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February 14, 2015
by Jason Mackey


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Pens Roundtable podcast

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CHICAGO — What to make of the Penguins’ third-period collapse Thursday?

What’s up with Beau Bennett?

How big of an impact does Blake Comeau have on this hockey club?

Solid questions, all of them. And ones that Josh Yohe, Ken Laird and I tackled on this week’s Pens Roundtable Show on TribLIVE Radio.

If you missed it, you can listen here.

Be GRATEFUL to each other,

Mackey

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February 12, 2015
by Jason Mackey


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Postgame: Bennett plays against Red Wings

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Forward Beau Bennett made a surprise return to the Penguins’ lineup during Wednesday’s 4-1 win over the Detroit Red Wings at Consol Energy Center.

A healthy scratch in four of the team’s previous five games, Bennett didn’t take line rushes at the gameday skate but played right wing on a third line with center Brandon Sutter and left wing Nick Spaling.

“I was told after the pregame skate,” Bennett said. “I had a feeling after we lost last (Saturday), 5-0, (at Vancouver). There’s always usually a shakeup after something like that. It was great to get back there and get back in the win column as well.”

Bennett finished with a relatively quiet stat line: a blocked shot attempt and one giveaway, and he was a plus-1 in 14:38.

He did, however, go to the front of the net on Spaling’s second-period tip-in of a Rob Scuderi shot.

Coach Mike Johnston noticed.

“I actually thought that Beau did some good things,” Johnston said. “The Spaling goal, Beau’s at the net. Beau’s right there in front of the net. Those are some of the things that he’s got to add to his game. I thought in the compete areas he was good.”

The Bennett saga has been strange to me.

Why have him not take rushes, then all of a sudden start him?

Well, there’s more to it. One, Detroit is a skating team, Johnston said.

“After the morning skate, I really thought about … I wanted to get him in this next sequence of games,” Johnston said. “I thought tonight, Detroit is a skating team, they’re a skill team. I thought it would be a good game for him to get back in to. It’s at home. We can get our matchups, if there’s any concern about a matchup.”

First, management is in no hurry to force Bennett back in for a couple of reasons.

One, he hasn’t even played 82 NHL games yet — 68, to be specific. He’s not exactly an NHL regular or owed a specific set of minutes, the thinking goes.

Second, they wanted to see how he responded to the benching. (The verdict was good; they loved his hour-plus workout in Calgary.)

Third, they don’t want to force Bennett back and not have him work on specific areas of his game such as net-front play, thus setting this process back to zero.

Although he admitted this is tough to take, Bennett seems to be on board.

“I think it’s more mental than anything,” Bennett said. “Just getting over the stuff I’ve gone through in the past with injuries, you have to put that behind you and know that you can battle and not have to worry about tweaking something here or there.”

In fact, Bennett understood Johnston’s decision … or at least said he did.

“I knew I wasn’t going to play in Edmonton,” Bennett said. “We shut them out. Then in Calgary, we shut them out. If I was the coach, I wouldn’t change anything up, either.

“I kind of knew what to expect and was glad to get back out there tonight.”

Be GRATEFUL to each other,

Mackey

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February 11, 2015
by Jason Mackey


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Pregame: Penguins vs. Red Wings, 8 p.m.

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The Penguins will look to bounce back from a 5-0 shutout loss at Vancouver on Saturday against a familiar foe Wednesday at Consol Energy Center when they face the Detroit Red Wings at 8 p.m. on NBC Sports Network.

“We had a good day off yesterday to kind of get refreshed again,” center Brandon Sutter said. “Everyone should be feeling pretty good for tonight. First game after a road trip; should be excited. We just need a good start, to come out with some jump, and we should be all right.”

Forward Blake Comeau (broken wrist) took the morning skate and will be a game-time decision. That said, many of the quotes circulating around the dressing room today would indicate Comeau is playing.

Comeau has missed the past 20 games – since Dec. 22 at Florida. He ranks fourth among wingers and sixth overall with 11 goals.

“It was kind of a freak accident,” Comeau said. “Being out that long wasn’t easy. I’m excited to be back. Hopefully I can pick up where I left off.”

“I like what he’s done so far this year, his body of work,” coach Mike Johnston said. “He’s a big, physical guy. He can skate. Tonight is going to be a skating game. It’s great to have him back … and available for a game like tonight because we’re going to need that speed.”

“He’s a great person,” forward Patric Hornqvist added. “He’s always smiling and laughing. He brings good energy in the room. It will be good to have him back.”

The Penguins (30-15-8) face a tough task in the Red Wings (31-12-9).

Not only does Detroit boast the league’s best power play at 25.5 percent, but it also has won nine of its past 10, three in a row, and occupies third place in the Atlantic Division with 71 points – three more than the Penguins.

Center Henrik Zetterberg leads the way with 47 points, while left wing Tomas Tatar has a team-high 23 goals.

“They’re really good in the neutral zone,” Hornqvist said of the Red Wings, who rank fifth in goals for (2.94) and sixth in goals against (2.36). “If we turn the puck over, it’s going to be dangerous. We need to be strong on the puck in the neutral zone and get their defense turned every single time they’re on the ice.”

The Detroit power play has been hot, too. The Red Wings are 4 for 12 over their past three games. Gustav Nyquist leads with 12 power-play goals and 20 power-play points.

“Guys like Zetterberg, they want the puck,” Sutter said. “They’re going to make plays. Just try to limit how good of a scoring chance they have.”

Petr Mrazek will get the start in goal. He’s 8-1 with a 2.54 goals-against average and a .913 save percentage while filling in for Jimmy Howard, who was placed on injured reserve with a groin injury Jan. 11.

Howard is healthy, but coach Mike Babcock doesn’t want to disrupt a hot Mrazek.

It will be Marc-Andre Fleury for the Penguins, with Thomas Greiss expected to start Thursday in Ottawa.

The Penguins have earned points in four straight (2-0-2) against Detroit. They’ve won three of the past four at home. Their last, and only, loss to the Red Wings at Consol Energy Center was Dec. 13, 2011.

Fleury has a shutout streak of 131:40 and is 10-1-2 against the Atlantic Division.

Other goodies from this morning: Arizona claimed forward Mark Arcobello off waivers. He becomes the third NHL history in history to play for four teams in one season. … Defenseman Christian Ehrhoff skated on his own early, but Johnston doesn’t expect him on the upcoming road trip to Ottawa and Chicago.

Quotable: “I was on the bench watching. Maybe I closed my eyes. I don’t remember,” Kris Letang, Penguins defenseman on the final sequence of the 2009 Stanley Cup Final.

Zetterberg on the sequence: “If you want to have one player with a chance in the end, it’s probably Nicklas Lidstrom. We gave it a shot. You want a different outcome, but that’s sports.”

Be GRATEFUL to each other,

Mackey

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February 6, 2015
by Jason Mackey


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More Agnew on Letang

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CALGARY, Alberta — Penguins defenseman Kris Letang is having a Norris Trophy-type season.

What, didn’t notice?

Neither have others, seemingly.

I wrote about that for Friday’s print edition: simply how spectacular Letang has been and how, for whatever crazy reason, he’s not being put in the same conversation at Kevin Shattenkirk of the St. Louis Blues or Calgary’s Mark Giordano, who the Penguins will see Friday.

For the story, I talked to assistant coach Gary Agnew, who’s easily one of the friendliest and most helpful folks around the team. Smart man, too.

I asked Agnew what’s different about Letang to explain his January explosion and general fine year — two injuries notwithstanding.

“He’s picking his spots and not getting caught up in as much traffic as he had been earlier,” Agnew said. “Part of his vision on the ice is finding the seams and the holes. Then the timing that goes with that, getting into those seams and holes opposed to rushing and getting himself caught up in it.”

You can check out the numbers in the print story. Don’t want to waste time here on them. Quick spoiler: They’re good. They put Letang perfectly in line with the past five Norris Trophy winners and at or near the top of this year’s class.

Not that you’ll hear his name regularly mentioned among the NHL’s elite defensemen, or at least among those who have won the award in the past.

Agnew brought up an interesting point when he said things like this tend to get legs when the player is hot heading into Canada, especially Western Canada. No lie, I laughed at first. Hear Agnew out, though.

“When you get to Canada, a lot of times that heats up a bit,” Agnew said. “You get a couple calls of, ‘What’s going on with Letang?’ I think people are taking notice.”

I asked Agnew whether anyone had called him. He said he’s fielded numerous phone calls from friends and fellow coaches — people in the business — about his stud defenseman.

I also asked Agnew who Letang reminded him of the most. Paul Coffey was the first name out of his mouth. Then Shattenkirk and Montreal’s P.K. Subban.

“His ability to get in and out of the play and still play the other side of the puck, for me, that was Coffey as I remember him,” Agnew said. “A more modern-day guy, I’d have to think about it. He’s in that realm of the Shattenkirks and the Subbans.

“For me, that top four or five guys in the league.”

Flames tomorrow. Cool building, cool city from what I’m see.

Be GRATEFUL to each other,

Mackey

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February 4, 2015
by Jason Mackey


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How valuable is Evgeni Malkin?

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EDMONTON, Alberta — The Penguins will welcome center Evgeni Malkin back to their lineup tonight at Rexall Place.

Perhaps with a police escort. Or maybe a rolled-out red carpet.

Yeah, he’s that important.

“Definitely someone who’s tough to replace,” Sidney Crosby said. “It’s nice to see him coming back.”

Is it ever if you’re a Penguins fan.

Let’s look at some numbers:

=Malkin has tallied at least a point in 34 of 45 games. That’s roughly 76 percent. To compare, Crosby has points in 27 of 46 games or 59 percent.

=In those 34 games, the Penguins are 24-7-8 for a winning percentage of .824. In the 11 games where Malkin has not scored, the Penguins are 4-7 (.364).

=The Penguins have scored just nine goals in the five games Malkin has missed because of a groin injury, an average of 1.8. For the season, they average 2.5.

=In the 11 games where Malkin has not recorded a point, the Penguins are a combined 1 for 34 on the power play.

OK. So why the dramatic shift?

Well, for one, opposing teams can dictate matchups … and smother Crosby’s line. If the Penguins are on the road, the opposing coach can use exactly how he wants to defend Crosby’s line without having to worry about a second wave coming. Or, to be fair, vice-versa with Crosby if the coach chooses to match Malkin’s line.

“We have to be sharp on the bench and try to get the best matchup we can,” Oilers coach Todd Nelson said. “Sometimes it doesn’t always work out that way.

“When you have a team like Pittsburgh coming in that has a lot of different options that they can go to for offense, we just have to be playing a very strong team game.”

Malkin’s absence has also forced Brandon Sutter to center the second line with Patric Hornqvist to his right.

It’s oil and water.

Sutter is a straight-line center and responsible defensively. He does a lot of things but creating offense is not one of his strengths. Hornqvist relies on someone creating for him, allowing him to work around the net. You get a diluted version of Hornqvist without Malkin.

The numbers, albeit a small sample size, bear it out.

Since returning from an 11-game absence because of a foot injury on Jan. 27 against Winnipeg, Hornqvist has 10 shots (2.5 per game average), one goal (an empty-netter) and is a minus-3 in four games playing on Sutter’s line.

The other 33 games Hornqvist has played? He’s a plus-12. He’s averaged 3.6 shots per game. He’s scored 13 goals.

OK, all I got for now. Pens/Oilers tonight at 6 my time, 8 o’clock yours.

Be GRATEFUL to each other,

Mackey

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February 1, 2015
by Josh Yohe


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Yohe: Beau Bennett on his benching

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Good evening, everyone. I had the chance to sit down with Beau Bennett today and discuss Friday’s benching. As you might imagine, he’s not real happy these days. But as always, he was open about discussing the situation. Here’s what he had to say and what Mike Johnston wants to see when Bennett returns to the lineup:

Beau Bennett (Chaz Palla  |  Trib Total Media)

Beau Bennett (Chaz Palla | Trib Total Media)

No Penguins player smiles on a more regular basis than right wing Beau Bennett.

That smile, though, wasn’t evident on Saturday.

Bennett, 24 hours removed from being a healthy scratch in New Jersey, is quite serious about improving his game.

“I think this was a wake-up call,” Bennett said.

Bennett was one of the first players on the ice for Saturday’s practice at Southpointe and one of the last to leave the ice.

When practice concluded, he sat quietly by his locker, his head down and his voice more quiet than usual.

Coach Mike Johnston’s decision to bench Bennett clearly hit the California native hard.

“Hopefully I’ll be in the lineup against Nashville (on Sunday),” Bennett said. “I’m just going to keep working hard and earn a spot in this lineup.”

Bennett wasn’t shocked by the benching and acknowledged that his play since the NHL All-Star Break hasn’t been satisfactory.

“I had a hunch it was coming,” Bennett said. “I wouldn’t say I was surprised. And honestly, I’m more disappointed in myself than anyone else. I’m not mad at the coaches or anything like that. Maybe sitting me was the best way to make me play better.”

Johnston made it clear why he benched Bennett. He wants the skilled forward to play a tougher game and play more in front of the net as opposed to the perimeter.

“He’s an offensive player with a lot of skill,” Johnston said. “Good offensive instincts. But it’s all about the battle areas. It’s tough to score in this league. Really tough. You’ve got to go to hard areas, play more of an engaged game. That’s where his offensive game could really evolve, to get to the front of the net. That’s a big step in his progression.”

Bennett, a gifted playmaker, hasn’t recorded an assist during the past 10 games.

He has scored twice during that span, but he has struggled since the All-Star Break.

And he knows it.

“I need to handle the puck,” he said. “I can’t throw it away. I need to move my feet more and get to the net. Those first couple of games (after the break), not that I was playing bad, but I wasn’t doing anything positive. When I’m not doing anything positive with the puck, I’m honestly a non-factor. It was frustrating for me. I know the coaches were frustrated, too.”

Bennett made it clear that playing with the proper amount of passion has never been a problem for him.

“I am pretty good,” he said, “at motivating myself.”

Johnston didn’t so much sit Bennett as a way to motivate him, but rather, did so because he believed it would be beneficial for Bennett to relax and observe the game from above.

The Penguins’ two goals in New Jersey, incidentally, came because of a substantial net front presence. Johnston hopes Bennett noticed.

“Sometimes with young guys it’s a matter of watching a game, taking a break,” Johnston said.

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January 31, 2015
by Jason Mackey


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Postgame: Extras from Friday’s 2-1 OT win

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NEWARK, N.J. — Greetings, hockey fans, from the beautiful Newark airport. About 30 minutes out from boarding my flight home, but I thought I would share some stuff that I tweeted last night.

Just too many solid quotes to let fall by the wayside.

First, go back and watch defenseman Simon Despres’ game-winner. Not his best work, but the Penguins will take it.

“It wasn’t the hardest shot, but it went in,” Despres said. “I was fortunate.

“I don’t think (Devils goaltender Cory Schneider) saw it. It was at an angle that was hard for the goalie. Low-blocker. I didn’t aim there. I just tried to put it on net. I got fortunate.”

Friday’s win snapped a five-game losing streak for the Penguins at Prudential Center. It was their first-ever overtime win and sixth overall there since 2007.

Those, though, were typical Devils snoozefests. Not that this one was back-and-forth, on-the-edge-of-your-seat hockey, but the Penguins did outshoot the Devils, 43-14.

“We’ve had games in this building where we haven’t really given ourselves much of a chance,” center Sidney Crosby said. “Still lost close ones. This one had a much different feel. We generated so much in the third there. Felt like it was a matter of time.”

I asked Crosby what the gameplan was for attacking the Devils’ trap game. Loved his answer:

“Just wanted to move the puck quick,” he said. “Obviously they can’t trap if we’re playing in their end. We tried to move it quickly to prevent them from getting set up. When we did get in there, we didn’t want to throw the puck away or allow them to get set up there again.

“We were smart. They’re a solid team. They play well defensively. But we played with the puck a lot and generated a lot of chances that way.”

He saved his best for last. Asked whether it was a bit ironic, given all the Penguins’ Grade A chances last night, that they would win it on Despres’ shot, here’s what Crosby had to say.

“That’s the way it works,” Crosby said. “You don’t ask how. You just take it and get out of there. Felt like we deserved one like that after some of the chances we had. (Defenseman Kris Letang) had a great one late there great off the post. I had a couple. Our third period was great. We really raised our level there in the third. It was nice to see one go post and in instead of post and out.”

Coach Mike Johnston broke out a basketball reference — he was a Trailblazers fan in Portland, remember — when he was asked if he wondered whether a puck was ever going to get past Schneider, who was making his NHL-leading 42nd start.

“When Letang rang one off the crossbar, he hit it pretty square, I was thinking, ‘Is this puck ever going to fall?’ ” Johnston said. “I give them credit. They kept the net clean on a lot of rebounds. We didn’t get a lot of rebound chances. We had some first-shot opportunities. He saw some pucks through traffic. I give him credit for that.”

Another important development that come out of Friday, I thought, was how Despres was used. No, Scott Harrington and Robert Bortuzzo weren’t great, but I’ll circle back.

Despres played 23:01, attempted 10 shots, put five on net and didn’t run himself out of position trying to hit people — a part of his game has excelled from the beginning of the season until now.

If the Penguins decide that Despres’ is a top-four guy — I think he is, for what it’s worth — they may be able to acquire a third-pairing defenseman for a relatively small cap hit. We’ll see. They don’t have much to play with without trading someone.

Elevating Despres is a cheap — and maybe smart if he keeps it up — way of addressing your top four. It would allow Bortuzzo to either play fewer minutes or Harrington to develop more or both. All I got. Josh has practice today, noon at Southpointe.

Be GRATEFUL to each other,

Mackey

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January 30, 2015
by Jason Mackey


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A podcast and a tease

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NEWARK, N.J. — First thing’s first, earlier today Josh Yohe, Ken Laird and I talked some pucks. Here’s a link to the podcast. Hope you can check it out.

Secondly, wanted to tease my Sunday story. It’s an analysis sort of deal, a numbers-based look at where the Penguins are and where they could go over the final 33 games of the regular season after tonight.

One of the things I look at is how the Penguins have scored. I got an idea from good friend Kevin McGran of the Toronto Star.

They did something where they looked the first 3,710 goals scored this season via the NHL’s play-by-play breakdowns to see what play immediately preceded the goal.

I would recommend checking out that story here. It still amazes me how they combed through game sheets from every single NHL game this season.

In Pittsburgh, the numbers pretty much fall in line with the league-wide averages.

Here’s what I found going into the Devils game. Total of 143 goals:

Penguins shot on goal: 35 (24.5 percent)
Lost faceoff: 17 (11.9 percent)
Won faceoff: 16 (11.2 percent)
Taking a hit: 13 (9.1 percent)
Delivering a hit: 11 (7.7 percent)
Opponent’s shot on goal: 10 (7.0 percent)
Having shot blocked: 8 (5.6 percent)
Opponent’s missed shot: 7 (4.9 percent)
Blocking a shot: 6 (4.2 percent)
Missing a shot: 6 (4.2 percent)
Opponent giveaway: 5 (3.5 percent)
Penguins giveaway: 4 (2.8 percent)
Takeaway: 4 (2.8 percent)
Opponent takeaway: 1 (.7 percent)

What can we learn for this data?

Well, two things in my opinion.

Rebound goals are important, and one of the biggest reasons the Penguins have been spinning their wheels are because of injuries to Patric Hornqvist and Blake Comeau. They’re two of the team’s best.

Secondly, faceoffs. They’re winning draws at a 49.1 percent clip. That’s their worst number since posting the same winning percentage in 2008-09.

Ironic, right?

Well, the final 33 games offer a chance to change those numbers. Hope you can read about it in Sunday’s Trib.

Be GRATEFUL to each other,

Mackey

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January 26, 2015
by Josh Yohe


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Yohe: 10 issues facing Penguins in second half

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Good morning, everyone.

Ready for the unofficial second half of the hockey season? Of course you are. But are the Penguins? That’s a pretty good question, I’m sure you’ll agree.

Let’s take a look at the 10 biggest issues facing a Penguins team that might be the X-factor of the Eastern Conference playoff picture come April.

 

  1. Sidney Crosby’s production

 

Crosby is averaging 1.19 points per game, which is a Hall of Fame number. It’s also the worst point per game average of his career and, in fact, Crosby’s points per game have declined in each of the past three seasons. His current mark of 0.41 goals per game is also a career low.

So, why are Crosby’s numbers so low? There are many theories, including the belief many hold that Crosby’s wrist remains injured. He does appear to tape his wrist more than in previous seasons, though I believe that to be a precautionary move. Is the wrist 100 percent? Probably not. It was seriously bothering him in the playoffs, according to numerous sources. But I have the privilege of watching him practice every day, and the way he fires the puck in practice leads me to believe that, if indeed his wrist is banged up, it isn’t horribly damaging his ability to shoot the puck.

I’d suggest that Crosby’s numbers are down because he has never played on a team that receives so few power plays every game. The numbers are way, way down. That hurts all great offensive players.

That said, Crosby needs to be better. Much better. He’s looked more himself since the turn of the New Year, especially in his willingness to work down low. His skating has been magnificent in recent games and I don’t believe his current injury is anything real serious.

The Penguins need to generate more power plays and, frankly, Crosby needs to perform better with the man advantage. He’s been a turnover machine at times on the power play, and this needs to stop.

Crosby hasn’t been bad. I still would pick him to win the scoring title, health permitting. But he needs to improve for the Penguins to make a legitimate Stanley Cup run.

 

  1. Who is the No. 4 defenseman?

 

This is a big, big deal. It seems the Penguins have three legitimate top-four options every season, and now, because of an injury to Olli Maatta that potentially could cripple the Penguins, the same situation is becoming evident.

Kris Letang, who won’t be out long with his current injury, is playing the best hockey of his career. He has become a true No. 1 defenseman. Paul Martin has been a little inconsistent this season, but when he’s with Letang, he’s terrific. Those two absolutely click and should not be separated.

Christian Ehrhoff has been an excellent addition. I didn’t particularly like his game in October, but since the beginning of November, he’s been wonderful. More offense will come, his defensive work is sound and Ehrhoff’s efficient, economic ability to make proper decisions with the puck has been a very big deal.

But here’s the bigger deal: Who plays with Ehrhoff the remainder of the season? I see the candidates as Simon Despres, Derrick Pouliot and Robert Bortuzzo. And frankly, Despres seems unlikely. The Penguins really like Despres with Rob Scuderi – I know, I know, most of you aren’t Scuderi fans – and I don’t see that pairing being split. In general, it has been a perfectly reasonable No. 3 pairing, so we’ll assume it sticks.

That leaves Pouliot and Bortuzzo as candidates. Bortuzzo provides some muscle and has played relatively well in short stints with Ehrhoff. But is Bortuzzo a top-four defenseman? I don’t see it. I like him as a No.6 guy, but not seeing more than 20 minutes per game.

Is Pouliot a top-four guy? Well, we know he will be. His talent is special as you saw in a tremendous performance against the Blackhawks last week. He will give the Penguins instant offense and can run the power play at any time. But is his defensive work ready for postseason hockey, especially in a top-four role? That’s a lot to ask of a kid. I love Pouliot’s game and, in fact, I think the Penguins would be wise to give him a 10-game look with Ehrhoff right now to see how they do. I won’t discount Pouliot’s ability to stick and he should be given a look.

But if the Penguins could use anything right now, it’s probably a top-four guy to play with Ehrhoff. Unfortunately, those guys don’t grow on trees and the salary cap remains a big problem.

 

  1. How will games be officiated?

 

If you were to privately ask the Penguins how they feel about the work of NHL officials this season, the answers from some players wouldn’t be fit for publication. They are absolutely livid.

And when you look at their special teams numbers, you’ll understand why this is a significant issue. One could make a sound argument that the Penguins are the finest NHL team in the area of special teams. Their power play ranks No. 6 in the NHL, this despite an almost unbelievable slump for more than a month. Think about that.

Meanwhile, their penalty killing unit ranks No. 3 in the NHL, which is no fluke. It’s almost always that good.

When games are called in a tight manner, it benefits the Penguins. When the refs “let the boys play,” things will quickly turn against them. The Penguins are only a slightly above average five-on-five team and likely aren’t capable of winning a Stanley Cup without receiving a positive impact from their special teams. You can’t realistically do that when penalties are being called.

The Penguins always are among the league leaders in yapping at refs. But it feels different this season. There is a lot of anger about how games are being called. It’s worth keeping an eye on.

 

  1. Getting healthy

 

This is stating the obvious, I realize. But it needs to be mentioned. This has been a remarkably unhealthy team for quite some time now. The Penguins are No. 6 in man games lost after finishing No. 1 last season.

Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Letang, Patric Hornqvist, Blake Comeau and others are currently banged up. Unhealthy teams do not win Stanley Cups.

The Penguins are banged up and have been for a while. Will this change anytime soon? Their postseason chances will hinge on it. There’s no way around this.

 

  1. Will the bottom-six start to score?

 

I’m on record as saying Crosby and Malkin need to be dominant players in the postseason for the Penguins to have a chance at sniffing the Stanley Cup. That said, they sure could use some help. The fourth line has produced almost no offense. The third line has displayed flashes – if Brandon Sutter, Beau Bennett and Steve Downie play together, there is potential there – but really hasn’t provided any semblance of consistent offense.

All four lines need to score in the playoffs. In 2009, the likes of Tyler Kennedy, Jordan Staal, Matt Cooke and even Craig Adams scored memorable goals. It wouldn’t be the worst thing if Jim Rutherford made a move to help the bottom-six. Whether he does or not, this group needs to score more.

 

  1. Simon Despres…

He’s been so good most of the season, but lately, not so much. I don’t believe he has been 100 percent. But still, there has been a noticeable decline in his recent play, particularly his work in one-on-one situations. Those who defend him will say “he’s being held back playing with Scuderi,” but I don’t really buy that.

The fact is, Despres was outstanding the first two months of the season and hasn’t been awful since, but has been average at best.

Despres needs to be better than average for the Penguins to thrive in the playoffs, no matter his pairing. In general, this season has been a huge success for him. But as always, he needs to provide more consistency each game.

 

  1. Start spreadin’ the news

 

The Penguins have a big, big problem. One plays in Manhattan, the other on Long Island.

I didn’t find anything about what the Islanders and Rangers did to the Penguins this season fluky. Did you?

The Rangers outplayed the Penguins badly in three of four meetings and have won six of seven in the rivalry. They are in the Penguins’ heads, this I’m sure of. They’re a deeper team. Not a more talented team, but certainly a deeper one.

The Islanders? They’re just good. Really, really good, and the Penguins don’t appear to have an answer for their forwards.

John Tavares and his mates come to town on April 10. Maybe the division will be decided by then, maybe not. And maybe the Penguins need to beat them that night, no matter what the standings say.

 

  1. Does Fleury have another gear?

 

Yes, Marc-Andre Fleury has been magnificent this season. Yes, he deserves to have his name in Vezina talk. Yes, he keeps getting better under goaltender coach Mike Bales.

But can he steal a series against the Islanders or Rangers? That might have to happen for the Penguins to win the Stanley Cup, or even for them to get into contention.

When is the last time Fleury stole a series? Detroit in 2009, perhaps?

I’m not saying he isn’t capable. In fact, I suspect that he is. But we haven’t seen it in quite some time. Fleury clearly has emerged as one of hockey’s finest goaltenders this season, and he’ll be good in the playoffs. No question. But can he be better than good? His play against the Rangers and Islanders this season is a concern.

 

  1. Does GMJR have any bullets left?

 

Jim Rutherford has done a fine job dating back to last summer. Almost all of his moves have been correct, notably a wonderful job in acquiring David Perron.

Now, the salary cap and lack of forward depth is Rutherford’s enemy.

The Penguins could really use a big-time bottom-six forward. They could use a No. 4 defenseman, too. In a perfect world of luxury, they could use one more top-six forward, even though that seems wildly unlikely at this point.

The Penguins are right up against the salary cap. Any significant move they make will see them deal a player already on their NHL roster.

 

  1. All eyes on you, Mike Johnston

 

A significant portion of the Penguins fan base will tell with you certainty that Dan Bylsma is the reason the Penguins struggled during the past few postseasons.

Maybe he is, maybe he isn’t. It’s a tough thing to gauge, you know?

But this must mean the head coach is important. I’ve been completely impressed with almost everything Mike Johnston has done. He’s good. Really good. He’s got a beautiful hockey mind and just has an easy going way about him.

But the playoffs change everything. How will he handle the playoffs? Will he push the right buttons? Will he figure out a team that has been mentally soft in recent years?

We’ll see.

 

Enjoy the second half, everyone. It should be interesting.

 

  • Yohe
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January 24, 2015
by Mike Palm


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On Penguins and fighting

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The hit that led to Rob Scuderi's first fight. (AP)

The hit that led to Rob Scuderi’s first fight. (AP)

So Penguins defenseman Rob Scuderi got in his first NHL fight on Tuesday against the Flyers’ Jakub Voracek. (I won’t comment on it being not much of a fight.) What’s notable is that it came in Scuderi’s 683rd regular-season game.

What’s also remarkable is that there are five other Penguins who have played 300+ regular-season games without getting into a fight.

But first, here’s when current Penguins got into their first NHL fight (not including preseason and postseason games):

NHL fight chart

Now, onto the longest streaks without fighting in the NHL:

Paul Martin — 661 games

Evgeni Malkin — 563 games (3 postseason and 1 preseason fighting majors)

David Perron — 464 games (1 preseason fight in 2009)

Patric Hornqvist — 396 games

Nick Spaling — 343 games

Olli Maatta — 98 games

Mark Arcobello — 86 games

Beau Bennett — 64 games

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