What Went Wrong: Pittsburgh Penguins

8 Comments

Of all the first round exits, the Penguins might have the most easily diagnosed reason why they’re bowing out of the playoffs early. When looking over their numbers after being taken out in seven games, while one reason why they’re toast is obvious there are others lurking below the surface that help explain their early entrance to the offseason.

If you think everything centers around not having Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin around, you’re missing the mark. What went wrong for the Penguins? Let us count the ways.

1. Powerless power play
Let’s just get this out of the way first. The Penguins power play was abysmal. While the Bruins’ power play in these playoffs was technically worse since they didn’t score any goals in 21 chances, the Penguins power play may have cost them the series. Scoring at a 2.2% clip and going 1-35 in the series is awful. They had no cohesion, no real flow, nothing creative going on at all. They stunk.

In a series that demanded teams to find a way to score goals, the Pens had ample opportunity to put pucks in the net through the series (58:51 to be exact) and potted just one goal. That’s not getting it done for any team. When you’ve gotten nearly a full game’s worth of power play time over a seven game series you have to score more. We know all about how they didn’t have Crosby and Malkin and that’s fine, but adjustments have to be made especially since they spent half the season without those two. Give credit to Tampa Bay’s penalty kill for being tough, but at some point you’d think the law of averages had to give in and it never did.

2. Matt Cooke was sorely missed
Crazy thought right? Not so much when you consider how important Cooke was to the Pens penalty kill this season. For all of Cooke’s bad parts to his game, he’s a tremendous penalty killer for them. With Cooke out for the series thanks to his suspension, the Lightning were able to make a nice living on the power play going 8-27 in the series (29.6%). Half of those goals came in Game 5 that saw Tampa Bay win 8-2, but the point was hammered home that if Pittsburgh took penalties they were instantly playing with fire.

While the Pens would run the risk of giving up a few more power play opportunities with Cooke running around and doing his thing on the ice, his role on the PK was vital for them. Without him there the Lightning ran wild. With such a special teams advantage for Tampa Bay on both sides of the ledger, they were able to eke things out.

3. Offensive frustration personified
The Pens offense averaged two goals per game. That’s asking a lot out of Marc-Andre Fleury to be flawless. The Pens offense, instead, managed to not even be able to hit the net. Pittsburgh was second in the playoffs in missed shots with 108. Making matters tougher on them, the Lightning blocked a playoff best 145 shots. With guys either getting in their way or the Penguins missing the net entirely, it’s not shocking they had such a hard time scoring. When the shots did get through, Dwayne Roloson was there waiting to stop them. The Penguins led all teams in the playoffs through the first round with 257 shots on goal.

***

We all know what the Penguins were missing in the playoffs this year. They were without two of the premiere offensive weapons in the NHL and they were also without their best penalty killer. Provided all things go well next season, they’ll have all of them back as they challenge for the Stanley Cup once again.

Dan Bylsma proved himself to be one of the best coaches in the NHL after juggling knives the way he did this season with injuries. The series loss stings, but if Crosby and Malkin needed further motivation to bounce back in a huge way next season, they’ve got it now.

Canucks’ Horvat out a week with upper-body injury

Getty
Leave a comment

The Canucks will resume their preseason schedule on Thursday, although it appears right now that Bo Horvat will likely not be in the lineup.

Just prior to puck drop against the L.A. Kings on Saturday, the Canucks announced that Horvat is expected to be out a week with an upper-body injury.

Per Dan Murphy of Sportsnet, the injury occurred on a hit from Drew Doughty during the first game of the two-game exhibition series between the Canucks and Kings in China.

The good news for the Canucks is that their regular season schedule begins on Oct. 7, which would give Horvat two weeks to get fully healthy and ready for the opener against Connor McDavid and the Oilers.

The 22-year-old Horvat enjoyed a 20-goal, 52-point season in 2016-17, emerging as the team’s leading scorer and one of the few bright spots during another disappointing season for the Canucks. As a result, he signed a six-year, $33 million contract extension earlier this month.

Related: Horvat believes he is ‘just scratching the surface’

Report: NHL has already made adjustment on slashing, faceoff calls

Getty
2 Comments

The NHL preseason began with the league trying to crackdown on slashing and faceoff violations.

The early results were a lot of confusion, a ton of penalties, and a lot of griping from players, former referees and media about the confusion and the number of penalties.

Former NHL referee Paul Stewart griped on Twitter that it was taking away from the officials ability to call a game by feel and hockey sense. The Winnipeg Jets brought in retired referee Paul Devorski to work with their players in an effort to help them gain an understanding of what the league was looking for and to cut down on penalties.

It was obvious that something was going to have to give.

Either the players would have to adjust to the new standard implemented by the league, or the league would make its own adjustment and scale things back a bit.

In most matters like this in the NHL, it usually tends to be the latter.

That also seems to be the case here as Sportsnet’s John Shannon Tweeted on Saturday morning that the league has already sent a note to its officials to “dial it back” a bit when it comes slashing and faceoff violation calls.

Well, that was fast.

The enforcement of the faceoff rule seemed like a minor thing that really wasn’t going to make much of a difference, but the emphasis on slashing is one that needs to be kept (and extended to interference, holding, hooking or any other sort of obstruction), especially given the way some of the league’s star players are defended where slashing down on their hands or stick seems to be the preferred way of playing them. Not only from a player safety standpoint to help reduce injuries (getting hit with a stick can break bones … or fingers) but because the drop in power plays over the past decade (the “let them play” mindset) has been one of the many factors in the continued decline in goal scoring across the league.

If the NHL is serious about changing this stuff the onus needs to be on the players to adjust, not the officials. Set the standard. Call it consistently. The players will figure out what they can and can not do.

Anything less than that basically just amounts to the league saying, “hey guys, we would really like you to cut down on the slashes” and hoping that the players listen. But as long as they can get away with it, they will not listen.

Capitals’ Tom Wilson has a discipline hearing today for interference

Getty
2 Comments

The NHL’s department of player safety announced on Saturday morning that it has scheduled a disciplinary hearing with Washington Capitals forward Tom Wilson as a result of his late hit on St. Louis Blues forward Robert Thomas on Friday night.

It will be the first hearing for the department under the direction of its new leader, George Parros.

This particular incident happened early in the third period of the Blues’ 4-0 win on Friday night.

Here is a look at the entire sequence, including the fight that Wilson found himself in with Dmitri Jaskin in response to the hit.

It is clear that Wilson delivered his hit long after Thomas was in possession of the puck.

Even though Wilson always seems to be getting attention for some of his hits and physical play he has never been suspended in his career. His only punishment from the league has been in the form of two fines — one for diving/embellishment, and another for kneeing Pittsburgh Penguins forward Conor Sheary during the 2015-16 playoffs.

The fact that he has a hearing for his hit would seem to indicate a suspension might be on the horizon. The only question is whether or not it will just end his preseason (the Capitals still have four more games) or if it will carry over into the regular season.

Antti Niemi had to make a save with his bare hand

Getty
4 Comments

Antti Niemi made 31 saves in the Pittsburgh Penguins’ 4-3 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday night, and 30 of them were pretty standard.

The one that wasn’t came in the third period when he lost his glove during a scramble around the net and still managed to instinctively make a save on the puck. With his bare hand.

Niemi said after the game, via the Tribune Review, that he thought the referees would stop the play after his glove came off, and when they didn’t “I just kept playing.”

You can watch the play by clicking here.

Probably not the type of thing you want to see happening because that looks like a great way to break a bone (or the entire hand) and get sidelined for extended period of time. Niemi said the officials told him there will no longer be an automatic whistle for goalies losing a glove or a blocker, but that one will remain for when they lose their helmet.

The Penguins signed Niemi to a one-year contract this summer as a replacement for Marc-Andre Fleury after they lost him in the expansion draft to the Vegas Golden Knights. Niemi is looking to rebound from a tough year in Dallas. He will serve as Matt Murray‘s backup for the season.