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Penguins Make Me Believe (Again) – Pittsburgh Penguins – PenguinPoop Blog

Penguins Make Me Believe (Again)

I admit. A month ago, I wouldn’t have given a plugged nickel for the Penguins’ chances of making the playoffs, let alone making any significant noise if they got there. After logging so many hard miles over the past couple of seasons, it truly appeared as if our boys were running on fumes. They’d simply played too much high-stakes hockey, crammed into too short a span to have anything left in the tank, emotionally, physically and psychologically.

In a way, they reminded me of an everyday Joe who, instead of getting ready for work on a chilly Monday morning, keeps hitting the snooze button on the alarm while staying burrowed beneath the sheets.

Then…seemingly out of nowhere…the Pens began to compete. There was a palpable rise in the team’s focus and intensity, not to mention execution. It’s almost as if our guys glanced at the calendar, saw that the second half had begun, and—like everyday Joe—decided to rise from bed.

Time to go to work.

Man, have they ever. Since a dismal 4-1 loss to Detroit on New Years’ Eve that seemed to bring the final curtain down on any lingering Cup hopes, the Pens are on a 10-3 tear and gathering momentum with each passing game. Kinda like those nascent storms that soak up moisture over Lake Erie before dumping a lake-effect blizzard on poor Buffalo.

Put another way, crème always rises to the top. And the Pens possess a lot of crème.

Powered by the big three of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel, the Pens are scoring in bunches. During last night’s ‘chili game’ destruction of arch-rival Washington, the “Three-Headed Monster” piled up nine points, including four goals.

With each anchoring a line in coach Mike Sullivan’s favored fashion, they created matchup nightmares of hideous proportions for the overmatched Capitals. Roughly akin to battling Chucky, Jason and Freddy Krueger all at once. If one don’t getcha, the others surely will.

Since being placed on separate lineswhich coincided neatly with the beginning of our hot streakthe trio’s been on fire. Skating between Swedish sidekicks Carl Hagelin and Patric Hornqvist, Malkin’s piled up an astonishing 14 goals and 23 points in 13 games, an incendiary romp that earned him NHL First Star honors for January. ‘Geno’ hasn’t dominated like this since the days of the ‘Steel City Line.’

By comparison, Crosby’s more than held his own. Flanked by rookie Dominik Simon and Conor Sheary (replaced last night by Bryan Rust) Sid’s equaled his Russian counterpart in points, while compiling a nifty 11-game point-scoring streak. In the midst of a career season, Kessel has seven goals and 20 points during the black-and-gold’s lucky 13-game roll.

It isn’t just the stars who are shining. The Pens are getting the depth scoring so vital to a team’s success. Virtually comatose for the better part of the campaign, Hagelin’s awoken from the dead in a Lazarus-like bolt to tally three goals and 10 points over his last 10 games. Best bud Hornqvist has four goals in eight games. The ubiquitous Rust…three in his past two.

Riley Sheahan, maligned by some for his lack of offensive chops, has four assists in his past four games and seven points during the recent 13-game run. In all, he’s totaled 18 points—six more than the guy he replaced, Nick Bonino.

Best of all, we’re scoring at even strength. Since January 1, we’ve struck for 30 goals in 5-on-5 play, an average of 2.3 per game, compared to an average of 1.4 over our first 40. That’s nearly a one-goal jump per game. All the while, the power-play has stayed piping hot.

The defense—notoriously uneven at best during our rocky first half—seems to be solidifying, too, especially since Ian Cole emerged from Sullivan’s doghouse. In particular, Cole’s steadying presence has enabled partner Jamie Oleksiak to take some risks and flash the latent offensive skills that prompted Jim Rutherford to acquire ‘The Big Rig’ from Dallas in what appears to be another in a string of extraordinarily savvy trades by the wily ol’ GM.

My biggest worries? Goaltending, or more specifically, the lack of a go-to guy between the pipes, and depth at center. Any way you slice it, de facto starter Matt Murray’s had a rough year…goodness knows how his dad’s death has affected him. And we sure could use another quality center, preferably one with experience. Rumor has it, former Pen Matt Cullen might be available. In my mind, Cully’d be a perfect fit.

If the Pens can shore things up a bit while gaining reinforcements?

Suddenly, those dreams of a three-peat aren’t so far-fetched.

*Be sure to check out Rick Buker’s books,
 
available at TriumphBooks.com, Amazon.com, and BarnesandNoble.com

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5 Comments

  1. Dee's Gravatar Dee
    February 4, 2018 at 7:27 am | Permalink

    Hey Rick,
    Agree on Goaltending.
    My biggest worries is the defense with Letang and Hunwick, Pens organization won’t realistically(some hesitation there) trade Letang for decent return,Line shuffling with no stability with consistency for some players , conspiracy of teams not wanting to help Pens ,coaches Sullivan and Reechi bad decisions that has been glaring this season like Letang should only play 17-18 minutes against only third and fourth liners while Shultz should be playing against team’s top lines in games.

    • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
      February 4, 2018 at 9:45 am | Permalink

      Hey Dee,

      A belated welcome to PenguinPoop!

      Regarding our goaltending, I really thought we’d be in good hands with Matt Murray between the pipes. And it’s not that I’m totally down on him–Lord knows, the Penguins’ defense was abominable during the first half of the year–which no doubt contributed to the kid’s less-than-stellar stats (2.93 GAA, .905 SV%).

      But, at least to my eye, Murray hasn’t been as solid, either. In fact, when he shut down San Jose the other night, it’s the first time in recent memory when I can recall him stealing a game. I don’t know the back story on his dad, or how that might have been affecting him behind the scenes. Hopefully, he’ll work through things and return to form. But, for now, I don’t have the same confidence in him that I once had.

      Regarding the ‘d’–specifically Letang and Hunwick–I hear ya’ (and feel your pain). It seems every time opposing teams score, Letang is hovering nearby, doing nothing to prevent it. Playing next to him has mitigated Dumoulin’s effectiveness as well. I wish I saw a solution to this (e.g., a trade), but for lots of reasons I just don’t think that’s going to happen. For better or worse, we’ll live or (hopefully not) die with ‘Tanger.’

      Concerning Hunwick? I’m hoping Rutherford admits the mistake…something he’s not above doing…and moves Matt at the trade deadline. Don’t care what we get in return (4th or 5th-round pick would be fine). I think Ruhwedel can handle the No. 7 defenseman’s role. And, like Other Rick, I wouldn’t mind seeing Andrey Pedan get a look. He’s developing nicely with the Baby Pens.

      Again, welcome aboard!

      Rick

      • the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
        February 4, 2018 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

        Hey Dee and Rick,

        I am right there with you guys on Letang. I do appreciate everything has meant and done for the team over the years, particularly when he was paired with Paul Martin (which means I also appreciate what Paul Martin meant to the team, providing a suitable pairing for Letang) but as the song goes “But used-to-be’s don’t count anymore
        They just lay on the floor ’til we sweep them away…”

        And as I noted elsewhere, it does look to me like Letang has lost a step. I am seeing players get around him a lot this season, when in years passed I had grown used to watching him catch players from behind.

        As for goalies, maybe I am biased because I plated Goal when I played but I am not all that worried. In Murray’s case, I would have to say the back to back OT wins against Winnipeg and Edmonton (OCt 24 + 26) could be said to be games that Murray stole . Granted the other teams goalie had to make more saves in those games, but Murray faced 30 and 31 shots respectively, a Sv% of 0.97%. Just because the opposing goalie was on the verge of stealing the game too, makes those games no less of a steal for Murray. The 3 -2 win against Edmonton (Nov 1) when team was out-shot 37 – 30 should count as a steal for Murray.

        And remember this, before a puck can go past a goalie, it has to go passed 3 – 5 other guys. And lets not forget that even when the Penguins were out-shooting other teams earlier in the year, the opposing teams were actually getting more break-away, odd-man breaks, and high quality scoring chances, while funneling a lot of Penguins’ shots to the outside, perimeter.

        Just my 2cents

        • Dee's Gravatar Dee
          February 5, 2018 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

          Hey other Rick and Rick Buker,

          Thank you. Agree with you guys . Great points.

          I like Matt Murray but I think he needs defense to be solid in front of him , he needs to work hard to establish a great glove save and I think Pens happen to keep him fresh for the playoffs. Ultimately build a pedigree of stealing more games to build momentum in playoffs games when defense is lazy.
          He has stole about maybe two games and kept Pens in games early this season. Yes. He hasn’t s been a complete goalie we thought he would maybe it’s a blessing in disguise to have him play more games in the playoffs than this regular season games.
          It just matter of him being his old self again that unflappable in the net and D core doing whatever it take to play great in front of him every game .

          Jarry and Desmith are great goalies!! I don’t if they can withstand playoffs rounds to help Pens go deeper to get another cup.

          I wish Rutherford would have gotten someone like Pickar who is young and fairly cheap or better veteran than Niemi.

          Rutherford should be able to flip Hunwick for something ( like Buker has stated ), packaged Sheary somewhere in a deal for 3C decent return for Letang maybe he can go to Buffalo with Botterill if that team is on his trade clause list. I believe someone can take Letang regardless his injury history throughout the years. Maybe Cole can stay and Sullivan realizes that he can be better with Cole. Cole can still get cheap two year deal. For what I see he wants to stay with the team. I do think he scratched Cole to give Hunwick a chance due to fact of Rutherford bad signing but he realized that Hunwick is not it for his team. He sees that was a big mistake.I don’t like it. Either way Pens will be alright (greater)without these players (Letang , Sheary, Hunwick)they can find better hopefully through this trade deadline and free agency this off – season. Whether it takes to free cap space and to not over extend Pens top elite players anymore. I want Hornqvist to stay because their no one like him , he’s physically fit, big part of the team and you can’t find no one like him. He still got 5 -6 years left in him.He has up his game to another level.
          Little two to three tweaks or major shakeup will help this team in the long run.

  2. the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
    February 3, 2018 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

    Hey Rick,

    I don’t think you were the only one that had reservations about the Penguins. It wasn’t that long ago when these boards were alight with people contemplating blowing up the team.

    Although I have never lost faith in certain players, I do still fear if certain players get too much TOI this trend could very easily be reversed.

    Over the off the season, the team started making bad decisions. The pulse returned to the team when Niemi was cut and the back-up goalie position was given over to the kids (DeSmith and Jarry).

    The team still continued yo-yo ing up and down until Sprong and Simon were called up. Since then the team slowly started showing signs of a return of the dominant offense team that tied the opponent up in their own zone.

    If the team keeps Hunwick off of the ice and plays its speed guys against speed teams and heavy guys against heavy teams, I do think this team has as good as any team to win it all. I they keep trying to force square pegs into round holes, I they stand a much better chance of getting early tee-times. How far the Pens go this year really is going to depend on the coaches and GM.

    PS
    I heard the same rumor about Cullen. I also heard from the same source that told me about Cullen that JR has had 2 deals worked out all the way only to have an 11th hour reversal by the other team. If I do start believing this rumor, it may lead me to believe the rumors that there is more than a little collusion and perhaps extortion to prevent the Penguins from making a deal for a play-off run. So, I am trying not to think about this. I really don’t want to walk down the conspiracy trail.


            

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