Malkin the Sure Fire Conn Smythe Winner

In Wednesday night’s home game Pittsburgh Penguins Evgeni Malkin rocketed a wrister over Pekka Rinne’s glove hand and ultimately chased the netminder. That goal was Malkin’s ninth of these playoffs and honestly his flashiest.

No doubt we have all seen Malkin score some incredible highlight reel goals. For example a no-look-top shelf-spin-o-rama-backhand or razzle dazzled forehand-backhand while falling down. But that’s not something we’ve seen from the Penguins assistant captain this post season. What we have seen is Malkin quietly rack up 26 points in 23 games as the playoffs scoring leader. Quietly the Penguins’ center has made his case for the Conn Smythe winner as playoff MVP, should the Penguins closeout the Predators with two more wins.

Malkin has mostly been playing with Phil Kessel on his wing. While the other side, has been a revolving door of wingers (Kunitz, Wilson, Guentzel, Hornqvist, Rust). Phil Kessel has only seven goals while Kunitz, Wilson, Hornqvist, and Rust have only combined for 12 goals. Guentzel only being on his wing briefly also has very few points while playing alongside Malkin. This poses the question, where is Evgeni Malkin getting all of these points? Fact is Malkin’s dominance in all three zones has made whoever is on the ice with him better.

Is Malkin the top choice for the Conn Smythe Trophy, should the Penguins win? The answer is absolutely! When Crosby was dealing with concussion symptoms during the Washington series, Malkin stepped up as he always does. While only producing one assist on the game winning goal, Malkin played 20+ hard minutes and winning 76% of his faceoffs. On top of that he dominated in the puck possession game. Malkin put the team on his back as did the other locker room leader, and if he was still playing, a close second Conn Smythe Trophy candidate, Marc-Andre Fluery.

But again, this scenario only works if the Penguins win the Stanley Cup. For that to happen, Malkin will have to elevate his game once again, unlike games three and four.

(Don Wright-USA TODAY Sports)

Malkin Completely Contained in Nashville

The Pittsburgh Penguins only scored two goals in their two previous games in Nashville. while Malkin did not factor in on any of those goals. Even worse, Malkin was a -3 with three shots on goal in two games, while winning an average of just over 39% of the faceoffs. When compared to the rest of his playoff stats, it is clear that Evgeni Malkin is an important factor in this series, for the Penguins to repeat as champions. The Penguins have had a few days rest and Malkin did not partake in Thursday’s optional morning skate. This will hopefully give Malkin the energy he needs to help give the Penguins a 3-2 series lead.

Malkin Makes Promise and Delivers

Evgeni Malkin told the media days before game five that Phil Kessel would score. He also exclaimed the he and his teammates would play better than their performance in Nashville. Malkin either has a crystal ball or can predict the future because the Penguins leader was right on all accounts. Malkin lead the team in hits with five, scored a goal, added an assist, and mixed it up with numerous Predators in defense of his teammates. His teammates played exceptional from top to bottom which included Phil Kessel scoring and adding two assists. When Malkin says it’s so, everyone should believe. Leadership, playoffs leading scorer, predictor of the future, if that’s not Conn Smythe worthy then I don’t know what is.

Should Evgeni Malkin and the Penguins win one more game and repeat as Stanley Cup Champions, the likely-hood of the Conn Smythe Trophy being awarded to Malkin, should be eminent. It takes 16 wins to become Stanley Cup Champions and Penguins need one more. No doubt it will take another All-Star effort by Malkin and his teammates to make it happen.

 

Killer Instinct Key To Penguins Playoff Run

Heading in to a potential Stanley Cup clinching game, the Pittsburgh Penguins have proven an old cliche completely wrong. 

The saying “we need to play 60 minutes” is, and always has been, utter nonsense.The 2016-2017 playoff Penguins have been remarkably inconsistent for a team making it all the way to the Final. Even taking out the surprise Columbus Blue Jackets in 5 games in Round 1, Pittsburgh wasn’t the better team over 60 minutes for more than 2 of them.

They are also, however, remarkably resilient. They have that killer instinct where they know when to turn it on. Every team has had their moments where they’ve made the Penguins look mediocre. Really bad even.

They’ve had more than their share of frustrations. They’ve had a struggling power play. They’ve had lacklustre goaltending. They have had slumping stars. They’ve had them sometimes all at the same time. Opposing team supporters are almost right when they say the Penguins have no business being in the Final.

Yet here they are, one win away from repeating as Stanley Cup champions. 

No matter what happens over the next game or maybe two, you can’t possibly believe it’s dumb luck anymore.

You can’t possibly deny the leadership abilities of Sidney Crosby, or the complete game he plays. You can’t possibly still believe Evgeni Malkin is only a good player being carried. You can no longer believe they just happened to luck into solid rookie depth players who have miraculously all decided to play above their potential consistently for two seasons and two playoffs. 

What you have to accept is this team is everything the “blind supporters” believe it is. 

The last team to repeat as Stanley Cup Champions are the 1997 and 1998 Detroit Red Wings and that’s very important. When you look at another very complete player in captain Steve Yzerman, you see another leader who sacrificed offensive dominance for team success. You see another group of overachieving third and fourth liners who played out of their minds.

You can look at that and say Yzerman was just fortunate to have played with a bunch of future hall of Famers. Or you could understand following a leader like that showed them what it took to be Hall of Famers.

In a decade or so, time will tell how many Hall of Famers or long term career contributors there are on these 2016 and 2017 Penguins teams, but at that time I also hope we don’t forget they started as just bunch of nobody rookies playing follow the leader.

COLUMN: Sit Back, Relax, And Enjoy

In the Stanley Cup Finals, the Pittsburgh Penguins and Nashville Predators are tied at two games a piece heading into game five of the best of seven series. And yet, people are still unsatisfied.

Walk around downtown and you hear the murmurs of negativity. Talk to your co-worker and it’s likely they want off with Matt Murray‘s head. Heck, call your family members and I’m sure panic has begun to set in amongst the household.

The Penguins first won the Stanley Cup back in 1991 and then did it again in 92’. They won in 2009 and again last season. They lost to the Detroit Red Wings in 2008. 1991 was exactly 26 years ago. The Penguins have been to six Stanley Cups in that time frame. They have participated in 23% of the Stanley Cup Finals since 1991. Only the Detroit Red Wings have appeared in as many the Penguins.

That’s an important thing to ponder when you look at how successful the Penguins as a franchise have been. So how does that in any way, shape, or form affect the 2016-17′ Penguins? Ask Mike Sullivan.

Calm, cool, collected. Three very good adjectives to describe one of the best things to happen to the Penguins since Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang. The Penguins have yet to lose a playoff series under Sullivan and have faced this much adversity on many occasions.

As one of my friends today put it: “This might be the best era of Penguins hockey we’ve ever seen”.

He isn’t referring to the 26 years that have elapsed since the Penguins first championship. He’s speaking on behalf of what the next 3-5 years could potentially hold.

The Penguins are back in the same Stanley Cup Finals that they won last season and took an early two game lead after the first two games played at PPG Paints Arena. They’re the first team to participate in back to back Stanley Cups since…themselves and Detroit. The Blackhawks 3-in-6 “dynasty” that we talk about could easily be topped by this team. Don’t count it out. They’ve got a chance to be 2-in-2.

And what’s this goalie debate you speak of? Who really cares if we are being honest. This is the best goalie tandem that the Penguins have ever had and will ever have. Unfortunately, the salary cap and the expansion draft will likely force the Penguins to have to break up this tandem.

In his darkest of days, no one has been more supportive of Marc-Andre Fleury than Murray. Fleury spent all of last season’s playoffs, sans the loss to Tampa Bay in the Eastern Conference Finals, riding the bench after returning from his concussion. He played these playoffs until a 4 goals on 9 shots performance in game three of this season’s Eastern Conference Finals got him yanked from the crease.

Murray, who began this season on the injured reserve, has been stellar this postseason outside of his game four performance that has the Murray/Fleury debate rearing its ugly head.

Just let it be. Instead of beig opposed to one of these outstanding goalies, appreciate the fact that it’s very likely that the Penguins don’t make it to this point had Jim Rutherford shipped away Fleury amidst the trade deadline rumors.

It seems as though the Penguins finally will have to get rid of part of the “core four” when Fleury likely parts ways this offseason. That era has brought its ups and downs. Can you even fathom what this era will do?

Not only will Crosby, Malkin, and Letang rest assuredly be in a Penguins uniform next season, add the likes of Jake Guentzel for a full season. Even further down that 3-5 year path, talented prospects like Daniel Sprong and Zach Aston-Reese will be showcasing their NHL talents.

I could name plenty of young guys who we’ve watched over the past two postseasons do magical things for the Penguins. They’ve never had this much speed or balance or depth or any part of the magical formula that wins teams hockey games this day in age.

If the Penguins can win game five and take a 3-2 stronghold on the series, can they win one of the final two and take home Lord Stanley.

That would mean that with all the talent they’ve got, they’d have four years to match or even better the “3-in-6” standard set by Chicago. They’ll have better stars and a better goalie than Chicago did to do the trick.

Seriously, quit worrying about the little things with this team. They’ve done nothing but prove you wrong, anyway. Relax, grab a pepsi or coke, watch this team play their way one game closer to that final victory to win them a second consecutive Stanley Cup Finals.

COLUMN: Penguins Haven’t Passed the Eye Test

We’re very close to game four’s puck drop, so I’ll keep this quick so you can still get your dinner ready, ordered, or eaten, your alcohol ready (hopefully for good reason), or whatever else you may want to do. Say your prayers, eat your vitamins, blah blah blah. I’m in the minority here and really the whole point here is to make people aware of something I’ve seen that most other people haven’t: the Penguins haven’t passed the eye test so far in the Final.

Now, before you go name calling or take a screenshot of this column to tweet out how awful my takes are, just open your mind and listen. 

Outside of the 3rd period of game two, the Penguins have either been slightly outplayed or massively outplayed by the Predators. Not only have the Predators outshot the Pens 97-67 in the first three games, but if it weren’t for Pekka Rinne playing really, really bad in the first two games, Pittsburgh might not have a lead in this series, or a win for that matter. 

That third period in game two was something special to watch. The Pens outhustled Nashville to loose pucks, took advantage of the aggressive play by Nashville defensemen to create odd-man rushes, and made their shots on Rinne count. Jake Guentzel has been fabulous finishing in front of the net so far. 

Just about everything else has been lackluster. If I have to make a case for why the Pens shouldn’t have won game one, you might need to rely on that old thing called the “eye test.” Outside of Nashville’s stupid back-to-back penalties in the first period, they dominated play. They won every puck battle and were a step faster all over the ice. 

Game two was more evenly played, but Nashville peppered Matt Murray, and if it weren’t for him standing tall in net, the Pens’ flurry in the third period would’ve been in desperation to tie, not runaway with the game. 

Game three started great. The first 10 minutes were pretty good, building off of the momentum from the end of game two. The momentum swung hard though, and Nashville dominated play again for the majority of the rest of the game, pounding the Pens 5-1. 

Overall, this just isn’t a 2-1 series lead that I can be confident in. The Penguins continue to have issues on the breakout, and at time, have zero transition game (we miss you so much Kris Letang), and Nashville just looks like the better team. Take the goggles off and watch who’s play dictates the pace of the game and which way the ice tilts. Trust your eyes, and don’t let your head or heart get in the way what’s really happened so far.

Now, the last three games are in the past. Mike Sullivan’s Penguins typically bounce back after bad performances and Murray doesn’t lose consecutive games very often. Those intangibles give me confidence going forward, but the tangibles tell me the Penguins should be thankful they have a 2-1 lead right now, and at this stage of the season, they are. Take a 2-1 lead however you can get it, but the play has to get better. Saying it’s impossible for Nashville to win 4 out of 5 is irresponsible and inaccurate. If anything, the play of the series so far tells you it’s very possible.

Here’s to the Penguins turning it around and giving the Nashville fans only county music to cheer about.

Keys/Notes to Game 4

The Pittsburgh Penguins head into game 4 of the Stanley Cup Finals up 2-1, the exact same situation they were in last season and well, we all know how that ended.

  • After Sunday’s practice, it appears that Matt Murray will remain the starter for the Pens in game 4 and rightfully so. Murray is an astounding 7-0 following a playoff loss. Murray has proven in is short NHL career that his ability to bounce back after a loss is top notch. It’s no surprise Sullivan sticks with his guy.

 

Nashville Predators center Colton Sissons (10) celebrates a goal as Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Matt Murray (30) looks on during the second period in Game 3 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Finals Saturday, June 3, 2017, in Nashville, Tenn. Photo: Mark Humphrey, AP / Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

  • Shockingly it appears that Nick Bonino will be a game time decision for game 4. Bonino missed game 3 with a lower body injury (ankle) and was in a boot and on crutches the past two days. He did skate early Sunday morning, and then later participate in practice, being part of the second power play unit.

  • Geno Malkin. I believe that game 4 is the type of game we can see Geno take over. After a frustrating game 3, I fully expect Malkin to come out with a purpose and lead the pens to a victory in Nashville.

  • The Power play. There is no question that the Pens power play has struggled during the finals. The Penguins are just 1-13 in finals on the power play. With their one goal coming in game 1. If it is a mixing of lines, moving players around in the zone, or a new look player play completely, special teams wins or loses games and right now it is costing the Pens.

Image result for penguins power play

The Pens look to take a commanding 3-1 series lead Monday night in Nashville. It will not be an easy game, but the Penguins have proven that they bounce back well after a loss. Puck drop is set for a little after 8pm in Nashville on NBC.

COLUMN: What Exactly Is Crosby’s Legacy?

Sidney Crosby has recently arose in conversations as a top 5 player all time, and it’s about time.  Crosby has easily reined the NHL as the best player in the league over the past ten years.  So if anything he is overdue for being considered by many as a top 5 player all time.  Crosby has many reasons to be considered, and I will try to touch on those.

To begin, the easiest argument would be his insane stats.  Right now he sits at sixth all-time on the points per game stat, which in my opinion, is a great stat to show how offensively talented a player is.  The reason being, that a player could play 1000 games and have 700 points, while a player that only played 600 games could have 600 points.  The points per game stat obviously shows that the second player had a better offensive impact as he averaged one point per game and player one only averaged .7 points per game.  Also, the fact that Crosby is sixth all time, and playing in the hardest era yet to score in is also a testimony to how great of a player he is.  The next closest player from this era on that list…is none other than Evgeni Malkin.  Crosby has also scored 100 plus points in 5 out of 8 seasons where he played more than 70 games.  If it wasn’t for all his injuries, we can only wonder how much his stat line would be improved. And lastly he has been a 1+ point per game player every season of his career.

The second thing that attributes to his ever-growing legacy is his extensive trophy case.  Crosby has already captained the Penguins to two Stanley cups and has a chance to captain them to their third if they can win two of the next five games.  Crosby also has two Olympic gold medals, one World Junior Championship gold, and a World Cup gold.  He also has a plethora of individual awards to tack onto that.  He has two Art Ross trophies, two Maurice Rocket Richard trophies, three Ted Lindsay awards, two Hart trophies, two Messier awards, one World Cup MVP, and one Conn Smythe trophy.  Those are his best trophies or awards, there are much more but listing them all would make the article an extra page long.

Lastly, Crosby’s play style can be argued as an equal if not better argument for him being a top 5 player all time.  Crosby was mainly offensive in his game up until roughly 2015.  Ever since 2015, Crosby’s ability to play both sides of the puck has really taken a fore front.  He is now more physical than ever on both sides of the puck, and has shown that he can shut his opponents down in key moments of the game.  Most analysts are using his two-way play to justify him being a top 5 player of all-time.  The same argument was used to show why Crosby was the best player in the NHL this year despite being slightly outscored by Connor McDavid.  McDavid is yet to show he can play adequate defense and it mainly offensive oriented.  Stats don’t show the whole story in sports, and Crosby’s play is what truly sets him apart from the rest.

Overall, it should be a no brainer that Crosby is a top 5 player all-time, however there are still critics out there.  The good news is that his legacy can only go on from here on out, and he still has many years left to leave his mark.

Interference on Crosby?

Two major topics came out of Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday. The first was the fact the Penguins went 37 minutes without a shot on goal. The second was, as always, the officiating.

On top of a disallowed Nashville goal from an offside review, there was also a 5 on 3 power play awarded to Pittsburgh when two penalties were assessed to the Predators at the same time.

What irked a lot of people was not what they called, but what they didn’t call. Welcome to another episode of Sidney Crosby got away with one.

On that same five on three power-play, Crosby gave Matthias Ekholm a bump beside the net in an effort to stop him from getting to the puck. Ekholm went down, and cries for an interference penalty went up.

To all you non-Penguins fans, I really do see what you’re saying here. I can see how it looks like interference. Plus you all may want it to be interference even more because it’s Sidney Crosby.

On the flip side, you’ll probably not read this with an open mind because you already think I’m defending it only because it’s Sidney Crosby.

So instead of boring you with the details of the play, I’m going to ask you to answer one question:

Was Sidney Crosby eligible to be hit?

That’s right. I’m referring to Crosby, not Ekholm. Crosby touched the puck, and it was momentarily in his skates. He had “possession” just prior to the contact. If he was still eligible to receive contact, then he was allowed to engage in a puck battle to defend his already established position.

I’m not saying this as a boom! Gotcha! type of point. I’m just trying to get people to look at it from a point of view other than seeing some guy innocently going for a puck and having another guy stick his butt out and knock him over.

To me, that’s not what happened. I saw a guy who just had the puck and was putting himself in the best possible position to win it back again.

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