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