Penguins Update: If Looks Could Kill – Pittsburgh Penguins – PenguinPoop Blog

Penguins Update: If Looks Could Kill

Back in the 1930s, the Philadelphia Athletics had a Hall-of-Fame catcher named Mickey Cochrane. By all accounts, he hated to lose. Whenever the As tasted defeat, he was transformed into a mood so foul that his teammates dubbed him “Black Mike.”

It might be an appropriate nickname for Mike Sullivan, too.

I’ll put it another way. If looks could kill, there’d be a lot of dead Penguins today. The absolutely chilling expression in Sully’s eyes following another first-period meltdown last night told the whole story. No need for words or translation.

Forced to endure another disgraceful no-show to begin the second of back-to-back games—a horrific 7-1 loss to Winnipeg—I thought Sullivan might explode in righteous anger right there on the bench. He would’ve been perfectly justified. His team let him down again, in inglorious fashion.

This time, there was no Antti Niemi to blame. Like a young bull thrown on the sacrificial altar, Matt Murray got strafed for four goals—three within a 4:09 span—before he was mercifully pulled with two minutes left in another first period as rife with disaster as it was embarrassing and humbling.

Playing no favorites when it comes to hanging goalies out to dry, the Pens’ butter-soft defense promptly allowed Winnipeg’s Blake Wheeler unimpeded access to backup Casey DeSmith to consummate a first-period hat trick.

Welcome to the NHL, Casey.

I don’t know what was said between periods. I do know this. If I’d been wearing a Penguins jersey when Sullivan entered the dressing room, I’d have ducked into the nearest toilet stall. Since the players displayed considerably more juice to open the second period, I’m guessing they received the verbal scalding they so richly deserved.

To digress, the schedule-makers did us no favors with all these brutal back-to-backs. And we’re obviously a flawed hockey team, one that’ll require retooling before all is said and done if we’re to re-emerge as Stanley Cup contenders. But in no way, shape or form does that excuse our abject lack of compete. There were times, especially during the first period, when the Pens didn’t show the slightest interest in battling for loose pucks, let alone backchecking or protecting their goalie.

It’s almost as if they require an engraved invitation to show up these days. Heck, GM Jim Rutherford could scrape together a team of castoffs and ham-and-eggers and at least get some sweat equity for his hockey dollar.

Sadly, after achieving the unthinkable and thrilling us with back-to-back Cups, the fire no longer seems to burn. Understandable in a way. It’s human nature to become satisfied or complacent after tasting so much success. And our boys have endured a long and grueling grind, to say the least. I’m sure they’re worn down, emotionally and physically.

Yet somewhere inside this group beats the heart of a champion. What it’s going to take to reach that heart, is anybody’s guess. In the meantime, the players need to take a long, hard look in the mirror.


Evgeni Malkin scored the Pens’ lone goal, a power-play tally at 17:02 of the second period. One of the few Penguins to show some scrap, “Geno” tussled with Patrik Laine in the third period.

Despite the lopsided outcome, the Pens bested Winnipeg in shots on goal (32-24) and total shot attempts (58-46). The Jets controlled the faceoff circle (31-26). The black and gold had 15 giveaways.

The Pens have scored only seven goals over the past five games; four at even strength.

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  1. Jim's Gravatar Jim
    October 30, 2017 at 11:45 pm | Permalink

    Hey guys,
    Not a pretty site is it. I want you to consider this point.I have mentioned this a few times before.Could one of our problems be that the league is getting better while we have gotten a lot weaker ? I know that sounds like a very simplistic answer but I have been talking about the need for a major shake up since we won the second Cup in June of this year. This is starting to be embarrassing guys to even think that this Team, as it is currently configured is ever going to 3 peat!! Not going to happen….
    Lets Go Pens…

    • the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
      October 31, 2017 at 9:39 am | Permalink

      Hey Jim,

      I do agree with you, the Penguins have gotten weaker, but I am not so sure the league really has gotten better. I do think there was a lot of reshuffling of talent to new teams but no real increase in talent.

      I also think that another change in the league has been that many teams have embraced the Sullivan method of speed and North – South attack while the Penguins took a step backwards here too, where they backslid in knee-jerk reaction to what Methot and Subban did in the play-offs and slowed themselves down by trading down in the draft for an old fashion enforcer who just may end up a Captain Dunsel with all of the “Concussion Discussion”, particularly with, as you noted, Ken Dryden spreading the word on CBC.

      And as Rick noted, our Penguins have also returned to their East – West game that ground their offense to a stand-still.

      • Jim's Gravatar Jim
        October 31, 2017 at 10:14 am | Permalink

        Well said Coach. Where is the d zone coverage gone?
        This is not all MM fault. Granted he has let in a few softies but I really like the Letang comments all of you have made.
        Just my dumb observation is he takes off down the ice with the puck or the outlet pass but because we can not FINISH the play we end up with odd man rushes.Lots of them coming back our way.
        Of course I too agree with RB that Shearyis to small and he and the other Smurf’s are struggling. And… the “ fix they bought in” can not score or skate and thus he slows down the fourth line as Phil noted.
        Just my usual rant.., great comments OTR.
        🤒🤒. I must end by saying I am worried long term that Sid and Geno will be very tired come April because they are carrying the team.

        • the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
          October 31, 2017 at 10:33 am | Permalink

          Me too Jim, Crosby’s ice time is way up. I am ot sure he is going to have enough left in his tank come April or he is going to get worn down and get himself hurt.

  2. the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
    October 30, 2017 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

    Hey Rick,

    Great recap and look at this dysfunctional team. Fortunately for my blood pressure, I missed last nights game and could only catch up through the box score and recaps , so thanks for the update.

    Everyone who reads these boards should know that I both think this club has enough of the right players in the organization, but not enough of them taking the ice to really challenge for a 3-peat.

    There are 2-players on this team whose even strength GA/60 is over 6; Kris Letang and Conor Sheary (6.06 and 6.04). Let’s face it, Kris Letang was the a big reason the last Penguins Win had to be done in OT, with his deft deflection passed Murray and his giveaways can make your head spin. The only player in the league with more giveaway’s than Letang is Shattenkirk but his +/- is the worst in the league; naturally his total Goals Against is the highest of all players in the league. Perhaps he is trying too hard and that is the problem, but what ever the problem he is best weapon opposing teams have playing the Penguins.

    As for Sheary, I really want to see him succeed and in some departments he is, but his lack of size may be what is limiting him.

    I know you are a Reaves fan, but he is sinking the whole team. I am sorry but he is. He seems to fit in seamlessly off the ice and get along great with the players, but by playing him, the Penguins are rejecting the formula that won them their past 2-Cups. His 5.51 GA/60 is 4th worst on the team, only behind the previously mentioned 2 players and Tom Kuhnhackl (5.52, just a fraction higher), who was a pretty good defensive forward until getting saddled on a line with Reaves.

    Over the last 4 games the Penguins have only scored 4 regulation time goals. A team boasting Crosby, Malkin, and Kessel have been grounded. Crosby may be spending way too much time trying to cover up Letang’s poor D play to really get his motor going and since he is centering 2 smaller wingers, including the smallest player Sheary, it may be understandable. I can’t help but wonder what would happen if the Hornqvist, Rust, Sprong, or Aston-Reese would be put on a line with Crosby and Guentzel.

    I also what would happen if Kuhnhackl would get elevated to Malkin’s LW or even Aston-Reese, to give Malkin a line-mate that would give his line a net front and physical presence. Also, with Kuhnhackl, Malkin would have a more defensively responsible player om his line.

    Maybe if the third line was actually able to score some goals, it would relieve some of the pressure on the first 2 lines as well. Unfortunately, that 3rd line is almost non-existent. Sheahan has only been in Pgh for 4 games, maybe he can yet start generating some offense but at the moment he hasn’t. Yes he is a force in the FO circle and may be an answer to the 4th line center. However, even there he is averaging over 90 total shots against per 60 minutes of even strength ice time. On top of it all, as I wrote when the Pens took on his higher salary, the increase in pay-role he has brought with him has really limited the Penguins wiggle room. Any future trades will mean the Penguins will have to find someone willing to take on one of their higher-priced, under-performing players.

    But again as I wrote in the past, their may be an answer in WBS. There are kids down there that may be at least stop gap measures and maybe even true answers if only given the chance. Maybe these kids would be inconsistent when they first come up but let’s be serious, could they do that much worse than this every other game no show that these Jekyll and Hyde Pens have turned into? Sorry, but I would rather suffer these ignominious 10-1 and 7-1 defeats with kids in the line-up rather than watching veterans perform this badly. They have no excuse for this pathetic excuse for NHL level play. At this point the way the Penguins are playing, they are making the more powerful statement against placing sooooo much value on experienced veterans over rookies than I can ever hope to make. The proof is in the pudding,.

    • October 30, 2017 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

      Hey tOR,

      I’m not going to blame the majority on Reaves, but I do see a change. The 4th line used to come in and was very fast. They literally tired the other team out and the Pens were able to take advantage of them late 2nd and 3rd periods. That seems to be a big change.

  3. October 30, 2017 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    LETANG. Letang is the problem. I have never seen a defenseman play as bad as he is playing keep a job in the NHL let alone get a ridiculous amount of minutes. He has the worst +/- in the league, and is second worst in giveaways, and I’m positive that the giveaway stat is low because whoever is in charge of keeping that stat at PPG has been merciful.

    I was down at the Edmonton game and watched Letang hang his defensive partner out to dry 9 times. That was 9 times Letang rushed into the zone and was unable to get back. Dumoulin and Maatta fended off 2 on 1’s and 3 on 1’s all night because Letang kept breaking in on the rush and giving up the puck. Letang did the same thing last night.

    The Penguins cannot justify sending Letang in on plays. He has two even strength points. TWO. He plays ridiculous amounts of minutes with Sidney Crosby & Evgeni Malkin and has TWO points.

    If the Penguins could trade Letang for a defenseman the team defense would look incredible.

    • the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
      October 30, 2017 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

      I was writing my lengthy complaint while you were posting but I agree 100%. Letang may be skating well, but he is killing the team.

    • the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
      October 30, 2017 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

      Worst of all, he is costing the team what $7.5 mil to be this ineffective?

    • 55 on Point's Gravatar 55 on Point
      October 30, 2017 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

      Hi Phil,

      I won’t hang it all on Letang. This is a team sport. Even though he is worthy of (dis)honorable mention, everyone stunk last night, and have done their fair share of stinking on several occasions. However, it’s pretty clear that the second coming of Kris Letang is a pipe dream, and the plumber is not on call this season. Sure, he MAY turn it around, but how long do they wait? How long do they have? This is about what they have to do now. It’s time to take most of those eggs out of that basket and spread them around. Ol’ Kris has seen better days.

      As for trading him, I doubt they’ll do that anytime in the near future. It would take a new Bullwinkle hat to pull off that one, especially at his going rate. I agree, their insistence on putting him out there, continually, is just short of mind numbing at this point. I refuse to believe they don’t see the obvious and are being stubborn and obviously willing to pay the price because it is a team game. The best that might be done is cut his minutes and hope Schultz heals quickly, and/or start sitting him down from time to time. And if he’s having second thoughts out there, and with his medical records who would blame him, then he’s a liability they can’t afford night after night. He ought to admit it, too.

      The scorer was too kind last night. I was noting/counting turnovers and came up with 26. So, somewhere between my untrained eye and the score sheet lies the truth – as in far too many give aways. And, by the way, I awarded seven of those to Letang, five to Malkin and three to Sid, with the other eleven peppered evenly throughout the line up. There were enough to go around, even at 15.

      I don’t think I’ve ever seen a team have more intercepted, or interrupted, passes since the days of the Steelers and Kent Nix. It’s as if their every move is being brilliantly anticipated by their opponents, like some Twilight Zone, Bill Belichick episode with hidden cameras. Can home teams not completely freeze pucks? Are the Pens that obvious? They obviously, as of late, are.

      It was bad enough lamenting inauspicious defense, but now there’s inauspicious offense, too. Throw in a few woe is me’s between the pipes and it becomes a s**t show faster than you can say, “He shoots. He scores.” It’s not out of hand, yet, but it’s not too far away either.

      Rather than rehashing what’s been talked about here for the past few weeks – all still relevant from what I’m watching – and to give you a break from my metaphorical spill, I’ll just say I don’t know when is the time to panic but I’m sure they shouldn’t allow it to get that far along before they start dropping the hammer.

      – 55

      • October 30, 2017 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

        Hey 55, I don’t hang it all on Letang, but he is playing half of the game recklessly. I really think his being all over the place is playing havok with the lines and forcing wingers to try to drop back at odd times. They seem to all be mixed up when he is out there.

        Letang seems to be spending every game trying to prove that he is an offensive threat or trying to prove he is worth the $7.5 mil. Since I am from Pittsburgh, I do blame half of everything on Belichick. If you are keeping score at home, the Pens problems are half Letang’s fault, half Belichick’s.

        They could just cut Letang’s minutes back, maybe to 20 mins a game. That would be an easy start. When Shultz is healthy, they do have a solid four guys that have defended a team to back to back cups.

        Interesting stat: Every player that plays over 26 minutes a game this year has a negative plus/minus. Letang is 3rd in TOI per game.

        • the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
          October 30, 2017 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

          Hey Phil,

          That is an interesting stat but makes sense. Since most teams have tried to adopt the Pens speed game, players playing that much ice -time will be exhausted and unable to keep up with the rested players.

          I also wanted to add this; the Penguins woes do have many contributors, but since Letang is wearing an “A”, he rightfully should draw tons of criticism. He is supposed to be a leader but his play is far from a an “A”.

      • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
        October 30, 2017 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

        Hey 55,

        When I saw your reference to Kent Nix, I just had to respond. My dad took me to my first Steelers game at Pitt Stadium on Nov. 13, 1966, when I was 9 years old. We somehow beat the Cardinals that day, 30-9, with Ron Smith…an earlier version of Nix…at quarterback. Each was a poor substitute for oft-injured Bill Nelsen, who went on to become a Pro Bowler with the Browns.

        Back to our Pens. I’m truly mystified by our stunning inability to possess the puck…especially since we did it so well just two short years ago. Nobody seems capable of winning puck battles these days. There’s a whole lot of “want to” involved in that, and, after two lengthy Cup runs, it just doesn’t seem we’re as willing to pay a price in the dirty areas. At least not on a game-in, game-out basis.

        It also seems we’ve gotten away from the shoot-first mentality that contributed greatly to our speed game. Now, it seems, we’re peeling off instead of attacking, looking for a better opportunity. While you don’t want to blunt the players’ creativity, especially a group as talented as ours, you don’t want them always looking for that elusive perfect play, either.

        I agree that the addition of Reaves has altered the makeup of the fourth line, and perhaps not for the best. While I love the idea of having a hammer in the lineup, his presence has drastically detracted from our speed and put an extra onus on the third line to be productive, which it most assuredly hasn’t been.

        I sure wish Carl Hagelin could find his game. While I love his speed, he’s completely dried up as an offensive threat. Most games, he’s not even a factor in the ‘o’ zone–roughly the equivalent of a batter in baseball who can’t even get a loud foul ball. At $4 million a year, I’m afraid we’re stuck. Unless, of course, we’re willing to deal for someone else’s high-priced mistake.


        • the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
          October 30, 2017 at 5:56 pm | Permalink

          Hey Rick,

          Hope you don’t mind me chiming in, but you bring up a good point. I was thinking about this in a slightly different way, but I agree 100%. The attack the net mentality is gone from this team and is contributing to Penguins poor “O” and possession, lately. I think only Rust has consistently maintained that North – South attack mentality.

          Most of the odd man breaks the seem to be giving up in batches comes off of their return to East – West hockey. It also is giving opponents time to fill the lanes and block shots.

          That may be the one adjustment that Sully could do that wouldn’t cost the team much, except sitting some players until they get the message to attack first.

          That was a great eye Rick. The team is much slower this year but some of that is self-inflicted.

          • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
            October 30, 2017 at 6:11 pm | Permalink

            Hey Other Rick,

            Excellent point about our East-West style giving other teams time to set up and get in the shooting lanes. Maybe it’s just my perception, but it seemed like we were shooting through a veritable forest the last couple of games.

            Again, a stark contrast to the ’15-16 Cup run, when we didn’t give other teams a chance to get set. “Organized chaos,” as one national writer described it.

            Unfortunately, the only chaos these days seems to be occurring in front of our net … 🙁


    • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
      October 30, 2017 at 7:01 pm | Permalink

      Hey Phil,

      Given that Letang’s been guilty of playing fast and loose in the past, I certainly won’t dispute your claim that he’s been part of the problem.

      I’m not sure I understand the tendency to play him 25-30 minutes a game, either, unless the coaching staff feels he’s more effective the more he plays.

      Given his hefty price tag and checkered health history, I wouldn’t imagine dealing “Tanger” would be especially easy…

      …unless Colorado would be willing to deal a certain hot potato forward for the quicksilver defenseman.

      Just a thought … 🙂



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