Don’t Worry…At Least Not Yet

The Penguins had a 3-1 series lead over the President Trophy winners.

They had a 3-1 lead against a goalie who will likely win the Vezina Trophy as best NHL goaltender, Braden Holtby.

They had a 3-1 lead against a Capitals team with stellar offensive power and a strong defense.

holtby

It was only a matter of time before the Capitals found their game, as the they went on to beat the Penguins 3-1 in Washington DC in game 5, trimming the Penguins’ series lead to 3-2 and forcing game 6 Tuesday night at Consol Energy Center.

Throughout Twitter, word of mouth, text messages, the radio, and other forms of media, I seem to be getting 2 different vibes about this Penguins team: one side of the spectrum believes that the Penguins will respond well in game 6 at home and finish of the Capitals.  The other side of the spectrum is saying, “Oh no, here comes a repeat of 2011 and 2014: blowing that 3-1 series lead..”

To those of you that truly believe the Penguins will win game 6, I’m glad you believe in this hockey team.  For those of you on the other side of the spectrum, aka the “Pens are gonna blow a 3-1 series lead again” side, I simply say don’t worry…at least not yet.

First of all, the Penguins just lost 1 game.  They didn’t lose the series.  The have a chance to win at home, and even if they fail to do that, they could still win game 7 in Washington…which they did en route to a Stanley Cup in 2009.

Although the Penguins did have a chance to finish off the President’s Trophy winner Washington Capitals, did anyone (not Penguins fans alone) think that the Pens would even win this series? It seemed to me that many analysts were picking the Capitals in this series.  So, in that fact alone, the fact that the Penguins are even up 3-2 in this series thus far is still pretty incredible.

Finally, although the Penguins had a 3-1 series lead, which is now a 3-2 series lead, it really did not feel that way going into game 5.  Going into game 5, every game was decided be a goal excluding game 2 (which was a 2 goal win by the Penguins due to a late empty net goal by Letang), which included 2 games, game 1 and game 4, both decided in overtime.  The Caps won game 1 on an OT winner by TJ Oshie, capping off a hat trick, and the Pens won game 4 on a goal from Patric Hornqvist.  It also includes a game 3 where the Capitals probably deserved to win and played much better hockey than the Pens, but Matt Murray simply stood on his head while making 47 saves, the most ever by a rookie goaltender in a playoff win.

Say the Capitals win game 3 without Murray’s heroics, and say they score the winning goal in OT in game 4.  All of a sudden, Washington just won this series tonight 4-1.  Crazy, huh?

My point I want to make is that this series has been way closer than it appears.  Heck, the Capitals win game 5 while being outshot 32-22 by the Penguins.  Holtby played his best game of the series, their power play came through large by scoring 2 goals, and Murray played just alright.  The Penguins did not play a terrible hockey game.  They just didn’t get the result they wanted.

So I say once again, don’t worry just yet.  The Penguins can still close this out at home.  If they don’t…then we can start worrying.  But remember, it’s not over ’til it’s over.

Some quick observations about game 5…

  • Patric Hornqvist, a player that everyone on the team loves including Sullivan, played only 10:36 of ice time in game 5.  Only Fehr (10:13) and Kuhnhackl (8:09) had less ice time.  It did not appear Hornqvist was ever injured, but he did not see his normal ice time in this game. Something to keep note of going forward.
  • The Penguins need to neutralize Ovi.  He had the opening tally tonight, and his first via his classic one-time slap shot on the power play.  He has had one too many open chances in this series, and it was about time he buried one.  He is starting to feel it, and the Pens need to shut him down before he really gets hot.
  • Crosby and Malkin need to step up.  I know there is more to it than just putting points up, but these 2 guys need to do what they’re paid to do.  The other guys have been picking up the slack, but its about time one of them has a big game.  Game 6 would be preferable.  It won’t be easy, however, as the Caps get probably their most physical defensemen Brooks Orpik back for game 6 after serving his 3 game suspension for his hit on Olli Maatta.
  • The Penguins power play needs to just shoot the puck.  The one goal they had tonight was because their power play was moving and kept Washinton’s defense scrambling by getting the puck to the net.  Kunitz jammed in the rebound.  They seem to be looking for the perfect chance, but that just can’t happen every time.  Fire the puck quickly on goal, good things will come.  This needs to be addressed. Also, noted, the pens despite terrific zone time didn’t register a shot after pulling Murray with 3 minutes to go.  Let that sink in.
  • I felt as though there were 2 very large moments in this game that really put it away for the Capitals.  First was the goal by Williams, which resulted after a clear from Dumoulin fell right on his stick, and he made no mistake with it and curried it 5-hole on Murray giving the Caps a 3-1 edge.  Then after the Pens went down 3-1, Justin Schultz had a miraculous chance in a 4 on 2 rush for the Pens, but Holtby made an unbelievable stop.  It really felt like the game was over right there and then.
  • The Penguins should stick with Murray for the rest of this series.  Even if they lose game 6, I would not even consider putting in a cold Marc-Andre Fleury in for a game that means that much, even though he is your franchise goaltender.  Let the kid that got you there play this one out.  He deserves to finish what he started.  If they advance, we can discuss who starts from there on out.
  • Oh yeah, almost forgot. Pens in 6.

 

Don’t Worry…At Least Not Yet

Just 1 Point This Time…

crosby panthersJust over a week ago, the Penguins played the Florida Panthers in Florida, just like they did tonight.  The Panthers scored a goal towards the middle of the 3rd period, and a shorthanded one at that, to put them ahead 2-0.  All hope seemed lost.

Then, with 5 minutes left, the Penguins began their comeback magic.  They scored 2 goals, tying up the game, and then winning it in overtime on a goal by Kris Letang, his second of the game.

This game tonight played out in a similar fashion.

Florida jumped out relatively early in the first period on what I believed to be somewhat of a lucky goal.  Alex Petrovic fed the puck through the slot, and I swear it went by almost every Penguins player, and at first, I was mad they weren’t playing good defense.

However, it ends up that the puck deflected off of a Penguins stick, which then caused the puck to hop over Kessel’s, but the puck still landed perfectly on Bjugstad’s stick and he made it 1-0.

Florida, in general, dominated the first period.  Fleury kept them in it, but the Penguins needed to pick things up.

The second period was better for the Penguins, but they still couldn’t find the back of the net.  Sid had some chances to shoot, but passed up on some opportunities.  In the words of Mark Madden, who I got to watch the game with today down at Buford’s Kitchen in downtown Pittsburgh “Crosby is at his best when he’s shooting the puck.  He needs to shoot there.”

Couldn’t agree more, Mark.

Anyways, the Penguins entered the 3rd down 1-0.  Hagelin had a breakaway shorthanded early in the period, but he tried to go five-hole on Montoya and was denied.  When the game was in the late stages of the 3rd period, all hope seemed lost.  But then…

The Penguins found a spark that gave them a chance in Florida once again.  This time, it came off of the stick of Chris Kunitz.  Crosby tied his man up on the faceoff to Montoya’s left, and Kunitz came in and dug the puck out.  He skated to the slot and absolutely rifled a shot off of the crossbar and in past Montoya to tie the game with 3:19 remaining.

The game would go to overtime, where I believe the Penguins outplayed the Panthers but were unable to score.  Bryan Rust had 2 glorious chances that would not go, Letang had a great chance…but the greatest chance of all came off of the stick of Phil Kessel.

Crosby skated the puck into the zone and the entire Florida team flocked to him, only for him to find Kessel streaking down the middle of the ice.  The guy has a dangerous shot, and he was as wide open as wide open can get  in the 3 on 3 overtime, but Montoya denied him.

Also, honorable mention to Crosby who somehow disrupted a Florida 3 on 1 chance.  It was a tremendous defensive play and at the moment, gave the Penguins a chance to get an extra point.

Then…onto the shootout.

Huberdeau was first for the Panthers.  The left-hander skated from right to left and tried to fool Fleury with a wrist shot and wait Fleury out.  Well, he did fool Flower, but the post gave Fleury some love.

Crosby then shot for the Penguins and scored on Montoya.  Crosby loves to go high glove or 5-hole (between the goalies legs).  Tonight, he went 5-hole and put the Penguins up 1-0 in the shootout.

Next shooter for the Panthers was USC guy Vincent Trocheck.  Trocheck tried to open up the 5-hole of Fleury, but Fleury made sure that he closed the door.  The Penguins now had a chance to win it.

Onto the ice came Chris Kunitz.  He made a great move, as the left-hander skated right ro left, faked the shot, and went backhand.  Unfortunately for Kunitz, Montoya made a fantastic glove save.

However, the Penguins had yet ANOTHER chance to win, and Fleury just needed to stop Bjugstad, but could not.  Fleury went with the poke-check, but Bjugstad’s long reach allowed him to go to the backhand and avoid Fleury’s poke-check to keep the shootout going.

Despite Fleury not being able to make the save, the Penguins once again had to chance to win the shootout on the stick of Letang, who had just won them a shootout on Friday night.  Letang tried to make a similar backhand move, but Montoya was ready for it and didn’t buy what Letang was selling.

Reilly Smith then shot for the Panthers, but he was quickly poke-checked by Fleury, as he came to a dead stop right in front of the net.

Kessel then had a chance to end it for the Penguins.  He came in flying and just took a straight up wrist shot.  My goodness was it a rifle, but it pinged right off of the crossbar and back out.  Montoya had no chance of stopping the shot, it was just a fraction of an inch too high.

Florida then had its chance to go on top, and who else but former Penguin Jussi Jokinen.  He did the same move as Huberdaeu essentially, but he did not hit a post.  He found the back of the net.

Cullen then came in with a chance to tie the shootout.  He deked a few times, tried to go 5-hole, but was denied by Montoya.  Not the same result for the Penguins as last time they were in that building…

Impressions

I know he has not been producing, but I am really high on Bryan Rust right now.  The guy has some serious speed and has been creating chances for himself.  I think he will benefit once some of the veterans come back, and I do not think he will leave the lineup.

Flower had a strong performance.  The team has struggled to score goals in its past 3 games, but it should be noted they have gotten 0 production from their bottom 6 AHL guys and they are without Geno.  Hopefully he is ready to go on Thursday against Detroit.  I have heard he is progressing, so we will see what his status is come Thursday.

The Penguins shot low on Montoya a lot.  I do not know if he is not as good when the puck is shot low or if that’s just where the puck was going tonight.  Ironically, the only goal in the game came on a shot from Kunitz where he DID go high on Montoya.  Just felt that was an observation I should share…

Well hey, you win some you lose some, but the fact that the Penguins could get a point out of this game where they were down for the majority of it is still a huge confidence booster, even though they had the potential to get 2.

Don’t be concerned about this game or even the Penguins 3 game funk with goal scoring.  When 39-year-old journeyman Matt Cullen is centering your 2nd line of Hagelin and Kessel, your team is not going to score many goals.  That is not, however, a knock on Cullen.  He is a good hockey player, but he is a fourth line center and PK guy.  He shouldn’t be centering 2 speedy snipers.

Malkin will be back soon, the bottom 6 will no longer be all AHL guys soon enough (although I do like Sheary and Rust), and the team will improve.  There is no doubt about that.  The fact that the Penguins got a point out of tonight…I’m happy with that.

I can confidently say this: the Penguins would have NEVER got that point under Johnston.  This team has much more resolve/comeback ability under Sullivan and will only get better as the injured guys get healthy again.  Looking forward to see what’s to come…

I really do want to try my best to keep up with the recap articles, so I will do my best to post one after the Thursday game against Detroit.  Let’s hope they get Geno back for that one.

Until next time…Let’s Go Pens.

Just 1 Point This Time…

A Win Is a Win?

Kunitz

Well, the Penguins’ offense did not show much…yet again…tonight, but the Penguins were able to hold on to the Predator’s surge in the 3rd period, and won the game in overtime 2-1.

The Penguins were out shot pretty badly in this game.  The Predators peppered Marc-Andre Fleury with 39 shots, while the Penguins threw 25 at Pekka Rinne.  The shots were reasonably even after 2, but the Predators entered the 3rd period down 1-0, and out shot the Penguins 17 to 5 in the final frame.

Also note that the Penguins improved to 4-0 when scoring the first goal.  In addition, the Penguins have NEVER been trailing in any of those 4 games.  The exact opposite can be said about the other 4 games.

As always, I’ll give a quick recap of the game followed by my impressions from tonight, which includes some crazy statistical evidence calculated by yours truly.  The recap will just include the goals, because I have a lot to talk about later on.  Here we go:

Recap

First Period

No scoring

After 1 period of play, Pens 0 Predators 0

Second Period

With just about 5 minutes left in the 2nd, the Predators were on a power play and had a ton of momentum.  The Penguins shut it down.  Just after the guilty party, Malkin, was released from the box, Matt Cullen made a terrific poke check that allowed Malkin to pick up the puck.  This turned into a 3 on 2 for the Pens.  Malkin carried the puck into the zone, and dropped it off to Kunitz who fired an absolute LAZER thin mints on Pekka Rinne.  Nice to see Kunitz back on the scoresheet.  Hopefully this continues.  Pens 1 Predators 0

After 2 periods of play: Pens 1 Predators 0

Third Period

With just over 10 minutes to go in the game, the Predators had the puck in the Penguins zone.  There was a post hit and a number of crazy saves by Fleury.  This continued on for 2 minutes with no whistles. Literally.

The puck finally came out to center, but the Penguins took a penalty, so the Predators were playing 6 on 5.  Mike Ribeiro fed a pass to the slot to none other than James Neal.  His first shot was stopped, but he went thin mints on the rebound and tied the game at 1. Pens 1 Predators 1.

I was very surprised that Johnston did not challenge this goal.  It appeared as though Jackman may have prevented Fleury from making a save on the second attempt, which would have nixed the goal.  Even with his timeout available, he did not challenge the goal and the call stood.

After 3 periods of play: Pens 1 Predators 1

Overtime

It’s funny how Bob Errey actually made a comment before overtime, and he said something along the lines of “this overtime could end in 30 seconds.”  Well, it took 41 seconds, and it was all thanks for Phil Kessel.  Kessel had the puck in the offensive zone, skated it out to center ice, used his speed to fly past some Predators, shot a puck on a created 2 on 1, and knocked in the rebound to give the Penguins the win. Pens 2 Predators 1

Final Score OT: Penguins 2 Pedators 1

Impressions

So…Where the Heck is the Power Play?

power play

8 games into the season, the Penguins power play is clicking at 7.1% which is currently 27th in the NHL.  Last year, under Johnston, the Penguins finished 10th in the NHL with a power play that was clicking at 19.3%.  Although that does not sound terrible at all, it is notable that the power play was clicking at some outrageous 40% through the first 20ish games.

Excluding that red hot start to the power play last year, it really has not done anything significant under Johnston.  At all.  Here is what baffles me: if you told me to pick 10 players in the entire NHL to create 2 “all-star” power play units, I would easily pick Crosby and Malkin, and even debate picking Kessel and/or Letang.

So…why does this power play stink?  Is it Tocchet?  Johnston?  The players?  Some combination of the 3?  I’m really not sure.  But I will say this: under the final 3 years of Dan Bylsma, the Penguins ranked 5th, 2nd, and 1st in the NHL on the power play with percentages of 19.7%, 24.7%, and 23.4% respectively.  Also, this was arguably with far less offensive fire power than the Penguins have this year.

All I know is that 7.1% is not good enough.

Sprong Needs More Ice Time

sprong goal

This one is going to be quick: Daniel Sprong, one of your most gifted offensive forwards, had 2 shifts in the 3rd period, skated on the 3rd line, and logged less than 10 minutes of ice time tonight.

Johnston, what are you thinking?!  I sure don’t know…

Fleury

AppleMark
AppleMark

Thank you, Marc-Andre Fleury, for single-handedly winning this game for the Penguins.  He’s not gonna keep this up forever, so hopefully the offense decides to start scoring…

Shooting Percentage

brick

I could not help myself with researching this topic.

The Penguins are 4th in shots per game, and 29th in goals for per game.  So I thought to myself, “Wow, this team’s shooting percentage must be terrible.”

The Penguins currently rank 29th in the NHL in shooting percentage, with 4.985% of their shots finding the back of the net.  The only team lower than the Penguins is Anaheim, who is only scoring on 3.106% of their shots.

After looking at those shooting percentages, keep in mind that the NHL average is 8.895%, and the first place team in this category, the Washington Capitals (who will be facing off against the Penguins on Wednesday) are scoring on 13.997% of their shots.

So, how important is shooting percentage?

Here is where the stats come into play.

As of right now, the bottom 15 teams in shooting percentage (which accounts for one half of NHL teams) are averaging .41 wins per game and .91 points (points = 2*number of wins + 1*number of OT/SO losses) per game.  Mathematically speaking, these bottom 15 teams, on average, would be on pace for 34 wins and 75 point seasons.  Ouch…

Come to think of it…

How the heck are the Penguins 4-4?!  They are at a .5 wins per game and a 1 point per game clip, which is significantly higher than the average of the bottom 15 teams…And the Penguins are 2nd to last in shooting percentage!!  It’s almost a miracle that their record is not worse than 4-4.

On the other side of things, the top 15 NHL teams in shooting percentage are averaging .6 wins per game and 1.3 points per game.  These teams, on average, are on pace for 49 wins and 107 point seasons.

See the difference?  If not, put on some glasses and try again.

All of this being said, I guess a win is a win.  BUT, clearly, something is wrong.  Something is seriously wrong.

One fact I will point out is that Johnston has no NHL coaching experience.  I like his overall thought process and I believe he has hockey smarts, BUT could his lack of success be a lack of experience?  Who knows…

Remember to follow me on twitter (@FranjiPensPress) and like me on Facebook (Franjione Pens Press).  Also, remember that I am doing a Q and A on Tuesday, so start submitting your questions!  On Twitter, use #FranjiPensPress and your question, and on Facebook comment on one of my posts that discusses Q and A.  I will be answering every question I get!

Next game is Wednesday against Ovi and the Caps.  The Pens are gonna need at least 3 goals to win that one, because Washington’s offense is clicking on all cylinders, just like the Penguins’ should be.  So, keeping in mind the Penguins’ shooting percentage, the Penguins only need about 60 shots to score 3 goals…

A Win Is a Win?