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October 20, 2015

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Gameday: Penguins vs. Panthers, 7 p.m.


You don’t get more entertaining than Jaromir Jagr’s annual return to Pittsburgh.

You don’t get more frustrated than the Penguins’ have with their power play recently.

Both forces — and Jagr, at 43, is exactly that — collide tonight at 7 p.m. Should be great.

A few notes:

=Rookie forward Daniel Sprong is out tonight. Work-visa issues in Canada. Coach Mike Johnston said he was supposed to have resolved them yesterday, but an appointment got pushed back.

Take out of that what you wish. You’d think there are enough people around a pro sports franchise, and the stakes are high enough, that this wouldn’t be an issue. Yet it is. No word on whether Sprong will be back for Thursday’s home game against Dallas.

Bobby Farnham will take Sprong’s lineup spot.

=Pascal Dupuis and Eric Fehr skated this morning. What’s this mean? They’re getting closer. Neither will play tonight, but it will be interesting to see if they go to Nashville for Saturday’s game. Would think next week is absolutely a possibility.

=Adam Clendening and Tim Erixon stayed on the ice later. What’s this mean? That your top-six defensemen will likely be Ian Cole, Kris Letang, Olli Maatta, Rob Scuderi, Brian Dumoulin and Ben Lovejoy. Marc-Andre Fleury was also the first goalie off, an indication he’s starting.

=One lineup tweak on the power play. Well, actually two. The top unit will feature Chris Kunitz in front of the net instead of Patric Hornqvist, who’s on the second unit. Also, Phil Kessel took plenty of reps from the slot position previously occupied by Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

“I’ve never played there before, so I have to get used to it and adapt to that spot,” Kessel said this morning. “Try to get a goal.”

Johnston explained that he views the middle three spots in the Penguins’ 1-3-1 alignment as interchangeable between Crosby, Kessel and Malkin.

“We have different looks, with Geno on the backside, where he’s played before,” Johnston said. “Geno can slide to the middle, Kessel can slide back out. The good power plays have an interchange of players.”

The Penguins are 0 for 17.

Good power plays also have clean and crisp breakouts, which the Penguins have lacked. Watch this tonight. Notice how much time they spend screwing around in their own zone. Or if they’re able to successfully enter the Florida zone.

The Penguins actually been pretty solid once they’ve gotten set up. Just hasn’t happened as much as anyone would want. They’re looking for speed and deception on the wings when the Penguins are gathering speed in their own zone.

=Jagr’s media session was highly entertaining. Typical. We surround him, led by Root Sports play-by-play Paul Steigerwald.

“Steiggy,” Jagr says, “You look like a Grandpa.”

Steiggy points out that, yes, he is indeed a grandfather.

“I know,” Jagr says smiling.

Seriously — well, almost — here are some highlights:

On Jagr continuing to play despite his age:

“I go day-by-day. One day I wake up and I don’t like it, I’m leaving. But so far so good. As long as the health is there (knocks on wood) that’s important. If you’re healthy, you can work hard. I got some talent. I can still play the game. But injuries, something bad happens, it’s tough to come back.”

On Jagr interacting with the younger players on Florida’s team:

“I don’t mind. You have to use their energy. That’s the whole key. They’re a lot of fun. They have no fear. They don’t worry about anything. I like the attitude. That’s the way you should play. Go on the ice and have fun.”

Did you know Jagr carries a mullet around with him? Not kidding. I didn’t. It’s ridiculous.

“That’s yours Steiggy,” Jagr joked about the mullet. “I bought it for you. You owe me $20.”

Be GRATEFUL to each other,



October 19, 2015
by Jonathan Bombulie

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Crosby and slumps


“It’s just one of those things where he’s in a rut right now. It won’t be very long he’ll be in it, I know that. He’s a great player and when they break out, they can go the opposite way and everything they touch turns to goals.”

– Mark Recchi on teammate Sidney Crosby in the midst
of a five-game scoreless streak in 2009

It’s easy to see why Sidney Crosby’s active five-game points drought is raising some eyebrows. It’s unusual for him. Very unusual. For four whole seasons, from 2010-14, his longest scoreless streak was two games.

It’s not the first five-game drought of his career, however.

Early in the 2009-10 season, Crosby also went five games without a point. Let’s take a look back at that slump.

First of all, it came out of nowhere. Coming off a Stanley Cup championship, the Penguins got off to an 11-2 start to the season. Crosby had nine goals and seven assists in those 13 games.

The scoreless streak started with one of those running-into-a-hot-goaltender nights. A bad Minnesota Wild team got a great 34-save performance from Niklas Backstrom and the Penguins lost 2-1. Not only did Crosby not record a point, he fought Marek Zidlicky.

The Penguins then left for a three-game California swing. The first game, on Nov. 3, went fine. Pascal Dupuis broke a 3-3 tie midway through the third period and Crosby made a diving shot block in the goal mouth in the final minute and the Penguins beat Anaheim 4-3.

Then things got ugly. On Nov. 5, Crosby was shut down by the line of Ryan Smyth, Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams and Los Angeles scored four times in the third period to beat the Penguins 5-2.

Two days later, Crosby hit a post in the second period, but the Penguins were routed 5-0 by San Jose.

On Nov. 10, the road trip continued in Boston and the Penguins were blanked 3-0 by Tim Thomas. Crosby’s scoreless streak hit a career-high five games.

The trip had gone poorly. Evgeni Malkin, Tyler Kennedy, Max Talbot, Sergei Gonchar, Kris Letang and Brooks Orpik were all out with injuries at one point or another. Chris Bourque, claimed on waivers from Washington on Sept. 30, was in the lineup. It was the first truly rough patch of the Dan Bylsma era.

On Nov. 12, Crosby’s scoreless streak ended with a whimper. He managed an assist on a Ruslan Fedotenko goal in a 4-1 loss to New Jersey. (Bourque had the second assist.) After the game, the Penguins held a players-only meeting to discuss their skid.

That’s when Crosby’s slump really ended. On Nov. 14, he had a goal and two assists in a 6-5 overtime win against the Bruins.  In the 10 games after the players-only meeting, Crosby had 10 goals and nine assists as the Penguins went on an 8-2 run. He was as good as he’s ever been.

There are some lessons to be taken from Crosby’s previous five-game skid.

First, the power play is a big part of it. The Penguins are 0-for-17 on the power play this season. They went 0-for-18 during his five-game drought in 2009.

Second, perhaps a change of linemates is in order. For the first four games of the 2009 slump, Crosby played with Chris Kunitz and Bill Guerin. For the next two games, Bylsma put Crosby with Matt Cooke and Fedotenko. The big change, though, took place in the Nov. 14 game against Boston. Malkin came back from an injury and played on Crosby’s line with Fedotenko. That’s when Crosby had his breakout game.

Maybe Crosby is slowing down after playing an explosive style in high-leverage games for the last 10 years. Maybe these slumps are going to become more and more common for him going forward.

Or maybe all he needs is a couple power-play assists and a few shifts with Malkin to get on one of those Recchi-predicted scoring sprees.

Bye for now,



October 18, 2015

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Postgame: Penguins 2, Maple Leafs 1


Had I not watched or listened or looked at the game sheet, and simply walked into the Penguins dressing room, their 2-1 win over the Maple Leafs at Consol Energy Center on Saturday could easily have been mistaken for a loss.

For good reason, I suppose.

No points for Sidney Crosby for the fifth consecutive game, tying his career-worst stretch. Just two goals after scoring twice in 39 seconds in the first period. No power-play goals in five opportunities, dropping the Penguins to 0 for 17 on the season.

Marc-Andre Fleury has been spectacular, but the Penguins have seven goals in five games or two more than Jamie Benn, Tomas Plekanec or Zach Parise.

“We had chances,” Phil Kessel said. “We just have to start scoring. I mean, Christ. It will come, I guess. Hopefully.”

Fleury stopped 26 of 27. Evgeni Malkin scored on a wicked wrister, and Olli Maatta got his first goal since Oct. 23, 2014.

All good storylines.

All overshadowed, at this point, by the power play’s inability to perform.

They did have chances. Fire six shots on Jonathan Bernier. But they remain one of two NHL teams without a power-play goal; the Ducks are the other.

“We’ll make some changes and adjustments (on the power play),” coach Mike Johnston said. “Yeah.”

Well, then.

Johnston didn’t elaborate, but it will be interesting to see what those are? Crosby off? Splitting them into three units? Patric Hornqvist running the point? I don’t know. Couldn’t be worse.

Johnston also took a shot at the second unit of Ian Cole, Chris Kunitz, David Perron, Daniel Sprong and Nick Bonino when he was asked about Crosby’s role on the power play.

“We’ve looked closely at every single power play,” Johnston said. “The last two games we’ve had that one unit together. Whether Geno’s in the middle or (Crosby’s) in the middle, he had the really good look. The other night, he had a great chance from the slot on the power play. Normally he’d put that away.

“I thought (the top unit) was dangerous at times. I thought it was our other unit that didn’t give us any help on the power play. I expected them to generate some momentum by shooting. Be a shooting unit. Give us some momentum when you’re out there. They were the ones that gave up the shorthanded opportunities.

“We do have to get our power play in sync. We know that. We’re looking at it. We’ll look at all options.”

A few other takeaways from this one:

–The Penguins had a pretty poor night on faceoffs, winning just 27 of 61 (44 percent). Matt Cullen entered the game 23 of 34 (67.6), but he won just 1 of 7 on Saturday. As a team, the Penguins won just 3 of 10 draws on the power play. That doesn’t help.

Patric Hornqvist put five shots on goal, and how about the hustle to beat out the icing call at the end?

–Quick hits: Fleury has stopped 75 of 79 shots over his last three games (.949 save percentage). … Sergei Plotnikov assisted on Maatta’s goal for his first NHL point. … Ironic, too, the other assist went to Rob Scuderi. Both were healthy scratches Thursday.


October 17, 2015
by Jonathan Bombulie

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Defense decisions


Coach Mike Johnston has talked the last two days about a mandate to develop young defensemen. Evidently, that doesn’t mean every night starting right now.

Rob Scuderi will be in for Adam Clendening for tonight’s game against Toronto.

Johnston explained why:

“With Rob, we know what we get with Rob. He’s a great penalty killer. He’s a real stable veteran influence on our group. I thought Adam Clendening had a good camp with us. As a result of that, he’s earned a game, because of the camp he had, to play. We wanted to get him in. I didn’t want him sitting too long, so that was the decision we made that day. We’ll continue to make a daily decision with what we’re doing with our defensemen. I like the progress. I thought Olli Maatta took a step last game. It’s going to take him some time just getting back from the injuries the last two years. I thought Dumo just keeps taking small steps every night. It’s good to see with our young defensemen. They’re starting to progress, the guys on the ice and we have some guys in the background that are going to start to push for jobs.”

It’s a decision that will open Johnston up for criticism because the performance of the D corps, especially as it relates to kick-starting the offense, was much better with Clendening in the lineup Thursday night against Ottawa than it was in the three previous games with Scuderi in the lineup.

Clendening took two late-game penalties on Thursday, but he said his conversations with the coaching staff about the calls were positive.

“They were more on my side, as coaches, than they were on the referee’s (side),” Clendening said. “That was nice to hear.”

Bye for now,



October 16, 2015
by Jonathan Bombulie

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On zone entries, Daniel Sprong and young defensemen


If you were looking for an update on Beau Bennett’s condition, you won’t be getting it from the Penguins. Not today anyway.

“He’s injured right now. We’ll wait and see as he progresses over the next little while here,” coach Mike Johnston said, offering no further details.

All we know is that Bennett’s name has two asterisks next to it on the roster on the team website. That indicates that he’s on the injured reserve, which means he must be out for at least seven days.

To be clear, I’m not blaming Johnston or the Penguins for not being forthcoming about Bennett’s injury. Most NHL teams are that way. I’m blaming the league. There has to be a mandate from the top to release basic injury details — out, doubtful, questionable or probable and a body part — like the NFL does. It’s 2015. Enough already.

— Johnston was forthcoming in another way after practice today, and I think it sheds a lot of light on things. If you’re like me, you saw an obvious improvement in the way the Penguins entered the offensive zone Thursday night against Ottawa compared to their three previous games. Johnston explains why:

“We’d like to get the puck to the middle and then kick it outside if we can. We’d like to attack through the middle. I thought we were better at it last night. We got the puck up faster so the other team’s not as organized through the neutral zone. We carry it through the middle and you bring people together and kick it outside. If you’re bringing it up wide through the neutral zone, they’re going to collapse, take away space and you’re probably going to have to chip it into support.”

Colleague Rob Rossi came back with an important follow-up question: How much of that is because of the improved first pass from the defensemen?

“It’s 90 percent,” Johnston said.

To me, those two responses explain why the Penguins looked so much better Thursday in language that we all can understand.

Take a listen to Friday’s Pens Roundtable, featuring me and Jason Mackey

— Two other important follow-up items from Thursday night. First, on Daniel Sprong.

When Johnston said he thinks of Sprong as a junior player, it set off some alarms. Like oh, they’re going to send this kid back to juniors for sure now. Jim Colony of The Fan asked for some clarification on that, and Johnston’s answer was revealing. He said he thinks of Sprong as a junior player because junior players have habits that worked for them at lower levels that need to be broken a level up. That, Johnston said, describes Sprong.

“I could have said a younger player, an 18-year-old player,” Johnston said. “I mentioned junior because I’ve had experience with junior players and those are some of the things you see in junior players.”

Johnston was then a little more effusive in his praise of Sprong than he was last night.

“Sprong, for us, has been a guy who keeps playing well. That’s why he’s here. I think he gets better and better,” Johnston said. “He was rewarded with more ice time. That was the most ice time he’s had. He was rewarded with playing in a bigger role and he responded. For me, he hasn’t failed any tests yet.”

I asked if Bennett’s injury (and Pascal Dupuis’ injury as well, though I didn’t mention it) will impact the decision to keep Sprong more than nine games.

“It’s sort of an individual thing, really,” Johnston said. “You’re looking at him independent. If we have the luxury we have too many good forwards and we have to fit the pieces together, that’ll be a good thing for us.”

After all those compliments, Johnston stopped short of saying he plans to try Sprong in the top six.

“Not right now,” he said.

— Also, Johnston further explained what he meant about a “mandate” to play young defensemen.

“If you look at the strength of our group, the depth of our group, when I came into the organization anyway, I thought we had a lot of good young defensemen, really good young up-and-coming defensemen,” Johnston said. “There is a time when you play them in the minors, you develop them, you’re working with them, but now they have to become NHL defensemen. How do you do that? You have to start to transition them in. Giving them an opportunity is part of that.”

Johnston went on to use Brian Dumoulin’s situation at the end of last year as an example.

“We looked at it and we said, ‘Jeez, we’re bringing a young defenseman into a playoff. How’s he going to react?’ But that experience was so valuable for him right now,” Johnston said. “It was by accident, just because of the injuries we had, but that has really helped him out.”

I think that means you’ll see more Adam Clendening and more Derrick Pouliot once he straightens some things out in the minors. And they won’t be getting playing time at the expense of Dumoulin. It’ll be instead of veteran defensemen like Rob Scuderi and perhaps Ben Lovejoy. And judging by my Twitter mentions, that should make the fanbase happy.

Bye for now,



October 16, 2015
by Jonathan Bombulie

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Post-Game: Penguins 2, Ottawa 0


The gloom and doom of the season-opening three-game losing streak is not erased by this 2-0 Penguins win over Ottawa tonight. It was real. It showed what the Penguins are capable of when they don’t play with any kind of energy or crispness, especially in the neutral zone.

But tonight’s game, especially the first period, showed what this team is capable of on the other end of the spectrum. They can be a consistently dangerous offensive force with a goaltender capable of cleaning up whatever defensive messes arise. That’s something you can work with.

The star of the first period, to me, was David Perron. He was the poster child for an offense that was using the entire ice to build up an attack that came across the blue line with speed and purpose. He had four shots in the period.

Coach Mike Johnston said the energy the team showed in the first period was a big difference from the first three games. He attributed some of that to shorter shifts.

The scoring came in the first three minutes of the second — Evgeni Malkin on a galloping rush up the right wing and Daniel Sprong from the left side of the slot for his first NHL goal.

After that, I thought Fleury played an absolutely clutch game. A power play quarterbacked by Erik Karlsson is always dangerous, and Fleury backstopped the penalty kill with poise. The side effect of a more prolific offense was a few more scrambly moments at the other end of the ice, and Fleury handled that too.

Some more notes:

— The lineup changes were as follows — Bobby Farnham and Bryan Rust in for injured Beau Bennett and healthy Sergei Plotnikov and Adam Clendening in for healthy Rob Scuderi. None of the three players inserted into the lineup was a game-changer by himself, but as a whole, they provided a significant boost of speed to a team that needed one against a quick Ottawa attack.

— Some interesting post-game comments from Johnston.

On Clendening: “He’s a young defenseman who we saw play pretty well in training camp. Our mandate is to try to bring in some young defensemen and try to get them ingrained in our system. It’s hard for a young kid like that to sit for a long time, so we decided to put him in.”

“Mandate” is a fascinating choice of words, no?

On Sprong: “I really think he’s going to be a good player for this organization. But I’ve dealt with junior players before and I still consider him a junior player and those players have to learn habits away from the puck and responsibilities so the coach trusts him. I felt he’s been coming along in that area, so I felt he deserved to bump up a little bit tonight, and he responded. He responded with a good-working game. I don’t know how many shots he had, but he had the one goal. I like what I see out of him, how competitive he is. I still want to see better habits all over the ice. It’s going to come with a young guy. The faster it comes, the better it is for him.”

“I still consider him a junior player” … also an interesting choice of words.

Now, a couple of notes from Jason Mackey.

— The line of Perron-Malkin-Hornqvist accounted for 13 of the Penguins’ 36 shots on goal, including a game-high seven from Perron.

“Our line last game didn’t do a good job of getting chances,” Perron said. “We wanted to be better. I thought we were tonight. We had an excellent game.”

It was tough not to notice them, honestly. Since the beginning of last season, I had advocated for Hornqvist to play with Sidney Crosby. Direct game and direct game. Go to the net. I thought it meshed well. And, honestly, for much of last year, it did.

But Perron described something else that goes into this current iteration and why Malkin with Hornqvist could make sense. Remember, Malkin loves to carry the puck through the neutral zone and keep it for extended periods of time.

“(Hornqvist) is fitting great with Geno because he lets him carry the puck through pretty much the whole ice, and he goes to the net,” Perron said.

— Bryan Rust woke up in Wilkes-Barre and attended team meetings with zero thought of going to bed in Pittsburgh. That’s when Wilkes-Barre/Scranton coach Mike Sullivan called him into his office and told him he had an 11:30 a.m. car service.

“He said, ‘You’re getting called up for a reason. Play your game. Move your feet.’ That’s something I thought about the whole way down here,” Rust explained.

And Rust did.

Skating on a fourth line with Matt Cullen and Bobby Farnham, Rust played an extremely solid game. Logged 7:33, attempted four shots, put two on net and drew the praises of his coach — the second one of the day.

“Rust is a really good responsible player,” Johnston said. “I don’t think he’s ever going to be a high-end scorer, but he’s a very good, responsible, two-way guy.”

Remember, Rust failed to earn a job in the preseason, when there was a spot to win on the fourth line. He’s feeling much better about that now.

“I had a year under my belt. I had some games under my belt,” Rust said. “That’s something I was going to try and build on and hopefully earn a spot out of camp, but I wasn’t able to do that.

“I didn’t play to the best of my ability or play as consistently as I would have liked. I knew I was going to be able to work hard in Wilkes and eventually get my chance again. That’s something I was trying to focus on. Really happy it happened this early in the season.”

Bye for now,



October 15, 2015

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Gameday: Penguins vs. Senators, 7 p.m.


Five quick things from Thursday’s morning skate before looking at tonight’s game:

1. Beau Bennett is out tonight against the Senators. Undisclosed. Just nuts the awful look this kid has had. Don’t know what part of the body, when, any details. Just that he’s out. And probably not real happy about it.

2. Pascal Dupuis skated early. He’s due back from a lower-body injury Nov. 3 at the earliest. Coach Mike Johnston shot me down, though, when I asked whether this meant Dupuis was ahead of schedule.

3. Forward Eric Fehr participated. Good news there. Third-liner could bring energy, some help on the PK and size. He had offseason elbow surgery and should theoretically be back soon. Needs to take contact, though, get his timing back, all that.

4. No line rushes, but the Penguins did some power-play breakouts. Top unit: Kris Letang, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel and Patric Hornqvist. Second unit: Ian Cole, David Perron, Nick Bonino, Daniel Sprong and Chris Kunitz.

5. Expect Bobby Farnham to play. OK, they only have 13 forwards on the roster. So with Bennett out, Farnham pretty much has to play. But just treading lightly in case they do something crazy, dressing seven defensemen or whatever.

OK, the game.

Senators are 3-1 and are tied for the league lead in goals with 15. All of their peripheral numbers, though, stink.

–Their five-on-five scoring chance differential is negative-35. Their CF% is 42.5. They’ve allowed 36 fewer shots than they’ve taken five-on-five. This strikes me as a team that will come back down to Earth at some point.

–Lineup-wise, Shane Prince, a highly touted Senators prospect, will play his third NHL game and first this season. Craig Anderson will start in goal for the Sens.

–Funny numbers: Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson has seven assists. The Penguins entire team has two.

–Quotable: “It’s early in the season, and that’s all fine and good,” Matt Cullen said. “But there comes a point where you have to find a way to get a win. We’re there. We need to get it. I think we all need to raise our level a little bit and get our best 60 out there.”

–Malkin has 10 goals in his last nine home games against Ottawa. … Penguins are 6-1-1 against Ottawa at Consol and 6-1-2 against the Sens the last three years. … Kessel has fared better against Ottawa than any other team, with 25-25–50 in 51 games. … Two of Kessel’s three career hat tricks have come against Ottawa (Feb. 1, 2014 & Oct. 8, 2011).

–2014-15 series: Penguins won 2-0-1. … GF-GA was tied at 10 apiece. … Penguins went 1 for 9 on the power play, nine for 11 on the penalty kill.

–Something to ask yourself: Who takes Bennett’s spot? Let’s say the top line remains Kunitz-Crosby-Kessel, the second Perron-Malkin-Hornqvist. Does that make the third line Sergei Plotnikov-Bonino-Sprong? That would be my guess. That leaves Farnham-Cullen-Kevin Porter as your fourth line. Could be a big opportunity for Sprong, his first five-on-five time with actual skill.

Be GRATEFUL to each other,



October 14, 2015
by Jonathan Bombulie

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Dubious Record

Ivan Hlinka (Getty Images)

Ivan Hlinka (Getty Images)

The Penguins are on the verge of tying a pretty dubious team record. If they lose in regulation to Ottawa tomorrow night, they’ll be the second team in franchise history to begin with an 0-4 record.

Let’s face it. This is a franchise with some bad seasons in its history. There are plenty of seasons with opening records like 0-3-3 or 0-4-1 or even, in 2005-06, the interesting mark of 0-4-4-1, but in terms of straight-up four regulation losses to start a season, there’s just 2001-02.

Ivan Hlinka, you’ll recall, was fired after starting that season 0-4. Rick Kehoe replaced him, and the Penguins responded by going 4-0-1 in their next five games. Ultimately, they settled to a 28-41-13 record.

The Penguins had a scheduled day off today, so just a few notes:

— Beau Bennett mentioned last night that there is more of a spotlight on this three-game losing streak because it’s at the start of the season. In a sense, he’s right. The Penguins had five losing streaks of at least three games last season and made the playoffs. They won 51 games two years ago, but even that season had three three-game skids in it.

— If the first week of the season is any indication, the Penguins might be able to climb out of the hole they’ve dug for themselves without too much heavy lifting. That’s because the Metropolitan Division stinks so far. Half the division is 0-3. Three other teams have one win. Only the 3-1 Rangers are off to any kind of start. Win Thursday and Saturday and the Penguins are probably in a playoff position.

— Thanks for the comments after last night’s post-game blog post. Keep them coming. We’re considering a system that will make commenting easier in the future too. Anyway, to sum it up, if they’re an accurate indication of how the fan base is feeling, there’s more heat on the coach than the players at this point. Can’t say that’s surprising. There are lots of metrics to measure players. For coaches, it’s just Ws and Ls.

Bye for now,



October 14, 2015
by Jonathan Bombulie

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Post-game: Montreal 3, Penguins 2


Some notes after Montreal beat the Penguins 3-2 tonight:

— The Penguins are 0-3 for the fifth time in franchise history. They missed the playoffs three of the four previous 0-3 years. They’re winless after three games for the 11th time in team history. They missed the playoffs in seven of those previous 10 seasons.

— To me, those stats answer the question about whether it’s too early to start wondering what’s going on here. It’s not too early. You get to 0-5 or so, and then the things that happen to 0-5 hockey teams start happening.

— A Mike Johnston quote: “Overall, there were some big improvements. Certainly some big improvements from Arizona. It was close to the Dallas game, maybe even a little bit ahead of that, but we have to be better. We have to be better individually and then there are some areas of our game offensively. I thought we still passed up shots.  We passed up some very good shots. Did we have enough net screens? I’m going to look at that. That’s the way it is nowadays. It’s so hard to score. You’ve got to be around that net area.”

I didn’t think passing up shots was a serious problem for the Penguins tonight. I thought a lack of a consistent net-front presence was a little bit of a problem. To me, the big problem remains at both blue lines. They’re fighting like hell just to gain the zone while at the other end of the ice, the opponent is breezing into the zone without many problems. How to fix that? I don’t know. If I did, I would hire myself out as a consultant to 0-3 NHL teams. You may have some thoughts. Leave a comment or hit me on Twitter if you do (@BombulieTrib).

— A Sidney Crosby quote: “You’ve got to find ways if you’re 0-3. If your desperation and urgency is not there, then there’s a problem.”

Crosby had four shots, including a great chance from the right circle with 2:17 left that Carey Price stopped with his left pad. He had a better game than the first two, but it looked nothing like the breakout game you’re probably expecting from 87.

— A Beau Bennett quote: “It brings more light to the situation because we’re started 0-3. Teams will go through a three-game losing streak throughout the year, but starting that way is never a good thing. We just have to turn it around.”

Bennett gets a little leeway to sound an optimistic tone because he played a pretty good game tonight, including getting a second-period goal. When he’s healthy, he’s a difference maker. Johnston said Bennett was probably the team’s best player tonight. I’m not sure that’s a good thing.

— Max Pacioretty is a bona fide stud in the midst of a major star turn. He scored twice. He’s in a super high-profile spot as captain of the Montreal Canadiens and it suits him so well. In addition to being a tremendous goal scorer, he has the personality for the job, talking to every last reporter at morning skate today. He’s going to score some goals in a USA sweater sometime soon, and you’re going to cheer him. Tonight, you probably weren’t cheering him.

— Johnston went to the loaded-up all-star power play unit with Kessel and Crosby on the half-walls and Malkin roaming the slot. They only had a power play and a half to work with in the game, not enough time to really get a look at it, but it didn’t convert.

— To be totally fair, there were some improvements compared to the first two games. There was a little more chemistry in the offensive zone. Sparked by a good cycling shift by the fourth line of Porter-Cullen-Sprong, the Penguins actually played a pretty good second period. The Sergei Plotnikov turnover that led to Tomas Fleischmann’s game-winning goal could have easily been called a hook on David Desharnais.

But in total, those are hollow compliments. You are what you’re record says you are, and the record says the Penguins are in a hole.

Bye for now,



October 13, 2015

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Gameday: Penguins vs. Canadiens, 7 p.m.


Not a lot comes easy when playing the Montreal Canadiens.

“They’re tough to play against,” Kris Letang said this morning following the gameday skate at Consol Energy Center. “You don’t get easy scoring chances against a team like that. Even if you have an easy scoring chance, you have the best goaltender in the league last year. It’s a tough opponent.”

The Canadiens’ patience, structure and consistency define them.

Probably nearly as much as goaltender Carey Price, who for my money is the best in the league. (Same for Letang, evidently.)

The Penguins have their work cut out for them in their home-opener tonight at 7:08.

Perhaps the one thing the Penguins can take solace in knowing is Montreal isn’t a bunch of world-beaters on power play, either. The Canadiens are 1 for 14 (7.1), meaning the teams combined are 1 for 21.

Which means, of course, that this will come down to special teams.

The Canadiens worked on their power play this morning, while the Penguins — who held an optional skate that Sidney CrosbyChris KunitzPhil KesselRob Scuderi and Nick Bonino all sat out — did not.

“I don’t want to give away what we’re working on, but we have to get more guys involved,” Montreal’s Max Pacioretty said. “We have five guys out there for a reason. Power play should be all one-touch passing, move it to everyone on the ice. We have to get more guys involved.”

***Let’s look at a few home-opener numbers that might be relevant tonight: The Penguins are 25-13-9 all-time in home-openers, 3-2 at Consol Energy Center. … Crosby in home-openers: seven goals and 13 points in nine of ‘em. … Evgeni Malkin in seven of ‘em: three goals and six points. … Their last home-opener against the Habs was Oct. 7, 1993, a 2-1 overtime win for the Penguins when Joe Mullen got the GWG.

***A few Montreal-related numbers that might be relevant tonight: Crosby has at least a point in all 15 career home games against the team he cheered for growing up, totaling 12 goals and 24 points. … Letang has 10 assists in his last eight games against his hometown team. … Marc-Andre Fleury is 5-1-1 in his last five home starts against Montreal.

***The Canadiens can certainly skate. But then again, so can the Penguins, defenseman Ben Lovejoy reminded.

For all the reasons they were held to one goal in losses at Dallas and Arizona last week, lack of team speed wasn’t one of them.

Look for a nice tempo to this one, especially with — you would think — the home team coming out pretty jazzed up.

“We are a very fast team,” Lovejoy said. “That was certainly not our issue Games 1 and 2. I thought Game 2 we were completely outworked. That can’t happen. Some games you’re just going to play very well, but Game 2 was a lack of work ethic. We didn’t win any battles. We can’t do that tonight. We need to be a desperate team.

***Look at Price’s splits last year, and maybe there’s some sort of silver lining here. At least a Touch of Grey, no?

Price vs. PIT: 1-1-1, 2.29 GAA, .922 SV%

Price vs. everyone else: 43-15-5, 1.93 GA, .935 SV%

So, in other words, he might actually be human against the Penguins.

***Montreal leaders:

Plekanec 3-0–3
Galchenyuk 1-3–4
Pacioretty 2-2–4
Subban 0-4–4
Markov 0-3–3
Notes: Habs have a plus-7.4 shot differential in all situations. … Of their 10 goals, they’ve scored four in the first and four more in the third.

All for now. Talk to you tonight from Consol.

Be GRATEFUL to each other,


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