All posts by Bench Boss

I'm a retired minor league player who coaches the game now. I've started this blog to enlighten you all and evoke conversation about anything hockey. I am a Everything Pittsburgh fan first and foremost, but love sports and will talk about any team and any game. So sit back and enjoy the game from the Coach's point of view from me and a few of my friends who will guest write here and from their own blogs.

Offseason Player Grades: Trevor Daley

Regular Season Statistics

GP 56, G 5, A 14, PTS 19, +7, PIM 37

Playoffs Statistics

GP 21, G 1, A 4, PTS 5, +7, PIM 24

Player Grade: (A-)

The minus comes because Trevor Daley produced less points this season compared to the 15/16 season while playing in three more games. However, for me put to the task of what needed to be done without Kris Letang for a large portion of the season and playoffs, by this D-core, it’s hard not to give them all A’s. Daley was tasked with playing alongside Olli Maatta who, at times, was not having his best of playoff series/games. Daley did everything in his power to be defensive first when coming back from injuries. While that was what was best for the team, his point production suffered for it. The end result, however, was worth it.

Review

Daley was tasked with replacing Ben Lovejoy‘s minutes, more specifically on the penalty kill. In doing so, Daley raised his shot blocking total to 83 while averaging 1.48 blocks per game. The more defensive role was slightly new to Daley. Many of his highlight throughout the season were defensive minded plays, blocked shots, and clearing rebounds. However, when given the opportunity Daley possesses excellent skating ability and a heavy and accurate shot from the point. Daley displayed his shot several times and most notably in the game 5 rout of the Ottawa Senators in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. In doing so, Daley was a part of the resurgence of the Penguins power play. Trevor Daley’s abilities allow him to take on many roles in what was a very depleted defensive unit during parts of the season and playoffs.

Preview

Daley took a contract with the Detroit Red Wings to play a similar role with them. If Daley can stay healthy and not suffer any more lower body injuries as he has the past two seasons, I expect Daley could have a career high in points.

Conclusion

Daley and the rest of the defensive core minus Letang are highly underrated as individuals. However, as we have seen from Daley these past two seasons, sometimes a player just needs to be in the right system from them to fit. Daley has thrived in the Penguins system and without a doubt will continue to do so. Daley’s hard work and willingness to move the puck help him out in that regard.

Marc-Andre Fleury: Goalie, Teammate, Inspiration

What can be said about Marc-Andre Fleury that hasn’t already been said? Plenty!

Fleury the goalie…

Will have his name etched in the NHL and Penguins history books for a long time. “Flower” is one of only three goalies drafted 1st overall in NHL history. The other two were Michel Plasse of the Montreal Canadiens in 1968 and Rick DiPietro of the New York Islanders in 2000. Plasse lasted 299 games, DiPietro 318 games, while Fleury has racked up 691 NHL games and counting. In the Penguins history books Fleury exclusively holds six different team records. As I just mention Fleury has played in 691 games, a Penguins record for Games Played by a Goaltender. Other team records are as follows, Goaltender Wins 375, Shutouts 44, Most Games Played by a Goaltender in a season 67 (3x), and Most Shutouts in a Season 10.

But please, don’t let these incredible records distract those of you who’ve had a Jekyll and Hyde, love, hate, relationship with the 2x NHL All-Star, since his debut with the Penguins in 2003.

Oh, and please don’t turn an ankle jumping on and off the bandwagon for the 3x Stanley Cup Champion and Olympic Gold Medalist. As if those stats alone aren’t enough to warrant a city and fanbase’s unconditional love, Fleury is more than his records and stats, he’s and incredible teammate.

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Fleury the Teammate…

Is something that no one, not even the biggest anti-Fleury fan can deny. In fact, he has awards for that too. Twice in Marc-Andre Fleury’s career with the Penguins he has been awarded the Aldege “Baz” Bastien Memorial Good Guy Award. An award that not even the team’s owner Mario Lemieux has ever won. Fleury was even voted team MVP twice (2011, 2015) during his tenure with the Penguins. The team MVP has only been awarded to a goalie, three times since its inception in the 1967-68 season, in which Les Binkley (the team’s goaltender) was the initial recipient.

But moreover, to prove the validity and value of Marc-Andre Fleury as a teammate, are heartfelt quotes from his teammates, on his character and importance to his team during this year’s locker clean out day. Four of my favorites from that day are:

“It’s pretty clear what he means to this town. He rode in the truck behind me in the parade yesterday. Listening to the fans and everything that they said to him and the support they gave him … it’s pretty clear what he means to this community. I know what he means to this team. I haven’t played with many better teammates than him. I just remember when he stepped in for Game 1 of the playoffs, the way that he played and what he did for us, the way he stepped up. I know what he’s gone through these last couple of seasons, sitting next to him in the room. He comes to the rink with a smile every day. He does his best to support his teammates. It’s never about him. He’s a pretty unique person and a unique teammate. Whatever happens for him, whoever gets him, is going to be very lucky.” —  Matt Cullen

“It’s sad. He’s the type of guy that I want in my life at all times. If I could follow that guy around all day, I’d be happy. He’s such a fun guy to be around and I love that guy so much. He’s such a great player that he’s going to be good if he’s here or no matter where he is.” — Brian Dumoulin

“So happy to play with him. He’s the best teammate, best guy. I never met a guy that doesn’t like him or want to play with him. He’s unbelievable, and we’ll see what happens but I love him.” — Justin Schultz

“There’s not much you can say about Flower that isn’t great. He’s awesome. He’s one of the best teammates you can ask for. He’s always having a good time. He’s always welcoming guys. He’s always playing little pranks. I think that helps build chemistry. Having a guy like that on your team is special. It makes everyone a little bit closer.” — Bryan Rust

The final quote by Bryan Rust brings us to something that, thanks to Penguins marketing and media, we as fans have had the privilege to witness throughout the years, and that is Fleury’s pranks. Some of which you will see if you follow me on twitter (@benchbossx2) for 29 Days of Fleury Love aka #29Forever. The pranks and the silliness and the laughter and most importantly Fleury’s big smile are all apart of building chemistry in the locker room, on a professional team, that can tend to have personnel turnover from year to year. I see this every year in my job as a university hockey coach and it’s always incredible to see those types of players that can be the glue between the veterans and rookies, between the top line players and the healthy scratches. The hierarchy within the room can get complicated and be detrimental to a team’s success. The selfless teammate that “Flower” is, has become a large part of why this Penguins organization has been successful for so many years. I’m not sure many people realize this, but no one has been with the Penguins longer Fleury (since 2003) other than Mario Lemieux, Ron Burkle, Mike Lange, Paul Stiegerwald, and some of the Equipment Staff. Fleury has seen coaches and General Managers come and go. He has seen many teammates come and go as well. Yet, the lighthearted and often comical Marc-Andre Fleury remained as the pulse of the Penguins franchise. Yes, Sidney Crosby is the team’s Captain, leader and heart of the Penguins, but Fleury has been its soul for the better part of a decade. Fleury as a great teammate, cannot be replaced, nor can Fleury as the humanitarian and inspiration.

Fleury the Inspiration…

Marc-Andre Fleury’s selflessness does not end at the locker room doors. He has understood the commitment of a professional athlete who’s made his home in the city he has played for many years.

Most recently as we all know by now, Fleury and his wife designed, donated, and assembled a new playground to the Boys and Girls Club in the Stow Rocks area of Pittsburgh, as well as donating equipment and an indoor floor hockey rink for the club. The “29” on the playground’s floor will forever embody the spirit of Fleury no matter where his career takes him. However, this is not the first time the Penguins netminder has showed his love for the city and its communities.

As fans, we have seen Fleury give his time to different charity events, visiting children in the hospital, playing ball hockey with local youth players, visiting schools, participating as a coach in Crosby’s youth camps, and stopping along his way to wherever it is he’s going to sign autographs for fans.

Pittsburgh has long been the home of Marc-Andre Fleury and his family. If it is inevitable that his long tenure with the Penguins organization ends, there should be no doubt that he loves this city and its fans. When asked what he’d miss most about Pittsburgh, he summed it up in one word, “Everything!”.

For this fan, Fleury hasn’t been just a franchise goalie to watch. I remember witnessing the departure of Tom Barrasso a few years prior to Fleury’s arrival. As much as a I enjoyed watching him play and see the success of the team while he was with them, it was easy to see him go. The media scrutinized him and at the time I felt like I understood why. That is far from the feeling myself and many Penguins fans have about Fleury.

If this is to be the last time as a fan I get to witness Fleury donning the Penguins logo…

If this was the last season we witness him defending the Penguins net with Statue of Liberty glove saves…

If this is the last time we get to see Fleury move the furniture out of a teammates hotel room or do cartwheels in the Penguins runway or just see his smile behind a Penguins mask after robbing a rival player on a breakaway…

Then I will certainly be saddened.

I have watched Fleury since he came into the league and joined the Penguins as an 18-year-old kid fresh out of the QMJHL. I watch Penguins bounce him back to juniors several times, while stating “he just isn’t ready for the NHL, we need to let him develop”. Meanwhile, they just knew that it wouldn’t help his development to get shelled every night behind a floundering team. But they couldn’t publicly say that, of course. I watched as Fleury finally joined the team permanently and thinking, “Wow! He’s so athletic! He’s so good!” I remember being so excited that this kid is the Penguins franchise goaltender. Then I watched him grow as a goalie. He wasn’t just athletic anymore. He wasn’t just relying on his natural ability anymore. Fleury began to think the game and be selective with his saves. I watched as he got out of the truck in the 2009 Stanley Cup Parade and run by me high fiving fans. I’ve watched him spin, rub the posts, attempt to score a goal, attempt to get into a fight, be an intricate part of winning two more championships and capture the hearts of a city.

As a fan, I’ve been more than fortunate to watch Fleury’s career bloom with my hometown team. As a writer, who knows, maybe I’ll be just as fortunate, if by some chance “Flower” reads this. If he does, I hope what he takes from it is that, he will never be forgotten here in Pittsburgh.

Thank you, Marc-Andre Fleury, from the bottom of my heart, for all the wonderful memories you have given me and the Penguins fanbase. #29Forever

Malkin the Sure Fire Conn Smythe Winner

In Wednesday night’s home game Pittsburgh Penguins Evgeni Malkin rocketed a wrister over Pekka Rinne’s glove hand and ultimately chased the netminder. That goal was Malkin’s ninth of these playoffs and honestly his flashiest.

No doubt we have all seen Malkin score some incredible highlight reel goals. For example a no-look-top shelf-spin-o-rama-backhand or razzle dazzled forehand-backhand while falling down. But that’s not something we’ve seen from the Penguins assistant captain this post season. What we have seen is Malkin quietly rack up 26 points in 23 games as the playoffs scoring leader. Quietly the Penguins’ center has made his case for the Conn Smythe winner as playoff MVP, should the Penguins closeout the Predators with two more wins.

Malkin has mostly been playing with Phil Kessel on his wing. While the other side, has been a revolving door of wingers (Kunitz, Wilson, Guentzel, Hornqvist, Rust). Phil Kessel has only seven goals while Kunitz, Wilson, Hornqvist, and Rust have only combined for 12 goals. Guentzel only being on his wing briefly also has very few points while playing alongside Malkin. This poses the question, where is Evgeni Malkin getting all of these points? Fact is Malkin’s dominance in all three zones has made whoever is on the ice with him better.

Is Malkin the top choice for the Conn Smythe Trophy, should the Penguins win? The answer is absolutely! When Crosby was dealing with concussion symptoms during the Washington series, Malkin stepped up as he always does. While only producing one assist on the game winning goal, Malkin played 20+ hard minutes and winning 76% of his faceoffs. On top of that he dominated in the puck possession game. Malkin put the team on his back as did the other locker room leader, and if he was still playing, a close second Conn Smythe Trophy candidate, Marc-Andre Fluery.

But again, this scenario only works if the Penguins win the Stanley Cup. For that to happen, Malkin will have to elevate his game once again, unlike games three and four.

(Don Wright-USA TODAY Sports)

Malkin Completely Contained in Nashville

The Pittsburgh Penguins only scored two goals in their two previous games in Nashville. while Malkin did not factor in on any of those goals. Even worse, Malkin was a -3 with three shots on goal in two games, while winning an average of just over 39% of the faceoffs. When compared to the rest of his playoff stats, it is clear that Evgeni Malkin is an important factor in this series, for the Penguins to repeat as champions. The Penguins have had a few days rest and Malkin did not partake in Thursday’s optional morning skate. This will hopefully give Malkin the energy he needs to help give the Penguins a 3-2 series lead.

Malkin Makes Promise and Delivers

Evgeni Malkin told the media days before game five that Phil Kessel would score. He also exclaimed the he and his teammates would play better than their performance in Nashville. Malkin either has a crystal ball or can predict the future because the Penguins leader was right on all accounts. Malkin lead the team in hits with five, scored a goal, added an assist, and mixed it up with numerous Predators in defense of his teammates. His teammates played exceptional from top to bottom which included Phil Kessel scoring and adding two assists. When Malkin says it’s so, everyone should believe. Leadership, playoffs leading scorer, predictor of the future, if that’s not Conn Smythe worthy then I don’t know what is.

Should Evgeni Malkin and the Penguins win one more game and repeat as Stanley Cup Champions, the likely-hood of the Conn Smythe Trophy being awarded to Malkin, should be eminent. It takes 16 wins to become Stanley Cup Champions and Penguins need one more. No doubt it will take another All-Star effort by Malkin and his teammates to make it happen.

 

The Penguins Can Win Without Crosby

Broadcasters, analysts, bloggers, media personalities, those who cover hockey and those who pretend to, your aunt Sally, your uncle Nester, the mailman, your neighbor’s mistress, and the smelly guy at the bar who clearly still lives in his mother’s basement at age 54, all believe that without Sidney Crosby in the lineup, the Penguins are done like dinner.

You’ve seen it on twitter, you’ve talked with the above-mentioned people (don’t lie, you know you have), and truth is the thought may have even crossed your mind once, as well. But those who have watched this Penguins team since Mike Sullivan took over the reigns last season and watched closely, know one thing beyond what logic may tell them. And that is, under Coach Sullivan, this team is resilient.

This Pittsburgh Penguins team has faced adversity for the majority of the season. At one point during the season, the Penguins were without Kris Letang, Olli Maatta, Trevor Daley, Carl Hagelin, Ron Hainsey, Bryan Rust, Evgeni Malkin, Scott Wilson, Patric Hornqvist, Mark Streit, and Matt Cullen.

So, for those of you keeping count at home, that’s 3 regular defensemen, 2 defensemen brought in around trade deadline to replace the original injured three, 4 top six forwards, and 2 bottom 6 forwards. Minus the “replacement D” alone, that is 45% of the 20-man starting lineup on the shelf. Yet, the Pens found a way to win.

The Geno Factor: In the 2011-12 season Crosby was unavailable to play due to injury. Malkin averaged 1.47 points per game in Crosby’s absence, compared to the 1.14 average with Crosby in the lineup. It’s been proven time and time again, that Malkin finds another gear or a hidden level if you will, in his game when 87 is out of the lineup. It’s not a secret anymore for sure.

For Pens fans and the Penguins organization, this is good news.

Some think that Geno just plays better when the spotlight shines brighter on him. Some think that with Crosby on the shelf that Malkin’s production goes up because of increased ice time. Some even think that the Russian Bear mode is something that Malkin can turn on and off. But in my opinion as a coach and former player, it is all about loyalty and being a top end athlete (even though the NHL top 100 doesn’t believe so).

Why do I say loyalty?

Because no one on the Pittsburgh Penguins understands Evgeni Malkin better than Sidney Crosby. No one else on that team has the expectations of a fan base, of a country, of a room full of your peers knowing that you can take a game over in the blink of an eye almost at will, better than Sidney Crosby.

87 and 71 are great friends believe it or not. They are teammates with a franchise on their backs and a city’s dreams on their sticks each and every night.

So, I say loyalty because Evgeni Malkin is loyal to those he loves. He loves this team, he loves this city, and he loves his great friend Sidney. And as that kind of person, he wants to do anything he possibly can to help his team win, to make the fans cheer louder, and to make his friend feel at ease because he can’t be in the lineup to help do the same.

Can the Pittsburgh Penguins win this series without Sidney Crosby? Does Starbucks serve coffee? Does Primanti Bros. put fries on a sandwich? ABSOLUTELY!!

The fact is however, Malkin will have to be 100% on his game. In the six games at the beginning of the season that Sidney Crosby was on the IR with a concussion the Penguins went 3-3. In those 3 wins, Malkin was a factor, scoring points in each game. In the 3 loses, Malkin was held pointless.

It’s going to take speed, excellent line combos, tenacity, Malkin, and Fleury to win this series without Crosby. But, without a doubt, it can be done. There is no other team in this league that I believe can pull it off without their captain in the lineup. That’s how special this group is and that is the type of character players that are in the room each day.

Believe in this team and watch them #JustPlay you won’t be disappointed.

Good talk, see ya out there!

Follow me on twitter @benchbossx2 to talk hockey.

Best Chance to Repeat Since ’98 and the Keys To Do It

The question is out there, “Can the Penguins be the first team to repeat since the 97/98 Red Wings?”. That answer is simple, it’s an absolute YES!

But in recent news, Kris Letang will miss all of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and in yesterday’s warmups Matt Murray tweaked something and may be out as well. So now the question is, “Can the Penguins do it without those players?” Once again, the answer is simple, absolutely! But there will have to be a few key factors that come into play in order to do so. Here is what the Pens will need to happen, in order to repeat as Stanley Cup Champions. I guarantee one of these might surprise you.

  1. The oldest cliché in playoff hockey is, your best players have to be your best players to go far in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. If the Penguins are going to repeat, Crosby, Malkin, Kessel, Shultz, Daley, Fleury/Murray must be on their game. These are the Penguins best players in their positions. If they are non-existent in games/series or a non-factor often, it will be an early exit for the Black and Gold. After game 1 these players had an excellent start at being the players they need to be. While Crosby didn’t register a point in the game, he created numerous chances and was definitely a challenge to defend for the Blue Jackets. Malkin looked rested and like he hasn’t missed a beat, while Fleury stole the show. If Fleury continues to start, expect much of the same from him. As for Phil Kessel, he’s clearly a gamer and takes pride in rising to the occasion.
  2. The Carl Hagelin factor. The Swedish speedster is currently recovering from a concussion earlier in the season, but could return soon. While Hagelin has never scored more than 17 goals in a season, last year he put up 16 points in 27 playoff games. But it is not scoring prowess that makes Hagelin an important part of a successful Penguins playoff team. Hagelin’s biggest asset is his speed. The speedster is amongst the top 5 fastest players in the NHL without a doubt. While I believe, the Pens can get through the first round without him, the next three rounds will be tough without him. Speed is the identity of the Penguins and Hagelin has that in spades. The Swede’s speed forces defenders back on the rush, it forces players to make quicker and unwarranted decisions with the puck, and it creates space for his teammates. These factors will be highly important in later rounds as the teams get tougher. The turnovers that Hagelin creates plays directly into the puck possession game that is the Penguins identity. Can the Pens make it without him? Absolutely, but Hags will make it easier for sure.
  3. Just play! Coach Mike Sullivan’s message to the team since his hiring has been has been “Just play”. No matter what happens, no matter who’s in the lineup, no matter the refs, no matter what building/city they are in, just play the game hard and never give up. Not only has this been the message from the coaching staff but always been the message from captains Crosby and Malkin. The Penguins Two-Head Monster always play hard and are willing to sacrifice for the sake of the team. That type of leadership has a trickledown effect though out the team. And in during this season the team has had its fair share of adversities. Players injured, goaltending controversy, minor league players playing bigger roles, and they’ve dealt with them all by just playing. It’s hard to find any team in the league that deals with challenges and adversity the way the Penguins organization does. It’s near impossible to find another team in the NHL that is as resilient as the Penguins are in game time situations as well. The Pens just play and to successfully repeat, they will have to continue to abide by that mantra.
  4. A little puck luck. No team has won the Stanley Cup ever, without a little luck. Anyone who’s name is etched on the fable chalice will tell you the same. Some days the puck just isn’t bouncing in your favor, but the one fortuitous bounce can change a game or series. In recent memory of Pens cup runs, Max Talbot gets beat up and shushes the crowd, Marc-Andre Fleury double pushed across instead of one big push, Crosby calls a play and Letang makes it work just to name a few. Sometimes the hockey Gods will just have to shine down upon the team when things normally wouldn’t work or go right. If the Penguins get a few of these moments, good things will happen.

The threat down the middle for the reigning champs + two number one goaltenders + all kinds of secondary scoring capabilities + defense by committee + speed + resiliency = a recipe to repeat for the Pittsburgh Penguins. No team in the modern era has been kept the majority of its cup winning team together the following season. The Pens have and that will be dangerous for their opponents. If anyone can repeat, the Penguins can.

Good Talk… See ya out there!

Follow me (@BenchBossx2) on twitter to talk hockey anytime. #LetsGoPens #BecauseItsTheCup

Sidney Crosby: The Dirtiest Player in the Game

Tuesday night in Buffalo Sidney Crosby cup checked Ryan O’Reilly and Sabres fans went nuts (no pun intended). Later on, in the same game, while muffing a shot into the yawning cage, 87 took a high stick to the mouth from Evander Kane. Sabres fans once again, much like Crosby’s teeth, were losing it. “Embellishment!” they cried. “Diving!” they screamed. Let us put all of this on the backburner for a moment.

Thursday night comes around and the Penguins are in The Truth North’s capital, Ottawa. Senators’ defenseman Marc Methot was rushing the puck up ice, and Crosby reached in and slashed Methot. The result of the slash on his hand, we’ll call it a “broken” finger. Because realistically, I don’t know if explosion is really a medical term to describe Methot’s finger. This time the Crosby haters come out of the woodwork or crawl out of whatever rock they usually live under, in exceptional form. “Crosby’s a scumbag” I read. “Crosby is the dirtiest player in the league” someone said. “Someone should rip his head off for that dirty play” was stated. “The league protects Crosby, he gets away with everything” was very popular. Even the Senators owner chimed in saying that “Crosby should get a 10-game suspension.”

So, let’s get to the nuts and bolts of all of this and truly explain how this game works for all the keyboard warriors, couch coaches, armchair GM’s, and wannabe referees that don’t know a blue line from a clothes line. As I have stated numerous times in the past, all great players make dirty plays. Even the Great One has crossed checked a guy in the wrists and hit a guy from behind. Le Magnifique without a doubt has dished out the occasional cheap shot. The Great 8 has laid some lumber in his time. Even one of the game’s most magical puck handlers and also a Lady Byng winner on multiple occasions, Pavel Datsyuk, most recently laid a questionable late hit on a guy and run someone from behind in his Red Wings days (https://youtu.be/lJAYEtsgrTY ). However, most of this kind of play has gone unseen up until just recently. Why? Because before modern technology and the brilliance of marketing teams, hockey was viewed on TV much like Clerks the movie was made, a real one shady camera set up. Now hockey has just about every angled covered on the ice. Some broadcasts have even had cameras specifically tuned in on certain players when they are on the ice. To give the fans a great “experience” watching hockey, we get to see something happen in super slo-mo from multiple different angles on repeat. If something happens on the ice, someone, somewhere has a video of it. Nothing goes undocumented. This is great for fans, but for players, they have a hard time getting away with a little rough play without getting scrutinized under the all-seeing eye. Even more so for someone like Crosby.

Which brings me to my next point. The Penguins captain has been on a career path since he was 8 years old. Since then, he’s been better than everyone else on the ice. His peers have said it in every league and on every team, he’s ever played on. This isn’t just a Crosby fan rant, these are the facts. Every owner, GM, and coach in the league would sell their soul to the Devil to have 87 on their team. So, with that being said, Mr./Ms. keyboard warrior, I hear you are the best dang server the Olive Garden has ever had. The top brass at the OG love you! You’re selling glasses of wine left and right, add-on’s galore, and appetizers to every table. You are so good they are going to put you in their commercials. So now a camera is following you around all day while you are doing your job. That camera catches you putting extra bread sticks in a table’s basket or you forget that they ordered a Diet Coke and you bring them regular Coke instead. Oh no! You are now the worst Olive Garden server ever and now the millions of people on twitter get to criticize you for days. They will whine and complain about what a horrible person you are and how you should be burned at the stake for your actions. Welcome to the world of Sidney Crosby and many other professional athletes like him. When players are so good they become very closely watched by everyone who loves that sport, sometimes even more so by those who dislike the athlete just so they have something negative to say about them. It happened to Gretzky. It happened to Lemieux. It happened to Howe. It still happens to Jagr. People will always hate the king until the king gives them money or dies. If 87 was traded to Philadelphia tomorrow, I guarantee that he would never be booed in that city again. And if he took them to the Stanley Cup Finals they would immediately put a Crosby statue in place of the Balboa one. The fact is, all eyes are on Sidney Crosby because he’s the best in the world. And again, that’s not just a fan talking, this has been stated by many other NHL players, coaches, and GM’s around the league.

But hey, let’s get into the x’s and o’s of the matters at hand. The game is played hard. It is not a game for the weak. And in the NHL, in order to be effective, a player cannot be a box of Charmin on the shelf. Crosby is a tough customer who battles for every inch and he competes hard night in and night out. Everyone says that about him. He’s also a player who must battle through a lot of stick work, holds, and other illegal plays every shift in order to be successful at his job. Imagine every day while you sit at your little cubicle doing the paperwork for someone’s mortgage, your office competition comes over and pulls your chair out from underneath you. Now, think of that happening every time you went to sit at your desk. I’d like to think you’d retaliate eventually, right? Was the cup check on O’Reilly uncalled for? Yes! Have many players (including myself) performed a similar play? Absolutely! Should it have been a penalty? Sure! Why wasn’t it? That’s a whole other topic for another day. Did Crosby most likely try to poke him in the back of the leg and miss and accidentally get him in the marbles? That’s more likely the scenario. If it was vicious, Crosby wouldn’t not have apologized to O’Reilly. And if O’Reilly thought it was malicious he certainly would have done something about it. Instead he was quoted as saying, “He’s a good guy, he’s just playing hard…it happens.” See, if the violated player is ok with it, fans need to let it go.

Finally, the slash on Methot believe it or not was a hockey play. As others have already said, this same exact play happens 50-60 times a game. Players are taught to be hard sticks. This is how the game is played. Even Methot’s teammate Erik Karlsson said, “[Crosby] puts his stick in as [Methot] is trying to shoot the puck in and unfortunately it hits his finger,” Karlsson said. “It turns out worse than most other times, plays like that happen all the time, but I don’t think it was intentional or dirty.” But as you read earlier in this piece Senators owner had a different take. Funny enough though, I retweeted tonight, something posted by an NHL analyst. It was a compilation video of Methot making the exact same time of play on other players throughout the years (https://twitter.com/mike_p_johnson/status/845454086984077312 ) Should 87 have been called for a penalty? Sure. If he hits the stick and it breaks, it’s an automatic call. Unfortunately, Crosby got him on the finger. And where he got hit on the finger, literally has no protection. That portion of hockey gloves is just a little piece of palm leather and no padding what so ever. Was it worthy of the Department of Player Safety reviewing it? Hell no! This was the Pens captain making a hockey play and accidently hitting more hand than stick. This wasn’t Adam Graves trying to chop of Mario’s arm in the ’92 playoffs (https://youtu.be/VwgAV2djXXg). So, let’s not make it out to be something more than what it was, a routine play at ended poorly. This is hockey folks, not tennis. It’s violent game.

Good talk! See ya out there!

Penguins Team Analysis: Post Trade Deadline

As we all know, March 1st at the 3 pm has come and gone. Penguins General Manager Jim Rutherford in the days leading up to and on, what has become an NHL holiday in #TradeDeadline Day, was quite active. Let’s take a look at the moves Rutherford made along with other roster movements and what it means to the defending champs.

Goaltending

Let us start with the most talked about position and player leading up to and on Trade Deadline Day and that’s goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. Since last season’s playoff run ultimately ending in the Penguins hoisting Lord Stanley’s fable cup, speculations and rumors have flown around like confetti at a Blue Jackets regular season win in February.  Is Fleury going to stay? Will he back up Murray? Will the Penguins let him go in the expansion draft? If Fleury did a back handspring into a full twisting layout and stuck the landing, does that mean there’s life on Jupiter? Any possible question, scenario, or absurd situation was discussed by fans and analysts alike in the case of Marc-Andre Fleury.

The fact is, last year it took a 3-goalie rotation in order to complete the tasks of 16 wins in the playoffs. And as a former goaltender himself, Jim Rutherford understands better than most that it takes a team effort to win and that includes at the backstop position as well. This is why Rutherford intended on keeping number 29 for as long as he could. So, the trade deadline has past and here we are today, Monday morning 3/6/2017 and last night Murray gave up 3 goals early and smiling veteran, the one they call “Flower” came in to save the day shutting down the Buffalo Sabres and giving his team the opportunity to score 4 unanswered goals in two periods for the win. Not only do the Penguins get to keep the best goaltending tandem in the league for another playoff run, they get insurance that they will have the best possible goaltending available for any situation. This is excellent not only for situations like last night’s game but also because of the injury history of the Penguins overall. The Penguins receive a “Pittsburgh Gold” star for keeping “The Flower” in town.

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Defensemen

It was no surprise that Rutherford was looking to acquire defensemen at or before the trade deadline. Long term injuries to Trevor Daley and Olli Maatta, along with short term injuries to Justin Schultz and the oft injured Kris Letang, put a gaping hole in the blueline of the Penguins lineup. If the Penguins want any chance at repeating as champions, GM Rutherford had to find a way to stop that hole from bleeding and the recalls from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton were not the solution.

Top defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk was rumored early to be on the block before the deadline. But Rutherford tends to not wait around for deadlines, he makes things happen on his time. So, he went out and acquired veteran Ron Hainsey from the Carolina Hurricanes. Hainsey, a very responsible and seasoned veteran on the blueline now gets to show what he’s capable of when playing for a contending team. Hainsey, an excellent acquisition, truly helped stable the blueline. But was that enough? The answer is, no! Not so much!

Shattenkirk was still on the table, March 1st. In what turned out to be a Metropolitan division battle for the Blues defenseman, Shattenkirk was ultimately shipped to the Capitals where he was reunited with old teammate T.J. Oshie. But Rutherford doing what he does, grabs another iron out of the fire and begins to hammer out something special. Not only did Rutherford find a way to deal with the long-hated Flyers without actually having to deal with them, he also got multiple teams to retain some of the salary of defenseman Mark Streit (good luck plugging all the info into Turbo Tax Mr. Streit!). Streit, a 39 year old puck moving defenseman, packed up his gear and headed across the Pa Turnpike, leaving behind the City Where Dreams Go to Die for the City of Champions. Two days later in Streit’s first game with the Black and Gold he records a goal, an assist, 4 shots on net, and 2 blocked shots in a 5-2 win over his former team (albeit only for an hour) the Tampa Bay Lightning. I’d say it was a heck of a deal my GM Rutherford. Now, with Schultz back in the lineup as well, the Penguins blueline holes have been sealed up. “Pittsburgh Gold” star number 2 for GMJR.

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Forwards

The biggest rumblings of the rumor mill on deadline day, when it came to forwards for the Pittsburgh Penguins, was the potential to acquire Matt Duchene from the Colorado Avalanche. But honestly, that was truly just speculation. While Duchene has my utter respect as a player and my heartfelt sympathy for playing for the Avalanche, the crafty winger just wasn’t going to fit in Pittsburgh. At least not in this moment. On top of that, there just wasn’t room in the Pens salary cap in order to fit a top 6 veteran forward. However, the Rutherford did make a minor splash on his forward front, sending Eric Fehr to the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for a minor league defenseman. As much as I liked Fehr and believed he was very reliable 4th line player, there are cheaper options for the Pens in their minor league affiliate that can do the same thing. The trade opened up a little cap space, so that GM Rutherford could close the holes in the injury laden blueline.

The reality of the Penguins forwards is that with Crosby, Malkin, Kessel, Sheary, Hornqvist, Cullen, Guentzel, Kunitz, Bonino, and Hagelin, the Penguins are a scoring threat top to bottom. Once Rust is healthy and if Hagelin finds his scoring prowess again, there is no reason to tweak or change this lineup even if it was to add a caliber player such as Duchene. The speed and the work ethic, which is established by number 87 Captain Sidney Crosby, of the Penguins forwards is lethal. And as the old saying goes, “If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it”. “Pittsburgh Gold” star number 3 for staying put and believing in the forwards you got at the deadline.

 

Overall

The Penguins filled their needs and management sent the message of, “we believe in you, we believe in this group, and we’ve only gotten strong in order to make a long run”. It’s a great message and one that fans and writers alike believe too. Now, it’s time for the Pens to heat up down this back stretch and allow some players to get healthy again as well as allowing others to get comfortable with their new surroundings. When the Penguins heat up and everyone is healthy, you better “Get in the fast lane grandma, because the bingo game is ready to roll!”

 Good talk, I’ll see ya out there! #LetsGoPens

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