Penguin Olympic Notes: Diving into Sidney Crosby, Radulov better than Malkin?

IMG_9965-1

When you review the Sidney Crosby “dive” Sunday in Sochi, focus on Crosby’s skates. If you look at his skates and how they tangle with Jarko Immonen’s legs, it’s not hard to see why he went down. It doesn’t matter how strong a player is on his skates, the fall looks more than justifiable to me.

The gif’s take a look at the play in a vacuum and don’t account for the direction Crosby is looking prior to the actual collision. Crosby isn’t looking at Immonen when the two collide. He’s focusing on the puck in the corner. Some will say that Crosby has eyes in his back – and sometimes it seems that’s true, but the penalty was legit.

The venerable Teemu Selanne reportedly accused Crosby of diving on the play. While I don’t agree with his assessment, there were aspects of the game Finland deserved a penalty call or two. Crosby, for example, tripped Penguins teammate, Olli Maatta, behind the Finnish net and nothing was called. Jamie Benn also got away with a flagrant infraction.

Incidentally, Immonen’s penalty led to Canada’s only regulation goal, one in which Crosby not only drew the penalty but also assisted on the goal.

**********

IMG_3645

What does Alex Radulov have on Vladimir Putin? Perhaps Radulov’s career KHL numbers override everything else one notices about the 27-year-old. He’s just been flat-out horrible in the Olympics. Whether it’s taking a dumb penalty against Dustin Brown or being needlessly offsides on a promising rush, he’s killing his team.

I thought Russia was set to make him a healthy scratch after his game against the USA, but there he was against Slovakia on Sunday.

Sitting Evgeni Malkin on Russia’s top power-play unit while Radulov blocks his own teammates shots on goal doesn’t make much sense. Malkin is a better player than Radulov. The way Russia handles its ice time on the man advantage would make more sense if the second unit – which Malkin is a part of – got more action, but the second unit plays only 30 seconds or so.

One player who would really help Team Russia’s power play is Sergei Gonchar. He’s a shell of himself defensively – smarts can only take a player so far when the mind is will but the body is not – but he would be an excellent delegator from the point. Malkin trusts him and I think the rest of his country respects him. It’s a stunner Russia left Sarge off its team. He’d be a good fit in a short competition like the Olympics.

**********

Maybe it’s not a bad thing Canada’s defense is top heavy, especially when we’re talking about Shea Weber, Duncan Keith and Drew Doughty, but what are Daniel Hamhuis and Marc-Edouard Vlasic doing on the team? Vlasic is seeing some important moments, too.

***********

The qualifying round gave Canada a chance to figure out ice times, playing combinations, chemistry, etc. It will be interesting to see what worked and what coach Mike Babcock got out of his three games for the medal round.

Look at these ice times from Sunday.

Daniel Hamhuis: 3:58 TOI – if he left with an injury I missed it.
Shea Weber: 23:11 TOI – a no-brainer if ever there was one.
Chris Kunitz: 8:21 TOI – Only Rick Nash (7:18) saw less forward time while the player who should wing Sidney Crosby – Martin St. Louis – served as a healthy scratch.
John Tavares: 13:22 TOI – He needs to see the ice more.
Sidney Crosby: 16:23 TOI – Expect that total to increase in the medal round. I’d like to see Crosby look to shoot the puck more, but there’s nothing wrong with his passing.

**********

IMG_6150

I’m worried more about Olli Maatta’s mental fatigue more than the possibility he wears out down the stretch physically for the Penguins’ Stanley Cup run. He’s playing tough minutes in the Olympics.

**********

The NHL trade deadline is March 5. Questions which pop to mind include …
1. Will the team trade for a top-six and/or top-nine winger?
2. And, can Beau Bennett come back and show the Pens he’s a fit for Crosby in the three games prior to the trade deadline?
3. Does the front office have more confidence in Brooks Orpik than Penguin bloggers?
4. Will Kris Letang come back in 2013-14 and should the team trade for a veteran NHLer in the event he doesn’t?
5. Has Jeff Zatkoff shown enough to serve as Marc-Andre Fleury’s backup the rest of the way? Is this Fleury’s baby and should GM Ray Shero pin the team’s playoff hopes solely to Fleury?
6. Are you extra psyched for the Pens-Blackhawks outdoor game at Soldier Field on March 6?

**********

Treasure Life!
JT
@JohnToperzer
@PiratesTalk

Standard

Pens-Preds: Neal Up, Maatta Down

by John Toperzer

Pascal Dupuis scoring on a long slapper above the left circle. That’s his wheelhouse when he’s going good and he got one Friday night. Good to see after a 12-game goalless slump.

img_6225.jpg

Olli Maatta had a ragged game, but the Pens’ overall sound play bailed the rookie out. I thought he turned the puck over more than the two times listed. In any case, Maatta was playing on the first unit with Kris Letang, a spot coach Bylsma envisions for him long-term. Gotta start somewhere.

IMG_7569

Malkin smiling. That hasn’t happened much since the eighth-grade picnic, as Hall of Famer Mike Lange might say. Gino’s goalless streak has reached 12 games, but he does have eight assists in a six-game point streak.

Third-line secondary scoring. Brandon Sutter has taken some criticism lately and responded with a goal and an assist. Coach Dan Bylsma mentioned a Sutter injury prior to Friday’s game as one reason why his faceoff numbers have slipped. Knowing he’s been hurt, it’s easier to appreciate his slump.

IMG_7780

James Neal looks like he’s back after a rusty debut. He deflected Malkin’s shot for one goal and was robbed by goalie Marek Mazanec on a second. Neal repeatedly went to the net, something most of his teammates aren’t so inclining to do.

Marc-Andre Fleury saw light action, stopping 17 of 18 shots. A tired Nashville team threw only three shots at him in the final period. The fact that he wasn’t tested bodes well for a team playing five games in an eight-day span.

IMG_9850

Sidney Crosby went 10-4 in the faceoff circle, a good sign since he’s been under .500 (35W-36L) the last three games.

Robert Bortuzzo was a scratch. He cost the Pens a goal Wednesday, perhaps this will give him some time to think about his mistake. Call it a timeout without the dunce cap.

Dustin Jeffrey was also scratched. At some point the Pens will part ways, won’t they?

Pirates manager, Clint Hurdle, gets a Consol Energy Center shout-out during TV break. His some Christian turns either nine-years-old (if you believe ROOT’s Dan Potash) or 10 years of age (if you think the CONSOL Jumbotron is correct). In either case, Happy Birthday Christian!

Malkin’s power-play blast from high slot was deflected by James Neal for a goal, with Crosby getting a secondary assist. First time in 2013-14 the trio has pointed on same score — only took 19 games. It was just the fourth time the three were on the ice in the same game, but who would’ve predicted that preseason?

Peter Laviolette was here in the press box, likely scouting Seth Jones and other American Olympic hopefuls. He’s not too busy right now. Lavi will serve as an assistant to Pens coach, Dan Bylsma, for the upcoming Winter Olympic Games in Sochi.

I can honestly say I’d never heard of Nashville goalie, Marek Mazanec, prior to Friday. His pure thievery of a glove save on James Neal just has to crack the NHL Network’s Weekly Top 10.

**********

Treasure Life!
JT
@JohnToperzer
@PiratesTalk

Standard

Top 6 complaints: Penguins lose to Flyers, 2-1, Wednesday night

Top Six Complaints

by John Toperzer

Robert Bortuzzo fails to move puck behind his own net, allowing the Flyers to strip him of the puck. A Brayden Schenn wrister then beats Marc-Andre Fleury for a game-winning goal. Bortuzzo has to move the puck. He has time, but acts like an elementary schooler crossing the street — looking to his left and to his right and then back to his left again before even thinking of moving the puck.

Kris Letang gets a shot blocked, a play which results in the Pens losing possession of the puck in Philly’s end with Fleury pulled. Letang telegraphs his shot like a bunter squaring around to the pitcher.

Shooting/Rebounding — If the Penguins played in the 1980s, they’d be a great East/West team. That’s the style favored by Evgeni Malkin, anyhow. Unfortunately, we’re in 2013 and opponents rush whomever is carrying the puck. Players have no time do anything with the puck anymore and that hurts skilled players like Malkin.

The game has become all about dump and chase. That’s why Chris Kunitz is so valuable. The Pens need to find another Kunitz, one who’s, say, 27 or 28, without too much mileage on him. Crosby and Malkin aren’t getting any younger and are going to need retrievers more and more as their games mature and they age.

Coaching — Those expecting coach Bylsma to change his strategy or match lines don’t keep close track of his tendencies. With 18 games in the book, there’s still plenty of time to tweak lines. Why not break up the Crosby line? There, I said it. Sometimes, change is good. Sometimes, the comfort level is over-rated. Just ask Scottie Bowman.

CONSOL Ice — The worse the ice, the more the slower, less talented team gains an advantage. It’s similar to a mud track versus Astroturf in the NFL. The puck was bouncing, jumping on and off sticks like a Mexican Jumping Bean on Wednesday. Why can’t the Penguins and/or the league fix the ice at CONSOL, even if it hosts concerts the night before? Isn’t it supposed to be state of the art?

Slumps — The beat goes on. Malkin is scoreless in 11, Pascal Dupuis has two assists in 10 games. Last season favored an older team like the Penguins because there were only 48 games and then the playoffs. Having an 82-game slate is going to make it that much tougher to keep the 30-somethings healthy all year. The Olympic break will help, somewhat, although Crosby and Malkin won’t get much rest then.

**********

Treasure Life!
JT

Follow me on Twitter
@JohnToperzer
@PiratesTalk

Standard

Pens-Rangers: A five-minute preview

IMG_3645IMG_5583-001

by John Toperzer

“There’s something about the greatest venue on earth,” Pens coach Dan Bylsma said Tuesday, referring to Madison Square Garden’s slogan while paying homage to it.

NBC Sports Network will cover Wednesday’s game as part of its rivalry package — and the game actually is a rivalry, moreso than last week’s Pens-Bruins matchup.

Pittsburgh and New York have gotten off to distinctly different starts in the newly-minted Metropolitan Division. The Penguins have won 11 of 15 games, slowing down long enough only for a three-game losing streak two weeks ago.

100_3029

The Rangers (6-8), meanwhile, started the season on a nine-game road trip, posting a 3-6 mark, as Madison Square Garden underwent finishing renovation touches. The team has won three of its last four and is playing better hockey.

IMG_5272-1

A season ago, the Penguins knocked off New York four times in five meetings. The Pens and Rangers squared off three times at Madison Square Garden. Pittsburgh won the first two contests by the scores of 6-3 and 3-0, respectively, before getting blown out 6-1 late in the year.

Tomas Vokoun stopped a combined 59 of 62 shots, including a 28-save shutout on Jan. 31. Marc-Andre Fleury was rocked for six goals on 39 shots in his lone start in New York on April 3. Fleury did lead his team to a 3-0 win on March 16 (in Pittsburgh) for his only shutout of 2012-13.

P1500970

Henrik Lundqvist was in goal for all five games against Pittsburgh. The Rangers pulled the King on Jan. 20 when the Pens scored four goals on 18 shots.

Goal scoring while at even-strength, 5-on-5 play is obviously important. Thus far, the Penguins hold a respectable 1.35 average with 1.00 average signifying a team allows as many goals at 5-on-5 as it scores.

The Rangers, meanwhile, check in with a 0.54 mark. Along with the Flyers and Sabres, New York’s 5-on-5 play is the worst in the entire NHL.

Pittsburgh has outscored its opponents in each period: 13-7 in the first, 15-11 in the second and 19-15 in the final 20 minutes.

New York is being outscored 13-7 and 19-10 in the first two periods, respectively, while going 8-8 in the third. It’s also scored one overtime goal.

The Penguins hold the upper hand on power plays, but the Rangers have the better penalty kill.

Pittsburgh has posted a 19 percent scoring rate on road man-advantages, scoring four times in 21 opportunities. New York has netted just two goals on 15 home power-plays for a 13.3 percent.

IMG_5189

The Rangers have done much better on the PK, at least compared to the Pens, killing 11 of 13 penalties (83.3 percent). The Pens have given up seven goals in 23 chances (69.6 percent).

Pittsburgh appears to be a bit more disciplined in the penalty category also in the early going: the Pens are averaging 9.8 penalty minutes per game while the Blue Shirts are ringing up 15.5 PIMs.

Notes

Evgeni Malkin had five points (1G, 4A) in three games at New York last year. He has three goals in 15 games thus far in 2013-14.

Henrik Lundqvist is in the final year of his contract ($6.875 AAV) and his play has been mostly up and down. He’s been hurt, too.

All four of Pittsburgh’s faceoff men have winning rates of 54.2 percent or better. Only one of New York’s top four has a win rate over 50 percent — Brian Boyle (57.1).

The Pens will be facing Alain Vigneault as the Rangers head coach for the first time. We’ll see if that has any impact.

Chris Kunitz missed Monday and Tuesday practices but is expected to go. Beau Bennett practiced each day but is more likely a Saturday return. James Neal skated with the team Wednesday morning, but is still out.

Rick Nash is out with a concussion. Carl Hagelin and Ryan Callahan recently returned for the Blue Shirts.

Marc Staal is a minus-11, worst on the Rangers. That said, at least he’s playing after a horrific eye injury suffered last season.

Standard