Pittsburgh Penguins

Getty Images

The Buzzer: Milestones, shutouts and NHL firsts

5 Comments

Players of the Night:

Marian Gaborik, Los Angeles Kings: 

Gaborik scored twice and helped propel a four-goal third period for the Kings, who came back from a 2-1 deficit after 40 minutes to win 5-2 against the visiting Minnesota Wild. Gaborik’s second goal of the night was his 400th of his NHL career. It came against the team he achieved his highest scoring prowess with.

Gustav Nyquist, Detroit Red Wings: 

Nyquist scored twice and added a helper as the Red Wings toppled the Western Conference-best Winnipeg Jets at Little Caesars Arena. Nyquist’s first-period marker held up as the game-winner in a big game for the Red Wings, who responded after getting shellacked 10-1 by the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday.

Jacob Markstrom, Vancouver Canucks:

Markstrom made 30 saves in a 3-0 win for the Canucks against the Carolina Hurricanes. His shutout was the first of his NHL career.

Highlights of the Night:

Boo Nieves, the owner of one of the coolest nicknames in the league, scored his first NHL goal on a slick wrist shot in the first period of a 4-3 win against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

John Gibson committed this theft tonight. The victim failed to press charges:

Shea Weber did his best Clayton Kershaw impression to score against the St. Louis Blues:

Factoids of the Night:

Gaborik had a pretty good night:

And Nikita Kucherov put himself in some pretty elite company, both in Tampa Bay Lightning history, as well as NHL history in general:

MISC:

Scores:

Devils 4, Blue Jackets 1

Rangers 4, Penguins 3

Blues 4, Canadiens 3

Red Wings 5, Jets 1

Lightning 6, Islanders 2

Predators 5, Stars 2

Sabres 4, Avalanche 2

Canucks 3, Hurricanes 0

Golden Knights 4, Ducks 3 (SO)

Kings 5, Wild 2


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Pittsburgh Penguins are rolling

Getty Images
7 Comments

The Pittsburgh Penguins sure look like a team that has won back to back Stanley Cups these days.

And there’s no shortage of reasons why.

Scoring has come in abundance during their current four-game winning streak, their longest of the season after taking down the hapless Buffalo Sabres 5-1 on Saturday. The Pens have lit the lamp no less than four times in each of those four games, scoring 19 during that span.

Some of their resurgence stems from Sidney Crosby returning to Sidney Crosby form.

Crosby has been lights out, sporting a six-game point streak (including a five-game goal-scoring streak) with six goals and seven assists. Crosby had struggled prior to his recent outburst, with just one goal and five assists in his previous 14 games before embarking on the heater.

Stick with scoring, another one of Pittsburgh’s keys to success during their winning streak has been scoring first.

The Penguins are now 13-2-2 when scoring first, as opposed to 2-8-1 when their opponent finds twine before they do. Furthermore, Pittsburgh has yet to lose in regulation when leading after 20 minutes, going 9-0-1 this season.

And perhaps most importantly, the fall off in the crease with Matt Murray out of the lineup with a lower-body injury has been non-existent.

Tristan Jarry has been a godsend to a team that looked to be in trouble when Murray exited a game earlier this week.

But Jarry recorded a shutout on Friday night against the Sabres and then allowed just one goal on 32 shots on Saturday against that same Buffalo team.

Jarry and Co. have a much stiffer schedule on the horizon, with dates against the high-flying New York Rangers, New York Islanders and Toronto Maple Leafs over the next week.

But they’re far from looking ill-equipped, even with Murray out for the next couple of weeks.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Matt Murray’s injury could intensify Ian Cole trade rumours

Murray injured in Voracek collision
Associated Press
18 Comments

Trade rumors involving Ian Cole may start to pick up even more steam after the Pittsburgh Penguins announced Matt Murray is week-to-week with a lower-body injury on Tuesday.

Murray, 23, was injured in Monday’s game against the Philadelphia Flyers when Jakub Voracek collided with Murray, sending the two-time Stanley Cup winner’s leg awkwardly into the post.

The injury is a big blow to the Penguins, who are sitting in the second wildcard spot in the Eastern Conference. Not only have they been struggling with consistency this season, they now have two goalies on their roster with a combined five games of NHL experience.

Tristan Jarry, 22, is slated to be Murray’s replacement for the time being. He’s appeared in four games, all this season, and owns a 2-0-2 record. He’s played well, but questions of his long-term viability at this point are unanswered. The Penguins recalled Casey DeSmith, 26, on Tuesday, who allowed three goals on 15 shots in 42 minutes in his NHL debut earlier this year.

Cole, meanwhile, has been a healthy scratch for the past four games. He’s not too happy about it, of course.

But Penguins coach Mike Sullivan was quick to shoot down the speculation revolving around his 28-year-old defenseman on Tuesday.

Sullivan’s comments are likely a smokescreen, however, as the Penguins have reportedly allowed Cole’s agent to speak with other teams about a trade.

What becomes of Ian Cole, and what the return might be, will play out over the coming weeks, if not days.

And there are more pressing concerns.

As Matt Larkin of The Hockey News points out, Murray has been injured five times now in the past 19 months, including three ailments considered to be serious and causing him to miss significant time.

If a trade involving Cole can’t garner a veteran goaltender in return, perhaps the Penguins can re-claim an old friend, assuming Antti Niemi hits the waiver wire again with the return to health of Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

The Penguins have some major depth issues that need to be addressed

Getty
13 Comments

Nearly one quarter of the way through the 2017-18 season and the Pittsburgh Penguins are probably not exactly where they want to be at this point.

Entering play on Tuesday, when they will host the Buffalo Sabres, they are 17th in the NHL in points percentage, they have the third-worst goal differential (minus-18, ahead of only the Buffalo Sabres and Arizona Coyotes) after losing games by margins of 10-7, 7-1 and 7-1, and are only a middle of the pack team in terms of their shot attempt and possession numbers. Their goals against numbers overall are ugly (largely due to the three blowout losses), but they are also only 25th in the league in goals per game.

None of that is great.

There are a lot of factors here.

The early season schedule to this point has been brutal, having already played six sets of back-to-back games (often against rested teams — including some of the best teams in the league). For a team that has played 214 games the past two seasons that is a tough way to open the season. Their backup goaltending situation early in the season was a disaster with Antti Niemi giving up goals in bunches.

It is not wrong to think that a better backup goaltending situation to start the year could have maybe produced an extra win, or that once the schedule calms down a little they will start to get back on track a little.

There is another issue at work here too that is going to need to be addressed in a meaningful way: The bottom of the roster, which was decimated by free agency and the salary cap over the summer, is giving them almost no offense to speak of. Or anything, really.

This brings back a problem that plagued the Penguins between the 2010 and 2015 seasons when they were getting bounced early in the playoffs despite having a group of All-Stars at the top of the roster.

Over the past two years general manager Jim Rutherford did a ton of work to build that depth back up and it resulted in back-to-back Stanley Cups.

This past summer a lot of that depth walked out the door in free agency with Nick Bonino (Nashville Predators), Matt Cullen (Minnesota Wild), Chris Kunitz (Tampa Bay Lightning), and Trevor Daley (Detroit Red Wings) all moving on. That also does not include the exit of Marc-Andre Fleury to the Vegas Golden Knights in the expansion draft, a pretty significant departure given how bad Niemi turned out to be.

That is a lot of depth to replace in one offseason, and to this point the Penguins have struggled to do it.

Instead of Bonino and Cullen at the third and fourth center spots they opened the season with Greg McKegg and Carter Rowney (currently injured), then traded for Riley Sheahan, a player that has not scored a goal in 97 of his past 98 games.

Ryan Reaves, brought in to add toughness, is playing just seven minutes per night and has replaced Kunitz.

Looking at it from a numbers perspective it is not hard to see how much of a drop this is has been for the offense.

Let’s break their forwards and their production down into two groups of six: The top-six in terms of ice-time and the bottom-six in terms of ice-time.

During the 2016-17 season the Penguins forwards that were 7-12 in ice-time averaged .445 points per game as a group.

So far this year? The 7-12 group is at just .201. A player that averages .201 points per game over 82 games scores just 16 points in a season. A .445 player scores 36.

That is a pretty substantial drop. To be fair we are also comparing a 19-game sampling with a full season. A lot can happen over the next few months. The table below breaks down the past two full seasons, as well as this one, to show where the Penguins were after 19 games and where they ended up.

In each of the past two seasons both groups were slow starters relative to where they ended up at the end of the season. But it wasn’t just a matter of players getting better or seeing their production in crease. In both instances there were pretty significant changes made to the roster.

In 2015-16 pretty much everything about the team changed after the first quarter of the season, from the head coach (Mike Johnston to Mike Sullivan) to almost half of the roster (Carl Hagelin, Trevor Daley, Conor Sheary, Bryan Rust, Tom Kuhnhackl, Justin Schultz all being called up or added to the roster during the season).

In 2016-17 it was the call-up of Jake Guentzel that ended up making a huge difference (as well as the return of a lot of injured player).

The point here is if the Penguins are going to have any chance of another repeat run they are going to need to make similar changes at some point before the trade deadline.

In their two years as the Penguins’ third-and fourth-line centers Bonino and Cullen each averaged 15 goals and between 30-40 points.

Right now McKegg and Sheahan are on a four-goal and 11-point pace … combined.

The Penguins didn’t go from postseason disappointments to Stanley Cup champions the past two years because players like Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin got better or became better leaders or became more clutch. They were the same as they have always been (great). They became Stanley Cup champions again because players like Crosby and Malkin were still great, and they had a great supporting cast of players around them.

This is not to suggest the Penguins would necessarily be in a better situation with Bonino and Cullen and Kunitz at this point. Cullen is 41 years old and has one goal so far in Minnesota. At some point he will slow down. Bonino has played in just five games for the Predators due to injury and the Penguins never could have matched that contract offer under the salary cap. (Keeping Kunitz instead of adding Reaves probably would have been smart).

Their production from the past two seasons still existed and was a big part of the Penguins success. That is production they are not getting and are unlikely to get from the current cast of players in those roles as replacements.

There are some areas where improvement can come from. Sidney Crosby is going to play better. Kris Letang can (and probably will) play better. Prospect Daniel Sprong is off to a great start in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and could be on the Guentzel path to the NHL at some point later in the season.

The third-and fourth-line center spots, however, have become offensive black holes and with Reaves only playing seven minutes a night (sometimes significantly less) they are pretty much playing with an 11-man forward group.

All of those areas need to be addressed if another postseason run is going to happen this season.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Penguins appreciate now-Coyotes coach Tocchet’s role in Cup wins

Getty Images
4 Comments

When Rick Tocchet returns to Pittsburgh, he will see another Stanley Cup banner in the rafters and be celebrated for his part in earning it.

Tocchet doesn’t plan on reminiscing too much about the Penguins’ back-to-back titles, except perhaps for one important moment.

”I’m looking forward to my ring, yeah,” he said.

Tocchet will get his third Penguins Cup ring, his second as an assistant coach after one as a player, when he visits as coach of the Arizona Coyotes on Tuesday night. Whether it was fostering relationships with Phil Kessel and younger players or running the power play that scored on 21.9 percent of its chances during the 2016 and 2017 Cup runs, Tocchet was a valuable piece of the organization and is appreciated as such.

”The role he had, he did it extremely well,” Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford said Monday. ”He had a good read on the players and was able to communicate on a one-on-one basis with whatever they were dealing with hockey-wise and personally or whatever. He did a terrific job for us and played a key role.”

Tocchet settled into a comfortable spot on Pittsburgh’s coaching staff, especially once Mike Sullivan took over for Mike Johnston in December 2015. Sullivan values Tocchet’s knowledge and said over the summer they grew to trust each other through some challenging times.

Tocchet doesn’t want to claim an oversized chunk of the credit for the Penguins’ back-to-back championships.

”You just do your part,” Tocchet said after the Coyotes’ morning skate in Washington. ”The players for me are the major contributors, Mike Sullivan obviously making the decisions. … Even a team that wins a Stanley Cup, your fourth-line player has to do something. To win a Cup, everybody has to kind of pull the rope, and that’s the way we did in Pittsburgh. Whether you’re a player, coach, a scout or whatever, I think everybody contributed.”

The Penguins are planning a video tribute to Tocchet to play during the Coyotes’ only visit of the season, and fans no doubt feel a special connection with him after he also played on the 1992 Cup team. But the 53-year-old pointed to his Stanley Cup party over the summer as closure on his Pittsburgh days and insisted his focus is on helping Arizona rebound from losing 13 of its first 15 games.

Of course, one text he got in the middle of the struggles shows how likable he was to Penguins players. It came from captain Sidney Crosby with a simple message: ”Hang in there.”

That kind of camaraderie is already building with the young Coyotes, who routinely ask Tocchet about Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and others to pick his brain about some of the best in the game.

”Obviously guys are interested in what (Crosby has) done because of how successful he was and his relationship with Coach Tocch,” Coyotes rookie forward Clayton Keller said. ”It’s good to have that relationship. Not many guys get to work with Sidney Crosby. He definitely has a lot of information.”

Tocchet feared early in his Arizona tenure that he was name-dropping Crosby and the Penguins a little too much. Only his new players keep asking, and he has enough in the memory bank from the past three years to keep it coming.

”It’s mostly the players engaging: ‘Hey, what does Crosby do in these situations? What does Malkin do in this situation? How does this guy do that?”’ Tocchet said. ”So that’s the engagement, and I love that because they want to learn. If you’re 20-year-old kids, they watch YouTube. They want to see how these guys do certain things, and I love that about it.”

As Tocchet passes on what Penguins stars did at practice or in key situations, he’s conscious that their success as a team helped him get his first job since parts of two seasons with Tampa Bay from 2008-2010.

”I was very fortunate to have a great staff, work for Mike Sullivan,” Tocchet said. ”I learned a lot from him. And I also learned a lot from the players. I was lucky enough to coach the Crosbys, Malkins, Kessels, Letangs – high-end guys that keep you on your toes.”

Follow Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://www.twitter.com/SWhyno .

For more NHL coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey