The Jack Adams Award Goes To…

Everyone on Twitter has been recently trying to argue as to why (not) Kris Letang should win the Norris Trophy.  I have also seen many tweets and polls discussing the argument of Crosby vs. Kane in the Hart Trophy race.  However, I think there is someone we are all forgetting about that’s been behind the recent surges of Crosby and Letang…

His name is Mike Sullivan.

Mike Sullivan should absolutely be a candidate to win the Jack Adams, which is given to the coach “adjudged to have contributed the most to his team’s success.”  Actually, I retract my previous statement.  He should not be considered to win the Jack Adam’s Award.  He should win the Jack Adams Award.

angry sully.jpg

Since Sullivan took over, the Penguins have posted 31-15-5 record, which includes their recent 12-1 stretch in their past 13 games.  Take away the 0-4 skid the Penguins hit when Sullivan initially took over, and the Penguins have a 31-11-5 record under Sullivan.

However, the Penguins’ record is not, by any means, the only stat one should look at when considering a coach for such a high-honor award.

Jason Mackey of DKPittsburghSports wrote a fantastic article about Sullivan taking over behind the bench for the Penguins.  If you are a subscriber to DKPittsburghSports, you can read his article here:

http://dkpittsburghsports.com/2016/04/01/sullivan-knew-it-was-time-to-be-his-own-man/

If not, I highly recommend you subscribe.  Either way, I want to mention some of the points that he touches on in this piece that I found interesting and notable.

First of all, Sullivan had a chance to leave Wilkes-Barre early in the season and take over as the assistant coach of the struggling Blue Jackets under John Tortorella, who he has worked with in the past.  Sullivan respectfully declined, saying that he believed he could be a successful head coach and wanted to wait for the opportunity.  Later, as we all know, he would take over behind the Penguins bench for the Penguins’ Mike Johnston.

Part of the Penguins’ failure to produce a win in Sullivan’s first 4 games behind the bench was that the bench was dead.  Sullivan said “I didn’t think we had any juice[.] I thought there was a lot of deer-in-the-headlights looks.”  Sullivan knew there needed to be a change, and it needed to happen fast.  He is all about passion, and always will be:

“I’m a strong believer that the essence of this game is in the passion that players bring to the game,” Sullivan said. “I like a bench that brings emotion because that’s an indication that they’re all in. When we have 20 players who don’t show any sort of emotion or reaction to what’s going on out there, that’s concerning for me.”

Clearly, he has brought this idea of emotion and passion not only to the players, but the fans as well.

I’ll be honest, my friends and I always used to talk about how the atmosphere in Consol Energy Center was dull, and how it just never felt the same as it did in Mellon, especially during the 08-09 season when the Penguins won the Cup.

Sullivan is making me eat my own words.

Even watching the games on TV, I can just feel the energy from the crowd.  In addition, being at the games, wow.  That’s all I can say is wow.  Although I was not at the 6-2 demolition of the Flyers yesterday, I can tell you that I heard that there were plenty of “Go home Flyers!” chants, which have been seldom chanted since the Penguins moved to Consol.

But hey, the Penguins couldn’t beat the Flyers in Consol, but it sure looks like they can now.  The Penguins are 3-0 against the Flyers this season, 2-0 at home, after not beating them at all in the previous 2 seasons.

Consol Energy Center is “turning its power on” as of recently, and I cannot wait to see what it will be like this year in the playoffs.

So, Mike Sullivan has brought energy, passion, and a pretty darn solid record to go with it.  Is that all?  Of course not.

The Penguins in recent years have not only struggled against the Flyers, but against the Metropolitan Division in general.

Last year, the Penguins played NYR, WSH, CBJ, PHI, and CAR 4 times.  They only beat NYR, WASH, and CBJ once in 4 tries, did not beat Philly at all, and only beat a lowly Carolina Hurricanes team twice.  They played NYI and NJD 5 times each, while only beating the Islanders once and the Devils thrice.  They would finish 9-17-4.

Meanwhile, the Penguins just recently put up 9 wins against the Metropolitan Division in the month of March.  Under Sullivan, the Penguins this year are 17-6-1.  They are 3-1 against NYR, NYI, and CAR, 3-0 against PHI, 1-2 against the Capitals (although the one of those games was the 4-1 loss in Sullivan’s first game behind the bench), 2-1 against NJD, and 2-0 against CBJ.

If not for the Penguins stellar play in the division, they would not be where they are in the standings…

Oh yeah, the standings.  Almost forgot to mention that…

When Sullivan took over, the Penguins were in 9th place in the Eastern Conference, and currently sitting outside of the 2 wild card spots.  The Penguins are now the 2nd best team in the East behind only the Capitals, and 4th best in the NHL overall.  The currently sit 2nd in the division, and their magic number is 4 (which decreases for every point the Penguins get and every point the Rangers do NOT get).

Did anyone have the Penguins in 2nd in the Metro after that 0-4 stretch when Sullivan took over?  Well, besides me, probably not a lot of people.

Then finally, there are the stats to back up the Penguins’ play.

Without listing specific goals, assists, points, etc…

  • Sidney Crosby went from being a washed up player who may as well step down as the number 2 center to Malkin and adopt a more defensive style to the 3rd best in points in the NHL with a decent chance to win the Hart Trophy.
  • Kris Letang went from having a horrendous beginning of the season to looking like a legitimate Norris Trophy candidate.  Although he probably will not win, being that he has not been consistent throughout the WHOLE year, he still will receive recognition.
  • Hornqvist went from being invisible to his normal self parked in front of the net.  He now has 3 goals in as many games.
  • Kessel has gone from “what a washed up nobody, he can’t even hit a wide open net” to “legitimate sniper/goal-scorer” in a matter of weeks.

None of these players, as well as many others that I have not listed, do not turn around as radically as they did without benefiting from Mike Sullivan’s system.

Also, do you all remember that Penguins offense that wasn’t producing earlier in the year?  That one that was 27th in the NHL is goals for when Sullivan took over?  Well, since Sullivan took over, the Penguins just happen to LEAD the NHL in goals for with 165, good for 3.236 goals/game.  Overall, the Penguins are 3rd in the NHL in goals for.

Yeah, from 27th to 3rd.  That’s not coincidence.

The Penguins also rank 1st in the NHL in Corsi for % (54.6) in all situations since Sullivan’s take-over.  Simply put, Corsi essentially is a possession metric, as I have referred to in past articles.  This means that the Penguins are the BEST possession team in hockey since Sullivan took over.  They also rank 1st in the NHL in Fenwick % (55.2), which is another one of those possession metrics.

The Penguins not only lead the NHL in shots on goal during Sullivan’s tenure, but they also rank 1st in shots on goal for %.  This basically means that the Penguins have the best ratio of shots for to shots against of any team in the NHL.

Finally, do you all remember last year, and even earlier this year, when the Penguins would find themselves trailing by even just 1 goal, and you just knew it was over?  Heck, if the other team went up 2, you may as well have just shut the TV off.  Not any more…

The Penguins rank 1st in the NHL in the following categories when leading by 2 goals: Fenwick % (67.6), Corsi for % (66.8), high-danger scoring chances for % (68.0), high-scoring chances differential (+37), and % of offensive vs. defensive zone faceoffs (67.9).

The Penguins have turned this season around.  Dare I say, they started from the bottom…now they’re here.

Oh, sorry, I forgot to mention that the Penguins haven’t had the likes of Rust, Fleury, Malkin, and others in the lineup in recent games, and yet they’re still dominating teams.

None of this happens without Mike Sullivan behind the bench.  He deserves way more than just credit or a high-5.  This guy deserves a Jack Adams.

Plus, who knows how far the Penguins will make it in the playoffs.  I’d be pretty scared to play them right now…

 

 

Advertisements
The Jack Adams Award Goes To…

Our Penguins Are Back

Bones and HagsJust recently, I was in attendance for the Penguins’ dominant 6-2 against the NHL-leading Capitals.  Something about the atmosphere of that game was just absolutely incredible.  The fans were into the game.  They started chants without being prompted, including “HOLTBY” during the third period.  And oh boy was that place BUMPIN.

It almost felt like the atmosphere that the good ol’ Mellon Arena had.

Josh Yohe of DK on Pittsburgh Sports noted that after this game, he felt it was the louded he has heard that arena since it was erected.  Incredibly, it did not take long for the fans to change his mind.

Just 2 night ago, the Penguins fell behind to the Buffalo Sabres 3-0 early in the game.  It looked like it was going to be another loss against another subpar game.  However, the Penguins responded in the 2nd period, rallying to score 4 goals, 2 shorthanded on the SAME Buffalo power play, and ended up winning the goal in overtime.

Yohe reported after the game that although he had nothing against the Washington crowd, he said that after the Penguins scored their 4th goal, the crowd was even louder than before.

Our Penguins are back.  They have brought themselves from not being able to score goals early in the season to now being 4th in the NHL in goals for.  They have electricity again.  They have speed.  They are playing like the Penguins are SUPPOSED to play.

Credit GMJR for upgrading the Penguins’ speed.  He traded Perron for the speedy Carl Hagelin.  He traded Scuderi who looked like he was skating in mud for Trevor Daley who has been an absolute perfect fit in the Penguins system, and I still don’t know how he pulled that trade off.  Even the guys that started in Wilkes-Barre including Rust, Kuhnhackl, Wilson, Sheary, etc, have brought energy and speed to the lineup.

Credit Mike Sullivan.  He really has been getting to these players, and they are clearly buying into his system.  These players believe in what they are doing, and it has been clearly reflective in their play.  They’re having fun, and the fans are clearly feeling it as well.

Something just feels different about these playoffs than the past few years.  I can’t help but think about 2009: coaching change mid-season, getting hot at the right time…its all in the cards.

The Penguins went 14-2-3 starting March 1st in 2009 when they went to win the Cup.  They got hot at the right time, and they rode their momentum right into the playoffs.  They are currently 12-4 since March 1st this season, and playing undoubtedly their best hockey of the season.

Heck, the Penguins have been rolling without Evgeni Malkin!  They are now 9-1 in their last 10 games without Malkin in the lineup.  And no, that is not a typo.  9-1.  More impressively, the Penguins have scored 5 or more goals 4 times in 10 games without Geno. So, how in the world have the Penguins been able to put up a record like that without their second best player?

They’ve been getting contributions from everyone.  Cullen has stepped up.  Bonino has come out of nowhere.  Kessel looks like the player many people believed he would be when he was first acquired, and is also developing tremendous chemistry Carl Hagelin.  Murray has been great when called upon, and despite his rough start in Buffalo, he made the big saves when he needed to.  Letang looks like a legitimate Norris candidate, and Crosby is looking more and more likely to make a strong case to win the Hart Trophy.

The Penguins have been lacking role players for the last few years.  If a team wants to make a deep playoff run, they need not only their star players to step up, but they need role players to come through as well.  If you recall, the Penguins won the Stanley Cup due to 2 goals from Max Talbot, who was a 3rd/4th line guy.

talbot.jpg

This team is winning hockey games, and they’re prepped to win plenty more come mid-April.  It’s almost playoff hockey time in Pittsburgh…thank goodness our Penguins are back.

 

Our Penguins Are Back

Pens Struck by Lightning, Edge Sabres

stamkos

The Penguins, despite going 1-1, did not have am awful weekend in my opinion.  They fell to the Lightning once again at home, 4-2.  They did not play a terrible game, but it definitely wasn’t their best either.

First of all, Jeff Zatkoff got the nod to start the game early in the morning.  Everything was indicating towards Fleury starting the 12:30 match-up, but Fleury woke up under the weather, and told the coaching staff he was unable to play.  Zatkoff obviously had no formal practice to warm-up due to the early game, and he woke up thinking he was the backup.  Some of Zatkoff’s goals he let up were soft, but they were also due to lucky bounces for Tampa Bay, or on the 4th goal, poor defense.

Zatkoff was extremely bothered by the 3rd goal he allowed, according to DKonPittsburghSports.com.  He was quoted after the game saying “That third one, I can’t let it go through me.  I sound like a broken record.  I’ve got to find a way to find it.”

I do feel for Zatkoff, and sometimes the bounces just do not go your way.  It didn’t for the Penguins in this game, and frankly, the calls didn’t go in their favor either.

Late in the game, the Penguins were down 4-2 with about 8 minutes left.  Kris Letang was cross-checked by Paquette, and then had his stick obviously slashed out of his hands, but the refs did not make either call.  As a result, Letang got tangled up with Paquette, and somehow ended up with Paquette’s stick.  Letang, unknowingly that playing with an opposing players stick was a penalty, played the puck with Paquette’s stick and got 2 minutes for that, and another 2 for arguing.  He said after the game something along the lines of “Well he took my stick, so I took his.”

Although Letang’s emotions did get  a little out of control, he absoolutely had the right to be mad.  Paquette could have been called on 2 penalties on the play, but instead, Letang ends up in the box for 4 minutes.

All of that being said, the Penguins had a chance to win this game.  The Penguins had yet another sloppy first period performance, which has been a big problem under Sullivan.  They have been able to come back in a few of these instances, but falling behind 2-0 is not something the Penguins want to make a habit.

Unfortunately, the Penguins would fall down 3-0 instead of being the next team to score in the 2nd, which often times, they have.  The Lightning then went on a power play up 3-0, and all hope seemed lost for the Penguins.  Then Tom Kuhnhackl gave them, and the building, some life.  Shorthanded, he chipped the puck past Victor Hedman in the offensive zone and caught him flat footed.  Kuhnhackl found himself on a breakaway, turned to the backhand, and popped it top shelf.  It was a very pretty goal to call his first in the NHL.  Congrats to him.

Then, there was a turning point.  A chance for the Penguins to comeback in a game they seemed out of for most of the game.  They found themselves on a 5 on 3 for over 1 minute right at the end of the 2nd period.  The Penguins could have made the game 3-2, and potentially 3-3, as they would have still had a 5 on 4 advantage if they scored on the 5 on 3.  Unfortunately, the power play could not come through, and really, it hasn’t been very good since Malkin was injured.

The Lightning would go up 4-1 in the 3rd, which was ultimately the dagger in the heart of the Penguins.  Wilson would add his 2nd goal in as many games to make it 4-2, but the Penguins were unable to comeback, despite outshooting the Lightning 39-20.  Again, the Penguins did not play a terrible game, they just dug themselves into too deep of a hole early, and did not get the bounces/calls that they needed.  That’s hockey.

The Penguins were now off to Buffalo, in what really felt like a must win game, considering where the Penguins are in the standings.  Every game is an important one, and the Penguins really needed 2 points after falling short to Tampa Bay.

After the plane landed, Mike Sullivan waited for all the players to exit.  Except for one.  Kris Letang.  According to DKonPittsburghSports.com, Sullivan had a long chat with Letang about controlling his emotions and anger.  Obviously, if you watch Kris Letang play, he does play with so much passion and energy every night.  However, sometimes that passion turns into dumb penalties and bad on-ice play in Letang’s case.  He took 3 penalties against the Lightning.  Sullivan made the point clear: Letang has to control himself.  He is at his best when he controls his emotions, but still plays with that passion that he has.  And oh boy, did Letang and the Penguins respond.

They topped the Sabres 4-3, although the 3rd Sabres goal was scored late in an empty net situation.  Letang would have 3 assists on the day, and was easily the Penguins’ best player.  Clearly, he took Sullivan’s thoughts to heart and performed exactly the way that Kris Letang can play.

Patric Hornqvist got the Penguins in front 1-0 on a beautiful deflection goal, but Bogosian, who had a terrific game for the Sabres, tied the game at 1.  The score would remain 1-1 going into intermission.  That said, the Penguins once again had a terrible 1st period.  The score was tied, but Buffalo was absolutely the better of the 2 teams by a long shot.  Fleury was fantastic all game, especially in the 1st.

Scott Wilson would net his 3rd of the season in as many games on an absolute beautiful setup from Kris Letang.  Although, the shot by Wilson was a pretty one, too.

Pens buff.jpg

Kessel then netted his 19th of the season, once again, on a beautiful setup from Letang.  He was at the point and faked a slap shot with traffic in front.  He kept his stick cocked, froze the goalie Lehner, and gave a slap pass to Phil Kessel who took his time and fired the puck into the wide open 4 by 6.  The Pens went into the 2nd intermission 3-1, and played like a completely different team than the one that played the first.

The Sabres had a power play early in the 3rd period with a chance to cut the deficit in half, but the Penguins would score what ended up being the game-winning goal.  Hagelin had the puck in the defensive zone and saw Matt Cullen hop up ice.  Hagelin lofted a pass that pass the defenders stick and left Cullen on a partial breakaway.  The puck did not go in right away, but it would evetually trickle past Lehner, who did all he could to try to keep the puck out.

The Sabres would cut the lead to 2 by scoring on the same power play that the Penguins had just scored shorthanded on a shot by Bogosian that was deflected in front by Bran Gionta.  Bogosian would add yet another with 22 seconds left, but the Penguins held on to win.

Some notes on both games…

  • Lovejoy left the game against the Lightning.  No word on the extent of his injury yet.  As a result, Ian Cole played against the Sabres with Pouliot and played a strong game.
  • The Penguins recalled Matt Murray for Sunday’s game against the Sabres in case Fleury was unable to play.  I figured that maybe Murray may have also been called up to backup Fleury until seasons end based on his performance earlier in the season, but he was just sent back down to Wilkes-Barre this morning.  So, it looks like the Penguins will be rolling with Zatkoff and Fleury the rest of the way.
  • Scott Wilson is hot.  He has 3 goals in his last 3 games.  Keep in mind he led the AHL in goal scoring when he was recalled, so clearly, the guy can score.  If he keeps his hot streak up, he will absolutely remain in the bottom 6, even when the veterans return.
  • Pouliot has looked good in his 2nd stint with the Penguins (his 1st being last year).  That being said, management/coaching need to lengthen his leash a little bit.  Last year, I felt that Pouliot was a little bit too aggressive and made some bad defensive plays as a result.  This year, I feel like he is not quite as aggressive as he should be, being that he has elite offensive talent as a defenseman.  The Penguins really want to mold him to be a Letang type, and if that is the case, I would love to see him a little more involved in the offense.
  • Trade deadline is less than a week away, so keep an eye out.  I’m sure GMJR will do something…
Pens Struck by Lightning, Edge Sabres

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…

____________________________________________________

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?

___________________________________________________

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.

__________________________________________________

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.

____________________________________________________

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.

____________________________________________________

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.

____________________________________________________

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!

____________________________________________________

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.

_________________________________________________

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

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

Penguins Can’t Fly

Johnston

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

It was 2009, and the Penguins were at one point the 10th seed in the Eastern Conference.  They had to do something about it.  Shero obviously felt that the players were not the problem, so he brought in a new coach: Dan Bylsma.

We all know what Bylsma did that year.  He brought the Penguins from 10th to 4th in the conference, and led the Penguins to their first Stanley Cup since 1992.  After that, however, Bylsma could not bring the Penguins back.

In 2010, the Penguins had a 3-1 series lead in the Eastern Conference semi-finals against the Canadiens, but they were stoned cold by Canadiens goaltender Jaroslav Halak in the final 3 games, and failed to win one of the final 3 games to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals.

In 2011, the Penguins were without Crosby, Malkin, and Staal for the majority of the season.  That being said, the Penguins managed to take a 3-1 series lead against Tampa Bay in the first round of the playoffs, but once again, blew the series lead and had an early exit.

In 2012, the Penguins had an early exit in the playoffs once again, this time to the Philadelphia Flyers.  This was the series, if you can remember, of “which team is going to win 8-7.”  Flyers won that battle.

In 2013, the Penguins were riding Tomas Vokoun into the Eastern Conference Final, but the Penguins forgot how to score goals against the Bruins, who swept the Penguins and advanced to the Cup Final.

In 2014, the Penguins, for the 3rd time under Bylsma, had a 3-1 series lead and blew it, this time to the Rangers.

Everyone, including myself, knew that big changes were coming.

Interestingly enough, the Penguins fired Shero first, and kept Bylsma.  However, when Rutherford was hired as the new Pens’ GM, his first order of business was to fire Bylsma, due to his lack of success with the Penguins in the playoffs.

But, at least he was able to get the Penguins to the playoffs consistently, often as a top 4 seed in the conference (4th seed 4 times, 2 seed once, 1 seed once)

The Penguins were a top 5 team in goals for per game under Bylsma in the regular season, with the excpetion of the 2010-2011 season when they were without Crosby, Malkin, and Staal for half of the season.  They actually finished 1st in goals for per game in back to back seasons (2011-2012 and 2012-2013).

That being said, Rutherford felt that Bylsma needed to go.

Rutherford continued making moves, as he traded James Neal to Nashville for Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling.  He also made the decision to hire Mike Johnston, who had success coaching in the QMJHL with the Winterhawks, but never had NHL coaching experience.

The Penguins had a new coach, new GM, a ton of new players, and a ton of questions entering last season, the 2014-2015 season.  Well, the Penguins started that season 12-3-1, and it really looked like the Penguins were rolling.

Ever since that, this Penguins team has looked terrible.

Pardon, embarrassing.

Similar to 2009, changes need to happen, and they need to happen fast.

Despite early season success, under Johnston, the Penguins were the 8th seed last year, making the playoffs by beating the lowly Buffalo Sabres on the last game of the season, and currently sit in the final wild card spot this season.

Tough to have success in the playoffs if you can’t even get there.

I was listening to 93.7 the fan this morning, keeping in mind that this is a Steelers Sunday here in Pittsburgh, and they were talking about hockey.  Yeah, I’m not kidding.

I heard multiple fans call in, most saying that they have been die-hard Penguins fans since the 70’s.  Many of them, if not all of them, said that this Penguins team is the most embarrassing thing they have ever seen.  They feel embarrassed to watch the Penguins.

Wow.  That’s powerful.

See, I’m not crazy!  This team is really just pathetic, and it seems like a ton of people have the same opinion as me. This includes the players.

Josh Yohe of DK on Pittsburgh Sports asked Malkin what is wrong with the Penguins, minutes after a 10 minute closed-door team meeting after the Penguins were pathetically defeated by the Devils 4-0.  Malkin responded, “Everything.  We don’t play right.  We don’t play hard, we’re mad at each other.”

Malkin is right.  Everything is wrong.

Rutherford made it a priority to create an offensive juggernaut in Pittsburgh.  He traded for Phil Kessel to give Malkin and Crosby an all-star winger to work with.  He signed Eric Fehr, a solid bottom 6 player.  He traded for Nick Bonino, a quick, electric 3rd line center who can kill penalties.  He drafted Daniel Sprong, who has arguably been the most energetic and dynamic Penguins player (more on him later).

How have the Penguins responded?

By scoring 36 goals in 17 games.  Those 36 goals rank 27th in the NHL.

A team with Crosby, Malkin, Kessel, Hornqvist, Sprong, Bonino…ranks 27th in the NHL in goals for.

However, this lack of goals is not a new problem.  It’s an ongoing problem.

According to DK on Pittsburgh Sports (great site, I recommend you subscribe), the Penguins have averaged 2.18 goals for per game in their last 82 games, representing a full season.

Additionally, the Penguins this season are scoring 2.12 goals per game.  On average, NHL teams are scoring 2.67 goals per game.  So the Penguins are scoring .5 goals less than an average NHL team any given night, and their record is somehow 10-7.  The Penguins should be thankful that they are at least in a hole that they can dig themselves out of.

To put these goals for per game stats in perspective, the 2003-2004 Rico Fata/Dick Tarnstrom Penguins scored 2.32 goals per game.  They finished 30th in the NHL.  Last place.

Yeah, it’s that bad.

Sidney Crosby has only 2 goals and 7 assists (9 points) in 17 games.  Even Evgeni Malkin, who leads the Penguins in points, only has 12, with 4 goals and 8 assists.

Sidney Crosby was putting up a 1.41 points per game clip under Therrien, and was putting up a 1.43 points per game clip under Bylsma.  Both of these figures would be fourth best in NHL history behind only Gretzky, Lemieux, and Bossy, according to DK on Pittsburgh Sports.

Under Johnston?  Crosby is down to .99 points per game, including a .53 points per game clip this season.  This means Crosby is on pace for 43 points this season, and that’s if he stays healthy and plays all 82 games.

Even Evgeni Malkin is only on pace for 58 points.

Oh, and Bobby Farnham, a fourth line guy that was placed on waivers and was picked up by the Devils, currently is tied with Crosby for goals, and has more goals than either Kunitz or Perron after his goal last night.  I love Farnham, but let’s just say he is not necessarily a gifted goal-scorer.

Both Malkin and Crosby need to start producing the way that they can, and it starts with being more selfish with the puck.  I still believe in Crosby and Malkin.  They are still both 2 of the best players in the game today.  But they need to PLAY that way.

When I say play selfish, I don’t mean they should never pass the puck, but these players need to realize who they are.  When Crosby first got drafted by Pittsburgh, he was pretty much the only thing the Pens had at that point.  He knew he had to step up.  He had to be selfish.  That’s not the case any more.

Now Crosby has Letang, Malkin, Kessel, and Hornqvist just to name a few.  I get the feeling that all of these players have that feeling of “spreading the wealth” around, and so they force passes and force plays instead of just playing the way they are capable.

Crosby, and even Malkin for that matter, could be right atop the scoring race if they just played more selfish.  They cannot put their talent to waste, especially on a team that is so dependent on these guys producing.  Want an example?  Watch guys like Vladimir Tarasenko, Alex Ovechkin, or Patrick Kane play.

Heck, Tarasenko predicted himself to score 50 goals this year.  That is confidence.  That’s selfishness.  And I LOVE it.

So Malkin said everything is wrong, and I just talked about offense.

So, what else is wrong?

Well, the power play is pretty bad.  Scratch that, really bad.  Pathetic, actually.  *Insert other adjectives here*.  The Penguins rank 29th in the NHL, as their power play is only clicking at 12.3%, scoring only 7 times 57 opportunities.  The so-called first unit has scored 5 of the 7 power play goals, but then again, who knows which unit is the Penguins’ top unit at this point.

I think the power play improves by having guys like Crosby and Malkin be selfish with the puck.  Watch teams that are good on the power play.  It is so simple.  One or two passes, and a quick low one-timer on net.  The Penguins power play is more like 10 or 12 passes (if one of them does not get picked off), and then someone misses the net on a wide angle shot and the puck clears the zone.

In addition to the offense and the power play, the defense has not been good.

Wait, what?  But the Penguins have only allowed 2.18 goals per game, ranking 4th in the NHL!  How has their defense not been good?

Well, the reason is because Marc-Andre Fleury.  He has been absolutely spectacular for the Penguins, and even Zatkoff has looked solid in his few starts.  Without this goaltending tandem, the Penguins could easily be 5-12, if not worse.  Goaltending has been the only consistent bright spot for the Penguins up to this point in the season.

The Penguins’ top pair of defense, Letang and Cole, are at a plus/minus of -12 and -11 respectively.  And it took Mike Johnston until 2 games ago to realize that this defensive pair was clearly not working.  This, considering that Letang noted multiple times that he felt as though he and Cole were never on the same page.

Remember that Lovejoy guy that everyone complained about us acquiring last year?  Yeah, he’s been our best defenseman this year.  Although I am very happy to see Lovejoy playing well, he should not be our best defenseman, but right now, he is.

Dumoulin is close behind him, and him and Lovejoy have actually looked excellent.

Past that shutdown pair of Dumoulin and Lovejoy, Maatta is inexistent, Letang is taking bad penalties and cannot run the power play, Cole is playing way more than he should in a role he should not be in, and Scuderi is just slow and should not even be in the NHL at this point.

I would start giving Clendening more chances to play, and even consider calling up Pouliot.  The Penguins need to get something going, and both of these players are young, fast defensemen, and Pouliot is known to be a power play quarterback.  It won’t happen, but just a thought…

So now I’ve talked about defense and offense, but once again, Malkin said that everything is wrong.

What is the biggest problem for the Penguins right now?  It should be pretty obvious at this point: the Penguins need a new coach.  Right now.

So let’s talk about what’s wrong with Mike Johnston.

First of all, he has made so many questionable moves within his lineup.

He has played Adam Clendening once, who was arguably one of their best defenseman during camp.  He continues to play Rob Scuderi, who pretty much scored the first goal of the game for the Devils last night.

He kept Ian Cole and Letang together for 16 games when they clearly continued to struggle.

He took Hornqvist away from Crosby, right when Hornqvist was finally finding his groove.

He has not given Daniel Sprong, probably the most electric Penguins forward that actually plays selfish, a chance to play with Crosby or Malkin.  Why not?

Look at the Hawks, clearly a team that has succeeded in recent years to say the least.  Last year, they had a young rookie named Teuvo Terravinen.  No one knew who he was, and then the Hawks let him play with Toews/Kane in the top 6.  He ended up playing a huge role in their Stanley Cup win.

This year, the Hawks have a rookie named Artemi Panarin.  Who is he?  He leads all rookies in scoring, and plays alongside Patrick Kane in the top 6.

Why aren’t they giving Sprong this chance?!

He has a terrific shot, he is quick, and has some slick hands.  I had a twitter conversation with Dan Kingerski of 93.7 the fan, and he said that if Sprong played with Crosby/Malkin, he would get discouraged.

Discouraged?!  He would get discouraged by playing with Crosby, who is projected for 43 points?!  If anything, I think Sprong would help Crosby and discourage HIM, because Sprong would actually shoot the puck and focus on creating offense, and would probably be successful at it.

Even with Hornqvist hurt, Sprong is never going to get that chance, because it makes way too much sense to let him play with Sid.

In addition, Mike Johnston is so neutral.  He does not have any energy as a coach, no fire, and clearly has these players playing poorly.

I hear all these reports about how Malkin’s defensive game has improved this year.  Yeah, that’s great.  How about let Malkin score some goals and creating offense rather than focusing on defense.

So the Steelers should probably teach Ben Roethlisberger how to play linebacker, and practice his tackling ability in case of a turnover right?

If Mike Johnston was the coach of the Steelers, let’s say that I wouldn’t be shocked.

Seriously, watch this guy behind the bench (if he s able to live another day with the Penguins).  He looks so disinterested and disgusted.  One of the most important jobs as a coach is to help your team through adversity.

As a coach, if your team goes down 2-0, call a timeout.  Talk to your team at intermission.  Get them pumped up.  The game isn’t over yet…well, it is under Johnston.

Even the Penguins announcer has been less enthusiastic while in introducing the Penguins onto their home ice at Consol Energy Center.  I think Mike Johnston is depressing this guy, and he isn’t even on the team.

I don’t know. Look at Mike Johnston and try to tell me he is a guy that could pump you up.  If your answer is yes, try again.  You’re wrong.

This supposed offensive juggernaut can’t score goals because they’re trapped playing a defensive minded system.  It’s that simple.  Johnston needs to go, and it needs to happen sooner than later.

Even Jim Rutherford, before this weekend’s epic collapse, said that he was not pleased with how the team was playing.  This was after the Penguins’ 10-2 run in 12 games.  He sees it, and he knows it.

Jim, make your move, and do it now while you still have the chance.  Please.  He even said he wants to make a trade for a top 3 or 4 defenseman.  Sooner than later would work better, because the Penguins need something to jump-start them right now.  Maybe that is it.

I do want to say this:  I do not think Mike Johnston is a bad coach.  He isn’t.  He is a bad coach for THIS team.  He just does not fit.

That being said, since Mike Johnston is about as energetic as me walking to my Monday morning classes at Duquesne, the Penguins players need to step up.  The role players need to step up.  Now.

Evgeni Malkin did.  He told the media straight up that this team is not playing right, and that they need to show more effort and grit moving forward.  He called out the Penguins, and every player on this team needed that.

Crosby talked with the media as well, but did not call out the team nearly as strong as Malkin did.

I think Malkin is the true leader of this team, and there are times, especially now, where I think Malkin should be wearing the “C.”

Hear me out.  I know that Sid is the franchise tag, and he is a great player, but Sid has never struck me as a “put the team on my back” kind of player.  He just doesn’t seem like a TRUE leader to me sometimes.  But I see the leadership qualities in Malkin.

If the Penguins made that switch (which again, will never happen), I think Crosby would get a wake-up call.  I think he would really feel like he has to earn his place on the team, and I really believe that Malkin is the leader here.

Remember a few years when Malkin said “Relax,” and the Penguins went on some huge winning streak?  This isn’t coincidence.

I cannot control what Rutherford does, what Johnston does, or what any of these players do, but what I will say is that they need to respond.  But I do not just mean against Minnesota on Tuesday night.

This entire season needs to be a response, from the GM, coaches, and players, and it needs to start now.  Can the Penguins do it?

Who knows, but don’t get your hopes up, because Penguins Can’t Fly.

Penguins Can’t Fly

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:

After the #Pens defeated the Oilers, Nick Bonino decided to award the Gladiator helmet to Pascal Dupuis.

A post shared by Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) on

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