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June 30, 2016
by Jonathan Bombulie

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Right-hand turn


My dad, who is left-handed, always joked that he screwed up by not forcing me or my two younger brothers to be left-handed as well. That way, if one of us had become a major league relief pitcher, his retirement would have been paid for.

A similar lesson seems to be on tap for hockey parents these days. If you have a young son, force a right-handed stick into his hands.

I bring this up because of the trade that sent Taylor Hall to New Jersey for Adam Larsson yesterday. Hall is a stud winger, one of the best in the league. Larsson has the potential to be a difference-making defenseman, but he isn’t yet.

The only way I can make sense of this trade in my head is to assume that the Oilers were so consumed with the idea that they MUST have a top-four right-handed defenseman – a somewhat rare commodity in the NHL – that they were willing to dramatically overpay to get one.

I expect the trend to continue when the free agent signing period opens tomorrow as well.

I think there’s a good chance Ben Lovejoy and Justin Schultz, who are defensemen with positive attributes but aren’t big stars by any means, are going to get eight-figure deals in large part because they’re right-handed and can, to one degree or another, move the puck.

I’ve read some speculation that Jason Demers could get upwards of $5 million a season on the open market. I’ll bet guys like Tom Gilbert, Roman Polak and Yannick Weber will end up breaking the bank too.

The NHL is a copycat league, they say, and I think the one lesson other GMs might take away from the Penguins’ recently completed run to the Stanley Cup is the importance of having at least three right-handed defensemen who can handle the puck.

I think the rush to acquire righties is probably overblown. There are plenty of left-handed defensemen who are perfectly comfortable playing the right side, but because righties are rare, they’ll command big bucks.

It’s almost as if scarcity is the No. 1 factor for determining how much players get paid. Using that philosophy, Josh Miller should have made a mint while he played for the Steelers. How many left-footed punters are out there? Benny Distefano should have printed money when he played for the Pirates. He was a left-handed catcher.

Anyway, amidst all this right-handed defenseman mania, I talked to Penguins prospect Ethan Prow at development camp today. He’s a right-handed D who can move the puck. An undrafted free agent out of St. Cloud State, he’s about to play his first pro season in the fall.

He’s an excellent stick-handler with an outstanding shot and he skates very well. He has some rough edges to shore up in the defensive zone, like most rookie defensemen.

If he improves in certain areas, he could see some fill-in duty on the Penguins blue line as soon as this season.

Or, worst-case scenario, he could be dealt to Peter Chiarelli for Connor McDavid or something.

Anyway, here’s a little Q and A I did with Prow at development camp today. I felt a little like that reporter who allegedly asked Doug Williams if he’d always been a black quarterback at Super Bowl media day that one time. So, Ethan, have you always been a right-handed defenseman?

Q: When did you first realize being a right-handed defenseman might be good for your career?

A: I didn’t really notice when I was younger. I thought, you know, ‘Righty. Whatever.’ But I think when I was going into college, somebody pointed it out to me, that it’s kind of a dying breed, right-handed defensemen. From that aspect, knowing that you were, honing your skills and looking for those opportunities you can exploit is key.

Q: How do you feel when you see a move like Larsson for Hall yesterday? Does it make you feel like you have a special job skill that could be lucrative some day?

A: I didn’t choose it, but I’ll take it. It’s big. With there being a need for right-handed defenseman, and it’s kind of all around the league, it’s kind of weird. It’s a good problem to have if you’re a righty.

Q: How often have you played on your off side? Enough to realize how much of an advantage it is to be a righty playing the right side?

A: I played a couple times. It is a big difference, just being able to see the ice and still being on your strong hand does help, whether that’s going D to D in the neutral zone or on the offensive blue line, getting ready to rip it over a little faster. It does help being the same shot. It is nice and I like playing with a left-handed defenseman as a partner.

Q: How does it feel to have one of the premier right-handed defensemen in the world, Kris Letang, as a role model?

A: He’s a real special player. Just being able to watch him and see some of the plays he makes, he makes a normal play, but he has the special capability to make that special play as well. That’s key and it helped him all season long. He’s one of their staples. If you can watch him and take away little bits and pieces of his game and kind of funnel it into your own game, it can only benefit you.

In closing, think about Letang for a second. He’s making $7.25 million for the next six seasons, which is starting to look like the steal of the century. If he were a free agent today, in the middle of this right-handed defenseman frenzy, the contract some GM would give him would make Shea Weber’s deal look like an AHL-ECHL two-way.

Bye for now,



June 29, 2016
by Jonathan Bombulie

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Development camp roster


Nine of the 37 players who were on the Penguins’ development camp roster last year ended up playing at least one regular-season game for a team that won a Stanley Cup.

It’s hard to imagine that same percentage holding up again this year, but as always, there are some intriguing names on the list. Take a look. (Here’s a link to the roster on the team web site with heights and weights and stats and all that stuff.)

Lukas Bengtsson (Getty)

Lukas Bengtsson (Getty)


Niclas Almari: Fifth-round pick in last week’s draft. Puck mover. Director of amateur scouting Randy Sexton compared his body type to Oskar Sundqvist. European scout Patrik Allvin said he’s a long-term project.

Lukas Bengtsson: Offensive defenseman coming off a breakout year in the Swedish league at age 22. Nothing stopping him from cracking the NHL roster. Sundqvist played with him at World Juniors. “He’s a skilled defenseman with a really good first pass,” Sundqvist said. “He has a great shot. For being that small, he has a really, really good shot.”

Dane Birks: Stay-at-home D. Tall and right-handed. Sixth-round pick in 2013 draft. Just finished freshman year at Michigan Tech.

Neal Goff: Big (6-5, 220) stay-at-home D. Just finished sophomore year at Western Michigan. Captain of his USHL team before going to school. Tryout.

Connor Hall: Third-rounder taken last week with the pick acquired in the Beau Bennett trade. Might be the most scrutinized player at this camp, since he’s a physical guy and the trend in the NHL in general and with the Penguins specifically is to value mobility over physicality.

Joe Masonius: Sixth-rounder last week. Played on some loaded USNTDP teams as a 17 and 18-year-old. For example, was a teammate of Auston Matthews two years ago. Started to flex his offensive muscles as a freshman at UConn last season. He was on the development camp roster as a tryout last season, incidentally.

Robert Michel: Right-handed tryout defenseman from the Syracuse area. Put up big offensive numbers in juniors, more modest stats as a freshman at Maine last season.

Matt Petgrave: An interesting one. An accomplished defenseman in the OHL from 09-13. A finalist for OHL defenseman of the year in 12-13. Then he went to Canadian university for three years, so he’s a 24-year-old tryout now. He’s got some good offensive numbers and check out this hip check.

Ethan Prow: A right-handed puck mover from St. Cloud State signed as an undrafted free agent in the spring. He didn’t play much after joining WBS at the end of his college season, which leads me to believe he’s got some rough edges to smooth out.

Ryan Segalla: Stay-at-home D. Fourth-round pick in 2013. Completed his junior year at UConn.

Jeff Taylor: At this time last year, there was buzz around Taylor, who just finished a 31-point sophomore year at Union. Not as much buzz now after a 12-point junior year.

Michael Webster: Two-way defender signed to an AHL deal with WBS the other day. A regular in Barrie’s lineup for the last four seasons. Captain. Not wearing No. 52.

Dylan Zink: A small offensive defenseman coming off two double-digit goal seasons at UMass-Lowell, where he was a teammate of Scott Wilson. Tryout.

Jake Guentzel (The Citizens' Voice)

Jake Guentzel (The Citizens’ Voice)


Anthony Angello: A lot of buzz around this 6-4 centerman after a really good freshman year at Cornell. A fifth rounder in the 2014 draft.

Teddy Blueger: Came in at the end of his senior year at Minnesota-Mankato and became a regular for WBS as a fourth-line center and penalty killer. Not an exciting prospect necessarily, but he’s more polished than most on this list.

Blaine Byron: A sixth-round pick in 2013. His numbers the last three seasons at Maine are just OK, but every time I see him, he looks like an explosive player with some offensive potential. A sleeper prospect.

Reid Gardiner: I can’t figure out why this kid wasn’t drafted in 2014 when he was ranked 40th among North American skaters by Central Scouting. He’s got 77 goals in 138 games over the past two seasons for Prince Albert in the WHL. Played with Leon Draisaitl for a while. He’s 20 now with four junior seasons under his belt. I think it’s safe to say he’s auditioning for an NHL deal at this point.

Jake Guentzel: He already had prospect buzz after averaging 40 points a season in three years at Nebraska-Omaha. Then he joined WBS late in the season, hopped onto the left wing of a line with Carter Rowney and Tom Kostopoulos and was among AHL playoff scoring leaders. A lot of buzz now. Who’s the best forward prospect in the organization? Most people would say Daniel Sprong. I’m not sure it’s not Guentzel.

Cameron Hebig: Tryout who had a nice 19-year-old year for Saskatoon of the WHL.

Christian Hilbrich: The Penguins don’t have a lot of size in the prospect pool. Hilbrich is a 6-foot-7 winger who signed an AHL deal with WBS. A steady performer for Cornell for the past four seasons.

Troy Josephs: Seventh-round pick from 2013 hasn’t put up big numbers in three seasons at Clarkson.

Tyler Kelleher: Tryout headed back to UNH for his senior year in the fall. Listed at 5-6. Some impressive scoring credentials with the USNTDP and in college.

Sam Lafferty: Hollidaysburg native picked in the fourth round of the 2014 draft. Hasn’t put up numbers in two years at Brown.

Conor Lemirande: A big 6-6, 236-pound forward who played a year for the Youngstown Phantoms in the USHL before playing the last two seasons at Miami (Ohio). Had seven goals and seven fights in 58 games for the Phantoms in 13-14.

Austin Lemieux: Took a step up in competition last season, joining Omaha of the USHL, and became a regular in the lineup. I believe his plan is to play one more year of junior hockey, then head to college.

James McEwan: Tryout had a breakout 25-goal season as a 19-year-old with Guelph last season.

Austin Ortega: An interesting name on this list because he has proven chemistry with Guentzel. They’ve been linemates at Nebraska-Omaha, where Ortega has been a 20-goal scorer the last two seasons. Here’s an unbelievable stat: Ortega has 19 game-winning goals in 76 games over the past two seasons. That’s nuts. He’s small (5-9), which is probably why he’s in camp as an undrafted tryout.

Nikita Pavlychev: Seventh-round pick from 2015 had a decent year with Des Moines of the USHL – 9 goals, 22 points and 161 PIMs. Headed to Penn State in the fall. He’s a 6-7 center.

Gage Quinney: Undrafted tryout had a breakout 29-goal season as a 20-year-old in the WHL last year.

Freddie Tiffels: Sixth-round pick in 2015. Numbers weren’t as impressive as a sophomore at Western Michigan as they were as a freshman. A good skater. Used to be Fredrik. Now he’s Freddie.

CJ Yakimowicz: A Wilkes-Barre area native picked in the sixth round of the 2014 draft by the Blues but not signed. He was bottom-six muscle for the powerful London Knights the last two seasons. 19 goals and 212 PIMs in 115 games over the last two seasons. Given where he’s from, an AHL deal would make a lot of sense.

Cam Johnson (Getty)

Cam Johnson (Getty)


Filip Gustavsson: At the draft, this second-round pick said he’d been to North America three times. He visited Sarnia, Ontario; Grand Forks, North Dakota; and Buffalo. Cranberry’s going to look like the French Riviera to this kid.

Tristan Jarry: Matt Murray’s quick rise to the NHL has maybe obscured the regular development curve for goalies a little bit. Jarry had a nice rookie season for WBS, but he’s likely years away from being NHL ready. That’s usually how it goes.

Cam Johnson: A massive year for North Dakota en route to a national title. Johnson went 24-4-2 with a 1.66 GAA and .935 save percentage. He’s headed back to UND for his junior year in the fall. He’ll probably be a hot college free agent in the spring.

Sean Maguire: 2012 fourth-round pick had a nice senior year at BU after sitting out the previous season with post-concussion issues. I’d guess he’ll start his pro career getting ample playing time for the Wheeling Nailers in the fall.


At UPMC Lemieux Complex in Cranberry. Open to the public.

Wednesday, June 29
2:15-3:00 p.m. – Team A Practice
3:15-4:00 p.m. – Team B Practice

Thursday, June 30
9:45 a.m. – Team A Skills Practice
10:45 a.m. – Team B Skills Practice
10:45 a.m. – Goalies Practice (Rink 2)
2:30 p.m. – Youth Dek Hockey Clinic (Riverside Park in Oakmont, Pa.)

Friday, July 1
9:45 a.m. – Team B Practice
10:45 a.m. – Team A Practice

Saturday, July 2
3-5 p.m. – 3-on-3 Competition


June 24, 2016
by Jonathan Bombulie

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Draft blog


I’ll be updating this blog post periodically with observations from the draft floor:

— After Calgary acquired Brian Elliott from St. Louis for a second and conditional third, I’m seriously having a hard time thinking of a team where Marc-Andre Fleury would be a good fit.

Dallas: Fleury would be an upgrade on Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi, but the money makes it complicated. Lehtonen makes $5.9M and Niemi $4.5M.

Ottawa: Craig Anderson makes $4.2M. So the Sens would either have to have $10M wrapped up in goalies or the Penguins would have to take back Anderson, who makes only a little less than Fleury.

Buffalo: I like Robin Lehner. I assume the Sabres do too. If they don’t, then sure, maybe a fit here.

Winnipeg: The Jets have a stud coming in Connor Hellebuyck. Ondrej Pavelec will keep his seat warm in the interim. No real need for Fleury in Winnipeg.

Edmonton: I like Cam Talbot and the Oilers just gave him a bunch of money.

Islanders: I’m not wowed by Jaroslav Halak either, but the Islanders finished ninth the league in save percentage last season. It’s not like they were leaky.

In summary, I think Dallas is actually the best fit – a team that could be a championship contender with a Fleury-sized upgrade in net – but Jim Nill would have to pull off some kind of magic trick to make the money work.

— A year ago at this time, the Penguins’ draft table was a tense place, what with the Phil Kessel trade on the horizon and all. So far this evening, team executives have been chatting amiably and accepting congratulations and whatnot. This might be one for the Captain Obvious files, but a championship sure can change the mood around a team.

— A note in Elliotte Friedman’s  column today got me thinking about something. What’s the difference between Nick Bonino today and Brandon Sutter 12 months ago?

A third-line center with some offensive pop entering the final year of his contract due a pretty sizeable raise once it expires.

Twelve months ago, Jim Rutherford decided to move Sutter while his value was still relatively high. I guess the formation of the HBK line and the winning of a championship makes Bonino’s situation different, but not that different.

— The thing I like most about draft weekend is the draft. I know that sounds weird, but I think I’m in the distinct minority here on the press riser. I’m just a prospect guy at heart.

Anyway, I picked out a couple of prospects that I consider good fits for what the Penguins have been doing lately.

Chad Krys, D, USNTDP: A smooth-skating 5-11 offensive defenseman from Connecticut. Was a borderline first-rounder before have a subpar 17-year-old season.

Yegor Korshkov, RW, Yaroslavl (KHL): Lanky overage winger who could play in an NHL top six pretty quickly.

— There are some other prospects I’m interested in just because they’re quirky in one way or another.

Garrett Pilon, C, Kamloops: A smart two-way forward whose father has a statue outside Consol Energy Center.

Sean Day, D, Mississauga (OHL): He’s 6-2, 244 and can skate but he has all sorts of questions about his decision making and drive. One of those ultimate boom-or-bust kind of picks that are fun to follow.

Matt Murray, G, Spruce Grove (AJHL): He went 23-4 this season and was named Canadian Junior Hockey League goalie of the year. And his name is Matt Murray. And he’s a goalie.


June 13, 2016
by Jonathan Bombulie

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Game 6 San Jose postgame



In a changing media landscape, today is a day where you want to pick up a newspaper. Between photographer Chaz Palla’s photo and designer Matt Rosenberg’s layout, I think this is a keepsake Penguins fans are going to want to have.

But if you’re more inclined to read online, here’s all the stuff we wrote tonight in one place.

It’s never taken me four days to write a game story before, but these were unusual circumstances. I put some of the pieces together before Game 5 Thursday, then finished it up tonight.

Bill West notes that the same media members who declared Crosby’s game in decline in November voted him playoff MVP tonight. My vote went to Phil Kessel, incidentally, but I see the rationale for voting for Crosby. There were a lot of great postseason performances by a lot of players — Kessel, Matt Murray, Kris Letang, Nick Bonino — but let’s face it, Crosby is the best player on the best team.

Fair or foul, before tonight, these Penguins could easily be compared to the Atlanta Braves of the 1990s. One title, but missed opportunities for more. Columnist Rob Rossi looks at how two titles changes everything for Crosby and Malkin.

I was asked to write a story that wrapped up the entire season. To me, it was all about overcoming criticism. Fair criticism, mostly. These Penguins had problems. But they overcame them.

Bill West notes that Mike Sullivan never talked with his team about the Stanley Cup. He talked about process and day-to-day improvement and playing the right way. It was the right message at the right time.


When Mario talks, people listen. In this case, Rob Rossi listened and wrote about it. One hell of a photo by Chaz Palla, too.

This might have been the most touching moment of the celebration tonight. Crosby gave Trevor Daley the Cup first, in part as a tribute to Daley’s ailing mother.

I caught a little flak for asking Fleury about his uncertain future when he was obviously in celebration mode. I can assure you I wasn’t busting the guy’s chops. Just a matter-of-fact question that needed to be asked. It wasn’t the Spanish Inquisition.

Another bounce-back performance for rookie goalie Matt Murray. What else is new?

Bill West described Schultz’s season like this: He was the dog at the pound who was about to get put down when he got adopted at the last second.

I remember how seriously shaken up Crosby was the day Dupuis stepped away from the game in December. I can imagine it was fulfilling for him to see Dupuis with the Cup tonight.

Evgeni Malkin has a new baby, he’s about to get married, he’ll soon turn 30 and he just won the Cup for the second time. Big news for big No. 71.

Bonino Bonino Bonino Bonino Bonino Bonino Bonino. Nick. Bonino.

Earlier in the day, Jerry DiPaola caught up with Pierre McGuire, who shared some cool stories.

This feels like I wrote this a week ago. Before the game, Bill and I recalled Matt Cullen’s words when he signed with the Penguins last August, looked at Brian Dumoulin’s DJ skills and compiled a few other notes.

The news side covers every angle of the celebrations on the homefront.

By my count, that’s 16 stories. A pretty decent night’s work. Hope you enjoy.


And check out the gallery of our photographers’ work from tonight too.

Finally, a personal note before I go. People were sad, I’m sure, when the Penguins didn’t win the Cup at home Thursday night. I know that would have been a great time. But how many people who otherwise would have been out on the streets celebrating during Game 5 were instead at home watching Game 6 with their friends and families? Those moments when you gather with your loved ones to share in a common passion … appreciate them. Isn’t that what enjoying sports is all about?

Bye for now,



June 12, 2016
by Jonathan Bombulie

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Game 6 San Jose pregame


Coming into the Stanley Cup Final, it was widely assumed that the Sharks had a special teams advantage. Their power play was dangerous. The Penguins’ power play was mediocre.

Through five games, it hasn’t worked out that way.

The Penguins are 2 for 11 on the power play, scoring once in each of the past two games. The Sharks are 1 for 10, not having scored since Game 1.

The Penguins didn’t have a morning skate before Game 6 – these 5 p.m. starts on the West Coast make it difficult – but several players met with the media. Special teams was discussed.

Patric Hornqvist on the Penguins power play the last two games: “We moved the puck around a little quicker, take what they give us. In the first two, three games there, I think we tried those seam plays a little too much. Keep it simple, get it to the net.”

Matt Cullen on the Penguins penalty kill:  “I think it’s been pretty consistent for us throughout the playoffs, really throughout the last stretch of the season. Our group is pretty consistent. We’ve done a pretty good job of pressuring teams, making life difficult as far as taking away time and space and using our feet to close on people. It’s something we work on a lot, we talk a lot about. It’s an important part of the series. They have a really good power play. We understand we need to stay on it and be good.”

Some other pregame notes and quotes:

— Coach Mike Sullivan explained what he meant when he said he thought the Penguins were “unsettled” in the first few minutes of Game 5: “Listen, the stakes are high. This team really wants to win. When that happens, we’re all human and we all have emotions. When I say the team was unsettled, by no means do I think we were flat. We certainly didn’t have the start we wanted as far as controlling momentum right from the drop of the puck. Give San Jose credit, they were opportunistic on a couple of the chances they got and it ended up in the back of our net.

“I think we can play with more purpose in those first few shifts to get us off on the right foot in the first period. I know that our team is well aware that we need to have a better start to make sure that we don’t get down in the game as early as we did. It’s tough to win when you do that. I give our guys a lot of credit for fighting back right away and scoring two goals to get ourselves right back in the hockey game. For me, I don’t want to over-think it. Our guys are well aware of how we need to play.”

— Sullivan on June hockey: “I think it’s exciting. I think our guys are having fun with this whole journey that we’ve had. They’re a close-knit group. They enjoy playing for each other. I think they’re having fun with this. I think they’re embracing the challenges we’ve been faced with to this point.

“We’ve got another great opportunity tonight. I think that’s how we’re all looking at it. We’re excited to play. You know, it’s hard to get to this point. The league is a very competitive league. There’s a lot of really good teams. We beat some good teams to get here. I think our guys look at it in that light. We’re excited to keep playing. By no means are we satisfied with where we’re at. We’re looking forward to this game today.”

— Sullivan on the ice conditions. The forecast calls for a high of 80 degrees today with humidity around 55 percent: “We’re not worried about it, quite honestly. Both teams have to play on the same sheet. Depending on how it is, sometimes we have to simplify our game. We’re not overly concerned about it. We’re just going to try to play our game.”

Bye for now,



June 11, 2016
by Jonathan Bombulie

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Mr. Jones and Me


Had an interesting exchange with Evgeni Malkin after practice today. He was talking about what it was going to take to beat Martin Jones, who was the star of the show in Game 5 Thursday night.

“Maybe more fake shot because he plays a little too, not deep, skate forward.”

Malkin paused after saying “not deep,” looking for the right word in English for what he was trying to convey. But I think he made his point crystal clear. Malkin thinks Jones is challenging shooters so aggressively that it can be used against him.

Malkin continued:

“Maybe fake shoot and skate in after and shoot.”

I find it interesting because for Malkin, that’s a perfectly reasonable approach to beating Jones. Malkin is one of the most skilled stick-handlers in the world. He has the ability to hold onto the puck a little longer to make Jones make the first move.

It might not be the best strategy, conversely, for someone like Bryan Rust or Eric Fehr. For those guys, beating Jones will probably come by driving to the net.

Ultimately, it probably speaks a bit to why the Penguins have averaged more than three goals per game in the postseason. They have a good mix of players, some who can try to beat a hot goalie with a dangle and others who can accomplish the same goal by getting bodies to the blue paint.

Some other quotes from today’s practice:

— Matt Cullen, with a good summary of where the Penguins are in this series: “This is one of those situations where we feel like we did enough good things to win, but we didn’t make sure. I think we have a group here that can make sure. When we play the way we can for 60, we feel really good about what happens, but I think we have to have that little bit of pissed-off attitude and go after it and take it.”

(In my story that will appear online and in the paper tomorrow, a similar quote from Cullen will say the Penguins need to play “(angry).” I thought you blog readers could handle the raw language.)

— Kris Letang, on the motivation the Penguins have to close it out in Game 6: “I don’t think you need more motivation. The goal is to win the Cup. Every night you have a chance to do it, you have to bring your A game. At this point in time, I think everybody’s ready to play their best game and come to the rink ready.”

— Phil Kessel, with another entry in the quotes-for-any-occasion file: “You always got to just keep going, right? They’re obviously never going to go down without a fight.”

— Mike Sullivan, on trying to end it on the road: “I think being on the road, it’s just the team. There are less distractions for sure. But having said that, I thought our guys did a really good job of handling it the right way. It was unfortunate that we didn’t get the result we were looking for. But we’re playing a very good opponent and we know that. We know this is the most difficult win to get. Our players are well aware of the expectations and the heightened intensity that we need to have in order to get this next win.
So regardless of where it is, our focus is on that.”

Bye for now,



June 10, 2016
by Jonathan Bombulie

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Game 5 San Jose postgame


Matt Murray is confident.

Like really confident.

So much so that it shocked me after tonight’s game, a 4-2 San Jose victory that staved off elimination for the Sharks and get up a Game 6 Sunday night.

Murray gave up goals on two of the first three and three of the first five shots he faced. The first, by Brent Burns, was an almost exact replica of the goal Joonas Donskoi scored in overtime of Game 3.

Pens Sharks final Gm 5

I expected him to talk about the excitement of the moment perhaps getting to him in the opening minutes of the game. Maybe he would talk about a few technical things he needed to sharpen up.

He went in a different direction entirely.

“I felt like I was on top of things tonight, to be honest,” Murray said. “I probably could have played the Burns goal a little bit better, but apart from that, they got a few lucky bounces. I felt really good. I felt like I was on top of it. I was great the second and third, I thought. I made some great saves. Just our start hurt us.”

And that, it occurred to me, is probably the kind of confidence it takes to be a successful NHL goalie. Confidence that borders on delusional.

It’s worked for Murray so far this postseason, as he’s 5-0 in the start following a loss. We’ll see Sunday night if it works again.

Some other notes and quotes from tonight:

— A little disagreement in the Penguins locker room about San Jose goalie Martin Jones’ night. He was really good, making 44 saves. He stopped all 31 shots he faced in the final two periods. But did he steal the game?

Bryan Rust says no: “Nah, I wouldn’t say that. He did play well. He did make some big saves. But we missed some opportunities to capitalize on a lot of errors. It’s just one of those things.”

Carl Hagelin, more or less, says yes: “We didn’t put the puck in. Their goalie played probably one of the better games in his life.”

— Crosby on missing a chance to finish it off tonight: “You want to close it out, but like any playoff game, you’ve got to turn the page. We did a lot of good things. That’s the bottom line. We didn’t sit back. If anything, the first five minutes, we didn’t push the pace like we would have liked.”

— Patric Hornqvist doesn’t want to hear about your bad bounces, like the posts the Penguins hit in the second period: “You can’t really say about bounces. I thought we outplayed them five-on-five. The first five minutes is where they won the game. I think we played a good ame after that. The last 55 minutes, we were hard on pucks, taking pucks to the net.”

— Hagelin on momentum in the series or the lack thereof: “I don’t think so. In the playoffs, there’s three days now between games. We’re going to start on an even keel, both teams.”

Bye for now,



June 10, 2016
by Bill West

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SCF Game 5 GIF-cap


Martin Jones refused to let the Stanley Cup Final end with a Penguins win in Pittsburgh on Thursday, as he made 44 saves during San Jose’s 4-2 win at Consol Energy Center.

Feel free to insert the Crying Jordan meme here for all of the Penguins beat writers who really hoped to avoid another cross-country flight. Sharks coach Pete DeBoer certainly found pleasure in the circumstances.

“I think our group’s whole motivation is to make all you guys get back on a plane and go back to San Jose again,” DeBoer said to reporters after the Game 5 morning skate. “That’s everybody’s goal. I know it’s mine.”

Anyway, on with the GIFs.

Stanley Cup Final hockey is a helluva drug: The Penguins and Sharks set a new NHL record for fastest four goals scored in a SCF game. Their ability to do it in 5:06 topped the time it took the Penguins and Chicago Blackhawks to score four in 1992 (6:51 into Game 4, which the Penguins ultimately won, 6-5).

Martin Jones committed robbery, theft and any other crime that involves stealing: The Penguins weren’t willing to say Jones stood on his head. But 44 saves says quite a bit.

Everyone ended up in a glass case of emotion, including the Penguins: Because San Jose somehow held on to its lead despite spending most of the latter two periods in their own zone, Sidney Crosby and his cohorts needed to vent. That led to some late-game shenanigans from both sides.


June 9, 2016
by Bill West

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Conn Smythe candidates among Pens


Is there such a thing as an optimal time to discuss Conn Smythe candidates in the Stanley Cup?

A rift appears to have emerged among Penguins fans, not to mention prominent members of Hockey Twitter, about whether it’s reasonable to write about and debate the frontrunners for the award given to the postseason’s most valuable player hours ahead of a potential Stanley Cup Final clincher.

Those who object seem to believe a conversation about who is most deserving of the award among Phil Kessel, Matt Murray or Sidney Crosby presumes far too much about the Penguins’ chances of winning Game 5 at Consol Energy Center.

Some of those who put their Conn Smythe thoughts in writing for readers (or Twitter followers) on Thursday morning did come across as a little certain of Game 5’s outcome.

Here’s what we can all agree on: There’s no easy choice among the Penguins, which proves problematic when a select few voters might need to cast their ballots in a matter of hours.

We discussed this dilemma and some other if-Penguins-win scenarios on the TribLIVE Radio podcast this afternoon. Follow the link below to listen.

How voters perceive Matt Murray’s performances in the playoffs is intriguing. Jonathan Bombulie and I both agree that the rookie’s lack of a flashy style might work against him in the eyes of voters. (There’s also a question among the analytics crowd about whether Murray’s numbers are particularly exceptional relative to this season’s goaltending standards.) But back to the issue of Murray’s showmanship: JB & I each considered an essay about goaltending mechanics that appeared in The Players’ Tribune pretty insightful and instructive.

A portion of the essay focuses on how netminders can use pre-shot body positioning to make otherwise difficult stops look mundane. Murray still certainly has room to improve as an NHL goaltender, but his ability to read the play and manage shooting angles is pretty impressive. It’s also a reason he’s rarely required to do anything showy to get saves.

Considering the nuances of positions also complicates the discussion about the merits of Kessel, Crosby (and Nick Bonino, for some). The Penguins’ three scoring lines have created matchup problems for every playoff opponent, so debates about whether the ‘HBK’ line, and Kessel specifically, benefits from Crosby often handling the toughest assignments are bound to pop up. And there’s also the question of whether Crosby’s two-way play as the No. 1 center offsets his limited scoring production. Conn Smythe blog

Here’s an overview of some of the five-on-five fancy stats for the Penguins’ forwards in the playoffs. All of it comes from

Kessel’s production on the power play gives him the points-per-60 minutes lead if all situations are taken into account. But I didn’t want to go that route because all-situations stats also skews everything negative for Bonino due to his penalty killing.

The Penguins drove even-strength possession better with Crosby than with Bonino or Kessel — 54.65% of the shot attempts with Crosby on the ice belonged to the Penguins, versus 52.43% and 51.56% with Kessel and Bonino, respectively. But the scoring stats obviously favored Kessel and Bonino.

One guy who fell out of the Conn Smythe conversation later than most was Kris Letang. I’ll shamelessly plug my story on his absurd playoff minutes total — it’s more than 100 above the next closest official amount for a Penguin in the postseason — as a way to remind everyone that he might be the least replaceable part of this team, at least in terms of plugging in someone else within the organization.

Here’s more from Sergei Gonchar on Letang and the weight he carries as the Penguins’ top blue-liner. Gonchar understands the burden, because in 2008 and 2009, he shouldered those responsibilities, though not to as severe a degree as Letang.

“You’re tired after the games, but at the same time, you’re not only tired physically but mentally, because it’s a long season,” Gonchar said. “That’s why it’s so important to not only recover but keep your focus. These days, especially, with the five hours traveling, it’s not easy to do. But I think Kris has done a great job recovering and preparing himself for the games.

“With all the battles he has out there, people trying to hit him, you have to be smart and make sure that you’re protecting yourself and not getting killed out there. We’re working on that. He’s getting better. We’re not there yet, but what I’m trying to say is it’s a tough job. I’ve got to give him all the credit. He’s doing it for us.”

So who deserves to the Conn Smythe among the Penguins? Who will win it? Who knows.

Stay tuned, because by the third period, we’ll all  know whether there’s even a reason to fret about the award this evening.


June 7, 2016
by Bill West

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SCF Game 4 GIF-cap


Only one win now stands between the Penguins and the Stanley Cup. A 3-1 win over San Jose on Monday at the SAP Center included some serious ebbs and flows. But, as has been the case for most of the playoffs, the Penguins simply put together more stretches of strong play than their opponent.

Feel-good Phil: Phil Kessel finished with a team-high four shots on goal. He tallied two assists (both primary). He, Nick Bonino and Carl Hagelin finished tied for the best five-on-five shot attempt differential among the Penguins (plus-6).

So what did Kessel have to say about such a performance and the Penguins’ win overall? Well, about all you’d expect Phil to say. (These answers are the entirety of his answers to question, not just excerpts.)

  • On being one win away from lifting the Cup: “You never imagine something like this. But to be one game away from winning, it’s something pretty special. We’re just going to have to play a real good game.”
  • On the shot he took that set up Ian Cole’s goal: “I was just trying to get a shot on net, and what a bounce, right? And Coler made a great shot.”
  • On Matt Murray: “He’s been calm, cool in there. I’ve said this all along: He makes the saves that we need him to make and that allows the team to win.”
  • On possibly winning the Cup on home ice vs on the road: “We’ll take it any way we can. Obviously they’re a good team, so they’re going to come at us hard.”

I include all of this because I enjoy the simplicity of Kessel. It stands in such stark contrast to the creativity that Penguins fans find within themselves while celebrating the man.

Great wall of Murray: Matt Murray faced as many shots in the final 20 minutes (12) as he did in the previous two periods combined. Only one got past him.

Matt Cullen said of the final frame: “They pushed hard. We defended hard. That was a heck of a hockey game. It was up and down. Matty was up to the challenge. It was good to see him come out with the effort that he did tonight. We needed it, of course. It’s going to be tight. I mean, this is the Stanley Cup Final. There’s going to be tight games, and man he was good down the stretch, especially.”

It’s close: To revisit the first line of this post, the Stanley Cup will be in Pittsburgh on Thursday and might very well end up above the Penguins’ heads at the end of the night. Following their coach’s lead, the Penguins have remained very business-like during this playoff run, rarely granting themselves any pats on the back. But they realize the odds are now heavily in their favor, and they know San Jose is yet to impose its will in this series.

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