The Penguins Files – Pittsburgh Penguins – PenguinPoop Blog

The Penguins Files

In September 1994, Fox Mulder, narrating the opening scene of the first episode of the second season of the X-Files said “We wanted to believe…” That was during the Mario Lemieux era, about one and a half years after the Penguins 2 Stanley Cup. This past summer, in the afterglow of our Penguins repeat Stanley Cup victory, I really wanted to believe; I wanted to believe in a Penguins 3-peat. Thirty-two games into the season, or almost 40% of the season, our Penguins are currently on the outside looking in, tied with the Rangers at 35 points but trailing that last Wild Card spot by tie breakers. Worse, our Penguins have played 2 more games than the Rangers, so they have a chance to put some distance between them and us.

It was only back on Dec 2, 10 days ago, that the Penguins had won their 4th game in a row, two of them against the hapless Sabres. Unfortunately, the Penguins followed that 4 game win streak up by going 1 – 3 in the next 4 games, winning only 2 games over a 5 game home stand. Actually, their performance over the 5 game home stand, in terms of the play-off race wasn’t even quite that good; one of those two wins the Penguins earned didn’t come until Over-Time (OT) against a divisional opponent. Therefore, although the Penguins picked up 4 of a possible 10 points they could have earned, their opponents picked up 7 (Isn’t NHL math fun? Our Team has Point % of 40 while our opponents ended up with a Point % of 70 for 110%)

Don’t get me wrong, when I look for silver-linings, I can find them; there are bright spots to pin our hopes. The Penguins fore-checkers are getting back into their groove. Over the first 10 games the Penguins team Corsi for (CF) was 453  v Corsi Against (CA) of 479 for a difference of -26 but have fought back to 489 to 431 CF to CA for a difference of +47 over their last 10 games. During the Penguins latest disappointment, this time against the Avalanche, the Penguins squeezed off 69 shot attempts (40 of them on goal) to the Avalanches 49 shot attempts. We can also look at the play of Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, Jake Guentzel, Tristan Jarry, and now Dominik Simon and see rays of light piercing the darkness.

Unfortunately (I feel like I am doing a good news bad news routine) the Penguins still have serious defensive breakdowns. Last night, the team gave away the puck 16 times. Among the giveaways that I am having a hard time trying to see past to get back to those rays of hope was Kris Letang’s give away to Nate McKinnon in front of the net. Yes, Tristan Jarry was equal to the task and denied Colorado’s superstar but under the sheer weight of giveaways, Jarry as good as he was, wasn’t perfect.

Mark Barberio found the range, blasting a slap shot from center point that deflected off of Riley Sheahan and over Jarry’s glove. The shot, however, was set up by a giveaway; the Avs broke down the Penguins’ left side of defense with Olli Maatta and Conor Sheary trying to seal the play to the outside but Colin Wilson was able to slip a pass into the slot. Phil Kessel was “Johnny on the spot”, covering up his defensive zone, but rather than trying to skate the puck out of harm’s way, or dump it to the corner or boards where it would be less dangerous, he blindly redirected the pass up to the center point. If a Penguin would have been trailing the play, he could have reversed the play for quality look for a Penguins’ shooter, but as it was, another giveaway: another opponent shot and this time a goal.

Kessel would try and make-up for the play by notching his 15th goal of the season from Malkin and Guentzel during a a late scrum around the Colorado’s net with the goalie pulled, but it proved too little, too late.

I really am trying to believe, in fact, I do believe that this team has the right players within the organization, for Mike Sullivan  to mold into a 3-peat, but I can’t fight the feeling that the team isn’t playing the right players and sitting the wrong ones. Unfortunately, I also believe the pressure to chase that 3-peat is causing the team to make bad personnel choices.

Odds and Sods

Dominik Simon continued to impress; he was defensively responsible (0 giveaways, 1 blocked shot, and a +/- of 0) and made another dazzling offensive play, this time at the blue-line to keep the puck in and give himself some room to operate. Coach Mike Sullivan took notice of Simon’s play and had him taking many shifts with Penguins Captain Sidney Crosby.

Jarry also continues to impress; he stopped 26 of 27 shots. Two of those stops came in the first period, bookending a shot blocked by Letang, off of the stick of McKinnon. He also flashed the leather after givingaway the puck himself to Blake Comeau. Comeau passed the puck to Carl Soderberg while he was trying to get back into the crease. He also made a blocker save on short-handed breakaway by JT Compher who stole the puck off of Crosby, late in the second period.

Nate McKinnon thought he had a goal at 15:56 of the second period. McKinnon made a good move to enter the Penguins’ zone and then get around Letang. He fanned on his shot, getting just enough of it to get it toward the net. Expecting a more solid shot on net, Jarry over-reacted to the weak shot that did go on goal and it slipped in through the 5-hole. The goal was over-turned when the Penguins challenged the play as off-sides. Letang pressured McKinnon enough at the blue-line to cause him to make an extra move at the blue-line pulling the puck back away from Letang. The linesman originally thought the puck had crossed the blue-line before McKinnon pulled the puck back away from Letang and into the blue paint. Had McKinnon got the puck fully across the blue-line on the move it would have had to go fully across the blue-line for an off-side call, so it would have been a good play. From the over-head camera view, it appeared that the puck never truly entered the zone but I was surprise that the goal was over-turned when they showed the ice-level view from the Toronto feed; from that view it didn’t seem clear cut enough over-turn the goal.

Ryan Reaves was a victim of what I feared would start happening when the Penguins traded for him. In a pushing/shoving match with a couple of Avs, Reaves was whistled for a roughing call. In typical inconsistent application of the rules, the referees chose to call Reaves for what others routinely get away with or at least get an even-up call out of. The penalty didn’t cost the Penguins a goal, but having to kill the penalty surely didn’t help the Penguins either.

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  1. AlanC's Gravatar AlanC
    December 13, 2017 at 7:14 pm | Permalink

    If the pens tried to trade Hagelin, what kind of return could we realistically expect? He’s a great penalty killer and forechecker but 4mill a year is a lot for someone who scores 3-4 goals a year!

    • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
      December 13, 2017 at 9:15 pm | Permalink

      Hey AlanC,

      I saw your comments and thought I’d jump in. Welcome to PenguinPoop, by the way!

      You asked an excellent question…I sure wish I had an answer. Earlier this season, Victor Rask seemed to be on the outs in Carolina. The ‘Canes play a speed game like us, so Hagelin fits their style, and Rask is a center, where we have a need. He and Hags both make $4 mil a year, so on the surface it looks like something like that might have worked for both teams.

      Then again, Rask is a former 2nd-round pick and only 24…five years younger than Hagelin. So maybe the ‘Canes don’t do that trade after all, at least not straight up.

      Aside from that, I think we’d have to look around the league at other $4 million disappointments to see who we might get. Kind of like when we got Hags for David Perron.

      Mikkel Boedker of San Jose is having a rough year. Used to be a decent scorer, close to Hags in age, although a bit more pricey. Has great speed and plays a similar game. Someone like that, maybe.


  2. 55 on Point's Gravatar 55 on Point
    December 12, 2017 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

    Hi Other Rick,

    Excellent stuff, as always. I haven’t posted in a while because I haven’t had anything worth adding that isn’t a rehash of what’s already been covered, or what I’ve already said a dozen times. I find myself growing tired, and a bit uneasy, of always being guilty of taking the team to task while walking that fine line between fan and fanatic. And, also, sounding like the needle is stuck in the same groove. But, here’s my assessment as of today:

    It’s hard enough to 3-peat – even 2-peat – with a team that’s firing on all cylinders. It gets exponentially more difficult with each cylinder that’s misfiring.

    There’s no doubt in my mind this is a team that’s currently trying to put a square peg in a round hole. What has worked in the past (two years) isn’t working. Call it cup hangover, the entrails of success, stubbornness, lesser talent, or whatever, there’s a breakdown going on, details are falling through the cracks, and I don’t think they are adequately addressing it by merely juggling lines night after night.

    It is, I unfortunately believe and by current appearances, going to take a stop on the injury train to move the process out of the rut it’s in. This is where my faith is challenged, in their intransigence to do more than juggling lines. I don’t think they can get rolling full force by dint of will this time around.

    I don’t want them to wait until February, and in the interim, game after game, leave the defensive responsibility in the blue paint. It’s great to have two good goalies, but two and three unimpeded opponents in their face shift after shift would defeat the best goalies money can buy. Errey said it simply a few games back, “You have to knock players down in front of your net…” Barring that, you have to prevent them from getting there in the first place. They’ve been unable to do either with any regularity.

    They need defensive help, and they need it now. They have to do something about controlling the area around their net. It starts there. If you can prevent mayhem around your net, you’ve mitigated, and litigated, half the battle, and it sets up the other half. If you have one or two D-men who can handle the front of the net, and actually go there, you aren’t going to find yourself out of position and scrambling to find someone to cover, and doing it badly because you’re scrambling. You’ve got the opponent on the perimeter. You’re controlling the lanes. It might even help prevent the errant goal careening off a scrambling players skate because everyone can be where they’re supposed to be. It’s the foundation of all structure in the D-zone. And, did I mention? It can help holding a lead, too.

    Two thirds of what’s ailing this team, right now, begins and ends with being able to better control their own zone. The offense has been decent, well, except for yesterday. The fore check has been good when it gets the time and space to set up and there’s been less one and done. Some slow starters are finding the net here and there. I’ve even found myself impressed a little by the fourth line at times. But, getting out of their own zone without panic is one thing that makes all of that a lot easier while allowing you to play your game, not theirs.

    I don’t know what to say about the turnovers. They just make too many bad decisions. They often find themselves out of position and unable to get to where the puck is going. I think this too will aided by being better in, and at getting out of, their own zone with some structure. I might even bet it would help Letang find his game. I’d like to think so, anyway.

    And, yeah, they still need a 3C, too. One who can score, regularly. But for the moment, defense is key. Trade, call ups… It doesn’t matter. They need to try something new – a bit of shutdown defense maybe? – and the sooner the better.

    • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
      December 13, 2017 at 7:38 pm | Permalink

      Wow 55.

      Incredibly detailed, eloquent and on point (no pun intended).

      Like you, I’m having difficulty finding fresh stuff to write about, simply because it funnels back to the same basic issues.

      1) It’s nearly impossible to maintain the focus, desire and intensity required to win back-to-back Cups, let alone three-peat. Heck, our Cup victory last year, when we struggled to possess the puck for much of the playoffs, was as much a triumph of will as anything.
      2) We’re a team in transition, and may not (probably don’t) have the right mix of players.
      3) We miss some of the guys that left (sorry Pens4ever), perhaps not so much for what they contributed on the ice as for the intangibles they brought to the team.
      4) It takes a real special blend of players to win a Cup, and there is a shelf life. That’s why teams don’t win year after year after year.

      A couple of observations concerning our recent play. I, too, am dismayed by how easily other teams set up in the prime scoring areas and, once they do, what a difficult time we have dislodging them.

      In particular, I get extremely frustrated with our inability to clear the zone. We chip and poke and nudge the puck ahead, like we’re trying to set up a scoring play before we even exit the zone. Sometimes you’ve got to make the hard play and just bang the darn thing out.

      I also wish we’d use the center drive more. Part of the reason we have trouble scoring? With the notable exception of Patric Hornqvist, we’re always shooting the puck from a sharp angle, instead of from the prime real estate between the circles. It’s a heck of a lot easier for a goalie to stop a shot when he can hug the post.

      I understand to a degree…it’s easier to enter the offensive zone down the wings and sometimes you have to take what you can get. But we rarely seem to shoot from the slot.

      To me, it all points to a team that’s trying to manufacture the hunger and desire that came more naturally the past couple of seasons. Add to that the fact that there are 30 other teams that really (really) want to win and … well … it just may not be our year.


      • 55 on Point's Gravatar 55 on Point
        December 14, 2017 at 10:00 pm | Permalink

        Hi Rick,

        No problem here with puns. I like them!

        Ah… The old center drive. The only center drive they’ve had the last few years is the one we talk about here. If we had a nickel for every time we mentioned it, we could retire to someplace nice. Unfortunately, they apparently aren’t keen on that move. Too bad. It’s one of the most exciting plays in the game. Brings fans to their feet every time. Talk about an energy boost!

        As for clearing the zone, it’s among the things I meant when talking about being solid around their own net. Having that structure there opens up so much else. They need a few big bodies to anchor that structure and be a defense. If you can’t stop the other guy from playing paddle tennis, using your goalie as the ball, you’re just treading water.

        In general, the team dynamic that triumphed the past two years is tired and transparent. They need some change. Change is good for perspective and good for generating new energy. They need some of each. I’ve seen a few “guesses” regarding JR shopping for deals. I hope they’re true.

        I would only worry that they may choose to bring in a new back up goalie and continue to eschew getting bigger and badder on defense. It’s at that point I WILL break my television.

        Merry Christmas to all!

        — 55


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