All posts by Ulm29

Hockey & Coffee: Week of October 8 – 14

Welcome to the newest blog here on LTP that will be posted every Monday morning at 9am that I am calling Hockey & Coffee. So, what exactly is Hockey & Coffee going to be? I will highlight three of the biggest news stories, games, and even trades throughout the ENTIRE NHL, not just the Penguins. I’m going to throw in some different stuff each week with predictions and what to watch out for etc. This gives us writers a chance to write non Penguins articles, and for our readers to get some league wide coverage from us. Now that you know what you are getting yourself into, let’s jump into some headlines…

The Great 8

 

The Washington Capitals are off to a good start to the 2017-18 season. In their first six games played they have a record of 3-2-1 and sit in a wildcard spot in the East. Much of the Capitals success comes in part of Alex Ovechkin. Ovechkin has 9 goals in six games, including two hat tricks in just 13 minutes of ice time. Needless to say, Ovi and the Capitals are off to a red hot start to the season. For me personally, I am not fully convinced by the Capitals just yet. They appear to have some depth issues and clearly their defense is not nearly what is was last season, especially with Matt Niskanen going onto LTIR. However, it is hard to ever bet against Ovi and the Caps; well unless it’s the second round of the playoffs.

Bad Teams, Good Starts

The Colorado Avalanche and the New Jersey Devils, who finished 30th & 27th respectively last year, are both off to a surprisingly good start this year. The Avalanche in my eyes are not as bad as last year showed. They unfortunately had their starting goalie go down early into the season and were forced to play an unproven Calvin Pickard for the majority of the season. As shown already this year with a healthy goalie, this team has some potential to be a middle of the pack team. With the likes of Nathan MacKinnon, Matt Duchene, and newly acquired Nail Yakapov all playing well, they might be able to make a run for a wild card spot if they can hold their own throughout an 82 game season. As far as the Devils are concerned, they have a very very good goaltender who is capable in stealing a game on any given night and have a plethora of young skaters coming up. Will ButcherJesper Bratt, and Nico Hischier are leading the way as far as young guns go in NJ, but some forget about the “veterans” the Devils have. Taylor Hall is still a very good pure goal scorer, and maybe this year he has a breakout year scoring wise when playing with more depth behind him.

MAF Goes on IR

Marc-Andre Fleury was placed on IR Sunday morning after suffering a concussion Friday vs the Red Wings. Fleury was off to a good start with a 3-1-0 record in Vegas. This could have been the worst possible situation for the Golden Knights, the back bone of the team goes down early in the season. It appears newly acquired goaltender Malcolm Subban will start between the pipes during Fleury’s absence. Subban recorded his first victory of the season Sunday night in a 3-1 win vs his old squad, the Boston Bruins. Vegas fans, I would not hit the panic button yet, but boy would my hand be real close to it. Hopefully we hear some good news regarding Fleury’s status in the near future.

A Look Ahead:

  • Games to watch out for: Leafs vs Capitals (Tuesday 10/17),  Oilers vs Blackhawks (Thursday 10/19)
  • Expect a big week from Auston Matthews, (5 points in 3 games)
  • I’m predicting a Patrik Laine hat trick Tuesday vs CBJ
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Three Takeaways: Pens Top Panthers 4-3

The Pittsburgh Penguins squeak out a victory against the Florida Panthers, despite a desperate effort by the Panthers in the final minute of the game. Some notible changes were made before entering this game, here are my three takeaways:

Special Teams

Despite giving up the one power play goal in the second period, the PK group looked absolutely amazing tonight. They appeared to win almost every 50/50 puck battle in their own zone, and gave the Florida players very little room to make any kind of plays. Not to mention Greg Mckegg scored his first goal as a Pittsburgh Penguin shorthanded. Opposite to the PK, the PP went 1/3 on the night with Sidney Crosby netting his 2nd goal of the year. Whatever Sullivan worked on during practice proved to be the difference maker tonight. The PP had a solid “Shoot first attitude” and often times ran with Justin Schultz and Kris Letang on the first unit.

 

Matt Murray

Once again Matt Murray stood tall between the pipes for the Pens tonight. Stopping 43 of 46 shots, (one save shy of tying his career high) Murray looks to be in playoff form early in the season. His rebounds were very controlled this evening and got better as game went on. Making at least three saves in the final minute to preserve the one goal lead showed what Murray truly means to this team.

 

CRASH THE NET

This is something the Pens have done very well over the past two seasons. They enter the zone with speed and constantly have players going to the net. Whether it is Patric Hornqvist, Bryan Rust, or Crosby, someone is always on top of the goaltender. 3 of the 4 goals scored tonight were because the Pens had players at the net. And, well Hornvquist always takes that literal. Pushing James Reimer into the net for the 3rd Penguins goal, and later getting called for a goaltender interference penalty on a goal. Scoring the “dirty goal” is a part of the game, and the Penguins have proved that yet once again tonight.

Metropolitan Division Preview: Carolina Hurricanes

Coach: Bill Peters

Record and Standing: 36-31-15, Finished 7th in the Metropolitan Division

Key Additions:

-Scott Darling

-Justin Williams

-Marcus Kruger

-Trevor Van Riemsdyk

-Jaccob Slavin (extension)

Key Subtractions:

-Eddie Lack

-Ryan Murphy

 Preview

It appears that the Canes have addressed their two biggest issues this offseason, those being goaltending and leadership; all while locking up younger players for the future. Justin Williams, aka Mr. Game 7, is surely beneficial to have on any team but especially a younger team to be in a leadership role. The 35-year-old is a 3x Stanley Cup Winner, with one coming in 2006 with the Hurrianes. Adding leadership to their young forward core in hopes to be more competitive in the dominate Metro division, while still lacking a true first line center. The addition of goaltender Scott Darling could be the difference maker for the young Canes team. Similar to what Cam Talbot did in New York; now Edmonton’s starter, Darling, is getting his chance to be a starting goalie in the NHL after carrying the Blackhawks for a stint when Corey Crawford struggled briefly this past season and in previous playoff series. A healthy Jeff Skinner could make all the difference for this young Canes team. A proven top winger in the NHL when healthy, Skinner is someone who Carolina will look towards to lead them offensively. Sebastian Aho is another forward to keep on your radar in Carolina. Aho posted 49 points in his rookie season, and I fully expect him to be around the 50 point mark again this year. The young D core in Carolina could be something to watch out for as well. Loaded on the backend with talent led by Justin Faulk, it appears on paper they have one of the youngest and most offensively talented D cores in the league with the likes of Noah Hanifin, Jaccob Slavin, and rookie Haydn Fleury.

Predictions

I expect the Hurricanes to be in a similar spot this upcoming season as they were last year. In the 2016-17 season they finished with 87 points, and probably should have made the playoffs, but because the Metro division is so dominating they were left out. The possible addition of a true first line center (I.E. Matt Duchene) would change my opinion, but I see the Canes missing the playoffs for the ninth season in a row. They are close, very close, but the Metro is such a powerhouse with teams like Pittsburgh, The New York Rangers, Philadelphia, and even Columbus. Ideally, Canes fans would like to see both Skinner, and Aho with 50+ points each, but I predict that Aho will hover around the 40-point mark. As far as Skinner, it is hit or miss. If healthy, he could net 50+ easily as proven last year. I think a healthy Skinner will produce around the 65-point mark for the Canes as they push for a playoff spot.

Offseason Player Grades: Brian Dumoulin

Statistics (Regular Season)

70 GP , 1 G, 14 A, 15 PTS, +/- Even, 14 PIM

Statistics (Playoffs)

25 GP, 1 G, 5 A, 6 PTS, +9 +/-, 6 PIM

Player Grade: (A)

Brian Dumoulin stepped into a big role this season when his defensive partner, Kris Letang, underwent season ending surgery. Dumo earns an A in my book because of the way he stepped into a top defensive role, being charged with shutting down the other team’s top offense lines, especially during the playoffs.

Review

Dumoulin has proven to be a shutdown guy here in Pittsburgh. I don’t think anyone expects him to put up more than a handful of points per season. (Although I do see offensive talent in his game) Looking into some analytic stats on Dumo, if you break his numbers down, they’re in the top half of defensemen in the league. He quietly gets the job done each and every night, he’s not flashy, doesn’t have a cannon of a shot, or the top-level speed and skating, but at the end of the day he does what you want a top pairing, shutdown defenseman to do.

Preview

Dumoulin is a RFA this summer. I hope to see him sign a long-term deal to keep him in Pittsburgh for the foreseeable future. Next season, I fully expect him and Letang to be one of the NHL’s top pairs in the league. Again, I don’t expect him to put up a lot of points, but he provides that stable partner for Letang to be Letang.

Conclusion

Brian Dumoulin may be one of the most underrated defensemen in the league, but the numbers are there to prove that he is being over looked. Without a player of his caliber I don’t think the Pens repeat this year.

Keys/Notes to Game 4

The Pittsburgh Penguins head into game 4 of the Stanley Cup Finals up 2-1, the exact same situation they were in last season and well, we all know how that ended.

  • After Sunday’s practice, it appears that Matt Murray will remain the starter for the Pens in game 4 and rightfully so. Murray is an astounding 7-0 following a playoff loss. Murray has proven in is short NHL career that his ability to bounce back after a loss is top notch. It’s no surprise Sullivan sticks with his guy.

 

Nashville Predators center Colton Sissons (10) celebrates a goal as Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Matt Murray (30) looks on during the second period in Game 3 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Finals Saturday, June 3, 2017, in Nashville, Tenn. Photo: Mark Humphrey, AP / Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

  • Shockingly it appears that Nick Bonino will be a game time decision for game 4. Bonino missed game 3 with a lower body injury (ankle) and was in a boot and on crutches the past two days. He did skate early Sunday morning, and then later participate in practice, being part of the second power play unit.

  • Geno Malkin. I believe that game 4 is the type of game we can see Geno take over. After a frustrating game 3, I fully expect Malkin to come out with a purpose and lead the pens to a victory in Nashville.

  • The Power play. There is no question that the Pens power play has struggled during the finals. The Penguins are just 1-13 in finals on the power play. With their one goal coming in game 1. If it is a mixing of lines, moving players around in the zone, or a new look player play completely, special teams wins or loses games and right now it is costing the Pens.

Image result for penguins power play

The Pens look to take a commanding 3-1 series lead Monday night in Nashville. It will not be an easy game, but the Penguins have proven that they bounce back well after a loss. Puck drop is set for a little after 8pm in Nashville on NBC.

Unsung Heroes

Overtime, Game 7; these are the games as hockey fans we love. Thursday night, the Penguins defeated the Senators 3-2 in double overtime to clinch their bid to the Stanley Cup Finals vs the Nashville Predators. The game winning goal coming from 37-year-old Chris Kunitz, which was his second goal of the night. This entire playoff, and regular season has been filled with unsung heroes. Yes, we have the three-headed monster in Malkin, Crosby, and Kessel leading the way in playoff points. But there are a few guys pulling some of their own weight. Names that stand out are Jake Guentzel, Chris Kunitz, Bryan Rust, Olli Maatta, and Brian Dumoulin.

 

Jake Guentzel- 2016-17 Regular Season– 40 GP | 16 G | 17 A       2016-17 Playoffs– 19 GP | 9 G | 7 A

What an amazing rookie campaign Jake has put together. Those who watched Jake play in WBS before being called up knew the type of impact he could have in the NHL, and what an impact he has made. Some may ask why he made this list of surprise players these playoffs, but I don’t think anyone expected a player with 40 NHL games to be in the top 5 of playoff scoring. Not to mention 3 GWG this postseason.

Image result for jake guentzel playoffs

Chris Kunitz- 2016-17 Regular Season- 71 GP | 9 G | 20 A |         2016-17 Playoffs- 14 GP| 2 G| 3 A |     

Chris Kunitz, what a guy. This is a player that Penguins fans have wanted to be dealt out of town for the last three years at least, and I am guilty of criticizing him as well. But with Kuntiz you know what type of player you are going to get. He’s the type of guy to battle in front of the net, finish his checks, and hey, even score goals when reunited with Crosby. Kuntiz has scored the most important goal of these playoffs so far (2OT ECF) so how could he not be a hero?

Image result for chris kunitz goal

Bryan Rust- 2016-17 Regular Season- 40 GP | 12 G | 4 A |            2016-17 Playoffs- 17 GP | 6 A | 1 A |

Rust is a player that really emerged last season when the Pens were faced with injuries and he made a similar impact that Guentzel is making this year. Rust is another guy that will finish his hit and grind in front of the net, but also comes up with some very timely goals. This post season, Rust has 2 GWG those goals being Game 5 vs CBJ, and game 7 vs Washington. Rust plays big in big games, so keep an eye out for him the Stanley Cup Finals.

Image result for bryan rust playoffs

Olli Maatta2016-17 Regular Season- 55 GP| 1 G | 6 A |              2016-17 Playoffs19 GP | 2 G | 5 A |

Maatta has been criticized time and time again, and granted he has not been the player the Penguins expected, he has held his own. Some unfortunate injuries have slowed Maatta’s growth, but minor things such as foot speed seem to be an issue for him. To Maatta’s credit he has played well this season, especially vs the Sens. Scoring two goals in as many games, and one being a GWG in the 7-0 victory, Maatta seems to be finding his way as of late.

 Image result for olli maatta 2017

Honorable Mention: Brian Dumoulin- Dumo gets my honorable mention for this list. Next to Ian Cole, he may be the best defensive defenseman the Pens have. Logging 20+ minutes in almost every playoff game, he is faced with the task of shutting down teams’ top offensive lines. He is a valuable player to this Pens roster that often goes under the radar.

Image result for brian dumoulin playoff

This Penguins team is filled with superstars as we all know, but there are a ton of depth/role players that are just as important as Crosby or Malkin are. Role players play a key part in winning teams, and the Penguins have built their team using high end role guys. They played a huge part in the 2016 Stanley Cup Run, and will again be a key factor in the 2017 Stanley Cup run.

Comparing Murray And Fleury

The goalie situation in Pittsburgh has hit yet another episode. The Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Marc Andre Fleury was pulled in game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals after allowing 4 goals on just 9 shots. Matt Murray was called on in relief of MAF and allowed only 1 goal on 20 shots faced. After the Pens dropped game 3, 5-1, game 4 had all goalie drama leading into it. Head coach Mike Sullivan decided to switch things up in net, giving Matt Murray his first start in the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Murray looked sharp, stopping 18 of 20 shots, and leading the Pens to a 3-2 victory and ultimately tying the series at 2 games a peace.

Sullivan stuck with Murray as his guy for game 5, and it proved to be the right call yet again. Murray backstopped the Pens to a dominating 7-0 win, and taking their first lead of the series going up 3-2 into game 6 on Tuesday night.

The question moving forward is, who is the starting goalie? This is a question that penguin’s fans have been asking themselves all season.

MAF has been lights out this postseason, and you could argue that the Penguins are not in the ECF without his stellar play. Fleury’s 2017 postseason stats read as:

Wins- 9

Loses- 6

GAA- 2.56

Save %- .924

Shutouts- 2

Fleury is posting even better numbers this year than he did in 2009 when he led the team to their first Stanley Cup in the “Crosby Era”

Fleury’s one hiccup this postseason came in game 3, and Murray took advantage of the situation.

Murray, who is 7-2 in his last 9 postseason starts, appears to be “the guy” for HCMS moving forward.

Murray has proven to be a big-time player. Still considered a rookie, Murray’s career playoff stats read as (Before game 6 ECF 2017):

Wins- 17

Losses- 6

GAA- 1.97

Save %- .927

Shutouts- 2

Not only Murray, but the entire team always plays well following a loss, so heading into game 7 the team and city should be buzzing with confidence to see the Pens in the SCF in back to back years.

As far as the rest of the playoffs go, I believe that Sullivan will ride out Murray. He seems to have confidence in Murray being the guy moving forward this postseason and into next year.

I have full confidence in both MAF and Murray leading this team to their 2nd cup in as many years.

It will be interesting to see what happens in the closing weeks of the season, and into the off season.