Olympic Hockey Update

The Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea are in full swing. Both men’s and women’s hockey for Team USA have played games. And both have mixed results. The women’s team has lived up to expectations as usual. Now the men’s team well…. not so much success.

The men’s team went into these Olympics with no real expectations with no NHL players competing in them. But they are who they are and who they are is a competitive team that’ll challenge for a medal. After the 4-0 loss to the gold medal favorite Russians, a medal seems like a tough task. But this team seems resilient and a defensive team.

They’re not gonna wow you on offense but with the men’s tournament wide open it’s possible a medal could be gained by USA. Time will only tell if they can finish strong.

The men’s team is gonna need to go the long way when it comes to achieving what they want to. They’re gonna fight tooth and nail through rounds of grueling playoff like hockey. They’ll verse more rested teams and have to overcome a lot of adversity.

With young talent and some veteran depth fans should be carefully optimistic. If their defense holds other teams to 2 goals per game like they have been for most of the tournament then their chances should be strong.

Now onto the main attraction the ladies for USA hockey. They are coming off a Silver medal from the 2014 Olympic games after falling to Canada.

USA has its star studded lineup once again and have been dominant thus far in the competition. Even though they lost 1 game (to Canada 2-1) they have dominated when it’s come to play. They have out shot their opponents and used their speed very effectively.

It’s expected for another USA vs Canada in the gold medal game. If USA plays like they did last time I don’t expect them to leave that building without anything but gold. They’re driven and motivated to get that gold and beat Canada for once. That is gonna be a must watch game.

Let’s not forget Phil Kessel’s sister Amanda is on the team so team USA is easy to root for if they were not already. Phil Kessel is a 2 time Stanley Cup Champion and I think it’s time his sister Amanda can call herself an Olympic champion.

These ladies should be able to get a Silver at the very least if they play up to their potential. But upsets happen and maybe they get upset or Canada never makes it to the golden game. But team USA should succeed and they seem to be the best team in the tournament so a gold should be a realistic possibility.

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COLUMN: Will We Start Talking About Kessel For Hart?

One of the more enticing debates year in and year out is the battle between Connor McDavid and Sidney Crosby for the “Best Player in the NHL” title. For the better part of the season, you may have people saying McDavid. In this stretch of the season, people begin saying Crosby.

Qualifying the points leader as the league’s best player is an inaccurate judgement. Currently, that title would go to Nikita Kucherov of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

In case you were unaware, the league’s second leading scorer is a Penguin and he’s not name Crosby or Evgeni Malkin. That title would belong to Phil Kessel.

Kessel has been on a tear this season. He has easily been the Penguins most consistent player from the first drop of the puck against St. Louis in October. He has 63 points in 54 games, a pace Kessel has never been on. That pace would be 96 points over the entire 82 game season.

Phil the Thrill has done the majority of his work on the powerplay with 33 of his points coming with the man advantage. He is racking stats up torridly right now.

So here’s the question; Why hasn’t #KesselForHart kicked into a higher gear yet?

The unfortunate likelihood for Kessel is that his 63 points have come in two more games thus far than Kucherov who has more points in less games. Nathan MacKinnon, the Colorado Avalanche superstar, was seemingly the front runner for mid-season MVP until he went down due to injury a few games ago. If he comes back and continues on a rapid pace, he’s likely still the front runner.

Kessel playing on a team with Crosby and Malkin, two players also in the top 10 in scoring, hurts his cause. He’s not single-handedly keeping the Penguins afloat despite scoring points on a consistent clip since the season started.

This goes beyond just Kessel being a Hart Trophy finalist at season’s end.

The next time you have a chance to sit and watch a full Penguins game, shift your focus to Kessel when he’s on the ice. For the first time in his Penguins tenure, Kessel is back checking hard and always skating 100 MPH. This is significant.

Obviously Kessel has been knocked for his defensive work his entire career. He has always been an elite skater and can shoot the puck as hard and wicked as anyone not named Alex Ovechkin. But this season, there almost seems to be an emphasis on becoming a more complete player.

When Rick Tocchet left, it was assumed by many Penguins fans Kessel would act out more as Tocchet was kind of the ‘Kessel Buffer’ if you will. With Mark Recchi assuming the role it seems that Kessel is having his best season as an NHL player.

Maybe it was the lack of winning and the Toronto media that gave Kessel that “lazy” tag over the Maple Leafs portion of his career. He was run out of Boston before that. Now, Kessel is a two-time Stanley Cup champion and he is hungry to three-peat this year. That much is evident on how consistent he has been this season.

#KesselForHart likely won’t have much of a chance unless Kessel can lead the scoring race by about 5 points at season’s end. But you’d be dumb to discount him in any fashion. After all, his most points in one season is 82. He’s got 63 already in just 54 games.

Trade Deadline Preview

The trade deadline is February 26 and many names are rumored to be on the move. Some big names and some role players that will be on the move. The trade deadline has not been as active as past seasons due to teams getting deals done before. But this year it seems like teams could be waiting till the last possible moment to make a deal and get the best value in return.

The trade deadline is always exciting in the NHL because teams that are struggling will sell off players that will provide assets for their future. Also playoff contenders add for their hopeful cup run.

This article will be looking at names swirling around the league as we head towards the 26th. We will look at some places where these players could possibly end up

Evander Kane, Winger

Kane is an extremely talented winger who is on an expiring contract after this season. Odds are no matter where he’s traded to he will end up signing somewhere else when July 1st hits. His asking price is rumored to be expensive. Buffalo wants assets back that include picks and prospects.

Fits: Pittsburgh, St.Louis, San Jose

Kane is an issue when it comes to his character for a team. But if he produces at a high level for a team and a team believes that the reward outweighs the cost then a deal will be done. Kane will be moved by the deadline for sure.

Mike Green, Defenseman

Green is enjoying a great season in the final year of his contract. He adds good offense and power play ability. He’s a rental player odds are as he is a free agent after the season. So odds are when he’s dealt he could sign elsewhere. But in the meantime he could be a great addition for a team looking to make the next step in their roster.

Fits: New York Islanders, Washington, Toronto, Tampa Bay

Green would be a great add for any playoff team. He adds a right handed defenseman which seems rare anymore. He will be sought after until he is eventually dealt.

Patrick Maroon, Winger

Maroon is having one of his best years this season. He’s producing on a struggling Oilers team and adds a solid penalty kill. He would be a great depth acquisition for any playoff team. Especially if that team needs help on the penalty kill.

Fits: Anaheim, Boston

Anaheim is struggling up to this point in the season, where Boston has been successful. Either way Maroon would add scoring depth and the ability to take away scoring when they’re serving a penalty.

Mark Letestu, Center

Letestu is what he is and he is a 4th line center. He wins faceoffs and adds some scoring touch. He is a veteran leader who could add some penalty kill ability. He should be cheap to acquire but you get what you pay for. If a trade goes down the team acquiring him will be getting a reliable and textbook fourth line center.

Fits: Pittsburgh, Boston, Columbus, New Jersey

Letestu is likely on the move before the deadline passes. He adds good depth and at a cheap price. A good rental player for almost any playoff team.

Max Pacioretty, Winger

Pacioretty is currently in the struggling Canadiens franchise. Their captain has started to circulate in trade rumors but will have a huge price tag. Although the price hasn’t been leaked like Kane’s was, it’s said to be huge. He adds a top 6 winger and bolsters almost any lineup. Also he adds an immediate leadership impact.

Fits: St.Louis, Pittsburgh, New York Islanders, Philadelphia

He would add scoring to either of these teams. I really like him with the Islanders. Shows Taveres you’re serious about contending and adds to your club.

Michael Grabner, Winger

He adds great depth to any lineup. He adds skill and scoring ability for the bottom six on any team. He is a great two way player as he also plays well defensively.

Fits: Winnipeg, Anaheim, Columbus, St.Louis

With his affordable cap hit and ability to produce in small amounts of ice time will make him saught after. With the Rangers being sellers this year, Grabner is sure to be traded.

Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Center

A young and talented kid with a cheap cap hit. He would be expensive and in high demand for a lot of teams. He would be a great 3rd line center for any team looking for a cup run.

Fits: Pittsburgh, Columbus, New Jersey

Pageau is connected with the Penguins often. He has also been rumored to the Blue Jackets. It’ll be interesting to see how much the Senators sell if at all. But if they are sellers look for Pageau to be moved.

Thomas Vanek, Winger

Vanek has been some what of a journeyman in the league over the past few seasons. It’s a wonder why because he has produced well for every team he has played for. He is on an expiring contract but is producing at a great rate again this season.

Fits: Boston, New York Islanders, Winnepeg, Vegas

Vanek won’t command a huge price tag to trade for. He would be a great addition to any lineup looking for offense in its lineup.

Aaron Dell, Goalie

Dell is enjoying his best season of his career. He’s helping the Sharks stay in the playoff hunt. But with Thornton out with a knee injury and the likelihood of them dropping out of the playoffs, Dell could be dealt.

Fits: New York Islanders, New Jersey, Chicago

Dell should be a cheaper player to acquire. He hasn’t proven that he can be a teams number 1 goalie yet but he is a solid backup. You could count on him to start some playoff games if need be.

James Neal, Winger

Neal is one of the top goal scorers in the league and has been since he entered the league. The question is, will Vegas sell? If they stick to the long term plan then they will sell the high value Neal at the deadline unless they’re 100% sure they can resign him long term.

Fits: Nashville, Philadelphia, St.Louis

If Neal is traded it’ll be to a team in need of a top 6 winger. He will provide instant production to any lineups goal scoring column. Ps: put Nashville in there because maybe there is still a connection there with Neal still having a house there.

David Perron, Winger

Again it is unknown if Vegas will sell or not. But between the two of Neal and Perron, Perron is more likely to be dealt. I expect Perron to be dealt as I don’t see any effort for someone to resign.

Fits: St.Louis, New York Islanders, Philadelphia

Perron is enjoying his best season of his career. He is almost registering a point per game. He would help a struggling team that can’t produce offense. But would he still play this well on another team?…..That’s to be determined.

Jack Johnson, Defense

Johnson is a solid defenseman. He isn’t going to wow you in any part of his game but he is well rounded. He can be a decent top 4 defenseman addition to a struggling defense.

Fits: Toronto, New York Islanders, Dallas

Johnson requested a trade a few weeks ago to get out of Columbus. After having financial issues in the past Johnson needs a new deal. Johnson would be a upgrade to many defensive cores.

Tyson Barrie, Defense

Barrie is a good defenseman for Colorado. I’m unsure as to why they would want to part ways with him. Rumors have been swirling that his names are in trade rumors.

Fits: Toronto, New York Islanders

He is a skilled defenseman on a cheap deal with term. He provides a good shot with defensive ability. The cost is rumored to be top 6 forward for Barrie at the very least…..So the cost is high.

Derick Brassard, Center

Brassard was a common name in trade rumors a month ago but has gone away. He was connected to a few teams but mainly with the Penguins.

Fits: Pittsburgh, Columbus, New York Islanders

Brassard is a great 2 way center and provides good faceoff ability. It’ll be interesting to see if his name resurfaces over the next month. If Ottawa sells like how they rumored to be then Brassard will be dealt.

Petr Mrazek, Goalie

Mrazek has only played 17 games this season. It was rumored last season that he has fallen out of favor with the franchise that currently employs him. He’s a decent young goaltender with good starter potential.

Fits: New York Islanders, Carolina, Dallas, Chicago

Mrazek is a good goaltender with untapped potential. If he comes available he will get some looks. I’d be curious to see the price to acquire him would be.

Sum up

The trade deadline looks to be a busy one for most, if not all, general managers around the league. Hopefully the asking prices around the league drop so some deals can be done. I believe as the deadline nears and teams with rental players to sell still have them will sell towards the last moment. It’ll be interesting to see how everything shakes out over the next month. The waiting game is getting tuned up for the teams around the league. Now is the time for players to change sweaters .

COLUMN: We Could Learn A Lot From Matt Murray

The NHL’s Expansion Draft is now a distant memory. The moment Marc-Andre Fleury was taken by the Vegas Golden Knights, it assured in the era of Matt Murray. It has been a hard pill to swallow for some fans. It’s been really hard for some others. It’s definitely been an adjustment getting used to seeing someone taking their place between the pipes that’s not wearing a 29 sweater.

It’s not a secret that this season has been somewhat of a roller coaster for the Penguins. It’s not been until the last month or so that the team has found any kind of consistency. Murray is not exempt from that.

It’s been an up and down year for the 23 year-old netminder. On the ice for sure, but even more so off the ice. Several days ago, Murray took an indefinite leave of absence from the team to mourn the death of his father James Murray. Twenty-three is far too young to lose a parent. No one should expect Murray to be the same goaltender for a while as he processes this.

That’s not Matt Murray though. Murray’s maturity is staggering. We’ve seen it ever since he came to Pittsburgh. Through the whole goaltending controversy that went on when Fleury was here, he handled it like a true professional. And it did not affect his on-ice performance.

Murray made his return to the lineup on Tuesday night. He made 40 saves and only allowed two goals, which were both on the penalty kill. It was an emotional night for him, but when Murray is on the ice, expect a mature man to handle his business. He’s shown it time and time again that through adversity, he can stand tall. He’s a two-time Stanley Cup winner.

Few can imagine what he is going through right now. The best thing fans of the Penguins can do right now is support Murray. Fans should not be continuing to yearn for Fleury, or crying to ride with the “hot hand.” It’s Murray’s net. It will continue to be his net. The Penguins have invested in Murray. Using nostalgia to argue against Murray while he is trying to continue on after the death of this father is sickening.

Matt Murray is a mature young man; way beyond his years. Let’s try to follow in his footsteps and be mature as well. Let’s enjoy watching him be the Penguins’ franchise goaltender. Let’s cheer him when he stands on his head, and give him the same kind of support Fleury got from fans when he struggles. Cheers to you, Matt Murray. We could learn a lot from you.

January Prospect Review

4th monthly recap, and a few more changes. Jarry will be added back onto the list next month (as he only appeared in 1 game this month) after losing the backup job to DeSmith and Simon will be removed as he’s seemingly carved out a role for himself in the NHL full time. All stats are accurate up to January 31st

Forwards:

Jordy Bellerive, 5’10, 194 (UDFA, 2017) – Lethbridge Hurricanes (WHL)

In the 14 games since we lasted checked in Jordy Bellerive, he added 13 goals and 8 assists to get him to 68 points (33 goals, 35 assists) on the year. He has also been bestowed the honor of being named captain of Lethbridge after they traded away their previous captain. That trade also left Bellerive as the only player on the Hurricanes who is over a point per game. Lethbridge aren’t particularly good, but by the nature of their weak division, they’ll sneak into the playoffs more than likely. After being bounced early, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Bellerive play some significant minutes for WBS.

Jan Drozg, 6’0, 174 (5th round, 2017) – Shawinigan Cataractes (QMJHL)

Drozg has added 10 points (5 goals, 5 assists) in the 9 games following the last update and despite his best efforts, Shawnigan have managed to fail their way into being the worst team in Quebec. Drozg has sole possession of being the leading scorer on his team, and with the trade deadline passing, he’s unfortunately going to have to stick it out with the team. His team’s failing may benefit him, however, as he’ll be free to join WBS on an ATO at the end of March.

Daniel Sprong, 6’0, 181 (2nd round, 2015) – WBS Penguins (AHL)

While he managed to get 8 games in at the NHL level, with 2 goals and 1 assist as the return, Sprong managed all those points in 1 game while going pointless for the other 7. While he didn’t play bad, he was clearly not impressing and was sent back to WBS, where he’s put up 1 goal and 3 assists in the 3 games he’s appeared in since being returned. It doesn’t appear there will be a spot for Sprong up in the NHL this year, so expect him to continue to light the AHL on fire.

Sam Miletic, 6’0, 196 (UDFA, 2017) – Niagara IceDogs (OHL)

Miletic has appeared in 13 games with a trade to Niagara coming in between, and has been on a blistering pace, adding 12 goals and 13 points in those games. This is especially impressive as Niagara are far from a high scoring team. Perhaps it is time to admit I was wrong about Miletic as a prospect, and that he has a future that I didn’t see. I’m interested to see how he translates to the AHL.

Kasper Bjorkqvist, 6’1, 205 (2nd round, 2016) – Providence College (NCAA)

Currently on quite a decent run with 8 games played with an additional 7 points (4 goals, 3 assists) since our last check in, Bjorkqvist is trending in the right direction. Any additional offense would be nice from this point from Bjorkqvist, as we wait patiently to see if his junior provides an additional bump in offence for him.

JS Dea, 5’11, 175 (UDFA, 2013) – WBS Penguins (AHL)/Pittsburgh Penguins (NHL)

In the 6 games Dea appeared in before being called up to the Penguins, he added 4 goals and 2 assists and then appeared in 5 games for the NHL Penguins, potting his first NHL goal in the process. He has slowly been earning more trust from Mike Sullivan, but the 4th line still sees Crosby and Sheahan rotate in as their center from time to time. Regardless, Dea has shown the ability to be a depth forward in the NHL and that’s a big step for him.

Teddy Blueger, 6’0, 185 (2nd round, 2012) – WBS Penguins (AHL)

Blueger’s offensive output dropped off a little bit, putting up 6 points (3 goals, 3 assists) in the 11 games since the last update, but he’s still playing exceptional defensive hockey despite an ever revolving cast of linemates with call ups and demotions affecting the WBS roster on a nightly basis. Not much has changed in the way of a projection for Blueger, and I expect him to keep ticking over the way he has.

Thomas DiPauli, 5’11, 187 (UDFA, 2016) – WBS Penguins (AHL)

A disappointing month for DiPauli with only 3 assists through the 11 games he appeared in. Without a doubt, the passing of his family relative that led to his absence around Christmas time had a profound impact on DiPauli and it will take time for him to rebound. He’s certainly not playing badly, but it’s obvious there’s a lot going on behind the scenes for him.

Adam Johnson, 6’0, 175 (UDFA, 2017) – WBS Penguins (AHL)

Johnson started out January really well, getting 1 goal and 3 assists through the first 4 games of the month, but has since gone pointless in the 6 games that he appeared in following. This inconsistency is another product of his slight frame and something that will likely be addressed by the Penguins in the offseason. There’s clear talent there.

Linus Olund, 5’11, 185 (5th round, 2017) – Brynas IF (SHL)            

Brynas still aren’t good, and that only allowed 3 additional points (all assists) in the 9 games Olund. This isn’t a great return, but his 16 points on the year through 39 games puts him in the top 30 for scorers under the age of 24 in the SHL. I’m excited to see him over in the AHL where he’ll play with some better linemates relative to the quality of the league.

Nikita Pavlychev, 6’7, 212 (7th round, 2015) – Penn State (NCAA)

Pavlychev has only added 2 assists in the 8 games he’s played through January, which leaves him at 12 points through 28 games on the year. Not the best month, which seems to be a common theme right now, but we’ll see how the rest of his year goes. Pavlychev is still a sophomore, so there’s time for him to develop a little more, but not a great month.

Anthony Angello, 6’5, 205 (5th round, 2014) – Cornell University (NCAA)

9 goals, 2 assists, 8 games for Angello through January. Certainly cannot complain about that return and Angello is up to 20 points (12 goals, 8 assists) through 21 games this year, giving him the lead on Cornell for point scoring after a ridiculous return in the month of January. If he continues along a similar path, I very much expect an ELC to be tabled for him by the end of his college career.

Zach Aston-Reese, 6’0, 205 (UDFA, 2017) – WBS Penguins (AHL)

Aston-Reese appeared in all 11 games for WBS in January, scoring 4 goals and 8 assists in the process while scoring a goal in each of his last 3 games. Much like Angello, ZAR has bucked the trend of downtrending January for the Pens prospects and has got himself to a respectable 28 points (9 goals, 19 assists) through 40 games. Aston-Reese appears to be more confident with his shot as of late and I expect his goal scoring to continue to trend upwards.

Sam Lafferty, 6’1, 185 (4th round, 2014) – Brown University (NCAA)

Lafferty has 2 goals and 2 assists in 9 games, and this hasn’t been a great year for Lafferty after breaking out as a junior. Certainly not helped by Brown being awful at hockey, but they also weren’t good last year and that didn’t stop Lafferty from putting up points. I’m interested to see how he does on an ATO.

Freddie Tiffels, 6’1, 201 (6th round, 2015) – WBS Penguins (AHL)/Wheeling Nailers (ECHL)

Adding 3 assists in 6 games for Wheeling, as well as 1 goal and 1 assist in 8 AHL games, Tiffels has bounced up and down between Wheeling and WBS pretty freely. There’s still not much upside there for me, so I don’t expect him to carve a role for himself in WBS for a little while yet.

Defence:

Clayton Phillips, 5’11, 174 (3rd round, 2017) – Minnesota Golden Gophers (NCAA)

Phillips enrolled in Minnesota, where he’s appeared in 9 games through the month. He has, unfortunately, not managed to register any points in the time he has got for Minnesota, but he has managed to pick up 19 PIMs, which is impressive if nothing else. His offense will trend up as he is not long turned 18, so he’s still young.

Lukas Bengtsson, 5’10, 192 (UDFA, 2016) – WBS Penguins (AHL)

Can’t tell you much about Bengtsson as he’s been on the shelf with an upper body injury all of the month. He has recently returned to practice, though, so expect to see him pop into a game soon.

Dane Birks, 6’2, 183 (6th round, 2013) – Michigan Tech (NCAA)

Dane Birks only added 2 assists in the 8 games he’s played, but he’s never been an offense first guy, so anything he adds is plenty useful. I still believe the Pens will try to convince him to turn pro, but it remains to be seen how his limited offense will translate to the pro game. It’s not a death knell because Michigan Tech aren’t very good, but it’s not a great sign.

Niclas Almari, 6’3, 210 (5th round, 2016) – HPK (Liiga)/LeKi (Mestis)

Still suffering from some suffocating systems, Almari hasn’t added much to this point return, but the sooner his season is over, the sooner he gets over to North America and likely never leaves. I’m very excited about his upside and I cannot wait for him to hit NA soil.

William Reilly, 6’3, 196 (7th round, 2017) – RPI (NCAA)

1 goal, 3 assists in 8 games through January for Reilly, putting him at 7 goals and 5 assists through 27 games and on course to exceed his returns from last year, which got him drafted as an overager. I expect him to continue to trend positively, and his size/skating combo makes him an intriguing prospect going forward.

Connor Hall, 6’3, 190 (3rd round, 2016) – Kitchener Rangers (OHL)

Hall has appeared in 11 games through the month of January, adding 4 assists in that time. A slight uptick in offense doesn’t make him much in the way of a prospect and I’m still of the belief that there won’t be much of a desire from the Penguins to tender an ELC to Hall. Injuries just derailed him as a prospect.

Antti Palojarvi, 6’1, 176 (6th round, 2017) – Luuko U20 (Liiga U20)

He’s certainly putting forward a better year than his draft year, but I don’t see much there for Palojarvi either. He’s not got a great offensive game, and being good defensively in a Finnish junior league doesn’t make me excited about his upside.

Joseph Masonius, 6’0, 190 (6th round, 2016) – Connecticut (NCAA)

Masonius has hit 5 points in his last 7 games, a goal and 4 assists. A little undersized for a guy who isn’t producing a tonne of points, but he possesses a very strong defensive game with good puck moving ability, so he’s a standard Penguins pick. I expect the Pens will also try to lure him out of school as he hasn’t got too much left to prove in college.

Zachary Lauzon, 6’1, 190 (2nd round, 2017) – Rouyn-Noranda Huskies (QMJHL)

Still no games for Lauzon. As such, no update. Sorry friends.

Ryan Jones, 6’2, 192 (4th round, 2016) – University of Nebraska-Omaha (NCAA)

Jones added 3 assists in his last 8 January games. He’s still of questionable upside in regards to NHL impact, but the Nebraska-Omaha D are not relied upon to greatly produce offense so there may be some room there for improvement when he turns pro, but I wouldn’t hold out much hope.

Jeff Taylor, 6’0, 185 (7th round, 2014) – Wheeling Nailers (ECHL)

Taylor, much like Tiffels, has spent much of the month bouncing between the ECHL and the AHL, appearing twice to WBS without registering a point and then returning to the ECHL for 7 games in which he registered 2 goals and 5 assists. Taylor’s a victim of a stacked blue line, but has looked pretty solid when he has played in the AHL. I expect him to earn a full time spot next year.

Ethan Prow, 5’11, 185 (UDFA, 2016) – WBS Penguins (AHL)

Appearing in 6 games for WBS and registering 4 points (1 goal, 3 assists), Prow had a solid month of January and looked remarkably in control while playing in the AHL. While I’m not sure of his NHL upside, he’s carving a role for himself as a depth D at worst. Not what the Pens had hoped for as a highly touted college free agent, but not a bad pickup.

Goalie:

Filip Gustavsson, 6’2, 183 (2nd round, 2016) – Lulea HF (SHL)

Gustavsson was named in the media team of the WJC in Buffalo as the best goalie in the tournament and while I thought he was the 2nd best, it’s a nice honor. It boosted his confidence, clearly, too as he has bounced back to an outstanding 2.31 GAA and .913% in the SHL for a middle of the pack Lulea team. He already has an ELC that will kick in next summer, so Gusatvsson is going to be the next highly touted goalie to play for the WBS Penguins.

Alex D’Orio, 6’3, 196 (UDFA, 2017) – Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL)

I have nothing but sympathy for D’Orio who is trying his best to keep his head above water with a terrible Saint John team. He’s currently at an unpleasant 3.81 GAA and .894%, but it’s super difficult for him to put up anything worthwhile with the team he’s on. I’m sure he can’t wait for the season to be over.

COLUMN: My Salute to Jagr

Sunday afternoon the Calgary Flames placed forward Jaromir Jagr on waivers. Jagr cleared waivers and will finish out the season playing in Kladno in the Czech league. This season, he was limited to only 22 games, scoring only one goal, and adding six assists. It appears this will be the last of Jagr we see in the NHL, instead of dwelling on the way it ended, let’s take a look back into the 26-year career that was Jaromir Jagr.

Career Achievements:

Points- 2nd All time (1921)

Goals- 3rd All time (766)

Assists- 5th All time (1155)

Games played- 2nd All time (1733)

Power Play Goals- T – 11th All time

2X Stanley Cup Champion

1X Gold Medalist

2X World Champion

Career Awards:

Art Ross- 1995, 1998, 2000, 2001

Hart Memorial- 1999

Lester B. Pearson Award- 1999, 2000, 2006

Stanley Cup Champion- 1991, 1992

Here are my top 3 favorite Jaromir Jagr goals from his career

3)

2)

1)

The pure strength and size of Jagr was no match for any team through the 90’s where he completly dominated the NHL. His size matched with the NASTY hands, and amazing skating was just unheard of in this era of hockey. And to think that he was doing this at such a young age and played in the NHL until the age of 45 is truly jaw dropping.

It is sad to see such an amazing career come to an end in such an unfortunate fashion, but the legend that is Jaromir Jagr will forever live on. What Jagr was able to bring to the city of Pittsburgh and to the game of hockey is something no other player in history will be able to do. To be able to play at such a high level for over two decades is nearly impossible, but yet Jagr did just that. From the city of Pittsburgh and the hockey community I salute Jagr to an amazing career.

Are The Penguins Back?

Since the calendar turned to 2018, the Penguins have started to come back to life.  They have posted an 8-3 record in their 11 contests, which leaves them tied for 2nd in the division going into the all-star break.  Despite the recent run which includes the resurgence of star players such as Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, are the Penguins really back?

We know what this team can do when it is clicking.  We have witnessed it the past 2 seasons.  And it is finally starting to happen again.

Or is it?

After the Penguins most recent 6-3 win against the Minnesota Wild, I couldn’t help but notice a tweet from Matt Gajtka formerly of DKPittsburghSports.com:

gajtka

This is a stat that very much troubled me.  Although the Penguins are winning games, I do not find it at all possible for them to continue to win games consistently as well as multiple playoff series with such a poor 5 on 5 save percentage.

With a 5 on 5 save percentage that low, I figured that the only way a team goes 8-3 is if everything else is clicking on all cylinders.  Upon further investigation, I was absolutely correct.  Since the turn of the calendar to 2018 (during the Penguins 8-3 run)…

  • The powerplay has been clicking at an absolutely ridiculous 36.4%, ranking 1st in the NHL during that stretch.
  • The penalty kill is not far behind, successfully killing 90.9% of penalties, which ranks 3rd in the NHL during that span.
  • The Penguins shooting percentage has been much better, right around 10.8%, compared to the 7.9% from the beginning of the season through December 31st.
  • The Penguins overall save percentage has actually been stellar at a .925 despite 5 on 5 save percentage being down.  Impressively, Matt Murray started only 1 of the Penguins last 11 games, so that save percentage is mainly a combination of Tristan Jarry‘s and Casey DeSmith‘s work.

Although this run has been great, are any of these statistics at all sustainable?  I would argue not so much.  Over the last 10 seasons (as well as this one…)

  • The Penguins average a shooting percentage of around 9%.  Although we all knew that 7.9% from the first part of the season would eventually rise closer to the norm, 10.8% is relatively high, and that will likely fall back to around 9% sooner or later.
  • The powerplay is not going to keep scoring at a 36.4% clip.  That is absolutely absurd.  It is so much fun to watch, but that just will not happen.  To put things in perspective, the best PP% the Penguins have put up in the past 10 seasons was 24.1% in 2012-2013.  They currently sit at 27.1% on the season.  Odds are the powerplay will get in a funk sooner or later, and if/when it does, the Penguins are in trouble.
  • Although the PK has been much better of late, they were only killing about 80% of penalties during the first part of the season, which ranked them only 18th in the NHL.  Although I would not expect the PK to drop quite that dramatically, to expect them to continue to kill off penalties at a 90.9% clip is also just unreasonable.  That will drop.

If and when all of these stats the Penguins have been putting up during the last 11 games deviate closer to the norm, the Pens will find themselves in another “win then lose then win then lose…” scenario.  Why, you ask?

Going back to Gajtka’s tweet, I decided to look more into 5 on 5 numbers, especially with the Penguins powerplay being extremely effective and exceeding expectations.

  • Throughout the entire season, the Penguins have posted a .906 save percentage 5 on 5, which is worst in the NHL.  In the past 10 seasons, it would be the Penguins worst mark in that category.  They have twice posted a .909 save percentage 5 on 5, and the next worst jumps all the way up to a .918.  Summary: a .906 save percentage 5 on 5 is bad.  Really bad.  Ask Braden Holtby and Sergei Bobrovsky what a .906 save percentage gets you in the playoffs…
  • What might be even more troubling is, despite the Penguins recent stretch, their 5 on 5 shooting percentage is also the worst in the NHL at 5.8%.  What is even more troubling is that, over the last 10 Penguin seasons, this would be their worst 5 on 5 shooting percentage by a long shot.  The 2nd worst they finished with in a full season is 7.5% in the last 10 years.  Conclusion: a 5 on 5 shooting percentage of 5.8% is bad. Really bad.

Will these numbers regress to the norm as well?  Maybe they do, maybe they don’t.  But until the Penguins prove that they can score in all situations and be a much better team 5 on 5, I can’t be sold despite a nice 8-3 run in their last 11.

So, are the Penguins back?

Not quite yet…but there’s plenty of hockey left to play.

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