Posted on: October 24, 2011 1:27 pm
Edited on: October 24, 2011 1:37 pm
By: Adam Gretz
Sooner or later all of these injuries for the Penguins have to stop, right? Head coach Dan Bylsma announced on Monday that defenseman Zbynek Michalek will be sidelined between four-to-six weeks due to a broken finger that he suffered while blocking a shot during their 4-1 win over the New Jersey Devils on Saturday night.
Michalek signed a five-year, $20 million contract with the Penguins prior to last season and has been a steady presence on their blue line ever since. He's been one of the best shot-blockers in the NHL throughout his career, and along with the addition of Paul Martin, was a big factor in helping the Penguins reduce their goals against average by nearly half a goal per game during the 2010-11 season.
His injury is simply the latest one for a Penguins team that's been dealing with them all season, and it comes just two games after Brooks Orpik, perhaps their best defensive-defenseman, made his season debut last week. Orpik missed the first eight games of the season while he recovered from offseason surgery. The Penguins have also been playing without their captain and best player, Sidney Crosby, as he attempts to return from his concussion, while Evgeni Malkin, their second best player, and Tyler Kennedy have also missed significant time this season with injuries. Kennedy is out indefinitely with a concussion, while Malkin is still day-to-day.
With Michalek sidelined that likely means Ben Lovejoy will have an opportunity to return to the lineup, as he was the odd man out once Orpik made his debut and Kris Letang returned from his recent two-game suspension.
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: October 20, 2011 12:57 pm
Edited on: November 18, 2011 3:26 pm
The Penguins training room is looking more like an infirmary these days. In the beginning part of the season they have been without Sidney Crosby, Brooks Orpik, Evgeni Malkin and Tyler Kennedy for one or more games.
At least they will get one of the back for Thursday night's battle with Montreal. Orpik will return to the lineup the team announced. Also, a banged up James Neal -- the NHL's leading goal scorer -- is expected to play. That's the good news.
Of course there is bad news, too. Malkin's day-to-day approach will still have him out against the Habs as he is waiting for his knee to be completely ready. It continues, though, with Kennedy being diagnosed with a concussion, obviously meaning he's not playing. Finally, rookie defenseman Brian Strait, who hasn't played much in the early going, won't be available for a few weeks due to a hyperextended elbow.
Then add to the mix the suspension of defenseman Kris Letang and, well, the Penguins are just a little bit short against Montreal.
In Orpik the Pens get back a defenseman has been a fixture on their blue line since 2003-04. He has been a plus player each of the past five seasons while helping out a lot with the penalty-killing duties. Although Pittsburgh has been alright in that department without him; they have only given up one power-play goal while they have scored three short-handed.
Kennedy's loss will hurt as he has been growing into a more integral part of the Penguins offense. In the six games he played to start the season, he had five points (2-3). Now, with a concussion, there's no telling for sure when he might return. Pittsburgh knows all too well how that can go.
Photo: Getty Images
Posted on: October 19, 2011 6:14 pm
Edited on: October 19, 2011 6:51 pm
By Brian Stubits
You know how the new rules and Brendan Shanahan's regime keeps being referred to as a "work in progress?" Well there are a few people who think it needs a lot more work before they can progress.
One of the biggest criticisms that I've seen fans and commentators expressing about the strong new emphasis on hitting from behind is the accusation that players will turn their backs on a player hoping to draw a penalty. How a two-minute minor to an opponent is worth risking severe physical damage such as a concussion or worse is beyond me, but that's hockey players for you, I guess.
But now that there has been time to digest the new rules and for players to get a feel for them, the constructive criticism is becoming to come in from those who just so happen to be known for their hitting. (And then from one crooning minor-league owner, we'll get to that further down so stay tuned!)
Ben Meyer-Abbott of the Chicago Sun Times gathered some opinions from around the league. Let's just have a look.
-- Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville.
-- Blackhawks forward Daniel Carcillo.
There were more than a few people who felt Alex Burmistrov might have turned away from Kris Letang Monday night in Winnipeg which drew a two-game ban for Letang. I don't think he did, but as long as the doubt exists, it will be an issue -- not in his case specifically, but league wide.
Herein lies the essence of all the naysayers to the systematic changes. You are threatening to take away an integral part of the sport. Again, nobody that I have seen has said they don't want to remove hits to the head, etc. They are unnessary, let alone very dangerous.
The more timid players get for fear of a suspension, the less hitting you'll see in the game, obviously. That's the fine line.
But the integrity of players is being comprimised. Intentionally turning your back to either avoid a hit or draw a penalty? It's in the same vain as flopping, but worse, in my opinion. These are changes that are needed to the game, however the effort could be undercut by those looking to gain an advantage. It's a dicey situation, to be sure.
That brings us to Michael Buble. You know him, he's the guy who just hasn't met you yet. Where does he fit in the picture? Well he just happens to be a co-owner of the Vancouver Giants and considering he's Canadian, he knows some hockey.
Here's what Bublé told AOL Music.
He sounds very Don Cherry-esque there. Really. When I first saw what he said, I just thought the story was quoting Cherry's season-opening rant on Coach's Corner that got him in so much hot water. It's basically the same argument, except it comes from a guy who doesn't have a history of being a polarizing figure (or a history of awesome outfits).
Buble continued, though, by offering up his solution to the problem.
This isn't the first time that the idea of a third, neutral party as judge has been thrown out there. It won't be the last, either. If the controversy surrounding the suspensions keeps up, it will be another point of contention in the growing list of them for the CBA negotiations that are set to start in earnest around the All-Star Game.
I like the idea of a mediator, if you will, but it wouldn't be without its questions, too. How well does the person really understand hockey? Are they really neutral? You have to think that even if said mediator does enter the picture as a truly neutral party, it won't stay that way. It is only natural to begin forming opinions that shape your thoughts, no?
Of course, not all players see this change as being so difficult. For somebody like Capitals defenseman Dennis Wideman, it's a matter of respect for your opponent. I caught up with him earlier this season and here's what he told me regarding the new rules.
I was always told you can wish in one hand and, well ... do something in the other and see which comes true first. The fact is that it's not an easy transition, neither for the players nor for the sport. If it were as simple as saying "no more dangerous hits" it would have been eliminated years ago.
But as you can clearly see, the integrity of the game remains an issue. Hitting is such a fabric of the game that an official stat is kept just for it at every game you go to. It's a physical sport and hockey players are a typically tough breed. They and their fans by in large take a lot of pride in the physicality of the game. Scars are often badges of honor.
Fact of the matter is this is and will remain a very divisive issue. Players bating others into hitting them illegaly only compounds it. Players will always find ways to circumvent the rules, look for their shortcuts. The same applies here.
You work on one thing, that brings up a whole new second thing to work on, yada, yada, yada, the beat goes on. It makes progress pretty difficult at that point.
Photo: Getty Images
Posted on: October 18, 2011 4:37 pm
Edited on: October 18, 2011 5:33 pm
By: Adam Gretz
After a hearing on Tuesday afternoon for his boarding penalty on Winnipeg's Alex Burmistrov on Monday night, Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang was issued a two-game suspension by the NHL. As he has done since the start of the preseason, the NHL's new discipline chief, Brendan Shanahan, came out with a video explanation, breaking down the play and why the punishment was handed out.
Said Shanahan of the play that resulted in a two-minute minor for boarding during the Jets' 2-1 win, "Letang recognizes that Burmistrov will get to the puck first and Letang gets into an athletic, defensive position. At this point, this is no longer a puck that is up for grabs and Letang is going to play the man. In our opinion, Burmistrov's path to the puck is predictable, and there are no sudden movements just prior or simultaneous with the hit. In spite of the fact that Letang is looking at Burmistrov in the numbers, he finishes his check hard and with authority, and fails to minimize the check."
The NHL rule book (rule 41) says that "The onus is on the player applying the check to ensure his opponent is not in a vulnerable position and if so, he must avoid the contact," while also adding that the player on the receiving end also has some responsibility for not putting himself in a vulnerable position. In this case the NHL ruled that Burmistrov did not do that, and Letang should have made an effort to lessen the hit.
Here's Shanahan's complete explanation.
Letang was fined last April for a similar play.
He will now miss Pittsburgh's game on Tuesday against Minnesota, as well as Thursday's home game against Montreal. The Penguins, having played the most games of any team in the NHL at this point, are also dealing with a number of injuries and will be without Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Tyler Kennedy, Brooks Orpik and Letang against the Wild.
More NHL Discpline News Here
Posted on: October 18, 2011 12:29 pm
Edited on: October 19, 2011 10:57 am
The Colorado Avalanche have shown a little pattern in recet years, so maybe we should have seen this start coming.
Three seasons ago they came off a conference semifinal loss by finishing with 69 points, bad enough to get the No. 3 overall pick in the draft, which they used to select Matt Duchene (good call). The following season they were in the playoffs behind Craig Anderson in goal. That was followed by another miserable season to give the Avs the No. 2 pick, which is where they grabbed Gabriel Landeskog.
It is still incredibly early, but if there were a surprise from the first two weeks of the season, it is without a doubt the Avalanche. Colorado lost its home opener before embarking on a five-game road trip to the East, including the Eastern Canada swing, and lo and behold, the Avs took all 10 available points. It was the first time in franchise history they won five consecutive road games. Not bad for a team with only three players over the age of 30 -- Jean Sebastien-Giguere, Milan Hejduk and Jan Hejda.
"Now what we have to do is take this kind of game we played on the road -- keeping it simple, doing little things -- and translating it to our home ice," Giguere said Monday night after beating his former Maple Leafs team. "This was obviously a great trip for us. It should give us confidence going forward."
Obviously winning at this rate won't last. That goes without saying. Considering their youth and inexperience, they are more susceptible than most to higher highs and lower lows. But the prospects of not finishing near or at the bottom of the Western Conference like many foresaw? Those seem pretty good right now.
A good chunk of the team's success has come from the goaltending duo of Giguere and Semyon Varlamov. Desperate to get a goaltender to take the reins this offseason, the Avs signed the veteran Giguere, but it was their move for Varlamov that took the attention.
Colorado was the heavy favorite to court and then sign free agent Tomas Vokoun. It seemed to be a perfect match. But a funny thing happened; the Avs didn't seem to want to go down that road. Instead, they spoke with the Capitals -- Vokoun's eventual landing spot, oddly enough -- and worked out a trade to acquire Varlamov, who said he was done playing in Washington. The price of a first-round pick in return seemed like a quality deal for the Capitals. After all, Colorado was the second worst team in the league a season ago. Talk to people around Washington and they are all aware of how talented Varlamov is. That was never the issue. If he can stay healthy -- now we have our issue -- it could be a coup for the Avalanche
However they are more than the goaltending, obviously. What really jumped out of the screen watching them play the Leafs on Monday -- and again, this was the fifth of five games on the road in another time zone, so the excuses to be sluggish where there -- was their speed and energy. I guess you can call that youthful exuberance. Whatever words you use to describe it, I call it impressive.
A lot of people might have been sleeping on the Avs before this season began, but Joe Sacco's crew has opened some eyes in a hurry.
Toronto Maple Leafs: Despite losing to the Avalanche in overtime on Monday -- their first missed point of the season -- Toronto is out of the gate strong. Now this isn't something entirely new this time of year. Remember the Maple Leafs started 4-0-0 last season, then they won only one of the next 12 games.
One difference this time around, however, is James Reimer -- or his Twitter world nickname Optimus Reim, if you prefer. The young goalie is giving fans hope that they have finally solved the riddle in the cage. That and the so-far spectacular play of Phil Kessel and Dion Phaneuf gives you reason to believe the Maple Leafs just could end their six-year playoff drought this season.
Tampa Bay Lightning: They are surprising, but not in a good way. The Eastern Conference runnerups from a season ago have looked, well, awful. They have picked up only four points from their first six games and given up four goals or more four different times already. Dwayne Roloson looks his age, which is now 42.
"Obviously, we're not happy," Steven Stamkos said Monday. "I wouldn't say we're in a panic mode, but we're worried. This isn't the start we wanted. We're taking way too many penalties."
They better figure it out soon because with some improved teams in the East this year, they don't want to fall too far behind.
Everybody wondered how Dallas would replace the loss of Richards. Signing Michael Ryder in the offseason didn't seem to be a void-filler. Maybe all they needed was another year for Jamie Benn, Mike Ribeiro, Brendan Morrow, Steve Ott and Loui Eriksson together. Oh, and a healthy Kari Lehtonen. Dallas is 4-0 when Lehtonen starts this season.
Then there is Sheldon Souray, who Edmonton couldn't get out of town fast enough. Dallas took a shot on the bought-out Oilers defenseman and so far it's looking like a good gamble. He has a goal and three assists as well as a plus-4 rating while averaging more than 20 minutes on ice per game.
Florida Panthers power play: Is this real life or is this just fantasy?
The Panthers had 35 power-play goals in 82 games last season. Let that sink in for a minute. As you would probably guess, that was the lowest in the NHL. Maybe it's the addition of Kevin Dineen and assistant Craig Ramsey, maybe it's the influx of new forwards, or, perhaps most likely, it's the arrival of Brian Campbell to run the show. Whatever the result, the Panthers have scored on eight of their 25 power-play attempts this season, including five in one game against the Lightning on Monday.
Heck, they even have a short-handed goal already, making them an even squad on the penalty kill.
No suspensions for hits: With how busy Brendan Shanahan was during the preseason, I was getting ready to request Shanny TV 24/7. It was like Hannukah, waking up every day for eight straight days to see the newest gift, or in this case video. But since the first puck was dropped in Toronto, the only suspension handed down was for the Wild's Marc-Pierre Bouchard and his high stick on the Blue Jackets' Matt Calvert.
But a funny thing happened when the season began, the suspensions stopped coming. That's because the head hits have stopped coming, which is exactly what everybody hoped to see in the first place, even the anti-Shanny crowd. I view it like Republicans and Democrats; everybody wants to get to the same prosperous place, they just don't agree on how to get there. This is the same. I have yet to hear one person say they want head shots to remain in hockey, just that they feel like Shanahan was going too far, or as Don Cherry and Mike Milbury put it, setting the bar too high.
The preseason over/under on the number of suspensions laid down by Shanahan was 40.5. That under is starting to look awfully tasty now.
Not surprising but still noteworthy
The Washington Capitals and Detroit Red Wings both remain perfect. But we wouldn't expect anything else from those two franchises these days. To the other hot starters like the Flyers and Ducks, consider it a compliment that your team isn't on here. They have rosters people thought were capable of doing just this.
Photos: Getty Images
Tags: Anaheim Ducks, Brad Richards, Brendan Morrow, Brendan Shanahan, Brian Campbell, Brian Stubits, Colorado Avalanche, Craig Ramsey, Dallas Stars, Detroit Red Wings, Dion Phaneuf, Dwayne Roloson, Florida Panthers, Gabriel Landeskog, James Reimer, Jamie Benn, Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Joe Sacco, Kari Lehtonen, Kevin Dineen, Kris Letang, Loui Eriksson, Matt Duchene, Mike Ribeiro, NHL Early Surprises, Phil Kessel, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Semyon Varlamov, Shanaban, Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning, Toronto Maple Leafs, Washington Capitals
Posted on: October 18, 2011 9:30 am
Edited on: October 18, 2011 12:18 pm
It seems like it has been a while, but Brendan Shanahan is going to get another visit to his office.
With the Penguins trailing by one the entire third period, the game began to get very chippy and intense. Letang's hit didn't help settle the matters. The hit in question took place at the 13:08 mark of the third period and Letang did receive a penalty for boarding on the play.
Now a show of hands: Who thought Letang would be the first Penguins player to get a hearing this season? That's what I thought. Everybody has been waiting for Matt Cooke to slip up and revert to his old ways, but he has so far remained true to his promise to be a changed man.
If Letang is suspended, it will be the first for a hit to the head or boarding penalty, the two areas of focus this preseason, since the regular season began. But this one won't be easy.
As the rule states, the onus is on the player not to make a bad check, but the circumstances are considered. Among them is if the player being hit simultaneously or immediately prior to the hit altered his position. In this case Letang would have an argument that Burmistrov did, take a slight turn directly toward the boards just before Letang hits him, but not before Letang had already committed to the check.
Even with that considered, though, I'll guess Letang will receive some form of punishment, likely small. Shanahan will err on the side of too much punishment for the time being, I believe, to really make sure the message gets across.
Video: H/t to @JoeYerdonPHT
Posted on: October 13, 2011 10:38 am
Edited on: October 13, 2011 11:05 am
By: Adam Gretz
Set to become an unrestricted free agent following this season, it was announced on Thursday morning that Chris Kunitz has signed a two-year contract extension with the Pittsburgh Penguins. The deal is worth $3.275 million per season according to the team, which is a salary cap hit that is identical to the that came with his previous contract.
Since being acquired by the Penguins, along with Eric Tangradi, from Anaheim in 2009 in exchange for defenseman Ryan Whitney, Kunitz has scored 43 goals in 140 regular season games, typically playing on a line with Sidney Crosby when both have been in the lineup.
He's not the flashiest player on the Penguins roster, but over an 82-game season he maintains a 50-60 point pace and seems to play the type of physical, aggressive game head coach Dan Bylsma likes, while also having a willingness to go to the front of the net and do the dirty work around the crease. He's been a good fit within their system. The only downside to his play the past couple of years is that he's had to miss 48 games due to injury over the past two seasons.
With Kunitz now in the mix for the next two years the Penguins have just about every core player on the roster signed signed through at least next season, including Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal, Kris Letang, Paul Martin, Zbynek Michalek and Marc-Andre Fleury. Many of them are signed for at least the next two years, with the exception of Crosby and Staal, who would be eligible for unrestricted free agency following next season.
As it stands now, the Penguins have roughly $54 million in salary cap committments to 17 players for the 2012-13 season, via Capgeek, which would leave them with somewhere in the neighborhood of $10 million in cap space (assuming there are no changes to the cap).
Photo: Getty Images