by Tony on 12/16/08 at 02:21 AM ET
I’m back with my second Penguins roundtable of the season, and my first here at KK (my first was when I was still at MVN, check it out.
Here’s who will be participating;
Sean Leahy (SL) - Going Five Hole
Chris Wassel (CW) - The Program
FrankD (FD) - Pensburgh
Stephanie (ST) - The Steel City Sports Fan (Penguins Edition)
Hooks Orpik (HO) - The Sweater Ted
Greg Wyshynski (GW) - Puck Daddy, Yahoo! Sports Blogs
Chris Gates (CG) - Pittsburgh Puck Talk
Seth Rorabaugh (SR) - Pittsburgh Post Gazette’s Empty Netters
Matt Bodenschatz (MB) - Faceoff Factor
Brian Metzer (BM) - Hockeybuzz.com
Jesse Marshall (JM) - Faceoff Factor
Pensblog Staff (PB) - The Pensblog
Tony Ferrante (TF) - Kukla’s Korner/The Confluence
(SL) I’d give it a B+. As frustrating as it’s been to see a handful of games lost from collapses, there’s nights where, despite the numerous injuries, the Pens look scary good. This can only be encouraging and make me wonder how solid this team can be once they are finally healthy.
(CW) Looking past all the injuries and I mean all the injuries folks was tough. The Penguins are actually doing a bit better than what I expected, especially since Gonchar and Whitney were out from Game 1. At 16-9-4, they are in the playoffs if the season ended today. I had them 8th in the East until Whitney came back. But with the additional injuries to Gill and Fleury expectations do have to be tempered some. Right now I am giving the Pens a B-, a bit above my expectations but I do think Therrien needs to manage this team better. There were times particularly in the Devils 4-1 win over them Wednesday night where Therrien kind of brushed off the teams’ lack of discipline at times. That may be something to look out for as the season goes on.
(FD) Man, that’s a tough question to start things off. I guess if I had to grade the Pens I’d give the whole team a ‘B.’ As far as I’m concerned the team has been playing at an average level of play but has the [obvious] potential to really step on the gas. The fact that they are winless in the division come December, after starting it off undefeated (in regulation), says a lot. Then again the Pens were not fairing too well in the division last year either but eliminated two Atlantic rivals from the playoffs. So really, as long as they all get on the same page and the injuries take a break this can reverse itself easily.
(ST) B-. POSITIVES: Once again they’ve overcome the obstacles of all the injuries since the beginning of the season and proven to be a better team than everyone gave them credit for, especially since this is their best start since 1995, which is truly a great accomplishment considering all of these adversities. Players like Crosby and Staal were off to slow starts this season which appears to be typical of seasons past, but have made great contributions to the team since recently overcoming their slumps, especially Crosby, who is second in the league in points. Lastly, Malkin continues to be a big asset for the team and comes through for them time and time again. If it was not for him, I do not think the Penguins would be in the position they are within their Conference.
NEGATIVES: The powerplay has been a real problem for them and is still something they continue to struggle with. They are really not as physical as they should or could be especially with the absence of Kennedy who is good for racing to the corners and along the boards to fight for the puck creating greater puck posession and control. With all the players they lost, I believe that not having Ryan Malone has had the biggest negative impact on the team since there really has not been a sufficient replacement to stand and score goals in front of the net like he was successful at.
(HO) If you compare the NHL season to a horse race, at this point we’re just coming out of the first corner. Doing great now (see 2007-08 Ottawa Senators) means nothing if you fall flat. All a team really needs to do is hang in the pack and position themselves for the stretch run. I guess I would give the Penguins about a “B”, I think they’re about where they want to be, especially considering Marc-Andre Fleury’s been out for almost a month now.
(GW) Giveʼem a B. The injuries to the defense and to Fleury are substantial, and to be sixth in the conference as of Sunday is an accomplishment. That said, the special teams have been middling and inconsistent, as has the coaching. And the top four scorers have more points than the other 18 combined. Thatʼs a slight problem with offensive balance, me thinks.
(CG) B +. About two weeks ago this grade might have been an A. However, the Pens have struggled severely over the last few games. It seems that the injury bug is catching up to the team and leadership is needed at an all-time high. Thus, I give the Pens a B +.
(SR) B. Prior to their little skid here as of late, they were off to the second-best start in franchise history. To accomplish that without their top two defensemen and their franchise goaltenders is a bit of a minor miracle.
(MB) I would have to give the Penguins a B, as they have stayed afloat, despite a recent drop in the standings. Anytime a team has extreme injury issues, it’s difficult not to be impressed with a strong start. I fully expect that, once Marc-Andre Fleury, Ryan Whitney and others return, this team will, once again, be among the elite in the East.
(BM) Though it hasn’t been all peaches and cream, I think that we have to be very pleased with what the Penguins have accomplished to this point of the season. Not only did they lose a number of regulars from last year’s team, but also are missing arguably their top two defensemen, their number one goaltender and a smattering of other contributors. Considering where they rank in the Eastern Conference and the Atlantic division I think it is fair to give them a B- to this point.
(JM) I’d give them a B. They’ve done very well without the services of some key players, but ultimately there’s no excuse for failing to close out games where you have a big lead. Putting together a full 60 minute effort is the thorn that prevents this team from being among the top teams in the NHL.
(PB) We’ll go with a B-minus. An “A” would entail not blowing some of those third-period leads.
(TF) Overall, I give them a B-. They’ve done well keeping their head above water while Gonchar and Whitney are out, as well as Sabourin for Fleury. While I acknowledge they’ve started with nearly their best record in team history, they could have had about 6-8 more points if they didn’t take their foot off the throats of their opponents.
2. Do you believe the Penguins’ oft-injured blueline will be healthier and stronger for it as the team heads into the playoffs? How would you sort out the defensive logjam when Gonchar and Whitney are healthy ??
(SL) I think they’ll be healthier. Aside from Gonchar who may be only a few weeks into his season when the playoffs roll around, Whitney will have a couple of months of play under his belt and help solidify the blueline. My top six defensemen would have to be Gonchar, Whitney, Orpik, Letang, Goligoski, Scuderi. I like what I’ve seen in Goligoski so far. Boucher, Eaton and Gill can all use the revolving press box door and add to the depth come playoff time should the injury bug hit again.
(CW) The tough questions keep coming. I like that. Now Gonchar probably won’t be back for another few months while Whitney appears to be coming back sometime in the next week or so. When Gill comes back….Eaton will be the odd man out probably….unless the Penguins have a change of heart. Whitney should be back before Eaton…so the first question may be when Gill comes back…what happens then? To go back to the first question….I have real concerns about the blueline as it is constructed now. They acquired Philippe Boucher who has been injured (briefly) already. Goligoski and Letang have done nicely but I still think guys like Eaton and Gill are too slow for some of the smaller, faster teams in the East. That would worry me going onward. Shero may need to make a deal to get a puck moving defenseman that can play a little D as well. A fast moving physical force on D would not hurt either but one thing at a time.
(FD) Oh definitely. To think the Pens will have two defensemen on the blue line come January who have yet to take hits into the boards, log miles on the skates and limit pucks to the shins/legs/etc. is at least something to take out of the rough start to the season. Not to mention the Pens’ power play will take a healthy boost with Ryan Whitney’s return and hopefully reach epic proportions with Gonch back on the point. When they return, I’d say Alex Goligoski will get a demotion and perhaps Michel Therrien will start treating Philippe Boucher like last year’s Daryl Sydor (ie. frequent scratches). If another demotion is needed, it’s likely the Pens will look to drop a forward like Taffe or Minard, if they’re still with the team or it’s necessary at the time.
(ST) They will definitely be much better heading into the playoffs because of all the returning injured players since they can only build on the good foundation they’ve created without all of them. However, in the meantime, the Penguins are making the most out of the loss of top players by bringing up players from WB / S and creating tremendous amounts of quality depth which will allow them to be in good shape for a long time (or create good trading values). When the top players do return, I’m still not quite sure what they’ll do, but I think it’ll come down to sending Goligoski back down or trading one of our high profile D-men to create enough room under the cap to acquire and try out another winger for Sid. I tend to lean more towards sending Gogo back down even though he has developed into a really good defensemen and an asset on the powerplay, I believe Whitney / Gonchar will be more effective since they had a more comfortable presence.
(HO) Through sheer numbers the Penguins ought to be OK defensively, even a guy like Ben Lovejoy didn’t look too out of place in a limited capacity. But something has to give when Whitney and later Gonchar return if there are no significant injuries. Mark Eaton seems like he’s an odd man out, but Alex Goligoski has really established himself as an NHL player. That’s why acquiring Phillipe Boucher—a right handed defensemen who can move the puck is curious. Could it mean the Penguins might dangle a guy like Kris Letang or even Goligoski if the return was a young not-a-rental winger? Stay tuned. Also, when someone suggests trading Letang, remind yourself he’s still just 21 years old, much younger than the usual defenseman can count on cracking a good NHL lineup.
(GW) Thereʼs no question that the injuries have told us something about a few players. Alex Goligoski has been a revelation on some nights, a liability on others. Kris Letang, with three power-play points and 12 points overall in 30 games, hasnʼt come close to filling the role many assumed he would with Gonchar and Whitney out. Assuming everyoneʼs healthy, itʼs Gonchar, Whitney, Orpik, Gill and Scuderi. Goligoski is the wild card; hereʼs a kid playing 20 minutes a night, right? Do you keep him in the top six, or do you get more out of Letang in a more limited role?
(CG) Such has been the case in the recent past with this team. Especially last year when Sidney Crosby and Marc-Andre Fleury were out for extended periods of time. I’d expect the same to happen this year, but maybe not to such a dramatic extent. I believe that, once Sergei Gonchar and Ryan Whitney return to the lineup, the Penguins will have window of time where they will get worse before getting better. I think having so many young players see time on defense this year will benefit the team more in the coming years than this season. However, I also believe that Whitney and Gonchar’s eventual return will lead to as strong of a defensive unit as we saw at the end of last year. It will just come with some growing pains.
(SR) Injuries are always impossible to predict or account for. I’d have Gonchar, Whitney, Letang, Boucher, Gill and Orpik with Eaton as the seventh defenseman. I’d send Goligoski back to Wilkes-Barre to develop some and try to move Boucher, Gill or Scuderi since they’re all UFA after the season. I only hung on to Eaton since he would be tough to move with a two-year deal.
(MB) It’s so difficult to predict how healthy and strong a blueline will be, which makes this question a tough one to answer. What I will say is that I think, as the season progresses, we’ll see the Penguins pull together and play a stronger defensive game, as they did last season. That, obviously, starts on the blueline. As far as the logjam is concerned, my top-six (if everyone was healthy) would be Gonchar-Orpik, Letang-Scuderi, and Whitney-Boucher, with Eaton and Gill as the extras.
(BM) If the Penguins have significant depth at any one position, it is defense. Ray Shero’s plan has always been to have upwards of 10 players in the organization who could play NHL minutes on the blue line. Through shrewd AHL signings (Ben Lovejoy, Danny Richmond) and retaining players such as Mark Eaton he has given himself enough depth to get through the injuries that ravaged his defensive core. Ryan Whitney is very close to returning and Sergei Gonchar’s rehab is right on course. Each will significantly upgrade the Penguins transition game that has struggled mightily and give a jolt to the power play. Though it hasn’t been confirmed for me, many people are whispering that it could be Alex Goligoski that gets sent down to Wilkes Barre-Scranton when all defensemen are healthy based on his two way deal and the fact that he will not have to clear waivers. I also wouldn’t discount a trade…possibly Mark Eaton, though he has many fans in the front office.
(JM) Right now guys like Letang and Goligoski are getting some serious looks. The coaching staff is relying on these guys in key situations and they’re logging big minutes, I think it’s been great for their development and could really put them ahead of the curve. Ultimately, despite his solid play, Goligoski will be the odd man out. I’d expect to see a starting six that features Gill, Gonchar, Whitney, Scuderi, Boucher and Letang. Mark Eaton, although improving, hasn’t played consistent enough hockey to stay on the ice. For what it’s worth, the return of Gonchar and Whitney should also aid a group of Penguins forwards that have been missing their mobility on the blueline.
(PB) The blue line will be the dark horse for the playoff run. Every analyst will forget what this blue line is capable of after having not been fully healthy all year. One of the young d-men may be leaving at the deadline.
(TF) It’s going to be very interesting once Gonch comes back. Not only will we see who will get seats in the press box, but it may also show who may be trade-bait, since it should be around trade deadline time. Barring any other major injuries before Gonch comes back, I would think it would be a combination of Gonch, Whit, Letang, Orpik, Gogo, and Scuderi. Gill has disappointed me so far, as has Eaton. I think Boucher could be this year’s Sydor, filling in for whomever is struggling at one time.
3. This team has had significant problems holding leads this season. Do these Penguins have the fortitude to dig deep and play a 60-minute game the way they did during most games during the second half of last season ?? What has to change in order for them to do it ??
(SL) The mentality in the third period needs to change from playing dump and chase to puck possession, getting the puck in deep and tying it up along the boards. At this point, with all the games lost late this season, why not turn into the 1995 New Jersey Devils and just clamp down defensively?
(CW) These are not the same Penguins as last year but as they get healthier. I do think they will be able to play with that fortitude. Simply put, getting guys like Whiney and Gonchar and Fleury back in there will help. Also, Fleury has to come back on fire obviously. The other thing I have noticed is this; Therrien has to get this team back to playing good fundamentals. That has been lacking lately and going 4-5-1 in their last 10 has not helped. The key right now, coaching and better play!
(FD) On the flip side however they’ve also had impressive routs to turn things around late in the game. This team often poses as some freak of nature that will either leave you disappointed as you watch them drop their lead or ecstatic as they rebound back with three or four-goal third period runs. I don’t think much has to change in terms of staffing the lines, but a lot has to change in terms of chemistry. It’s obvious they can make it happen out there late in the game, but they all just have to be on the same page. Sitting back and holding off the other team’s attack in not the Pens’ forte.
(ST) This team has not played a full 60-minute game once this season. I truly think they know what they need to do but have not yet reached the point where they are motivated to do it (which, I guess is just a nice way to say they are being lazy). They need to go to the net more, and have more bodies in front of the net to create more scoring chances. They are not capitalizing on their powerplay opportunities (especially when they are 16th in the league). A recent example of this is Saturday’s game against Philadelphia who had more shots on goal being short-handed than the Pens did having the advantage.
(HO) I think the Penguins are just meshing right now, kind of figuring out how to play with each other. A lot of “glue” guys over the past couple seasons (Colby Armstrong, Jarkko Ruutu, Gary Roberts, Ryan Malone, Adam Hall, Georges Laraque etc) have moved on. As all the new guys (Miroslav Satan, Ruslan Fedotenko, Matt Cooke, Mike Zigomanis, etc) get assimilated into the style the Penguins play and the systems they run, the results should become a little more even. It’s just taking a little while to get on the same page, and that’s to be expected.
(GW) Thatʼs just a function of this wacky parity-filled League weʼre living in these days, where leads are about as safe as your daughters around Max Talbot. But if youʼre talking about the Penguins, letʼs see what this team does with a healthy blue line before assuming they donʼt get coffee for not closing.
(CG) There is enough talent of this team to be the most dominant group in the Eastern Conference. The problem is that a good chunk of that talent has been dealing with injuries. Once Gonchar and Whitney get back to playing every night I believe the Penguins will have an easier time protecting the leads they build. It has been so hard to exhibit any consistency and I blame that on a lack of defensive leadership. There is no defensive pairing that seems to be truly comfortable together. Having two defenders back on the roster that can possess the puck as well as Whit and Gonch will help tremendously.
(SR) Certainly. They played 60 minutes in New Jersey last week but lost. Seems to me a complete effort is something that comes from attitude or how you approach the game. Leadership, whether that be Crosby or Therrien, needs to address it.
(MB) Of course. The first half of the season is a totally different type of game than the second half. The fact that the Penguins have the fortitude to comeback in games they clearly should not win indicates that they indeed do have what it takes. As for what needs to change, I think it’s just a desperation thing. The more desperate they are to win, the better they will be at protecting the lead. It will come with time.
(BM) They definitely have the ability to play a full 60-minute game, but they have not done it consistently thus far. Their struggles in getting the puck out of their own zone have played a big factor in blowing leads throughout the season. That problem should work itself out once they get Whitney and Gonchar back in the fold. Each of those players possesses the ability to make a crisp tape to tape break out pass, something that has been lacking all year long. They also can carry the puck up ice, taking the pressure off of the forwards who have had to go deep into their own end to get the biscuit to frequently. Getting those two players back will also upgrade the defense as a whole, which will eliminate some of the mistakes that have been being made.
(JM) I think losing the leads has been an issue of letting our foot off of the proverbial pedal. Sometimes offense is the best defense. The Penguins, when taking an early lead, have abandoned the cycle and puck possession game in lieu of a tentative style of offense that features forced turnovers and odd man rushes for the other team. Michel Therrien has accused them of playing on their heels and I’d have to agree. I look to the recent Rangers loss in a shootout as a model of how the Penguins should try and finish a game. Unfortunately, that night, the bounces just didn’t go our way.
(PB) It’s just the way the season has been. If they were in a deep hole because of it, we’d be concerned. But for every lead they’ve blown, they’ve also had some nice third-period comebacks.
(TF) It’s all about the mindset. If you aren’t aggressive in today’s NHL, and subconsciously you’re playing not to lose rather than to win, you’re in deep kimchee. And that applies to everyone, from the defense not clearing the puck out of their zone, to the forwards not playing the body on the forecheck. Hopefully it doesn’t come back to bite the Pens in the butt-ocks, but those precious points they’ve thrown away could end up being vital.
4. OK, the unavoidable question. What the hell do you attribute the problems on the Penguins’ powerplay to ?? Injuries ?? Scheme/coaching ?? Personnel assignments ?? Execution ?? Let’s hear it.
(SL) It’s not Mike Yeo’s fault. It’s not the injury bugs fault. It’s the Penguins abundance of talent that’s hurting them with the extra skater. There’s too many skilled guys on the power-play at one time that no one wants to be selfish enough to shoot the puck. Too many opportunities are passed up for that one extra pass or pretty move. The Pens could also use a guy like Ryan Malone who isn’t afraid to muck it up in front of the net.
(CW) Coaching and injuries. I cannot say this enough; coaching helps out. Therrien has to steer this ship back on course. Now, the Pens rank 17th (18.1%). That is abnormal for the Pens, that much is true. To me, letting this team relax a bit may be more beneficial than harping on it which Therrien has a tendency to do. Now to the injuries. Whitney and Gonchar being hurt have killed them on the backend. That is the stone cold truth, everyone knows this. Once the health issue gets slowly resolved the Pens will start rising up the rankings. Malkin and Crosby can’t be on the blueline too as we all know. Teams eventually do figure out ways to stop you if the Power Play is not a bit more dynamic. That will come in time. The Habs are learning the injury bug lesson as well. Look at their PP, it is 28th so be thankful!!
(FD) In short: Over-passing, over-thinking and under-shooting. The chemistry is there but the Pens really need to find a traffic guy that can fill the likes of Ryan Malone up front. If not then the howitzer shot from the point should have some guys down low licking their chops for a juicy rebound.
(ST) There is no big presence in front of the net like they had when Malone was on the team (who had John LeClair as a mentor to develop into such an asset; there is no one currently on the team to help develop someone like Staal into that type of player, so it may just end up taking longer for Staal to develop on his own). They are always looking more for the perfect play rather than just to shoot the puck to create more chances for it to go in (the more you shoot, the more likely it will eventually go in the net) and it therefore takes them too long to cash in on the opportunity. As bad as the Islanders are and how badly we beat them last Thursday, it took them only about 30 seconds to score on a powerplay compared to it taking the Pens at a minute or more to score a powerplay goal.
(HO) Not to beat a drum but Gonchar and Whitney combined for 15 goals and 53 assists last year on the PP. Gonchar was basically the QB of the top unit. Losing that can’t be under-stated. Other than that, I don’t see how you can blame the coaching, the right guys have been on the ice. It’s just a matter of getting shots to the net. Think of how many posts/crossbars that guys like Crosby and Malkin have hit. Or all the open net looks that have gone just wide…You could go on and on.
(GW) Personally, I hate Malkin on the point in a fanatical way. But what else do you do with the guy, because Crosbyʼs playing his natural role on PP and Malkin isnʼt exactly Dave Andreychuk in front. Again, letʼs see what Gonchar and Whitney bring back to the table to see if this unit gets elevated about middle of the pack.
(CG) I want to go ahead and blame this on injuries as well. With no Whitney and no Gonchar, there is no true leader on the power play. Their absence also has helped ead to a one-sided approach to the man-advantage. The second unit has done nothing. It’s hard to put up good numbers when there is really only one minute or so of legitmate scoring opportunities. When they both return, it moves Goligoski to the second unit as well as a capable forward. With more equality among the two power play units the goal will come.
(SR) Unfamiliarity. They’ve moved the personnel around quite a bit due to injuries and inconsistency. You need to get some regular time together in order to gel. The team’s power play was inconsistent going into the playoffs last year when Hossa was inserted. It took them a few games to really get familiar with each other.
(MB) Injuries and execution are my targets. When a team is without its top two power play quarterbacks, things are bound to get iffy. Name a team in the league that could withstand the loss of its top two offensive defensemen and do well on the power play. There aren’t any. But even so, with Crosby and Malkin on the ice, things should be a bit better than they are. The schematic of the power play, if executed, works, as evidenced by last year’s showing. The execution just isn’t there. No one is working hard for goals. Instead, they’re trying to make it pretty. That doesn’t work.
(BM) I will let Coach Therrien answer this one, as he spelled it out for us who gathered for his presser after the come from ahead loss to the Buffalo Sabres on December 8th. “The power play was not good…try to be cute, there is no traffic in front,” Therrien said. “We ask people to go to the front of the net…they don’t want to go…so we need the perfect shot.” It isn’t a problem of coaching or scheme. What we are seeing is something that tends to happen with skilled players. Sometimes they think that their skill supercedes that of the opposition and they want to work a tic-tac-toe play every time for a highlight reel goal, instead of realizing that most power play goals are of the garbage variety. They need to get back to having a big body in front of the net a la Ryan Malone last season. He would park himself in front of the opposing goaltender tipping and deflecting shots all night long. He would also be there for rebounds tap ins and the occasional Gonchar shot off of his shin pad and in. The Penguins have not done that this season, though they have tried Jordan Staal in that role. Getting consistent traffic in the slot and actually shooting the puck during the power play will go a long way towards getting it back on track. It also doesn’t hurt that the Penguins will soon be getting back two of the better offensive defensemen in the league.
(JM) I think injuries play a small part. But overall, you’ll see the power-play trend upward. These things work in an ebb/flow type of style. Teams have been super-aggressive against the Penguins and they’re still in the process of working that out. I’d expect to see the power-play in the top 10 before the season’s end. When Whitney and Gonchar return, we could see a hot streak of epic proportions.
(PB) No idea. Every speculation has a reason it’s right and a reason it’s wrong.
(TF) I have to slightly disagree with my colleagues on this one. It’s not totally the coaches fault, but I put a good chunk of it on their lap. Yes, I fully acknowledge that Gonchar on the point is very difficult to replace. I also agree with Greg that Malkin up there drives me nuts. But first and foremost, they haven’t changed their scheme other than minor tweaks. In addition, no matter how many times they say they’re working on it, you see the same thing over and over and over, everyone standing still and no one moving without the puck, making it SO much easier for the PK to defend. Also, they refuse to put a right-handed shooter on the LEFT point to generate more one-timers, of which they now have two good offensive defensemen, unless they’re on a 5-on-3. It’s in that respect that I don’t think Whitney’s addition soon will make that much of a difference, other than the rare backdoor feed from Crosby, he’s nothing more than a pass-through. Will it improve upon Gonch’s return ?? Most definitely, but if/when they ever start coaching them to MOVE on the powerplay, then you’re really going to see a top-notch NHL powerplay.
5. Do you believe the Penguins have excelled in the Eastern Conference the past 2+ seasons BECAUSE of Michel Therrien and his assistants, specifically powerplay coach Mike Yeo, or do you believe that they have excelled DESPITE them ?? Or is it a little of both ??
(SL) You can’t be successful for two plus seasons without the work of your coaches. Granted, Pittsburgh has the talent, but how many times have we seen teams loaded with talent fail in the National Hockey League? Therrien coached a lot of his players down in Wilkes-Barre, so the relationship he has with some of the Pens has been developed for some years now. Like I said before, Yeo is a good, young hockey mind who’s lucky enough to have a loaded power-play unit. It’s up the guys on the ice to get the job done.
(CW) I really did not want to touch the Yeo subject but we are going to have to at some point. Truthfully the Pens have excelled because of their own determination more than anything else. The resolve got them a Stanley Cup Finals berth last season. There were grumblings about Therrien and company last year when things were not going well and they always resurface when the Pens aren’t doing so well. These things are tough to gauge. What I really think is the problem is the league sees what you do and tries to catch up and surpass it. The Pens went through a period like this at the same point last year. When this team gets healthy and if they are still playing like this then you have to blame coaching. Right now its 50-50!
(FD) Oh it’s a little of both, for sure. You can take a group of young talent and toss them on the ice but they’re going to need some guidance and assistance along the way. As good as Sid and Geno are, I have no doubts they’d still be atop the scoring charts without a cast of coaches like the Pens. However, whether the team would be playoff bound or not is an entirely different question. I think MT’s decision to continuously test wingers with Sid is evidence to the fact that he still is teaching them (and himself) to see what combinations work to the best. But keep in mind Therrien turned a 58-point team in in 2005/06 into a 105-point team the next season. You can’t look at this club and say the coaching hasn’t been a crucial part of its success.
(ST) I think it is a little bit of both because each person on the coaching staff is a separate issue. Michel Therrien is an excellent coach in the fact that he knows his players and knows which buttons to push and when, so the team has excelled because of him; however, seeing as how the Pens powerplay is lacking, I do not believe Mike Yeo has been too successful using players’ strengths, so the team has excelled despite him.
(HO) Instead of bitching about the powerplay like most Pens fans seem to do the loudest, how about the Pens penalty kill which is 6th in the league. When’s the last time in recent memory they’ve been that high this far into the season? Also remember they’ve done it for significant time without the starting goalie—the most important penalty killer. Therrien’s in a tough spot; if the Pens are winning, well they’re supposed to be. If they’re losing, Therrien’s a moron that is limiting what Crosby and Malkin can do. For the most part I think the coach’s get too much blame; it’s the players that are out there executing or not executing. The coach’s job is to keep them in shape, get them prepared and keep them motivated. I think Therrien and staff have done a commendable job. Not an award-winning job, but I still believe they’re the right voice for the lockeroom.
(GW) Despite them. Iʼve not been a Therrien fan, but heʼs a coach who gets more blame and more credit than he deserves. To me, heʼs just not a difference-maker behind the bench.
(CG) We are about 1/3 of the way through the season and I believe it’s still too early to blame or credit the coaching staff too heavily. They have dealt with more significant injuries than any other staff in the NHL the past two years. So in that regard I’d say you have to credit the staff. However, we all sit and wonder what goes through Michel Therrien’s head every one in a while ... like why Pascal Dupuis is still playing on the first line. Yes, they are blessed with a ton of talent to work with, but you can’t fault them for that. With that talent, the coaching staff has developed a terrible group in to the second best team in the NHL. This would be a great question to analyze again after the next third of the season passes. But for now, give them time to work out the problems and have faith in Therrien, who over the long run has proved that most of his decisions are the right ones.
(SR) I think it’s a little of both. They won the Atlantic Division last season despite sporting an AHL lineup in plenty of games and that has to be attributed to Therrien and company. I’ve never bought the idea in hockey that any coach can win with a talented enough lineup. Look at Tampa Bay. They have tons of talent but few wins. Look a the Rangers in the late 90s and early 2000s. They had as much talent as anyone but went through coaches like underwear.
(MB) I really have come to resent such questions. I could ask another question that has similar meaning, and listen how silly it sounds. Have the Penguins excelled because of Crosby and Malkin or in spite of them? The team is where it is because everyone is doing his part.
(BM) It is hard to say that the team achieved what it did over the past two seasons in spite of the coaching staff and I think it would be folly to do so. Michel Therrien has installed a system that when executed correctly wins games. It is a high-energy style of hockey that punishes the opposition in their own end and tires them out by cycling the puck in the offensive zone and capitalizing on mistakes. When everyone is buying in, the team also is able to consistently hold one goal leads and eat chunks of clock, while still producing scoring opportunities. Therrien may have ruffled some feathers along the way in Pittsburgh, but his finger prints are all over the success this team has had just as much as the players on the team. His style is a bit unorthodox at times, but it is working. I learned all I needed to know about Michel Therrien’s time in Pittsburgh when I watched Brooks Orpik put pen to paper on a new long term deal with the team…Orpik was oft credited as being a Therrien basher.
(JM) I think you’d be remiss to say it’s in spite of them. The success of the team is in direct correlation to what Michel Therrien has brought to the table. There’s accountability for what’s going on in the defensive end, something we haven’t experienced in Pittsburgh for a long time. With guys like Crosby and Malkin, the easy way out is to let them run free and have a wide open offensive powerhouse. Fortunately, Michel Therrien knows that this type of style doesn’t win Cups. The defensive presence the Penguins have will generate turnovers, power-plays, and ultimately, a low enough GAA to get this team through the East again.
(PB) Therrien was the perfect coach to bring the young Pens team out of the depths of the East cellar. But as everyone gets older, motivation won’t be needed as much as a coach who knows how to use world-class players.
(TF) LOL, I should just say, “see my answer to question #4”. I just don’t know. Sometimes I think Therrien is the NHL equivalent of Bill Belichick. You know, he was a bust in Cleveland but now is treated like is the next Tom Landry in New England. Therrien was a bust in Montreal, and now has the gift of having arguably the best two players in the world. I think it’s not outrageous to predict that any number of NHL coaches would do just as well, if not better, with this roster. Has he been good with the young bucks ?? I’ll give him that. But his constant shuffling of lines preclude any chance of chemistry, especially on the top two lines. And as far as Yeo is concerned, I’m sorry, I’m sure he’s a nice guy, but he’s done a very poor job managing the powerplay.
6. I’m going to stay away from the Crosby/Malkin comparisons, but Evgeni Malkin has raised his game up yet another notch, when some would’ve said it couldn’t get much higher. Without any specific Crosby comparisons, is Evgeni Malkin now the best player in the NHL ?? If so, why ?? If not, who is still better, and why ??
(SL) As a Penguins fan, I don’t even care to begin to think about which one is better. If you want to tell me that Evgeni Malkin is the best player in the NHL, then that’s okay with me, especially since he has a teammate named Sidney Crosby.
(CW) I still think neither is the best player in the NHL. That nod still goes to Alexander Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals. With Mike Green back, add in Backstrom heating up, and you have the makings of a whale of a last 50 games for Ovechkin. Though Malkin and Crosby are great and that cannot be questioned, right now Ovechkin in the regular season is still the King at least for now. Of course if Malkin continues this pace, then you have to tip your hat but until that happens, I can’t tip that hat just yet. So with a caveat; let’s get back to this one come April, it will be more fun then.
(FD) That’s hard to say at this point. Does that consequently make Alex Ovechkin the best player in the NHL last year? The trio of Sid, Malkin and AO is great for hockey and I think great for the players as well. I don’t think you can just say right now, while all are still actively playing, that one is the best player in the NHL.
(ST) I think Malkin has really started coming into his own and is much more comfortable on and off the ice which makes a big difference. He started to gain confidence last season when he stepped up after Crosby’s injury in January. That being said, I do believe he is the best player in the NHL (and is only going to get better which is scary when you think about it). But in some respects, it’s like comparing apples to oranges looking at two players even aside from Crosby. Being able to communicate more in English is helping with his confidence too especially since it allowed him to serve as alternate captain for a month. It seems like he does not have to work as hard at playing hockey as others—he has more natural ability as far as goal-scoring and his play-making ability is pretty good too (getting better all the time), so he’s really well-rounded. And he’ll only get better. He is definitley an elite NHL player, no question!
(HO) On any given night Malkin, Crosby or Alex Ovechkin could be the best player in the world. Malkin can do things with his size and ability. At the end of the season if all stay healthy, I think Crosby will end up winning the scoring title, but Malkin won’t be far behind.
(GW) Malkin has had some unstoppable games this season. Heʼs been Jagr-like in his ability to take over offensively. That ability separates him and Ovechkin from Sidney, whoʼs more balanced and less dominant. Best player in the NHL? Ovechkinʼs always going to be right there in the conversation, and Crosby ends up doing the little things that never get noticed every single game. Letʼs put it this way: All three are slightly better than Radim Vrbata this season.
(CG) The best player in the NHL is the one who can perform at a high level for the entire season. Right now, there has been no other player that has done this as well as Evgeni Malkin. Crosby is right behind him in scoring, but was far from it early on. Therefore I’d say yes, Malkin is the most dominant player in the NHL ... so far. He has proved he’s not just a goal scorer and makes the players around hime better (just like we all know Crosby does as well). Whether he can do so for an entire season is the question because all Pens fans saw him tire in last year’s playoff run.
(SR) I would say Malkin is the more naturally talented player. He just goes out there and creates stuff almost by accident. Crosby’s ability is the product of intense training and preparation. Malkin’s is almost a natural-born gift.
(MB) It’s impossible to answer this question without comparing Crosby to Malkin. But, I’ll do my best. Malkin is physically imposing. I had the pleasure of attending Saturday’s game in Philly and, while most fans degraded Crosby for whining, diving, etc., most fans also acknowledged that Malkin can’t be knocked over because he “is a monster.” His size alone makes him one of the best, but his skills take him to the next level. I’ve said it for years: Malkin will be the best player in the NHL before it’s all said and done – if he isn’t already there.
(BM) This is a very tough question to answer because we get to watch Malkin and Crosby on a nightly basis. We see all of the dynamic things that they do and as far as I am concerned they are 1A and 1B at this point. Malkin has done some amazing things over the last two seasons and has grown in every way. He has honed his playmaking skills, become a better goal scorer and is now a huge threat on special teams. He can lash a slap shot past a goaltender from the top of the key, score from the circle, set up a teammate for a one timer and pounce on a loose puck and turn it into a short handed goal. He is the complete package and is as close to being the best in the league as anyone. If he has one area that could use some polish, it is his ability to win face-offs. He has struggled in that aspect of the game, but the Penguins have offset that by sending him out with line-mates that can step into the circle if need be. The rest of this season will go a long way towards showing us who is the top dog in the NHL, as we have a healthy Crosby, Malkin and Alex Ovechkin embroiled in an amazing race for the scoring title.
(JM) I think you have to mention his name. As hockey fans, we’re blessed in the sense that, on any given night, there could be 3 or 4 ‘best players in the game’. Malkin’s ability to break the game with his shooting prowess and his offensive vision is among the league’s best. He’s taken huge strides in his physical game and his defensive presence. I certainly think that his name could be brought up in the discussion. But, as I said, in today’s NHL, we’re almost operating on a day to day basis with this ‘best player’ talk.
(PB) Malkin is more exciting than Crosby this season. Hard to say who is better.
(TF) All three (Sid, Geno, AO) have their strengths. Where Sid and Geno seperate from AO just a bit is their defensive abilities. I don’t believe that AO is that adept and backchecking as well as either Sid or Geno, even though AO has the edge in his shot, especially in his accuracy. But while I think that Geno has certainly caught up to Sid, I think that Sid still has Geno by an edge right now because of his vision of the entire ice. Don’t get me wrong, Geno isn’t chop liver with his vision as well, but it isn’t at Sid’s level just yet. But like many of the others have already said, having both of those in a Pens uniform on a nightly basis is certainly great to see.
7. We’re going to have another roundtable just prior to the trade deadline, so I don’t want to have that type of discussion at this time, but what do you think the Penguins are missing on their roster right now ??
(SL) Obviously a consistent winger for Sid, but that’s been needed for a while. I think a power-forward that can cause havoc in front of the net would be nice.
(CW) The Penguins are missing players that just play. Do not dive, do not cry, just play the game. That is part of why they cannot play a 60 minute game. Ironically guys like Roberts and Malone are probably missed right now. Penguins fans might not have liked them per se, but they PLAYED and played hard. Some depth scoring could not hurt but more importantly defensive depth will be a key as they head toward the stretch run. Their D stepped up last year in a way I did not expect. They need to get that kind of play from the blueline again and this time they may have to get some help.
(FD) There’s missing some muscles. Eric Godard and Brooks Orpik aside, not many of the guys can knock a player off the puck. Sure, they can finesse a back-check but the Pens aren’t exactly knocking guys to the ice. From what I saw in just a few games with Tim Wallace in the lineup, it would seem the rookie packs a hearty punch. I say keep him up with the team because he’s exactly what they need.
(ST) A winger for Sid; however, I’m not sure if that will be possible or if there is the perfect forward out there to compliment him especially with how limited the team is in the amount of money they can spend for this player.
(HO) It doesn’t take a rocket scientist: another skilled winger (or two), a couple defensemen and a better long-term option in net than Dany Sabourin. Luckily Whitney, Gonchar and Fleury should fulfill the latter two needs, leaving Ray Shero and company to weigh the options for a deadline boost.
(GW) All due respect to the several thousand linemates Crosby will end up having this season, but the kid needs another Hossa-like trigger on the wing.
(CG) I still think the team lacks a capable winger to play with Crosby. I’ve been praying for the coaching staff to quit putting Pascal Dupuis on Crosby’s line. Yes, he plays fast. The problem I see is that he wants to do things alongside Crosby that he just doesn’t have the talent to do. On the other side, Satan seems a step too slow. Another guy, if the Pens can afford it, will always be nice. It’s just too early to predict what the Penguins will do because they have yet to play with their IDEAL lineup.
(SR) I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest they need a scoring winger. That and two healthy offensive defensemen.
(MB) Sandpaper. Last season, the Penguins had Ryan Malone on the second line, Jarkko Ruutu on the third line and Gary Roberts on the fourth to provide the necessary grit against the Flyers of the20NHL. This year, they have no one with grit for the top two lines, Cooke on the third, and not really anyone on the fourth. Keep in mind that Talbot, Zigomanis, Dupuis and others play with some grit, but it’s not what they’re expected to do shift in and shift out. The Penguins need someone on the top lines who can keep up with Crosby and/or Malkin and who can provide some toughness and board-work.
(BM) Scoring wingers…they just do not have enough. I am not even referring to guys like Marian Hossa who are capable of 40 to 50 goals in a season. They seem to be lacking the guys who can consistently score 20 to 25. When your top two scorers are 20+ points ahead of the third leading scorer, it needs to be addressed. Though it is worth noting that the Penguins have gotten goals from 17 different players this season.
(JM) A tougher, goal scoring winger. I think the Penguins would be well served to find a Chris Kunitz type of a guy. They need someone that can go into the boards and help with the physical aspect of the game on the top lines. Nothing against Sykora or Satan, but neither of them are exactly the model of physicality.
(PB) Another consistent grinder, a.k.a.—Max Talbot stops worrying about being a superstar.
(TF) Can’t forget about the scoring winger, but they also need some more muscle in front of the net. Mike frickin Knuble had 7 shots on goal and two points standing in front of the net last Saturday. The Pens simply don’t have anyone right now who can do that on a regular basis.
8. Miro Satan and Ruslan Fedotenko were the two high profile free agent signings this offseason by GM Ray Shero. At this point of the season, do you believe they’ve lived up to expectations ?? Are you particularly pleased or disappointed with other free agent signings ??
(SL) I think they were decent risks to take on one-year deals. Satan will be helped by being on Crosby’s wing. I really like what Matt Cooke has done so far. While Jarkko Ruutu was great at being a pest, he took too many dumb penalties. Cooke is an all-heart kind of guy that any team would love to have.
(CW) Satan and Fedotenko have been pretty much what I expected. Satan has 22 points and Fedotenko has 13. At this point, that sounded about right. My problem with these two signings is that really the Penguins could have done a little better, maybe a Kristian Huselius perhaps. Overall free agency wise the Pens did not do very well but mostly because their expectations of Satan and Fedotenko were too high (loss of Hossa).
(FD) I’m a little disappointed in Fedotenko and not at all surprised by Satan. Satan will not score 40 or 50 goals this year and I don’t think I expected that either. He’s good for 25-30 and that’s complimentary enough. Fedotenko, however, should get some better looks soon and really make it work. He and Malkin have showed some chemistry so perhaps MT will throw them out there together again or continue testing out some combos. If anything Fedo is at least showing some grit in the corners, but I don’t think that’s what Shero brought him to Pitt for. I wouldn’t say I’m pleased or disappoint at this point. I’m optimistic they can still work it out.
(ST) Because of the fact that I did not know much about the type of players Satan and Fedotenko are, my feeling is they have not lived up to [my] expectations because with high profile acquisitions comes the [my] belief that they are going to make the team better than what they are without them; however, knowing more about them and seeing them for the players they are (30-goal / 20-goal season players) then I can see that they are meeting expectations in that respect. It was expected that Satan would be Sid’s wingman; however, I do not believe he is the answer they had in mind. Although Satan has been able to score, the two do not seem to have the chemistry necessary to make it work like everyone hoped and as much as everyone says they miss Hossa, I do not think he was the answer either even though he is better than Satan. This is probably why they only signed both them (Satan and Tenko) to one year contracts. I am really happy with how both Cooke and Godard fit in with the team and have contributed. Cooke is great at finishing checks and is a good physical presence. As much as I was very distraut over Shero not signing Ruutu over a silly year (still am to an extent), I believe Cooke is a better goal-scorer and makes more contributions to the team - more of a well-rounded player compared to Ruuts. And I believe Godard is a better fit for the Pens than Laraque as unpopular of a view as it may be. I was never impressed with Laraque especially towards the end of last season. Godard is more eager to fight than Laraque was; he would wait too long to take action and Godard will throw down quicker with anyone; it benefits the Pens, I think. Zigomanis has also become a tremendous addition to this team by increasing their face-off wins which plays a big role in a the game (an example being their win over Detroit when Ziggy won a particular face-off which ended up making a big impact in the outcome of the game).
(HO) They’ve done about as expected, to me…With the salary cap system, it’s going to be a rotating cast of characters around the core players. For a UFA to take a one-year deal they must be somewhat inconsistent or have a knock like being coming off an injury. I think Satan will hit 30 goals and Tank will probably get about 20. That’s pretty much what they were signed to do, and they’re on pace for it.
(GW) Satanʼs been right about where youʼd expect him to be playing with this level of talent. Fedotenkoʼs been looked at as a bit of a bust, but heʼs averaging the same points per 60 minutes of five-on-five hockey (1.95) as Satan, and heʼs scored half the goals he had last season already. If you expected more, then you were expecting too much.
(CG) Miroslav Satan is on pace for around 30 goals and is fourth on the team in scoring with 22 points in 30 games. Ruslan Fedotenko is on pace for more than 20 goals and has 15 points on the year. I think both are on pace for what we had hoped they could achieve. Satan started off the season hott, but has faded a bit recently as far as production goes. He also seems to be unable to play as fast as Crosby would like him to. This could still improve with time, but there will be a few guys out there as the deadline approaches that could make that first line better. The most beneficial signing, in my mind, is Mike Zigomanis. I feel that the team suffers more with him out of the lineup than it would without either Satan or Fedotenko.
(SR) Lots of fans complain about them, but Satan and Fedotenko are doing exactly what they’ve always done and that’s provide streaky scoring. Satan is on pace for 30 goals while Satan is on pace for 22. Assuming they stay at that clip, they will have more than fulfilled the expectations management had of them.
(MB) How can you be disappointed in players who are doing exactly what they’ve done their entire careers. Satan is on pace for 60 points, or 19 more than he had last season. He’s also just five goals behind last year’s total. Fedotenko is on pace for 44 points, which is 11 more than last year and 12 more than the year before. I realize they shouldn’t be judged exclusively on stats, but, with these two players,
their styles are noted, and they are bringing what I thought they would…plus more on the stat sheet.
(BM) I think that I expected a bit more out of Ruslan Fedotenko, though he is starting to get it going a bit. He can do a number of things for a hockey club and I don’t think he got a ton of chances to show that early in the season. He was bounced around the line-up frequently, but has finally settled in with Malkin and Petr Sykora. That is a spot where I thought he could be effective all along and I am pleased with what I have seen over the last few games. With Miro Satan, he is who we thought he was. Satan is often times accused of being disinterested, soft and unwilling to work hard in physical situations. That is true to some extent, but he was brought in to score goals and that is what he is doing. His streakiness is a bit trying at times, but it has been his M O throughout his career. He is on pace for 30 goals and 30 assists, pretty much what I had him penciled in for to start the season, so I am comfortable with that. As far as the other free agent acquisitions go, Matt Cooke has been great for the team. His energy is contagious and he has shown some great chemistry with Jordan Staal. He is also not afraid to stir the pot and play a physical game. Eric Goddard has also been a pleasant surprise. He may not be the best tough guy in the league, but he has shown a willingness to throw the mitts off with anyone and stick up for his teammates. What more could you ask for?
(JM) I’d say so. Fedotenko is a guy that has started to pick it up a little. He was on a downward trend in New York but has already amassed half of the points he had last year, and that’s including a pretty slow start. For Satan, I think he’s done what’s been asked of him, but he needs to shoot the puck more. He’s a guy that has an absolute howitzer of a shot, and we’re seeing him bypass opportunities to shoot that he would have taken on Long Island. Overall, though, Satan is fourth on the team in points, and I’d say that a lot of Penguins fans are surprised by that.
(PB) The Pens are sitting nicely in the East. Can’t say either player has been a disappointment.
(TF) Well, it’s important to note, in my view, that you shouldn’t have expected Satan to be a Hossa replacement, simply because he took Hossa’s spot on the roster. If you look at it that way, I’d say he’s pretty much performed as expected. He’s not fast enough to keep up with Sid, but he’s gotten more than his fair share of garbage goals that you knew he would. Fedotenko is pretty much the same way. 8 goals a third of the way through the season is not bad at all. As for the other moves, I love the Cooke signing, They needed a hard-hitting grinder. Godard has been a good signing as well, he doesn’t care who he fights, not like the gentlemanly Georges Laraque.
9. In my view, Max Talbot has taken over as the Penguins “great in the clubhouse” guy from Colby Armstrong. Unfortunately, his on-ice production (4 goals, 6 points, team-low -10) has noticeably slipped. What are your views on Talbot’s contributions to the team, and is he that valuable an asset ??
(SL) Sometimes guys are more valuable as a locker room presence than on the ice. Max a proven to be a great teammate and while he projects to have lower stats than the previous two seasons, what’s alarming to me is the -10. While he’s shooting a lot more than normal, it’s his defensive game that needs to be improved.
(CW) This I had to look at really quickly but truthfully it may be time to cut the cord a bit here, maybe some more 4th line time? The Pens may even need to consider bringing in someone else no matter what his locker room contributions are. I do think he should be playing better and the assets do not outweigh the detriments in this case. His defense, which was pretty good last year (+8) has fallen to Kalinin like levels. I would say no on any kind of high value, right now.
(FD) Colby wasn’t all that great either, ya know. I think Talbot is making it work on the PK, so that’s at least earning him some ice time. MT has tossed him onto the ice with Sid a few times because they both are pretty speedy skaters. However, it’s more than obvious that Max’s role is on the PK and third line units.
(ST) I think Talbot is valuable to the Pens in many ways. Even though his stats don’t show it (right now), I think he’s contributed to the team a great deal. I think he does well on the top line with Sid and he’s one of the few players that has the speed to keep up with him. Sometimes I think stats are like grades since they do not always give the true story or allow you to see the “big picture.” He’s great at creating opportunities close to the net and makes things happen when the team needs it (like Game 5 of SCF last season).
(HO) I think part of Talbot’s problem has been a lack of having a defined role. With Staal back to center, there’s no place for Mad Max there. Talbot’s not going to be a regular point producer at the NHL level, but he’s got such good jump and hustle it’s worth playing with Crosby or Malkin and hope you can find some lightning in a bottle. But that’s a short-term option, he’s not a top 6 winger. I don’t find Talbot to be untouchable (no one other than Crosby, Malkin or Fleury is) but I do think he’s an important member of the team, on and off the ice. Plus he’s got that knack for scoring big goals late in games, that “clutch” trait is an attribute that few players have.
(GW) His plus/minus is pretty poor, he hasnʼt contributed all that much offensively. But heʼs second on the team in face-off winning percentage and still contributing on a decent kill. Is he a valuable asset? As a depth forward, sort of. As puck bunny cat-nip? Absolutely.
(CG) Max Talbot has been effected by injuries a bit this season, which can only hurt his development on the ice. I don’t think you can place a value on guys like him because his leadership on and off the ice are so valuable. On top of that, he has more offensive potential and talent than Colby Arms
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Originally at Blogspot, then at MVN, TheConfluence has over 1500 articles reporting Penguins news as well as jumping on my soapbox to opine constructive Penguins criticism.
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