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April 9, 2014
by Josh Yohe


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Yohe: Remembering Mario Magic

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Greetings, hockey fans.

Those of us who grew up in Pittsburgh all have our favorite Mario Lemieux memory, right?

For many, the nights he raised the Stanley Cup in 1991 and 1992 will always represent that perfect memory. Others surely will mention Dec. 27, 2000, when he came out of retirement in remarkable fashion, notching a goal and two assists.

There is the “five-goal-five-different-ways” game and so many others.

Me? I’d like to direct you to April 9, 1993. You’re surely familiar with this game because the NHL Network showed replays of it pretty much every day during its top-notch coverage of the lockout. (That’s sarcasm.)

The Penguins beat the Rangers in Madison Square Garden that night, winning their 16th straight game, which set an NHL record. They’d beat the Rangers the following night to win No. 17, a record that stands a generation later.

Yes, the victory was historical. But what truly stands out from that night was Lemieux’s performance. For all of his gifts – and no hockey player ever possessed more gifts – one of Lemieux’s greatest traits was his ability to slow the game to his pace. There has never been anything like it.

Watch Crosby or Malkin, Ovechkin or Stamkos. They’re all wonderful, all future Hall-of-Famers. But there is an almost frantic quality to their play, especially Crosby and Ovechkin. They’re almost always in a hurry, which isn’t a bad thing. It suits them well, in fact.

But the beautiful thing about Mario was that he was never in a hurry. While on the power play, with the puck, he’d often completely ignore the man defending him to direct traffic with his left arm. He would literally slow the game to crawl simply because he could, I guess.

Never was this on greater display than on that night at MSG.

Lemieux had to be tired. After all, he had just missed a couple of months while battling cancer. He endured a series of radiation treatments that badly fatigued him. Still, he returned on March 2 and went on one of the greatest scoring binges of his career, this from a man who specialized in scoring binges. Mario produced 30 goals and 26 assists in the 20 regular season games he played after returning to the lineup. Look at those numbers again.

And remember, his back was not 100 percent during this time. Not even close.

Still, at age 27, his physical gifts remained at their peak. Against the Rangers, he scored five goals and it felt like he could have scored eight or nine, if he so desired. You’ll notice in many of these goals, Lemieux almost looks like he’s playing the game in slow motion. And yet, none of the Rangers could catch him all night. Again, it was an almost superhuman ability that you probably had to witness in person to truly appreciate it.

Please note the third goal of the five. It occurred in the second period after receiving a lead pass from goalie Tom Barrasso, who had incredibly puck handling skills.

Mario was killing a penalty and had been on the ice for an eternity. He was pulled down and no penalty was called. As he would sometimes do, he stayed on the ice for quite some time, staring down the referee. He finally got up, and was about to skate to the bench when he spotted Barrasso with the puck, and went for the breakaway.

He skated in slow motion on the breakaway, obviously out of gas. But it didn’t matter. If you were watching, you knew he was going to score. After being embraced by teammate Ron Francis, Mario raised one arm in the air, still in slow motion. What a visual.

He’d score two more goals, of course, and famously received a standing ovation from the Madison Square Garden crowd after the fifth.

(Side note: I had just turned 13. Earlier that day, my mom gave me an English Bulldog puppy for my birthday. Her name was Sheba, and she was great. So, I was already having pretty much the greatest day ever even before having the privilege of watching this performance.)

Mario was about artistry as much as anything else. He’d do something every game that you’d never seen before. On that night, he made scoring five goals look so easy.  And inevitable. And destined.

Wednesday marks the 21-year anniversary of that performance. If you watched it, enjoy it again. If you’re young or new to the sport or young, give it a look. The game has never been played in such a way, and I assure you it will never be played like that ever again.

And yes, I’ve gotten so bored by the final few weeks of this regular season, that I wrote an 800-word blog about a game that took place 21 years ago.

But really, this is footage that never gets old.

 

-Yohe

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April 3, 2014
by Rob Rossi


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Rossi: Crosby and the Century Club.

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Sidney Crosby wants all the trophies.

That is the theme behind our latest info-heavy production at the Trib. In Thursday’s print edition there is a page entirely dedicated to captain Sidney Crosby’s return to the Century Club. His fifth 100-point season is second in franchise history to Mario Lemieux’s 10.

The shake-your-head part: Were it not for an ankle injury (2008), the concussion saga (2011-12) and the broken jaw from last season, Crosby might have just hit 100 points for the eighth time – certainly the seventh.

A big stick tap to Trib designer Melanie Wass for her last-minute work on this page. She’s just super, and always has been a big part of the hockey coverage – making us look better than we read, so to speak.

Be EXCELLENT to each other,

Rossi

Crosby100

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April 2, 2014
by Rob Rossi


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Rossi: A read on Bylsma’s pauses.

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Brooks Orpik is a week removed from speaking up TO the Penguins at a team meeting.

Now he is reduced to mostly biting his tongue.

Orpik, perhaps the most candid player when speaking on the record in my eight seasons covering the Penguins, clearly is trying not to say the wrong thing about the current state of affairs.

There is no easy way to define that state.

The Penguins are not scared.

The Penguins are not worried.

The Penguins are not beaten.

The Penguins are not… anything.

That is probably the reason coach Dan Bylsma offered two long pauses to questions I asked after a 4-1 loss to lowly Carolina on Tuesday night.

What else is there to do but pause for thought with this team?

The first question:

Dan, one of your players said he wasn’t worried about the team’s up-and-down play since the Olympic break. How do you feel about it?

Bylsma waited 14 seconds, then offered this response:

“The word ‘worried’ ­– I guess when you look at the last six games and the inconsistency of our play I don’t think any player looks at that and says we’re all right with that.”

Bylsma is not a man of few words.

He is not a man to haphazardly answer questions in post-game news conferences.

He is a smart man, a man that makes habit of mixing honesty with spin in a way that provides insight even if he does not really say anything.

The 14-second pause was insightful in that he clearly wanted to make sure he provided the best possible response to that question.

A former player, he knows that all players read.

He also knows that messages can be sent without screaming.

He will never scream. I asked him about that a year ago. Screaming, even once, I suggested, might convey something needs to change.

“That’s not who I am,” Bylsma said. “If you’re waiting for me to change who I am, to become a guy that goes negative, screams and throws things – that’s never going to happen.”

Bylsma sends messages in ways that are subtler than screaming.

Like, say, saying nothing for a bit.

The second question on Tuesday night:

Dan, what needs to happen to get this team to the all-right phase?

Bylsma paused 9 seconds, then offered this response:

“I can say that that game against Columbus, the game against Chicago are indications of our team being in the right spot. This game is not. We’re going on the road for three games and two out of three isn’t an indication we’re in the right spot. It’s in our team, it’s in our group of guys, that’s how we’re going to prove it’s alright.”

The Penguins are going to the playoffs.

They are going as no worse than the No. 2 seed, barring a complete collapse that would include them losing their last six games. (Even then, they’d need help to lose the division.)

They are 8-8-2 since the Olympics.

They would love nothing more than to pause right now.

 

>> What happens when the team meeting didn’t work? A 4-1 loss to a lottery squad is what. http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/pensgalleries/5864172-74/penguins-hurricanes-crosby#axzz2xgOpmOxu

 

>> Kris Letang is up for an award that no player ever really wants. http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/5864181-74/letang-penguins-masterton#axzz2xgOpmOxu

 

>> Josh Yohe is in Winnipeg and Minneapolis. I’ll be in Denver.

Be EXCELLENT to each other,

Rossi

 

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March 30, 2014
by Rob Rossi


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Rossi: Numerical look at Pens’ injuries.

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Many months ago this Sunday looked like it could be a Stanley Cup Final preview. Penguins vs. Blackhawks – three of the last five NHL champions.

That Final still could happen, but this regular season has taxed the Penguins like none in the eight presided over by GM Ray Shero, and perhaps like none in the history of the franchise.

The Penguins are surging toward 500 man-games lost to injury. They would become only the third team in the past five seasons to hit that mark, and the only one to avoid a last-place finish.

This past week, as the injuries continued, I attempted to look at the man-games numbers and connect them to some other numbers. The result of that attempt appears as an info graphic in Sunday’s print edition of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Melanie Wass was the designer.

I encourage you to buy a paper to get the full feel of this piece, which begins on the front page and leads to this…

PensInjuries

 

 

Be EXCELLENT to each other,

Rossi

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March 27, 2014
by Rob Rossi


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Marshall: What to know about Pens’ PDO.

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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.

 

>> PENS’ STOCK MARKET

One of the greatest parts of hockey is the ebb and flow of a season and the good and bad bounces that come with it. Every time a team steps on the ice some measure of luck is involved in their success.

For instance, if a player dumps the puck into the zone and it takes a wild bounce off a rough patch of ice and past the goaltender, the opposition will end up with a “minus” in the plus/minus category; but could they really have prevented such a bizarre bounce from ending up in their own net?

Well, advanced metrics has luck covered via a statistic called PDO.

PDO is the sum of a player’s on-ice shooting percentage and on-ice save percentage. It attempts to account for the lucky bounces of the game and serves as a sort of measuring stick to gauge the ebb and flow of a player’s season. The key with PDO is to understand where a given player stands in the ups and downs of a season. It always reverts to a mean of 1000.

Trends in hockey always seem to normalize. Take Alex Steen (St. Louis) as an example. Steen started the season with the highest PDO in the NHL. He’d scored 11 goals in his first 10 games. In his last 10 games, Steen has only lit the lamp twice. His PDO has dropped, and that was predictable given how well he’d been playing to start and the positive situations he’d found himself in.

Heading into the Stanley Cup playoffs with momentum is key. So with the Penguins seemingly struggling the last few games, what does PDO tell us about the Penguins stretch run?

Let’s start with defensemen Brooks Orpik and Rob Scuderi, both of whom have found themselves in some less-than-fortunate situations this month. Orpik finds himself at a recent low of 991 and Scuderi coming in at the mean of 1000. The study of PDO tells us that these numbers might continue to drop some, but should level out and begin to increase again in the near future.

Winger Lee Stempniak is a great case study on this number. When he was traded to the Penguins on March 5, Stempniak rang in at a team low of 867 ­– a testament to the struggles the Calgary Flames this season. Over the course of the month, his PDO has increased to 952 and continues to increase. Playing with center Sidney Crosby is enough to turn any player’s situation around, but we can expect Stempniak to level off a bit as the playoffs approach.

On a big picture level, the Penguins have seen their team PDO drop significantly this month. Crosby and defenseman Matt Niskanen, both of whom held PDO numbers above 1100 throughout this season, have dropped to 1003 and 1000 respectively. In fact, the Penguins currently have several players who find themselves right at the mean of 1000 for PDO: Olli Maatta, Brandon Sutter, Joe Vitale, Jussi Jokinen, Evgeni Malkin, and Scuderi are all experiencing regressions to the mean of 1000.

If the history of PDO is accurate whatsoever, and we have plenty of evidence to believe it is, the Penguins slump should level off right as the Stanley Cup Playoffs begin. In fact, as a team, the Penguins PDO has dropped to 1004. As a club who generally operates above the league average, we might just see the Penguins heat up at exactly the right time.

– Marshall

 

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

 

 

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March 26, 2014
by Rob Rossi


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Rossi: Scuderi looks to send a message.

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Rob Scuderi had a certain look about him Tuesday night.

He had a similar one in Edmonton in early January.

Then, he took issue with the way the Penguins were playing, comparing it to “Harlem Globetrotter hockey.”

Now, he is taking issue with they way they are not playing,” insisting the Penguins lacked “passion.”

In each of these instances, Scuderi sought to deliver a message through the media.

As Yohe recalled, after a 4-3 overtime loss at Edmonton on Jan. 10, Scuderi stood near his stall, hands on his hips, and looked for a familiar face. That face belonged to Yohe, to whom Scuderi aired his frustration.

That story: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/5368876-74/penguins-malkin-period#axzz2wzy7v0ex

Tuesday night, after the Penguins fell, 3-2, at home to Phoenix, Scuderi again stood by his stall, this time holding a mesh bag containing his soaked laundry. Again, Scuderi had a message to deliver.

This story: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/pensgalleries/5820926-74/penguins-orpik-coyotes#axzz2x28IDB69

Scuderi returned to the Penguins this summer because he believed they had a chance to again win the Stanley Cup. He still believes that.

That is why he has taken two opportunities to deliver damning words about this group.

In eight years as the primary beat reporter for the Tribune-Review, I had heard a lot of postgame comments from players – enough of them that I have made a promise rarely to pay them much attention.

I had never heard a player question his club’s collective “passion” until Tuesday night.

Post-game interviews are often emotional times, and what players say after them does not significantly contribute to the actual narrative of the club.

Scuderi was NOT emotional in Edmonton or after this loss to Phoenix. He was deliberate, and for that reason his words should be taken seriously.

He does believe the Penguins can win the Stanley Cup.

He also knows they will not win one playoff series if they do not show some life.

My working theory on the Penguins is that some of these players, ones that have won the Cup, have looked at this particular squad and assessed that the goods are not there to win it again. Basically, the former champions among this group sense this is not a title team.

That theory is gaining more credence by the day.

That is why Scuderi, a two-time Cup winner, spoke again Tuesday night.

That is why Brook Orpik, knowing this is likely his last season with the Penguins, by all accounts chastised his teammates in a closed-door meeting.

That is why Craig Adams, also a two-time Cup winner, has been publicly lamenting the Penguins’ problem spots – focus and discipline – for weeks.

That is why captain Sidney Crosby flashed a stone-cold scowl as he exited the dressing room after speaking with the media on Tuesday night. Crosby said the Penguins had not recovered from an emotional loss to St. Louis on Sunday.

The playoffs are all about recovering. Crosby knows that. So do Scuderi, Orpik and Adams.

So does coach Dan Bylsma, who said he takes “no joy from losing.”

A lot of Penguins with their names etched in silver know there are problems – potentially fatal ones – with this squad.

Passion, though, never seemed like it would be one. If it is, there is no reason to believe there is hope.

 

Be EXCELLENT to each other,

Rossi

 

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March 22, 2014
by Rob Rossi


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Rossi: Crosby, Malkin and The Friendship.

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Three years ago, Evgeni Malkin needed help, but he was a bit nervous to ask for it.

He wanted, badly, to raise money for families of the Lokomotiv hockey players/personnel that died in that awful airplane crash. Malkin called in some favors to help organize an auction of hockey items. Many of the items contained autographs. Some were signed by Russian players such as Pavel Datsyuk and Ilya Kovalchuk, with others by then-Penguins teammates like Jordan Staal and Marc-Andre Fleury.

There was a lot of Sidney Crosby stuff, too.

That made sense. Malkin and Crosby were about to enter their sixth season as teammates.

Still, the collection available for bid also had items donated by players with whom Malkin is not reputably close – players such as Jonathan Toews of the Blackhawks and Zach Parise, then of the Devils.

Malkin had not reached out to these players personally. He had asked Crosby to do it on his behalf.

Crosby did not hesitate, saying then he could tell how important the auction was to Malkin.

Crosby at the time was not in the best of places. He had not yet recovered from a concussion that had cost him the previous season, a concussion that would delay his return to the upcoming campaign.

Malkin, too, had missed the end of the previous season. A knee injury forced him to miss the playoffs.

That summer, Malkin trained like he never had before – and his payoff was the MVP and a second scoring title.

Malkin was magnificent that season, deserving every accolade he received because he was at his best largely with Crosby not playing.

He also was at his best off the ice.

Though he had claimed the title of “world’s best player” for the 2011-12 season, Malkin never missed a chance to remind the public – and at times teammates – that the Penguins were “Sid’s team.”

Crosby was the best player, Malkin said.

Crosby was the top center, Malkin said.

Crosby was the captain, Malkin said.

These were not grand announcements, but rather subtle reminders delivered deliberately over the course of six months.

Crosby was away, but Malkin was determined to make sure that everybody knew Crosby’s place with the Penguins would be there when he returned.

Malkin and Crosby are vastly different people from different backgrounds and, literally, different parts of our world.

They arrived at this burgh each as franchise-altering players – and it probably should have gone a lot different than it has. That is not to suggest that the Penguins should have won more championships with Crosby and Malkin together, just that there was every reason to believe – based off the precedent of sports and elite athletes’ egos – that Pittsburgh would never see Crosby and Malkin play the bulk of, let alone their entire, careers together.

They probably will. Each has signed long-term deals that contain no-trade clauses.

They will do that as friends, too.

This is something that often goes unnoticed when viewing everything through championship-or-bust lenses.

So, think about it now.

Indeed, these are athletes, paid magnificently, and they should always be judged most for what they do on the ice.

However, these athletes are human.

If two of them – especially two such as Crosby and Malkin, who were tasked at a young age with breathing life into a franchise – can find something that goes beyond the borders of a rink… well, that is something worth appreciating.

That is something we should all be so lucky to experience in our lives.

 

 

>> Sid, Geno and The Talk: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/pensgalleries/5789532-74/malkin-crosby-penguins#axzz2wcpEsCsw

 

 

>> ICYMI, the Book on the Penguins: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/5789461-74/penguins-game-games#axzz2wcpEsCsw

 

 

>> And, finally…

Not a day goes by that I should not say it more, but say it 60 times on Sunday I should – and then repeat every day for the next year.

I love you, Mom. Thanks for everything.

Happy birthday.

Rob

 

 

Be EXCELLENT to each other (and your mothers),

Rossi

 

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March 17, 2014
by Rob Rossi


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Rossi: Practicing is the right call for Letang.

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Life happens, and professional athletes are usually better for it.

Marc-Andre Fleury’s best NHL regular season is also his first full one after the birth of his daughter. Sidney Crosby has grown increasingly less concerned with words written and said about him since his concussion saga. Evgeni Malkin rediscovered a sense of professional purpose while rehabilitating a blown-out knee.

These are just some examples of how life happening has impacted almost every Penguins player.

Kris Letang is no different in that regard.

He is different, though.

Letang is 26. He had a stroke.

Comprehending those two sentences is still nearly impossible. Professional athletes do not take strokes during the prime of their playing years.

Except that Letang did.

He also took it very seriously, and that has not changed in the near seven weeks since his wife found him on their bedroom floor.

Letang demanded that details of his stroke be made public. That was not a popular decision with a lot of people, including those close to him; but Letang ignored the advice of many people he has grown to dearly trust.

He put a lot of thought into that decision.

In the end, he trusted what he was hearing from doctors enough to feel he needed to become a public face of stroke. Letang, a relatively new first-time father, said he wanted other young families to know of his situation so they could potentially learn from it.

His story would serve a greater purpose.

That action was not surprising to anybody who has spent some time with Letang. Those that have can attest Letang is a deeply contemplative person with a sharp awareness of what is right or wrong.

To withhold information that could help others was wrong, Letang said.

Equally wrong is for anybody to presume he has made a mistake by returning to full practices with the Penguins.

Neither Letang nor the Penguins are doing anything wrong with this situation.

Letang is not cleared to play. He must pass additional tests to get that clearance.

Until that happens, him playing again this season is only a what-if scenario – and while those are the easiest to discuss, with regards to Letang let the silence that comes with waiting and seeing prove the sound of sanity.

If he does pass those tests nobody should tell him that he should not play hockey this season.

Letang did not lobby to take the ice at Consol Energy Center on Monday. He did not rush through treatment, either.

Multiple physicians advised a treatment course that included blood-thinning medication, non-activity and rest. Letang took the same approach to that treatment as he does offseason conditioning; he went all-in.

He does not have all the answers about what caused his stroke, and that is because those answers may not exist. If they are elusive to trained experts with years of medical experience, they are elusive period.

The doctors he trusts have informed Letang it is safe to practice, so that is what he will do for now.

Practices, unlike games, are controlled situations. There is no more danger for Letang to practice than there is Beau Bennett, who is coming back from a broken wrist.

That is the opinion of physicians. Their opinions are the only ones that matter.

Letang is going to want to try playing. Would he not, that would seem alarming.

The Penguins are going to listen to the doctors and let them make the call on Letang. Would they not, that would seem deserving of criticism.

Letang will want to play and the Penguins will want him to play – but ONLY if doctors deem playing safe. It really is all about the doctors at this point in the Letang story.

Hockey is a big part of Letang’s story, though. It is not the most important part, but a very important part.

To strive to come back ­– especially if he is medically cleared to do so ­– would prove equally important to Letang as it would to those who may be paying attention to his recovery, those who Letang wanted to reach by making his stroke public.

The only thing anybody should want for Letang is his health.

Nobody wants that more than his doctors.

After health, the only thing anybody should want for Letang is a return to his life, and that includes hockey.

Last week, after the Penguins defeated Washington at home, Letang approached Fleury inside the players’ dressing room at Consol Energy Center. They talked about some game sequences in English, but only briefly before having a conversation in their first language, French. Something that Letang said made Fleury laugh, and that laugh brought a smile to Letang’s face.

As he walked away, Letang carried himself comfortably.

“I’m feeling a lot better,” Letang said. “I can’t tell you how much yet, but I feel like myself.”

Life is happening again for Letang, and he’s better for it.

That should be good enough for everybody else.

 

Be EXCELLENT to each other,

Rossi

 

 

 

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March 16, 2014
by Rob Rossi


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Rossi: Pens saw dark and dawn Sunday.

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Maybe it was darkest before the dawn.

The Penguins appeared to hit – certainly scrape, at least – rock bottom during the first period of a 4-3 home loss to the Flyers on Sunday afternoon.

However, they showed stronger over the final two periods.

Defenseman Matt Niskanen has emerged as a public voice for this group, and he made a simple point after this loss.

“(The Flyers) have been playing playoff hockey for about two months,” Niskanen said. “We have to get there.”

The Penguins have 15 games before the playoff open, and for most of Sunday it appeared there was little reason for optimism that a mostly remarkable regular season, given all the injuries, would translate into postseason success.

Then, in about a minute, coach Dan Bylsma declared a couple of skilled players ready for full practices.

Right winger Beau Bennett – out since Nov. 22 with an injured right wrist – was expected to return to regular activity this week.

Defenseman Kris Letang – about six weeks removed from a stroke – was not.

Despite never officially ruling him out, the Penguins – from management to players – had not planned for Letang to play again this season.

That he might is not insignificant, and not just because Letang can bring a rarefied level of skill to the back end.

The Penguins are also down Paul Martin, and they are not sure if he will be ready for the start of the Stanley Cup playoffs. He is out with a broken right hand.

Letang and Martin are inarguably the Penguins’ two top defensemen, and one statistic most shows their worth.

In 19 games this season with Letang and Martin in the lineup, the Penguins are a plus-101 in shot differential.

In the last nine games without both in the lineup, the Penguins have a minus-72 in shot differential.

The latest on Letang: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/5777626-74/letang-penguins-stroke#axzz2wAGWeYHr

 

>> Josh Yohe has the details – including a shocking stat – on the Penguins’ 4-3 loss to the Flyers on Sunday: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/pensgalleries/5740576-74/penguins-flyers-sunday

There were a few curious occurrences, starting with Marc-Andre Fleury taking the crease even though he had played the day before at Philadelphia.

The guess here is that coach Dan Bylsma anticipated another sketchy start from the Penguins, and figured Fleury was the best option to prevent the Flyers from ending the contest early. (He did.) Also, if Bylsma had to pull Fleury – and he did – it could spark something from a group that looked listless often in a loss Saturday.

The other strange happening was captain Sidney Crosby twice removing himself early while the Penguins were trailing but working on the power play. Crosby made that call, not Bylsma.

Finally, the quick hook for the first power-play unit with the Penguins down by a goal near the midpoint of the final period – well, certainly that decision by Bylsma did not look good when the second unit allowed a shorthanded goal to Flyers winger Matt Read.

 

>> Chris Adamski wraps up Sunday with some short and sweet notes: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/5740586-74/games-power-bennett#axzz2wAGWeYHr

 

>> After a weekend sweep, the Flyers are now second in the Metropolitan Division. They won’t catch the Penguins, but… hey, maybe getting the Flyers out of the wild-care option is actually the Penguins’ best play?

 

>> Man-games lost Watch: 413. Just stupid, right?

 

Be EXCELLENT to each other,

Rossi

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March 13, 2014
by Rob Rossi


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Faceoff Factor: Value of Mobile D to Pens

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(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.)

 

Prior to the start of the 2013 season, Penguins coach Dan Bylsma bestowed the “shutdown pairing” moniker on the duo of Brooks Orpik and Paul Martin. When all was said and done, advanced metrics backed up what the eye-test said: Orpik and Martin met the expectation laid upon them.

In the 2013 season, 61 percent of all goals scored at even-strength while the Orpik-Martin pairing was on the ice had gone in favor of the Penguins. They limited the opposition to a mere 0.58 goals-against per 20 minutes of even-strength ice time and boasted a 0.91 goals-for per 20 minutes of even-strength ice time playing against the oppositions’ top lines throughout the year.

Injuries ­– including two long stretches of absences by Martin – have made for a limited engagement encore for the Orpik-Martin pairing this season.

And Orpik is sorely missing his partner.

The Penguins are allowing more goals than they’re scoring when Orpik is on the ice at even-strength. His goals-for percentage has dropped from the 61 percent (with Martin) to 46 percent overall.

Possession numbers also reflect this trend. If you calculate all shooting attempts (missed shots, blocked shots, saves, etc.) taken with Orpik on the ice, only 44 percent are shots registered by the Penguins.

Upon closer look Orpik’s numbers this season are anchored by instances where he’s been paired with a like-minded defenseman. Take Rob Scuderi, for example. In the time Orpik and Scuderi have been paired together this year, their goals-for percentage drops to 11.1 percent. Of all the shots taken while that duo is on the ice, only 35 percent are shots taken by the Penguins. The numbers for fellow “defensive defenseman” Deryk Engelland are also below Orpik’s overall average for the year.

Orpik’s metrics this season are highest when playing with Matt Niskanen, a defensemen that, in the vein of Martin, is able to generate offense and use his mobility rush the puck up ice. Orpik’s goals-for percentage with Niskanen is akin to the numbers he boasted with Martin last year; 60 percent of all goals scored with Orpik and Niskanen on the ice are goals scored by the Penguins and 62.2 percent of all shooting attempts are shots taken by the Penguins.

Martin’s return – projected by the Penguins to be at least during Round 1 of the Stanley Cup playoffs – will be a boost to their postseason chances. Precedent suggests it will lead to the defense corps seeing a major statistical bump.

Simply, the combination of Orpik with a mobile, puck-moving defensive partner has been a success. It just hasn’t been something the Penguins have had the luxury of using most of this season.

 

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

 

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