Brooks Orpik played 24:04 on Saturday night against the Penguins getting 1 assist, 7 hits, and 1 blocked shot with a +3 plus/minus. It was a physical game at points, interesting the game statisticians credited Penguins with a 46-27 advantage in hits. That's what happens when a team has the puck more as Washington had 63 shot attempts to the Penguins 53.
Crosby in Denial
Dejan Kovacevic's latest column after Saturday's game questioned whether Sidney Crosby will ever be a star sniper again. In it, I thought it was interesting that he wrote, "hold the conspiracies: He isn't hurt again".
If Crosby is healthy, which I'm still not 100% in that corner, then it leads me to believe Crosby has a mental block about his own game.
We've known for a long-time that Crosby is a creature of habit and loyal, that's why you've seen Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis on his wings.
Could those same traits be interfering with his ability to recognize a change in his style of play since the concussion?
There was no better example of that than a first period power play in which Crosby received a pass in the right face-off circle for one-timer but instead opted to cradle puck and pass it to the point for a shot, which he stayed still and admired the pass failing to crash the net area for a rebound, which happened to hop off Braden Holtby's pads into the corner.
It was a rather pedestrian performance for Crosby and the Penguins still ravaged by injuries and illness.
Before anyone writes off Crosby as a third line grinder and has started his decline, it would be wise to see what happens when the team gets him a winger that can create on his own. Kunitz is 35 years old, coming off a playoff in which he looked a step slow and that hasn't changed this season. Losing Dupuis to the blood clot robbed Crosby of a linemate he could rely on to keep up with him from a speed perspective and though Hornqvist looked to have meshed well early in the season, not so for the last 24 games.
While Crosby might be in denial about his own game, Penguins are even more so. The Penguins need to find another Marian Hossa to help Crosby.
Age 27 season
Crosby is playing in his age 27 season and on pace for 24 goals. Here are a few players of note in their age 27 season.
Cliff Ronning – 25 goals / 76 games
Bryan Trottier – 40 goals / 68 games
Ron Francis – 23 goals / 81 games
Steve Yzerman – 58 goals / 84 games
Peter Forsberg – 27 goals / 73 games
Mario Lemieux – 17 goals / 22 games
NHL players on 1-year deal are free to sign extensions after January 1 and once again, Elliotte Friedman reported he expects the Penguins and Christian Ehrhoff to get something done. I don't think the team should invest on 30-something year old defensemen with Scuderi already on the roster and plenty of young, cheap defensemen ready for NHL action as we're already seeing Brian Dumoulin, Scott Harrington, and Derrick Pouliot getting chances to show what they can or cannot do this season. Then you've got Kris Letang, Simon Despres, and Robert Bortuzzo to add into the mix, which leaves you wondering why the need to sign Ehrhoff and/or Paul Martin.
If the Penguins sign Ehrhoff, I would expect a 4-year deal for $20 million. Again, I wouldn't do it.
It will be interesting to see what happens with the Penguins if Ehrhoff signs a deal since a lot has already been written that Martin was waiting to see how things went, so not much has happened between his agent and GM Jim Rutherford. I would expect Martin to see the hand-writing on the wall and give his blessing to a trade to a Stanley Cup contender looking for help on defense. That's why it is important to see what happens in Los Angeles as the Kings and forward Justin Williams have been unable to get a deal done.
If those two parties can't reach an agreement, rumors of a Martin for Williams trade will heat up.
Another winger the Penguins could target could be Blue Jackets forward Nick Foligno as he's due to become an unrestricted free agent and if Columbus is unable to get into the mix for the 8th seed (currently 8 points out) and can't get a deal done, they'll likely have no choice but to make a deal. Foligno's style of play would be a welcome addition to the Penguins on the second line with Evgeni Malkin, especially if they could also acquire Williams for the right wing.
World Junior Championships
The Penguins lone prospect to participate in this tournament, Kasperi Kapanen, isn't exactly having a tournament to remember for Finland. His team is 0-1-1 (1 pt), he missed in his shootout attempt against USA in game one and through the two games only has three shots on goal. Kapanen talked about being a leader for Finland during these games, so far he's been nothing of the sort on the ice. The Penguins expect to see a better performance from Kapanen in game three against Canada on December 29th and again December 31st against Germany to end the Preliminary Round for Group A (Finland, USA, Canada, Slovakia, and Germany).
Canada leads Group A with 2 regulation wins (6 points), Slovakia has 3 points, and USA with 2 points.
Sweden leads Group B with 6 points, Switzerland with 3 points, and Russia with 2 points.
Canada's Nic Petan is point leader with 1 goal and 5 assists in two games.
Connor McDavid has 1 goal and 2 assists vs Jack Eichel 1 assist.
And don't laugh, Ray Shero is involved with Team USA as 'Team Staff' and Dan Bylsma was doing commentary for NHL Network alongside Steve Mears.
Why the Power Play Decline
Prior to Saturday's game, while 5on4
PDO (Sh% + Sv%): 96.3 (28th)
% of faceoff in Ozone: 75.9% (19th)
% of faceoff in NZone: 16.6% (12th)
% of faceoff in Dzone: 7.5% (25h)
Shots Against per 60: 9.5 (19th)
Corsi Against per 60: 12.9 (19th)
PP Time per game: 5:22 (12th)
Teams are possessing the puck more against the Penguins than their talent should be allowing.
It isn't all negative on the home front with the Penguins as they are still first in the Eastern Conference with 49 points and hold a 10-point lead over 9th place Boston Bruins. The Penguins had a lost month in December dealing with so many injuries and illness, yet they still are first in the conference and have a 5-5-3 (13 points) record.
As much as he's the butt of many jokes about his brittle nature, Beau Bennett could be a shot in the arm for the Penguins as they need some help scoring goals. Once Steve Downie returns, team could be re-uniting he and Sutter with Bennett on the third line.
Another positive aspect to come from the lost games is relying on the younger defensemen like Simon Despres to play on the penalty kill and maybe most important, team knows they can kill penalties without Craig Adams. I'll take 3-4 PK shifts per game from Crosby in the regular season in order to prepare for the playoffs.