Stud of the Week 05/20/2013

There’s no question we are a little pissed off from Sunday’s game. Not because the Penguins made a 10 second lapse in ability and skill, mostly just because everyone is somehow viewing this game as a catastrophic ending to the season. We didn’t know that you could lose a best of 7 series 1 loss to 2 wins. Nonetheless, we’re going to have some fun to alleviate the stress of this week by playing our favorite game: Stud of the Week! This week with a defense-first tilt.

paul-martgif

Paul Martin: If Paul-Mart had played the whole regular season, and if he had played it the way he’s played the last 5 games (minus the whole 28.6 situation, of which he was part of) Paul Martin WOULD BE the Penguins’ finalist for the Norris Trophy. I’m not kidding. So far this series he has earned almost three more minutes of TOI than Kris Letang, not an insignificant amount over a three game stretch. He’s produced the same 9 points in 9 games as Kris Letang and perhaps most tellingly, he’s a +8 (tops amongst all defensemen) compared to Tanger’s +3. Not bad for a guy who is half of the “shutdown pairing” for the Penguins.

Speaking of the other half, there’s no question that Brooks Orpik has been instrumental in helping Paul-Mart to such success and confidence. But you know what? Paul Martin has been one of the true superstars on this team all playoffs.

Brenden Morrow: man did he have a bad opening series. I nearly wrote a piece suggesting he be benched. Now we know that it had a lot to do with the Islanders, and not him, but he has rebounded nicely. He made his first goal of the postseason count netting the game winner in Game 2 off of a nifty redirect. Even more important, though, has been his play on the forecheck and in the d-zone.

There’s nothing else we can say about Morrow being a “heart and soul” player. But he sure is proving it. Has he been the best player on the ice? No. Has he tried harder than everyone else on the ice? Yes. I just like watching him play so here’s a video.

Brandon Sutter: as with Morrow, it’s hard to fathom how bad he was in the first round. Unlike Morrow, he didn’t have the excuse of age or diminished skating ability. All year we’ve used Sutter’s smooth skating and quickness as a distinguishing factor between him and the departed Jordan Staal. But he didn’t have it against the Isles. He was slow, he was lost, he looked weak, exactly unlike what we’ve come to expect.

sutter-morrow

It was nerves, playoff nerves for a 23 year old without any playoff experience. And that’s okay, because once he got his bearings he’s been the cornerstone of the Penguins’ late-game efforts to forecheck the game to a successful conclusion. And he’s been good at it.

But this week our Stud goes to the guy who has picked up the team in both ends of the rink, the guy who is most hungry for another Cup and another Conn Smythe.

Evgeni Malkin: he’s only managed three points this series after scoring 11 in round one, but he’s been a thousand times better in this series. His back pressure has been essential in creating the effective 1-2-2 which has totally stifled the Senators attempts to gain the zone. After a slow start, Geno is up to 7 takeaways, and nearly all of them have come in this series. That’s great for a guy who Mike Milbury once described as a “crack fiend” who can only play offense.

He looks like the best player in the world. A man possessed in every sense of the word. Wait, did I just call Geno the best player in the world? Yes I did. And I mean it. Who has been as great in both ends of the ice as Geno? I’ll be the first to tell you Sid hasn’t, especially with his plummeting faceoff percentage. The next two answers are also teammates: Hank and Datsyuk. Well they’ve defied the odds with their good play, but with 10 and 8 points respectively they aren’t in the upper stratum of offense. And who else even deserves mentioning? Geno has this team right now and he will carry them well. That’s why he’s our Stud of the Week.

studoftheweek-GENO

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Stud of the Week 04/22/13

The Penguins are coming off another undefeated week of hockey with back to back wins over the teams with the second and third best records in the Eastern Conference. They’re still doing it without the two best players on the planet, an elite goal scorer, and one of the most underrated defensemen in the league this year. In doing so they locked up the top seed in the East with more than 10% of their games still remaining.

There’s a lot of acclaim that can go around but most of the biggest contributors continued to be the new guys that we featured last week: Brenden Morrow stepped up with an awesome Gordie Howe Hat Trick against the Habs and Jarome Iginla silenced the boo birds in Boston with a lethal PP goal. Beyond that the “New JJ” chipped in on all 3 goals against the Bruins and Tomas Vokoun showed just how good he could be with 38 10-bell saves in the same effort. But our rules are clear, no back to back winners, so let’s look at who else has been taking care of business.

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Gameday #22 Recap: @ Montreal Canadiens, Pens Win, can you count to 13?

 

 

 

PENS Win

This wasn’t a good win, but it was a win of a good team. Well, it was sort of a win of a good team, what it really was was a win earned by a few good players who rose to the occassion over the opponent. The Pens scored 7 goals but only 4 guys contributed in that way. The Pens gave up 6 goals but only 8 players ended up with a negative plus/minus. And while this kind of game won’t work in the playoffs, the Pens rose to the occasion and beat a very good team. What follows is a brief synopsis of the guys who won this for the ‘Guins. Read the rest of this entry »


Pens/Flyers: Nothing Learned? Maybe Not

No doubt about it, the Pens are still falling for the same cheap antics that got them eliminated by the Flyers in last year’s playoffs. That is to say they’re trying to out-physical the Flyers (something they aren’t the best at) instead of out-play them (which they clearly did in the third period when they just started playing hockey). But to me there’s no doubt that the majority of the Penguins players did learn something, and perhaps the two biggest who didn’t, Geno and Neal, can’t be faulted because they made up for it on the scoresheet.

In some ways though the Pens really overcompensated. That was the problem for Brooks Orpik, who played his worst game since he wore a number 29 jersey, and Matt Niskanen both of whom allowed own goals by playing too aggressively, trying to play the puck and not the man.

I wouldn't lie to you...

I wouldn’t lie to you…

Now mind you, some guys, read Deryk Engelland and Tanner Glass, did play over the top and it was bad news for both of them, but there were some guys who had a downright good game, so let’s take a look at them and how the team and coaching staff can learn from them.

Here’s the truth: Paul Martin had one of the best games he’s played all year, and he’s had a lot of good ones. Unlike his d-partner Brooksie, who ended up a minus 2, Paul-Mart was a net zero plus/minus, and almost silently netted three assists. He didn’t try to do too much. He just played the game and did what he’s done all year. He didn’t let the national audience or the rivalry get into his head.

Sidney Crosby: he’s often been leading the charge for extra aggression against the Flyers, but on Wednesday he played in control. He ended up a minus-3, but he logged huge minutes and did what he needed to do. He logged 27 minutes of ice time in all three facets of the game, at even strength, on the PP and on the PK. He probably played his most shorthanded time he’s ever played in a game, and generally speaking, the Pens PK played well, the killer was just the stupid penalties other guys took to get on the penalty kill. Also doesn’t hurt that Sid made a difference in the faceoff circle, 75%.

Brandon Sutter: his late goal to get the score even is the stuff of legends. No doubt Sutter is always going to have to own up to comparisons to Jordan Staal, he took a huge step towards that comparison on Wednesday. The biggest things that advanced statisticians stress about Staal’s game is his puck possession numbers. In less than 13 minutes of ice time on Wednesday Sutter finished a plus-2. Further, the 3 wingers who played with him–Beau Bennett, Tyler Kennedy, and Matt Cooke–were the only other plus rated players for the Pens.

So there you have it, we’re not going to pretend that the Pens didn’t beat themselves, we’re not going to pretend that composure wasn’t still a major issue for this supposedly veteran, well-coached team. But when you really look at it, the Pens look to be turning the corner when it comes to the Flyers, the best players played well, and more and more guys seem to be learning to turn the other cheek. Given that the Flyers are literally rubbish we can’t wait to get back at it again.


Penguins Season Preview: Centers

t’s finally here, we are actually previewing the actual guys who will be donning the Pittsburgh Penguins sweater this year. Back on Monday we previewed the goalies, on Tuesday we shifted our focus to defense, yesterday we covered wingers, and today the centers, before finally making our BOLD predictions for the year.

We’ve attempted to look at each player from a point/counterpoint perspective–that’s not to say that we are going to totally disagree on each player, far from it, we want to examine both the statistical expectations for each guy AND express our “feel” or read of the player.

We hope you enjoy and we would love for you to get back to us with your thoughts and feelings. If you haven’t read them yet, please check out our series on Advanced Hockey Statistics: Goals Versus ThresholdPoints per 60 Minutes, and Player Usage Charts (including Corsi numbers). Get the business after the jump.

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Recap: Draftday #2: Fundamental Changes, Admitting I Was Wrong

I guess I need to fess up and say that everything that I hoped and predicted was completely wrong on the Jordan Staal issue. Also, because of a lack of close fact checking, I have finally realized that I screwed up the contract situations for Ryan Suter and Shea Weber. As it turns out, Suter is an unrestricted free agent this; Weber will be a restricted free agent. What it ultimately comes down to though is that they are both physically intimidating defensemen with offensive upside, they both play for the same team, and they’ve both expressed the same interest to leave that team because it’s located in Nashville. What is also true, and what I correctly identified, is that the future of said defenseman was inextricably linked to one of two things: the desire to pick up the mantle left behind by Nick Lidstrom in Detroit, or if the Penguins could dump the high salaries of their underperforming defensemen. According to a major stream of tweets (which of course may or may not be true) Suter is only allowed to sign a contract with the team called Detroit or the team called Pittsburgh. I honestly don’t like to brag every time I make a random prediction that ends up coming true or is supported, at a later date, by official commentary from the “pros,” and as I said, I totally got the Staal case wrong, but the simple fact is that as I build this blog and attempt to form a core of dedicated readers I need to show that the trust you place in me is justified. I’m not an expert, I haven’t even played competitive hockey since I was in eighth grade, but as I’ve tried to demonstrate, when properly guided I can hit the mark a lot. Get more by clicking on the HyperText Markup Language link. Read the rest of this entry »


Recap: Draftday #1: What Just Happened?

Wow, this is not the way I predicted the first round to go. The picks weren’t all that surprising, but wow, just wow. Jordan Staal is gone in comes Brandon Sutter, Brian Dumolin, and number 8 overall pick Derrick Pouliot. The Penguins also drafted Olli Matta with their normal 22nd pick. Dumolin, Pouliot, and Matta are all defensemen and although that might seem like a waste, it really isn’t.

According to all the experts Dumolin is literally Brooks Orpik except younger, he even went to Boston College, just like Brooksie. Looking at the stats, the resemblance is uncanny, Dumolin is 6’4” 210 lbs. He’s a large man, he will hit people. The experts further contend that he’s even more NHL ready than Despres and other Penguins defensive prospects. That’s good news.

Derrick Pouliot has a pretty funny connection to the Penguins. He plays for the same team, in the same pairing as last year’s first round pick Joe Morrow. Some people think that the Pens actually stretched to take him at the 8th spot, but he exactly represents what the Penguins hope to satisfy on defense. Oh yeah, he’s at least matched if not exceeded Morrow’s production despite being younger. I will say that the Pens could have taken Filip Forsberg, the third best offensive prospect in the entire draft, but as I said recently, it isn’t hard for the Penguins to recruit offensive talent to Pittsburgh, the issue is in the defense, and when you have so many “prospects” needing one way contracts next year, the Pens did well to restock. Just try not to get pissed when Forsberg scores some huge goal for the Capitals against the Pens.

I’m a little more interested in Olli Maatta compared to Pouliot if I’m honest. Maata is another pretty big, physical defenseman. But that’s what he is and that’s what matters. I feel like between Letang, Niskanen, Despres, Morrow, and now Pouliot the Pens are plenty deep at puck moving defensemen, now they need to work on getting physical. It should also be noted that Maatta is the linemate of last year’s second round defensive pick Scott Harrington. Just a little food for thought.

Of course the biggest piece of the Jordan Staal trade that the Penguins got in return is Brandon Sutter. Sutter was taken with the 11th pick in the 2007 draft and is probably the quintessential Jordan Staal replacement. He’s big, he’s a two-way center man, and he can produce pretty well. His career best season saw him record 40 points, 10 shy of the mark that Jordan set last year, but it should also be considered that Sutter hasn’t played on a team that is anywhere near as good at scoring goals as the Pens. He only has one 20-goal season, but so did Pascal Dupuis until this year and Pens fans don’t seem to complain about him too much.

I am confident in saying that this was in fact an act of Ray Shero magic. It was a hockey trade in its purest sense, and although Carolina could be pretty impressive led by two Staal brothers, the fact that Shero was able to salvage anything from what was quickly becoming a train wreck is incredible. Let alone to get two important pieces that can help the franchise from day one, another stout prospect, and still have your own first round pick left over.

There’s no question in my mind that Brandon Sutter can be Jordan Staal for the Penguins. He’s considered a great locker room presence and Tyler Kennedy and Matt Cooke will be notable improvements on Sutter’s normal linemates, plus he’ll likely get the opportunity, like Staal in recent years, to play up with Crosby and/or Malkin. He’ll be your top penalty killing forward. Further, just like Staal he really grew into his role as a two way forward, however, there is less fear of him outgrowing the role as happened with Staal.

I’ve seen at least three times when he’s gone to that move. It’s dirty.

Make no doubt about it, I’m going to miss Jordan Staal like crazy, but this is a move that has fundamentally improved two teams and it came from a situation where the Canes almost didn’t have to do anything. The crowd reaction to the trade was entirely supportive and that was good. I think it was a declaration of support for Jordan and for Ray Shero. Dejan wrote a minor masterpiece on the issue, and I can’t say it better than him.

This would be a win as is, but that wasn’t the only big time deal to go down for the Penguins. Shortly after the first round ended Twitter and the NHL Network were blowing up again with another Penguins move. Gone too is Zbynek Michalek, back to Phoenix where he thrived for years before coming to the Pens. In return is yet another defensive prospect, Harrison Ruopp, a dude who’s supposed to be bad to the bone, an AHL level goalie (which is good), and a third round pick in the draft this year. It was a salary dump and it cleared up $4 million on the Pens NHL cap. Further, it eliminated 50% of the biggest failure of Shero’s career. I’ve heard plenty of griping about how Z wasn’t the biggest failure, not like Paul Martin, and of course I’ve written about this before, and I don’t want to say I told you so, but I did. You can challenge the decision, you can challenge Shero, but I’m stoked on this decision, and we’ll deal with that in just a few minutes.

There was talk that both Shero and Phoenix GM Don Maloney were interested in making a hockey trade with either Keith Yandle or, less ambitiously, Rosti Klesla (who I think would be a great player in Pittsburgh and thought the Pens should have targeted in the 2010 offseason, when they signed Z and Martin) that would have seen another Penguins roster player moving to Phoenix, I bet you it would have been a forward, and more than likely I bet it would have been someone akin to Chris Kunitz, especially if the target were Yandle. Would the cost have been worth it? Probably. But that’s likely why Michalek is the player who is gone right now and Martin is currently still a member of the Penguins. You can only make a trade if you have a partner and I have my doubts that Paul Martin would make up a significant part of a real hockey trade (except for maybe Malone).

That said, don’t be shocked if Martin isn’t gone by the time Free Agency opens up. So far the Pens have shaved approximately $6 million in salary. Under the current collective bargaining agreement with the cap tentatively set at $70 million, the Pens are up to $14.6 million in free space. Imagine if they dropped Martin’s $5 mil contract. Even if the new collective bargaining agreement were to “shrink” the cap so that it stayed the same or actually went down slightly, this would still afford the Pens ample room to negotiate a new contract with Sid and whole-heartedly attempt to sign Zach Parise or Ryan Suter from free agency. Maybe even both, since it is reported that Parise and Sid are great friends, and presumably the two could work together to sign mutually beneficially contracts. For this reason, the move is brilliant, the Pens right now are prepared to sign the best player in free agency, and fully address their biggest position of need, scoring wingers, and they won’t need to wait on Filip Forsberg to develop.

Draft day 2 is underway. Go Hockey.