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Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Staff's Top Penguins Moments of 2016

12:30:00 PM 0
2017 is tomorrow and as such we say farewell to what was a big year for the Penguins.  The monkey was ripped off of their backs as they searched for that all too expected second Stanley Cup.  It's safe to say that for every Penguins fan this is near the top, if not the top, of their list of 2016's biggest moments.  As such we, the staff at PI, decided to share our biggest individual moments of 2016.

Nick Case - @Nick422

The biggest Penguins moment for me is a no-brainer but it goes back to 2009.  I remember watching friends on social media attend the Cup Final that year and see the Penguins play for it all against the Red Wings.  I had friends at Game 7 who saw the Penguins win it all.  I was deeply jealous and never knew if I'd get the chance again.

And the Penguins made their miracle run in 2016.

Professionally, I'm a freelancer.  I work in sports production.  I've worked for ESPN, Fox Sports, and even in the ECHL.  My schedule is extremely flexible.  I watched, and listened, to the Penguins win Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals on my iPad as I filmed a college baseball tournament.  I also had near a week off after that tournament ended.

I received a text not long after from a friend, a long time season ticket holder named Rick.  "I'm trying to get rid of tickets to Game 2.  Know anyone interested?"

That person was me.

In short order, my girlfriend cleared her work schedule and on Monday we drove from Charleston, SC to Pittsburgh.  Tuesday we made our way back around downtown with the day stopping as we made our way to the top of Mt. Washington where she said yes.  Wednesday we made our way to Game 2, taking the T into town and soaking in the atmosphere of the already growing crowd set to watch on Mario's screen at 3 pm on a hot Wednesday afternoon.

Our seats were perfect.  High enough to see everything develop.  Amid the wonder of finally being at a Stanley Cup Final game, I was there in Pittsburgh.  I was there to see my Penguins.  It was surreal and

The seats were even better as the game wore on.  Scoreless through the first, PHIL! Kessel and the HBK line made it 1-0 in the second right in front of us.  Unfortunately, in the third with less than five minutes left (mere moments after my fiancée uttered "Only four minutes left!") Justin Braun tied the game up at 1-1, right in front of us.

With heart rates racing and stress running throughout the building it happened.

Once again, right in front of us.

The Penguins had won 2-1 in overtime.  At MY Stanley Cup Final game.

I'd interned for the Penguins five seasons before.  I'd be in CONSOL countless times.  I'd never felt the atmosphere as I had that entire day.  I'd never felt a scene as I had after the Sheary goal found the back of the net.  Having been fortunate enough to attend the NFC Championship Game in Charlotte earlier in the year, the atmosphere there paled in comparison to what I felt that night in Pittsburgh.

As we left the arena and chants of "WE WANT THE CUP!  WE WANT THE CUP!" echoed through the halls of CONSOL and later outside in the city of Pittsburgh I marveled at my two day, last minute trip.  It could not have gone better.  I was now engaged and saw my Penguins take a 2-0 lead in the Stanley Cup Final in the Cup game I never knew I'd attend.

It was a moment in time I'll never, ever forget and it's easily my top Penguins moment from 2016.

Paul Clemente - @evil_shero

The Penguins winning the Cup in 2016 really made all other moments not shine as bright. I remember telling my son while watching Game 6, "You need to understand how special this is. Some people never get to see their team make it this far for their entire lives."

However petty, I think my favorite moment of 2016 was the Lundqvist meltdown game. It was a special time of the season in which the Penguins were on a roll. They bought into Sully's logos and you just knew that this team was for real.

On the opposite end, I can't stand how Lundqvist is considered "The King." I know, I know, it's just a nickname but Lundqvist is one of the most overrated players in the NHL. Benefiting from a top media-friendly market, Lundqvist's name somehow always sneaks into the mentions of elite goaltending. For a player who's only won the Vezina once in his 12-year career and NOTHING ELSE doesn't scream elite Hall-of-Fame goalie to me.

Anyways, when the Rangers are doing well, you hear about it. Being the same division as the Penguins, you don't want to hear about how good they are. Additionally, they humiliated the Penguins the previous year in the playoffs. This was a team easy to dislike.

This all changed in 2016. The Penguins went 3-1 in the regular season matchups with the Rangers, railing them for 12 goals in 4 games. It was one particular game in March where wins are at a premium to fight for the coveted playoff spot. The game was a close one but the Penguins were just settling into their tenacious, speedy style of play. The Rangers were chasing them all over the ice and blocking shot after shot. The frustration boiled over and McDonagh plowed into the diva, Lundqvist. He flips his net and his temper-tantrum saturated every sports feed on the planet that next morning.

Yes, it's fun to poke at your rival. This - to me - was a sign of the Penguins getting the final stink of Johnston out of the room. Another Penguins narrative shattered that they couldn't beat the Rangers, or that they couldn't solve the King, or the Ranger's defense was the best in the world. It showed me a team that had all the right tools to win it all and exposing the fraudulent claims that The King was still mighty.

Brian Keenan - @BrianK_PI

What a wild ride it's been! Looking back on the year, my favorite moment might not be a moment per se, but rather that the meteoric rise of Matt Murray carried over from the AHL, through limited NHL starts in the regular season, and firmly took hold in the playoffs. 

Murray still has only 30 regular season starts to his name, but his numbers so far (0.929 SV%; 2.10 GAA) suggest that this 22-year-old Stanley Cup champion is here to stay, and that his prime years could see more Cup celebrations in Pittsburgh.

Medina Marie - @MedinaMarie_PI

I had to think long and hard about this. In a year that brought on such a roller coaster of emotions and a plethora of magic moments, narrowing down the field of what my favourites would took some brain poking. After breaking a few pick axes, I have come to the conclusion that there isn't just one, but two, main memories. One is not necessarily a favourite, but will always be burned to memory going forward.

We will get the more negative memory out of the way (let's face it, the sad memories are ingrained in our brains just as much as the great ones). Why something negative you might ask? This particular moment was a real time look at change in the making. It was a minute period of time that hung in the air like fog, and once it lifted, brought the bright, shining light of a new era in Penguins hockey.

The date was December 11, 2015 (it's only three weeks from when 2016 started so it counts). I had received great tickets for my birthday (lower bowl, all right!) and was hoping for a good game.

After a drawn out battle with the LA. Kings, the Penguins found themselves in a shoot out to decide the game. Pretty exciting, right? Free hockey.

With the shootout tied at one a piece, and having already sent out Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin for attempts (both of which were unsuccessful), former Head Coach Mike Johnston would make a decision that would ultimately bring about the end of his tenure behind the bench.

Instead of sending out Phil Kessel, who had the hot stick all night and was itching for more, Johnson sent out the least likely player ever imagined for a shootout. He sent out Nick Bonino, who at that point in the season, was struggling to find his game.

Being at that game, it felt like time stopped. The second Bonino's name was announced as the next shooter, there was a half-a-moment of utter silence, followed by an audible and unison, "HUH????!!!! WHAT???!!!" by the 18,000 plus in attendance. The befuddlement was promptly followed by head shaking and the sound of feet heading towards the exits, even before a shot was taken. Fans new what was coming next.

Bonino's attempt would fail, and the Kings would go on to seal the win with their next attempt. As I made my way up the stairs to leave, I took a look across the ice at the Penguin's bench. There was Johnston, standing at the opening of the locker room tunnel alone, looking at the score board with the look that had become all too familiar to fans. The look of a coach in over his head. The look of a coach who had run out of ideas not knowing what to do to right the ship.  As he turned to head to the locker room, he gave a deep sigh, and headed down the run way to face whatever might be next for him. As I watching him fade from view, I knew I had just witnessed the end. It would be the last time Mike Johnston would ever make that walk inside Consol Energy/ PPG Paints Arena.

Change was coming.

Ok now onto something more positive and it all revolves around one player.

It is safe to say Bryan Rust has become a favorite of mine. Since the day he even came into the organization, I felt there was something more to this kid than meets the eye. It is always the quiet types that surprise you. My suspicions were proven correct as he has developed into a versatile scoring threat on the Penguins roster. He thrives wherever you put him. He scores, he chirps, he plays smart, and is as quick as a hiccup. He is everything a coach could want in a well-rounded player.

When it comes to big time moments in big time games, one would think that it's the captain or another high-profile player that takes the reins. Then again,  the most memorable occurrences can sometimes come from the least likely of sorts (ex: Max Talbot). The same can be said for Bryan Rust. He etched his name into Penguin's lore forever in what became my favorite moment all season.

By now we all know what game I am referring to. Game Seven, Eastern Conference Final, a chance to play for the Stanley Cup on the line.

He opened up the scoring, and with the game tied, Bryan Rust became a Pittsburgh hockey hero, eking the puck through a small hole on the right side of the net and earns the top spot as my Favorite of the Season. Rust is truly bad for Bolts:

Stacey Miller - @SpinMeWrite

I'm not easily impressed by celebrities or superstar athletes. I have my favorites, but I won't shell out hundreds of dollars to attend their concerts or games. I shirk away from heavily-attended book signings, or any crowded event for that matter. I'd hope that if I were to ever meet a celebrity I'd admire, I'd be really casual about it. No big deal.

Unless it's the 2016 Stanley Cup Parade. Then all bets are off.

Sometime during December 2015, I slowly fell in love with this Penguins team. Probably more so than any other team I've been a fan of. (Though the 1995 Cleveland Indians come close.)

There was something different about this Pens team. We all felt it and we all knew that last season had the makings of a storybook kind of championship. I'd dare anyone to write a better narrative.

I knew I had to go to the parade. Even if I couldn't find anyone to go with me. I was willing to brave the crowd of 400,000 for a chance to celebrate with Pittsburgh before I moved to Boston.

I drove from Youngstown that morning, and quickly made my way to the parade route. I begged and bargained for a spot on the railing. I quietly stood there for over two hours on a brutally hot June morning, boxing out anyone who tried to take my little space.

Once the parade started (late) and the honor guard made it's way down the street, I started screaming my head off like the fangirls I mock. As the players passed it was like a wave of energy moved through crowd. You knew who was coming before you could see them because it was like a giant game of Telephone through the crowd lining Boulevard of the Allies.

I screamed right along with everyone and shouted the players' names, desperate for them to look at me. I nearly died when the cars were backed up so far that Mario Lemieux's car was parked in front of me for what felt like ten minutes. I called his name, smiled and waved. And he looked right at me, smiled and waved. MARIO WAVED TO ME. I just stood there awestruck staring at greatness.

Mario Le-freaking-mieux

I slapped hands with Kunitz and Bonino. I nearly started crying when Flower came down the street and the parking garage ahead of me erupted. From where I was standing, he got the loudest cheers of the day.

It was easily one of the best days of my life. There's nothing that compares to the feeling of being surrounded by so many people feeling the exact same positive emotions you are. No criticism. No disappointment. Just pure joy and elation.

General Manager of the Year Jim Rutherford

And Pittsburgh really knows how to throw a parade. I went to the Cavs championship parade exactly one week later, and believe me when I say it was very clear that Cleveland had no prior experience with championship parades.

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Thursday, December 29, 2016

Murray listed Week-to-Week with Lower Body Injury

3:00:00 PM 0

They say when it rains, it pours. No such phrase fits a sports organization more than the Pittsburgh Penguins.

For the past few seasons, it seems there is always that period of time where players on the Penguin's bench just cannot stay healthy. This season is no exception.

As of early afternoon on December 29, it was announced by Head Coach Mike Sullivan that goalie Matt Murray is listed as "week-to-week with a lower body injury."

Murray did not return to play the third period versus the Carolina Hurricanes on December 28. When and how the injury was sustained has not been released at this time. Marc Andre Fleury gladly came in as relief between the pipes and shut down the fast paced 'Canes.

After a direct question posed from Pittsburgh sports radio personality, Mark Madden, HCMS made a full acknowledgement during the Pens Post Game interview that Murray had, indeed, sustained an injury but no update had been made at that time by the team's medical staff

The Penguins' are fortunate enough to have a much needed (and newly implemented) bye-week coming up as the calendar flips to a new year. This will allow for a weeks rest and rehabilitation to whatever the injury may be. The team did make it known that the injury will be re-assessed at the end of the break.

For now, it seems the Penguins' are in need of a backup goalie and all eyes, once again, are focused on Wilkes-Barre.

Tristan Jarry, who played every week during the Penguin's preseason, is boasting some great stats in the AHL. His record is 13-5-1, with a 2.15 goals against average along with a .921 save percentage. Should the call be made, Jarry would be the next man up.

I would expect that call to come sooner than later as the Penguins close out the calendar year Saturday, December 31 against the Montreal Canadians.
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Pens Initiative's Top Posts of 2016: Part 3

12:30:00 PM 0
After the Penguins won the Cup we were all flying high.  However a new season, and the World Cup, were not far away.  On went the grind.


With a new season on the way, Paul went ahead and asked the eight biggest questions facing the 2016-17 Penguins. "8 Questions for the 2016-17 Penguins Season"

We merrily wished Alex Ovechkin a happy birthday in September.  "Happy Belated Birthday Alex Ovechkin!"

While our World Cup of Hockey coverage was popular, few posts garnered more interest than Nick's scolding of USA Hockey for their poor team selection and awful coaching choices. "Dear USA Hockey, This Could Have Been Avoided"

One of the few posts that garnered more was Phil Kessel lighting up USA hockey worse than Nick did.  "Phil Kessel Burns USA Hockey, Wins World Cup, Twitter"

Continuing on the PHIL! train, Nick said that when it came to USA Hockey Phil Kessel ended his career on his terms.  "Phil Kessel Went Out on Top"

And because everyone love PHIL!, this post of fans chanting "Let's Go Kessel!" at the USA/Czech Republic game was huuuuuuge.  "Fans Chant 'Let's Go Kessel!' at USA/Czech Republic Game"

Few things Penguins fans love more than PHIL! is when people trash the Flyers.  NBC Sports' Facebook go in on the act.  "NBC Sports Facebook Trashes Flyers"

Finally came this story out of San Jose.  A story about a man and his lucky beer.  A lucky beer that catapulted his team to the Stanley Cup.  "Mike Sullivan and his Lucky Brew"


In October, Jim Rutherford took to The Player's Tribune to discuss being GM, how he crafted the Penguins, and how the 2016 team came to be.  "Jim Rutherford Tells Us About Being a GM"

After winning the Cup there were many questions.  It's something that Matt took a look a as the season began. "Where Do We Go From Here?"

As happens in business and sports, things change constantly.  This hit home for the Penguins as their home underwent a name change.  Goodbye CONSOL Energy Center.  "Penguins Rename Arena, PPG Acquires Naming Rights"

We live in a time of great Penguins players and Stanley Cups.  The Penguins weren't always so lucky.  Paul took a look at the worst players to ever lace em up in Pittsburgh. "The Penguins All-Time Worst Players"

Taking a look at the goaltender situation, Jon proposed a different approach.  "Could Murray, Not Fleury, Be the Odd Man Out?"

Oh yeah, this happened.  We try to forget.  "BREAKING: Crosby Diagnosed with a Concussion"

The role of enforcer is debatable in the modern NHL.  It's a debate that Medina tackled head on.  "Unleash Tom Sestito"

The likelihood of this being Marc-Andre Fleury's last season as a Penguin is pretty high.  As such Nick gave him his proper thank you.  "No Matter What, Thank You Marc"

Given the possibility of Marc's departure, Paul looked at his probable locations.  "Where the Hell Can Fleury Go?  Six Possibilities."

In history, few players are as noteworthy as Jaromir Jagr.  He started his career in Pittsburgh but his exit was not graceful.  It's caused him some dislike but Nick said it's time to move on.  "Have You Embraced Jagr?  If Not, It's Time"


When Tom Kuhnhackl spent some time stapled to the press box Medina wondered if he was being punished.  "Kuhnhackl in the (Time Out?) Corner"

Alissa's hype videos got us going all season but her best was easily, and arguably, her tribute to Alex Ovechkin.  "Alex Ovechkin: 'All By Myself'"

The start of the 2016-17 season was herky-jerky and weird.  Nick described it in the best way he could.  "The New Schedule is Butt"

With the appearance, and impressive debut, of Jake Guentzel and a battle with Father Time, Medina wondered if we're seeing the last of Chris Kunitz.  "Are Kunitz's Days Numbered?"


Lee took a step back and looked at Evgeni Malkin, the man forgotten in Sid's great year.  "Evgeni Malkin: An Enigmatic Tale"

With a break out season Medina said it's time to stop questioning the abilities of Bryan Rust and respect him for his talent.  "Stop Asking Who the *%@! Bryan Rust Is"

Hockey players are a superstitious type.  Medina looked at the habit of hockey's best.  "Anything for a Win: Game Day Superstitions and Rituals"

As usual the Penguins holiday video is a smash hit.  This year's take on Elf was a popular one among fans and for our readers. "Penguins release 2016 Holiday Video"

When Ryan Whitney and Colby Armstrong joined the Spittin' Chiclets podcast to talk about their days in Pittsburgh it was more than newsworthy. "Ryan Whitney and Colby Armstrong Hype their Days in Pittsburgh"

Coming on New Year's Eve, the Pens Initiative group share their favorite personal moments from the 2016 calendar year.  Thanks for reading and we'll see you in 2017!
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Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Game Preview: vs Carolina Hurricanes - December 28, 2016

4:27:00 PM 0

Pittsburgh Penguins (23-8-5; 2nd Metro) vs Carolina Hurricanes (15-11-7; 6th Metro)
December 28, 2016 @ 7:00 PM - PPG Paints Arena
TV: Root Sports Pittsburgh

The Penguins will look to close out the month of December strong, and it's been a good one for the team so far, as a 10-1-2 record has helped push Pittsburgh to second place in the entire NHL. After beating up on New Jersey in a home-and-home series, the Pens will return home to host another lower level divisional foe as the Hurricanes come to town for the first meeting between the two teams this year.

Cam Ward is in his 12th season with the Hurricanes, and as the longest tenured member of team since Eric Staal was traded away last year he's become synonymous with Carolina - below average, but capable of occasionally overachieving. He led the Canes to their only Stanley Cup title as a rookie in 2006, earning the Conn Smythe Trophy with a 2.14 GAA and 0.920 SV%, but he's been largely below average in the years since. However, at the age of 32, Ward is having a career year. His 2.24 GAA easily ranks as the best of his career, while his 0.918 SV% is second only to the 0.924 SV% he posted during the 2010-11 season. Making his year even more surprising is that Michael Leighton and Eddie Lack have combined for an abysmal 0.864 SV% and 3.69 GAA between the pipes.

Carolina has been a middle of the pack team offensively, ranking 17th in the league with 2.61 goals/game, but they've been a bit top heavy as a group. Victor Rask is fresh off a 6 year, $24 million contract that he signed as a RFA this offseason, and the 23-year-old Swede hasn't disappointed in his 3rd season. With 26 points (10g, 16a), Rask is second on the Hurricanes in scoring and is well on pace to best his career highs of 21 goals and 27 assists set last season. Jeff Skinner has been up and down during his NHL career, but coming off a solid 51 point effort (28g, 23a) the Hurricane winger is on pace for one of the best years of his career. Skinner leads Carolina with 27 points (13g, 14a) on the season, and if he maintains his current rate of scoring he'd set a career high with 68 points and notch his 3rd 30 goal season in seven years in the league.


- After taking an Andy Greene slap shot to the face in last night's game, Brian Dumoulin had surgery on his broken jaw that's expected to keep him out of the lineup for 6-8 weeks.

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Pens Initiative's Top Posts of 2016: Part 2

2:30:00 PM 0
When last we left off, April had come and the Penguins had made their way through the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, toppling the New York Rangers.  Boy was there so much more to come.


After Brooks Orpik took a run at Olli Maatta in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Semi Finals, Barry Trotz seemed out of touch and out of tune with what a good coach should say.  Brian took him to task with "Clueless Coach Deserves His Cheapshotting Team"

After Trotz tried to manipulate the media to make it seem that the NHL is favoring the Penguins, Brian implored the league to ignore Trotz's words and see the actions. "NHL Must Stand Strong Against Capital Manipulations"

It's all too familiar for Capitals fans: a GREAT regular season and another post season choke.  That it came at the hands of the Penguins made it all the more sweeter.  Brian capped off everyone's feelings quite nicely with "On the Brink of Failure"

First it was Crosby-Malkin-Staal, the original three headed monster.  With the 2016 post season a new one emerged: Crosby-Malkin-Kessel.  "New Three-Headed Monster"

After Ryan Callahan boarded Kris Letang to start the Eastern Conference Finals, everyone knew exactly what it was: garbage.  And even we were mad about it. "Premeditated Bullshit"

After the Lightning tried to ban anyone from wearing Penguins related gear for the ECF, Will called it what it was: a weak attempt to gain some sort of advantage over the well traveling Pittsburgh fans.  "Lightning Trying to Keep What's Left of their Home Ice Advantage"

The Penguins weren't the only ones who made a run to the Finals in 2016.  The Wheeling Nailers made it to the Kelly Cup Finals in the ECHL and Medina made her way to Wheeling to remind you all to "Support the Little Guys"

Did a puck go through Matt Murray's glove?  It's a mystery that quickly enveloped the internet, and Brian took a JFK-like approach to the incident.  "Matt Murray's Glove Change"

We all fell in love with PHIL! as the playoffs wore on, seeing him contribute and lead the charge on the HBK line.  It's what led Brian to state the obvious: "Phil Kessel: Miscast as a Castoff"

Remember how no one likes Mike Milbury?  Well it needed to be said again.  And will continue to be needed to be said, this time by Medina.  "NHL's Broadcasting Blackeye"

As the Penguins clinched a return to the Stanley Cup Final, Nick asked you all to take a moment to remember how sad and seemingly defeated the fanbase, and team, were just one year ago.  "Remember Last Year?"


With the Cup one win away for the Steelers, Nick broke the ice for everyone and freaked out.  "Oh My God, It's Happening!"

Justin Schultz was a low risk, high reward trade made by Jim Rutherford at the deadline to help a Penguins blue line become more mobile.  He went on to excel under Mike Sullivan.  Stacey told us all about his jump from afterthought to important cog.  "Schultz Shines as a Penguin"

With the passing of Gordie Howe, hockey lost an important ambassador.  Mike gave his heartfelt eulogy.  "RIP, Mr Hockey"

Easily our most popular game recap of the year: Stanley Cup Final Game 6.  I wonder what happened there... "SCF Game 6 Recap: Stanley Cup Champions!"

The most popular episode of Radio:PI also happened to be from Game 6.  What are the odds?  "Radio:PI 2015-2016 Wrap Show- Penguins Win the Stanley Cup!"

With the Penguins winning that long expected second Cup, Brian wrote about the Pens getting the monkey off of their back.  "Cashing In on Long Expected Cup Glory"

As he lifted the Cup and celebrated, Steve Olesky took his first ever drink of alcohol.  Will wrote about his life long abstinence and his savored first sip.  "Steven Olesky Parties Hard, but Responsibly"

After the championship comes the party and Stacey was there for the parade in downtown Pittsburgh.  "A Small Market With a Big Heart"

Also after the championship: the rumors.  Malkin to where?  Fleury for what?  It was just the beginning to Nick.  "The Summer of Stupid"

Most understandably, given the midseason turn around by the Penguins, Jim Rutherford won General Manager of the Year at the annual NHL Awards ceremony.  "Jim Rutherford Wins GM of the Year"

As we said in Part 1, we're not immune to bad takes.  Jim Rutherford was ridiculed by many here at Pen Initiative, and far beyond us as well.  Brian wrote this mea culpa: "Getting the Last Laugh"


All things were great for the Penguins after their Cup win but the world moves on and so does the salary cap.  The biggest issue?  What to do with Marc-Andre Fleury.  Matt took a look at the cap with the all of the possible options.  "The Penguins Goaltending Situation: Cap Space Edition"

Medina was present at CONSOL for the Pens championship DVD premier and gave us a comprehensive review of the day.  "Penguins Hold Championship DVD Premier"


Sudden Death is a timeline hockey classic... sort of.  Either way Nick wanted everyone to know that HBO had your slice of Penguins hockey available to you on demand when ever you wanted it. "Sudden Death is on HBO Go/HBO NOW"

Team Dad Matt Cullen was a question mark to return to the Penguins following the 2015-16 season.  An unexpected break out season and a questionable salary cap made people wonder if he'd be back.  When he re-signed, people were excited.  "Penguins Re-Sign Matt Cullen"

An important part of the Penguins family passed away in August.  Nick knew him well and wanted you to know about the man who was in charge of all things Penguins radio: Ray Walker.  "You Didn't Know Ray Walker, but You Should Have"

PHIL! had surgery in the off season to repair some damage to his hand.  The news came out that his recovery may make him miss the start of the season.  People didn't take it well.  "Prolonged Recovery from Surgery May Delay Kessel's Season"

The start of the 2016-17 season was to be special.  The Penguins were to raise the banner against the Capitals, one last twist of the knife for their bitter rivals.  It did not go over well when NBC Sports changed the start time to fit their broadcast schedule.  "NBC Moves Time of Season Opener"

The Flyers and Penguins are among several teams celebrating 50 years in the NHL in the new season.  The Flyers added a special jersey to the mix... and boy were they ugly, and yet familiar.  "Flyers Ruin Your Lunch, Unveil New Jersey"
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Penguins' Dumoulin out 4-6 weeks after jaw surgury

12:01:00 PM 0
(Photo Credit: Tribune Review Sports)
It was announced late morning of December 28 that Pittsburgh Penguins top four defenseman, Brian Dumoulin, has been placed on long-term injured reserve and will miss four to six weeks after undergoing jaw surgery.

The latest injury puts the Penguins in a seriously desperate situation in regards to defensemen. While Kris Letang and Trevor Daley are back to practicing with the team, they are still not cleared for contact and are listed as "day-to-day".

This means if/when a player is recalled, and with Olli Maatta possibly still out with illness, the majority of the defense will be made up of players from Wilkes Barre (gee, where have we seen this scenario before?). However, if a recall is not made by mid-afternoon, it will be a good indication that Maatta will be available to play versus the Carolina Hurricanes December 28.

(Photo Credit: AP/Julio Cortez)
Dumoulin was on the negative end of an errant puck late in the game December 27 versus New Jersey. He was hit in the jaw and fell to the ice in a heap. He left the ice as quickly as possible and went down the runway to be checkout by the medical staff.

Dumoulin had previously taken a puck to the face, in his cheek area, earlier in the month on December 16. He was hit by a shot taken by LA Kings', Marian Gaborik.

Dumoulin is known to be a tank on the Penguin's defense. He takes his fair share of brutality and has defied odds, playing through injuries that would side line other men or recovering quicker than usual from concussion symptoms to barely miss any time at all.

This will be Dumoulin's longest absence from play since joining the team full time in 2015.

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Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Game Preview: at New Jersey Devils - December 27, 2016

4:01:00 PM 0

Pittsburgh Penguins (22-8-5; 2nd Metro) at New Jersey Devils (13-14-7; 7th Metro)
December 27, 2016 @ 7:00 PM - Prudential Center
TV: Root Sports Pittsburgh

After taking a break for Christmas, the Penguins and the Devils will be back at it tonight to finish up the second game of their home and home series. For Pittsburgh, the timing couldn't be any better as the back-to-back against New Jersey follows their worst performance of the season, a 7-1 shellacking at the hands of the league-leading Columbus Blue Jackets. They've already won the first game 4-1, and depending on the other action around the league a win could vault them into first place in both the Metro and the NHL.

Cory Schneider has been the glue that has held the Devils together in recent seasons, but his start to the 2016-17 season has easily been the worst of his career. With elite career numbers of a 0.925 SV% and 2.16 GAA, Schneider had routinely found himself in the discussion of best goaltenders in the game, and deservedly so, but through 26 starts on the season Schneider has currently posted a 0.905 SV% and 2.86 GAA. Making the slump more unusual is that Schneider has been a model of consistency even on bad teams; this marks the first time in his career he's had a save percentage below 0.920 or a GAA above 2.30.

Unfortunately for the Devils, they haven't seen a large increase in scoring to offset the poor play in their own zone. New Jersey currently ranks 26th in the league in scoring with 2.29 goals per game, which is just marginally better than the 2.22 goals per game average they placed them last in the league in 2015-16. General Manager Ray Shero traded for Taylor Hall this past offseason in an attempt to correct the team's offensive woes, and while it hasn't worked yet it's certainly not the fault of the player. Despite missing eight games, Hall finds himself one off the team lead in points (22), goals (8), and assists (15).

The biggest problem facing the Devils is that even with the addition of Hall, the team's scoring depth remains non-existent. Outside of Hall, New Jersey has a couple capable scorers at the NHL level, but no other players that could be confused for being strong offensive performers. The bottom six barely registers on the score sheet, let alone threatens the opposition in their own zone. One of the few bright spots for the team has been 22-year-old defenseman Damon Severson. The Devils' 2nd round pick in the 2012 NHL Draft has broken out offensively in his third season, and his 18 points (3g, 15a) rank 5th on the team. He's second on the New Jersey blue line in TOI and QoC, and his 48.9 CF% is a respectable number relative to the 46.6 CF% of his teammates while he's off the ice.


- Mike Sullivan turned the Pens' 2015-16 season around, ultimately leading the team to the franchise's 4th Stanley Cup Championship, and he was rewarded yesterday with a 3 year extension.

- While the Pens have been hit by the injury bug recently, they might have some good news coming soon: Kris Letang, Trevor Daley, and Tom Kuhnhackl all took part in the morning skate in no-contact jerseys for the first time since being injured.
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Pens Initiative's Top Posts of 2016: Part 1

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2016 saw a year of high highs and very little lows for the Pittsburgh Penguins.  Our writers were along for the ride the entire way.  As a result we look back at our most popular articles of the year.


Before we knew exactly what was in store for Matt Murray, Brian asked aloud "What to Do with Matt Murray?"

None of us are afraid to look back in hindsight and laugh at ourselves.  Few posts are this more evident than Brian's post in which he argued against the Carl Hagelin trade.  Whoops.  "Stop the Madness!"

You guys remember Sergei Plotnikov?  Yeah... neither do we.  Penguins management didn't seem to either.  This brought about Brian's article "The Curious Case of Sergei Plotnikov" (he's back in the KHL now, by the way)


Brian tapped in to the anger of a lot of NHL fans when he wrote this article on a fan petition to remove Mike Milbury.  We're still waiting for this to be honored... "The Fan Vote: Bye Bye Mike Milbury"

A few months in to Mike Sullivan's tenure Brian looked at some interest statistics detailing the difference between Mike Sullivan and Mike Johnston and found one surprising one.  "The Most Shocking HCMS Stat"

After Olli Maatta signed his cap friendly deal in late February, Nick made a LOT of waves by asking if cap room will be made with a Marc-Andre Fleury trade.  "Is a Fleury Trade on the Horizon?"


Our entire run of Penguins Villain brackets was massively popular.  You can go through the entire run right here.

The NHL announced yet another outdoor game.  Now the date is around the corner but back in March this was big, new news.  "Penguins to Face Flyers in 2017 Stadium Series"

Brian, once again, made waves by trying to convince readers that Ben Lovejoy was not the answer to replace injured Olli Maatta in the line up. "Say No to Ben Lovejoy"


With Marc-Andre Fleury injured and Matt Murray starting, Brian wondered if Matt Murray was ready to handle the grind of the playoffs. "Can Matt Murray Handle the Playoff Load?"

The Penguins were rolling and steamrolling everyone.  It was time to state the obvious to Nick.  "The Penguins are Better Than You."

Rob Rossi is... a controversial figure.  We like him but it's true.  As such Paul took at the look at the ten most Rossi moments.  "10 Times Rob Went Full Rossi."

Eric Fehr was a big part of the 2015-16 success once he was inserted in to the line up.  Stacey wrote a note to the Capitals thanking them for letting him go.  "Letter of Appreciation to the Capitals."

Will got tired of all of the stupid, unoriginal, and unfunny "Cindy Crosby" jokes that he did something about it.  And it was off the charts popular.  "Stop Using Sidney Crosby to Prove You're Sexist"

As Marc-Andre Fleury recovered from a concussion, Lee took a peak inside his recovery.  "The Mind of Marc-Andre"

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Monday, December 26, 2016

Penguins Extend Mike Sullivan Through 2019-2020

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Bruce Bennett - Getty Images 
Pittsburgh Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan, who has accrued a 55-24-10 regular season record since taking over the Penguins head coaching duties, received a three-year extension from the club. General Manager Jim Rutherford announced the deal will take him through the 2019-2020 season.

Since taking over leading the Penguins, Mike Sullivan has lead Pittsburgh to 120 points in the regular season. Only one NHL team, the Washington Capitals, has done better in that span bettering the Penguins by just four points.

Sullivan, 48, took over a struggling Penguins team on December 12th, 2015 and subsequently lead his team to a Stanley Cup Championship going 33-16-5 to finish out the regular season and then going 16-8 in the 2016 post season. So far in the 2016-2017 regular season the Penguins have a 22-8-5 record which has them in good position to win a Metropolitan Division title.

Sullivan has also lead to the resurgence of Penguins captain Sidney Crosby. Crosby leads the NHL in goals and points in the 81 games since Sullivan took over with 54 goals and 104 points.

The extension was a late holiday gift for Penguins fans, the city of Pittsburgh and the Sullivan family alike!
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Sunday, December 25, 2016

Happy Holidays from Pens Initiative!

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No matter where you are or what you're doing this holiday season, we want to thank you for being a reader of Pens Initiative and wish you nothing but the happiest of holidays this season!

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Friday, December 23, 2016

Steve Downie, Celebrating Festivus, Airs Grievances

4:12:00 PM 0
Former Penguin, and Chris Pratt look-a-like, Steve Downie dusted off the old Twitter account today and honored the tradition of Festivus by going off on the Phoenix Coyotes.

The Coyotes, a team familiar to the Penguins for garbage (Shane Doan is scum), were the last team Downie played for.  Things clearly... didn't go well.

Steve isn't happy and no one should be shocked that Arizona is a poorly run organization.

To end this post on a higher note, here's Steve celebrating Festivus' Feats of Strength (including one against Shane Doan) while with the Penguins.

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Thursday, December 22, 2016

Game Preview: at Columbus Blue Jackets - December 22, 2016

3:30:00 PM 0

Pittsburgh Penguins (21-7-5; 1st Metro) at Columbus Blue Jackets (21-5-4; 3rd Metro)
December 22, 2016 @ 7:00 PM - Nationwide Arena
TV: Root Sports Pittsburgh

First place is on the line tonight. It might not have been the game most, if any, would've circled as a key faceoff of top Metropolitan Division teams, but that's exactly what will take place when the Penguins travel to Columbus to take on the Blue Jackets. And while Pittsburgh has had a great month of December, earning points in each of their ten games en route to an 8-0-2 record while outscoring their opposition 47-22, Columbus has been even better. The Blue Jackets have won 10 straight games to give them a perfect 9-0-0 record on the month and pulling them to within in a single point of the Pens and Rangers.

The Blue Jackets have been the biggest surprise of the season, and they've been getting it done at both ends of the ice as they rank 2nd in both goals per game (3.30) and goals against per game (2.07), propelling them to a league best +38 goal differential. And while the team started off slow on the possession front, they've recovered nicely as the season has progressed and currently sits 9th in the league with a 52.1 SACF%. Perhaps most surprisingly, it's been a team effort with production from a variety of ages and pedigrees.

Cam Atkinson was a 6th round pick by Columbus in the 2008 draft, but the 27-year-old winger has continued to improve as a player. Already with three straight 20 goal seasons under his belt, Atkinson looks likely to shatter his career high in goals (27g) and points (53 pts) set last season. With 14 goals and 19 assists through 30 games, Atkinson's scoring at a better than point per game clip that leaves him on pace for 38 goals and 90 points on the season. While a bit unexpected, it pales in comparison to Sam Gagner, the one-time 6th overall pick who could never quite put it all together in Edmonton and is currently on his 4th team in as many seasons. Like Atkinson and the rest of the team, Gagner is also on a torrid pace that would obliterate his career highs. His first nine seasons saw zero 20 goal campaigns, yet with 13 goals already on the season Gagner is on track (36g) to join the 30 goal club this year.

The team's young talent is also producing in a big way. Zach Werenski, the 8th overall pick in the 2015 Draft, has not only made the NHL roster as a 19-year-old defenseman, but he's made the most of his time with the Blue Jackets, ranking 9th in the league on the blueline with 21 points (6g, 15a) to go along with a stellar 53.3 CF% at 5-on-5 play. Alexander Wennberg, the team's 1st round draft pick in 2013, is also off to a blistering start to his third NHL season with 6 goals and 20 assists in 30 games played. Along with younger players like Brandon Saad, Seth Jones, and Ryan Murray, the Blue Jackets have a good nucleus of talent to build from and could be a contender in the Metro for years to come.



- It'll be a battle of the top two offenses in the league, and the Penguins (3.46 GF/gm) and Blue Jackets (3.30 GF/gm) are both well above the 3 goal per game mark.
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Ruhwedel Impresses, Pouliot struggles, and other Tid Bits vs. NYR @MedinaMarie_PI

9:30:00 AM 0
The Penguins sent a message to the New York Rangers on December 20. While they may be battered and broken, their fight is as string as ever. That message of resiliency and will power came loud and clear as the Penguins routed the Rags 7-2. The Penguins will be riding on that high going into Thursday's game versus the red hot Columbus Blue Jackets. (Yes, typing that felt very weird).

With a depleted defense, the club called up Chad Ruhwedel from Wilkes Barre on December 17 to play with Derrick Pouliot and Steve Oleksy. Ruhwedel had been called up once before earlier in the season, but did not see any playing time. Now, he boasts the WBS Penguins second-highest point count among defensemen with 13 (three goals, ten assists), over 26 games, earning him the nod once again.

With Oleksy getting the scratch for the night, Ruhwedel would see himself with Pouliot on the third defensive pairing, moving the duo of Justin Schultz and Ian Cole up to second. Though playing in his first game, Ruhwedel would end up overshadowing his more experienced counter part.

His fast skating as well as possessing a offensively-minded play fits in well with the Penguins style. It also helps to have another right-handed shot to utilize.

Ruhwedel was able to get into the offensive zone on a few occasions during his sixteen minutes of ice time. He would even be fed a prime scoring opportunity from Phil Kessel, but could not elevate the puck past Rangers net minder, Antti Raanta.

Overall, Ruhwedel made sure to get noticed in his first game on the NHL level. It will be interesting to see how he is utilized going forward during his time with Pittsburgh and if he will continue to play with the same positive force.

The Struggles of Derrick Pouliot Continue...

As impressive as Chad Ruhwedul was against the Rangers, Derrick Pouliot was equally as un-impressive. I understand he is Mike Sullivan's "project player", but how much longer does the truth have to glare you in the face before something is done?

To put it as bluntly as possible: The kid needs to be let go in order to given the opportunity to (hopefully) thrive somewhere else. It just isn't working here in Pittsburgh (or in Wilkes Barre) the way everyone (staff and fans) had hoped. He has made no advancement in his play offensively since his years in Juniors, and his defensive play has stalled, or at times, become worse.

Pouliot played a whopping 10 minutes, 45 seconds versus the Rangers and it came in a very sheltered role. Every single one of his starts on ice came in the offensive zone proving that the coaching staff still have zero confidence in his defensive growth.

Pouliot made turnovers in both the offensive and defensive zones (thank goodness for Matt Murray or one turnover would have meant a goal for Rangers, Jimmy Vesey).  He also took a senseless tripping penalty early in the second period.

I won't muster a guess as to why Pouliot was given the start over Oleksy (perhaps the coaches hoped that magic would spark on the anniversary of Pouliot's first NHL goal two years prior?). With the Blue Jackets on a ten game wining streak, defensive mistakes can and will be costly so the Penguins are going to want the best they can get on the ice and Derrick Pouliot isn't it. I am sure he is trying, but a change of scenery can work to a player's advantage so maybe that really is what is needed.

  • Justin Schultz and Bryan Rust continue to have a December to remember. Schultz continued rubbing salt in the wounds of Edmonton with another multi-point game against the New York Rangers. He had a total of 21 minutes, 39 seconds of play with a goal and an assist.
          Rust has been nothing short of a machine. He now has nine goals (six in the month of December alone) and was promoted to play first line along side Sidney Crosby and Conor Sheary. Rust's versatility, speed and scoring ability is continuing to prove doubters wrong.
  • Patric Hornqvist snapped a 9-game goal-less streak putting one past Raanta for the Penguins sixth goal of the night.
  • In the same realm, Carl Hagelin continues to try and find the back of the net. He has only two goals in the past twenty-one games going back to November 8 against the Edmonton Oilers. He was reunited with Nick Bonino and Phil Kessel on the HBK-Line and has had some fantastic looks on net, but nothing is going through for him right now. Here is hoping this is just a little mid-season slump and that he will return to scoring form sooner rather than later.
  • The feel-good moment of the night came from, who else, Sidney Crosby. Watch as he makes this little girl smile like a butchers dog by answering her Christmas Wish (as portrayed in sign form):
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Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The Undercover Superstar by @BrianK_PI

2:30:00 PM 0

To say that Evgeni Malkin's career has been largely out of the spotlight, given the caliber of player he is, would be putting it lightly, especially because Malkin first came to the NHL by essentially disappearing from his Russian team and the world for three weeks before surfacing in Los Angeles. It's impossible to be the face of your franchise when you can call Sidney Crosby, the face of the NHL, a teammate, but even still Geno doesn't seem to get the attention or recognition he deserves.

Because taking in a full appreciation of his career accomplishments, it's a small miracle that Malkin isn't consistently talked about as one of the best in the league. Since TSN began releasing their Top 50 Players poll after the 2009-10 season, Malkin has found himself in the top 3 just twice during that time frame. He entered this season ranked 13th. This is a player with a Hart Trophy and Ted Lindsay Award, two Art Ross Trophies, and a Calder Trophy to add to the collection. One who ranks 7th in goals (309), 6th in assists (488), 4th in points (797), and 2nd in points per game (1.18) since he entered the league. Oh, and he's t-3rd, 2nd, 2nd, and 3rd in those same categories in the postseason over that time frame, to go along with two Stanley Cups and an Art Ross Trophy.

He's a generational talent at center, but in Pittsburgh he'll always be the 1b to Crosby's 1a, and when fans outside of Pittsburgh think "Russian Superstar" Alexander Ovechkin pops into mind first. And injuries have limited Malkin's brilliance, both from missing games and playing hurt, but it still hasn't stopped him from being a productive player. Malkin hasn't played in at least 70 games since winning the Hart Trophy in 2011-12, but he's still 4th in the league in points per game (1.08) since his career year.  He undoubtedly likes staying out of the limelight, and the hockey world has been too willing to oblige when given any reason to focus else where.

Because as great as he is at hockey, maybe blending into the shadows is what Malkin does best. Know who currently leads the Pens in goals and points? If you said Crosby for both, you're only half right. Malkin is 3rd in the NHL with 37 points and only three off Connor McDavid's lead. And while Crosby's torrid goal scoring pace is rightfully dominating headlines, a spotlight needs to be shone on the year Malkin is having as well. He's scoring at a good clip himself, as his 1.19 goals per 60 is the 3rd highest of his career, while his 2.64 points per 60 ranks 5th best. Both rank second only to his Hart Trophy-winning season since the Pens won the Cup in 2009, at a time when scoring has become increasingly hard league-wide. At his current pace, Malkin would finish with 35 goals and 92 points, which would be the 3rd and 4th best totals, respectively, of his career.

Yet he's someone that finds himself apart of nonsensical trade rumors year after year, even though the chances of that ever happening are effectively zero. He's a player who currently ranks 14th all time on the points per game list despite playing in a decidedly more defensive era than the vast majority of the names above him, but one who seems to be judged more relative to Sidney Crosby than the rest of his peers. Both are incredible players who almost assuredly will be first ballot HOFers each, yet while Sidney Crosby is the seeming face of hockey everywhere, Evgeni Malkin remains more the undercover superstar.
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My Christmas Wish? Health and Well Being by @Nick422

12:00:00 PM 0
I mean is it too much to ask?  Really?

After what seemed like a too good to be true period of peace and success, the all too common injury bug has finally attacked the Penguins.  We were all waiting for the other shoe to drop and here it is.  Boom.  Just in time for the holiday season.

Kris Letang, Trevor Daley, and now Tom Kuhnackl are all out for "a few weeks."  Two very important parts of the blue line and a very good depth player, all out for the Penguins as they were all over the league showing them why they won the Cup.

The old joke was that Consol (ne, PPG Paints Arena) was constructed on old Indian burial ground.  Since the Penguins entered their new digs the parade of important players injured seems endless.  Combined with a string of playoff losses there seemed to be an unshakable hex over the Pens.

Finally the Pens lifted the Cup again, something that felt a long time coming and well earned, and the hope remained that the curse was lifted.  Even though Sidney Crosby missed the start of the season with a concussion, he's bounced back spectacularly.  A blip in the radar!  It's fine!

And these past weeks it crashed back to earth.  Letang, Daley, and Kuhnhackl all made their way to the box to watch as they heal.  While Kuhnhackl is easier to replace, they all represent important cogs in a successful engine that was driving the Pens.

They'll have capable replacements in the likes of Eric Fehr, David Warsofsky, and Derrick Pouliot they're not the players having to watch from afar.

With the holiday season in full swing, my biggest wish for the Penguins is this: Health for the rest of the season.  They can tread water without Letang and Daley.  An injury for a length of time to Crosby or Malkin?  Well... let's not think about that.
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Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Game Preview: vs NY Rangers - December 20, 2016

4:00:00 PM 0

Pittsburgh Penguins (20-7-5; 2nd Metro) vs NY Rangers (23-10-1; 1st Metro)
December 20, 2016 @ 7:00 PM - PPG Paints Arena
TV: Root Sports Pittsburgh

The Penguins may have dropped a pair of games after losing Kris Letang to a lower body injury, but by salvaging a couple of overtime points they'll come into tonight's game with an active 9 game points streak. With a regulation win, they'll be able to pull back into a tie with the first place Rangers. 

It's been hit or miss for the Rangers in recent seasons when it comes to Rick Nash, sometimes getting a player who shows why he's a former first overall draft pick and others a player who clearly shows the wear and tear of 14 years playing a power forward game. They've gotten the good Nash so far this season, as his 13 goals tie for the team lead and leave him just two behind last season's career-low total in half as many games played. Unfortunately for them, the good Rick Nash also comes with the same mileage, and after returning from a groin injury earlier this month, Nash will again miss time with a different groin injury after hurting himself in Sunday's game against the Devils.

Michael Grabner is currently tied with Nash atop the leaderboard with 13 goals scored, but he might have difficulty putting much distance between them in Nash's absence. After starting off with a blistering 12 goals in 20 games that saw him challenging Sidney Crosby for the league lead, Grabner has fallen back to Earth with a thud, managing just a single goal in his last 13 games.

The Penguins have chased Henrik Lundqvist from the net in three straight starts, but they'll face backup Antti Raanta tonight, the second time they'll face him this season after he previously stopped 29 of 31 shots against the secure a 5-2 victory over Pittsburgh in November. Though on the surface it may seem like resting a goaltender against a team that has had his number as of late, it continues an interesting pattern of usage by Alain Vigneault in the Ranger net. Earlier this month, Raanta made four consecutive starts, allowing just three goals and posting a 0.966 SV% in the process before ceding the net back to Lundqvist for the past three games. Through 11 starts on the year, Raanta has put up the type of numbers (0.941 SV%; 1.67 GAA) that force his way into the starting conversation, even with Lundqvist (0.920 SV%; 2.34 GAA) still putting up solid numbers himself.



- Justin Schultz has been on fire lately, and he currently leads all NHL defensemen with 12 points (4g, 8a) in the month of December.

- The Penguins (7-0-2) are one of three teams to have no regulation losses so far in December. The Blue Jackets (8-0-0) and Wild (7-0-1) are the other two.

- Matt Murray (10-0-2) has not lost in his last 12 starts at PPG Paints Arena.

- The team has filmed another holiday video, re-shooting scenes from Elf with current Pens players.

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Monday, December 19, 2016

Justin Schultz: A Tale of Two Defensemen by @MedinaMarie_PI

12:30:00 PM 0
A year ago, Justin Schultz was being called one of the worst players in the National Hockey League. It was said that he lacked motivation. His skating was poor. That he couldn't hit the broad side of a bright pink barn with a shot let alone a net. Fans in Edmonton criticized Schultz as not "developing" as a defenseman should.

When Schultz became a member of the Edmonton Oilers, the hope was he would be their version of Kris Letang. The "go-to" defenseman. The man that would be called upon to play thirty-plus minutes per game and be in consideration for the Norris Trophy for Best Defenseman in the NHL within a year.

The problem with that plan was this: Justin Schultz is not the same kind of player as Kris Letang. He is the type of defenseman built to play a maximum of (maybe) twenty-five minutes while making scoring (and life) difficult for the oppositions forwards. Schultz is also someone that can be an asset offensively when paired up and coached correctly. In his new role with the Penguins, Schultz has become a well-rounded threat, able to both score when the opportunity presents itself as well as break up plays and get into shooting lanes to prevent shots on goal. This was not the case with the Oilers.

In 2014-15, Schultz would score only six times, have 25 assists, and his plus/ minus rating was -17.
In 2015-16, before Schultz arrived in Pittsburgh, he had only three goals and seven assists over 45 games played. That adds up to a whopping ten points. His plus/minus rating tanked to a -22 and his confidence level fell even lower. Overall, Schultz was a -78 over 248 games played while with Edmonton.

To say the man needed a change of scenery (and a full mental reset) was an understatement.

With the injuries piling up and needing some depth at defense, General Manager Jim Rutherford made a trade offer. He had just pulled off the deal of the century when bringing in Trevor Daley, but another piece was needed in order to bring the entire team puzzle together, finish the season strong and prepare for a deep playoff run.

One draft pick and a signature later, the 26-year old Schultz was on a plane to Pittsburgh, smiling from ear to ear, while a certain publication in the Great White North called the Penguins' organization "insane" for trading for him.

Schultz began his transformation almost immediately. Head Coach Mike Sullivan possesses a true gift of knowing the limits of his players and how to make the most of what they can offer his team. Recognizing Schultz needed to be in a limited role, he was set with Ian Cole on the third defensive
The team prankster welcomed Schultz, aka "New Guy", by
hanging his clothes from the ceiling
pairing for much of remainder of last season.

Schultz assumed his new role gladly, and game after game, grew more confident in his abilities and aided the Penguins in the eventual Stanley Cup Championship victory, something that he would not have fathomed happening when the season started.

After some experimenting early in the current season, Schultz and Cole were paired once again and have stayed that way since the beginning of November.

It has paid dividends for Schultz who has done a complete 180 degree turn. In fact, it is like he is entirely new player.

With the pressure now off of him to be "the guy", Schultz's game has drastically improved. He is not only making good defensive decisions, he has turned his hand to being more offensively minded. As of December 17, Schultz has five goals and 13 assists over 32 games. His plus/minus stands as the second highest in the NHL at a +18 (just behind Ryan Suter).

His eye for scoring opportunities and well as his ability to generate changes off his booming slap shot earned him a slot on the second power play unit which is also beginning to click more consistently. Against the Boston Bruins on December 14, Schultz had another multi-point game. He would add another point (an assist) on December 17 when the Penguins faced the Toronto Maple Leafs. He now has 18 points overall.

This resurgence in his game, along with the boost in confidence, has made Schultz a new force on the Penguins' blue line. That will come in handy with both Kris Letang and Trevor Daley now out with injuries and said to miss "a couple of weeks" (Head Coach Mike Sullivan). With Derrick Pouliot and (surprisingly) Chad Ruwedel recalled from Wilkes Barre, it will be interesting to see if Schulz remains with his partner, Ian Cole, and keep the chemistry rolling or if he will be moved up to play with Brian Dumoulin.

Speaking of Trevor Daley, if Schultz can continue at this new level of play, management is going to have a big choice to make come off season. Schultz is only signed to a one-year deal and Daley is a restricted free agent at the end of the 2016-17 season. The club is going to be hard pressed to keep both and stay under cap when you have players such as Olli Maatta and Kris Letang eating up four and (just over) seven million dollars in cap space, as well as Connor Sheary, Brian Dumoulin, Chris Kunitz and Derrick Pouliot needing qualifying offers come seasons end.

GMJR is a mathematical genius, albeit, a risk taker at times, but not even he can work out the numbers to keep every single one of those players and more.

With the season half over and trade deadline just over two months away, a close eye is going to be kept on Schultz, and with Daley missing significant time, it is Schultz's time to really shine. Should the Penguins trade for a top-4 defensemen in a push for back-to-back Cup championships, it could send wheels in motion to say farewell to the lesser performing player when the 2017 game calendar comes to a close.

There is no reason why Schultz cannot keep this level of play up of an extended period of time. Granted, with some temporary personnel now in place, it will take some adjusting to make sure the Penguins can still keep their winning ways alive and not fall out of the top three in the conference. But with a coach like Mike Sullivan, and the staff and players behind him, the Justin Schulz that was an Edmonton Oiler is only a mere shadow of the Justin Schultz that has now become a defensive threat for our Pittsburgh Penguins. With the hope that it continues, Schultz may be able to call himself a Penguin longer than most people long as the price is right.

Thanks Edmonton!

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