Friday, January 24, 2014

Two big lines dominate; Two big wins for the Pens

By GTOG Staff (follow Finesse and Artistry on Twitter)

The Pens just scored 11 goals in two games.  It takes the Sabres an average of 6 games to score 11 goals.  Putting aside defensive flaws or notions about whether this style is sustainable in the playoffs, the Pens provide more pure entertainment over the course of an 82 game season than just about anyone.  The power play that led to Letang's goal was abusive.

Too good.
But consider: Has there ever been a Penguins team that is so good--and this one is on track to tie the 92-93 team for best regular season record in team history, so they're pretty, pretty good--but also so flawed? The answer is no, of course not, it's virtually impossible to be this good and this flawed. The Pens have the number 1 power play in the league. They have the number 1 penalty kill in the league. They have the two best players in the league, two of the best wingers in the league, the top +/- guy in the league is listed as 5th on the defensive depth chart, and there are seven guys playing in the Olympics. They lead the entire Eastern Conference by 9 points, and it's January. Yet we spend most of our time talking about the most uninspiring collection of bottom 6 forwards since Ramzi Abid haunted the bowels of the Mellon Arena. We harp on what looks like increasingly lackadaisical team defense. And we note that for much of the game last night, it looked like the Islanders were firing pucks at an immobile AHL goalie. (Hang on. We're getting word now that we are exactly right about all of these things). HOW CAN THIS ALL BE TRUE?

Because when you eat up $17.4 million of a declining salary cap, you're pretty much stuck filling out the rest of the team with league minimumers and as we're finding out, these guys are league minimumers for a reason.  Shero hasn't found a diamond in the rough with the bottom 6 and so the Pens are getting what they're paying for.  The Bruins have a guy making $900K (Reilly Smith) who has 36 points in 49 games.  The Pens' bottom 6 forwards from the game last night (I'm counting Kobasew and not counting Engelland) have a combined 41 points in 193 games played.

But on to some happier thoughts ...

...and let's begin with some very well-deserved praise for the guys we crush the most -- Craig Adams, Tanner Glass, and Brandon Sutter.  Their penalty killing has been fantastic all season.  The Pens have scored the most power play goals in the league this season, which is to be expected with the guys on that unit.  But the Pens have also given up the fewest power play goals against ... and that's incredible.

- After looking a little disengaged over the previous two games, Sidney Crosby had his legs back and did what he usually does against the Islanders -- whatever he wants.  Chris Kunitz is up to 6th in the league in scoring, and while a lot of that success is undoubtedly attributable to playing with Crosby, Kunitz is anything but a passenger.  Crosby made a great pass to Kunitz on the first goal ... but Kunitz finished it.  Crosby got leverage on an over-matched defender on Crosby's goal ... but Kunitz won a battle and got him the puck.  Olli Maatta made a great move on his goal ... but Kunitz created the space for him and left him a perfect drop pass.  And he makes $700K less than bums like Brooks Laich and Martin Erat.  What a player.

- Malkin and Neal are not far behind, and what makes guys like the Pens' Big 4 so amazing is that they show up almost every single night.  Geno has gone pointless only 3 times in his last 27 games.  Crosby has gone pointless only 5 times in his last 31 games.  Kunitz has gone more than 1 game without a point only 3 times; once for 3 games, and twice for 2 games. (Last year he NEVER went consecutive games without a point).  James Neal has gone without a point in consecutive games only twice this season (both times for only 2 games).

- Brooks Orpik and Paul Martin had a terrible game last night.  Often, they leave a lot to be desired as the Penguins' second pairing ... how they will hold up as a pairing on Team USA is an urgent matter of national security.

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