PITTSBURGH PENGUINS v. Carolina Hurricanes
Consol Energy Center, 7:30 PM, Root Sports
The last week of the regular season has been almost unbearable to watch if you’re a Penguins fan. The Pens have dropped 2 of their last 3, but none of it has mattered because for the last seven days they’ve had their spot in the postseason locked in. There’s been lots of intrigue around the rest of the league. In the East, 5 teams clinched playoff berths, the Capitals in particular have been impressive. Nobody really wants to earn the number 2 spot and the Northeast Division championship. In the West, the Blackhawks won the President’s Trophy and the Blue Jackets are still possibly capable of making the playoffs. But the Pens haven’t been doing anything, and you know what? That’s just fine with us. The Pens have been getting rest, they’ve been getting healthy, and there hasn’t been any of the traditional drama of the last week of the season.
But in some way, shape, or form, tonight’s game does matter. Before the start of tonight’s game the Penguins will have a much better understanding of who they’ll be playing in the Conference Quarterfinals: the Islanders played their final regular season game last night, which ended in an overtime loss. By earning one point the Isles moved up to sixth in the conference. However, the Rangers just dismantled the Devils 4-0, leaving only the Islanders and Senators as possible opponents.
And then there are the players. As we reported yesterday, Paul Martin and James Neal will be back in the lineup tonight and the Penguins are expected to utilize the following lines (at least amongst forwards):
So in other words, the Pens look to reunite the “Best Line in Hockey, 2012 Ed,” and it seems likely that Sid will resume skating between Duper and Iggy when he’s healthy. From there Jussi will probably drop to the fourth line flanked (definitely) by Craig Adams and one of Tanner Glass, Tyler Kennedy, and Beau Bennett depending on matchups. We’re not expecting the world from either Paul-Mart or James Neal, but we hope they can come in, look comfortable, and play in control.
And maybe we’re just being sentimental, but we want to win this one. The Pens have dropped their last two, and it would look much better to win your last regular season game going into the playoffs than to lose three in a row on your way. Also, Jordan Staal finally returns to Consol Energy Center ice tonight. The Pens should want to beat him. Speaking of, Josh Yohe wrote a greatly condescending piece comparing his season to Brandon Sutter’s. Hard to believe that Sutter hasn’t played in the postseason yet, he must have joined the big team in 2010.
Does today’s game matter? Not in a literal sense, but from a symbolic sense this is not one to take lightly.
So ready for the playoffs. Go Pens.
In the news today: Sean Gentille with a solid scoop on what the Pens are likely to do when they have their full complement of players back. We’re on board.
Somebody confirmed that Paul-Mart and Epic Neal Time will be back in the lineup tomorrow.
Updated from yesterday’s gameday post, the 8 Eastern Conference playoff teams are set with the Senators and Rangers in and the Jets just missing. Further, the Leafs have separated themselves from the 8th seed, leaving only the Islanders, Senators, and Rangers as possible first round matchups for the Penguins. What follows will be an examination of what it would take for the Penguins to get to match up against a possible team, and how well they would match up in a seven game series.
Perhaps less of a “must win” for the Pens, but they entered this battle with a three game losing streak against the Isles (not sure but I think that was their longest active losing streak against any one team) and the Pens had the amps to get the job done. Pens are now 7-3 and in first place in the East, but this isn’t time for the Pens to relax. Get a recap after the jump.
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 Threshold, Points per 60 Minutes, and Player Usage Charts (including Corsi numbers). Get the business after the jump. Read the rest of this entry »
To me the biggest news is James Neal’s new contract. 6 years, $30 million, annual cap hit of $5 mil per season. I think this is a great deal. This season, through 60 games, Neal has 30 goals and 57 points, both of which are career highs, and there are still 22 games to go. If you apply a little bit of math you will find that if Neal stays on his current pace he will reach 41 goals and 78 points. In the NHL of today, those are elite numbers, point blank.
Some would suggest that this contract is a little high. A few weeks ago Stoosh from thePensblog (sorry can’t find the link, but I know it’s what he said) suggested a cap hit closer to $4.5 mil, and looked at other recently resigned RFAs – James Van Riemsdyk and Bobby Ryan – as comparables. However, I think this was a little bit of wishful thinking on Stoosh’s behalf. JVR’s best season in the NHL only resulted in 40 points (not goals or assists, but both) and he got $4 mil for it. Ryan’s best season, last season, before he signed his new contract, was 34 goals and 71 points. Again, assuming Neal continues his current pace he will eclipse both of those figures by a good margin, for a cap hit that is still less than Ryan’s $5.1 mil.
For a little bit more perspective on Neal’s new deal, let’s not look at him from the RFA perspective. 40 goals is an elite platform in the NHL. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin have only reached that mark one time each in their careers. Excluding Steven Stamkos (who now makes $7.5 mil/season) you have to go back to the 07-08 season to find a player who scored more than 40 goals for an average cap hit of less than $5 mil/season. In that season both Brad Boyes (who scored 43, really?) and Daniel Alfredsson (who scored 40) did so while making $4 mil and $4.875 mil respectively.
Certainly Neal reaching 40 goals is still a long way off, and a lot can happen between now and game 82, but it is nice to get excited about it really.
For my final comparison I want to look at Marian Hossa. Of course, he was the last game-changing winger to play in Pittsburgh before James Neal. He spurned the Penguins, who offered him a multi-year deal worth an estimated $7 mil per, played one year in Detroit, for $7.5 mil, and now plays in Chicago where he is making $7.9 mil this season (although his cap hit is only $5.275 mil). In Detroit, Hossa scored 40 goals and 71 points. In his 2 full seasons in Chicago he has scored 24 and 25 goals, and 51 and 57 points. So in other words, the Pens realistically saved at least $2 mil in cap space with Neal’s deal compared to what they offered Hossa, plus Neal stands a very real chance of outperforming Hossa for a long time to come.
All in all, a real bit of Shero magic. In a long lost argument I made (thanks WordPress) I wanted to prove that it would be in the Penguins’s best interest to offer matching contracts to Neal and to Jordan Staal, I can only hope they can sign Staal for the same number.
ALL SALARY CAP FIGURES FROM: capgeek.com undoubtedly the best hockey numbers site on the web.