Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Stale, disinterested and mediocre: Your 2013 Pittsburgh Penguins?

By Finesse 

We're hesitant to call last night's 4-1 loss to the Islanders a train-wreck because it takes energy to start a train.  But what the Pens proved last night is that you can be part of a horrific train-wreck while exerting no energy at all.  Let's start counting the bodies.

- Crosby and Malkin

The first six games have revealed the Pens as arguably the most top-heavy team in the league.  We hope that resolves itself with the bottom getting heavier, but if that's not going to happen, then Crosby and Malkin have to be heavier.

These guys deserve more slack on their leash than anyone.  Currently, they are still our only hope of generating offense.  But they may want to entertain the idea of not trying to pass through 11 pairs of skates every shift.  It's not working.

- Marc-Andre Fleury  

He needs to be benched.  The Pens are a team in need of an infusion of some sort of energy, whether that infusion be positive (like a new or young player scoring a goal, haha) or negative (benching an important player).  The NBC Sports crew last night said Bylsma had planned on splitting Fleury and Vokoun 60-40 this season.  Bylsma (more on him later tonight) should flip it and announce that, at least temporarily, he's going with Vokoun as the presumed 60% guy.  If it's hard for Flower to handle being sent to the bench, perhaps the team can make it a more familiar procedure for him by having him start in the net and then skate over to the bench.

He has two good games this year and two awful ones, which is reflective of our confidence in him right now: it feels like the other team is going to score on half of their shots. He can still win games for the Penguins, but when he plays shitty, it's so bad that the Pens are non-competitive.

More after the jump...

- Consol Energy Center

This seems like a minor problem, but it's really not.  You have to have a home-ice advantage to be successful.  The only home ice advantage the Pens have now is that opposing teams can't feed off of quieting the crowd because they're already silent.  Great fan base, terrible crowd. (On the positive side, the booing last night was totally justified and may have even been too timid in light of what the team put those poor people through last night).

The extreme volume of the goal horn when the Pens cut it to 4-1 late in the 3rd period last night was reminiscent of when Ovechkin scored to cut the Pens lead to 5-1 in Game 7 of the 2009 playoffs and the Verizon Center speakers exploded like the space shuttle was taking off.  It's horrifyingly embarrassing and makes us feel ashamed.  Whatever in-game entertainment company has convinced teams that fans across the country want to hear a goal horn like that when the team is vomiting all over itself should face a class-action lawsuit.  Instead of focus group studies about how to entertain a crowd, how about turning over control of the scoreboard and sound system to a person with knowledge of hockey, who can read the game and the crowd and adjust accordingly?  It's entirely possible that the Consol crowd would be a good crowd if they weren't forced to listen to Nicki Minaj and Ke$ha after every icing call.  

Dear Jumbotron Operators, you're ruining our lives.

- Matt Cooke, LW, Healthy scratch candidate

If the season ended today, we're not even sure Matt Cooke would get a participation trophy.  Can he please get in someone's face at some point and return to being disruptive to play against?  There is some virtue in his reformation from a gritty-but-felonious grinder to tactful-and-dainty 19-goal scorer, but not much.  After all of his travails the Pens needed him to dial back the nastiness from 100mph to 90mph.  Instead, he turned the car around and drove home.  Does this team have a single player who other teams hate to play against?  Matt Cooke acting like a dick on the ice is good for the Penguins.  Matt Cooke getting consideration for the Masterton Trophy is good for Matt Cooke's chances of not getting kicked out of the league.  There's a balance.  He hasn't found it.

- Brandon Sutter


Artistry will have some thoughts on Dan Bylsma later tonight.  We're also planning a post showing Ray Shero's worst moves as Pens GM (it's only fair, given how much he's adored by us and many others).  We're taking suggestions.


  1. Last year was Shero's worst to date:

    Insufficient 2011-12 Pens Team
    Equals Even More Insufficient 2012-13 Pens Team

    1. That's why we're anxiously awaiting some other sort of spark, because if your formula is still the formula come playoff time, it's big trouble.

  2. I was being optimistic - but I'm pretty much ready to give in. This team is just mediocre, although stale is a good adjective. Everyone's figured them out, and a horrific PP that kills any momentum regularly just makes things worse.

    You want to blame Shero - but I will say this: First, it's completely unfair to label Sutter a bust after 6 games, given a campless season and a seemingly dysfunctional team. Sorry, it just is. Neal was a "bust" for a full third of a season.

    We had no choice but to trade Staal. None - as there was no other way to get a 3rd line center that would be in Pittsburgh beyond his year. And last season - we had the top offensive team in the league - without Sid. We aren't taking away Staal and Sullivan and adding Sutter and Glass. We are taking away Staal and Sullivan and adding Sid, Sutter, and Glass. Which makes the offensive issues this team apparently has baffling as all hell. The team was even MORE top-heavy last year. I can't blame Shero for what he did, particularly given that the FA market had exactly two (way overpaid) worthwhile guys on it - and that prices were insanely inflated. Next year should be better, since teams will have to come down to the new cap.

    What I would pinpoint as the root of the offensive issues right now is not personnel - but the PLAY of the wings. Kunitz needs to be on the list above: he's been terrible when he's been visible at all. Sid can't do what he does when he doesn't have wingers to get him the puck. We never had fantastic wingers, but Kunitz and Duper have always given Sid the support he needed to do the heavy lifting. But he needs them to get him the puck (which Kunitz himself admitted they weren't doing). We don't need our wingers to be extraordinary (esp on Sid's line) - but they need to meet expectations. And literally NONE of them are - all at the same time. And to me Kunitz rather than Cooke is symbolic of that (not that I disagree with your assessment of Cooke). Some guys overachieved last year - this year every guy is underachieving. Individually, we've pretty much every forward play better - regularly - than they are right now. (So maybe they aren't actually THIS bad?)

    Beyond that, this team's inability to enter the zone cleanly - with possession of the puck - is stunning, 5 on 5 and on the PP. And if they dump it in, they don't win the battle. They are a puck possession team that never has the puck. So they lose.

    The one thing I do not blame is the goaltending - which is to me the only thing that isn't concerning. I expected up and down goaltending for a couple of weeks, given the circumstances of this season. Fleury looked fantastic in the 2 games he played when his team actually showed up. How do you judge goaltending when the rest of the team puts on that display - when Fleury can't depend on his defense to take away options, actually defend on the PK, etc. Vokoun has been fine - but steady, not exceptional. He gave up 3 goals in both games he played.

    I'm fine giving Vokoun the next start or even a couple of games - but if Vokoun is starter, season's done. We don't win long-term without Flower in the cage (we might lose anyway, but he won't be the difference).

  3. And, hey, look! Jeffrey was on the 2nd line in practice. No one would ever have thought of that! :)

  4. When are you guys going to address Crosby's obvious decline since the 2011 Winter Classic? He just is not the same player that he was prior to his health problems. He is still good, but I don't think he is elite.

    In addition to a talent decline, I think that his presence has hurt the team more than it has helped it over the last 2 years. The team was doing great last year and then tanked when Crosby cameback. Coincidence? Maybe. However, I also know that Malkin plays much better when he is "the main man." For whatever reason, his play drops off when Crosby is in the lineup. I am not sure if it is psychological or if he just defers to Crosby when they are both in the lineup.

    Let's face it, the team led by Malkin has done great for long stretches when Crosby has been out, but the reverse has not been true. Malkin, not Crosby, is the best player on the team and I think fans that won't admit this fact are idiots.

    Shero has made some good decisions, but also some poor ones. Why not use 1.5 million of the available 9 million in cap space to re-sign Sullivan? He is a way better 2nd line wing option than anyone who they have plugged into this point. He already has a HT for the Coyotes. That is 3 more goals than Tangradi will score this year. Sullivan was also very helpful at getting the PP "set-up", which we have been awful at the last couple games.

    1. Why would I write about something that I disagree with?

      You have to give Sid more time to get back in the rhythm of playing after the injury he suffered. It's not a regular injury. It's hard to judge him on 8-game stints, then getting hurt again. If he's ineffective over the course of this season, then maybe that becomes a relevant discussion.

      I'd also point out that over the first 6 games, Crosby has 3 goals. Malkin has 1. Crosby is a +1. Malkin is a -3. Crosby has two penalty minutes. Malkin has 16. Crosby is winning 53% of his faceoffs. Malkin is winning 44%.

      You may say that Malkin plays better without Crosby in the lineup. Is there some rule that he isn't allowed to continue at that level when Crosby is healthy? That Malkin's play declines with Sid in the lineup is an indictment of Malkin, not Crosby.

      You say that Crosby hasn't done as well with Malkin out of the lineup as Malkin has done with Crosby out of the lineup. What is your support for saying that? When has Crosby played without Malkin in the lineup? When Geno was out with the ACL injury in 2011, so was Sid. Malkin did miss 15 games in 2009-10. I haven't looked up Sid's stats during those particular games, but I will point out that during that season, Sid had 51 goals and 109 points. There is no reason to think that his performance during the games with Malkin out declined at all. (Malkin had 77 points that season).

      Maybe Malkin is better than Sid. Maybe Sid is better than Malkin. Or maybe Sid isn't as good as he was. Or maybe he's still getting accustomed to playing again. Who really cares who is better?

      I don't "admit" that Malkin is better, so I guess I'm an idiot.

  5. I agree with you that Malkin has been bad so far this year, but just because Crosby has fluttered 3 shots by goalies does not mean he is playing that much better.

    Regarding my contention that Malkin does better than Crosby when the other is out of the lineup,in the 2009-10 season Malkin sat out seven games from Oct. 30 through Nov. 12 with a shoulder injury, and missed seven more games in March with a foot injury. During those games the Pens record was 5-8-1 and two of those wins came in shootouts. Crosby was scoreless in 12 of those 14 games without Malkin over that stretch. Overall, the Penguins were outscored 46-28 without Malkin.

    In 2008, Malkin led the Penguins to a 16-8-4 without the help of Sidney Crosby. Crosby was nursing a 7 week injury during that time. Malkin dominated the league with a total of 44 points for a solid 1.6 points per game average. He had 9 games during that stretch of 3 points or more.

    Malkin has a higher ceiling than Crosby. Way better shot. He takes over games in a way Crosby could only dream. He has way more of the "Big Guy" in him than Crosby. He is more charismatic and seems to put his team on his back way more. Malkin is the kind of man who could wrangle the wills of men. Crosby is widely regarded as a whiner.

    Not to mention that Crosby is one of the least cool athletes of all time. Not Malkin, he is probably slaying Coronas and chatting up females in the Soushside (Mark Madden) as we speak.

    1. Sad to see a Pens fan buy so ignorantly into the anti-Crosby hype. Crosby is better than Malkin statistically in virtually every category over the course of their careers. No teammate has ever said a bad thing about him, including Malkin, who appears to adore Crosby. The guy who has a "way better shot" scores fewer goals per game than the guy who flutters pucks past goalies. The whiner label went away 4 years ago. And Malkin, your symbol of leadership, shrinks from the spotlight (according to you) when Sid plays...that's some leadership, huh? I like both of them equally. No need to pick sides.

      So the problem isn't that the Pens fail to acknowledge that one is better than the other. It's that Consol Energy center is filled with too many people like you who care more about stubbornly proving a point that makes no difference whatsoever. In fact, you're probably a season ticket holder.

    2. Malkin did win the conn smythe so I guess he doesn't exactly shrink in the spotlight. Crosby just has shown much since Jan '11 to make me think he will ever be elite again. Honestly finesse, I am just frustrated with this team. I hope I'm wrong about Crosby and malkin being able to co-exist and lead us to another championship. That's are only road to a cup as this team lacks fire power. I'm not anti-Crosby, I was just stirring it up. I just personally think malkin is more valuable, but who cares if we hoist lord Stanley.CHemistry on this team is just off. I think byslma should take a little heat for his recent playoff visits, except for the Tampa series.

    3. Fair points. The 2009 playoffs, and Geno's Conn Smythe trophy, are the perfect illustration of why they can co-exist. Sid carries the team against Washington in maybe the heaviest lifting a Penguin has done in a playoff series since Jagr against the Devils ... Geno swoops in and glides them home. Exactly how it should be done.

      I get what you're saying, and I agree Crosby hasn't been as good since the Winter Classic as he was before it, but he was also on an astronomical pace before he got hurt. And his physical recovery has been inconsistent at best. He's earned, in my opinion, a lot more time to "re-prove" himself (if he even has to) than the 8 games he played in 2011 (2g, 10a), the 14 regular season games he played in 2012 (6g, 19a), and the bizarre series against the Flyers. I'm not ready to throw dirt on him, nor anoint Malkin as being on a higher plane. They're both great players. Which one is better over a particular stretch of time shouldn't be meaningful.

      What is meaningful is what you touched on -- the bad playoff losses, and the very frustrating way this team plays (Sid and Geno included). Artistry was right on tonight about Bylsma.

  6. Dissecting Crosby v. Malkin isn't helpful. I believe the team wants to dominate and win more than us fans want the team to dominate and win. I get the sense of urgency but I want the team to be on an even footing and keep an eye on the long term. Penguin players are very good right now. We don't need a perfect roster to win the Cup. We just need everything to mesh at playoff time. I don't like the talk of trading away even more prospects for short-term gain. I like a team that consists of mostly home-grown players. The drafting system can replenish your players consistently if you get lucky (and have strong scouting). Signing other teams' players feels a little bit like cheating - especially if you rely on that method for replenishing.

    Following Seth's Empty Netters has been interesting this year as he follows that amazing 92/93 team. Remember how we wanted Baldwin to break the bank and keep the players? Did that mentality leave the Pens depleted for the next decade or so? I was living in a different country then and could not follow the '90's Pens as closely as I wanted. If that is what can happen, I don't want us to sell out for a perfect roster then end up sucking for a long time.

    As for the Consol crowd, it seems like they priced the vocal fans out of the building. The young and broke version of me would be jumping around and yelling at a game; the slower, older, more self-conscious version of me will sit there and absorb and try to get my money's worth. Today, I won't attend any games. Way too loud and flashy for me. It's as if hockey isn't the main reason for the event.

  7. Sorry about my grammar. Typing this stuff on an iPhone has been cumbersome.