I haven’t updated on the Pens in forever and it would be way too long to recap all the games since the last update. So, I’ll just jump right in with some general thoughts.
The team has been very hard to watch sinc about November. I don’t think anyone will argue with that. You can claim (as I have) that we aren’t winning the tough battles in the corners and in front of the nets, but the bottom line is we’ve regressed below that already. It’s gotten to the point that we just need some effort in general. There are a lot of pucks jumping over sticks, and a lot of hustle plays that aren’t being made. We look lethargic out there. You have to play with energy before you can think about those tough battles that ultimately win games for you. There is no time of possession stat in the NHL, but I’d bet it’d be pretty ugly to see for Pens fans. It’s real tough to win when the ice is tilted the other way.
Satan was benched for the Tampa Bay game (now that we have enough wingers to make one of them disposable). That’s a real strong message for a first line winger. Hopefully that will resonate with the entire team. The good news is that most of these problems are mental and effort related which are easy fixes. We do have some very positive things to build on (having the #1 AND #2 guys on the points list is nice).
I was taking a look at the nhl.com team stats here. It’s an interesting place to waste some time. Nothing really surprising there. We’re pretty much ranked 20-25 in every category. I know people will pick the fact that we’re dead last in shots per game out. It seems to be a popular theory that the Pens don’t shoot nearly enough, and it’s got a lot of merit. You don’t score if you don’t put the puck on the net. However, you see that we move into 9th place for goals/game. It’s exactly as the players have explained it: they look for quality shots. Yeah, they try to hard for the perfect shot sometimes. I think putting the puck on net is always a better option than a tough pass through 3 defenders. But, I can’t fault them for looking for good opportunities.
This team has way too much talent to miss the playoffs. I’m not buying one OT game against the Lightning taking us out of our prolonged slump (show me two in a row, first), but I see us starting to play with more intensity as more starters return from injury. That should buy us some more badly needed W’s.
- The Pens found a new way to lose in Nashville.
- Then continued to struggle in Denver.
- So we’re now in 10th place and dropping like a stone.
- Mark Madden says not to fire coach Therrien. I’m not a big Madden fan, myself. But he’s got a bit of a point. Therrien isn’t the one who is providing poor effort in front of the net and making key turnovers. But he IS the one who obviously isn’t creating any accountability for it. Plus, besides blasting the wingers, I didn’t see an alternative solution presented by Madden.
One thing that drives me nuts in hockey is the lack of patience with coaches. If you don’t meet expectations by mid-season you don’t even get to finish the year and turn it around. It’s almost expected, now. You hear a lot about coach Therrien being fired, but most of the talk is more of a statement that this is something inevitable than actually making an argument as to why he should be canned. The reason is that he doesn’t deserve it. He’s been to a cup final, he’s dealt well with injury problems, he’s done everything he’s been asked if you forget the last month and a half. The team is slumping, but it needs stability. You take a step back by letting Therrien go.
So if it’s not Therrien, then what’s the problem? Well, the problem is effort. We’re losing the battles in the corners and in front of the net. That does a lot of damage. First, it obviously hurts the score when you lose the battles up front. That’s where you can manufacture goals on an off night. Second, you lose the puck possession battle. It’s hard to win a game when you’re on defense 2/3 of the time (my estimate). Third, it’s tough to get up on defense at all when you’re being out-muscled everywhere in a macho sport like hockey. It does a number on your psyche. Now, Therrien can deal with this lack of effort. That’s his job, too. I wouldn’t mind him sitting someone like Satan for a game to send a message (not to single Miro out. There are many others). But, I have to believe that this is more of a personnel issue. We lost a lot of scrappy play with Malone, Ruutu (Mike Tyson on skates), and Laraque (by the way, check out his short lived blog. The guy is deep). I’m not sure if the talent is there in Pittsburgh to fill the void, and I’m not versed enough on the baby pens to know if we have someone down on the farm. I guess until further notice, all we can hope for is that the Pens visit Oz for awhile (like munchkin land, not the prison) and find some heart to get them through this.
- Since the last update our Pens went on a four game losing streak. You know its getting bad when you have a headline like this.
- But in late breaking news, the Pens then had their best effort in a while tonight. Might have been more impressive were it not against Atlanta. Plus we had some players leave with injuries. But, hey. Right now I think Pens fans aren’t too picky. We just lost to Tampa a couple of weeks ago.
So I came up with the idea for this post last night and this afternoon when I thought I’d have to talk about the woe’s of the Penguins. But now the Pens fans have something positive to grasp onto, and I’m sure there will be positive vibes around the team for the next two days. So bear with me while I take you back to the gloom and doom. I’ve heard a lot of answers to the unanswerable question of ‘what’s wrong with the Pens?’ Some interesting theories:
- Crosby needs a scoring winger
- Too many defensemen are injured
- Loosing to many battles in the corners
- Tired players (too many games in too short a period of time)
- Power play stinks (reason debatable)
I’m sure there are more out there. I decided to take a look at some stats to see if I could put some evidence behind any of those arguments. Lets start with the first point: a scoring winger for Crosby. The best indication of that impact is to look at Crosby’s assist numbers. I’ll compare his numbers this year with the apparently inferior Satan and Fedotenko against last years playoffs when he and one of the game’s best wingers (Hossa) were clicking. Crosby’s averaging .85 assists per game this year and 1.05 assists per game in the post season last year with Hossa (on a side note: I don’t hear much criticism of Hossa lately. As much as you can hate the guy for turning his back on the city, he apparently knew what he was talking about). So there’s some validity to the argument. 0.2 goals per game is a lot when you project up to a full season. The second argument about defensemen doesn’t really have an answer. Whitney and Gonchar have for the most part been out for most of the season, so there’s no real control period to test a hypothesis against. I think the constantly changing defensive pairings have got to take a toll on the chemistry of the team. However, you have to remember that most of the defensemen have been out well before this slump started, so it can’t be all their fault. Losing battles in the corners is another one that’s hard to quantify, but I think we can look at shot differential as an indicator for this reason: winning the battles for the puck extends possessions. More time of possession increases your chances of getting a shot off while taking time and therefore shot opportunities away from the other team. I took a look at shot differentials from November (when the Pens were 9-3) against December (when they were 5-9). In November the Pens out shot their opponents by an average of 2.75 shots/game. Compare that to December when they were out shot by an average of 5.57 shots/game. That’s pretty serious evidence right there you’re not doing the little things right. Tired players is easy to check. During November and December (after the season is in full tilt), the Pens were 5-3 (.625) after more than two days rest and 10-12 (.455) after 1 or 2 days rest. So there may be something to this. The large disparity in number of short rest games vs. number of long rest games is apparent, and it definitely seems like this team plays much better on some rest. The final point about the power play is obvious. Going into the game tonight, the Pens hadn’t scored a power play goal in 7 games. That’s good enough for second longest streak in franchise history. Not good. But it’s only temporary. Hockey’s a funny game like that. The bounces go your way, and then they don’t. But I was glad to see some more effort tonight than I have in awhile.
All stats from espn.com
- Fleury pitched a shutout on Friday as the Pens beat the Devils. Too bad they only put in one themselves to make it a nail biter.
- The Pens then promptly lost to the Canadiens.
- A lot of people have been commenting on Sidney Crosby’s lack of scoring. Don Cherry thinks he knows how to solve the problem. The Beaver County Times also has a solution: get him a winger. Some guy writing to the Post Gazette thinks he’s too predictable. My take is that he’s playing just fine. He’s on pace to score 34.17 goals this season (his career high is 39. Still obtainable). If you want to look at recent history, he’s got 2 goals and 7 assists in the month of December. A definite slump for a player of his caliber, but it’s still productive. I think we need to give it time and he’ll return to his normal pace. If he needs anything, it’s not a winger. It’s a garbage goal getter who can put in some rebounds. Sid’s not shooting because he has very few open looks. He sees the ice better than anyone in the league and he has the moves to buy some time to let a play develop. This means assists will always come more easily to him than goals. But Sid’s a smart player. If he feels he can put one in, he’ll take the shot. It’s just much easier to shoot knowing there’s a guy to put in your rebounds. Knowing he only has one shot must put a lot more pressure on that ability to create assists.
- Despite disappearing, Crosby broke the record for most ever all-star votes. We’re lucky to have the face of the NHL in our city. It would be better if the NHL took the pay cut to get back on ESPN and get some exposure so having the face of the NHL would mean something.
- This is very old, but here’s a nifty timeline of the Pens rise from financial ruin to the Stanley Cup Finals.
Overall, I’d say the natives are restless with the Penguins. I completely understand. Watching them this year has been extremely frustrating. Turnovers, lack of puck possession and lack of shots have made this team painful to follow. But I think the Pens aren’t too many pieces removed from being a top team again. As I said before, we need someone to be the scrappy blue collar player. Someone who can make some traffic in front of the net and scrap for pucks in the corners. Just look at some of the players who left. Malone is on pace for about 19 goals this year. He had 27 last year. Sid makes everyone he plays with better. Be it a scoring wing or a grunt that stands in front of the net. But we’re finding out that he needs someone to cause some commotion in front and free up some space. A second area of need is a defenseman who can run the point on the power play. But Gonchar will fill that up again in a few months. We could also use some guys that can win the battles in the corners and keep possessions going. We need to be putting much more pressure on opposing defenses with elongated possessions than we’re doing right now. The good news is that these are pieces we can get. Ray Shero has already proved that he assess talent very well (I can’t think of a bad trade he’s made. The Hossa one was risky and debatable but at least got us to a cup final. Plus, drafting Staal in ’06 was brilliant), and he’s proved he can place value on players (look at how well the Lightning are doing overpaying everyone…..and forget about last week’s game. It was an anomaly). He has some trade bait now that he has an abundance of defensemen with NHL experience. I trust Shero at the trade deadline. We’ll see if that’s a good thing or not.
-All statistics come from ESPN.com