Don’t Count Them Out Yet

We’re now over halfway through the season, and the Penguins are still on the outside looking in.  It just seems as though they can’t string more than 2 or 3 wins together to make a legitimate playoff run.  That being said, don’t count them out yet.

Now this may almost sound too obvious.  You may be thinking, “well they’re only two points out of a playoff spot and they have a game in hand on some of the teams that are ahead of them.  Plus there are 37 games left.  Of course I can’t count them out.”

But think about it, this has been the story for the past 3 weeks or so.  The Penguins are winning enough games to keep them in the wild card race, but they are not winning stretches of games to really give them a boost in the standings.  Most of the teams fighting for the wild card will win 1 of 2, which is basically what the Penguins are doing.

Just a few nights ago, the Penguins played arguably their best 60 minute game of the season, dominating the Carolina Hurricanes 5-0.  It once again felt like a win that was going to get the Penguins trending upward.

They then go to St. Louis the night after to take on the Blues.  They did play well the first 2 periods, but the game was tied 2-2 due to a bad play by Zatkoff and due to Ben Lovejoy getting burned by Blues superstar Vladimir Tarasenko.  In the 3rd the Penguins seemed to have lost energy and dropped the game 5-2.

The Penguins have a chance, but if they’re going to start stringing together some wins, it needs to start now.

And no, I’m not saying they need to win 12 in a row like the Blackhawks, who are probably going to win the Stanley Cup…again…

But they need to at least start some winning stretches: Win 7/8 in 10, put together a 4 game win streak, win 2 back-to-back games, which have absolutely tortured the Penguins this year…If they can do that, then I give them a great chance.

But it can’t start in a few games, or next week, or next month…it has to start Thursday night against the Flyers, who the Penguins haven’t beaten in over 2 years.

Why?

The Penguins have 37 games remaining.  Of those 37 remaining, they play 20 (more than 50%) within their own division.  This includes a stretch in March where the Penguins play 11 of 13 games against division opponents.

They play the Flyers 4 times (have not played them yet this season), Rangers 4 times (have not played them yet this season), Capitals 3 times, Devils 3 times, Islanders 3 times, Hurricanes twice, and Blue Jackets once.

In the new playoff format, the top 3 teams in the division have a playoff spot locked, so placing high in the division is extremely important.  If the Penguins can find a way to start winning games, they will be beating the teams within their division, and will find themselves climbing the ladder quite quickly.

On the contrary, if they continue to play about .500 hockey or worse, especially against the division where the Penguins have performed poorly in the past few years, the Penguins could kick themselves right out of the playoffs and onto the golf course.

Just to give you can idea on where the Penguins stand, they are currently 5th in the division with 49 points.  No one is going to catch the Capitals, who lead the division by 18 points.  But believe it or not, the Penguins could have their eyes set on 2nd if they can buckle down throughout the home stretch.

The Rangers are in 2nd place and have 55 points, but the Penguins play them 4 times AND have a game in hand.

The Islanders are in 3rd with 54 points and the same amount of GP as the Pens, but the Penguins play them 3 more times.

The Devils have 51 points in 4th place, but the Penguins play them 3 more times and have 2 games in hand.

The Flyers are in 6th and have 48 points plus a game in hand on the Penguins, but the Penguins play them 4 more times which gives them a great chance to separate themselves from their cross-state rival.

The Hurricanes, in 7th, also have 48 points, but the Penguins have 2 games in hand.  The Penguins do play the Canes twice more, but I do not see Carolina being a playoff threat.  Not yet.  They’re still rebuilding.

So can the Penguins pull this off?

Yes, but here is what has to happen:

  • Sid needs to keep being Sid
    • Sid has been on fire as of late.  He is scoring goals, making sweet passes, and just looks more confident than he has at any point under Mike Johnston.  I think Sid is benefiting from Sullivan’s system, but Sid needs to keep his production trending up to give the Penguins a chance at legitimate playoff contention.
  • Kuni Kaze
    • Kunitz has also been playing very well as of late.  His legs seem to have gotten younger.  He is starting to score goals again, and looks much more like the Chris Kunitz of a few years ago.  Hopefully those legs can stay young, because the Penguins are going to need a guy like him to keep producing at a decent clip, especially playing with Sid.
  • Kessel…SHOOT!!
    • Kessel has great play-making ability, and I do not want to take that away from him, but the Penguins traded for him to be a goal scorer.  Period.  I still believe in Kessel, but he just needs to find some confidence and start shooting the puck relentlessly.  The guy has a wicked shot.
  • Give Pouliot a chance
    • Derrick Pouliot, high-end defensive prospect for the Penguins, was called up recently due to the unfortunate injury of David Warsofsky in the game against Carolina.  Pouliot played a bit last year, and more often than not, was not living up to expectations.  That being said, he has been fantastic in the AHL and deserves to play.  I would personally scratch Ian Cole, who has been way underperforming, and give Pouliot his shot.  He should help the defense get involved and possibly quarterback the 2nd powerplay unit.
  • Hagelin
    • For those of you that were not aware, the Penguins traded away David Perron and Adam Cledening to acquire the speedy Carl Hagelin from the Ducks.  I like the trade and I like what Hagelin can bring.  He fits much better in the Eastern Conference, as he is a small, fast forward who is a great back-checker and PK guy.  That being said, he can score goals.  He scored 17 with the Rangers not too long ago.  He is currently on a line with Evgeni Malkin, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he has a chance to play with Sid.  Hagelin looked good in his first 2 games despte not even being able to practice with the team, but I think he needs to step up and chip in 10 goals the rest of the way.

Well, here’s to hoping the Penguins start stringing together some wins tomorrow against the Flyers…

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Don’t Count Them Out Yet

Have Faith in Sullivan’s Penguins

Sullivan
The Penguins fell to the Capitals last night, 4-1, at Consol Energy Center in Sullivan’s Penguins coaching debut.  The score may not look impressive, but I am here to tell you to have faith in Sullivan’s Penguins.

First of all, the Penguins did what Sullivan wanted them to do.  They played towards their strengths: skill and speed.  They had more jump and more passion to their game.  It was clearly visible, and this guy has been here all of 2 days.

For those of you that did not watch the game, the first shift for the Penguins was arguably the best shift I have seen from a Penguins line in the last 2 years.  They did not score, but had 2 or 3 quality chances, and they played like they wanted the puck.  They played like they wanted to score.

Being that the Penguins had a few chances of their own, they gave up a few chances to the Capitals, who just seemed to capitalize (no pun intended) on their chances more than the Penguins unfortunately.

That being said, the Penguins registered 45 shots on goal, which is a season high.  Holtby played out of his mind (he leads the NHL in GAA), but if the Penguins can play like they did last night, they are going to start winning hockey games.

I also want to add that although the Penguins gave up their fair share of chances, so did Johnston’s Penguins.  Except Johnston’s Penguins had no jump, no energy, and no desire for the puck.  Sullivan’s Penguins had numerous scoring opportunities, and had some bounces gone the Penguins way, the game may have been different.

Whether the Penguins won 7-1 or lost 4-1, it is just 1 game, so either way, we can’t make too much of this.  But, all I am telling you is to have faith.  Seriously.

I also want to bring up that Sullivan has been here a very short time, and lost to a Capitals team that is now first in the Eastern Conference and atop the Metropolitan Division.  Considering that Bylsma’s first game behind the bench for the Pens was a shootout loss against, at the time, a lowly New York Islanders team, I am not concerned with the result of this one game.

On top of Sullivan being behind the new guy behind the bench, there is a ton of new Penguins news that I would like to enlighten you all about that has happened in the past 24 hours.  Some bad, some good.

Beau Bennett out 4-6 weeks: Beau Bennett was crushed into the boards by Capitals forward TJ Oshie.  It was a questionable hit, but no penalty was called.  Bennett got up gingerly holding his shoulder and immediately went to the locker room.  I would assume that he broke his collar bone after going shoulder first into the boards.

I really do feel for Beau Bennett.  He must be so frustrated being that he always gets hurt.  However, this is also why a guy like him should remain as a 3rd or 4th line guy, regardless of his skill.  If he is injury prone, letting him develop chemistry with guys on a top line is pointless.  Let other plays who are not injury prone to be put into that role.  When Bennett does come back, I would keep him on the 3rd or 4th line because of his injury history.

Since Bennett is out for 4-6 weeks, this means that more than likely either Hornqvist or Sprong will get a chance with Crosby on the top line.  Although I would love to see Sprong with Crosby on a consistent basis (we saw a little bit of it last night), I would think Hornqvist will move up being that he has played with Sid before.  That being said, I think Sprong actually benefits more from the system and would perform better on this line with Sid.  That’s just my thought…

Fleury concussed: Fleury said he did not feel right after the game and was tested for a concussion today.  The results, unfortunately, came back positive, and he will like be out 1-2 weeks. Zatkoff will start tomorrow and Matt Murray was recalled to be his backup.

Sullivan will have the ability to control the goalie rotation. I would like to think, and hope, that Matt Murray is the starter in general while Fleury is out. But that will be up to Sullivan. We’ll find out later this week.

Pens trade Scuderi for Daley: Jim Rutherford, I have one question for you: HOW?!  Trevor Daley (33) is an offensive defenseman who was on the Blackhawks for a short stint, after being sent there as part of the Patrick Sharp deal between Dallas and Chicago.  Last year, Daley had 16 goals as a defenseman!  That is impressive, and something the Penguins need.

They end up trading Scuderi, who has been, to put it lightly, pretty bad with the Penguins.  The Pens did maintain 1/3 of his contract, but the fact that Rutherford got Daley out of this deal…wow.

One main reason he was able to make it was that apparently Daley did not fit into the Blackhawks’ system.  They felt Scuderi would be a better fit for them, and similarly, Daley would be a better fit for the Pens.

I feel the Pens definitely won this trade, but I guess time will tell…  Daley will wear #6 and I would expect him to be in the lineup against Boston tomorrow night.

Sullivan mixes up lines at practice: Today, the Penguins announced they have recalled Connor Sheary and Kevin Porter from the AHL. I would like to think Sheary plays tomorrow, since he has more potential offensively. But again, that’s up to Sullivan.

Sullivan really mixed up the lines at practice, going with the following line combos:

Kunitz – Crosby – Perron
Plotnikov – Malkin – Hornqvist
Kessel – Fehr – Sprong
Cullen – Bonino

The biggest changes here are that Kessel moves to the third line, Perron gets bumped up to 1st line, and Plotnikov goes back with Malkin. Sullivan wants to find some lines that mesh, so let’s hope this works.

By the way, I want to note that I actually like Kessel on the 3rd line. In Toronto he played with Bozak and had great success. Bozak is good, but he is no superstar. I think this allows Kessel to really focus on his game since he is not playing with a Crosby or Malkin. Heck, it worked in Toronto.
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Anyways, that’s all I’ve got for now!  Thanks for those who continue to read my blog, as always!  My next blog will be recapping and talking about my impressions from the game against Boston tomorrow at 8 pm.  Hopefully the article will be up by midnight.

 

Have Faith in Sullivan’s Penguins