Sunday, December 29, 2013

Podcast: The end of the Steelers; the mid-point of the Penguins

The Steelers were officially eliminated from the playoffs in a painful and awkward way while the Pens reached the season's half way point with a win over Columbus and a huge lead in the division.  A little Sunday night chat about it all.  It's the GTOG Podcast.

Listen above or check out our Spreaker page. To download the podcast directly from iTunes, click here.  Or you can download, listen, and subscribe via the Spreaker app on iTunes by clicking here, or on Android by clicking here.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Penguins lose Dupuis for season; this is pretty awful

By Finesse (follow me on Twitter)

For a team that is already too top heavy, the enormity of the loss of the only winger who can credibly bridge the gap between top 6 and bottom 6 cannot be overstated.  Forget that Pascal Dupuis' numbers are down this season from their historic heights last season -- that was to be expected.  The guy is an absolute puck hound who capably and willingly can play in any situation.  He may be slightly overpaid and slightly underperforming ... but that doesn't mean he isn't extremely valuable.

(Word is that Joe Vitale is going to get a look on the top line with Sid and Kunitz tonight.  The guy has no hands (neither did Kunitz, at one point) but of all the options for tonight, he's not a bad pick.  He's been creating more havoc in the offensive zone than just about anyone recently).

The only long-term benefit that can come from this is that it will force the Pens to give younger guys (like Beau Bennett and Jayson Megna) legitimate AND SUSTAINED opportunities to prove they can play with Malkin and Crosby.  The short term downside, of course, is that they probably can't do what Dupuis does.  The Pens were already in critical need of upgrading their depth up front, and now it's reached an emergency.  Forget about team goals per game ... depth up front is about having 4 credible lines that can regularly share the burden of scoring.  If the Pens score the most goals in the Eastern Conference by relying almost exclusively on 87 and 71, that's going to mean a #1 seed.  But it's a recipe for disaster in a playoff series.

Whatever the Pens end up doing, here's hoping they do it soon.  It's clear that the team needs help up front ... if Shero can identify and acquire his target with half a season left, that's much preferred over expecting a high profile deadline acquisition to fit in under Bylsma's notoriously hard-to-adjust-to system with only 15 games to go in the season.

Pas-QUALE.  You will be missed.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Steelers emerge from 90 car pileup unscathed; somehow have reasonable chance of making the playoffs

I don't know what that was I just watched, but I know it was a huge clusterf**k.  There were bizarre calls by the refs, horrifying decisions by the quarterbacks, and timeouts that were more awkward than Ben's next vacation to Lake Tahoe.  It was played, coached, and managed as if it was a Choose Your Own Adventure book.  But somehow, someway, the Steelers emerged with a win and a realistic chance at making the playoffs next week if everyone else in the AFC goes 8-8.  Which looks entirely possible.

There's no need to break down all the crazy / weird / terrible plays in this game, but one stands out above all.  When the refs spotted the ball on 2nd down with 10 seconds left in the 4th quarter at the Steelers' 6 yard line, Matt Flynn WAITED SIX SECONDS TO SNAP THE BALL!  And obviously, after he threw one incomplete pass, the game was over.  How he could possibly let six seconds tick off the clock an give himself only one shot at the endzone is beyond me, but is clearly the explanation for why some guys are stars and others are backups.  When you're analyzing clock management, just ask yourself what Tom Brady or Peyton Manning would do ... and if they answer is obvious, and your quarterback didn't do that, then your quarterback did the wrong thing.  Imagine Brady or Manning waiting six seconds to snap the ball.  It's laughable.  

Anyway, the Steelers' dream season lives on and should all the right dominoes fall, the Steelers could be facing a totally winnable wild card game in Cincinnati or Indianapolis.  

Pens beat Flames, 4-3, to keep rolling, as usual

By Finesse (follow me on Twitter)

When the book on the 2013-14 season is written and the Minnesota and Calgary games are discussed, they will be such a distant memory that you will demand video evidence that they actually happened.  But they count just the same as the ones you remember, and the Pens are continuing to roll despite the absence of several of their best players.  Bylsma at his best.

Some things that stood out ... Chris Kuntiz set what may be the greatest screen of all time on Niskanen's goal against the Wild ... Crosby's goal against Calgary was disgusting, but his backhand pass to Kunitz in the Wild game was more impressive ... the Flames game was a nice win, but was more a product of playing a bad team than anything ... Sutter scored in 3 straight games ... BRANDON SUTTER SCORED IN THREE STRAIGHT GAMES ... Brandon Sutter's line continues to routinely get pinned deep in its own zone ... Matt Niskanen is playing Paul Martin right onto the trading block ... Speaking of the trading block, Mike Cammalleri is a lethal sniper on a terrible team who will be a UFA at the end of the season ... hilarious cameo by Sid on 24/7.

More after the jump...

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Pumping the brakes on the Brandon Sutter hype ... sort of

By Finesse (follow me on Twitter)

Brandon Sutter scored a beautiful goal last night after undressing Michael Del Zotto, but here's why I'm a little hesitant to declare that he's turned some kind of corner.

Great goal.
After allowing Sutter to march right through him 6 minutes into the 3rd period, Del Zotto didn't take another shift for almost four minutes and actually only played two more shifts the entire 3rd period.  Put simply, Del Zotto got benched for letting Sutter do that to him.  If the NHL were Little League, Sutter would be the guy who when he came to the plate, the opposing manager screamed to the outfielders, "MOVE IN! EVERYONE MOVE IN!" and Del Zotto would be the pitcher who let Sutter hit a home run anyway.  When a Sutter goal isn't greeted with shock by Pens fans and embarrassment by the opponent, then we're talking.

But maybe we're getting closer?  After all, Sutter has played only 84 games as a Penguin, and Dan Bylsma's system has not exactly proven to be the easiest system to pick up.  If he's ever going to be close to what was promised, the time to do that would be right now.  So let's consider this the official start of Sutter's second season with the Pens.

(Would it be overly negative to point out that Brandon Sutter is still the biggest drag on the team in the advanced stat stuff?  Sorry, I know, I know.)

Go Pens.  And yes, Sutter, too.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Podcast: Pens beat Rangers in shootout thanks to Brandon Sutter

Big night on the scoresheet for Brandon Sutter.  We discuss that and much more.  It's the GTOG Podcast.

Listen above or check out our Spreaker page. To download the podcast directly from iTunes, click here.  Or you can download, listen, and subscribe via the Spreaker app on iTunes by clicking here, or on Android by clicking here.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Dear God, Bob Bortuzzo. Pens defeat Maple Leafs, 3-1

By Finesse (follow me on Twitter)

In January of this year, we said that 2013 was going to be the year of Bob Bortuzzo.  Because of organizational stubbornness, we were wrong for 11 months.  It turns out we were right all along.

Most efficient agitator per minute in the NHL
Bob Bortuzzo was a complete tour de force, so deep inside Toronto's head that their city council called an emergency meeting to enact legislation prohibiting a second NHL team in Toronto to protect their citizens from having to see Bob four more times every year.  Even the NHL Department of Player Safety wants no part of him.
It was extremely encouraging to see the Pens' young defensemen play with such poise last night.  Maatta is the anti-Orpik, stepping up with regularity on puck carriers to prevent screened wrist shots through his own legs.  Dumoulin has a knack for not being very noticeable, which is an excellent trait for a young defensemen.  Despres isn't playing like a guy afraid to get benched every shift.  And Samuelsson, despite some obvious first game jitters (especially with the puck), looked decent in getting his feet wet at the NHL level.

We're not ready to declare that the Pens are set for a generation on the blueline, but Ray Shero's plan to have a lot of options on defense appears to be working.  This plan is a journey, however.  It is not a destination.  Shero has to take these assets and maximize them for the playoffs this year and his most marketable asset now -- Matt Niskanen -- is playing himself into one of the single most valuable deadline trade chips in the entire NHL.  As we said this weekend, he's a 27 year old pending UFA who will likely command at least $4 million/year on the open market (especially with a rising cap).  There is actually a reasonable chance that any impending Niskanen trade will be -- gasp! -- an actual hockey trade between two teams trying to make the playoffs.  Will we be spending the rest of today figuring out which 2nd line-caliber forwards in the Western Conference the Pens should be targeting?  Yes, yes we will.

More after the jump, including praise for Brandon Sutter...

Sunday, December 15, 2013

It was a much better night than you think; Pens trounce Wings, 4-1

By Artistry

It's not often when low expectations meet stunning success, and then stunning success gets undercut by gut-wrenching setback, but that was the scenario Saturday night in Detroit. No, the Wings didn't look too impressive, but if you're the Penguins, you still don't go into that game thinking "No Neal, no Bennett, no Fleury, no Letang, no Scuderi, no Martin, no Orpik, no problem." Still, the Pens rolled. Then came the stomach punch. From Pensblog:

So at that point all the positives - which we'll get to in a second - got swallowed by the awkward leg-injury blues. But then came reports that Malkin was walking around the locker room after the game. Today, this:

Listen, we're the last people - really, the very last - to take an unsubstantiated, unsourced, probably premature tweet from Rob Rossi seriously, but combine it with the walking around the locker room news from late Saturday night, and this looks preliminarily like a disaster averted.

Now, here's the other good news, after the jump.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Shawn Thornton is about to be suspended; Plus we explain how the Pens handle injuries

By Finesse (follow me on Twitter)

Shawn Thornton's in-person hearing began today.  A decision may not come out until tomorrow.

Huh? What is there to consider that they haven't been able to consider over the past week?

Our punishment would be 40 games, mainly because the conduct itself deserves it -- it wasn't during play, it was clearly premeditated, and it was an attack from behind leaving Orpik no ability to protect himself.  Not much different from the Steve Moore incident, if at all.  Truly, Orpik could have died.  But from a strategic standpoint -- assuming the NHL actually wants to deter these things -- a bombshell suspension would be a win/win for the league because it leaves the NHLPA (several former players are suing the league over concussions) with only two options.  The NHLPA can accept the punishment, which hopefully would have the actual practical impact of deterring this stuff in the future (and preventing more concussions).  That's a good thing for everyone except Shawn Thornton.  Alternatively, the NHLPA could fight it as being too harsh, which would put them in the uncomfortable and legally precarious position of having to defend this behavior.  That's a win for the league even if the NHLPA could ultimately get such a suspension reduced.

This is the Roger Goodell approach.  The NFL arguably over-punishes hits to the head and basically destroyed the New Orleans Saints for a whole season.  But Goodell is trying to box the players and the union into a corner where if they continue to hit each other in the head even in the face of overwhelming punishment from the league, they will have no one to blame (or sue) but themselves.

The way forward is obvious.  But the will probably isn't there.

Explaining the Pens' injury protocol, Mark Madden's latest column, and some thoughts on Jaromir Jagr after the jump...

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Ben is being Ben, but the Steelers' playoff odds are at 0.5%. What's going on?

By Finesse (follow me on Twitter)

In our highly unacclaimed Steelers season preview, we said the key to the season was that Ben needed to be more than Ben.  The unanswered but obviously impending question was: what is Ben capable of if the defense slips?  Now we have our answer: about the same as Ben is capable of when the defense is great.  In other words, Ben is being Ben.

First double finger point to 'Tonio; Next double finger point to the Lord.
Here are the Steelers' offensive and defensive ratings over the course of Roethlisberger's career:

This season, the defense has fallen to 12th (15th in scoring).  The offense, on the other hand, is basically the same as it has always been ... 16th in yardage (19th in scoring).  The difference, of course, is that the Steelers are 5-8 and on the verge of the first losing season of Roethlisberger's career.

Find out what's going on after the jump...

Pens beat Columbus, 2-1; Do you remember these 19 goals?

By Finesse (follow me on Twitter)

The Pens beat Columbus last night, 2-1, off the strength of goals from the NHL's two leading scorers, Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby.  There's no reason to apologize for this.

But to beat a drum that's we've beaten to death already, it would take an absolutely Herculean effort on the part of those two players to continue carrying what is essentially the Pens' entire offensive burden throughout the playoffs.  A good team that devotes all of its resources to shutting down two lines can probably do it, especially when Byslma isn't that interested in keeping Sid and Geno away from tough matchups.

This season, the Pens have scored 19 goals on which none of their 5 best players -- Crosby, Malkin, Kunitz, Neal, and Letang -- had a point.

1. San Jose, 12/5 - Megna from Despres
2. Florida, 11/30 - Vitale from Megna and Engelland
3. Toronto, 11/27 - Conner from Ebbett and Sutter
4. Anaheim, 11/18 - Sutter from Maatta and Gibbons
5. Nashville, 11/15 - Dupuis from D'Agostini and Sutter
6. Nashville, 11/15 - Sutter from Jokinen and Martin
7. Columbus, 11/2 - Engelland from Vitale and Jeffrey
8. Columbus, 11/1 - Sutter from Glass and Adams
9. Boston, 10/30 - Sutter from Dupuis and Orpik
10. Boston, 10/30 - Jokinen (unassisted)
11. Carolina, 10/28 - Glass from Megna and Orpik
12. Islanders, 10/25 - Jokinen from Sutter and Niskanen
13. Islanders, 10/25 - Engelland from Vitale and Niskanen
14. Florida, 10/11 - Adams from Glass and Vitale
15. Carolina, 10/8 - Glass from Vitale
16. Carolina, 10/8 - Jokinen from Maatta and Sutter
17. Buffalo, 10/5 - Kobasew from Sutter and Niskanen
18. Buffalo, 10/5 - Adams from Martin (empty net)
19. New Jersey, 10/3 - Kobasew from Sutter and Bennett

Some ways to look at these numbers:

That's one out of every five goals the Pens have scored this season.

It's 7 total goals since November 1st (19 games).

Only 14 of the Pens 32 games have had these type of goals.

And maybe most ominous of all, only 5 of these goals have come in the 13 games the Pens have played against teams with winning records.  In other words, you're basically getting 2 or 3 of these goals per playoff series against a decent team.

The Pens are scoring plenty of goals -- they're the highest scoring team in the Eastern Conference.  The problem isn't goals, it's who is scoring them.  Or, more accurately, who isn't scoring them.

To end on an optimistic note, the Pens are excelling in the one area that can cover their otherwise fatal lack of scoring depth: goals against.  The Pens give up the 4th fewest goals per game in the entire NHL.   If that keeps up, everything else is moot.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Shawn Thornton batters Brooks Orpik; Pens lose 3-2

By Finesse (follow me on Twitter)

Some sporadic thoughts this morning on a game I didn't see that much of, but certainly heard a lot about.

- Obviously the Thornton battery of Orpik was terrible and worthy of a huge suspension.  The slamming of the head into the ice was the most dangerous part, but the slew foot by Thornton that took Orpik down to the ice was the most revealing thing about his intent.  Any ridiculous attempt to justify Thornton's actions by saying that Orpik should have "answered for" his clean hit on Loui Eriksson are just that -- ridiculous -- but are made even more ridiculous when Thornton himself has to make a bush league move to exact his "vengeance."

- Speaking of Orpik on Eriksson ... it's very unfortunate that Eriksson has a concussion, especially given that he missed time earlier in the season with a concussion.  We hope he's ok, even if he has all the makings of a Penguins killer.  But the Orpik hit was clean (I haven't seen any angles where there was contact with the head, but let me know if one exists).  It's a hit that can be avoided by the player if the player keeps his head up, which is exactly the reason why Orpik (and guys like Niklas Kronwall) make that hit ... so the next time a winger gets a breakout pass in his own zone, he's trying not to get hit instead of taking the pass.

- The Neal knee to Marchand's head was not so clean and it was, actually, the least surprising thing that happened in the game given that it was James Neal taking a penalty in the offensive zone.  He should be suspended for a few games.  The bottom line for Neal is that as fantastic as he is, he really needs to reign in the fire a little but more, or at least figure out how to not take penalties in the offensive zone.  Nothing he did justifies Thornton's battery, but too often, the little things the Pens do end up taking the game from a hockey game to a sideshow.  

- And that's why how the Pens respond the next time these two teams play will be critical.  Do the Pens try to get some of their own revenge, or do they try to play a hockey game?  Fortunately -- or maybe unfortunately -- these teams won't meet until the playoffs.  In most circumstances, we'd think that means the Pens would let this go ... but we know that even the playoffs don't always change things.

- The loss itself is meaningless.  Pens are 1-1-1 against Boston this year.  If they meet in the playoffs, it's basically a coin flip.  Assuming everyone's healthy, that is.

Go Pens.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Pens win with emphasis; beat Sharks 5-1

By Finesse (follow me on Twitter)

When the going gets tough, we wish the Pens got a little tougher.  But when the going gets going, the Pens get going better than anyone.  The ability of this team to go from a 0-0 chess match to a 4-0 steamrolling faster than you can Google all those tweets from 2 months ago about Chuck Kobasew being on an 82-goal pace is unparalleled, and it all starts with Sidney Crosby Simon Despres.

The Pens are 5-0 with him in the lineup this year.  They were 27-6 with him in the lineup last year and 3-0 in the playoffs.  It's possible that these numbers are misleading because everyone's record on the Pens is good.  But it may just be that after years and years of hearing about how stacked the Pens are with young defensemen, we're finally starting to see it bear fruit with Maatta and Despres playing nearly 40 combined minutes.  (That is, of course, until Scuderi and PMPM come back and the coaching staff still refuses to sit Deryk Engelland).

Perhaps the best part of the win was the distribution of minutes.  After a game that saw 5 forwards play fewer than 10 minutes and Sid, Geno, Neal, and Letang each play over 25 minutes, it was nice to sit back and watch Joe Vitale, Jayson Megna, Chris Conner, Andrew Ebbett, and Chuck Kobasew grind for 15 minutes each, if only because we don't get to see a lot of Wilkes-Barre games.  In all seriousness though, if just one of those 5 guys can establish himself as a legit bottom-6 guy -- and not in a "Dan Bylsma has a man crush on me so I will never be scratched" kind of way -- it makes the Pens significantly more formidable.  We know it's probably not Conner (29), Kobasew (31), or Ebbett (30).  We know what we're getting with Joe Vitale, which is considerable hustle and about 4 goals every 82 games.

Megna is the wild card because he's only 23 years old, doesn't have a track record of being mediocre, and is actually over 6 feet tall.  Five points in ten games is too small of a sample size to get excited about and we could really do without the Y in Jayson (are you listening, Deryk?), but there is some room for blossoming.

Other quick thoughts ... Fleury was great, and is doing everything we could possibly want him to do so far ... saw a tweet last night that the Pens are 17-2 in their last 19 games without Malkin ... Pens have scored the most goals in the Eastern Conference and given up the 3rd fewest ... Letang hit the net ... our thoughts and prayers are with Pascal Dupuis' lower body this morning.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Podcast: Crosby and Malkin lead Pens over Isles, 3-2; Talking Tomlin on the field

Talking the Pens' big OT win over the Isles and the Mike Tomlin incident. It's the GTOG Podcast.

Listen above or check out our Spreaker page. To download the podcast directly from iTunes, click here.  Or you can download, listen, and subscribe via the Spreaker app on iTunes by clicking here, or on Android by clicking here.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Steelers finally put Two-Point play on tape; lose to Ravens, 22-20

By Finesse (follow me on Twitter)

Almost a year after deciding not to go for a two point conversion against the San Diego Chargers because he "didn't want to put [it] on tape,"  Mike Tomlin finally unveiled the special play against the Baltimore Ravens last night.  Unfortunately, there is now (more) tape of Emmanuel Sanders dropping what was a tough -- but very catch-able -- game-tying pass.

The quick summary of the game is that the Steelers were terrible for a half, clawed their way back late, never got the back-breaking turnover they needed from Joe Flacco, and came up a Young Change Purse drop (or two) short of having a legitimate shot at getting a wild card spot in the AFC playoffs.  Now the season is basically over, unless the Steelers win out and about six other crappy teams in the AFC go 8-8.  The latter is likely; the former is not.

Mike Tomlin has done an admirable job of covering kickoffs and keeping a fairly untalented team very competitive.  Early in the season when the Steelers were 0-4, there was a lot of talk about how it would be great if the team bottomed out and got a top-5 pick in the draft.  But there's something to be said for the idea that losing breeds more losing.  The Steelers pride themselves -- deservedly so -- on always being competitive and never being embarrassing.  After starting 0-4, that pride was in serious jeopardy.  Though the Steelers almost certainly won't make the playoffs, they never stopped playing like they thought they could.  There have been embarrassing moments along the way, and there may still be more to come.  But Tomlin & Ben & the Lord Ben Points To have put to rest any notion that the franchise itself is becoming an embarrassment just because they may not make the playoffs.

The Pittsburgh Steelers: Always lurking.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Pens out-entertain Leafs, win 6-5; Crosby vs. Malkin?

By Finesse

Breaking down the Pens' 6-5 win over the Leafs would be an exercise in frustration and contradiction.  We'd want to slam Kris Letang at the same time we're praising him for getting 3 points.  We'd want to rip the team for giving up 5 goals, but praise them for holding Toronto to ZERO SHOTS in the 3rd period and overtime (that's unreal).  We'd want to say that this isn't a formula for success in the playoffs, but then we'd challenge you to name a team in the East that could keep up in a track meet with the Pens when Malkin and Crosby are on their game (hint: no teams).

So really, all there is to do with the game last night is take it for what it was: pure entertainment.  And a nice 2 points.

But speaking of Malkin and Crosby ... right now they're 1-2 in scoring, with Geno 3 points behind Sid.  Since they both surpassed 100 points in 2008-09, this is all we've wanted  --- for the two most gifted players in the game to both be at their peak at the same time, pushing each other (in a friendly way) for the title of best player in the game.  This is when any debate about which guy is better is completely pointless.  Let's just sit back and enjoy watching them sort it out.  On the ice.

A debate where everyone can win.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Pens fall to Bruins in OT, 4-3; Whatever.

By GTOG Staff

Like we said after the first Boston game (which the Pens won, 3-2), there's no point in getting too worked up about the final score of these games against Boston.  Whether the Pens go 4-0 or 0-4 against Boston in the regular season is less important than whether the Pens are making strides in their ability to beat Boston in a 7-game playoff series.  There is some evidence that they are.  And some evidence that they're not.

In the playoffs, we'd like to be as far away from Loui Eriksson as possible.
The best and worst thing about this game is that the Pens rallied from being down 2-0 and 3-2.  The Pens stayed patient until, literally, there was no time left in the game.  But the Pens also failed to capitalize during a strong opening 10 minutes and then, in the blink of an eye, ceded all control of the game and scoreboard to Boston.  If you want to take the glass-half-full view of this series of events, here you go: That the Pens are going to play well, not score, and then fall behind quickly is well known.  So taking that as a given flaw of this team, it's encouraging that the Pens have shown some degree of mental toughness in not folding in the last two games.

Some other thoughts after the jump...

Monday, November 25, 2013

Pens have huge game in Boston; reflecting on the Martin Erat Era

When the Pens beat the Bruins in Pittsburgh earlier this season, the takeaway wasn't that the Pens actually and finally beat Boston, it was that the Pens stayed composed long enough to beat Boston.  There will be times tonight when the announcers talk about how well Tukka Rask is playing and you will be sitting there wanting to punch yourself in the face because you will know that the supposed "high quality" chances Rask is stopping are because the Bruins clog lanes, get sticks on sticks, and otherwise make it extremely difficult to get an actual clean look.  But if the Pens can enter this game determined to shrug off the inevitable frustration, they can win.  If the Pens get sidetracked for large portions of the game like they did in Montreal (with Brandon Gallagher and P.K. Subban), it will be a nightmare.  You're not coming back from 3-0 against Boston.  Probably not even 2-0.  But if it's 1-0 Boston going into the third?  That's a game the Pens have to be OK with.

Not really what you want.
- Some interesting numbers on the matchup.  For all the feelings of discontent we've had at times this season, the Pens look pretty good:

- So does Boston:

More after the jump...

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Pens follow up domination of Caps with win over Isles

By Finesse (follow me on Twitter)

Whether last night's 4-3 win over the Islanders goes down as great win against a potent team or a harbinger of loose play to come will sort of depend on the next few games.  But in either case, it was a ton of fun watching the Pens -- and especially Crosby and Malkin -- dazzle.  We hate when the Pens get in track meets because we know the Pens' D and goaltending (Zatkoff? Yikes) can get sloppy.  But imagine how other teams feel when they get into a track meet against the Pens?

A lot of this.
Though their line wasn't great defensively, Crosby and Kunitz were generating at least two high quality scoring chances every shift.  I know there are a lot of wingers in the NHL who are better than Kunitz ... but how many are actually playing better?  His combination of being a straight-line-skating grinder and still-improving Handsiness is pretty much unmatched.  The guy is entering his mid-30's and still getting better.  He's like a more wholesome Barry Bonds, with softer hands and a smaller head.

And a lot of this.
Malkin's improved play of late is also encouraging, and it probably has a lot to do with James Neal finally settling into the season.  They're also buzzing every shift.

As for the Caps game on Wednesday, that was a complete deconstruction.  After Ovechkin hit the post early, the Caps basically folded and the Pens were completely dominant.  It's amazing watching Crosby in Malkin in person because you really see how much space they create for other players.  If you're just focusing on the matchup of them and the closest player, you're missing the whole game going on away from the play.  A lot of what they do is buy time for other guys to get open.  They're incredible.

A few other thoughts after the jump...

Tuesday, November 19, 2013


Several good things happened in this game.  Malkin notched two assists and, more importantly, played with confidence.  Crosby scored and, as usual, could have had like 5 points.  A guy no one ever heard of scored.  Brandon Sutter played with burst (who knew?).  The Pens got better as the game went on instead of following their more predictable pattern of petering out when they don't experience early success.

But most important was Fleury.  The save he made on Andrew Cogliano is why he was drafted first overall and why he's been to the Cup Finals twice.

That's an incredible save, and it's not even a lucky one.  It was perfect form, he stopped it with confidence, and he bounced right back up.  He wasn't covering for his own mistake.  It was just an awesome save that not every goalie can make.  It was the play of the game, if not the play of the season.  What a save.

(The combo of Orpik's pinch, Malkin's backcheck, and Martin's defense of the 2-on-1?  Let's not discuss those things the morning after a win).

For the collective panic that many have experienced, and are still experiencing, in light of the Pens' relatively unimpressive play recently, remember:

The Pens are in first place in their division.  Only three teams in the East give up fewer goals per game.  Only one team in the East gives up fewer shots per game.  Only two teams in the East average more shots per game.  And, if you're into the possession metrics, the Pens are the best possession team in the Eastern Conference.

If you're worried about the Pens not scoring enough as a team, remember:

In 2012-13, Boston was 8th in the East in goals per game.  In 2011-12, New Jersey was 9th in the East in goals per game.  Right now the Pens are 5th.

Finally, as a quick nod to anyone (the one Anonymous guy) who thinks we don't call out Crosby when he makes a bad play, here's Crosby's defense on Getzlaf's goal:

Monday, November 18, 2013

AUTUMN PANIC: 5 Things That Genuinely Worry Us About The Penguins

By GTOG Staff

After bursting out of the gate with a dominating start compared to the rest of the unfortunately minted Metropolitan division, the Penguins have fallen back to the pack, losing 4 out of their last 5, scoring a total of 8 goals in those 5 games, and triggering an annual tradition among fans: the Autumn Panic. Two things happen during the Autumn Panic: 1) The team woefully underachieves; and 2) We contemplate firing the coach, conducting some sort of a Letang intervention, flying in Malkin's parents for a long weekend, banning stretch passes, and generally lamenting that WE CAN'T GO ON LIKE THIS.  It's all very predictable. So with the acknowledgment that this is a routine early-regular season rite of passage, are there things we're genuinely concerned about going into Monday night's game against the Ducks? You bet. Here are the Top 5:

Evgeni Malkin

It's nice that the Pens have the best player in the league even when Crosby is hurt.  The problem is that when Crosby is healthy, the Pens have the best player in the league (Crosby) and a guy playing like a less-aggressive Jason Spezza.  There is definitely something to the idea that Malkin is due to break out of his slump, because he is and he will.  But when you're at his level, you shouldn't ever be "due" -- you should always be scoring more goals than Jesse Winchester (our sympathies kudos if you don't have to stop reading to Google Jesse Winchester).  Malkin hasn't scored a goal in a month, and in his last 51 games he has 51 points and 52 PIMs.  He is not the reason that the Pens feel so blahh right now -- more on that in a second -- but he isn't playing like he's part of the solution, either.

"I have fewer goals than Jesse Winchester?"
Four more concerns, after the jump.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Podcast: Recapping Pens-Flyers, and a few Steelers thoughts

We discuss the positives from the Pens loss to the Flyers, and Artistry baits Finesse into a rant about Brandon Sutter.  Then we talk about the Steelers for a few minutes.  It's the GTOG Podcast.

Listen above or check out our Spreaker page. To download the podcast directly from iTunes, click here.  Or you can download, listen, and subscribe via the Spreaker app on iTunes by clicking here, or on Android by clicking here.

Five things we want to see from the Pens against the Flyers tonight

What the Flyers do best, especially against a team susceptible to getting rattled, is make you feel hurried in your defensive zone.  What they lack in composure, they make up for in making you lose your composure.  That's why tonight, beyond just the final score, here are five things we're looking for from the Pens:

5. Kris Letang to collect himself

The easiest way for a team to get the Pens off their game is to target Kris Letang, and history has proven that the Flyers know this.  Without Scuderi and the Prime Minister tonight, Letang will be logging close to 30 minutes.  If he can take the abuse from Simmonds, Rinaldo, etc., and then skate away like a grown up, the Pens will win.

4. Evgeni Malkin to score off the rush, top shelf

The guy is due for a goal scoring outburst, and here's hoping he buries at least one at even strength off the rush.  Skate down the ice, look at the top corner, and then pick it.  If he passes to James Neal and lets Neal do it, that's ok, too.  But if Geno himself can knock the water bottle off, the Pens will win.

3. A trolling of Clooode Giroux

Clooode has been having a bad season, though his last two games have been better.  As imminent as a Letang meltdown is at all times, isn't it just as likely that Clooode loses his composure?  Sid should take the opening faceoff with a 9-iron instead of a hockey stick.  If Clooode breaks his hand with a golf club tonight, the Pens will win.

2. Not giving up a goal in the first 5 minutes

The Flyers are coming off an impressive 5-0 win over the definition of mediocrity, the Ottawa Senators.  The Pens have lost two straight and haven't played in four days.  Fleury's save percentage on the first shot of a game should be a stat that you can look up, but since you can't, we'll estimate that it's 61%.  Flower has been really good this season -- if he can stave off what should be a fast start for Philly, the Pens will win.

1. Outsmarting Craig Berube, because if you can't outsmart Craig Berube, you can't outsmart anyone

Claude Julien got Chara out for 14 minutes against Crosby, and Alain Vigneault and Ken Hitchcock stymied the Pens' long stretch passes in the last two games.  Even though Bylsma is stubborn to adjust, those guys are good coaches so it's not a complete shock that they may have small tactical advantages.  Craig Berube probably looks up to Dale Hunter as one of his intellectual idols.

This should be a gift to the City of Pittsburgh.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Pens season hits cruising altitude; a long flight ahead. Some links and thoughts

If the NHL season were a long international flight, we'd have just hit cruising altitude and you're sitting there staring at the screen in front of you debating whether to start watching 17 Again or wait until after beverage service so that the stewardess flight attendant doesn't interrupt the scene where Chandler Bing turns into Zac Efron.  The Pens have played 2 games in the last 10 days and they lost both.  They play something like 15 games in the next 8 days.  It's a long season.

A few links we've been looking at...

- Mark Madden echoes a lot of what we've been saying about the Pens' bottom two lines, though the term "grit" is not our favorite.  You can be gritty and still suck.  

When we say that the Pens need to be harder to play against, we don't mean that the Pens need to hit more.  We mean that the Pens bottom 6 forwards needs to have the puck more in the offensive zone and regularly contribute on the scoreboard.  Being gritty only matters if it helps you get the puck more.  If you're just hitting people for the sake of hitting them, it still means they have the puck.

- The Pensblog goes buck wild on the game logs and outlines the various goalless streaks that Crosby and Malkin have suffered over the course of their careers, as Malkin hasn't scored in 10 games and Crosby hasn't scored in 7.  Them not scoring in the regular season is not really cause for concern because they've proven themselves.  And Crosby still leads the league in scoring, something he usually doesn't do until he makes his December push.  He's way ahead of schedule.  The only reason it's a concern this year is, again, because the bottom 6 is not as strong as it has been in years past.  

- Bummer to see Stamkos go down with what conceivably could be a season-ending injury.  He's a unique player in that he's one of the three best players in the league, but no one we know really has any visceral reaction to him, either positively or negatively.  Crosby, Ovechkin, LeBron, Manning, Brady ... almost everyone has a very strong opinion about those guys.  With Stamkos, everyone acknowledges that he's a great player and then quickly moves on to talk about something more interesting.  

- Don't let anyone tell you that his injury isn't a huge loss for Team Canada.  Of course they're stacked in the middle, but in a tournament against the best defensemen and goalies in the world (particularly when Canada plays the U.S.), you need guys like Stamkos that have such a good shot that even perfect defense and goaltending can't stop them.  He would be replaced with someone like Giroux, Nash, or Jeff Carter.  That's a big drop off.  

- Oh, forgot to mention ... sucks for Tampa, too.

"I'm available to carry the puck into the offensive zone and then fall over."

Monday, November 11, 2013

Ben Roethlisberger vows to play in playoffs this season whether Steelers make it or not

By Finesse (follow me on Twitter)

A day after promising never to quit on this team and vehemently denying rumors that he was seeking a trade, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger went even further on Monday morning, vowing to play in the playoffs this season whether the Steelers make it or not.

"Whether we qualify for the playoffs or not is neither here nor there," Roethlisberger told GTOG when reached by phone Monday afternoon.  "I don't quit.  So after we play our 16th game, I'm coming to the stadium ready to go to work on Game 17.  I'll be there no matter what.  No locked gate will keep me away.  I'll be there."

When reminded that the Steelers won't have any scheduled games if they fail to qualify for the playoffs, Roethlisberger was steadfast.  "Schedules don't dictate my schedule," he said.  "You know me.  I don't quit.  So while the season might end for some people, I keep playing.  Right now, based on my projections, we'll be playing Baltimore in the third wild-card game.  Terrell and his men are always prepared, so we better be ready."

This would mark the second year in a row that Roethlisberger continued playing football after the season was over.  Last year, following the team's Week 17 victory over Cleveland, Roethlisberger showed up the following Sunday at Heinz Field in full equipment and ran around by himself for three hours playing pretend.  Chester Rollins, who has been working security at Heinz Field since it opened in 2001, said this is par for the course for Roethlisberger.

"Last year he was actually more reasonable than most years in terms of understanding that the season was over. Usually it takes until about March 1st before he stops showing up thinking there's a game.  But around Valentine's Day last year, he finally understood.  It never gets any easier watching him come to that realization."

According to statistics provided by Roethlisberger, he was 17-for-26 for 282 yards, two touchdowns and an interception in Week 18 last year, a 26-23 victory over Miami.  Roethlisberger was 4-for-5 on the game winning drive, culminating in a 14-yard TD strike to Heath Miller.  In quotes attributed to himself after the game, Roethlisberger highlighted his perseverance.  "We never quit.  We never gave up.  I tweaked the left ankle there a little bit.  A sprain.  Doc said it was a high and a low.  Grade A.  No excuses.  You know me.  Just some pain.  Judge me on my wins."

Asked about the win over Miami, Rollins confirmed what all of Pittsburgh has already come to know.  "There's no quit in that guy.  I mean, seriously, that guy will not quit telling me that he won't quit."

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Pens outplayed, again, by good team; lose 2-1

By Finesse (follow me on Twitter)

At times over the past few years, it was clear that the Pens stood apart from the pack, at least in the regular season.  The Pens were the best team, or very close to it.  Everyone else wanted to be what the Pens were.  That's not the case at the moment, even as the Pens sit atop their division.  The Pens sit squarely within a group of maybe 8-12 teams that are legitimate Cup contenders.  But while the Pens are in that group, make no mistake: the Pens are not at the top of it.

The Pens have played 7 games against teams .500 or better, and their record is 3-4.  The Pens beat Tampa, Vancouver, and Boston, though the Pens were thoroughly outplayed by the Canucks and the Bruins game was basically a coin flip.  The Pens lost to Colorado, Toronto, New York Rangers, and St. Louis, though the Pens thoroughly outplayed Colorado.  If you look at these seven games as if they were a 7 game series, it's a pretty good barometer of what the Pens are -- a good team that probably goes 6 or 7 games in a playoff series against another good team.  And not necessarily as the favorite.

(If you want to take an even more pessimistic view, don't forget the gag at the end of the loss to an underachieving Islanders team).

Other than the three wins over good teams, the Pens' other 8 wins are against New Jersey, Buffalo, Carolina (x2), Edmonton, Philly, and Columbus (x2).  Don't take these wins for granted -- it matters that you can win games you're supposed to win -- but if you want to predict how the Pens will do in the playoffs, it's ok to mostly ignore them.

The Pens' next three games are Philly, Nashville, and Jersey, but after that the road gets a lot tougher:  Anaheim, Washington, Islanders, Montreal, Boston, Toronto, Tampa.  Look at that 7-game stretch as its own 7-game series and then we'll see where we're at.

A few thoughts on last night's loss to St. Louis:

- The horse we've beaten to death is now completely decomposed, but we're going to shovel more dirt on it any way: Kris Letang's decision-making can be abominable.  The guy is clearly not 100% physically, so we'll cut him some slack in the skating department, but the problem is that he's never been close to 100% mentally.  He had a ludicrous offensive-zone pinch last night that lead to a 2-on-1 for St. Louis (Fleury bailed the Pens out of that one) and then a truly bizarre attempt to step up at his own blue line, which resulted in a guy basically standing wide open in front of Fleury while Letang caught a whole bunch of air.  He also has the emotional stability of Jonathan Martin at the roast of Jonathan Martin.  The guy is a $7 million player with a target on his back ... and every time the other team targets him he has a borderline meltdown.  This is a problem that hasn't gone away, and doesn't appear to be going away any time soon.  And the problem isn't that he is making mistakes, it's that he makes them over and over again and probably doesn't even realize that they're mistakes.  He probably took the game tape home to his wife last night and was like, "honey, check out this sick pinch."

- The Pensblog lays out Letang's errors last night in greater detail.  Bottom line: Letang is either impervious to coaching, or he isn't being coached properly.

- Crosby had a strong first period, then completely lost his hands for the next two periods.  He never misses that deflection that he rung off the pipe late in the 3rd.  And he compounded it with a terrible hooking penalty.

In previous seasons, Crosby gets hit in the face with a puck here.  So that's encouraging. 
- Part of the problem with Crosby's mini-slump is the play of Pascal Dupuis, who has been uncharacteristically sloppy.  I know his Corsis are good, but he's making passes directly to the other team, something he's never done before.

- Speaking of the Corsis, Brandon Sutter continues to be a huge drag on the whole team.

- Missed James Neal.

- Blues routinely stepped in between the 80-foot stretch passes the Pens were attempting.  And continued to attempt.  And continued.  And continued.  And continued.

- Another solid effort from Fleury.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

What if the Pens had drafted Jonathan Toews instead of Jordan Staal?

By GTOG Staff

As we've said a million times, it's impossible to judge Ray Shero without discussing his first draft in 2006.  He took Jordan Staal with the second pick (Erik Johnson went first), and it's hard to argue that Staal didn't have a successful run in Pittsburgh.  But what can never be forgotten is that the three players drafted immediately after Staal were Jonathan Toews, Nicklas Backstrom and Phil Kessel, each of whom is a better player than Jordan Staal.

Would the Pens be in a better position today if they had taken one of those guys instead?  Would the Pens have more than one Cup?  These are legitimate questions that must frame every debate about Ray Shero, whose other first round picks include Angelo Esposito in 2007, nothing in 2008, Simon Despres in 2009 (looking more and more busty by the day), Beau Bennett in 2010 (could be good), Joe Morrow in 2011 (never played an NHL game; traded for a corpse), and Derrick Pouliot and Olli Maatta in 2012 (both promising).

So let's ask the obvious questions, after the jump...

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Podcast: Talking Pens-Rangers, and how bad the Steelers are

We discuss the Pens' loss to the Rangers, and the Steelers' 2-6 record.  We also debut our new game: "Is it on me? Or do you know me?" It's the GTOG Podcast.

Listen above or check out our Spreaker page. To download the podcast directly from iTunes, click here.  Or you can download, listen, and subscribe via the Spreaker app on iTunes by clicking here, or on Android by clicking here.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

So the Pens beat the Bruins, 3-2. Here are some pros and cons from the big win

By GTOG Staff

Putting a lot of weight on one win over the Bruins would be like thinking that a coin flip is more likely to turn up heads next time because it turned up heads last time. These two teams are about as close as it gets, save for one, maybe two, small, but very important differences. The first, and most important, is the ability to avoid the downward mental spiral, or as we like to shorten it, "mentalability." The Pens dominated the first period of game 1, didn't score, and then couldn't recover for the next 5 periods. The Bruins got dominated in the first period of game 1, shrugged it off, and owned the next 5 periods. That's not a difference in talent, that's a difference in mentalability.

The other difference is attention to detail. Tukka Rask is a very good goalie, but a lot of goalies would put up similarly excellent statistics if they played in front of a team like Boston that never really gives up the Grade A scoring chance. The Pens had a lot of "chances" last year, they just weren't good looks. The Bruins hurry you, they clog lanes, and they make you force things that other teams -- like the Islanders and Senators -- don't do. So yeah, the Pens can get 30 shots a game -- or 54, like in Game 3 -- and it still feels like the Pens are being shut down. That's because the shots aren't threatening. The Pens defense is the opposite. They can hold a team to 21 shots, but it feels like 12 of them could be goals.

The bottom line is that there are very few things that could happen (other than injuries) that would make us more confident or less confident about the Pens chances if they meet the Bruins again in the playoffs.  But last night was a reminder that last year's playoffs was like a blackjack dealer getting hot while you get cold.  Eventually you'll get some good cards, even if the odds still favor the house. Slightly.

With that, a few pros and cons from the Pens 3-2 win.

Pro: The Penguins punched the bully in the nose. Coming off maybe the meekest showing the team has ever had in a playoff series, the Pens took the play to their tormentors for the better part of the night. And they did it without several of their top players. No moment signified the change in attitude more than when Bobby Bortuzzo stood toe to toe with Lucic and Chara in front of Fleury's net. By springtime, Bobby B. will be comfortable ensconced deep inside their heads.

Has yet to play a game where an opponent didn't try to fight him.
Con: It took two perfect shots to beat the bully. Can't remember when the Pens last scored a softie against Tuukka Rask.

More after the jump...

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Is it possible to win something on the same day you find out Rob Scuderi has a broken ankle? Pens 3, Canes 1

By GTOG Staff (follow Finesse and Artistry on Twitter)

The Pens announced last night that Rob Scuderi is out indefinitely with a broken ankle that will require surgery.  Don't bother Googling the standard recovery time from broken ankles unless you want to read a lot of blogs from high school soccer players about their recoveries, but suffice it to say this isn't good.  Scuderi had been noticeable for being unnoticeable which is all you can ask for.  There were times this season when we forgot he was even on the team. It's difficult to overreact when your 34-year-old defenseman -- who you just signed to 4 year, $13.5 million contract in large part because you figured, hey, he may be 34 but the guy NEVER gets injured, he's just a rock back there -- snaps his ankle in two.

He'll be missed most for something we never got a chance to see -- the effect he would have on Kris Letang.  Scuds cannot -- literally, he cannot -- be baited into any sort of run-and-gun style.  He may make the occasional mistake, but they are usually due to God-given limitations, not because the opponent is in his head or because nothing is in his head.  He is, for better and worse, the polar opposite of Letang.  It would have been nice to see if some of his steadiness could have rubbed off on the ol' 58er.

His absence, and presumed trip to long term injured reserve, means two things: occasional available ice time on the blue line for one of the AHLers and cap space.  If Scuderi can make it back before the playoffs, both of these things may be good things.  We have to assume for the time being that Bobby B and Deryk Engelland will split time as the 6th defenseman, but whatever leftover time remains, here's hoping it goes to Dumoulin and/or Despres.  As Olli Maatta is proving, you don't have to endure Wilkes-Barre for years before you are ready for the NHL.  Both Dumoulin and Despres are as ready as they'll ever be for legitimate shots at sticking with the big club.  Bylsma has to find some time for them, but it's up to them to seize it.

A few thoughts on last night...

- Not only are the Pens 6th best in goals against per game, but they're also 3rd best in shots against per game (25.5) and third in shot differential (+7.2).  Last year the Pens gave up 29.2 shots per game in the regular season and 32.7 per game in the playoffs.  The best way to prevent another Fleury implosion?  Don't make him do anything.

- There was some discussion last night between Steigerwald & Errey that players back in the day were hazed by shaving their pumpkin.  Your guess is as good as ours.

- We said a few days ago that Malkin doesn't need any help.  Malkin might need some help.  He's putting in a lot of minutes with a lot of guys who really aren't anywhere close to his level.  Putting an $8.7 million player out there with league-minimum wingers guarantees you aren't getting your $8.7M worth.

- Is James Neal ever coming back?  Is James Neal still alive?

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Podcast: What's up with the Pens' 3-game losing streak, and are the Steelers watchable?

We discuss the Pens' 3-game losing streak, what to expect from Kris Letang, more reasons Brandon Sutter isn't good, and the Islanders trading for Tomas Vanek. We also discuss the Steelers' loss in Oakland and whether there is anything redeemable about this team.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

How will you feel when Martin Brodeur is on the Penguins later this season?

By Finesse (follow me on Twitter)

It's never too early to emotionally prepare for the inevitable.

The Devils stink.  Possibly the worst team in the league.

The Pens need another goalie.

The Devils got Cory Schnieder to be their goalie of the future.  He's also, apparently, their goalie of right now.

Martin Brodeur understands, but isn't thrilled.

He wants to play.

He wants to play in big games.

The Pens will play in a lot of big games.

His salary (4.5M, expires after this season) is not prohibitive with smart cap management (which the Pens have).

He has a no trade clause so, should the Devils decide to get something for him, he can determine his destination and that team won't have to pay a ransom for him.

He shares an agent with ... wait for it ... keep waiting ... a little longer ... Sidney Crosby.

All of it makes too much sense.  (Except for the fact that his stats in 2 games this season are awful).

No idea yet how I'd feel about this, especially since we don't know if he's still good.

All I'm saying is that it's not too soon to start thinking about it.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Pens get wake-up call from good team; Crosby's like, "I've been up for hours." Pens win, 4-3

By Finesse (follow me on Twitter)

It was nice to finally see the Pens play a team that actually made the playoffs last season, though the results were mixed.  The Pens won, which is obviously nice, but the Canucks carried the play for a good portion of the afternoon.  Such is life against real teams.  A few random thoughts before the Red Zone channel comes on...

- Calculating that someone is on a particular scoring pace after 8 games is usually a pointless exercise, but this season, there may be an exception.  Sidney Crosby is on pace for 174 points.  If that seems inconceivable in today's NHL, that's because it probably is.  But 150 points?  Absolutely in play, health permitting.

- Crosby's level play is obviously an amazing thing, but it does put into clear focus just how reliant the Pens are on him right now.  Without Neal, who will obviously help Malkin, and without Letang, who will make every line a threat to score just by being on the ice, the Pens at even strength are extremely dependent on their three best forwards (Crosby, Malkin, Kunitz) for scoring.  Consider:

The Pens have a total of four even strength goals so far this season on which Crosby, Malkin or Kuntiz haven't had a point (excluding Adams' empty netter against Buffalo).  And none in the past four games.  It's a small sample size so maybe the scoring evens out, but as Boston proved last season, if a good team really wants to shut a few guys down, they probably can.  The Pens have plenty of firepower.  It's just all in a few big guns.

You can imagine how this made us feel.
- Yesterday we brought up the not-that-crazy-anymore idea that Fleury could earn an invite to Sochi if he keeps playing well and all the other Canadian goalies keep being pedestrian.  But even though he played really well overall yesterday, the first goal he gave up ... from center ice, off his chest, over his head, then in the net ... is why he is probably too high of a risk for Team Canada.  It's one thing if that happens in the 8th game of the season against Vancouver.  But if -- and arguably when -- he gives up a goal like that in Sochi and it's on the cover of every sports page in the world?  Now you have an international incident, and unfortunately for Fleury, he won't have Paul Steigerwald there to repeatedly refer to it as an unlucky bounce.

- It looks like Olli Maatta will be sticking around for a while, which leaves the Pens with some tough choices once Letang gets back.  Niskanen-Maatta is a very skilled third pairing ... both are good skaters and both are good with the puck ... but may not be the best when pinned deep in the Pens' own zone.  A possible work-around: Play Niskanen and Maatta, as frequently as possible, with the Crosby line.  Crosby, Kunitz and Dupuis can keep the puck in the offensive zone, and Niskanen and Maatta are talented enough to finish the opportunities Sid creates.  This allows the Pens to spread Letang's offensive ability over the other three lines which, Geno excluded, could use the help.

Doesn't need help.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Beating the Flyers is never not satisfying; Pens beat Flyers, 4-1

By GTOG Staff (follow Artistry and Finesse on Twitter)

Feeling a little detached from the proceedings lately? Tough to get worked up about the Penguins' clinically dispatching lottery hopefuls like Buffalo and New Jersey? Well, nothing like a game against the Flyers in Philadelphia to get your blood flowing.

Feel that?
The Flyers are in such disarray, it brings into sharp focus why Dan Bylsma is such an effective regular season coach. (The playoffs are a different discussion.) Many bench bosses can instill discipline and structure. Many others can get their players to like them. But how many can do both of those things over the long term? Short list. Bylsma's on it. Having Crosby and Malkin in the lineup doesn't guarantee anything, particularly when you're rolling out a bottom 6 of Vitale, Glass, Adams, Engelland, Sutter, and Harry Z. The Flyers arguably had more forward talent in the lineup Thursday night. But Crosby, Malkin, solid goaltending and a pedestrian supporting cast playing with purpose and structure is pretty much all you need to get 100 points and a high playoff seed in the modern NHL. This is part of what makes today's game frustrating. In the early 90's, if you had Lemieux and Jagr, you let the horses run and implemented a defensive system only if you got down 3-1 in a playoff series, if then. Times have changed, and the point is, be glad this isn't your brain trust.

4,833 combined penalty minutes.
Thoughts on the game, after the jump...

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Advanced Stats Confirm: Brandon Sutter is Not Very Good

By Finesse (follow me on Twitter)

We've had a brief but colorful history with Corsis, the recently invented hockey statistic that measures shot attempts.  A Corsi is a shot attempt -- on net, missed, or blocked.  If you're on the ice for a goal, a miss wide, and a shot attempt that's blocked, that's a Corsi For of +3 because that's 3 shot attempts.  Conversely, if you're on the ice for 3 attempted shots against but no shots for, your Corsi is -3.

From a team perspective, Corsi is an affirmation of common sense (having the puck = good; not having the puck = bad).  From an individual perspective, even if you fall squarely in the camp (like we do) that it's a flawed individual statistic because throwing pucks indiscriminately at the net is not always a positive thing, the Corsis can at least be a measure of activity -- that is, when you are on the ice, is good stuff happening (shots for), is bad stuff happening (shots against), or are you just floating around killing time?

"I'll take 'floating around killing time' for $100, Alex"
No one has harped on Brandon Sutter as early and as consistently as we have.  We had high expectations for him, and he's been mediocre at best, irrelevant at worst.  He scored 11 goals in 48 games last year, but as we outlined in our season preview, this was the result of a couple good moments during a season that was otherwise filled with idle blandness, mostly spent losing puck battles on the boards or wandering around the neutral zone while Crosby and Malkin caught their breath.

I've gotten kind of bored complaining about him solely based on what I've watched, so I decided to go somewhere I hadn't gone before -- the Corsis -- to see if it supports what we're seeing (or not seeing) on a nightly basis from Sutter.  And boy, does it ever. (All numbers from, so if they're wrong, I don't know what to tell you).  Let's dive in.

Brandon Sutter was horrible at the 5-on-5 Corsis last year

One key measure of Corsis is to compare how many Good Corsis happen when you're on the ice versus how many Bad Corsis happen.  This is measured by "Corsi For %."  What this means is that if you make 4 Good Corsis, but let up 6 Bad Corsis, your CF% is 40% (because 40% of all the Corsis that happen when you are on the ice are Good Corsis).

Per, out of 179 players listed at Center who played in 24 or more of the 48 games last season, Brandon Sutter was 163rd in Corsi For % at 5-on-5.  If this were the SATs, he'd be in the 9th percentile.  His CF% was 42.4%, which means that if Brandon Sutter was on the ice for an entire game during which a combined total of 50 shots were attempted, Brandon Sutter's team would attempt 21 shots and the opponents team would attempt 29 shots.  We're basically at the point where when Sutter gets a shot on goal, we cheer him on like a proud father whose son made his first bowel movement in the toilet: "Yayyyy, you made a Corsi!!!"

Sutter slotted in just behind All-Stars like Max Talbot, Jay Beagle, Mark Letestu, James Wright, and David Steckel.  (In Sutter's defense, he did beat out legends like Joe Vitale, Zac Rinaldo, Zenon Konopka, and the immortal Jay McClement, who, in the Hypothetical Corsi Game described above, would get out Corsi'd by a margin of roughly 32-18).

For comparison's stake, and presented without comment, Jordan Staal is 37th on the same list, with a CF% of 53.6% (meaning he wins the Hypothetical Corsi Game 27-23).

Much more after the jump...

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

What the Pens (and Dan Bylsma) should do against the Oilers tonight

By Finesse (follow me on Twitter)

I had the good fortune (I bought tickets) of going to see the Oilers play the Capitals in Washington, D.C. last night.  It was part scouting mission / part curiosity, as I've never actually watched more than 8 seconds of an Oilers' game.  The Caps won, 4-2.

Here's my takeaway:

If you could use an extra $10,000, what you should do is take the $10,000 you have in your bank account, give it to a bookie, tell him you want the Pens -1.5 tonight, and then wait for him to come to your house tomorrow with $20,000 (or $19,000 depending on his cut).

It's not that the Oilers have bad players -- they actually had some impressive individual plays, including a beautiful deflected pass and counter-attack by Justin Schultz (mind you, it was after intercepting a lazy pass from Mike Green) -- but whatever cliche intangibles that a hockey team is supposed to have so that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts ... they don't have that.  They don't seem like a real hockey team.

And they don't have a real goalie.

The best way to describe Edmonton is that they look like one of those men's league teams that brings in a bunch of young guys who are home from college to be ringers and help the team win the Molson or Heineken Cup, or whatever beer is sponsoring this year's Christmas Tournament.  Except everyone on the men's league team forgot how few shits college kids give about anything -- especially rec league hockey over their winter break -- and the college kids, while talented, end up just skating around the edges trying low percentage fancy moves, and then piss everyone off by refusing to come off the ice during a power play.

"Pretend like you don't see the old guys trying to get on the ice, and we can play this whole power-play."
Even though Edmonton outshot Washington 30-20 (and even won the Corsis), there was really never any doubt that when Washington's best players felt like scoring, they were going to be able to do so without exerting all that much effort.  I'm not taking anything away from the Caps' 4-2 victory (I am), but there are almost no lessons that can be taken away from beating Edmonton at this point.

So how should Dan Bylsma coach his team in a game that has no bearing on whether the Pens are good or bad or what systems the Pens should run going forward?  The answer: he shouldn't.

For the sake of hockey fans everywhere, Dan Bylsma and Dallas Eakins should recuse themselves from tonight's game and just let the players play.  No coaching.  No systems.  No line-matching.  Nothing but up-and-down hockey.  Raw talent, free from the shackles of structure and discipline.

"Now you've got my attention."
The only reason not to do this is that Fleury could end up in an insane asylum after giving up 13 goals in the first period (and leaving with a 16-13 lead).  But here's the thing: it's a long season ahead.  Let's have some fun along the way.

Screw it, scratch Tanner Glass and let DB suit up.