Jordan Staal has made six visits to Pittsburgh since moving on to Carolina in 2012, scoring one goal and one assist. His career with the Penguins is now far enough in the rear view mirror to take a reflective look at one of the most anticipated careers in Pittsburgh history. He played six years with the Pens and is currently in his fifth season with the Hurricanes.
Staal netted a short-handed goal against Boston in his last game Dec. 24. The shortie was his first of the season. As an 18-year-old a decade ago, the Thunder Bay native cut his NHL teeth with his ability to excel on special teams. His 6-foot-4 size and wing span gave him supernatural pterodactyl skills, according to Pens announcer, Bob Errey. Staal potted seven shorties as a rookie with the Penguins in 2006-07. His play brought up recollections of Mario Lemieux’s franchise record of 13 short-handed scores in 1988-89. Last week’s goal against the Bruins gives him eight short-handed scores in the last 10 NHL campaigns, or one more combined than his fairy tale rookie season.
Penguins fans often think about the “what if’s” in the NHL entry draft. Staal was selected second overall in 2006. Jonathan Toews was taken third by the Chicago Blackhawks and Nicklas Backstrom fourth by Washington. Phil Kessel, for that matter, was drafted fifth by the Bruins — but he’s worked out okay with Pittsburgh.
Sure, it would have been nice if Toews played his Hall of Fame career at Mellon Arena, Consol Energy Center, PPG Paints Arena, etc. but then social media addicts wouldn’t be able to compare Toews to Sidney Crosby and tell the hockey world why No. 87 is sooo much better. But that’s a story for another day.
Things probably haven’t worked out the way Staal envisioned when he picked Carolina over Pittsburgh. Actually, he was traded to the ‘Canes, but only after he forced the issue at the 2012 draft with GM Ray Shero. Staal wanted reunited with older brother Eric, now of the Minnesota Wild. He got it, but things never really clicked. Staal also wanted to prove he was much more than a third line center. That hasn’t worked out either, though injuries forced him to miss nearly half a season in 2014-15.
Staal’s only significant injury in Pittsburgh was when Montreal’s PK Subban slashed his foot with his skate blade, resulting in a staff infection back in 2010-11.
That magical season of 2006-07 is one of the most memorable debuts in Penguins history. Staal finished the season with 29 goals and a 22.1 shooting percentage — marks he’s never approached again. We’ll forgive him for finishing third in the Calder Trophy Award voting, Evgeni Malkin won rookie of the year honors.
He had other big moments for the Pens, like the time he completed a hat trick in the third period ALONE in Detroit on Nov. 11, 2008, then set up Ruslan Fedotenko for the OT game-winner. That was one of the greatest single-game efforts in Penguins lore.
His Game 4 goal (short-handed, no less) in the 2008-09 Stanley Cup Final helped Pittsburgh even the series against Detroit.
On a team with Crosby and Malkin, Staal was never going to be the go-to guy in Pittsburgh but he more than carved out a lasting legacy on a Stanley Cup winner. And after all, that’s what it’s all about.
Pain and swelling of the testicles (orchitis) affects one in four males who get mumps after puberty. The swelling is usually sudden and affects only one testicle. The testicle may also feel warm and tender.
In affected boys and men swelling of their testicles normally begins four to eight days after the swelling of the parotid gland.
Occasionally, swelling can occur up to six weeks after the swelling of the glands.
Any testicle pain can be eased using over-the-counter painkillers, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen. If the pain is particularly severe, contact your GP who may prescribe a stronger painkiller for you.
Applying cold or warm compresses to your testicles and wearing supportive underwear, may also reduce any pain.
Just under half of all males who get mumps-related orchitis will notice some shrinkage of their testicles and an estimated 1 in 10 men will experience a drop in their sperm count (the amount of healthy sperm that their body can produce). However, this is very rarely large enough to cause infertility
Statistically, if the NHL has 14 confirmed cases of the mumps, then there are likely three players suffering (or suffered) from what sounds like a painful malady.
Former Penguins James Neal became the first NHL player to be fined for diving, according to CBC Sports.
Neal, who is tied for ninth in the league with 106 shots, has scored 11 goals and 19 points through 30 games. The big winger is mostly a liability when he’s not scoring and for the most part he’s struggled in Nashville. At $5 million per season, his AAV isn’t bad (though it’s the highest number among all Predators forwards). Neal has shown signs of heating up a bit – he has five points in the last six games – but it wouldn’t be surprising to see Nashville move him in
the right trade.
Which KHL wingers does Pens GM Jim Rutherford have on his radar?
If the KHL folds and/or some teams dissolve, it’s not difficult envisioning North American and/or North American-trained players returning to the NHL.
According to the Globe and Mail, the ruble has tumbled about 50 percent against the U.S. dollar since July.
Click here to see the KHL’s leading scorers thus far.
And no, there’s no chance of Alexei Morozov returning to the Penguins after an 11-season absence. The 37-year-old has retired. He was only good against the New Jersey Devils and Martin Brodeur, anyhow.
Some of the most up-tempo, fun-to-watch hockey the Penguins played in 2013-14 was last December, when injuries forced the team to recall boat loads of players from the AHL. History appears to be repeating itself this season. Bobby Farnham has been tons of fun to watch.
Penguins radio analyst, Phil Bourque, said his playing style was similar to that of a torpedo prior to his first NHL game and that description is proving to be more than accurate. Coach Mike Johnston commented on Bryan Rust and Farnham following Monday’s game.
“Rust did some really good things … I really liked how he managed the puck and his skill, that’s something we’re looking for and then Farnham adding that energy, he’s going to be a great depth guy, for sure.”
Johnston didn’t heap lavish praise on Farnham, but Columbus’ Nick Foligno had this to say about Farnham.
Nick Foligno on Bobby Farnham: "I was watching him and thinking, 'What the hell is up with this guy?' He just never stops. It was awesome."
I recently unearthed a DVR recording of former Penguins head coach, Dan Bylsma, speaking about the NHL draft in 2012. He had this to say about the Jordan Staal trade (which transpired just before the draft).
Said Dan Bylsma:
“The nervous part about that deal was we wanted to get Pouliot with that eighth pick. Sitting at the table, knowing the deal was done, and that we were looking to hopefully get this guy, I talked to his coach as well two days ago and he talked really highly of that player as well. We wanted to get that player with that pick.”
So Bylsma talked with current Penguins coach, Mike Johnston, before selecting Derrick Pouliot. Could he even have imagined that the Portland Winterhawks coach he was talking to would replace him as Pittsburgh’s head coach two years later? No way. Crazy stuff.
Speaking of the Jordan Staal trade, then Carolina GM, Jim Rutherford, had this to say of the deal in the News Observer.
“When you’re acquiring an elite player you have to give a lot for it,” Rutherford said. “And we did. We paid Pittsburgh a good price.
“We love Brandon Sutter. It was really hard to let him go. He’s been a very good player for us and has a very good future ahead of him. … But when you get into a deal like this you usually give up something you don’t want to give.”
“This improves our team,” Rutherford said. “You name me two or three other center icemen that are like Jordan Staal. You just can’t find them.”
Rutherford either overvalued Staal or really wanted to get him for brother Eric — or perhaps a little of both.
Fast forward two and a half years. Now Rutherford is charged with finding at least one, if not two, top-six forwards in Pittsburgh.
Will he overpay? That seems to be a reasonable question to ask, considering the Staal trade. Giving Alexander Semin $35 million for five years was also a highly questionable move.
Of course, with the Penguins he’s picked up Patric Hornqvist, who has exceeded expectations. Rutherford has also signed Marc-Andre Fleury to a four-year, $23 million deal.
Here’s what Rutherford said he’s weighing before pulling the inevitable trigger on a trade.
“We’re looking for more than one (top-six forward) now and trying to juggle what cap space we have,” Rutherford told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “This is not an easy process, by no means, to accomplish our goal, but we’re going to try and do it.
“Ideally what we’d like to do is make a deal that’s for the bigger picture, for the long run.”
“It’s something I’m aware of,” Rutherford said of the need for top-six help. “It’s a matter of, ‘Do we go get a forward now for the sake of adding more depth and experience? Or do we try to hold out as long as we can to see who all becomes available?’
“I’m watching on a daily basis to try and decide which way to go.”
Rutherford said over the summer that he’s not afraid to make a big deal a month before the trade deadline.
Injuries and mumps may have shifted some of the Pens’ focus (or at least, time) in recent weeks, but the team’s needs will likely come into clearer focus as it gets healthier.
Olli Maatta’s shoulder injury puts a serious crimp in the Pens’ defensive depth at the NHL level and hurts trade talk. Not knowing how healthy Maatta is makes it difficult to trade other blueliners. Maatta’s trade value, in itself, is compromised. One shoulder surgery is bad enough for a 20-year-old, but what happens if he needs a second?
The Winnipeg Jets repeatedly stated that they were not looking for defensemen in trades last season. This year, they’ve had a number of injuries to their blue line and now Jacob Trouba is out until February.
Plenty of Penguins fans have targeted Evander Kane as a top-six forward who could help Pittsburgh. While it could still happen, Maatta’s situation throws a wrench into the plan.
The Penguins have looked pretty good without Chris Kunitz and his $3.85 million salary cap hit. Kunitz has two more years left on his deal. For that reason and the fact that he’s becoming more inconsistent, it wouldn’t be surprising to see GM Jim Rutherford include Kunitz’s name in trade talks.
“It’s not important for coaches and players to like each other. But, it is important they pull in the same direction and understand where each other is coming from. At his post-firing briefing MacLean said last weekend’s comment about being scared to death of who he was going to put on the ice against Pittsburgh was a joke that was badly misinterpreted.”
The fact he thought that way, while the organization and players felt opposite, shows how “off” the relationship became.
Pittsburgh Interview Audio (Courtesy of Penguins)
Penguins defenseman, Scott Harrington, is expected to make his NHL debut Thursday night.
“In Saturday night’s game in Pittsburgh between the Rangers and Penguins, Sidney Crosby pushed the envelope a little too far — twice — in his treatment of the officials. Referees Kelly Sutherland and Graham Skilliter showed the patience of Job in not bagging Crosby with an unsportsmanlike conduct let alone the misconduct he deserved.
I do not blame Kelly and Graham for their handling of Crosby. Every official has his own threshold for how much is too much. What I am saying, from my chair, is that the NHL does the game no favors by allowing certain players to become bigger than the game itself.”
The Pens have been awarded 11 power-play chances in their last seven contests (including Nov. 15). In the previous seven tilts they went on 30 power plays.
Granted, some of the difference might be explained in the team’s lack of current work ethic. There are some times when the Penguins haven’t moved their legs the way coach Mike Johnston demands.
In the end, Pittsburgh won’t receive an overabundance of power plays in the playoffs, so the recent outage of opportunities might just be a good thing. After all, Johnston’s stated intent from the first day of training camp was to prepare his team for the postseason — perhaps not just this way.
Crosby on Friday’s loss.
“We didn’t play well, they work hard, pressure the puck, still battle us, do the right things, we didn’t play well at all.”
It’s our work ethic, they just outworked us, it’s not fun saying that after a game. That’s just something that can’t happen. We gotta make sure we work harder.”
A view from the November/December 2014 Scientific Mind
“Practice Doesn’t Always Make Perfect”
Science does not bear out the popular idea that nearly anyone can succeed with enough practice. It takes many thousands of hours of hard work to get to the top – yet time alone is not enough if you lack the other attributes necessary in your discipline, according to a study.
… reviewed 157 experimental results connecting total time spent practicing to ability in sports, music, education, and other areas. On average, practice time accounted for just 12 percent of the variation in performance.
Of course, working hard is a prerequisite for winning in the NHL, but maybe there’s some truth to working smarter, too.
Friday’s loss is concerning if for no other reason than the team hasn’t built up much of a home-ice advantage. Many of the Pens’ worst showings have come at Consol, including three of five regulation losses. A common thread is opponents aggressively forechecking Pittsburgh and keeping the team on its heels.
At this point, the Pens have been forced to switch up lines due to injury. Before Beau Bennett and Marcel Goc got hurt, however, coach Johnston changed lines such as moving Patric Hornqvist back to Crosby’s line and Chris Kunitz to Evgeni Malkin’s. These are good things.
Coaches can’t be afraid to mix things up. It’s refreshing to see a coach have the final say on who plays with whom. Things didn’t work out under Dan Bylsma, unfortunately, and Johnston is showing there are different methods of approach. Coaches need to know what they have. Players gaining experience with teammates other than their usual linemates is also a good thing — who knows what injuries might strike in the postseason, making line shuffling necessary.
That said, it would be beneficial to get the Pens’ second-team power play some additional ice time late in games which have been pretty much decided. Johnston has stuck to putting the first unit out for 60-75 seconds before giving the second unit a chance.
Of course, the first team hasn’t been getting much of a chance lately, let alone the other unit.
It’s strange seeing Martin Brodeur in a St. Louis Blues sweater, but it’s not unusual in sport to see an aging superstar stay well past his welcome. Two players from baseball immediately spring to mind. After playing 20 years for the Cardinals and Phillies, pitcher Steve Carlton tried out for four different clubs his final three years with little success. Willie Mays was another such player who stuck around too long, (though he was a little before my time). There are plenty of stories of how Mays could barely move in the outfield.
If Brodeur wants to kick the tires one more time, more power to him. Sometimes the best way to find out you’re no longer good is by proving it.
Post-Game Audio (courtesy of Pittsburgh Penguins)
Across The Ocean
Kasperi Kapanen now has six goals and 11 points in 13 games for KalPa Kuopio. Kapanen collected only 14 points in 47 games last season, so the difference between the two seasons is already palpable.
Oskar Sundqvist has scored six goals and 10 points with a plus-9 rating in 16 tilts for Skelleftea AIK.
Whenever the Penguins go into a regular-season slump, it’s good to keep in mind that their worst season winning percentage since 2006-07 was the year they also won the Stanley Cup.
I’m convinced the guy who put the Pens over the top and really turned them into a perennial Stanley Cup contender is Paul Coffey. Coffey was the first winner acquired by Pittsburgh during the Mario Lemieux era and gave the team some legitimacy. It’s hard for fans to understand now, but when the Pens traded for Coffey the organization had missed the playoffs five straight seasons – and this was in a league where 16 of 21 teams make the postseason!
In 1983-84, the Penguins won 16 games total over six months. Less than 10 years later they’d win 17 games straight!
The defenseman with three rings from his days with Wayne Gretzky and the Edmonton Oilers did not disappoint. He brought a winning attitude with him and he took pressure off Lemieux.
Coffey’s first game for the Pens was 27 years ago today, on Nov. 25, 1987 against the Quebec Nordiques. He’d go on to tally three assists in a 6-4 win. Click here for the box score.
As newly-minted college graduates, my old roommate and I tried getting tickets for the game but the scalping business was brisk and we decided to watch the game at a bar by Duquesne University. A guy at the bar said he could get us into the arena for free, so after the first period we walked up to the Civic Arena with him. He led us into a side door. As soon as we got in, he went one way and a security guard starting yelling at my roommate and me. We probably could’ve started running and gotten away from the guard, but I decided not to be a criminal outlaw and just went back out the side door.
We watched the rest of Paul Coffey’s first game as a Penguin from the same bar.
Listened to Phil Bourque talk about Christian Ehrhoff on Monday during the Mark Madden show (which was hosted by Dejan Kovacevic). The two-time Stanley Cup winner spoke of Ehrhoff’s plus-13 rating being head and shoulders better than Craig Adams’ plus-7, which was second best on the team. Bourque defended Ehrhoff while Kovacevic said he’s gone back and forth on the offseason pickup.
Bourque noted that the defenseman probably isn’t worth $4 million per year, but said that is what the market paid him.
Ehrhoff and Paul Martin are similar players. Ehrhoff has a better shot while Martin seems better with the stick in his own end. It will be interesting to see what happens with Ehrhoff working on a one-year deal, Martin in the final season of a $25 million contract and prospect Derrick Pouliot oozing with offensive potential but honing his defensive game at Wilkes-Barre.
PS — Bourque and Kevin Stevens, both Boston area natives, took money grabs with the Bruins following their successes with the Pens (not that there’s anything wrong with that).
Jokingly, Evgeni Malkin says he scores on “every shootout” against Marc-Andre Fleury. Click here.
“The way I felt, probably to try to deny it, did not want to feel that way. Yeh, it did feel the same way, the exact same way it felt before, just did not want to believe it.”
Pascal Dupuis, on if he felt the same way he did last winter when he had his first blood clot.
When I heard that Pascal Dupuis didn’t travel to Montreal for Tuesday’s game, I went back and isolated on his play against the Rangers on Saturday. His skating looked good, he didn’t miss a shift; about the only thing he could’ve done better is shoot the puck more! (Something said about every Penguins player not named Patric Hornqvist).
What stood out about Mr. Dupuis was his graciousness during an in-game interview with Root Sports analyst, Bob Errey. Errey was stationed between the benches for Saturday’s tilt and asked Dupuis about his speed and forecheck.
Bob Errey: “Well Pascal, that first penalty kill has been absolutely fantastic again.”
Pascal Dupuis: “Yeh, again, blocking shots, giving 200 feet, that’s what you’ve got to do, pay the price and obviously the goaltender has to be back there and be huge for us.”
Typical Dupuis response, totally unselfish, but it gets even better.
Errey: “Who’s leading the speed on the forecheck, you or Crosby? You guys are flying.”
Dupuis, with a smile: “Yeh, we’re feeling good right now so we just gotta keep going here.”
Unwilling to brag about his speed or take any credit, Dupuis smoothly deflects the question personal credit and puts the team first.
This is a guy who can play on any line, never complains about his situation. Former Pittsburgh Steelers running back, LeGarrette Blount, could learn a lot from Dupuis.
Through the season’s first 16 games, Dupuis scored six goals and 11 points. Last Friday in Toronto, he was credited with both Pittsburgh goals on eight shots in a 2-1 victory against the Maple Leafs. He’ll have that as a nice memory over the next six-plus months of his recovery.
Dupuis averaged 16:38 TOI per game, 11th most on the team. His power-play time went up from 17 seconds/game in 2013-14 to 1:46/game. Dupuis’s three power-play points in October were already one more than he had in 39 games last year. But perhaps his biggest contribution comes on the penalty kill. Every year since the winger was traded to Pittsburgh in 2007-08 he’s finished among the team’s top-four forwards in minutes on the PK. His on-ice contributions will be hard to replace.
Ex-teammate Ben Lovejoy, now of the Anaheim Ducks, had this to say of Dupuis.
“He pushed the five or six guys who were on the ice every day at Southpointe [during the 2012-13 NHL lockout],” Lovejoy told the Pittsburgh Post-gazette. “But for me, he did more than that. He went above and beyond to be complimentary of my game, which gave me a ton of confidence, and saw in me what kind of player I hoped I could become. I’m not sure if he does that with everyone, but the whole room has incredible respect for Pascal.”
In case you’re unfamiliar with what a pulmonary embolism can do, click here.
PE is a serious condition that can:
— Damage part of your lung because of a lack of blood flow to your lung tissue. This damage may lead to pulmonary hypertension (increased pressure in the pulmonary arteries).
— Cause low oxygen levels in your blood.
— Damage other organs in your body because of a lack of oxygen.
If a blood clot is large, or if there are many clots, PE can cause death.
Former GM Ray Shero left the cup boards barren in terms of offensive prospects near the NHL level. Kasperi Kapanen has five goals and nine points in nine games for KalPa Kuopio while Oskar Sundqvist has three goals and six points in 12 tilts for Skelleftea AIK. It might be unfair to throw either of these players into the Penguins mix in the middle of the season.
With Pittsburgh placing Dupuis on Long-Term Injured Reserve, Cap Geek projects the Penguins with $4,185,831 room currently under the salary cap and $5,297,198 at the trade deadline. The Pens will get immediate relief on the pro-rated portion of Dupuis’ $3.75 mill contract.
Here are some trade targets.
Brandon Saad ($764,167, will be restricted FA after 2013-14), Chicago Blackhawks: Ah, the one that got away. The Blackhawks have less cap space available ($413,775) than Pittsburgh. Anything going Chicago’s way would have to come from the AHL or juniors or international play. The ‘Hawks have prospects already on offense like Teuvo Teravainen and Ryan Hartman. Defensively, the team has Duncan Keith and Niklas Hjalmarsson both signed long-term, but Brent Seabrook could be gone after next year. Recently injured Trevor Van Riemsdyk is in the mix, but if the Pens are going to match up with Chicago, it’ll likely be with some combination of defensive products.
If there’s a team in the league who could miss a forward like Saad, it’s the Blackhawks. They’re pretty well stacked up front. Saad has had an inconsistent start, which could also help sway thinking.
TJ Oshie ($4.175 mill, contract thru 2016-17), David Backes ($4.5 mill, thru 15-16), St. Louis Blues: How much do the Blues believe in the first six weeks of Vladimir Tarasenko, Jori Lehtera and Jaden Schwartz? That trio has been the hottest in the NHL recently. Backes and Oshie have both missed time with concussions. I’m not sure what St. Louis might be looking for. They’re set on the blue line with Shattenkirk, Pietrangelo and Bouwmeester.
The Blues are $2.4 mill under the cap right now. They have one of the better goalie prospects in Jake Allen. The Pens should at least put their feelers out to see where they stand in terms of established vets versus youth. I’m unconvinced center Patrik Berglund could help the Pens enough to include him as a target.
Teddy Purcell ($4.5 mill thru 15-16), David Perron ($3.185 mill thru 15-16), Edmonton Oilers: If Rutherford wants to go big, then he might look at say, Jordan Eberle. He’s due $6 mill thru 18-19 and that’s the shortest contract length of Eberle, Nugent-Hopkins and Hall. Purcell is an offensive enigma who had some success in Tampa Bay. His contract is over after next year. Surely whatever Pittsburgh is interested with the Oilers, they have to consider it. Yakopov ($925,000) will be due a big raise after this season and I’m not sure that’s a gamble worth taking right now.
Patrick Marleau ($6.66 mill thru 16-17), Joe Pavelski ($6 mill thru 18-19) SJ Sharks: Marleau is Dupuis’ age and he has two more years left on his deal. He’d make for a nice deadline pickup but the two additional years are killers. Pavelski has more NHL time left, but the four and a half years left on his deal is a big commitment. Too bad Pavelski didn’t have Marleau’s terms. My favorite on the Sharks is Tommy Wingels, but San Jose wrapped him up since last year would be unlikely to include him in a deal as a secondary part.
Matt Cooke ($2.5 mill thru 15-16), Minnesota Wild: The Wild don’t need him and with Steve Downie, Blake Comeau, the Pens probably don’t either. However, his contract is reasonable and he would bring something into the dressing room. Whether the positives outweigh the negatives is the eternal question with Cooke.
Evander Kane ($5.25 mill thru 17-18), Andrew Ladd ($4.40 mill thru 15-16), Winnipeg Jets: Kane is higher on the list of many Pens fans than most others. He has skill and toughness. I think he gets hurt too much and plays when he wants too, but a change of scenery could boost his level. Ladd is a player that means a lot to the Jets. I would be surprised if he gets dealt, but that contract is very attractive.
Other names I’ve heard are Mikkel Boedker — $2.55 mill thru 14-15 (Arizona), Sam Gagner $3.2 mill thru 15-16 (Arizona), Mason Raymond $3.15 mill thru 16-17 (Calgary).
General manager Jim Rutherford won’t be afraid to make a deal. In fact, I think he’s more likely to pull the trigger than former GM Ray Shero. Does he feel Pittsburgh needs to boost the top-six or does he move Beau Bennett there and give him some sort of “try out?”
As horrible as it is to lose Dupuis, that he went diagnosed in November rather than February or March gives the Pens time to figure out what they want to do.
So what riled the New York Rangers up so much for a November game against the Penguins?
NYR assistant coach, Ulf Samuelsson, was interviewed during his team’s loss to Edmonton last weekend.
If you want the tenor of the coaching staff of this team, listen to what Ulf Samuelsson told me a couple of minutes ago in the dressing room. I asked him flat out if the lack of offence through the first two periods had anything to do with defending their own zone. Here are his exact words: “Collectively, that could be the worst two periods I’ve seen since I got here, and that’s a lot of games. Hopefully that was a low point for us.” He went on to say: “We are leaving it to the leadership of this team to rally the troops. It is not about X’s and O’s right now. We are not competing at a level we need to. We are getting crushed by Edmonton in our building and that is embarrassing.” For the record, Ulf Samuelsson has watched 120 Rangers games since he got here as the assistant coach.
The significance of Tuesday’s loss is debatable, but then again so is any regular season game. After all, everything’s geared toward prepping for the playoffs. There’s still much work to be done. Most likely, Pittsburgh won’t roster all of the same players in April it does right now.
Nevertheless, the Pens’ script has played out (at least on paper) similarly to a Dan Bylsma-led squad. The team has trounced much of its competition – going on a seven-game winning streak, killing 39 straight penalties, leading the league with a 35.6 PP percent.
But it has also come up short against two of its greatest rivals, the Philadelphia Flyers and the New York Rangers. Had Pittsburgh lost to Winnipeg or Minnesota, it’d be easy to diagnose the X’s and O’s of the loss in a systemic, non-threatening way. But the Flyers and Rangers (to a lesser extent) bring out emotion other teams do not.
In a near perfect five weeks, the Pens’ only two Eastern Conference regulation losses have come at the hands of Philly and the Rangers. Head coach Mike Johnston has repeatedly said that every day of the regular season is designed to get his team ready for the playoffs. Time will tell whether he’s met his goal.
Fortunately for the Pens, there’s nothing pre-ordained about the season.
Coach Johnston never said what happened to Kris Letang on Tuesday, except that the defender consulted with the training staff before going back into the game. Letang missed the last eight-plus minutes of the first period and the beginning of the second period with an undisclosed injury.
Watching the tape, initially it looked as though the Rangers Kevin Hayes slashed Letang on the wrist. At the end of the play, however, Letang took one stride and was seen limping toward the bench. In either case, the blueliner returned to the game and didn’t miss another shift. Letang has a multitude of injuries to his credit, including a balky knee, so the situation bears watching.
The defensive pairing of Christian Ehrhoff and Robert Bortuzzo did not look good Tuesday. Maybe Ehrhoff shouldn’t get a free pass, but as a long-time NHL veteran he’s earned that right more so than Bortuzzo. Bortuzzo hasn’t been back long from his injury, but he looked slow Tuesday, sprawling out on the ice, screening Fleury, failing to clear the puck. He represents Pittsburgh’s biggest physical threat on defense (though Simon Despres has come on surprisingly well), but it wouldn’t be surprising to see Bortuzzo sit for Scott Harrington at some point – if and when the Penguins actually put him in their starting lineup.
I read on Dobber Hockey that Blake Comeau was on the ice for 18 shots taken and only three against Tuesday. That sounds really good, but what some fans will likely remember is the 2-on-1 in which he carried the puck down the right wing, whiffed on the shot and then got knocked off his skates.
Other fans might remember the blind, un-penalized Chris Kreider hit on Comeau outside the New York blue line. I’m not sure how Kreider’s hit wasn’t a penalty, unless the officials thought Comeau embellished the play by laying momentarily on the ice. I don’t get it, though, that should have been an interference call.
Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist appears to have gotten into Pittsburgh’s collective mind. When former Penguin Tanner Glass swatted a Nick Spaling shot off of the goal line, it helped to set the tone for the night. It’s difficult enough to beat Lundqvist, let alone beating him without being rewarded with a goal. Evgeni Malkin appeared particularly frustrated by the King on Tuesday.
Early in the game, Malkin missed a couple intended passes because he didn’t turn around to look for the puck. That’s a disturbing trend, dating back to the overtime game in which he skated out of the offensive zone with his head down rather than looking for a puck that was at his feet.
Sidney Crosby was really no better Tuesday night, either. He lost an early battle with Derek Stepan along the end boards and was called for interference immediately thereafter on Mats Zuccarello. What’s with Crosby getting into it physically with the diminutive Zuccarello every game? It almost makes me wonder what Crosby’s game would look like if he was 6-foot-2, 225 pounds instead of 5-foot-11, 205 pounds. Would he mix things up more often?
Anyway, Crosby lost the puck twice on back-to-back possessions in his own end – the second time by Rick Nash – before Zuccarello scored off a faceoff win.*
*Obvious disclaimer that Sidney Crosby remains the best player in the world.
Olli Maatta skated Tuesday in an on-ice workout less than a week after thyroid tumor surgery. Great news! The feeling is that Maatta might not miss the four weeks he was expected to miss.
Beau Bennett skated primarily on a fourth line with Marcel Goc and Craig Adams in his season debut. The line looked pretty good, applied pressure. Bennett skated 9:35 TOI. There’s a scenario for Bennett skating on actually any one of Pittsburgh’s four lines. It will be interesting to see where the first-round pick finally fits in after the last couple years of unfortunate injuries.
Root Sports showed a graphic on Paul Martin’s ice time. In 2013, he spent 12.2 percent of his play on the power play, a number which is down to 5.3 percent. Last season saw him skate 11.4 percent of his time on the penalty kill, 15.8 percent in 2014-15.
Lastly, a 5-0 blowout loss seemed to be the perfect opportunity to send a message to Marc Staal that last year’s playoff abuse of Crosby wasn’t appreciated, but nothing happened. Almost reminds me of the Pittsburgh Pirates failing to retaliate against the Cincinnati Reds after Aroldis Chapman plunked Andrew McCutchen on the helmet with a 99-mph fastball a couple seasons ago.
Links ‘n At
— Fun with Fenwick: Johnston vs. Bylsma, Hockey Buzz’s Ryan Wilson reports.
Will Geno and Duper get a new partner when Beau Bennett returns?
Rob Scuderi is part of a penalty killing group which has killed 37 straight penalties
Someone clipped Steve Downie while he was standing around Monday and he looked back at him like he wanted to kill the guy. Let’s hope he was joking
Joined at the hip on the power play
Rangers players might consider wearing shades if the Flower dons that blocker/glove inside Madison Square Garden
“Cmon’ Geno, I know u got it in ya”
Letang beats Fleury
Fleury returns the favor
Hornqvist can do it with his eyes closed
Three centers and a Tocchet
Fun with numbers: Philadelphia’s Claude Giroux ranks seventh in the NHL scoring race with four goals and 18 points in 14 games, but his 6.2 shooting percentage is the worst among the league’s top 60 point-getters and 266th among forwards.
Forty-eight forwards are averaging more ice time than Sidney Crosby, who leads the Pens with 18:44 TOI per game. Last season, Crosby skated 21:58 TOI, most in the NHL. Can it be that easy? Can the reduced ice time in October and November come back to help keep the stars hopping in April and May?
The following players are seeing less ice in 2014-15 than 2013-14. Evgeni Malkin (20:03 in 13-14, 18:20 in 14-15), Chris Kunitz (19:09, 17:58), Pascal Dupuis (17:41, 16:26), Paul Martin (24:34, 21:53), Simon Despres (16:44, 13:47).
Keeping the 35-year-old legs of Kunitz and Dupuis fresh makes a whole lot of sense. Kunitz set a career high with 68 points in 2013-14, but scored only 13 points in his final 24 games. Dupuis is coming back from major knee surgery, something that needs little explanation.
Malkin’s numbers, along with Crosby’s, will likely increase as the season progresses. They bear watching, at a minimum. Martin has been playing more with Olli Maatta sidelined. Prior to then, coach Mike Johnston seemed intent on slowly phasing out the impending free agent. Despres’s sample sizes are small for both seasons. There’s little doubt he’s been more effective this year than last.
The top-six forward ice time formerly known as James Neal has seen a drop from 18:26 to the current Patric Hornqvist’s 17:48 – not that the two player’s ice times are directly relatable. Incidentally, Hornqvist’s time is actually up over last year, when he averaged 16:51 with the Nashville Predators. That might be something to track, too.
Brandon Sutter (15:46, 17:49), Kris Letang (24:14, 24:43) , and Olli Maatta (18:29, 19:59) have all seen increased minutes.
Perhaps the Penguins should keep Beau Bennett in bubble wrap and quarantine him until say, the trade deadline. That way the team knows it has a healthy player coming its way near the postseason. Kidding aside, Bennett piled up five assists and a plus-4 rating in just two AHL Wilkes-Barre games over the weekend. The soon-to-be 23-year-old winger just needs to stay healthy, as one can gleam from his career statistics.
Players pointed to Johnston’s system. Defensemen often struggled with the complexities of former coach Dan Bylsma’s system. Earlier this season, Scuderi pointed out that Johnston’s system offers defensemen “two choices,” whereas Bylsma’s system often resulted in “four choices.”
“I think the biggest thing with this system is that we have the ability to … make decisions,” defenseman Robert Bortuzzo said. “If something’s not there, we don’t have to force it. We can turn back and give it to our partner.”
I think Despres and Bortuzzo are just happy to be in the lineup after bouncing around last year — apologies to Scott Harrington. Simple is better, especially on defense, and the d-corps can read and react rather than thinking before reacting.
Winger Bennett playing above AHL competition while awaiting call-up from Penguins, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports.
Conventional wisdom says Bennett will slot into the Penguins’ top six when he makes his return, perhaps taking over for Blake Comeau on Evgeni Malkin’s wing. Bennett, however, isn’t necessarily lobbying for that spot.
“I really enjoy playing with (Brandon) Sutter,” Bennett said. “We have really good chemistry. Positive guy. I’ve really enjoyed playing with him preseason and a little bit last year. He’s one of those guys that’s always in the right position, and I know where he’s going to be. If that’s the slot I can eventually work into, I’ll be really happy.”
It’s not that Bennett desires a lesser role. It’s that the third line is being featured more prominently under coach Mike Johnston.
“This year, Sid and Geno have been around the 16- to 18-minute mark. Last year, they were getting 21 to 22 every game,” Bennett said. “The minutes are more evenly spread throughout.”
The minutes reduction for Crosby and Malkin might really come in handy for the playoffs.
“To me, having watched him play over the last couple years, he’s a very good defensive center, but, at the same time, I think he can produce more offensively,” said coach Mike Johnston. “A part of the challenge for him this year is to pick up his numbers offensively. You start to see that lately.
“You don’t want to give up his defensive side of his game, because I can play him against anybody. I know every night he’s good in his own zone, end. He’s one of our top penalty-killers. [But] think you’ll start to see his numbers go up.”
I voiced my opinion on Sutter and the third line in the following tweet.
Brandon Sutter's 3-point nite his 1st since Feb. 11, 2010. 3rd line of Sutter, Downie, Spaling has potential 2 b best since Cooke,TK, Staal.