Pens Struck by Lightning, Edge Sabres

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The Penguins, despite going 1-1, did not have am awful weekend in my opinion.  They fell to the Lightning once again at home, 4-2.  They did not play a terrible game, but it definitely wasn’t their best either.

First of all, Jeff Zatkoff got the nod to start the game early in the morning.  Everything was indicating towards Fleury starting the 12:30 match-up, but Fleury woke up under the weather, and told the coaching staff he was unable to play.  Zatkoff obviously had no formal practice to warm-up due to the early game, and he woke up thinking he was the backup.  Some of Zatkoff’s goals he let up were soft, but they were also due to lucky bounces for Tampa Bay, or on the 4th goal, poor defense.

Zatkoff was extremely bothered by the 3rd goal he allowed, according to DKonPittsburghSports.com.  He was quoted after the game saying “That third one, I can’t let it go through me.  I sound like a broken record.  I’ve got to find a way to find it.”

I do feel for Zatkoff, and sometimes the bounces just do not go your way.  It didn’t for the Penguins in this game, and frankly, the calls didn’t go in their favor either.

Late in the game, the Penguins were down 4-2 with about 8 minutes left.  Kris Letang was cross-checked by Paquette, and then had his stick obviously slashed out of his hands, but the refs did not make either call.  As a result, Letang got tangled up with Paquette, and somehow ended up with Paquette’s stick.  Letang, unknowingly that playing with an opposing players stick was a penalty, played the puck with Paquette’s stick and got 2 minutes for that, and another 2 for arguing.  He said after the game something along the lines of “Well he took my stick, so I took his.”

Although Letang’s emotions did get  a little out of control, he absoolutely had the right to be mad.  Paquette could have been called on 2 penalties on the play, but instead, Letang ends up in the box for 4 minutes.

All of that being said, the Penguins had a chance to win this game.  The Penguins had yet another sloppy first period performance, which has been a big problem under Sullivan.  They have been able to come back in a few of these instances, but falling behind 2-0 is not something the Penguins want to make a habit.

Unfortunately, the Penguins would fall down 3-0 instead of being the next team to score in the 2nd, which often times, they have.  The Lightning then went on a power play up 3-0, and all hope seemed lost for the Penguins.  Then Tom Kuhnhackl gave them, and the building, some life.  Shorthanded, he chipped the puck past Victor Hedman in the offensive zone and caught him flat footed.  Kuhnhackl found himself on a breakaway, turned to the backhand, and popped it top shelf.  It was a very pretty goal to call his first in the NHL.  Congrats to him.

Then, there was a turning point.  A chance for the Penguins to comeback in a game they seemed out of for most of the game.  They found themselves on a 5 on 3 for over 1 minute right at the end of the 2nd period.  The Penguins could have made the game 3-2, and potentially 3-3, as they would have still had a 5 on 4 advantage if they scored on the 5 on 3.  Unfortunately, the power play could not come through, and really, it hasn’t been very good since Malkin was injured.

The Lightning would go up 4-1 in the 3rd, which was ultimately the dagger in the heart of the Penguins.  Wilson would add his 2nd goal in as many games to make it 4-2, but the Penguins were unable to comeback, despite outshooting the Lightning 39-20.  Again, the Penguins did not play a terrible game, they just dug themselves into too deep of a hole early, and did not get the bounces/calls that they needed.  That’s hockey.

The Penguins were now off to Buffalo, in what really felt like a must win game, considering where the Penguins are in the standings.  Every game is an important one, and the Penguins really needed 2 points after falling short to Tampa Bay.

After the plane landed, Mike Sullivan waited for all the players to exit.  Except for one.  Kris Letang.  According to DKonPittsburghSports.com, Sullivan had a long chat with Letang about controlling his emotions and anger.  Obviously, if you watch Kris Letang play, he does play with so much passion and energy every night.  However, sometimes that passion turns into dumb penalties and bad on-ice play in Letang’s case.  He took 3 penalties against the Lightning.  Sullivan made the point clear: Letang has to control himself.  He is at his best when he controls his emotions, but still plays with that passion that he has.  And oh boy, did Letang and the Penguins respond.

They topped the Sabres 4-3, although the 3rd Sabres goal was scored late in an empty net situation.  Letang would have 3 assists on the day, and was easily the Penguins’ best player.  Clearly, he took Sullivan’s thoughts to heart and performed exactly the way that Kris Letang can play.

Patric Hornqvist got the Penguins in front 1-0 on a beautiful deflection goal, but Bogosian, who had a terrific game for the Sabres, tied the game at 1.  The score would remain 1-1 going into intermission.  That said, the Penguins once again had a terrible 1st period.  The score was tied, but Buffalo was absolutely the better of the 2 teams by a long shot.  Fleury was fantastic all game, especially in the 1st.

Scott Wilson would net his 3rd of the season in as many games on an absolute beautiful setup from Kris Letang.  Although, the shot by Wilson was a pretty one, too.

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Kessel then netted his 19th of the season, once again, on a beautiful setup from Letang.  He was at the point and faked a slap shot with traffic in front.  He kept his stick cocked, froze the goalie Lehner, and gave a slap pass to Phil Kessel who took his time and fired the puck into the wide open 4 by 6.  The Pens went into the 2nd intermission 3-1, and played like a completely different team than the one that played the first.

The Sabres had a power play early in the 3rd period with a chance to cut the deficit in half, but the Penguins would score what ended up being the game-winning goal.  Hagelin had the puck in the defensive zone and saw Matt Cullen hop up ice.  Hagelin lofted a pass that pass the defenders stick and left Cullen on a partial breakaway.  The puck did not go in right away, but it would evetually trickle past Lehner, who did all he could to try to keep the puck out.

The Sabres would cut the lead to 2 by scoring on the same power play that the Penguins had just scored shorthanded on a shot by Bogosian that was deflected in front by Bran Gionta.  Bogosian would add yet another with 22 seconds left, but the Penguins held on to win.

Some notes on both games…

  • Lovejoy left the game against the Lightning.  No word on the extent of his injury yet.  As a result, Ian Cole played against the Sabres with Pouliot and played a strong game.
  • The Penguins recalled Matt Murray for Sunday’s game against the Sabres in case Fleury was unable to play.  I figured that maybe Murray may have also been called up to backup Fleury until seasons end based on his performance earlier in the season, but he was just sent back down to Wilkes-Barre this morning.  So, it looks like the Penguins will be rolling with Zatkoff and Fleury the rest of the way.
  • Scott Wilson is hot.  He has 3 goals in his last 3 games.  Keep in mind he led the AHL in goal scoring when he was recalled, so clearly, the guy can score.  If he keeps his hot streak up, he will absolutely remain in the bottom 6, even when the veterans return.
  • Pouliot has looked good in his 2nd stint with the Penguins (his 1st being last year).  That being said, management/coaching need to lengthen his leash a little bit.  Last year, I felt that Pouliot was a little bit too aggressive and made some bad defensive plays as a result.  This year, I feel like he is not quite as aggressive as he should be, being that he has elite offensive talent as a defenseman.  The Penguins really want to mold him to be a Letang type, and if that is the case, I would love to see him a little more involved in the offense.
  • Trade deadline is less than a week away, so keep an eye out.  I’m sure GMJR will do something…
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Pens Struck by Lightning, Edge Sabres

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.

 

Pittsburgh, We Have A Problem