Category Archives: Penguins

Anti-Niemi: The Veteran Goalie May Not Last Much Longer

The Penguins have had the luxury of having two elite goaltenders during their back-to-back Stanley Cup seasons. Matt Murray and Marc-Andre Fleury were able to step in, one for the other, and just about everyone in the organization and in the seats would’ve been comfortable with either one between the pipes. Very few teams have ever had that luxury. Successful teams usually have a very good starter and a solid back-up. The back-up doesn’t need to be a game-stealer, but consistent and at least serviceable. Someone who won’t let pucks in like it’s the 80’s.

With Fleury being taken by Vegas in the Expansion Draft, the Penguins needed a new back-up. Enter Antti Niemi. He had some struggles in Dallas last year, but was going to come cheap to the Penguins and it’s kind of par for the course with the Penguins bringing in a veteran back-up that has been successful in the past, like Tomas Vokoun. It wasn’t a move that shook the Penguins’ news feed in the offseason, because most everyone had the same expectation of what a guy like Niemi could, or should, do.

So far, it’s been a train wreck. One doesn’t need to mention the 10-1 stomping in Chicago. Now, that was a night where the entire Penguins team looked horrible. They looked like a team that has had two short offseasons and was playing the second leg of a back-to-back to start the season. That being said, Niemi has been horrendous. He was pulled in the Chicago game, he started the second leg of a back-to-back in Tampa Bay last week and was sub-par. He made some nice saves, but still allowed five goals. He started his third game of the year Saturday night, on another back-to-back, and had another horrible start. He allowed seven goals and was not sharp whatsoever. In his three games this season, he has a .781 save percentage. It’s a small sample size, but it’s not good at all. There’s a serious amount of outrage on Niemi’s play, and for good reason. The Penguins need a back-up they can rely on. Niemi hasn’t done that.

It would be a surprise if Niemi is with the team much longer. GM Jim Rutherford isn’t afraid to make a move, but he will also make sure his ducks are in a row before a move is made. If he feels Tristan Jarry is ready to be an NHL back-up, Niemi will get dumped for nothing. If not, Rutherford will have to have a plan in place. He won’t just dump Niemi for the sake of dumping him. The team needs to play better in front of him, and he could be victim of playing the second game of a back-to-back each time, but his play won’t do, especially for a team that’s looking to three-peat.

Advertisements

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.

BREAKING: Penguins Acquire Riley Sheahan

Bob McKenzie announced over Twitter that Penguins‘ winger Scott Wilson has been traded for Red Wings‘ center, Riley Sheahan.

Penguins also received a 2018 5th round pick and gave a 2018 3rd round pick.

Sheahan has 98 points (38G-60A) across his 7 season career, though he only played 2 games in his first 2 seasons.

Scott Wilson has 32 points (13G-19A) in 4 seasons, but only playing 1 game his first.

Neither player has recorded a point this season.

Feels Like Pittsburgh Even On The Road

It doesn’t get much more exciting than hearing “Pary Hard” by Andrew W.K. blaring through the PA after a Penguins goal. Sadly, you won’t hear that on a road game for obvious reasons, but it sure felt like a lot like a home one while I sat in Amalie Arena as the Pens took on the Lightning last Thursday.

As I arrived on the scene it dawned on me very quick, Pens fans travel well, they travel really well.

Living in Tampa full time, I attend numerous Lightning games since I love the sport, there is always something special though when your favorite team comes to town, but this was more than that. Pens fans show up in the crowd more than most other road teams that I’ve seen play here. It doesn’t even come close.

To put things into prospective, The University of Tampa (my alma mater) has a large majority of kids from New York or Massachusettes. The city of Tampa overall is a melting pot of North Eastern people mixed with a little midwest.

It is basically a city of transplant people, but certainly not many people from Pittsburgh. There was only about 2 people from there who went to my school. That’s why it’s crazy to see all these people in black and yellow as the game was on.

With the exception of maybe the Bruins, and that’s because they’re a division rival to Tampa, there’s no team with such a vast amount of road fans at these games. I’m talking more people than the Red Wings, Blackhawks, Flyers, and it’s pretty damn even with the Rangers also.

Even as a smaller city, compared to a New York or Chicago, Pens fans always show up. I lost count of the number of “Lets Go Pens” chants I got going at the game with such great response from the fellow Pens’ onlookers.

I don’t want to get these words twisted, the Lightning have awesome fans that make a great atmosphere, I’m just talking about the apperance of Pens fans who make it to these events.

You don’t see other teams with this kind of travel, giving “Geno” chants as Evgeni Malkin touches the ice, or showing props to Matt Murray when he makes a save. This is different than other team’s in the best way possible and you see it from city to city.

Shoutout to all the Pens fans who make the road games feel like the game’s taking place at PPG Paints Arena. I can’t wait to head back to here tonight for the same kinda turnout that the black and yellow will bring. Let’s just make sure the Pens come out with the win this time.

And if you don’t believe me, just watch this:

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.

Center Of Attention

Greg McKegg has been reliable thus far for the Penguins. He provides skating ability and the coveted ability to kill penalties.

Known as Kegger, McKegg hasn’t been a weakness to the team. He has focused on his game and has provided impact in games. He has provided some offense with three points in seven games compared to last year’s 3rd line center Nick Bonino who only has 1 point in 5 games. Also, McKegg has a 50% face off win percentage compared to Bonino’s 47%.

He’s off to a great start and hopefully he can keep his production up throughout the year. Although he’s been a good center thus far for the team, the team needs to find a better player to replace him in that role. 

Don’t get me wrong McKegg is a solid player with upside to his game but he can’t be the 3rd line center all year and into the playoffs. However, I do believe that he would be an asset to the 4th line center role. If he can continue his face off percentage and be a solid penalty killer, he will be in a Pens uniform.

If a trade happens for a 3rd line center, Carter Rowney will move to the wing and now the Penguins would have a solid 4th line that provides great penalty killing ability. All while it will add scoring depth to the lineup. This all depends on if McKegg can keep his production up throughout the season, which is possible. 

So watch closely to McKegg and his development this season because if he keeps playing well then expect to hear his name throughout the season and through the playoff race. He could be a huge role player for this team when it matters most.

Expensive Defense Won Penguins Two Stanley Cup’s

For those of you that didn’t know that the Penguins’ defense is payed a whopping 26.5 million dollars, second only to the Winnipeg Jets’ defense, it may come as quite the surprise. Many would have never imagined the Penguins defense was that expensive, mainly because as of late, their defense hasn’t been showing that they are deserving of holding the title of Second highest paid defense. But somehow they took this extremely pricey, and often referred to as a “no-name”, defense to back to back Stanley Cup Championships.

There is a common phrase, “Sometimes Defense is the best Offense”, which certainly is true with this Penguin team, but the opposite is also true, “Sometimes Offense is the best Defense.” The latter seemed to be the motto from the 2015-2016 Penguins. They can’t score if you are the one taking the shots. Especially during the playoffs, the Penguins were in their opponents end most of the time. The defense could so easily get the puck out of their own end and get it to their forwards. And when that didn’t work, a young but solid Matt Murray was able to thwart most of the opponent’s attempts.

The Penguins seemed to take a little bit of a different approach this past season. They tried to weather the storm and then jump on any little mistake made by the opposing team and make them pay for it. That’s how the Penguins could win a game against the best team in the West with a mere 11 shots. They let their opponents wear themselves out and then took charge and threw everything that had at the net.

Now thus far, the Penguins defense has been looking really weak and nothing like a core that deserves to be paid 27 million. They haven’t been consistently, well, anything.

Then again neither has the rest of the team. In fact, one of the few consistently solid players has been Olli Maatta, who has looked insane both defensively and offensively. (Check out this piece by fellow Lets Talk Pens writer, Sam Salas, on Maatta here https://letstalkpenguins.wordpress.com/2017/10/17/maatta-improving-his-game ).

Maatta has already topped his point total from last year, but other than that and a surprisingly fairly decent penalty kill, the Penguins defense has been at best mediocre. There has been more than enough of sloppy play and poorly executed defensive attempts this season.

When they don’t have one of the top 5 goalies in the league behind them to bail them out, unspeakable things like the horrific 10-1 loss to the Blackhawks. They need to look at what made them successful in past seasons and try to get back to playing like that. So far the offense has certainly bailed out this pricey defense, but if the Penguins want to 3-peat, the defense can’t keep playing as sloppy as they have.