All posts by Cody Flavell

I am an avid fan of all major and college sports teams throughout the Pittsburgh area.

Three Takeaways: Lightning Trounce Penguins, 7-1

The Pittsburgh Penguins were defeated mightily by the Tampa Bay Lightning, 7-1. They fall to 5-3-1 on the season. Here are the Three Takeaways.

No More Niemi, Please?

I was trying to give Antti Niemi the benefit of the doubt but that has gone by the way side. The Penguins have yet to play a good game in front of him and he’s already faced Tampa Bay twice and Chicago once. He hasn’t played a road game and all three starts have been on the second night of a back-to-back. That’s a raw deal. However, there were about three or four very manageable saves that got through Niemi on Saturday and such has been the case in three previous games. Tristan Jarry awaits in the wings. So does Casey DeSmith but I have a hard time believing they would actually go that route. Three games may be a small sample but this isn’t a situation the Penguins won’t to keep running themselves into especially with the amount of back-to-back situations they’ve got.

Tampa Bay A Bad Matchup

While Niemi hasn’t looked good at all against the Lightning, I think it’s fair to say the team as a whole hasn’t either. When a team falls into such a substantial hole, it is tough to not make unlimited mistakes and get away from your game due to frustration. But they have taken silly penalties against them in the early two games. They have come out slow against them and Tampa Bay just looks to have the better star power at this point in the season. Some teams struggle to beat others. This doesn’t seem like a Capitals struggling with the Penguins type of situation, but it is concerning considering these are the early season favorites to make the Eastern Conference Finals.

Sheahan Trade Provides Depth

Getting away from that ugly game, the Penguins acquired Riley Sheahan early in the day to fill the role of the third-line center for now. It is early and many fans believe he isn’t fit to be the third-line center. It is a low risk trade that sent Scott Wilson, a guy who clearly wasn’t going to play much in Mike Sullivan‘s system, to the Red Wings. If the move doesn’t work out, the Penguins can always acquire a more adamant fit. I find it hard to believe Sheahan can’t at least fill a fourth line role if the Penguins were to make a bigger move later in the year. Stay tuned on this front.

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Three Takeaways: Penguins Defeat Panthers, 4-3

The Penguins and the Florida Panthers played Friday night to a 4-3 Penguins victory. They improved to 5-2-1. Here are the Three Takeaways.

Powerplay Looking Whole Again

The Penguins’ power play can look very potent at times. During others, they look lost despite the firepower involved with it. Friday night, they were a finely tuned unit. Evgeni MalkinPhil Kessel, and Sidney Crosby connected for a tip goal that gave the Penguins the lead in the third. Conor Sheary scored on a breakaway for the game winner. They were getting pucks to the net. They did all the things you could ask of your powerplay unit considering that it is full of stars.

Rolling All Four Lines

One of the keys to the Penguins’ two previous Stanley Cup championships was having four lines that could play and at a high level. There is no less expectation this season. Friday, the fourth line combined for a big goal. Ryan Reaves used his physical presence to knock a Florida player off the puck. Tom Kuhnhackl subsequently picked it up and found Carter Rowney busting to the net who buried it. They are absolutely going to need the fourth line to play. With less special teams opportunities, that line, especially Reaves, saw more time.

Lineup Changes Looming?

Mike Sullivan isn’t known for making changes to a lineup after a victory. But will the Penguins head coach break code on Saturday night? The Penguins have been historically bad in back-to-back situations and Josh Archibald, an energy player Sullivan has admittedly said he really likes, has yet to draw into the line up. A lot of players did a lot of good things tonight and pushed the Penguins to a win. The Penguins could use a guy like Archibald with his speed game in the second half of a back-to-back situation. We’ll see. Likely no morning skate, so we won’t know until around game time.

Three Takeaways: Pens Win, 5-4, In OT vs. Rangers

The Penguins pulled off a resilient victory Tuesday night, 5-4, over the Rangers in overtime. They improved to 4-2-1 on the season. Here are the Three Takeaways.

Even When They’re Bad, They’re Good Enough

I don’t think it’s criminal to say the Penguins didn’t play their best game on this night. It was ugly as many players struggled through what probably could’ve been a much better game. Sidney Crosby took two penalties, one of them a double minor, before scoring the game winning goal. More on that later. Defensively, the Penguins are still a mess. They’re the highest paid unit in the league. They aren’t getting highest-paid-unit-in-the-league production. Matt Murray wasn’t even as sharp as he usually is and, yet, the Penguins still came out on top. Those three star forwards you’ve been criticizing (Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel)? They all scored.

Sid-sational

Are you kidding me? Crosby with another goal on Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist from below the goal line. Truly, this guy is unbelievable. The even crazier part is the fact that he had the where-with-all to let Kevin Shattenkirk touch a puck Crosby couldn’t play because Patric Hornqvist gloved it and throw it towards an unexpecting Lundqvist with less than a minute to play from below the goal line to tie the game. Ridiculous. He really is just a man on a mission who does stupidly good things at the most important times.

Death By Penalty

This team has been very undisciplined to open the season. They’re taking such stupid penalties at inconvenient times. They were on the penalty kill six times Tuesday. They were scored on twice, both times were off of Crosby’s double minor penalty. They rank in the top-10 in the penalty kill category but a lot of that has to do with the amount of times they’ve been on the penalty kill. They’re also killing penalties with almost an entirely new unit after the losses of Nick Bonino and Matt Cullen in the offseason. They are doing well but need to cut down on how many they make these guys kill.

Quickly Shaking Off The Rust

The Penguins are six games into the brand new season and they’ve already seen a roller coaster of results. One constant, though, has been the play of forward Bryan Rust.

Through the first six games, Rust has recorded eight points. He is tied with Sidney Crosby for a team high. Anytime your name is tied to Crosby’s, you are in pretty good company.

The only game Rust did not record a point in was the Chicago game. Not many people did in that contest.

It is shocking enough that Rust is scoring points at a rapid rate that is sure to slow down eventually. Perhaps, the even better part is that he is doing the things that don’t show up on the score sheet.

It’s tough to compare any ones speed to that of Carl Hagelin. Personally, I think Rust compares quite aptly, if not, might even be faster than Hagelin. Of course, Rust has a bit more scoring touch than Hagelin. But seeing Rust beat defenders outside who don’t have the chance to match his speed is something of a blessing.

I can count many times last season that he’d be in on a breakaway but could never finish. I am truthfully seeing a different player this time around.

Rust looks more complete on the ice. He might’ve even gotten a step faster. I see more willingness to shoot the puck and I see a much more methodical passer than in the previous two seasons. He just looks like he worked hard on the areas of his game that needed a bit of refining.

Playing in a top-6 role, Rust will be called upon to score frequently. He had 15 goals last season playing mostly with Evgeni Malkin and Crosby during the regular season. He only played 57 regular season games, though. He saw more time with Hagelin and Nick Bonino in last postseasons run. This season, he’s already seen time with both superstars.

Rust is going to be a key piece for the Penguins this season. If he stays healthy and plays upwards of 70 games, it’s fair to say he will score 20 goals and post 45 or more points. Keep your eye on him. Even if he isn’t putting up the points this consistently in December, watch for the little things like his speed and his willingness to win a puck battle in the corner. Those are things that don’t fade throughout a breakout  year.

COLUMN: Earth To Malkin, Kessel

It’s been fun to watch a couple guys for various reasons so far this season.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed how good Bryan Rust has been through the first five games. He is absolutely flying out there. Carl Hagelin is doing much of the same except a little less success on the score sheet.

I have liked the play of all the guys who got extensions in the offseason. Brain Dumoulin has been good. Conor Sheary and Justin Schultz much of the same.

I’ve marveled seeing Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel return this season with the same magic they had last season. You can add Patric Hornqvist‘s return from hand surgery to an inspired group of hockey players.

Kris Letang finally returning. Greg McKegg earning a roster spot out of camp. Matt Murray returning for his “sophomore” season, technically. There have been lots of encouraging stories to come from the Penguins’ early 2-2-1 start to the season.

As all these awesome stories play out, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel have been nothing but bystanders to it all.

There is a lot of money and expectations tied up between these two Pittsburgh folk legends for them to be making a very minimal, if not opaque, impact on what the team has done in the first five games.

Between the two of them, they have seven points on the season. Rust alone has seven point and leads the team. Captain Crosby, who’s been everything you’d want from your captain in the early going, has six points by himself.

But, hockey isn’t just about the score sheet and getting points. Yes, you don’t win without them, but you can make an impact away from the puck as well. Kessel and Malkin both have not had a game yet where they stood out amongst everybody on either team.

To Kessel’s credit, he was one of the better players in the Nashville game which the Penguins inevitably won in shutout fashion. That same game, I can’t recall hearing much of Malkin’s name being called.

I’m not one to call out someone’s work ethic. I am not, by any means, calling Malkin lazy because he is far from it. He is one of the most driven hockey players in the league and Penguins fans have seen first hand what happens when Malkin gets locked in. Perhaps, you’re a “I’d rather him exert himself in April and beyond, not now” person, which is understandable. But I have yet to even notice Malkin make an impact in any of the Penguins five games so far. I’m not worried about him. I’m just wondering if he knows the season started.

Kessel is a different story.

I predicted a 30 goal, 80 point season for Kessel. It really just had a feel that was right. Two Stanley Cups later, maybe that would drive Kessel to have his best season yet and help drive the Penguins to something historic. This is what Kessel is and does. He plays when he wants to. He is a guy who will fill the back of the net with goals, but they come in spurts. He can score in six straight games. He’ll then counter that with a 10-game goal drought.

I am not worried about either of them. They will turn it up eventually and I will shut my mouth. But to make $9.5 million (Malkin) and $6.8 million (Kessel); I don’t think they should escape criticism just because of their star status.

The Penguins are already short at center depth. If there was ever a time for Malkin to play up to the standards he is capable of, it is now until they find a better third-line center than McKegg. For Kessel, just be more consistent. Don’t be so sporadic in scoring goals. Do it with more consistency and I promise you, this team won’t have anything to worry about.

Three Takeaways: Lightning Beat Penguins, 5-4

The Pittsburgh Penguins ran into another force Thursday night in the Tampa Bay Lightning losing, 5-4. Here are the Three Takeaways.

Ruhwedel Is A Solid Player

Chad Ruhwedel is a great fit as a seventh defenseman. I love the offensive upside he brings as he recorded two assists in this game. His second assist was a home run pass from just near his own goaltender that found Conor Sheary‘s stick for a breakaway goal. He also just brings a calming and solid presence defensively that can’t be mistaken.  He only draws into the line up due to the Ian Cole injury but he should have the seventh defensemen job locked up for this season.

Backup Goalies Deserve Respect

Poor, Antti Niemi. I, for one, actually don’t disapprove of his play in this game. He was exactly what a back up goalie in the NHL is. He made some really big, unexpected saves while allowing a softie or two. The Penguins’ defense was just porous. They allowed way too many high quality chances and had many costly turnovers. The score of this game could’ve truthfully rivaled the Blackhawks game. Niemi made some huge saves throughout the night. The team in-front of him played the previous night and traveled from Washington to Tampa Bay immediately following Wednesday night’s game. He got a pretty raw deal.

Tampa Bay Is A Very Good Team

Don’t kid yourself. There is a pretty good chance that the Lightning are the other Eastern Conference favorites this season. This team possesses way too much talent to act like they aren’t legitimate. With an offense spearheaded by Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov, not many teams can brag about a two-headed monster that potent. Victor Hedman is one of the best defensemen in the NHL and he’s got veterans like Anton Stralman and Dan Girardi on the back end with him. Andrei Vasilevskiy is one of the more premier young goaltenders in the league and he showed why with many brilliant saves Thursday. Don’t sleep on this team. If the Penguins want to three-peat, they are going to almost assuredly have to go through Tampa Bay.

Three Takeaways: Penguins Beat Capitals, 3-2

The Penguins and Capitals renewed their rivalry tonight with a familiar result. The Penguins came out on top to improve to 2-1-1. Here are the Three Takeaways.

Hornqvist Down and Dirty

You saw my tweet. I’d rather have Patric Hornqvist as the net front presence on the first powerplay as opposed to Jake Guentzel. Hornqvist does all of the work and is a pest to opposing goalies. He proved to be Braden Holtby‘s kryptonite in this game. With two powerplay points, Hornqvist reasserted himself back into the lineup where the Penguins desperately missed him. His first assist on the powerplay was just classic Hornqvist putting his stick towards the puck near the crease and it popped out to Kris Letang for his first of the season. His second one was again classic Hornqvist at the net-front and putting it home. We’ve got our heart and soul back and it is a great thing to see.

Special Teams Looks Great

The Penguins penalty kill was supposed to be the weakest piece of the team after the losses of Nick Bonino and Matt Cullen. It has been a pleasant surprise. They are now 17 of 18 on the year and those seventeen have come after their first attempt of the year was a fail. The power play was a scorching 3-for-5 tonight. The Penguins scored three goals. That is getting big production out of your power play. The Penguins likely won’t continue to overachieve killing penalties but it is encouraging that they are holding their own.

Flyin’ Rust

Bryan Rust had an assist on the score sheet tonight. But this is more of a naked eye observation. Rust was flying tonight. I noticed him beat a few guys to some loose pucks despite having to make up some ground. This is nothing new. Rust is always one of the quicker players on the ice. Tonight, there was a bit extra juice in that stride.