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Thursday, March 31, 2016

Game Recap: Business as Usual - Pens beat Preds 5-2

9:50:00 PM 0

The Penguins had one of the best starts they've had in recent games against the Predators. It didn't prevent them from closing the game out as forcibly as they have on their streak of hot play. Phil Kessel scored two goals, Kris Letang added a goal and an assist, and the Pens defeated the Nashville Predators 5-2 for the 10th win in their past 11 games. The win shrinks Pittsburgh's magic number to 2 points, and coupled with the New York Rangers' loss against the Carolina Hurricanes moves the Pens into sole possession of 2nd place in the Metro with 5 games to play.

The Penguins have struggled with slow starts lately, but at least for this game it seems like Mike Sullivan's message has gotten through the to team. Phil Kessel has been on fire lately, and it didn't take him long to get going in this one. Justin Schultz made a great play to freeze the defense and get Pekka Rinne down into his butterfly stance, and he made a perfect no-look pass to Phil Kessel at the left circle for an easy goal into the empty net. The Pens nearly got a second goal five minutes into the game when Sidney Crosby fed Chris Kunitz in front of the net, but Kunitz pushed the puck wide. Moments later Rinne would make a huge save on Patric Hornqvist after the Pens winger got the puck on the crease alone in front. A Carl Hagelin trip against Mike Ribeiro would halt the team's momentum, but despite having one of their best penalty killers in the box the Pens would be able to kill off the Predators' opportunity.

The teams would return to 5-on-5 action and trade scoring chances back and forth. Calle Jarnkrok would have one of the better chances of the period off a snap shot from the left circle, but Marc-Andre Fleury was able to get his shoulder on the rising shot to keep the Penguins in front 1-0. The Penguins would get a chance on the man advantage late in the 1st period when Mattias Ekholm hooked Kessel, but despite several good chances the Pens' snake-bitten power play was unable to put the puck in the net. The Pens would look to take the lead into the locker room, but James Neal would make a nice pass from behind the net to find Ryan Johansen in the slot, and Johansen would beat Fleury glove high to make it 1-1 heading into the first intermission.

The 2nd period would start with the teams tied, but like the 1st period it was Phil Kessel quickly putting the Penguins in front. Kessel took a pass from Trevor Daley with speed entering the Nashville zone, and he snapped a shot past Rinne on the far side for his 25th goal of the season. Later in the period, Conor Sheary would split the defense taking the puck to the net and would draw a holding penalty from Petter Granberg to put Pittsburgh back on the power play. The team's troubled power play would finally get one up on the board when Kris Letang one-timed a shot from the top of the zone that cleanly beat Rinne for his 16th goal of the season to put Pittsburgh ahead 3-1.

Sheary would be called for tripping Filip Forsberg shortly after, and while the Predators weren't able to tie the game on the ensuing power play they managed to get a goal seconds after the man advantage expired. Seconds before the goal, Fleury took a shot off the mask, and he tried signaling to the referee in the corner that his mask was broken. The ref didn't give him the stoppage in play he was asking for, and he was slow to track the resulting shot from Neal in the shot, bringing the score to within one goal again at 3-2.

The Penguins would get another power play late in the 2nd period when Ian Cole was pushed violently into the boards in the corner behind the Pens' net. He would be slow to get up, but he would remain on the bench as Pittsburgh's man advantage took the ice. This time it would be the Penguins getting the goal late in the period. as Trevor Daley one-timed a shot from the right circle that clipped Roman Josi's skate and went off Patric Hornqvist's knee to go five-hole on Rinne to push the lead back to two.

Pittsburgh would take the 4-2 lead into the second intermission, and the Predators would make a change in net when they came out for the 3rd period, benching Rinne in favor of Carter Hutton hoping to get a spark. And the Penguins tried helping them along in that regard as Kunitz took a double roughing minor against Jarnkrok's single roughing penalty to put Nashville on the early power play. But the Predators weren't able to take advantage and gain the early momentum in their comeback, and the teams would resume even strength play with the Pens still up two. Pittsburgh would get a power play midway through the 3rd after Colton Sissons was called for slashing Crosby, but Crosby would be called for goaltender interference just 12 seconds later after Hutton tripped over Crosby's leg after playing the puck behind the net, quickly taking away the man advantage and replacing it with 1:48 of 4-on-4 action. The extra ice wouldn't amount to a goal for either team, and the Pens continued to hold the lead and get chances in the Predators' end of the ice.

One of the hallmarks of the Penguins under Mike Sullivan has been the aggressive nature of the team in trying to put games away, and this game was no exception. Carl Hagelin managed to get a stick on a loose puck from the top of Nashville's crease and tap it over to Nick Bonino, who was able to put the puck into the empty net to make it 5-2 Pittsburgh. Peter Laviolette would challenge the goal for goaltender interference, but after the review the refs upheld the play.

The Penguins and Predators were neck and neck in possession on the season at 3rd and 4th in the league, respectively, but it hasn't mattered much who the Pens have played in recent games, and it didn't in tonight's game as they thoroughly controlled possession in posting a score-adjusted 57.4 CF%. The Pens will head into the weekend with a back-to-back against Metropolitan Division playoff teams, travelling to Brooklyn to face the Islanders Saturday before returning to Pittsburgh for the home-finale against the Flyers on Sunday.
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Game Preview: vs Nashville Predators - March 31, 2016

2:00:00 PM 0

Pittsburgh Penguins (43-25-8; 3rd Metro) vs Nashville Predators (39-25-13; Central)
March 31, 2016 @ 7:00 PM - Consol Energy Center
TV: Root Sports Pittsburgh, NHL Network

In what's hopefully not their final game against the Western Conference this season, the Penguins will play their final regular season game against the West when they take on the Nashville Predators. The Penguins find themselves just a single point behind the New York Rangers for 2nd place in the Metropolitan Division with 6 games left on the schedule, but if they're going to catch New York they'l need to overcome the bad starts they've been having in recent games. It hasn't hurt them too much, as they've gone 9-1-0 over their past 10, but it's a bad habit to get into and could hurt them come playoff time. It'll be the final time the teams play this season, and the Pens will finish with no worse than a series split after beating Nashville 2-1 in October.

The Nashville offense is led by Filip Forsberg, who leads the team with 31 goals and 58 points on the season in his second year in the league, a year after scoring 26 goals with 37 assists for the Predators as a rookie. Though he was snubbed by not being named a Calder Trophy finalist last year, Forsberg has provided much needed offense ever since stealing him away from the Capitals for Martin Erat and Michael Latta at the 2013 trade deadline. The Predators have managed to do well the past few seasons reinforcing their top six via trade. James Neal is right behind Forsberg with 30 goals on the season and is third on the team with 52 points. Although he's seen a drop off away from Evgeni Malkin, he's adapting to playing in Nashiville, which means not having the same shooter role on the team's power play. He's actually scored a career high 23 5-on-5 goals this season, and he's been on fire recently, scoring 17 goals in 38 games since pairing up with Ryan Johansen. Johansen's shooting percentage this season (7.4%) is way down from what he managed to two previous years (13.4%), but despite that he's still managed 53 points on the season and gives Nashville another potential goal scoring threat if and when his shooting percentage recovers.

But what really allowed the Predators to trade away Seth Jones for Johansen was the strength of their defense. Nashville has four defensemen with over 30 points this season, and Ryan Ellis' 31 points leaves him one point shy of placing four Predators Dmen in the top 40 among scoring from the blueline. They're led by Roman Josi, who is 4th in the league among defensemen, and second overall on Nashville, with 57 points. Not far behind is his defensive partner Shea Weber with 48 points, and with 18 goals Weber ranks 4th himself in goal scoring from the blueline. With Mattias Ekholm (33 points) and Ellis rounding out the top 4, it's easy to see why the Predators would feel comfortable trading a young player as talented as Jones.

While the offense has started to click for Nashville, they've been uncharacteristically bad on the back end as Pekka Rinne continues to struggle. Stellar play from 2010-12 (0.926 SV%, 2.26 GAA) had helped Rinne enter the conversation of elite netminders in the league as he earned nominations for the Vezina Trophy in both 2010-11 and 2011-12, but he struggled during the lockout year, and he missed all but 24 games the next season with a hip injury, though he was awful in the time he did play with a 0.902 SV% and 2.77 GAA. He rebounded nicely from the injury last year and earned the 3rd Vezina nomination of his career, but with a 0.909 SV% and 2.44 GAA this year it's fair to wonder if the 33-year-old goalie's best years are well behind him. Luckily for Nashville they've managed to minimize the negative impact of their goaltending by being one of the best possession teams with a 53.1 SACF% on the season, but shaky goaltending entering the playoffs could spell trouble for the Predators.


Penguins: Bryan Rust (lower body), Brian Dumoulin (upper body), Olli Maatta (lower body), Evgeni Malkin (upper body), Scott Wilson (undisclosed), Kevin Porter (ankle)

Predators: Ryan Ellis (upper body), Anthony Bitetto (lower body), Gabriel Bourque (upper body)


- Oskar Sundqvist is certainly familiar with the drive between Pittsburgh and Wilkes-Barre at this point of the season, and the team recalled him from the Baby Penguins yesterday for the 3rd time in the past two weeks.

- Pittsburgh is on the verge of clinching a playoff spot as their magic number is four heading into tonight's game. If they win tonight, and the Red Wings lose in regulation tomorrow, Pittsburgh will be going to the playoffs for a 10th straight season, which will become the longest active streak in the league if Detroit finds itself outside looking in on the postseason this year.

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The Kessel Konundrum - Is He Back? by @Medina_MarieC

12:00:00 PM 0

ALRIGHT- Let me set the record straight. When it comes to Phil Kessel, I am about as neutral as they come. I cheer and praise his great plays and goal scoring. I complain to high heaven when "The Red Panda" drags his paws or misses wide-open nets. I neither absolutely love nor absolutely loathe him but yes, lately he had been getting under my skin JUST a tad more than I would have liked. I am not ashamed to admit that and I am sure there are some that feel the same.

HOWEVER- in the past 10 days I have seen an (almost) completely new player. He is making plays all over the ice, getting deep into the zone to dig out the puck, and is playing harder than I have seen all season. I am as happy as can be that, like his team, Phil is moving in the right direction.

To say this season has been less than what was projected would be a vast understatement. We all know the who's and what's and why's that brought Kessel here to Pittsburgh so I am not going to go into all of that. Everyone knows what was expected and for a while the results were disappointing.  His goals came sporadically, his frustration was apparent which lead to poor decisions (and possibly account for the bad aim) but it is hard to build chemistry on a line when your (former) coach is moving everyone around all the time. Being able to have a familiarity with your line mates helps plays to develop. Instincts kick in and trust builds.

There was also no one on the team, at the time, that could match his speed (except Kris Letang but he is on defence). Kessel would leave the other winger gasping for breath from going full bore just to keep up. Slowing himself down caused mistakes.

To put it simply it was mediocrity with bursts of brilliance. That is not enough to be a viable asset to a team struggling for a winning season. It had many fans wondering if it would be "one (year) and done" for the Wisconsin native. An eventual coaching change brought new eyes to the Kessel situation and head coach Mike Sullivan wanted his message loud and clear: "Do it the RIGHT WAY".

The trade of Adam Clendenning and David Peron to Anaheim brought the speedster, Carl Hagelin, to Pittsburgh. Though it took some time to find a rhythm, it is safe to say that Kessel has met his on-ice soul mate. At the very least someone who could match, if not exceed, his speed. Yet Phil still struggled to score. It wasn't for lack of opportunity, but every time, his shot would either swing wide or *CLANG*, off the post. We won't even talk about missing wide-open nets. Kessel has a powerful shot (if you don't believe it see the clip below or ask Carolina Hurricane's goalie, Cam Ward, who's helmet went flying after taking a rocket shot off the face). When it is on target, it is deadly but lately, the only thing deadly was the glare coming from the eyes of a less-than-pleased head coach.
What more is a coach supposed to do to send a message? The only things you can do when you have a depleted bench- you cut the ice time. After a disappointing loss to the Islanders, Kessel saw only (roughly) 15 minutes of ice time against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Against the New York Rangers, Kessel saw only 13 minutes of ice time almost none of which came in the 3rd period. He was also removed from the (already dismal) power play.

It seems as if the message has been received.

Now on a line centred by Nick Bonino (in the absence of Evgeni Malkin who is still week-to-week), it seems a spark has ignited and it is a fire as red as Phil's hair and beard. The second line is once again a force to be reckoned with and Phil is a big part of that equation. Though recently voted the "NHL's most over-rated player" in a (laughable) poll, Kessel currently holds a 2 point lead over the so-called "Canadian Dream"- everyone's 2nd favourite Chicago Blackhawk,  Jonathan Toews. He also was just named this weeks NHL 3rd star for his outstanding performance the week prior tallying 2 goals/5 assists for 7 points within 3 games. AND did I mention he scored the game-winning shoot out goal against the Sabres (3/29) and a beauty it was (clip below):

With 6 games left in the regular season, Kessel could at least put up a 25 goal season. Add in playoffs and it could easily be 30+. I am pleased to see that, like his team, Phil Kessel has not thrown in the towel and is once again showing what he can bring to the table. He is playing what Mike Sullivan called "he best he has seen him all year" and it comes at the most opportune time.

He now has the opportunity to prove to the nay-sayers that they have been wrong about him and show he was worth everything that as given up to bring him here...that is, as long as he can stay hot for the remaining games and playoffs. Is Phil the Thrill really back up to form? Will he be effected if/when Malkin is thrown back onto the line? I will personally remain neutral in my stance for now but whatever is to come, it looks like Phil is finally having fun and enjoying being a Pittsburgh Penguin.

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Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Biggest Pens Villain - Scuderi Bracket Finals

2:00:00 PM 0
The Scuderi Bracket

The voting opens in the final bracket, and it's a couple of the biggest pests and goons in the league who will battle it out for the bracket title after the top two seeds were each defeated in earlier rounds. Brad Marchand and Zac Rinaldo might be teammates now, but they've long been antagonizing the league, Marchand as a career Boston Bruin and Rinaldo until this season as a Philadelphia Flyer.

Brad Marchand vs Zac Rinaldo

Brad Marchand (57%) over Henrik Lundqvist (43%)
Brad Marchand (88%) over Derek Stepan (12%)
Brad Marchand (57%) over Jeremy Roenick (43%)

Zac Rinaldo (82%) over David Morehouse (18%)
Zac Rinaldo (73%) over Mike Johnston (27%)
Zac Rinaldo (93%) over Petr Svoboda (7%)

The Scuderi Bracket is the only bracket to have lost both contenders who received Opening Round byes, but that doesn't mean the bracket final is light on deserving candidates. Brad Marchand survived one of the closest match-ups to this point when he outlasted Jeremy Roenick, and he's managed to continue winning in successive round regardless of who he matched up against. Zac Rinaldo on the other hand has mowed through whatever competition has been placed in front of him, and at this point of the voting he's a strong contender to not only move on from the Scuderi Bracket but to find himself taking down the title of biggest Pens villain.

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Biggest Pens Villain - Milbury Bracket Finals

11:30:00 AM 0
The Milbury Bracket

Mike Milbury and Alexander Ovechkin entered the tourney as the top two seeds in the Milbury Bracket, and they'll meet in the bracket finals to determine who will move on to face the other bracket winners in the Biggest Pens Villain semifinals.

Mike Milbury vs Alexander Ovechkin

Mike Milbury (66%) over John Tortorella (34%)
Mike Milbury (91%) over David Volek (9%)
Mike Milbury - Bye

Alexander Ovechkin (82%) over Jack Edwards (18%)
Alexander Ovechkin (71%) over Shane Doan (29%)
Alexander Ovechkin - Bye

Mike Milbury has been polluting the airwaves of NBC broadcasts for years now with his outdated views on the game and caveman mindset. He's notched big wins over David Volek and John Tortorella to reach this point, but he'll go up against his toughest challenge yet. The NHL built up the Alexander Ovechkin/Sidney Crosby rivalry in their earlier years, and Ovechkin and Pens fans have certainly taken it to heart. With a bad knee-on-knee hit on Sergei Gonchar in the 2009 Eastern Conference Semifinals and his repeated targeting of fellow countryman Evgeni Malkin, Ovechkin has offered Pens fans no shortage of opportunities to dislike him, and the success he has had against Pittsburgh only makes the matter worse.

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Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Game Recap: Comeback Complete! Pens Beat Sabres 5-4 in SO

10:15:00 PM 0

The 1st period couldn't have gone any worse for the Pittsburgh Penguins. The 2nd period couldn't have gone any better. After digging themselves an early 3-0 hole, the Pens roared back in the 2nd period to take a 4-3 lead. A 3rd period Sabres goal turned the game into a dog fight, but it was Kris Letang and Phil Kessel scoring in the shootout to finalize the 5-4 Pittsburgh win. The thrilling comeback gave the Penguins their 3rd win in a row and their 9th in their last 10, and the two points pull them to just a single point behind the Rangers for 2nd in the Metropolitan Division.

It was a bit of a sloppy star to the game, but the Pens managed to settle down and start driving the play into the Buffalo zone. They had a good chance about 7 minutes into the game when Eric Fehr knocked the puck away on the forecheck, and it went straight to Beau Bennett on the goal line. Bennett drove the net, but he was unable to wrap the shot around Chad Johnson's left skate. Carl Hagelin would take a hooking penalty in a board battle against Jake McCabe moments later, and the Sabres would get on the board first during the power play. Matt Murray would stop a Johan Larsson shot from the left circle, but he would kick the rebound out into the slot. Trevor Daley wasn't able to corral the puck or take the man, and Matt Moulson was able to put the puck in the net to make it 1-0 Buffalo. The Pens would get a power play opportunity of their own shortly after when Hudson Fasching was called for hooking Patric Hornqvist.

The Pens weren't able to get the puck past Johnson despite a couple chances, but they would get another chance when Matt Cullen drew a holding penalty from Josh Gorges behind the net. Pittsburgh would have trouble gaining the zone through the first half of the man advantage, but a Daley turnover on the blue line led a Buffalo rush the other way. David Legwand's shot would beat Murray five hole and trickle through his legs. Daley would manage to clear the puck away before it crossed the goal line, but it deflected off Phil Kessel's stick and back to the top of the crease, where Ryan O'Reilly was able to slam it home into the open net to give Buffalo the 2-0 lead. The Pens would be able to generate good pressure before the end of the period, but Chris Kunitz and Rasmus Ristolainen would go off for coincidental roughing minors with 1:08 left in the period, and the Sabres would quickly strike again when McCabe got in behind the defense on the 4-on-4 and was able to backhand the puck past Murray.

The Penguins would enter the locker room for the first intermission down 3-0 despite having an 18-8 advantage in shots on goal and an 81.6 SACF% at even strength. They were doing enough of the right things in the 1st period, but they were going to need to start getting better results, and they did exactly that in the 2nd period. It started 1:28 into the period when Ben Lovejoy one timed a Bryan Rust pass off Johnson and in to cut the Buffalo lead to 3-1. With just under 6 minutes elapsed in the 2nd, Conor Sheary grabbed the puck from a scrum in the corner and drove the net, beating Johnson stick side to pull the Pens within one goal, 3-2. After spotting Buffalo an early three goal lead, the Penguins stormed back in the blink of an eye and made it a completely different game. The Pens would continue to put the pressure on the Sabres, and Hornqvist nearly tied the game on a turning shot from the slot, but he rang it off the post and it deflected harmlessly away.

The Pens would get another power play and a chance to tie the game when Fasching took another hooking penalty, this time against Carl Hagelin, and they nearly pulled even when a Justin Schultz rebound popped out into the slot. Kessel grabbed the rebound, but Brian Gionta managed to get his stick in on him just enough to prevent Kessel from getting off a clean shot. But it would be a Buffalo power play late in the 2nd period that proved to be pivotal. With Eric Fehr in the box for tripping, Matt Cullen and Tom Kuhnhackl managed to get a 2-on-1 rush, and Cullen fed Kuhnhackl cross ice for a one timer that beat Johnson to tie the game 3-3. Seconds later, Johnson played the puck behind the net and attempted to clear it off the glass, but Carl Hagelin was able to block the attempt. He pounced on the loose puck and passed it in front to Nick Bonino, who put the puck in the empty cage to give the Pens a shocking 4-3 lead off two quick shorthanded goals.

It was a lead that Pittsburgh would take into the locker room, but like the Pens did in the 2nd period the Sabres would come out strong to start the 3rd. After Ben Lovejoy was called for holding in the opening seconds of the 3rd period, Larsson managed to find Zach Bogosian back door driving the slot, and Bogosian buried it behind Murray to make it 4-4. The Pens would continue pressing for the game winner throughout the third period, but this game was destined to go to OT.

And while Pittsburgh controlled the play throughout the extra period, it was Buffalo's talented rookie who nearly took home the victory for the Sabres with less than a minute remaining in overtime. On a faceoff in the Buffalo zone, Sidney Crosby won the puck forward, but the Sabres defense was ready for the move. He tried passing the puck back to Kris Letang in the slot, but the pass didn't connect and it sprung Jack Eichel for a breakaway. He had the game on his stick, but Murray was able to get his left pad on the shot and covered the puck. The game would go to a shootout, and after Sidney Crosby and Ryan O'Reilly traded misses in the first round, Letang put a sneak shot five hole on Johnson to make it 1-0 Pittsburgh. Buffalo missed again as Jack Eichel shot it wide, and Phil Kessel had the opportunity to end things, which he did when he snapped the puck past Johnson's blocker before he had a chance to react.

The Penguins have dominated possession recently against pretty much every team they've faced, and tonight was no exception as they completely dominated with a score-adjusted 67.8 CF%. Along with the possession, the Pens didn't allow a single goal at 5-on-5 as the Sabres scored twice on the power play, once on the penalty kill, and once while playing 4-on-4. The Pens will look to keep their hot play going Thursday when they host the Nashville Predators for their final Western Conference tilt of the regular season.
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Game Preview: vs Buffalo Sabres - March 29, 2016

3:00:00 PM 0

Pittsburgh Penguins (42-25-8; 3rd Metro) vs Buffalo Sabres (31-35-10; 7th Atlantic)
March 29, 2016 @ 7:00 PM - Consol Energy Center
TV: Root Sports Pittsburgh

If there was one thing Dan Bylsma did well as the head coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins, it was getting the Pens into the playoffs among the highest point totals in the Eastern Conference. He'll get another chance to help them towards that goal, but this time as the head coach of the Buffalo Sabres. The Penguins face a rare match-up outside the Metropolitan Division as well as one of the few remaining contests they have against a non-playoff team when the face the Sabres. It's the third and final game between the teams this year, and the Penguins will look to sweep the season series after taking down a pair of 4-3 wins against Buffalo earlier in the year.

Optimism ran rampant in Buffalo this offseason as the Sabres made a number of changes to arguably the worst team in recent NHL history. While the dreamers whispered playoffs the reality was that the 2015-16 Buffalo Sabres would fall well short of that lofty goal, but it wasn't due to the offseason acquisitions that had caused so much excitement among the fanbase. Like Bylsma's best teams in Pittsburgh, these Sabres are strong down the middle. They're led in scoring by Ryan O'Reilly with 57 points. The Sabres acquired O'Reilly and defenseman Jamie McGinn in a blockbuster at the draft in exchange for Mikahil Grigorenko, Nikita Zadorov, JT Compher, and the 31st overall pick, and O'Reilly has quickly established himself as one of Buffalo's best options centering the top line.

Their 2nd line center is no slouch himself, and Buffalo acquired him on the same day as O'Reilly. The Sabres selected Jack Eichel with the 2nd overall pick in the 2015 draft out of Boston University, and not only has the rookie made the team as a 19 year old, he's second in scoring behind O'Reilly with 23 goals and 27 assists. It's another former 2nd overall pick, Sam Reinhart in 2014, who is next on the list for the Sabres, tied for 3rd with 40 points through 73 games played. While Reinhart is a natural center, he's been playing on the wing this year, splitting time between the first and second line. The 20-year-old rookie adds to an impressive collection of talented youngsters, and his positional flexibility will give Bylsma the option to load up the top 6 or spread the three throughout his lineup like he did in Pittsburgh.

Despite the success of some of the new additions, it was the loss of another player they traded for this offseason that might have doomed Buffalo's season the most. The Sabres acquired Robin Lehner and David Legwand from the Ottawa Senators for the 21st overall selection in the 2015 draft, but Lehner sustained a high ankle sprain in the team's opener and wasn't able to return until the middle of January when Buffalo was effectively out of the running. He's played well since his return, with a 0.924 SV% and 2.47 GAA on the season, but he'll need to wait until next year to be the number one goalie who leads Buffalo back to the postseason like the organization had hoped.


Penguins: Brian Dumoulin (upper body), Olli Maatta (lower body), Evgeni Malkin (upper body), Scott Wilson (undisclosed), Kevin Porter (ankle)

Sabres: Robin Lehner (ankle), Evander Kane (upper body), Cody Franson (concussion), Cody McCormick (blood clots), Tyler Ennis (concussion)


- The Pittsburgh Penguins demoted Oskar Sundqvist back to Wilkes-Barre yesterday as both Nick Bonino and Chris Kunitz have returned to the lineup.

- The Penguins nabbed one of the top NCAA free agents when they signed St Cloud State defenseman Ethan Prow to a 2 year entry level contract starting next season and an amateur try out starting immediately with Wilkes-Barre.
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Biggest Pens Villain - Dubinsky Bracket Finals

2:00:00 PM 0
The Dubinsky Bracket

There are just two left in the Dubinsky Bracket, and it's the two who received byes in the Opening Round as the top seeds. It's strength against strength in the final voting of the bracket, and only one can move on to the Biggest Pens Villain semifinals to face the other bracket winners.

Brandon Dubinsky vs Pierre McGuire

Brandon Dubinsky (78%) over Claude Giroux (22%)
Brandon Dubinsky (92%) over Colin Campbell (8%)
Brandon Dubinsky - Bye

Pierre McGuire (62%) over Adam Graves (38%)
Pierre McGuire (77%) over Kerry Fraser (23%)
Pierre McGuire - Bye

Brandon Dubinsky entered the voting as the top seed with his own bracket named after him, and he hasn't disappointed so far while facing off against some stiff competition to reach this point, besting Colin Campbell and Claude Giroux in the first two rounds. Pierre McGuire is no slouch himself, and after besting Adam Graves in the previous round he's a serious threat to knock off Dubinsky, though it's hard to say the Blue Jackets' pest is anything but the favorite in this match-up given his history with the Penguins and Sidney Crosby.

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Ethan Prow to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on ATO by @_MAF29

12:05:00 PM 0
Per Elliotte Friedman and Bob McKenzie, the Pittsburgh Penguins have inked college defenseman Ethan Prow to a two year entry level contract that will kick in next year. For now, however, Prow will report to the AHL's Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins on an Amateur Try Out (ATO) deal. This will be the season's first college free agent signing.

From 2012 to 2016, Ethan Prow attended St. Cloud State. He is a right-handed defenseman and falls under the category of what is colloquially known as a "puck-moving" defenseman. More so, he has a shot that can only be referred to as "lethal". The 23 year old Prow, weighing in at 185 pounds and 6 feet tall, was the NCAA's top scoring defenseman this season, with 38 points in only 37 games played. He set career highs in goals (8), assists (30), points (38), and plus-minus (+28). He averaged 1.027 points per game - as a defenseman! Due to this (and his stellar play, of course), he is a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award, the NCHC player of the year, the defenseman of the year and the offensive defenseman of the year.

As he reports to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, he will be joining a D-core consisting of Niclas Andersen, Steve Oleksy, Barry Goers, Will O'Neill, Harrison Ruopp, Tim Erixon, Reid McNeill and Ryan Parent. What Derrick Pouliot did for the Wilkes-Barre/Penguins in his stay there, Prow will likely do the same (albeit in a decreased role due to his lack of experience at the AHL level). Best case scenario, Prow creates the situation where the Penguins may not be in a scenario where retaining the services of Justin Schultz is absolutely necessary (this is not an insult to Schultz, mind you). This is an amazing get for the Pittsburgh Penguins, and kudos to Jim Rutherford and co. for snatching him up from free agency.

Thanks for reading!

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Biggest Pens Villain - Bettman Bracket Finals

11:00:00 AM 0
The Bettman Bracket

The Bettman Bracket has been shrunk from its original 14 contenders to just two remaining, and it should be a great match-up to see who wins the bracket and moves on to the semifinals. While the man the bracket was named after, Gary Bettman, lost his quarterfinals match-up, Marc Staal has moved on after receiving an Opening Round bye, but he'll face stiff competition for the last poll in the bracket.

Scott Hartnell vs Marc Staal

Scott Hartnell (64%) over Gary Bettman (36%)
Scott Hartnell (95%) over Tim Peel (5%)
Scott Hartnell (91%) over Rick Tocchet (9%)

Marc Staal (63%) over Tuukka Rask (37%)
Marc Staal (82%) over John Vanbiesbrouck (18%)
Marc Staal - Bye

Scott Hartnell cruised through the first two rounds of the bracket before topping the NHL commissioner in the bracket that bears his name. The former Flyers agitator who currently plays for the Penguin nemesis wannabe Columbus Blue Jackets has been a thorn in the side of the Pens for years. He'll take on a player who made his mark more recently, but in a big way. Marc Staal is infamous in Pittsburgh for his repeated cheap shots to the head and neck of Sidney Crosby during the playoffs, and to make matters worse the Rangers have eliminated the Pens from contention each of the past two seasons.

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Monday, March 28, 2016

Mike Sullivan for the Jack Adams by @BrianK_PI

12:07:00 PM 0

The Pittsburgh Penguins are used to vying for season ending awards. Some, like the Art Ross Trophy, Hart Trophy, and Ted Lindsay award have long and storied histories of finding their way into the hands of Penguins players. Others, like the Norris Trophy, the Vezina Trophy, and the Jack Adams Award Jack Adams are infrequently associated with the franchise. But as the season winds down and the dust comes close to settling on the year, there's a potential finalist that no one could have seen coming before the puck dropped on opening night. The Jack Adams Award is "presented by the National Hockey League Broadcasters' Association to the NHL coach adjudged to have contributed the most to his team's success." Without question, when looking around the league, there's no one who exemplifies that criteria more than Mike Sullivan.

Mike Sullivan will have only coached a partial season, but instead of hurting his chances of taking home the award it should only serve to stress just how important he's been to Pittsburgh's success. The Penguins were listless and ineffective under former head coach Mike Johnston through the first 28 games of the season. A team many in Pittsburgh hoped could make a deep playoff push after addressing their forward depth in the offseason was playing poor hockey while trying to force talented offensive players into a restrictive system focused on shoring up the team's weakness (defense) instead of playing to their strengths (offense). Johnston was fired in the middle of December, and things immediately began to change under Sullivan.

What was a below average possession team for Mike Johnston immediately became a force to be reckoned with under Mike Sullivan. The Pens began forcing play towards the other team's net from the first game of his tenure, even if the first 4 games of his tenure all ended in defeat. Things were looking so bleak back then, as Pittsburgh was in 12th place in the Eastern Conference, 6 points out of a playoff position, and on pace for just 85 points. They were looking to have a better chance to win the draft lottery than playoff games, but the team continued to improve under Sullivan and have gotten stronger with each passing month.

Those 12th place Penguins now sit 4th in the conference with a handful of games remaining, and they have a legitimate shot to get as high as 2nd before the regular season ends. The offense that Johnston had been holding back has gone from 2.39 goals per game under their former coach to averaging 3.13 goals per game under Sullivan. They might be allowing slightly more goals against, going from 2.39 GA/gm to 2.53, but the change has been minimal as Sullivan has opened things up, and the difference in goal differential is telling. While Johnston's team had scored the same number of goals as they had allowed, the Penguins have a +28 goal differential since Sullivan took over. That's good enough for 6th in the league despite taking the entire first third of the year off. And perhaps most important of all, the underlying possession numbers. The Penguins were 19th in the league when Johnston was fired with a 48.3 SACF%. They've been 2nd best in the NHL in his absence with a truly elite 55.5 SACF%, and they continue to improve with each passing game.

Mike Johnston is now 27-15-5 as the Penguins head coach, which would be good for 103 points if extrapolated over a full season. The team has continued to improve over his tenure and are playing better than possibly anyone else in the league right now, having gone 8-2-0 over their last ten games while absolutely dominating some of the toughest teams on their schedule. He's taken a weak defense and turned them into a unit that can support an elite offense while not allowing too many goals in their own end. And he's done that while taking off castoffs from other teams like Trevor Daley and Justin Schultz and utilizing them in a way that highlights their offensive talents and masks their defensive deficiencies. More importantly, he's pushing all the right buttons and has rejuvenated this team to the point where they believe they can beat anybody and go out and back up that mindset. Barry Trotz might have Washington atop the standings, Bruce Boudreau might haveve overseen a similar mid-season resurgence in Anaheim, and Gerard Gallant might have the young Panthers contending ahead of schedule, but there's no head coach in the league who's contributed more to his team's success than Mike Sullivan, and he deserves to take home the 2015-16 Jack Adams Award.
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Sunday, March 27, 2016

Crowns and Clowns Week 2: 3/20-3/26

5:00:00 PM 0

Hear ye, hear ye....a proclamation has gone out from the Castle de Penguin and her royal highness, the Puck Princess Medina.

Each week, the most pleasing and the most unsatisfactory moments or plays from Penguins sporting events will be, henceforth, featured in a recap column that will allow the legion fast to praise their dark knight's of momentous triumphs....or jest at their tom-foolery

Welcome to Week 2 my loyal subjects and fans of the flightless, feathered fowl.  We are off to a whirlwind start to the recap week already so let's not waste any time. Here are your Crowns & Clowns for this weeks crop of match-ups.


High King(s):  Some tough choices had to be made because there were SO many great plays or great moments this week. In the end, the power hath to be shared. With both racking up 5 point games against Detroit on 3/26 (including one goal each), sharing the title of High Kings this week are Phil Kessel and Nick Bonino (yes, you read that correctly). In yet another come from behind victory, The Red Panda and Bones-y both put up highlight reel worthy goals in the  eventual 7-2 routing of the Red Wings (clips below). Well done, gentlemen. Just make sure you share the throne nicely.

Phil Kessel Power Play Goal:
Nick Bonino's filthy wicked goal:

Prince:  Everyone loves a good goal celebration. But a GREAT celly can live forever. This one is no exception. It makes it even more epic knowing it comes from the son of a legend. Tom Kuhnhackl's goal and "on his back" celebration is not only a thing of beauty, it's incredibly adorable. The kid I call "Knux" is truly making his mark on the team and in the NHL- so how about we stop all the "never be as good as his father" comments, Pierre?

(Note: I gave him the nickname "Knux" due to there already being a "Kuni" on the team and "Kuhn" sounding like a racial slur. I am #NotSorry and I will continue to use this nickname, even if I am the only one.)
Duke:  Let's make this short and sweet- goals...all the goals!!!!

* The Bozo:  Without a doubt, this weeks Bozo Award goes to Washington Capitals defenseman, Mike Weber. The last time I checked, I thought the NHL was trying to get away from the typical Goon-style of hockey. Yet he faces no punishment, even after an ejection, for trying to behead Bryan Rust not once but TWICE in the game on 3/20. Playing physical is one thing, but going out of your way to really try and hurt someone long-term is another. Pass the jingle hat, Staal...Bozo Weber now reigns.

Weber boards Rust
— EvgeniMalkin's Ego (@EvgeniMaIkinEgo) March 21, 2016

— NHL on NBC (@NHLonNBCSports) March 20, 2016

The Simpleton: The things a player will do when they are frustrated and down in a game- the list is long and full of questionable decisions and very poor choices. Welp...add this one from Pavel Datsyuk on 3/26 to the list (it makes the number 2 slot instead of the 1st only because Mr. Weber was a multiple- time offender in the game against the Caps). A player with as much time spent in the NHL as he has, you would think he would know better than to crack someone in the chin, especially another veteran player. I don't care if you are losing by 100 or how ticked off you are. I would say that if the situation were flip flopped as well. The following clip is a true definition for the phrase "Things that are NOT ok....":

The Jester: This is the blemish smack dab in the middle of what should have been an epic week for the Penguins. Coming off a terrific weekend against the (then) surging Flyers and the Capitals (the #1 team in the league), the Pens had three days of rest before they faced the New Jersey Devils. This turned out to be at least one day too long. Looking sluggish, disengaged, and disjointed through most of the game, the Devils would shut out the Penguins 3-0 with a tremendous effort from rookie net-minder, Scott Wedgewood. I will leave this graphic here as a reminder that you can never underestimate a desperate team and what too much time off can do to a teams momentum:

It has been an exciting two weeks in Penguin land. On this Easter Sunday, they will continue their march to clinch a playoff spot against the Rangers in the always- rockin Madison Square Garden. What will this next week have to offer us fans...I cannot wait to find out, but so far, it has us all looking like these:

*Many thanks you Cam Easton (@NotEvenFehr ) and @EvgeniMalkinsEgo for the clips as well as Pittsburgh #Pens (@MeganSm81) for her help as well. Thanks for having this Princess' back when she is lost in the Twitter-verse*
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Game Preview: at New York Rangers - March 27, 2016

3:12:00 PM 0

Pittsburgh Penguins (41-25-8; Metro) at New York Rangers (42-24-8; 2nd Metro)
March 27, 2016 @ 7:30 PM - Madison Square Garden
TV: NBC Sports Network

If the season ended today, the Pittsburgh Penguins would be facing the New York Rangers in the playoffs for the 3rd consecutive season. The Rangers currently hold a 4 point advantage over the Pens in the Metro, but Pittsburgh has a chance to pull within 2 points of New York with a game in hand if they can pull out a regulation win tonight. It'll be the final meeting between the teams this season. After losing the first game 3-0, the Pens offense came alive in 4-1 and 5-3 victories against the Rangers, and Pittsburgh will look to enter a potential first round match-up against New York having won 3 straight.

Antti Raanta started in goal for the Rangers in last night's 5-2 victory over the Montreal Canadiens, leaving Henrik Lundqvist primed and ready to face the Penguins tonight. Lundqvist has proven to be a thorn in the side of the Penguins over the year, but they've managed to score on him during their last two games against New York, with Lundqvist posting a 4.24 GAA and 0.870 SV% during that time. Lundqvist hasn't had one of the best seasons of his career, but even an off year for the netminder is better than most of the goalies in the league. And the Rangers need the strong play of Lundqvist more than ever.

The Rangers are a bad possession team this year, and they're 21st in the league with just a 48.1 SACF% on the season, which is the worst among all the teams currently in the playoffs picture. They also easily have the highest PDO of any team in the league at 102.5 at even strength on the back of leading the league in both shooting percentage (9.1%) and save percentage (0.934). The type of luck the Rangers have had isn't sustainable, and while it currently has them 2nd in the Eastern Conference with 94 points, they haven't been able to separate from the pack in a way that the numbers might suggest they would.

And while they added Eric Staal at the trade deadline in an attempt to fortify their offense, it hasn't worked out for the Rangers in the early going. Staal struggled with Carolina, and through 13 games played with New York he's struggled more, posting only 1 goal and 2 assists to accompany a 44.3 CF% despite favorable zone starts. He's not the only stuggling, highly-paid Ranger, as Rick Nash has also been going through a difficult season. In 53 GP, Nash has only 14 goals and 21 assists, putting him on pace to score the fewest goals in a season during his career and among the worst point totals in a season as well.

Despite the high profile players struggling, the Rangers are still 5th in the NHL in scoring with 2.85 goals per game, and it's because of contributions throughout their lineup. Derick Brassard and Mats Zucarello lead the team with 57 points apiece at the top of the lineup, but Kevin Hayes, Oscar Lindberg, and Jesper Fast have all contributed double digit goals from the bottom 6. Keith Yandle ranks in the top 15 with 44 points, while Ryan McDonagh continues to be solid on the blue line with 32 points among his other many contribution. Perhaps the biggest surprise for the Rangers has been JT Miller, who in his 4th year in the league has broken out with 21 goals and 20 assists. He's also one of the few players on New York who has been able to be positive from a possession standpoint, posting a 50.7 SACF%, second to Chris Kreider among Ranger forwards.

Penguins: Chris Kunitz (upper body), Brian Dumoulin (upper body), Olli Maatta (lower body), Evgeni Malkin (upper body), Scott Wilson (undisclosed), Kevin Porter (ankle)

Rangers: Dylan McIlrath (knee)


- Sidney Crosby played in his 700th career game for the Penguins in yesterday's win against Detroit, and he joined some great company while doing so. With 930 career points, Crosby has the 5th most points at 700 games played, trailing only Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Petr Stastny, and Bryan Trottier.
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Vote for the Biggest Pens Villain - Bracket Finals

12:00:00 PM 0

With only 8 left from the original field of 56, this week's voting for the Biggest Pens Villain will crown a winner in each bracket and set up the final contenders to face each other to see who the fanbase loathes the most. Each remaining contender has had to go through several rounds of voting to get this far, and the four who emerge victorious from their brackets will have earned it.

Bettman Bracket - March 29, 2016

Biggest Blowout: Scott Hartnell (64%) over Gary Bettman (36%)

Closest Contest: Marc Staal (63%) over Tuukka Rask (37%)

Another bracket namesake bites this dust, as Gary Bettman couldn't overcome the hate and loathing Pens fans have for Scott Hartnell. It was the first vote that held Hartnell under 90%, but he was still able to come away with a convincing victory over the commissioner. He'll face a tough matchup in the bracket finals when he faces off against Marc Staal, the Rangers defenseman who has gained notoriety among the fanbase for his repeated cheap shots to the head and neck of Sidney Crosby.

Dubinsky Bracket - March 29, 2016

Biggest Blowout: Brandon Dubinsky (78%) over Claude Giroux (22%)

Closest Contest: Pierre McGuire (62%) over Adam Graves (38%)

Brandon Dubinsky has now moved on with some lopsided margins of victory over some tough opposition - he's beaten Colin Campbell and Claude Giroux to bring him one step away from winning the bracket that bears his name. To do so, he'll need to make it past Pierre McGuire, who faced stiff competition of his own in the last round when he took on Adam Graves. The obnoxious NBC broadcaster will enter as the underdog, and it remains to be seen if anyone can slow down Dubinsky.

Milbury Bracket - March 30, 2016

Biggest Blowout: Alexander Ovechkin (82%) over Jack Edwards (18%)

Closest Contest: Mike Milbury (66%) over John Tortorella (34%)

Like Dubinsky, Mike Milbury also stands one victory away from winning the bracket named after himself, and he got to this point by beating Dubinsky's head coach and partner in crime John Tortorella. It won't be so easy in the bracket finals, as Alexander Ovechkin has mowed down the competition placed in his path and will be more than a worthy challenger.

Scuderi Bracket - March 30, 2016

Biggest Blowout: Zac Rinaldo (82%) over David Morehous (18%)

Closest Contest: Brad Marchand (57%) over Henrik Lundqvist (43%)

With both bye earners bowing out before the bracket semifinals, the Scuderi Bracket was arguably the most wide open, but now it'll be a couple of cheap-shotting pests vying to win the bracket and move on to face the others. The talented one is Brad Marchand, who despite scoring 34 goals this year will never be able to move past his reputation for dirty plays, but he'll have a tough time against Zac Rinaldo, the untalented one. Rinaldo has the benefit of both being a useless player on the ice and having played for the Flyers for years, and he's been running rampant over the competition up to this point.
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Saturday, March 26, 2016

Game Recap: Shut Down Hockeytown - Pens win 7-2

4:56:00 PM 0

The Penguins were looking to put Thursday's 3-0 loss to New Jersey behind them and show that the goose egg they laid against rookie Scott Wedgewood was nothing more than a fluke occurrence. They certainly put those concerns to net, chasing Petr Mrazek from the net while taking the game to a Detroit team desperate to gain traction in the playoff race, beating the Red Wings 7-2. Phil Kessel and Nick Bonino both scored a goal and added 4 assists to lead the high-powered Pittsburgh offense, while Marc-Andre Fleury wasn't tested much in stopping 21 of 23 shots.

The Penguins started off the game with good pressure early in the 1st period. Sidney Crosby found Chris Kunitz between the circles during the opening minute, but Kunitz inexplicably passed the puck back to Crosby in the right circle with no shot instead of putting the shot on net. Gustav Nyquist nearly made it 1-0 Detroit off a rebound with Fleury down, but Trevor Daley was able to tie up the Red Wing and prevent him from getting a stick on the puck and putting it into the empty net. Brian Dumoulin would leave the game early in the period with a bloody nose after being hit awkwardly into the boards by Justin Abdelkader, but no penalty would be called on the play. Dumoulin would momentarily return later in the 1st period, but he would ultimately miss the rest of the game.

The Pens would continue to play with 5 defensemen, and it would cost them on a sloppy change midway through the 1st period. There was confusion over who was going on with Ian Cole coming off the ice, and Brad Richards was able to hit Andreas Athanasiou behind Ben Lovejoy to spring him on the breakaway, with Athanasiou beating Marc-Andre Fleury low to open the scoring. The teams would play 4-on-4 moments later when Patric Hornqvist and Danny DeKeyser got into a post-whistle scrum in front of the Detroit net, but neither team was able to get much going despite the extra space on the ice. The teams would continue to play each other close throughout the 1st period until Henrik Zetterberg drew a holding call against Carl Hagelin by clamping down on his stick entering the Pittsburgh zone to send the Red Wings to the power play. While the Penguins' own power play has been misfiring in recent games, their penalty has done a decent job of picking up the slack, and the PK was able to kill off the Detroit advantage without much difficulty. Justin Schultz would get a great opportunity in the slot shortly after the Detroit power play expired, but Petr Mrazek would get his left pad on the puck to prevent Schultz from evening the score.

The teams would exit the ice for the first intermission with the score remaining 1-0 Red Wings, continuing the goal scoring slump for the Penguins offense, but it wouldn't take long into the 2nd period for the Penguins to get off the schneid. Kris Letang missed the shot wide, and the shot bounced off the boards to Chris kunitz, who was able to bank the rebound in off Mrazek and into the net to tie the game 1-1. Minutes later Pavel Datsyuk was sent off for hooking Sidney Crosby, and the Penguins' were able to get their struggling man advantage back on the scoresheet. Letang skated the puck down to the right faceoff dot and picked the bottom left corner of the net to increase the Pittsburgh lead to 2-1 on his career high 15th goal of the season. The quick pair of goals would not only give the Pens the lead, but it would also open up the game play to a pace more of their liking, and play continued to go back and forth through much of the 2nd period with Pittsburgh steadily building on their lead in possession. The dominance in possession would eventually turn into another goal on the board. Carl Hagelin won a board battle behind the Detroit net, and he curled around at the red faceoff dot to wrist a shot that beat Mrazek glove side to increase the Pens' lead to 3-1.

Abdelkader would get called for tripping Lovejoy when he bodyslammed the Pens defenseman to the ice in front of the Pittsburgh net, and the resulting power play presented a chance for the Penguins to potentially blow the game wide open if they could score. But it was the Red Wings who were getting the prime chances early, first when Fleury stopped a Darren Helm shot and a Luke Glendening follow up on the rebound in quick succession on a 2-on-1 Detroit rush, then stood tall as Riley Sheahan missed the net after taking a pass from Athanasiou on another Red Wings 2-on-1. They would kill off the Pens advantage, but seconds later Kessel would wrist the shot past Mrazek from the right faceoff dot, sniping the same bottom left corner that Letang hit for Pittsburgh's 3rd goal of the game from that spot on the ice. That would be enough for Detroit coach Jeff Blashill to pull Mrazek in favor of Jimmy Howard.

The Penguins would lose another player late in the 2nd period when Datsyuk gave Chris Kunitz a shoulder up high, with Kunitz needing help to get back to the bench. The refs would call Datsyuk for interference, but Pittsburgh couldn't make them pay, and the period ended with Pittsburgh holding a commanding 4-1 lead. The Red Wings would need to get things going early to get back into the game, but it was Bryan Rust who nearly extended the Pittsburgh lead when he got in behind the defense early in the 3rd period, but he wasn't able to beat Howard. Tom Kuhnhackl nearly scored himself minutes later when Rust got him the pass in alone on the crease against Howard, but Kuhnhackl's shot rang off the crossbar and deflected out of play.

Despite the chances, the lead would remain at 3, and the Red Wings would have a great chance to cut into the lead when Nick Bonino was sent off for tripping Nyquist 5 minutes into the period. And the Red Wings would get the goal on a fortunate bounce off a Mike Green one-timer. Matt Cullen would get a stick on the shot, and it would deflect off of Ian Cole and change direction again before fluttering past Fleury to make it 4-2 Pittsburgh. But Bonino would quickly atone for his penalty when he grabbed a loose puck in the neutral zone and took it to the Detroit net. He wasn't able to get it past Howard, but the puck remained loose in the crease before Eric Fehr was able to poke it in and restore the three goal Pittsburgh lead. Moments later, Kessel and Hagelin would come down the ice on a 2-on-1 rush, and Kessel saucered a perfect pass that Hagelin was able to one time past Howard to make it 6-2 Penguins. As if that wasn't enough, later in the period Kessel would find Bonino with a cross ice pass on the rush, and Bonino would beat Howard glove high to give each player 5 points on the afternoon to make it 7-2 Pittsburgh.

The Penguins opened the game with an early advantage in possession, and they continued to build upon that throughout the game as they finished with a score-adjusted 63.2 CF% against the Red Wings. Putting up big margins in the possession game is nothing new for Pittsburgh, and they've posted the higher SACF% in 11 straight games now, with just one of those games falling below 52% and just two below 54%. The win pulls the Penguins within 2 points of the Rangers for 2nd place in the Metropolitan Division pending the result of New York's game later today, and Pittsburgh will look to further close the gap when they travel to New York to take on the Rangers tomorrow night.
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Say No to Ben Lovejoy by @BrianK_PI

12:00:00 PM 0

The news that Olli Maatta will be week-to-week with a lower body injury leaves a hole in the Penguins' lineup, but someone will be left out with 7 active defensemen on the roster and 6 available spots. And when looking at the players available and their performance this season, it's clear who should be the odd man out. Ben Lovejoy wasn't the answer for this team last season when he was acquired from Anaheim at the trade deadline, and Lovejoy isn't the answer for the team this season. When filling out his lineup, Mike Sullivan should just say no to playing Ben Lovejoy.

The Penguins know what they have in Lovejoy, and it's nothing special. He's a mediocre defenseman that shouldn't be any higher than the third pairing on a contending team, if he's in the lineup at all. And given the way Mike Sullivan has the team playing, he shouldn't be in the Penguins lineup with or without Olli Maatta. Pensburgh had a good writeup yesterday on the changing of the guard on the Pens' blueline, and how the team has transitioned to an offensive minded group of defensemen under Sullivan. Notice that when listing the offensive talents on the team and their production in 2016, six Penguins defensemen make the cut . Justin Schultz's small sample size doesn't make the list, though the 1.2 points per 60 in Pittsburgh would place him in the same tier as Ian Cole, Trevor Daley, and Derrick Pouliot. Ben Lovejoy's 0.6 pts/60 falls short and sets him apart from his teammates.

The Penguins' identity under Sullivan, what has pushed them to playing like one of the best teams in the league, has been their skating and ability to push the play to the offensive zone. They've retooled their defense to include mobile blueliners who can move the puck. They've acquired both Daley and Schultz because their offensive talents and puck skills mesh perfectly with that vision, regardless of the concerns over their defensive play. And the less a team plays in the defensive zone, the less that matters. And Pittsburgh has been an elite possession team under Mike Sullivan. They're 2nd in the league since he took over with a score-adjusted 55.4 CF%, and they're peaking at the right time heading into the playoffs with a 57.4 SACF% since the trade deadline. With Maatta out, they need to plug someone in who fits that identity, and can help continue the strong play the Penguins have had.

That's not a great fit for Lovejoy, but Derrick Pouliot fits that role perfectly. The former 8th overall pick in 2012 has all the tools that Mike Sullivan is looking for on the blueline - mobility, vision, puck skills - and he's been a great driver of possession this season with a 59.4 SACF%. The Penguins get 64.1% of the scoring chances when he's on the ice, and they've posted a 60.0 GF% too. These numbers are all solid increases over what his teammates have done with him on the bench. There are some of the usual concerns over a young player, particularly a young defenseman, like consistency and work ethic, but they're misguided. Sure, Pouliot might have a lapse that leads to a great chance for the opposition that a more experienced defenseman might not have made, but in context it's likely after creating several great chances for Pittsburgh that a typical veteran wouldn't be capable of pulling off.

Based on the pairings at yesterday's practice, it looks like the Pens are going to try reuniting the Lovejoy-Dumoulin pairing, but it would be a mistake to use one of their better defenseman to try and prop up Lovejoy. On the season, Lovejoy and Dumoulin have a 53.6 CF% when on the ice together. While Dumoulin maintains a 52.5 CF% without him, Lovejoy drops to a 47.4 CF% away from Dumoulin. The pairing has a 56.8 GF% while together, but Dumoulin jumps to a 58.5 GF% on his own while Lovejoy falls to a 52.6 GF%. Based on the splits, it would seem to be clear which defenseman is really benefiting from that pairing.

The Penguins have built their identity on speed and possession under Mike Sullivan, and it's helped to put them in the position they're in today after an uninspired start to the year under Mike Johnston. With Olli Maatta possibly being out of the lineup into the postseason, it's important that they play someone who can help play to these strengths and use the remaining nine games to get primed for a playoff run. Ben Lovejoy might be the "safe" pick, but for little risk comes very little reward; there's no reason to believe Lovejoy will be an asset to this team on the ice. Pouliot might be viewed as more of a risk, but there's no question that he has a much, much higher ceiling. There's a decision that needs to be made in Maatta's absence, and there's one thing that Mike Sullivan needs to do - say no to Ben Lovejoy.
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