Kukla's Korner

Opposing Viewpoint: Metzer on Pens’ Dominance, Bolts’ Comeback, James Neal, Arron Asham and More

Game four’s double-overtime winner by Pittsburgh’s James Neal meant many things. One, the Penguins now lead the Lightning three games to one in the series. Two, unless the Bolts can manage to turn things around – and fast – Tampa Bay hockey fans won’t soon stop talking about that particular goal, right or wrong. And three, and perhaps most importantly, it’s time once again to check in with FromThePoint.com’s Brian Metzer for his take on the latest events in this series from his so very astute and insightful Pittsburgh-based point of view:


JJ: Well, Metz… We got the overtime(s) we predicted. It wasn’t really hard to see that coming. But, while each game, for the most part, has been as tightly-contested, score-wise, as we both thought coming in, I personally thought last night’s game was awfully one-sided for a double-overtime thriller. Specifically, I thought the Penguins controlled the play throughout and that the Lightning were only afforded the chance to win on the efforts of a few hard-headed individuals. Did you see the same dominance from the Pens that I did, despite them having to squeak out the win in the 83rd minute? And did last night’s game ever scare you, from a Pittsburgh perspective, in the sense that it had every bit the look of being one of those playoff games that “the wrong team” would win?

BM: I will start with part two of that one sir. There were plenty of moments late in that game when I was scared about the outcome. The first probably being when Bergenheim tied things up late in the third period. It was something hat we had seen a ton of times over the second half of the season – a group of Penguins who dominated, but weren’t able to get the back breaking goal. Once you let a team get up off of their heels and tie it, anything could have happened. I was also a bit concerned about the two power play opportunities – one in the third period and one in overtime – the Lightning had started to get some chances after the Penguins had sort of “slowed their roll” through their first two chances of the evening. I was definitely bracing for a “wrong team winning” situation. I also said out loud: “The longer this game goes on, the more important it becomes.”

As for the Penguins looking dominant… yes, I would agree with you there. They seemed to have the better hop throughout most of the evening and were relentless in all facets of their game. It was probably their best defensive performance in the series and aside from the two goals; they did a great job of stymieing the Lightning throughout. There were times when the Lightning couldn’t even enter the zone or retrieve pucks off the dump. It seemed as if they were constantly forced to retrieve pucks in their own end, reset and try to re-enter. That is a tribute to the work of the Pens top four…  The Penguins forwards were also forechecking like crazy and I started to see a bit of shakiness in the Lightning D. Turnovers are starting to come in that area…

The Penguins finished the game with 98 attempted shots 53 of which hit the net. A staggering number that really speaks to the amount of time they spent in and around the Lightning zone in Game 4. If they play like that on Saturday at the CONSOL Energy Center, I think it curtains for the Bolts.

JJ: James Neal got the OT winner, earned first star honors and seemed ever-so relieved to score such a big goal for his second (regular season plus playoffs) as a Pen. You had singled him out on the podcast the other night as someone that the Pittsburgh area had been looking toward to step up his game in this series, so I had an extra keen eye on him last night and, honestly, wasn’t terribly impressed. Neal took two consecutive bad penalties at one point, with the Pens still up a goal and I quipped to a press box neighbor, “This kid’s trying to give the game back to Tampa!” Does his game-deciding tally, garbage as it was, provide him full reprieve in the eyes of the Pens faithful or does he still have, as I perceive he does, quite a ways to go before he can be counted on long-term?

BM: Well it is funny that you would ask if the Pittsburgh faithful have given him a reprieve because judging by my Twitter and Facebook feeds that is exactly what happened. I realize it was a huge goal for a guy who really needed a break like that, however it doesn’t take away the fact that he did take the penalties and looked very off at times during the game.

I am hoping that it will serve as a “monkey off of the back” occurrence and that he can get back to being the 25-plus goal scorer the Penguins hoped they were getting, but he has a long way to go before I am ready to give him the same reprieve.

Neal, who is listed as 6-2, 210, needs to start utilizing his body and getting to the net. I have never seen a big guy so reluctant to get to the paint. It is almost comical to hear most in Pittsburgh talk about him as a burgeoning power forward when he seems to be way more comfortable on the perimeter. He likes to create with slick stickhandling and unleash his wrist shot from the slot, but I just don’t see him being hugely successful until get starts getting his nose dirty in front.

One other note on Neal… I am over the fact that he will suddenly snap out of his funk when inserted alongside Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin. That just doesn’t work for me considering that I have seen him fan on a number of chances in front of the goal… would it really have mattered if Crosby had made that pass? He still had to receive it and get a shot off. It is also worth noting that there is no guarantee that he and Sid will work well together… 87 loves playing with Dupuis and Kunitz, it works for him. Ryan Malone, who is loosely similar to Neal in style, didn’t like playing with Crosby during his time in Pittsburgh. He felt that Crosby was a bit too intense and even joked about him yelling at him.

Now I realize that this makes it sound like I am supremely low on Neal… that isn’t the case. I just think he has a lot of learning to do. It took some hardcore work with both John LeClair and Gary Roberts before Malone added that scrappiness to his game. When they were through with him he wasn’t always looking for the handsy play, as he was just as happy to camp out in front and put one in off of his face, back, ass, shin etc. Neal has the pedigree, you don’t score at least 20-goals in three consecutive seasons if you don’t know what you are doing, he will be fine in the long run, but there is a good bit of work to be done for the 23-year-old.

JJ: Arron freakin’ Asham. What else can we say? The goal he scored last night wasn’t the prettiest - but he’s not a pretty player. Pretty is one thing, effective another. And Asham’s been the latter undoubtedly. We talked about him on the podcast the other night and mentioned him several other times throughout the series thus far, calling him, in a word, just the type of player you want going for you in the playoffs. I know you’re going to hit me with a great quote from Asham in response here but, aside from that, what is it about his game that is so perfectly suited to the postseason and isn’t just what Asham brings a lot of what Tampa Bay is missing right now? In fairness, Ryan Malone’s banged up and he plays a similar game but guys like Adam Hall, Dominic Moore and others, guys that I thought would be huge for the Bolts in the playoffs, have kind of gone by the wayside a bit, in my opinion.

BM: You certainly nailed it with the quote call there JJ… I’ll start by letting him tell you why he is so effective in the post season.

“I just want to win the Cup so bad that I just elevate my game.” – Asham following Game 3 in Tampa Bay.

We all know that the Cup is huge motivation; however that can’t be the only reason he is effective, especially when you consider that each and every guy taking the ice in these playoffs has that as a goal. Asham is successful because he is no nonsense. He doesn’t care if he has to give up his body to make a play. He doesn’t care if he has to lay a big hit, block a shot, use his face to deflect a puck… he is willing to do it.

He is a true blue collar guy who is willing to do the work. What he may lack in high end skill he makes up for with heart and work ethic. Though he brought a great level of compete throughout the season when given the opportunity, he is one of those special NHL players that just seems to have another level in the post season. Guys like Asham are key to Championships and you nailed it… he is exactly what you are missing on the Lightning right now.

As you said, we can’t beat up Ryan Malone too much because he is clearly not healthy, but the other guys? I hope that they aren’t feeling super secure, as I can’t see a warrior like Steve Yzerman being ok with their el foldo to this point in the series. Great regular seasons for Moore, Hall etc don’t mean a heck of a lot at this time of year… that teeters on the edge of a Caps like performance… (ZINGER had to buuuurn there! Lol)

Ray Shero brought Asham in for specifically this reason… post season compete level!


Sit tight for the latest installment of my answers to a series of Metz’s questions on game four, which will hit soon!

JJ on Twitter

Filed in: Pittsburgh Penguins, Tampa Bay Lightning, | Beasts of the Southeast | Permalink


Evilpens's avatar

Neal Needs a Playmaker like Sid Or Geno to make him blossom ! He isn’t a great Skater & needs a C who can make plays & set him up Letestu & Staal just are nowhere Near Close to being that.

Also I think he has been plenty Physical but again Back to the C ? He isn’t a guy that is going to go end to end to score.

& the Pens BETTER end it Sat. Because I don’t think they are going to win 3 Straight in TB.

TB is Basically 3 Forwards St. Louis, Vinnie & Stamkos who has been MIA & Vinnie Got benched for awhile, That is Tailor Made for the Pens Big 4 D men to Neutralize

Posted by Evilpens on 04/21/11 at 04:38 PM ET

brianmetzer's avatar

EP - I hear you about Neal getting a boost from Sid and Geno… but you still have to take the pass and get it on goal. He hasn’t done that… fans more than a Geisha…

B Metz

Posted by brianmetzer on 04/21/11 at 05:04 PM ET


I have never read the column before. I was reading Puck Daddy and followed the link. I’m a hockey lifer and a major Penguins’ fan.

I’m only commenting on your site because I couldn’t find the link for this article on Metzer’s. I have a problem with Metzer’s assessment of James Neal, as it shows he doesn’t understand the player and reflects the general stance Pittsburghers take on big men (I’m thinking Ryan Whitney, for example).

Here’s some of what Metzer wrote:

Neal, who is listed as 6-2, 210, needs to start utilizing his body and getting to the net. I have never seen a big guy so reluctant to get to the paint. It is almost comical to hear most in Pittsburgh talk about him as a burgeoning power forward when he seems to be way more comfortable on the perimeter. He likes to create with slick stickhandling and unleash his wrist shot from the slot, but I just don’t see him being hugely successful until get starts getting his nose dirty in front.

Now I realize that this makes it sound like I am supremely low on Neal… that isn’t the case. I just think he has a lot of learning to do. It took some hardcore work with both John LeClair and Gary Roberts before Malone added that scrappiness to his game. When they were through with him he wasn’t always looking for the handsy play, as he was just as happy to camp out in front and put one in off of his face, back, ass, shin etc. Neal has the pedigree, you don’t score at least 20-goals in three consecutive seasons if you don’t know what you are doing, he will be fine in the long run, but there is a good bit of work to be done for the 23-year-old.

Here’s why these paragraphs are errant:

It’s an extremely poor analysis of the player to liken James Neal to Ryan Malone (or John LeClair). I have nothing but respect for both players, but Metzer is comparing a grenade to a pine cone: they may look a bit similar at a distance, but they have very, very little in common.

James Neal is never going to turn into a Malone-type. Neal has a heavy shot that he rips from the circles. Anyone who has played an NHL video game in the last four years should know this. He is a “power guy” (Ray Shero’s term) who Dan Bylsma likened to Chris Kunitz,. This is assessment I largely agree with while acknowledging that Kunitz is a better and more willing hitter, while Neal possess a heavier shot and a bit more of a scoring touch and mentality.

Eric Tangradi is a much more apt comparable for Malone (or LeClair), both size and style-wise. To wit, Tangradi is a 6’4 left-handed left wing who is being developed as a power play net front presence; In fact, he was inserted into Wednesday’s lineup with that specific intent. He is clearly being encouraged to engage people physically ala Malone.

Think about this: in the past 30-odd games, how many times has Coach Bylsma put Neal in front of the net on the Power Play ala Malone? The answer: zero, because as a player, James Neal is very dissimilar from Ryan Malone. Neal stays up near the top of the circles to unleash his shot. This isn’t disinterest in going to the paint; it’s intelligent use of his most effective NHL skill. The coaches, obviously, have told Neal where to go. They want him high because that’s generally where he can most effectively help the team.

Even more irritating is that Metzer is perpetuating the stereotype that bigger guys have to learn to fight and scrap in front to be productive NHLers, Pittsburghers (I know, I’m one of you) have utter contempt for big guys who don’t hit (I mentioned Ryan Whitney earlier), and Metzer is painting Neal as a coward for not crease-crashing when THAT ISN’T HIS ON-ICE RESPONSIBILITY.

Mario Lemieux is 6’4 and weighed around 220 during his playing days, give or take a few cheeseburgers. By Metzer’s logic, Mario should have quit his job on the half-wall and gone to the crease and “added some scrappiness <sic>” to his game. After all, he’s a big body, so why utilize the best passing ability and vision of All-Time when you can “do hardcore work” and be the next Steve McKenna?

The Penguins have at least a half-dozen players who have to drive the paint to score at the NHL level; they currently have two (Neal and Alex Kovalev) who have the ability to consistently score on NHL goaltenders from the circles. This isn’t to say that Neal should never drive the net (although he does, contrary to the opinion offered by Metzer); the point is that he should spend the majority of his offensive zone time find open ice to get his NHL-sniper level shot away. That’s how he best serves the team. 

The main point: at the NHL level, you do what you skill-set dictates, not your shirt size. Comparing Neal’s skill-set to that of Malone or LeClair significant disrespects Neal’s ability to shoot the puck (Metzer obviously didn’t catch any of Neal’s Dallas stint on Center Ice).

My problem is that Metzer’s ignorance in this matter is high for someone reporting on an NHL team. My issue is that he’s essentially talking out of his ass. Being so visible, he has a responsibility to get his analysis right. If he’s this off-base on a Neal-Malone comparison, he’s showing a fundamental misunderstanding of NHL hockey. He would be better served either watching more tape, or not offering his assessment if he doesn’t know the player.

This is my real name and my real e-mail. As you can see, I hold journalists, electronic or otherwise, to a high standard. This is doubly true of hockey writers, and taken to an even further degree for Penguins’ writers. I hope this serves as a reminder in the future that if Metzer’s going to throw out inaccurate information and poor analysis of NHL players, he’s going to be double-checked by someone like me and hear similar scathing criticism for poor work.

Jack Farrell

Posted by Jack Farrell on 04/21/11 at 09:12 PM ET

brianmetzer's avatar

Well, well, well… I haven’t seen a comment like this one in years… for the most part, most of the folks in town won’t even take the time to post a comment anymore, let alone one that ends up being longer than the blog it was left on. Kudos to you, Mr. Farrell, for that… and a hearty thank you! The fact that one question’s answer out of roughly 40 that Jon Jordan and I have answered this week struck such a nerve with you speaks to the reach and influence that we each have.

First of all, thank you for taking the time to read… means a lot. The fact that you don’t care for my analysis is one thing; to essentially tell me I don’t know what I am doing is a completely different beast. Your commentary on my work also speaks to the fact that you haven’t followed much of what I have done over the past six years. For example I just explained Neal’s game in much the same way as you during an hour long spot on the Chris Mack show yesterday morning. Specifically saying that he has been successful playing on the perimeter and utilizing his “monster wrist shot” to score goals. Just check Youtube and you will see that he is much more comfortable playing off the rush, utilizing his shot etc. Precisely why I don’t think that he is an automatic fit with Sid Crosby, as has been ”the general stance (of) Pittsburghers.”

I knew when I made the comparison to Ryan Malone that at least a couple of readers would miss the fact that I was using it very loosely. They aren’t even close to being the same player. I am merely saying that Neal is going to have to LEARN to do some of the same things that Malone did upon his arrival in Pittsburgh.

If you recall Malone surprised many with his slick stick handling, break away ability and even his shooting. No one expected that considering some even called his drafting a “favor to his father.” That style served him well during his rookie season, but then he was essentially found out and stuffed. He still did all of that, but he learned how to score “dirty” goals. I don’t give two (expletive deleted…s) if he ever hits someone. I want the guy to be successful and thus far he has produced two… count them… two goals in a Penguins sweater. Something is wrong with that equation. Clearly, to have success on this team as it is currently constructed (minus HIGH-END talent) he needs to be a bigger force in front of the net. He can’t stop skated when he gets to a high traffic area to look for a pass, as he has done on multiple occasions since arriving in town. He needs to become more of a Brahma bull to help the team today.

I will say that it is my fault for not being a bit more clear in what I was trying to say, but it was one answer as a part of a long winded Q and A that has been going on for the better part of a week. I didn’t want to drag it out and figured that most folks who are familiar with me would understand where I was coming from. Sorry for that… you never know when someone new will stumble across your work…

Now rather than continue to ramble here and get even more long winded, I will just touch briefly on a few points you made so that you can see where I am coming from…

1. You are new to this site and probably mine… thanks for reading.
2. I too am a hockey lifer and a huge fan of the Penguins and the NHL. Been following the team since my father took me to my first game at the age of 8ish… roughly 1983.
3. I understand exactly who James Neal is, precisely why I was pretty excited to get him. He is a dynamic player who has size, but also possesses an innate ability to play the game like a smaller, skill guy. He has a great shot, great hands and a nice hockey IQ. That will play well down the line. He is also CAPTAIN streaky…always been the case.
4. I had no problem with Whitney… sure many wanted him to be more physical, but that wasn’t me. I liked him as a player and thought that trading him would eventually hurt the team… however they got a Stanley Cup out of it… so it was all good. Whitney’s one flaw in my book was looking for the famed “backdoor” play a little too often. Rather than adapt, he continued to look for it and it hurt his production here in town… he has since become what we all knew he would be – a great offensive defenseman who can play a two-way game. He will be great for the OIL moving forward… he was practically a PPG guy.
5. I don’t have a “general stance” on big men… I just know what I expect from hockey players.
6. As I stated above, I am not comparing Neal to Malone of John LeClair… just that guys like LeClair and Gary Roberts helped him add a dimension to his game. Shero has referred to Neal as a power forward type on more than one occasion… I have heard it with my own ears from his lips. Sure he plays from the outside and brings tons of skill, but they are counting on him to be a big man too. That doesn’t mean hits etc, but it does call for him being a net front presence from time to time… and finishing plays in front.
7. I love the “grenade to a pine cone” line… nice work!
8. I agree… Neal will never be Malone… he is supremely more talented. Malone will never score 40 goals… but Neal will. Write it down.
9. Neal could very well be a more skilled Kunitz…
10. You nailed it… they are grooming Tangradi for that role. He will end up being more along the lines of Malone… but he too is seemingly more talented. He does have one thing in common – needs a bit more focus. I think he thought he had a job locked up… he didn’t and went back to the farm. It taught him a good lesson and he will be better for it.
11. I hear you… Neal hasn’t been deployed there on the PP. I am not asking DB to do so. I am asking Neal to do it from time to time five-on-five. I know when I played hockey and wasn’t scoring I followed the puck everywhere and did whatever the heck I needed to knock it home. He will be a huge addition from the high slot… I fully expect him to score like crazy from there, but when there are rebounds bouncing around he has got to do a bit more.
12. Maybe you misread me or maybe I mistyped, but I don’t recall saying that Neal needs to fight and scrap more. I also didn’t call him a coward… I merely stated that he needed to get to the paint, like most of this team. Funny how Sid Crosby started scoring even more goal when he added going to the net to his repertoire. This series could have ended in four had they all collectively crashed the net a bit more to get Roli’s rebounds.
13. His responsibility is to score goals… intangibles aren’t his thing. Does he bring them? Yep… I love it because when he starts lighting it up offensively it will make him even better.
14. I am a Mario devotee… was as a straight fan, still am now as a guy who has been in the room for five years. If you took my piece as one that would suggest that logic regarding the “Big Guy” then you clearly have never read or heard me talk hockey. That was just an absurd paragraph that makes you look like a Neal devotee who is willing to wipe the slate clean because the guy scored his second goal since February. For the record… Mario scored a number of his 690 from in close… he got to rebounds, poked pucks through the goaltender when they were loose, all in addition to his brilliance all over the ice. Never said Neal needed to become Steven McKenna… just that he needs to ADD to his arsenal. Something that I can guarantee you he will do. He is 23 for Pete’s sake.
15. You are right! He has a great ability to score from the circles, though he hasn’t done it in quite some time. He has been slow to get his shot off, which has gotten it blocked and or deflected far too often. Yes some of that has been due to his squeezing his stick. He has been feeling the pressure of not scoring… I have asked him about it myself. Hopefully the fluke OT goal will get the monkey off of his back and he will begin scoring on a semi-regular basis… from in the paint, from between the circles and all over the zone!
16. Not to beat a dead horse, but I didn’t compare his skill set to those guys… just said that VERY loosely, his sitch mirrors Malone’s. The only time I mentioned LeClair was to state that he started convincing Malone, who was never accused of being a hard worker in his early days, to work a bit harder and fight for more ice. Not with fists, but with any part of his body… when you aren’t scoring the “pretty” goal, score the ugly one…it made him rich.
17. Last but not least… I always appreciate the double-check. It is great to go back and forth… I appreciate your candor, your openness and the fact that you didn’t hide behind a lame user name or fake something or other. I respect the points that you made and I hope that you will take a bit more time to understand the point I am making about Neal before you write me off as “irresponsible.”  Or as “showing a fundamental misunderstanding of NHL hockey.” Etc. Etc. Etc.

Thanks again for reading…

B Metz

Posted by brianmetzer on 04/21/11 at 11:29 PM ET

brianmetzer's avatar

Chuckling about the fact that about 900 words from the end of the comment I mentioned “not wanting to ramble…”

B Metz

Posted by brianmetzer on 04/21/11 at 11:37 PM ET

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