Tag:Chris Kunitz
Posted on: February 25, 2012 4:02 pm
Edited on: February 25, 2012 4:20 pm
 

Video: Evgeni Malkin goal of the year candidate

By: Adam Gretz

During the second period of Pittsburgh's 8-1 win against Tampa Bay on Saturday afternoon, Evgeni Malkin collided with goaltender Dwayne Roloson, resulting in the Lightning netminder giving Malkin a punch to the face.

Malkin would eventually get his revenge on the scoreboard by recording his ninth career hat trick, and his second against Tampa Bay this season.

His second goal of the game, which came mid-way through the third period to give Pittsburgh a 6-1 lead, was one of the smoothest, prettiest goals of the year as he took the puck at his own blue line line and skated through the entire Tampa Bay defense before finally beating Roloson.

Brett Clark, No. 7 in white, had a particularly good view of the play as Malkin completely turned him around on his way to the net.



Immediately the play drew comparisons to a goal that Hall of Famer (and Penguins owner) Mario Lemieux scored for the Penguins during the 1991 Stanley Cup finals when he went through the Minnesota North Stars defense in a similar fashion during a Game 2 win.



Pretty similar moves. Of course, Lemieux's goal came on a slightly bigger stage.

Malkin entered Saturday's game against Tampa Bay tied with Steven Stamkos for the league in points with 73, and he managed to re-take sole possession of first place with a four-point effort, also assisting on a Chris Kunitz goal in the first period. Through 54 games Malkin now has 36 goals and 77 points, which is a points per game average of 1.42. The next closest player, as of Saturday afternoon, is Philadelphia's Claude Giroux at 1.25 points per game. Stamkos and Washington's Nicklas Backstrom are the only other players above 1.10.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
Posted on: January 22, 2012 9:25 am
Edited on: January 22, 2012 7:20 pm
 

The Penguins rediscovered their winning ways

BylsmaBy: Adam Gretz

A little over a week ago the sky appeared to be falling when it came to the Pittsburgh Penguins and their season.

The team was riding a six-game losing streak, they were on the outside of the Eastern Conference playoff picture for the time being and there was even a discussion as to whether or not some players on the team held a meeting regarding a potential temporary captain in the absence of Sidney Crosby. That, of course, was followed by the entire team hitting the ice for practice by all wearing C's on their jerseys on the same day they started a five-game winning streak, which was extended to six games with a 4-3 overtime win against Washington on Sunday afternoon. 

It would certainly be a nice narrative to suggest that show of solidarity and team-bonding (if you want to call it that) was the springboard for their return to the win-column, but it's actually a lot more reasonable than that: the team simply wasn't as bad as it looked during that stretch, and they got back to doing a lot of the things that originally made them successful.

That six-game losing streak was the perfect storm where slumps, uncharacteristically sloppy play and bad luck all met at the same point in the season. Every mistake they made ended up in the back of their net, and no matter how many chances they generated or shots they fired on goal at the other end, they weren't getting the same fortune and couldn't seem to buy a goal.

Even though offense was difficult to come by, with the team scoring just six goals over the six games, they were still out-shooting their opponents by a significant margin in every game, indicating that they were still controlling puck possession, an area that has been one of the team's strengths ever since Dan Bylsma took over behind the bench during the 2008-09 season. It was also perhaps a sign that, eventually, they would be able to break through.

During that streak the Penguins, as a team, were shooting around 3 percent, while their opponents were pumping in goals at a 14 percent rate, two percentages that were in no way going to continue for an extended period of time (keep in mind, the league average is typically around 9 percent in a given season, as it is once again this year, and the best and worst teams usually shoot in the neighborhood of 10 and 7 percent respectively). While they may have been lacking a large number of true "scoring chances," and a lot of the shots may have been coming from the perimeter, the more time you spend in the offensive zone the more chances there are for a defensive breakdown by the other team, the more opportunities you're going to get for a second or third chance shot, and, really, the more bad things that can happen for the team trying to defend as they get worn down trying to defend, especially against an aggressive forechecking team.

The whole thing was actually pretty reminiscent of the losing streak the Detroit Red Wings had earlier in the season (also a six-game drought, driven largely by a lack of goal-scoring), and one that was followed by them winning 14 of the following 18 games.

Before the Penguins' 5-4 come-from-behind win against Montreal on Friday night, I asked Bylsma if he felt that his team was on the verge of putting together a run of games like this given the way they had previously been playing, and some of the things they were able to do, even in defeat, and he seemed to think it all started to turn around with their 1-0 loss in Washington back on Jan. 11.

"When two losses turns into four and six, you start to feel a little bit like when the next one is going to come," said Bylsma. "We liked a lot of the things we did. We maybe didn't react well to situations in the games, like other teams scoring, making a mistake, maybe a referee call -- we weren't reacting well, and it was causing us to find ways to lose, or find a way to let teams back into games.

"I think it started with the Washington game. Our attitude changed, our mindset changed, and in addition to playing well and having possession of the puck,  we were playing a little bit more with an edge, a little bit more of an attitude and the way we need to play the game."

It also probably wasn't a coincidence that their worst stretch of the season also took place during the exact same time that Evgeni Malkin and James Neal, their two best players this season, hit their first extended slumps of the season. Both have since gone on new scoring streaks, especially Malkin as he continues to shine in the absence of Crosby, and has been one of the best offensive players in the league this season. But Bylsma was also quick to point out that it's not just about his point production, and that he might be playing the best even-strength hockey of his career.

"It's easy to look at the highlights and say he's playing amazing," said Bylsma. "But it's much harder to look at his whole game. How he's playing without the puck, how he's playing defensively, the number of minutes he's playing, who he's playing against, how he and his line with Chris Kunitz and James Neal have been able to play a real dominating game, and not just the fact they're scoring points and getting goals, but maybe his best hockey at 5-on-5 that he's played in his career. And he's been doing it for a long stretch of hockey right now and leading our team."

Among the numerous injuries the Penguins have dealt with at various times this season, one of the most recent was to center Jordan Staal, the player that almost always plays some of the toughest minutes on the team and handles the toughest assignments. In his absence Malkin, one of the few natural centers remaining in the lineup, has taken on more of those responsibilites in recent weeks, playing more minutes and getting more shifts against other teams top lines.

They still have a franchise center, and now that Kris Letang, their best all-around defenseman, is back in the lineup, that six-game losing streak might be starting to become a thing of the past.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
Posted on: January 21, 2012 9:49 am
Edited on: January 21, 2012 2:49 pm
 

P.K. Subban fined $2,500 for 'dangerous trip'

By: Adam Gretz

It's difficult to find the exact moment the Montreal Canadiens season went flying off the rails.

There are simply so many possibilities, and Friday's 5-4 shootout loss to the Penguins seems to be just another low in a season full of them. Even though they owned a two-goal lead with 16 minutes to play in regulation, the Canadiens still finished in the loss column for the 12th time in their past 16 games.

The game also brought some more unwanted attention to their young star defenseman, P.K. Subban, for what appeared to be a slew foot midway through the overtime period.



There was no penalty called on the play, but Subban was fined $2,500 on Saturday for what the NHL called a "dangerous trip." When compared to the play the Rangers claim was a slew foot on Brad Richards on Thursday, this one stands out as being way more deliberate and actually worthy of being called a slew foot.

Since he has taken over NHL player safety, Brendan Shanahan has not issued a suspension for a slew footing incident. He did, however, also fine Boston's Brad Marchand $2,500 for an incident involving Matt Niskanen earlier this season.

The last player to actually be suspended for a slew foot was Evgeny Artyukhin back in October, 2009, for his slew foot against, oddly enough, Niskanen during his days with the Dallas Stars. It was a three-game suspension.

The Canadiens enter Saturday's game in Toronto, one of the four teams between them and a playoff spot, nine points out of what would be the eighth and final spot, and they're in desperate need of a win, especially after letting a point slip away on Friday

"It's not even close to enough," said forward Max Pacioretty after Friday's game. "Especially against a team that's hanging around for a playoff push, both of us right now, when you look at that, if it goes the other way and we hang onto that lead ... it's frustrating that keeps happening. We have to find answers."

Previously at Eye On Hockey

Cooke won't face discipline for alleged slew foot
Brad Marchand fined for slew foot
More NHL Discipline news here

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
Posted on: January 11, 2012 6:01 pm
Edited on: January 11, 2012 6:08 pm
 

Crosby to join Pens on trip; still no timetable

By: Adam Gretz

It's been extremely quiet on the Sidney Crosby front recently, and as the Penguins continue to struggle to score goals and win games in the face of mounting injuries, that silence was starting to lead to a lot of questions regarding his status.

The Penguins announced on Wednesday evening, just two hours before the start of their game with the Capitals, that Crosby will be joining the team in Washington and will accompany them on their road trip to Florida. Even though he is scheduled to skate on his own, head coach Dan Bylsma said that there is still no timetable for his return.

Crosby hasn't played for the Penguins since December 5 against the Boston Bruins, a game that saw him take several hits, including a center ice collision with teammate Chris Kunitz, as well an elbow from David Krejci.

The timing of this announcement, as well as Crosby joining the team on the road, is definitely interesting, if not totally bizarre. Following the Penguins' 5-1 loss to Ottawa on Tuesday night Bylsma was pressed on the issue (Crosby's status, as well as the status of defenseman Kris Letang, out with a concussion)

"He's still light exercise off the ice and hasn't gone to a different stage in his rehab in terms of his symptoms, said Bylsma in his post-game press conference.

"The injury they have is symptom based, you don't progress until those symptoms go away. Kris Letang is obviously on the ice and skating, he's progress and Sid is still in light exercise off the ice."

Crosby, of course, missed the second half of last season, as well as the playoffs and the first month-and-a-half of this season due to a concussion. In the eight games he played this season he scored two goals to go with 10 assists.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.

Posted on: January 11, 2012 3:06 pm
Edited on: January 12, 2012 1:44 am
 

Minnesota's puck possession problem

WildPucks and Numbers: a weekly statistical look at what's happening around the NHL. This week: A look at what might be the biggest problem with the Minnesota Wild.

By: Adam Gretz


The Minnesota Wild have a problem right now.

After beating the Phoenix Coyotes on December 10, their seventh win in a row, the Wild improved their record to 20-7-3 and owned the best point total in the NHL. They had the look of a sure-fire playoff team and one that was going to end a three-year playoff drought for the franchise.

Of course, that could still end up happening, but it's been all downhill ever since.

In the month that's followed the Wild have won just one game in regulation (a 4-3 win against Edmonton, a team that's been one of the worst in the NHL over the past 20 games), a stretch that's seen them go 2-8-3. The other win came on Tuesday night, a 5-4 shootout win against San Jose after the Wild let a two-goal lead slip away in the final four minutes of regulation. As of Wednesday, the Wild went from the top team in the Western Conference to the No. 7 spot, just three points out of the No. 9 spot, in exactly one month, and their next three games are against Chicago, St. Louis and Philadelphia, which is definitely not an easy stretch.

This recent decline should have been expected (I wasn't ready to buy their fast start earlier this season ... though, I said the same thing about the Rangers and theyr'e still winning. So there's that) and unless something changes in the second half of the season they might have a big struggle ahead of them. Why? Because they are one of the worst puck possession teams in the league, which isn't exactly a good recipe for success in the NHL.

Entering play on Wednesday the Wild were generating the third-fewest shots per game and allowing the most. They're getting outshot by an average of over five shots per game, the worst mark in the league. If this continues it's not going to be a promising development for their playoff chances.

The table below takes a look at the past 10 NHL seasons and the playoff chances for teams when out-shooting, or getting out-shot by, a certain margin over the course of the season.

Possession Matters
Shot Differential Playoff % Total Teams Stanley Cup Finalists Stanley Cup Champions
+5 (or more) 100% 20 out of 20 5 4
+4 89% 14 out of 16 5 4
+3 90% 19 out of 21 1 0
+2 64% 16 out of 25 1 0
+1 64% 24 out of 37 3 0
+ >1 70% 27 out of 38 2 1
- >1 34% 11 out of 32 0 0
-1 36% 9 out of 24 2 1
-2 25% 7 out of 27 0 0
-3 40% 10 out of 23 1 0
-4 6% 1 out of 16 0 0
-5 (or more) 4% 1 out of 23 0 0

Most teams finish somewhere between plus-one and minus-one over the course of an 82-game season. It's the teams that separate themselves from the cluster, one way or the other, that either compete for the  Stanley Cup (on the positive side) or compete for the top-overall pick in the next summer's draft (on the negative side). It should again be pointed out that Minnesota currently falls into the minus-five (or worse) category (and they are the only team as of Wednesday).

Over the past 10 seasons only one such team has been able to make the playoffs -- the 2001-02 Montreal Canadiens, a No. 8 seed that finished two points ahead of the ninth seeded Washington Capitals. If you remember, that was also the season that Jose Theodore put together one of the best season-long goaltending performances in recent memory by leading the league (by a pretty sizable margin) with a .931 save percentage, an obvious outlier in his career, and taking home the Hart Trophy as the league MVP and the Vezina Trophy as the league's best goaltender.

When the Canadiens faced a similar deficit the following season, and Theodore's level of play regressed back to his normal career levels (a .908 save percentage -- exactly his career average -- instead of .931, a top-15 mark all-time) the Canadiens missed the playoffs and Theodore went from being the next Patrick Roy to just another in the revolving door of mediocrity in the Montreal net. He was eventually traded for David Aebischer in 2006.

Another team that stands out from the above chart, and also happens to be the one team over the past decade that won the Stanley Cup despite being outshot during the season, is the 2008-09 Pittsburgh Penguins. It was a tale of two teams that year. They started the season with Michel Therrien behind the bench, playing a very passive, defense-first system. After reaching the Stanley Cup Finals the previous season (losing to the Detroit Red Wings) they found themselves on the outside of the playoff picture in mid-February following a humiliating loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs.

At that point in the season the Penguins were 27-25-5, and were being crushed in terms of puck possession, getting out-shot by nearly four shots per game. It was then that they made drastic changes to the entire team. Pretty much everything about it, from the coach, to the system, to the make-up of the roster. Therrien was replaced behind the bench by Dan Bylsma, brought up from their American Hockey League team in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, and the team instantly started playing a more aggressive brand of hockey with an emphasis on getting to the offensive zone as quickly and often as possible. Along with that, general manager Ray Shero completely overhauled the team's top line by trading for forwards Chris Kunitz and Bill Guerin to improve the offense, and added some additional toughness by picking up Craig Adams on waivers.

Almost instantly they completely flipped the script on their season, and went from being a team that was getting out-shot by nearly four shots per night with a .500 record, to a team that was now out-shooting its opponents by four shots and finishing with an 18-3-4 record. That level of play continued through the playoffs, all the way through their Stanley Cup Finals rematch with Detroit, ending with a Pittsburgh win in seven games.

The ability to create shots (and prevent shots) is a reflection of skill, talent and strategy (coaching), which is why the teams that are the best at controlling the puck are the ones that tend to win the most games and have the best chance at winning it all. Looking at the Wild and there just doesn't seem to be enough players to create chances offensively, and the defense isn't anything great. They've been relying on their two outstanding goalies, Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding, and while they've had excellent seasons they can only mask Minnesota's flaws for so long.

Can they still make the playoffs this season? Sure, anything can happen. Maybe they continue to get a '01-02 Jose Theodore-type season from their goaltenders (because at this rate that's probably what they're going to need), or maybe something drastically changes in the second half of the season that allows the team to generate more offense and spend more time in the other end of the ice. But if things keep going like they have been, the odds could be stacked against them.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
Posted on: December 8, 2011 12:16 pm
Edited on: December 8, 2011 12:37 pm
 

Penguins to face old friends without Crosby

jagrsmile

By: Adam Gretz


One of the most anticipated matchups of the regular season finally takes place on Thursday night as cross-state rivals Pittsburgh and Philadelphia face off at the Wells Fargo Center. These games are always a highlight of both team's schedules, and usually involve some level of on-ice chaos.

This time around, it's the first meeting between the two teams since the Flyers' dip into the free agency pool over the summer that included their signings of former Penguins Jaromir Jagr and Max Talbot.

Talbot was a playoff hero for the Penguins in recent years, scoring two goals in their Game 7 win over the Detroit Red Wings in 2009, helping the team claim its third Stanley Cup title. There was also his famous silencing of the crowd in Philadelphia earlier that postseason following his fight with Daniel Carcillo in a Game 6 series clinching win.

And the there's the Jagr angle. He is still the second greatest player in franchise history, and a large part of the first two championships the team won in the early 90s, and all of that is going to get overshadowed for the foreseaable future, or at least as long as he wears the Flyers orange and black, because of what happened over the summer.

By now, you're probably already familiar with how it all went down, but if you're not, a quick refresher: After spending three years playing in the KHL, Jagr was ready to make a return to the NHL and the Penguins were one of the teams interested. What followed was a highly publicized free agency courtship between them and the Detroit Red Wings, before both teams ultimately backed out of the bidding with Jagr signing a one-year pact with Pittsburgh's fiercest rival, essentially burning every bridge that wasn't already burned when he asked for a trade out of Pittsburgh 10 years ago.

And with that, the stage is set for Thursday night, even if it seems to mean more to the fans of the two teams (especially the Penguins fans) than it does for the players on the ice.

Three talking points heading into Thursday's game:

1) Matchup with Jagr more for Penguins fans than Penguins players: Regarding the Penguins' first meeting with Jagr since his signing with Philadelphia, defenseman Brooks Orpik said, via Josh Yohe of the Tribune-Review, "I think this whole thing is more for the fans. I've been here the longest of anyone, and I've never played with him. Had one training camp with him — that was it."

And that's probably accurate. When Jagr last suited up for the Penguins, players like Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal and James Neal were all under the age of 14. Defenseman Simon Despres would have been 10 years old, and none of the players on the roster played a single game with him in the NHL.

After they missed out on Jagr, the Penguins ended up signing veteran forward Steve Sullivan who has spent most of this season playing on a line with James Neal and Evgeni Malkin. He hasn't been Jagr, but he's been solid with 12 points in 28 games.
More On Penguins-Flyers

2) With Jagr, the Flyers can still score ... a lot: Two months into the season and Jagr has proven he can still play at a high level, even at the age of 39, averaging a point-per-game with nine goals and 13 assists in his first 22 games this season, playing mostly on a line with the NHL's current leading scorer, Claude Giroux. The additions of Jagr and Talbot were part of a summer-long re-tooling by Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren, and while it seemed that goaltending would finally become a strength (or at least, no longer be a glaring weakness) with the addition of Ilya Bryzgalov from the Phoenix Coyotes, it's the offense that's continued to carry the Flyers, even in the absence of defenseman Chris Pronger.

The Flyers, at this point, have silenced any doubt as to whether or not they have enough offense following the losses of Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and Ville Leino to compete for a top spot in the East, currently putting the highest-scoring team in the NHL out on the ice. Giroux has been everything the Flyers could have hoped that he would be at their top-scoring option, while rookies Matt Read and Sean Couturier have played large roles.

3) Sidney Crosby Isn't Playing And Nobody Knows Why: When the Penguins announced on Wednesday that Sidney Crosby will miss the next two games (including Thursday's game in Philadelphia) it was assumed that it was a result of his center ice collision with teammate Chris Kunitz. And while that wouldn't have been good news, it would have been better than worrying about whether or not it was a head injury. But that may not be the case. As Mike Colligan of the Hockey Writers pointed out on Thursday, Crosby took several hits during what was an extremely physical game with the Boston Bruins on Monday, including an elbow from David Krejci (poor video quality by clicking here). Because the Penguins were so vague with their description, saying only that he "took a hard hit," and because NHL teams guard injury information like it's gold in Fort Knox, we're left to guess as to which play has him sidelined "as a precaution."

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.

Posted on: December 8, 2011 12:15 pm
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Posted on: December 7, 2011 4:46 pm
Edited on: December 7, 2011 5:26 pm
 

Sidney Crosby to miss next 2 games



By: Adam Gretz

The Pittsburgh Penguins received a bit of a scare on Monday night during their 3-1 loss to Boston when Sidney Crosby ran into his teammate, Chris Kunitz, in the neutral zone. Crosby remained on the ice for a bit and slowly skated off in obvious pain, appearing to pay special attention to his leg.

He remained on the bench for a few shifts and eventually returned to finish the third period.

On Wednesday, the Penguins announced that their captain will miss the next two games against the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Islanders as a precaution.

Said general manager Ray Shero in a statement released by the team, "Sidney took a hard hit during our game against Boston Monday night and wasn't feeling 100 percent. He saw Dr. Micky Collins of UPMC today and took an ImPACT test, which showed no problems. However, we all think it's best that he sits out the next two games as a precaution."

Crosby, of course, returned to the lineup on Nov. 21 after missing nearly a year due to a concussion. In eight games this season he's scored two goals to go with 10 assists

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.

 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com