Enough Is Enough

The Penguins just lost 3-1 to the Tampa Bay Lightning in game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals at Consol Energy Center.  It was a game where Tampa Bay did not carry the play nor have the majority of the scoring chances, but they had high quality chances and capitalized where the Penguins didn’t.

This game had very weird, and also very unfortunate, moments for both teams:

  • The Penguins’ Kris Letang was hit from behind by Lightning forward Ryan Callahan into the boards.  Interestingly, Callahan received a 5 minute major, but not a game misconduct.  This hit will be looked at by the league for sure, and Callahan could very well be suspended.  Letang did return and played the rest of the game.
  • Lightning goalie Ben Bishop had to be carried off by a stretcher in the 1st period after falling awkwardly on his left leg.  Although no one is exactly sure what the issue with Bishop is yet, it seems unlikely he will return any time soon.  Vasilevskiy finished the game for the Lightning.
  • Tyler Johnson, Lightning’s top line center with Steven Stamkos out, was hit knee on knee by Kunitz against the boards.  Johnson exited and needed help off of the ice, but he did return.
  • Brian Dumoulin got hit hard into the boards and went down to the ice and appeared unconscious.  He did not return.

Despite injuries to both sides, the Lightning players stepped up and buried the opportunities that they needed to bury.  The Penguins did not.  It really is that simple.

The first Lightning goal was simply Olli Maatta getting burned.  Again.  Hedman fired the puck down the length of the ice to Killorn who was waiting at the blue line.  Maatta had awful position on him, and allowed him to skate right on in, and Killorn made no mistake on the breakaway, beating Murray 5-hole.

The second Tampa Bay goal came on the power play, as a shot was deflected in front from a point shot and found a wide open Palat who had a 4 x 6 staring him down.  He didn’t miss, either.

The final Lightning goal came off of a bad pass from Malkin that could not be handled by Dumoulin.  The result was a 3 on 1 for the Lightning, and it only took 1 pass and a one-time shot by Drouin which put the Lightning up 3-0.

Hornqvist would add a power play goal late in the 2nd, but the game had already been decided by that point.

Although the Penguins out-chanced the Lightning and even out-shot them, I did not feel like they came out with any type of desperation at all.  I just never sensed it.  This could be attributed to coming off of 2 series wins against 2 of the Penguins’ biggest rivals.  It could just simply be that they weren’t ready.  Regardless of the reason, the Penguins need to buckle down and win game 2.  If they fail to do so, this series will be a quick one, and might not even be coming back to Pittsburgh.

Although the Penguins did not play their worst game, enough is enough.  Well, what do I mean by that?

Maatta has gotten his fair share of chances, and yet he continues to get burned by the opposition.  Enough is enough.  He is a smart kid and I still like that the Penguins signed him to a 6-year deal, but ever since he’s battled back from injuries this year, his reaction time and skating has been too slow, especially against a fast Tampa Bay team.  The guy is pretty much a lock for at LEAST 1 breakaway allowed per game.

Oh yeah, also considering the Penguins have Justin Schultz on their bench who skates very well, has great speed, and has been on the ice for five goals against since being aquired by Pittsburgh.

Sorry Olli, enough is enough.  If Sullivan knows what he is doing, Schultz should play game 2 and Maatta should sit.

The Penguins need to learn to shoot when they have a high scoring chance.  Enough is enough.  I saw the Penguins not shoot on a 2 on 1 OR a 3 on 2, both of which occurred in the same minute or 2 span.  Quit trying to make the pretty play and get some garbage goals.  Oh and shoot when you have odd man rushes.  Take a note from Tampa, they had 2 tonight.

Also the Penguins were lacking net front presence tonight.  It seemed like their shots would either be blocked, or Vasilevskiy/Bishop saw it the whole way.  I don’t care who is in net, both of these guys are good.  Yeah sometimes the bounces will go your way, but the Penguins need to shoot the puck with traffic in front if they want to win game 2.

Finally, and probably the biggest issue, Malkin and Crosby need to start producing…and I mean NOW.  Enough is enough.

genosid

I get that these 2 along with Kessel are 3 of the only active 4 NHL players that have above a point per game in the playoffs, but they sure aren’t living up to that recently.

Both players played very well against the Rangers, and as a result the Penguins toppled them in 5 games.  Meanwhile against Washington, the Penguins received 1 goal from Crosby and Malkin combined.  One. measly. goal. AND it was scored in game 1 from Malkin.  Neither Sid or Geno scored in games 2-6 of the Washington series, and neither of them scored in game 1 against Tampa Bay.

I understand that there are plays made that don’t show up on the score sheet.  I know these guys want to score.  But they haven’t.  They got away with it against Washington, but it is only a matter of time before the Penguins begin to slide without their top 2 players producing.  And for that matter, Letang has been very quiet offensively, too.

However I think it is time that just “making a good play here and there” and “playing hard” just isn’t enough for Sid or Geno.  Malkin did have some good looks on the power play, as did Sid, but to me neither player really seemed like they had that extra push or energy to jolt them over the top.  Neither of them looked like generational talents. This is a huge issue for the Penguins going forward. It helps to have depth scoring, but they can only pick Geno and Sid up so often.

So, how do the Penguins get Geno and Sid going?  Here are my thoughts:

  • Sid needs to have a shot first mentality.  He has always been his best when he shoots before he passes, but he seems to be deferring way to often lately.  He had an assist on Hornqvist’s goal, but Sid needs to start shooting the puck. Period.
  • In the words of @EvgeniMalkinEgo on Twitter, Evgeni Malkin has “two pieces of cheese as linemates.”  He isn’t wrong.  It is hard for Malkin to get going with the likes of Fehr and Kunitz, neither of who are stellar offensive players.  Rust is the only somewhat legitimate offensive player that could plug in on Malkin’s line, but he admitted to not liking playing with Geno due to their clashing playing styles.  My solution?  It’s Daniel Sprong time.  The kid has a shot and isn’t afraid to use it.  The Penguins need to give Malkin a somewhat legitimate forward to work with, and Sprong fits the bill.  Will that actually happen?  Never in a million years.  Should it happen?  In my opinion, yes.
  • My final idea: play Geno on Sid’s wing. Kessel, Bonino, and Hagelin is your 2nd line regardless of where Malkin plays. Why not try to get both Sid and Malkin going by playing them both on the top line? It’s an idea that the coaching staff should seriously entertain, considering I doubt they will recall Daniel Sprong this year unless it becomes necessary.

Until Malkin and Sid get going, this series will be a short lived one for the Penguins.

Game 2 is Monday night at Consol Energy Center.  A win for the Penguins could be a huge momentum builder going into Tampa Bay.  A loss puts them down 2-0 in 2 home games to open up the series, and the Penguins are lucky to come back to Pittsburgh for a game 5 if that is the case.

Enough is enough.

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Enough Is Enough

Murray or Fleury?

matt-murray-marc-andre-fleury-900x506In game 5, Matt Murray stopped 16 of 19 shots.  Although his stat line in this game was not exactly impressive, (.842 save percentage and just above a 3.00 goals against average) you can hardly blame the kid.

The first goal he allowed was an absolute howitzer of a one-timer from Ovechkin.  Not much Murray could do on that goal.  Ovechkin made a great shot, and the defense needs to start reading that play.  It’s almost way too predictable, but its starting to work.  Ovi has been taking that shot all series long, and it was only a matter of time before he scored on it, and he will continue to do it until the Penguins shut it down.

The second goal he allowed was on a near identical play.  Ovechkin let a one-time shot go, although this time Murray made a great pad save.  However, TJ Oshie outworked the Penguins defense in front and knocked in the rebound.  Again, Murray could not have done much to prevent that goal from happening.

The third and final goal for the Capitals was one Murray probably could have stopped, however you can’t put all the blame on him.  Brian Dumoulin attempted to clear the puck and put it right on the stick of Justin Williams, who could have sat down and enjoyed a nice 3 course meal before shooting the puck while skating in on Murray.  The puck went 5-hole, but Williams never even gets this golden chance without the turnover from Dumoulin.  In addition, the shot was deflected by a Penguins stick, and did not go where Williams intended.  If he gets the shot of clean, Murray just may have made the save.

And yet, many Penguins fans, analysts, and even nhl.com are claiming that Fleury may, and even will, get the nod in game 6 on Tuesday night at Consol Energy Center.

Ha. Ha.

Wait, this isn’t a joke?

Matt Murray should be your starter in game 6.  And if the Penguins lose game 6, he should be your starter in game 7, and potentially in round 3 against Tamba Bay.  In my opinion, the earliest that the Penguins should even consider using Marc-Andre Fleury is in game 1 of round 3.

So why would I not play Marc-Andre Fleury in game 6?  There are plenty of reasons to support my argument, which is the right decision, involving keeping Matt Murray in net.

In the words of Rob Rossi, the Penguins have 2 options in net for game 6: “a rookie, or a Cup winner.”  Ok, that’s fair.  Here, I would say the Cup winner…but only if I’m basing a decision solely off of that statement.

Let’s rephrase this scenario to make it more accurate.

The Penguins have 2 options in net for game 6: a 21-year-old goaltender with promising potential that has a .937 save percentage and a 1.96 goals against average in the playoffs, or a 31-year-old goaltender who hasn’t played a game in a month, and is coming off of his 2nd concussion of the year.

Hmmm…I’ll take the 21-year-old guy.

Crazy how a little rephrasing can totally change the scenario.

So what, we should all be calling for Matt Murray’s head since he let in 3 goals on 19 shots? Well, Holtby let in 3 goals on 23 shots in game 3, and I do not recall many people calling for his head following that loss.

Heck, if Fleury was healthy, played in every game thus far, and had Matt Murray’s stats up to this point…are we calling for Matt Murray after Fleury lets in 3 goals on 19 shots, in which he couldn’t really do anything about each goal?  I would say no, but that’s just my opinion.  However, when the “franchise guy” Fleury is on the bench, it seems as though yinzer nation just wants an excuse to put him in. I get it, but it’s ridiculous.

Ride the hot hand.  The Penguins guy is still Matt Murray.  Oh, and I’m not done yet.

Let’s start thinking hypothetically (although I do not always enjoy thinking hypothetically, it makes sense for this situation).  Say the Penguins start Fleury in game 6.

If he wins, then great.  The Penguins will move on and the coaching staff will decide which goalie starts game 1 of the next series against the Lightning.

If he loses, notably if he plays subpar or even just lousy, then what?  Do you, yet again, turn to the Cup winner/franchise goaltender to try to muster up a game 7 win in Washington?  Or do you go back to Murray, who is the main reason the Penguins are at where they are to begin with.

Now the Capitals go into game 7 with confidence and momentum, and the Penguins coaching staff is scratching their heads as to which goalie they want to play in game 7.  The risks are just not worth it.  Not to mention that starting Fleury over Murray in game 6 would be taking a huge shot at Murray’s confidence, considering he didn’t really do much wrong in game 5, or in the playoff in general, to warrant being taken out of the lineup.

Let me draw you an almost identical parallel.

It was 2004.  The Pittsburgh Steelers lost Tommy Maddox to injury in game 2 of the regular season, which was a loss to the Ravens 30-13.  He was replaced by rookie Ben Roethlisberger, who everyone figured would be a half-decent quarterback, but nothing fantastic.  He ended up leading the Steelers to 15 straight wins, 14 in the regular season, and a 15-1 record.

Now tell me this: say Maddox was ready for game 12, and despite the Steelers winning game 11, in addition to games 1-10, Roethlisberger had 3 interceptions, but none of which were really on him.  Do you put Maddox back in?

No.  And it’s not even close.

My final argument is that Matt Murray deserves to finish was he started.  As a referred to in my previous article, the Penguins would never have owned a 3-1 series lead if not for Murray.  He is the reason the Penguins are in the position they are in, and he deserves to finish the job.

Heck, even if Murray and the Pens finish the Caps off in game 6, many will be calling for Fleury to start game 1 against the Tampa Bay Lightning in round 3.  To this, I still say the starter should be Matt Murray.

Why?

Well, let’s look at the stats.  The Penguins are 0-3 against the Lightning this year.  In the first game, the Lightning won 5-4 in OT.  Fleury posted a .800 save percentage.  In the second game, Fleury had a horrid .714 save percentage, allowed 4 goals, and was pulled in favor of Zatkoff, who started the 3rd and final game against the Lightning.  Murray has yet to face the Lightning, but I like to think he can’t be much worse, especially with how he has been playing this year.

 

Game 6, I’ll take Matt Murray.

Game 7, if needed, I’ll take Matt Murray.

If the Penguins advance to play Tampa Bay, I’ll take Matt Murray.

If they advance to the Stanley Cup, well, it’s hard to not go with Matt Murray.

I love Fleury, and regardless of what happens in the playoffs this year, he will be the starter for the Penguins next year.  However, for now, the Penguins need to keep riding Matt Murray.  Case closed.

Murray or Fleury?

Eastern Conference Playoff Probabilities

2016 playoffs.gifAs some of you may know, I love statistics.  Although I could easily just wait 2 days to see what the playoff match-ups will be in the Eastern Conference, I wanted to do a little probability calculating to see what the probability was of certain teams making the playoffs, and what match-ups are most likely to see.

As of right now, the Panthers and Lightning have clinched 1st and 2nd place in the Atlantic Division, respectively, and the Capitals and Penguins have clinched 1st and 2nd place in the Metropolitan Division, respectively.  Although both of the Rangers and Islanders have at least solidified a playoff spot, where they place is not yet determined.

The 3 remaining teams in playoff contention are the Bruins, Red Wings, and Flyers.  Here are the probabilities of each of these teams making the playoffs:

P(Bruins making playoffs) = 60.6%

P(Red Wings making playoffs) = 84.7%

P(Flyers making playoffs) = 54.6%

If the Bruins make the playoffs, they could finish as a 3rd seed in the Atlantic, as the 2nd wild card team, or they could miss the playoffs.  It is slightly more likely that if the Bruins do make the playoffs, they will end up as a wild card.  Here are the probabilities that they place 3rd in the Atlantic, end up in the 2nd wild card spot, and miss the playoffs:

P(Bruins 3rd in Atlantic) = 25%

P(Bruins 2nd wild card) = 35.6%

P(Bruins miss playoffs) = 39.4%

If the Red Wings make the playoffs, they could also finish as a 3rd seed in the Atlantic Division, as the 2nd wild card team, or they could miss the playoffs.  If the Red Wings do make the playoffs, it is far more likely that they would place 3rd in their division as opposed to being the 2nd wild card, as represented by the following probabilities:

P(Red Wings 3rd in Atlantic) = 75%

P(Red Wings 2nd wild card) = 9.7%

P(Red Wings miss playoffs) = 15.3%

If the Flyers make the playoffs, they cannot finish any higher than the 2nd wild card spot, and so their probabilities of finishing either as a 2nd wild card or out of the playoffs is:

P(Flyers 2nd wild card) = 54.6%

P(Flyers miss playoffs) = 45.4%

As you may recall, both the Islanders and Rangers have clinched a playoff birth, however, where they finish in the standings is not yet determined.  One of these teams will finish 3rd in the division and play the Penguins in the first round.  The other team will finish as the 1st wild card, and will hop over to the Atlantic Division to play Florida in the first round.  As of today, the most likely opponent for the Penguins is the Islanders, as seen in the probabilities below:

P(Rangers 3rd in Metropolitan) = 31.9%

P(Rangers 1st wild card) = 68.1%

P(Islanders 3rd in Metropolitan) = 68.1%

P(Islanders 1st wild card) = 31.9%

Based on all of this information, here are all of the possible playoff match-ups from most likely to least likely, along with their probabilities:

There is a 32.4% chance that the playoff match-ups are:

WSH v. BOS

PIT v. NYI

FLA v. NYR

TBL v. DET

There is a 25% chance that the playoff match-ups are:

WSH v. PHI

PIT v. NYI

FLA v. NYR

TBL v. DET

There is a 14.4% chance that the playoff match-ups are:

WSH v. PHI

PIT v. NYR

FLA v. NYI

TBL v. DET

There is a 11.6% chance that the playoff match-ups are:

WSH v. PHI

PIT v. NYR

FLA v. NYI

TBL v. BOS

There is a 6.9% chance that the playoff match-ups are:

WSH v. DET

PIT v. NYI

FLA v. NYR

TBL v. BOS

There is a 3.7% chance that the playoff match-ups are:

WSH v. PHI

PIT v. NYI

FLA v. NYR

TBL v. BOS

There is a 3.2% chance that the playoff match-ups are:

WSH v. BOS

PIT v. NYR

FLA v. NYI

TBL v. DET

There is a 2.8% chance that the playoff match-ups are:

WSH v. DET

PIT v. NYR

FLA v. NYI

TBL v. BOS

I would like to note that I calculated all of these probabilities myself.  I only say that because I am sure I made a few errors somewhere in my calculations, but I can guarantee that these probabilities are generally correct (and hopefully most are 100% accurate).

Now, we wait 2 days and see what happens….

Eastern Conference Playoff Probabilities

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