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.
The Penguins are one of six teams without a winning record. Their 14 points are good for ninth-most and wouldn’t qualify them for the playoffs.
Can you name the forward who leads the NHL in minutes played? (Answer below)
In a different season, switching goalies and getting Tomas Vokoun back in the lineup would be a welcomed change for Penguins fans used to seeing late-season collapses. But Marc-Andre Fleury really hasn’t been the problem in 2013-14. That’s a good thing, isn’t it? Stay with me here, but wouldn’t it be shocking to see the Flower steal a round of the playoffs? That might be the Pens’ best chance of advancing.
While it might be nearly impossible to logically predict a Penguins upset of the Boston Bruins in the playoffs, remember that anything is possible. The oft-repeated phrase “every team starts the playoffs 0-0” is repeated often for good reason. The Toronto Maple Leafs came within an epic Game 7, third-period collapse of knocking off the Bruins last spring in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals.
You know the Penguins have a player matchup problem when opposing coaches are saying as much.
Trivia Answer: Sidney Crosby leads all NHL forwards with 1585:26 TOI in 2013-14.
Should the Penguins rest Crosby in advance of the playoffs?
The center is on pace to play a complete 82-game season for the first time in his career. How important is that? He’s received maintenance days in recent weeks for the first time in several seasons (he hasn’t really needed them in the past, has he?).
Many folks have suggested Crosby sit out some so-called meaningless games at the end of the regular season, given they won’t make a difference in Pittsburgh’s playoff seeding. That would ensure his health heading into the postseason. On the other hand, a “Ferrari” like him needs to be finely tuned, making a reduced workload – but not a healthy scratch — another possibility.
The Pens close out the regular season with three home games, including Wednesday, April 9th against Detroit, Saturday, April 11th – Philly and Sunday, April 12th – Ottawa.
With the suddenly real possibility of Kris Letang returning in 2013-14, there’s a good chance he’ll want to find his bearings before the playoffs. Paul Martin, Beau Bennett and even Evgeni Malkin could return before Round 1. With that in mind, the team might benefit from getting the whole gang back together – and that would include Sidney Crosby.
Is anyone concerned with the production falloff of Chris Kunitz? It’s been a long season for Crosby, but perhaps an even longer one for the fellow Canadian Olympian. The soon-to-be 35-year-old has seven points in 16 games since January. Undoubtedly, a leg contusion courtesy of the Caps’ Mike Green into the goalpost has likely factored into his point slump, but the Pens need more from Kunitz. It’s hard to believe he’s 34 years old, isn’t it? He has three more years left after 2013-14 on a cap-hit deal of $3.85 million per season.
Morning line rushes:
The two above screen shots show the Detroit Red Wings scoring in the last second of overtime Thursday. I captured the shot at home in real time. According to the first photo I took, Detroit scored with :00.7 seconds remaining.
Looking at the overhead shot ROOT Sports showed — and what the Toronto league offices likely saw — the Red Wings scored with :00.5 seconds remaining.
What’s interesting is that the headlines stated the goal was scored with :00.4 ticks left.
This is probably an isolated event and won’t happen again in a more important game, say in the playoffs. But what if it does? Shouldn’t the clocks be synchronized?
The Penguins are nice enough to invite me to games, occasionally. I went to the Pens-Bolts game Saturday and will see the Pens play Los Angeles on Thursday. I brought with me an old token of the past Saturday and a number of folks sitting in media row got a kick out of it.
The above credential was to the Pens-Flyers playoff series in which Mario Lemieux scored on a breakaway against goalie, Garth Snow, in his last Mellon Arena shift before retiring (the first time). What an unbelievable experience that was, but that’s a theme for another blog entry.
Last season, a majority of Hockey Buzz voters said the Penguins had to make it to the Eastern Conference finals for coach Dan Bylsma to keep his job. How far do the Pens have to go this year?
It’s looking more and more like winning the East would be akin to winning the championship. The West is a stronger conference, top to bottom, and Pittsburgh has done little to suggest it could take out Chicago or St. Louis in the Stanley Cup Final. The best team on paper doesn’t always win, so there’s hope the Penguins could add a fourth ring, but they won’t be favorites to do so.
Does Bylsma have to win his conference to retain his title as head coach?
Last year, the Pens snuck past the Islanders and beat Ottawa before scoring two goals in four straight losses to the Bruins. Would Penguins fans be satisfied or more importantly – would management be satisfied – if the team won two rounds and then lost in say, six games, to Boston?
Looking ahead right now is enough to drive a person crazy. Take Sunday, for example. Do we laud the Pens for limiting St. Louis to a single goal in game which went down to the wire? Or do we question why the team couldn’t produce a goal on a 98-second two-man power play? Or some of both?
In my opinion, the postseason forecast is all about perspective.
This is a team that has won three playoff rounds in four seasons since winning the Cup in 2008-09. Much has been made about health, but for the first time in forever both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are totally healthy and have missed a combined 11 games. Whoever thought that Crosby would get two maintenance days off last week just because he was tired? Crazy … in a good way.
Anyone who watches the Penguins on a regular basis can see their weaknesses. A lack of scoring depth, third and fourth lines looking for a home to hang their sweaters on, not much overall size or grit.
How much responsibility should coaching take for Pittsburgh’s lack of postseason success?
We saw in Sochi how assistant coach, Peter Laviolette, helped with matchups, something Bylsma doesn’t pay much attention to. We saw how a Penguins team gave up three goals in less than 14 minutes to the Flyers at home after getting pounded, 4-0, in Philadelphia the previous day. If a coach’s job is to prepare his players, then Bylsma failed that day. And what do we make out of a team whose best players lose their composure at the worst time? Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, Kris Letang and even Sidney Crosby have a track record of blowing up in the playoffs when things don’t go their way.
General manager Ray Shero and Bylsma are so tight, that it might take the dismissal of Shero to relieve Bylsma of his duties. From all appearances, that doesn’t seem like a strong possibility anytime soon. So, whatever happens in the playoffs, whether it’s good or whether it’s bad, the management team will almost surely stay intact.
Every organization has strengths and weaknesses. Some teams to a better job of finding a way to win in the playoffs than do others. For the last five seasons, the Penguins have done a marvelous job entertaining fans and giving them their regular-season dollar’s worth. They just don’t win much after that.
What a joy it would be to see Crosby and Malkin back on hockey’s biggest stage. To get there, matchups, strong goaltending, and contributions from unexpected sources will be needed.
Do the Penguins have what it takes?
We’ll know after the next couple months.
With 11 regular-season games left, Sidney Crosby has 94 points in 71 games, averaging 1.32 points per game. If he continues on at the same pace, he would finish with 109 points – which would match his 2009-10 total. Crosby collected a career-high 120 points as a teenager back in 2006-07.
When he’s been healthy at the end of regular seasons, Crosby has put up the points. In 2011-12, he scored 25 points (6G, 19A) in his last 14 games. In 2009-10, he scored six goals and 21 points in his last nine contests. Pens fans might remember when Crosby went on a tear to close out his rookie campaign with seven goals and 22 points in his final 10 tilts.
How sensational of a fit has Jeff Zatkoff proven to be as Marc-Andre Fleury’s backup? He’s not a threat to take over his job – he has zero NHL playoff starts and yet he’s proven more capable than anyone imagined after a rough October start. Zatkoff holds a 12-4-1 mark with a .915 save percentage and 2.55 goals-against average.
The Penguins are only going to go as far as Marc-Andre Fleury takes them in the playoffs. Zatkoff isn’t the threat Tomas Vokoun posed a year ago. Fleury hasn’t suffered his customary late season meltdown (though there’s still time).
Zatkoff was seen as a scrambler on the ice, someone who got out of position too easily. He’s proven he belongs in the NHL and he’s given Pittsburgh the opportunity to keep Fleury’s starts at 65 or fewer. That’s an important number for goalies who have Stanley Cup aspirations. Very few goalies have gone over 65 starts and won the Cup in the same season.
The Pens’ team defense has struggled at times, but Fleury has been mostly solid between the pipes. Encouraging – but time will tell in the playoffs.
Penguins are 26-6-2 at home, but have only two regulation wins in eight home games since January.
Thank goodness the Penguins didn’t trade for Alexander Edler at the deadline. It would have been nice to get Ryan Kesler, but not with Edler and his $5 million AAV for five more seasons after 2013-14. Avoiding bad contracts is more important than signing good ones, if that makes any sense.
Olli Maatta’s endorsement of Derrick Pouliot in Thursday’s Pittsburgh Tribune-Review probably doesn’t mean much, but it’s nice to see and read about. Maatta’s success in the NHL, the fact that the Penguins were reluctant to move Pouliot at the trade deadline and Pouliot’s continued strong play for Portland, all bode well for his chances of joining Maatta in Pittsburgh next season. If Kris Letang comes back next season – and I think he will – then Pouliot would have an offensive mentor, so long as he doesn’t mimic Letang’s risky play in his own end.
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review columnist, Dejan Kovacevic, interviewed Sidney Crosby during the lockout in November of 2012. Kovacevic asked Crosby who he thought was a breakout player on the team. Crosby’s answer? Matt Niskanen.
Here’s Crosby’s reply:
Um, trying to think. I think Nisky, toward the end of last season he was getting confident with the puck. He was shooting it. His defensive game has just gotten better and better since coming to us. He’s got some skills. He played great for us, can remember him being on the power play with some great shots, great looks.
Click here for a link to my Hockey Buzz article and the Crosby interview with Mr. Kovacevic.
Niskanen leads all Pittsburgh blueliners with 38 points (9G, 29A) in 65 games, six game-winning goals and a plus-32 rating.
Has one player ever given a franchise to print money the way Sidney Crosby has? Prior to his arrival, the Penguins were a dying franchise with Mario Lemieux’s career nearing final closure. Pittsburgh finished dead last three straight seasons pre-Crosby and did so again in his rookie campaign. Now? Consol Energy Center has sold out for 316 consecutive games. Amazing.
Click here for a link to Lee Stempniak’s career statistics.
Did you know Stempniak was traded to the Maple Leafs for Alexander Steen and Carlo Colaiacovo in 2008?
He’s missed time with a broken foot and a high ankle sprain in recent seasons. Stempniak also was away from the Flames for 10 days last month for personal reasons, witnessing the birth of his twin girls.
Mt. Lebanon native, Matt Bartkowski, tallied an assist, five blocked shots and three hits Wednesday against Montreal. For the season, Bartkowski has picked up 14 assists and registered a plus-20 rating in 50 games. He’s slid under the radar with a fine season. The defenseman is still looking for his first NHL goal, however.
James Neal and Chris Kunitz didn’t take part in Thursday’s practice. Neal is riding an odd string of streaks. After going eight games without scoring a goal, he scored in five straight and now has gone another five tilts without lighting the lamp. Kunitz took a nasty welt to his right shin during Tuesday’s game. It’s not surprising he didn’t skate during a March practice with three days off between games.
When I wrote for Hockey Buzz a couple years ago, we (readers and myself) joked about giving Sidney Crosby the nickname “The Ferrari” instead of “Sid the Kid.” After all, Crosby was already 24 at the time and a concussion specialist had referred to Crosby’s brain as a Ferrari.
Here we are in 2014 and Sid’s still a kid. I guess no one would argue if his nickname stayed with him forever. But Mike Lange, the Hall of Fame Penguins announcer, has called Crosby “Sir Sidney” for years.
It might be time we all get in the fast lane and go with “Sir Sidney.”
I was listening to another Pens broadcast a week or so ago with Lange and Phil Bourque, who is affectionately known as the “old two-niner” (not the old 29er, which rhymes with 49er).
Anyways, Bourque was asked on his intermission gig “#tweetarama” by a twitter follower “what is your favorite car?”
Bourque named a few cars and then went with the Corvette.
Well, my first career after college was as an auto claim representative for State Farm Insurance. Sure enough, one of my “insureds” as I called them hit Bourque’s parked car. I’m pretty sure it was a Corvette (though it might’ve been a Trans Am). Now remember, this was in 1989 or thereabouts.
Our State Farm estimator either went out and wrote an estimate on the Corvette or Bourque sent me a repair bill, I can’t exactly remember.
I could’ve sent simply sent Bourque a check but instead I asked him to come in and pick up the check personally.
He did and we talked for a bit. It was fun.
So hearing him on the radio 25 years later about his Corvette was kind of special to me. I helped repair his favorite car back into mint condition.
Did Pens coach Dan Bylsma error by sitting both Robert Bortuzzo and Deryk Engelland in Dallas on Saturday night?
Tanner Glass did a great job of hitting everything that moved – his 13 registered hits tied an NHL season-high – but the Pens could’ve given Glass a little help.
The team looked out of sorts and was beaten up and beaten to the puck on numerous occasions.
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review columnist, Dejan Kovacevic, wrote about increasing the size of hockey nets to add more goals back into the game.
That led me to thinking about a change which was made prior to the 2013-14 season. The depths of nets were brought in four inches to provide skaters with more room to work with behind the goal. How has that worked out?
I haven’t even heard anyone mention the change since the first week of the season. Net loss.
I wouldn’t mind if the NHL decided to skip the Olympics and send Wheeling Nailers to Sochi. Vladimir Putin can have his borsch and eat it, too, but make it optional for North Americans skaters to attend the games.
I wonder how many North American Olympians would go to Sochi if they didn’t have to?
Don’t me wrong, the 1980 Olympics are one of my all-time fondest sports memories, but times change. I would be surprised if NHL commissioner, Gary Bettman, doesn’t change the way NHL players compete (or don’t compete) in future games.
Tuesday morning I tweeted Elliotte Friedman, he of Hockey Night In Canada. Friedman wrote here that San Jose Sharks defenseman, Dan Boyle, is 35 years of age.
I tried to tactfully tweet him that Boyle is 37 not 35. Pointing out someone else’s mistake is always a tricky thing to do. Here are the tweets.
Coach Bylsma spoke to the media after practice Wednesday. Here are some of the highlights.
Paul Martin skated this morning prior to our team skate.
Olli Maatta got through his immigration just fine.
Tanner Glass back on the ice this morning.
Our lineup will remain game time but Marc-Andre Fleury will be in the net.
Lecavalier’s leading the team in goal scoring, dangerous power play as of late.
Two James Neal PP Dynamics
— Just the battle level and retrieval level with Kunitz and Neal go up almost two fold. winning battles, led to goal in St Louis.
— Have to be drawn to James Neal with his dangerous shot, have to respect it.
Both those things open up the ice for everybody else out there, whether that’s Chris Kunitz at the net or two guys on the flanks, with 71 and 87. It’s a dynamic that has immediate impact.
There’s no question that playing the Flyers is special, an intensity there that I stepped into it. I don’t know all the blood, the good, the bad the Penguins not winning in Philadelphia for a long time. Before I played (coached) my first Flyers game, even Pittsburgh fans had profanities, you haven’t done anything until you’ve beat Philadelphia. We’ve had two playoff series since I’ve been here, games that have gone all over the map. It doesn’t has to do with the records, it will be a special game.
Re Rob Scuderi: I don’t have an update, we gave a rough 6-8 week time frame that’s where we’re at. He’s still at a time where his rehab is minimal, hopefully that progresses as he gets to his third or fourth week.
Did Bylsma watch Tuesday’s Philly win? I watched the game with a pad of paper, notebook and the computer open, watched it, taped it. Fast forwarded it through timeouts. It’s a team we saw Game 7 of the year for us, Whatever you think there record is, you watch the game last night and get a pretty good feel for where they’re at. With the addition of Lecavalier and Downie being there and them getting some injured guys back and Hartnell who we didn’t see, they look like a pretty formidable team. Our prescout was watching the power play last night. I think its a real advantage to watch the game in preparation for the Flyers.
We feel like going into Philly is one of the toughest places to play (Pens are 11-3 last 14 in Philly, 1-6-1 in Pittsburgh). That record doesn’t make a ton of sense. Our record at home is pretty outstanding and yet against the Flyers leaves a lot to be desired. I’d make no rhyme or reason, we’re on way to changing that tonight.
— Note: This isn’t an exact, word-by-word transcript. You can click on the link for audio interview for that —
Let the games begin! Tonight the Penguins host Philly in the first of an 11-game, 18-day stretch. Feels good to have hockey back after seeing the flightless birdies play two times in the last 10 days.
Not including Evgeni Malkin’s 109-point effort in 2011-12, he’s averaged less than a point per game since 2010. He has 85 points (27G, 58A) in 91 games dating back to the 2010-11 campaign. More recently, Malkin’s got 12 goals in his last 48 contests, numbers that don’t match up well with his $8.7 million cap hit.
The question is what will it take to jumpstart his game? Sidney Crosby played in only 22 of 82 games when Malkin won the Hart Trophy. James Neal had 40 goals and 81 points. Neal and Chris Kunitz skated with Malkin more than any other two players, according to Behind The Net.
It seems to me Chris Kunitz is the common thread here. If the Penguins want to jumpstart Malkin, move Kunitz from Crosby’s line to Malkin’s, at least for a spell. Put Beau Bennett on Crosby’s side and see what happens. That’s the eventuality coach Bylsma claimed for Bennett in the long run anyhow. Move up that timetable or at least give it a shot. Such a move runs the risk of short-circuiting Crosby, who hasn’t been lighting the lamp lately, but if the Pens want to get Malkin going again, and I’m sure they do, moving Kunitz to his wing would help in a big way.
I watched a two-hour JFK special Tuesday night. Much of the show discussed Kennedy’s showdown with the Soviet Union’s Nikita Khrushchev in the Cuban Missile Crisis. Seeing a US Marines symbol next to Malkin’s locker is strange. I wonder if the Russians investigating the legitimacy of Semyon Varlamov’s domestic abuse case will next infiltrate the Penguins dressing room (I kid). Some Russians actually believe that the charges were drummed up by US Officials in order to keep Varlamov from goaltending in the upcoming Sochi Winter Olympic hockey games.