Tag Archives: Sidney Crosby

COLUMN: Things Are Beginning To Click

The Penguins took down the Islanders on Thursday evening and what a big win it was. They gave the Islanders a point, something that doesn’t look good now but will be meaningless in the long run if things continue the way they are.

The guys are clicking right now. Even despite the loss of Justin Schultz to a lower body injury, they were able to scratch out the 4-3 overtime win and pretty much dominated the game statistically.

I’m just going to provide some bullet points and you can stop me when I’m wrong.

-The special teams was a perfect 100% on Thursday. The Penguins were able to eek out two power play goals, Phil Kessel and Jake Guentzel being the culprits. The Penalty Kill, on the other hand, was sensational. “I thought our penalty kill was great tonight,” Sullivan said. They truly were. It seemed they had more of a willingness to block shots and Tristan Jarry did a good job stopping the shots that did get through to him.

-Both Guentzel and Kessel are absolutely killing it in terms of scoring. Guentzel scored his 13th tonight ad is on pace for 36 goals. Will he get there? We’ll see. I think he reaches 30 on the year and no one is going to complain about that. Kessel is playing some of the best all-around hockey of his career. I predicted at the beginning of the season that he would have 80 points this year. He’s got 14 goals and 35 points in 30 games. At this pace, he’ll hit 80.

-Did the Penguins really lose their starting goaltender? You wouldn’t know it if you are just tuning into the Penguins season. Jarry has been sensational in the absence of Matt Murray and has done everything you could ask and more. The Penguins were worried about Jarry’s development if he was riding the bench in Pittsburgh but he has been great in injury relief. 5-1-0 with a 2.39 GAA and a .921 SV%? I will sign up for those numbers every time.

Matt Hunwick was the most unlikeliest of heroes in this game. In 3-on-3 overtime, anything can happen. After being stoned by Jaroslav Halak just seconds before potting the game winner, Hunwick had been playing in overtime mainly due to the Schultz injury. He’s never had more than six goals in a season in his career. It’s unlikely he will reach that this season. But Hunwick isn’t as bad as some of the fans portray him. He’s been solid, he just isn’t flashy.

That’s only a few points that can be made. Sidney Crosby is back on top of his game. Patric Hornqvist has been a menace all year long. The list goes on and on.

The team did lose Tom Kuhnhackl for the final period due to injury. They are already thin in the bottom-six and it looks like Greg McKegg will be back in Pittsburgh if Kuhnhackl misses any time. They did give a point to the Islanders which now means that spots 1-5 in the Metropolitan are separated by one point. But if that’s the worst news to come out of the game to, can you be mad?

Jarry shut down one of the youngest and hottest teams in hockey right now for 55 minutes. He had a little blip late in the game but kept it together enough to send it to overtime. That’s the maturity of a veteran goaltender. He’s making huge saves and helping win games before he’s even had 10 at the NHL level.

The Penguins are winners of 5 of their last 6 and have some winnable games coming up on the schedule. While every game is tough, there is no excuse this team can’t win more games and try and break away from the Metropolitan Division pack.

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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.

Kessel Picking Up Crosby Production

In a season where the Penguins scoring has been consistently inconsistent, America’s favorite sweetheart, Phil Kessel, has been there to carry them. He’s providing a much needed jolt of point production.

Kessel’s hot start could not have came at a better time as the Penguins have seen a dip in goals scored by their star leader, Sidney Crosby.

Now hold your horses, Crosby has not lost his touch or declined in a play. He’s suffered from the negative side of what we here in the business call “puck luck”. Crosby has just had some bad puck luck, but he’s playing the right way and the goals will come.

The same thing happened about 2 or 3 seasons ago when everyone pointed out that Crosby wasn’t scoring. He ended up top 5 in points that year.

Matter of fact, the floodgates might have just been opened now that he scored Tuesday night. Let’s get back to the matter at hand though, and that’s Phil Kessel.

Most teams would suffer heavily from a lack up scoring from their best player. The Penguins should be no different, but Kessel has stepped up to the plate and delivered some of his best play during his stay as a Penguin.

Don’t believe me? Kessel is averaging the highest points per game of his career right now, not just as a Penguin, but in his entire career! Think about that, he doesn’t even have to be the top guy like he was on other teams, and yet he’s scoring like he is.

Kessel is 6th in the NHL in points, and it’s no mistake why he’s a top of that list. I can even think of a reasons because.

-He’s comfortable knowing his role. I know it’s his 3rd year here already but after moving around a couple lines, he know’s when to give and take, figuring out what’s best for business. This includes his role on the power play.

-I really think his relationship with Ryan Reaves has helped leaps and bounds for this team. I’m not exactly sure as to why, but when you just hit it off away from the ice the way these two have, it affects you on the ice.

They have a dynamic duo feel about them, partners in crime from your favorite movie. Like a Scooby Doo and Shaggy, Wayne and Garth, or SpongeBob and Patrick vibe. From playing basketball to playing pranks on road trips, the camaraderie has helped.

-The chemistry he has now with Evgeni Malkin is uncanny. You can’t measure how well these 2 have meshed this season. After throwing them on a line 2 seasons ago, things didn’t workout, but this year is a different story, and it’s benefitting both greatly.

Leaps and valleys always occur, but if Kessel can maintain his rapid production while Crosby is now about to go on his tear, the Penguins are not to be reckoned with. Though they haven’t been at their best yet, Phil Kessel has.

P.S.

Everyone needs this shirt.

COLUMN: You Can’t Stop The Force, You Can Only Contain It

We’ve been blessed to shift from the Mario Lemieux era right into the Sidney Crosby era. Ever since Crosby joined the league, he’s been one of the most dominant players in the game even in an era where it is considerably harder to score.

Despite an 11-game goal-less drought, Crosby looked as determined Tuesday night as he had in weeks. The drive to change his hard luck was evident beyond belief. He ended that slump in a big way.

“I just found the open area, hung out backdoor and he found me.”

That was linemate Conor Sheary after his goal 16 seconds into overtime in Tuesday night’s contest. We watched as Crosby dominated below the goal line in a way only Crosby seems to be able to do. He was followed down low by Sabres forward Evander Kane and, despite Kane’s attempt to pin Crosby to the boards, Crosby squirmed out, cut to his right and did exactly what Sheary expected Crosby would do. If you don’t believe me or want to see it again, here you go:

 

In any other year, that wouldn’t be too significant. Of course, it was an incredible “Vintage Crosby” move we have seen a million times over that we marvel over again and again. This year, it almost seemed like it was destined.

When a tornado comes through a town, you can’t stop it. It’s simple Mother Nature. You can contain the damage, though, by taking necessary precautions. Teams have found a way to keep him contained. Even Crosby himself just hadn’t really been that tornado we’ve seen for his years in Pittsburgh. Last night, he proved you can’t completely stop it.

Early in the game, Phil Kessel threw a nice cross-crease pass that Crosby has buried standing right next to the goalie for years. He whiffed on one last night that he undoubtedly wants back.

“That was a tough one,” Crosby said. You’re trying to pick it up through the guys feet. Most times, you find a way to get your stick on it but sometimes you miss it and it goes off your foot…Yeah it’s tough when they’re not going in but there has been some really good chances the last few games and hopefully now they’ll start to go in.”

Crosby isn’t a dumb hockey player. He knows that when slumps are busted and you’re a star of the magnitude of his, they usually breakout in a huge way. We’ve seen it before and we will surely see it again this season and maybe as soon as Thursday.

Surely enough, it went in later in the game when they needed it the most. Down 3-2 in the second, Crosby found a rebound from a Kessel shot and roofed it with every intention of making sure that puck found the twine:

“You’re happy to see it go in the net,” Crosby said. “There were a few more I probably could have had tonight. As long as they’re there, hopefully they’ll go in a little bit more now.”

Translation: They’re going to go in because I’m Sidney freakin’ Crosby but I’m too humble to admit it.

Hockey is so much more fun when Sidney Crosby is playing like the NHL’s best player. He hasn’t been that so far to this point in the season. Last night, Vintage Crosby came back and so did the Penguins.

Is It Time To Panic Yet?

No.

It seems that most Penguins fans have already thrown in the towel. Many think the Penguins are already too far down in some sort of inevitable decline. I’ve seen countless tweets from fans saying that they are going to pay less attention to hockey because the Penguins aren’t good anymore, and are already out of cup contention.

The Stanley Cup isn’t won in November, and it certainly isn’t lost in November, (unless you’re the Coyotes).

At this time in the 2015-2016 season, anyone who was paying attention to hockey would have laughed at the thought that the Penguins would have been so dominant in the playoffs and won the Cup later that season. But they did.Sidney Crosby got out of his slump, they found above average goal-tending in a rookie, and many other things to make it to the Finals. All of this happened in February or later.

It’s November. Do you expect the Penguins to be in Playoff form already?Crosby just had one of the most successful 12 months a hockey player could possibly have so it’s okay if he doesn’t play like the best player in the league for a few weeks It‘s still early in the season. Steve Dangle summedit up perfectly about 1 minutes and 20 seconds into his latest LFR.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GiBtJXNzcPg

“13 of those games have been on the road. So for those who have been chirpingSidney Crosby for having a slow start to the season. Buckle up because he’s about to ruin your life.” – https://twitter.com/Steve_Dangle

It’s not like the Penguins season has been bad so far, either. They are currently in a playoff spot for goodness sake and have a .500 win percentage. It’s not the end of the world like twitter seems to think.

Although, their play thus far is cause for concern, it seems to be turning around.

The Penguins played a great game against the Predators. Honestly, they didn’t deserve to come out of that game with only 1 point. They were getting shots on net, and were dominant for all but 5 or 10 minutes of that game. If the OT would have lasted a few minutes longer, (and the refs hadn’t called that nonsense tripping call) the Penguins would have undoubtedly put the puck behind Pekka Rinne.

The Penguins were in the Predators zone for pretty much all of the 5 minute 3on3 overtime. Backup goalie,Tristan Jarry, looked much better than his stat line shows in his 2 starts, both on back to back nights, and both needed more than 60 minutes to decide. It seems as if Jarry was the backup goalie the Penguins have been looking for.

Although their roster is starting to come together, I don’t think this is a Stanley Cup winning team, yet. General Manager Jim Rutherford knows it.

It was leaked that when it seemed that the 3-way Matt Duchene trade had fallen through, the Penguins made an offer. I don’t think that the Penguins are satisfied with their center depth even with the recent acquisition of Riley Sheahan from the Detroit Red Wings. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see several decent sized deals benefiting center depth and/or defensive depth before the trade deadline in February

Now,Kris Letang has had a VERY slow start. He can’t seem to catch a break. Bad play after bad play, bad decision after bad decision, I could go on and on about him. He didn’t look as bad against the Predators as he had in previous games, but he still wasn’t great.

The great thing about elite players likeLetang is that they are, well, very good. He won’t stay in this slump forever. It may be a while, and it may take him being sat for a few games for him to get back on track. I don’t know how or when, but he will get out of this slump.

All in all, the Penguins haven’t looked like their normal back-to-back champion, offensive juggernaut selves recently. But that does not mean that the season is over for the Penguins, if anything, it’s just getting started.

Guentzel Getting Close To Breakout

The Penguins are struggling. Name a player and they’re currently struggling or did at an earlier point in the year.

One guy that has seemed particularly snake-bitten in the early going is Jake Guentzel. He’s only a few months removed from leading the playoffs in goal scoring and would’ve garnered a lot of Rookie of the Year consideration had he started the year in Pittsburgh.

Yet, some people are worried he was a one-time fluke. This is to tell you he’s not.

Guentzel has some serious talent and comes from a hockey family that won’t allow for him to be a failure. Guentzel is a young breath of fresh air for Sidney Crosby who has had to deal with a lot of guys who weren’t as offensively gifted over the years as Guentzel is. We all love Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis but they didn’t have anywhere near the lethal shot that Guentzel possesses.

Despite only scoring 4 goals and 9 points in the team’s first 17 games, Guentzel showed some signs on Tuesday night that maybe things were on the upswing.

You could argue that recently Guentzel hadn’t been getting really good looks at the net. This is a problem Crosby has seemingly suffered from early on as well. Guentzel finally got a sweet opportunity but received it on his off hand as it was bouncing and couldn’t pull the trigger in time. He actually put a really solid shot on net regardless but Antti Rantta made a really strong save.

Guentzel also seemed to be more engaged at going to the net on Tuesday, something he hadn’t been doing much of recently. A scorer’s best scoring area is in close to the net and Guentzel needs to push back into that area.

With the training camp and postseason run Crosby, Guentzel, and Conor Sheary enjoyed, it wasn’t expected that they would be separated this early into the season. With only 17 games played, there is no reason that Guentzel won’t find himself and avoid the sophomore slump.