Penguin Playoff Notes: How the Pens fell behind, 2-0, in Game 3

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Below is an analysis of the first 20 minutes of Monday’s 4-3 Pittsburgh win over Columbus

All alone in the slot, Kris Letang passes a weak backhand to Sidney Crosby in the right circle on a 3-on-2 just 25 seconds into the game. Letang has to put the puck on the net, he’s got to shoot it. The pass demonstrates a lack of aggressiveness out of the chute.

Evgeni Malkin loses the puck along the right boards in the Columbus end 48 seconds into the game. Either the Blue Jackets’ defenseman is related to Houdini or Malkin was unnecessarily careless with the puck at the other end of the ice.

James Neal takes a neutral-zone feed from Paul Martin and carries the puck over the Columbus blue line. He falls down for no particular reason and turns the puck over.

Twenty seconds later, the Blue Jackets turn a harmless Ryan Johansson shot from the right boards into a Boone Jenner rebound goal. Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury allows a five hole as big as the Fort Pitt Tunnel.

The game is less than two minutes old.

Brandon Dubinsky shows his skating ability, skating with the puck from his own end to behind the Pittsburgh net. Jack Johnson cleans up with a wrist shot, giving the Blue Jackets a 2-0 lead. Dubinsky illustrates how he can change a game with his speed. Johnson gets the praise, but Dubinsky does everything but put the puck into the net.

Penguins coach Dan Bylsma calls a time out three minutes and 18 seconds into the game.

Brian Gibbons, Marcel Goc and Chris Conner are all out with injuries.

Crosby with his first cloaking device puck pass. Crosby tries to deftly backhand the puck behind his own net and a Columbus forward simply body-blocks it. (3:42)

Crosby’s inability to make a smart decision with the puck leads to 29 seconds of additional Columbus zone time in the Pittsburgh end.

A Beau Bennett-Sidney Crosby 2-on-1 appears off a quick Brooks Orpik to Chris Kunitz transition. Bennett carries the puck down the left wing as Crosby charges the slot. Bennett’s pass-first instincts prevail. Rather than taking a shot, which could lead to a POP rebound for Crosby, Bennett puts on the brakes, cuts into the slot and doesn’t even take a shot. He leaves the puck for Paul Martin, who is covered.
Fortunately for Pittsburgh, the refs see fit to call a penalty on David Savard (hooking).

Pens on PP.

Malkin loses a draw in the right circle cleanly. CBJ clears the puck and shortly thereafter a whistle is blown.

Pittsburgh gets its No. 1 PP unit on the ice. Kunitz is on the left wing, Crosby takes the draw, Malkin is on the right wing. Paul Martin (left defense) and Matt Niskanen (right defense) are the two d-men on the points.

Sure enough, Martin steams over the blue line and tries a 30-foot pass to Malkin along the left boards. The puck is intercepted and CBJ begins its first short-handed rush. James Wisniewski turns the puck over in Pittsburgh’s end on a 3-on-2.

The odd-man short-handed break actually gives the Pens a 3-on-1 with Crosby leading the charge back up ice. Crosby attempts a wrister from inside the left dot and is stopped.

“A game of turnovers” as ROOT Sports announcer Bob Errey says.

Neal and Letang surface on the power play, replacing Kunitz and Niskanen with about 40 ticks left on the man advantage. Nothing happens, no chances generated.

Talk is that Neal isn’t happy about being taken off the top power-play unit. It’s all about the team in the playoffs though, isn’t it?

After some of the first fluid ice movement of the game, up and down at both ends, Neal picks off a pass as RJ Umberger gives the puck away at the Columbus blue line. He skates in on goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, turns the puck over to his backhand and narrowly misses giving the Pens their first goal.

From 10:51 to 10:19 , the Blue Jackes keep the puck in Pittsburgh’s end but fail to generate a single shot. Niskanen carries the puck and passes it out of the zone.

The puck flows through Brooks Orpik in the offensive zone from 10:07 to 9:30 as the Pens generate their best offensive chances of the game. Unfortunately for Lee Stempniak, his stick breaks as he attempts a short-range shot.

Bennett gains access to the Columbus end and shoots a long-range wrister which is blocked easily and goes into the netting behind the CBJ goal. It’s crazy how he takes a shot with little chance but passes up a freebie low in the slot.

Four Penguins cross the Columbus blue line at the 7:58 mark. I can’t remember the last time I saw four players crossing into the offensive end at the same time. If I’m the Blue Jackets, I take not and create a turnover. After all, Pittsburgh has but one man deep on defense.

Columbus is sloppy with the puck. An outlet pass dings off the side of Martin’s skate and Malkin retrieve the loose puck in the neutral zone.

Rob Scuderi takes a pass from Letang behind his own goal. With a forward pressuring him, Scuderi misses Crosby with a pass in front of Fleury. Boone Jenner nearly had the puck in the slot all alone, but the Scuderi pass surprised even Jenner.

At the 5:58 point, Fleury corrals a puck behind his net. There isn’t a Columbus player below Pittsburgh’s faceoff circles when Fleury gains control. In a split second, Letang races to Fleury, who shoots the puck through Letang without the two communicating about what to do. The Jackets gain possession and nearly score.

This lack of communication shouldn’t happen in the regular season, let alone in the playoffs. It’s inexcusable, but a part of the “well, that’s just the Penguins” gameplan. Letang needs to do a better job of setting up to retrieve the puck rather than nearly crashing into his own goalie for no apparent reason. Sometimes I’m convinced he would be less dangerous to his own team as a forward.

Stempniak with a nice individual scoring attempt to no avail.

Dubinsky sets up a slapper shortly thereafter at the other end. It goes off Fleury’s shoulder, creating a rebound chance that Columbus can’t convert.

Bennett shows some life in the CBJ end before Neal turns the puck over with relative ease.

Umberger fans on a shot in the slot as the puck slides through his skates.

A Penguins power play includes Malkin attempting an air-born saucer pass less than five feet to the left side of the Blue Jackets’ net. Needless to say, it did not connect. Crosby than stole the puck from Mark Letestu, setting up Martin in the slot. The defenseman fails to put his wrister on goal.

Martin gets Kunitz the puck to the left of Bobrovsky at the inner edge of the circle. Kunitz doesn’t even look to shoot or carry the puck in on the goalie. Instead, he passes innocently behind the cage to Malkin. I would like to see Kunitz do something different from close range. Why not try to beat Bobrovsky when he has a chance rather than carry on Pittsburgh’s choreography the Pittsburgh Ballet would be proud of.

I haven’t un-paused my DVR yet, but I bet the Pens don’t even get a scoring chance following Kunitz’s decision not to shoot. Let’s see what happens.

After about seven more passes, Malkin misses wide and the puck harmlessly leaves the offensive zone. So in conclusion, Kunitz passes up a chance from 10 feet so that Malkin can whistle a shot 10 feet wide of Bobrovsky – not an equitable tradeoff in my opinion.

Letang comes on as part of the second power-play unit, carries the puck behind the Columbus net. At this point, I’m thinking Pittsburgh should have two more defensemen at the points in addition to Letang.

Fortunately for the Pens, Letang doesn’t turn the puck over or set up a Columbus breakout going the other way and the power play ends.

Scuderi fumbles the puck away in his own end but CBJ fails to take advantage.

Pittsburgh goes on another man advantage off a silly holding call to Ryan Johansen on Jussi Jokinen.
1:52 remains in Period 1.

Kunitz hits a goal post to Bobrovsky’s left with a wrister from the left dot. The Penguins are making quick passes, putting the puck on net. Pittsburgh’s best power play of the series. Letestu failing to clear a puck keeps CBJ penned in for another half minute as Pens dominate at tired group of penalty killers.

The first period ends, but not before Neal hits Dubinsky hard along the end boards as time runs out. He’s lucky no penalty is called.

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Treasure Life!
JT
@JohnToperzer
@PiratesTalk

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Penguin Playoff Notes: The puck is not a cloaking device


“A cloaking device is a form of stealth technology that uses selective bending of light (and other forms of energy) to render a starship or other object completely invisible to the electromagnetic spectrum and most sensors. It has been encountered in varying forms over the centuries.
” Credit here.

Penguins puck-cloaking directions here.

Kidding aside, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a team turn the puck over as many times as the Penguins have in the first two games of the playoffs. These turnovers aren’t even of the forced variety. It’s not like Blue Jackets players are jumping into lanes, making miraculous pick offs. Rather, it’s Sidney Crosby throwing a blind backhand from behind the Columbus net. Or it’s Crosby looking to hit Chris Kunitz even though there are two Columbus players with their sticks on the ice in a direct line between Crosby and Kunitz.

It’s ill-advised passing. It’s mind boggling.

My question is do the Penguins really and truly believe they have magic sticks and stealth-mode puck passing abilities? Blue Jackets players seem to be able to see Pittsburgh’s passes just as well as Penguins players do.

It’s not just Crosby making high-risk, low-percentage play passes. Matt Niskanen, he of the two goals and four playoff points, is guilty as well. It’s a contagious disease at this point, spreading from Crosby to all parts Pittsburgh.

I can’t imagine former Penguins coach, Michel Therrien, letting his team get away with the junk Dan Bylsma does.

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Maybe I’m naïve, maybe I’m looking at the playoffs through black & gold colored glasses, but I still see the Penguins handling Columbus, with Crosby and Evgeni Malkin coming through with big performances. Part of my reasoning is that the Blue Jackets just don’t have the roster quality to strike fear in opponents. Of course, what things look like on paper and what really happens are two different things.

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Crosby looks tired to me on the ice. He’s seems content skating on the perimeter and picking his spots to get involved, as if he’s pacing himself rather going full-in. He’s played in more games than perhaps ever before, when factoring in the Olympics and his 80-game regular season. He finished with more gross playing time (1757.47 TOI) and ice time per game (21:58) than any other NHL forward.

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When Brian Gibbons is your best player on the ice, you know your team’s in trouble.

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Sometimes it looks like the Penguins expect opponents to lie down and roll over for them.

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With Gibbons sidelined for Game 3 with an apparent shoulder injury, Beau Bennett moves back up to the Crosby line.

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Has anyone seen Chris Kunitz in the first two games of the playoffs? If so, please tell him to report to the Penguins dressing room immediately for further instruction. For whatever reason, it seems like Kunitz is handling the puck like a hot potato. Maybe Penguins fans should say he doesn’t belong on the Penguins, that’s he’s simply not as good as Patrick Sharp. Anything to get him going.

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If the Pens are to have a long (or at least longer than one series) Cup run, goalie Marc-Andre Fleury needs to show he can play well. He has. I don’t agree with folks saying he was a super standout in Game 2, but by the same token he upheld his end of the bargain in the net. Maybe some of his teammates should visit his sports psychologist this summer.

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I really felt like Kris Letang should have waited for the fall to return after suffering a stroke, but that was purely for personal health reasons. Now I wish he would have waited simply because he’s playing poorly. It’s good to see him healthy and active again, though.

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A lot of times players try to do too much when things don’t go their way. Letang was a perfect example of that Saturday. On Columbus’s game-winning goal, Letang raced across the Pittsburgh crease even though the team had help on the left side. His vacated spot gave Matt Calvert the opening to take multiple whacks at the puck before he was able to lift his winner over Fleury’s pads.

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The NHL playoffs are a marathon not a sprint. Even so, someone’s got to tell the Pens to pick up the pace.

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Treasure Life!

JT
@JohnToperzer
@PiratesTalk

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Penguin Playoff Notes: No Apologies for first round matchup

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by John Toperzer

Sidney Crosby had to have his head on a swivel Wednesday when James Wisniewski was on the ice in Game 1. The well-paid blueliner attempted to line the centerman up several times but missed on every occasion. Crosby finished with just one assist and a minus-2 rating, but he did what he does best – set linemates up with opportunities. Gibbons hit a post off of one feed and Chris Kunitz had multiple chances. From a shooting standpoint, Crosby whistled shots wide to both sides of the cage. He needs to put the puck on net for some POP rebound opportunities in Game 2.

Kunitz needs to do more, play better. He seemed a step slow and his hand-eye coordination was off.

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I’m not sure the Penguins would’ve been able to come from behind to beat many other teams in the playoffs, Wednesday. Down 3-1 after of a short-handed goal, better teams would’ve found a way to keep a lead – for at least more than a few minutes.

Columbus didn’t show the wherewithal to get it done. They don’t seem to have the ability to impose their will or style of play on Pittsburgh. The Jackets have never won a playoff game and coach Todd Richards uses the same system (only with lesser talent) as Dan Bylsma.

Even when Pittsburgh fell behind, scoring chances were still readily available. The Blue Jackets don’t have enough quality players to cut the gap space on Sidney Crosby and company. Bylsma is using Brian Gibbons in an effort to give Crosby and Kunitz room. So long as Gibbons uses his stick more as a hockey instrument and not a 2X4 piece of wood, then he could continue seeing some shifts on the top line. Even if he doesn’t, it just isn’t that big of a deal against Columbus.

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I think ROOT Sports is going to actually have to interview fans sitting on their couches in their own homes watching the Penguins pretty soon. The ones watching on the Jumbo screen outside of CEC are acting more like the ones inside the rink more and more. Wednesday, when the video cut to the fans outside Consol watching on the big screen, they barely moved. Oh, they clicked those thunder silly sticks together a bit, and a few folks jumped up, but for the most part, they kept their eyes focused on the screen watching themselves with little reaction. The kids on the couch in the Mellon parking lot were certainly not impressed.

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Crosby had to have his head on a swivel Wednesday when James Wisniewski was on the ice. The well-paid blueliner attempted to line the centerman up several times but missed on every occasion. Crosby finished with just one assist and a minus-2 rating, but he did what he does best – set linemates up with opportunities. Gibbons hit a post off of one feed and Kunitz couldn’t get the puck out from between his skates on a couple Crosby feeds. From a shooting standpoint, Crosby whistled shots off-line to both sides of the cage. He needs to put the puck on goal for some POP rebound opportunities in Game 2.

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I wouldn’t say goalie Marc-Andre Fleury played a great game nor would I say he played poorly Wednesday.

If I was grading his performance, I’d give him a “B-minus” to a “B”. He stopped Matt Calvert on a breakaway with a poke check. The name “Calvert” doesn’t rhyme with “Lemieux” or much of anything else, for that matter, but Fleury had to make a save nonetheless – and he did.

Fleury was fortunate that the late third-period shot coming down the right wing by Jack Skille rang off of Big Ben behind him and didn’t go in the net (Speaking of Big Ben, Roethlisberger was spotted at the casino in Pittsburgh on Thursday and reportedly had a big wad of dough on hand).

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During the work stoppage last season, Pittsburgh columnist, Dejan Kovacevic, interviewed Crosby after a player’s practice. Crosby fumbled for a name when Kovacevic asked him for a possible breakout candidate and then settled on Matt Niskanen. Well, Niskanen had a big Game 1 after a career season in 2013-14.

That said, did anyone catch his nearly tragic giveaway at the start of the third period Wednesday. After Evgeni Malkin (yes, Evgeni Malkin) cleanly won the opening faceoff, he back-handed the puck back to Olli Maatta. Maatta snapped the puck up to Jussi Jokinen on the left boards by the red line. Jokinen then slid the puck across the ice to Niskanen at the blue line. Inexplicably, Niskanen, who had plenty of space, lost sight of the puck while looking up ice. This led to No. 11 on the Blue Jackets coming down the left wing with a scoring opportunity. Fortunately, Jokinen and Maatta covered for Niskanen, but the unforced giveaway was striking. Niskanen had to be a lot stronger on the puck, especially on his own blue line. Who does he think he is, Kris Letang?

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Speaking of Letang, his miserable game has been dissected thoroughly since Wednesday. It’s scary to think how large the gap is between his best and worst performances. He looked ready to take on the world during the last weekend of the regular season and then played equally poorly in Game 1.

Counting on him and Malkin after prolonged absences would be a mistake and even Coach Bylsma saw that. I found it surprising that the Pens coach even considered putting Malkin and Letang on the points for the first-unit power play. Fortunately, Paul Martin and Niskanen took over as Game 1 progressed. That’s the beauty of this Round 1 matchup. A coach can experiment with different matchups and linemates and still beat the opponent.

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For all of the talk about Milan Lucic’s hit Friday to Danny DeKeyser’s privates, I still can’t believe more folks didn’t bring up Manny Malhotra’s similar “stick” to Crosby late in the season. Click here for a refresher.

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Given that Pittsburgh doesn’t have to play its best game to beat the Blue Jackets, the team should make no apologies for its opponent. Two years ago, the Pens had to play a difficult matchup for them (the Flyers) and bowed out after six games. The postseason is all about matchups, hot goaltending, etc. It’s not hard to see a path to the Stanley Cup Final laid out with series against Columbus, the Rangers, and Detroit.

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To me, the Gibbons and Beau Bennett line-switching illustrates that the Pens can pretty much do what they want and still beat Columbus. Gibbons actually has more regular-season time with the No. 1 line than does Bennett. Bennett called himself out on the Blue Jacket’s first goal and he should have. He attempted a blind, cross-ice pass from the right wing to the left side of the ice in the offensive zone, leading to the Columbus rush. I kept waiting for Bennett to appear as a backchecker and by the time he showed up on my DVR’ed review, the Jackets had Harlem Globetrottered their way to an opening goal. Again, playing a lesser opponent allows Pittsburgh to make mistakes and still come out on top.

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The “Gold-Out” could’ve been big if it wasn’t more of the “Faded Yellow Out” variety. The giveaway shirts weren’t particularly flattering (to put it kindly). If anyone saw the Jason Grilli “Grilled Cheese” gold shirts given out at PNC Park’s “Free-Shirt Friday,” the color of those shirts would’ve been perfect for CONSOL. They were a much brighter shade of gold. Of course, the playoffs are more about which team wins on the ice than what color the fans in the stands wear.

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Sidney Crosby, James Neal and friends were in a suite Thursday at PNC Park. I can’t help but to think of Crosby’s batting practice homer (click here). Re-watching the dinger, I noticed two things. First, Crosby is wearing a “Reebok” hat and not a Pirates hat. Second, he quit his batting practice immediately after stroking his long ball. The Kid knows a little bit about timing.

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Pittsburgh radio personality, Mark Madden, said Thursday it’s silly to talk about which players might go if the Pens lose in the playoffs – especially after one playoff victory – but threw the name of James Neal out there. Madden mentioned the winger because you’ve got to give something up to get something, namely Ryan Kesler.

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There’s a chance Nick Foligno (knee) could return in Game 2 for Columbus. Click <a href="here for the Ottawa perspective of a Sidney Crosby elbow to Foligno back when he played for the Sens. Remember, Crosby had just come back from one of his concussions. Also, Foligno had just rolled over the top of goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, as the video shows in the first 10 seconds. Foligno is an agitatingly-good player who has two goals and 15 points in 23 games against the Pens. Click here for his career statistics.

Pittsburgh would do well to keep an eye on him inside the offensive zone.

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Malkin was seen wincing on the bench after his first shift Wednesday, but finished with more than 17 minutes of ice time. He had two assists. Look for him to score on one of those “big, fat, juicy rebounds” per ROOT Sports announcer Bob Errey, on Saturday.

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Much has been made about the Brandon Sutter breakaway no-call. What no one has mentioned is how Sutter crashed into goalie Sergei Bobrovsky. There’s always been a rallying cry about crashing the net, getting guys in front of the goalie, setting up screens. Where has that been? Jayson Megna put Flyers goalie, Steve Mason, last weekend with a net rush. I’m not advising that kind of play, but the Pens need to make life more difficult for Bobrovsky. Foligno will do that for the Jackets.

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Dan Bylsma:


Sidney Crosby:


Rob Scuderi:


Brian Gibbons:


Brandon Sutter:


Marc-Andre Fleury:


Courtesy, Pittsburgh Penguins

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Treasure Life!
JT
@JohnToperzer
@PiratesTalk

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Penguin Notes: Getting ready for you know what

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By John Toperzer

The playoffs are all about matchups and goaltending. Columbus — check. Marc-Andre Fleury — question mark.

As it stands, Game 1 of the Penguins-Blue Jackets is important, everyone knows that. The series could turn into a classic set-up if Pittsburgh isn’t careful, however.

On paper, just about every area of play favors the Penguins. The Pens won all five regular-season matchups, a carryover from past years.

At times, it almost seemed like Columbus lost because they were supposed to lose, playing the role of the Washington Generals to Pittsburgh’s Harlem Globetrotters.

The Pens have dominated the Blue Jackets in Columbus like nowhere else. At times, the pro-Pittsburgh crowd in Columbus makes more noise than the Penguins fans inside Consol Energy Center – or at least it seems that way.

Should the Penguins step on the Blue Jackets’ collective throat right off the bat, a quick four-or five-game series win will likely follow.

However, if Columbus finds a way to beat Pittsburgh on Wednesday, then all bets are off.

The Penguins are not an ultra-confident team nor should they be. No, if the Blue Jackets win Game 1 then the pressure mounts on Pittsburgh and questions arise about a team which has missed so many man-games and has little chance to form much cohesiveness.

The trap for the Pens is that they really don’t have to do anything different than they did in the regular season to beat the Blue Jackets. They don’t have to play “the trap,” for example, against Columbus. They don’t have to make many changes or adjustments at all. And even if the team did change strategies – something coach Dan Bylsma is wont to do, how much would they resonate after completely dominating the season series (at least in wins and losses)?

It hasn’t seemed to matter who Pittsburgh throws out against Columbus, the results are always the same. Deryk Engelland was named the No. 1 star and goalie Jeff Zatkoff recorded a 19-save shutout in back-to-back November wins.

Evgeni Malkin earned a star in two out of the first three matchups. The good James Neal potted a hat trick and five points in a 5-3 win Dec. 29.

Sidney Crosby, Chris Kunitz and Beau Bennett all have had solid showings throughout the five games. Perhaps most importantly, goalie Marc-Andre Fleury has played well.

About the only reason to hesitate is that four of the five Penguins’ wins against Columbus came before January.

The Penguins were a better team in the season’s first half than second. The Blue Jackets have gone 13-7-2 since February.

If Pittsburgh wins Wednesday, look for the Pens to move onto the second round in four or five games. If Columbus finds a way to pull off a Game 1 upset, then the Penguins win in seven.

Pens in 5.

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    Links ‘n at

Penguins need several players to step up in playoffs

What stood out to me in this article was the number of references from 2009, the year the Pens won the Stanley Cup. The four playoff runs since then haven’t much been worth remembering.

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Marshall: Pens-Blue Jackets by the metrics.

There aren’t typically as many power-play chances in the postseason as in the regular season, but the Pens went 5-for-17 against Columbus on the man advantage while the Blue Jackets were held to one goal on 14 opportunities.

Statistically, these teams have played each other pretty evenly on paper, even though it seemed like the Pens would find a way to win or the Blue Jackets would find a way to lose.

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Young Blue Jackets not satisfied with just being in playoffs.

Columbus has never won a playoff game and last got swept by Detroit in 2009. I would be surprised if the Blue Jackets don’t win a game against Pittsburgh.

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Penguins not favored to win for a change.

Boston might have the best odds to hoist the Cup at 7:2, but the Pens aren’t far behind (7:1).

Said Ed Olczyk of the Pens’ chances.

“The East seems to be a little more predictable, but matchups become an important part, too, once you get to the playoffs. … I don’t think there’s any doubt that Boston is the favorite, but the Penguins are within an arm’s reach. They’re right there as the second favorite in my opinion — and getting healthy. They’ve been there, done that. Maybe not the favorite, but one of those teams.”

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Ron Cook: Orpik isn’t ready for goodbyes

Frankly, I hadn’t even thought about Orpik in the last couple days since the end of the regular season. Nobody laid the lumber like Orpik did when the Pens won the championship, but that’s a long time ago. If he can come through with a couple big hits and remain unnoticeable the rest of the time, that would be a good thing. He was voted the players’ player again in 2013-14.

Orpik threw up a cautionary flag against Columbus.

“Yeah, but we had a lot of success against Boston in the regular season last season, too,” Orpik said.

Fortunately, the Blue Jackets don’t employ Patrice Bergeron, Tuukka Rask or Zdeno Chara.

The article says a lot of nice things about Orpik and I can’t disagree with any one of them. Let’s hope the impending free agent has a nice long run to close out his Penguins career.

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Treasure Life!
JT
@JohnToperzer
@PiratesTalk

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Penguin Notes: Stanley Cup odds, what wins in the postseason

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Congratulations to the Dallas Stars, playoff participants for the first time in five years!

Surprisingly, Dallas is the only team in the 14-team Western Conference which holds a losing record (13-17-2) against the Eastern Conference.

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The Penguins are 20-8-1 against the Metropolitan Division and have four more intra-divisional wins than any other team in the Met.

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I don’t know what to make of Pittsburgh native Ryan Malone’s arrest for DUI and possession of cocaine. I’ll save the judgment for other folks and leave it at that.

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The Pens may just be the biggest wild card in the Eastern Conference. There’s no other team with the upside Pittsburgh offers that has lost as many man-games or has had as little time to put together its best starting lineup.

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Not everyone believes in the Pens.

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Steve Laidlaw of Dobber Hockey wrote an interesting article on teams most likely to have success in the playoffs, based upon past indicators. Click here.

The article lists goal differential and shot differential TOGETHER as the best indicator of winning in the postseason.

The Penguins, interestingly, prove to be the contra-indicators in this analysis.

The Problem Penguins

The Pittsburgh Penguins really blew up the shot differential scores, as well as those of the “fancy stats”. The Penguins were a dog shit possession team until Dan Bylsma arrived but Michel Therrien was the coach for much of the two seasons where they made back-to-back Finals so they really made the case for poor possession teams having success.

Of course, the Penguins have appeared to be a great possession team ever since and have subsequently flamed out early in the playoffs with the exception of last season when they were once again a poor possession team.

They have been decidedly average this season. I have no idea what that means but if their trend of going against the grain continues the Penguins should be in for a long playoff run.

Another take from the article is that 5-on-5 play, while important, isn’t the end-all to winning playoff games.

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Bovada’s Stanley Cup odds currently have the Penguins listed with the third best chance of taking home Lord Stanley. Click here.

The Boston Bruins (15/4) and St. Louis Blues (6/1) are the two teams with better odds of winning the Stanley Cup than the Penguins (7/1).

According to Bovada, the odds to win the East include Boston (13/10), Pittsburgh 11/4) and Philadelphia (17/2).

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Given the Penguins’ inconsistent performance in 2013-14, would you be satisfied with a postseason run which included two series wins before an conference finals loss to Boston?

What if the team the Pens beat in Round 2 was the Flyers?

Philadelphia has gotten into the collective psyche of the Penguins, drawing out emotional responses from the likes of James Neal, Kris Letang, Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby since the 2011-12 regular season (if not before). Who can forget the meaningless regular season game at the end of the season (sound familiar to today’s game) in which then assistant, Craig Berube, stood on one side of the bench and Tony Granato the other — with Pierre McGuire in the middle?

If Pittsburgh ever needed to exorcise some demons, it would be against these Flyers.

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The Penguins recalled Harry Zolnierczyk for Saturday’s home tilt against Philly. A part of me was rooting for a Tom Kostopoulos recall, too, as a tribute to the ultimate mucker, but it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen.

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Penguins Audio

Dan Bylsma:


Sidney Crosby:


courtesy, Pittsburgh Penguins

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Treasure Life!
JT
@JohnToperzer
@PiratesTalk

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Pirates Notes: Hurdle has career winning mark against both Cards and Reds

By John Toperzer

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Manager Clint Hurdle has a winning record (249-243) since taking over in 2011.

Perhaps more impressively, Hurdle has winning marks against both of Pittsburgh’s biggest rivals, the St. Louis Cardinals and the Cincinnati Reds.

Under Hurdle, the Bucs hold a 27-26 regular-season record against the Cards, including a plus-8 run differential (236-228). The Pirates have also kept Cincinnati in check, going 28-24 against the division rivals. The Reds hold a one-run run differential (189-188) over the span.

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Russell Martin showed why he’s exactly what the Pirates need behind the plate in Week 1. He showed cat-like quickness on a bunt, gunning down the runner for MLB Network’s No. 4 play of the week. During a rundown as a runner between third base and home, it sure looked like he moved into the path of a Yadier Molina thrown ball. Martin got clipped on the back of his neck – a weak spot on any human being, but it didn’t seem to bother him one bit.

Sunday afternoon, he went barreling toward the first-base dugout, abruptly impacting the fence with utter disdain to his personal body. Throw in a clutch, opposite-field RBI single and it’s easy to see just how important Martin is to the Bucs. I’m convinced he’s part-certifiably crazy after the Cardinals’ series … and I mean that in the best possible way.

Prior to the start of the season, Martin said he’d like to stay in Pittsburgh past 2014, when his two-year, $17 million deal runs out. With unrestricted free agency going ballistic – Jhonny Peralta’s four-year, $53 million deal springs to mind – there’s little chance the small-market Pirates hold onto Martin.

That’s not a knock on Pittsburgh. It’s put into action a smart, cost-effective plan that has paid dividends.

Martin signed with the Bucs because, as he said at the time, they offered him the most money. With that in mind, it would be nice to see the Pirates offer him two years and $30 million. Would he take it? I doubt it.

Martin settled on two years originally because he said he wanted to re-build his negotiating power. It wouldn’t be surprising to see someone offer a three or four years in the $15-20 million per year range.
Catchers don’t age particularly well and the Canadian will be 32 years of age before the 2015 season begins.

The Pirates can’t afford a risk like that. They have Tony Sanchez and Reese McGuire (in two or three years).

In the end, Martin is a luxury Pittsburgh needs to take full advantage of in 2014. Few play the game as hard as he does.

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P1220508Jameson Taillon, left, with Stetson Allie

Losing Jameson Taillon to Tommy John surgery downgrades the Pirates’ farm system fairly appreciably. I have a feeling that if Baseball America currently rated organizations, then Pittsburgh’s would fall somewhere between seventh and 10th.

But that’s okay. Rating teams is an art as much as it is a science.

Taillon’s perception was almost like the second string quarterback on the Steelers. He could do no wrong while he wasn’t playing in the big leagues. Gerrit Cole started the progression of top prospect to Pirate stud last summer and Taillon was expected to take the same path.

With Taillon out for at least 12 months with Tommy John surgery, which pitching prospect takes his place?

I don’t mean Jeff Locke or Jeanmar Gomez, but a pitcher who hasn’t made it to the big leagues but can become the next hyped hurler in the system.

A number of folks point toward Stolmy Pimentel, but he’s already too far along for the prospect comparison. I’m talking about a guy who will dominate in the minors and possibly force his way onto the Pirates’ roster.

Is there someone like that? Right now it looks like Nick Kingham could be that pitcher. He threw six shutout innings against the Erie Seawolves on Sunday. Tyler Glasnow began the season on the disabled list with a sore lower back. Casey Sadler is a third pitcher to watch, though his ceiling isn’t as high.

Pirates Prospects listed the organization’s pitching statistics herefor the first week of the season.

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It’s good to see these two guys getting off to good starts.

IMG_1145Gregory Polanco

P1530695Josh Bell

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It’s quite possible Pedro Alvarez simply has the Cards’ number, but at least he plays his best against the team Pittsburgh needs to knock off.

There has been talk about Alvarez’s future – will he remain with the team when his arbitration years expire after the 2016 campaign? It makes sense that with Scott Boras as his agent, he will test the waters. New York has been mentioned as a possible suitor by folks playing the guessing game as to where he might go.

Regardless, it’s good to see him become a productive major leaguer who more than a season left in Pittsburgh (at the very least).

I’ll leave you with the following preview from USA Today’s 2012 fantasy baseball preview. Here’s what it had to say about Alvarez.

Alvarez is on his way to becoming one of the biggest draft flops in recent memory. The Pirates game him 235 at-bats in 2011, but he couldn’t sniff a .200 batting average, showed little power and couldn’t lay off poor pitches. September 2010 (.311, five homers, 26 RBI in 103 at-bats) seems so far away. At 25, he has a shorter window than some prospects to turn it around.

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Treasure Life!
JT
@JohnToperzer
@PiratesTalk

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Penguins lack of well, anything, Tuesday simply unacceptable

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By John Toperzer

Maybe I’m blowing a third-period episode from Tuesday’s Penguins game out of proportion. After all, the Pens will make the playoffs, they’ll make no worse than the No. 2 seed. The length of 2013-14 is nearly twice as long as the work-stoppaged, 48-game slate from the spring of 2013. It’s understandable that the team will have letdowns throughout the course of a six-month, regular-season schedule, right?

It seems like that’s exactly the way the Pittsburgh Penguins are approaching the most critical stretch of their season.

Whether it’s failure to adhere to coaching or simply tuning it out, who knows?

Head coach Dan Bylsma is taking longer to respond to questions from the media than his defensive corps sometimes takes to clear the puck from its own end – and that can be a long, long time.

The players are responsible for producing on the ice. They looked disinterested Tuesday against Carolina.

As the saying goes, “you can’t fire the whole team” when it struggles, but something can be done about the staff in charge. It’s probable too late in the season for anyone other than Lou Lamoriello to can the head coach. Those thinking Bylsma’s job is at risk are probably off-base – at least until the Pens’ postseason run ends.

What I really found interesting Tuesday was how no one on the Penguins bench stood up for Sidney Crosby when Manny Malhotra felled Crosby with a well-placed stick to the Pittsburgh captain’s privates.

Crosby keeled over like the Tower of Pisa after taking the stick to his own, personal cup with less than four minutes remaining in regulation.

After the game, he refused to mention the particulars of the incident, instead saying something along the lines that that’s just hockey.

As if that wasn’t enough, the ‘Canes Jay Harrison elbowed Crosby along the offensive end boards, most likely without fear of retribution from anyone dressing in Black & Gold. Harrison forgot the one player who might take offense, of course, and that was Crosby himself.

The NHL’s leading scorer choke-grabbed Harrison, lifted him off his skates and threw him to the ground.

If you guessed Crosby was frustrated by that point, you’d be spot on.

It’s hard to say whether any of his teammates cared or were slightly interested, however.

The Flyers’ mentality of an eye-for-an-eye isn’t Pittsburgh’s way (unless its playing Philly, and the Pens take emotional penalties). But not having any kind of response for the torture its team captain was taking in the waning seconds of a 4-1 loss is unacceptable.

The Pens didn’t have to “send a message” despite the lopsided score. The team should have stuck up for its best player, however.

Admittedly, enforcers are the dinosaurs of the NHL. When your best player’s manhood is challenged, physically and physiologically, there’s just got to be some kind of response.

Military personnel don’t leave fallen soldiers behind. Cops stick together, firemen, too.

That type of camaraderie lends itself to sports, but the Penguins showed nothing of the kind Tuesday. It looked like they were all about collecting a check after the first 10 minutes of the game.

If a team ever needed a gut check, it’s the 2013-14 Pittsburgh Penguins.

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Treasure Life!
JT
@PiratesTalk
@JohnToperzer

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