Getty

The Penguins are playing a brand of hockey from another era — and it’s a treat for hockey fans

14 Comments

PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Penguins are doing their part this season to single-handedly address the NHL’s ongoing goal scoring shortage.

At both ends of the ice.

After their 8-5 win over the Ottawa Senators on Monday night — an insane game that featured both teams making a goaltending change, a hat trick, a penalty shot, a fluke goal bouncing off the glass, three replay reviews, and a random appearance by actors Steve Carell and Bryan Cranston in the stands — the Penguins find themselves at the top, and bottom, of pretty much every major offensive and defensive category.

Just consider:

  • Their 3.31 goals per game average is the second best in the NHL behind only the New York Rangers.
  • Their 3.04 goals against average is the fourth worst ahead of only Dallas, Arizona, Toronto and Philadelphia.
  • They are averaging 34.7 shots on goal per game, tops in the league and more than a full shot per game better than the No. 2 team (Chicago).
  • They are giving up 32.6 shots on goal per game, the second worst mark in the league ahead of only the Arizona Coyotes.

When it comes to the latter two points they outshot Ottawa by a 46-34 margin on Monday night, making it the fourth time in the NHL this season a team recorded at least 45 shots on goal and surrendered at least 34 in a single game.

The Penguins have played in three of those games (the other was that 60-shot effort by Columbus over the weekend, and that game went to overtime. The Penguins did all of three of theirs in regulation).

An important thing to keep in mind about that stat: There were only seven such games like that all of last season. For the entire NHL. By all 30 teams. Combined. Only one team (Philadelphia) played in more than one, and nobody played in more than two. The Penguins have played in three in their first 26 games.

Monday’s game was already the 13th time this season (in only 26 games) where they have faced a two-goal deficit at some point in the game when they trailed 4-2 midway through the second period. They have now won six of those games, and are 5-6-1 when they have trailed after two periods. In one of those regulation losses they actually overcome a three-goal deficit, tied the game, and then gave up the winner in the closing minute.

A lot of this is the result of having a team that rolls out four lines of forwards every night that possess the ability to score (including three of the most talented forwards in the league in Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel), combined with a blue line that is made up almost entirely of puck-movers and offensive-minded defensemen.

On one hand, it is an absolutely thrilling and captivating brand of hockey to watch. It is a throwback to the 1980s and early 1990s when wide open 8-5 games were fairly common. It is showcasing skill during a time when defense, structure and goaltending have dominated the league.

Because of that, is also not a style of play that has resulted in a lot of success in this era.

Over the past 10 years only one team has won the Stanley Cup finishing worse than seventh in the league in goals against (the lowest ranking over that stretch: The 2008-09 Penguins were 17th. Six of the Cup winners were in the top-two, including three that were the best in the league).

Only one other Cup-winning team during that stretch finished worse than 10th on the penalty kill (the 2010-11 Bruins, who were 16th). The Penguins are currently 29th.

These are areas they clearly need to address and correct (and they know it), because you are not always going to be able to rely on erasing a two-goal deficit in the playoffs no matter how great your offense is, and you are not always going to be able to put a five-or six-spot on the scoreboard.

The funny thing about this is the Penguins are returning pretty much the exact same roster from their 2015-16 Stanley Cup winning team. They are still a team built on speed and playing fast, a recipe that drove them to that championship just a few months ago. But that team excelled in a lot of the important defensive areas. They held opponents to less than 30 shots per game. They were sixth in the NHL in goals against and fifth in the league on the penalty kill.

After Monday’s game, coach Mike Sullivan talked about the importance of playing a “speed” game without necessarily turning it into a track meet.

“We certainly want to play a speed game because that is when we are at our best,” Sullivan said. “We try to distinguish between a speed game and a track meet. For me, we want to play a speed game and use our speed to advantage, but also not feed their transition game and allowing a track meet where you are trading chance for chance. Sometimes I think when we get away from our game a little we have a tendency to get into that track meet a little bit.”

He continued:

“For me it starts with out decisions with the puck. When you look at the makeup of our team we are a team that wants to play with the puck, so we want to make plays instinctively, but when we recognize the danger zones and when the plays aren’t there to be made, that is when we force teams to play 200 feet and that is when we become a more difficult team to play against. That is playing a speed game. So we try to distinguish between those two things.”

All of this is what makes this current team and the way it is playing so fascinating.

Almost every game quickly devolves into madness, and their record so far is great. But they are clearly not playing the way they want.

In the meantime, it is an absolute treat for hockey fans that are starving for more speed, skill and goals to take over the league.

Gibson skates, could start as Ducks face elimination in Nashville

Getty
Leave a comment

John Gibson, who exited Game 5 of the Anaheim-Nashville series with a lower-body injury, could be back in the Ducks’ goal tonight for Game 6 at Bridgestone Arena.

Gibson participated in today’s morning skate, and was the first goalie to exit. Jonathan Bernier, who came on in relief on Saturday and allowed two goals on 18 shots, stayed out for extra work.

“When they skate, usually that leads you to believe that there is a great opportunity for him to play,” head coach Randy Carlyle said at Monday’s media availability. “But I haven’t talked to [Gibson]. We’ll wait until he is off the ice and has a conversation with the training staff.

“And then we’ll make a decision based off that.”

Gibson has been solid, if unspectacular, for the Ducks this postseason. His numbers (2.59 GAA, .918 save percentage) are somewhat pedestrian, but he’s been a calm, steadying influence for his team.

Bernier has also been good for the Ducks this year, though his playoff body of work is limited. Game 5 was just his third appearance of the postseason, and he’s never started a Stanley Cup playoff game before.

Report: Thornton knee injury mostly MCL, not ACL damage

Getty
Leave a comment

A fairly significant development regarding the health of veteran Sharks forward Joe Thornton, from NBC Sports California:

Thornton apparently dodged disaster in terms of his left knee, as multiple sources have told NBC Sports California that the brunt of the damage was to his MCL, not his ACL.

As long as he recovers fully, as expected, there’s reason to believe that Thornton could be better next season than he was in 2016-17.

Thornton, who turns 38 in July, suffered the tears on Apr. 2 against Vancouver. He sat out the final three games of the regular season and the first two of the playoffs before returning in Game 3 of the Oilers series. Playing through the pain, Thornton registered two points over four games while averaging just under 19 minutes per night.

“I’ve never seen a guy play with a torn MCL and ACL,” head coach Peter DeBoer said following the series. “It’s a courageous effort as I’ve ever seen.”

That gutsy performance further endeared Thornton to the Bay Area faithful, and he was pretty beloved to begin with. It also clearly made an impact on his head coach.

Those are just two of the many facets that promise to make up a compelling summer.

Thornton just wrapped the last of a three-year, $20.25 million deal with a $6.75M cap hit. He’s played exclusively on three-year contracts since coming to San Jose more than a decade ago, and TSN’s Pierre LeBrun reported in January the Thornton camp is looking for another.

From Sharks GM Doug Wilson’s perspective, he’ll have to factor in Thornton’s recovery and long-term health outlook to any potential extension. Wilson also has a timing issue at play, as it would behoove the Sharks to sign Thornton after June’s expansion draft, so they don’t have to protect him.

Finally, there’s the added factor of Thornton’s longtime running mate in San Jose, Patrick Marleau, also needing a new contract.

Thornton’s situation does appear the more complex one. Some will argue his down ’16-17 campaign — one in which he only scored seven goals and 50 points — was a sign of father time catching up.

Others will counter it was the byproduct of a brutally long ’15-16, one in which Thornton went all the way to the Stanley Cup Final (and had 21 points in 24 games, it should be noted), then had a short summer before joining Team Canada for the World Cup of Hockey.

Karlsson, Brassard and Ceci all good to go in Game 6 for Senators

Getty
1 Comment

Trailing by five goals entering the third period on Sunday evening, Ottawa Senators coach Guy Boucher decided he was going to shorten his bench and protect some of his most important players from further injury. So defensemen Erik Karlsson and Cody Ceci, as well as forward Derick Brassard, were given the entire third period off (after the game Karlsson said he could have played if needed).

On Monday, Boucher confirmed that all three players will be ready to go for Tuesday’s Game 6 with the Senators facing elimination in the Eastern Conference Final.

Karlsson was playing through a fractured foot earlier this postseason and appeared to be shaken up late in the second period on Sunday when he awkwardly fell to the ice during a tie up along the boards. Brassard was shaken up following a hit coming through the neutral zone from Penguins forward Chris Kunitz.

Boucher also added that defenseman Mark Borowiecki, who has not played since Game 2 of their first-round series against the Boston Bruins, is “possible” to play on Tuesday while forward Alex Burrows is not as likely to play.

Before Game 5 Boucher said that Borowiecki was getting close to a return but was not quite ready yet on Sunday. He talked about what he could potentially bring to the lineup when he does get back.

“I mean, he’s the number one hitter in the League. He’s a heat-seeking missile, that’s what he is,” Boucher said. “So, you know, it usually puts the opponents on their heels. It’s better for the tough players to get some ice around him. He’s one of those guys that creates fear in the opponent. That’s what he did all year. I mean, we’re missing it, but at the same time we’re getting something else from other players.”

Sunday’s game, a 7-0 loss, was easily the Senators’ worst one of the postseason and on Monday Boucher seemed to attribute it to his team getting too excited and getting away from its game.

“We have to play to our strengths,” said Boucher on Monday. “Last game we tried to play run and gun with the best offensive team and we got slapped.”

Following the game on Sunday Boucher was asked if that type of game can leave a mark, a question that Boucher dismissed by citing the Senators’ blowout win over Pittsburgh in Game 3 and his team’s ability to rebound from tough losses earlier this postseason.

“Did it leave a mark on Pittsburgh when we did that to them at home? They won the next game,” said Boucher on Sunday. “In the playoffs, just like the season, your ability to rebound from a great game or a really bad game is necessary. We’ve done it all year. We’ve done it in the playoffs. After the fourth game against the Rangers, we were supposedly done, so, rebound, get ready for the next one.”

Game 6 is Tuesday night in Ottawa at 8 p.m. ET.

 

No hearing scheduled for Wingels after Wilson headshot (Updated)

21 Comments

Ottawa forward Tommy Wingels doesn’t have a disciplinary hearing scheduled for his late game headshot on Pittsburgh’s Scott Wilson, an NHL spokesman confirmed.

The incident occurred with seconds remaining in the Penguins’ 7-0 Game 5 win on Sunday afternoon. Wingels wasn’t penalized on the play, and Wilson exited the ice immediately without celebrating with teammates as the final horn sounded.

Pens head coach Mike Sullivan was asked about Wilson’s condition in his postgame presser, but didn’t have an update. The 25-year-old did not participate in today’s optional skate.

Update:

Wilson has appeared in 13 of Pittsburgh’s 17 games this postseason, and chipped in nicely. He’s scored two goals — including one in yesterday’s blowout win — and four points, while averaging just under 11 minutes per night.

Wingels has been less of a factor for Ottawa. He’s appeared in just nine of 17 games, going pointless while getting 9:53 TOI.