Penguins an Easy Opponent? – Pittsburgh Penguins – PenguinPoop Blog

Penguins an Easy Opponent?

There was a time in the not-too-distant past when Pittsburgh Penguins opponents hated visiting the Steel City. Not only would they have to face a lethal lineup featuring hungry young stars such as Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, but they knew they’d absorb more than a few bumps and bruises, too.

Now it seems, opponents are having far too easy time with the black and gold. Basically, all a foe needs to do is weather the Pens’ predictable frenzied start, deny their smallish forwards the middle of the ice, and wait for one of their high-priced superstars to turn the puck over in frustration.

It wasn’t always so. When Ray Shero assumed the GM duties back in 2006 one of his first priorities was to make the Penguins more difficult to play against. Enter disturber Jarkko Ruutu and, a short time later, legendary toughies Georges Laraque and “Scary” Gary Roberts. Overnight, the Pens were transformed from hockey lambs into lions.

pp0404And now? While you can hardly call the Pens timid, there are a growing number of players who have an aversion to body contact.

Sadly, this seems to be by design. In a subtle way, the Penguins are still apologizing for their role in the “Fight Night” brawl with Islanders back in 2011. Since that fateful Friday combative types such as Arron Asham, Matt Cooke, Eric Godard, Mike Rupp, and Max Talbot were trimmed from the roster like so much meat off the backyard barbecue. As a result, the Pens lost a huge chunk of gristle and backbone.

I’m not suggesting that Shero import a bunch of goons. The game has evolved over the past few seasons, especially in light of the growing concern over concussions. Hockey heavyweights are going the way of the dodo bird. Still, you need players who’ll arrive at the puck in ill humor or, more to the point, crash the net with gusto.

“We’ve got to get the puck to the net,” lamented winger Chris Kunitz, one of the few Penguins to frequent the high-traffic areas. “We’ve got to get bodies to the net. Get second, third, fourth chances. Whatever it takes.”

Coach Dan Bylsma echoed Kunitz’ sentiments.

“We’re certainly not doing enough around the net and in those areas to get the goals that I think were there,” he said following a recent loss to the Flyers.

More size up front would help. Partly due to Bylsma’s preference for speed, the Pens have cultivated a group of undersized forwards. Great for motoring up and down the ice. Not so great if you’re trying to bull your way past a 220-pound defenseman to get to a loose puck in the slot or win a crucial battle along the boards.

The club could sorely use a forward or two like ex-Pen Ryan Malone, who possesses size, toughness and scoring ability in one tidy package. Trouble is, with the exception of Adam Payerl, there’s nobody in the organization who remotely fits that description. To my knowledge, no one is touting Payerl (2 goals in 13 games with Wilkes Barre) as a future NHLer.

Until the Penguins as an organization changes its mindset, I fear the team will continue to morph into an easy opponent.

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  1. 55 on Point's Gravatar 55 on Point
    November 16, 2013 at 11:18 pm | Permalink

    If not they’re sure doing a great job of acting like one. They do have a winning record but other than Boston and Vancouver they haven’t beat anyone worth noting. There are so many things going on that don’t bode well for the immediate future, and possibly beyond. I shudder to think where they’d be if “Playoff Fluery” was in the net.

    Most visible, to me anyway, is Sid just isn’t getting it done. He isn’t pulling his weight. He looks like a man afraid of getting hurt again. And Malkin? Who knows what’s going on with him? He’s skating like he thinks it’s the Ice Capades. He needs to be reminded that in order to score a goal dancing is not required, but shooting the puck is. Dupuis is iffy, no doubt because Sid is, too. Neal is trying but not getting much assistance.

    Plus, they keep tampering with the third and fourth lines thereby preventing, to some extent, any hint of consistency and the creation of a team identity. (Pick one of these kids and go with him, preferrably the biggest one.) They’re getting out-muscled as well as out-scored more often than they should. Size notwithstanding, they have to suck it up and play tougher. Failing that maybe a trade for some size up front might be an option to be considered though I doubt there’s much available worth dealing for.

    On the plus side, of course, is Fleury, but he’s not alone. And as much I don’t want to admit it because it sounds so, well, absurd, the offense played a hell of a lot better before Kobesew went down. That’s not exactly an endorsement this team would want to crow about, let alone admit, but, hey, they were doing fine before his injury. And as a result of his injury the resultant plug-and-play roster hasn’t produced much to be proud of. There are others, of course, who are doing fine, but fine isn’t good enough.

    All that said, the defense, for the most part, has been good. And while I think Matta has been a pleasant surprise I also think we might benefit from Bortuzzo’s size on a more regular basis. We certainly could have used him against the Devils tonight.

    As I said in a previous post, this team seems unfocused, especially on the offensive side, and likely still in search of some sort of identity, one that isn’t the product of the PR department. They need to get back to Hockey 101. They desperately need better passing, more shots, working down low, using their speed through the neutral zone, getting in front of the net, puck support, puck support, puck support and never turning up their noses to dirty goals. If I see Sid make one more blind drop pass to an opponent, I’m going to need a new television immediately thereafter.

    • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
      November 17, 2013 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

      Wow, 55 on Point, a really passionate and insightful summary of what’s been—unfortunately—an iffy first quarter of the season.

      I agree with pretty much every point you made, although I’m not as down on Crosby. I’m not saying he’s been perfect—I don’t think he works as hard defensively as he did earlier in his career and he may well be trying to shield himself against injury (I can hardly blame him given his recent track record).

      But aside from Kunitz—who along with Fleury has been a shining beacon—Crosby hasn’t had a whole lot of help. For whatever reasons, Dupuis has really struggled to get into scoring position (to say nothing of getting shots on net) so Sid’s playing without a triggerman. But I won’t argue that there’s way too much east-west passing and fancy crap going on, and he’s at least part of that equation.

      It sure would help if Malkin could get untracked. Minus the luxury of a productive third line, his absence from the score sheet really becomes magnified. Geno needs to keep it simple—drive to the net and shoot the puck—instead of trying to come up with a highlight-reel goal on every play. Of course, that would require puck support from his linemates. And, as you pointed out, the Pens aren’t playing very well as a unit—at least not offensively.

      It’s easy to second guess—especially when things aren’t going well—but in hindsight I wonder if Shero made the right move by resigning all of the Pens core players. Believe me, I cheered with every signing, and it would’ve taken an incredible amount of chutzpah for Shero to break up the old gang. But the team just looks stale to me. It’s the same guys doing the same things they’ve been doing for the past 5-6 years … just not as well. It’s not as if the effort isn’t there—I think the team’s working as hard (if not as smart) as ever. But something’s missing.

      I do think some size up front would help. I wish they could add a bigger forward or two who possess at least a modicum of scoring ability (as you pointed out, players with that combination of attributes are increasingly rare these days). And I liked the energy, speed and enthusiasm that Jayson Megna brought to the team (ditto Harry Zolnierczyk)—a little hunger and fire can go a long way.

      Right now everybody’s a little too much the same. It’s like a football team that has three deep threats at wide receiver, but no possession receiver. You need different types of players to get the right blend. I’m not sure the Pens … particularly Dan Bylsma … understands that.

      Speaking of Bylsma, I couldn’t believe how badly he was outcoached—by Craig Berube no less—the other night against the Flyers. Heck, the way Berube was getting the matchups he wanted, it was almost as if Philly was the home team and we were the visitors. Oy … 🙁

      Anyway, great stuff 55 on Point … oh, I agree with your observation about Kobasew. You wouldn’t think a third-line guy with only two goals would make a difference, but he played a basic, straight ahead north-south game and got pucks to the net.

      • 55 on Point's Gravatar 55 on Point
        November 17, 2013 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

        Thanks, Rick. It’s fun to discuss these things with someone who also loves the game. Your points about the team being stale are well taken. Expanding a bit on your football analogy, it reminds me of what used to be said of the Steelers of the 50s and early 60s — SAME OLD STEELERS. Though I don’t see this team as being as poor as those Steeler teams of yore. This is a good, and talented hockey team that has lost its focus perhaps because it has become too comfortable.

        However, I’m going to stand pat with regards to Sid. He IS the trigger man. Malkin, too. Both squander too many opportunities to get the puck to the net while trying to distribute the wealth. That’s not what they get paid for. Yes, they both need to be responsible with the puck. Yes, they both need to be play makers and set up guys. Yes, they both need to be better two-way players. But, when you get down to the root of the matter, they get paid to score goals. That needs to be their immediate focus. Put the damn puck on the net. All the time. Then, hopefully, the rest of the team will get the idea to be in front of the net when it gets there. Neal loves dirty goals. Help him get some then go get some yourself. I sometimes find myself thinking, however convoluted it may sound, that the team, on the whole, doesn’t go to the net because they know the puck won’t be there. That’s kind of ass-backwards thinking but it has a ring of truth to it when I add together all I’m seeing on the ice. It’s like looking at a problem from the inside out.

        Maybe that’s how they approach it. Maybe it can be as simple as agreeing that if the puck isn’t near the net it can’t go in, and use that as a jump off point to regaining their focus. I agree that they are playing hard. They’re just not playing smart. Lack of smart will negate hard more often than not.

        • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
          November 18, 2013 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

          More good stuff, 55 on Point. I agree, it’s fun to chew the hockey fat with a knowledgeable fellow fan … 🙂

          Just saw that the Penguins called up Brian Gibbons. Judging by what I’ve read on PP and other blogs, everyone seems to agree that the Pens need to be bigger and tougher up front. So they call up the smallest forward (5-8, 160) in the organization. Aye, yi, yi … it’s been that kind of season … 🙁

    • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
      November 17, 2013 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

      PS–thank goodness we’re in the Norris … er … Glen Metropolit division …

  2. pen's 4ever's Gravatar pen's 4ever
    November 16, 2013 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

    Well we gave away Tangradi..he was supposed to fill that role and Dan really didn’t give him a chance.

  3. Michelle's Gravatar Michelle
    November 14, 2013 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

    It’s a shame. I am going to the game tomorrow night and had been excited. Now I am just bracing for the disappointment.

    • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
      November 15, 2013 at 9:49 am | Permalink

      Hey Michelle,

      Let’s hope you bring the Pens some luck and they snap their losing streak against the Preds. We still have loads of front-end talent with Sid, Geno, Kris Letang and James Neal, although for some reason it’s not meshing very well right now. IMHO the team seems a little stale.

      The inability to generate offense from inside the circles is a genuine concern dating back to last season’s Conference Finals, when Geno was the only forward to employ the center drive. There are too many guys playing a perimeter game right now, and in today’s NHL you’ve got to force the puck to the net and get “dirty” goals. That’s where I think the lack of size (and snarl) up front hurts them.

      Anyway, the good news is it’s early, and the Pens have plenty of time to work out the kinks.


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