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Penguins Update: It Could Work! – Pittsburgh Penguins – PenguinPoop Blog

Penguins Update: It Could Work!

“It…could…work!”

Actor Gene Wilder, playing frazzle-haired Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (that’s Fronk-un-STEEN) in the all-time comedy classic Young Frankenstein, shouted those very words during a wild-eyed moment of clarity when he realized his grandfather’s efforts to restore life to the dead might bear fruit.

After witnessing the Penguins’ recent resurgence (8-3 in January), the very same thought crossed my mind regarding our chances for a coveted three-peat.

Okay, so perhaps it’s a bit of a stretch to compare our 2017-18 season to Frankenstein’s pale green monster, but not much. After all, during a hideous 4-0 loss to Carolina just three short weeks ago, the Pens had shown about as much pep as Herr doctor’s hulking creation, strapped cold and lifeless to a laboratory table.

So what’s changed?

Throw the Switch

If ever a team needed a jolt of electricity, it was our Penguins. Especially after they negotiated the first half of the season much like Peter Boyle’s bemused monster stumbling aimlessly through the fog-shrouded backwoods of Transylvania following his reanimation and subsequent escape from the castle.

Fortunately, like a latter day Dr. Frankenstein, general manager Jim Rutherford had his finger squarely on the team’s fading pulse. Fully aware the Pens were missing a part or two, he swung a pair of trades just before the holidays that doubled as a wake-up call. Roughly the hockey equivalent of attaching power cables to the monster’s electrodes and throwing the main switch.

Built somewhat along the lines of the monster (although a much better skater), newcomer Jamie Oleksiak instantly displayed the promise that had once made him a mid-first round pick, not to mention a much-valued penchant for physical play.

Still, the Pens wobbled along like an old wooden ox cart traversing rugged cobblestone streets, alternating wins with often-ugly losses. Clearly, more help was needed…and fast.

Hello Handsome!

Enter rookie wingers Dominik Simon and Daniel Sprong. By coincidence, both Europeans.

Sprong’s much-anticipated arrival provided a badly needed spark, not to mention an instant buzz among the Pens’ faithful. However, it was the less-heralded Simon who’s had the greatest impact. Thanks in part to his high hockey IQ and scrambling, opportunistic style, the young Czech forward’s proved a remarkably good fit on the top line next to Sidney Crosby, while plugging a gaping void on the port side.

Best of all, Simon’s presence has enabled coach Mike Sullivan to cease his frenetic stitching and re-stitching of the forward lines, a botched lab experiment that was about as useful as a broken Pyrex beaker.

Grafted next to Evgeni Makin and good friend Patric Hornqvist, Carl Hagelin suddenly found his game, giving the Penguins a productive second line and affording Sullivan the option of sliding Phil Kessel to his own unit…a formula that worked so well two short seasons ago.

Faster than you can say Frau Blucher, the Pens awakened.

Give Him a Sed-a-give

Perhaps the most compelling reason to believe our Pens actually have a shot at winning another Cup? With the notable exception of last season, when we broke all the rules in abby-normal fashion, we’re following our championship pattern to a T. Ergo, we sleep walk through the first half as if someone had slipped us a sedative (“sedagive” in Igor speak) before shaking off the effects and catching fire.

Or, to mangle an old quote, the first half of the NHL season only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. Something like that.

Indeed, during our first Cup season in 1990-91 the Pens were just two games above .500 on March 1. The following season they’d sunk even lower—all the way down to .500 by February 27. In 2008-09? Two games above .500 on February 16.

Actually, we’ve come eerily close to duplicating our pattern from two years ago. At the 2016 All-Star break, we had 55 points and were just beginning to show signs of life under Sullivan. Two points behind where we stand today, albeit in three less games.

Could Be Worse…Could Be Raining

While the Pens have begun to extricate themselves from the miry grave they dug, the competition is malfunctioning worse than Inspector Kemp’s faulty wooden arm.

Following a blistering first half, league front-runner Tampa Bay recently endured an ugly stretch of five losses in seven games. Toronto? The Leafs are a pedestrian 8-7-4 since December 10. Washington, arguably the surprise team of the Metropolitan Division, recently showed signs of slipping.

Among our Eastern brethren, only Boston and Philadelphia are on discernable rolls. Especially torrid, the Bruins are an astonishing 23-3-4 since mid-November. Let’s see ‘em keep that up for another two-plus months.

What goes up must, eventually, come down. Front-runners don’t often win. The last Presidents’ Trophy winner to cadge a Stanley Cup was Chicago in 2012-13, a lockout-shortened season that was more sprint to the finish line than endurance test. The last to win after navigating a full 82-game slate was Detroit back in ’07-08.

As for my movie analogy? The monster eventually returned to the castle, where he underwent a procedure to give him a calmer brain. The good doctor gained something in the process, too.

Mmmmmmmmm.

If you’ll pardon my Pittsburgh-ese, I like where we’re at. Suddenly, I like our chances, too.

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For the unfamiliar, my goofy subheads are lines from Young Frankenstein. A must-see movie.

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

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7 Comments

  1. the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
    January 27, 2018 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

    Put zee candle back.

    I love it, great movie, great post, herr Buker. (Horse Whinnies)

    I agree, despite all of their mistakes, the Penguins still can make a run for the cup.
    I don’t think you can ever count out a team that boast Crosby, Malkin, and Kessel.
    I have doubted that the chance was there.
    My occasional negativity is that the team hasn’t made the right moves to optimize those chances.

    Over the summer I was outspoken against paying Vegas a draft pick for drafting Fleury, trading for Reaves, and signing Hunwick.

    It is really hard to assess anything negative about the extortion perpetrated by Vegas, but how much harm would have come from calling Vegas’ bluff and let them draft say Conor Sheary off of the roster instead of Fleury and the Pens start the season with Fleury and not Niemi?

    If you recall I was adamantly opposed to the Reaves trade. I still am of a very strong opinion that the trade was asinine, but I do now admit that since I have no control over it, I am resigned to the trade and try to see the positives that Reaves does bring to the team. However, talking about coincidences, how about how much faster did the team look these last couple of days. Could Reaves have set up Dea the way Rust did?

    Also, if you recall, I was well below a fan of the Hunwick signing, therefore I am not surprised by his lack of showing. I advocated (as if I had a vote) signing either Markov or Girardi. To that end I offer up, last game as evidence why he should be shown the press box for an extended period; Minnesota was held to 13 shots in the first 2-periods with Hunwick out of the lineup and Cole in.

    I’ll stop short of a full rant at the moment and refocus, if the Penguins would just keep Hunwick out of the lineup and use Reaves where appropriate and speed where appropriate (and sit, trade, waive Sheary) this team could once again be explosive and wreak havoc like a riot on the league

    and remember what Inspector Kemp said;”A riot is an ungly thing… undt, I tink, that it is chust about time ve had vun.”

    • Mike's Gravatar Mike
      January 27, 2018 at 8:46 pm | Permalink

      Your probably the same guy that killed JR when he picked up Schultz, Cole,
      Bonino….etc….etc…… Everyone of them with through a transition period
      before playing well.

      As for Reaves – anything he gives us now is a bonus – the playoffs are
      where his true value lies – in a physical / grinding environment.

      I believe our slow start had a lot to do with how beat down some of the Pen’s
      players were from last years playoff – mostly our smaller players…..Rust, Sheary, Guentzel – they took a physical pounding – we actually have a better balance of size and speed which should pay dividends in the long run. I also believe JR could see this and his moves to bring in a little size were well calculated ones…..Oleksiak, Reaves and Sheahan.

      • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
        January 27, 2018 at 10:02 pm | Permalink

        Hey Mike,

        With all due respect to your opinion (I think Pens4ever feels the same way), I agree with Other Rick on Reaves. Which represents a complete about-face from my original stance when we acquired the big guy last summer.

        Anybody who’s read PenguinPoop for the last several years knows that I’ve long been frustrated by the fact that we didn’t have anybody on hand—at least on a regular basis—to keep other teams honest when it came to taking liberties. Especially division rivals like Columbus and Washington (God how I hate Tom Wilson). So when we acquired Reaves, I was ecstatic.

        In addition to being the league’s heavyweight champ, I truly believed he’d be able to contribute enough as a player to justify the trade. Heck, given that he scored seven goals for St. Louis last year, I thought he might score as many as 10 for us.

        Yet as much as I was pulling for him and wanted the trade to work out, it quickly became apparent—at least to me—that he simply doesn’t skate well enough, or have the instincts, to mesh with our up-tempo style. In fact, rather early on I began to advocate playing him against heavier teams and sitting him against faster, more skilled teams. Honestly, I’m a bit surprised it’s taken Sullivan this long to come around.

        A friend pointed out last night, and quite correctly, that Reaves has done a good job of shielding our stars from abuse, and I agree. And I’ve got no issues with him from an effort standpoint. He gives it everything he’s got when he plays, as his 137 hits will attest. But his presence also creates a bit of a Catch 22, because the fourth line literally dries up when he’s in there. If you want to win in the playoffs, you’ve simply got to have four at least reasonably effective lines.

        Personally, I think Oleksiak’s tough enough—and handles himself well enough—to be a deterrent against most teams. While it would still be nice to have Reaves on hand against the Blue Jackets and the Capitals, I don’t really see him being a factor come playoff time.

        In fact, given that he may not be too happy about sitting, I honestly wouldn’t be surprised to see JR deal him on or before the trade deadline.

        Rick

        PS–I agree that the additions of Sheahan and Oleksiak were very astute moves on JR’s part, especially considering that we gave up very little to get ’em. Kind of makes up for signing Hunwick, who I thought would be more effective than he’s been.

        • Mike's Gravatar Mike
          January 28, 2018 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

          Rick

          Time will tell what the Pen’s and JR are thinking – personally I believe we’re showcasing a few players in advance of making a trade or two.

          I don’t see Reaves going anywhere – the proof is in statements made by his teammates “Crosby” on how having him on the team has been invaluable.

          Trust me on this – come playoff time every Pen’s fan will be glad we have him in the Black & Gold.

          P.S. – Could you see us playing the Bruins in the Playoffs without Reaves in uniform?? “Answer” NOOOOOOOO

      • the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
        January 27, 2018 at 10:06 pm | Permalink

        Hey Mike,

        Actually no, I didn’t know enough about Schultz and the 3rd round pick the Pens gave up really didn’t seem all that significant. After I did see him play, I was a proponent of giving him more ice time.

        When JR traded for Cole, my first thought was the trade was a push in terms of potential but that Bortuzzo would never really develop in Pgh so that the trade was a good one; give players a new lease on life. After his first abbreviated season as a Penguin and brief 1st playoff stint, I liked him and was bewildered at why he struggled at the beginning of his first full season with the Pens, but chalked it up to MJs system and bad pairings. After he he got his act together, under Sullivan, near the end of that season I was a fan.

        As for Bonino, I was a proponent of trading Sutter before the Penguins lost him to free agency. I never really complained about Bonino and even beat the drums for the Penguins to sign him to a contract extension before the 1st of these back-to-back Cup runs was finished, while they had a chance to sign him on the cheap. After the second Cup run, I not only was resigned to him leaving, I was okay with it. We was asking way more than he was worth. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to begrudge him. He paid a high price over the last 2 – seasons. The Penguins just couldn’t pay what he wanted and still be a competitive team this year.

        You may be right about the Penguins slow start being attributable to the physical pounding they took last year in the play-offs; there are people who think like you. However, there are other people who don’t think that is a valid excuse. The only thing we will ever know for sure is if what Sullivan chooses to do over the rest of the season will be good enough to get into the play-offs. We will never now if alternative options would have been better.

        For all we know Sullivan will bench Hunwick and Sheary at some point and I will get to see if what I have been proselytizing was a good enough idea.

        As for Reaves, nothing can be done about it. He is on the team and as I wrote above, I do appreciate his team spirit and want to see him succeed, both for the team and for him. He appears to be a great guy. However, I still would have preferred not to have made that trade and have drafted Hague with that pick. I have been watching Hague’s development as best I could and would think that he would have been a solid, solid asset next year and years to come.

        • Mike's Gravatar Mike
          January 28, 2018 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

          The other Rick

          In all due respect you would make a great Monday morning Quarterback!! LMAO

          You have all these reason’s for the Pen’s turnaround – It was
          just a matter of time before they got serious and started to put
          wins together – they have two of the best players in the world for God sake. It has nothing to do with Sprong or Simon or etc….
          the turnaround was inevitable – Will they “Three-peat” no one knows but not making the Playoffs “Come on” – you guys love a story.

          PS – Its easy to manipulate the facts – in previous post I called for patience from JR and contended it would just be a matter of time before the Penguins started to roll. They have the best talent in the league. The “Only” reason for there turnaround is they finally locked in and decided to play “Period”.

          If I said this once I said it a thousand times – you could put statues on the ice with Malkin, Crosby and now Kessel and win.

          • the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
            January 28, 2018 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

            Hey Mike,

            I would have to argue that I am not really a Monday morning quarterback. I make my comments before the games not after the them. Everything I have said about Hunwick, Reaves, Sheary, etc was originally stated before the fact. My comments now are only advanced to support what I stated over the summer.

            Although I do hope the Penguins have turned it around and I hope you can have your I told you so day, but it really isn’t today. The Penguins are in 3rd place right now (tied with CBJ but listed as 3rd – tie breaker).

            However, CBJ has played 2 less games and could be as much as 4 points ahead of the Pens. Phillie is only 1 point behind, has 2 games in hand, and are 8-2-0 in the last 10 games compared to Pgh, they could easily be 3 points ahead of the Pens. NJD is also only 1 point behind the Pens and have 3 games in hand. The only good news here is that NJD is struggling right now; 2-6-2. The Pens could still be ahead of them when those 3 games are played but more than likely they will at least get 1 point out of the batch and be tied with the Pens. Once again putting the Pens on the bubble and having to hope that the 2 New York teams continue to struggle as both NY teams are only 2 points behind with games in hand.

            Bottom line is the Pens are not completely in control of their destiny. That is the truth even if it something we don’t want to think about.

            Furthermore, neither Crosby, nor Malkin is Mario. They cannot play with pylons and score. In 2014-2015 Crosby and Malkin almost missed the play-offs making it on the final day because they got to play the hapless Sabres. They bowed out in the 1st round in only 5 games against the Rangers. Crosby disappeared last year in the play-offs last year for several games until Sullivan finally benched Sheary, even with Malkin and Kessel in the line-up. The only reason the team got thru those middle 2 series was goaltending.

            Crosby was seriously slumping until Sprong and Simon were brought up. They did and are (Simon) making a difference. I am not manipulating facts, just stating them. The Pens had a similar run at the end of Nov thru early Dec before tanking the rest of the way thru Dec and falling out of the playoff picture for a time.

            You have your opinions and are very passionate about them. However, there are other opinions out there supported by some very strong evidence.


            

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