Tag:Kris Letang
Posted on: January 25, 2012 11:15 am
Edited on: January 25, 2012 11:16 am
 

Neal named to All-Star Game in place of Ovechkin

Neal has 27 goals this season, 13 on the power play. (Getty Images)

By Brian Stubits

It took way too long in almost everybody's estimation, but James Neal was finally named an All-Star on Wednesday. He was given a spot in the game thanks to Alex Ovechkin abstaining after his suspension.

From the moment the All-Stars were announced, people immediately wondered why the Penguins' leading goal scorer wasn't on the list. As of Wednesday, he's only tied with Jonathan Toews for the second most goals in the league with 27.

"We thought he was an All-Star when they first named the team," coach Dan Bylsma said on Tuesday.

Better late than never, I suppose.

It's funny to me how people feign disinterest in the All-Star Game but then get worked up when players don't get the nod to play in it. Neal's exclusion put that whole idea on display.

Neal gets the late addition to the game the day after Scott Hartnell had the same happen with him, replacing Jonathan Toews. Both players are in the top 10 in goal scoring this season and were seen as probably the two biggest omissions to the initial list. Circumstances allowed that to be corrected.

Neal will now join Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang as representing the Penguins in Ottawa.

More from Eye on Hockey

Ovechkin withdraws from All-Star Game
Hartnell replaces Toews for game
More All-Star Game coverage

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Posted on: January 10, 2012 11:39 am
Edited on: January 10, 2012 11:41 am
 

James Neal's foot not broken, will play Tuesday

By Brian Stubits

It was just Sunday that the Pittsburgh Penguins announced Jordan Staal would be out 4-6 weeks and James Neal had a broken foot that would keep him out of action for a while.

Two days later, it looks as though Neal isn't even going to miss a game. Don't you just love hockey players?

With the Penguins having a long list already of guys injured, Neal was a surprise in the team's morning skate on Tuesday in preparation for Pittsburgh's game against the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday night. The surprises continued after the skate when Neal revealed he's not going to miss any time.

"I'm good to go. I'm ready to play tonight," Neal said Tuesday. "After an MRI yesterday, it can’t get any worse. So I’m good to play on it."

A big reason why was a misdiagnosis the first time around. The Penguins were off a little with the broken foot announcement.

"The first test on Neal showed a fracture," coach Dan Bylsma said. "MRI showed pre-existing condition. He has a bone bruise but can play."

Well there's a surprise. It will be very interesting to watch how Neal skates and how many minutes he plays tonight against the Sens.

You have to wonder if aiding in this decision is the Penguins' struggles at the moment, both with injury and on the ice. They have lost four in a row and are very dinged up with Sidney Crosby, Kris Letang, Staal injured.

If he's able to play near 100 percent than obviously it's a big lift to the Penguins. Neal has been a very good goal scorer for the Pens this season, particularly on the power play where he has netted 10 of his 21 tallies.

Photo: Getty Images

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Posted on: January 8, 2012 1:23 pm
 

Pens injuries continue: Staal, Neal to miss time

By Brian Stubits

The Pittsburgh Penguins have faced plenty of injury adversity in the past two seasons. But this might take the cake.

The Penguins obviously are already down their best player in Sidney Crosby for an indefinite amount of time and have been minus Kris Letang, then they announced on Sunday that Jordan Staal is going to be out 4-6 weeks and James Neal has a broken foot with no timetable yet. That hurts, literally and figuratively.

Making it worse, Craig Adams might have suffered a knee injury in Sunday's practice. When it rains, it pours.

I think there are a few hands reaching for that panic button in Pittsburgh right about now. The Penguins have lost four games in a row, they are currently eighth place in the Eastern Conference and are going to be missing the majority of their play-makers. Now they need to invest in a plastic bubble to put Evgeni Malkin in.

As I said, this is nothing new for the Penguins. They still made the playoffs as a four seed last year when they didn't have Crosby, Malkin and Staal for good portions of the season. It was pretty amazing how well they overcame those injuries on the team. So clearly this isn't a crippling blow to their season. But it just made it a lot more interesting. Or scary if you're a Pens fan.

Unlike last year, the Penguins are actually going into this stretch in eighth place. They don't have the cushion they did last season. Plus, the Atlantic Division is considerably tougher this season, what with the Rangers stepping up their game and the New Jersey Devils playing so well. I think there's a little more competition in the East this year and it's going to ask a lot of them to keep their spot in the playoff mix through the second half of the season.

The Penguins aren't going to be buried as long as Marc-Andre Fleury is still in play. With the scorers dropping like flies, Flower will be counted on even more.

If the Penguins are able to make the playoffs again in a good position, Dan Bylsma might be up for the Jack Adams Award again this season. There are injuries then there are what the Penguins have gone through the last two seasons.

When they were depleted last year, GM Ray Shero went out and got James Neal from the Stars. He'll likely get on the phone again this week and try and get some help.

Photo: Getty Images

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Posted on: December 5, 2011 5:27 pm
 

Pacioretty still unhappy with Shanahan reasoning

By Brian Stubits

The honeymoon for Brendan Shanahan is over, the grace period gone. Now he's beginning to feel some of the blow back that Colin Campbell put up for years.

Montreal Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty just finished serving a three-game suspension for an open-ice hit that left Penguins defenseman Kris Letang with a broken nose. He wasn't overly pleased with the punishment from the start, and now he is getting in a little war of the words with the discipline boss.

For some, Pacioretty's hit on Letang evoked memories of Matt Cooke's shot on Marc Savard a couple seasons ago. According to Pacioretty, Shanahan is one of those people.

From the Canadian Press, Pacioretty insisted Monday that Shanahan compared the hit to the Cooke hit, something Pacioretty doesn't feel was fair.

“We didn't bring it up, [Shanahan] brought it up,” Pacioretty said. “You can ask my agent [Alec Schall]. He was on the phone. Ask the GM [Pierre Gauthier]. It happened.

“In the back of my mind it's a completely different hit. Savard's a lefty coming across. He has no idea Cooke's coming from the other side of the ice. I'm not trying to get into comparisons, but they [the NHL] compared it to that and we compared it to [Tampa Bay's Ryan] Malone on [Montreal's Chris] Campoli."

Hey Max, I don't see the problem in the NHL comparing it to the Cooke-Savard incident. After all, Cooke received no punishment (it's never too late for some Colie humor).

"Every hit's different. That's what makes this tough," Pacioretty acknowledged. "There is always going to be that grey area. They're doing the best they can to crack down, but it's not consistent.”

For what it's worth, Shanahan denied making a connection between the two hits in a radio interview. Although he didn't go so far as to say Pacioretty was intentionally lying, just that he was probably a bit emotional and took things the wrong way.

Welcome to the job where you can never please anybody, Shanny.

More NHL Discipline News Here

H/t to Pro Hockey Talk

Photo: Getty Images

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Posted on: November 29, 2011 6:55 pm
 

Max Pacioretty disagrees with suspension



By: Adam Gretz

The NHL suspended Montreal Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty for three games on Monday for his hit on Pittsburgh's Kris Letang during Saturday's 4-3 Penguins overtime win, which ended when Letang, of all people, scored the game-winner on a controversial play in front of the Montreal net. 

On Tuesday, Pacioretty spoke to the media for the first time following the announcement and didn't seem to agree with Brendan Shanahan's decision, and also gave his version of what took place on the ice.

Pacioretty said that during his hearing, Shanahan compared the hit to one that Penguins forward Matt Cooke delivered on Boston's Marc Savard two years ago that eventually helped lead to the crackdown on hits where the head is the target and principal point of contact.

"I think that couldn't be further from the truth," said Pacioretty, via the Canadiens website (full video above). "If you look at the situation, me and Letang made eye contact and I think that's what gave me the green light to try and hit him. I felt he put himself in a vulnerable position. Maybe I shouldn't have even thought about hitting him because of the way the wind is blowing right now with head shots. I'd like to see a little bit of consistency. If the onus is on the hitter every single time I'd be fine with the suspension, but you've seen instances where they've placed the onus on the player receiving the hit as well. That's why I'm confused and a lot of other players are confused as well."
More On Max Pacioretty

He also talked about how he felt Letang lowered his head prior to the hit, and that when he looks at the play in slow motion he can see that Letang changed his position as he saw Pacioretty coming. When asked if the suspension would change the way he plays and hits people, Pacioretty acknowledged that in the future he would not deliver that hit, and also added that since the start of the season he's been afraid to hit opposing players.

"This whole year I haven't had many hits," said Pacioretty. "Bbecause, I'll be completely honest, I've been scared to hit people out there. A lot of times you're going in on the forecheck and the defenseman turns his back to you, and things of that nature happen. It's a fast game and injuries are going to happen, and that's why it's tough out there, especially for someone who is expected to finish their hits. The blame is still on me. I made a bad decision and down the road I'm definitely not going to make that hit when someone is coming through the middle. Though, I don't see why I should give him free pass to come through our zone and get a free shot on net."

More NHL Discipline News Here

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Posted on: November 28, 2011 7:51 pm
Edited on: November 28, 2011 8:01 pm
 

Habs' Max Pacioretty suspended three games

By Brian Stubits

There wasn't much question of if, but how many games would Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty would get for his hit over the long weekend on the Penguins' Kris Letang.

Turns out the answer is three games.

This might be the best and most descriptive video that Brendan Shanahan has issued in his tenure and time of doing these explanatory videos. As he details, Letang risked taking a big hit himself by crossing through the ice with the puck on his stick, but shouldn't have expected a hit to his head like that.

On the play, Letang suffered a broken nose and left a bloody pool on the ice. Shanahan has explained multiple times that any injury resulting from a hit will weigh into the decision. That was certainly a contributing factor here, too.

There were a lot of factors that Shanahan considered on this hit. Of the many, one was that the position of Letang's head didn't change significantly when he shot the puck and thus the onus being on Pacioretty to avoid making the head the principal point of contact.

Pacioretty will be unavailable for the team's California trip, with stops in Anaheim, San Jose and Los Angeles.

More NHL Discipline News Here

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Posted on: November 26, 2011 10:37 pm
Edited on: November 27, 2011 11:38 am
 

Pacioretty, Letang and controversy in Montreal

By: Adam Gretz

How do you know when a game has questionable (or, let's be honest about it, bad) officiating? When both teams have a legitimate gripe that they were robbed, which is kind of what unfolded in Montreal on Saturday night.

Late in the third period of Pittsburgh's 4-3 overtime win over the Canadiens, and just minutes after Jordan Staal tied the game, scoring on a breakaway off the bench, Montreal's Max Pacioretty hit Kris Letang coming across the middle of the ice with what appeared to be an elbow to the face, resulting in a pool of blood on the ice.

There was no penalty called on the play, though Pacioretty will be hearing from the NHL on Monday for this hit.




If that wasn't enough controversy for one night, Letang managed to return to the game for the overtime period and scored the game-winning goal. It was one that left the Canadiens and their fans absolutely livid.

As Pittsburgh's James Neal drove to the net and managed to get a backhand shot on goal, Montreal goaltender Carey Price appeared to have the puck secured underneath his leg, only to have the Penguins continue to dig and poke at the puck while the referees didn't blow the whistle, even though it easily could have been (and perhaps should have been) stopped given how Price had the puck secured.

It was eventually worked free and Letang was there waiting to deposit it into the empty cage. Price responded by breaking his stick off the goal post and then launching it across the ice. It had to be a frustrating moment, given how well he played throughout the game, stopping 38 shots, some of them in spectacular fashion.



And that's the kind of night it was in Montreal.

The fact it was Pacioretty that delivered the hit on Letang instantly resulted in a discussion about last season's incident involving him and Boston's Zdeno Chara, and how critical the Montreal forward was of the league for not suspending Chara for driving him into the turnbuckle along the benches at the Bell Centre. (It should be pointed out that Pacioretty apologized to Letang after the game for Saturday's hit). And that comes just one day after Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby was criticized by Ottawa's Nick Foligno for elbowing him in the head during a scrum around the net after Crosby called for the banishment of head shots over the summer as he recovered from a concussion.

Crosby spent most of his post-game interview on Saturday answering questions about Foligno's comments the night before, while he defended his actions the night before and pointed to the Pacioretty hit on Letang as the type of play the NHL should be looking to eliminate.

Chaos.

There are so many questions that, at this point, remain unanswered: Why was Paciorrety not penalized? Will the league step in and offer punishment after the fact in the form of a fine or suspension? Why did the refs not stop the play that Letang ultimately scored on? What game were referee's Mike Hasenfratz and Dan O'Rourke watching, and was it as good as the one taking place on the ice in Montreal?

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

Posted on: November 19, 2011 10:05 am
Edited on: January 22, 2012 8:47 am
 

What's wrong with Paul Martin?

By: Adam Gretz

In an effort to improve their overall team defense prior to last season, the Pittsburgh Penguins made two significant investments on their blue line by signing two of the top free agent defenseman that were available on the open market -- Paul Martin, who had spent the previous six years of his career with the New Jersey Devils, and Zbynek Michalek coming off a five-year stint with the Phoenix Coyotes.

Combined, the Penguins committed a total of $45 million over five years to the two rearguards, and the results on the ice spoke for themselves in their first year with the team. The Penguins went from being 20th in the NHL in goals allowed during the 2009-10 season, all the way up to 6th best in 2010-11, while allowing nearly a half-goal fewer per game. That's no small improvement, and the additions of Martin and Michalek were a vital part of it.

Through the first 19 games of this season, Martin has had an up-and-down campaign and seems to be facing a growing amount of criticism from the Penguins' fan base for his minus-10 rating entering play on Saturday. That is currently the worst mark on the team and the second-worst mark in the NHL among all defensemen, ahead of only Colorado's Jan Hejda. When you're counting $5 million against the salary cap and near the bottom of the NHL in any category it's going to draw some attention, and hey, every fan-base needs its whipping boy.

So what's wrong with Paul Martin, and is he playing as poorly as the usually misleading plus/minus would suggest?

Nothing that can't be fixed, and not exactly.

So why is his plus/minus currently getting slaughtered? In its simplest terms, plus/minus, in general, and as honestly as it can be said, sucks as a useful measuring stick for the quality of play from a player, and offers little context in to what is going on with the player in question (who is he playing against? What situation is he playing in? Etc.). So let's try and add some context, if we can, and try to better understand his role with two main points that are, in a way, connected to one another.

1) The Penguins aren't scoring goals when Martin is on the ice

And yes, as a player that's on the ice, Martin does have to take some responsibility for this. But it's not going to continue. At least, it shouldn't be expected to continue.

During 5-on-5 play this season the Penguins have scored just four goals with Martin on the ice, which is an extremely low number, especially when you consider the number of minutes he plays. A lack of goals at even strength will obviously have a negative impact on a players rating, and this should not be expected to continue, for this reason: The Penguins, as a team, are shooting just a little over 2 percent when Martin is on the ice during 5-on-5 play, a rate that is unsustainably low over the course of the season.

Of the 536 players that have played a minimum of 10 games this season, only 12 of them have been on the ice for a lower shooting percentage. Look at it another way: If you go back to last season and take the players that played at least half the season in the NHL (40 games), the lowest on-ice shooting percentage belonged to Anaheim's George Parros at 2.54 percent, and he was one of only two players (the other was New Jersey's Adam Mair) that were on the ice for a team shooting percentage of below 3 percent. Over the past four years Martin's teams in Pittsburgh and New Jersey have shot no worse than 7.4 percent over the course of the season with him on the ice.

When you're talking about a player as talented as Martin, playing on a team that scores as often as the Penguins do, eventually, over time, these percentages are going to start work out for Martin, especially when the Penguins generate as many shots on goal as they do with him on the ice.

2) He's playing more minutes than any other player on the team, and he's being asked to play some of the "toughest" minutes on the team

Due to various injuries, including Michalek and Brooks Orpik, as well as a two-game suspension to Kris Letang, Martin has played significantly more minutes than any other player on the team. Entering Saturday he's at 464 overall minutes, 351 of which have come during even-strength play. Letang is the only other player on the team to crack the 300-minute mark at even-strength, while no other player is over 285. Not only is he playing more often than everybody else, he's playing in significantly more difficult situations.

You can tell a lot about a player, and what that player's coach thinks of him, by the situations he's put into. This season Dan Bylsma and his staff are giving Martin some of the tougher assignments in the NHL, and definitely the toughest assignments on the team. Consider his QualComp (Quality of Competition -- the higher the number, the tougher the competition) numbers and the limited number of Offensive Zone face-offs he's been on the ice for.

Assignments For Penguins Defensemen
Player Even-Strength Minutes QualComp Offensive Zone Starts % On-Ice Shooting % +/-
Paul Martin 351:22 .091 46.1% 2.40% -10
Kris Letang 333:16 .065 48.3% 8.09% +1
Deryk Engelland 285:02 .006 53.4% 8.63% +1
Matt Niskanen 274:22 -.034 56.9% 8.80% +5
Brooks Orpik 207:30 .172 48.3% 8.91% +2
Zbynek Michalek 180:40 .063 51.0% 2.22% -5
Ben Lovejoy 154:43 -.060 56.2% 8.43% +1

The only Penguins defensemen that's seen tougher competition is Orpik, while no other defensemen has started fewer shifts in the offensive zone.

Martin's game has definitely hit a bit of a rough patch over the past couple of weeks, and he's had his moments where he's been beat by opposing players one-on-one. But there's also a lot of things working against him right now, including some bad luck (hello, unsustainably low shooting percentage) and playing some of the heaviest minutes on the team, and playing a lot of them.

That's an extremely difficult role. Playing against the other team's best players and starting most of your shifts in your own zone (defensive zone faceoffs are dangerous) is a difficult task for any player, and will have an impact on your ability to score, as well as the other team's ability to score against you. Players that play the most minutes against the best players in the toughest spots will see the more goals scored against them and have a more difficult time scoring goals.

Take another look at the above table and look at the quality of players Matt Niskanen, for example, plays against, and the number of shifts he gets to start in the offensive zone. He's a team-best plus-five this season. No disrespect to Niskanen intended, but there isn't a coach or GM in the NHL that would take him over Martin, now, or at any other point. Give Martin those minutes and assignments, and vice versa, and see what their ratings look like.

I went back and looked at every goal that's been scored against the Penguins this season that would count against his plus/minus, and there's some pretty fascinating things in there. On at least two of them the Penguins were stopped on prime scoring chances at the other end of the ice before the play went back the other way and resulted in a goal at the other end. On one of them his defensive partner, Michalek, fell down on the opening face-off in Winnipeg which resulted in a flukey turnover -- and goal -- eight seconds into regulation.

None of this is likely to change the opinion of the person that takes his plus/minus rating as gospel, but if you think he's currently the second-worst defenseman in the NHL, or somehow not worth the cap hit to the Penguins, you're simply wrong.

The Penguins defense is a critical part of their success, and Martin is, and will continue to be, a key cog in that machine.

(Statistical data via BehindTheNet)

Photo: Getty Images

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