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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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November 16, 2014
by Jason Mackey


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Postgame: Extras after Saturday’s 3-2 shootout win

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I really wanted to blog about this game serving as a proper response to Tuesday’s 5-0 loss at Madison Square Garden.

Or even Evgeni Malkin getting two minutes for a nasty – but clean – hit because he defended himself

Both options would be wrong.

Can’t write anything about Saturday’s 3-2 shootout victory over the New York Rangers without first acknowledging the absurd ending.

How I nearly sent a story on how the Penguins loss yet again to the Rangers.

How players in both locker rooms had their gear off before officials pulled them back on the ice.

How Brandon Sutter scored and Marc-Andre Fleury stopped Rick Nash to win it.

Here’s what Rangers coach Alain Vigneault had to say afterward:

“Half the guys had their sweaters off,” Vigneault said. “Half the sticks were packed. It wasn’t a good goal. It was the right call. They got to come back, and they won it.”

“It’s (the) first time,” Malkin said when asked if he had ever seen anything like that. Malkin finished with a goal and an assist.

“I can’t believe (it). (The) whole team (was) in (the) locker room already.”

“When it happened live, there was a sense that maybe it was kicked in,” Penguins coach Mike Johnston said.  “It just looked that way, like it was kicked in or came off the post or something. Nobody reacted on the ice, so we go to the dressing room. Everybody’s going in, and (the coaches) saw it on the TV.”

So weird.

Kind of like Malkin picking up two for roughing following his hit on Dan Girardi. OK, the hit was nasty. And I hate Consol Energy Center blaring Rob Van Dam’s theme music – Pantera’s “Walk” – when a player is laying in a crumpled mess on the ice.

I don’t know Dan Girardi, but somebody out there considers him a son and maybe a husband and father. His misfortune is not to be celebrated.

Still, what was Malkin s supposed to do? Legal hit, he got jumped, and he defended himself. Captain Sidney Crosby likened it to Friday night, when Dion Phaneuf leveled Patric Hornqvist, Malkin retaliated, and the Maple Leafs wound up on the power play.

“It’s tough,” Crosby said. “A lot of things happen fast, even the hit. It’s a hard one for them to judge game speed. It’s tough when we’re kind of penalized for the exact same thing (Friday) night. Exact same play.

“I think a guy understands when he sticks up for a teammate that he’s running the risk of getting that extra two (minutes) and putting his team on the kill there. That’s a tough one, but we still found a way.”

Did they ever.

And at a good time given Tuesday’s loss and back-to-back wins over Toronto and the Rangers.

“It’s important when you have a tough night that we know we can rebound,” Johnston said. “We knew we had them again this week. We couldn’t look past Toronto, and we didn’t. At the same time, I thought we came into tonight’s game just OK in the first period. We got better and better as the game went along.”

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November 15, 2014
by Jason Mackey


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

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Rangers forward Carl Hagelin expects a different Penguins team Saturday night than the one who showed up at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday.

Obvious, right?

After all, the one that showed up Tuesday was an anomaly, the group that authored what was easily the Penguins’ worst performance of the season.

It’s also one that has a chance to distance itself from that tonight at 7 at Consol Energy Center.

“They’re obviously going to come out flying,” Hagelin said following the Rangers’ gameday skate. “They’re going to be a bit mad from last game. It’s always like that.”

Reality says the Penguins probably won’t convert power plays at a 41-percent clip this season.

It also says the Penguins won’t be as slow to loose pucks as they were on Tuesday or be as accommodating when it came to the Rangers’ time and space.

The Penguins know this.

They’re not 11-3-1 because they got lucky.

Over the past nine games, the Penguins have allowed 14 goals, the fewest permitted by any NHL team.  There are three shutouts in there, and they’ve permitted one goal or less six times.

Not including the Rangers game, the Penguins outscored four opponents on their recent road trip 16-6.

Sidney Crosby leads the NHL in points (25) and assists (18), while goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who will try for career win No. 298, is tied for the league lead with three shutouts.

Hagelin knows this.

Which is why he doesn’t expect tonight’s Penguins team to in any way resemble the one he saw Tuesday.

“They’ve been playing real well as of late, except that game against us,” Hagelin said. “They’re obviously going to be a different team.”

News out of the skate: No skate for the Penguins. Not much out of the Rangers’ room, either. Tanner Glass and Lee Stempniak return. Henrik Lundqvist in goal. Coach Mike Johnston talks at 5 p.m., and I will have updates them.

TV/Radio: Root Sports/105.9 FM

About the Rangers: Rangers (7-6-3) are coming off a 4-3 shootout loss to the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday at Madison Square Garden. … Rick Nash (12-6-18) has a point in 12 of 16 games this season. He leads the NHL in even-strength goals with 10. … One factoid I’ll bet you didn’t know: Rangers defenseman Dan Boyle leads all defensemen in power-play points (104) since the start of the 2009-10 season. … Martin St. Louis has four goals and two assists over his past six games, with a pair of multi-point games in there.

The series: Rangers won, 5-0, on Tuesday at Madison Square Garden. … They went 1 for 4 on the power play, snapping a streak of 39 straight for the Penguins’ penalty kill. … The Penguins do have a six-game unbeaten mark (5-0-1) against the Rangers in Pittsburgh. … Lundqvist is 4-1-2 with a 1.93 GAA and a .932 save percentage with one shutout in his last seven appearances against the Penguins. … Fleury is way better at home versus the Rangers than on the road. His home numbers: 17-4-4, 2.09 and .926. His road numbers: 9-11-3, 3.43 GAA and .893.

Next up: Penguins at Canadiens, Tuesday, 7:30 p.m.

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

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November 13, 2014
by Jason Mackey


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More on Thursday’s shots story

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What got me thinking about today’s analysis of the Penguins’ shots was something head coach Mike Johnston said a few weeks back: how he believes to be a 20-goal scorers you need to take 200 shots and to be a 30-goal scorer to you have to take 300 shots.

I went back and looked at the non-lockout years during the Sidney Crosby Era – 2005-06 through 2013-14 – and it’s honestly not that necessary. Check this out:

>>>A total of 631 players scored between 20-29 goals during that time, and 253 of them took 200 or more shots – about 40.1 percent.

>>>A total of 206 players scored between 30-39 goals during that time, and 22 of them took 300 or more shots – about 10.7 percent.

I didn’t look at players who scored 40 or more goals, the idea being that these guys are outliers compared to the norm, exceptional performances that exist outside of the larger sample size.

Feel free to disagree, if you will.

>>>Also in the piece, I looked at which players during the Crosby Era finished in the top 10 in shots AND shooting percentage. One hint: There weren’t many Penguins. Evgeni Malkin did it in 2008-09 and 2011-12. Sidney Crosby did it in 2009-10. James Neal did it in 2011-12.

Overall, Alex Ovechkin did it all nine seasons I looked at. Ilya Kovalchuk did it five times. And Phil Kessel did it four times. Marian Hossa, Rick Nash, Zach Parise and Eric Staal three times.

Nowhere to be found: Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews of the Blackhawks and Anze Kopitar and Marian Gaborik of the Kings. Patrick Sharp of the Blackhawks has done it twice.

Here’s the compete list: Ovechkin 9; Kovalchuk 5; Kessel 4; Hossa 3; Nash 3; Parise 3; Staal 3; Jeff Carter 2; Dany Heatley 2; Jarome Iginla 2; Vincent Lecavalier 2; Malkin 2; Corey Perry 2; Max Pacioretty 2; Sharp 2; Steven Stamkos 2; Jamie Benn 1; Jason Blake 1; Jonathan Cheechoo 1; Crosby 1; Simon Gagne 1; Jaromir Jagr 1; Olli Jokinen 1; Patrick Marleau 1;  Neal 1; Tyler Seguin 1; Jeff Skinner 1; John Tavares 1; Henrik Zetterberg 1.

>>>One other thing that I looked at, and had to get the Portland Winterhawks to help me, was Johnston’s teams’ shot volumes in the Western Hockey League.

A final calculation appeared in the paper, but here’s a year-by-year breakdown of what I found:

2009-10
Shots For: 35.71
Shots Against: 34.10

2010-11
Shots For: 38.04
Shots Against: 35.26

2011-12
Shots For: 41.25
Shots Against: 30.63

2012-13
Shots For: 39.96
Shots Against: 29.00

2013-14
Shots For: 38.94
Shots Against: 30.64

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November 12, 2014
by Jason Mackey


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Postgame: Flush Rangers loss … quickly

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NEW YORK – Little can be extracted from the Penguins’ 5-0 loss to the Rangers on Tuesday at Madison Square Garden.

Better yet, little should be extracted from the Penguins’ 5-0 loss to the Rangers on Tuesday at Madison Square Garden.

This was a blip.

Only a blip.

Nothing to freak out over.

“Definitely not the start you want to have,” goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury said of falling behind 3-0 in the first period. “I think we all believe with the guys that we have here that we can make a run for it and come back.”

One of the more ridiculous suggestions I heard tonight had to do with Rangers forward Tanner Glass sweeping away a possible Penguins goal and what would have happened had he not done that.

Please.

Like the Penguins would have immediately turned it around and put forth a season-best performance.

They didn’t have it against the Rangers, and that’s OK. It was evident from the start.

It’s November. They’re human. And these things happen. When you win seven in a row – and look like the best team in the NHL doing it – there’s some slack you’re afforded.

“Whether we won however many in a row, at this point, that’s no excuse,” captain Sidney Crosby said. “We weren’t good enough.”

I liked how head coach Mike Johnston explained the Penguins’ effort – or lack of it.

Normally it might sound alarms that a head coach was questioning his team’s effort, but so did his captain. And neither was even close to wrong after this one.

“I thought they were quicker to loose pucks than we were,” Johnston said. “They had a step more in their jump. But it was also the compete and the battle on the loose pucks. You have to engage when you’re going for those pucks. I didn’t think we had the same level of intensity that we normally have had. We’ve been a great starting team. Tonight wasn’t a very good start for us.

The timing of it is questionable, to say the least, especially given their recent history with the Rangers; you would think this is a team they have a significant amount of hatred for, even if a win Tuesday wasn’t going to erase the postseason.

I asked Johnston whether he had any inclination this was coming. No way, Johnston insisted.

“No, none at all,” Johnston said. “Morning skates are fairly routine. You look at your team, you don’t always measure your team at a morning skate, but it looks like we had a lot of jump, a lot of energy. We knew the importance of the game.”

The importance of the game? The importance of a regular season game in November?

It’s not a ton. Not compared to the last time these two teams met, that’s for sure.

The most important thing the Penguins can do is forget this loss, not dissect it. By dwelling on it or thinking too much about it, they’re only going to give it more credit than it deserves.

Be GRATEFUL to each other,

Mackey

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November 11, 2014
by Jason Mackey


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Pregame: Penguins at New York Rangers, 7 p.m.

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NEW YORK – A win tonight won’t make Tuesday, May 13 seem any less strange.

It won’t remove the picture of Dan Bylsma and the suit he wore and the frustration on his face while standing behind the Penguins’ bench from my brain.

A win tonight surely won’t do much for this current group of Penguins, who are off to a 10-2-1 start following that crushing second-round series loss.

“When you play a team in the playoffs, the emotion and the intensity is always a tad bit higher than maybe it typically would be when you’re meeting a team for the first time in the regular season,” captain Sidney Crosby said Tuesday morning following the Penguins’ gameday skate at Madison Square Garden. “They have new faces, as do we. Both teams have probably turned the page. That being said, things always seemed to get ratcheted up a bit when you’ve seen team that much in a short period of time.”

This will obviously be the first meeting since then, and, man, are these teams coming in on different trajectories. The Penguins have won seven straight. The Rangers lost to the poor, poor pitiful Oilers, 3-1, on Sunday.

The Penguins have killed 37 consecutive penalties, and their power play is at 37.5 percent (21 for 56). That percentage is almost three times as high as the Rangers, who are at 13.2 percent (five for 38).

Defenseman Dan Boyle (fractured hand) and Ryan McDonagh (separated shoulder) are on injured reserve, with Boyle reportedly only a game or two away. Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist’s goals-against average is 2.79 – or 29th best in the NHL.

“There’s obviously some revenge from them there,” Rangers defenseman Carl Hagelin said of the Penguins making amends. “At the same time, they’re a hot team. For us, we’re the underdogs tonight. We just want to go out there and do everything we can to play as close to 100 percent as we can play.

“It’s time for us to show our fans here at home that we’re a good team.”

A win tonight for the Penguins would give them their longest winning streak since March 2-30, 2013 and would be the longest win streak in the league this year.

News out of the skate: Defenseman Olli Maatta skated for the first time since undergoing surgery to remove a potentially cancerous tumor from his thyroid gland seven days ago. … Forward Beau Bennett skated for part of practice in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, then left the ice. The Penguins recalled him at around 1:45 p.m. … No changes to combos or pairings. … The Rangers sent Ryan Malone (Upper St. Clair) to Hartford of the AHL yesterday. … Looks like Rangers defenseman John Moore will return from his suspension.

TV/Radio: Root Sports/105.9 FM

About the Rangers: Rangers have won one of five games in November and are allowing 3.14 goals per game, 24th in the league. … Sunday marked the fourth consecutive game where the Rangers allowed four or more goals. … Lundqvist’s GAA isn’t pretty, but it’s better than it was. Since allowing back-to-back six spots Oct. 12-14, he’s at 5-2-1 with a 1.95 GAA. … Malone hasn’t gotten much of a chance in New York. Was scoreless his first six games, then a healthy scratch the past three before getting sent down. … Rick Nash (11-3-14) leads in goals and points. Derick Brassard (5-7-12) has been solid, too.

The series: Penguins have won 10 of the past 14 regular season games at Madison Square Garden. … They held a 2-1-1 last year, although the Rangers had more goals (13-12) and shots (133-118). The teams combined for eight power play goals in 30 chances. …  … The Rangers have earned at least a point in each of their last three home games against the Penguins, outscoring them, 14-6, during that span.

Next up: Penguins at Maple Leafs, Friday, 7:30 p.m.

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

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