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.

 

Previous Team Previews

Detroit Red Wings

Buffalo Sabres

Boston Bruins

Florida Panthers

Montreal Canadiens

Ottawa Senators

Tampa Bay Lightning

Toronto Maple Leafs

Carolina Hurricanes

Columbus Blue Jackets

New Jersey Devils

New York Islanders

New York Rangers

Philadelphia Flyers

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

I think we can all admit without turning in our hockey fan cards that the first round was pretty middling as far as entertainment. And that’s actually fine. When you have a few, clear, really good teams as the NHL does, the first round probably should be underwhelming. The Jets, Preds, and Lightning were always going to bludgeon whoever they saw (which the Preds eventually did). The only long series of intrigue really as the Leafs and Bruins and that was more for the comedy of what we all knew was coming. But this round shaped up to be the true must-see theater, and it really has been.

Jets-Predators goes plaid, and 1-1

It’s with a slight twitch of pain that I say this, because it’s always cool knowing your team played in the best playoff series of the post-lockout era even if it lost it, but this Jets-Preds has every chance of being as good if not eclipsing Hawks-Kings ’14. The pace last night simply was ridiculous, and both of these teams seemingly have accepted they’re going to give up chances to get their own. Last night was an example of how the Jets defense might be the first to crack, as on Arvidsson’s goal Chiarot got caught wandering and the Preds have the forward depth to make that a problem, and then for the winner a clearly still rusty Toby Enstrom got caught on a pinch and Byfuglien played the ensuing 2-on-1 like the dog that he is in his own zone. He was awful from the 3rd period on and it’s a small miracle he didn’t help create the winner for the Preds before that.

Encouragingly for the Jets though, it was the top line that basically had to do everything for Nashville as Winnipeg rolled over the rest. Not encouragingly is that Peter Laviolette was happy to let the top lines go at each other and Scheiele did not come out ahead, but also he kept throwing Byfuglien out behind them. Maybe Paul Maurice thinks his top line is enough protection for Buff and Enstrom, but it most certainly was not last night. Look for Trouba and Morrissey to be the ones getting the assignment in Winnipeg. And for this series only to get faster and more frantic, which is great for all of us.

Sharks and Knights split with 2OT as well

Clearly the Sharks weren’t ready for Vegas in Game 1 and everything that could have gone wrong did. They were hellbent on slowing the game agains the Knights in Game 2 and it mostly worked. You get in trouble with Vegas when you let them get behind you in the neutral zone or hit the line with speed with or without the puck and harass your d-men. The Sharks made sure their d-men backed up at the first sign of trouble, basically put three across their own line so even when the Knights dumped it in they couldn’t come over the hill like starving Scotsmen painted blue on the forecheck. It requires you basically bury a good percentage of your good chances because you won’t get as many as normal, but the Sharks did. Interesting to see if they can do this at home with a more expectant home crowd. Then again, Fleury can’t keep this up, can he?

Pens Caps Is Pens Caps

I’ll admit I basically thought that once the Caps coughed up a two-goal lead in the time it takes to take a shit in Game 1 at home that this series is basically over. And it may still yet prove that way. Of course, this being the NHL, we can’t talk about how it’s been really entertaining and both Ovechkin and Crosby are giving this series the battling star-power the league has been dying for because it’s overshadowed by either the league’s incompetence or stupid shit like Tom Wilson braining Brian Dumoulin.

Do I know it was a goal? No, I don’t but you can’t tell me the call was confirmed when there was no call. The refs just blew the play dead and then high-tailed it for the headphones. And I get that different angles can skew things, but we can pretty much conclude that thing was over the line. As for Wilson, he’s lost any benefit of the doubt and the league would do well to try and cap any future stupidness from him by sitting him again. But they won’t, and it’s not like it would work from a real life Venom anyway.

Bs kneecap Bolts

This was a surprise, but sometimes the team that’s sat around for a while just isn’t as sharp as the one that played two nights ago and this is what that looked like. Also, why is Brayden Point and Anton Stralman your choice to deal with the best line in hockey? If you have any hope of beating the Bruins you have to keep Pastrnak-Bergeron-Marchand on a leash and you’re not doing that with Brayden Fucking Point, whatever his season was. And Stralman might be dead, and if he isn’t he’s definitely on a lot of tubes. The Bolts might have the second best line in hockey so they should be fighting fire with fire and if Victor Hedman is a Norris candidate then he should be out there trying to keep Bergeron’s line in their own end. Ryan McDonagh is fine but he’s a second pairing guy now. Then again, if they’re going to insist on pairing Dan Girardi with Hedman maybe that’s the problem. They’re going to have to figure out something, because letting that line go off or multiple goals is a great way to assure you’re going to enjoy the Florida sunshine full-time right quick. Ha, just kidding, no one enjoys Tampa.

Everything Else

 vs. 

It’s kind of amazing, while feeling completely inevitable, that we ended up here again. The Capitals were not supposed to be good, much less win the Metro again. The Penguins flirted with both ends of the spectrum this season, flipping between simply awful and simply brilliant sometimes game-to-game. So it was thought the Penguins might have lost by now, or that the Caps would. All of that conveniently forgot that the rest of the division has to wear a helmet both on and off the ice at all times, and were never going to get in they way of these two again. But for once, it’s probably the third-best and third-most anticipated series of this round instead of being the main event of the entire playoffs as its been the past two years. Could that lessening of the spotlight be what the Capitals need to finally get one over their black and gold clad tormentors?

Let’s run it through:

Goalies: The Penguins don’t have any questions. Matt Murray wasn’t excellent against the Flyers, but he didn’t have to be while the Flyers were recreating the Budweiser Frogs in net all series. He’ll probably have to be better here, you’d think. Ovechkin doesn’t tend to lose his mind and principles in the playoffs the way Claude Giroux does, and he comes with Kuznetsov, Oshie, Backstrom, and some spiky bottom-sixers. Murray beat them two years ago but was injured last year so it was left to Fleury to stand by and watch the Caps hilariously fold in on themselves. Murray wasn’t particularly good against the Caps this year, going 2-2-0 while turning around 12 times in four games. But then he wasn’t particularly good in the regular season overall and he still finds himself here.

It would appear the Caps are now settled on Braden Holtby, who gets the chance to make amends for what was a very disappointing season. The incoming hero seems to have brightened his mood, as he threw a .932 at the Jackets in five appearances. But the Jackets don’t come with anything like Crosby, Kessell, Malkin (if he’s healthy), Hornqvist, Guentzel, and a host of others who have proven to be dependable playoff scorers. But Holtby already knows this. He was excellent two years ago and it wasn’t his fault that the Caps lost three OT games. He was pretty awful last year and was a big reason the Caps lost. He’s going to have to at least split the difference here, and unless you play a Guy Boucher-trap-until-everyone-strokes-out system to protect your goalie, these Penguins just don’t get goalie’d.

Defense: The Penguins defense always seems to play above its head, no matter who’s in the lineup and who isn’t. Dumoulin, Letang, Maatta, and Schultz were mostly excellent against the Flyers, and they were under serious pressure at times. The Penguins do make it easier on their d-men where they’re not asked to connect on breakout passes all the time but simply chips into space in the neutral zone for their speedy forwards to latch onto. This certainly helps them. Ruhwedel and Oleksiak are limited but aren’t asked to do much, and the Caps don’t quite have the depth they used to to really get at them.

At first, it looks like John Carlson was adding to his UFA presentation package with nine points in six games against the Jackets. But all of them came on the power play and the Penguins are just not going to be as forgiving. That said, the Caps top four on paper matches the Penguins’, if not better. And that includes Michal Kempny which makes me want to put my fist through a wall and eat the drywall that ends up on the floor. Just like the Penguins, Orpik and Djoos have their issues on the bottom pairing, but the difference is that the Pens do have the forward depth to really expose them, at least if Malkin plays and Brassard isn’t asked for more. Home ice once again matters… or it would if this weren’t the Caps.

Forwards: At this point everyone knows the deal with the Penguins. A lineup loaded with fast, shifty wingers bolstered by perhaps the best center-depth in the league. That depends on the health of Evgeni Malkin. He won’t play Game 1, is a stretch for Game 2 but is probably back after that. Even without him, the Pens put up eight goals in Game 6. Brassard is a decent enough stand-in, though they leave him on the third line with Sheary and Rust and Sheahan fills in between Kessel and Hagelin. Either way, the Penguins can and do get you from everywhere, and expect Orpik to look completely bewildered at times.

This isn’t the Caps group you remember, as it is far top heavier than it was. If Ovie and Kuznetsov and Oshie don’t score in this series, at evens or the power play, the Caps are toast. Smith-Pelley and Eller and Vrana are the kinds of players you’d expect to provide support scoring, and they’ll need to. Even with all that, Tom Wilson is going to take a really dumb penalty or 12 that the Penguins will cash in on that will shift the series. It’s just what happens. There is more depth here than the Caps get credit for but it’s not the same as the past two years. And it wasn’t enough the past two years. If Malkin misses the first two games then Backstrom and Kuznetsov have to take advantage. As soon as the Caps lose a home game all the gremlins in their heads come out to dance again.

Prediction: There’s a part of me that really wants to pick the Caps here, just for something different. But everywhere you look, you can’t see where they’re markedly better than the Penguins, if better at all. You’re counting on something you can’t predict happening for them. Maybe Holtby plays incredibly. Maybe Ovechkin binges. Maybe Lars Eller goes off. Maybe their power play stays so hot. But when looking at things that are on the baselines for both these teams, everything for the Penguins just seems likelier. Pens in 6. 

Everything Else

 vs. 

SCHEDULE: Game 1 Wednesday, Game 2 Friday, Game 3 Sunday, Game 4 April 18th

Didn’t get invited to the party this year, so we’re stuck watching from across the street or hearing it from our basement. But just because we can’t have the fun doesn’t mean we can’t comment on it. It’s still going on after all. Maybe we should just enjoy the freedom of stress (that always works). So let’s start with the most anticipated of the first-rounders, Toronto fans excluded. Mostly because the last time these two teams did this, it was just about the most hilarious series we’ve seen in the Silver Age of the NHL (since they made the league logo silver and not like, orange).

Goalies: You think you’d be pretty confident with the guy who won the last two Cups in your net, and yet I doubt there’s too many Pens fans who think Matt Murray is a sure thing. Quite simply he was awful the past six weeks, when he wasn’t ouchy, and doesn’t have a consistent stretch over the whole season. He’s barely played 1oo games in the regular season, so in that sense we don’t have much idea what he actually is. But his two playoff runs are what they are, with a career SV% of .928 the past two seasons (32 games). Maybe he just “turns it on,” but for the first time I’d bet there’s an awful lot of uneasiness in Western P.A. about that this time.

The Flyers are going to turn it back over to Brian Elliot, who returned just in time to relieve them of Petr Mrazek, who has a terminal case of being Petr Mrazek. And if you’re thinking back to Elliot playoff runs in the past and kind of chuckling, it’s understandable. Yes, he was good enough to overcome the Hawks in 7 in ’16, though he was also a major reason the Hawks were able to even get it to seven after being down 3-1. He was pilfered by the Ducks last year in Calgary, and he’s always been just good enough to get you beat. But then again, isn’t that always the story with Flyers goaltending?

Defense: One day we’re going to look back at the blue line the Penguins won two Cups with, one without Kris Letang, and consider it a miracle on the level off Jules and Vincent not getting shot by that hand-cannon. Seriously, it’s not much. Dumoulin and Letang are very good, but beyond this it really isn’t much. Olli Maatta still sucks, despite the pedigree, and he has a stupid face. Justin Schultz hasn’t pushed the play in the way you’d expect and has in Pittsburgh before, and I’m sure it has nothing to do with his new contract. Jamie Oleksiak is a farm animal, and Chad Ruhwedel, much like a mountain, is just there. The Penguins don’t make it all that hard on their defense, as they’re just asked to chip and bank pucks out to the neutral zone for their forwards to race onto. But with Murray’s form iffy, they might have to limit chances like they haven’t before, especially considering the Philly forwards, and I’m not convinced.

That doesn’t mean Philadelphia has a huge advantage here. Ghost Bear and Provorov certainly piled up the points, but that doesn’t mean they carry the play. Travis Sanheim certainly does, but he’s dragging around a rotting corpse in Andrew MacDonald, who for some reason the Flyers won’t take out back and shoot. Radko Gudas will get suspended at some point in this series, and then he can finally do his Game Of Thrones cosplay full-time which he’s always been destined for. Neither of these teams looks like it’s locking the other one down… which is great for all of us who have no emotional investment here.

Forwards: The obvious strength of both teams. The Penguins have the neat feature of two 90-point scorers, and they’re both on their second line (Malkin and Kessel). Hornqvist had something of an unlucky year, but would be a good bet to be a playoff dynamo considering how many goals are scored this time of year from a distance usually referencing appendages (or a certain one). Guentzel, Sheary, Rust, and those types don’t pop off the page but have the whole “been here before” feel. This is what Derrick Brassard was brought in for, except I wouldn’t trust Brassard as far as I can throw him. But he’ll be taking third line assignments instead of first or second as both Ottawa and the Rangers asked him to, and Hagelin has been a playoff weapon before. You wouldn’t bet against them.

The Flyers are similarly stacked, just without the pedigree. Claude Giroux’s move to wing has done his career wonders, though it helps that Sean Couturier had some much more to give than just being a checking line center (and the best in the league at that when he was). He also drives Crosby nuts, so look for the Pens to avoid that at all costs. Nolan Patrick closed the season strongly with Voracek on the second line, so their top six can probably just about run with the Penguins. Meat Train and Travis Konecny as third-line wingers is a neat trick as well, though Filppula at 34 is probably not ready to go up and down with Brassard if that’s how things shake out.

Prediction: It looks like it’s going to be tons of fun, and the Penguins look just vulnerable enough that getting bounced wouldn’t be a huge surprise. And yet, this is still the Penguins, and it’s still the Flyers, and Marc-Andre Fleury isn’t here to turn this into Strawberry Fields. Murray only has to be Elliot-good, which is just about average. Penguins in 6. 

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

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups

Everything Else

The cynical way to approach it would be to joke that if Conor Sheary had come up through the Hawks’ system, they would have already traded him to make room for Artem Anisimov’s or Brent Seabrook’s extension. That’s how the Penguins ended up with two straight banners seven years after their first one with Sidney Crosby. But Sheary represents more than that.

Sheary was never a big time scorer as he came up. He spent three years at UMass, never amassing (see what I did there?) more than 12 goals in an NCAA season. After that he spent one full season in the AHL, scoring 20 goals in 58 games with Wilkes-Barre. The motivation to play well there is huge of course, because no one wants to spend one more minute in Wilkes-Barre than they have to. The following season saw Sheary bounce between the AHL and NHL team, with 14 goals in 74 games between the two.

Last year, Sheary was up full-time, and on Sidney Crosby’s wing full-time. The result was 23 goals in just 61 games. His 21 ES goals was in the top-20 in the league. The pace hasn’t dropped this year, with eight goals in 20 games.

All of it makes that theory of a few years ago that “Not everyone can play with Sid” seem downright laughable now. That theory got Chris Kunitz an Olympic spot and gold medal, and Chris Kunitz is basically a dude. The theory basically stemmed from Dan Bylsma just forcing Pascal Dupuis onto Sid’s line for years, and Pascal Dupuis was borderline The Suck. Patric Hornqvist spent one year as a winger for Sid, and he had the best goals-per-game rate of his career. Sheary comes up at 23 and is a 20+ goal scorer. It’s just that simple.

Sheary is also an example of how you remain a contender with high-priced starts being paid like it, and one the Hawks might be too late to get to. Sheary, Wilson, Rust, and Maatta and Kuhnackl on the blue line all came up and provided the floor for the Penguins roster for their two Cups. And none of them are expensive. Of course, Sheary got paid after last year and is now $3 million player. But that’s how it has to be done when you’re paying Fleury, Letang, Crosby and Malkin.

Meanwhile on the other side of the coin, the Hawks have traded all their young, cheap talent for a couple years and are trying to get on the right side with Schmaltz, ADB, Hartman. It might be too late.

The reckoning might not be coming for the Penguins like you would guess. Patric Hornqvist comes off the books after the season when Rust and Kunahckl need new paper, but neither are going to break the bank. They’ll lose Ian Cole’s contract of $2 million as well. Two years from now Carl  Hagelin’s $4 million comes off the books, with only Jake Guenztel coming up for a new deal. They could do this for a few years more yet if they maintain health.

It seems pretty simple, no? Wish more could do it.

Game #20 Preview

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups

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Mike Darnay is the editor-in-chief of Pensburgh.com. You can follow him on Twitter @MikeDarnay.

 

It’s been a weird start for the Penguins. They sit near the top of the Metro (though some of that is having played the most games), and yet they have a terrible goal-difference even without the 10 they gave up to the Hawks. Their analytic numbers aren’t very impressive either. Are the problems actually structural? Is this just fatigue/boredom? Combination thereof?
Weird doesn’t even start to describe it. They’re in a unique spot where their point totals are pretty much fine, all things considered, but everything else stinks. I guess a 10-1 loss will do that when compounded with a pair of 7-1 losses as well. It’s easy to chalk it up to those second legs of the back-to-back games on the road that Niemi played in, plus an NHL debut from Casey DeSmith in the other. Those three losses are enough to submarine any statistics. But I do think fatigue is a valid issue, given that they’ve played an extra 1/2 season more than some teams in the past two years.
Matt Murray has struggled to start the year for sure. Just a sophomore slump? Any worry about the amount fo games he’s been asked to play?
I don’t think so. I think he’ll be fine and get back to form. Not having a viable backup didn’t help him, as two of the games he was supposed to rest (Chicago and Winnipeg), he ended up having to come in for relief despite playing a full game the night before with travel in between cities. Now that Tristan Jarry has been called up and appears to be able to be a competent backup, it should help Murray get the rest he needs and give the Penguins a backup they can go to.
This sounds stupid, but 15 points in 20 games for Sidney Crosby isn’t up to his usual standards. In addition, his analytic numbers are below what we’ve come to expect. Anything serious going on here?
I don’t think it sounds stupid, because *everyone* has been talking about it. You could even focus on the fact that he scored 0 goals in 11 games and only logged 3 points in those 11 games, before scoring a goal and having an assist on Tuesday night. I think it’s a compounded issue, with the defense not being helped out much by forwards, so goals are going in Pittsburgh’s own net in bunches, and the fact that the whole team is in a spot right now where they aren’t finishing scoring chances and every opponent is.
Conor Sheary, 23 goals in just 61 games last year. Eight already this year. Genuine top line scorer or product of playing with Sid?
Honestly, I don’t know? Seeing as that the Penguins found Sheary out of UMass-Amherst and signed him as an undrafted free agent who spent some time in the AHL before coming up, no one has seen him play at the NHL level outside of the current role he’s in. Perhaps a little bit of both is the correct answer. Players who have a skillset combined with understanding the way Sidney Crosby thinks the game at the speed he thinks the game can set themselves up for success for a long time. I mean, Chris Kunitz was made an Olympian, and Pascal Dupuis extended his shelf life with a team about seven years longer than usual for him before he came to Pittsburgh.
The Metro has kind of come up flat. The Jackets are fine, we guess. The Caps are diluted. The Devils are likely to fade, you’d think. Even if it takes a while, is there any reason to think that the Penguins can’t take this division at a canter?
I don’t think there’s reason to doubt the Penguins right now. The past two years, they’ve shown that it’s not how you start. Once the holidays end and December and January are knocking on your door, that’s when it’s time to start putting together consistent results, and they still have time. Rutherford loves to make trades during December, and I wouldn’t be shocked at all if he does it yet again. To run through the Metro gauntlet here:
Blue Jackets: Probably will have another good regular season, but can they beat the Penguins in a 7-game series?
Devils: Seem to have rebuilt their team fairly quickly into a much different style but still think they need more time.
NY Islanders: I guess they’re still the Islanders? I haven’t seen much this year other than I know their line of Josh Bailey, John Tavares, and Anders Lee are lighting it up. After that, they don’t have much though, right?
Washington: A shell of their former selves, going through a cap-forced rebuild that usually happens to teams who win the Cup, forcing to let free agents walk and make trades to fit under the cap. Not pretty right now.
NY Rangers: Traded their #1 center this season to be able sign Kevin Shattenkirk?
Philadelphia: They can’t score goals right now.
Carolina: i expected them to be better this year but they did sign Justin Williams, so we can blame him for everything.
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 vs. 

RECORDS: Penguins 0-0-1   Hawks 0-0-0

PUCK DROP: 7:30pm Central

TV: NBCS CHICAGO OR WHATEVER THE FUCK IT’S CALLED NOW

IRON CITY IS ACTUALLY PRETTY MUCH AS GOOD AS YEUNGLING: Pensburgh

After spending the past month gnashing our teeth or making fun of people gnashing their teeth about who would fill out the third defensive pairing or who would be on the fourth line, the Hawks get to roll it out for real tonight. In an odd bit of scheduling, it’ll be the second game for the Penguins, when you’d have to guess if this were the NBA or NFL they would have had, y’know, the team that just won its third Cup open the season against the team that last won three Cups close together in a primetime slot. Instead, you’ll be getting Antti Niemi on local TV! The NHL people, you can’t beat it with a stick!

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Mike Darnay is Editor-in-chief at Pensburgh.com. Follow him on Twitter @MikeDarnay, where he’ll be bitching about Liverpool FC as much as I am. 

The Penguins have lost Bonino, Cullen, Daley, Cunitz, and Fleury from last year’s champs. Which of these will hurt most?

I feel like this question might need to wait a little bit — at least until we see how Jim Rutherford decides to handle the 3C position. As it appears going into the season, losing Nick Bonino is going to hurt the most. If the Penguins can make a trade for someone like Riley Sheahan and remedy that roster spot, I think the answer might be Matt Cullen. He very quietly played a fantastic veteran role as a 4C (much like Michal Handzus did for Chicago, right?). (Not funny, Mike, -ED)