Hey Penguins, Where’s the “D”? – Pittsburgh Penguins – PenguinPoop Blog

Hey Penguins, Where’s the “D”?

Our Pittsburgh Penguins dropped the back end of their second of 19 back-to-back series this season by a score of 5 – 4 to the Tampa Bay Lightning, last night. A comment made by Steve Mears and his partner in crime, in the announcers booth, during the Penguins second loss of the season, struck me as odd. The boys in Black-n-Gold squeezed off 40 shots en route to their 4 goals, Tampa Bay managed 36 shots to net their 5 goals, yet the announcers of the televised tilt had high praise for both goalies. Despite the high number of goals put up on the board and the below average save percentages turned in for the goalies nights’ work they were being lauded.

How can that be? How could the goalies have played such good games to draw praise while fishing so many pucks out of the backs of their nets on so relatively few shots, particularly Penguins goalie Antti Niemi, who gave up 5 goals on only 36 shots?

The answer is simple, the Penguin team D had to be absolutely, disgustingly, absent from the game. No, the game didn’t end-up the same as last Thursday’s 10 – 1 drubbing at the hands of the Chicago Blackhawks. At least this week the score was a lot closer. However, the pathetic excuse for team defense was the same. I can’t say that I was able to watch the whole game as closely as I would have liked but it seemed every time I looked up a Bolt player stood in front of Niemi all by themselves, blocking the besiege goalie’s view. And in what may have summed up the Penguins lack of “D”, on the Bolts final goal of the evening, at the end of a Penguins power play, Kris Letang skated the puck near the penalty box just as Slater Koekeok finished up his time for interfering with Patric Hornqvist, a penalty call, with which the local fans of the Bolts disagreed. Koekeok shrugged Letang off of his skates, sending him sprawling to the ice, leaving Letang’s partner, Olli Maatta, hung out to dry on a 3 on 1. Maatta did a great job of trying to slow down the play to allow some Penguins to get back to help. He forced the Bolts to have to play keep away just above the Penguins goal-crease, all the while desperately trying to break up the play. Unfortunately, the cavalry never came to rescue the beleaguered Defenseman and his Goalie. After the Bolts took the time to pass the puck around to each other, so that all 3 would touch the puck, the Bolt who started the play, Koekoek, tucked the biscuit under Niemi’s pads on the backhand and into the net.

Where was the rest of the team?

This is a very disturbing trend and it needs to be stopped now, or the Penguins could find themselves on the outside looking in come March and April, trying to make up ground lost in October and November, with the fewest games to be played by any team in that crucial stretch run.

If the Penguins were playing this inconsistent while letting kids like; Daniel Sprong, Zach Aston-Reese, Adam Johnson, and Lukas Bengtsson, or even not quite as young but rather in experienced Jarred Tinordi or newly acquired Andrey Pedan, cut their teeth, I could understand. However, the Penguins are the 11th oldest team in the league, with an average age of 27.486. (Detroit is the oldest at 28.515 and Columbus is the youngest at 24.907). There is no excuse for the pathetic defensive performance. It would seem to me that it is time to change the players or change the players before the shot at 3-peating is lost completely.

Forget about a third line Center, for now. Find some D-men who can play D and clear their crease of opponents, or at least keep the puck out of their own zone. And assemble a 4th line that can actually play 10 minutes a game so that stars like Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin have something left in their tank for the back end of the next 17 back-to-back games.

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  1. 55 on Point's Gravatar 55 on Point
    October 15, 2017 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

    Hello to All,

    I didn’t get to watch the Tampa Bay game. I DVR’d it, but after reading Rick’s excellent as always breakdown, and the other comments, perhaps I’ll pass as it sounds as if I’ve seen that game already. Last nights game (Florida) was a win, but not a convincing one. Forty-six shots? Really?

    I feel like there’s a rant coming over me, but it’s still too early to pop my cherry, so I’ll just say this:

    Let’s face it, this team likes being a strictly offensive minded team, while on the other hand just don’t like shooting the puck so much. And that’s often the result of not having the puck so much because, well, team D. It’s a vicious circle, and by the way, a holdover from the latter part of last season. Weren’t they pretty much outshot throughout the last third of the season and through the playoffs? They don’t have several of those horses this year who buckled down and pulled them through.

    Still, interviews after every game invariably include the words, “we need to cut down on their chances/shots…, “we need to shoot the puck more” and “we need to be better at getting out of our zone.” What did The Bee Gees say in about 1965? “It’s only words and words are all I have…”

    They, once again, need to simplify their game, and find consistency on defense. They also need to admit to themselves how tenuous their goal tending situation could become, or already is. They don’t have a back up goalie who can win the 15-20 games that position will have to win while Mr. Softee is playing D. They certainly won’t get anywhere close while facing upwards of 40 shots per game. The bottom six, as it sits now, cannot make up the difference to assure they can outscore anyone no matter how many shots they surrender.

    I too would like to see them shake it up right now and not fiddling with current lines until February. It’s not too soon for changes on the blue line, or on the wings. There are players who might make a difference, so if you’re intent on fiddling, bring in some new fiddlers.

    I tire every year of hearing how games in October don’t mean anything. It’s then I remember that every April there are 16, now 17, teams watching the playoffs from their family rooms wishing they’d won a few more games in October and November. Plus, they have a front loaded schedule this year. They won’t have as many opportunities to make up lost ground at the back end.

    — 55

    • the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
      October 15, 2017 at 7:31 pm | Permalink

      Hey 55, good to hear from you.

      And great point, if a team can’t get execute the playbook, simplify it until they can. This team needs to start crawling before it can walk, before it can run.

      And I am 100% behind you, playing the same players over and over again, expecting different results, well, it may not be as bad as using the same strategy over and over, the players may start getting it, but is close to the same thing. Furthermore, the players aren’t going to get the message that they have to play harder, compete for 60 minutes, and make it tougher for their opponents until some players start sitting, like happened when Sully first took the reins, Sully needs to get these guys attention and now!

  2. Jim's Gravatar Jim
    October 14, 2017 at 8:34 am | Permalink

    Hi OTR,
    Tampa Bay and Pens games most of the time are very entertaining to watch because they play a some what similar style of game. But as a Coach they drive you crazy from an execution point of view. I think it is because you have players like Crosby, Kessel and Stamkos and Kucherov, and they are all offensive minded and not really ” physical” style players.They all simply take chances when they play each other and I do not think any of them mentioned above would know what a 1 to 0 Hockey game looked like.
    But what the Lighting do have on defense are 6’6″ Victor Hedman, 6’5″ Braydon Coburn, 6’7″ Andreij Sustr and rookie sensation,10th over all pick, Slater Koek koek who scored 2 goals against us and he is a tiny 6’2″.
    Lets not forget the trade of J. Drouin to Montreal for 9th over all pick in 2016
    6’3″,220#, 20 year old Junior star d man Mikhail Sergachev. That is one BIG group of quick D men my friend and if Hedman was hard to handle before offensively, when Koek koek and Sergachev get some NHL ice time come this April, Pittsburgh we have a PROBLEM. 5 of their 6 D men are giants who can skate !!. Size matters Coach.Been preaching this for years as you know.
    With regards to our Pens we are still very much a work in progress and it is apparent we lack the horses to fully compete over a 4 line basis.I guess my point is, as Rick stated in his previous post,we are a team in transition. Unfortunately going in the wrong direction as compared to a team like Tampa who has deep potential to improve especially in their defense corps.
    On paper, ( and I know hockey is played on the ice and not on a piece of paper), their d- corps looks really good especially if Koek koek and Sergachev really develop. They are just raw rookies playing in their 4 or 5 th NHL contests. I am not worried about Washington Coach or even Columbus, who will be both difficult to beat. Tampa come play off time, barring serious injuries is going to be tough for us especially if we lose just one player like a Crosby, Malkin,Letang or Schultz. They definitely have more talent potential and depth than we do my friend.
    But we still have 77 games? to go and a lot can happen.
    Lets Go Pens.

    • the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
      October 14, 2017 at 10:44 am | Permalink

      Hey Jim,

      I am not going to argue with you. I agree Tampa has one of the top D-Corps, as a unit, and they have talented forwards, so they can cause problems, even for teams that can play good team “D”. My problem is that the Pens made it easy for them as well as most of their opponents so far in this young season. Teams are skating with impunity though the Pens D-Zone. They aren’t even close enough to opposing players most of the time to take their opponents stick away, even if they could get away with it.

      This is a problem.

      Also, I am not going to argue that the Pens are a team in transition. With the number of players who played prominent roles these past couple of seasons, plying their trade elsewhere, that is a fact. However, when a team is in transition, it is okay to let kids play, so let them. Teams in transition whose average age is in the oldest third and statistically similar to the oldest team are usually not going far. With veterans like Crosby, Malkin, Kessel, and Hornqvist (unless you trade him before he jumps) you don’t really need anymore veteran leadership, those 4 should be able to provide it.

      On “D” you would like Letang to be able to step up to a leadership role as well, particularly since he is wearing an “A” on his jersey, but I would think Cole, if he were healthy would be better suited for that role.

      So it is past time to get younger. Barring a trade for Duchene, signing Athansiou, or Zaripov, give some younger players a more prominent role, or just a role. Sprong is a CORSI dream; bring his youth and exuberance here to jump start a team that many of times looks like it is mechanically going through the motions. Put Archibald on that 4th line with Rowney. Sit Sheary and move Kuhnhackl up a bit. At least give Tinordi or Pedan ice time on “D” and sit Hunwick, at least until Cole gets back and don’t ignore Bengtsson. You just might find that you did transition and transition back to the top of your game.

      Yes, other teams improved. In fact you noted that over the summer, teams like CBJ and Chi, and TB jumped up the charts. Even NJD and VGN have come out of the gate flying. The Pens do not have the luxury of resting on their laurels or waiting to see if Hunwick can do something he has never done in his career to date. With the fewest games down the stretch, the Pens need every point they can earn or steal at the beginning of the season, so they can ill afford to lose the back end of every one of their 19 back-to-back series just because they are too exhausted to play, due to a 4th line that is non existent.

      Go Pens, Flatten Florida!

    • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
      October 14, 2017 at 11:15 am | Permalink

      Hey Jim,

      Excellent thoughts and analysis.

      If the league continues to legislate against stick-on-stick defense, which is basically our bread-and-butter, then it’s going to place a renewed emphasis on taking the body. Or, at the very least, getting in the way. Which, given the makeup of the Pens’ defensive corps, puts us somewhat behind the eight-ball.

      Along those lines, the Pens’ signing of Jarred Tinordi this summer intrigued me. Big guy (6’6″ 230), former first-round pick, possesses a heavy shot, can skate and hit. He isn’t real creative on the offensive end, but…hey…you can’t have everything.

      For whatever reasons, he’s never panned out at the NHL level…kind of like Derrick Pouliot. I thought he might have a shot as a No. 6 or 7 d-man with the Pens, but noticed he hasn’t played yet for the Baby Pens. I just read that he suffered some type of injury in preseason.

      Anyways, I digress. My point is, if the league continues its crusade against slashing and stick-related offenses, the Pens made want to turn to a more physical player like Tinordi or the recently acquired Andrey Pedan.

      Unlike the past few years, at least we have the option.


      PS–Not that I’m rooting against him, but Fleury finally looked mortal last night. Flower leaked for four third-period goals as Detroit rallied to beat Vegas 6-3.

      PSS–Don’t know about anyone else, but Washington has surprised me so far.

      • Jim's Gravatar Jim
        October 14, 2017 at 11:52 am | Permalink

        Hey Rick,
        Right you are about Washington. I think I read Ovi has 9 goals this season. I have not had a chance to check. But if true somebody is playing for a Cup Ring this year and that could spell trouble for the rest of the NHL.
        What scares me about Tampa is they have a lot of young, star talent who are either first year or second year players and with a healthy Steve Stamkos,Hedman and Kucherov, this group could beat Toronto, Boston, Montreal easily and play us. We have the harder road to the Cup I am afraid to say.
        I thought Rust played a stronger game and Nemi was not the reason we lost. I kept thinking last night have we sunk so low that to win OUR GOALIES need to stop 40 shots every night Rick ?? Appears that way so far. As Coach says this team has a long way to go to become a 3 peat Team and we do not have the luxury of losing 20 of our first 40 games. That will be a disaster….Because expectations are so HIGH among the Fan base to 3 peat.
        Hope you are enjoying the start of the season my friend.

        PS..This Edmonton team is scary…They just have to learn to be consistent and bring it every night… When they do learn that lesson on HOW TO WIN…We are in trouble…
        They play just like us in 2016…Get out of my way or I will run over you.

        • the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
          October 14, 2017 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

          Hey Jim and Rick,

          If I recall correctly, I read an article that said Ovie actually worked out in the off season, so maybe he finally matured and is ready to take his game up a notch. But also, again if I recall correctly, he has been playing second line at least a little, so he isn’t drawing the same “D” attention he once did. If he keeps scoring then that will change.

          I hear you about Tampa, they really could be the team to beat in the east.

      • the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
        October 14, 2017 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

        Hey Rick,

        I hadn’t seen that about Tinordi being injured.

        Maybe the problems TInordi had is similar to Pouliot in that their teams had a glut of D men just like him, so he was redundant. Maybe Tinordi can thrive here since once Cole leaves at the end of this year to FA, either he or Pdean can really thrive here. And although I am glad the Pens are out from under Pouliot, I wish him the best and that his career takes off, in a system where there aren’t so many clones of him littering the roster.

        In the end, I think we both are chomping at the bit to see either Tinordi or Pedan given a shot this year.

        Also, about MAF, I didn’t look at the stats from the game or anything but I still think he will have a lot of success in Vegas, even though they are an expansion team, they look like they play better D in general, funnelling shots out to the perimeter and point, judging by avg shot lengths.

  3. Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
    October 13, 2017 at 10:03 am | Permalink

    Hey Other Rick,

    I have many of the same concerns.

    Although we somehow managed to stay within range last night, thanks to some big saves by Niemi and, frankly, the grace of God, this game could easily have gotten out of hand a la the Blackhawks debacle. Same tepid pattern, same almost non-existent team ‘d’ or any semblance of physical play, especially in front of Niemi, as you so duly noted.

    Fifty-five on Point expressed a concern over our lack of battle readiness and I echo it. I’m not talking about crushing guys into the boards, although a little bit of that wouldn’t hurt. I’m just talking about getting in the way, or at least getting a body on someone once in a while. The Pens, as presently constructed, seem almost allergic to contact.

    Ditto the seeming reluctance to make the hard or forceful play. During the Lightning power play at the end of the first period…the one they scored on with a millisecond left…we kept making these wimpy soft chips, trying to nudge the puck out of our zone. Someone’s got to take the darn thing and just blast it up ice. Of course, that might involve competing for the puck and/or actually knocking someone on their arse, heaven forbid.

    It was fairly evident the Pens were dragging a bit after skating to an emotional, high-energy win over the Capitals the night before. And I know back-to-backs are no picnic. But we’ve got 17 more before all is said and done…two more this month. We’re going to have to figure this out.

    A few more loose-leaf thoughts. Crosby skated over 23 minutes again last night…an average of over 20 on the season. Conversely, Rowney, who played very well against Washington, was on the ice for a little over six minutes. I realize this is somewhat tied to Reaves, who was riveted to the bench practically the entire game, but Sullivan’s got to start sorting this stuff out. Even if it means sitting Reaves in favor of Archibald, which I sense is coming.

    Although I in no way, shape or form pin this loss on Niemi, Marc-Andre Fleury he ain’t. Juicy rebounds were jumping off his pads like popcorn from a popper. I’m sure Antti’s shell-shocked to a degree, playing behind our watery team defense. But we need a backup who can steal a game here and there. And frankly, with that awkward low crouch of his, there’s an awful lot of net to shoot at.

    I’m sure the ridiculous way the refs are calling stick infractions has affected us to a degree. Since we’re primarily a stick-checking team, it may have taken away our primary means of marking opposing forwards. But we’re going to have to man up and start making adjustments.

    To that end, like you I wish we had a hammer back there on defense. Someone … anyone … to force other teams to take notice and maybe deter them from barging to the net, full steam ahead.

    Unlike recent seasons, we do have a couple of bruisers (Pedan and Tinordi) in the system. Whether we use ‘em or not? A whole other kettle of fish.



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