Gameday #26 Recap: v. New York Islanders, It’s a Sock Monkey Trick

Now this is exactly what the Penguins needed to do against a team like the Islanders. Sidney Crosby with his fifth career 5+ point night, Chris Kunitz with his first 5 point night, Duper with 2 goals, Neal with 3 points, Letang with 2 assists, solid defensive work and underrated goaltending made this game pretty much easy from start to finish. NOW it’s not unfair to look forward to Tuesday’s smackdown against the Bruins for command of the Eastern Conference. That is going to be a huge, huge game. At least the Pens are on home ice.

Holy Cow

Holy Cow

If you ask us, the defensive composition of this game is exactly what the Pens should roll with going forward.

  • For starters, it was obvious that Bylsma was determined to use his last change to play Brandon Sutter and co. along with Brooksie and Paul-Mart against the Islanders’ top line, and guess what? It worked. The only time it didn’t work was when Simon Despres got caught at the end of a shift and blew a tire. If not for all that, the Pens probably would have gotten a shutout.
  • You want to know why the six defensemen who played yesterday are the Penguins’ best defensemen? Check out these TOI stats from yesterday’s game:
    • #2 – 18:44
    • #4 – 16:04
    • #7 – 22:15
    • #44 – 20:11
    • #47 – 18:32
    • #58 – 23:31
  • That’s a little different from Saturday night’s game which saw Engo play 14 and Despres play 12 while Paul-Mart played over 24 and Letang went for more than 30. Again, we like Engo, but he’s not a better defensive player than Eaton and he’s not a game changer like Despres, when you have both of those two in the lineup you can roll with 3 full pairings, as evidenced above, whereas with Engo in the lineup the third pairing somehow needs to be protected. (Don’t believe me, check the official boxscores here @ TOR, and v. NYI).
  • Further, although we’re all on board with the Penguins pursuing a “hockey move” to bring in a young defensive defenseman, looking at the “rental options,” guys who are pending UFAs in the offseason, there isn’t much to get warm and fuzzy feelings about. With that said, we wouldn’t be mad to see the Pens stand pat if they can’t bring in a player that will actually improve the team long term.

Don’t look now but Tomas Vokoun has only allowed one goal (on a shot that was indefensible, essentially a 2-0 breakaway) in his last 5 periods of play. We’re definitely not here to say that Vokoun is back to challenging Fleury for the starting job, but we are at the very least moving back to a position of goaltending parity, which can only be good for the Penguins as the season moves forward. Make no doubt, over these last five periods the Penguins have insulated Vokoun well, but that’s not a bad thing, playing good team defense is the surest way to help a goaltender.

The only bad news coming from yesterday’s game is that Geno is expected to miss 1-2 weeks with a non-descript “upper body injury.” As with any injured player, hopefully he’ll be back in the lineup before we have the opportunity to miss him.

Again, huge game coming up, and in case you haven’t seen it yet, it’s time to start hating the B’s.

Stud of the Week will be back! Although you shouldn’t have a hard time guessing who wins this week, his name rhymes with Kidney Ross Bee.

That’s a lot of sock moneys…


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





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 »

Shero Sighting in Minnesota

It's coming...

It’s coming…

So Twitter has been all abuzz because Ray Shero was in attendance for tonight’s Minnesota Wild versus Colorado Avalanche game. Everyone seems to be stressing that he was at the WILD game and ignoring the fact that the Wild were playing the Avalanche.

Don’t get me wrong, there is one guy out there on the Wild who is actually attainable (unlike Parise, Heatley, Suter, or Koivu) and actually desirable in a Pens jersey. Devin Setoguchi is pretty good. It’s not hard to see him as a Chris Kunitz type of player, someone who was a #6 forward, just barely getting the opportunity that other guys got, but when given the opportunity to play with a superstar like Sid or Geno becomes incredibly consistent. He had one excellent year and has typically always hovered around the 40 point range, which is good enough. He’s got one year after this on his current contract and at $3 million per season he makes sense for years to come.

But for my money there are no fewer than three guys from the Avalanche that make sense in a Penguins jersey. Just earlier today we talked about Ryan O’Reilly. The Avs have established that they don’t plan to bring him back and he’s the right age to become a huge part of the Penguins going forward. He’s yet to play this year because he’s currently without a contract. He’s a natural center but he impresses me as someone who can make the shift.

Milan Hejduk would be a classic rental player. He’s on the last year of his contract, he’s 37 years old, and he’s a pure sniper. He could be a perfect fit with Sid, which could free up Kunitz to return to work with Geno and Neal. If I were Hejduk I would want out of Colorado. He was stripped of the captaincy in favor of 19 year old Gabby Landeskog. Last year marked the first time since his rookie season that Hejduk didn’t score at least 20 goals, but as we always say, he wasn’t playing with a player like Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin.

Perhaps the biggest dark horse, and also the best fit, would be David Jones. He’s posted 20 goals the last two years and he’s a classic power forward. If you’re really looking for a permanent solution for the Geno-Neal combo, look at this guy, he’s signed for another 4 years, he’ll do the same things that Kunitz did with those guys last year, and it doesn’t hurt that he’s 28 and in the prime of his career.

So there you have it, yes Shero was in Minnesota, and for all we know he just wanted to watch a hockey game, but to say that he was scouting MINNESOTA is to ignore the fact that the Avs, who are likely to be sellers at the trade deadline this year, were also there.

Stud of the Week 02/04/13

My how the tables have turned. Last week the Penguins’ world was ending, Bylsma was already fired, Fleury wasn’t even worth a bag of pucks on the trade market, and Geno was being incredibly “Russian,” this week they’re one point behind Boston for the overall conference lead. And you may not want to believe it, but it’s not too early to talk about rankings, the Pens’ next game will mark 20% of this year’s regular season, deal with it.

We created this award to recognize the best player for the Penguins in the past week. This doesn’t have to be the leading scorer or anything like that, this is the guy who contributes the most to victory–it could go to a guy who was dominant in the faceoff circle, who drew a bunch of penalties that resulted in goals, or laid some game changing hits. We all know who is putting the puck in the net, but hockey, perhaps more than any other sport, is a team affair and we want to recognize the unsung heroes that make the Penguins so great to watch and root for. After the first weekend of the season we gave the inaugural award to Paul Martin for blowing us away with his unreal play-making, skating, and defensive zone presence. Last week Sid earned the award for keeping the team from turning on itself despite some ugly losses to some traditionally bad teams.

This week the opportunities are limitless so come with us as we look through the contestants.

Read the rest of this entry »

Penguins Season Preview: Wings

It’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, today we are talking wingers, and then 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. Read the rest of this entry »

The Power Play

Alright, first time in like three weeks that I don’t have to write about anything with the words “Britain” or “European Union” in it, so I’m finally going to write some stuff about hockey.

And I want to write about the Penguins power play. I’m quite confident that it will piss  a lot of people off. But it will be more pleasant than dedicating this post to all of the other bad news going around.

It is in my humble opinion that the Penguins power play is better without Sidney Crosby. Statistics also confirm this, in the seven games Crosby played before sitting out the last two, the team had gone 4 for 28 on the PP, which means they were about 14.2%. In the two games since that (I know its not a big sample but hold on), they’re 2 for 8, which is good for 25%. Overall the Pens are 17.9% on the season, (19/106). I believe there is a very fundamental reason for why the PP has struggled more with Crosby on it than with him off it. When he’s in the lineup, the Pens typically take Chris Kunitz off the top PP unit, but that upsets the balance of the unit. In the same way that the system and coaching of the Penguins penalty kill has turned the PK into one of the most dominant ones in the NHL, the Pens have finally developed a system that has made their PP really good.

When the PP is firing on all cylinders the lineup has been Kunitz-Malkin-Neal up front with Sullivan-Letang at the points. The reason why this group of 5 has been so good is because they’re all doing things that they are quite comfortable with doing. Kunitz posts up in front of the goalie and legitimately acts like he’s fighting off a bunch of dudes trying to take his wallet or something. Neal controls the area from the center of the circles up and just destroys things with his wrist shot. Malkin and Sullivan operate at the half walls and have a real knack for throwing sick passes to one another, and then not shooting, but I digress. Letang works as the stable defensive presence who also has a wicked slapper, that is wildly erratic, which is good because it unnerves the penalty killers of the other team who are constantly fearing getting struck in the head when they’re covering Malkin who’s 30 feet from the net. It maybe isn’t the most normal PP but it has kept the Pens in the top 10 in the league for most of the season.

Again as I mentioned earlier, the change the Penguins coaching staff seems to make when Crosby is in the line-up is to take Kunitz off and rearrange every other position. Then you are looking at a line-up that features Neal-Crosby-Malkin up front with Sullivan and Letang in the back. This moves Neal to the front of the net, and Crosby and Malkin both just sort of skate around and try to find the puck. This isn’t that much of a “system” as it is saying “we have two of the absolute best players in the league, we’ll just leave it up to them to score and we’ll just put this other guy, because he’s pretty tall,  in front of the net.” The fact of the matter is that this technique doesn’t work. If it did, it would have been decided long ago that the top power play would be a combination of Crosby, Malkin, and Staal (who is taller and heavier than Neal, and has been with the team since 06-07, before either Neal or Kunitz). But it takes more than that.

The reason why the simplest solution is not the best is because the team is giving up competitive advantages. I would not argue that Neal is a better offensive player than Kunitz, as it stands now he’s currently pacing for more than 40 goals this year which is amazing by any standard. But Neal is not better at playing the role of the “goalie screener” on the power play. A good example of this can be found in Detroit, Tomas Holmstrom is not a good hockey player, at all, but he still goes out with the top power play in Detroit because he’s really good at taking the abuse that comes with playing directly in the goalie’s mouth and not giving up on it. Kunitz has learned to do the same, and is the best fit for that role on the Penguins team. James Neal, at least this year, has been playing incredible old time hockey. He doesn’t necessarily score highlight reel goals, but nonetheless, its been a really long time since I’ve seen anyone score more goals where they simply beat the goaltender with a really good shot. I’m not sure that Crosby and Malkin, in either of their careers, have scored as many 15 foot wrist shot goals as Neal already has this season. Let’s also not forget that Neal’s 9 power play goals are as many as Malkin and Kunitz have so far this year total (each).

So what does this mean? In the absolutely horrible event that Crosby has to sit for a long time again, it means absolutely nothing, the Pens will carry on, business as usual, as they always do. If Crosby is able to return to the line-up soon, then there is a bigger question to be answered – I just hope the coaching staff will seek to answer it differently.

A few more caveats both pertaining to the PP and other things.

  • If Crosby does come back and starts playing on the other PP with say Staal and Kennedy, you can’t even tell me that that wouldn’t still be really dangerous. Also if you apply the exact same system to that group and put Martin and Dupuis on the back line that unit might be able to challenge the other one for which is actually better.
  • Steve Sullivan represents the latest in the line of “diamond-in-the-rough bargain veteran pickups by Ray Shero.” He’s just done everything that’s been asked of him, and he’s provided pretty decent offense when its been needed. Despite all of that, I wonder if the Penguins could consider taking him off the top unit of the PP if Crosby can get back within the next few games. Throughout it all, they’ve always tried to force Malkin into being the point player on the PP, but now that the Pens have a really good shooter and a good down low guy, and neither of them are Crosby or Malkin, I wonder if it might be wise to try Crosby there – Crosby has always been really good when he’s presented with a challenge so this might be a good exhibition, and it should be noted that Sullivan scored 2 of the 4 PP goals when Crosby was in the line-up, and both of them were scored much closer to the net than a point player typically would find themselves. You know Crosby would be even better at finding those opportunities.
  • I think I understand why everyone hates Chris Kunitz. In the post-lockout era of the NHL, Kunitz is pretty much the first and only player the Pens have had on their roster who constitutes a “mid-career” scorer. To this point Penguins fans have always been spoiled with either incredible young stars, grisled veterans who find themselves rejuvenated for a year by playing with said young stars, or a bunch of grinders who accept almost the league minimum to have the chance to play on a championship caliber team. Kunitz isn’t like that, he joined the team in his late 20s after having been in the league for 6 full seasons already, he came to the team as a proven 20 goal/ 50 point type of player, he still is today. In addition to good production, he also is a good locker room presence, a physically sound player, and I’m pretty sure the most productive line-mate for Sid over the course of Sid’s career. Despite all of that, people still seem to dislike him. I believe it all boils down to his salary cap number. As the only forward who can really be viewed as a mid-career scorer, he is the only forward on the team who comes close to having a fair market contract value. His cap number came with him when he came from the Ducks, and that shows how much teams that aren’t guaranteed to be as competitive as the Penguins have to pay to bring in (or in their case, keep) decent talent. Further, his $3.75 million cap hit is based on 07-08 money, if he had left in the offseason this coming summer, he likely would have made $4.5-$5 million on a team that was desperate for scoring. Thus, the fact that Kunitz resigned with the Penguins for the same figure should actually be viewed as a great move by Ray Shero, and a hometown discount given by Chris Kunitz.
  • To compare, the other mid-career players of major consequence on the Penguins roster are Brooks Orpik, Zbynek Michalek, and Paul Martin. They make $4 million, $4.5 million, and $5 million respectively – thus Kunitz isn’t getting overpaid or underproducing, he’s getting paid what good, experienced players make in the NHL.