Penguins Poised for Playoff Push? – Pittsburgh Penguins – PenguinPoop Blog

Penguins Poised for Playoff Push?

I confess…I didn’t watch the Penguins’ 4-1 triumph over Detroit yesterday afternoon. I was busy with mundane stuff…digging out my car from the previous night’s snow, going out for an invigorating if uber-frosty walk, running errands, etc. However, from watching the highlights and reading game summaries (including Other Rick’s always colorful take) it sounds like our boys gave a good account of themselves.

That makes three wins in a row. Not exactly a record-shattering streak, but still… Perhaps we’re finally ready to put an oh-so-ugly first half…one packed with more obstacles than a steeplechase course…in the rear-view mirror.

In hindsight, the deck during the first few months of the season was decidedly stacked against us. First, the short summer, which barely provided time for our guys to celebrate their hard-earned Cup, much less recuperate physically, emotionally and mentally.

The departure of some treasured and revered teammates sure didn’t help. The turnover significantly altered the team’s chemistry and makeup, both on the ice and in the locker room, seeping into our style of play.

Then there was the schedule, a heinous Abominable Dr. Phibes-ish concoction of extended road trips, back-to-back games and perfunctory out-of-conference matchups that was sure to dull the competitive instincts of even the heartiest of champions, let alone one suffering from the crippling effects of a Stanley Cup hangover.

Somehow, we survived.

And now? Maybe it’s my old eyes playing tricks on me (or wishful thinking), but I detect a little more hop in our step. Or swagger, to use the prevailing vernacular. Put another way, like a bloodhound hot on the trail of an elusive fox, our boys appear to have picked up the scent. Maybe they can smell the finish line.

The uptick in our compete level began with a pair of shootout victories over Metro Division rival Columbus back in December. Our readiness has been anything but a groove thang, punctuated by disheartening losses to unsexy foes like Anaheim, Carolina and Detroit. But, more and more, the Pens are displaying a discernable pulse.

It sure helps to have our superstars lead the way. When Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel combine for an avalanche of points (nine to be exact) like they did yesterday, we’re pretty tough to beat. Indeed, no other club boasts such a potent triumvirate. How blessed we are to have them.

With a team-best 50 points—including a league-high 29 on the power play—Kessel is enjoying arguably his finest season, certainly his best since his splashy arrival in the ‘Burgh three summers ago. ‘Thriller’s’ been marvelously consistent, going no more than five games without a goal.

Likewise, Malkin’s been a steady contributor on the score sheet, piling up 19 goals and 46 points in only 41 games. With back-to-back two-goal games, ‘Geno’ appears to be shifting into high gear just in time for a playoff push.

Crosby, too, seems to be rounding into top form. Following an indifferent patch that saw him log just three assists over an uninspired eight-game stretch, Sid’s piled up nine points in his past three. He seems re-energized, thanks in no small part to the presence of kid wingers Daniel Sprong and Dominik Simon.

I’m not saying we don’t have worries. Depth scoring remains an issue, Lord knows. So does our even-strength play. The Pens are next-to-last in 5-on-5 scoring, trailing the likes of bottom-feeders Arizona and Buffalo. They’ve been outscored, 101-64, in 5-on-5 play, which is downright deplorable.

The defense and goaltending—most notably Kris Letang and Matt Murray—need to be more consistent on a game-to-game basis. So does our overall effort and intensity.

We’re a flawed team, for sure. One that appears to be lacking certain key components. Yet just beneath a tattered, battle-scarred exterior beats the heart of a champion, a back-to-back champion at that. With our remaining schedule stacked with crucial divisional and in-conference matchups, like tonight’s showdown with the Rangers, our passion and sense of urgency should remain high.

Suddenly, making the playoffs doesn’t seem like such a tall order. And if we qualify?

I wouldn’t want to play us.

*Be sure to check out Rick Buker’s books,
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  1. Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
    January 15, 2018 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    Hey all,

    There’s a fantastic article about former Pens power forward (and current scout) Kevin Stevens out on Sportsnet. It’s titled “What It Takes” by Dan Robson.



  2. the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
    January 14, 2018 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

    Hey Rick,

    Let me start at the bottom of your always thought provoking writing

    Surely Washington doesn’t want to play us. I would bet that they are trying to guess where we are going to finish to try and at least try and delay a match and or pray for some other team to eliminate us so they don’t have to face us.

    But back to some other points you raise;

    Agreed, we are looking much better, but there still are a few questions that need to be answered. I don’t know if he is the answer, since I really haven’t seen him play, but I would like to see what Pedan could do instead of Hunwick or Cole. Referring back to those advanced stats that we were talking about the other day, Hunwick and Cole are both abysmal at D zone exits. And although I do like Cole and think his ability to PK does make him an extremely valuable player, Sullivan doesn’t seem to high on him. It may be because of his “O” zone entries, or for all we know it could be just a personality thing too.

    Regardless, there are still 2 question marks in my mind on “D”.

    And as you also noted, Murray showed some flashes of his old form a little while ago, stoning some really tough teams behind some very porous D, but of late he has been, well, less than his former self. He has even shown signs of emotion like the rest of the leagues goalies. He has not been his normal unflappable self. Perhaps it is related to whatever his departure from the team right now.

    In the end, the team is getting hard and harder to play against and that is what is encouraging. They aren’t just winning 2 – 1 games behind the stellar goaltending Murray and Jarry were having to win games with in Oct, Nov, and Dec. The “O” is turning up the heat and getting extended zone time, giving some relief to the “D” and most of the D-men are tightening down.

    • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
      January 14, 2018 at 6:43 pm | Permalink

      Hey Other Rick,

      I agree with your overall sentiments, especially regarding our ‘d.’ I’m beginning to wish we’d never signed Hunwick. Not that I hate the guy…I just don’t like the fact that he’s getting the nod over Cole. Sadly, I think it’s just a matter of time before we trade Ian.

      No, Cole’s zone entrance/exit metrics aren’t especially impressive. In his defense, he’s had a tough first half. Between getting his teeth knocked out blocking a shot to being paired (briefly) with Letang to being switched to the right side to being benched and served up as trade fodder, he’s had precious little time to gain any footing and settle in beside his favored partner, Justin Schultz.

      To my eye, he’s a better defenseman than Hunwick, not to mention younger, bigger and grittier. But he’s also a UFA-to-be, and I really think that’s the underlying issue. Hunwick’s signed for two more years, so the Pens are committed to him. Wish it weren’t so, but what can you do?

      Like you, I wouldn’t mind seeing Pedan get at least a cameo. He’s emerged as perhaps Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s top defenseman, and I sure like his size and the fact that he can handle himself. Perhaps a Lithuanian version of ‘The Big Rig,’ Oleksiak.

      As with all kids, you don’t know how well his game will translate to the NHL. But there’s only one way to find out.


      PS—Unless the Pens can get equal value for him, I’m cooling on the idea of trading Letang. Even though he’s like Forrest Gump’s proverbial box of chocolates—you never know what you’re gonna’ get—when he does get his game together, he can still be an elite defenseman.

    • 55 on Point's Gravatar 55 on Point
      January 17, 2018 at 1:04 am | Permalink

      I’m feeling some hope right now regarding the playoffs. They can do that. I’d still prefer them to have some home ice advantage if they make it, but that’s merely a wish for now. But, If they fill some gaps — a 3C, maybe another scoring winger, and perhaps more help on D, I wouldn’t want to play them in the post season either. With a bit of help, they’ll be dangerous for real.

      I agree re: Cole vs. Hunwick. I’d rather see Cole getting the ice time. I prefer his grittier play, zone exits notwithstanding. That’s why you pair him with Schultz. He and Sullivan have some sort of oil and water dichotomy going on. It’s about the money, too, of course. They aren’t going to pay him and they aren’t going to let him go for nothing via free agency. He’ll go, and probably soon. For what, or whom is anybody’s guess.

      I wish it would be Hunwick, too, but it won’t be. I think they like him. I don’t know why. Is there something I’m not seeing? I, too, would like to see what Pedan has to offer. If he could translate his AHL game to the NHL, this defense could be fearsome. Ah, maybe next year.

      Also, for all my jaw flapping about Letang, I’m slowly making peace with the fact they will never trade him, so I won’t mention him again, unless he really gets under my skin. He’s looked marginally better of late but I’m not sure if it’s him or that the team is playing better. But, I’ll still dream about what could be done with that $7 mil.

      It’s been fun to see them finally find a forecheck, and get their feet moving. Simon and Sprong have pushed Sid out of his rut. It will be interesting to see what they do with Simon when Rowney returns. Hagelin’s been on fire on Malkin’s wing and is perhaps pushing him, too, which is never a bad thing. He’s been relentless. The botttom six, while still not scoring enough, is looking better. They look like a team again.

      There’s gotta be a deal in the works. Maybe, two. They’re getting too close to pulling this off to not do it. I only hope their current success doesn’t cloud their judgment.

      — 55

      • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
        January 17, 2018 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

        Hey 55,

        That was the perfect way to sum it up. The Pens, indeed, are starting to look like a team again, instead of a bunch of guys just chasing after the puck. They seem to be playing with a purpose and to a plan.

        Agree, too, with your concerns about bottom-six scoring. Realistically, you just aren’t going to win in the playoffs without it.

        In the ‘you-can’t-have-it-both-ways’ department, Josh Archibald has three goals and an assist in 10 games with Arizona, while averaging about 14 minutes a game. That kind of production would look awfully nice on our fourth line.

        On the flip side, nobody championed the acquisition of Ryan Reaves more loudly than I. Truly, I was ecstatic this summer when we acquired him. And while he’s certainly performed his primary duty of shielding our stars, I sure would like to see more production from the big guy.

        Maybe his output (or lack of) would be easier to swallow if his linemates were producing, but they’re not doing anything, either.



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