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The Confluence

Penguins Without 87 & 71: It’s Not Rocket Surgery

It’s a calculated risk that Penguins’ GM Ray Shero and Head Coach Dan Bylsma had to know they were dealing with, and praying it never came to fruition.

They looked their roster at the end of last season, one which ended in a frustrating fashion, basically getting outworked by the Montreal Canadiens.  So they did some shoring up, re-signing Matt Cooke, signing free agents Zbynek Michalek, Paul Martin and Arron Asham.

Things were good, really good.  A President’s Trophy was certainly not out of the equation this season.

Hindsight is 20/20, as we all know.  Still, as we embarked on this season, after the FA signings, one thing stood pretty apparent:  You’ve got Sidney Crosby to score goals, you’ve got Evgeni Malkin to score goals, and then you’ve got everyone else.

But what would happen if the Dynamic Duo would ever to go down?  Well, we’re now seeing it.  A roster full of grinders.

Now, I’m not being hypocritical.  I realize that the “Crosby + Malkin + everyone else” formula has been tremendously successful.  Four straight (soon to be five) playoff appearances, two Cup Final appearances and one Stanley Cup.  Ask anyone outside of Detroit if they’d accept that fate for four seasons.

So for the most part, you have to take the good with the bad.  If you’re going to use that formula, you undertake the risk of the consequences when some wrenches get thrown into the equation.  Those, of course, have been the major injuries to Malkin and Crosby, ones that have shut Malkin down for the year, and possibly Crosby too.

For now the Penguins were forced to play with a roster overloaded with muckers and grinders.

They may not be able to score many goals, but hey, they can cycle the shit out of the puck, ya know?

Watching it is mind-numbing sometimes.  The line of Cooke, Jordan Staal and Tyler Kennedy for example, do it very, very well.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s great puck possession, sure.  The Penguins have the puck, and duh, their opponents can’t score when they don’t have the puck.

But for the love of cheeseburgers, can someone get the damn puck on net sometimes?

There’s one aspect of the Penguins’ cycling/grinding/mucking game that really ticks me off.  There’s no initiative to attempt to get some dirty goals.  It’s all about the wide-open wrister, or the quick pass for the one-timer.  Countless times watching the cycling down low, someone goes to the net, but the Penguin possessing the puck rarely simply throws it to the net.  Watch the Penguins’ opponents in the Pens zone, they do that all game long.

So as frustratingly watch the Penguins finish up their last 16 games before the playoffs, just remember:  They’ve made their bed, now they have to lay in it.

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  Tags: nhl-hockey, pittsburgh+penguins

Comments

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Well I think it has become pretty obvious how important Malkin and Crosby are to the penguins.  I am probably the biggest Staal fan there is, but I have not been impressed at all with his play the past few games.  I felt like the goal in OT in the Toronto game was his fault for a poor attempt at back-checking, as well as the goal scored in regulation in the New Jersey game. 

It is easy to forgive Staal for not showing up offensively while Crosby and Malkin have been out, because that really never has been a big part of his game… however, he really needs to play better defensively or he is going to start hearing the criticizes from even his strongest supporters.

Here are a couple IF’s to consider:
If Staal-Kennedy-Cooke line starts scoring goals +
If Letestu-Kovy-Neal line starts clicking +
If Crosby comes back and rejoins Kunitz-Dupuis

we would have 3 good productive lines again as we did earlier in the season.

Lets keep positive… 18 pts in last 18 games is not bad considering who we have had out of the lineup.  Orpik and Kunitz will bolster the lineup even without Sid.

Posted by gretzky_to_lemieux on 03/05/11 at 01:08 PM ET

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There’s one aspect of the Penguins’ cycling/grinding/mucking game that really ticks me off.  There’s no initiative to attempt to get some dirty goals.  It’s all about the wide-open wrister, or the quick pass for the one-timer.  Countless times watching the cycling down low, someone goes to the net, but the Penguin possessing the puck rarely simply throws it to the net.  Watch the Penguins’ opponents in the Pens zone, they do that all game long.

It’s because cycling the puck is a defensive tactic, and the objective is to play keep-away: if you take a low-percentage shot, then while there is a chance that you could bang it in for a garbage goal, there is a bigger chance that it’ll bounce off a guy’s shins and give the other team a great opportunity to break out of the zone. Of course, opponents of the Penguins can take that risk at the moment, because of the complete lack of scoring talent waiting to take advantage of a low-percentage effort gone wrong.

And uncomfortable though the current situation must be for you guy, at least it’s not 2003… things could be a lot worse!

Posted by fcjbencard on 03/05/11 at 01:34 PM ET

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Speaking as an outsider (and fan of the hated Red Wings), I’ve actually been fairly impressed with Pens’ ability to stay focused and grind out points while their two biggest (by far) weapons are on the shelf. The defense is still strong,  led by a guy who should at least be runner-up for the Norris (Lidstrom and Letang are way ahead of everyone else this year, IMO).

True, it’s not going to mean anything if they can’t get Crosby back for the playoffs—you don’t get half wins for losing in OT. But 18 points in 18 games is nothing to sneeze at when you consider what they’d lost.

At the very least, it’s kept the Pens high enough in standings that they still have an outside chance at opening the playoffs at home, and will probably avoid drawing a powerhouse like Philly or Boston in any case. And if Crosby comes back by the second round ... who knows.

But, I concede, as an outsider I don’t have to actually WATCH every Pens game. I’m sure watching low-scoring, grinding OT loss after low-scoring, grinding OT loss has got to be frustrating.

Posted by Sven22 from Grand Rapids on 03/05/11 at 02:56 PM ET

BetterThanYou's avatar

The Pens would be a lot better if Staal actually played to his potential. The guy was drafted 2nd overall and so far in his career he is nothing a good defensive foward who can score the odd goal.

Posted by BetterThanYou on 03/05/11 at 04:05 PM ET

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The Pens would be a lot better if Staal actually played to his potential. The guy was drafted 2nd overall and so far in his career he is nothing a good defensive foward who can score the odd goal.

Paying him $4m a year is starting to look like one of Ray Shero’s rare mistakes.  I didn’t like that contract the day it was signed . . . have trouble seeing him as worth it.

He’s really young, and I know he missed most of this season, but I’m starting to wonder what his “ceiling” really is.  I too have been mostly unimpressed with him overall since Crosby and Malkin have been out.

Posted by Lex Talionis on 03/05/11 at 06:16 PM ET

Evilpens's avatar

Lex I agree ! I was astounded when they announced the signing. You can’t affoprdd to pay a 3rd Line C with very limited offensive skills & no ability to be a 1st or 2nd line C 4 mill a year while you are paying your top 2 C’s 8.7 a piece. 

And if Sid comes back healthy next season & Neal is on his line & the top PP unit how many goals is Neal going to score & then he is a RFA after next season & makes ju+

Posted by Evilpens on 03/05/11 at 06:40 PM ET

Evilpens's avatar

Messed that post up, Don’t post on all kinds of Meds in your system !  that last sentence was supposed to be Neal makes just over 2 Mil I believe & the Pens are going to have to trade Staal this offseason for Preferably a RH Sniper+

Posted by Evilpens on 03/05/11 at 06:44 PM ET

Tony's avatar

@GtL - There’s little doubt, Staal is simply not suited for a top-line role, it’s just not his game.  Also, I’m glad you brought up Letestu, I just haven’t been that big a fan of his.

@Sven - Totally concur, their work ethic is outstanding, and their lack of offense is two different things.  That work ethic (and a healthy 87) will be the reason they make it out of the 1st round.

Posted by Tony from Virginia Beach, VA on 03/05/11 at 07:09 PM ET

Evilpens's avatar

Tony & GtL there are reasons why Letestu wasn’t drafted.


Tony & Sven you’re right they outwork teams but they don’t have guys that can finish the Play & that is on Shero I understand the Gamble on Comrie & I even liked the idea, But signing Asham was overkill. Asham was about the 8 Millionth 3rd/4th Line grinder on the Pens or in the system, The 3 C’s routine worked when they all weren’t making MUlti Millions a year & now you compound that with 4 D men making 16.25 mill a year combined along with MAF & you are strangling your team & Sid & Geno because there is very little money left for wingers. & I don’t see a Legit winger anywhere in the near future in the Pens system, Tangradi simply isn’t a good enough skater to Play in the NHL

Posted by Evilpens on 03/05/11 at 07:42 PM ET

Tony's avatar

I’ve really been perplexed on how the Pens have promoted Letestu to a top line status. 

Has he really earned it ??

He had some goals early on, but since then, barely anything (other than the injury, of course).....

Posted by Tony from Virginia Beach, VA on 03/05/11 at 08:55 PM ET

Evilpens's avatar

Well becuase Staal has been completely inept Letestu gets it by default & I think Jeffrey-Dupuis-Conner is the 2nd Line & Staal-Cooke-TK is the 3rd Line

Posted by Evilpens on 03/05/11 at 09:52 PM ET

Evilpens's avatar

Well Well Well The Invisible Man showed up tonight with a Goal big surprise

Posted by Evilpens on 03/05/11 at 11:47 PM ET

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“Paying him $4m a year is starting to look like one of Ray Shero’s rare mistakes.”

Along with $5M for Fleury, $8.7M for Malkin, drafting Staal instead of Toews… I like Shero a lot, but he’s far from perfect.

Posted by Andrew from CT on 03/07/11 at 01:44 PM ET

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I’m from Pittsburgh and a Pens fan since, they started. Staal is way over rated and over paid… He might be able to hit the net on occasion if he wasn’t trying to use a tree to shoot with… Granted that way oversized stick that he uses is great for defensive play, but have you ever tried shooting a puck with a tree??  just doesn’t happen…
One more thing, I have lost all respect for Crosby… I could understand if he got his concussion hitting his head on the ice, but that elbow from Steckel, in my mind wasn’t enough to keep him out this long…  I’ve seen James Harrison dish out bigger hits to players, and they are out what a week or two… Crosby is a big sis… I have better words for him, but I can’t say them here….

Posted by Jim from Pittsburgh on 03/07/11 at 08:33 PM ET

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Jim, Sid took an elbow to the head on top of a concussion—-he’s not a sissy, he’s injured. I’ve been a fan for 35+ years, and I’d rather have Sid out for the season and come back healthy next season than have him come back too early and end his career prematurely.

Posted by Mags from Pittsburgh PA USA on 03/07/11 at 08:50 PM ET

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They have a goal-scorer (Sterling), but he’s back in Wilkes-Barre since all the NHL grinders are back. This makes it even more frustrating.

Posted by TW from IL on 03/07/11 at 10:11 PM ET

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During the first half of the season all the talk was about how great the Pens will be once Staal returned to the lineup along with Sid and Geno… Great in what way? Staal’s greatest attribute is his penalty killing, and the Penguins were ranked atop the league on the PK without him. Granted, Jordan Staal is a gifted player who every team would love to have—but not on the first line, and not for $4m.

Posted by Tom from Pittsburgh on 03/08/11 at 01:19 PM ET

Evilpens's avatar

Not on the 2nd Line either & not for 4 million a Year

Posted by Evilpens on 03/08/11 at 01:45 PM ET

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SO TIRED OF HEARING ABOUT THE DETROIT RED WINGS!!!! SURE THEY ARE A SUCCESSFUL FRANCHISE, I GET IT!!! HOW MANY FINALS APPEARANCES HAVE THEY HAD SINCE THE LOCK OUT? TWO. HOW MANY CUPS HAVE THEY HAD SINCE THE LOCK OUT? ONE.  SOUNDS TO ME LIKE JUST ABOUT THE SAME PERFORMANCE OF THE PENGUINS SINCE THE LOCKOUT.  DONT TELL ME HOW “ANYONE BESIDES DETRIOT WOULD BE HAPPY WITH THAT LEVEL OF SUCCESS”.  AS FAR AS IM CONCERNED, EVERYONE PERIOD SHOULD BE STRIVING TO WIN A CHAMPIONSHIPS EVERY YEAR, AND ANY LESS ACCOMPLISHMENT IS A DISSAPOINTMENT, WHETHER YOU ARE DETROIT OR THE NEW YORK ISLANDERS.  THE PURPOSE OF THE GAME IS TO WIN, REGARDLESS OF YOUR CITY.  SO WHY WOULD DETROIT BE SOMEHOW A BETTER FRANCHISE WHEN THEY HAVE HAD IDENTICAL POST LOCKOUT SUCCESS?  DOES THIS MEAN THAT IF 87&71; WERE HEALTHY AND DATSYUK AND ZETTERBERG WERE BOTH INJURED THAT “ANYONE OUTSIDE OF PITTSBURGH” WOULD HAVE BEEN HAPPY WITH THE SUCCESS GENERATED WITHOUT THOSE TWO PLAYERS?  SOMEHOW I DOUBT THAT THE REVERSE ARTICLE WOULD DARE SAY SUCH A THING.

Posted by Bruno on 03/08/11 at 06:18 PM ET

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Being from South Philly & South Jersey and a Penguins fan, I cannot belive what I
am reading in the comments of ‘87 & ‘71. You folks can’t be serious about the negative comments about Jordan Staal? My question to you all would be do you really know anything at all about Hockey? The greatest players and Hockey minds
have crowned J.Stall one of the best defensive players in the game. I don’t remember the negatives about allowing someone to score a goal!  To stop a goal from scoring is the G.T.‘s job!  At times Fleury can make the entire Penguins team look bad, by the empty net goals he allows while being out of position.
      With the best player in hockey out of the lineup the past (28) games, and diddi Malken, I think the Pens are showing a tremendousresilliancy, now Orpik is out, which creates even more problems!
      Be thankful Pens fans for the team you guys have and the tremendous effort they put out each and every night.
      Stall’s a great player and will make his niche in due time. He’s a money player and a great defenseman!
                                              Anthony

Posted by ANTHONY on 03/08/11 at 07:12 PM ET

Evilpens's avatar

Ummm it’s Staal & Malkin

Posted by Evilpens on 03/08/11 at 08:26 PM ET

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About The Confluence

Welcome to The Confluence, a Pittsburgh Penguins blog since 2006.

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.

I am blogger- credentialed with the Pittsburgh Penguins.  My posts are regularly linked by hockey websites such as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Pittsburgh Tribune Review, Yahoo!‘s Puck Daddy, and I’ve done numerous guest blogger spots on such websites asthe New YorkTimes.  I am a retired U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer.

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