Posted on: March 7, 2012 11:11 pm
Edited on: March 7, 2012 11:15 pm
By: Adam Gretz
PITTSBURGH -- The Toronto Maple Leafs are losing ground in the playoff race, and they're also starting to lose bodies on the ice.
Just one night after losing forwards Joffrey Lupul and Colby Armstrong, Toronto lost two more players on Wednesday night in Pittsburgh when defenseman Cody Franson and forward Mike Brown went down on their first shifts of the night and did not return during a 3-2 loss to the Penguins, a game that saw the Maple Leafs blow a two-goal lead, losing for the 11th time in their past 13 games.
Franson did not return after getting hit in the eye with a stick, and Brown left with what was described as a lower body injury.
"We showed signs of enthusiasm and kind of stuck with our game plan," said Maple Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle, coaching his third game with the team after replacing Ron Wilson last week. "I thought we were better from a defensive standpoint in the critical areas. I thought our work ethic was stronger, but we ran out of bodies. We lost two bodies in the first ten minutes tonight and taxes it everybody else. Then it showed on some of the ... I would call them questionable decisions. When to pinch, when not to pinch, turnovers, position versus the regroup, all that kind of stuff. It's the little things that are costing us in these situations."
It wasn't hard to see how outmanned the Leafs were on Wednesday night, spending much of the night tied up in their own end of the ice. For the most part, goaltender Jonas Gustavsson did everything he could to keep his team in the game, only allowing two goals, one of which was deflected right in front of him on its way into the net, before giving up what can only be described as a soft goal to Pascal Dupuis early in the third period for the eventual game-winner.
Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf did not want to use the injuries, including the one to Lupul and Armstrong, as an excuse as it should give other players an opportunity to make an impact in the lineup.
"It's an opportunity for guys to step up," said Phaneuf. It gives guys a little more opportunity, but when you lose a guy like [Lupul] and you lose Army in the same game, and we lose two more guys tonight, guys have to step up. Injuries are a part of the game and you can't use it as an excuse.
"Guys have to adapt to it. Every team goes through injury problems. Look over there [at Pittsburgh]. They have one of the top players in the world, if not the top player out, and they're winning hockey games. You've got to adapt, you've got to have guys step up, and guys did step up, but we just made more mistakes than they did tonight."
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Posted on: February 12, 2012 12:18 pm
Edited on: February 12, 2012 12:21 pm
By: Adam Gretz
The Pittsburgh Penguins were able to get one of their injured centers back this weekend, and while Jordan Staal's absence didn't have quite the same impact, intrigue or uncertainty of his teammate, Sidney Crosby, that doesn't take away from how important he has been on the ice for Pittsburgh, or how important his return to the lineup will be going forward.
Over the past month, since Staal was injured in a game against the New York Rangers during a colission with Mike Rupp, the Penguins were getting by with Evgeni Malkin carrying the load at center, and what was basically a patchwork group at the position behind him, a situation that has become all too familiar for a team that is built on the strength of its centers (when all are healthy) over the past two seasons.
That resulted in Malkin seeing a lot of assignments against other teams top lines and, honestly, required his line (along with James Neal and Chris Kunitz) to provide almost all of the offense. With Staal back, the Penguins once again have the player in their lineup that does a lot of their heavy lifting when it comes to drawing the toughest assignments, which can possibly help to free up Malkin's line even more and take some of the pressure off of them.
"Especially on the road there have been situations where it's been head-to-head for Malkin with the other teams top line," said coach Dan Bylsma before Pittsburgh's 8-5 run-and-gun win against Winnipeg on Saturday.
"Now with Jordan in the mix and his line, especially with [Matt] Cooke and [Pascal] Dupuis getting the opportunity to match up against other teams top lines, for the most part, it will free up Evgeni a little bit. Also, I think it's a tough matchup against Jordan as well, which can lead to situations where it might be advantageous to get Malkin's line up against different pairings and different people. Jordan brings a lot in that regard, he's going to be bring a big responsibility against the other teams top line, and it should be helpful in the match-ups and situations Geno's line can find themselves in."
And that's the beauty of Staal's role.
If you look back at his career with the Penguins, especially over the past three years, he's always been the center -- even when you include Crosby and Malkin -- that seems to draw the toughest matchups (using Behindthenet's Corsi Relative Quality of Competition), and this season has been no different. Even though he typically draws the most difficult assignments on the team, his line usually ends up coming away with the upper hand, not only in terms of goals for/goals against, but also in terms of controlling possession of the puck and keeping it in the offensive zone.
Looking at something as simple as On-Ice Corsi, which is simply the total shot-differential (goals, saves, missed shots, blocked shots during 5-on-5 play -- it's basically a way of measuring puck possession and offensive zone time) when a player is on the ice, Staal entered the weekend third in the NHL among players that have played at least 30 games this season, and he's been a positive player in that area in each of the past four seasons. And he's been able to do that while playing against top competition and starting a large percentage of his shifts in the defensive end of the rink.
In other words: When Staal's line is on the ice, the Penguins are keeping the other teams best players bottled up in their own end, which is a pretty good way of making sure they're being shut down. That's an extremely valuable role, and it's one that Staal has excelled in. He's become a big-time player, even though he's never been one that puts up huge numbers offensively.
His return to the lineup gives the Penguins another top-center to pair up with their MVP contender (Malkin) which could make them one of the favorites in the Eastern Conference come playoff time, even if they don't get Crosby back anytime soon.
(Corsi and Quality of Competition data via BehindTheNet.ca)
For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
Posted on: January 26, 2012 11:38 am
Edited on: January 26, 2012 5:08 pm
Go back a few weeks when Randy Cunneyworth's "hiring" in Montreal was all the rage. Literally, rage. It led to organized protests against the Canadiens organization, not just Cunneyworth (although that was the impetus).
Those who didn't support Cunneyworth's hiring because he doesn't speak French were upset not only with the Cunneyworth promotion, but what they called the entire Anglicization of the Montreal Canadiens, Quebec's only team since the Nordiques became the Avalanche.
The list of complaints went beyond the coach not speaking French, however. Here is what the Canadian Press reported about the protests.
Protesters also complained the music played at the Bell Centre is in English, that announcements are in both languages and that the team has few francophone players.
I laughed when I first saw that. Would the people of Quebec rather have a team of Francophones that stink than a team of Anglophones that wins (of course they have neither right now)?
So that got me to thinking: What would an all French-speaking, Quebec-born team look like? I wanted to take a look and see how good of a team I could put together, keeping salary cap restraints in mind. (Hey folks, it's the All-Star break, just having some fun here.) Consider this my own All-Star fantasy draft.
Let's just get right to it, shall we?
Alain Vigneault is the guy. The Quebec City native has actually tried coaching the Canadiens before, making the playoffs only once from 1997-2001. He was fired midseason in the 2000-01 campaign. But he's found success since moving on to Vancouver, winning the Jack Adams once and coming in as a finalist in 2011 (he was also a finalist in 2000 with the Habs). A return trip to Montreal will hopefully go better this time.
Marc-Andre Fleury, Jean-Sebastien Giguere get the nod here. Now this is a position where I have a lot of choices. Fleury I think is a pretty clear starter based partly on his age, but for the second spot there are a lot of veterans: Giguere, Martin Brodeur, Jose Theodore, Martin Biron, Mathieu Garon and Jonathan Bernier. They can stop pucks in Quebec, that's pretty clear.
In terms of salary, Fleury takes up $5 million, Giguere only $1.25. So $6.25 million in goal is a decent price to pay, but not bad.
I'm going with (in no particular pairing order) Kris Letang, Marc-Andre Bergeron, Francois Beauchemin, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Stephane Robidas and Marc-Andre Gragnani. Letang leads the scoring punch while Bergeron, Beauchemin and to an extent Vlasic adding some more points. Defensively, Vlasic and Beauchemin highlight a pretty good two-way corps. But if anybody goes down, it gets thin after that.
As a whole, the defensemen don't cost that much. Beauchemin ($3.8 million), Letang ($3.5 million), Robidas ($3.3 million), Vlasic ($3.1 million), Bergeron ($1 million) and Gragnani (550,000) come in at a total of $15.25 million.
Now this is a group of guys I like: Patrice Bergeron, Danny Briere, David Desharnais and Maxime Talbot. You'll notice one pretty big omission here and that's Vincent Lecavalier, but that $10 million per year is too big of a burden, I don't know how the Lightning do it. But I still have two guys who can score, arguably the best defensive center in the game, a young and promising player in Desharnais and a solid worker in Talbot.
Naturally this is costing me some cash here. Briere ($6.5 million) is costly, then add Bergeron ($5 million) before getting a little reprieve with Talbot ($1.75 million) and Desharnais ($850,000). In total, they take up $14.1 million.
OK, I take it back about center. This is where my team is really loaded. Check out this lineup of Martin St. Louis, Jason Pominville, P.A. Parenteau and Alex Burrows. That's some serious scoring ability on the wing. I didn't have room for Maxim Lapierre or Pascal Dupuis at this position, but more on them later.
As you'd expect, this is the most expensive per-player corps on the team. St. Louis commands a cool $5.625 million, Pominville takes $5.3 million, Burrows costs $2 million and Parenteau a very reasonable $1.25 million. Total bill: $14.175 million.
Here we have an Achilles' heel. The lineup we could toss out is Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Alex Tanguay, David Perron and Guillaume Latendresse, but that's an awfully risky group of players. Each of Bouchard, Perron and Latendresse have dealt with concussions while Tanguay has been suffering with a neck strain. So to add a little stability, I'm going to convert Dupuis to the left side and leave out Bouchard -- more expensive than Latendresse.
The good news is this group doesn't cost a whole lot. Tanguay ($3.5 million), Latendresse ($2.5 million), Perron ($2.15 million) and Dupuis ($1.5 million) run up a bill of $9.65 million.
Since he didn't make the list at right wing, Lapierre is going to serve as our daily scratch. But really he's likely going to be playing a lot at left wing with the injury potential. What he also gives is a physical presence. He's at least not averse to dropping the gloves, having five fights this season for Vancouver. Maybe we could try and talk Georges Laraque to coming back and serving the enforcer role, but undoubtedly sitting in press row most nights.
Lapierre comes in at an even $1 million.
The total salary for this team checks in at $60.425 million, giving our GM (we'll just keep Pierre Gauthier) a little room to maneuver or sign maybe another defenseman that would likely sit in the press box most nights.
Moreover, the top prospect in the system would have to be Jonathan Huberdeau, the player who went third overall to Florida in the last NHL Draft. He's likely to be in the NHL next season and right now projects to be a center but he can also play on the wing, so he could help out with the weaker left side.
In the end, it's actually a much better team than I thought it could be. It might be a little lacking in the physical department, but the team has a lot of ingredients: It has some big-time scorers (seriously, a top two lines of Tanguay-Bergeron-St. Louis and Perron-Briere-Pominville isn't bad at all), it has some agitators (I'm looking at you, Burrows and Lapierre), is good defensively and I think it's solid in net.
And don't forget, everybody speaks French!
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Tags: Alain Vigneault, Alex Burrows, Alex Tanguay, Brian Stubits, Danny Briere, David Desharnais, David Perron, Francois Beauchemin, Georges Laraque, Guillaume Latendresse, Jason Pominville, Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Jonathan Bernier, Jonathan Huberdeau, Jose Theodore, Kris Letang, Marc-Andre Bergeron, Marc-Andre Fleury, Marc-Andre Gragnani, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Martin Biron, Martin Brodeur, Martin St. Louis, Mathieu Garon, Maxim Lapierre, Maxime Talbot, Montreal Canadiens, P.A. Parenteau, Pascal Dupuis, Patrice Bergeron, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Randy Cunneyworth, Stephane Robidas, Vincent Lecavalier
Posted on: November 21, 2011 11:53 pm
Edited on: November 22, 2011 10:43 am
By: Adam Gretz
One of the biggest questions heading into Monday's Penguins and Islanders game was the number of minutes Sidney Crosby would play. The early estimates started off as low as 12 or 13, while it was pretty much a given that he wouldn't see anywhere near the 20 or 21 minutes he's averaged throughout his career.
When all was said and done, Crosby ended up playing a total of 15 minutes and 54 seconds over 21 shifts.
Here's how it looked:
Even-Strength Ice Time (11:29) -- When the Penguins acquired James Neal last season it was pretty much assumed that it was done for the purpose of eventually putting him with Crosby. And who knows, that may very well happen at some point. But with the way Neal has developed chemistry with Evgeni Malkin and Steve Sullivan, the Penguins are apparently in no hurry to break up a line that's working. So for the majority of his 21 shifts on Monday, Crosby centered the Penguins' top line between wingers Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis, as he has done throughout much of the previous two seasons. During those 11 minutes he recorded seven shots on goal (an incredible rate), scoring both of his goals, while also assisting on Brooks Orpik's second goal of the season. He also managed to draw a penalty when Milan Jurcina was sent off for cross-checking in the first period.
Power Play Ice Time (4:23) -- During the Penguins' four power plays Bylsma responded each time by sending Crosby's unit out there to open the shift in the offensive zone. The Penguins power play, which struggled to score goals last season and through their opening round playoff loss to Tampa Bay, ended up finishing the night 1-for-4 with Crosby assisting on Malkin's power play tally at the 3:17 mark of the second period.
Faceoffs And Zone Starts -- When asked how conscious he was of where Crosby's shifts were starting, Penguins coach Dan Bylsma responded with, "I wasn't that conscious of that situation, more of the opponent he was playing against. However, he was winning a lot of his draws and When we could get him out there in that situation to win draws we did do that. He ends the game winning 15 of his draws, that's a lot. He picked up kind of where he left so we were using him in that situation."
Crosby ended the night winning 15 of his 21 faceoffs, a success rate of over 67 percent. This is one area of his game that Crosby made huge improvements in over the past two seasons and Bylsma utilized him in all three zones:
Offensive Zone Faceoffs: Seven (4-for-7 on faceoffs)
Neutral Zone Faceoffs: Six (5-for-6 on faceoffs)
Defensive Zone Faceoffs: Eight (6-for-8 on faceoffs)
Given that the Penguins were the home team and had the last line change, they were able to dictate who was out there against him for the most part, and did a good job of having him avoid New York's top defenseman, Mark Streit, as well as avoiding the Islanders' best defensive forward, Frans Nielsen, during even strength situations.
His most common opponent in the faceoff circle was Josh Bailey, whom he beat on four of eight draws. He was 5-for-5 against Nielsen, with all of them coming on the power play, and 4-for-6 against Marty Reasoner.
Posted on: November 21, 2011 7:41 pm
Edited on: November 21, 2011 8:40 pm
By: Adam Gretz
PITTSBURGH -- It took Sidney Crosby three shifts, five minutes of clock time and one shot to score his first goal in his first game of the season.
After taking a pass from Pascal Dupuis in the neutral zone, Crosby flew into the New York zone and beat defenseman Andrew MacDonald before roofing a backhander over Islanders goaltender Anders Nilsson, making his first start in the NHL.
Here's the video:
Posted on: October 21, 2011 3:47 pm
Edited on: October 21, 2011 3:51 pm
By: Adam Gretz
The incredible run of injuries that arguably helped derail the Pittsburgh Penguins season a year ago has found a way to continue during the start of the 2011-12 season. Playing without Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Brooks Orpik, Tyler Kennedy and Kris Letang (though, his recent absence was the result of a suspension) at various times, a group of players that adds up to nearly half of their salary cap commitments for the year, they have still managed to win five of their first nine games and earn at least a point in seven of them.
They've done all of this while being outscored during 5-on-5 play (18-14), and with a power play that has slumped down to a 10 percent rate over the past seven games, scoring on just three of its past 29 attempts. One of the most important aspects of their fast start has been a penalty killing unit that has been as dominant as any other group in the league. This isn't exactly a new development for the Penguins, as they finished with the top spot in the NHL last season at just over 86 percent. Through the first nine games this season they look to be even stronger.
Pittsburgh has found itself in a shorthanded situation 31 times this season and has only allowed one goal to the oppositions power play. That goal came during a 4-on-3 power play, typically considered a tougher penalty to kill than a traditional 5-on-4 due to the extra space the power play has to work with, in overtime during their loss to the Washington Capitals last Thursday.
Other than that? They've been perfect. Even more impressive is the fact the Penguins have already managed to score three shorthanded goals this season. They're not just stopping the other team's power play from scoring, they're flat out beating them on the scoreboard. At this point there is only one other team in the NHL on the "plus" side of the scoring while shorthanded, and that's Chicago which has a 2-1 edge during its 17 shorthanded situations.
When talking to opposing players after some of their recent games the one common theme everybody keeps bringing up is how aggressive the Penguins are on the penalty kill. And that's not really anything new. Every team says it wants to be aggressive, or take away time and space, or whatever other coaching cliche you can throw out there. But the Penguins seem to take it even further than most teams and never let up. Panthers defenseman Brian Campbell called them "relentless" following a performance that saw his team go 0-for-4 on the man advantage and surrender a shorthanded goal during a 4-2 loss last Tuesday.
Such an aggressive style while down a man has a potentially large payoff -- like, say, a shorthanded goal -- but also carries some risk if you're not wisely picking and choosing your spots, which is something Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban brought up following Thursday's game -- they don't put themselves in bad situations.
"They pressure the right way and they pressure at the right times," Said Subban. "They play a smart game. They don't put themselves in trouble, they play smart, they limit your opportunities and they have guys that are willing to sacrifice."
Goaltenders generally get the most attention for a team's strong penalty kill, and Marc-Andre Fleury and Brent Johnson have both been excellent in shorthanded situations this season. But Pittsburgh also does a fantastic job of not allowing teams to even get an opportunity to create shots or establish any sort of presence in the offensive zone. Through nine games the Penguins are allowing just .768 shots per minute in shorthanded situations, a mark that is eighth-best in the NHL and well below the league average (at this point) of .857.
They're willing shot-blockers and do an excellent job of not allowing teams to gain a clean entry into the zone or get an opportunity to set up their power play, and that's a testament to the play of forwards like Jordan Staal, Craig Adams, Pascal Dupuis and Matt Cooke, as well as defenseman Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek. More than one Canadiens forward, including Brian Gionta, commented on Thursday night about his team's struggles to generate any speed through the middle of the ice
"I haven't seen many of their other games," said Gionta. "But tonight we had a hard time getting up through the neutral zone, and when you don't come clean through there and you're trying to win battles to get the puck back it's basically 50-50."
With players like Crosby and Malkin out of the lineup the Penguins aren't going to put up the type of offensive numbers typically seen from them, and they're going to have to keep grinding out wins. Completely shutting down the other team's power play is a good place to start.
Photo: Getty Images
Tags: Adam Gretz, Brent Johnson, Brian Campbell, Brian Gionta, Brooks Orpik, Chicago Blackhawks, Craig Adams, Evgeni Malkin, Florida Panthers, Jordan Staal, Kris Letang, Marc-Andre Fleury, Matt Cooke, Montreal Canadiens, P.K. Subban, Pascal Dupuis, Paul Martin, Pittsburgh Penguins, Richard Park, Sidney Crosby, Tyler Kennedy, Zbynek Michalek
Posted on: June 28, 2011 11:40 am
Edited on: June 28, 2011 4:56 pm
While all eyes are on Jaromir Jagr in Pittsburgh, GM Ray Shero took care of the in-house business first by re-signing Pascal Dupuis.
The deal is for two years and $3 million, meaning an annual hit of $1.5 million to the cap. The deal was officially announced this afternoon.
"[My family and I] really love Pittsburgh. It was the only place we wanted to go," Dupuis said Tuesday.
Dupuis came over to the Penguins in the deal that landed them Marian Hossa and Hal Gill, clearly the third of three players in the trade. Since then he has proved to be a very valuable player, fitting on any of the four lines Pittsburgh has and stepping into the leader's role a bit when Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin went down with injuries.
Last season for the Pens, Dupuis scored 17 goals and had 20 assists in 81 games. Plus, he was one of the more memorable characters to come out of HBO's 24/7 series before the Winter Classic.
The Penguins now sit at just less than $58 million on the roster, giving them about $6.5 million to spend. They seem to be on the verge of bringing Jagr back to Pittsburgh, something that can't be done until Friday at the earliest, and also are still in talks with Tyler Kennedy, a player that they did not give a qualifying offer to.
-- Brian Stubits