Our quick hitter takes on the Pittsburgh Penguins. Let's jump right in
#1 Saw this on the tweeter machine, courtesy of our pals at Japers Rink
The Pens are only 23rd at 48.3%. More accurately stated, Sidney Crosby is only 48.3%, since he is almost always taking that opening faceoff to begin the power play. Our very own GoPens also pointed out today the Penguins PP's Corsi events are down this season (as he has in other articles on this site), where they are - not so coincidentally- only 23rd in the league in Corsi Events/60. Being under 50% on the opening faceoff is a good start to explain why the Corsi events are down.
Lose that faceoff and chances are the other team can dump the puck and kill at least 20 seconds, which also throws the skill players off having to tag up at the blue line and fight to establish zone control before looking to get shots.
Playing the hunch further: if Crosby can win more faceoffs (and wingers helping draw 50/50 pucks always helps too) then the team will have a chance for more shot attempts. More shot attempts for a skilled unit like the Pens means more goals. Easier said than done, of course, but when power plays start keep an eye out to see if Crosby can do better at keeping possession.
#2 Pens minor league goalie Matt Murray was named the AHL's player of the week yesterday. Murray's putting up an excellent season (as Eric Bowser pointed out in this space recently) where his GAA (1.86) is tops in the league and his save percentage (.929%) is 4th. And Murray has 5 shutouts in just 25 starts.
Barring an injury, it's highly doubtful the Pens have any aspirations to give Murray his NHL debut this season, but his excellent play in the minors has to open some eyes about the future. Thomas Greiss is a free agent this summer and Jeff Zatkoff still has one more season- though the team has already proven they'll demote him to the minors if they can get a better backup. Murray might fare better developing by playing AHL starter minutes next season, anyways, since Marc-Andre Fleury is again on pace to play 65+ games. Sooner or later, though, Murray (and hopefully junior prospect Tristan Jarry ) will be NHL ready and it will be interesting to see how the Pens work them into the NHL behind an established #1 guy who's signed through 2019.
#3 The trade market chatter will toss a lot of names out, and with the Pens having salary cap concerns, my focus turns to lower salaried guys.
I found one such guy who is 28 years old, a former 1st round pick and is coming up on 400 NHL reg season/playoff games. He's signed through 2016 with a $875,000 cap hit and Hockey News lists his assets as "has good size, sound defensive instincts and leadership skills. Can play either center or wing. Is an excellent team player and will even drop the gloves."
Intrigued yet? Check out his HERO rating and you really will be.
It's Kyle Chipchura. He doesn't shoot a lot (so he'll fit right in on the Pens 4th line!) but everything else looks really solid.
Arizona's going no where, and Chipchura is signed through next season. If the Pens can make the deal happen for a 4th or 5th round pick - or some sort of low grade prospect like Tom Kuhnhackl, it could work.
Pittsburgh and Arizona hooked up for a similar trade a couple of months ago with 4th liner Rob Klinkhammer coming to the 'Burgh for low-grade prospect Philip Samuelsson. Maybe it should happen again.
Trade for Chipchura, waive Zach Sill, sit Craig Adams as the extra and a 4th line of Nick Spaling - Maxim Lapierre - Chipchura looks pretty darn good. (With Steve Downie , Brandon Sutter and Blake Comeau or Beau Bennett as the 3rd line).
#4 That's getting creative, but something really has to give with the 4th line. The Pens are going to get killed by the fans, by the press and, most importantly, by their opposition if they really think that Sill - Lapierre - Adams can give them what they need to advance in NHL playoff hockey. The Pens have shown no indication that they actually will sit Adams if they are healthy enough to do so, but they're going to have to make 1 more trade - somehow - to improve. We'll see in the next month if it happens, but really, it just has to.
#5 I'll really encourage everyone to check out Mike Colligan with the release of his new site- Colligan's Hockey. Lots of great stuff with his 5 questions answered yesterday as Natasha pointed out in Pens Points too. Most interesting sentence, to me:
I’d be surprised to see either Ehrhoff or Paul Martin back next season.
#6 If so, the Pens probably will hit the fast forward button the youth movement next season. Kris Letang and Rob Scuderi are vets under contract, and Simon Despres is slowly inching towards 150 NHL games played, he's quickly getting there too as a roster staple.
You would have to think that Derrick Pouliot and Scott Harrington probably make the NHL jump full-time next season and Olli Maatta will be looking to come back from shoulder surgery.
That's six right there, and there is still Robert Bortuzzo and Brian Dumoulin (both RFA's this summer) that could be cheaply retained for depth, if the team wants to keep them. Dumoulin would require waivers next season, so the Pens are really going to have to decide if they see him as an NHL level talent or probably look to ship him off in a trade before next season.
And, of course, they could always look to add a name externally via trade or free agency. No one saw Ehrhoff being a Penguin until suddenly he was. That could always replay again with someone else. Regardless of how it shakes out, the fact the Pens have all of Maatta/Pouliot/Harrington as great young NHL capable players should make their defense talented and very affordable for next season.
#7 Great interview here with Evgeni Malkin talking everything from Ovechkin to Tarasenko to his girlfriend and marriage situation, you'll want to read it. Best of all, when asked how he felt, Geno said:
- Do you feel some aging?
– No, not for now. I don’t think about my age. I’m in good shape, I feel great.
#8 From yesterday's practice:
Sidney Crosby stayed on the ice for 45 extra minutes of work after today's hour-long practice wrapped up. His work ethic is amazing. -MC— Pens Inside Scoop (@PensInsideScoop) February 9, 2015
The Pens didn't skate Sunday after flying back from Vancouver and are off today before a back-to-back situation tomorrow and Thursday. But Sid's no dummy, he's gotta get his work in and make sure he's primed for the games. Very impressive to see him still putting in the time. It's probably no coincidence that usually Crosby, Malkin and Letang are the last 3 players to be forced off the ice during warmups. No surprise that they just happen to be the best 3 on the team.
#9 Don't want to say it, but what happens if Blake Comeau's production hot streak broke when his wrist did? The Penguins are seeming to put a lot in the Blake Comeau basket in terms of jumping back in to be a top 6 winger that plays on Malkin's line.
#10 The four way dance for the top spot (and #2 - 4) in the Metro will be worth scoreboard watching the rest of the way out.
NYR could be in jeopardy of making a move with the news of a 4-6 week injury to Henrik Lundqvist. With their games in hand they might have been in position to jump way up the ladder, but now it certainly will be an uphill climb. What might help, although they play 3 road games this week, they're all against non-playoff opponents (TOR, COL, ARI).
The Islanders are also just 3-4-0 in the past 3 weeks since Kyle Okposo went down with an eye injury, though their next 3 games this week are all at home against non-playoff bound teams (EDM, TOR, CBJ) so they should be back to winning soon.
The Caps have the toughest schedule on paper this week, they're in California playing the circuit of the 3 tough CA teams. Hopefully they will struggle out west.