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Talking to Myself: Borts N'at

This week, I talk about officiating, simplification, and shots. I also drop an Ian Moran reference and get a little meta, talking about my own conversations with NHL Player Safety about the Bortuzzo suspension.

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

December 1st, Penguins Live

Sam Kasan talked about the current state of officiating:  "I remember coming out of the lockout year, the one thing they really wanted to really enforce was the clutching and grabbing.  They wanted to stop that interference, they wanted to get more excitement, more speed in the game and lo and behold, you could feel it kind of creeping back in.  I think we're full scale back to the mid 90s as far as the clutching and grabbing goes.  A guy chips it in and the defenseman gets that angle and bumps him enough and impedes his progress so his partner can receive the puck and play it out of the zone.  You're seeing that more and more and more and that's kind of why scoring is going down and down and down."

Whether you agree with Kasan or not, there's no question things have backslid noticeably since the 2005 lockout.  When the NHL returned from that, you couldn't touch a guy if he didn't have the puck.  Now you get at least a Mississippi or two before the arm goes up.  The so-called reverse hit (where two guys are going for a loose puck and the first one there decides to pull a Frank Costanza and stop short to throw a hit into the second) is now accepted as a part of hockey.  A defender hitting someone on the wall to prevent him from getting to a loose puck is commonly referred to as good defense, despite the fact it is textbook interference.  The purpose of a hit is supposed to be to separate the puck from the player who has it, not to prevent someone from ever getting it in the first place.  I don't know when that changed, but the game is worse for it.

December 2nd, Penguins Live

Brian Metzer:  "I liked hearing Patric Hornqvist specifically talk about this, because he's the guy that goes to he net so much.  He talked about them getting a little too fancy and over-passing, talked about 'We have to get back to attacking the net.'"  Michelle Crechiolo added "I think it is telling when a player actually says something like that because they are very careful with the words they choose.  He didn't give a canned, generic answer.  He's been a phenomenal addition to this power play.  He can get that shot off fast and quick from anywhere."

I'm not surprised Hornqvist said that.  He doesn't play a fancy game and guys that go to the net on the power play take a beating.  When that work pays off and your team scores, it's all worth it, even if you don't get on the score sheet.  When you take that abuse just to watch everyone pass around the perimeter and eventually turn it over, not so much.  Good on 72 for saying what almost everyone watching was thinking.

December 2nd, Penguins Hotline

Phil Bourque on Robert Bortuzzo's hit on Jaromir Jagr:  "I thought it was a clean hit.  As Bortuzzo said, the elbow was tucked, the shoulder made contact with the chest.  I don't know if he caught him under the chin.  I did not find the head to be the initial point of contact at all.  I only saw the replay one time, but I thought it was a good hit, a clean hit, and Jagr got caught with his head down."

Bob Grove agreed and I thought it was fine judging by past precedents, but as we all now know, the NHL's Department of Player Safety did not, issuing a 2 game suspension to Bortuzzo for the hit, citing extreme lateness and significant head contact.

I timed it a few times, as did many others, and everyone seemed to be under .5 seconds.  Dejan Kovacevic reported in his Friday Insider the league clocked it at .7.  Given we're talking a difference of tenths of a second and the league can go frame-by-frame (which is way more accurate than me and my stopwatch app), I have no reason to question their number.  I imagine the Pens can do frame counts as well, so if they got a drastically lower number, you'd think an appeal would have happened, unless they just didn't see the point in fighting a 2 gamer for their 7th defenseman.  My misunderstanding in this area was thinking that since .6 seconds was the threshold reported by Mike Russo for hits being late, that anything under that was legal.  That is incorrect.  Patrick Burke of DoPS set me straight on that point via Twitter:

As for head contact, there definitely was a good bit of it, but past videos have talked about how that can be ruled incidental if there's also a lot of body contact, which there was here.  However, the head being the main/principal point of contact is a consideration on Rule 48 (Illegal Check to the Head) reviews.  Late hits have a different criteria, as Damian Echevarrieta told me:

The video emphasized the lateness, so I mistakenly believed that was the deciding factor.  Knowing it was a combination of being late AND a lot of head contact, it makes a little more sense.  If it was just one or the other, Bortuzzo probably just gets a fine, or perhaps nothing.  I don't think a lot of people realized it was the combination.  They could have done a much better job explaining that IMO.

December 3rd, Penguins Live

Vince Communale:  "Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, even though they are first and third in the league in points right now, are not shooting the puck.  Sidney Crosby is 44th in the league with 71 shots, and Evgeni Malkin is 64th in the league with 64 shots.  For comparison, Alexander Ovechkin lead the league with 108 shots.  Imagine if either Malkin or Crosby had 100 shots, how many points they could possibly have.  It's not just they're deferring to lesser talents so to speak, but they're usually passing up quality chances to shoot, and passing to a guy that's in a terrible position to shoot, either flat-footed or at a bad angle or something.  Go back and look at the years Crosby and Malkin won scoring titles, they were in the top five in shots on goal."

To update this year's numbers, Crosby has 76 shots for 45th place and Malkin is up to 70, ranking him 58th.  Crosby's first Art Ross came in 2006-07; he ranked 4th in shots with 250.  When he won his second last year, he ranked 12th with 259.  Malkin's first title came in 2008-09, where he ranked 10th with 290.  His second came in 2011-12; he ranked 1st with 339 shots.  Despite only being half-right with the top 5 in shots comment, his bigger point is still correct: those two do need to get a little more selfish and take the shots when they're there.  Mike Johnston wants shot volume and like I've said before, when those guys simplify things, their talent elevates simple to devastating.

December 4th, Penguins Live

Josh Yohe on Brian Dumoulin:  "It's time the Penguins got a good look at him.  He didn't have a great training camp.  The organization felt Scott Harrington played better and maybe inched a little past Dumoulin on the depth chart.  Obviously, the Penguins are satisfied with how he played at Wilkes-Barre.  He's one of those guys that's good at everything.  I don't think he's completely discovered what kind of player he is.  He's a big guy at 6'3" or 6'4", doesn't really play big but moves the puck well.  I think if he had been in another organization, he'd probably have 100 games of NHL experience.  He just happens to be playing for a team that has one of the deepest defensive corps, both at the NHL and AHL levels, in all of hockey."

I think many people lose sight of how hard it is to make it to the NHL and/or how long it takes most players that do to establish themselves.  We got spoiled with guys like Crosby, Malkin, Jordan Staal and Olli Maatta stepping right in from juniors and Kris Letang only spent a short time in the AHL.  There's a reason guys like that are often called exceptional players.  Dumoulin is a really good hockey player who's only in his third year of pro hockey.  Not being a full-time NHLer yet doesn't change that.

December 5th, Penguins Live

Wes Crosby called the acquisition of Rob Klinkhammer "a really crafty move," noting Philip Samuelsson "probably wasn't going to get a fair shake here because of their defensive depth" and the Pens needing bodies up front with all the injuries.

Pens got a decent depth forward (his 11 goals last year was more than most of their current bottom 6 guys) and a conditional pick for a defenseman they had waived earlier in the year and was buried behind several other prospects.  Solid move.

December 6th, Penguins Hotline

Bourque called the 3-2 win over Ottawa a battle, suggesting that was a good thing.  He also pointed out that with all the injuries, several players are "being asked to do things they weren't brought here to do."  Grove agreed, citing Nick Spaling playing on the top line: "He wasn't brought here to play with Sidney Crosby.  He's doing his best, but you can't really judge him [there].  Get him back down to the ice time and role he's supposed to play, and it will work out."

Back in the day, I referred to this as Ian Moran syndrome.  For those of you unfamiliar with it, this condition afflicts a player continuously placed in a role above what his talent dictates, and fails as a result. Afflicted players usually don't complain about this affliction and continue plugging away, doing whatever the team asks of them. Meanwhile, most fans believe the afflicted player is worthless because of his failures. This condition often afflicts players on bad teams, though it can affect a player on a good team if that team has a big hole at a particular position.