Pittsburgh, We Have A Problem

I am really getting to that point of not knowing what to say.  This Penguins team, on paper, sure seems like it is capable of doing some incredible things.  Unfortunately for them, their skilled roster is not showing that skill on the ice.

The Penguins fell 3-0 against Boston, which really felt like a continuation of the series in 2013 where the Penguins scored 2 goals across the span of 4 games.

They had to go with backup Jeff Zatkoff and also played without Bonino who was ill, but those 2 alone are no excuse for the Penguins to put up a goose egg.

So Rutherford wanted an offensive juggernaut.  It didn’t work.  He fires Johnston as hired a new coach.  So far, no luck, but he has only been here 2 games so Sullivan has time to impress me.  Rutherford trades Rob Scuderi for offensive defenseman Trevor Daley who scored 16 goals last year.  Still, no luck.

So what do the Penguins do now?  What CAN they do?  Pittsburgh, we have a problem: our hockey team.

Nothing makes sense.  It just doesn’t.  A team with Crosby, Malkin, Kessel, Hornqvist, Letang, Maatta, Daley (just to name a few) should be a top 5 offense.  Period.  I am running out of excuses to give this team.  At this point, there are no excuses.  This team needs to start producing.  How?

First of all, the Penguins need a game-changer.  A guy that can come through clutch.  I think they have a ton of players like that in their roster, but none of them have proven to be a game-changer, except maybe Malkin at times.

Think back to the Stanley Cup playoffs in 2009.  The Flyers were killing the Penguins 3-0, and then Rinaldo gets in a fight with Talbot.  Talbot may have not won the fight, but following Rinaldo pumping up the crowd, Talbot famously “shhhhhh”-ed the Flyers crowd.  The Penguins stormed back to win that game.

I understand that something like this cannot happen every game.  But the Penguins need a guy like Talbot.  They need a game changer.  Whether it is a goal, a fight, a save, whatever…they need someone who can turn a game around for them.

Second of all, they need Sid to produce.  He has no excuse.  Absolutely none.  He has wingers capable of scoring, he plays first line, he plays first power play unit…for him to have no points in 17 of 30 games is absolutely pathetic, especially from Crosby.

Although scoring is down, Crosby needs to play better.  Patrick Kane went on a 26 game scoring streak.  It can happen, it just isn’t as common.  Either way, the Penguins will always be a team that wins or loses based on their stars’ success.  Right now, Crosby is in a rut, and so are the Pens.  He needs to get it together, and fast.

Third of all, the Penguins have to start scoring on the power play.  It is once again inexcusable for the Penguins to have a power play that is not in the top 5.  They actually have a power play in the bottom 5.  Yeah.

So how can they fix it?

First of all, they need to do 2 things: have a shot first mentality and get traffic in front.  It is that easy.  The Penguins had only 2 shots on 3 power plays last night.  That is not good enough.  They need to shoot, which as we all know is something the Penguins are terrible at on the power play.

I could care less how pretty the power play looks when they pass the puck.  You can’t score if you don’t shoot.  Period.  The Penguins need to focus on scoring.  It doesn’t matter if it is pretty.  Score the garbage goals if necessary.  Just shoot.

Second of all, I have no idea why Sullivan did what he did with the power play.  He moved Malkin to the point (who is not a defenseman, bad idea).  He put Perron in front of the net, rather than either Kunitz or Hornqvist, who are both far better net front presences than Perron.  They put Kunitz in the high slot for whatever reason.  They put Crosby on the left side and then Warsofsky on the right.  It just didn’t make sense.

Maybe there was a method to his madness, but it certainly didn’t work.  Here would be MY first power play unit:

At the point: Trevor Daley.  Even when Letang comes back, he can’t run a power play.  Daley can lug the puck, he can shoot, and he has proven he can score.  Daley should be over Warsofsky every time on the first unit.

Net front: Patric Hornqvist.  This man is one of the most aggravating guys to play against.  How do I know?  Watch how teams react to him going to the front of the net.  He is one of the best in the business: he screens, has great hand-eye, and drives goalies nuts.  Park him in front, and good luck to the goalie, because Hornqvist will not let him see the puck.

Slot: Sidney Crosby.  Putting Crosby in the slot, to me, puts a heavier emphasis on him shooting the puck.  He won’t have the puck on his stick all the time, but then again, the Penguins don’t really want that, because all Sid does is pass any more.  I think this leads to him shooting more, which he needs to do.

Right wall: Evgeni Malkin.  This was easy.  He has a great one-timer and has always had success there.  Keep him there and let him continue to thrive where he has had success.

Left wall: Daniel Sprong.  Yeah, I said it.  So why Sprong?  Well, what is his strength?  His shot.  He has one of the better wrist shots on the entire Penguins team, and he loves to shoot.  So if he is just an asset defensively, why not let him play to his strengths and put him on the power play, where he does not necessarily need to be an asset defensively?  It makes almost too much sense.  To add, Connor Sheary in his first NHL game had almost 2 minutes of power play time, while even Matt Cullen had some time on the 2nd unit.  No Sprong on the power play?!  Unbelievable.

Luckily for the Penguins, they have another shot at Boston tomorrow, this time at Consol Energy Center.  Let’s hope the Penguins start getting some bounces and turn the tide.  They have lost 5 of their last 6.

 

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Pittsburgh, We Have A Problem

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

So…What Went Wrong Last Season?

pens lose playoffs

Going into last season, there were some major questions to be answered.

The Penguins fired both Dan Bylsma and Ray Shero, and brought in Coach Mike Johnston and GM Jim Rutherford.  Not long after Rutherford came in, he traded former 40 goal scorer James Neal for Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling.

Well, Spaling didn’t work out, but Hornqvist certainly did.

He even made plenty of successful trades during the regular season, including adding David Perron to the top 6 forward core, and absolutely stealing former first-round pick Ian Cole for Robert Bortuzzo and a 7th round pick.  Although his trade for Ben Lovejoy wasn’t a very well-liked trade among the Penguins’ fan base, Rutherford assembled a half-decent team with what he had to work with, as well as the time he had to accomplish it.  It wasn’t his fault.

Was it Mike Johnston’s fault?  Well, not necessarily…

The Penguins came out of the gate looking better than ever.  They started out 13-3-1 and were clicking at about 40% on the power play, which is just absolutely absurd.  Clearly, his strategy was working.

Then something happened.  Something stopped working for the Penguins.  After this fantastic start through 17 games, the Penguins finished 30-24-11 in their final 65 games.

This may not look awful, but if we grouped regulation losses with overtime and shootout losses, the Penguins finished 30-35 in their final 65 games.

Johnston’s strategy seemed to work fine in games 1-17, so I’m not so concerned about him either.  In addition, I have read glowing reports from the players that they are really believing in Mike Johnston’s coaching strategies and ideals.

So it wasn’t the new coach, it wasn’t the new GM…so let’s start looking at the players.

Well, there were a lot of injuries…  The Penguins 30-24-11 streak began the game after Pascal Dupuis was diagnosed with a blood clot.  Around this time, Olli Maatta was diagnosed with a cancerous tumor.  Ehrhoff dealt with multiple concussions during the year.  Letang suffered a concussion late in the season that looked like it may be devastating to his career, so thank goodness he is okay.  And even Pouliot, who played a lot for the Penguins last year, was injured going into the post-season.

Yeah, something tells me a top pair of Paul Martin and Ben Lovejoy aren’t going to get things done.  Unfortunately, it didn’t.

So yes, I believe injuries were a major factor to the major downfall of last year.

Also consider these things:

1) Mike Johnston’s system depends on puck moving defensemen and defensemen who can contribute to the offense.  Well, all of those kind of guys were in and out throughout the season.  Heck during the playoffs, Letang, Maatta, Ehrhoff, AND Pouliot were out with injury.  Yikes.

2) Surprisingly, the Penguins ranked 10th in the NHL in goals against despite their lack of a healthy defensive corps.  The place they struggled the most was in the goals for category, in which they placed 19th in the NHL.

I understand that in Mike Johnston’s system, the defense is important even to the offense.  That being said, the forwards have to produce, too.  That’s what they’re getting paid to do.  So let’s look at the forwards.

Neither Crosby or Malkin came up big in the playoffs (besides maybe game 2), however, both were battling significant injuries, so I will try to let that slide.

However, the supporting cast for future hall of fame forwards Crosby and Malkin was absolutely unacceptable, especially when a player such as Dupuis missed a large chunk of the season.  Perron played great in Pittsburgh his first 10 games or so, then fell off the face of the earth.  Comeau was not the same after coming back from his wrist injury.  And Kunitz had a major drop off last season, and just couldn’t find the back of the net.

Hornqvist was about the only man who consistently did his job, and this includes Crosby and Malkin.

Overall, my three key factors to the downfall of last season are the following: injuries, injured puck moving defensemen, lack of offense/supporting cast.

Want to know which factor I think most contributed to this downfall?

Lack of offense.  Lack of a supporting cast for Crosby and Malkin.

Well guess what.  Rutherford fixed that.  The Penguins are rolling with 4 lines that can score this year.  They have Crosby, Malkin, Kessel, Hornqvist, Plotnikov, Perron, Bennet, Sprong, Kunitz, Dupuis, and the list goes on… They were 19th in goals for last year. 19th!  With 2 of the best forwards the NHL will ever see.

No excuses can be made this year for this team.  Regardless of whether their defense performs extraordinary, this team should be top 5 in goals for and power play percentage by the end of the year, which ideally, will put them atop the Eastern Conference once again.

So, how does one score goals?  I’ll be discussing that tomorrow (technically, later today) in my final article leading up to the Penguins season opener: Shoot the Puck!

So…What Went Wrong Last Season?

This Year Vs. Last Year

Any one else getting super hyped for Thursday?  It really started to hit me today that the Penguins play a REGULAR SEASON game this Thursday.  Can’t wait.

Anyways, let’s delve into the 4th article in 4 days: this year versus last year.

Jim Rutherford made some bold moves in the offseason.  He traded Brandon Sutter for Clendening and Bonino, he traded a bunch of prospects for Kessel.  He acquired Fehr, Cullen, and Plotnikov via free agency.

This guy is not messing around.

He wants a Stanley Cup back in Pittsburgh.

However, we must also note the Penguins lost plenty of talented players in the offseason.  They lost blue-liners Paul Martin and Christian Ehrhoff, they lost bruiser Steve Downie, and they lost Blake Comeau, who showed a lot of success with the Penguins…just to name a few.

So the question is: how different is the Penguins lineup this year as compared to last year?  Are they better?  Are they worse?  Well let’s check it out:

Below is last years Penguins opening night roster.

Note: these line combinations may not be exactly correct.  But just go with it:

Forwards

Kunitz – Crosby – Hornqvist

Comeau – Malkin – Dupuis

Spaling – Sutter – Downie

Sill – Goc – Adams

Defensemen

Letang – Martin

Maatta – Ehrhoff

Despres – Scuderi

Now, let’s compare this team to the team Mike Johnston will be sending out on Thursday night, line by line. (Note: this is based off of what my predictions are for the lines.  This can be found in my previous article, click here)

FWD 1:  Kunitz – Crosby – Hornqvist  VS  Kunitz – Crosby – Kessel

Not terribly too much has changed here.  The main difference is that Kessel is on a line with Crosby and Kunitz rather than Hornqvist.  Hornqvist is a great player, but Kessel is an elite sniper.  “Crosby to Kessel” should be a popular phrase this season.  This line definitely upgraded, although not as much as others believe it or not.

FWD 2: Comeau – Malkin – Dupuis  VS  Plotnikov – Malkin – Hornqvist

Well, Malkin is a constant on this line, but his wingers have once again changed.  Comeau is gone, but he is replaced with Sergei Plotnikov, who I think can do just as much, if not more damage, than Comeau did with Malkin.  Additionally, Hornqvist, who played on the first line last year, will get to see some time with Malkin.  Hornqvist is definitely an upgrade to Dupuis on this line, even though Duper is a terrific hockey player.  This line also has clearly upgraded from last year.

FWD 3: Spaling – Sutter – Downie  VS  Perron – Bonino – Dupuis

Okay, this line got a HUGE upgrade.  Downie was a solid player for the Penguins, but he took way too many penalties to be legitimately effective.  Sutter was also very strong for the Penguins, but Bonino, who replaces Sutter this year, has better upside offensively and better possession numbers.  And Perron vs. Spaling?!  Yeah, I’ll take Perron on that one.  Huge upgrade for the 3rd line.

FWD 4: Sill – Goc – Adams  VS  Bennett – Cullen – Sprong

Ha ha.  Ha.  Do I need to even analyze this one?  Sill, Goc, and Adams were all a complete joke.  Yeah sure, Adams and/or Goc could kill a penalty or 2.  But does another team even feel somewhat worried if that line was out on the ice?  I wouldn’t be.  On the other hand,  Bennet and Sprong but had fantastic preseasons, scoring 3 goals each.  Both have looked great, and Bennett looks as good as he ever has.  If he stays healthy (knock on wood), he may have a breakout season, even if he is on the fourth line.  Cullen will put up decent numbers as well, but not anything special…then again, he will probably put up as many (if not more) points and Sill, Goc, and Adams did all of last year, because it wasn’t many.

Rutherford really put some focus in the bottom 6 forwards and he did his job well.  The Penguins are rolling with 4 lines that can score.  Even if the Rangers put Staal and McDonagh against Crosby’s line, the Penguins have 3 other lines that know how to score goals.  It should be fun to watch.

Let’s take a look at the defensive side:

Def 1: Letang – Martin  VS  Letang – Maatta

If you noticed, I have Letang with Maatta to start this year rather than Letang with Scuderi, which I put in my article I posted yesterday.  I did not think they would start the season together, but Mike Johnston has come out since then to say that they will start the season as the top pair.  I do not necessarily agree, but let’s go with it.

I see this comparison as a washout.  Letang is still Letang, and Maatta is upcoming.  He might not have Paul Martin’s experience, but he has the hockey smarts, and I think him and Letang should blend well.

Def 2: Maatta – Ehrhoff  VS  Cole – Dumoulin

Well, we hit our first bump in the road.  I think the Penguins had a better 2nd D pair last year than they do this year.  Cole and Dumoulin have played well together during the preseason, but both of these guys are seen as “bottom 6” kind of guys.  They would really need to step it up to be considered a top 4 pairing.  On the other hand, I do see Ehrhoff – Maatta as a top 4 pairing, so the Pens downgraded here.

Def 3: Despres – Scuderi  VS  Lovejoy – Scuderi

Oh.  That was awkward.  Scuderi is the constant, and the change between Lovejoy and Despres was due to the trade of these players, straight up.  I don’t mind that the Penguins traded Despres for Lovejoy, but they should have got more value back for Despres, who is only in his 20’s and has decent potential.  Therefore, based off of that, I would say the Pens downgraded just slightly on their third D pair.

Overall, the defense downgraded.  However, Rutherford decided he wanted to let some of the young guys play.  We will just have to see how things work out.

On a side note, regarding defense, I have heard rumors circulating that Rutherford wants Dustin Byfuglien… but it is way too early to talk about trade rumors.  We can discuss that later if it really becomes something that is legitimate.

That being said, don’t be surprised if GM Jim Rutherford goes after a top 4 defenseman, because that is one of the only spots where the Penguins are really lacking right now.

Overall, considering everything, the lineup definitely improved.  The defense did downgrade, but the upgrade of the offense way overpowers the losses on the blue line.  If the Penguins want to be successful, they need to learn how to score goals, and win the high scoring hockey games.  That is how this team is built, and it is how they should play.

Once again, thanks to those that keep up with my blog!  Tomorrow (or technically, later today) I’ll be writing an article regarding the NL Central vs. the Metropolitan Division.  It should be a good one.

This Year Vs. Last Year