Author Archives: Meesh

About Meesh

Attorney, MBA Grad, and hockey enthusiast.

Meesh’s Weekly Pens Thoughts: Week 9

Last week, everyone was talking about trading Ian Cole. As I write this, trading for Matt Cullen is the new popular topic. So let’s start there…

Trade Talk

Now that Justin Schultz is on IR with a “week-to-week” lower body injury, I think it’s safe to set aside the Ian Cole trade discussion for a bit. Any potential Cole trade seemed risky given Letang’s health history, but Schultz beat Letang to a longer term injury this time (don’t one-up him, Letang).

As for the current rumor mill, or pre-rumor mill, many eyes have shifted to Minnesota and Matt Cullen’s usage, or lack thereof.

Cullen was a healthy scratch for Minnesota on Friday night, which led to Bob McKenzie starting the talk:

Given that the Penguins offered Cullen a deal in the offseason and he chose Minnesota, it would only make sense that he would be a match for Pittsburgh if things aren’t working out in Minnesota in what I assume is his final season in the NHL.

Do the Penguins want or need that though? It’s probably not a simple yes/no answer. Based on Rutherford’s comments through the first two months of the season, Cullen’s leadership and locker room presence would be highly valued as an asset to acquire.

Cullen’s on-ice performance is a different story right now though.

Minnesota’s 4th line with Cullen has been awful (oh look, there’s Pittsburgh’s 4th line too!):

Ryan Wilson did a nice job of highlighting some other concerning metrics for Cullen, including subpar penalty kill work as well.

Beyond the numbers, I agree with Ryan’s thought that the Penguins should be seeking out a situation that allows Sheahan to be the 4th line center, not cementing him as the 3rd line center and bringing in Cullen as the 4th line center.

At the moment, I just don’t see a reason to bring Cullen back. That being said, I don’t mind the idea of bringing him back at the trade deadline as a “final extra piece” move if he’s okay with being a healthy scratch as necessary. I just don’t think he solves anything at the moment (yes, I know you want to get rid of Reaves, but it seems safe to say that GMJR does not share your thought process yet).

Now back to the on-ice product…

Kris Letang

Analyzing Kris Letang has been a mix of frustrating and fascinating this season. For a numbers analysis – check out Ryan Wilson’s post on Letang from earlier this week.

In regards to an eye-test discussion though, Letang’s decision-making appears to be as poor as it has been in a long time.

Letang has never been the best when it comes to decisions with the puck, but his hard work, skill, and skating abilities have usually allowed him to overcome that for breathtaking performances that help you forget about any bad decisions.

To clarify, I’m speaking mostly about pass/shoot/skate decisions as opposed to where to go in coverage. That’s the biggest differentiator between Letang and Schultz on the top powerplay for me – Letang is vastly superior for zone entries, but Schultz makes the right decision within the zone more frequently.

Anyways – the reason that I’m bringing this topic up in this post is because the new bad decision trend for the past week appears to be firing a shot into an opponent’s shins, which then creates an odd-man rush or a breakaway going the other way.

To be fair, Olli Maatta has done this at an increasing rate lately as well, but Letang has been the main contributor to this problem. The Sabres broadcast brought up his pass/shoot decisions last weekend and Phil Bourque made a couple of exasperated comments about it on the radio broadcast against the Rangers.

Letang’s production has increased and his disaster games are occurring less frequently than in the first month of the season, but he’s clearly still not himself yet. The concerns I had about his conditioning and possible exhaustion have faded away with some improvements in his overall demeanor and play. The only thing left appears to be his mental game, which was never perfect but isn’t where it used to be. Theoretically, he’s working on it.

Letang did have an opening to feed Kessel for his helper, which was his 21st of the season, tops among NHL defensemen. But while Letang’s offense has been steady, Letang knows that other parts of his game still need work.

“It’s not perfect, but it’s getting better,” he said. “Game after game, I take little things and I look at different things to improve, so hopefully as the season goes on, I’ll get better and better.”

Other Notes

There was a lot of talk about the Penguins looking like their old selves and getting back to normal after last weekend. I don’t buy it. Judging any team after back-to-back games against Buffalo is cherry-picking for positive stories. Buffalo is downright terrible right now – there’s no reason to sugarcoat it and it’s nearly impossible to formulate any valuable takeaways from games that they’re involved in.

Tristan Jarry has played very well in Matt Murray’s absence and he’s covered up several defensive lapses for the Penguins (can you imagine saying that about Niemi?). The thing I like most about Jarry’s play is his trust in his defense, which is quite odd after mentioning the defensive lapses. Jarry’s textbook approach of staying square to the shooter and allowing the defense to handle the pass in odd-man situations has turned multiple odd-man breaks into routine saves as shooters can’t find an opening. While that should be the approach of every goalie, years of watching Fleury cheat for a pass during stretches when he didn’t appear to trust the defense has made this a noteworthy skill. The rookie goalie isn’t trying to do too much in Murray’s absence, and that’s a big part of why it’s easy to trust him right now.

The penalty kill is apparently good again as they haven’t allowed a goal in their past 4 games (14 PK situations). Some explanations from Jason Mackey at the PG:

At practice Monday, Carl Hagelin gave an extremely insightful answer that essentially boiled down to working smarter.

Early in the kill, take chances. Late in the kill, look for a clear or block a shot. Know the score and situation, so to speak. The Penguins have had much better recognition, among plenty of other things.

and

Another aspect is blocked shots. The Penguins blocked 13 shots against the Islanders, five of them coming while they were shorthanded. They’re second league-wide this season with 464 blocked shots.

Sullivan said the group had a “great meeting” with assistant Jacques Martin the other day, and the gist of it was blocking shots and doing the little things necessary to keep the opposing power play off the scoreboard.

“It’s hard to have a good penalty kill if you don’t have a willingness and commitment to block shots,” Sullivan said. “When you look at the best penalty kills in the league, they keep the puck from getting to their net.

and

One funny thing happening here has also been the return of Carter Rowney. In the 14 games Rowney has missed, the PK is 36 for 49 (73.5 percent). In the 16 he’s played, it’s 57 for 68 (83.8).

Let’s also note that Buffalo was involved in 8 of the 14 straight kills with the worst powerplay in the league.

I’m still inclined to say the bad PK stretch was more about bad bounces than anything systematic. I daresay there will be another bad stretch in the future that we analyze excessively before it flips the other way again.

That’s all for this week, thanks for reading!!

Podcast Episode 39: Harry Potter, Fan Theories, and Horcruxes

Harry Potter is the topic of the week as Casey and Meesh discuss some of their favorite fan theories and their plans for horcruxes as the entire podcast goes off the rails with miscellaneous thoughts.

You can find Harry Potter movie recap podcasts on HowlingGeek.com

Subscribe to Miscellaneous Thoughts on iTunes or listen below!

Meesh’s Weekly Pens Thoughts: Week 8

I was trying to put off this week’s post until Ian Cole was traded, but apparently no one wants to cooperate for that…so let’s start right there:

Ian Cole

As Ian Cole was named a healthy scratch for the third straight game on Monday, the rumor mill finally opened up with multiple “sources” revealing that Cole is on the trade block, his agent has been given permission to find a trade partner, and the Penguins will not re-sign Cole.

The scenario makes more sense than I want it to – Cole has arguably been the steadiest defenseman for the Penguins this season and he’s going to earn a sizable raise after the season with term that the Penguins cannot logically match.

The part that didn’t make sense to me…why healthy scratch a dependable defenseman on a team that hasn’t quite found its way yet this season.

The timing of it was noteworthy to me – Cole already missed a few games earlier this season after blocking a Roman Josi shot with his face, and he almost did the same thing again with a Brock Boeser shot against Vancouver:

What followed was 3 games as a healthy scratch. Did GMJR see his trade asset almost break his face again and decide it was best to pull him out of the lineup if a negotiation was heating up?

If that was the case, it doesn’t seem to bother him anymore since Cole will likely return to the lineup tonight against Buffalo.

I have no problem with trading Cole, but the trade talk surrounding him does bring about a few questions for me.

Does the team trust Ruhwedel (who will be healthy scratched tonight) to be the regular 6th defenseman? Is it safe to trade defensive depth when it seems silly to expect Letang to survive a full season? What type of return are the Penguins expecting for Cole?

I dislike the idea of losing Cole for nothing in the offseason, but I have a greater dislike for the idea of sending Cole away and realizing the Penguins don’t have enough defensive depth to survive a playoff run. As I’ve said many times in the past few seasons, I think it’s better to let an asset walk in the offseason during the Crosby/Malkin era if it improves this year’s Cup chances instead of trading away an asset just to make sure there is a return. If trading Cole doesn’t set the Penguins up for a better chance at a Cup run, it better not happen, regardless of “asset management.”

Another thought that occurred to me as the Cole rumors picked up is how championship teams are built. It’s often said that after a specific team wins the Cup, other teams will try to emulate that model as best as possible. Pending the trade return for Cole, I wonder if the Penguins are unconsciously emulating their own model from last year, which included a defensive group that appeared not even close to being good enough on paper to win a Cup (you showed us!).

One last note on the Cole trade talk. The December roster freeze is from the 19th-26th. If Cole isn’t moved soon, look for rumors to heat up right before that freeze (yay artificial deadlines!).

Injuries and Depth

Elsewhere on the injury front, Evgeni Malkin is expected to return tonight (that was a long day-to-day situation), and Matt Murray is out 2-4 weeks/week-to-week/indefinitely depending on who you ask.

The Malkin injury certainly highlighted one thing we already knew – the Penguins don’t have anywhere close to the center depth they had last season. Riley Sheahan had a nice hot streak going before the Malkin injury, but he appeared to be in over his head on the 2nd line while Malkin was out.

On the plus side, Crosby has played some of his best hockey of the season over the past week and I even saw some encouraging signs from Carl Hagelin as lines were shuffled around. Hagelin still can’t score and that’s still irritating, but he looked good on the 3rd line with Rowney/Rust and that line’s excellent transition game created a lot more chances than we’ve seen for him this season. Perhaps he’s about to break out of this awful scoring slump, but until he actually does, I’m going to be irritated with him.

Rutherford had an interesting take on the current forward depth of the team:

Rutherford has liked what he’s seen from the current third line of Carl Hagelin, Carter Rowney and Bryan Rust. He also knows the lineup will only get deeper whenever Evgeni Malkin returns from an upper-body injury.

But regardless of who plays on the third line, there needs to be more goals scored.

“I’m not as concerned about the fourth line,” Rutherford said. “I think we can do it, as long as we’re getting more out of the third line.

Not as concerned about the fourth line?! How is that a thing? I have defended that line from a price point standard in comparison to guys like Hagelin, but it’s still an area that needs to be upgraded. A big reason that the Penguins could win the Cup last year with their defensive group was because there would be nights when the 3rd and 4th lines were the best lines. The Penguins no longer live in that world and it sounds like they aren’t too worried about getting back there necessarily. I don’t want to rant *too* much about this since I’m sure there will be many roster moves before the final playoff push, but I am concerned about the fourth line.

Kuhnhackl – 3 points in 26 games, McKegg – 4 points in 26 games, Reaves – 3 points in 26 games. They’ve had a solid game here and there, and a great shift here and there, but they generally aren’t producing and are getting stuck in the defensive zone. It’s not good enough. *glares at Hagelin’s 3 points in 25 games*

As for goalie depth with the Murray injury, it’s a good thing that the schedule lightens up this month. Jarry appears to be quite capable of handling the job and the lighter schedule should ensure that the team won’t even consider a knee-jerk move to bring in a veteran goalie to help him out. I still expect that type of move closer to the trade deadline, but there’s certainly no need to push it just to cover for Murray’s injury now.

Phil Kessel Appreciation Section

Team leader in points: Phil Kessel, 32 (Crosby next with 25)
Team leader in goals: Phil Kessel, 11 (tied with Guentzel)
Team leader in assists: Phil Kessel, 21 (Letang next with 17)
Team leader in powerplay points: Phil Kessel, 17 (Crosby next with 13)
Team leader in powerplay assists (!): Phil Kessel, 14 (Letang next with 9)

When the Penguins played Vancouver last week, I came to a realization. Right now, I want the puck on Kessel’s stick at all times in all situations. He’s literally making it easy for his teammates to score with perfect passes to redirect or tip in from the slot and around the net. When he doesn’t feel like passing, he still has an absurd shot that can beat anyone (which hasn’t been a common thing for this team this season).

With Crosby picking up his pace, all eyes are moving towards him…but Kessel deserves all of the credit in the world for what he’s done for this team so far. On a team with Crosby and Malkin, Kessel is the only guy playing above a point-per-game pace. Thank you, Toronto.

Thanks for reading!

Meesh’s Weekly Pens Thoughts: Week 7

A week without a back-to-back sequence, what a concept! The Pens had a brief look at a “light” schedule last week, but they’ll have back-to-backs in the next two weeks before the schedule finally slows down for them.

So what did we learn during a “light” week? The offense still isn’t trustworthy, the penalty kill is a mess, and I’m still not really sure how good or bad the Penguins are right now (this is really putting pressure on my “judge them at Thanksgiving” attitude).

Penalty Kill

The penalty kill started the season as one of the better units in the league (holding Chicago, Nashville, and Washington to 0/15) and most of the praise focused on how aggressive and quick the PK approach looked. When the powerplay flourished, it was noted that opposing PK units weren’t nearly as aggressive as the Penguins, cementing our theories that Pittsburgh’s quick and aggressive style was the key to killing penalties successfully.

So what happened?

The most recent quotes have focused on a “lack of urgency” and an issue with “battle level” coming off of the 2-1 loss to Chicago.

Is it that simple though? Try harder = better penalty kill?

The Pens have allowed 8 powerplay goals in their last 5 games, so here’s a quick summary:

1st Capitals PP goaldeflection off of Kuhnhackl’s stick on a shot from the point
2nd Capitals PP goaldeflection by Oshie on a shot from the point
1st Predators PP goal – one-timer by Subban from the point off of a faceoff
2nd Predators PP goal – quick shot from the slot by Smith after a wide slap shot from the point caroms off of the back boards right into the slot
1st Sabres PP goal – quick shot from the edge of the crease by Reinhart after a wide slap shot from the point caroms off of the back boards right to the crease
2nd Sabres PP goal – backhander by Pouliot in front of the net on a broken play after Sheahan turned the puck over below the goal line
1st Blackhawks PP goal – wrist shot by Forsling from the left circle off of a faceoff (note: weak five-hole goal)
2nd Blackhawks PP goal – Anisimov reaches for a puck that was shot wide of the net, pulls it above the goal line, and shoves it past Murray trying to dive across

So that’s 2 goals off of deflections, 2 goals off of faceoff losses, 3 goals off of wide shots that bounced to advantageous areas for the powerplay, and 1 goal off of a bad turnover with bad coverage.

(Also note that 3 of those 4 teams are the same 3 teams that the Penguins PK looked so great against early in the season – Chicago, Nashville, Washington)

You can argue that the PK needs to do a better job of tying up sticks and maintaining body position around the net, but I do wonder if this is just a rough stretch of bounces that evens itself out over the course of the season. There were parts of each sequence that *could* have been played better, but the Sheahan turnover was the only blatant misplay to me.

Rather than focusing on working harder on the PK, I think the bigger issue is that the Penguins have been shorthanded at least 5 times in 3 of the 4 games in which they allowed 2 powerplay goals against. Keep giving an opponent chances on the powerplay, and they eventually will find a fortuitous bounce or two (a little more on this coming below).

Method of Scoring

While we’re talking about how goals are scored, let’s talk about how the Penguins have earned their goals lately. There has been plenty of discussion about the lack of goals and the lack of Sid production (if you want more, check out Ryan Wilson’s article after the Chicago game).

When I say Sidney Crosby is having a really bad year, I mean he is having a really bad year. He’s at 1.12 points per 60 at even-strength.

Brutal!

For reference Ryan Reaves is at 1.17. That is also terrible, but c’mon Sid. Even Bobby Farnham had a 1.24 points per 60 the year he split between Pittsburgh and New Jersey. Penguins legend Nick Spaling was at 1.33.

Anyways, I’ll set aside the Crosby talk and instead stick to how the Penguins are scoring goals.

Chicago game: Hunwick, deflected by Duncan Keith.
Ottawa game: Hornqvist deflection of a Maatta shot, Guentzel deflection of a Dumoulin shot, Sheahan into an empty net.
(Note: no Penguin has actually shot a puck past a goalie since the Buffalo game)
Buffalo game: Hornqvist banks the puck in off of O’Reilly, Sheary slides the puck in from Hornqvist on a 2-on-0 rush, Crosby on the PP knocks a rebound in from the crease, Kessel one-timer from the bottom of the left circle, and Sheary one-timer from just above the goal line on a pass from behind the net.

This is purely observational and I have no norm to compare it to, but it’s surprising to me that there hasn’t been a goal involving a Penguin just beating a goalie by himself in the past week. I don’t necessarily have a solid point to make off of this section – just an unexpected observation as I started working through the goals.

Crosby/Letang Check-In

Last week, I mentioned that Crosby and Letang seem to be having communication issues in the defensive zone and their improvement might be tied to each other…

Welp.

There was some improvement for both though. Crosby ended his goal drought and recorded 3 points over the week (1g, 2a).

Letang had some better moments, but also a plethora of ugly ones, which drew Chicago’s announcers into saying “Not too sure what Kris Letang was thinking” after a terrible shot choice on a powerplay.

Tying Letang into the PK discussion from above – Letang has been in the penalty box for 6 penalty kill situations in the last 5 games. The opponent has scored during 3 of those situations. Perhaps the actual solution for the penalty kill is to not have Kris Letang in the box, both to keep the Penguins from being shorthanded and to keep their most talented defenseman on the ice for necessary penalty kills.

Other Notes

Mike Sullivan seemed to find a hidden gem when he put Hornqvist, Sheahan, and Sheary together for the start of the week, but Sheahan and Crosby traded wingers during the Chicago game, so who knows if that’ll become a go-to third line or not. It was certainly the best third line that we’ve seen this season:

(PS – Jesse Marshall wrote more about them on The Athletic if you want a deeper look.)

With all of the Fleury/Murray talk from the past couple of seasons and Pittsburgh’s “slow” start to this season, I often forget that this is a thing:

I guess he’s okay on the road too:

In other goalie news, Antti Niemi played last night for his 3rd NHL team this season (and allowed a goal for his 3rd NHL team this season).

The Metro division is just as crazy as you always expect it to be…

And finally, the Penguins aren’t done with outdoor games quite yet…

That’s all for this week, thanks for reading!!

Meesh’s Weekly Pens Thoughts: Week 6

It’s always nice to get the extra point in overtime and shootout losses, but those points can easily make you forget the final results.

Did anyone notice the Pens have technically lost 6 of their last 8? I certainly didn’t.

But alas, it’s still just mid-November and the Penguins are 3rd in the Metro as I write this (we’ll ignore that they’ve played more games than anyone else in the division..), so on to the weekly thoughts:

5v5 Play

Nashville’s broadcast was nice enough to put some concerning stats up about Crosby and Pittsburgh as a whole:

Crosby now has 0 goals in his last 11 games, which is definitely concerning.
The Penguins did manage to get some offense against Nashville at least, so let’s bump that up to 21 goals in their last 11 games.
0-4-2 is now the record in the 2nd of back-to-backs (only 13 more to go!).
The Pens brought their 5v5 shooting percentage up to 5.03…still good for last in the NHL.

Crosby will work his way out of the slump, the Penguins will score more goals, the 2nd half of back-to-backs has improved drastically and that record will get better, and the 5v5 shooting percentage really has nowhere to go but up. That shooting percentage actually gives me some hope, because there is no question in my mind that it will naturally rise as the season continues on.

The biggest concern I have in all of this is Crosby. His 5v5 shooting percentage is 2.78 (last year, he finished over 15%). That number will undoubtedly rise, so that’s not actually my concern.

This is my concern (tweets from the Caps game):

Brian was generous with calling it a “Tough night…”. If we’re being honest, it’s been a tough season at this point.

Crosby has definitely been wandering in the defensive zone a bit this year. I can’t say it’s limited to him, because I noticed Geno doing the same thing a few times, but it has definitely hurt Crosby’s line the most on the scoreboard. I can’t say there is a clear reason or methodology to these missed coverages though (at least that I can see). Sometimes he just follows a forward too deep into the zone instead of letting the defense take over, which leaves the next guy in wide open. Sometimes he’s heading to the corner trying to anticipate movement along the boards that doesn’t end up happening. Sometimes he literally looks like he’s not sure who to cover.

The last one brings up one of my thoughts from last post, which is that I think Letang’s and Crosby’s improvement will likely coincide. They often seem lost together, which turns into longer defensive zone shifts, fewer potential scoring opportunities, and some costly chances against. Whether it’s Letang’s improvement helping the Crosby line break out or Crosby’s improvement putting less defensive pressure on Letang’s pairing, there will be a huge impact when either one of these guys gets back to normal.

Perhaps that’ll happen in a month when the schedule lightens up…

Back-to-Back Improvement

Speaking of getting back to normal, the Penguins are starting to look like a competent hockey team in the 2nd half of back-to-backs. Though they still haven’t won in such a scenario, the OT losses against Calgary and Nashville have shown some promise. The Nashville game even provided me with hope. The night before, the Penguins (and the Capitals for that matter) looked mostly lifeless in a sloppy game overall. The entire team looked sharper against Nashville and appeared to have more energy even late in the game. The fact that the Penguins faced a sudden 3-1 deficit and didn’t roll over and die was also a nice change of pace in a back-to-back scenario. Of course, good feelings and hope don’t lead to two points, but it was another step in the right direction for the Penguins.

Keep in mind, back-to-back issues aren’t limited to the Penguins either.

Philipp Grubauer of the Capitals has faced similar issues, even though the Caps haven’t gotten throttled like the Pens did early in the season. As of the middle of last week, Grubauer had played in the 2nd game of all 4 of Washington’s back-to-back situations and the Capitals lost all 4 games, scoring a total of 5 goals. Grubauer isn’t tasked with scoring, but he did provide a fun quote after with “I’m sick of [expletive] losing.”

All-in-all, I think the bigger picture takeaway is most teams are awful in back-to-backs early in the season and climb their way out of it as the season progresses. The Penguins appear to be doing just that, slowly but surely.

Trade Talk

Supposedly, the Penguins made a last-second offer to try to get Matt Duchene before he was sent off to Ottawa. Mind you, there are absolutely zero details about this, but supposedly it happened.

I think the more interesting part of this Sportsnet discussion is that the Penguins are looking for a veteran goalie and also veterans in general. I fully agree with the veteran goalie idea, especially as the schedule lightens up, so Jarry isn’t sitting around doing nothing for weeks at a time.

The veteran skaters part…confuses me. Sure, the Penguins lost Cullen, Kunitz, and Bonino to free agency. But replacing them with “veterans” and trying to find “leadership” and “experience” seems like a lazy thought process to me. This team has won back-to-back Cups with several guys on the roster right now – did they not gain experience and leadership along the way? When I look at those 3 names, my thought isn’t veteran experience and leadership, it’s high hockey intelligence and strong defensive awareness. The Sheahan trade was a move in the right direction for replacing those abilities, but it was only a raindrop in a lake compared to what was lost (and Sheahan has been the definition of mediocre so far to me).

I’m very curious who Rutherford plans on targeting, because chasing veteran experience doesn’t always turn out as planned (see: Ray Shero in 2013).

Reaves Watch

First off, this video after the Arizona game was just amusing:

But just a quick 2 cents on Reaves – he gets more flack than he deserves and also gets more credit than he deserves (how does that work? I don’t know).

He’s a 4th line guy playing low-end 4th line minutes and he hasn’t really harmed the team, which is all I care about.

He honestly has provided me with a baseline for who should be receiving more criticism.

Reaves – $1.125 mil cap hit, 7:18 TOI, 3 points in 19 games
Hagelin – $4 mil cap hit, 16:04 TOI, 2 points in 18 games

What?

I realize Hagelin plays PK and is theoretically better defensively, but….what?

While everyone praises Reaves (he’s not doing that much) or complains about Reaves (he’s not doing that much), I’m gonna go ahead and mutter angrily at my laptop about Carl Hagelin right now.


That’s all for this week, thanks for reading!!