the blue line.  If the Penguins want to be successful, they need to learn how to score goals, and win the high scoring hockey games.  That is how this team is built, and it is how they should play.

Once again, thanks to those that keep up with my blog!  Tomorrow (or technically, later today) I’ll be writing an article regarding the NL Central vs. the Metropolitan Division.  It should be a good one.

This Year Vs. Last Year