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.

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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

Pens Top Sens

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!

Pens Top Sens

Habs Spoil Pens’ Home Opener

pac

Well, after starting the season 0-1, it was no big deal.

Even after going 0-2, the Penguins had a chance to get a win at home tonight against the Canadiens.

Now the Penguins are 0-3 after dropping their season opener at home 3-2 to Montreal.  Yes, it is still very early in the season, but this is the first 0-3 start the Penguins have had since 2005, when they began the season with 9 straight losses in Sidney Crosby’s first year in the NHL.  The Penguins have 4 more home games in a row before going back on the road, and it would be big to win at least 3 of 4, but we will just have to see.

By the way, remember how I mentioned putting Kessel with Malkin and Hornqvist with Crosby?  There were only 2 Penguins’ assists tonight, and both came on the second goal by Letang.  Who had the assists?  Malkin and Kessel.  Not that this means anything significant, but I just want to put that out there…

Anyways, here is the recap and my impressions from tonight.

Recap

1st Period

Just under 6 minutes to go in the third, the Canadiens opened the scoring.  (Just a side note that the Habs are now 4-0 and have scored first in all 4 of their games, AND all 4 have been on the road.  Very impressive)  Andrei Markov flipped one into the Penguins zone right in the middle of 2 defensemen.  Forward Brendan Gallagher outworked the 2 Penguins defensemen to get to the puck and took control.  Gallagher spun around quickly and fed a pass to Max Pacioretty, who one-timed a hard low shot on Fleury that went in for his 3rd of the season.

Letang and Fleury talked for a few seconds after this goal was scored.  Letang and another Montreal player was right in front of the net, and my guess is that Fleury never saw that puck.  If he did, it was one he should have stopped.

Just under 5 minutes left in the first, the Habs were controlling the puck in the zone.  the puck came up to defenseman PK Subban who ripped a shot that dinged right off the crossbar and stayed out of the net.

Not long after, Crosby and Kunitz came down the other way in a 2 on 1.  Crosby did decide to shoot the puck, but Carey Price made the save.

After 1 period: Habs 1 Pens 0

2nd Period

With about 14:30 to go in the 2nd period, Montreal was once again possessing the puck in the zone.  A rebound came out to Montreal defensemen Nathan Beaulieu, but Beau Bennet stole the puck and took it the other way.  The Penguins had a 2 on 1, but Beau didn’t use his partner, as he sniped his 5th shot of the game right past Carey Price’s blocker to tie the game at 1.

The Penguins seemed to have a ton of momentum after this goal.  They were really buzzing.

But then the Penguins took a penalty for too many men on the ice.

This is one of those penalties that almost always comes back to bite, and it did once again tonight.  Montreal went on the power play and were passing the puck around the zone.  After around 30 seconds of passing and skating with the puck, Pacioretty skated away from the boards towards the middle of the ice and scored on a quick and hard wrist shot that beat Fleury on his glove side.

However, not long after the Canadiens retook the lead, Letang tied the game up once again.  Kessel brought the puck into the zone and put a shot on goal that was sticked away by Price.  Malkin found the rebound and fed the puck behind the net for Kessel.  He then attempted to feed a pass to Letang that was tipped by a Montreal player.  The pass lost some gas, but it did get to Letang, who fired a knuckling puck past the glove of Carey Price.

After 2 periods: Habs 2 Pens 2

3rd Period

The Canadiens came out in the 3rd period ready to play, and it showed early.

Just over 4 minutes in, the Canadiens forced a turnover in the Penguins’ offensive zone.  It is noted, however, that Plotnikov was severely interfered with, but the referee made no call on the play.  The Canadiens went the other way with the puck, and Penguin killer Tomas Fleischmann shot the puck past Fleury on his blocker side.

Although the goal should have never happened (since there should have been an interference penalty drawn by Plotnikov), Fleury should have made this stop.  He made some great saves throughout this game, but he also let in some bad ones, and this was one of them.

With just over 2 minutes to go in the game, the Penguins put out Crosby, Malkin, and Kessel in the same line.  The Penguins had the puck in the zone.  Letang one-timed a shot on goal that was stopped by Price.  The rebound squirted out to Malkin who fed a perfect pass to Crosby.  Crosby one-timed the puck and got all of it, but he did not elevate the puck, and Price’s pad got over to make the save.

This was one of the Penguins’ best chances all game, and had Crosby got about a foot of elevation on the shot, it was going in.

Final Score: Habs 3 Pens 2

Impressions

3rd Line

I’m not even going to talk too much about this.

The 3rd line of Plotnikov, Bonino, and Bennett was outstanding tonight.  It was easily the Penguins most consistent line, and it had a ton of scoring opportunities.

Seeing production from this line is a bright spot for the Penguins, but Crosby and Malkin need to start stepping up, espeically Sid who still does not have a point.

Also, I want to note that Plotnikov looked far more comfortable on this line than he did on Malkin’s line.  I think Plotnikov feels less pressure on the 3rd line and is able to play his game.

Beau Bennett

Bennett, by far, was my favorite Penguin on the ice tonight.

Not only did he have a goal tonight, but he just looked dominant.

I mentioned that I think he can have a breakout season even if its in a 3rd or 4th line role.  If Bennett stays healthy, he is going to be a big part of this team going forward.  That is, if they can start stringing together some wins!

Transition Game

This is where my real hockey analysis comes into play.

Mike Johnston puts a heavy emphasis on moving the puck as a team, and sticking together.  Although I see that at time, I do not see it all the time.  I do not see it a lot of the time actually.

Most of the time, a Penguins defenseman will have the puck in the defensive zone, and all 3 forwards will be skating right around the other teams blue line. Now, unless a long stretch pass gets through, this will not work.  Additionally, you need speed getting into the zone.  By having forwards stand near the blue line, they have no time to gain speed going into the zone, so if a defenseman were to dump the puck into the offensive zone, none of the Penguins forwards will recover it since they have no speed going into the zone.

Anyways, I’ll leave it at that for tonight.  As always, thanks to those who read my blog.  I appreciate your support!

I’ll be posting another article on Thursday night after the Penguins take on the Ottawa Senators at home.

If the Penguins are 0-4 after that one, the article probably won’t be pretty…

Habs Spoil Pens’ Home Opener

Coyotes Edge Penguins

mike smith

Okay, this article is being published a few days too late, and I am sorry about that.

Although I am only 20, I had a very busy weekend on top of being a little under the weather, but I am absolutely keeping my commitment to the site.  So yeah, it might be a few days late, but here we go: Let’s talk about the Penguins vs. Coyotes game that occurred this past Saturday night.

Well, the Penguins are now 0-2, but they have their home opener this week (tomorrow, actually) against the Montreal Canadiens.  Hopefully, they can start to turn things around.  I still would not worry too much about an 0-2 start, but at the same time, the Penguins cannot let this pattern continue, or they may be in trouble.

Here is my recap of the game, followed by my impressions.  Here we go:

Recap

Early in the first period, the Penguins looked very sluggish.  They were stuck in their own zone for almost the entire first 2 minutes of the period, and Fleury needed to make a few big saves.  Luckily, shortly thereafter, Arizona player Stefan Elliott took a holding penalty against Evgeni Malkin, and the Penguins had a chance to convert early on the power play.

Only 20 seconds into the power play, it was Arizona that had a brilliant chance to open the scoring, but Marc-Andre Fleury robbed Martin Hanzal of a stuff-in attempt to keep the game tied 0-0.

With a little over 3:30 left to play in the first period, Plotnikov fed a pass to Daniel Sprong who was absolutely flying while coming fresh off the bench.  His shot beat Mike Smith, but his shot hit the post and stayed out.

The Penguins had another power play late in the period.  During the power play, Phil Kessel possessed the puck and finessed his way right into the slot, after stick-handling around multiple Coyotes defenders.  Smith saved Kessel’s wrist shot, and then had to react quickly after Perron corralled the rebound and put another shot on goal.  Right after the Penguins had this glorious chance, the Coyotes came down in a 2 on 1 with Letang as the lone defeneseman, but Letang made the play defensively and both teams were kept off of the board.

Going into the second period, the game was tied 0-0, and the Penguins had not scored a goal this season during 4 periods of hockey.

Just 5 minutes into the second, the Coyotes came in on a 3 on 3 rush.  The puck circled around the net and was controlled by young Arizona forward Anthony Duclair.  He then fed a pass right in front to an essentially wide open Tobias Rieder who ripped a quick shot past Fleury and put Arizona up 1-0.

Just 17 seconds later, Penguins fans finally had a reason to cheer.  The first goal for the Penguins in the 2015-2016 season.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you… Phil Kessel:

Kessel did it all himself here.  He takes the puck away from Doan, skates into the Coyotes zone, and absolutely rifles a shot past Smith.  It gives you the chills a little bit.  Just listen to Bob Errey’s reaction in that video between the 21 and 24 second mark in that video.  What a player this guy is going to be with the Penguins.

Later in the second, the Coyotes were possessing the puck in the zone well.  The puck came to the front of the net, and a ton of players crashed Fleury’s crease.  I had no idea where the puck was watching on TV for a good 5 seconds, until I heard the Coyotes’ goal horn go off and saw Coyotes’ forward Jordan Martinook celebrating his goal.  That’s a tough goal to give up, but a goal is a goal, and it put Arizona up 2-1.

Just over 11:00 to go in the third, Plotnikov breaks into the zone and sets up Nick Bonino with a beautiful pass.  Bonino got all of it, but somehow Mike Smith made the stop.  It just seems like the Penguins can’t get a break.

Unfortunately, that break would not come in this game, as the Penguins dropped this game 2-1 and were unable to comeback in the 3rd period.  This is something they were terrible at last season.  I do not know their exact record, but I can tell you this: last season, the Penguins had 0 wins when trailing after 2 periods.  Although you never would expect that record to be good, a good hockey team should be able to scrape out a few wins here and there in that situation.  But the Penguins have not been able to do that under Mike Johnston.

Impressions

Plotnikov Isn’t Ready

Although Plotnikov made a few decent plays here and there, he is still adjusting to the NHL after playing in the KHL (Russian hockey league) for a few years.  To back up my argument, today at the Penguins’ practice, Johnston moved Plotnikov down to the 3rd line and moved Perron up to the 2nd.

I still think Plotnikov can be effective and he maybe even could be a second line player.  However, at this point, I do not think he is ready.  He should be playing 3rd or 4th line until Johnston and the coaching staff feels that he has fully adjusted to the NHL.  Then they can consider playing him on the 2nd line with fellow countryman Evgeni Malkin.

Crosby STILL Has No Shots

Okay, I think he at least attempted a shot in this game, but he did not register one.  The Penguins now have 65 shots through 2 games, and Crosby does not have a single one of them.  Despite this team having a ton of offensive talent, the guys like Crosby and Malkin need to step up and play well.  This team still depends on their success.

Sid, you gotta shoot the puck.

Where Are The Goals?

As I stated above, the Penguins have 65 shots through 2 games.  They have scored only once.  Their defense has looked fine throughout the first 2 games.  Not spectacular, but who would have expected that?  Their defense is playing well enough for this Penguins team to win games, especially with their offensive talent.

So, where are the goals?

Are you going to buy the “well, we ran into a hot goaltender tonight” argument?  To me, that’s just making an excuse as to why a team isn’t scoring.  Get ready for Tuesday, when the Penguins face a stout Canadiens defense and a goalie who will probably win the Vezina Trophy (best goaltender after the NHL regular season) in Carey Price.

“Oh, well, Carey Price is at the top of his game right now.”

Well guess what?  He always is.  You have to focus on how to beat him and how to get inside his head.  Shooting the puck is important, but some of those shots need to be quality shots, and the Penguins are going to need plenty of those on Tuesday if they want to avoid starting 0-3

Maybe the Penguins will get some goals coming up.  Maybe the Penguins just need a few lucky bounces.  That happens too.  Only time will tell.

Remember Daniel Sprong?

Daniel Sprong logged only 7:57 of ice time, which was by far the lowest on the Penguins.

So, why in the world did Johnston keep him here again?

Oh yeah, he scores goals.  So why not give him a chance?

Sprong was arguably the best Penguins forward in training camp, and he has earned his spot on the roster.  Sprong had 3 goals this preseason, tied for Beau Bennett for tops on the Penguins during the preseason.

I understand he is a young player, and I know he has a lot to learn.  That being said, give him a chance to do what he did in the preseason: score.  I would have him at least on the third line, if not the second line, but it looks like he will be stuck on the fourth line where he will likely log less than 10 minutes again versus Montreal.

The Penguins are stuck with 1 goal in 2 games.  Playing Sprong minimally on the fourth line is not going to help that goal total climb, just saying…

Once again, thanks for those who follow me and keep up with me.  I am sorry this article was a bit late, but I will make a promise that I will write and publish my next article directly after the Tuesday night game concludes against the Canadiens.  Hopefully that one will be written in high spirits.

Coyotes Edge Penguins

Stars Shine, Niemi Blanks Pens

NHL: Pittsburgh Penguins at Dallas Stars

“Fire Johnston!”

“The offense stinks!”

“Bring back Therrien!”

Okay yinzers, calm dahn.  It’s just one game.

The Penguins put up a goose egg in their season opener against the Stars in Dallas, despite putting up 37 shots on goal.  Although many of those shots were in the last 3 minutes, when the Penguins were in desperation mode, more than likely if the Penguins keep putting up shot totals like this, the puck is going to go in.

Props to Antti Niemi.  He was 4-1-1 against the Penguins going into this game, and is now 5-1-1 against the Pens.  Keep in mind this was the same guy that made 40 saves against the Penguins last year while he was in San Jose in a 2-1 Sharks win, despite this game being arguably the best game the Penguins played all season, especially on the road.

Moral of the story: calm down.  It’s one game, and the Penguins have 81 left.  They have a ton of new guys and they’re still finding chemistry.  As the chemistry builds, the Penguins will get better, and they will score goals.  Look for that to be the case against the Coyotes on Saturday.

For those of you that missed the game, I’ll give a little recap.  Then I’ll go into my impressions from the Penguins’ season opener.

Recap

The Stars got on the board early, as rookie Mattias Janmark scored for Dallas just 1:39 into the game.  The Stars were coming in on a 3 on 2, and Janmark was trailing the rush by just a step.  David Perron was backchecking and tried to lift the stick of Janmark, but Janmark would not be denied as he one-timed a pass from Ales Hemsky right between the legs of Fleury and into the net.

Late in the first, Kessel carried the puck into the zone along with Crosby and Kunitz in a 3 on 2.  Kessel stopped up and fed a pass to Rob Scuderi, who one-timed the puck on net.  Niemi, with some traffic in front, made a terrific glove save to keep the Penguins off the board.

5:42 into the 2nd period, Ales Hemsky gave the Stars a 2-0 lead on the power play.  He brought the puck into the zone and came in on what was essentially a 1 on 1 against Scuderi.  Hemsky did what many great hockey players will do: he used Scuderi as a screen and fired a quick shot past Fleury’s blocker side.  I don’t think Fleury thought the shot was coming, but then again, he also never saw it.

The 2nd period in general saw the game open up a bit.  The Stars had plenty of 2 on 1 opportunities, and the Penguins had a few of their own.  This game was looking like it could shape into a 6-5 thriller, but Niemi, and even Fleury for that matter, stood tall.

The Penguins went into the 3rd down 2-0, and proceeded to take 4 penalties that period.  Not a recipe for coming back in a hockey game.  Luckily, the first 3 didn’t cost them, but the 4th one did.  Last year’s Art Ross winner Jamie Benn parked himself right in front on Fleury and deflected in a point shot to make it 3-0 Stars.  Once again, not much Fleury could do about that one.

Fleury was pulled with about 3 minutes to go, and the Penguins did generate a ton of offense in the final 3 minutes, but Niemi just would not let the puck get past him, and preserved his shutout.  3-0 Dallas was the final score.

Impressions

Okay, I’m not going to go all “fire the coach,” “trade Crosby,” or “this offense stinks,” but my impressions are mainly going to include some adjustments I think should be made to help the Penguins improve moving forward based on what I saw Thursday night:

Line Changes

Sidney Crosby, for just the 2nd time in his entire career, did not attempt a shot last night.  Why?  Because he is playing with Phil Kessel.  Don’t get me wrong, I love the concept of Kessel with Crosby, but the problem is that Crosby is diverting into a “pass only” mentality because he knows Kessel can score.

Guess what Sid, so can you!  If you shoot!

I would swap Hornqvist with Kessel for game 2.

Why?

With a guy like Hornqvist and the way he plays, Crosby will shoot more, but also has that right-handed shot that he loves to have.  And we all know Honqvist will shoot…and park himself in front of the net and cause havoc.  Plus, Kunitz, Crosby, and Hornqvist played terrific last season, so “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”.

Putting Kessel on Malkin’s line will not change Malkin’s play (but it obviously did change Crosby’s).  Malkin plays the same regardless of who his wingers are.  He plays strong on the puck, and he is not afraid to pull the trigger… neither is Kessel.  These 2 will spend less time trying to thread passes to each other and more time shooting.  (I want to note Kessel did shoot a lot in the season opener, but it came as a result of Crosby NOT shooting).  Remember that James Neal guy?  Yeah, he played with Malkin, not Crosby.

Look at what they did.  Just sayin…

In addition, I think Sprong should be on the 3rd line, not the 4th.  This guy is in the NHL because he can score goals.  He only played a shift of 2 in the third period, which absolutely shocked me, because he really is one of the better offensive players the Penguins have.  I don’t know what Johnston will do, but I think Sprong should be moved up, and he should get his chance to play.  He deserves it.

Power Play

Although the power play did not score, they did look okay.  However, there is one thing I just do not understand: Why split up Crosby and Malkin?

I get that you do not want to play them on the same line during a 5 on 5 situation, because you do not want to “stack a line.”  But…isn’t the whole idea of a power play to put your best guys out there?

I don’t think this will change any time soon, but it SHOULD change soon.  The Penguins top unit should consist on Crosby, Malkin, and Hornqvist down low with Letang and Kessel at the points.  That is deadly.  Use it to your advantage and put your best 5 guys out there.

Also, notable, the Penguins 2nd power play (even with a “stacked” first unit) would be Perron, Bonino, Bennett/Kunitz with Sprong and Maatta at the points.  So, the coaches are worried that unit won’t score on the power play?!

I don’t get it.  But I’m not the coach…

Team Built for Offense?  Play That Way

Mike Johnston’s system is not a bad one, but I am not 100% sure if it fits this team.  Time will tell.  His system is based off of a “defense-first” mentality that relies on puck moving defensemen to lead the rush and turn defense into offense.

There is one problem: this team is not built around defense.  It’s built around offense.

I do think the Penguins have some great puck moving defensemen in their system, but that being said, the Penguins need a system focused on offense.  If the Penguins are going to roll with 4 scoring lines (which I do not have a problem with), the Penguins need a system that plays to their advantages.

That advantage is offensive fire power.

Who knows, maybe the system will work fine.  Maybe it works great.  Again, I know it is only one game, and the Penguins did not play terrible, but the Penguins should not be playing a defensive-minded style built to win 2-1 hockey games.  It just doesn’t make sense.

Letang

Letang was the Penguins’ best player against Dallas.  Hands down.  He registered a game high 13 shots on goal and played extremely solid defensively.

Remember, I picked this guy to win the Norris.

If he stays healthy and can play like he did in Dallas, good things are going to happen to this guy (knock on wood).

Once again, thanks to everyone who keeps up with my blog!  My next post will probably come after the Penguins play the Coyotes late Saturday or early afternoon Sunday.  The setup will be similar, as I will recap and give my impressions of the game.

Keep up with me, and let’s hope the Pens turn around quickly and bring a 1-1 record back to Consol for the home opener next week.

Stars Shine, Niemi Blanks Pens