Three Takeaways: Pens Top Panthers 4-3

The Pittsburgh Penguins squeak out a victory against the Florida Panthers, despite a desperate effort by the Panthers in the final minute of the game. Some notible changes were made before entering this game, here are my three takeaways:

Special Teams

Despite giving up the one power play goal in the second period, the PK group looked absolutely amazing tonight. They appeared to win almost every 50/50 puck battle in their own zone, and gave the Florida players very little room to make any kind of plays. Not to mention Greg Mckegg scored his first goal as a Pittsburgh Penguin shorthanded. Opposite to the PK, the PP went 1/3 on the night with Sidney Crosby netting his 2nd goal of the year. Whatever Sullivan worked on during practice proved to be the difference maker tonight. The PP had a solid “Shoot first attitude” and often times ran with Justin Schultz and Kris Letang on the first unit.

 

Matt Murray

Once again Matt Murray stood tall between the pipes for the Pens tonight. Stopping 43 of 46 shots, (one save shy of tying his career high) Murray looks to be in playoff form early in the season. His rebounds were very controlled this evening and got better as game went on. Making at least three saves in the final minute to preserve the one goal lead showed what Murray truly means to this team.

 

CRASH THE NET

This is something the Pens have done very well over the past two seasons. They enter the zone with speed and constantly have players going to the net. Whether it is Patric Hornqvist, Bryan Rust, or Crosby, someone is always on top of the goaltender. 3 of the 4 goals scored tonight were because the Pens had players at the net. And, well Hornvquist always takes that literal. Pushing James Reimer into the net for the 3rd Penguins goal, and later getting called for a goaltender interference penalty on a goal. Scoring the “dirty goal” is a part of the game, and the Penguins have proved that yet once again tonight.

Advertisements

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.

Three Takeaways: Lightning Beat Penguins, 5-4

The Pittsburgh Penguins ran into another force Thursday night in the Tampa Bay Lightning losing, 5-4. Here are the Three Takeaways.

Ruhwedel Is A Solid Player

Chad Ruhwedel is a great fit as a seventh defenseman. I love the offensive upside he brings as he recorded two assists in this game. His second assist was a home run pass from just near his own goaltender that found Conor Sheary‘s stick for a breakaway goal. He also just brings a calming and solid presence defensively that can’t be mistaken.  He only draws into the line up due to the Ian Cole injury but he should have the seventh defensemen job locked up for this season.

Backup Goalies Deserve Respect

Poor, Antti Niemi. I, for one, actually don’t disapprove of his play in this game. He was exactly what a back up goalie in the NHL is. He made some really big, unexpected saves while allowing a softie or two. The Penguins’ defense was just porous. They allowed way too many high quality chances and had many costly turnovers. The score of this game could’ve truthfully rivaled the Blackhawks game. Niemi made some huge saves throughout the night. The team in-front of him played the previous night and traveled from Washington to Tampa Bay immediately following Wednesday night’s game. He got a pretty raw deal.

Tampa Bay Is A Very Good Team

Don’t kid yourself. There is a pretty good chance that the Lightning are the other Eastern Conference favorites this season. This team possesses way too much talent to act like they aren’t legitimate. With an offense spearheaded by Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov, not many teams can brag about a two-headed monster that potent. Victor Hedman is one of the best defensemen in the NHL and he’s got veterans like Anton Stralman and Dan Girardi on the back end with him. Andrei Vasilevskiy is one of the more premier young goaltenders in the league and he showed why with many brilliant saves Thursday. Don’t sleep on this team. If the Penguins want to three-peat, they are going to almost assuredly have to go through Tampa Bay.

Three Takeaways: Penguins Beat Capitals, 3-2

The Penguins and Capitals renewed their rivalry tonight with a familiar result. The Penguins came out on top to improve to 2-1-1. Here are the Three Takeaways.

Hornqvist Down and Dirty

You saw my tweet. I’d rather have Patric Hornqvist as the net front presence on the first powerplay as opposed to Jake Guentzel. Hornqvist does all of the work and is a pest to opposing goalies. He proved to be Braden Holtby‘s kryptonite in this game. With two powerplay points, Hornqvist reasserted himself back into the lineup where the Penguins desperately missed him. His first assist on the powerplay was just classic Hornqvist putting his stick towards the puck near the crease and it popped out to Kris Letang for his first of the season. His second one was again classic Hornqvist at the net-front and putting it home. We’ve got our heart and soul back and it is a great thing to see.

Special Teams Looks Great

The Penguins penalty kill was supposed to be the weakest piece of the team after the losses of Nick Bonino and Matt Cullen. It has been a pleasant surprise. They are now 17 of 18 on the year and those seventeen have come after their first attempt of the year was a fail. The power play was a scorching 3-for-5 tonight. The Penguins scored three goals. That is getting big production out of your power play. The Penguins likely won’t continue to overachieve killing penalties but it is encouraging that they are holding their own.

Flyin’ Rust

Bryan Rust had an assist on the score sheet tonight. But this is more of a naked eye observation. Rust was flying tonight. I noticed him beat a few guys to some loose pucks despite having to make up some ground. This is nothing new. Rust is always one of the quicker players on the ice. Tonight, there was a bit extra juice in that stride.

Fleury Left Bigger Void Than Most Thought

Marc-Andre Fleury and his Golden Knights are the first expansion team in ANY of the 4 big sports leagues to start off their inaugural season 3-0 since the San Diego Padres did in 1969. A big part of the reason why they are 3-0 and not 0-3 is Fleury’s stellar play.

It was a big deal for the Penguins’ Organization and their fan-base when Fleury was inevitably taken by his current team in the expansion draft. Fleury no longer fit in Pittsburgh, but I don’t think many realized how big of a deal his departure really was until this week.

The thing that makes Fleury so good is how he can single-handedly win games for a team. He can bail his team out by holding off the opposing team long enough for them to get their act together and score, something that he did for the Penguins quite a lot last year.

When Matt Murray was out due to injury or simply taking a day off, Fluery could come in and be the best back up in the game. He could play as well or better than most teams starting goalie. That tandem was easily one of the best goalie pairs in the league and certainly played a huge part in the Penguin’s Back-to-Back Cups.

But now he’s gone. And in his place, the Penguins signed Antti Niemi, a goalie who won the Stanley Cup with the Blackhawks in his sophomore year, but has been getting increasingly worse each year.

Last year, he had his worst season yet with an .892 save percentage, contributing to the Dallas Stars’ atrocious goalie situation. In the off-season, he joined the island of misfit toys on a cheap, $700,000 one-year deal, to prove he can bounce back and be a good NHL goaltender.

That hasn’t been going so well from him. You only get once chance at a first impression, and boy does Niemi wish that wasn’t true.

On October 5th, he started his first game as a Penguin in Chicago, 10 minutes and 4 goals later he was pulled in favor of Murray, who allowed another 6 goals over the course of the game.

The whole Penguin team didn’t play well, but Niemi certainly wasn’t there to bail them out.

Now, we obviously didn’t expect him to play up to Fleury’s standards, and Niemi could still step up and prove to be a solid backup goaltender throughout the season. But it really shows how much the Penguins really rely on their goaltenders to keep them in games, something they got in the habit of when they had 2 above average goaltenders, something they need to snap out of real quick. I don’t miss the Murray vs Fleury debate, but Niemi’s first game as a Penguins certainly does make me miss Fleury that much more.

Reaves’ Impact Felt Immediately

While most Penguins fans watched the tail end of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft First Round to see which prospect their team would pick, most were greeted with the surprise news that the Penguins made a trade for known tough guy, Ryan Reaves.  The reactions to the trade that sent Oskar Sundqvist and the Penguins’ first round pick to the Blues for Reaves and their second round pick were all over the place, but after his first game Reaves is already becoming a favorite of many fans.

With the loss of Chris Kunitz, the Pens lost arguably their best hitter.  The Penguins were also without a player that was willing to drop the gloves when needed.  Sure they had Kris Letang and Evgeni Malkin get in a few scuffles last year, but it isn’t ideal to have your best defenseman and second best forward in the box for five minutes.  So with the acquisition of Reaves, the Pens were given a new “hit man” for their team and a very intimidating presence on the ice.

I was fortunate enough to be at this past game, where Reaves made a tremendous impact.  In the first period, Reaves laid a few nice hits, and even gave Scott Hartnell the business in a corner battle.  This led to a near scrap between the two, but Hartnell chose not to take part in the fight after a drawn out act.  This is when most fans at the game, and I’m sure at home, realized that Reaves was not here to mess around.  

As the game progressed, Nashville forward, Austin Watson, hit Reaves into the Predators bench.  Reaves obviously unhappy extended Watson an offer to fight.  Watson accepted without hesitation.  As Reaves unleashed the ensuing beatdown on Watson, the fans at PPG Paints Arena got a much needed reason to cheer and the place got loud.  The Penguins haven’t had a NHL regular who could fight in a long time and the fans rejoiced the moment that signified there was a new enforcer in town.

The fan’s love for Reaves only increased when he notched a beautiful downward tip in front of the net to extend the Penguins lead to 3-0.  But Reaves’ historic night didn’t stop there,. He continued to punish the opponent with a few crunching hits throughout the remainder of the game; however, the real height of Reaves’s night came when he and Cody McLeod fought early in the third period.  Reaves handed out his second beating of the night and even antagonized McLeod as they sat in the box.  The fans at PPG Paints Arena surged with energy as one of the team’s new additions made a name for himself.  That was the loudest I had heard a regular season game at PPG Paints Arena in a long time.  The “Live Noise Meter” that appeared on the jumbotron even reached 107.3 decibels after Reaves’ second fight.

Unfortunately, Reaves’ night was cut short at roughly the 10-minute mark of the third period.  After Hartnell elbowed Sidney Crosby in the head, Reaves’s jumped in to protect the NHL’s best player. Players from each team followed into the scrum but that did not stop Reaves from finding a known enemy of the Penguins in the pile. The ref promptly threw both Hartnell and Reaves out of the game, but the fans were still fired up from the spark Reaves kept providing.

Now, although his night on the ice was technically cut short as a result of Reaves being ejected, it also did not technically end.  As the three stars were being announced, almost every Penguins fan was hoping for one particular player to receive the first star honors.  So, when Ryan Reaves name was announced as a the first star, the fans leaving and still in their seats roared with appreciation for a new fan favorite player.

WBS Results Recap: Weekend of 8th October

The WBS Penguins started the season at home against the Charlotte Checkers, a new addition to the Atlantic Division this year. The game started off with the announcement that both Jarred Tinordi and Colin Smith were both out injured with undisclosed injuries that will put them on the shelf at a week-to-week basis.

The lineup Clark Donatelli went with for the opening night was:

lineup

Interesting notes on the lineup:

No Taylor or Prow on the backend. The depth on the Baby Penguins’ blue line is pretty ridiculous that they can absorb an injury to Tinordi and still be able to scratch Prow on merit.

Pedan and Corrado as a pairing is interesting. Both have history playing for the Utica Comets, so may have some familiarity there, but I can’t confirm that.

Dea shifting back to C between Sprong and Aston-Reese is pretty intriguing. Despite being a center in junior, Dea’s spent most of his pro career as a RW. A shift back to center wasn’t really predicted for Dea, but having lost McKegg to the NHL Penguins, there was an opening as top 9 center with Smith out injured.

Takeaways From The Game

The Penguins started brightly, converting on the powerplay which featured three of the brighter talents in the Penguins system with Bengtsson running the powerplay with Sprong occupying the left half wall and Aston-Reese planting himself in front of the opposing goaltender. While the initial movement was good, it took a stretch pass from goalie Tristan Jarry to send Sprong in on the right wing after a slow change from Charlotte to bring about the first goal of the game, with Sprong rocketing the puck over Jeremy Smith’s pad in the Charlotte net and beating his blocker. The Penguins dictated the rest of the first period from that point, despite a rocky start with plenty of turnovers on both sides. That was until a failed clear off a faceoff from DiPauli and Sestito resulted in Zykov capitalizing to tie the game at 1. Another negative in the first period was Trotman awkwardly hitting the boards and seemingly injuring his shoulder. He never returned to the game.

The Penguins then spent a significant period of the 2nd period on the penalty kill, with 5 separate minor penalties. The Baby Penguins successfully killed the first 4 of these penalties, even managing to take the lead on a DiPauli short-handed marker in which Teddy Blueger showed off his improved skating to apply pressure to Charlotte in their own zone, forcing a turnover and finding DiPauli whose initial one timer was saved before he followed up on his backhand. Everything was looking rosy for Wilkes-Barre. This was until Warren Foegele got tied up with Jarry in front of the net, and angry old man/captain Tom Kostopoulos took issue, attempting to remonstrate Foegele’s actions with his fist. Foegele, fully aware of the concept of dad strength, thought better of this, turtling on the ground and causing Kostopoulos to take a rough penalty. In the penalty the Penguins would have wanted to kill off the most, their captain sticking up for their goaltender, Charlotte finally converted with some quick puck movement and jumping on a rebound to tie the game 2-2. 49 seconds later, Charlotte took the lead after a poor entry from the Penguins on the PP, in which Dea tried to drop the puck to a stationary Sprong. This resulted in a 2 on 1 going the other way, with Foegele being the one to score. In the 2nd period, the Penguins ended up being outshot 22-9 as a result of 8+ minutes of shorthanded ice time.

The 3rd period was a pretty even affair, with Charlotte managing to take advantage of a risky gamble from Christian Thomas playing the point on the powerplay, who attempted to jump on a loose puck where he was beaten to it by new WBS folk enemy Foegele who potted his second goal of the game shorthanded. Despite receiving another PP opportunity towards the end of the game, the Penguins couldn’t score, finally conceding an empty netter and losing their opening tilt 5-2.

A lack of offensive spark throughout the game, combined with poor discipline, resulted in a disappointing start for the WBS Penguins.

We are not affiliated with the Pittsburgh Penguins in any way. We just hope to bring you coverage you will enjoy.