Category Archives: Penguins

Should We Expect More From the Bottom Six?

The Penguins have had one of the better bottom six forward groups in the league for the past two years. This year’s bottom six is not that.

Let’s just state the obvious, this bottom six could use some work.

Losing Nick Bonino and Matt Cullen definitely takes a hit on your center depth chart. They also lost the occasional fourth line Chris Kunitz but I’m fine with Ryan Reaves taking his place as far as physicality goes.

Yes, they did acquire center Riley Sheahan from Detroit (see my article on that) but he’s not Bonino or Cullen. I’m not saying that these guys are awful, but should we expect more from them?

Let’s just look at the third line center position for the last couple of years starting with Brandon Sutter. Sutter’s tenure with the Penguins was from 2012 to 2015. Every year he was the third line center and surpassed 10 goals each year. He wasn’t fantastic but he was good enough to make a difference even while being in that bottom six.

After that there was Bonino who centered the third line for two seasons in Pittsburgh from 2015 to 2017. Bonino didn’t score a lot of goals but had over 20 points both seasons. Other than the drop off at center, the wingers are either the same or have been in the system like Tom Kuhnhackl, Bryan Rust, Carter Rowney and Carl Hagelin. If it feels like we should be seeing more from these players, it’s because we’re used to a higher standard of offense in Pittsburgh.

We’ve had two of the best players in the world in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Not to mention American hero Phil Kessel on the wing. So this bottom six isn’t exactly a spitting image of last year’s, but they still produce opportunities and really their job is more of a shut down defensive style of game but scoring would help from time to time.

Also a side note: Prayers to Ryan Shazier.

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Hockey & Coffee: Week of November 26 – December 2

Canadiens Take Revenge

On December 2nd, 22 years to the date that Detroit beat Montreal 11-1, the Montreal Canadiens completely destroyed the Detroit Red Wings in a 10-1 revenge blow out. Three players, Nicolas Deslauriers, Jacob de la Rose, and Daniel Carr recorded their first goals of the season, as well as 14 different players recording points; 7 of which having multiple points. Paul Byron was the only player to record multiple goals and also scored his first career hat trick. Surprisingly, the Habs are on their fifth straight win and haven’t lost since Carey Price returned from injury. Previously, the Canadiens had lost 5 straight games. Unfortunately for the Wings, they have now lost 7 in a row and have been outscored 34-14.

Yellow Laces For the Win

To honor former Dallas Stars forward Jere Lehtinen, the Stars wore yellow laces on December 24th when they retired his number. Lehtinen spent all 14 seasons and 875 games of his career with the Stars tallying 514 points. Fortunately for Dallas, these laces seemed to bring some luck as they won that game 6-4 against Calgary. Since that day the Stars have continued to wear the laces and are on a five game win streak. Across the 5 game period they have scored 23 goals and gave up only 11. Point leaders in the past 5 games are Seguin, scoring 7 points (5G-2A), Faksa, scoring 5 points (2G-3A) and Radulov, scoring 5 as well (2G-3A).

Former WHL Teammates Become NHL Starters

Tristan Jarry and Laurent Brossoit have both found themselves as temporary starters for their respective teams. Both Matt Murray and Cam Talbot are week to week with injuries that occurred this past week. Something that Jarry and LB have in common are their junior hockey teams. The two goalies were teammates from 2011-2013 while playing for the Edmonton Oil Kings in the WHL. Jarry, who is 4-0-2 this season, had back to back wins against Buffalo this past weekend, as for LB, who is 1-4-0 for the struggling Oilers, won his first game Saturday versus Calgary. The future for both goaltenders is still unclear. In the case for Jarry, he has been highly praised since being drafted in the second round in 2013, but a guy named Matt Murray made the goalie situation a little different in Pittsburgh. LB was never expected to become a NHL starting goalie, a backup at best, but most likely a career AHL starter. There’s no doubt in my mind that LB has the ability to steal some games from the Oilers, but do not expect him to make Talbot look over his shoulder for his starting job.

Injury Report

Jakob Silfverberg – Undisclosed

Corey Crawford – Undisclosed

Antoine Roussel – Flu

Cam Talbot – Upper-body

Adam Larsson – Upper-body

Jonathan Drouin – Lower-body

Matt Murray – Lower-body

Tyler Bozak – Illness

A Look Ahead

  • Will Monreal and Dallas continue their win streaks?
  • TBL vs. ARI (#1 vs. #24), Dec 7
  • Nikita Kucherov first player to hit 40 points?

 

Penguins In Unchartered Goalie Waters

Three somewhat seasons now into the Matt Murray era and three years in a row, we’re dealing with a finicky injury of his. From concussions to groin pulls and everything high and low, Murray seems to end up on the injury report more than a goalie should.

We are all Matt Murray people. I mean, what’s not to love about the bright eye’d, bushy tailed young pup, from Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada? He’s our guy, our fearless goalie. But for how many games in a season?

In terms of longevity, he’s got miles and miles ahead of him, though we as fans might have to come to grips that Murray just can’t remain healthy for the 82 game stretch.

For the first time in over a decade, the Penguins are in unchartered territory at the goalie position. That is of course, for at least a week. Murray is allegedly week to week, but hockey reports are so ominously vague, who really knows?

Now the Penguins actually have to worry about who’s in net. Marc-Andre Fleury isn’t the replacement.

What a thought to have.

Yes, it’s certainly true that Tristan Jarry has looked substantially promising, but that is with only a single digit number of games. Hopefully this trend continues and the Fleury-Murray fan favorite combo becomes Jarry-Murray and get’s the same amount of love.

In defense of Murray, many of his injuries are unfortunate fluke type plays, like getting crashed into the net or mistaken whack of the stick. Is this just harsh luck or common place?

When he’s here, he shows up in games, there’s no doubt about that. But I think as we move forward for this season and future season’s as well, the Penguins backup plan should be at a higher priority than other teams. Everyone has a plan until you get punched in the mouth. Just ask the Vegas Golden Knights about their goalie adventure.

Sheahan Better Option Than Cullen?

RileySheahan definitely is no Sidney Crosby or a solid 3rd liner but he’s improving. He would be a viable option at 4th line center for the Pens after they gain a solid 3rd line center as he’s been playing solid hockey for the Pens of late.

But when compared to Matt Cullen he is having a better season. Sheahan has 6 points in 25 games and Cullen has 5 in 24 games. So points are about the same but faceoff percentage is up. Sheahan boasts a 54.38% in the face off circle compared to Cullen’s 50.4%.

The largest desperation between the two is +/-. Sheahan has a +2 and Cullen has a -9. That is huge for the teams success. They both add some solid penalty kill abilities and Sheahan costs more but he has a bigger upside with his younger age and speed.

Sheahan will be a great role player for this team like Cullen was as soon as the 3rd line center situation is resolved. Like Cullen, he isn’t a 3rd line center and shouldn’t be expected as one. But he will be a great player for the playoffs especially with his faceoff ability.

So the hype on Sheahan will never be too high but the role he will play on this team will be about the same as Cullen’s was. Minus the “dad” presence that Cullen brought with him. But the Pens will be in good hands at 4th line center as soon as they get that 3rd center to solidify this team.

Jarry Ready To Take The Reigns

The Penguins just have a way with handling their goaltending situation and it’s been a huge reason why they’ve won Stanley Cups in consecutive years. But this time around, it feels a little weird.

The Penguins and Marc-Andre Fleury‘s tenure came to a close last year despite the writing on the wall being etched a year prior. Matt Murray‘s emergence made the decision a bit easier. The always forgotten ring of Tristan Jarry‘s name seemed to get weaker and weaker with every waning moment that Murray spent winning at the NHL level. Now, persistence and patience has paid off and it’s Jarry’s turn to really showcase his talents in a bigger role at the big league level.

After becoming the Penguins second-round pick in the 2012 draft, Jarry was pegged as the eventual heir to Fleury’s crease in the NHL. Murray, drafted in 2013, shattered tons of AHL records on his way to jumping Jarry on the depth chart and derailing aspirations Jarry seemingly had all but locked up before Murray’s unforeseen tear.

Murray sustained a lower body injury, presumably something with his leg, in a 5-4 overtime win against the Flyers Monday night. He is week-to-week. TSN’s Bob McKenzie seems to think that it will only cost Murray 2-4 weeks, which isn’t the gloomiest situation for Penguins fans. Besides, are the Penguins really in that bad of shape with Jarry taking over the goaltending duties over the next couple weeks?

Jarry is 2-0-2 while sporting a 2.83 GAA and a .907 SV%. Yes, these numbers are a bit underwhelming but unless you’ve had the eye-test on Jarry, you wouldn’t know that these numbers are far from what he’s provided the Penguins.

The original plan had been to keep Jarry in the AHL to continue playing and developing as a goalie. Hence why they attempted to throw a league-minimum deal at Antti Niemi and hoped he could backstop Murray. That plan lasted all of three games.

Casey DeSmith was given the next chance. He allowed three goals, albeit in relief of a game that had already slipped away, in a 7-1 loss against Winnipeg. He was sent back down and the Penguins were out of options and had no excuse but to bring up Jarry and see what he can do.

Essentially, you’d figure the crease belongs to Murray until the Penguins don’t want him any longer. This is what made the decision to keep Jarry “developing” in the AHL a bit puzzling. He wasn’t being groomed as the Penguins eventual starter so why not give your two best options the goalie jobs in the wake of losing Fleury?

That time has come and it has even gone a step further as Jarry will be the starter for the next few weeks following the Murray injury. The Penguins have a home-and-home with Buffalo on Friday and Saturday so it’s likely Jarry and DeSmith will split those games in one way or another.

He has already had a 32 and 33-save performance this season while allowing only two goals in each of those games. Monday agaist Philly, Jarry had made tons of big saves despite allowing two goals on ten shots. He was pressed into a very tough spot in that game and responded with a game that he should be very happy with.

“I’m just trying to do my best out there,” Jarry said. “Every day I want to get better and better, and I think that’s something I’m trying to improve this year and trying to do every day.”

He has been on both Stanley Cup squads as a black ace and even got to serve as the backup in a few games over the two postseason runs due to injuries to both Murray and Fleury. He has never gotten into an actual postseason game but has had a birds-eye view of the action unfolding at ice level. That is experience that can’t be taken away.

Head coach Mike Sullivan spoke highly of Jarry saying he can win the Penguins some games while Murray recovers from injury.

“We believe he is a solid goalie,” Sullivan said. “I think the game he played against Tampa is a perfect example of what he’s capable of. Tristan is going to have to make timely saves for us game in and game out. We believe he can do that.”

If nothing else, Jarry will provide much needed stability behind Murray over the course of the season after he recovers, something that was sorely lacked before Jarry began backing up the starting goaltender. It affords the Penguins to keep assets instead of having to trade for an external backup goalie to keep the wheel turning.

Penguins’ Improvement At 5-on-5

When you work hard, eventually you get rewarded. As much as it’s hard to keep believing this when you’re not getting the bounces, it proves itself true time and time again.

After slumping offensively by Pittsburgh standards for most of the season, Penguins players up and down the roster are finally being rewarded in spades.

Sidney Crosby‘s non-controversial goal on November 24th against Boston explains a lot about the scoring mentality the Penguins possess.

He used his magic hands to knock the puck out of midair, then stayed with it as it landed on goaltender Anton Khudobin‘s stomach. With surgical precision under pressure, he cleanly flicked the puck from stomach to net with a will to score that wouldn’t be denied.

This will continue to be transmitted throughout that locker room and everyone is benefitting. While they may have been struggling to finish chances, this desire has never waivered.

I know it’s hard to think of an NHL player as not wanting to score, but it’s all about appearances. Does a player always have his stick on the ice in the dirty areas? Does a player shoot and then turn away, or shoot and then follow the shot to the net? Does a player ever take a chance that the puck will squirt by a defender and cheat to the weak side knowing full well that if it doesn’t he’ll be caught out of position?

Some players just don’t have offensive awareness. Some players just don’t compete for those loose pucks. That’s what makes guys like Patric Hornqvist, for example, so special. He’s in the net just as often as the puck is, and if you think everyone wants to score as much as he does think about why we miss him so much when he’s out of the lineup.

Then we have to look at Bryan Rust. It’s always fun to see someone streak in on a breakaway, pick his spot, and snipe it first try. What’s more exciting is the breakaway goal Rust scored against Philadelphia. He blocked a shot, which is awesome enough. Then he won a battle up the ice, fighting off the defender to win a scoring chance. The most positive thing of all is how even though he didn’t get everything on his shot, he followed up and stuck with it long enough to take that little extra stab. He ended up knocking it in with the shaft of his stick. Had he not had the will to score, the desire to follow that puck through, it would have been just another missed opportunity for someone who didn’t do everything possible to try and score.

Hornqvist got one off the shaft of his stick in the same period, simply by never giving up on the puck. Jake Guentzel then tied the game with 1:04 left by making sure he did everything he could to get some kind of touch. It went off his body and in.

Earlier in the year, the grittiness was missing. Over the past two weeks it’s been building but not producing. Now it’s finally balancing out. Those aren’t lucky bounces. Those are payments earned.

Pens On Verge of Offensive Outbreak

The Penguins can only not be the Penguins for so long.  They’ve surprisingly had struggles scoring goals all season, especially at even strength.  They rank 19th in the NHL in goals per game, which is very un-Penguin-like.

Well you are witnessing the end of the offensive drought.  The Penguins are back.

The Penguins have scored 5 goals in each of their last 2 games, which is a small sample size, but it has significance:

The first of these 2 games came against the Tampa Bay Lightning, arguably the hottest team in hockey along with St. Louis.  Although their starting goaltender, Andrei Vasileskiy, was not manning the crease for the Lightning, the Penguins were starting their backup, Tristan Jarry, in the tail-end of a back-to-back scenario.  The Penguins not only won this game, but put an exclamation point on the win.  They were clearly the better team throughout the game, and it showed on the scoreboard.

The second of these 2 games was against the Philadelphia Flyers who, despite not having a great season thus far, always show up against the Penguins.  In addition, they unfortunately own the Penguins at Consol/PPG Paints, so a win was far from automatic.  Not only did the Penguins score 5 goals in this game, but they battled back on multiple occasions by erasing 3-1 and 4-3 deficits.

The defense absolutely still needs improvement.  They have been over-aggressive in the offensive zone and thus allowing opponents to have way too many odd-man chances.  That said, their offense is starting to show signs of life.  More importantly, the scorers are starting to score, and the Penguins are beginning to get some scoring from their depth guys:

After a rough start, Bryan Rust has looked fantastic in his past couple of games and has netted a couple of goals as a reward for his play.  I thought the line of him, Carter Rowney, and Carl Hagelin played extremely well against the Flyers.  They had multiple extended shifts and kept Philly pinned in their own end.

Jake Guentzel has 7 goals in his last 8 games, confirming that he is a pure goal-scorer when he is on his game. Guentzel had a rough start to the season, but he is starting to find his groove and regaining his confidence going into early December. Look for Guentzel to continue what he has been doing his past few games.

Phil Kessel has been straight up unbelievable.  He is tied for 4th in the NHL in points, and he leads the Penguins in every offensive category.  He is having an MVP-caliber season if he continues his play.  He has become the cornerstone of the Penguins power play, and has found his scoring touch as well.

Remember when Sidney Crosby died?  Again?  Yeah, he’s fine.  Dominating Philly, scoring OT winners, and scoring 9 points in his last 4 games, including 6 in his last 2.  He is going to be okay, and now that he has found his game, look out.  Remember what happened last time Crosby fell off the face of the earth?  It just might happen again…

Oh, and not to mention, the Penguins have scored 5 in their past 2 games without Evgeni Malkin, who will hopefully be back soon.

The Penguins are now done with the most difficult part of their schedule.  They play Buffalo in a home-and-home series this coming weekend which leads into a 5 game homestand.

The Penguins are on the verge of an offensive outbreak: it starts now.