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November 28, 2014
by Jason Mackey


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Pregame: Penguins vs. Hurricanes, 7 p.m.

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Scoring first doesn’t necessarily mean having a strong start, captain Sidney Crosby said.

It seems like an appropriate idea with back-to-back games against Carolina starting tonight.

The Penguins have scored first in 17 of 21 games so far, and they’re 12-3-2 in those games. They’ve scored first in eight of 10 homes, and their 30 goals in the opening period are more than anyone else – even the Lightning (27), who’ve played two fewer games.

But, in Crosby’s mind, a strong start doesn’t equal scoring first. The Penguins didn’t have particular strong first periods during a home-and-home with the Islanders, Crosby said, and that needs to change.

“You look back to that two-game series, our first periods were not good,” Crosby said. “Just making sure we start the right way, no matter what the score ends up, just make sure that our mentality and focus are there.

“It’s nice if you can get that first one, but you have to make sure if you do get it, you’re playing the right way. Then (you have to) maintain that same level of play the rest of the game.”

Which, on paper anyway, doesn’t figure to be too terribly hard. The Hurricanes make their first visit to Consol Energy Center with a record of 6-12-3. Their leading scorer, Riley Nash, has less than half as many points as Crosby, and they’ve lost six of their past seven.

“Every team in this league is really, really good,” forward Patric Hornqvist said. “We need to come focused and do our thing. If we do that, we know we have a good chance to win here tonight.”

News out of the skate: Marc-Andre Fleury will start in goal. … Other than that, not much. … Beau Bennett did not skate today.

TV/Radio: Root Sports/105.9 FM

About the Hurricanes: Hurricanes are coming off a 1-0 defeat at Florida on Wednesday. … Forward Alexander Semin is one point away from 500 for his career. … Signed to a five-year, $35-million by Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford while he was in Carolina, Semin has no goals and five assists this season. … Former Penguin Jordan Staal has a broken fibula, which he suffered Sept. 23 at Buffalo, and will be out at least another month. … Carolina’s penalty kill is decent; it ranks 13th at 82 percent and has gone 14 for 15 over the past seven games. … Nash leads in points with 15. Jiri Tlusty leads in goals with eight.

The series: Penguins won the 2013-14 season series, 3-1. Pittsburgh has won five of six and eight of 10 against Carolina. … Penguins have 10 wins in November, one shy of tying a team record (1995, 2010). … Hurricanes have the NHL’s worst road record at 2-9-2. … Crosby has an 11-game points streak against Carolina, which dates back to Dec. 7, 2009.

Up next: Penguins at Hurricanes, Saturday, 7 p.m.

Links:
The Trib’s Penguins page
The Penguins’ gameday page
The Hurricanes’ gameday page
NHL.com’s preview and box score

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November 26, 2014
by Jason Mackey


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Pregame: Penguins vs. Maple Leafs, 7:30 p.m.

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After playing eight of their past 10 games on the road, the Penguins return home and will host the Maple Leafs at Consol Energy Center tonight at 7:30.

“It seems like we’ve been out of town for awhile,” forward Nick Spaling this morning following the team’s gameday skate. “It’s nice to be able to play in front of our fans. It’s a great place to play. I think everybody’s excited to get back.”

The Penguins (14-4-2) avoided their first three-game losing streak of the season by topping Boston, 3-2, on Monday when Evgeni Malkin scored 32 seconds into overtime at TD Garden.

The win, of course, was No. 300 for goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who will be rocking the yellow pads tonight.

Five of the Penguins’ next six games will be at home, starting with the Leafs (11-8-2), who have scored nine goals over their past two games during quality wins over the Lightning and Red Wings.

“We’ve seen them several times this year,” Penguins coach Mike Johnston said. “They’re a team coming in here with some confidence after two wins against good teams.”

Phil Kessel leads the Maple Leafs in goals (11) and points (23). Toronto (3.19) is the third-highest scoring team in the league behind the Penguins (3.50) and the Lightning (3.46).

Their PK is seventh at 84.9 percent, but the Maple Leafs have allowed just three power-play goals over their past 10 games.

“They’re a team that’s very good in transition, very good off the rush,” Johnston said. “They can counter against you fast. When you play those teams, it’s your forecheck and your back pressure that puts you in a position to defend against it.”

Beau Bennett will be out “a couple weeks,” Johnston said at this morning’s optional skate. His place will be taken by Jayson Megna, who was called up last Saturday and made his season debut Monday in Boston.

The Penguins are 2-0 in the season series, outshooting Toronto, 81-56. This is the final regular-season meeting in 2014-15 between the two teams. The Penguins are three for eight on the power play in two games against Toronto, nine for 11 on the penalty kill.

Malkin, who’s on pace to score 40-plus goals for the third time in nine seasons, has 47 points in 26 career games against Toronto.

Jonathan Bernier (7-5-2, 2.54, .919) will start in goal for the Leafs.

“Those were hard-fought games,” Spaling said of the two previous meetings. “Back and forth. They have a lot of skill, a lot of speed. We have to do a better job of containing that tonight, I think. We know what they can bring, and I think it’s going to be another good game.”

Be GRATEFUL to each other,

Mackey

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November 25, 2014
by Jason Mackey


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Postgame: The goal that delivered No. 300

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BOSTON – I wrote about Marc-Andre Fleury for Tuesday’s paper, and rightfully so. He did, after all, win his 300th game with a 3-2 overtime decision over Boston at TD Garden.

Did it faster than everybody except for Martin Brodeur and Terry Sawchuk, too.

But I just as easily could have focused on the game-winning goal, a three-on-two rush in overtime that saw captain Sidney Crosby pass to Evgeni Malkin for a one-timer that Malkin buried past Tuukka Rask from the right circle.

“We (were) three-on-two,” Malkin said. “I know Sid (was) looking to me because we (were) three-on-two. Sid (is a) good assist guy. He passed me (the puck). I (tried) to shoot it hard.”

Which Malkin did.

And it worked because Kris Letang, a defenseman, provided the center drive.

“I was just trying to buy time for Sid to make a play,” Letang said. “I was not trying to get the puck there. I was trying to rush and push that D-man.”

That coach Mike Johnston had Crosby and Malkin on the ice together in a four-on-four situation was notable.

“We tried it a couple games ago, and I really like them together,” Johnston said. “I was hesitant early in the year. I wanted to get a little bit of balance, but I thought they had some great chemistry.”

But …

“What made the play was Letang going to the net,” Johnston said. “He went right through the middle of the ice and created a little bit of hesitation by their defense. It’s nice to have that option, for sure.”

Johnston confirmed that Beau Bennett suffered an injury with about 7:30 to go in the second period during a hit from Bruins defenseman Kevan Miller.

Johnston said Bennett could have played, but he didn’t want to push him.

“Beau got injured in the second period,” Johnston said. “We didn’t feel in the third that it was worth pushing him. We’ll revaluate it tonight just to see. They felt that he could go back out. He tried it. I just didn’t think he was sharp. Sometimes when that happens, that he’s not fully ready to play, it’s better to put somebody else in.”

Johnston was also happy with Jayson Megna, who made his season debut. Megna finished with four hits and no shot attempts in 8:39 while playing on the fourth line with Marcel Goc and Craig Adams.

“I compliment Megs tonight,” Johnston said. “We talked about adding him to the roster and coming up, a young guy, he’s played well in Wilkes. I thought he had a really good game tonight. You could see his speed dangerous out there.”

Club practices tomorrow. Josh Yohe will have your coverage. I’ll be traveling back from Boston.

Be GRATEFUL to each other,

Mackey

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November 24, 2014
by Jason Mackey


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Pregame: Penguins at Bruins, 7 p.m.

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BOSTON – It hasn’t been worse than this.

The Penguins went 0-1-1 against Philadelphia and Detroit Oct. 22-23, same as they are after the Islanders swept them in a home-and-home series Friday and Saturday.

One was in a shootout, the other at Nassau Coliseum.

Neither, as forward Patric Horqnvist said following the Penguins’ gameday skate at TD Garden, was acceptable, as the Penguins try to avoid their first three-game losing streak of the season.

“This is a big game for us,” Hornqvist said. “We have to get out there, put our work boots on and really work hard.

“We didn’t play good enough on (Long) Island. You can lose. But you can’t lose the way we did. We need to get back on track.”

The Penguins (13-4-2) are playing a depleted Bruins (13-9-0) team that started five rookies last game.

Brad Marchand is a game-time decision, the same as 2014 first-round pick David Pastrnack, who’s not injured but could make his NHL debut. Chris Kelly and David Krejci are out.

The Bruins have lost 53 man-games to injury, but don’t expect the Penguins to be broken up about it; they missed 529 last season.

Watch center Patrice Bergeron tonight. For my money, he’s the best faceoff guy in the league. He ranks third in percentage at 59.5 but has the most total wins. He regularly posts killer Corsi and Fenwick numbers.

For the Penguins, forward Chris Kunitz hasn’t done much of late, with one point over his past six games, and he acknowledged as much this morning.

“I have to get back to being successful by going to certain areas, being physical, getting on the forecheck,” Kunitz said. “It’s something I haven’t been doing as of late. Got to shake things up and go out there and earn everything you need.”

Make no mistake, this is a crucial game. It could mean a three-game losing streak and a bunch or questions about what’s wrong with the Penguins’ top forwards.

Or it could be a much-needed rebound.

“It’s important that losing to the Islanders in a shootout and losing to them on their ice, we come back with a good game here,” coach Mike Johnston said. “It’s important for our game.”

Seems almost like an afterthought given the juggling on the Penguins’ top lines, but Marc-Andre Fleury will start in goal tonight, his second crack at getting win No. 300.

News out of the skate: The Penguins did some line shuffling. Sidney Crosby skated between Nick Spaling and Hornqvist. Evgeni Malkin was between Kunitz and Blake Comeau on the second line. … Zach Sill stayed out for some extra work, an indication that Jayson Megna could play in his place. … Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara skated on his own early at TD Garden. Chara tore the PCL in his left knee on Oct. 23 and has missed the past 14 games; the Bruins are 9-4-0 during that stretch.

TV/Radio: NBC Sports Network/105.9 FM

About the Bruins: They’re banged up. Bad. Krejci, Marchand and Kelly missed Saturday’s 2-0 loss to the Canadiens. Ditto for defenseman Chara and Adam McQuaid, who’s also out. … Bergeron (5-11—16) leads the Bruins in goals (tied with Carl Soderberg and Seth Griffith) and points. … You might have heard of goaltender Tuukka Rask, who’s 10-6-0 with a 2.36 goals-against average and a .915 save percentage. Rask was the first goalie off at the skate and will start.

The series: Seems hard to believe, but the Penguins are 7-1-1 in their last nine against Boston and 6-1-1 in their last eight visits to TD Garden, although they were 0-1-1 here last season. … Penguins went 1-1-1 in the season series against the Bruins in 2013-14, despite outshooting Boston, 92-68, in those three games. … They scored on three of 10 power plays and the PK was five for six. … Kunitz, coincidentally, has a nine-game points streak against Boston dating back to Feb. 4, 2012.

Up next: Penguins vs. Maple Leafs, Wednesday, 7:30 p.m.

Links:
The Trib’s Penguins page
The Penguins’ gameday page
The Bruins’ gameday page
NHL.com’s preview and box score

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November 24, 2014
by Jason Mackey


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Mackey: Penalty minutes are dumb

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When it comes to penalty minutes, we’re all a bunch of toddlers.

We want them, until we have them.

This struck me after I reported and wrote today’s story on Steve Downie finding a balance between toughness and excessiveness.

Downie has been in the penalty box quite a bit. His actions have put the Penguins a man down quite a bit.

So?

Isn’t that the point of a player like Downie?

Look, don’t take this as an I-wish-I-didn’t-write-what-I-wrote kind of deal. It’s not. It’s a story because the coach, Mike Johnston, said it’s something that needs addressed, which makes it a story.

My point here and now is that our infatuation with penalty minutes is stupid. Either we want them or we don’t. There’s no “good penalty minutes” or “bad penalty minutes.”

You can’t play on the edge half of the time, then suddenly erupt and start beating someone’s head with your fists the next.

It would be like eating at Golden Corral, then deciding on Friday you’re going to run marathons. One kind of prevents the other.

My point here is that, in the Season of Analytics or whatever people way smarter than me are calling it these days, shouldn’t there be a better metric for players like Downie?

Such as times where he stuck up for an opponent, like when he waited like a “German Sheppard” – a classic Josh Yohe line that I’ll never forget – when Sidney Crosby was jawing with Jaroslav Halak earlier this year.

Or when his mere presence allows the Penguins’ stars to breathe a little easier when things get chippy.

Or if an opponent takes a cheap shot, and you know you could put Downie on the ice the next shift.

It’s a little different than telling Marcel Goc that, because he’s on the fourth line, he has to go fight someone. Or Craig Adams.

Plus, there’s a locker room aspect of Downie’s game that doesn’t make its way to the analytics community.

He’s well-liked. He’s a good human. I remember when I introduced myself to Downie, he immediately extended his hand and was as welcoming as can be.

Still is.

Which makes it a shame that the same way to properly measure his game is also the same way to criticize his game.

It would be like saying Crosby scores in the second period too much. Or Marc-Andre Fleury stops too many wrist shots.

It’s one specific aspect of what he does, and it happens to require a little extra effort from his teammates, the reciprocation of the extra effort he provides them.

Which is why I loved this quote from Brandon Sutter that ran in today’s story:

“He’s an energy guy,” Sutter said. “He’s going to take penalties doing that. But I think you need someone like that on your team. It’s our responsibility to kill those off.”

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November 23, 2014
by Jason Mackey


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Mackey: Some postgame thoughts from Nassau

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UNIONDALE, N.Y. – The easiest thing might be to freak out.

And maybe that’s what most will do after the Penguins managed one point out of a home-and-home series with a Metropolitan Division rival.

Those inside the locker room, though, won’t be among the group going nutty after Saturday’s 4-1 loss to the New York Islanders at Nassau Coliseum.

“We knew they were a good team, so I don’t think we learned anything different about them,” coach Mike Johnston said. “It’s more we had a series to play. We lost the first one in a shootout. We came into their building (Saturday). I thought for half the game we played well and the other half they took it over. We can’t let that happen.”

They also can’t continue to generate so few power plays – three since captain Sidney Crosby slammed his stick off the glass last Saturday at Consol Energy Center in disgust.

Sure, the Penguins are converting 33-percent of those chances, but one power play goal a week isn’t likely to be enough given how this team is constructed.

More shots are needed. The Penguins’ top two lines combined for nine shots on goal against the Islanders. That’s not enough. Patric Hornqvist had that total plus 33 percent more (12, I think; I’m bad at math) during the first meeting with the Islanders.

Is Hornqvist the right fit with Evgeni Malkin? I don’t know. They haven’t been bad together, but without Pascal Dupuis, it’s beginning to look like Hornqvist is the player who next brings out the best in Crosby.

I asked Johnston postgame tonight whether he would consider putting Hornqvist back with Crosby.

The response: “We’ll take a look at everything (Sunday),” Johnston said. “Tomorrow is a day off, as we head into Boston. We have four games this week, so we’ll take a look at our different combinations.”

Crosby has one goal in 11 games. He’s managed one shot in his past two games combined.

With Hornqvist, Crosby had 7-17—24 (1.71 points per game in 14 games). Without him, Crosby has 1-1—2 (.40 points per game in five games).

The Islanders look like a surefire threat to compete not only in the division but the Eastern Conference as well. This series, which Johnston said he was going to treat like a playoff series, was arguably the Penguins’ biggest test thus far.

(Don’t make the maybe-they-did joke. Don’t do it.)

The two-game grade isn’t worth freaking out over, of course, but it also wasn’t an A or a B.

“The situation with back-to-back games, you kind of look at that as a good challenge with them close in the standings,” Crosby said. “Especially here, we’ve had some pretty intense games and another close one. But we didn’t do a good enough job.”

Shipping up to Boston tomorrow. Club’s off. Any seafood recommendations, don’t be shy.

Be GRATEFUL to each other,

Mackey

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November 22, 2014
by Jason Mackey


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Pregame: Five questions from Uniondale

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No gameday skate for either team, given the back-to-backs, so I thought I would post five things to think about throughout the day.

1. What was up with scratching Simon Despres and will we see him tonight?

I would think so. He really has been pretty good so far – 1-3—5 in 17 games, a plus-7 – but his game is much more easily replaced by Robert Bortuzzo.

Fact is, by scratching Rob Scuderi, you’re also disrupting your penalty kill, as Scuderi averages 2:59 on the PK, third-most among Penguins defensemen.

Despres (3.1 hits per game) and Bortuzzo (3.4) are simply the most interchangeable of those Penguins defenseman you would reasonably consider scratching. (Would you scratch Kris Letang, Olli Maatta or Paul Martin? Didn’t think. Christian Ehrhoff makes $4 million and has shown signs of improvement recently.)

Head coach Mike Johnston pretty much ducked the question postgame, but he did say that he didn’t want anybody sitting for too long. Presumably this excludes poor Scott Harrington’s stretch earlier this season.

“A lot of our defensemen have been playing well,” Johnston said. “I don’t want to keep anyone sitting for an extended period of time. We won’t be on a rotational basis, but that was a decision we made (Friday).

2. Are teams really taking so few penalties against the Penguins?

Well, the numbers say so, anyway. Whether they’re truly being more cautious because of the Penguins’ top-ranked power play can be debated.

This much we know: Referees have awarded the Penguins one power play over the past 125 minutes – a slashing call on Montreal’s Alex Galchenyuk at 19:01 of the second period on Tuesday.

You could split hairs and question non-calls, but I’m not going to do that. Especially since the Penguins coach seems to think that everything was OK, even though I doubt many of his players would agree.

“I thought it was a well-reffed game,” Johnston said. “I didn’t think there were any penalties that deserved to be called out there. We had the one against us, but other than that there wasn’t anything. Usually in a hard-fought game like that, it’s physical; there’s going to be some penalties. But they didn’t try to overcall the game.”

3. Is Malkin’s line starting to find something?

Early on Friday was a struggle for Nick Spaling, Evgeni Malkin and Patric Hornqvist. They were on the ice for two of the Islanders first three goals. Then again, few Penguins excelled in the first period but more on later in the next point.

I don’t ever think this line is going to be considered your shutdown group, but the offensive upside they provide, like juicing a point out of a 4-2 deficit with a pair of goals late, allows you to overlook some of their early defensive lapses.

Or at least that might be how the argument would go.

4. Do the Penguins need a better start tonight?

Uh, yeah. I’d say. Brandon Sutter scored on a deflected, then everything went downhill.
The Penguins finished the period with five shots. That’s half as many as Johnston wants in the first 10 minutes, one-seventh of what he wants for the entire game.

Not good.

“First period we didn’t really give ourselves a chance with the way that we played,” captain Sidney Crosby said. “For whatever reason, we didn’t play well at all. They carried the play and got rewarded for it.”

5. Does Blake Comeau stay on Crosby’s line?

I see no reason to take him off, at least based off of Friday night. A lot of folks seem in this big hurry to put Beau Bennett up top. He’s fine with Sutter and Steve Downie.

Comeau has shown to be extremely strong on the puck, and I think Crosby likes that. Adds diversity to what he does and would like to do. And Comeau scoring – even if it’s bouncing off the opposing team as happened Friday – doesn’t hurt his case, either.

“He generates a lot,” Crosby said of Comeau. “It was good to see him get one there off a skate, but the way he’s skating and creating things, he’s going to create opportunities. He’s done a really good job there.”

He would never admit it, he’s too classy, but you know Comeau is loving this. Last year he was buried on Columbus’ roster. Now his linemates are Crosby and Chris Kunitz.

First game for Comeau against his old team, by the way, is Dec. 13, in Columbus.

Talk to yinz from Nassau. My first visit to the old barn. Looking forward to it and getting ready by listening to this Dead show.

Be GRATEFUL to each other,

Mackey

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November 20, 2014
by Jason Mackey


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Mackey: Some bang-on advice

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Credit fellow beat man Josh Yohe with the line, but it’s still one of the best pieces of advice I’ve received throughout this whole Penguins beat thing.

If you don’t get along with Pascal Dupuis, you’re doing something wrong.

As coach Mike Johnston might say, Josh was bang-on with that piece of advice.

The news that came out of Consol Energy Center today – that Dupuis would miss at least six months with a blood clot in his lung – flat-out stunk.

There are far too many terrible people in this world, yet one of our finest examples as humans gets dealt a hand like this. It simply does not, as defenseman Kris Letang put it, seem fair.

Back to Josh’s piece of advice. It was during informal workouts when I decided to approach Dupuis and introduce myself, say a few things and get to know him.

So I do that. Throw him the line about not getting along with him. He laughs. Then proceeds to ask me questions about where I’m from, when I started, etc.

I would never expect the athletes with cover to ask what I’m doing – we’re not the story, and if you think otherwise you probably shouldn’t work in the newspaper business – but what Dupuis did spoke volumes.

One of my other favorite getting-to-know-you moments with Dupuis was in Toronto earlier this year. Being the new guy, I had never seen out-of-town media swarm Sidney Crosby the way the Toronto contingent did.

Having access to Crosby every day, I figured I would take advantage and talk to a few of the other guys, whom I was – and still am – getting to know.

I went up to Dupuis, said hello and promptly forgot what I had meant to ask him. Something about being a versatile forward, I think. I looked over to Crosby’s stall and laughed.

I must have said something to Dupuis about the mass of humanity waiting on every syllable.

“Just wait,” Dupuis said, “until Montreal.

“He’ll do two scrums. One in English, one in French.”

To this day, I don’t know how these guys answer so many questions. I’d walk around my house yelling, “Just shut up,” and my wife would think I’m nuts.

I get that it’s our job to ask, but it’s not our God-given right to get an answer. Or to have these guys available 24/7. But I do appreciate it.

And I appreciate guys like Dupuis, who recognize that reporters are people, too. Some of us even have a soul. And a wife. And a kid. And we’re not always looking to screw someone over.

I know we’re supposed to be objective in our coverage, and I truly couldn’t care less whether the Penguins win or lose – just do it without overtime, please – as we’re not allowed to be fans.

Rooting for Dupuis is different.

Rooting for Dupuis is rooting for the guy who made eye contact and smiled to Hunter Kramer well before he and his parents reached the front of the autograph line (he did).

Rooting for Dupuis is rooting for the guy who recognized Hunter’s situation, got out of his chair and spent some extra time with him and his parents, making them all feel at ease (he did).

It’s why, to this day, that moment – and the recognition of Dupuis – still provides a bright moment to the Kramer family.

Rooting for Dupuis is rooting for the guy who sits down at his locker and jokingly screams “OK, I’m available,” and we all walk over to his locker because … he’s Pascal Dupuis, and you have to respect a move like that.

As Josh said, if you don’t get along with Pascal Dupuis, you’re doing something wrong.

Be GRATEFUL to each other,

Mackey

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November 18, 2014
by Jason Mackey


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Marshall: Quantifying Crosby’s Hot Start

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Local analytics expert Jesse Marshall chimes in on Sidney Crosby’s dominance thus far

Another year, another case of finding Sidney Crosby among the NHL’s elite point producers.

Through 16 games this season, Crosby’s 26 points trail only Philadelphia’s Jakub Voracek (27).

A quick jump inside some advanced metrics tells us how truly remarkable Crosby’s start as been.

Let’s start with puck-possession and shot differential through a metric called Fenwick-For Percentage. Fenwick tracks the sum of all unblocked shot attempts taken by a team when a specific player is on the ice. Since blocked shots aren’t normally a random act and are dictated by skill and coaching, we want to remove those from the equation.

Rather than just looking at raw numbers here, let’s get very specific. We’re going to look at even-strength shot totals specifically in situations where the game is tied or within one goal in the first and second periods, or tied in the third period. This removes some of the defensive situations that could find a team sitting back and defending a lead, something that the Penguins have had the pleasure of doing quite a bit of this season.

Through the year so far in those specific situations, Crosby boasts a Fenwick-For Percentage of 63.33%, meaning that 63.33% of every unblocked shot attempt taken with Crosby on the ice is heading towards the Penguins opponent’s net.

That’s nothing short of an impressive and gaudy total for a player who is consistently going up against the other teams top lines and top defensive pairings. While the sample sizes may also be small this early into the year, nearly every player on the Penguins roster boasts a higher possession number playing alongside Crosby.

This is also a testament to the work that coach Mike Johnston has done, as even through 16 games last year, Crosby found himself nowhere near that mark. He ended the 2013-14 season with a score-close, even-strength Fenwick-For percentage of 54.70%.

Crosby’s impact on the Penguins even-strength play is also tangible via his Individual Points Percentage. IPP is the percentage of goals scored when a player is on the ice that the player had a point on. Thus far, Crosby has an IPP of 84.6%. Only Blake Comeau and Evgeni Malkin (88.9% respectively) boast a higher IPP and each has been on the ice for less goals scored at even-strength.

If these possession metrics hold over the course of the season, expect Crosby to pull away from the field and make short work of the competition for the rest of the year.

Marshall started his own website called Faceoff-Factor. He currently writes for The Pensblog.

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November 18, 2014
by Jason Mackey


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Mackey: What to do with Beau Bennett?

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The Penguins need more from forward Beau Bennett.

It wouldn’t hurt to give him more first, however.

Look at Bennett’s ice time in the three games he’s played. It’s not pretty: 9:35, 10:16 and 10:56. He’s recorded no points and two shots, none in his most recent game.

“Definitely not,” Bennett responded when I asked if he was where he wanted to be in his return following today’s practice at Consol Energy Center. “It’s a work in progress. I think physically I feel alright. Still trying to get back into the swing of things. It’s a process.

“When something happens to your lower body, it’s always in the back of your head. Mentally you have to get over it. Eventually I will. It’s just the first couple games back feeling alright. Hopefully I will get better.”

The Penguins sure hope so. Their third line (and probably more) depends on it.

Pascal Dupuis (undisclosed) did not make the trip for Tuesday’s game at Montreal. Blake Comeau, fresh off a stint filling in on Evgeni Malkin’s line, will take Dupuis’ spot.

Why not Bennett?

That’s a good question.

Quick Fancy Stats detour: Bennett’s Corsi For Percentage — yes, I know it’s only been three games — is 63.3. This surprises me. What doesn’t is his 55.0 percent of offensive zone starts. Bennett’s PDO (90.0) is about where you’d expect it to be: a touch below average.

Perhaps coach Mike Johnston is infatuated with the idea of Bennett developing chemistry with Brandon Sutter. I get this … sort of. They were really good together in the preseason. But I’m also not sold on Bennett as a left wing, at least not when it feels forced.

I like him long-term with Sutter, but to get Bennett going, I think playing him with Chris Kunitz and Sidney Crosby might provide the spark the Penguins need.

Bennett talked Monday about feeling tentative, and he has looked it; normally he’s a lot more decisive with the puck, a better playmaker. Say what you want about Bennett staying healthy. When he is, and he’s playing with similarly skilled players, he doesn’t lack for creativity.

“My timing is fine,” Bennett insisted. “I think it’s just mentally knowing that it’s going to be OK going into the corners and battling hard. I’ve played five games since I’ve been back. I think it’s only going to get better in time, just mentally getting over the hump of knowing that it will hold up.”

Which is why I think playing Bennett with a player like Crosby, someone who demands the work ethic and skating away from the puck, might help to reignite his game and give him some confidence. We shall see, right?

Josh Yohe (@JoshYohe_Trib) has the club tomorrow in Montreal, one of his favorite trips of the year. Wish him well. I’ll be working on a Sunday piece, catching up with someone yinz undoubtedly remember well. (No, not Rossi; he’s still here.)

Be GRATEFUL to each other,

Mackey

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