Sprong Deserves the “Kessel” Treatment

sprong goalIt was December 19th.  Daniel Sprong, one of the Penguins’ brightest future prospects, was sent back down to his QMJHL team, the Charlettetown Islanders.  In his 18 games with the Penguins, Daniel Sprong scored 2 goals, had no assists, and was a -1.

One of the biggest criticisms of Sprong is that he has not quite developed a solid defensive game yet, which led to him playing somewhere between 4 and 7 minutes per game on the fourth line.

So yeah, Daniel Sprong’s defensive game is not spectacular, but I do not think it ever will be.  He can and will get better and has to be more responsible in the defensive zone, there’s no doubt about it, but the Penguins need to accept that Sprong isn’t going to be winning any Selke Trophies any time soon.

Since Daniel Sprong’s return to the QMJHL, he has posted 15 goals and 29 assists, which is good for 44 points in only 31 games.  This would give him his best points per game total, 1.42 PPG, since he started playing in the QMJHL.  During his previous 2 years he posted 1.01 points per game and 1.29 points per game respectively.  This may be in the QMJHL, but the stats don’t lie.  He is posting impressive numbers.

Daniel Sprong may not be the most sensational defensive forward out there, but boy is he gifted offensively.  He has a fantastic release, super quick hands, is a fast skater, and can pass the puck too.  But the difference is that he was a constant healthy scratch, played on the 4th line, and barely got to play at all.

So you’re probably asking “what difference? You said the difference is…The difference between what?”

Phil Kessel.

Kessel pens

Phil Kessel was brought to the Penguins to score goals and provide offense.  Many believed, including myself, that Kessel could easily post 40+ goals being that he was a lock to play with either Crosby or Malkin.  Although Penguins’ fans did set high expectations, I do think Kessel has absolutely under-performed as a whole.

In 70 games, Kessel has 21 goals and 27 assists, giving him 47 points.  This is not an awful output, but from a guy like Kessel playing with guys like Malkin and Crosby, it should be higher.  Also, he has been insanely inconsistent.  Although he just had a goal and an assist last night against the Hurricanes, he scored his first goal in 8 games (and his previous goal was an EN goal), and often follows performances up like these with a dud.  That being said, I want him to prove me wrong, and gosh darn it I hope he does against Philly tomorrow.

Similar to Sprong, Phil Kessel is not any threat defensively.  Currently, Phil Kessel is a +2 for the Penguins.  His only other season he was a “plus player” was 2008-2009 with Boston when he posted a +23.  That being said, Phil Kessel was not brought here to play defense: he was brought here to score goals.

Kessel has not left Crosby or Malkin’s side for the most part.  And, well, he’s Phil Kessel.  It doesn’t make much sense to move him down to the 3rd or 4th line.  He has been kept on the first PP unit until only recently, despite not shooting as often as he should or scoring for that matter.

Meanwhile, Daniel Sprong never had any legitimate chances to play with Crosby or Malkin because the coaches felt he was a liability.  Then, when it came time for power plays, which is where Sprong would be extremely effective on the right side, the coaching staff still did not use Sprong, and continues to use guys like Kessel and, at the time, Perron.

It should also be noted that Sprong not only did not get these opportunities, but he played almost all of his game under Mike Johnston’s system.  He played only 2 games under Sullivan, which were within that 0-4 start when Sullivan was hired.  Now, the Penguins have an identity, and for me, Daniel Sprong fits right in.

So, although I am not advocating for Sprong to play over Kessel, my argument is this: if Kessel gets a chance on the top PP, and a chance to play with Malkin and Crosby, why not let Sprong have his chance next year?

Kessel hasn’t been “demoted” due to his lack of defense.  Rather, the coaching staff feels he can score, and so they give him his chances.  Okay, fair.  So give Sprong a chance.

Kessel, until recently, continued to be put on the top PP unit despite his lack of quality shots and goals.  But the coaching staff felt he would turn around.  Again, fair.  So why not let Sprong, who is often selfish with the puck (in the best sense of the word), a chance with the top PP, or at least one of the power play units?

Let Sprong do what he does best and provide offense.  Sprong is only 19, and will only be getting better, but the Penguins need to give him a chance to do so in the top 6 if they want him to develop correctly.

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Sprong Deserves the “Kessel” Treatment

What To Think of Sullivan

SullyMike Sullivan has now been behind the Penguins bench for 10 games now.  The Penguins have a 4-5-1 record under Sullivan, however, they boast a 4-1-1 record in their previous 6 games after their 4 game losing skid when Sullivan was hired.

So, was the Sullivan hire the right move?

Oh my gosh, yes.

I wrote an article after the first game that the Penguins played under Sullivan.  It was a 4-1 loss to the Capitals.  Although they lost that game, and the next 3 after that, I wanted to make a point clear: I believed in Sullivan, and I still do.

If you are a Penguins fan, you need to believe in him, too.

So let’s look at some statistical analysis here:

First, the Penguins are starting to score again.  Although the Penguins are still only averaging 2.4 goals per game under Sullivan (they averaged 2.35 under Johnston this year), they have now scored 5 goals in three of Sullivan’s 10 games behind the bench.  The Penguins only had 1 game in which they scored 5 or more under Johnston this year.

Second, the stars are producing.  This is arguably the most important and most significant difference between Johnston and Sullivan.  Johnston was extremely structured in his coaching from what I have read through multiple sources.  He was very particular about guys playing a certain way and this, that, and the other.  Sullivan has similar beliefs, but he believes that the superstars are superstars because of their instinctive abilities.

He wants to back of them a little bit and let them do what they do best: score goals.

Although the Penguins have a plethora of great players, I want to look at their 4 elite skaters: Kessel, Letang, Malkin, and Crosby, and break them down one guy at a time.

Under Johnston this year…

  • Kessel played 28 games, racking up 17 points (9 G – 8A), which is good for approximately .608 points per game and .321 goals per game
  • Letang played 25 games, tallying 14 points (1G – 13A), which gave him .56 points per game and .04 goals per game
  • Malkin played 28 games, leading the Penguins with 26 points (13G – 13A), which gave him .929 points per game and .464 goals for per game
  • Crosby played 28 games and tallied only 19 points (6G – 13A) which gave him .679 points per game and .214 goals per game

Under Sullivan this year…

  • Kessel’s numbers have dropped slightly, but I believe this is because he played a ton of time on the third line, which gave him less ice time.  That being said, in 10 games under Sullivan, Kessel has 5 points (3G – 2A), which gives him a .5 points per game and .3 goals per game.  This will improve, however, as Kessel has been reunited with Malkin
  • Letang has only played 4 games under Sullivan, but thus far has 8 points (2G – 6A) which is good for 2 points per game and .5 goals per game.  By no means will Letang keep that kind of pace up, but he looks more confident on the ice and is beginning to shoot the puck more on the power play and in general
  • Even Malkin’s numbers have increased, despite his dominant performances early in the season.  In 10 games Malkin has 11 points (5G – 6A), which gives him 1.1 points per game and .5 goals per game
  • Crosby has by far seen the most improvement under Sullivan, and thank goodness, because the Penguins need him to play like what he is: the best player in the world.  In 9 games, Crosby has 10 points (5G – 5A), which gives him about 1.1 points per game and .55 goals per game

Stats speak for themselves. Although it may be a small sample size, the stars are really beginning to find their stride under Sullivan, and if they continue to do so, look out NHL.

Third, the power play is clicking.  They are shooting the puck, creating movement, screening the goalie…you name it.  The Penguins are finally beginning to have a power play that LOOKS like it should.  The Penguins power play was darn near last in the league, clicking at only 15.6% (15 of 96).

In only 10 games under Sullivan, the power play has been clicking at a 27.3% rate (9 of 33), which brought the Penguins all the way up to 19th in the league in that department.  AND that includes an 0 for 10 stretch in Sullivan’s first 3 games before he even had a practice with the team.  Take away that 0 for 10 stretch, and the Penguins are at a ridiculous 39.1% clip (9 of 23).

I know it’s hard sometimes, but believe in these Penguins.  Believe in Sullivan.

Just a few side notes:

The Penguins play a home-and-home against the Balckhawks on back-to-back nights (Tuesday and Wednesday).  This should tell us a lot about how this team stands as it is right now.

Also, just because I am a huge fan, Daniel Sprong now has 6 goals and 1 assist in 4 games since behind shipped back to juniors.  He may not play for the Pens this year, but he is going to be special.

 

 

What To Think of Sullivan

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

Tuesday’s Q and A’s

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

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

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

Dupuis – Crosby – Hornqvist

Plotnikov – Malkin – Kessel

Kunitz – Bonino – Sprong

Perron – Cullen – Rust

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

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

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

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

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

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

BUT…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As I recall, they were not…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

His main problem?  He needs to shoot.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, and I’m not done yet…

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

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

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

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

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

Why did they get rid of Bylsma again?

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

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

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

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

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

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

They’re not shooting to score.

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

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

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

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

Tuesday’s Q and A’s

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?

Who Is At Fault Here?

Johnston

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, who is at fault here?

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

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

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

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

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

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

The rest is on the coach.

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

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

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

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

Something doesn’t add up here…

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

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

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

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

Forwards

Sprong – Crosby – Hornqvist

Dupuis – Malkin – Kessel

Kunitz – Bonino – Perron

Rust – Cullen – Porter/Plotnikov

Defensemen

Letang – Maatta

Cole – Dumoulin

Lovejoy – Scuderi/Clendening

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who Is At Fault Here?

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!

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