Category Archives: Penguins

Road To The Rocket Richard

All the talk of Phil Kessel getting Hart Trophy votes and Sidney Crosby’s 400th goal have overshadowed another legitimate possibility.  Evgeni Malkin winning the Rocket Richard this season. Just two goals out from the top spot, it’s something to get excited for.

Of course, being overlooked and taken for granted is not anything new for Malkin, but after winning player of the month in January and following up with player of the week for the opening of February, it’s impossible to ignore him. Malkin is the hottest player in hockey.

During his current 31 goal season, Malkin has been nothing but spectacular. Even at 31, he still leaves us saying “wow” on some of his plays. Like this one from Tuesday:

That’s what we get from him. En route to his scoring, Malkin contributes with a dynamic style. He’ll kill you in front of the net, on the power play, or simply just a wrist shot on a quick rush. Once the defense has an answer for him, Geno comes up with another way to defeat you.

For one game, he’s stick handling through everyone to go one on one with the goalie, and the next game you suffer from his shot placement from a spot you wouldn’t think people shoot from.

Malkin has a well known litany of awards and accomplishments, surprisingly though the Rocket Richard Trophy is not one of these.  A key tribute to his success of course is that he’s stayed on the ice, playing in 54 of 58 games this season.

This is something that has impeded Malkin’s regular seasons stats. Between the last five years from 2013-2018, Malkin has failed to reach even 70 games, having an average of 65 games played, with a high of 69 in 2014-2015. He always shows up and is there come playoff time though, that’s for sure.

Yet however, with all that said about the lack of long term regular season games, in the two seasons he won his Hart Trophy (2012) and two Art Ross trophies (09′, 12′), he played 82 (2009) and 75 games (20012). Malkin is on pace to accomplish that this season.

He could also join Crosby as a Rocket Richard winner, and be the first pair of teammates to win the trophy in consecutive years since the award’s inception. The Penguins do know a thing or two about going back to back.

There’s no reason to believe Geno won’t stop scoring goals and points at a rampant pace with his skilled talent. By remaining on the ice, he can accomplish another milestone.

His career regular season best is 50 goals, that can be reached with 24 games left to go. Personal bests are great,  but they’re much nicer when you have some new extra hardware to put next to your Cups and trophies of value.


Penguins Trade Deadline Thoughts: The Quiet Approach

The 2017-18 NHL season is coming to the home stretch before the Stanley Cup playoffs. Teams are starting to establish themselves as contenders or settle for selling assets and hoping to win the Dahlin lottery. After some early season rough patches, the Penguins are clicking like they’ve shown us they can – Phil Kessel is a Hart contender, Evgeni Malkin is score again and Sidney Crosby is back to his old generational self. But before we can think of the playoffs, Jim Rutherford has to look at his roster and the trade deadline. The Penguins have plenty of options. One potential option is to look for cheaper depth rather than make a splash. We’ll look at a few potential options if that is the route the Pens choose.

Nick Shore, Center – Los Angeles Kings

6’1” 195 lb – 46 GP, 3 G, 9 A, -5

One of the popular theories is that the cost of a high-end third line center like Jean-Gabriel Pageau is too high and we will stick with Riley Sheahan and add center depth to play 4C. Nick Shore would perfectly fit that bill. The former 3rd round pick has been a depth center in Los Angeles for a few seasons now and is solidifying himself as a defensive presence. He won’t produce heavily like Matt Cullen did, but he has a respectable 12 points on a defensive team with very little offensive zone time.

The Kings are still very much alive in the playoff hunt. Certainly not in a position to sell, but they have an interesting dilemma going forward. Jeff Carter has been out most of the year but will return soon. When he does, the Kings will have a plethora of centers – Anze Kopitar, Adrian Kempe, Jonny Brodzinski, Andy Andreoff, Shore and Carter. While they could put Kempe on the wing and keep Shore at 3C, a good deal coming their way could make them bite.

Shore would be a nice fit for the Penguins. He averages 14:38 minutes per game and sees 61.6% dZone starts. He has a 51.9 CF% and can PK well in addition to being a strong, minute eating 4th liner. He’s a solid offensive contributor as well given his deployment. I would definitely feel more confident with him regularly slotting in at 4C over Carter Rowney.

Matt Cullen, Center – Minnesota Wild

6’1” 202 lb – 52 GP, 5 G, 8 A, -7

The Pens look to bring back Papa Cullen? Plenty of sources, including Pittsburgh media, have said the Penguins have interest in bringing Cullen back to the team. Minnesota has not established themselves as a true contender and with a major injury to Jonas Brodin, they may recoup some assets and regroup for next season.

Cullen has not replicated his fountain of youth seasons he had with Pittsburgh, though. He has looked noticeably slow while playing with Chris Stewart and Marcus Foligno, who are themselves a little more Astro Van than Ferrari. He has decent point totals for a 4C with 13 points in 52 games. But his defensive game as been subpar. He is averaging less time on ice and despite pretty even deployment (50.1% dZone starts), he is awful in the CF% department at 38.8. His sharp decrease could be due to multiple factors, but I would not put him at the top of the Penguins list.

Derek Ryan, Center – Carolina Hurricanes

5’11” 170 lb – 51 GP, 11 G, 15 A, -16

Derek Ryan could potentially even play that 3C spot, to be honest. He isn’t the most defensively sound guy, but the league is shifting from the usual defensive role of the bottom 6. He’s a small, skilled forward who can put up points, win faceoffs and mesh in the Penguins system. Carolina is still struggling to make a move into a playoff spot in the Metro and has goaltending issues, so they may look to sell and move on to next year.

Ryan has the most points of the centers listed because he plays more offensive time and also sees power play time in Carolina. He is a guy with an offensive game and can play good minutes – averaging 16:18 in Carolina. He has been a bit sheltered with 62.3% oZone starts but has a very favorable 56.7 CF%. That, to me, suggests he can handle a bit tougher of a role.

The only issue with acquiring Ryan is the Penguins would be down to one PK center – Sheahan. Crosby can PK, but it isn’t the best idea to overplay Sid. Bryan Rust would likely have to slide in as a PK center.

Blake Comeau, Right Wing – Colorado Avalanche

6’1” 202 lb – 53 GP, 10 G, 12 A, +2

This is my first guess that really has not been rumored yet. Blake Comeau is having a really good year as a bottom six winger in Colorado. He has 22 points in 53 games while averaging 15:44 minutes a night. With the injury to Nathan MacKinnon, the Avalanche might be willing to sell and continue building. Joe Sakic has already done remarkably well this season in terms of making deals.

The Penguins have injury issues of their own. Tom Kuhnhackl could be out long term, as he was reported week-to-week in early February. Patric Hornqvist and Conor Sheary are also dealing with injuries. The thing with Comeau is he could play anywhere in the lineup – if Sid needs a winger, or if we just need somebody on the 4th line. He can also PK and ideally would slot into a healthy lineup as well as he can play left or right.

Comeau is in the last year of a $2.2M AAV deal. Colorado would likely have no issue retaining up to half to move him. The Ryan Reaves debate has been beaten to death, so I’ll keep it short – more winger depth that keeps Reaves out of a playoff game lineup is good for the Penguins. Teams can exploit a bad 4th line and Kuhnhackl-Rowney-Reaves (when healthy) is not going to cut it.

Oscar Fantenberg, Left Handed Defenseman – Los Angeles Kings

6’0” 210 lb – 26 GP, 2 G, 7 A, +3

I tried not to look too much at defense as I don’t see a move unless we move Ian Cole. But when I looked at Shore, what LA needed and what we could give – Ian Cole came to mind. We’ll get to that. Fantenberg is in his first year in the NHL and has done well, playing as a decent 6th/7th defenseman for the Kings. He has been decent offensively and defensively and provides stability on the blue line, similar to Ian Cole.

Fantenberg averages 14:07 minutes per night. He has 9 points in 26 games, good for a 0.35 PPG rate (that would put him on pace for roughly 28 points for a full 82 game season). He has 52.9% of his starts in the offensive zone with a 46.2 CF% — not exactly great but good enough for a 7th defenseman. The Penguins are also good at masking a lesser defenseman, like Chad Ruhwedel, by putting him in the right situation to succeed.

My thought regarding Cole was a package that brought Nick Shore, Fantenberg and a pick to Pittsburgh in exchange for Ian Cole, who would look to sign an extension. The Kings top 4 is set with Forbort – Doughty, Muzzin – Martinez but adding a stable guy like Ian Cole to the 3rd pairing would help for the Kings. Not to mention, his style is very favorable there.

The Curious Case of Jake Guentzel

Last postseason, the Penguins got to see the true potency of Jake Guentzel‘s shot as he led all postseason goal scorers. It was an incredible feat for the rookie. He scored 29 goals in 65 games between the regular season and postseason.

This season has been a struggle for Guentzel. He is sitting at 16 goals, his total in 40 games last season, through the first 55 games this season. That is a 24 goal pace over 82 games. For a player of Guentzel’s youth, that is a staggering number. But after last season’s explosion I think we can agree that the lack of goals this season are a bit disappointing considering some of the looks he’s gotten. He currently sits at 53.2 CF% which suggests the team creates offense with him on the ice.

Tuesday night against Vegas, Guentzel was able to put home a solid opportunity to get his 16th of the season and his first in five games. He also had a breakaway stopped on a solid opportunity by that former Penguins goaltender.

Guentzel has been scoring inconsistently this year, almost to the tune of Phil Kessel‘s first two years in Pittsburgh. He has endured goalless droughts of 7, 9, and 11 this season as well.

So what exactly is the problem for Guentzel this season?

We’ll start with his responsibilities as the team’s third line center for stretches.

As the third line center, Guentzel was given more of a responsibility defensively to be sound and play in a Nick Bonino type of role. Bonino isn’t close to the level of a game-breaking scorer that Guentzel is. In fact, Bonino has only had three double-digit scoring season’s in his nine seasons. Guentzel has reached double-digits in both of his season’s.

Bonino’s focus in the defensive game and killing penalties on top of his playoff resume is what made him $4 million AAV this past offseason. Guentzel was forced into that role and virtually switched his mindset, something head coach Mike Sullivan would prefer not to have and thus why Jim Rutherford may want ti acquire more depth down the center.

If you consider his changing of linemates on a pretty consistent basis a problem like I do, than you can include that here too. Of course, a lot of guys have been shuffled around this season due to injury and ineffectiveness.

Guentzel started the season with Sidney Crosby after their explosive postseason last year. He only had 3 goals and 7 points in his first 15 games and was moved down the lineup when the Penguins acquired Riley Sheahan to man their third line center. Guentzel, Sheahan and Kessel have found some awesome chemistry.

Unfortunately, it seems Dominik Simon may have lost his lust with Crosby as he has been decisively bad the last few games. This forced Sullivan to break up the third line and move Guentzel back with Crosby for the vast majority of the Vegas game. Subsequently, Guentzel buried one on his first shift with Sid.

They also played the Vegas game with nine forwards as Tom Kuhnhackl and Carter Rowney were injured and Simon didn’t see the ice after the first period.

Guentzel’s season has been far from a disappointment. Everyone on the team has hit a rough patch it seems at some point. Guentzel is too good of a scorer to not end up with 25 goals at season’s end. He has been a part of bad luck and unfortunate circumstances that have hindered his numbers a bit this season. He’ll heat up considerably, especially if he stays with Crosby.

Young Guys Possess Veteran Traits

The young guns of the Pittsburgh Penguins weren’t long learning from the veterans about winning. Two Stanley Cups in two seasons means most of the up and comers don’t know what losing is. Watching Sidney Crosby every day must be a great motivator.

Conor Sheary skates low with the leg strength style and passing vision of captain Crosby. Bryan Rust has the sheer determination of Patric Hornqvist. And the best of the young guns, Jake Guentzel, is a hybrid of just about everyone.

Something that makes Guentzel stand out more than all the rest is his hockey sense. Whether it’s natural or adopted, there can be no doubt it’s been at the very least nurtured by his surroundings. Watch here as he makes space for Crosby by eliminating the stick of the defenseman at the blue line.

This is a very little thing but it goes a long way to creating one or two extra chances a game that other teams don’t get. Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are famous for subtly moving sticks away in the slot to open up shooting windows. It looks like this trait is being passed on to the next generation.

Career Timeline of Sidney Crosby

I figured I’d take out an introduction paragraph here to talk about what I am going to write about in this series. I plan on doing one of these every week until I finally get through the entire Penguins roster, Barring any changes. (Shoutout to Jim Rutherford, make some moves buddy). I plan on covering the significant details of each players careers, from the day they were born until the date their piece was written. I hope to give everyone a little insight into each player’s stories and better inform everyone on the players we hold so near and dear to our hearts. This will likely be a one-time introduction, just for this piece. This will also be the only time I talk in the first person throughout the series. That is it for my little preamble, now stay tuned for the rest of the timelines to come out. Now, without further adieu, a timeline of Sidney Crosby’s career.

Sidney Crosby was born a winner. Born on the seventh of August in the year 1987. Yes, that is eight, seven, 87. That is his jersey number we all know. It is the most recognizable number in hockey, (currently, that is, everyone knows number 99). He was born to Troy and Tina Crosby and grew up in the town Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia where he is revered. The welcome sign to the town even mentions his name. This is where his infamous basement of his childhood home can be found, where he would stay in the basement all day shooting pucks into his mother’s clothes dryer. At the young age of three years old, he learned to skate. Then, it began.

In his early years of his hockey career he dominated. Crosby was so dominant that he was allowed to play up in the leagues for older children, and even there he ruled the ice. He would go on to play for Rimouski Oceanic of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL). It wouldn’t take him long to make a name for himself there. In his CHL debut, he scored eight points in an exhibition game. In his first regular season game, he scored a goal and added two assists. His time in Rimouski would launch him into hockey superstardom. He would be touted as the next Wayne Gretzky, who is to this day widely regarded as the greatest hockey player to ever live. He was so dominant in fact that he was instantly locked to be the first overall pick. Crosby would, in fact, be the first overall pick in his draft, and will change the course of that team’s history.

The NHL season prior to Crosby’s draft year had been canceled after the lockout had gone on too long. The Pittsburgh Penguins were in shambles. Mario Lemieux had been retired, and a few years prior they had traded away Jaromir Jagr. The Penguins had been launched into mediocrity and the franchise would suffer for it. Every year they had been threatened to move to a wide variety of different cities. Lots of cities wanted to make a name for themselves in the hockey world and targeted bringing the Penguins to their city. The Penguins needed something that would bring them out of their hole. Then Lemieux came again to save the day, but this time not on the ice. He would purchase partial ownership of the Pittsburgh Penguins and promised to keep the team in the city that it calls home.

The 2005 NHL Draft lottery leading up to the actual NHL Draft was known as the ‘Sidney Crosby sweepstakes’. The team that would get the envelope containing the first overall pick would surely take Sidney Crosby and their team would be changed forever. Everyone knew he was going to be great and there was no evidence to say otherwise. As we all know now, Sidney Crosby would be drafted first overall by the Penguins.

Crosby had to share his rookie year with the first overall pick of the previous draft and another generational talent in Russian Alex Ovechkin, who had been drafted by the Washington Capitals, another team in shambles looking to reassert themselves in the hockey world. Unfortunately, Ovechkin stole the rookie of the year title, scoring four more points than Crosby did. Crosby broke the one hundred point barrier in his first season in the NHL and nearly had himself a forty goal season, falling one goal shy of that mark. Crosby would be selected to the all-rookie team.

Flash forward to next season and Crosby’s launch into superstardom would be complete. In just his second year in the league, he would score a total of 120 points in 79 games. That total put him at the top of the league, securing an Art Ross trophy, the first of his career. His performance would also earn him his first Hart Trophy for the league’s MVP. He led the Penguins to their first playoff appearance since 2001.

One year later the Penguins, led by Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and a great supporting cast, found themselves in the Stanley Cup Final in a showdown against a veteran-filled roster of the Detroit Red Wings. The series would prove to be exciting, but disappointing for Crosby and the Penguins who would be ousted by the Red Wings in six games.

That Cup Final would prove so exciting, they wanted to do it again. Following the almost completely successful year, the Penguins fought tooth and nail to get a second shot against the Red Wings. The two teams met yet again in the Stanley Cup Final, and Penguins would get the better of the veteran Red Wings this time. The Red Wings fell in a full, action-packed seven-game series, which saw Evgeni Malkin take home the Conn-Smythe trophy for Final MVP.

The next seven years of Crosby’s career were filled with injuries and playoff disappointment. Crosby was sidelined with two concussions that basically knocked two years out of his career. He missed significant time for many years and the Penguins struggled because of it. It was disappointing. People began to question Crosby’s legacy and whether or not he could ever be the greatest player in the league again. He was labeled a coach-killer, which didn’t make much sense as he’s only had four coaches since 2006. Then, significant moves by the new general manager would change the course of Crosby’s career.

On December 16, 2016, Mike Sullivan was hired as the new Penguins head coach. The players quickly responded after a disappointing start to the 2015-16 season which saw them sitting outside looking in on the playoff race. It was a shocking turnaround and the Penguins exploded and finished second in the Metropolitan Division. There were many other moves besides the coach, but it is widely regarded as the largest of the moves.

In June of 2016, Crosby and the Penguins found themselves to be yet again in the Stanley Cup Final. This time against a hungry San Jose Sharks, who were looking for their first Stanley Cup victory in their franchise’s history. The Penguins continued the dominance they showed in the second half of the regular season and entire playoffs and rolled over the Sharks in six games. Crosby finally got his second ring and took home his first Conn-Smythe trophy.

Flash forward a year. Crosby is fresh off a Stanley Cup win and a World Cup of Hockey Championship with Canada, which he also earned MVP of that tournament. The Penguins demolished their competition all the way up to the Stanley Cup Final again, this time against another team searching for their first championship, the Nashville Predators. The Predators gave the Penguins their all, but it takes a lot to stack up against the sheer raw talent all throughout the Penguins roster. The Penguins dropped the Predators in six games, and Crosby took home another Conn-Smythe trophy for his ever-growing hardware collection.

Let us not forget Crosby’s two iconic gold medal victories with team Canada in the Olympics in Vancouver, 2010 and Sochi, 2014. He scored what is referred to as the “golden goal”. Which is the name used for the goal he scored in overtime against the United States in 2010 to secure a gold medal for Team Canada. Without a doubt, if there was an MVP trophy for the Olympics, Crosby would have received it certainly.

It is now time to look ahead for Sidney Crosby. He is only 30 years old and has plenty of years ahead of him, and so do the rest of his teammates who share the same passion and drive as Crosby. It is entirely possible that he will add more hardware to his collection. All Penguins fan hope that his success will continue for many years to come and that Crosby’s young, but storied career will continue to grow in prominence.

COLUMN: Will We Start Talking About Kessel For Hart?

One of the more enticing debates year in and year out is the battle between Connor McDavid and Sidney Crosby for the “Best Player in the NHL” title. For the better part of the season, you may have people saying McDavid. In this stretch of the season, people begin saying Crosby.

Qualifying the points leader as the league’s best player is an inaccurate judgement. Currently, that title would go to Nikita Kucherov of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

In case you were unaware, the league’s second leading scorer is a Penguin and he’s not name Crosby or Evgeni Malkin. That title would belong to Phil Kessel.

Kessel has been on a tear this season. He has easily been the Penguins most consistent player from the first drop of the puck against St. Louis in October. He has 63 points in 54 games, a pace Kessel has never been on. That pace would be 96 points over the entire 82 game season.

Phil the Thrill has done the majority of his work on the powerplay with 33 of his points coming with the man advantage. He is racking stats up torridly right now.

So here’s the question; Why hasn’t #KesselForHart kicked into a higher gear yet?

The unfortunate likelihood for Kessel is that his 63 points have come in two more games thus far than Kucherov who has more points in less games. Nathan MacKinnon, the Colorado Avalanche superstar, was seemingly the front runner for mid-season MVP until he went down due to injury a few games ago. If he comes back and continues on a rapid pace, he’s likely still the front runner.

Kessel playing on a team with Crosby and Malkin, two players also in the top 10 in scoring, hurts his cause. He’s not single-handedly keeping the Penguins afloat despite scoring points on a consistent clip since the season started.

This goes beyond just Kessel being a Hart Trophy finalist at season’s end.

The next time you have a chance to sit and watch a full Penguins game, shift your focus to Kessel when he’s on the ice. For the first time in his Penguins tenure, Kessel is back checking hard and always skating 100 MPH. This is significant.

Obviously Kessel has been knocked for his defensive work his entire career. He has always been an elite skater and can shoot the puck as hard and wicked as anyone not named Alex Ovechkin. But this season, there almost seems to be an emphasis on becoming a more complete player.

When Rick Tocchet left, it was assumed by many Penguins fans Kessel would act out more as Tocchet was kind of the ‘Kessel Buffer’ if you will. With Mark Recchi assuming the role it seems that Kessel is having his best season as an NHL player.

Maybe it was the lack of winning and the Toronto media that gave Kessel that “lazy” tag over the Maple Leafs portion of his career. He was run out of Boston before that. Now, Kessel is a two-time Stanley Cup champion and he is hungry to three-peat this year. That much is evident on how consistent he has been this season.

#KesselForHart likely won’t have much of a chance unless Kessel can lead the scoring race by about 5 points at season’s end. But you’d be dumb to discount him in any fashion. After all, his most points in one season is 82. He’s got 63 already in just 54 games.

COLUMN: We Could Learn A Lot From Matt Murray

The NHL’s Expansion Draft is now a distant memory. The moment Marc-Andre Fleury was taken by the Vegas Golden Knights, it assured in the era of Matt Murray. It has been a hard pill to swallow for some fans. It’s been really hard for some others. It’s definitely been an adjustment getting used to seeing someone taking their place between the pipes that’s not wearing a 29 sweater.

It’s not a secret that this season has been somewhat of a roller coaster for the Penguins. It’s not been until the last month or so that the team has found any kind of consistency. Murray is not exempt from that.

It’s been an up and down year for the 23 year-old netminder. On the ice for sure, but even more so off the ice. Several days ago, Murray took an indefinite leave of absence from the team to mourn the death of his father James Murray. Twenty-three is far too young to lose a parent. No one should expect Murray to be the same goaltender for a while as he processes this.

That’s not Matt Murray though. Murray’s maturity is staggering. We’ve seen it ever since he came to Pittsburgh. Through the whole goaltending controversy that went on when Fleury was here, he handled it like a true professional. And it did not affect his on-ice performance.

Murray made his return to the lineup on Tuesday night. He made 40 saves and only allowed two goals, which were both on the penalty kill. It was an emotional night for him, but when Murray is on the ice, expect a mature man to handle his business. He’s shown it time and time again that through adversity, he can stand tall. He’s a two-time Stanley Cup winner.

Few can imagine what he is going through right now. The best thing fans of the Penguins can do right now is support Murray. Fans should not be continuing to yearn for Fleury, or crying to ride with the “hot hand.” It’s Murray’s net. It will continue to be his net. The Penguins have invested in Murray. Using nostalgia to argue against Murray while he is trying to continue on after the death of this father is sickening.

Matt Murray is a mature young man; way beyond his years. Let’s try to follow in his footsteps and be mature as well. Let’s enjoy watching him be the Penguins’ franchise goaltender. Let’s cheer him when he stands on his head, and give him the same kind of support Fleury got from fans when he struggles. Cheers to you, Matt Murray. We could learn a lot from you.