Penguins Stymied Again – Pittsburgh Penguins – PenguinPoop Blog

Penguins Stymied Again

Ever have one of those mornings when your car just won’t start? You insert the key, turn the ignition, and the engine almost turns over…but not quite.

R-u-r, r-u-r, r-u-r…

You try everything in your power to get ‘er going, from rubbing the steering wheel and patting the dash, to popping the hood and jiggling the battery cables, to beseeching our maker for His divine help. Heck, I’ve even resorted to sweet talk and coercion.

“C’mon, baby. Start this one time and I’ll change the oil first chance I get. And none of that cheap stuff, either.”

R-u-r, r-u-r, r-u-r

Forgive the clunky automotive analogy. But it reminds me an awful lot of the Penguins’ offense these days. With the likes of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel providing high-octane fuel, we should be a humming like a well-oiled machine.

Instead, we’re like that poor ol’ car trying to start on a frosty winter morning.

R-u-r, r-u-r, r-u-r…

In many ways, last night’s 4-1 loss to Washington typified the Pens’ recent struggles. We had numerous chances to crack Capitals netminder Braden Holtby, some of them Grade-A.

Like a Formula One racer, Conor Sheary flew down the left side of the ice on a partial breakaway, but was denied by Holtby. Early in the second period Tom Kuhnhackl slipped a beautiful feed off the wall to spring Greg McKegg. Holtby blunted “Kegger’s” backhand try as well.

Add Kessel to the list of wannabe scorers. Working on a crucial power play early in the third period, he cruised into the left-wing circle and snapped off his patented wrister. No sale. Patric Hornqvist pounced on the rebound, but slammed it into Holtby’s pads.

Speaking of “Horny,” he repeatedly engaged former Pen Brooks Orpik in some old-fashioned net-front demolition derby in an effort to score. Crash, bang. But the puck still didn’t go in.

Mike Sullivan’s tried his best to give the Pens a tune up. He’s juggled lines, flopped forwards from side to side, worked on battle drills, reconfigured the power play, encouraged more shooting…the hockey equivalent of replacing the starter, alternator and wiring. He’s tried everything short of pulling the spark plugs and installing a shiny new set from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

Nothing’s working.

Better run some diagnostics. How about total shot attempts percentage? It’s 50.7 for the season…51.8 since we started experiencing scoring troubles 10 games ago. That’s odd…you’d think our possession numbers would be down a bit.

Shots on goal? We’re averaging a healthy 34.9 per game over that stretch. Nothing wrong there.

Faceoffs? Slightly above 50 percent during the scoring slump. Not bad, considering we swapped out our old bottom-six centers for a pair of new ones.

Five-on-five goals? Only eight over the past 10 games. Yikes, that ain’t good. Hard to know if it’s a cause, effect…or both.

Here’s an interesting tidbit. Our missed shots per game are up a bit. An average of 12.7 during the past 10 games versus 10.1 over our first eight. And shots blocked by our opponents are down slightly. Sounds like we’re more active, but missing the net. So maybe it’s the timing.

Then again, perhaps it isn’t the spark plugs at all. Maybe it’s the battery…the heart of the engine.

Anyone got jumper cables?


Kessel scored the Pens’ only goal midway through the second period, courtesy of a fortuitous bounce. “Phil the Thrill” attempted a net-front pass to Malkin, but the puck deflected in off Capitals defenseman Dmitry Orlov instead.

Crosby remains locked in an epic slump. The Pens’ captain is goalless in his last 10 games. He’s collected three assists during that span.

Kris Letang endured another difficult game on defense. He was issued a costly double-minor penalty during a second-period skirmish with T.J. Oshie, which led to the Caps’ go-ahead power-play goal.

Ryan Reaves dropped Washington tough guy Liam O’Brien with a volley of heavy rights in a first-period go. He then pointed in the direction of noted bully Tom Wilson, who was seated on the bench. The Caps’ enforcer declined the challenge.

Matt Murray stopped 27 of 30 shots in a losing effort.

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  1. Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
    November 11, 2017 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

    Hey all,

    Just a little follow-up.

    The Chicago Blackhawks (7-7-2) are surprisingly in much the same boat we are. Since strafing us for 10 goals (and making us look like pee-wees) in their season opener, the Hawks have scored just 34 goals in 15 games.

    Patrick Kane has one more point than Crosby (in two fewer games).

    How the mighty have fallen.


  2. jim's Gravatar jim
    November 11, 2017 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

    Hey Rick,
    Had a chance to watch the game last night and then the follow up analysis from several HNC people and their comments of the current Penguins.
    To say the least Doug McLean was shocked at how far the Pen’s have fallen. 31st in the league 5 on 5 !!! If that is a true statistic then gentlemen we have have a CATASTROPHE waiting to happen. I must admit that other personal commitments have kept me away from following my team as I have in the past, but I must put my “Fans” hat aside and call a “spade a spade.” Crosby is burnt out . Sheary is useless !! He can not play on any line but Crosby. How convenient ! Letang is at best a 3-4 d man and his best days are behind him. We got him for 5 more years at 7.3 million a year. The third and fourth lines are simply not there. Bonino and more importantly Cullen were the glue that held it all together. Of course we can not forget Kunitz either. The ONLY LINE that is any good is the Kessel / Malkin duo.
    This team is a shell of what it used to be.
    31st playing 5 on 5 !!! I do not care how you want to spin that Rick…..
    We are in real trouble.
    Crosby, aside from the power play, can not dominate alone…..he needs wings !! Obviously the league has made adjustments or figured out how to separate Jake and Sid.Sid will not stop giving his 110 %, but if they continue to lose he will become frustrated and start taking chances which COULD lead him to another serious head injury. That is what i worry about guys.
    Plus lets not forget the Capitals were missing 3 of their regular d men last night. Murray is NOT the problem. Sullivan must know you can lead an Army, but you can not push a rope… If we do NOT have the right pieces, we are doe for.
    I do not like writing this but the last few games with the swing thru Western Canada, I got to see the Pen’s on several local TV feeds and all the announcers said the same thing…. Where is Matt Cullen? Bonino?
    CROSBY CAN NOT DO WHAT THEY DID !! Pens are in trouble.

    The Pen’s are terrible in their own end and that is not Penguin Hockey…
    Nothing Sullivan can do as you mentioned above Rick. Juggle all the parts but if your parts are weak, so is the final product.. We need a major rebuild folks !!

    I know nobody will agree but Crosby needs help ! Letang needs to go ! Poor Murray is in for a long, long season folks…
    Await your comments.

    • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
      November 11, 2017 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

      Hey Jim,

      Great to hear from you, my friend. And VERY astute observations. Especially your comments about Bonino, Cullen and Kunitz being the glue that held it all together.

      Dead bang on.

      Not that any of them was an individual standout, at least not in an all-star, score 50 goals sense. But each of them had tons of character and were so clutch…the very definition of a money player.

      As an aside, for an entirely different purpose, I charted the scoring for the Pens’ forwards in the 2015-16 Stanley Cup playoffs. I wanted to see how productive the line combinations were on a game-by-game basis. Obviously, that involved looking at individual production, too.

      I was particularly struck by Kunitz. He didn’t score a single point against the Rangers, when everyone else was filling the net. But when the games got bigger, all of a sudden he began to produce. A goal and four assists in six games against the Caps, followed by three goals and three assists against the Lightning.

      He did the same last year, notching nine points in our last seven playoff games, including the two huge goals in Game 7 against Ottawa.

      There’s a reason he’s won four Cups, folks.

      Anyway, we’re trying to replace this caliber of battle-hardened veteran with guys who are either trying to revive their careers or just happy to be in the NHL. It makes a huge difference in the fiber and makeup of the team.

      Regarding your other observations, you and Other Rick are striking many of the same discordant notes. Especially your thoughts concerning Sheary and Letang.

      In particular, I made it a point to watch No. 58 more closely last night. I was aghast at what I saw. There were several instances of flat-out hanging poor Olli Maatta (who appears to have lost that step he found) out to dry, along with terribly ineffective play close to his own net, an old bugaboo.

      I don’t know what to do, other than pray (real hard) that he comes around. I can’t imagine anyone’s too anxious to bite on $7 mil/season for five years, given his health history and present level of play.


      • jim's Gravatar jim
        November 11, 2017 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

        Keep praying my Friend. We need to find away to shake things up and Letang’s 7.3+ million dollar contract and Connor Sheary’s lack of production and size needs to be addressed sooner than later. Trade Sheary and call up Sprong. Both are similar players and Sprong is about 3- 4″ taller and 20-25 pounds heavier and has a better shot.
        Thanks for the kind words Rick.
        Talk soon

    • the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
      November 11, 2017 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

      Hey Jim,

      As Rick mentioned, I am right there with you bud. Crosby is exhausted. He cannot carry the team by himself. Right now, as you pointed out, all the Penguins have is Malkin and Kessel. That is why I have proselytizing the kids so much; they can’t be any worse than what the alleged veterans are doing.

      I don’t think Letang is completely washed up, and he yet may return to a #3 D-man, but $7.5mil is not what you pay anyone but a #1. As I wrote below, I do think a change of scenery is in order for Letang. At this point, he will be haunted by what some of the hard-core Letang (a oppose to Pens) fans expect of him and he will always be frustrated with his inability to live up to that. A change of scenery will lower the expectations and maybe he will simply start playing rather than pressing and his frustration level will abate. I still wonder if there is a chance to deal him to Montreal, even if we have to eat ~ $1 mil of his contract. Maybe the Pens would have been better off trying to talk Vegas into drafting Letang rather than Fleury.

      Bouncing back to Crosby, interesting thought you had about him getting frustrated into taking risks that get him injured again. Let’s hope not, nor give too much discussion to it, so we don’t set up a self-fulfilling prophecy.

      As for Cullen and Bonino; I did say at the beginning of last year that the Penguins should have worked out an extension while they may have been able to bring it in closer to what they could afford. And Cullen, hmm, like you, I think he may have been the more important puzzle piece. As soon as Bonino jumped I would have upped my bid to keep Cullen. Losing both was a major mistake.

      AS I wrote during the playoffs, JR should have been really working on setting the team up for this year and not resting on his Laurels. Of course maybe he was and we just didn’t see it, but it doesn’t really look like he even thought about anything until it was too late.

      All of the Pens problems right now are self-inflicted. Even after the Bonino-Collen-Kunitz debacle there still was a chance to fix things but no such luck, between thinking with heart instead of head and slipping back into the old conservative, I am too afraid of losing rather than wanting to win mentality we have ended up with a team that will be just good enough to miss a shot at the 1st pick in the draft.

      AS you wrote, garbage in – garbage out. There is only so much Sully can do with the plow horses JR traded (let go) his thoroughbreds for.

      JR built a Cup champion rather rapidly then dismantled it just as fast.

      The sad part is, I still think that if the team could maneuver their finances around to bring up some of their kids, they could still make a good showing this year. Instead it looks more like they will have pushed themselves up against the cap wall and be sitting at home come mid April.

      • jim's Gravatar jim
        November 11, 2017 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

        Hey Coach
        Great job writing for PP my friend. I read almost all of your posts even if i do not have the time to give them a proper response. You and Rick are really connecting well. Letang would look great in Montreal but we would have to get back a 5-6million dollar player package in return because both teams do not have the cap space. What about Sheary?
        How about Duchene going to Ottawa? Ottawa sports talk radio said the reason Kyle Turris was traded was the Sens would not offer him a long term, 6 year deal that he wanted. Apparently Nashville has !!
        My boy Sprong is doing ok Coach. 🙂 Leading the team at WBS last time i checked.
        I hope he gets called up soon.

        • the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
          November 11, 2017 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

          Hey Jim,

          I like Duchene, but he is no generational player, I think, in the long run, Ottawa hurt themselves. Duchene really may not be enough to get them over the top nor does Turris really get Nashville over the hump. In the end it looks like Colorado will be the only one to win out of that deal.

          I am not sure what type of deal would have to be worked out with Montreal, if any, but I would eat part of Letang’s contract if I had to. I would try to keep the amount I had to eat as low as possible but I would do the deal.

          I would also try my best to deal Sheary. I like the feel good story he represents but the hand writing is on the wall. I would try and trade him for prospects or picks to free up the cash.

          I do agree 100% with something Phil wrote, the team needs an infusion of fresh faces that are hungry. However, I don’t think that all of those faces need come from without. There is a great deal that goes into home growing players. That is my biggest push to bring up from within.

          I also agree with you 100%, Sprong would go a long way in putting jump back in the Pens legs. You could see that hunger 2 years ago. There is an energy that exudes from him. It was a major mistake to send him down to the start of the season. Teams need to have at least 1 rookie every season, just to bring that excitement to the veterans, especially veterans who have just won back-to-back Cups.

          I recently read an article about how S Young is working with Sprong and his one time shot, basically trying to get him to aim at, for lack of a better term, center-of-mass, with the idea of, as hard as Sprong shoots, good things will happen, even if the goalie stops the initial shot. Maybe Young should come up and work with the veterans with that very same philosophy.

          Yes a veteran like Galchenyuk will bring something fresh to the team but it will be home grown kids that will bring the fire and enthusiasm. Maybe, bringing Sprong up in December or later will still help as Phil suggests, and I would be more content with a strategy like that in any other year, but with the heavily front loaded schedule the Pens were saddled with, each passing week digs the hole that the team must climb out of, deeper and deeper.

    • November 11, 2017 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

      Hey guys,

      I went down and caught a Nailers game last night, afterwards in a pub I caught part of the tail end of the game. There is a lot of talk about the Pens scoring drought right now. tOR, I was reading a few of your comments about bringing guys up. You’ve been a huge advocate of player development in the past. I don’t believe that’s the answer quite yet.

      It seems to me that the Penguins major problem is the team is completely void of enthusiasm. They have been there and they have definitely done that. Crosby is bored. When is the last time he just grabbed the puck and ran with it? He has completely ran out of things that he needs to prove. Burnt out like Jim said.

      If this keeps up into December, the answer will be to infuse the lineup with a few fresh faces by way of a big trade. I’m not talking Malkin, Crosby, Kessel or Murray, but yes, a trade to shake the team up. Then you bring up a few WBS guys. You have guys start playing against each other for jobs.

      I’m not worried yet, I must admit that my hockey excitement level is pretty low right now also.

      go pens, wooo.

      • jim's Gravatar jim
        November 11, 2017 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

        Thanks for your insight Phil. It is really shocking to see how many different ways we can lose a hockey game now and last year we were unbeatable almost and injury ridden to boot. What is your take on our new center man from Detroit ? Is he working out ?

  3. the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
    November 11, 2017 at 10:51 am | Permalink

    Hey Rick,

    Good analogy and recap. The engine is certainly sputtering. I remember a skit Jonathan Winters once did about trying to start a car;

    turn the key and the car says “please don’t try and start me, please don’t try and start me.”

    use the old fashion choke and the car says “Leave me a looooooone”.

    In Crosby’s case, I do believe that it is a case of being over worked in both TOI and in terms of other teams only having to worry about 2 lines instead of 3. Crosby is a generational player but even in his prime I would rank him slightly below a Lemieux or Orr. They are the only 2 players I have ever seen that could skate though the entire other team with no one else’s help.

    It is interesting though that Guentzel was in a slump until paired with Malkin and Kessel then he picked up a point. Last night Guentzel was “banished” back to the 1st line and the toughest opponent checkers and got nothing while Rust was moved up to line 1b and broke his scoreless slump.

    Unfortunately lines 3 and 4 are more like WBS lines 3 and 4 right now really in how rare they score against NHL level defenses.

    Yesterday we discussed Kuhnhackl, I really don’t blame him much for his lack of scoring, he rarely gets quality ice time and when he did he didn’t look all that out of place on Malkin’s wing. His lack of NHL level production may be more from not getting the chance.

    Dropping Sheary to 3rd line or any other line than Crosby’s is a wasted roster space. Sheary s at best a 1 trick pony and can only play with Crosby. The league has figured out that he is fast but not strong on the puck; let him get to the puck first and then knock him off it. By the time he gets back on his skates the puck has gone the other way. And although when defenses are spread out over 3 lines, he Crosby can get him the puck in high scoring areas but when locking down defenses on Crosby, Sheary is a millstone even for Crosby.

    Maybe the best thing the team can do, now that Wilson is gone, is try Crosby – Guentzel – Rust on the first line (I liked when Wilson brought a physical element to Crosby’s line in the Play-offs and Guentzel skated RW). Then although not optimal, skate Malkin – Kuhnhackl – Kessel or Malkin – Hagelin – Kessel.

    Third and fourth lines really are a mess anyway, so just mix and match. I hate to banish Hornqvist to third line since there is no legitimate Center to Center that line but Crosby often plays better with faster skaters. Maybe at some point something will break and the Pens could get a real Center to anchor that third line.

    As for “D”, like we talked, I really don’t think Letang will be produce anything but heartaches for the Pens, at least this year. I don’t necessarily think he is washed-up, a change of scenery might do him a world of good. He just seems lost out there at times, maybe from trying to do too much, and then he looks like he starts to get frustrated and when that happens he has always been prone to take stupid penalties.

    I don’t envy Sullivan at this moment. He really has few options to even move players up and down from WBS without exposing players to the waiver wire. He has to try and find a way to get the players on the current roster to get it together. The best start, I do think is to at least bench Sheary; Letang too, but they will never bench Letang.

    • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
      November 11, 2017 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

      Hey Other Rick,

      Thank you for reminding me of Jonathan Winters’ routine. I remember watching that one, too. It was hilarious!

      Wish I could say the same for our present predicament. In particular, your concerns about Crosby seem well-founded. He works so hard at both ends of the ice, you really do worry about him wearing down or being injured.

      Regarding the lack of production among his wingers…I confess I didn’t see that coming at all. I thought he and the kids (Guentzel and Sheary) would light it up for sure this season.

      In hindsight, a lot of their success seemed predicated on speed and getting the defense to move the wrong way. I wonder if opponents decided to stop chasing and just stay in their lanes …


      • the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
        November 11, 2017 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

        Interesting Rick,

        One of my complaints about the power play lately is that the team has gone back to simply passing around the perimeter rather than skating the puck around a bit, allowing opponents to sit in their lanes. That may just be true of the whole offense. They may just all be getting lazy. I will have to watch a little closer tonight.

        Nothing bothers me more than watching them pass the puck around the perimeter while opponents get much need rest.


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