Hockey

The other dynasty. And one that might be heading the way of the Hawks more than they’d like to admit. It was something of a nothing season in The Burgh, if a 100-point season can be described that way. Maybe it can after the Pittsburgh Penguins turned out to be not much more than cannon fodder for the Islanders in the first round, and promptly rolled over for a team that rolled over to the next one to a team that rolled over for the next one. There doesn’t seem to be much forward momentum with this bunch, and it seems to be about hanging on to what they have. We know how that goes. Will it go that way for the Pens this term?

2018-2019

44-26-12  100 points (3rd in Metro, lost in 1st round to NYI)

3.30 GF/G (6th)  2.90 GA/G (14th)

49.6 CF% (15th)  51.5 xGF% (11th)

24.6 PP% (5th)  79.7 PK% (19th)

Goalies: As it has been, as it will be, the Penguins will trust Matt Murray with the crease. He’s been just about everything in just four seasons, barely, at the top level. He’s been a playoff hero, nothing more than tissue paper, hurt, and then revitalized and he’s barely had time to learn the street (they’re difficult there). He ended last season with a .919, which is more than acceptable, but he went the roundabout way in that he was woeful in October and November last year, then brilliant in December (.950), before evening out in the season’s second half. At 25 and his fourth full season in the NHL, this should be when he enters his prime, and if he does a lot of the other questions about the Penguins seem less daunting. Still, he’s got a clunky month or two in his locker, and this Penguins outfit probably can’t as easily survive those as past ones.

He’ll be backed up by Casey DeSmith, who is a raging piece of shit, but a capable backup as he provided a .916 last year.

Defense: And here is where things get sticky. The Pens will still count on Kris Letang and Brian Dumoulin for their top pairing, but Letang has managed a full season of work in one season out of the last eight. He’s 32 now, which is just about the time things turn for a d-man whose game was built on mobility. When he did play last year, he was nearly a point-per-game, and his metrics were glittering again, so it’s unlikely he’s going to fall off a cliff here. But the end does come quickly, as we know around these parts.

Beyond that pairing, they seem serious about running it back with Jack Johnson and Erik Gudbranson, quite pleased with themselves they got away with using the latter after the trade deadline last season without sending the entire city into the combination of rivers. That won’t work a second time. The kid who could start to take more and more responsibility–and helped pave the way for Olli Maatta‘s immobile ass out of town–Marcus Pettersson, remains unsigned. The Zach Werenski contract should help with that, but the Penguins need him because they can’t seriously give the two monoliths in front of him second pairing minutes.

Justin Schultz is still here, or at least is when everything is attached to him, which isn’t often. He only played 29 games last year, and 63 the year before that. He’s a power play weapon when actually dressed, and provides more swiftness to cover for Johnson or Gudbranson.

If Pettersson and Schultz are healthy, there is a chance for some real spice to this blue line. If they aren’t or Pettersson takes a step back, then Guddy and JJ are going to play far too often and there are going to be guys in Hazmat suits patrolling the Penguins’ defensive zone, no matter how well Murray plays.

Forwards: Interesting group here. It’s always a boon to start with two Hall of Famers in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, but the latter threw up a….well, he just threw up last year. 72 points in 68 games, which is still really good but below what you associate with him. Just 21 goals. the lowest per game mark since the Season In A Can. His metrics also took a hit, and there were a lot of nights where he was either petulant, or too lazy to even be that. He’s 33 now, and while that’s starting to age it shouldn’t be the mark where he turns into something a raccoon gets drunk off of.

The top line will still be Crosby and Jake Guentzel, with other forward to be determined. Phil Kessel and his continual mush of sadness has been shipped off to Arizona, with Alex Galchenyuk coming in return. Neither Montreal or Arizona were able to unlock what seems to be within the American with the Russian name who used to play for the Canadiens, and now it’s a question if it’s there at all (or serious questions about what is).

Another question mark is getting a full season of Nick Bjugstad. All the tools are there to be a dominant power forward, either at center or wing, and yet it’s never happened. Jared McCann seemed to fair a little better in Pittsburgh from Florida, but they’re going to need both of these guys to be more than they’ve been. Dominik Kahun could play himself into top line minutes at times, but is certainly more than enough on a bottom six. Brandon Tanev arrived in the summer to shore up that part of the roster as well. With just a couple pops from guys who haven’t popped before, this could be the usual deep crop of Penguins forwards who never stop that you’re accustomed to. But if guys like Bjugstad and McCann don’t make a move forward and Galchenyuk can’t get his face out of a mirror, then suddenly they look awfully top-heavy again.

Prediction: With Murray, Letang, Dumoulin, Crosby, and Malkin, it’s nearly impossible to imagine the Penguins being bad. And if they get some luck in the health department with Schultz, Letang, and get Pettersson in the fold, you could see where they could be really good again. They need guys to do things they’ve never done before up front, but that has happened before in Pittsburgh. Then again, Derick Brassard also happened there, as did others. This is a team that seemingly could be anything. It could win the division, it could slide down into a wildcard fight with a couple injuries and stall-outs in development. They’re Cup-winning days just might be over, but they still might get a say in who does.

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Everything Else

 vs. 

RECORDS: Hawks 15-21-7   Penguins 23-12-6

PUCK DROP: 7pm

TV: NBCSN

MUNCHIN’ ON A JOE, DICK, AND STANLEY: Pensburgh

While it’s easy to look at the Kings and Hawks, two recent main forces in the NHL, falling on hard times, throw your hands up and say, “Well, that’s just the price of being good for a while,” the Penguins keep putting their thumb in that eye. And when it looked like the Pens would join the Hawks and Kings in the has-been room, they go and ruin it all by doing something stupid like ripping off 10 of 11 since the last time these two met. That has seen them tied atop the Metro division again, with the Capitals, and we’re going to do this dance forever.

It’s not much of a secret how the Penguins managed it. Matt Murray came back from the wilderness and hasn’t lost. Since that Hawks game that he missed, Murray has gone 7-0-0 while giving up just nine goals. Casey DeSmith, despite being a woman-beating dickhead, has backed him up ably, and hence it’s nearly impossible to score more than one or two against the Penguins of late. You can win a lot of games like that.

At the opposite end. having Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin sure helps. Crosby has gone off for 29 points in his last 17 games, taking Jake Guentzel and Bryan Rust–he of the hat trick the last time we saw the Pens–along with him. Phil Kessel has returned to the third line, though his combo with Derick Brassard has been just short of a disaster. That’s almost all Brassard’s fault, who has just not fit in The Steel City at all, at least not at center. Kris Letang is also molten-hot, and he’s basically all their drive from the back end as the bottom two pairings are a lot of construction horses in the form of Olli Maatta, Jamie Oleksiak, and Jack Johnson (he the name you know).

Given the state of the Metro, there’s little reason the Penguins can’t get back to a conference final, and if Murray is going to be like this then they could go farther. Obviously he’ll have to be that level to get past the Lightning. But a goalie and star power is just about all you need to make a run in the NHL. The Penguins have both right now in spades.

To the Hawks, Cam Ward will take tonight’s start with Collin Delia going at home against the Flames tomorrow. So duck. Drake Caggiula will make his Hawks debut tonight on the fourth line, which is where he should be. His inclusion led to the demotion of Dylan Sikura, which makes us make a frowny face. Though Sikura hadn’t scored, his metrics were really good, he’d showed and understanding with Alex DeBrincat, and Brendan Perlini just doesn’t have the same dash. But whatever, he’ll probably be back soon. Chris Kunitz seems to be drawing back in in a place where he played, throwing a useless veteran a bone for reasons we wouldn’t understand and don’t want to hear. Henri Jokiharju would likely be back tomorrow, no later than Wednesday for sure.

This is not the time to be playing the Penguins, and especially at the Not-Igloo where they will get their matchups and will harass a Hawks defense that simply can’t escape its own zone. That three-pass bullshit the Hawks still insist on using to breakout will get them slaughtered tonight, so they need to play the Pens game and get it the fuck out and get it the fuck up the ice. Otherwise the Penguins loaded forward corps is going to go nuts. If the Hawks do that, it should be at least a fast, entertaining one. Until Cam Ward melts from the inside.

 

Game #44 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

 

Everything Else

Perhaps before tonight’s game, or maybe after, or even during given anyone’s urge to actually watch the Hawks these days, Stan Bowman and Jim Rutherford will kick back with a beer and laugh about how similar their situations are. And maybe Stan can prepare Rutherford for what he’s probably in for in a year or two.

Both men took their current posts when everything was already pretty much set for a sustained run. Where Stan took the GM chair with Toews, Kane, Hossa, Keith, Seabrook, Crawford et al. in tow, Rutherford arrived in Pittsburgh with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, Briam Dumoulin, both Marc-Andre Fleury and Matt Murray, Jake Guentzel already there. So for both men, filling in the edges was the only directive.

And Rutherford did that after a middling first year in charge of ’14-’15. He traded one of the only three NHL regulars he’s taken in the draft as Pittsburgh GM, Kasperi Kapanen, along with others to rid the Maple Leafs of their Phil Kessel headache and cap hit. James Neal was moved along for Patrick Hornqvist, which has worked out more than fine. Carl Hagelin was brought in midseason for the total fraud that David Perron has always been. He was able to clear out Brandon Sutter for Nick Bonino. The Matt Cullen signing worked out better than anyone could have hoped. No, we’re not going to list Trevor Daley here, because Trevor Daley sucks to high heaven and we’ll shout it until our throats literally disintegrate if that’s what it takes.

The following season, the Penguins’ second Cup in a row, saw the flier on Justin Schultz which worked a treat. Other than that, it’s pretty much been the same group. Good work here.

But the problems, much like here, begin when those moves around the edges you make deserve more money and cause more decisions. Nick Bonino got expensive and was left to get it in Nashville. The Penguins tried to replace that with Derick Brassard, who is cheaper. It has not worked. Justin Schultz required more money after his resurrection, and he’s been basically hurt the last two seasons. Patric Hornqvist got a raise, which is part of the reason impending free agent Hagelin had to move along for the unimpressive Tanner Pearson.

Rutherford has not been able to replace any of this through his drafting, as the only pick he’s made in the five drafts he’s had that his playing for the Penguins currently is Derek Simon. Without Schultz, the Penguins really don’t have much behind Dumoulin and Letang. Their bottom-six is basically a mess. Rutherford whiffed on Jack Johnson. Jamie Oleksiak isn’t anything. Fans are not exactly pleased about the moving of Daniel Sprong for Marcus Pettersson. The edges are fraying a bit.

And while you may say the Pens made the playoffs last year and are in a playoff spot this year while the Hawks do a modern dance interpretation of the Hindenburg right now, look closer. The Penguins surrendered kind of meekly to the Caps last year in the second round, and benefitted from being in a terrible division. They’re in an even worse division now, and the only thing that will probably keep them out of the playoffs this year is if basketcase teams like the Flyers or Hurricanes ever put it together. And you know what we’ll predict on that one.

The Hawks too put together a couple castles-on-sand playoff berths after their last championship, but didn’t have the luxury of a god-awful division. They’re in the league’s best, in fact. And it could go that south on the Penguins soon, just in less choppy waters.

Their cap problems are only really what Jake Guentzel wants to sign for in the summer as a restricted free agent, but they need upgrades in both defense and the bottom six and will only have somewhere around $10 million to do it.

Perhaps this is just how it is. You get your five-years in the sun, and then it slowly fades out when you can’t keep batting 1.000 with your moves around the core you have. Miss on more than a few though, and the tumble gets violent.

 

 

Game #33 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

Mike Darnay (@MikeDarnay) has been our Penguins friend for a while now. So that’s where we go whenever the black and gold show up. His work can be found at Pensburgh

Hey look, you guys aren’t very good a couple years after your third Cup either. Is this just the way things go?

Partly, I think so. It’s much harder to replicate repeated success than it has been in past years, and the expectations are still just as high. I am guessing in Chicago’s case, as long as Toews, Kane, Keith, and Crawford are in the picture, the expectation is going to be for success regardless of any other mitigating factors. In the Penguins case, they are habitual slow starters. It’s a dangerous game to play, but I think they manage it well. This season may have taken it too far, but as it stands right now they are in 3rd place in their division despite losing 9 out of 10 games less than a month ago. It’s a weird league right now and a weird division and despite their struggles, I think they are able to tread water well enough even when they aren’t on their game.

This is the second straight season that Matt Murray has struggled. Is there a worry that this is what he is and will be?

From many, yes. From me, not really. We saw the level of success that he was able to get to in consecutive postseasons. He wasn’t even *bad* in the 2018 Playoffs. Taking the eventual Champions to six games isn’t all bad. He’s coming off of his worst season that featured several injuries and a major personal thing for a young player to go through. I think he tried gutting it out this year for the better of the team, but ultimately it worked out the other way around. If he can get fully healthy now and give himself the time he needs, I am confident in his ability to return to form.

So the Jack Johnson thing was just a joke, right?

He stinks. There is no way of polishing this turd. He’s just bad. I still can’t believe he was given the TERM that he was. It’s so bad. And he can’t do anything well. Buy him out or ship him to Seattle.

Kris Letang is on pace for what could be a career season. What’s going on there?

To be honest, I think it’s quite simple. He missed several months at the end of the season in the spring and summer of 2017 when the Penguins won their second of the back-to-back Cups. He was on the shelf for most of the summer and didn’t get a full training in at all but was still ready for the start of the season. After the team was eliminated from the 2018 postseason earlier than usual, he was able to get a rest and get a full offseason training program in. How that reflects on the ice — i think it’s important to understand that with the style he plays, being able to trust your body is vital and not playing hesitant allows him to fully expand his skillsets.

 

Game #33 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

It’s kind of startling how quickly you can become an afterthought in the NHL. We’re only a year removed from the Pittsburgh Penguins being two-time defending champs (clap for them) and at times looking like a third was a distinct possibility. But when you finally succumb to the fatigue and your long-time plaything in the Capitals, suddenly no one remembers your name. Despite them still having perhaps two of the best five centers of all-time, a goalie with two rings, a consistent 30-goals scorer on the third fucking line, and quite possibly the best center-depth in the East.

It’s a strange world, this.

And yet, because it’s kind of the same team that didn’t get it done last year, with a much worse player in defense which we’ll get to, it’s whole “You’re Falling Behind If You’re Standing Still” thing. Let’s run it through.

2017-2018: 47-29-6 100 points  272 GF  250 GA  52.2 CF%  52.6 xGF%  7.2 SH% .910 SV% (ES)

Goalies: Here’s something strange to say about a goalie with two Cup runs under his belt: We still don’t know what Matt Murray is. That’s because we only have two regular seasons to deal with, and even in both of those injuries limited him to just 49 games in each. Two years ago he was really damn good. Last year he was very much not. How do you know where to go with that?

Of course, a young goalie having a rough sophomore year is no obstacle to eventual greatness, as every Blackhawks fans should be able to tell you now. And much like football and its quarterbacks, it’s a real advantage if you can have a young, really good goalie for cheap because that’s money you can spend elsewhere before the bill comes due for what’s between the pipes (and one day, goalies are going to get paid market value and there will be several making over $10 million, because they’re that important).

We know Murray is fragile, but beyond that we’re just going to have to find out. We know that there’s greatness in there somewhere, and inconsistency in there as well. As a goalie who can rely on his athleticism too much and end up somewhere near the parking lot sometimes, he’s still learning his angles and anticipation. Sadly, it doesn’t look like he’ll get much help from his defense this time around.

Backing him up is Tristan Jarry, who was basically “there” as a backup last year. Let’s just say if Murray turns out to be Ondrej Pavelec more than Carey Price, the Penguins are going to be pissing up a rope (the only actual good Ween song and go fuck yourself).

Defense: WHY DOES ANYONE EVER THINK JACK JOHNSON IS GOOD HE MOST CERTAINLY IS NOT PLEASE STOP DOING THIS TO YOUR FANS AND TEAM AND REALLY SOCIETY!!!

The Penguins signed Jack Johnson this summer, because they thought he was the guitarist, or because the concise rhythm of his name makes you think he’s good, or you’re actually thinking of the boxer, or you think d-men with big, round, dumb faces have to be good even though Braydon Coburn has been disproving that for nigh-on eight years now. Not only that, they gave this dipshit $3.2 million until he’s 36, even though he’s bad and slow and dumb now. And he’s going to have to take second-pairing minutes while Justin Schultz looks at him quizzically. It’s important to note that Justin Schultz looks at everyone quizzically, because that’s just his face.

It’s even stranger because the Pens had their big, dumb face quota filled on the blue line by another overrated, slow player in Olli Maatta, who I guess will be restricted to only third-pairing assignments, something he’s proven he can handle but that’s it. They think they’ve unearthed something in Jamie Oleksiak. They haven’t.

Which once again means Brian Dumoulin and Kris Letang, for the four minutes something hasn’t fallen off of him, are going to have to shoulder the load in every possible situation. They’ve done it before I guess, but Letang is now 31 with an awful lot of miles and an awful lot of ailments and one wonders when all the king’s horses and all the king’s men are going to arrive and pronounce him DOA. This is clearly the Penguins’ weakness. And they weren’t a good defensive team last year and have added Jack Fucking Johnson. Then again, they weren’t really a good defensive team two years ago and won the damn thing.

#EndHockey

Forwards: The Penguins can get away with a lot of things most teams can’t at the same time because for two-thirds of any game they can throw out Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin. It’s just that simple. That’s 180 points right there, easy. They’re still here, they’re still really good, and as long as that’s the case it’s nearly impossible for the Penguins to be bad.

They’re still accompanied by a host of forwards we can’t be sure are any good but are smart enough to be where Malkin and Crosby need them, otherwise known as “The Marchand Method.” Jake Guentzel scores, I don’t know he does anything else. Bryan Rust is another. Dominik Simon joins the ranks. Carl Hagelin is really fast, and maybe nothing else, but here it works.

Phil Kessel is still around, and he’ll pour in 30 goals without breaking a sweat. Like, literally. And he’ll be a grumpy asshole about it and it’ll be awesome. I hope the Pens win again and beat the Leafs on the way and Kessel misses the Final because he’s too busy walking around Toronto, pointing at people and laughing. This will be the only good ending to the season possible.

Derick Brassard spells his first name wrong and has never been as good as people have wanted him to be, but he’s a damn fine #3 center. He’s not exactly a checking-type though, which means Crosby will have to do more firefighting than he has in the past, because Riley Sheahan blows goats. Whatever, this is still a really fast and skilled outfit that set the new style in motion, and they’re still going to get the puck the fuck up there and score before you can set up and that’s probably good enough for another 100 points at least.

Outlook: The Metro has a few good teams but no great ones. The Penguins have more questions than they’ve had before, but they still have those two guys. You can see them winning the division, getting a sweetheart first-round matchup before yet another kerfluffle with the Caps. You could see them finishing third or fourth in the division, too, as the miles catch up and Matt Murray continues to try and do a rubix cube in the dark.

They’re not as good as any of the Big Two in the Atlantic. But they don’t have to be. They just have to beat them in a series if it comes to that. Really, anything is possible for this team.

 

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Everything Else

All good things…

…or whatever this Pittsburgh Penguins thing was the past three seasons.

I don’t know what the final epitaph for this era of Penguins hockey should or will read. When you repeat as Cup champs you automatically walk amongst the giants of the past. It’s only been done nine times, to repeat as champs, since the ’67 expansion. And only the Penguins themselves and the Red Wings had done it in the past 30 years. So your favorite Roethlisberger-defender in your office decked out in his James Harrison jersey in July (they’ll still wear it, don’t let them fool you) is going to point to that no matter what you say.

And yet the entire time you couldn’t help but ask yourself…was this Penguins team that good?

While Florida is mostly to blame, the Penguins have their hand in this Vegas nonsense as well. Though really, it’s the fault of the rest of the league being categorically stupid. Because if two standard-thinkers like George “Right Cross” McPhee and Gerard “Shawn Burr Had More Skill Than I Did” Gallant could see the Penguins merely getting up the ice as fast as possible to get away from shot-blockers and think, “Hey we can do that and most of this league will be too stupid/drunk when we play them to do anything about it!,” why didn’t everyone else?

Perhaps mostly it’s just an indictment on Dan Bylsma, who had the same talent and just kept balloon-handing his way into first and second round exits. When you have two of the best five centers in the league, the 2nd round is basically your floor.

Either way, the Penguins were able to catch the rest of the league flat-footed when the cap flattened out, and merely played with a “Get The Fuck Up There” mentality that worked against teams that were still focused on getting defensemen who farted a lot. Seriously, they saw Roman Polak in a Final. On a team that TRADED for Roman Polak. I guess it’s something when you can look at your limited team, see a more limited league, and think, “Play faster?” And it works.

It was always a delicate balance. At some point a team was going to get a good goalie performance against them and Matt Murray wasn’t going to be able to channel the lovechild of Achilles and Aragorn. Especially when you go charging up the ice with Olli Maatta’s vacant gape out there. Hey Justin Schultz, you know your partner blows, right? Might want to dial it in a touch. And while you’re at it, get Letang a map.

But it seemed to be that way all series. Penguins fans will tell you Kris Letang is one of the best in the league, and one of these days he just might play like it! And no, trying to disembowel various Flyers, as enjoyable as that might be, doesn’t count. I look forward next year to the continuation of the competition between Phil Kessel and PK Subban as to who can swell more while still being productive. We’re about two years away from Kessel reenacting the post-credits scene to Dodgeball. “Fatty Made A Funny!” And he’ll still pour in 25 goals. Let’s just start calling him “Bartolo” now.

This is probably better than the Pens deserved, after all. They reacted to their consecutive Cups built on speed and more speed by trading a first round pick for Purina Factory resident/superintendent Ryan Reaves. Whom they discarded months later. Jim Rutherford has two rings. The NHL is just one accident after another. It’s like if you made a sports league out of that ball hitting Canseco in the head and going for a homer 10 times a night for eight months.

That’s the takeaway from these Pens teams, basically and indictment of the league. When people ask you about them years from now your reaction is basically going to be, “They were fine, I think?” They’re hockey’s answer to the San Francisco Giants. Multiple championship won by a team mostly made up of “guys” thanks to a league/playoff system that spits out silly results as a function. They were there, they stood upright long enough for everyone else to fall down around them, and then they’re the only ones left to hand a trophy to. Except in the NHL, pretty much everyone is Mike Matheny.

Much like other teams that reigned for a while, the Pens will be brought down by teams doing what they did. The architecture of your destruction is always within the architecture of your success. More and more teams, you hope, are going to play faster and in space and try and get thing done before a team can set up defensively. And attacking Maatta, Schultz, Oleksiak, and Ruhwedel with speed more consistently is going to lead to a lot of Iron City being spilled and thrown. Which is exactly what you should do with that swill. Though in all honesty, it’s no worse or better than Yeungling which we all spent our 20s spraying our shorts over and then you grow up and realize it’s not even Coors Banquet.

I suppose we should thank the Penguins. It’ll be a more entertaining league as more teams take their cues from them. But fuck that. 1992 scars still haven’t healed, and Lemieux is a fuckstick. No woman will ever mean as much to me as the night Darius Kasparitis punched him in the face.

So take your baubles and go, Pens.

 

Everything Else

Sky Point Malcolm.

 vs. 

RECORDS: Hawks 9-8-2   Penguins 11-7-3

PUCK DROP: 6pm

TV: WGN, NHL Network for those outside the 606

DOOBIEDOOBIEDOO….: Pensburgh

As if Penguins-Hawks games didn’t have enough narrative with the two apples of Canada’s eyes lining up against each other, tonight everyone can throw in the 10-1 thrashing from Opening Night on top. The Penguins have probably long forgotten about it, at least they should have, and certainly the Hawks have because it didn’t really portend to what was to come. Both teams are having weird and high-action seasons.

For the Penguins, well, I can’t really sum it up any better than this chart:

The Penguins can’t stop the puck right now, and they can’t really score it either. And yet they’ve been able to ground out enough wins to at least hover around the top of the Metro. Some of this is skewed by the Perfect Ten the Hawks put up in October and a gaggle of 7-1 defeats they’ve also suffered. When the Penguins have been bad, DEY BEEN REEL BAD (or maybe just Antti Niemi was. Your pick).

The Penguins underlying numbers aren’t all that impressive either, but then again they weren’t really all that impressive last year and they relied on their superior finishing talent to basically out-finish the chances they created. And it’s essentially the same roster back, so at some point they’re going to revert to that. They are missing a #3 center as Nick Bonino shuffled off to Nasvhille, and the Penguins haven’t replaced him. They traded Scott Wilson for Riley Sheahan to somewhat remedy this. The only problem is that Riley Sheahan blows chunks. So they’re going to have the same problems.

The defense should be better than it’s been. Letang and Dumoulin have been their usual excellent selves, but Justin Schultz hasn’t really hit the heights of years past and Olli Maatta continues to be flaccid. Ian Cole and Chad Ruhwedel round this out by being there. Until Schultz puts it together again, the Penguins lack a little drive from the back.

The big problems have been in goal, where Niemi was nothing short of Chernobyl as the backup, Murray had to play too much and hasn’t been all that good when he has. Tristan Jarry, which apparently is a real name and a real person, has settled the backup role a touch. Still, Murray’s .906 isn’t going to get it done in the long-term.

For the Hawks, they’ll roll out the same lineup as Wednesday, even though a lot of it doesn’t make any damn sense. And with the plodding Franson having to deal with either Crosby or Malkin, you might want to duck for cover. Corey Crawford will get the start.

These are two of the higher-event teams in the league. They take a bunch of shots, and they give up a ton of shots. This one will not be short of happenings, you can be sure. And if either Crawford or Murray aren’t sharp, at least one team is going to put up a crooked number on the scoreboard. It’s going to be a whole thing.

 

Game #20 Preview

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Perhaps the oddest component of the Penguins’ back-to-back championships is that only two defensemen played every playoff game both years. One is Ian Cole, who obviously doesn’t matter. And the other is Brian Dumoulin.

It’s been a strange cast rotating through. Two years ago Ben Lovejoy played every game, and Kris Letang only missed one. Olli Maatta, Justin Schultz, Trevor Daley, and Derrick Pouliot also saw time in the playoffs.

Last year, Letang missed the whole playoff campaign, and Maatta, Ron Hainsey, Cole, and Dumoulin went the route. Schultz and Daley played most of them but missed a couple games each. Mark Streit and Chad Ruhwedel also came up for air at various points.

So with Letang’s body basically being constructed of balsa wood, is Dumoulin now the most important d-man in Pittsburgh?

Everything Else

Perhaps the oddest component of the Penguins’ back-to-back championships is that only two defensemen played every playoff game both years. One is Ian Cole, who obviously doesn’t matter. And the other is Brian Dumoulin.

It’s been a strange cast rotating through. Two years ago Ben Lovejoy played every game, and Kris Letang only missed one. Olli Maatta, Justin Schultz, Trevor Daley, and Derrick Pouliot also saw time in the playoffs.

Last year, Letang missed the whole playoff campaign, and Maatta, Ron Hainsey, Cole, and Dumoulin went the route. Schultz and Daley played most of them but missed a couple games each. Mark Streit and Chad Ruhwedel also came up for air at various points.

So with Letang’s body basically being constructed of balsa wood, is Dumoulin now the most important d-man in Pittsburgh?

Everything Else

For the first time in 19 years, a team will enter this NHL season twice-defending champions. The Pittsburgh Penguins will look to be the first team to win three in a row since some team called the Islanders did it in the 80s. We’ll forgive you if you’ve never heard of them. The Penguins still have the star power at the top of the roster to be a hard out for anyone come April and May. And unlike some previous champs, like one in this area code, they haven’t had to completely erode their depth in a deal with the devil for silverware.

Pittsburgh Penguins

’16-’17 Record: 50-21-11 111 points (2nd in Metro, won it all)

Team 5v5 Stats: 50.1 CF% (16th)  51.3 SF% (6th)  52.6 SCF% (6th)  8.5 SH% (5th)  .926 SV% (8th)

Special Teams: 23.1 PP% (4th)  79.8 PK% (20th)