Category Archives: COLUMN

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.

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COLUMN: Prepare To Be Thrilled

Wow. We are entering season three of the Phil Kessel experiment in Pittsburgh. It seems like the trade that acquired him on July 1, 2015 was only yesterday. It sent Pittsburgh hockey into a frenzy.

After winning exactly 0 Stanley Cups in his first nine seasons in the league, Kessel has yet to not win a championship in Pittsburgh.

He has had more fun in two seasons in the NHL than he had in any of the previous nine combined. He meshed perfectly into the “HBK Line” in the first season and found chemistry with Evgeni Malkin come season two.

But, it is what’s ahead that should have fans excited about Kessel, not what he has already done.

He was known as a big-time scorer in Toronto and Boston. He posted two 37-goal seasons and a 36-goal season. He has yet to touch 30 in Pittsburgh.

This has some fans restless. When Kessel has scored while donning a Penguins jersey, it has come in bunches. The problem is, when he doesn’t score, it is usually for long periods of time. Thus, it has led to 26 and 23 goals in the past two seasons respectively.

What shouldn’t concern fans, though, is his play making abilities he has redefined since becoming a Penguin.

In one of his 37-goal seasons (2011-12′), Kessel also had 45 assists. This totaled out to 82 points in 82 games, a point per-game average. This past season, Kessel had 47 assists setting a career high.

A lot of his newly-found game was attributed to former assistant coach Rick Tocchet. Tocchet was said to be the “Kessel Whisperer” by many in the media as rumors flew that Kessel doesn’t have the greatest relationship with head coach Mike Sullivan. Tocchet was hired away by the Arizona Coyotes and will assume head coaching duties there now.

This prompted Ron Cook, one of Pittsburgh media’s more brash and polarizing figures, to go so far as to say the Penguins would trade Kessel in the near future with Tocchet moving on to another team. Cook went as far as calling Kessel’s contract “outrageous” despite the Penguins only paying $6.8 million of the $8 million Kessel is owed.

General manager Jim Rutherford defended Kessel and completely blasted the rumors during the offseason.

“Phil Kessel is an important part of the Penguins,” Rutherford said. “He gets a lot of points. He scores big goals. He sets up big goals. The more impact players that you have, like we have, the better chance you have of winning.”

This fact can’t be disputed. He has played 610 straight games and been a key factor in not only the regular season, but come April and beyond as well.

Kessel has 66 points in 71 playoff games and had two seasons where he was a point per game in the playoffs that season. He has been an unreal playoff performer in Pittsburgh putting up 22 and 23 points respectively.

This year, Kessel is going to knock your socks off. He had 82 points in a season as we talked about previously. I foresee 80 this year. With 35 goals. He’s going to fill the net and prove to everyone why he is being paid as he is. He is going to quiet the Ron Cook’s. And maybe, just maybe, win a third straight Cup.

Site Preview: What To Expect From Us This Year

The season is almost here! Those are some of the happiest and most joyful words I have heard in months.

We are back for our third season and you can expect some new features from us!

We have already began production on our “Lets Talk Pens Podcast” series hosted by Austin Ulm. If you’d like to listen, there is a tab on the site that links you to them. Currently, they are only available on YouTube. In the coming weeks, we plan on moving them onto iTunes as well as Sound Cloud for easier listening. The episodes will be recorded regularly during the season. We currently are shooting for once a week. Stay tuned.

Also on tap, there will be weekly recaps. Instead of reviewing each game on a game-by-game basis, I will be recapping all the games played the prior week as well as handing out weekly player awards. This series of mine will be called “Monday Morning Madness”.

We also have a full-time Wilkes-Barre/Scranton writer, Steven Czarnecki, now as you have seen this offseason. He will be keeping you up-to-date with the team as a few high-end propsepcts begin making their way towards the NHL. He will have you covered on that.

There will be more things on the way over the coming months that we don’t want to reveal quite yet. If there is anything you’d like to see, please tweet us or email us at letstalkpens00@gmail.com and we will 100% consider your idea.

After all, our motto is “By Fans, For The Fans”.

COLUMN: The Man Sidney Crosby Has Become

On his 30th birthday, Sidney Crosby can reflect on his NHL career and probably be pretty proud of it. He’s accomplished things in his career that few other players have ever, or may ever, accomplish. 

As someone who just celebrated (and I use that term losely) this milestone birthday five days ago, it feels like the end of an era of your life. You could easily take a second  or two to reflect on what you’ve done with the first 30 years of your life. 

With the hopes of a hockey organization and an entire city weighing on his 18 year-old shoulders, Crosby had to live up to the hype to be the second savior this franchise needed. 

And if there’s any indication of who Sid is, he’s probably not spending much time reflecting on the past 12 years of his hockey career, rather, he’s probably focusing on the upcoming season and making sure the Stanley Cup stays in Pittsburgh for at least another year. So, we’ll reflect for you, Sid.

Crosby is a polarizing figure in hockey. Few can argue that he’s not the best player in the world. As a matter of fact, the hype has been there since he was dubbed “The Next One,” in tribute to Wayne Gretzky as “The Great One.” When you’re looked at as the next Gretzky or Mario Lemieux, that’s a standard that is about as improbable as it can get. For most, it is impossible. You’re talking about the player who’s set records that will never be broken, especially in the era of the NHL we are in now.

For Sid, he wanted to establish his own legacy, and that’s a difficult thing when you start your career with the Penguins, a team in which Lemieux played for, owns, and oh yeah, you’re now living in his house. He could’ve easily been tucked away in Lemieux’s shadow, but that didn’t happen. 

After Sid had been in the league for a few years, there was a big divide among fans. You either loved him or you hated him. Funny how that happens with the greatest players. I think that is the measuring stick for whether a player is great or not; if there’s a general consensus of either love or hate with the guy and no in between. People who loved him praised him for his talent, his abilities, and his on-ice highlight reels. People who hated him wanted to say he’s a crybaby or a diver; that he’s always whining to the refs and through that, he always gets the calls from officials because he’s the league’s poster boy.

So instead of people giving the man a chance to create his own legacy and watch him grow and mature on and off the ice, people have stuck with the stereotype that people gave him when he was essentially still a teenager. They didn’t watch him be a central piece in getting the Penguins to the Stanley Cup Final in 2008, or get them back there the following year and win it all. They didn’t bother empathizing with him when David Steckl took more than a season away from Crosby with one blow to the head in the Winter Classic; at a time when Sid was finding the best form of his career up until that point. They didn’t watch him battle back from lingering concussion-like symptoms and nerve damage to get back to playing this violent sport at an elite level again. And then, they did watch, talk, and tweeted when Crosby seemed to lose his game under Mike Johnston‘s coaching regime.

And now under Mike Sullivan, Crosby has not only found elite form again, he’s at the best he’s ever been. It’s the reason why the Penguins have won back-to-back Stanley Cups. It’s not an accident that Crosby won the Conn Smythe in both Cup runs. You see, for the most part, the hockey world doesn’t look at Crosby like the average hockey fan does, with this stereotype that he’s a crybaby and a whiner. They know that version of Sid is long gone. That’s when he was Sid the Kid. Now, he’s jut Sidney Crosby: the best player in the world. At what he’s accomplished by age 30, it’s hard to find a sound argument against that. There’s few players that are hyped up so much and live up to it. He is in that select few. And he’s not done yet.

COLUMN: Who Needs Top 100 When You Are Top 5?

We all witnessed the NHL’s “Top 100” list from earlier in the season. The glaring omission from the list was Penguins star forward Evgeni Malkin. Many analysts and fans said that it was a travesty for Malkin to not be considered a top 100 player of all time.

Despite being much more skilled than Blackhawks forward Johnathon Toews and now as many Cups as him, Toews was selected into the top 100 over Malkin. I’ll stop there and let you digest that.

Good now?

Let me let you in on a secret. Not only is Evgeni Malkin a top 100 player of all time in the National Hockey League, but I’d venture as far as to say that Malkin is back in the conversation of being a top five player in the world right now.

Many people weren’t too keen on this notion about a year ago. How could you not be anymore?

Malkin just won his third Stanley Cup as a player in the league. He already won one Conn Smythe award and, truthfully, should’ve beat out Sidney Crosby for this season’s. Malkin isn’t bothered by it, however. He just wants to win.

Malkin does win and when he does win, he’s usually a big reason why his team wins.

Put this in perspective: Malkin is 14th in all time points per game. That’s all time. Not this season. Not amongst active players. 14th ALL TIME.

Amongst active players? He’s second. Behind his teammate, the one and only Crosby.

Only one active player has more Cups than Malkin and that’s former teammate Chris Kunitz (4), who was also around for all three Cups the Penguins have won in the Crosby-Malkin era.

Remember the Eastern Conference Finals in 2009 against the Carolina Hurricanes? I remember when Evgeni Malkin dominated that series to the point where Carolina was embarrassed to have even showed up. But remember, some bogus group of writers say that Malkin isn’t a top 100 player.

The list was compiled early on in the season so it’s understandable that they were unaware that Malkin would become a three-time Stanley Cup champion. If they had to redo the list now, he’d be top 100 and I don’t think they could even mistake it this time around.

But, the main point of this article was not to plead his case for top 100 all-time. It was to talk about how Malkin’s name should be again thrown into the conversation of top five player in the league today.

There have been times where Malkin fell out of that conversation. I’ve been hard on him at times. But, that comes with the territory of being an elite player. It doesn’t help playing second fiddle to Crosby your entire career.

My top five changes about every few months based on dominant performances and “elite” players showing they might still have it.

If I had to rate my top five…

  1. Sidney Crosby
  2. Connor McDavid
  3. Erik Karlsson
  4. Patrick Kane
  5. Evgeni Malkin

That’s my list. Last season, Malkin was top 10. McDavid wasn’t so high up. Neither was Karlsson. The argument could’ve been made that Kane was potentially going to take Crosby’s spot at the top.

Now? Crosby reasserted himself as a clear number one. McDavid is the future of the league. Karlsson literally dragged his team to the Eastern Conference Finals. Kane’s team was swept out of the playoffs after entering as the West’s number one seed.

And Malkin?


All jokes aside…

He lead the playoffs in scoring. He was runner up to Crosby in Conn Smythe voting. He won his third Stanley Cup.

On July 31, Malkin will turn 31. He’s probably one of the most accomplished players ever by that age. And his prime years have brought him two Cups already. Him and Crosby both will be gunning to threepeat.

While the thought of threepeating seems ridiculous, the Penguins have two of the top five players in the league. I’m not quite sure if any team has two players in the top 10. One of those guys is a Russian who is driven by winning.


When Geno puts his mind to something, he does it. Mr. Number 101 is now soaking in the glory of being a three-time Cup champion. We know what Geno has done and it’s clear to see that he’s a top five player in this league to date.

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

COLUMN: The Non-Move That Won The Pens A Cup

Let me start by saying that Sidney Crosby is deserving of the Conn Smythe. I do believe it should’ve gone to Evgeni Malkin but Crosby was just about as equally deserving.

But let’s make no mistake about it, had it been possible to give the Conn Smythe to a split tandem of Pittsburgh goaltenders, there’s no doubt in my mind they were the club’s most valuable players.

Without Marc-Andre Fleury, the Penguins don’t beat Washington. They probably squeak by Columbus with an average backup goalie because they were simply the better team. The game seven shutout of Washington in the second round was about as disheartening to a fan base as the inevitable Fleury trade will be for this one. He carried that momentum two games into the Ottawa series, then things went south.

A bad nine minutes in game three, where he allowed four goals on nine shots, will soon turn into the final outing that Fleury had as a Pittsburgh Penguin. Let me remind you, Fleury is considered the back up.

So, when the starter got his chance, he wasn’t going to look back.

Matt Murray was very good over the final four and a half games of the Eastern Conference Finals. He faced barrages from the Senators and battled tooth and nail with embattled Senators goalie Craig Anderson for a victory in seven games.

Murray took on the Cinderella story from Nashville. He opposed Pekka Rinne, a leader for the Conn Smythe heading into the Stanley Cup Finals, and thoroughly played better. The Penguins made Rinne look silly on several occasions. Although it seemed that mid-series that the Predators had figured Murray out, Mike Sullivan‘s confidence didn’t waiver. He stuck it out with Murray who repaid the coach with, not one, but TWO shutouts in the final two games of the Stanley Cup Finals.

Murray is still considered a rookie. He is the only player in NHL history to win two Cups as a rookie. While this comes on sort of a technicality, it doesn’t downplay the magnitude of him spearheading two Stanley Cup championships. Who’s to say the Penguins would or wouldn’t be in this situation today had Murray not hurt his groin in the pregame of the game one of the Blue Jackets series?

But that wasn’t the case. Fleury stepped in and did an admirable job. One that Tristan Jarry simply wouldn’t have been able to do.

Credit Jim Rutherford for that one.

As trade deadline day approached, an unsettling feeling grew within the stomach of Marc-Andre Fleury. He was drafted by the Penguins in 2003 and has played his entire career to this point with Pittsburgh. The rumors ran rampant that he’d be moved to another team as his trade value seemed to be plummeting ever so quickly after his truthfully horrible regular season.

Rutherford surprised everyone and stuck to his guns saying that it’s never a bad thing to have two goalies of the caliber that Murray and Fleury are. Rutherford wants to keep both goalies. It’s practically impossible at this point.

The impending Vegas Golden Knights franchise will be drafting in a few weeks to assemble their team for the upcoming year and Fleury is undoubtedly on their radar. After his playoff performance, he’ll be on a few other teams’ radar.

As I mentioned before, the Penguins don’t beat Washington without Fleury. It doesn’t happen. He was spot on against Alex Ovechkin and outdueled Braden Holtby with no reason to look over his shoulder.

Rutherford not moving Fleury is a credit to Rutherford’s intelligence as a general manager. It’s a huge reason why the Penguins repeated as Stanley Cup champions and why they have a legitmate shot to win yet again in 2018.