“C” Stands For “Crosby”, right?

Geno

Similar to my last article, let me take you back to 2009.  The year the Penguins won their 3rd Stanley Cup.

Who won the Art Ross Trophy, given to the player with the most points after the NHL regular season?

Who won the Conn Smythe Trophy, given to the the MVP of the Stanley Cup playoffs?

If you guessed Evgeni Malkin, you are correct.

After the 2008-2009 regular season, the Penguins had 2 players with more than 100 points: Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.  After that, no one else on the Penguins was close.  The third highest scorer on the Penguins that year, Jordan Staal, ended the regular season with 49 points.

It really shows you how important it is for the Penguins get production from their star players.  It is just how they are built.

Anyways, Evgeni Malkin finished the 2008-2009 regular season with 113 points, and Crosby with 103.

In the playoffs, Malkin recorded 36 points in 24 games, including 14 goals and 22 assists.  Crosby was right behind him with 31 points in 24 games, with 15 goals and 16 assists.

Although Sidney Crosby was right behind Malkin in both the regular season and post season in terms of points (heck, Crosby had one more goal than Malkin in the playoffs), who do you remember most from that Stanley Cup winning team?

I sure do remember Talbot with the all famous “shhhh” to the Philadelphia crowd, which was a huge turning point for the Pens in the playoffs.  The Penguins were down 3-0 at this point in the game, and came back to win.

I remember Marc-Andre Fleury robbing Alex Ovechkin on a wide open breakaway in game 7 of the Eastern Conference semi-finals, which turned into a 6-2 Penguins victory.

And who can forget the save that Marc-Andre Fleury made in game 7 on Nick Lidstrom, that ultimately won them the Stanley Cup?!

All of that being said, when I think about that Stanley Cup winning team, I think of Evgeni Malkin.

He was dominant.  He was hungry.  He put the team on his back during almost the entire season.  It is tough to describe, but you just had that feeling that he was in control of the Penguins.  He was in the driver’s seat.

Not Crosby.

Crosby was good, and he was an important piece to the puzzle, but Crosby just never stood out to me during that season.

When I think of 2008-2009, I think of Evgeni Malkin.  These are all 3 of his goals against the Hurricanes in game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals.  If you don’t want to watch them all, skip to 2:03 and please watch from there.

His hat trick goal will forever be one of my favorite goals I have ever witnessed in my life.  It might be my favorite to be honest with you.  I can remember watching this game, seeing Malkin score that goal, and….

Well, listen to the announcer.  It says it all: “OH MY WORD!!”

Now, let’s move into the present.

The Penguins just defeated the Minnesota Wild, a great hockey team, 4-3 at Consol Energy Center Tuesday night.  The score was close, but the Penguins did play a great hockey game.

I want to note that I am absolutely not sold just by this one game.  It was great to see the Penguins bounce back, but as I noted in my last article, it’s about this whole season being a bounce back from every season since 2009.  This season needs to be a response.  Great game by the Pens, but I need more to be convinced.

Anyways, let’s get back to this game.

I mentioned in my last article how I feel as though Malkin is the true leader of this hockey team, not Crosby, despite Sid wearing the “C” on his jersey.

Tonight just further proved my point.

I mentioned in my previous article that Malkin was the one that called the team out.  HE was the one to stand up and confront the media.  Everyone on that room was clearly disappointed, but HE was the most vocal about it.

Malkin talked the talk, and tonight, he walked the walk.  Or should I say, he skated the skate. (ignore my terrible humor)

He figured into every Penguins goal, notching 2 goals and 2 assists, including a highlight reel goal that proved to be the game winner.

Oh, so what did Sidney Crosby do?

Nothing.  At least not on the stat sheet.

This team responded, and it responded well.  But it was not Sidney Crosby that responded.  It was not his words, nor his actions.

It was Malkin’s.

Last season, the Penguins were on a 0-2-1 skid, scoring only 3 goals in these contests.  Malkin stood up: “We know we can come back. I believe this team has good guys and good players. We need to support each other, relax, and we’ll be back.”

The Penguins won both of their next 2 back to back games, and Malkin registered 2 goals, 2 assists, for 4 points during these games.  Crosby chipped in 3 assists.

So, what am I getting at here?

Malkin is the true leader of the Penguins team.  Please, tell me one time, EVEN ONCE, where Sidney Crosby called out this team, and they responded because of it.  Give me ONE TIME where he had as much impact on this Penguins team as Malkin, and I’ll take back what I said.

Crosby is a great hockey player, and I absolutely do not want to take that away from him, but he just isn’t the true leader of this Penguins team.  He leads by example (at times, certainly not this year).

I hope Crosby comes around, and I’m sure he will.  But being a leader is not just about what you do on the ice, or on the court, or on the field.  It’s about what happens off the ice, and from what I can tell, it sure seems like Malkin is more of an overall leader of this Penguins team than Crosby.

I sure hope that “C” on Crosby’s sweater stands for “Crosby,” because if it stands for “captain,” it should most certainly be worn by Evgeni Malkin.

 

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“C” Stands For “Crosby”, right?

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:

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

Tuesday’s Q and A’s

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

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

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

Dupuis – Crosby – Hornqvist

Plotnikov – Malkin – Kessel

Kunitz – Bonino – Sprong

Perron – Cullen – Rust

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

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

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

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

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

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

BUT…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As I recall, they were not…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

His main problem?  He needs to shoot.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, and I’m not done yet…

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

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

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

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

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

Why did they get rid of Bylsma again?

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

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

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

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

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

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

They’re not shooting to score.

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

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

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

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

Tuesday’s Q and A’s

Who Is At Fault Here?

Johnston

The Penguins lost a tough one 4-1 to the Dallas Stars on home ice Thursday night.  The Penguins dominated the first 6 minutes of the game, and arguably played their best hockey they have played all season.

There is just one problem: they didn’t score any goals during this span.

Following the 6 minute dominance by the Pens, Stars defenseman Johnny Oduya took a wrist shot from the point that literally floated in on goal.  The puck found it’s way past Fleury, and the Stars took a 1-0 lead and never looked back.

This is really all you need to know in regards to a recap.  There wasn’t much else exciting that went on.  The Penguins had a 5 on 3 late in the game down 3 goals, where they pulled Fleury and made it a 6 on 3 situation.  As usual, the powerplay was a little something like “Crosby to Malkin to Crosby to Kessel to Letang to Hornqvist to Crosby to…intercepted by Dallas and cleared.”

Adding to the stats, the Penguins are now 0-4 when allowing the first goal, and have been either trailing or tied throughout the entirety of these 4 games.

In addition, that 1.67 goals per game drops to 1.57 goals per game after they only scored 1 goal tonight.  AND the defense gave up 4 goals against a very good Dallas Stars offense, who play a lot like how the Penguins SHOULD play.  This put the Penguins goals against average at 2.14.

Didn’t I just publish an article about this?  Oh yeah… What a coincidence!!

So, who is at fault here?

Here is the guy that is not at fault: Jim Rutherford.  He went out this offseason and gave the coaching staff the pieces to work with, which is his job.  Yeah, their defense isn’t necessarily anything fantastic, but it shouldn’t have to be with the offensive players that Rutherford brought in during the offseason.

So ruling out Jim Rutherford, there are only 2 “people” to blame here.  One is the players, and one is the head coach.  Let’s talk about the players first.

The Penguins have been getting their fair share of chances.  They still rank 2nd in the NHL in shots per game.  So why is the goal total so low with all the talent they have?

Here is NOT the answer to that question: Well, they ran into a hot goaltender tonight…

Is anyone else tired of that argument?  I certainly am.  Every once in a while, a team runs into a goalie that is playing well, but it should not be an every game thing.  I don’t really care about Neimi’s history against the Penguins, today was a new game and the Penguins had a chance to beat him and didn’t.  It’s as simple as that.

It’s on the players to do what they’re supposed to do and score.  It’s on the players to be able to keep their heads in the game when they give up a goal early in the first period to go down 1-0.  Those kind of things are on the players.

The rest is on the coach.

I have no idea what upper management is thinking right now, but I would have Mike Johnston on a very very VERY short leash right now.

Even though the Penguins are 3-4, which is actually a pretty good record considering their team statistics right now, they have not been scoring goals.  To me, this is mainly attributed to the coach.

He has stuck with the line of Kunitz, Crosby, and Kessel since day one.  I have news for you Johnston: it’s not working.  He has stuck with Hornqvist, Malkin, and Perron for most of the time, after making the obvious move of shifting Plotnikov to the 3rd line.  This line hasn’t worked either.

To top it off, one of your best offensive players, Daniel Sprong, has been logging a team-low in ice time while getting an occasional shift on the fourth line.

Something doesn’t add up here…

Johnston needs to make a change, and I mean as early as Saturday when the Penguins play the red hot Predators.  (Pekka Rinne will be in goal, and I’m already ruling out the “we ran into a hot goaltender” excuse, because I can almost guarantee the Penguins won’t score more than 2 on Saturday)

One thing that may help is making some line changes.  Clearly, the line combinations Johnston has right now are not working.  Kunitz has been below average for at least a year now, Hornqvist has not looked as effective as he can be with Malkin, and Kessel and Crosby just have not found that chemistry yet.

In addition, the top pairing of Cole and Letang has looked a bit sloppy, and understandably so.  Ian Cole is not a top 2 defenseman.  This is not a knock on Cole, he is just not quite that good.  I like him on the team a lot, but he is playing way too large of a role to be effective.

With Johnston, it starts with some line changes if he wants this team to start scoring.  They are getting the shots he wants, but the goals are not there.  Here would be my lines for Saturday night’s game if I was in Mike Johnston’s position:

Forwards

Sprong – Crosby – Hornqvist

Dupuis – Malkin – Kessel

Kunitz – Bonino – Perron

Rust – Cullen – Porter/Plotnikov

Defensemen

Letang – Maatta

Cole – Dumoulin

Lovejoy – Scuderi/Clendening

Let’s talk about what I changed here (at least the big changes).

First of all, put Hornqvist back with Crosby.  They worked together so well last year, but because Phil Kessel is here clearly Crosby has to be the one that plays with him…

Put Sprong on the first line.  Does he deserve anything less at this point?  The Penguins need goals, and that’s exactly what Sprong gives you.  He has speed, finese, and an NHL shot that he is not afraid to use at any time.

Move Kessel with Malkin.  Malkin has been the most dominant Penguins player by a long shot thus far in the season.  I think Kessel’s production increases with Malkin rather than playing with Sid who is just gonna play the “you shoot it, no you shoot it” card with Kessel.  One more time: remember James Neal?  That guy who scored 40 goals for the Penguins a few years ago?  Yeah, he played with Malkin…just saying.

Let Dupuis play on the second line.  Dupuis plays with energy and hustle and it’s a treat to watch him play.  He makes the second line complete and provides the “defensive presence” if Malkin and Kessel get trapped deep in the zone.  Plus who else slots here?  Kunitz/Perron?  Ummmm…no.

Kunitz and Perron get dropped to third line.  Both of these guys have been so subpar this season.  Kunitz is looking like the Kunitz of last season, which is not good.  Kunitz has 1 point in his last 26 games dating back to last season.  1 singular point.  Perron is invisible out there for the most part, and still has not looked like the David Perron they acquired that lit up the stat sheet in his first 10 or so games with the Pens.  I do not mind them as third line players on this team, but as 1st and 2nd line guys respectively?  I don’t think so.

Put Letang and Maatta together.  I was not for this early in the season, but the Penguins cannot get anything working on their back end, and I think this pair would be a great first pair.  Plus, I like Cole and Dumoulin partnered up.

Overall, I am placing the blame on Johnston more than the players.  The players need to produce, but if Johnston is continuing to play a dwindling Chris Kunitz on the first line and sit one of his best forwards, then it makes it very hard for the forwards to do anything effective.  They’re just banging their heads off of a cement wall at this point.  That cement wall being the one that is put in front of the goal they’re trying to shoot at.

Also, just remember, this isn’t just a little bit of a “rough patch” at the beginning of the season.  This is a carry-over from last year.  The Penguins in their last 27 games, including last year and the playoffs, are 8-19 with a 1.63 goals for per game.  They have scored more than 3 goals only once during this stretch, and have been held to 0 or 1 goals in 14 of the 27 games.  This is concerning.

Look out Johnston, because if management knows what is best for this team, you better do something about this team… and FAST.

On the bright side of things, congrats to Nick Bonino for his first goal in a Penguins uniform.  His goal was entirely an individual effort, and a great one at that.  Glad to see him on the score sheet.

Anyways, thank you for everyone who read my stuff!  I’ll be posting an article Saturday night about the Penguins vs. Predators game.

Also, remember to like me on Facebook (Franjione Pens Press) and/or follow me on twitter (@FranjiPensPress) if you like what you’re reading.

Who Is At Fault Here?

The Three Headed Monster Leads Pens to OT Win

Malkin goal

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

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

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

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

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

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

9 shots!!!

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

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

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

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

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

Recap

First Period

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

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

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

Pens 1 Panthers 0

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

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

Second Period

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

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

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

Third Period

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

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

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

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

Pens 2 Panthers 0

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

Penguins 2 Panthers 1

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

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

Pens 2 Panthers 2

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

Overtime

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

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

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

Final OT: Pens 3 Panthers 2

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

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

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

A little chance for some revenge…

The Three Headed Monster Leads Pens to OT Win

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sprong first goal

Ladies and Gentlemen: ELVIS. Has just. Left. The building.

And FINALLY, the Penguins found their first win of the season.

They topped a pretty good Ottawa Senators team 2-0, but it felt like it could have been 6-0 Penguins.  The Pens came out and played desperately and it showed on the ice.  They were finishing their checks and pouncing on every loose puck.  They looked the best they have looked this season by far.

However, Ottawa did play last night, so they were probably slightly fatigued.  But then again, Phoenix also played the night before they played the Penguins, but the Coyotes looked like the far better team.  Take that in for what it’s worth…

Unfortunately, the Penguins announced this morning that forward Beau Bennett is out with an injury.  Multiple sources reported Bennett not seeming like he was in pain after the game against Montreal, so it may be an unrelated hockey injury.  Either way, Bennett was injured, so Mayhem himself Booby Farnham got a chance to play.

In addition to Bennett getting injured, the Penguins recalled forward Bryan Rust and sent down Tim Erixon to the Penguins’ AHL affiliate team, the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins.

The most surprising news of the day for me were the players and line combinations that Johnston went with today.  First of all, he made the decision to scratch Rob Scuderi and play Adam Clendening, who looked fantastic during camp.  Scuderi has looked like nothing more than a traffic cone in the first 3 games.

Sorry Scuds, you were important to the team in 2009, and I thank you for your contributions, but you’re just not an NHL caliber player right now.

The Penguins kept Letang with Cole, paired Maatta with Clendening, which left Dumoulin and Lovejoy as the bottom pair.  I think these are the Penguins best 6 defensemen right now.  That being said, I’m sure Scuderi will get his share of games, but after tonight, it should be less.

Also, one of the Penguins top prospects projected to make the team Derrick Pouliot is still in the minors, and I would imagine he gets a chance at some point to step in and make an impression on the coaches.

Besides the scratch of Scuderi, Johnston also made the decision to scratch newcomer Sergei Plotnikov, which I found very interesting.  I would imagine Johnston was more of just giving him a day off since he is currently dealing with adjusting to the life of the NHL and life in the US.  He will be back as soon as next game, but I was surprised by the scratch.

The Penguins top 2 lines looked the same as it did the last game, Daniel Sprong and Kevin Porter got a chance to hop up onto the 3rd line with Bonino, and Cullen centered Farham and newly called-up forward Bryan Rust.

Since I had to talk a lot in the early parts, I’ll simply recap the goals (which were only Penguins goals) and give a few quick impressions.  Here we go:

Recap

1st Period

No Scoring

2nd Period

Just 23 seconds into the period, Evgeni Malkin put the Penguins on the board, and gave them their first lead of the season.  The play actually began in Ottawa’s offensive zone.  Some Penguins and Senators players were battling for the puck.  Just as none other than Patric Hornqvist came out of the scrum with it, Evgeni Malkin bolted up the ice.  Honqvist fed the puck to Malkin who went down the ice on a 2 on 1, and made no mistake as he ripped a shot past the blocker side of goalie Craig Anderson.  Pens 1 Sens 0.

Later in the period, Kevin Porter came up the ice with the puck.  At about center ice, he gave the puck to Matt Cullen who was flying down the middle of the ice.  Cullen carried the puck into the zone, and dropped a pass into the slot for who?  Daniel Sprong.  Sprong took advantage of the great pass by Cullen and went thin mints (where mamma keeps the cookies: top shelf!).  Congratulations to Sprong on his first NHL goal.  Pens 2 Sens 0.

3rd Period

No Scoring

Final: Pens 2 Sens 0

The Senators had some decent chances throughout the game but Fleury came through large.  In addition, the Penguins really did play the better game here.  They deserved to win, and came out with just that.

Impressions

Sprong

Please Rutherford.  Keep this guy in the NHL.  I’ve said so much about this kid, and it’s because I really believe he can do great things.  I understand the Penguins have Dupuis and Fehr out, but now they have Bennett out, and I imagine the Penguins would scratch Farnham and Rust before they would scratch Sprong (and this is nothing against either of these guys, who also had excellent games).

Daniel Sprong deserves to be here, and the Penguins need him here.  Plus, what if other injuries plague the Penguins this year (which we all know is going to happen).  Why send down Sprong when he is clearly capable to play at an NHL level?

I have no clue what management thinks, but Sprong is making it a tough decision for management.  I hope he stays, and it’s because he SHOULD stay.

No Scuderi? No Problem

Although I do not know exactly what Rob Scuderi said, during the offseason, Scuderi said he would make the roster because he was the only defensive minded guy they have, and teams don’t play 6 offensive defensemen.

Well guess what, Scuds.  The Penguins went with 6 offensive defensemen tonight, and they not only won, but they didn’t even let up a goal!

How about them apples?

Crosby Needs a Point

Crosby is STILL without a point.  Malkin finally scored tonight (he is now at 1G 1A – 2P), which marks his first goal in about 20 games or so.  Crosby on the other hand needs some help.

I don’t think he’s washed up or anything like that.  He is still the best player in hockey.

I honestly think they guy is trying too hard.  Ease up on your stick a bit Sid, you’ll be just fine.

I’m noticing that Crosby is forcing passes into traffic…A LOT.  I think this comes mainly because of Kessel, but also because Crosby thinks of himself as a playmaker, so that’s what he needs to do.  However, Crosby has a Rocket Richard (which is the trophy for most goals scored in a season).  Crosby has proven he can score, he just has to execute.

I still think they should swap Hornqvist and Kessel, but I’ll try to stop beating a dead horse.

Here’s to hoping Johnston does something about it…

Well, let’s hope the Penguins stay in the win column after Saturday night’s showdown with Kessel’s former team the Toronto Maple Leafs.  The Maple Leafs are just straight up bad this year, and this should be a win for the Penguins, but you never know…

Thanks to all who keep up with me!  As usual, I will be posting a blog late Saturday night talking about the Penguins and Maple Leafs.  And keep those heads held high tomorrow, Pens fans: your team finally won!

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