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Thursday, December 31, 2015

Garage League? Don't Insult Garages by @BrianK_PI

11:00:00 AM 3

The NHL is no stranger to criticism. It has routinely ignored its own rulebook for years, given minimal interest in dangerous plays with the potential to seriously injure, and shown no desire to address either issue. Mario Lemieux famously called the NHL a "garage league" in 1992, and it certainly hasn't gotten better since; if anything, it could be argued that things have further deteriorated. Save for a commitment to enforcing interference penalties coming out of the 2004-05 lockout that saw gameplay open up to levels not previously seen in years, clutching, grabbing, and other impediments have remained a routine part of watching NHL games. More troublesome is that other infractions seem to be increasingly ignored or randomly called. The NHL added a second referee in 1999 - at this point they could double that number and likely still have an issue.

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Monday, December 28, 2015

The Pittsburgh Penguins in 2 Sentences Or Less: Part 2, by @_MAF29

11:30:00 PM 1


A follow-up on my previous piece (by the same name), I will be giving a season's worth summary of each player, in two sentences or less. Here we go!

Sidney Crosby: Started slow, sure. But he's definitely heating up, and he looks a lot more comfortable.

Evgeni Malkin: Still am score.

Kris Letang: Been missing time with injuries upon injuries. Gotta feel for the guy.

Olli Maatta: Quietly solid. Started off with some rust, but shook it off quickly.

Scott Wilson: Notched his first NHL point and NHL fight whilst defending Geno. Good man.

Conor Sheary: Scored his first NHL goal off a Crosby feed against the elite Tuukka Rask. Good man, part two.

Marc-Andre Fleury: Has missed some time with a concussion. But before the concussion, he was the Penguins' rock.

Matt Murray: This kid softens the blow left by Fleury's absence. The future of Pittsburgh's goaltending is currently 2-1-0 as he notched his first career win against the rival Columbus Blue Jackets.

Ben Lovejoy: Started off strong...isn't doing too well lately.

Brian Dumoulin: Perhaps Pittsburgh's best defender throughout the season, even though he's been doing it quietly. All the while paired with Ben Lovejoy.

Daniel Sprong: Sent back to Charlottetown, but scored 2 goals in his first game back in a 4-1 Charlottetown Islanders win, including the game winner.

Pascal Dupuis: Retired or not, he's a legend. #ThankYouDuper

Nick Bonino: He's been snakebitten in terms of goals. Still performing solidly.

Phil Kessel: After a long drought, the Phil notched two goals against Columbus. Still trying to find his groove with Pittsburgh.

Jeff Zatkoff: Definition of inconsistency.

Kevin Porter: He's...there.

Trevor Daley: The return of the Rob Scuderi trade. Already exceeding expectations - good on him.

Beau Bennett: Out with injury due to a TJ Oshie hit. When not serving pizza, he's been scoring some nice goals and setting up some nice plays!

Sergei Plotnikov: The amount of times I've said "PLOTNIKOV ALMOST!!!" is unacceptable. Still searching for his first NHL goal.

Patric Hornqvist: Also snakebitten on goals. He isn't exactly playing the best he could, however.

Chris Kunitz: Not appearing too often on the scoresheet, but he's definitely picking up his play.

Matt Cullen: Performing as expected, solid fourth liner and penalty killer.

Eric Fehr: Solid penalty killer, almost always has a short handed chance. His versatility is important.

David Perron: Been alright, throughout the lineup. The Perron-Geno-Phil line has since been broken up, however.

David Warsofsky: I mean...he's been okay. Not the best, not by any stretch.

Adam Clendening: Do you think he draws tallies on the wall every time he gets scratched? I bet it's a very detailed wall.

Ian Cole: His contract isn't bad (at all), but he's not playing as well as he was last year (he was evens scratched once by Sully). Hopefully he picks the play up.

Thanks for reading!


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Thursday, December 24, 2015

A Merry Penguins Christmas

11:00:00 AM 0

A Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you and yours from everyone at Pens Initiative. We'd like to thank everyone that has followed our team on Twitter, liked our Facebook page, or just simply comes to our site to read our posts. Christmas is about giving, and in the spirit of the holidays we have gifts that we'd like to give to the Penguins organization.

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Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Early Returns on Mike Sullivan by @BrianK_PI

11:30:00 AM 0

The fifth time was the charm for the Pittsburgh Penguins under new coach Mike Sullivan as they finally broke out of their scoring slump and beat the Columbus Blue Jackets 5-2. The win snapped a 5 game losing streak that predated Sullivan's time on the bench and gave him his first victory as the Pens head coach. While the team is now 1-4-0 under Sullivan and have been outscored 17-9, the limited sample size shows some reasons for optimism, all while being without his top defender in Kris Letang, having his franchise goalie in Fleury for just a single game while suffering the effects of a concussion, and losing Beau Bennett during his first game while he had been playing with the 1st line. Sullivan has the team playing much better from a possession standpoint, the defense has been tested less as a result of keeping the puck at the other end of the ice, and despite an offensive that has remained ice cold up until last night's game the team has been better positioned to win as a result.

*The following stats, unless noted otherwise, are all score-adjusted

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Saturday, December 19, 2015

The Bumbling Fool by @BrianK_PI

12:57:00 PM 0

By now, it's no secret that the changes made during the 2014 offseason are a complete, unquestionable disaster. The head coach hired in the midst of botched coaching search has been fired; the assistant coach forced upon the new hire's staff who prevented a more qualified candidate from taking the job has been retained by management for the new coach's staff. The new coach who, incidentally, received a contract extension and avoided the interim tag despite being already under contract by the organization. All of this just months after the team decided to retain a coach already on thin ice and not pursue Mike Babcock despite the perception that he'd be interested in coaching Sidney Crosby.


It's no surprise there have been issues with the coaching staff. Roster construction has been an issue for several years now. The messes on the bottom directly result from messes on the top. Shit flows downhill, afterall. Ron Burkle and Mario Lemieux effectively decided that they weren't interested in competing for championships when they decided to hand control of the franchise over to David Morehouse. Hell, just one season watching the mess brewing was enough for them to decide they didn't even want to own the team anymore. Morehouse, being grossly underqualified to head a franchise's hockey operations, chose a general manager any team with aspirations of competing for the Stanley Cup shouldn't have touched with a 10 foot pole if there was a 20 foot pole duct taped to the other end. And Jim Rutherford has been everything he could have been predicted to be. Jim Rutherford is a bumbling fool.

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Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Marc-Andre Fleury Out with Concussion

2:06:00 PM 0

Marc-Andre Fleury will miss tomorrow night's game against the Boston Bruins and potentially much longer with a concussion. As Pens fans know better than most, there is little way to gauge how long he could miss, though given that he's self-reported not feeling well and there's no singular traumatic event it would seem more likely to be a short-term absence. Early indications are 1-2 weeks, though concussion timelines are much harder to diagnose than broken bones, pulled muscles, or torn ligaments. Fleury has been instrumental in keeping the Penguins' season afloat given the issues they've been working through in the early going, and it is his level of play has kept the Penguins within striking distance of the playoffs.

New head coach Mike Sullivan gets his first major challenge leading the Penguins, and it's arguably the most difficult thing he could have had to deal with. Also losing Beau Bennett to an upper body injury last night that will sideline him for 4-6 weeks, Sullivan even more needs to help the Penguins drive play into the other team's end and try to outscore a bad defense that no longer has Fleury to prop them up. Jeff Zatkoff will likely be the next man up to see if he can continue some of the success he's had this year in a small sample size, but it's unlikely the team will be able to ride Zatkoff for a long period of time like they were able to with Fleury. It's also possible that prized prospect Matt Murray gets a chance to see what he can do in net for the Pens. With a 1.84 GAA and 0.938 SV% in 17 games this year for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Murray has earned the right to get a taste of NHL action in a situation such as this and test himself against the best in the game.

UPDATE: The team has announced that Fleury will miss 1-2 weeks with a concussion.

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Rob Scuderi - The Highlights

11:48:00 AM 0

In case you missed it, the Penguins have traded Rob Scuderi to the Chicago Blackhawks in a deal that brings defenseman Trevor Daley back to Pittsburgh. The Pens also retain one third of Scuderi's cap hit, or $1.125 million, over each of the next two seasons. Trevor Daley had a career year in Dallas last year with 16 goals and 22 assists for 38 points in 68 GP. He's struggled so far this year in Chicago in a lesser role, though the hope with both the Daley acquisition and the coaching change is that the Penguins will resort to a more wide open style of play that has them attempt to outscore their bad defense, much like the Stars have been doing. Daley's downside as a player is that he can struggle in his own zone and with possession, but his upside is that he doesn't struggle with everything.


Rob Scuderi may be gone, but his impact on the Penguins during his second stint in Pittsburgh cannot be denied. As such, we at Pens Initiative wanted to pay tribute to the 2+ seasons that Scuderi has spent back in black and gold. After the break, we'll break down the highlights of Scuderi's return to the Pens.

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Monday, December 14, 2015

Did Jim Rutherford Have Two Steals In The Draft? by @_MAF29

3:57:00 PM 0


We all know about Daniel Sprong, at this point. Drafted 46th overall in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, and is currently in the NHL, right out of the draft. The last player to jump right into the NHL out of the 2nd round was Ryan O'Reilly. Most if not all hockey analysts have deemed Daniel Sprong a steal. But, was Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford done there?

It wouldn't seem so. Rutherford worked more of his magic when he drafted winger Dominik Simon in the 5th round, 137th overall. The Czech player was drafted at 21 years of age, and only a few analysts said during the draft that he would have a future in the NHL.

Some may view him differently, now.

In his first season in the AHL, Dominik Simon - a rookie(!), mind you - has 11 goals and 25 points in 24 games. That's good enough for 4th in the entire league in terms of point scoring. Dominik Simon currently has 7 (count them, 7!) multi-point games, and has two two-goal games for the Baby Pens so far. It would seem Simon is making quite the first impression!

Here's a look at some of his advanced stats.


His shooting percentage is pretty darn high, as well as his NHLe. It supports the notion that he might fit into the Pittsburgh Penguins roster in the future, if an injury call-up is needed in the forward group.  

On December 10th, sports agent Allan Walsh shared that same sentiment.


The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins will play the Lehigh Valley Phantoms on Wednesday, December 16th.

Thanks for reading!
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Sunday, December 13, 2015

Welcome to Narrative Season by @BrianK_PI

12:00:00 PM 0

Christmas has been cancelled as Pens fans have been given a heaping pile of coal through the first 28 games. Instead of the holiday season, we now welcome in the narrative season. The events that got us to this point, and the ones to follow, are certain to be fit into neat and tidy hot takes by national pundits, and possibly some local ones as well. Some might hit on some valid topics while ignoring the details, while others will just be lazy attempts to explain what's happened. Buckle up baby, because chances are you will see, or have seen, some of the following:

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So...Who Is Mike Sullivan? by @_MAF29

9:00:00 AM 0


On Saturday, December 12th of 2015, it was announced that Pittsburgh Penguins head coach Mike Johnston (and assistant coach Gary Agnew) had been relieved of their coaching duties. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton head coach Mike Sullivan was named Johnston's replacement (and Jacques Martin was named Gary Agnew's replacement). Mike Bales and Rick Tocchet retained their coaching duties.

So, we all have a pretty good idea of who Jacques Martin is. But what about Mike Sullivan? The guy was just handed a three year contract extension, so he must be pretty good, right? Well, let's go over his resume as a coach in the hockey world.

Sullivan's coaching duties began one year after his 11-year NHL career. In 2002-2003, he assumed head coaching duties of the Providence Bruins, AHL minor affiliate of the Boston Bruins. It was quite the success, as they went 41-17-9-4 that year. In 2003, Sullivan was promoted to head coach of Boston by Mike O'Connell. His first year, similar to his AHL debut, was a success. He coached the Bruins to a 41-19-15-7 record, achieving first in the Northeastern division with 104 points. They exited the postseason in the first round, however, having been eliminated by the rival Montreal Canadiens. After the lockout, it was quite the opposite result as Sullivan's Bruins were last in the Northeastern division and missed the playoffs. Dave Lewis replaced him, as he was fired by the new general manager Peter Chiarelli.


The next few years, Sullivan was the assistant coach to a number of John Tortorella-led teams, such as: Tampa Bay Lightning, starting in May of 2007; New York Rangers, starting in July of 2009; Vancouver Canucks, starting in July of 2013 (Sullivan was interim head coach while Torts served a 6-game suspension, and won the first game he coached as such).

Seth Rorabaugh, writer for the Post-Gazette, cited John Tortotella talking about his former assistant back in November:

"He is very cerebral about the game. Really good [at] understanding the Xs and Os. Understanding the athletes. And I think he relates well to players too. He's the full package. Not because he worked with me but I think he is one of the most underrated coaches around. He should be back in this league sometime. He has strengths everywhere in coaching. The great thing about him is he's a better person. I think he is going to do wonders for that organization because of just how he handles peoples. He's very good with people also."


Very good with people is probably a very accurate description of Sullivan. Before he was promoted, Sullivan lead a Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins team to an 18-5-0-0 record. With limited offensive weapons, they were 2nd in the AHL in the standings as well as 2nd in the AHL in goal scoring. Three of the top 15 AHL scorers were WBS players (rookie Dominik Simon, Conor Sheary and Scott Wilson).



The Baby Pens ended up winning the game 7-6 in overtime.




Quite obviously, the players in that locker room admired and respected (more than for the most part) Mike Sullivan; not only as a coach, but as a leader. He inspired them to things the Pittsburgh Penguins probably wouldn't have been able to accomplish under Johnston and co.

But now, Sullivan has another chance at the head coaching gig at this level of professional hockey. He has a chance to lead the Penguins to greater success, to inspire the Penguins produce offense at the level they were projected to prior to the season's beginning. Hopefully, for the Penguins' sake, he can do that.

Mike Sullivan's first test comes tomorrow night (Monday) as the Penguins face Barry Trotz's Washington Capitals.

Thanks for reading!
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Saturday, December 12, 2015

A Half-Assed Move by @BrianK_PI

12:14:00 PM 0

In news that has been anticipated ever since Jim Rutherford publicly called out his head coach, the Penguins announced today that Mike Johnston was relieved of his head coaching duties. Along with Johnston, Gary Agnew has been sent packing. Mike Sullivan, who had been coaching the AHL team in Wilkes-Barre, has been promoted behind the bench in Pittsburgh, with Rick Tocchet and Jaques Martin rounding out his staff.


Getting rid of Johnston has become a much needed move as the team continued to flounder and his personnel choices left much to be desired. Sullivan inherits the challenge of attempting to jump start the offense and get more out of the blue line, which has been arguably the Pens' biggest issue despite currently sitting 6th in the NHL with 2.32 GA/gm.

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Wednesday, December 9, 2015

One Super Duper Career by @SIra_92

10:00:00 AM 0
I'm gonna keep this short and to the point. The Pascal Dupuis news while hardly shocking, was still hard to swallow. In the past I made a few "Super Duper" photoshops for when he scored goals. Since we wont be seeing that again, I figure I'll post it here as one last tribute to Duper. Great guy, great teammate, good hockey player. Will be sad to see him go.

Here's to Duper.

Follow me on Twitter at @SIra_92.
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Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Thaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaanks Pascal!

3:38:00 PM 0

After having his two previous seasons cut short by a torn ACL and blood clots, Pascal Dupuis has officially hung them up after the medical issues with the blood clots continued to persist. Originally acquired as part of the deal that brought Marian Hossa to Pittsburgh, it would've been far-fetched to think that Dupuis would still be in Pittsburgh nearly 8 years later. After finding himself playing on the Penguins 4th line at times, he found a place as Sidney Crosby's personal right winger following Bill Guerin's retirement. Always known as a good skater with good defensive ability, Dupuis began finding his scoring touch. Over his last 4 full seasons, he scored at least 17 goals and 37 points in each, numbers made more impressive considering that Dupuis received minimal time on the power play.

He reached career highs in goals (25), assists (34), and points (59) during the 2011-12 season, and then proceeded to post even higher scoring rates the following year during. While the lockout robbed him of the chance of besting the numbers, he still posted 20 goals, 18 assists, and 38 points - totals that would have had him on pace for 34 goals, 35 assists, and 69 points over the course of a full season. Following that year and facing free agency, Dupuis re-signed with Pittsburgh as Ray Shero offered him a 4 year, $15 million contract. Unfortunately, the injuries mentioned robbed him of ice time after that, as he's proceeded to play just 73 of a possible 190 regular season games while missing both postseasons.

We wish Pascal Dupuis all the best of luck in his retirement and health. He goes out a fan favorite even despite his play on the ice this season falling short of what we had become accustomed to seeing from him over the years. With his retirement, it's likely that Daniel Sprong will take his space in the lineup, and with his $3.75 million AAV coming off the books effective immediately, his retirement allows Jim Rutherford the flexibility in the salary cap to address a leaky blue line. Hopefully this doesn't mark the end of Dupuis' time in Pittsburgh and he manages to return to the organization, whether as a coach or a broadcaster, as so many former Penguins have over the years.

Good luck Pascal, and thanks for the memories.
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Monday, December 7, 2015

Has Pens' Window Closed? by @BrianK_PI

3:22:00 PM 2

It all felt very different almost a decade ago now. Remember when the team followed up a surprising playoff berth, with a surprising Stanley Cup Finals appearance, then with a surprising Stanley Cup championship? It was new, it was exciting, the possibilities were endless, and there was no limit to the future that was laid out before them. Now with that future a good portion in the past, the feelings are much different. The fanbase is jaded, the excitement surrounding the team dwindling with each passing year, and the on ice product feels dull and trite.


This spring will mark seven years since the Penguins won the Stanley Cup and found themselves anointed the next hockey dynasty. The core players from that championship team, the ones that have remained in Pittsburgh, are beginning to exit their prime. The cost of trying to get back to where they were is beginning to be paid; the farm system is mostly bare and it's becoming more and more difficult to fill out the NHL roster with players who can help contend for championships. And it's feeling like the opportunity to contend has started to come full circle: the team rose extremely quickly on its way to the franchise's 3rd Stanley Cup, remained one of the best teams in the league for several years, albeit with more than their fair share of playoff mishaps, and have now began to see that regular season success disappear too. The team currently sits 9th in the Eastern Conference with 30 points and is on pace for 95 points this season. It would be just the 3rd time during the team's current playoff streak that they failed to break a 100 point pace - their late season charge fell just short in 2008-09 when they finished with 99 points, though it propelled them to win the Stanley Cup. The other time was least season when the current downward trend began.

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Friday, December 4, 2015

Why Keeping Sprong Up Makes Sense by @_MAF29

4:49:00 PM 0

  After trading away their first round pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft (along with Rob Klinkhammer in exchange for David Perron), the Pittsburgh Penguins' first pick of that draft would then be their second rounder, or the 46th overall pick. Rutherford ended up using this pick to draft (and pretty much steal) the Dutch-born right winger Charlottetown Islander, Daniel Sprong.


After having a very impressive pre-season, Sprong made it past cuts and was kept on the team for a nine game tryout period. The rule regarding junior players is that if they are signed to an NHL contract (which Daniel Sprong is), they may play 9 NHL games. Once they are suited up and in the lineup for a 10th game, the entry level contract kicks in. Whether he stays with Pittsburgh the entire year or is at some point returned to the QMJHL, the first of three years on his contract will expire.

Daniel Sprong, given his promising play, has played more than the 9 allowed games before the contract burns the first year. Some people see this as a problem, given recent coaching decisions. Out of the 24 games played by the Penguins, Sprong has only been suited up for 14 of them. The last game he played was on November 17th against Montreal. Sprong has been a healthy scratch since that date. 

So, why was he kept up past the 9 game limit if he was going to be sitting? Why did Jim Rutherford decide to do this, knowing the consequence of burning the first year off of Daniel Sprong's entry level contract? Does this make sense?

The simple answer: Yes. Yes it does.

First off, Daniel Sprong has nothing left to learn in the QMJHL. As his 69 goals and 156 points through 135 QMJHL games (in addition to 11 goals and 16 points through 14 playoff games) show, Sprong had little to no problems dominating the league as soon as he started playing in it. He could do things to QMJHL regulars and/or scrubs that you'd see Sidney Crosby do to players of the same relative skill level in the NHL. Dangle around them, embarrass them, et cetera. 

Many have noted that Sprong is great with the puck on his stick, but his play away from the puck can use improvement. You know where he can learn that? At the NHL level. Even if he isn't playing games, he's consistently practicing with NHL caliber coaching (I know, I know) and NHL caliber players. One of which is the best player in the world in Sidney Crosby, and another who is one of the most talented right wingers in the world in Phil Kessel. These are better teachers for him than Charlottetown teammates Kameron Kielly or Quinn O'Brien. 

Two more little tidbits in regards to this:
via behindthenet.ca
Both of these support the fact that the QMJHL is one of the easiest leagues in all of recorded hockey. The fact that Daniel Sprong is playing so well against competition after playing junior in the QMJHL is very rare, however it's obviously welcome to the Penguins organization. Sprong has a lot more to gain by sticking with the big club, in terms of both development and hockey knowledge.

Now, onto the contract issue. A lot of people are less than happy with Jim Rutherford due to his decision to keep Sprong up, as this burns a year off of his entry level contract...well, so what? As Ryan Wilson (@GunnerStaal) said in one of his hockeyhurts.com podcasts with Cameron Walsh (@walshy66), "What, you gotta pay him?" (paraphrased). Good players earn the money they get, and usually get paid that money. By the time Sprong's entry level contract expires, all three of Rob Scuderi, Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis will be off the books. That's a combined $10.975M of cap that will presumably be cleared when Daniel Sprong is an RFA (considering other assets that may be dealt away or assigned cap, you can give or take some of this number). The Penguins will most likely be able to afford him, and will be able to pay him the money he will most likely deserve at that point. So people who are terrified of the entry level contract kicking in: don't be. There isn't much of a reason to be.

Does Daniel Sprong deserve more playing time than head coach Mike Johnston is giving him? Perhaps he does. However that ice time should be at the NHL level, because his practices will help him become a better player more than more ice time in the QMJHL will.

Thanks for reading!



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Tuesday, December 1, 2015

A Super Duper Bad Idea by @BrianK_PI

4:30:00 PM 2


It's been a disappointing season for Sidney Crosby so far. On pace for just 18 goals and 36 assists, it's been by far the least productive stretch of hockey he's played during his career. The 47.1 CF% he's posted at even strength in the first 23 games is a far cry from the player that's dominated the possession game in recent seasons. He has just a 36 GF%, though a 96.7 PDO suggests that, to an extent, the early going has been a streak of bad luck that should see itself auto-correct as the season goes along.

Regardless, Crosby has certainly struggled through the first quarter of the season. It likely doesn't help that the coaching staff has consistently juggled his line. With 331:00 in even strength TOI, Crosby has already logged 100+ minutes with Pascal Dupuis, Patric Hornqvist, Phil Kessel, and Chris Kunitz, in order of most frequent linemate. In the latest move, Mike Johnston is reuniting Crosby with Kunitz and Dupuis - a move that suggests he's flailing wildly while in over his head at the NHL level.

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