Friday, September 27, 2013

GTOG 2013 Pittsburgh Penguins Preview, Part 1: The 12 most critical Over/Unders

By GTOG Staff (follow Finesse and Artistry on Twitter)

The NHL season is days away, and that means it's time to invent over-unders.  Here are the only 12 over/unders you need to know for this year.

1. Marc-Andre Fleury Goals A-Gaynst Average: O/U: 2.66

This is MAF's career GAA, and is only .01 lower than Fleury's GAA in 2008-09 when, you know, he was good.  It is also almost a third of a goal higher than it was last year when Fleury was, you know, not good.  For most things, numbers only tell part of the story -- with Fleury, they might not tell any of the story.

If shooting on yourself counts against your save percentage, we don't want to be Marc-Andre Fleury's save percentage.
Fleury could win 45 games this year and post a sub-2.00 GAA and we still wouldn't be confident in him going into the playoffs.  He could post a 3.33 GAA in the regular season, stubbornly be named the unconditional starter for the playoffs, and we'd feel the exact same way.  Our lack of confidence in him is a drag on the season, and only a strong performance in the playoffs (or a trade) can cure it.

(Side note: ignore anyone who tells you that Fleury was lucky to win a Cup because his GAA was higher in 2008-09 when he was winning the Cup than it was in 2013 when he gagged.  He wasn't lucky.  From 2007-2009, Fleury was a money goalie who could shrug off adversity.  Now, he can't.  That doesn't mean he was bad then, it means he isn't as good now. Steve Blass was an All-Star before he wasn't).

Artistry: Under. He better be, anyway. Really good teams in today's NHL don't give up 2.66 GPG. Take last year, when Chicago (2.02), Boston (2.21), the Rangers (2.25), Detroit (2.29), LA (2.38), and yes, the Pens (2.48), were well below that mark.

Finesse: Under. I think he will have a relatively pedestrian regular season and then a who-the-F-knows postseason.  Scuds will help.  Pencil him in at 2.54 GAA.

Eleven more over-unders after the jump...

2. Starts by a goalie not named Fleury or Vokoun (O/U: 12)

The positive spin on Vokoun being out with a pelvis is that it will force the Pens to give some playing time to goalies who otherwise wouldn't get any.  Jeff Zatkoff might not be good ... but he might be.  With Vokoun healthy, and the Pens either stubbornly committed to Fleury as the franchise goalie or simply unable to find a market for him, Zatkoff, Hartzell, Jarry, etc. probably wouldn't have gotten a single start, let alone 12 starts.  If the Pens are forced to play these guys, don't let their inexperience scare you.  Fleury has tons of experience and he's the Amityville II of goalies at this point.

Artistry: Under. You may think pesky blood clots running from his thigh all the way up to his chest might make Tom Vokoun consider another line of work. But you don't know Tom Vokoun. Also factor in that the reason Fleury played so relatively infrequently last season was because management thought keeping him fresh would make all the difference in the playoffs, and, well, it didn't.

Finesse:  Over.  Even if Vokoun isn't out with the pelvis for very long, there are a lot of warning signs that he won't make it through the season unscathed (such as having a blood clot in his pelvis).  Throw in the small but still realistic chance that Fleury gets moved, and I'll take the over.

3. MAF wins (O/U: 35)

Artistry: Over. Fleury has at least 35 wins in each of the last five full seasons he's been healthy, and those were days when he had backups who were at least marginally more proven than Jeff Zatkoff.

Finesse:  Under.  The Conference winners usually win around 50 games.  The Pens could probably win as few as 45 and still have a 100 point season.  Unless Vokoun's pelvis flares up, or these young goalies really stink, I just think there is too much opportunity to spread around and Fleury isn't good enough to squeeze 35 wins out of his opportunities.

4. Beau Bennett goals (O/U: 16)

There's a good chance this goes way under or way over.  If Bylsma loses patience with Bennett because he isn't scoring early, then chances are he lingers on the third and fourth line with untalented linemates while Ray Shero talks himself into needing a veteran winger for the playoffs.  But if Bennett shows early chemistry with Geno, and/or seizes the opportunities that injuries to others will likely afford him over the course of an 82 game schedule, Bennett might have the chops to score 25.  There's no reason he shouldn't score more than 16, but that doesn't mean he will.

Here's Beau Bennett, egregiously under-dressed, at "The Twilight Saga: Eclipse" premiere.
Artistry: Push. He'll look to pass first, not because he's overly deferential, but because his hands are straight baby thighs, yo.

Finesse: This is the hardest line to judge.  I'll say over, but only because I want it to be over.

5. Eleven game goalless streaks by Brandon Sutter (O/U: 2.5)

Last season, Sutter started the season without a goal in the first 7 games.  Then he scored 3 goals in the next 5 games.  Then 1 in the next 9.  Then he scored 5 goals in 21 games, but actually scored in only 3 of those 21 games. Then he scored 2 goals against Montreal, followed by 5 games without a goal to close out the season. Then he had 3 points, total, in the playoffs.

Oh, also, in 48 games played, Sutter had more than 3 shots on goal only 3 times.  He had 0 shots on goal 11 times.  Whether or not you give a shit about Corsi, it probably won't surprise you that his individual Corsi was horrific.  If the Pens set the bar high for Sutter, he skated comfortably under it.

Sometimes the other fish in the sea give you mercury poisoning.
We aren't saying that Sutter is a bad player (though the jury may still be out on that).  But fairly or unfairly, he will always be judged against Jordan Staal, and the initial impression was, shall we say, quite underwhelming.  Forget the goal/assist/point totals, because even Jordan Staal put up relatively disappointing totals, and think just about on-ice presence.  If Jordan Staal was Thor, Brandon Sutter is one of The Foot Clan members from the Ninja Turtles movies who gets thrown off a balcony into a dumpster by Leonardo.  He isn't hard to play against, and he barely gets in the way.  You could say he's soft, and we wouldn't have any tape to show you to argue otherwise.

The positive spin on all of this is that he can't really be any less effective this season than he was last season and the Pens were still one of the best teams in the league.  If the Pens improve this season, Sutter getting better will almost certainly be a big reason why.  If the Pens feel stale and redundant, Sutter will also be a big reason why.

Artistry: Under. Is it possible for him to step it up offensively? Sure. Do I think he will have a single 23-game scoreless streak? Yes.

Finesse: I cannot objectively evaluate this man.  But still, over.

6. Times anyone says the Pens 3rd line is "tough to play against" (O/U: 2)

It's amazing how long cliche story lines can stick around even in the face of evidence to the contrary.  The Pens third line last season is the perfect example.  The storyline was that Sutter was anchoring a shutdown line, but if true, it was the easiest shutdown line of all time to play against.  Sutter was a minus player in 12 games, and a plus player in only 13 games.  Matt Cooke was neutered, and Tyler Kennedy was still, and always will be, Tyler Kennedy.  The Pens third line -- and fourth line, for that matter -- had as much coarseness as an ice cream cone dropped in a hot tub.

Artistry: Under. I'm in favor of Kobasew sticking, but there's no bottom 6 configuration that I'm happy with right now. Shocked if management feels differently.

Finesse:  Old habits die hard, and there is no older habit than Steiggy and Errey saying the Pens have the best third line in the league.  Over.

7. Jarome Iginla goals (O/U: 25)

The Bruins are paying Iginla $6 million this season, electing to go with a one-year stop-gap instead of re-signing Nathan Horton long-term (he signed with Columbus for 7 years, $5.3/year).  This much we're certain of: Jarome Iginla will score a super-annoying goal against the Pens this season, but we'd rather Boston have him than Horton.

Last year with a bad Calgary team, Iginla was scoring at a 24-goal pace.  He should have no problem topping that in Boston.  Unless, like the Pens, they refuse to use him on the power play.  You know, because his shot isn't good enough.

Artistry: Over. 26 goals.

Finesse: Over. 29 goals.

8. Simon Despres trade rumors (O/U: 9)

Ever since the Pens drafted Despres in 2009, we've been told relentlessly that the Pens' are loaded with young defensive prospects and just-you-wait-and-see what the Pens defense looks like in [insert present year + 2 here].  The Pens have consistently added to this stockpile of assets: Pouliot, Morrow, Ruopp, Samuelsson, Dumoulin, Harrington, Maatta.  You certainly have heard their names (though you've barely seen them play).

Name this man.
Here's what the Pens have gotten at the NHL level from this supposedly unparalleled stockpile of talent: Simon Despres not trusted to skate a regular shift in the playoffs, and a few leftover maggots crawling out of Brendan Morrow's corpse (acquired for Joe Morrow).

Even the Wilkes-Bermuda Triangle of Serviceability -- Bob Bortuzzo, Derek Engelland, and the departed Brian Strait -- has provided nothing but eminent and distinguished serviceability.

Wilkes-Barre isn't the Fidelity 2045 retirement fund.  It has to pay off, and pay off this season.  The easiest way for the Pens to do this is to give these guys a chance to play -- and fail -- at the NHL level.  Simon Despres is 22 years old, and listed at 6'4, 215lbs.  At this point, if he can't skate a regular shift without worrying that he's going to get replaced for 6 games by Derek Engelland if he makes one mistake, then either he's not good enough or the Pens are grossly mismanaging him.  Brian Dumoulin, acquired in the Jordan Staal trade, is the same age and he just got sent down to Wilkes-Barre.  Either he can play or he can't ... and it's not looking so good.  The same goes for all of these guys -- is it that unfathomable that a 19 or 20 year old might be able to contribute?  The luxury of having Crosby, Malkin and Letang is that you're almost certainly going to be good no matter what, so take some chances with the rest of the lineup and see if anything sticks.  If the Pens move Niskanen and play Despres and Bortuzzo together for 15 minutes a night for the first month of the season, is the world going to end?

A quick case study: The Pens shored up their defense last season by bringing in 33 year-old Crankshaft and a 35 year-old Mark Eaton off the scrap heap.  We thought both moves were reasonable -- Crankshaft because Crankshaft is awesome, and Eaton because he is the inspiration for this website -- So Smart. So Steady. So Serviceable.  Crank proceeded to be OK, and Eaton was good for a dozen games before playing the single worst hockey game in the history of the NHL in Game 3 against the Islanders (and then playing again the next night!).  The Bruins "shored" their D up by letting Torey Krug play.

This isn't baseball where you can fool your fans into thinking that a 27 year-old is a "prospect."  Hockey is a young man's game, but only if you let the young men play.

Artistry: Under. Sadly, I don't see him cracking the top 6 at this point unless Shero does move Niskanen. Bortuzzo has earned a spot. But there will be injuries, and he will play.

Finesse: Under.  Keep him, and let him play.

9. Games played in NHL by Pouliot, Maata and Dumoulin combined (O/U: 5)

Artistry: Maybe Dumoulin makes a cameo. That's it. Listen, there are worse problems to have -- like the fact I can barely name three Pens forward prospects, period. Under.

Finesse: I want it to be over, but I just don't see it.  For God's sake, the Pens let Dylan Reese play three games last season rather than throw one of the young guys into the fire. Under.

10. Disallowed goals by Chris Kunitz (O/U: 17)

Hands's hands are so soft and velvety, so smooth and luscious, that they can't be contained by normal human boundaries like "above the crossbar" or "in the crease."

PHOTO: Chris Kunitz prepares for the season.
Artistry: Over. The NHL Board of Governors has a motion pending on the legality of Chris Kunitz's hands.

Finesse:  Over. Don't forget about his supple feet that delicately guide pucks into the net (in a kicking motion).

11. Crosby injuries to the face or head (O/U: 2)

Rarely has an athlete ever been so simultaneously blessed and cursed as Crosby.  After the concussion, we hoped he would reign himself in emotionally, so as to avoid earning another head injury.  He didn't reign himself in, though he somehow avoided another head injury while picking fights with the entire Philadelphia Flyers team in the 2012 playoffs.  Then last year, when he seemed to have stopped needlessly antagonizing people, Brooks Orpik went Dick Cheney and shot Crosby in the face.  Then he got punched in the broken jaw by Zdeno Chara for no real reason other than, "hey, why not punch this guy in the broken jaw?"

Artistry:  Push. Superficial wounds only, please.

Finesse:  Under.  But definitely not zero.

Still an obvious penalty, BTW.
12. Geno assists (O/U: 65)

Do you know how many times Geno has had 65 assists?  Once.  Do you know how many times he's scored at a 65-assist pace?  Twice.  Though he's been one of the highest scoring players in the league for 7 years, there's a lingering feeling that he still doesn't get as many points as his play warrants.  There may have even been a game last season where he had something like 21 shot attempts and no points, but that's hard to look up.

"I make good pass. I very chappy."
At the risk of not making sense, his assist numbers really aren't going to be indicative of how he's well he's playing -- to get to 65, he needs Neal and Bennet and Jokinen to get some bounces, and he needs the power play (i.e., Kris Letang) to be good.  You'll know whether Geno is producing at the level he should by how many goals he scores.

Artistry: Under. Think 2011, when Geno had 50 goals, 59 assists. BTW, Crosby has only hit 65 assists twice, including 2006-2007, when he had a whopping 84 at age 19. That doesn't even make sense.

Finesse: Under. More interested in him scoring 40 goals.

13. Number of veterans over the age of 35 brought in by Ray Shero at the trade deadline (O/U: 2)

Will you be ordering the poo-poo platter this evening?

Don't for a second think that we can't talk ourselves into Milan Hejduk. Don't you dare.

Artistry: I don't know, Mike Knuble could really round out that 4th line. Too late? OK. Under.

Finesse: Under, please.

"Hi Ray, this is Tim speaking."


  1. 1) Under: 2.45 - Flower will be fine in the regular season, once he gets playing and has a chance to get his confidence back. And hopefully J. Martin will encourage his defensemen not to leave gaps that the Nile could run though.

    2) Over: by a lot - They know flower can't play 70 games - should be about 60, max. And between Zakoff, Vokoun, or whoever the bring in to replace him, it will be.

    3) Over: 39 - If Flower plays 60, he'll win close to 40.

    4) Push - 16 sounds about right, particularly if he starts on the 3rd line. If he fills in for a significant amount of time on the top lines because of injuries, it should be higher.

    5) Under - I actually think Sutter will be better. He was better in Carolina, and Bennett on his line should help. I can't say I was impressed last year. But there are very few players who have looked good in the Pens system their first year. And I think it's a least worth remembering that he didn't even get a real camp last year.

    6) Over - Steiggy. That said, not even the Pens think 19-16-? is a shut-down line. Sid and Geno almost always end up going head to head with the other teams tops lines anyway. I can't say I feel super-confident about it - but this line just needs to out-score/out-play the 3rd lines of other teams. Won't be the case against all teams - but hopefully it can against most (some?).

    7) Under - But not by much. Iggy still has his shot, and Boston won't misuse him the way the Pens did.

    8) Under - Chances are good that he ends up in WBS for most of the year, salary-cap casualty, provided Tanger isn't out for too long. But the rumors will certainly be flying regularly.

    9) Over - And they'll all be Dumoulin: he'll be the first injury call-up. Maatta and Pouliot are going to go back to their junior teams. I don't even think they're eligible yet to play in WBS; they are just 19. Harrington may get a cup of coffee, but not more, until he gets a full year in the minors.

    I agree that it is frustrating that the Pens refuse to let their young guys play, and then wonder why they aren't getting better. I think they've done a serious disservice to Simon Despres in playing him 10 mins. a game, the occasional time they feel like putting him in the line-up. Ditto Robert Bortuzzo - who looked really good last year until they only let him in a game once every 2 weeks. But it's what they do. (Which is why its ridiculous to say that Dumoulin is either good or not, in NHL or gone, at 22. That's a baby for a defenseman. The Pens have said he's NHL-ready. They just have too many solid, proven vets in front of him. Every d-man they've brought up from WBS in the last few years has been mid-20s - Strait, Bortuzzo, Engelland, Lovejoy. Only the blue-chips may brake this mold, right or wrong.)

    To be fair, though, I think sending Despres and Dumoulin down will be the right decision. You have a clear top 5 in 58-4; 7-44; and 2. Bortuzzo will get that last spot - and should. He brings something the Pens need. Engelland has regressed considerably, and I cringe at the thought of him in the line-up. But neither Despres or Dumoulin are served by acting as a 7th defenseman. Hopefully, though, it will be one of them that gets to start in Pitt, until 58 gets back.

    10) Don't know - but I think he's likely to break the NHL record this year.

    11) Over - Does preseason count? He's already taken at least 2 and has a ripped up lip to show for it.

    12) Under - Closer to 50. Sid has a better chance of hitting that mark, given his pass-first mentality and his linemates finishing ability.

    13) Under - I hope. The Pens real problem last playoffs was too many cooks in the kitchen (Iggy) and too much change, without sufficient games for everyone to find and know their role. I have to think Shero knows this and will be less inclined to tinker, beyond a 3rd-liner (provided the team is healthy).

    1. Great comment, as always. Glad to have hockey again. Weird tonight that I'll be watching on my iPad while the Pirates are on the TV.