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May 6, 2014
by Rob Rossi


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Rossi: A year later, Fleury firmly ‘The Man’ for Pens

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – It’s a weird part of the job, really.

Even while covering a Stanley Cup playoff series, somebody in this position – that of beat reporter – views what is happening with an eye toward how it might impact the approaching offseason. Early Tuesday morning, for example, a thought occurred:

Marc-Andre Fleury is about to get paid, again.

What a difference one year makes.

Fleury, the Penguins’ franchise goalie, was not a factor this time last season. His erratic play in Round 1 had contributed to the Penguins’ then 2-2 series tie in Round 1 against the New York Islanders, and veteran Tomas Vokoun had replaced him as the starter.

Until Game 5 of that series last May, Fleury had literally been the only Penguins goalie to start a playoff game during the Sidney Crosby era. After the Penguins were eliminated from the East final, there were some people within the organization who doubted if Fleury would be the go-to goalie for the second half of Crosby’s era.

By now, everybody knows he worked – at the Penguins’ mandate – with a sports psychologist in the offseason. Everybody knows that he was assigned a new goaltending coach, Mike Bales.

What not a lot of people know is that Fleury remained in weekly contact with his old goaltending coach, Gilles Meloche. The traded texts and phone calls throughout the season, but Meloche said they rarely talked about the position each played in the NHL.

“With Marc, I care about him a lot,” Meloche said. “We are very close. We talked a couple of times a week, but it was just two friends talking about our lives like any friends would.

“I think the only time we talked about hockey was when I’d say, ‘You’re looking great out there.’ I’m so happy for him.”

There is a long way to go in the Stanley Cup playoffs for the Penguins, who lead their best-of-seven Round 2 series, 2-1. They do not even have half the required wins to become champions.

However, Fleury is at a 2.22 goals-against average and .925 save percentage through nine games – and with back-to-back shutouts, and his play to finish off Game 6 in Round 1 when the Penguins appeared to stop playing after taking a 4-0 lead at Columbus, there is mounting evidence that he is recapturing that long-ago “Big Game Goalie” form.

A year ago, there was a question – not from within the organization – about whether Fleury was a candidate for one of two compliance buyouts that every NHL club was granted after the lockout.

Now, after a sixth straight regular season with at least 35 wins, and because of his strong start in the playoffs, extending the contract of their franchise goalie will be a top priority for GM Ray Shero this summer.

 

>> Speaking of those compliance buyouts, something to keep in mind: The Penguins have each of their two remaining, but both must be used before next season or they no longer exists. Also, ONLY contracts signed under the previous labor agreement are eligible for compliance buyouts. Players signed as free agents or to extensions last summer can be bought out, but not at full cap relief.

 

>> It’s hard not to believe Alain Vigneault is the right man to lead the Rangers going forward. His squad lacks the weapons to wage postseason combat with the Penguins, and the Rangers are dealing with one of the most disadvantageous schedules in recent playoff history. Still, Vigneault had never made that schedule an issue publicly, and his players are leaving everything they have on the ice. The Rangers still need some scorers – ones whose best seasons were not with other clubs – but they have the right coach.

 

>> So do the Penguins, by the way. Yeah, nobody wants to hear that; but people that do not think Dan Bylsma can coach never will at this point. Look at what he did with a team that lost 529 man-games to injury during the regular season? Look at what he’s doing this postseason, which is presiding over a team that is transforming into one mentally tough enough to overcome franchise centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin scoring a goal in only three of the opening nine playoff games.

 

 

AND NOW, THE TUESDAY #TRIBHKY LINKS…

>> Criticized externally from Day 1 of the season, the Penguins were their own worst critics after Game 3 of Round 2. Thing is, they won: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/6061698-74/vigneault-louis-nash#axzz30u9hbo5w

>> A Flower flourished under the Garden’s bright light, by Josh Yohe: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/6061689-74/fleury-penguins-rangers#axzz30u9hbo5w

>> The Rangers need their stars, and their coach knows it, write contributor Denis Gorman: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/6061698-74/vigneault-louis-nash#axzz30u9hbo5w

>> A local product faced his hometown team in the playoffs, which leads the Game 3 notes: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/6061695-74/game-penguins-nhl#axzz30u9hbo5w

>> Columnist Dejan Kovacevic hated what he witnessed from Marc Staal in Game 3. So should the folks running the NHL, he opines: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/6061679-74/crosby-staal-nhl#axzz30u9hbo5w

>> THIS photo from our Chaz Palla shows what Dejan is getting at:

ptr-pens-rangers01-050614

 

Be EXCELLENT to each other,

Rossi

May 4, 2014
by Rob Rossi


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Rossi: Is series – and Pens’ future – on the line in Game 2?

For the second time in three playoff home games, the Penguins face a pivotal point in their series – and, probably, their future.

They trail the New York Rangers, 1-0, in a best-of-seven affair. Game 2 is at Consol Energy Center on Sunday night, with Game 3 at Madison Square Garden on Monday night. So, in a span of about 48 hours, Round 2 could swing wildly.

Avoiding a 0-2 hole is more important than it might seem to the Penguins, who are led by several players that twice overcame such series deficits during the Stanley Cup run in 2009. Each of those 0-2 holes came with Games 3 and 4 set for Pittsburgh – Mellon Arena, where the Penguins were a lot more dominant on the 2008 and 2009 Cup Final runs.

The Penguins went 18-3 at home at the Igloos over those postseasons. They are just 9-10 at home in the playoffs at Consol Energy Center, and have dropped Games 1 and 2 of series at home each of the last two postseasons – to the Flyers (2012) and Bruins (2013).

Since twice rallying from 0-2 holes in 2009, the Penguins have not exactly handled that specific adversity well. They went just 2-4 in series games after those deficits to Philadelphia and Boston, falling behind 3-0 in each circumstance.

So, indeed, Sunday is big for the Penguins.

Lose, and all that external pressure that players acknowledged was internalized negatively during Round 1 – yeah, all of it becomes a real factor again. Coaches, players, maybe even members of the front office, will be wondering about their jobs if this series against the Rangers goes to a bad place quickly.

The Penguins cannot lose in by an unceremonious trouncing for a third consecutive postseason. That just will not sit well with a couple of successful people that happen to be the majority co-owners.

 

>> Our #TribHKY Sunday cover story looks at the leadership of franchise centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/6044885-74/malkin-penguins-crosby#axzz30cWB7C7J

 

>> With the “Insider,” Josh Yohe examines the home overtime woe that has befallen the Penguins: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/6043898-74/overtime-penguins-game#axzz30cWB7C7J

 

>> Jason Mackey examines the impact a Staal – Marc, not Jordan – can have on a playoff series: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/6044903-74/staal-rangers-game#axzz30cWB7C7J

 

>> Yohe with some newsy notes, led by the readiness of Brian Gibbons: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/6044895-74/gibbons-penguins-game#axzz30cWB7C7J

 

>> Columnist Joe Starkey suggests playing with James Neal might spark the slumping Crosby: http://triblive.com/sports/joestarkey/6044872-74/sid-stempniak-game

 

Good luck, Marathoners. What a great day for Pittsburgh with the big race, a Pirates home matinee and an evening Penguins playoff tilt.

 

Be EXCELLENT to each other,

Rossi

May 2, 2014
by Rob Rossi


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Marshall: Metrical look at Penguins-Rangers

Note from Rossi: Jesse Marshall, a local hockey blogger, has agreed to share his unique brand of analytical insight on this blog. His contributions will appear on an as-we-think-of-it basis. Enjoy.

>> Not the Same Old Rangers

Previewing this series with advanced metrics tells us one thing about the New York Rangers – they aren’t the John Tortorella-version of seasons passed.

The Rangers can still play defense, but they’ve been doing it by keeping the puck in the offensive zone. The Rangers had a Corsi-For percentage – Corsi-For is the sum of all on ice shooting attempts – of 51.1 percent.

Driven by their top line of Rick Nash, Martin St. Louis, and Derek Stepan, a trio which averaged 60 percent Corsi-For percentage and accounted for four of the Rangers 15 even-strength goals in Round 1, the Rangers are keeping the puck out of their net by playing in the opponents offensive zone.

The Penguins ended their series against Columbus with 12 goals scored at even-strength and a 54.2-percent Corsi-For. The Penguins were second in that possession-based metric behind the Minnesota Wild at 58.8 percent.

The Penguins were paced in the possession department by Sidney Crosby (61 percent) and Evgeni Malkin (57 percent). Expect one of these two centers to face the Rangers shutdown pairing of Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonough.

It was a rough first series for those two defensemen, with Corsi percentages below 50 percent and a few goals against at even-strength to boot. If McDonough is not healthy, as many reporters are suggesting, Crosby and Malkin may be able to exploit that.

The Rangers only allowed six goals at even-strength against Philadelphia, a number that was topped only by the Boston Bruins at four. However, both goaltenders for the Penguins and Rangers sport some of the best even-strength numbers in the playoffs.

Marc-Andre Fleury is third in even-strength save percentage with a .948 through the first six games. Henrik Lundqvist is directly ahead of him with a .957.

These are two teams that won their first round series via distinct puck possession advantages and extended periods of keeping the puck out of their offensive zone. For the first time in a long time, it will be the Penguins-Rangers series that is predicated on speed, skill, and the ability to extend the play offensively.

Jesse Marshall is co-founder of Faceoff-Factor, a site that breaks down the Penguins by using nontraditional methods such as the study of advanced statistics. Read his work at www.faceoff-factor.com. Follow him on Twitter @jmarshfof

 

 

April 30, 2014
by Rob Rossi


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Marshall: Martin’s mastery of playoffs continues

Note from Rossi: Jesse Marshall, a local hockey blogger, has agreed to share his unique brand of analytical insight on this blog. His contributions will appear on an as-we-think-of-it basis. Enjoy.

 

 >> Positively Paul Martin Magic

If there’s been one constant in the last two playoff runs for the Penguins, it’s been defenseman Paul Martin.

Martin’s mobility and hockey sense have put him at the top of nearly every statistical metric for the Penguins in the last two postseasons. He has 19 points in his last 21 playoff games. Also, Martin found continued success against the Blue Jackets, registering three of his eight assists at even strength and leading the Penguins defensemen in possession metrics.

Sixty-one percent of all shots taken that were not blocked when Martin was on the ice were shots attempted at the Columbus net. That number paced the Penguins by 5 percent over rookie defenseman Olli Maatta.

To get a gauge of how good of a percentage that is, it currently puts Paul Martin fourth in the NHL among playoff defensemen – 6 percent behind the Minnesota Wild’s Marco Scandella.

Martin has also been staunch on the defensive side of the puck. The Penguins allowed eight even-strength goals this series. With 106 minutes of even-strength ice time, a number that was again tops for the Penguins, Martin was only one the ice for one goal against at five-on-five hockey in the first round.

In fact, 83.3 percent of all the goals scored when Martin was on the ice in the first round were by the Penguins – another number that is good for the team lead. It isn’t just a recent trend. Martin finished ninth in the NHL for the 2013 playoffs with 62 percent in that regard.

With a repeat of his series against Columbus, Martin has the chance to sneak into the top 20 all-time in playoff scoring for the Penguins. He currently sits tied for 26th spot with former winger Troy Loney at 22 points, one point behind former center Petr Nedved’s 23.

With Brooks Orpik potentially out to open Round 2, the likelihood is that Martin continues to see big minutes for the Penguins moving forward. With all the action created when he’s on the ice, Penguins fans should be very comfortable with that.

 

Jesse Marshall is co-founder of Faceoff-Factor, a site that breaks down the Penguins by using nontraditional methods such as the study of advanced statistics. Read his work at www.faceoff-factor.com. Follow him on Twitter @jmarshfof

 

 

April 28, 2014
by Rob Rossi


6 comments so far - add yours!

Rossi: Orpik likely unable to play in Game 6

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Brooks Orpik is likely to miss a second consecutive Stanley Cup playoff game for the Penguins on Monday night.

Orpik, a defenseman, did not participate in a morning practice at Nationwide Arena. Instead, he spent time riding a stationary bike outside the visitors’ dressing room. Orpik was not wearing any braces on either his knees or ankles, and did not have any part of his mid- to lower-body areas wrapped in ice or heat.

Orpik did not play in the Penguins’ home Game 5 victory on Saturday night. Team policy is not to provide specifics regarding injury during the playoffs, but Orpik walked gingerly after the contest.

Whatever the injury, it is limiting Orpik’s ability to skate confidently.

With Orpik out, defenseman Robert Bortuzzo would make his second consecutive appearance for the Penguins, who can advance to Round 2 with a win  over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Monday night.

Coach Dan Bylsma said Marc-Andre Fleury will start for the Penguins. He also promised to “feel out” opportunities to play centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin together at even strength.

Crosby and Malkin have not scored a goal against Columbus. Neither has scored a playoff goal since Round 2 last postseason.

Bylsma played Crosby and Malkin together on the top line throughout Game 5 on Saturday night.

 

>> Columbus will play without defenseman Nikita Nikitin and winger RJ Umberger, coach Todd Richards said. Both players are out with injuries. Nick Schultz will play for Nikitin and Jared Boll will replace Umberger.

 

>> The #TribHKY Insider looks at Marcel Goc’s impact on how the Penguins can use Crosby and Malkin: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/6015770-74/malkin-dupuis-crosby#axzz2zlpPLkMm

 

>> Josh Yohe examines the defense without its leader, Orpik: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/5983372-74/game-penguins-defenseman#axzz2zlpPLkMm

 

>> Jason Mackey reports on the readiness of the Blue Jackets: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/6015712-74/game-jackets-blue

 

>> Chris Adamski notes Bylsma’s plan to use more of his franchise centers on one line: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/6008380-74/bylsma-penguins-game#axzz2zlpPLkMm

 

>> Contributor Craig Merz on the Blue Jackets’ Boone Jenner: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/6008395-74/jenner-columbus-game

 

Be EXCELLENT to each other,

Rossi

 

 

April 26, 2014
by Josh Yohe


40 comments so far - add yours!

Yohe: The truth about Crosby and leadership

Good afternoon,

 

During the past 72 hours, I have literally received dozens of emails and Tweets about one specific topic: Sidney Crosby’s poor leadership skills.

It seems that, in this era, if you go four straight playoff games without scoring a goal – and going back to last postseason, it’s actually been nine straight for Crosby – you’re a poor leader.

Crosby does deserve a heavy dose of criticism regarding his recent play. There is no question about this. His leadership, however, isn’t really an issue. In fact, suggesting that Crosby is a poor leader is merely a lazy excuse for his recent play.

I’m one of few people who cover Crosby daily, so I think I’m pretty well equipped to analyze his leadership skills. Here’s what I see.

= Crosby is always one of the first players on the ice at practice, and is always one of the last players off the ice. His work ethic is rarely exceeded by fourth liners in practice, let alone star players. He consistently sets a good example. Many young players – Olli Maatta in particularly – have told me stories this season about Crosby taking them aside to make sure they understand the system and their respective roles in certain situations.

= Crosby isn’t especially vocal by nature. Neither was Mario Lemieux. And like Lemieux, Crosby isn’t a phony. He doesn’t run his mouth daily to the press or speak to teammates so regularly that it becomes a bore. However, a number of players have commented to me this season that Crosby has spoken up at appropriate times, more than in other seasons. Crosby, in response to a question from my colleague, Rob Rossi, while we were in Columbus, said he will speak when something needs to be said in regards to the Penguins’ troubles with the Blue Jackets.

= Crosby, unlike many of his teammates, has never backed down from dealing with the media following difficult losses. A handful of Penguins typically speak following losses. Only a handful. Crosby is always in that handful. Yes, he’s the captain, but trust me when I tell you that all captains don’t speak after games. Or even before games. Crosby never backs down from the heat.

= It is commonly believed that true “leaders” in hockey score big goals in big games. I don’t really buy this theory, but in case you do, let’s look at this objectively. Who scored the gold medal game-winning goal in Vancouver? Who scored on a breakaway in the gold medal game-winning goal in Sochi? Who pumped life into the 2008 Stanley Cup Final against Detroit by scoring twice in his first home Stanley Cup Final game? Who scored the game-winner and set up another in Game 4 of the 2009 Stanley Cup Final, the game that told the Penguins they were better than the Red Wings? The game-winner in a shootout in the first ever Winter Classic? Or, how about the opening goal in Game 7 in Washington in 2009?

Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Yeah, almost all of those moments were five years ago.” This might be true. But the clutch gene – call it leadership if you must – doesn’t arrive in waves at age 21 and then suddenly disappear.

= Back in March, on during the trade deadline period, I was with the Penguins in San Jose. On the morning following the trades, most of the Penguins were on their way back to the team hotel. Word had spread that Lee Stempniak and Marcel Goc were mere minutes away from arriving at HP Pavilion. Most players, creatures of habit on game days, went about their business of leaving for the team hotel. Crosby, however, still needing to shower and head back to the hotel, waited patiently outside of the locker room until the new players arrived. He wanted to make sure they were immediately welcomed by the team’s captain upon arriving.

But, you know, Crosby hasn’t scored this series. So, he’s a bad leader. Right.

Here’s what I think … I think Crosby is dealing with confidence issues now. It’s rare for a 26-year-old, future Hall-of-Famer to stop believing in himself, but maybe we’re seeing some of that right now. And there might be a reason. Crosby has never been the same player since sustaining a life-altering concussion in 2011. You all know the story. Crosby is finally healthy again, but his style is a little different now. He’s still great, still the world’s finest player. No one is disputing that. But his game is a little different now, a little less reliable.

Crosby was once a bulldog who would charge to the net numerous times a game. We don’t see that so much anymore. He’s still great on the boards, but he hasn’t “Spezza’d” anyone in a while, has he? No, he hasn’t. He’s more of a perimeter player now. He prefers to stay at the top of the right circle on the power play now where, frankly, he isn’t as good as his natural habitat, down by the goal line. Why has he turned the puck over so much on the power play lately? Because playing that perimeter game doesn’t come as naturally to him, and because it’s more high-risk by nature.  He’s not terrible at this style of game, obviously. He easily won a scoring title playing this way. His reinvented game is still wonderful. But in the playoffs, pretty goals don’t really exist. Crosby the bulldog scored so many of his goals in those dirty areas, and while he doesn’t dodge the dirty areas, he doesn’t seem to dominate them the way he once did.

So, if you choose to be critical of Crosby the hockey player, go right ahead. It might be deserved. But criticizing his leadership skills is more ignorant than anything.

Jonathan Toews is a great leader because he scored that overtime goal against St. Louis last night, right? Well, how do you explain Toews scoring exactly one goal in Chicago’s first 20 postseason games last season? Does this mean Toews was being a bad leader last season? What if Detroit would have beaten the Blackhawks in overtime of Game 7 last season, with Toews finishing with one goal in 13 playoff games that spring? How would the hockey world have judged him then?

Crosby’s legacy is on the line beginning tonight. He’s a Hall of Fame lock, and clearly the best player of his generation. If he wants to someday be in a class with Lemieux, Wayne Gretzky, Bobby Orr, Gordie Howe, Jaromir Jagr, Rocket Richard – you know, the best players who ever lived – then he needs more championships, and need to start scoring against teams like the Columbus Blue Jackets. We all know this. Crosby knows this. Calling him out is completely fair.

But let’s call it like it is. This isn’t about leadership. In fact, leadership in sports is such of a stupid concept. It barely exists. Teams on the same page, teams with talent, teams willing to work hard, are the teams that usually win. Leadership? It’s just a made-up word, especially in hockey. Broadcasters always talk about “great leadership” after someone scores a goal. Really? Maybe great players just score goals sometimes, and the idea of leadership doesn’t really factor into the equation. Is blocking a shot a sign of leadership? Is sacrificing your stats for the betterment of the team a sign of leadership? That’s more like it, if you want to make an argument. But Crosby is paid to score and set up goals. And he’s not doing that right now, so he’s a bad leader?

Sorry, I don’t buy it. Rather, this is a great player who has temporarily and slightly – check out his number since December – lost his way. I suspect he will find his way, maybe even tonight. Great players always do. And if he does score tonight and lead the Penguins past the Blue Jackets, will that make him a great leader again?

-          Yohe

April 26, 2014
by Rob Rossi


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Rossi: Crosby on pressure: “It’s there, let’s be honest.”

The Penguins exposed an elephant on Saturday morning.

Hours from a feels-like-it pivotal home Game 5 against the Columbus Blue Jackets, veteran players acknowledged that pressure – the worst kind, as in that from the outside – has been internalized during Round 1 of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

“It’s there, let’s be honest,” captain Sidney Crosby said.

“It’s something we’ve talked about,” winger James Neal said.

“Sometimes,” defenseman Rob Scuderi said, “I think we’re just held back by the fear of losing.”

A first-round series is tied, 2-2. Game 5 is at Consol Energy Center on Saturday night.

A season that began with external Cup-or-best expectations is down to a best-of-three series, and the favored club (the Penguins) is openly acknowledging, as Scuderi phrased it, “a burden of expectations.”

Words do not win playoff games.

Great players, can.

Crosby and fellow franchise co-center Evgeni Malkin can change everything with slump-busting performances in Game 5 and 6 or (if necessary) 7.

However, for a group of players that has rarely been known for its candidness – heck, that is why “Team Conscience” defenseman Brooks Orpik’s words resonate – the acknowledgement on Saturday morning that pressure is being felt, well, it felt significant.

This feels like more than just another home playoff game for the Penguins – especially for Crosby, Malkin, goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and coach Dan Bylsma. Three first-round exits in four years will bring change, as defenseman Paul Martin noted Saturday.

This feels like a defining moment.

Maybe with the elephant out of their room, the Penguins will have some more space to breathe.

 

>> The best way to ease tension is often with a joke, so Bylsma opened with one before his media availability on Saturday morning.

“Brooks Orpik and David Backes skated earlier at an undisclosed location,” Bylsma said.

Orpik, who left practice early on Friday, did not take the morning-skate practice on Saturday. He is a game-time decision for Game 5.

Also, winger Brian Gibbons (upper body) did not practice. He skated before the session.

 

>> On Friday, as Chris Adamski reported, the Penguins vowed to give more: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/5983659-74/penguins-bylsma-game#axzz2zlpPLkMm

 

>> Malkin knows he needs to score, writes Jason Mackey: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/6008020-74/malkin-game-goals#axzz2zlpPLkMm

 

>> The notes cover Marcel Goc’s impending return: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/5983688-74/goc-puck-game

 

>> Contributor Craig Merz reports that Jack Johnson changed a lot for the Columbus franchise: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/5983691-74/johnson-jackets-team#axzz2zlpPLkMm

 

>> Also, the #TribHKY info graphic is back. Have a look (designed by Melanie Wass):

PensPlayoff-042514

 

Be EXCELLENT to each other,

Rossi

April 25, 2014
by Rob Rossi


13 comments so far - add yours!

Rossi: Absurdity of agitation over Pens’ practices

The Penguins are back at practice Friday.

They took off Thursday, and for some reason this was met with great negativity on the social media/talk show scene – even though the Penguins had played three games, two overtime ones, in five days; even though the labor contract mandates players get one day off each week; even though players were required to attend meetings and film-study sessions at Consol Energy Center.

The Penguins, like the Blue Jackets, did not practice – on the ice – Thursday, and this was some sort of sign of what is wrong with them in Round 1.

Here is what is wrong:

Marc-Andre Fleury went to play a puck behind his net, and it hopped badly over his stick blade.

If that does not happen, this series in 3-1 and the Penguins are looking to clinch at home Saturday night.

To be fair, the series could be 3-1 in favor of Columbus, too. It’s been that close through Games 1-4.

It’s also been wild – blown multiple-goal leads in Games 1-4 for the first time in NHL history – and wonderfully dramatic. Mostly, though, it’s been what I expected: tight, hard, and never really with the Penguins in danger of losing.

Yeah, they still haven’t trailed in terms of games.

Oh, and they would not have practiced had the won Game 4. That decision had been made the off-day between Games 3 and 4.

Schedules are released by the Penguins to start every month, before every playoff round. Those schedules identify reserved ice times. They are not set-in-stone plans.

Those schedules change a lot. Anyone that spends his or days around the Penguins has come to expect schedule changes.

Here is what really represents news when it comes to teams and practices: A scheduled day off being sacked in favor of practice.

Of course, since the sky above the Penguins is always falling, not practicing Thursday is absolutely a sign that everything is wrong with everyone everywhere.

Thank goodness there is practice Friday. That will change the hockey world.

 

>> Speaking of the hockey world, our local one has become pretty glum, as columnist Joe Starkey opines: http://triblive.com/sports/joestarkey/5983382-74/penguins-team-game#axzz2zlpPLkMm

 

>> Coach Dan Bylsma delivered a message Thursday. It was really just stating the obvious, but it was not wrong: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/5983374-74/bylsma-game-fleury#axzz2zlpPLkMm

 

>> Captain Sidney Crosby is healthy, or is he? http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/6002635-74/crosby-penguins-game#axzz2zlpPLkMm

 

>> Josh Yohe’s #TribHKY Insider looks at Paul Martin’s big run to open the playoffs: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/6003027-74/penguins-martin-game#axzz2zlpPLkMm

 

>> Contributor Craig Merz writes that Brandon Dubinsky is having himself quite a Round 1 for Columbus: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/5983384-74/dubinsky-game-blue#axzz2zlpPLkMm

 

>> Rachel Farkas on the Penguins’ soon-to-be practice facility: http://triblive.com/news/butler/6001840-74/facility-sports-upmc#axzz2zlpPLkMm

 

 

Be EXCELLENT to each other,

Rossi

April 25, 2014
by Josh Yohe


12 comments so far - add yours!

Yohe: A look at Pens defensive options

I see it every day. And I love it.

#freeborts

I, too, am a big Robert Bortuzzo fan. He has grown substantially as an NHL defenseman this season, and I have no doubt he will permanently reside in the top-six next season. Heck of a good guy, too.

But what about these playoffs? Should he be in the lineup?

Ideally, yes, you’d find room. The Penguins could use his snarl. But there is a problem.

Paul Martin and Brooks Orpik won’t be split by the coaching staff, so discussing such a possibility is pointless. (Not saying it shouldn’t be explored, but I don’t expect it will be. More on this later.)

The citizens badly want Rob Scuderi removed from the lineup. So, here are some possible looks.

 

Orpik-Martin

Maatta-Letang

Niskanen-Bortuzzo

 

I don’t like the above look. Niskanen and Bortuzzo have played together a little bit, but not in quite some time. Plus, this leaves Letang and Maatta – a talented but dangerous defensive pairing – as your likely second unit.

 

Orpik-Martin

Niskanen-Letang

Maatta-Bortuzzo

 

Everyone will go crazy for this pairing. And hey, I love Maatta and Bortuzzo together, too. They were terrific in October. But Letang and Niskanen absolutely do not work together. It was first attempted early in the 2013 regular season. Didn’t work. We’ve seen glimpses of it since, notably in the 2013 playoffs and in spurts this season. Doesn’t work.

 

Orpik-Martin

Maatta-Niskanen

Bortuzzo-Letang

 

I like the first two pairings. The third one? Not so much. Bortuzzo and Letang have never played together. You’d be asking one of them to play on the left side, something either has ever done in the NHL. Niskanen, a right-handed defenseman, is rarely because he likes playing on the left side. Most don’t.

 

OK, so let’s be frank. It might be time for the Penguins to try something crazy, especially if they lose Game 5 to the Blue Jackets.

Would they split Martin and Orpik? Like I said earlier, I can’t imagine they would.

But I’d suggest this: The Penguins aren’t winning the Stanley Cup – or coming remotely close to playing for it – if they don’t get the most out of Letang. They must have him play great hockey.

Who has Letang always played his best hockey with? That would be Brooks Orpik.

So, if you want Scuderi out of the lineup and Bortuzzo in, I only see one possibility.

Tell me what you think about this:

 

Orpik-Letang

Martin-Niskanen

Maatta-Bortuzzo

 

Now, this is kind of intriguing, no?

Letang and Orpik have a history, and it’s a good one. Martin and Niskanen have played a little together, and have been good together. Their styles and skill sets are very similar. They’re both from Minnesota, for God’s sake. They’re both playing exceptionally good hockey right now.

Maatta and Bortuzzo? It’s an extremely young pairing, but they were great together earlier this season. Plus, you could really limit their minutes and ride the top four.

It’s just a thought.

Realistically, the Letang/Scuderi pairing has been something of a disaster. I’m not suggesting Scuderi should be removed from the lineup, but the Penguins do have some options here.

They better pick the correct option quickly.

April 24, 2014
by Rob Rossi


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Rossi: Can Pens still count on their big advantages?

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Nobody seemed rattled.

If nothing else, that was probably a positive for the Penguins as of late Wednesday night. They had blown a 3-0 lead, surrendered a goal with 24 seconds remaining, and lost in overtime for a second time in the series – but, from the dressing room, there was a sense of relative calm.

They have, most of these players ad coaches, been here before.

It was a year ago, actually.

The Penguins appeared in firm control of a first-round playoff series against the New York Islanders when, as the Columbus Blue Jackets have now, Game 4 slipped away to turn a best-of-seven into a best-of-three.

Then, as will be the case Saturday night, Game 5 was at Consol Energy Center, the fan base – at least based off the imperfect measure of social media – was mostly nervous. (A difference is that – again, based on social media – the fan base seems angry now; not necessarily for the right reasons, but…)

The Penguins’ performance in Game 5 against the Islanders last season was not perfect, but it was probably their closest to perfection of that postseason. They stayed composed, received a boost from a new addition to the lineup in the form of winger Tyler Kennedy’s goal and blanked the Islanders.

Something happened to the inexperienced Islanders once Round 1 became a best-of-three last postseason. The narrative went from “maybe they can pull an upset” to “they can actually do it.”

The Islanders didn’t handle that change well, either.

The Penguins ultimately exposed the Islanders’ lack of experience – and shaky goaltending – to advance last postseason. They did so by a slim margin and without looking dominant, but they did do that.

The Blue Jackets still lack experience, though not confidence. However, their goaltending might not be all that less shaky than the Islanders was a year ago. Sergei Bobrovsky has needed to make only 14 third-period saves in two Columbus’ victories. When tested, he has mostly been C-grade level.

If experience matters in the playoffs, that should prove the case in favor of the Penguins over the next three games.

Of course, maybe at this point this series is not about experience?

 

>> The Game 4 loss is not on Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin. Coach Dan Bylsma made that clear, and he was spot on. Still, now the series is about Crosby and Malkin. The two best players in the world should be expected to make a big impact with probably nothing less than the future of their coaches and some teammates on the line. THE GAMER: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/pensgalleries/5983091-74/game-penguins-goal#axzz2zlpPLkMm

 

>> As a counter to the Crosby/Malkin narrative, Josh Yohe offered this observation:

The Penguins are averaging 3.50 goals in this series, more than their 2.95 from the regular season. Of course, they are also allowing an average of 3.50 in this series, more than their 2.49 from the regular season – and 0.74 more goals-for than Columbus had averaged in the regular season (2.76).

Goal prevention is the game this time of season. It’s just not one the Penguins are playing.

Also, Yohe reported on Game 4’s TURNING POINT: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/5983319-74/penguins-period-penalty#axzz2zlpPLkMm

 

>> Contributor Justin Boggs, who proved himself a deadline-writing wizard, was there to hear Nick Foligno insist he called his shot before OT. The story from BEHIND ENEMY LINES: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/5983292-74/foligno-jackets-overtime#axzz2zlpPLkMm

 

>> Marcel Goc may call it a comeback. He could help in that goal prevention problem. NOTES n’AT: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/5983292-74/foligno-jackets-overtime#axzz2zlpPLkMm

 

>> Unlike the Twiturkeys, columnist Dejan Kovacevic took a deep breath after Game 4 and opined that maybe Marc-Andre Fleury had earned a mulligan based on how all bout a couple of incidents have game. Fleury is probably the reason the series is tied instead of 3-1 in favor of the Blue Jackets. Uh, yeah, you read that right. It’s true. The Game 4 COMMENTARY: http://triblive.com/sports/dejankovacevic/dejancolumns/5983293-74/fleury-penguins-game#axzz2zlpPLkMm

 

The Penguins, as planned, sacked practice for Thursday. They’re being beat up in this series, but clearly the coaching staff is crazy for taking a big-picture approach. Chris Adamski and Jason Mackey will have your updates from Bylsma’s media availability at Consol Energy Center.

 

Tickets remain available for Game 5.

 

Tea is brewing folks. Believe that.

 

Be EXCELLENT to each other,

Rossi

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