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The Penguins are finding a new way to win, but can they keep doing it?

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Through their first seven playoff games the results for the Pittsburgh Penguins are matching what they did one year ago on their way to the franchise’s fourth Stanley Cup.

A lot of goals. A lot of wins.

The manner in which they are reaching those results could not be more different.

When the Penguins went through the playoffs a year ago they did it by bludgeoning their opponents with a dominating possession game that kept every other team pinned in their own end for extended shifts. They overwhelmed teams with speed, they came at them in waves, and they essentially played shut down defense by playing offense. They kept the puck 200 feet away from their net, and ended up outshooting their opponents on average by a commanding 35-28 margin. It was a truly dominant performance, and the type we have come to expect from every Stanley Cup winner over the past decade. The play on the ice almost always matched the result.

It hasn’t always been as convincing this postseason.

While the Penguins are still winning, it hasn’t always been as convincing of a performance. They have had stretches where they have been pinned in their own zone, forcing them to spend more time defending. They have spent significant periods of time chasing the play, particularly early in games. They are being outshot on average by a 37-30 margin, while those 37 shots against are two more per game than any other team in the playoffs.

Some of this change should have been expected.

From the moment it was revealed that defenseman Kris Letang would not be available in the playoffs it was obvious the Penguins were going to have some trouble exiting their zone.

Letang is arguably their most important player and they were never going to be able to replace the 28-29 minutes he can play in the playoffs with anybody else on the roster. There are only two or three other players in the world at his position that can do the things he does and control the pace of the game the way he does. It is a massive loss, and even though the defense doesn’t really have any glaring weaknesses, they are clearly lacking that go-to No. 1 guy, and maybe even a No. 2 guy. It’s basically a bunch of second-and third-pairing defensemen pieced together trying to make it work.

There was always going to be an adjustment that needed to be made.

So how are the Penguins making it work?

The first — and perhaps biggest — key is that Marc-Andre Fleury has, to this point, been able to remove the doubts that have always followed him around come playoff time. Outside of two games in Columbus in the first-round he has been a rock in net in place of the injured Matt Murray and held off the early onslaught of shots he has faced in almost every game so far.

The Penguins will probably argue that the scoring chances against haven’t always been as lopsided as the total shots and shot attempt numbers would indicate, but it has still at times been an exceedingly heavy workload, and even a little slip in any of those games could have sent them in a completely different direction.

When you break their games down on a period-by-period level the difference is striking.

  • In the first period this postseason the Penguins have been outshot by a 93-48(!) margin. That is astonishing. It is almost a 2:1 disadvantage. And despite that, they have only been outscored by a 5-3 margin and have only trailed coming out of the first period in two of the seven games. They are basically scrambling for the first 20 minutes and taking punch after punch, holding on for as long as they can.
  • The second period is where they tend to turn things around. Quickly. After getting dominated in the first period on the shot chart, the Penguins own a 90-82 shot edge in the second period of games and a commanding 15-6 edge on the scoreboard. This is actually a continuation of what they did a year ago when the second period was when they started to distance themselves from teams. It’s the period of the long line change, and they can use their speed to cause havoc. What’s most amazing is about this is how quickly they have been able to strike in the second period. They have already scored six goals in the first three minutes of the second period this postseason, including five within the first 1:15. In three of those games those early goals were breaking scoreless ties after they had been dominated for much of the first period. That has to be demoralizing for an opponent to fail to capitalize on their early chances, then come right out and find themselves in a deficit on the scoreboard.
  • The third period is basically just finishing the job they started in the second period. The shots are a little closer (they have been outshot 81-71) and they own an 11-6 goal advantage.

Basically, the Penguins have gone from being a team that does the initial attacking offensively and sustaining it for 60 minutes to being more of a counter-punching team.

It works because their goaltender has allowed them to stay in games to get an opportunity to punch back, and because they have the type of high-end talent on their roster to make teams pay for their mistakes.

As big of a loss as Letang has been for the defense, the one thing this Penguins team has going for it is an incredibly deep group of forwards that, when healthy, is probably better than the team that won the Stanley Cup a year ago (the only change is swapping Jake Guentzel, currently the NHL’s leading goal-scorer this postseason with seven, in for Eric Fehr). When you have players like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Phil Kessel up front you don’t need a ton of chances. They are going to be able to convert a higher percentage of their shots into goals.

Look, it’s not an ideal way to play, and it’s probably not the way they want to be approaching this. They don’t want to be a team that has to defend and they probably don’t want to give up 38 shots per game and start slow every single night. Just because it’s working now doesn’t mean it’s always going to work in the future. All it takes is a couple of those early shots in the first period to end up in their own net and things can get quickly turned upside down. But as long as Fleury can keep them in games long enough for them to wait for that one mistake to open the floodgates the other way, they are going to have a chance.

It’s not conventional based on what we have seen in the NHL in recent years. It is not what we have seen from the Penguins when they are at their best. But for right now it is working.

Columnist warns Blackhawks fans: DeBrincat may not make the jump

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It’s easy to see why Chicago Blackhawks fans are excited about Alex DeBrincat.

The undersized forward already seemed like a potential steal when the Blackhawks drafted him in the second round (39th overall) back in 2016, as he was coming off consecutive 100-point seasons in the OHL. DeBrincat topped that in 2016-17, scoring more than a goal per game (65 in 63) and finishing with a ridiculous 127 points.

Honestly, that last paragraph might leave some Blackhawks fans twitching with excitement.

MORE: DeBrincat was the one to watch at prospects camp

CSN Chicago’s Tracey Myers relays an important message on Thursday, though: tap the brakes.

Beyond the questions of the 19-year-old being ready for the NHL, Myers reasonably wonders if Chicago can fit him into its salary structure.

Looking at the Blackhawks’ listing at Cap Friendly, it’s clear that Myers has a point. There are 14 forwards under contract, and as Myers notes, only Nick Schmaltz can be sent to the AHL without needing to clear waivers.

The Athletic’s Scott Powers notes that few 19-year-olds have made much of a dent on recent Blackhawks rosters beyond Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and Nick Leddy. As great as Joel Quenneville can be at integrating younger players into Chicago’s mix, history states that DeBrincat indeed faces an uphill climb.

Then again, for a smaller forward whose numbers sometimes get disregarded or downplayed because of his stature, DeBrincat’s probably used to overcoming odds. If nothing else, the Blackhawks seem willing to go the extra mile if it gives them a better chance to compete.

Even so, Blackhawks fans would probably be wise not to pencil him into the 2017-18 lineup just yet.

Katie Bieksa enlists husband Kevin, other Ducks to promote book (shirtless)

via Kevin Bieksa's Twitter feed
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Katie Bieksa, wife of Anaheim Ducks defenseman Kevin Bieksa, found herself in a bind after he was traded from the Vancouver Canucks. With extenuating circumstances keeping her from working normally, she wrote a novel … and decided to promote it in a brilliant way.

AJ Manderichio of the Ducks website provided an in-depth look at Katie Bieksa’s experience writing “Newport Jane,” which Bieksa compares – in some ways – to “Desperate Housewives.”

Which seems like a convenient segue to mention one way of hyping up the noveal: “Hot Guys Reading My Book” on Instagram.

It started with Kevin, although Katie told Manderichio that it required some negotiating.

“These guys are looking for opportunities to show off their summer bodies. They were volunteering, and that’s where the idea came from,” Katie says. “There was someone – it may have been Kevin – who said ‘I am NOT going to take a picture with your book,’ and I said ‘Oh yes you are.’

“When he said he would do it, the rest of the guys did. They’ve all been so supportive, and that’s such a nice feeling. It is a community, and you do depend on each other. It’s so nice to have that support, bear down and take the picture.”

Good stuff.

Kevin’s caption really sold it “Yes this is how I usually read.”

As you can see on the Instagram feed, noted pest Ryan Kesler also “contributed,” but Andrew Cogliano‘s missing teeth stole the show.

Here is part of the “Newport Jane” summary on Amazon, which in a just world would inspire people to call Kevin Bieksa “the cardiac surgeon.”

From the outside, Ellen has it all: a glamorous new life in a sun-soaked city more like a movie set than the small Northern town where she grew up, and her very own McDreamy. But being married to a gorgeous, brilliant cardiac surgeon also means standing in his shadow, putting aside her dreams to follow his—and having way too much time home alone to think about how much she’s given up to follow him to California.

Don’t worry, there probably won’t be a spin-off involving shirtless blogging.

Flames hand Hathaway a two-way deal

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The Calgary Flames signed forward Garnet Hathaway to a one-year, two-way contract on Thursday.

Hathaway, 25, earned some reps on the team despite being undrafted.

Here’s how his NHL work looks so far:

2015-16: three assists, 31 PIM in 14 games played.
2016-17: one goal, four assists, 44 PIM in 26 GP.

If the penalty minutes didn’t make it obvious, Hathaway is the “rugged” type. He’s already provided some snarly action shots against the Flames’ rivals, as you can see below and in this post’s main image.

via Getty

He clearly makes friends quickly.

The Flames celebrated his first – and so far only – NHL goal after the signing.

Penguins are ‘prepared to go to arbitration’ with Sheary, Dumoulin

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Earlier today, PHT discussed how the Pittsburgh Penguins might take advantage of robust cap space to replace Nick Bonino. Of course, that cap space could really start to dry up depending upon how things go with RFAs Brian Dumoulin and Conor Sheary.

At the moment, both are heading toward salary arbitration hearings, with Dumoulin’s scheduled for July 24 while Sheary is slated for Aug. 4.

Both situations are pretty tricky, so it’s not too surprising that GM Jim Rutherford admitted to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Jason Mackey that the hearings will “probably” happen.

“We’re prepared to go to arbitration,” Rutherford said.

There’s still time – especially for Sheary – yet both hearings could be especially interesting considering the variety of different ways you can break down their value.

Dumoulin: strong defense, weak offense (so far)

Hockey Buzz’s Ryan Wilson and FanRag’s Dave Holcomb both went pretty deep on what Dumoulin might be worth, as did Matt Cane. The disparity is pretty interesting; Cane puts Dumoulin at about a $2.5 million value, Wilson proposes a five-year, $15M deal, and Holcomb wonders if Dumoulin could be worth as much as $5 million per season.

Dumoulin’s reps might point to Olli Maatta as a handy comparable, although that comparison falls flat from simpler (i.e. Dumoulin not producing as much offense) and fancier perspectives. Sometimes it’s pretty plain to see HERO charts smiling upon one player more than the other.

Still, both Dumoulin’s prominent use and his strong at-home work indicate that he’s worth a pretty penny, however many he’d receive.

While he generated 16 and 15 points during the past two regular season runs, Dumoulin saw solid ice time in both 2015-16 and 2016-17. That was especially true during the playoffs, as he averaged 21:31 per night in the 2016 run and 21:59 TOI during this last postseason.

Considering the waves of injuries the Penguins endured during the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs in particular, Dumoulin really showed his importance to the team.

Now, will those details matter as much as weaker counting stats? We’d find out if Dumoulin’s hearing actually took place.

Sheary’s sheer luck

Somewhat amusingly, Conor Sheary is almost in the opposite situation.

If you look at his simple stats, Sheary could argue for a pretty nice little raise.

While his 2015-16 numbers are modest, he really took advantage of his time alongside Sidney Crosby this past season, scoring a remarkable 23 goals and 53 points … in just 61 regular-season games. That would be about 71 points over an 82-game span.

His postseason numbers weren’t as great (seven points in 22 contests after 10 in the previous run), but one could imagine a solid argument made on the 25-year-old’s behalf considering that 23-goal output.

Of course, the Crosby effect was significant. Sheary spent 697 of his 836 even-strength minutes with Crosby, while only spending 139 minutes without him last season. To his credit, Hockey Analysis’s numbers reveal that Sheary at least maintained decent possession numbers in those rare moments without number 87, but the sample size is too small to refute claims that Sheary was Jonathan Cheechoo to Crosby’s Joe Thornton.

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Ultimately, it’s tough to tell how much each player is worth, which might explain why arbitration hearings may just need to happen. Such hearings would be fascinating, though both the players and the Penguins would likely experience some serious nerves.