March 23, Savran on Sports
Stan Savran wondered if the Penguins' recent skid was just a bad streak, or a product of some underlying problem. Mike Lange: "If they were completely not in games and not playing in any fashion that would give me any indication that they aren't a fairly decent hockey club, then I would probably speak up, but I don't see anything significant that tells me they're on the wayward path here to not being at least competitive in the playoff year."
The Pens aren't perfect, but despite their faults, they currently sit 2nd in the Metro. The Islanders and Red Wings are both 3-6-1 in their last 10. Even the Lightning and Rangers have lost 2 in a row. None of this is meant as head-in-the-sand, "the Pens are just fine" rhetoric, but the way some talk, the Pens aren't going to make the playoffs and every other team in the league is dominating.
Lange on the lack of goals: "The Penguins are moving to play more like the rest of the league with their dump and chase type of style, more than they have any any point of the season. I don't know if that's the right way to go to be quite honest with you, as far as the way they want to play the game. I think so many teams have forced them into that situation that they've had to become among the teams that are playing the same way. I mean you're getting just barely over 5 goals a game and now the Penguins are that type of team going down the stretch run. I, for one personally, its selfish, I would like to see them a little more on the offensive end of it, but I also know that the league is structured so severely to limit goal chances and the way teams play makes it difficult. I'm not a big fan of this style of hockey, maybe fans are, but it is what it is and that's the way its probably going to be throughout the entire playoff season."
Savran and Lange also talked about if the Pens could dictate things offensively like the Mario Lemieux-led Penguins used to and talked about how much more of an emphasis is put on defense now as opposed to then. I don't know that we'll see a team like that anytime soon. For one, the way the game is called now neuters offense. The best players in the league are routinely stifled by lesser players and the league is seemingly content to let it happen. Another big difference is rosters. Look at the 91 and 92 Cup Pens and count how many Hall-of-Famers were on those teams. You just can't put together a roster like that anymore.
March 26, Penguins Live
Brian Metzer asked Dejan Kovacevic if the Pens' goal scoring issues were a result of their roster or something league-wide. Kovacevic: "The Penguins are... I'm not going to say they're a victim, because there's 30 teams that are a victim in Gary Bettman's NHL and what he's allowed to have happen with the disintegration of power plays. Have you seen the chart Kerry Fraser put up on his website? It is unbelievable. He lists every individual penalty - charging, slashing, hooking - and puts down the last time, the last season in which there was such a low rate of those specific penalties being called, and they all go back a minimum of 12 or 13 years, the lowest point in the NHL. I guess we're supposed to digest that nobody's really hooking or holding anymore. They just got rid of it in the game. That's why nothing's being called, it's just not there anymore, which of course, is ridiculous. And that's why there aren't power players, and power players are the reason... Power plays are the number one reason, the lack of power plays, is why scoring is down across the board."
I took a quick look at Kerry Fraser's blog on TSN, but can't find the chart Kovacevic mentioned. If anyone happened to see it, please link it in the comments. No one with functioning eyes would be surprised to hear calls are down, but to hear they're at their lowest levels in over a decade is striking.
Kovacevic also put the blame for the above at the feet of the commissioner, saying "This league is a joke and it's run by a joke of a commissioner." I don't have strong feelings either way on Bettman because I view him as a puppet of sorts. He reports to the owners. His job is to do their bidding. If they had a problem with how the league was going, they'd have him change it or they'd fire him. Thing is, if he's gone, the same group is going to name his replacement, so what's going to change? More owners have to want change for it to actually occur in my opinion.
Metzer and Kovacevic had a brief exchange about diving. Kovacevic began, "The NHL GMs and everybody get together for these league meetings and they spend three-quarters of their session talking about diving, like diving is the problem." Metzer replied, "Well, the sad thing is I think the players feel they have to do that to draw attention to what's going on. I don't know if you saw the play against the Dallas Stars, Sidney Crosby wearing a defender like a jacket behind the net. The referee's looking at the play. He can't even get to the puck." Kovacevic finished, "Yeah, what are you going to do there? And the truth is if Sid does take a spill there, the guy has no choice but to put his right arm up because Sid's showing him up, but he shouldn't have to. The fact that the guy's able to keep his skates doesn't mean it's not a penalty."
Like I talked about last week with the Kris Letang-Curtis McKenzie play, if you're going to watch someone continually foul another player and refuse the make a call, you can't get upset if players start diving. You're telling them that fighting through it won't get them anywhere, so what recourse do they have?
Kovacevic also touched on his stance that the NHL needs to outlaw lying down on the ice to block shots. I'm fine with that, but I don't think it would help the offense much. Blocked shots happen all the time, but how many of them involve someone laying out to do so? I don't think it's that many and besides, you'd still by relying on the officials to make those calls and they can't apply the existing rules correctly. I'm all for creative ways to make NHL hockey better, but it seems like the simplest, easiest one is always ignored: call the rules you already have in the book. Yeah, there will be a lot of power plays for a while, but that's part of the game and as long as you stick to your guns, players will figure it out.
March 28, Penguins Hotline
Phil Bourque on the Shane Doan hit that concussed Kris Letang: "I don't think it's a suspendable hit. I wouldn't go that far, but it's a hit that I don't like. Like I said, it was a little bit late, and [Doan] kind of tilted his hand a little bit there when he said 'I knew he was in that vulnerable place, I knew he was in a dangerous place.' I understand what he was thinking when he went in to that because you're going up against a guy that can easily make that pass and then boom, he's by you. I understand what he was thinking there, but you just can't make that hit. You have to hit the brakes and stop and chase him. You just can't launch a guy into the boards so he goes in neck-first, back-first, head-first. It's not the kind of hit you want in the NHL."
I really like Bourque and the work he does, but I'm a little confused here. If you don't like that hit and you don't want it in the game, there needs to be a significant deterrent for players not to throw it. No penalty was assessed and there will be no supplemental discipline, so what reason is there for a player not to throw it? I am not arguing the legality of the hit under the current rules; it's clear it was an acceptable play. It shouldn't be though. The purpose of a hit is supposed to be to separate the puck from the puck carrier. Nowadays, it's also acceptable to use it to prevent someone from getting the puck (see Vladimir Tarasenko on Christian Ehrhoff last week) or to make sure someone doesn't get by you after passing it off (Doan on Letang) and players are getting seriously injured, but the NHL doesn't seem concerned about it. Maybe if they lose a lawsuit or two.