Can Penguins Repeat Perfect Storm? – Pittsburgh Penguins – PenguinPoop Blog

Can Penguins Repeat Perfect Storm?

I always welcome the NHL All-Star break. It gives me a chance catch my breath. To pause and reflect on the first part of the season and to look ahead for things to come.

Last year at this time the Penguins were only beginning to coalesce. Carl Hagelin had just arrived. The kids, too. Justin Schultz was soon to follow. The HBK Line was still an improbable figment of coach Mike Sullivan’s fertile hockey mind.


Yet there was an indefinable something in the air. A hint of promise, soon to be fulfilled.

Wish I felt the same now.

Since a scintillating 4-3 overtime win over Boston on December 14—marking the one-year anniversary of Sullivan’s Steel City coaching debut—the Pens are a pedestrian 9-6-2.

In the New Year? Four and five. They’ve lost two in a row. Five of their last eight.

We’ve had our moments, for sure. Like an immaculate 4-1 road victory at Montreal on January 18. And an equally rousing 7-1 rout of Carolina two nights later. But mostly it’s been a mixture of highs and lows. Skewed to the low side.

No team is invincible. And no team—no matter how powerful or accomplished—cruises through an 82-game schedule without a downturn or two. Heck, the Pens’ 1991 and 1992 Cup champions flirted with the .500 mark before catching fire.

Still, the Pens’ recent struggles are worrisome.

In many ways, last season was a perfect storm. The team flew under the radar, gradually gathering momentum like a nascent gale as the pieces slowly fell into place. Entering March, we still struggled to beat Metro Division heavyweights like the Capitals and Rangers.


Foes tried to keep pace, to no avail. The Penguins were too fast. Too good.

Opponents aren’t chasing any more. Especially heavier teams, St. Louis the most recent example. They’re relying on sound positional hockey while playing to their comparative strengths.

It’s working. The new tactics are preventing the Pens from getting to their lethal speed game. They’ve been forced to play a more grinding style. Although not for a lack of collective grit, one they’re ill-suited to play.

Thursday night’s come-from-in-front loss to Boston was a prime example. The Bruins knocked us around and disrupted our increasingly delicate mojo.

“It was a physical game,” Sullivan told Jonathan Bombulie of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “That’s the style they play. We skate. We’ve got to be ready to play in those types of games, and we have.”

Strong words from a passionate and committed coach.

Once again, I find myself lamenting our lack of size. Especially after watching Boston’s 221-pound strongman, David Backes, steamroller about half a dozen Penguins—Patric Hornqvist and Phil Kessel the most prominent.

Nor was it a comfort to watch Sidney Crosby spar with Zdeno Chara in a clash of captains. While I applaud Sid for his bravery, I winced when he absorbed numerous whacks and a crosscheck to the noggin from a certifiable monster.

Sure wish we had some guys who could handle the rough stuff without being thrown off their game. Which we, most decidedly, were.

At the risk of repeating myself for the hundredth time, I envy Columbus. Forwards Josh Anderson, Brandon Dubinsky, Nick Foligno, Scott Hartnell and Boone Jenner all tip the scales at 200 pounds or better. As do defensemen Jack Johnson, Seth Jones, David Savard and Dalton Prout.

Wide-body guys who can play.

By contrast, our bangers—Hornqvist, Chris Kunitz and Scott Wilson—are middleweights at best. Long on heart and guts. Woefully short on brawn.

I know we’ll never be the Blue Jackets. Not so long as Jim Rutherford is GM. JR’s followed a different blueprint. One that produced a Stanley Cup.

Without some alterations, a repeat won’t be so easy.

*Be sure to check out Rick Buker’s books,
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  1. 55 on Point's Gravatar 55 on Point
    February 3, 2017 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

    Oh, one more thing, the Other Rick: I was a “Let’s go Pronovost!” guy back in the day. He remains among my all-time favorite hockey players.

  2. 55 on Point's Gravatar 55 on Point
    February 3, 2017 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

    Hi Rick,

    Another good “think” piece. We think as men do, size matters. 🙂 At the risk of repeating myself, I just posted on the previous thread that I admire how hard this team works at “playing bigger.” However, playing bigger is never a long-term replacement for actually being bigger. It takes its toll after a time. That toll is beginning to show as St. Louis and Boston have recently pointed out. Now there’s Columbus and an encore with the Blues this weekend. That’s no day at the beach.

    Unlike most on this blog, I’m not a numbers guy. I’ve never been that kind of fan. And I don’t always know who’s out there on the trade block and sometimes who the team might be willing to sacrifice to enable a trade. I typically only know what I see on the ice, game to game, for more than 50 years.

    And, what I see is some number of teams have figured out how to stifle the speed game the Pens play. They’ve all played against them now, several times, and contrary to early season musings from the hockey press, no, most teams aren’t trying to emulate the Pens speed game. They’re devising ways to slow them down and many of those ploys are simply to beat the hell out of them… Because? Because they can. Because while they may envy, to a degree, speed, they also place an inherent value on size and badassery.

    In order to repeat they are again going to have to innovate, change their spots a bit, and fight fire with fire. They made the choice to stand pat on last years roster and it’s showing some holes despite that they’ve managed quite nicely by force of will to stay near the top. However, only a fool allows failure for refusal to seek help. They need help on defense in the way of size, and aforementioned badassery. Plus, now with Sheary down, another solid, scoring winger becomes, once again, a priority, and there’s no reason he shouldn’t be sizable either.

    As to who might fill the bill and is attainable, Rick, and others, you’ve covered that better than I could and I wouldn’t be averse to any of your musings, except (from a previous thread), sorry, Jim, we don’t need Jake Allen. At this point I may even be okay with a rental winger and I’ve rarely been a fan of that. It’s just that as much as I like Cullen, and Rust, and Kunitz is playing some hockey right now, none of them can do what Sheary does with Sid. That’s been a special symbiosis for whatever reason(s) and this team will suffer some in its absence. Sheary was on a tear and Sid was his instigator. He’s helped make Sheary a finisher and that just doesn’t happen very often. And, teh otehr side of the coin, how many times this season has Sheary been the first assist on a Crosby goal?

    Fleury is languishing here and in a cap strapped era it simply makes no sense to eat $5+ mil on a back up goalie while your defense is spending more time in it’s own zone than at home with the family. Jarry could likely fill the back up slot for the remainder of this season. Then that situation can be re-evaluated in the off season, or not.

    After MAF, sweeten the deal with Maatta, and/or Pulliot, Fehr, Bonino – in a pinch, or maybe a decent prospect from WBS that likely wouldn’t make it here anyway but might fit elsewhere in the right environment. When Toronto is desperate, hell, they’ll buy anybody.

    In any event my hope is they are at least looking in that direction, and now as opposed to later.

  3. Jim's Gravatar Jim
    January 30, 2017 at 11:27 am | Permalink

    The kids are hot.

    I just read where Patrick Laine shot the puck at 101.7 mph in the All stars skills competition. Finished second place.
    Shea Weber won it at 102.8 mph.Third time in a row.
    By comparison Ovi’s shot was only 97.8 and heavy weight Brent Burns shot was 97.7 MPH.
    This kid is only 18+ years old.
    What happens 3 years from now when he grows up and gets stronger.Look out goalies!

    Dylan Larkin won the fastest skater award and McDavid came second.
    The kids have arrived. Good for the future of our game.

    • the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
      January 30, 2017 at 8:47 pm | Permalink

      Hey Jim,

      Not to beat a dead horse but wouldn’t it have been nice had the Pens traded off one of their higher valued veterans a 1, 2, or 3 years ago for a 1st round pick that could have maybe positioned them for one of these young guns instead of always buying at the deadline.

      They may not have been able to get down to one of those no brainer types. Bottom feeders more than likely won’t trade a pick, but maybe had they traded a mid level team with dreams of a Playoff appearance, they may have been able to pry a pick out of them. Instead they really haven’t had much to speak of in the way of first rounders. And even when they had a 1st round pick they tend to squander them. Maatta is the only one since Staal to truly contribute to the Pens?

      Well, I guess you could say Kapanen bought us Kessel but he didn’t contribute in uniform, only by taking the sweater off did he help.

  4. the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
    January 28, 2017 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

    Okay Rick and Jim, we sort of opened this can of worms on the previous article so let’s continue it here.

    With the 100 years of hockey going on, I know who your League All Time All Star 1st and 2nd team is, let’s narrow the field. This is the Pens 50th Season; name me your Pens All-Time Team (everyone else, feel free to jump in)

    Centers; 1) Lemieux, 2) Crosby, 3) Malkin, 4) Francis
    LWs; 1) Stevens, 2) Kunitz, 3) MacDonald, 4) Battleship Kelly
    RWs; 1) Jagr, 2) Recchi, 3) Tocchet, 4) Pronovost (Let’s go Pronovost anybody)
    LD; 1) Coffey, 2) Ulfie, 3) Gonchar
    RD; 1) Murphy, 2) Letang, 3) Stackhouse
    Gs; 1) MAF, 2) Barrasso, 3) Herron

    I tried balancing career vs 1 hit wonder type (Zubov and Young).
    Ulfie to me really was the designated hitter D man of the team.
    Also I loved Barrasso’s puck handling skills and the pressure it put on opposing Fwds but give the nod to MAF because MAF has always been a better team player.
    I could go through some honorable mentions but will wait to hear from others.

    • Jim's Gravatar Jim
      January 28, 2017 at 8:50 pm | Permalink

      Hi Coach,
      You got me at a disadvantage in that I really only started following the Pen’s when Mario was drafted.( There was so much uproar in the Quebec media about losing Mario, that I wanted to see what the fuss was all about. Montreal took a lot of crap from their fans over Mario NOT wearing the red,white and blue). So my team may be focused on the last 34 years.
      Centers. Mario, Sidney, Ron Francis, Greg Malone (school friends )
      Right wing. Jager, Kovalev, Recci, Joe Mullen, * Larouche my spare fwd.
      Left Wing. Malkin, Stevens,Jordan Stall, Matt Cooke
      Defense. Coffey, Ulf, Martin,
      Murphy, Letang, Orpik, *Gonchar spare d man.
      Goalie. Barrasso, MAF, * If he is not injured Murray, spare goalie

      Lets see what others say Coach, Rick ??

      PS: For sentimental reasons I wanted to put Trottier on my team. No space.
      In his prime he would be my second line center and Crosby goes to third.


    • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
      January 29, 2017 at 9:33 am | Permalink

      Okay folks. Here goes:

      CENTER: Lemieux, Crosby, Malkin, Francis
      LEFT WING: Stevens, MacDonald, Kunitz, Hadfield
      RIGHT WING: Jagr, Pronovost, Kehoe, Mullen
      DEFENSE: Murphy, Coffey, Gonchar, Letang, Carlyle, Burrows
      GOAL: Barrasso, Fleury

      Apps (c), Larouche (c), Schock (c), Bullard (c), Gardner (c), Boutette (lw), McCreary (lw), Tocchet (rw), Kovalev (rw), Recchi (rw), Stackhouse (d), U. Samuelsson (d), Binkley (g), Herron (g), Wregget (g)

      I’ll throw in a few bonus lists, too … 🙂

      BEST FIGHTERS: Kelly, Laraque, Godard, Asham, Tocchet, Gary Roberts, Ruskowski, D. Schultz, McClelland, McSorley, Paradise

      HARDEST HITTERS: Orpik, Kasparaitis, Leroux, Owchar, Lagace, U. Samuelsson, Baxter, Gary Roberts

      TOP AGITATORS: Watson, Rissling, Sather, Barnaby, Baxter, Wright, U. Samuelsson, Cooke

      WILDEST: Durbano


      • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
        January 29, 2017 at 11:32 am | Permalink

        PS–I somehow forgot Martin Straka in my Honorable Mention section. Ken Schinkel, too. He retired as the Pens’ all-time leading scorer back in ’72. Soon to be passed by Pronovost and a host of others.

        Oh, add Randy Cunneyworth and Robert Lang to the Honorable Mention section. Names keep popping into my head … 🙂

      • Jim's Gravatar Jim
        January 29, 2017 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

        Hey Rick
        I envy u to have been around for the early years of the Pen’s.
        That is quite a list of talent you have.I forgot about Randy Carlyle and Rick Kehoe.
        Quite a unique group indeed.
        Thanks for the info.

    • the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
      January 29, 2017 at 1:35 pm | Permalink


      Jim Although we can’t put G Malone up there with Lemieux, Crosby centers, he is one of my more favorite players all time. That is cool that he is a school buddy of yours. It is also interesting you moved Malkin to LW. He did play wing for Crosby at times early in his career. I considered Straka as a LW as well because he played LW for Francis and Kovalev.

      Also Jim and Rick C and RW were the hardest for me to narrow my choices; the Pens have had more higher quality players over the years here. Mullen, Kovalev, Kehoe at RW and Larouche, Apps, Nedved, Straka, Bullard and Schock at C to name a few. I wanted to wait a little to see other peoples peck before I did an honorable mention.

      Schock, Pronovost, and Woytowich were the first three Penguin Hockey Cards I collected as a Kid. So those three players will always be a little more special for me.

      On D I had a tough time going between Ulfie, Burrows, and Orpik as my defensive D man. I chose Ulfie in the end because of the fear he struck in opponents. To use a football reference, I heard the term Jack Lambert on skates used in conjunction with Ulfie and that has stuck with me and Lambert is my favorite Steeler of all time.

      Also, I went back and forth with Carlyle and Gonchar. Carlyle was one of my favorite players as a kid.

      I really loved the memory lane your honorable mentions caused me to walk down Rick. Baxter was another player actually considered on the R side of D. He was a fairly good Offensive D man when in the attacking zone and Euphamism on Wheels when it came to grit.

      Some of my favorite memories were Stackhouse bank shot goal in the Play-Offs against Toronto, I believe it was Carlyle’s bouncing dump in that hopped up over, was it Suave’s shoulder? Mario’s cycle of goals and seeing his first Gretzky match-up and first Match-up against the touring Russian team at the old igloo. And of course the only puck I ever caught. It was during the pregame warm up and Rod Schutt took his usual slap shot from the bottom of the RW circle (not sure if I ever saw him shoot a wrist shot). He tried shooting it over Robbie Holland’s blocker, but Holland blocked it up into the stands. It came floating over the glass nice and lazily looking. As a goaltender by trade my left hand, lacking its normal trapper immediately reacted and reached up, snagging the puck in mid flight. After the several moments of joy at catching my first puck/baseball/anything at a sporting event, ending many years of frustration, the painful realization set in that I just barehand caught a piece of frozen vulcanized rubber that really wasn’t lazilty floating over the glass, it only appeared that probably due the excitement of the situation and my normal practice of seeing pucks come at me. I think it took until the middle of the third period before I was able to really block out the stinging in my hand.

      I am going to toss this out there too, I always wondered how good Faubert may have gotten had he not been injured.

      One of these days I will have to ask you about your All Time Canadien Team Jim, see how it differs from mine, since they really are more of a backyard team for you.

      • Jim's Gravatar Jim
        January 29, 2017 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

        Hey Coach.
        U were a goalie before you coached minor hockey?
        Very interesting. Patrick Roy had a very successful Quebec major junior hockey career as a Head coach when he retired from the NHL as a player and before his days in Colorado as a NHL Coach.
        He always said that “The Goalie has the best seat in the house when watching a hockey game.You see the game differently “. So that is why you post the game in such vivid detail.Very Cool.
        I always thought Geno with his size,skill and ability to anticipate the play before it unfolds would be a natural to play with Mario and Jagr. Not to confuse people but during the Canada Cup series Mario played left wing with Gretzky. In my dream team if Geno did not flourish at left wing I would switch him and Mario. Great players love to play with great players.
        Just watching 3 on 3 …Seems strange to see Ovi and Sid together at the Allstars .
        Good picks.

        • the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
          January 30, 2017 at 2:15 am | Permalink

          Hey Jim,

          I don’t think that goaltenders always turn into great coaches, but it I think it can help. You do get to see how all plays develop, if you pay attention. But that is not the reason I liked goaltending. Aside from my superstitions and personality quarks which made me a natural for the position, I also hated to come off of the ice and it was the only position you didn’t have t share with anyone. I was a bit greedy.

          I do remember Mario playing wing for Gretzky in the Canada Cup and you may have to switch Geno and Mario but then again Geno is not really all that good in the FO circle and although Mario wasn’t always the most consistent FO man, when he really concentrated, like everything else he did, he would make it work so even if you did switch them, you may still want Mario taking the draw.

          I know Crosby and Ovie seems like being a traitor but if not for the luck of the draw the Pens may have ended up with Ovie and Sid rather than Sid and Geno. I think that was the first year of the draft lottery.

          • Jim's Gravatar Jim
            January 30, 2017 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

            Hey Coach
            You played nets because you never wanted to leave the game and I played a very poor man’s left defense and they never let me on the ice. ( My Dad was my Coach for 2 years.) Did not help!. So I moved to forward and played pick up hockey until my mid 30s. Still loved the game.

            You raise a good point Coach .What if ???
            We drafted Ovi, then Sid and then Jordan S?
            Which team would u pick?
            As good as Geno is I would take Ovi and then keep
            Jordan as my second center?
            Your thoughts Coach ..Rick…anybody else?

            • the Other Ric's Gravatar the Other Ric
              January 30, 2017 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

              Hey Jim,

              I am a Malkin fan and want to see him retire a Penguin. That is the kid in me, but you are asking the big what if question. What happens if Crosby and Ovie play as linemates for 10 seasons. Wow.

              In the regular season I would love to see that. Those two would have been electric, not Gretzky Kurri, but maybe the closest that we could have seen. Their stats would be way up there. And who knows, Crosby may not get injured with Ovie out there.

              However, given Ovies lack of post-season success makes me start to swing back to Geno. The first Cup Sid and Geno won was due in large part to Geno. He was a beast.

              I know of all the team sports Hockey is still one of the dying few that has remained more of a team game rather than my best 1, 2, or 3 guy spectacle that other sports have devolved into. So, that Ovie can’t do it on his own and his failures to hoist the Cup may not be his fault. If he had play with Sid maybe he does hoist the Cup.

              So, for now, until Ovie does hoist the Cup, I still take Malkin due to the intangible of Malkin’s beast performance that Cup year. He was a one man wrecking crew at times.

              I’ll take Cup wins over scoring titles and individual record breakers.

      • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
        January 30, 2017 at 9:01 am | Permalink

        Great stuff, Other Rick.

        Thanks for sharing … 🙂


  5. The Other Rick's Gravatar The Other Rick
    January 28, 2017 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

    Hey Rick, Jim, et al,

    This is why it is so hard to repeat as SC champs. The league has the time to dissect the winning teams strategy and counter it.

    Having said that, Sullivan has earned at least a little more time to come up with a new strategy and there are ways to break opponents game plan.

    I personally would think adding at least some size on D would be indicated. Some teams have been able to stifle the Pens offense, but I think the real problem isn’t offense. The Forwards still have punched up big numbers and are on top in goals per game. Yes they have been shut out a couple of times but I think that has been more of question of a Goalie bringing their A game against the Champs. My real concern is team D. They aren’t getting the puck out rapidly and giving up way too much zone time, leading to way too many shot attempts, leading to way to many Shots on goal. They either need to adjust their break outs or get bigger D men to handle getting hit and returning the favor.

  6. Jim's Gravatar Jim
    January 28, 2017 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

    Your preaching to the choir Rick. 🙂
    I have been saying this for 2 month’s.
    The league is to competitive and the
    elite teams are making changes to handle
    our speed game.
    So we all can pretend we are going to the
    Cup finals just the way we are or take action
    to improve our club now.
    What would you do?


    • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
      January 28, 2017 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

      Hey Jim,

      I know the type of players I’d like to get. Three big guys in the 210-220 pound range who can play (and play tough). Two forwards and one defenseman.

      That’s the easy part. The hard part is lining up specific players and/or deals. Looking inside the organization first, we only have a handful of forwards who have the requisite size, Carter Rowney, Tom Sestito, Oskar Sundqvist and Garrett Wilson.

      Even though they’ve played pretty well at Wilkes-Barre, I’m not sure Sestito or Wilson skate well enough to fit the Pens’ style. Sundqvist obviously has some pedigree, and at 6’3” 209, the size. The Hockey News report on him suggests he plays an abrasive game, which the Pens could obviously use.

      I know little about Rowney, other than what I’ve gleaned from the THN. He’s got size and some grit and—although he’s by no means a heavyweight—he can handle himself in a scrap judging from videos.

      The only defensemen in the organization who play a physical style are Steve Oleksy, who the Pens seem to have soured on, and Cameron Gaunce. Neither fits into the top six when everyone’s healthy.

      Let’s say you decide to promote Sundqvist. The guy I’d most likely try to move is Nick Bonino, although there’s a bit of a risk involved given how well he played down the stretch last season.

      You’re not going to get an all-star for Bones, but perhaps you parlay him into a rugged No. 6 d-man. I love the Blue Jackets’ Dalton Prout, but we’d never get him for obvious reasons (division rival, etc.). Have no idea who else to suggest.

      I mentioned this one before. But perhaps you send Derrick Pouliot to Toronto for Kerby Rychel, a physical former No. 1 pick of the Blue Jackets. Rychel’s got size (6’1” 213), can fight and score, and plays left wing, one of our comparative soft spots. He is, however, a rather large minus for the Toronto Marlies, so you wonder what’s up with that.

      I saw a rumor that Troy Brouwer might be available out in Calgary. Big right wing (6’3” 215), has a scoring touch, uses the body, solid citizen. Not a great skater, though, and pricey at $4.5 mil. Has a no-trade clause, too, which he might be willing to waive to come to a Cup contender. Perhaps Marc-Andre Fleury goes to the Flames in some sort of package deal.

      None of this, obviously, is ideal.

      Trying to think more in terms of who Rutherford might target, I’m sure he’d love to get a guy like Colorado’s Gabriel Landeskog, a bigger, younger version of countryman Patric Hornqvist. Again, he’s pricey at $5.5 mil.

      Perhaps you send Fleury and, as much as I hate to say it, Jake Guentzel and/or Daniel Sprong, to the Avalanche for Landeskog and goalie Calvin Pickard. I think it would be a wash, cap-wise. And it feels like a JR move.

      Anyways. So much for my stab at playing GM … 🙂



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