Penguins Impressions – Pittsburgh Penguins – PenguinPoop Blog

Penguins Impressions

Back in the day, there used to be a radio show on WYDD called “Jazzz Impressions.” During the segment, which aired on Sunday nights, noted jazz aficionado Jim DeCesare would play tunes featuring his favorite performers.

I thought I’d steal a page from DeCesare and dispense with a traditional game summary, instead giving some overall impressions of the Penguins’ disappointing 4-2 loss to Vancouver. I’ll split ‘em into pluses and minuses. Here goes.


In terms of effort, the Pens had nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, considering they were playing their third game in four nights and fifth of an extended western road trip, I thought they gave a pretty good account of themselves. From a numbers standpoint, they dominated the Canucks in both shots on goal (39-21) and total shot attempts (60-42). The Pens were responsible with the puck (only 3 giveaways) and held their own on faceoffs (50 percent).

Carl Hagelin played a terrific game…his best in a long, long time. Flashing his old HBK Line form, he used his blazing speed to create turnovers on the forecheck and aggressively drove to the net, an effort that earned him an in-game promotion from the fourth line to the second. A shame “Hags” wasn’t rewarded with a goal. He richly deserved one.

Ryan Reaves (five hits) played one of his better games for the black and gold. I’m not just saying that because he picked up an assist. It’s taken nearly a quarter of the season, but he appears to be a bit more in sync. On the shift that produced the Pens’ second goal, the big guy did yeoman’s work along the boards to keep the play alive and had the good sense to drift back and cover the point, despite being visibly out of gas. Reaves then unleashed a nice, low shot into traffic that Greg McKegg pickle-stabbed past Jacob Markstrom. Who, by the way, played a heckuva game for Vancouver.


I hate to single out players for criticism. However, Kris Letang (minus-3) endured a brutal game on defense. On the ice for all four Vancouver goals, Letang had the look of a deer caught in the proverbial headlights while the Canucks worked the puck over, around and through him. (For good measure, he crashed headlong into the boards.) Difficulties close to his own net are nothing new for “Tanger,” but last night his struggles were extreme. Maybe he’s trying too hard and getting caught out of position. Or perhaps he’s not reading the play properly, or lacking in confidence…or a convoluted combination of all. Whatever the reasons, he needs to be better. A lot better. And he knows it.

By virtue of yielding four goals on 21 shots, I’ll stick goalie Matt Murray in the minus category. Although he had virtually no chance on most of the scoring plays due to screens, defensive lapses and questionable coverage by his teammates, “Murr” gets paid to stop the puck. And he wasn’t up to his usual high standards last night.

I don’t really know if it’s a minus. We certainly need to consider that it was the tail end of an extended road trip, one that’s taken the Pens on a protracted week-long swing from Minnesota through western Canada. So our guys had to be at least a little tired. But to me, we seemed to lack our old speed. While we’re at it, I wish we had a little more jam.

Play of the Game

Sidney Crosby (minus-3) likewise had a tough night at the office. However, Sid made a pass on the Pens’ first goal that was pure gold…one of the best I’ve ever seen. Planted in the slot while working on a power play, he one-timed a feed from Evgeni Malkin between his legs to Phil Kessel, positioned some 15 feet away in the left circle. It reminded me of a shortstop in baseball grabbing a throw from an outfielder and, in an instant, unleashing a strike to home plate to nail a baserunner. Except Sid was facing away from his intended target. Kudos to Kessel, too, for having the wherewithal to anticipate the pass and one-time it to Jake Guentzel, who smacked it into the net.

I’m not doing the play justice. If you didn’t see it, watch the replay on NHL.com. Pure magic.

The Road Ahead

I’ll wrap up my ramble by stating the obvious. While things certainly could be better for our Pens (8-6-2), they’re just about finished with a murderous, 19-game stretch to open the season that’ll include 13 road games and a mind-blowing six sets of back-to-backs before all is said and done. Starting on November 14 against Buffalo, they’ll play 10 of 13 at the friendly confines of PPG Paints Arena.

Hopefully, better days are ahead.

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  1. 55 on Point's Gravatar 55 on Point
    November 6, 2017 at 8:21 pm | Permalink

    Hello All,

    Re: Letang, and I don’t mean to appear to be picking on him, but the thing I’ve always thought about him is if anyone on this team has ever been effectively uncoachable, it’s #58. They’ve always allowed Letang to be Letang and, I assume, hoped it would work out. Through all the coaching changes and all the “systems” the team has dealt with in the last 10 years, he has never changed. Maybe a little tweak here and a tiny adjustment there, but he’s always played the Kris Letang game. He’s always been a loose cannon and a rover. That’s his game. Now it isn’t working, at all. He’s thinking out there — and that’s the one thing he should never do, the one thing he’s never done. He’s uncertain and guessing, and his medical history is catching up with him, too. It isn’t serving him, or the team.

    As I noted in a previous post, dealing him would take some real magic and I’m pretty sure retaining a chunk of his salary would be necessary even if they found a team showing some interest. Rick is correct when he says few outside of Pittsburgh ever looked at Letang as a Norris contender, let alone a premier defenseman, even when he legitimately was.

    It’s a shame. We hate to see it, but it happens. We’re watching a good hockey player losing his mojo and wondering if it will ever return. So is the rest of the league.

    Joe Sakic is the newest grand theft auto champion with the Duchene deal. No wonder it took so long… all that paperwork. These are the kinds of deals that remind me of the wisdom of P. T. Barnum, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” Who knows? Maybe they could deal Letang.

    — 55

    • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
      November 7, 2017 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

      Hey 55,

      A very succinct and apt description of Letang. He indeed, functions like an old-fashioned rover, in a style somewhat reminiscent of former Pens great Paul Coffey. Ironically, a player who I thought breathed life into the team at one end of the ice and sucked it out at the other.

      I also agree that, when he’s on his game and playing within himself, Letang’s a very good defenseman. Perhaps not the high-end puck distributor we might expect, but highly effective in a wildcard sense. I thought he played especially well after Mike Sullivan took over in 2015-16, and in the playoffs that spring.

      I do think a lot of his issues stem from a lack of confidence and/or an attempt to live up to impossibly high standards that we/he set for him.

      In my mind, the habit of trying to do too much (and be too much) first surfaced in 2013-14, after he signed his present contract. Unfortunately, it’s plagued him off and on ever since.


  2. Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
    November 6, 2017 at 7:41 am | Permalink

    Hey all,

    You’ve probably heard by now that Colorado traded Matt Duchene yesterday to Ottawa as part of a big, three-team deal involving Nashville.

    The Predators got center Kyle Turris from the Senators.

    From the Sens, Colorado received goalie Andrew Hammond, forward Shane Bowers, a first-round pick in 2018 and a third-round pick in 2019. From the Preds, the Avalanche got defenseman Samuel Girard, forward Vladislav Kamenev and a second-round pick in 2018.


    • the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
      November 6, 2017 at 9:01 am | Permalink

      Hey Rick,

      I did hear about the trade but I hadn’t looked at it yet. Wow, I would not have minded at all If the Pens could have landed him, but I would never have paid anything near that much. I don’t know if you remember the time Spence and I tried to see how far we could push people’s naivety over anabolic supplements in their quest for getting bigger muscles and we took an old supplement bottle, put our own fake label on it, slapped a $110 price tag on it, and I slipped it into the old supplement display case that we used to have down the gym. Without boring anyone else who might be reading this, I’ll cut to the chase, I actually had 3 members run across the street to the banking machine, withdraw the money and come back in and try and to buy it, until I opened the bottle to show them that there was no genie inside, just an empty pipe dream.

      You would think that NHL GMs wouldn’t be so foolish, but I guess the allure of winning the Cup blinds people to reason just as getting bigger, stronger muscles. Unfortunately for Ottawa and Nashville, Sakic wasn’t as ethical as I was, he took the money.

      Duchene is better than an empty bottle but he is no McDavid, Crosby, or Malkin; he is not worth a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd pick plus a goalie, a defenseman, and 2 forwards. It will be interesting to see who they take with those picks.

    • November 6, 2017 at 9:29 am | Permalink

      Sort of reminiscent of what the Flyers gave up to the Avalanche (Nordiques) for Lindros.

  3. kerrdog211's Gravatar kerrdog211
    November 5, 2017 at 11:56 am | Permalink

    Hey Rick,
    Enjoyed you article as always.I read everything the poop has to offer comments include (sometimes the comments are just as good or better than the articles themselves). I just really wanted to talk more about Tanger, my thoughts are very much in line with Mr. Krundle. How many times do we have to see Letang caught down to low in the offensive zone with the “aww crap” look on his face as his partner is faced with an odd man rush. How many times do we have to see him stand motionless in front of our net trying to poke the puck off the oppositions stick instead of putting a body on them? How many giveaways do we have to endure? I personally have had enough.The thing I hate most is, for the multiple things he’s doing wrong he will do one thing right and then everyone says “see that’s why he one of the top defenceman in the league”. Last night he chased down a play and prevented a scoring chance and oh my goodness the Vancouver announcers just gushed, when he was out of position or got burned well then it’s because he was hurt last year. Come on are you kiddIng me. I know his stock is low but it’s time to consider trying to move him. On a positive note I think the team played well, Markstrom was just too tough last night. Anyway sorry for the rant keep up the good work.

    • the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
      November 5, 2017 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

      Hey kerrdog211,

      Hope you don’t mind me jumping in. I am right there with you. I hate to say it this way but trading Letang could be addition by subtraction. Yes, he has 11 or 12 points this year but he is a -16. The vast majority of his points come on the power play, so at even strength he is a total liability. I know Rick, I know he is very diplomatic at times, I don’t think anyone could accuse me of that. As you pointed out Letang fans always point to the one thing he does right and either ignore or make excuses for the 10 things he does wrong.

      Yes he was injured last year. Maybe, when Schultz was still healthy, he was trying too hard to prove he was the better of the 2, even after his injury. Maybe, now that Schultz is injured he feels he has to do more than his share. However, bottom line is he is weighing the Cap down to the tune of $7.5mil and wearing an “A” on his sweater, not only do we as fans have the right to expect more, Sullivan and JR also have a responsibility to demand more of him.

      In theory I agree with you, the Pens should be shopping him around. However, I doubt that the organization has reached our level of frustration with him. They still, on the surface, appear willing to bear the Mill Stone of irresponsible play from a veteran (alleged) team leader. But even if they have been trying to shop him around without us knowing it, there comes the problem of finding a trade partner. The rest of the league doesn’t place Letang on the pedestal like some here in the ‘burgh do. Although, Pittsburghers may suggest that he is a Norris candidate, but I have heard precious few outside our fair city express that view. The Pens should be able to get more than a bag of pucks for him, but, particularly at this point, are not going to get that much in return (barring a Scuderi/Daley esque swindle) and probably will have to eat a porion of his salary.

    • November 5, 2017 at 6:17 pm | Permalink

      Hey Kerrdog & tOR,

      I also believe that Letang is the mysterious ailment that has left the Penguins offense cold. His going into the offensive end has the wingers dropping back to try to cover for him. If you watched the game last night you saw the Reaves shot from the point that McKegg scored on. The reason Reaves dropped back to the point was because Letang was in to the right of the Vancouver net. This has taken away any consistency to any sort of cycling play the offense would like to get going. Players are scrambling all over the place, completely mixed up on offense and defense as to where they should be for 26 minutes a game.

      To add insult to injury, the first powerplay goal for the Pens last night had Maatta manning the point with Crosby, Kessel, Malkin & Guentzel.

      tOR, with the diminution of Letang’s ability to play defense for the Penguins would you be willing to pay $2mil a year of Letang’s contract if the Pens could get a good defensive player in return?

      • the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
        November 5, 2017 at 10:52 pm | Permalink

        Hey Phil,

        At this point, I would be open to eating some of Letang’s cap hit. How much I would be willing to eat would depend on who I got in return. I may draw some fire for this but I do believe that removing Letang from the equation is addition by subtraction right now. The reasons why he is failing all may have some legitimacy, but the bottom line is he IS failing. He does have the worst +/- and since no other player is worse than him, he is not the victim of other players bad play. He is the one dragging Maatta and before him Dumoulin’s +/- down.

        The Penguins won a Cup without him and the only D-man who really contributed to winning that Cup without Letang who left the team was Hainsey, so I wouldn’t necessarily limit my options to a D-man. It may still be my first option, but with the season approaching the 1/4 point I would potentially grab an Offensive threat for the third line. Sheahan has been solid defensively, but really hasn’t added any Punch. I wouldn’t want to dig too deep of a whole to try and dig out of. I would rather Stop the bleeding now.

        I have a lot more patience with kids making mistakes than with veterans wearing an “A” on their sweater.

        Maybe with moving Letang, as you noted, players could actually execute their own roles on the team instead of covering for Letang and the scoring drought will go away, but as I said I would consider a more offensive third line Center when shopping Letang as well as a solid D-man.

    • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
      November 5, 2017 at 9:31 pm | Permalink

      Hey Kerrdog211,

      I was in the process of responding to your comment when the power went out at my home. It took about eight hours for it to come back on!

      First, let me say that I’m very pleased to hear you enjoy our articles…and the comments, too. We so much appreciate faithful readers like yourself. Like you, I really enjoy the comments we receive, and find them both enlightening and thought-provoking. We’re truly blessed to have such a knowledgeable and passionate group of writers and commenters.

      Like the media you so appropriately referenced, I’m probably guilty of giving Letang an EZ-Pass. I confess, I kind of have a soft spot for him, given all he’s been through. And, I sense a lot of his issues stem from a lack of confidence (which I can relate to). I think he tries too hard sometimes as a way of compensating, which only tends to make things worse.

      In many ways, he’s the epitome of a high risk, high reward player. Kind of like the little girl with the curl. When he’s good, he’s very good. And when he’s bad…well…Saturday night was a classic example.

      Unfortunately, due to his hefty contract and health history…not to mention his modified no trade, no movement clause…I think dealing Letang would prove to be extremely difficult. It may also be a challenge to receive anything approaching equal value in return.

      Other Rick mentioned Montreal as a possible destination. While it’s hard to know a player’s mind, it is Letang’s home town, and perhaps he’d be amenable to a trade. Given that the Canadiens have a little wiggle room, cap-wise, perhaps something could be worked out.

      TOR suggested Alex Galchenyuk, a skilled, versatile forward who’s had a tough time under coach Claude Julien, as a trade target. I might opt for Karl Alzner, a solid, no-frills defenseman. The former has an AAV of $4.9 mil, the latter $4.625. In either case, it would free up some cap space for the Pens.

      Of course, that’s assuming Montreal would be interested.


      • the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
        November 6, 2017 at 9:13 am | Permalink

        Hey Rick,

        I have gone back and forth on Letang throughout his career. Honestly, I was angry about the Gologoski trade and thought the Pens should have sent them Letang instead. But after all these years, I have kept pulling for him to really become a complete player. I was really excited when Martin was able to cover up for Letang several years back and felt losing him was one of the worst losses we sustained because we really ended up losing two players.

        When Gonchar came on to the staff I kept hoping that he would teach Letang how to be a better PP QB but that really never fully developed. Yes for a brief point in time he did start shooting faster, having less shots blocked, but he has never learned how to pass. I can’t remember any time he actually put a pass into a shooters wheel house to give them a good shot. His passes are always behind, in front, or into their skates.

        He is a phenomenal skater but he isn’t earning his “A”, he isn’t earning his 26 minutes a game and he certainly isn’t earning his $7.5mil.

        I doubt the Pens will be able to deal him, so the only real way out of the mess the Pens have backed themselves into is to reduce Letang’s ice time and strip him of his “A”. They will probably have to eat the $7.5mil, I fear they will never find anyone to take on his contract.


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