Penguins Update: Time to Act – Pittsburgh Penguins – PenguinPoop Blog

Penguins Update: Time to Act

I’ve been the voice of calm through a stormy first quarter of the season. Indeed, while my fellow PenguinPoop writers have suggested a shakeup to varying degrees, I’ve preached patience.

Don’t panic, I’ve written. No need to rush the kids, I’ve counseled. Wait’ll we play some home games, I’ve advised.

In the wake of an immensely frustrating 5-2 loss to Vancouver last night—a Thanksgiving turkey of an effort if I ever saw one—the time for patience is over. We need to act.

Let’s start by calling up our best prospect. With nine goals in 15 games, Daniel Sprong’s been lighting it up in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Maybe he can do the same here. We sure could use a spark.

Far be it from me to criticize coach Mike Sullivan. I have the utmost respect for the Pens’ skipper, and truly think he’s the best coach in hockey. But it’s time to stop giving guys automatic passes. That includes our big off-season acquisitions.

Case in point? It seems ‘Sully’ had finally nulled out his defense pairings. Then Matt Hunwick comes off IR with his $2.25 million/year contract. Gotta’ plug him back in, right?

Wrong. Especially since the guy you benched, Chad Ruhwedel, did nothing to merit a demotion. In fact, with a 52.1 Corsi for, he was arguably the team’s most effective defenseman in terms of puck possession.

No offense to Hunwick. I’m sure he’s a great guy. But sit him until an injury creates an opening.

Same thing with Ryan Reaves. No one was happier than I when GM Jim Rutherford acquired the capo dei capi of NHL enforcers over the offseason. No more worrying about thugs like Washington’s Tom Wilson. But Reaves simply hasn’t produced.

The common sense thing to do? Play the big guy against heavy teams…or when you feel some brawn is needed…and sit him in favor of speedy Josh Archibald when we face skating teams.

It’s a simple matter of doing what’s best for the team. Maybe not the easiest thing to do, especially when you’re dealing with these guys on a daily basis. But necessary.

While we’re picking at the fourth line, Tom Kuhnhackl looks like he’s completely forgotten what to do with the puck when he gets it on his blade, which isn’t all that often. I love him as a penalty killer. But he’s gotta’ produce at least once in a while. If he doesn’t, sit him.

Ditto Greg McKegg, who appears to be serving as a human placeholder of sorts. Although ‘Kegger’ hasn’t hurt the team, he hasn’t helped it, either. If he can’t get ’er done, find someone who can.

Speaking of questionable coaching decisions, why, oh why, is Kris Letang back on the first power play at the expense of Justin Schultz? ‘Tanger’ isn’t, and never has been, an effective puck distributor from the point. Schultz is.

Am I missing something here?

I also have an issue with Sullivan’s use of Matt Murray. Overuse is a better word. I understand what he’s trying to do…get a little winning streak going by riding his best goalie.

But Murray’s started a ridiculous 18 out of 23 games thus far. His heaviest regular-season workload to date? Fifty-four games, split between the Pens and Baby Pens in 2015-16. He’s presently on pace to play a Fleury-esque 68.

That’s way too many, especially given the long Cup runs of the past two seasons. Not to mention the fact that backup Tristan Jarry has been virtually placed in cold storage. That’s the last thing you want to do with a kid goalie.

Bottom line? The Pens have a lot more issues than these. Like showing up for each and every game ready to play. And maybe there’s too much wrong with the team to fix, at least for this season.

But it sure is time to try.

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  1. November 24, 2017 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    Hey Rick,

    Very interesting read! I was watching a Phil Bourque interview a few weeks ago on the Penguins channel and an interesting question was asked. With the Penguins just winning two Cups in a row, he was asked to give an idea how hard the season was after the Pens won their second cup in a row in the 90’s.

    Bourque went on to say that every team in the league went all out to prove themselves every game against them. He also said that the guys in the locker room seemed to lack motivation. That part of the answer we’ve all thrown around here.

    The interesting part of his answer was how important new blood was and how it sparked the entire locker room seeing fresh faces come in who were so excited that they stood a good chance of winning the cup.

    I do like your ideas on bringing players in, I just question the timing. I would like to see Sprong, Aston-Reese come in mid to late January. I would also like to see a couple of moves in February.

    To get the ball rolling a bit, if the team is still doing poorly in mid January I would bench a healthy Letang after a poor game. You know he will have one.

    A healthy benched player of his stature always gets calls from other teams. On top of that it will possibly motivate Letang to loosen up on the teams he would accept a trade to.

    I don’t have a huge problem with the 3rd & 4th line centers as much as you guys. I would like to see a solid quality defenseman added to the mix, along with the departure of Letang who I believe is messing up the offense.

    Bourque went on talk about how the roll players tried their hardest but knew it was the Lemieux’s and Jagr that would come through for the win.

    • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
      November 24, 2017 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

      Thanks, Phil.

      Normally, I’d be right there with you and Mike in terms of waiting. But I sense we’ve hit a tipping point and that things are liable to go down hill in hurry if we don’t find a spark.

      Maybe bringing up kids like Sprong and Aston-Reese isn’t the answer. I’d prefer to let them gain more seasoning. But I just feel like some new blood might help. Especially if Sprong can score a goal or two.

      Shifting gears slightly, I’m kind of dreading these next three games. We never seem to play well in matinee games. Tampa Bay’s the best team in the league right now, and they’ve owned us so far. And Philly? Even though they’ve been taking it on the chin, I have a feeling they’ll get a leg up on us and just pour it on, while we stand there like so many deer caught in the proverbial headlights …


  2. Mike's Gravatar Mike
    November 24, 2017 at 12:01 am | Permalink


    Way to early to panic – players like Reaves, Hunwick are still making
    the adjustment to the Penguins style of play. I remember when we
    traded for Cole, then Shultz both struggled when they first arrived
    in Pittsburgh.

    We need to stay the course at least until the New Year. Hunwick’s
    adjustment has been slowed by injury and Reaves for lack of minutes.

    if we make any type of move it should be for a 3rd line center. Moving
    Sheahan to center the 4th line between Rowney and Reaves.


    • the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
      November 24, 2017 at 7:45 am | Permalink

      Hope you don’t mind me jumping in here Mike,

      When Cole first came over at the trade deadline he did play well in the abbreviated stint and early playoff exit. It wasn’t really until the next season when MJ totally imploded the team that Cole, like the rest of the team struggled. And when Schultz first came over, he wasn’t really given much Ice-Time; it was doled out with an eye-dropper. Sorry, I just am no Hunwick fan. To me that is money poorly spent. I would rather see Tinordi or Pedan manning the 4th Left Handed D spot. nor do I think that any o the Pens Left Handed D are adept enough right now to ask them to play Right D, Particularly with way Bengtsson is playing in WBS and the fact that neither Ruhwedel nor even Corrado (in his limited ice-time) have looked all that bad to warrent asking a Left Handed shot to man the Right D.

      Also, I don’t think that making moves is necessarily panicking. I agree that 3rd line Center is the biggest weakness on the team right now. The lack of bottom 6 scoring is sinking this team. Unless Sheahan finds a way to turn it on, trading for him is turning out exactly as I feared. He is great in the even strength FO circle but is killing the team elsewhere. The down turn in the Pens PK seemed to occur when Rowney went on IR and Sheahan started manning the PK; add that to the drain on the Cap situation and there you have it, a serious problem. The Pens PK is horrible, Sheahan’s “O” contribution is nearly non-existent, and there is no maneuver room to bring up players or even bring in a player in a trade without serious Cap considerations.

      As for Reaves, since he has come here, I do think he has had a good impact in the locker room and as I noted below, I am wondering if the fact that he does dress every game, there seems to be a down turn in ugly intimidation tactics against the team. However, again, The difference between Sestito in those asset areas does not seem to balance out in the $$$ dept and more importantly in the prospects dept. Granted Sundqvist seemed to have become an after thought (despite my liking him – as if my opinion counted) so losing him meant little, but again as I just mentioned to Jim, I would definitely rather have either Kostin or Hague than Reaves.

      At this time of the year, it does seem that JR makes some type of move. Hopefully, he will make a move for a third line Center; a legitimate third line Center. I know there has been at least a little talk about Victor Rask, like Rick, I don’t think that is a good fit. I am not sure what Montreal looks like under the Cap, maybe not this year, but since Letang is under contract for several more years and Price is going to get a hefty raise next year. I do think that Galchenyuk is a better fit than Rask or some of the other Centers whose names have been tossed about.

      • Mike's Gravatar Mike
        November 24, 2017 at 6:32 pm | Permalink

        The other Rick

        I agree with you on several points – Pen’s need to find the right
        fit or a 3rd line center. That should be a given when JR evaluates
        the Pen’s overall weaknesses.

        As for Reaves – I still think the trade continues to have value and a positive effect on the entire team. Which will only magnify come playoff time. I would throw him out there occasionally with Crosby / Malkin and get him going offensively. Surely can’t do any worse than our present wingers.

        Also, please don’t mention Sestito in the same breath as Reaves – Sestito although a big dude has zero respect around the league as a fighter. I love his team first attitude but Reaves gives the Pen’s a whole different level of respect around the league.

        One other note – at this point last season Nick Bonino was sitting with
        0 goals and 8 assist.

    • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
      November 24, 2017 at 8:48 am | Permalink

      Hey Mike,

      Always good to hear from you.

      Under normal circumstances, I’d agree with you. But to my eye, the team just isn’t improving. They showed signs of coming around a couple of weeks ago, then regressed against Chicago and Vancouver, on home ice to boot. Neither of those teams is world beaters, although you sure wouldn’t know it by the success they’ve had against us.

      We’re getting nothing out of the fourth line, and that’s got to change. As soon as Rowney’s fit to play, I plug him in in place of McKegg. Find a way to get Archibald some time, too. Like you, Mike, I loved the acquisition of Reaves. But he’s got to do more.

      Perhaps the most alarming thing to me? More often than not, it seems we’re just not ready to play when the puck is dropped. We spend half a game digging ourselves a hole, and then the second half of the game in mad-scramble mode trying to come back. It may make for some exciting hockey, but it’s not a winning formula.

      To me it very much points to a team that simply can’t generate the hunger and enthusiasm needed to compete. A symptom, I think, of two long Cup runs and the very understandable need for a break, mentally and emotionally. Very human, but not something you can tolerate without at least attempting a fix.

      Never mind the overtime/shootout crap. Strip that stuff away, and we’re an 11-12 team going nowhere. No Mike, I respectfully disagree. I think we need a spark. I’d call up Sprong for starters and see if he can put a little wind in our sails.

      Perhaps Zach Aston-Reese, too.


      • Mike's Gravatar Mike
        November 24, 2017 at 6:43 pm | Permalink


        Your point is well taken – the Pen’s again today didn’t look ready when
        the puck was dropped – My son’s travel team doesn’t turn the puck over
        as much as we did in the 1st period. Very lackadaisical effort to say the
        least – we did show flashes as the game progressed but like you alluded
        to it seems we’re always scrapping from behind.

        As for making moves its early and I don’t see JR pushing the panic button. I would much rather struggle now than later in the season. I think subtle moves are the way to go at this point even if its just to send a message.

        If JR does pull the trigger is should be for a 3rd line center. As I indicated Bonino at this point last year had 0 goals and 8 assist.

  3. jim's Gravatar jim
    November 23, 2017 at 9:54 pm | Permalink

    Happy Thanksgiving to all my American Friends !!

    Coach and I have had this discussion all most weekly in the off season.What if we do not get the right players, and what if we get injuries ? We are to thin..
    Remember the article I did last summer, “Life on the Farm ” when I compared the number of 1st,2nd,3rd Round draft picks in all 30 NHL teams and at the time we were at the bottom?? I can not stress enough the quality over quantity argument. Talent is key ! Size is second !
    Most of our young guys were undrafted college kids or 4th,5th,6th rounders who really are not NHL caliber on an elite team. The other elite teams, excluding their 3 or 4 star players, all have 4 or 5 first rounders, all under 22 and 5-6 more second rounders they use as role players. We do not have that talent level now. It shows .
    I have kept saying we needed center help, a few left wingers with size and skill and at least 2 d men to be competitive. We do not have it and we are not competitive anymore, especially when injuries strike.
    The real sad thing about this situation is our talent is WAY over rated by us and nobody wants 65% of our team. In the old days we had lots of young trade bait. Now we have very little left to trade on any real value !!

    That is why you need to make a MAJOR trade but nobody has the guts to do it!
    Lets go Pen’s

    • the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
      November 23, 2017 at 10:13 pm | Permalink

      Hey Jim,

      The sad part is you are right, Sprong is the only real Blue-Chipper left in the Org. That is why I was ticked at flipping picks to get Reaves. Neither the guy you liked, the Russian kid, Kostin, nor the guy I wanted, Hague, made the NHL this season, but I still would love to have one of them n our system right now.

      Question, have you heard or seen anything of Jordy Bellerive? He impressed many including me this past prospect camp (he did earn a contract). I did see he has 12g 18A and 25 PIM in 21 GP this season in Lethbridge but those are just numbers. I am curious to know how he is actually looking.

    • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
      November 24, 2017 at 9:16 am | Permalink

      Happy Thanksgiving back at you, Jim!

      Interesting thoughts on our young talent, or lack of. I can’t remember if it was you who wrote it or someone else, but I read somewhere that Rutherford was kicking the tires around the league on potential deals last summer, and we just didn’t have the young talent to interest anybody.

      Understandable, in a way, since we’ve promoted so many kids over the past couple of seasons. But definitely a drawback when you’re trying to retool from within the organization.


      • JIm's Gravatar JIm
        November 24, 2017 at 10:26 am | Permalink

        Hey Rick
        It has been a while since we talked my friend. Hope everything is going well with you.
        Indeed it was me who made reference to the fact that Toronto and Calgary were wanting to do deals with us last summer BUT we no longer had pieces of value except the 7 or 8 untouchables on our team.
        Nobody was going to give us anything of REAL VALUE IN RETURN for Rust,Sheary,Wilson, Archibald, Jarry, Ruwedel, or even an aging 30 year old Hornqvist. Hagelin’s contract and lack of production makes his market value diminish greatly as well. Letang !! Forget everything he has done in the past ! His best days are behind him and we have 5 years at 7.3 million to continue to spend. Nobody will touch him with his Concussion history and with the coming LAW SUITS next year, many insurance companies are getting VERY NERVOUS and this does not bode well for NHL TEAM OWNERS.
        SO unless we have the courage to do a block buster trade we will not three peat and next year will be even worse do to CAP issues.

        Wish I had a better outlook Rick.

        Shake it up and make the BIG TRADE !! Before somebody else gets hurt and their trade value drops..


        • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
          November 24, 2017 at 11:01 am | Permalink

          Hey Jim,

          I thought it might have been you… 🙂

          I, too, wish I had a better outlook on things. But we seem to be really struggling to find our focus and motivation right now. And that’s not even taking into account the myriad of personnel issues.

          I hate to say it. But I sense things could get ugly during this present three-game stretch versus Boston, Tampa Bay and Philly.


          • JIm's Gravatar JIm
            November 24, 2017 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

            Rick,/ Coach
            I am hoping that i will hear on NHL radio one day soon that the Pens made a MAJOR deal.The locals may be upset at first, but if the trade nets us 3 really good young pieces, ( a star Center, a young star D man, a good big young winger,a top 5 draft pick, … I would do it.
            For me only two people on our team are untouchable. One lives in Nova Scotia and the other plays nets.

            I talking a 3 for 1 deal foe one of our BIG stars!
            Then do a side deal to get them to take Letang and Sheary for another good winger or d man.

            I hate to say it Guys, but Philli has a lot of very good young talent and with Washington,Rangers and Pen’s faltering their future looks bright.

            I think we need a blockbuster deal which nets us 3 pieces for 1 and dump Letang and Sheary to get us an upgrade piece in return. Then you have some salary cap to play in March to add a piece or 2.
            We might just make it back to the big show !!

            Never going to happen. Nobody has the guts.

            • the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
              November 24, 2017 at 8:36 pm | Permalink

              Agreed Jim,

              This team does need a major shake up. My base philosophy is that everyone is trade-able at the right price, but there are 4 players that it would take a ton for me to part with, Letang isn’t one of them.

              I also agree that the team has allowed its pipeline to be decimated. Over the last 5 -6 seasons there have been several players that could have been traded for draft picks that were left to go FA and the Pens got no compensation.

          • Mike's Gravatar Mike
            November 27, 2017 at 1:06 am | Permalink

            Solid all-around game vs Tampa Bay. I’m sticking with
            my earlier comments that its important not to panic
            and allow this team / newcomers to gel.

  4. the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
    November 23, 2017 at 9:48 pm | Permalink

    Hey Rick,

    Solid stuff!

    Just got back home from T-giving dinner; my brother and I were talking about da ‘guins. One of his comments caused me to pause a second as I almost misunderstood him. He said he wanted the Pens to find a solid back-up goalie for Murray. (Getting to your point about Murray being over played) I almost thought he was about to go on an anti Jarry rant, but he wanted Jarry to get more work. Since coming up Jarry has done nothing but sit on the bench, not a good thing for a goalie that young. He needs work too. I am a big Murray fan, but both of you are quite correct and both problems could get addressed by giving Jarry more work. He hasn’t put up the numbers Murray did when Murray came up but A. Murray, in my humble book is better, and B. the team Murray came up on was a much better team than this watered down version.

    Also, I was saying the same thing to my wife, complaining about the decision to just push Hunwick back into the line-up after the team finally started getting the SA down into the low 20s. Hunwick comes back and the shots jump back near 40, almost doubling,

    In Kuhnhackl’s case no his numbers aren’t looking all that good right now. I am not just talking Points and basic CORSI but expanded CORSI. HOwever, in his defense, he has played most of his career on the R Wing but is being asked to play L Wing. That may be part of the problem. He also has been playing with some seriously offensively challenged line-mates. In the brief experiment with Malkin he didn’t look bad at all and he has looked pretty good subbing for Hornqvist as net front presence on the PP, so I wouldn’t toss him out just yet with the bath water.

    In Letang’s case, Rick and Anonymous, if I am Coach/GMing, I wouldn’t bench him or take him off of the PP completely just yet. Let’s be honest, statistically his numbers are coming up, so I would keep trying to get him quality ice time to try and drive his stock up a little higher to try and make a deal. As Anonymous notes below, the Pens won the Cup last year without him. He is expendable. But more importantly, he could be used as a chip to retool in flight. I know, between his $$$-tag and his LNTC, finding a partner to trade could get a it sticky so that is why I would try and get him to look as good as I could.

    Funny thing about Reaves, I still don’t like the trade, but I am starting to wonder if there is some good coming out of that trade. There does seem to have been a drop in intimidation tactics against the Pens. However, I still think giving Sestito ice-time would have done the same. Granted, Reaves may be the leagues current Heavy weight champion, but let’s face it, how many guys out there would really want to go a round with big Tom, and big Tom was already here so we wouldn’t have had to give up anything and he is far cheaper, at least this year, giving the team more flexibility in moving players around to light fires under complacent posteriors.

    Also, I agree with you about Sprong as well as with some comments from Anonymous below, Aston-Reese is starting to get on a role, he had a 3 Assist night last game.

    I would also suggest that Simon, Bengtsson, Pedan, Tinordi, Haggerty, and now even Johnson are starting to show enough down in WBS to warrant a a chance

    No not all of them, and not all at once, but any one or two of them could be a great ace to breath life into the team like Sheary, Rust, Wilson, and Kuhnhackl did a couple of winters ago.

    Unfortunately, with the Wilson trade, taking in the higher salary of Sheahan, like I warned when the deal happened, has hamstrung the team. The team is up against the Cap as usual, wasting money on under-performing players. I am not sure if Rowney has been activated yet or not, but once that happens, they will have pretty much no maneuver room, so bringing up Sprong or Aston-Reese, or anyone is just a dream until the team can find a way to clear Cap space.

    • the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
      November 23, 2017 at 9:52 pm | Permalink

      Sorry for the typos.

    • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
      November 24, 2017 at 9:07 am | Permalink

      Hey Other Rick,

      Thanks for the compliments. But in many ways I’m echoing the sentiments you and Jim have expressed all along.

      Personnel issues aside, I fear that…underneath it all…the team is burned out, plain and simple. A victim of their own success, if you will. A condition that the other NHL teams are only all-too-willing to exploit.

      I hate to be negative. But I think it’s going to get worse before it gets better. If we don’t do something, and soon, to alter our present course, I can see us struggling to make the playoffs…and perhaps even missing the cut.


      • the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
        November 24, 2017 at 8:28 pm | Permalink

        I agree Rick, barring something extraordinary this team doesn’t deserve to make the play-offs.

        I don’t want to just fault the players; I have said it before; I do think the organization is slipping back into the fear of losing mentality and that is as big a part as everything else we have discussed, in their downward spiral. I think that fear is what has caused some very questionable decisions this season.

  5. Anonymous's Gravatar Anonymous
    November 23, 2017 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

    Letang….just horrible. Can’t hit the net, stupid and costly penalties, can’t keep the puck in the zo e during the powerplay. Trade him, Kuhnhackl, and Archibald for a good draft pick next year…maybe one our 20 goalies in the system too. I agree that there are players on our roster that are nhl players yes but are either not playing or not ever going to be any better than what they are showing right now. Plat Archibald or trade him. Move T.Blueger up, Spronge and Z.A.R. for a chance. At the very least…bench Letang! We won without him. I like Ruhwedel


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