Some of you many know me from the training and development camp write-ups I do over at letsgopens.com or maybe you follow me on Twitter (@LGP_netwolf). I’ve never really got into any kind of regular writing though. The main reason for that was always a fear of not being able to come up with idea on a regular basis. A couple of months ago, I did come up with an idea that will hopefully minimize any issues with writers block.
I spend between 60-90 minutes a day during the week driving to and from work. 90% of the time, I’m listening to some kind of hockey talk, be it the Pens HD channel or SiriusXM NHL. Many times, I end up responding to what I hear out loud. This feature will take various things I hear and use them as a jumping off point for discussion; kind of like the Thoughts on Thoughts Justin Bourne (@jtbourne) does on Elliotte Friedman’s (@FriedgeHNIC) excellent 30 Thoughts columns. (If you aren’t familiar with either of those two, you should be; both do great work.)
I ended up writing a proof-of-concept article off of a Hot Stove show that aired late in the summer and it seemed to work. When Hooks said he was looking to add someone, I sent it his way and he liked it, so here I am. Hopefully, it continues to work and you guys enjoy it. Here goes!
October 3rd, PenguinsLive
Host Brian Metzer (@Brian_Metzer) opened the show talking about the preseason Marc-Andre Fleury had (2-1, 1.13 GAA, .953 Sv%) and how important he will be early, as the team adjusts to head coach Mike Johnston’s new system.
There’s a fine line between not wanting to dump pucks in and forcing passes that aren’t there. As the Pens adjust to this, mistakes will be made. They should be somewhat mitigated by Johnston’s desire to have them come up the ice as a group, so there are guys back if a turnover happens. The key guy in covering up mistakes will be the goaltender. He’ll need to be sharp to give the rest of the team that confidence to be afraid of making mistakes. Confidence is huge in this game.
Guest Vince Comunale (@PGHVC) said Pens will still need to dump pucks in to keep the defensemen guessing.
There’s a stigma attached to dump-ins, probably because the Pens didn’t fare too well with them. They’d dump it to a bad spot and/or do so with no one else in a position to go get it. When done properly, dump and chase hockey can be effective. If nothing else, it’s always good to mix things up so the defense doesn’t know what’s coming and can’t cheat one way or another.
October 4th, PensWeek
Hosts Bob Grove (@PensRadioNet), Paul Steigerwald, and Brian Metzer opened the show talking about the forwards. Steigerwald noted that if Evgeni Malkin isn’t ready, Brandon Sutter will start as the second center and that he did well in that role in the playoffs when Malkin was bumped up with Sidney Crosby. He also thought Marcel Goc is over-qualified to be a third center and that Oscar Sundqvist could be ready. Ultimately, it’s hard to guess because of Malkin’s injury and the versatility of many of their forwards. Grove wondered about Kasperi Kapanen, saying he had one really good game, but wasn’t very noticeable in the others. Metzer thought Kapanen could still get a 9 game look, noted Nick Spaling is a guy that can play anywhere in the lineup and the Malkin injury impacts the rest of the lineup. Steigerwald pointed out Blake Comeau is also capable of playing all three forward positions.
Malkin’s injury is the big key here. Not only does his absence bump Sutter and Goc up, it opens a spot for Sundqvist, who’s been the surprise of this camp. He might stick regardless though. He’s been uses in a variety of roles and the coaches seem to be really happy with how he’s performed. It also trickles down to the wings. It seems the plan was to have pairs of forwards (Chris Kunitz and Crosby, Patric Hornqvist and Malkin, Steve Downie and Sutter), but if Malkin’s out, do put Hornqvist on the first line? If so, who plays on the second with Sutter? Does Downie move up with him? If so, that opens up room on the third. It’s a very fluid situation, to say the least. I didn’t think Kapanen was NHL-ready coming into camp and still don’t, but injuries could help get him a look. Reports out of Nashville at the time Spaling was acquired indicated he was moved all around to "fix" lines and I’d guess that continues here. Comeau does have a 20 goal season to his credit, but I think his days of being a top 6 forward are behind him. He should be a solid add for the Pens in a bottom 6 role though.
Steigerwald talked about Johnston’s desire to use his higher end forwards in the last 20 seconds of the penalty kill, commenting that strategy isn’t revolutionary, and that it did happen a little under Dan Bylsma. Grove said he’d like to see Crosby on the kill even more when the team is trailing.
Many teams do use their top end forwards on the kill so that the opposing power play has to be a little more careful about turning the puck over. This isn’t new to the Pens either, though it sounds like it will happen more regularly. Crosby only averaged 30 seconds of shorthanded ice time last year and 40 the year before. He’d get out there to take a key faceoff, and then change as soon as they cleared the zone, or in the final moments of a kill. From what I remember, Malkin was a pretty good penalty killer in Russia before he came over, so I wouldn’t mind seeing him out there a bit too. You do have to be judicious with using them in that role though. Those guys are going to be getting a lot of minutes as it is, and you don’t want to tire them out too much with tougher shorthanded ones.
Steigerwald talked about the power play and Crosby’s preference to drift towards the point while on the half-wall so he can generate some speed towards the net. Rick Tocchet wants to see him stay lower to keep him away from the penalty killer that’s out on the point guy so he has more space.
Top players are even more dangerous with more time and space, so look out if Tocchet is right. The Pens had the top power play last year and James Neal is the only guy gone from that top unit. If it was up to me, Crosby stays in his usual spot on the boards, Malkin goes into the Neal rover spot, Hornqvist in front, and Kris Letang and Christian Ehrhoff are on the points. Malkin has the best shot and the confidence he gets from scoring goals boost his entire game. I thought Kunitz wore down a bit last year. Getting him off the top unit should keep him fresher as the season goes on.
Grove mentioned the Pens have 7 of their first 10 games at home and thought that could be a big advantage for a team dealing with a lot of change.
You would think being at home and not having to travel would allow for more practice time, which should aid the transition. However, you often hear teams talk about how going on the road for an extended time can be a good opportunity for a team to gel. Time will tell, as it usually does.
The conversation switched over to the defense. Steigerwald said Rob Scuderi’s injury really hurt him and the Pens will need a lot more from him this year. Grove and Metzer both agreed that Scott Harrington has the edge over Brian Dumoulin based on preseason use. Steigerwald noted that Taylor Chorney has played well, and could end up getting the 7th spot on defense if the Pens would rather have Harrington and Dumoulin playing. Those two also do not have to clear waivers. Grove thinks sending a guy down based on waiver status could send the wrong message if he’s earned the spot though.
I didn’t think Scuderi played well before the injury; it took him from liability to train wreck. The chances of a Paul Martin-like rebound aren’t good, but given the team doesn’t have a lot of options with him, I can see why he’s getting a chance. I hope it works, but I wouldn’t bet on it. I do think he’ll be better than much of last year, but I don’t think his play alone will end up warranting a spot in the top 6. Dumoulin was sent down yesterday and Chorney was put on waivers, so Grove and Metzer got some validation. I agree with Grove about waiver-status being a trump card in roster decisions could send a bad message, but unfortunately it is a reality. When a waiver-exempt guy is trying to earn a job, simply outplaying other guys isn’t enough; he needs to do it by enough of a margin to make a waiver-eligible guy expendable.