So long 2017. You started off with a bang, bringing us some incredible memories. I want to thank all of the Pittsburgh Penguins for the great thrill ride from Ron Burkle and Mario Lemieux, through Jim Rutherford and Mike Sullivan and his staff, all the way down to the black aces who stood ready during the Stanley Cup run.
I am still jazzed about the 5 shutouts pitched by Marc-Andre Fleury (2) and Matt Murray (3). Fleury, your stoning of the Caps in game 7 to send them crying to early tee-times once again and Chris Kunitz–your no look pass to Conor Sheary to set up the team’s 2nd goal in game 1 against Nashville in the finals. Jake Guentzel, your tying of the rookie play-off goal scoring record, and Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Phil Kessel , your 2 year dominance in the play-offs will stand out in Penguin lore.
Penguins, your frenetic attacking personality carried over from 2016 through June of 2017 is what I will remember of this past year. What I will do my best to forget is the standing around watching, slogging team I watched last night. Where did that speedy, aggressive offense and smothering, swarming defense go?
Hockey is a fast game, a game skaters move and attack at high speeds, it is a thrilling game to watch. Detroit really exemplified that last night; the Penguins not so much. My wife actually yelled at me for yelling at the TV as I tried to cajole a lost, foundering, standing still team to try skating. Just as I noted yesterday in a reply on Rick Buker’s last post, I feared that Daniel Sprong was going to be wasted on a foot slogging line centered by pylon Riley Sheahan. Sheahan did show some hop in his first couple of shifts with Sprong but that didn’t last long. I wasn’t the only one complaining about Sheahan’s standing around in the offensive zone and watching the game rather than participating in the game. On one of an endless string of stagnant standing still offensive plays, when Sheahan stood on the goal line with the puck idly observing Detroit’s defense close off the passing lanes then trying to force the puck to a now covered Sprong ended once again in futility, Bob Errey (if I recall correctly) joined me to chorus, “Don’t just stand there, skate!”
Sheahan may be a great face-off man, but I would rather see him lose a couple of more draws and get on the scoring sheet.
To be fair, Carl Hagelin was trying to help. He was skating out there. However, Sprong was left to try and create his own chances. He did eventually get a shift or two with Crosby but only after the outcome was decided. (I am hoping to see more of that pairing this year)
The stagnant standing around, lost looks on the top 2 lines may be excusable. In what may have been a case of over coaching, Sullivan had 2 Left Wings playing on Crosby’s line and 2 Right Wings playing on Malkin’s line. They are all NHL caliber players but it is understandable that they too looked very tentative, wondering who was supposed to be where.
Everyone should know by now that I am one of the staunchest Matt Murray fans. I do think he is not just a good goalie but a great one. Unfortunately, last night, Murray really didn’t look good at all and uncharacteristically showed frustration after Gustav Nyquist slid Detroit’s last goal into the net. Murray did partially get his glove on the puck, just not enough to prevent the 4th goal. In Murray’s defense, even though Detroit only managed 23 shots on goal, the bulk of those shots were clean, open shots and often coming on odd man breaks. However, Murray has had a history of stopping all those shots with ease, just not last night; ending the 2017 on a note most sour.
Getting back to the stagnant, standing around attribute that this 2017-2018 Penguins personality has become; the only Penguin defenseman who actually skated with the puck was “Big Rig” Jamie Oleksiak. In the post-game show, the excuse of the Penguins were playing 5 left handed Defensemen and only 1 right-handed Defenseman, was tossed about. Regardless of which hand a Defenseman shoots with really has little effect on skating ability. Furthermore, the “Big Rig” was one of the 2 Defensemen playing on his opposite side and he did skate with authority carrying the biscuit and showing more moves than Riley Sheahan in the attacking zone.
It seems to me it is time to rewind the clock to January 2016 and simplify the game again and go out there and just skate again. It is time for Crosby, Malkin, Kessel, and Hornqvist to forget about the idea of 3-peating and just have fun again. With Guentzel and Sprong they have some young guns who can find the range. If Crosby, Malkin, Kessel, and Hornqvist start just trying to enjoy the game again, the wins will return.
I still would look to trade Sheary. I do like him and appreciate what he has accomplished these last 2 years, but last night once again he was very weak on the puck. In a friendly argument I had over Sheary, a friend tried to compare Sheary to Hall of Famer Mark Recchi. My response was Recchi is 2” taller, 20 pounds heavier and very strong on the puck. The Penguins may not be able to get the bank for Sheary but they really should be shopping him before his stock drops any further.
A journey of a 1,000 miles starts with a single step. Tomorrow looks like a good day to start that journey back to the top. Let’s Go Pens!
Odds and Sods
Kris Letang and Justin Schultz skated in regular contact jerseys in the Penguins last practice. Let’s hope they are ready to play against the Flyers to start that journey back up the standings.
The Penguins recalled Dominik Simon and sent Casey DeSmith, Andrey Pedan, and Garrett Wilson back down to Wilkes-Barre – Scranton.
I also wanted to thank Phil Krundle, Rick Buker, and James Arthurs for welcoming me to the Penguin Poop roster this past year and you Penguin Poop readers for all of the discussion and hockey talk you have contributed. Happy New Year to one and all!