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Sunday, January 31, 2016

Let's Hear it for John Scott, Human by @Nick422

10:53:00 PM 1
In sports, people are a commodity.  Trade deadlines, waiver dismissals, and free agency paint the picture of each human as a puzzle piece and an asset that's disposable.  With every comment on social media about a player playing poorly and the sudden need to trade them, the humanity feels a little more lost.

John Scott did his part to remind us of that humanity.

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Saturday, January 30, 2016

Which Baby Pens Are All-Stars? by @_MAF29

3:45:00 AM 0
Out of the players in the Pittsburgh Penguins organization, 5 have been selected to go to an All-Star game in 2016. For the NHL's All-Star Game, these players include center Evgeni Malkin and defenseman Kris Letang. For the AHL's All-Star Classic, these players include right wing Dominik Simon, defenseman Derrick Pouliot and goaltender Matt Murray. We all know what Geno and Letang have done, but what about the young guns? Let's take a look.

You'd truly think Matt Murray wouldn't be able to top what he did last season, has he won nearly every accolade a rookie goaltender could at the AHL level. Well, he isn't exactly topping it, but he hasn't fallen off either.

Looking more and more like the best goaltending prospect in any NHL organization out there, Murray currently boasts a 16-8-0 record through 25 games played. With 4 shutouts, a .933 save percentage and a 1.97 goals against average on the season, Murray is definitely continuing his greatness. While Marc-Andre Fleury was injured due to a concussion, Murray got some NHL time as well! Through 4 games played, Murray posted a 2-1-1 record with a 1.72 goals against average and a .938 save percentage. While playing at the NHL level, Murray fit right in and didn't look out of place, not even for a second. He has more than earned the call to the AHL's All-Star Classic. 
(Sadly, due to an lower body injury, Murray will miss the game. He will be replaced by Mike McKenna.)

Pittsburgh's top defensive prospect Derrick Pouliot earned his spot as well. Through 37 AHL games played this season, Pouliot had scored 6 goals for 23 points, 14 of them being primary points. Pouliot's estimated time on ice per 60 is 22.618, as he usually plays on the top defensive pairing with Steve Oleksy. Pouliot is also the quarterback on Wilkes-Barre/Scranton's number one power play unit, and also gets time on the penalty kill. Former head coach Mike Sullivan (now leading Pittsburgh) in addition to current head coach Clark Donatelli both relied and rely heavily on Pouliot to be the go-to guy in most situations, on the back end. Pouliot is currently on the NHL roster, and has played 2 games in which he has accumulated one assist.

(It was announced Derrick Pouliot would be unavailable for the All-Star Classic. He will be replaced.)

Last but not least for the All-Star Classic is rookie Dominik Simon.

Drafted in the same class as Daniel Sprong, Frederik Tiffels and Nikita Pavlychev, Simon is the only one of the four that is eligible to play at the AHL level, and boy has he dominated it. In Simon's first year playing North American professional hockey (the AHL in this case), he has 12 goals and 19 assists through 41 games played. 37 points through 41 games isn't too bad for a rookie, that's for sure. It was good enough to earn him passage into the AHL All-Star Classic! In addition to Daniel Sprong, Dominik Simon may turn out to be a steal in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft for Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford. (Due to injury, Dominik Simon may miss the All-Star Classic. There is no decision as of now.)

Sadly, they may all miss the All-Star Classic due to injury or simply not being there to represent. If this is the case, hopefully the injured players can seize this opportunity to heal up and be ready for the latter half of the season!

Thanks for reading!

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Friday, January 29, 2016

Pens WILL Finish 2nd in Metro by @BrianK_PI

10:50:00 AM 0

Entering the All-Star Game weekend the Penguins find themselves in a much better spot in the standings than they were a month earlier. The Pens currently are the 1st Wild Card in the Eastern Conference with 55 points and are only 4 points back of the New York Rangers in the Metropolitan Division. While the Washington Capitals are running away with the division, the remaining playoff spots are very much up for grabs. The next 5 teams are separated by only 5 points, and the final 30ish games of the regular season will be a sprint to the finish line. Even with that many teams so closely bunched and despite not having the pole position, it's time for a bold prediction - the Pittsburgh Penguins will finish the regular season as the 2nd place team in the Metropolitan Division.

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Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The Curious Case of Sergei Plotnikov by @BrianK_PI

1:48:00 PM 0

The 2015 offseason had one main goal for the Penguins front office - bolster the forward depth. The team acquired Phil Kessel and Nick Bonino in trades, signed Eric Fehr in free agency, and looked halfway across the world to the KHL in an attempt to strengthen the roster. The team was one of the finalists for Artemi Panarin before ultimately seeing Chicago sign the talented winger and managed to sign Sergei Plotnikov to a 1 year, bonus-laden $925k deal. Panarin was widely viewed as the better player, but the hope in Pittsburgh was that Plotnikov would be a solid player in his own right and capable of earning a spot on Evgeni Malkin's line. Unfortunately for the Pens, the two Russians could not have had more different fortunes since coming to North America.

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Friday, January 22, 2016

Wait...They Won?! by @_MAF29

8:55:00 PM 0

October 17th, 2013.
It was a game between the Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins, at the Wells Fargo Center. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin each had a goal and an assist in what was a 4-1 Penguins win. Pens fans were feeling pretty good that night; Flyers fans, not so much.

Fast forward to January 20th, 2016.
Penguins fans hadn't had such a feeling since that date in October, as the Penguins would go on to drop 8 straight games to the Flyers over that course of time. What's even worse is the Penguins' record at Consol Energy Center against Philly. Their first game on the new ice was a 3-2 loss to the Flyers, and it would not stop there. Since then, including playoffs, the Penguins have won a total 3 of 16 games against the Flyers on home ice. There was a Penguins game tomorrow night in Pittsburgh, and it was against the Philadelphia Flyers. Some Penguins writers already had columns written, detailing how bad the Penguins would lose and what that would mean for the club...that's the spirit.

The next day, January 21st, 2016.
They did it. The Penguins finally beat the Flyers, no less at home! Not only was it different to see the Penguins beat the Flyers on home ice, but the game itself wasn't exactly reeking of the "Keystone Rivalry". Brayden Schenn of the Flyers put this nicely:

Other than some minor scrums here and there, Schenn was right. Either Sullivan and Hakstol kept their teams disciplined and warned them of extracurricular activities after the whistles, or the overhaul of the Penguins' roster took away some of the ingrained hate these teams have for each other. 

The last time the Penguins played the Flyers was in April. These players were not on the team: Nick Bonino, Conor Sheary, Phil Kessel, Eric Fehr, Carl Hagelin, Trevor Daley...and a few more, but you get the idea. There were a lot of new faces, and they didn't exactly drop the gloves. Instead? They scored goals.

First off, down 2-0 after the first period, the Penguins had a power play near the beginning of the second. Guess who scored on it? Trevor Daley, of course! 

After that, Sidney Crosby had a dirty snipe from an impossible angle short side, which tied up the game.

After that? The Phil.

And after that?

Carl Hagelin to...the Phil.

The Hagelin-Malkin-Kessel line was doing great the entire night, specifically the chemistry that seemed to develop between Hags and Phil. The two speed demons would go on to find each other numerous times on a plethora of rushes throughout the game. Who would've guessed?

Claude Giroux would get a goal later on, but the final score?

Penguins 4, Flyers 3. The Penguins won, on home ice no less, against the Flyers for the first time since October 17th of 2013. One would hope this turns into a nice trend for Pittsburgh.

Thanks for reading!

Now enjoy Phil Kessel's celebration on his first goal. He's just as happy as we are.

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Don't Buy This Penguins Calendar by @Nick422

6:35:00 PM 0
It's almost February, so malls everywhere see their Calendars and More stores in severe discount.  Calendars as cheap as 75% off are tempting, especially when you see one about the Pittsburgh Penguins.  The 2016 poster, however... I'd avoid that.

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Wednesday, January 20, 2016

LISTEN: Radio: PI 1/20/16 with Daniel Friedman

4:48:00 PM 0

As the NHL conteners and pretenders begin to separate themselves, Mike Asti is here to discuss how this new era of Penguins hockey under Head Coach Mike Sullivan could look for a playoff run.

Mike will be joined by Daniel Friedman, of WFAN/CBS in New York, to get a credentialed outsider perspective on Sullivan's Penguins in comparison to the rest of the league.

The NHL caved and John Scott will be an All-Star after all. What was the root of this mess? Was the National Hockey League defeated by trolls?

Pittsburgh Penguin hockey talk on the Pens Initiative airwaves and the Radio: PI Podcast Network.

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Saturday, January 16, 2016

Stop the Madness! by @BrianK_PI

11:29:00 AM 4

In case you spent last night sleeping, the Penguins have traded David Perron and Adam Clendening to the Anaheim Ducks for Carl Hagelin. At this point I don't think I need to go into too much depth on my thoughts about Jim Rutherford - he was a terrible hire who has made numerous questionable moves that call into doubt his competence in building a contending team. The Hagelin trade is another nail in the coffin as far as Rutherford's tenure in Pittsburgh is concerned. He's not a defenseman, he's not a top 6 winger, and he's not salary cap relief. It's a trade that completely ignores the reality of the situation the Pens find themselves in.
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Thursday, January 14, 2016

Potential Trade Targets for the Pittsburgh Penguins, by @_MAF29

12:12:00 AM 4
There have been some whispers in the dark saying that the Pittsburgh Penguins are currently searching for a top four defenseman, and a depth forward. While the Penguins' apparent need for a depth forward is rather, interesting, I'd like to speculate on the former need: a top four defenseman.

I have picked out some interesting trade targets for the Penguins, and whether they should pursue them more than others.

Kevin Shattenkirk
First off, we have St. Louis Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk. More often than not, Shattenkirk plays on St. Louis' first pairing with Joel Edmunson.

Advanced Stats Lord Domenic Galamini had some nice things to say about Shattenkirk as well, using one of his graphics to back those words up.
Shattenkirk puts up these numbers, and plays with the likes of Edmunson, Carl Gunnarsson, Barret Jackman...not that these players aren't good, but they aren't exactly Alex Pietrangelo.

Something else to acknowledge is Shattenkirk's salary cap hit of $4.25M, the very same cap hit as Pittsburgh's own Patric Hornqvist. When you look at St.Louis' trade history, especially the trade involving sending TJ Oshie to Washington for Troy Brouwer+, anything is possible with them. Considering this, Rutherford should bombard Doug Armstrong with calls regarding Shattenkirk.

Tyson Barrie
Once rumored to be on the trade block, Barrie is an odd situation. He is currently an RFA, and will likely demand a pay-day from the Colorado Avalanche sooner or later in the form of being re-signed. If the Avalanche and Barrie's camp aren't able to reach a deal, one would expect Barrie to be on the trade block so the Avs don't lose him for scraps.

Tyson Barrie is most certainly a puck moving defenseman who can feed the transition game and score when needed. He is a valuable asset on the blue-line, and perhaps one that the Penguins should look into acquiring if the price is right. 

While only getting top four ice time in the past 3 seasons, Barrie's production numbers are those of a top pairing defenseman, and the very same can be said for the majority of his possession numbers. If the Penguins are interested (as well as the Avalanche), Barrie would be an excellent addition to the Penguins lineup. 

Dustin Byfuglien
I'm not too hot about this one, but it isn't impossible so we may as well address it.

Dustin Byfuglien of the Winnipeg Jets is a giant 6'5" defenseman (who can play forward if need be) who has a nasty slapper and a gritty attitude. Currently in his contract year, the Jets may shop him to get something out of the player (rather than nothing) if a deal cannot be reached.

A hockey fan on twitter asked TSN reporter Darren Dreger about the status of Dustin Byfuglien and Andrew Ladd's contract extensions.

Byfuglien has similar possession and production numbers to Tyson Barrie, although he gets top pairing ice time unlike Barrie. 

Like James Neal, Dustin Byfuglien does have a knack to take some...silly penalties in untimely situations. This is something that should be considered when looking at Byfuglien.

He is a UFA at the end of this year, so if the Penguins are looking at Byfuglien, they should keep the salary cap, in addition to what Byfuglien may want, in mind. 

Patrick Weircioch
Not exactly the most skilled of the bunch, Patrick Weircioch of the Ottawa Senators could be a back-up plan if the prior three are not able to be acquired. 

While Weircioch doesn't get a lot of ice time regularly, he does have excellent possession numbers, evidence of his ability to drive the play forward and get pucks on net, rather than be hemmed in his own zone more often than not. 

In most of the Senators games, Weircioch has the team-best CF%, evidence of his ability to be a possession monster...perhaps the defensive Justin Williams? (Haha!)

While there is no telling exactly what Rutherford may do, these are some nice trade options for good ol' Jimbo to take a look at. 

Thanks for reading!

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Thursday, January 7, 2016

Penguins All-Time Best 3 on 3 Team

11:31:00 AM 0

In an effort to end more overtime games before reaching the shootout, the NHL changed the rules to make the extra period a 3 on 3 contest instead of the 4 on 4 they've been using for several years. The league also decided to shake up the All-Star Game by making it a 3 on 3 contest as well with each division represented by a team. The league announced the lineups yesterday, and Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang both made the team. Pittsburgh has had some elite offensive talent during their history - since Mario Lemieux first won the Art Ross Trophy in 1987-88, the Penguins have dominated the award, winning 15 of the 27 presented during that time frame along with 7 Hart Trophies and 9 Lester B. Pearson/Ted Lindsay Awards. With all the talent that has come through Pittsburgh, the Penguins could put together a historically dominant team. Choosing from a pool of any player to wear a Penguins jersey, what would Pittsburgh's best 3 man lineup be?

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Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Passing the Eye Test by @Nick422

3:01:00 PM 0
Towards the end of the Mike Johnston era, almost all were unanimous that there needed to be a change.  From casual fans to national media, all knew that something wasn't right and watching the game told you most of what you needed to know.  For a greater impression, you needed to look no farther than Sidney Crosby.

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Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Where Are They Now - Whipping Boy Edition

3:30:00 PM 0

In what amounts to a serendipitous move by the schedule makers, the Pens play the Chicago Blackhawks in back-to-back nights less than a month after a trade between the two sent former Penguin whipping boy Rob Scuderi to Chicago in return for Trevor Daley. To say that Scuderi disappointed in his second stint in Pittsburgh is an understatement, and so far he's continued his lackluster play for the Blackhawks. In 7 games with Chicago Scuderi has no points, a 42.9 CF%, and a 25.0 GF% coming with an extremely favorable usage (68.6 OZS%). It's as awful of a performance as most would have predicted when the trade was announced, and Hawks fans are quickly discovering why Pens fans were so relieved to see Scuderi on the next plane out of town.

While Penguin fans hated seeing him in the lineup, they loved to hate on Scuderi, and he very deservedly found himself as the team whipping boy before his tenure back in Pittsburgh was mercifully cut short. While he leaves no obvious option to take over his role as the whipping boy (Ben Lovejoy, perhaps?), the Pens have had no shortage of options in recent years as they've struggled at times to fill out the bottom of their lineup. After the break we take a look at where some of the whipping boys from recent years find themselves now.
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Monday, January 4, 2016

Is Sidney Crosby "Hot", or Just Back On Track? by @_MAF29

5:21:00 PM 0

Since the hiring of former Portland Winterhawks coach Mike Johnston, the Pittsburgh Penguins' captain Sidney Crosby started to experience what many deemed "slumps". The season-long "slump" of Sidney Crosby during his 2014-15 campaign led him to gain 84 points in the regular season, good for 3rd in the league, and he lead the league in points per game with 1.0909 points per game. This was deemed the "worst season of Sidney Crosby's career".

During the next campaign (the current one), Sidney Crosby amassed a (by his standards) embarrassing 19 points through 28 games. For a man of Sidney Crosby's caliber - which can only be matched by himself in today's game - this was just unheard of! 

It could be blamed on a variety of things (whether they be justified or not). It could be the fact that Sidney Crosby was perhaps playing with an ailing injury; it could be that Sidney Crosby's wingers just weren't ever good enough as they were in previous times; it could be that Sidney Crosby was simply on the downward slope of his NHL career; it could be that he was being forced to play a defensive game, even though playing in an offense-first system would be to his obvious strengths; or, it could be that he was more often than not on the ice when former-Penguin defenseman Robert Scuderi was, to shelter how embarrassingly bad he was - therefore, was never able to get the puck from the man who doesn't know how to do anything other than throw the puck up the boards from his own end - therefore, didn't get many scoring opportunities from breakouts. 

Or, it could've been a variety of those things. Or none of those things! All people knew was Sidney Crosby wasn't racking up the points like he used to.

But then...everything changed when the fire nation attacked. 

Jim Rutherford too. (Maybe both? The safe option is just our buddy Jimbo, but don't count out Prince Zuko.) As he fired - pun intended in every single way possible - Mike Johnston (along with Gary Agnew) and hired Wilkes-Barre/Scranton's own Mike Sullivan (and let Jacques Martin take over Gary Agnew's position). 

So far, Mike Sullivan has coached 9 games with the Pens. Over those 9 games, Crosby has accumulated 5 goals and 5 assists, good for 10 points in that span. (Fun fact: Sidney Crosby's 5 goals came in a 5 game span, the first time he's done that since October of 2013!) Obviously, with a 1.11 points per game, we seem to have the Crosby we all know and love back in the lineup. 

This may be because of Trevor Daley replacing Rob Scuderi in the lineup; Mike Sullivan's new system coming into play (this will be further explained in a sec), and...well, nah, it's the change of system more than anything else.

Let's give Sullivan credit where credit is due. In all but 1 of the 9 games Sullivan has coached, the Penguins have outshot their opponent; the Penguins have scored 5 goals on three separate occasions under Sullivan, only once had they done that this season under Mike Johnston; and...well, Sullivan lets the stars, be stars: "In my experience of being around elite players in the game, they see the game differently than everybody," Sullivan said. "That's what makes them as good as they are. I don't ever want to get in the way of that as a coach. I think it's important that we give them the latitude to act on their instincts. That's when they're at their best."

But without Johnston forcing his players to play defensively this year - which effectively crippled the entire roster's production numbers compared to last year (save Rob Scuderi), the Penguins can play as they please in an offensive-minded manner.

More evidence of Johnston holding Crosby back:

Now, this brings us back to the question: Is Sidney Crosby "hot", or just back on track? 


If you look back up at Crosby's shooting percentage, it's currently 14.7% as he has 5 goals on 34 shots under Mike Sullivan. Under Johnston (during the 2015-16 season), he had a minuscule 6 goals on a whopping 79 shots, good for a disgusting 7.6 shooting percentage. 

So, is Crosby "hot"? By his standards, no. But we DO have the Crosby we all know and love back, because he's not being forced to play a certain way that conflicts with what he does best: be Sidney Crosby.

Now...imagine when he actually gets on a hot streak! 

Thanks for reading!

* Fun fact: I wrote this 4 hours removed from getting all 4 of my wisdom teeth removed. So...if it's not that amazingly amazing, sorry! Haha. 

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Saturday, January 2, 2016

What to Do with Matt Murray? by @BrianK_PI

11:00:00 AM 0

Matt Murray's status in the Penguins organization has taken a meteoric rise since he was selected by the team in the 3rd round of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. After a mediocre start to his professional career in Wilke-Barre/Scranton, during which Murray posted a 2.20 GAA and 0.912 SV% with a pair of shutouts in 15 appearances, a switch flipped and he reached a level of play that's continued through to the present day. Starting with the 2015 calendar year, Murray went on a tear that included 10 shutouts, a 0.956 SV%, and 1.20 GAA over his final 25 games played. It was a season that won him Red Garrett Memorial Award (AHL Rookie of the Year), the Baz Bastien Memorial Award (AHL Goaltender of the Year), and the Harry Holmes Memorial Award (AHL Goltender Duo of the Year) as well as places on the AHL All-Rookie Team and the AHL First All-Star Team.

It was a season that opened the possibility that Murray could start the year as Marc-Andre Fleury's backup in Pittsburgh, though conventional wisdom would dictate that he remained in the AHL, continued to get starts and see game action as the unquestioned starter in WBS, and proved that the second half of his monster season was what to expect from him as a goaltender and not just a hot stretch of play. And conventional wisdom won out, as Jeff Zatkoff began the year in Pittsburgh while Murray continued his strong play for the Baby Penguins with a 1.84 GAA, 0.938 SV%, and 4 shutouts in 17 games. At that point, the next step in Murray's development was to face NHL action, preferably with a series of starts instead of spot starts as a backup.

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