Tuesday, April 22, 2014

After sixty minutes, the Pens got the result they deserved; Pens win, 4-3

By Finesse (follow me on Twitter)

In the NBA, great players win championships.  In the NHL, great teams win championships; having great players makes it more likely that you'll have a great team, but doesn't guarantee it.  The Pens are a long way from being a great team, but they're getting offensive production from guys they haven't been able to count on during the season -- Paul Martin has 6 assists, Sutter has 2 goals, Bennett has 4 points, Gibbons has 2 goals, and even Brooks Orpik pulled off a sick toe drag and buried one.  You can win a lot of playoff games with Crosby, Malkin, Neal, and Kunitz scoring power play goals, and the Pens are going to need that sooner rather than later.  But if you want the Pens to win multiple playoff series and maybe even the Cup, it's critical that they win games even when those four aren't scoring.  The Pens are up 2-1 in this series and their four best players have no goals yet.  If you actually root for the Pens to win games (rather than being one of those "Pens fans" who openly root against Crosby and Malkin), this should make you happy.

More thoughts below the podcast.


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- A pretty perfect description of the game from misterjamo in the comments section of our latest podcast:
It's taken me a long time to come around on the advanced statistics, but last night's game is a pretty strong case study in their usefulness. The Pens attempted 73 shots to Columbus's 42, and from the (admittedly) little I was able to see Pittsburgh was the better team by many miles. And when you consider that CBJ's third goal and the Penguins' fourth goal came on arguably fluke redirections on shots that weren't on goal when they left the original shooter's stick, it's a pretty strong argument that firing the puck in the general vicinity of the 6'x4' is a good strategy. 
The problem with Sid is that he's the best player in the world, and four assists in three games for the best player in the world will get your "hunger" questioned. Consider that Sid attempted 8 shots (second only to Neal's 9), started a whopping 80% of his shifts in the defensive zone and still managed a relative corsi-for of +22% (best on the team last night) while his QoC was a rather insane 30.9%.

Yeah, Sid is paid $8.7 million to score and when he doesn't questions are going to be asked. But the way he was deployed last night made that awfully difficult.

If you'd have told me that through three games the Pens PP was 3 for 17 (and 0 for their last 12) with Crosby, Malkin, Neal, and Kunitz with zero goals between them and Fleury sporting a.899 save percentage I'd have told you the Pens were down 3-0 and probably outscored 12-2. But the Pens have turned into a really respectable possession team (with some obvious lapses) playing their best even strength hockey of the year. If they eliminate the asinine penalties and make better decisions on the power play, this series is a laugher.
- A few other interesting tidbits from the shot charts.
- Total domination at even strength by Malkin-Jokinen-Neal.  The combined 5-on-5 shot differential for those three was 42-6.  Jokinen was not on the ice for an even strength shot against (12-0). 
- Crosby was on the ice for one even strength shot against.  It went in. 
- It has ceased being fun for me to slam Sutter, and I'm not doing this to slam him again, but I have to point out that the even strength shot differential when Sutter was on the ice was 13-2 in favor of Columbus.  If you factor in special teams, Sutter was on the ice for 17 of Columbus' 20 shots on goal.  And he only had 13:35 of ice time.  In other words, Columbus had 17 shots in the 13:35 that Sutter was on the ice.  They had 3 shots in the other 46:25.  3!!!
Sutter did score a huge goal, though.  For what the Pens have needed against Columbus, he's been adequate.  But if the Pens advance and go on the road against teams who can match lines with more skill than Columbus, a Sutter-Megna-Bennett line is going to be highly exploitable defensively.  Bennett, especially, has a long way to go to clean up his play in his own end.

- Pens were 0-for-6 on the power play last night and didn't revert back to four forwards until late in the game.  The concern with giving up shorthanded goals is real, but it's overblown.  CBJ's shorty in Game 1 was purely Letang's fault and had nothing to do with having four forwards.  The shorty in Game 2 happens sometimes.  Big deal.  The Pens had the number one power play in the league and Columbus had the 14th ranked penalty kill unit.  Letting the BJs dictate who you use on your PP is a big mistake.  Crosby and Malkin are already playing too far away from the net; putting PMPM out there instead of James Neal just spreads everything out even more.  Put Kunitz in front, Neal in the high slot, get everyone closer to the net, and tell them not to give up shorthanded goals.  This strategy will work.

This glove thing got pretty annoying pretty quickly, didn't it?
- Positioning Marc-Andre Fleury as one of the main reasons the Pens won Game 3 and are up 2-1 in the series is taking the positive spin a tad too far.  The more accurate way to put it is that Fleury was the main reason the Pens almost lost -- but didn't lose -- Game 3.  The first goal he allowed was especially bad, and its technical terribleness was compounded by its untimeliness.  Giving up a goal in the first few minutes of playoff games has become Fleury's hallmark, and it's easy to point to these goals as the root cause of many meltdowns by the Pens in the playoffs over the past few years.  A team can come into a game totally prepared and with a perfect game-plan, but without a baseline level of competence in net that can all go out the window immediately.  Credit to Fleury, I guess, for not giving up more than two bad goals.  But much more credit to the Pens skaters for making his job relatively easy for the rest of the game by only giving up a total of 20 shots and continuing to stick to a game-plan that definitely didn't include, "Step 1: Go down 2-0 on two soft goals."

"Let's go boys, come on boys, pick it up boys."
I get the value and importance of Fleury bouncing back from the two bad goals.  I'm just not willing to settle for that as his best attribute.  The Pens can get away with going down 2-0 early to Columbus because the Pens are better and Columbus can't stop taking dumb penalties.  But giving up two softies early to the Rangers or Bruins isn't going to fly.

- The Pens won a tight Game 3 against the Islanders last year, but allowed the Isles to get back in the series with a pretty brutal Game 4 loss.  The Pens can't do that this year because there's no Tyler Kennedy to come to the rescue in Game 5.


  1. Is it terrible that my biggest takeaway from this was "OMG, Tyler Kennedy was still here LAST YEAR?" Doesn't that seem like forever ago?

  2. Does anyone really know what to make of this team? We've all been through this team's flaws, and I'm not willing to conclude anything more definite than that this is a top-10 team that will make it into the 2nd or maybe 3rd round, with some luck.

    But I think more importantly - do they know who they are yet? One thing no one is pointing out is that our top-6 D have played less than 10 games as a unit together - including these three playoff games. And the only forward line that has really had significant time together intact is 36-71-18 - and Geno looks like he's still working off the rust of sitting for a month.

    My point is that this team is still in the post-deadline stage - or the equivalent. The guys are not entirely unfamiliar with each other but still in the process of developing roles and identities. My first thought as I watch them play is that they often don't seem to jive on the ice as a group of 5: they throw so many passes that are behind guys or to no one because the passer expected their mates to be someplace they weren't. Perhaps that's the consequence of coaching and a system that is overly complex. And I think that's part of it. But I think it warrants pointing out that these games are the closest we've seen to a complete Pens team ALL SEASON. At no point was everyone even close to healthy.

    Hopefully this means that the Pens improved standing in the battle of the Corsis and Fenwicks isn't just because we are playing the BJs. Hopefully it means that their passing will improve - which as far as I'm concerned is one of their biggest collective issues. Hopefully it means that their depth when healthy is a bit better than it seemed. Hopefully it means that they'll be able to think a little less and play a little more when they get more comfortable with their d-partners, etc. We'll see I guess.

    Nota bene: I turned on FS-Ohio yesterday at 7pm and saw pretty pictures of the Burgh - which confused me since I was pretty damn sure they were in Columbus. And then I realized that they were getting ready for the Bucs-Reds game. Seriously - FS-O chose to air an early-season baseball game over the BJs first home playoff game in five frickin years.

    So as far as I'm concerned f@#k that city, their franchise, and their so-called fans. I don't feel bad for them anymore. Pens in 5.

  3. Also re: the podcast. We didn't get to hear Pierre tell us about the boys' HS teachers - but we did get to hear about how those rebels - Sid and J. Johnson - got called out by their European history teacher for checking out nhl.com during class.

    I think the only surprising thing about that story getting airtime was that it wasn't Pierre that told it. :)