Podcast Episode 36: Letting Go of Useless Opinions

Casey and Meesh are inspired by a Lifehacker article titled “Free Your Mind By Having Fewer Useless Opinions”, so they talk about useless opinions before transitioning into a discussion about how empathy has changed throughout society over the years. The deeper topics are sandwiched in between the lighter topics of treadmill talk and positive shout-outs!

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The reviews are in!

Meesh’s Weekly Pens Thoughts: Week 5

The topics are getting a little repetitive at this point (Pens aren’t scoring enough at 5-on-5, depth is questionable, Letang pairing and Crosby line are underwhelming), so I’ll try a more rapid-fire approach to this week:

Team Thoughts

As I write this, the Penguins are 5th in the league with 35.6 shots per game and 26th in the league with 2.63 goals per game. That seems like something that can’t last, right? Well, Montreal is 1st in the league in shots per game (38.1) and 24th in goals per game (2.67), and Edmonton is 2nd in shots per game (37.8) and 31st in the league in goals per game (2.31). Hockey is weird.

Do this more often, I guess:

Here are the team stats after a month of hockey (roughly 1/5th of the season):

After looking at those, let’s move on…

Roster/Lineup Thoughts

Does anyone have a logical reason for why Tom Kuhnhackl has been on the 2nd line?!? I have nothing against Kuhnhackl – he’s a smart player with a deceiving amount of quickness and great PK skills. But what exactly about that description and his career of 34 points in 115 games warrants putting him next to Evgeni Malkin? He has 9 goals in 115 regular season games – is Geno supposed to boost the 5-on-5 scoring by setting up Kuhnhackl?! This paragraph of frustration is brought about by the fact that I think Geno has improved with each passing week, putting together some of his best shifts and individual efforts on the recent Western Canada trip. It’s just a shame that he had to hope Kuhnhackl could help finish his efforts.

Speaking of Malkin, this Sportsnet video on him is must-watch:

Carl Hagelin was a “healthy” scratch Wednesday against Edmonton (healthy in quotes because he’s reportedly been dealing with minor ailments). Whether the team wanted to rest him or he was being benched for his pathetic stat line (see above), I loved the effect it had when he was added to the lineup the following night in Calgary. With all of the back-to-back issues that the Penguins have had, Hagelin seemed to ignite the team with his speed and freshness on Thursday night in Calgary. The entire team played the best we’ve seen in a back-to-back situation and I think Hagelin’s energy played a significant factor (not to mention that he led the team with 4:14 of PK time to limit some grueling minutes for other guys). Perhaps the Penguins have figured out their back-to-back issues to some degree, but I like the idea of rotating a fresh defenseman and/or forward in when possible to help pick the team up.

Whoever plays with Kris Letang is cursed with bad bounces and bad luck at this point. I spent a good portion of the first month of the season raving about how Maatta has kept his head up and gotten pucks through traffic to teammates and to the net. So naturally, when he gets paired with Letang, Maatta’s shots get blocked, his clearing attempts get blocked, and the pairing falls apart. Brian Dumoulin has been as steady as they come for a good portion of the season, but even he managed to lose his footing and lose pucks as soon as he was paired with Letang. I have literally no explanation for it. The Letang pairing is cursed no matter who is on it right now.

It’s safe to say our backup goalie conversations can end…for this week. Tristan Jarry looked solid against Calgary and he’ll likely get another start this upcoming weekend with back-to-backs against Washington and Nashville. The situation might get interesting in a month though. The Penguins have back-to-backs on Nov 10/11, Nov 24/25, and Dec 1/2. After that, the next back-to-back situation is Jan 4/5. I still think the Penguins will want to grab a veteran backup at some point who they won’t care about sitting for long periods of time, but I wouldn’t be surprised if DeSmith and Jarry rotate between their NHL and AHL spots so each gets regular playing time somewhere.

Looking ahead at the game against Arizona, it looks like the lines will change to:
Sheary – Crosby – Hornqvist
Guentzel – Malkin – Kessel
Hagelin – Sheahan – Rust
Kuhnhackl – McKegg – Reaves

Obviously I am ecstatic to get Kuhnhackl off of the Malkin line. My only “complaint” would be that I’d like to see Bryan Rust in the top-six for how he’s played so far this season. That being said, I’m sure these lines will change within a week so I won’t get too much into it.

Player Thoughts

As I mentioned above, Malkin has been on the rise as the season has continued along. He’s less hesitant to shoot, his turnover ratio has been improving, he has looked downright dominant skating around the offensive zone, and I’ve even marked down some solid 1-on-1 defensive plays over the past week. Based on the new lines above, I’m excited to see what Malkin can do with a more talented line as he continues to round into form.

Letang’s frustrating play has continued for yet another week, though I thought he showed *some* signs of improvement. He did have a couple of gaffes late in the Edmonton game, but the first half of his game looked much better than we’ve seen recently. The Calgary game went smoother than I expected until his careless/stupid penalty late in the game. Penalty aside, it was a promising sign that his performance wasn’t a complete disaster in a back-to-back situation. The Vancouver game…was ugly. Instead of the meerkatting with the puck that I mentioned last week, I noticed more lunging without the puck this week, which took Letang out of the play a bit too much. Similar to how Malkin has improved his level of play over time, I expect Letang will end up doing the same thing. I just think it’ll be a longer journey and I wonder if it will take until about mid-December (when the schedule is friendlier) for Letang to get there.

Crosby and his line continue to be a defensive problem. Problems include: wingers not coming down the boards far enough, no one adjusting to the 3rd man coming into the zone, getting caught chasing deep in the defensive zone to leave everyone high in the zone wide open, chasing forwards that are being picked up by defensemen, etc. – the entire line has consistently been a mess. Crosby’s turnovers haven’t been helping the situation either, especially in the neutral zone. Though Chris Kunitz fell off offensively and wasn’t on Crosby’s line towards the end of his Penguins tenure, this is a situation where I miss having him for his defensive awareness and stability with talented linemates. Crosby and his line need to find a way to work more cohesively as a unit and with the defense. For 5-on-5 play, Crosby needs to help Letang and Letang needs to help Crosby, but both have a part to play in some of these underwhelming performances.

Opposing Broadcast Thoughts

Since I was promoting the idea of watching opposing broadcasts last week, here are some tidbits from them:

Despite the fact that everyone hates Reaves and the 4th line, both Sportsnet broadcasts (the Edmonton and Calgary games) took the time to compliment how well the 4th line forechecked in each game and how they were creating chances early when the top lines were a little slower out of the gate.

Sportsnet noted in the Oilers game that Crosby has been one of the better players at adjusting to the new faceoff rules. There were 3 faceoffs in a row when an Edmonton center was kicked out of the circle for trying to get an early move on Crosby. (FYI – he’s currently winning faceoffs at 53.8%, last year he finished at 48.2%). The Sportsnet West broadcast the following night was raving about his faceoffs after the first 5 minutes of the game to continue the trend.

It wasn’t all good for Crosby though as Sportsnet West also called him out for 3 turnovers in the first half of the 2nd period against Calgary while they were discussing how the Penguins lacked consistency.

Finally, Sportsnet West made an interesting note about Pittsburgh’s back-to-back schedule. Though the Penguins are tied for the league-lead with 19 back-to-backs, they also travel the least of any team this season. They have a total of 34,041 miles to travel this year (Colorado has a league-high 48,639 miles and the 3rd least back-to-backs with 11). The team that actually gets it the worst might be Chicago, with the 3rd most miles (47,926) and the 3rd most back-to-backs (17). Who knows how much any of this affects exhaustion, but it’s an interesting factor to consider.


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

Meesh’s Weekly Pens Thoughts: Week 4

A lot of things have been scrutinized through the first 4 weeks of the season in Pittsburgh.

The backup goaltender…he’s gone.
The 4th line winger…he’s a 4th line winger, whatever.
The 3rd line center position…there’s been an acquisition for that.

Perhaps it’s time to ask…

Where’s the Offense?

The Penguins have scored exactly 1 goal in regulation in each of their past 5 games (note: they have a couple of 2-1 wins thanks to 3-on-3 OT goals).

Think about that for a second: 1 goal through 60 minutes in each of the past 5 games. Even the dull Mike Johnston era thinks that’s crazy.

Furthermore, that 1 goal was a powerplay goal in 3 of those 5 games (oddly enough, the 3 losses). So, the Penguins have scored a grand total of two 5-on-5 goals in their last 5 games. What?

The blame game can go in several different directions here. It’s likely that everyone, from Crosby/Malkin to the 4th liners, from Letang to whoever that AHL defenseman is, from the last backup goalie to the next backup goalie, will get blamed for early season struggles.

In truth, they all do deserve a little bit of blame, but perhaps the answer is a little simpler than we all want it to be. This might just be an above average hockey team that is mentally and physically tired, and thus struggling to play efficiently and even competently on a regular basis.

On the mental side, I think there is something to be said about motivation at this point in the season. We’re entering November, the team is still 7-5-1 despite any struggles and glaring issues, and they’ve spent the past 2 years learning that it doesn’t matter what they do in the first 2 months and they don’t even necessarily have to completely outplay teams in the last 2 months to win the Cup either.

Physically, we’ve seen how lackluster the team has played in back-to-backs. Not all of these dismal offensive performances are back-to-backs though, so where will I look specifically?

Kris Letang

Letang is averaging the most ice time of anyone on the team by a significant amount (26:30 to Dumoulin’s 21:06). This is normal…we’re all used to seeing it. But was Letang actually ready to just step into his old role like usual?

In the last few games, I’ve noticed Letang doing something that I’ve almost never seen him do in the past, which is act like me on the ice.

One of my teammates called me out for a very bad habit with the puck several years ago. Any time I was either tired, or overthinking with the puck, I would stand up a little straighter than my natural stance (he used to tell me I was acting like a meerkat). The result: I wasn’t in my natural stride to just skate away from danger, I was forcing the play more frequently since I wasn’t in a comfortable position, and I was often telegraphing passes as a result of the situation (let me tell you, there were a lot of turnovers…).

In the 7-1 loss to Winnipeg, which Josh Yohe called “perhaps the worst game of his career” (paywall link at The Athletic), I saw Letang straighten up more than in any game I can recall. I went through the highlights of the Wild game, and there it was again.

Letang will always be turnover-prone – he’s a high-event player and he’ll create and earn takeaways over the course of the season that far outweigh his giveaways and lost pucks. However, that speaks to his play at 100%. I have a hard time believing his play right now is at 100% (whether that’s a mental issue, a physical issue, or a mixture of both). The result is what we all saw in the Winnipeg game, a turnover-filled disaster.

So why am I just pointing out Letang here? The man is on the ice for 26 minutes a game. He impacts literally every player on the ice for a significant amount of time in every game. Right now, it’s generally a negative impact for the Penguins that brings all 4 forward lines down too. When Letang was out last season, there was no negative or positive Letang impact and there was Schultz to help shoulder the load in a positive manner. Right now, there is a negative Letang impact and no Schultz to handle some of the burden.

Turnovers in the defensive zone and the neutral zone automatically negate offensive potential. Everything starts with puck management exiting the zone.

The offense right now may depend on when Letang gets back to his normal level of play. From Josh Yohe’s article about Letang working with Gonchar (the paywall link above), it sounds like it’s a mental issue (though I still question the coaching staff on giving Letang his regular ice time right away and in back-to-backs especially):

Letang admitted that his current troubles are more of the mental variety than anything else.

“I think I’m hesitant,” he said. “One night, I will shoot everything, and the next night, it creeps in my mind that I’m not accomplishing anything, so I stop shooting. Trying to do too much. Those kinds of things.”

Keep an eye out for Letang hesitating, and meerkatting, as the team tries to find its way through this offensive slump.

Sidney Crosby

Letang isn’t the only one to blame though (for the record regarding Letang, I would also add the coaching staff for his minutes and the GM for a lack of depth/support to lessen those minutes).

The Crosby line (with whatever mix of Sheary/Guentzel/Rust) has also been a big culprit in the failed clears/failed breakouts/bad turnovers routine that the Penguins have developed. There have been several shifts in each game during the past week when a Crosby turnover has led to extended time in the defensive zone. His wingers have looked lost in the defensive zone periodically as well to turn the sloppiness into a group effort. Part of the issue has certainly been lackluster play from the defense, but this group has not played up to par in terms of puck management and making smart decisions to get the puck up ice. At least one of those meerkatting situations for Letang in the Winnipeg game was on account of a Crosby turnover in the neutral zone that sent Winnipeg right back into Pittsburgh’s zone for extended time.

When it comes to Letang, I have no problem pointing out last season’s injury and his time off as a very real reason for why it’s taking some time for him to get back to his normal level of play. It’s harder to pinpoint a reason for Crosby and the 1st line struggling similarly though. Hopefully it’s just the typical slump you see through an 82-game season.

The offense will heat up quickly when the Penguins start moving the puck out of their zone and through the neutral zone efficiently. Until Letang, the Crosby line, and everyone else gets to that point though, I expect a lot of inconsistency and frustration. I don’t think any of it will be a season-long issue though – it’s just something the entire roster needs to work through and they have plenty of time to do it at this point in the season.

Moving on to some other quick topics…

Slowing Down McDavid

Going back to the Edmonton game, I had several positive notes about Olli Maatta and Brian Dumoulin. Jesse Marshall put together a nice article highlighting Brian Dumoulin’s gap control on Connor McDavid throughout the night. If you’ve subscribed to The Athletic (sorry, it’s linked a lot in this post), I highly suggest going through his write-up. If not, the quick and easy takeaway is Dumoulin did a wonderful job all night of judging McDavid’s speed and adjusting on the fly to ensure he would never get cleanly beat and could keep McDavid at bay until help arrived. I fear that it’s going to be a different story when the Oilers get to pick their line matchups on Wednesday in Edmonton.

Ryan Reaves

Honestly, Reaves doesn’t do enough good or bad on the ice to warrant regular discussion. However, this is amazing:

Home/Away Broadcasts

Steve Mears has been a breath of fresh air compared to Paul Steigerwald, but I have to admit that I started regularly watching the away broadcast feeds this year and I love it. I cut cable, and I’ve been using onhockey.tv to stream broadcasts most nights. The site has several streams per game and I have thoroughly enjoyed getting a different point of view from away announcers. It’s perfect for learning about other teams/players, and they point out flaws they notice in the Penguins that I sometimes think we’re all blind to from watching the team so frequently. If you ever need a site for streaming hockey, onhockey is my suggestion (it was my go-to for KHL blogging long ago).

Back-to-Backs

No, I couldn’t end this without bringing up the back-to-back stats.

This is bad and the Penguins should feel bad. What’s the solution though? I still hope this is just an overall conditioning and “hockey shape” issue. I like to put off fully evaluating the team until Thanksgiving, so it’s not something I’m willing to panic over quite yet. The Penguins have 2 more back-to-back situations before then (and another one during Thanksgiving weekend), so we’ll see if the Penguins have figured themselves out at the end of the month.

On the plus side, there likely won’t be back-to-backs in the playoffs?

That’s all I have for this week…thanks for reading!!

Meesh’s Weekly Pens Thoughts: Week 3

Short post this week to match Niemi’s tenure as the backup goalie in Pittsburgh.

Finding Nemo…on the Waiver Wire

You know how Marlin can’t tell a joke to save his life at the start of Finding Nemo? That is basically how Antti Niemi’s tenure as backup goalie with the Penguins went.

Pittsburgh: “Hey you’re a Stanley Cup winning goalie, you can stop pucks, right? Hey stop a puck for us.”

Niemi: “Well, actually, that’s a common misconception. Stanley Cup winning goalies can’t stop pucks any better than any other goalie.”

Pittsburgh: “Awww c’mon Stanley Cup winning goalie, make a save for us…”

Niemi: “Well, alright, I can stop this one…”

*red light goes on behind Niemi*

I don’t have much more to add to my Niemi evaluation than what I’ve said in previous posts. He’s not a good goalie and the team was trash in front of him yet again. I thought he looked serviceable early on Saturday and even made a big 2-on-0 save, but the game unraveled as his flawed positioning, poor rebound control, poor puck tracking, and shrinking demeanor in the crease were exposed (if you want to see a goalie truly lacking confidence – watch one who won’t stray from the middle of the crease).

There were two quotes from the Tampa broadcast that grabbed my attention in regards to Niemi:
“I’m not even sure how Vasilevskiy saw this one” on a big save on the PP to keep the Penguins off the board and “Kucherov just shrugged after that one” for the 6th Lightning goal.

With Niemi, the Penguins were never going to get enough of those Vasilevskiy saves from the first quote, but they were going to have too many goals allowed like the second quote regarding Kucherov.

I don’t think we ever saw the best Niemi had to offer given how bad the team played in his 3 games, but we saw enough to know that there’s no reason to stick with him.

My only lingering question is why didn’t Niemi start against a lesser Florida team on Friday with a fresh Penguins team in front of him so that Murray could take on the more talented Lightning team with a tired roster? That would have been the perfect situational test, but alas, I don’t think it matters in the end (and that could have easily resulted in a loss to Florida *and* a loss to Tampa).

Calling up DeSmith

To the surprise of some (myself included), Casey DeSmith received the call-up after Niemi was waived. When Rich and I discussed this situation on the podcast, I was completely against Jarry coming up and Rich was all for it. I don’t know how Rich feels about DeSmith, but I’m all for this scenario instead.

DeSmith is 3-0 this season with a 0.98 GAA and .965 save percentage. Kinda decent, right? But as Ryan Wilson loves to say, goaltending is voodoo, so who knows what he turns into in the NHL. The thoughts on Jarry are clear right now – he’s meant to be in the AHL to develop. I think the path is a little more fluid for DeSmith, who has taken a longer route to this moment, even by way of Wheeling at one point. Not only can the Penguins see what they have in DeSmith, who had minor league deals until this season, but they can stay the course without disrupting their plan for Jarry’s development. I think there are several short-term wins in that plan for the organization.

That being said, I think this backup goalie situation is far from set and I fully believe there will be a trade near the deadline to bring in a veteran backup.

Adding Sheahan

In a world where we overreact to every transaction and tweet, I have to admit that I looked at this trade, blinked, hit retweet, and moved on.

It’s a simple trade and it makes sense. The Penguins trade away a spare part (sorry, Scott Wilson) and get an immediately usable part into their lineup. They had to pay a little extra by throwing out a 3rd round pick while getting a 5th round pick back (meh to both). Really, there isn’t much to dissect about this one.

Sheahan adds size, better depth at center, and smart defensive play, both at even strength and on the PK. I’m not expecting much from him production-wise, maybe 25-30ish points depending on how much PP2 time he gets, but I do expect him to break up some of the extended defensive zone situations that the Penguins have been in a little too frequently.

After the trade, the Penguins, who are a flawed team, are a little less flawed. They gave up very little to become less flawed. I can’t really ask for more than that. We all know this roster is far from finalized.

Assessing the Penguins

It’s rather difficult to assess a team that finds a way to get destroyed once a week. Niemi started all of those losses of course, so perhaps that trend will come to an end. Regardless, the Penguins have looked terrible in those losses and the next back-to-back situation is coming up this weekend as the Penguins start off in Minnesota before moving west into and through Canada.

With Murray and a fresh team, the Penguins are 5-0-1. With Niemi and a tired team, the Penguins are 0-3. Part of the latter scenario is gone now.

What is my assessment then?

The Penguins have been the defending Stanley Cup Champions for 498 days…and their starting goalie for both Championships has yet to lose a game in regulation this season.

The Penguins are doing just fine, 7-1 losses and all.


Thanks for reading!

Podcast Episode 34: Hockey Thoughts – Niemi, Reaves, and Who Cares

Rich Miller (@atrichmiller) and Meesh cover some of the early trending topics for the Penguins, including the play of Antti Niemi, the lack of playing time for Ryan Reaves, and what they would give up for Matt Duchene.

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Meesh’s Weekly Pens Thoughts: Week 2

I hate arguing on twitter.

It’s nearly impossible to change someone’s mind on twitter. Most people have their thoughts and opinions, and 140 characters will not move the needle. It’s almost impossible to fully reason an argument in a tweet or string of tweets, so 140 characters shouldn’t move the needle most of the time anyways. Inherently, I think arguing on twitter is a waste of time (and exceptionally divisive since you have to use extremes to make your point quickly when you’re limited by characters).

That’s mainly why I’m back to blogging. For all of the tweets and thoughts I want to argue about, I just take notes and reason it out in here. It doesn’t really matter to me if you agree or disagree, but at least you have my thought process instead of 140 characters.

Now let’s get started!

Antti Niemi…again

Statement #1: Antti Niemi is not a good goalie.

Statement #2: The Penguins have played terrible hockey in front of Antti Niemi.

I’m here to tell you that these statements are not mutually exclusive and are, in fact, both true.

Niemi is under a microscope right now given how bad he was last season and since he’s replacing Fleury, but honestly, I thought he had the typical game that an average backup goalie has in the NHL. He looked shaky at times, he looked confident at times, he made a few stellar saves, and he let a few pucks past him that may have been stopped by a better goalie.

Look at the 5 goals:
1st GA – deflected by Kuhnhackl
2nd GA – slap shot past a screen in front
3rd GA – Stamkos alone on the PP from a pass across the front of the crease
4th GA – Kucherov’s perfectly placed wrist shot inside the post past a screen
5th GA – Ugly 3-on-1 in front of the net

What did I see in those specifically?
1st GA – a deflection, but a concerning lack of awareness as Niemi looked to his left and looked all around him as the puck was still coming in from where it was originally shot
2nd GA – not properly squared up to the shooter (though the screen and preceding blocked shot likely factored in)
3rd GA – lack of athleticism, but not an expected save
4th GA – nothing notable
5th GA – nothing notable (3:26 mark of the video above – look at how Koekkoek opens his blade to quickly fake a pass across the front of the net to open Niemi up before sliding the puck through his five-hole – it was a marvelous move by Koekkoek that seemed to go unnoticed)

So what does all of that say? Out of the 5 goals, the 2nd one is really the only one that bothered me, and even that could be reasoned out due to the screen. However, as I said in last week’s post, Niemi is never going to steal a game for the Penguins. It’s clear that he can’t with his lack of awareness and lack of athleticism. That means the team has to play well in front of him for a win, and they haven’t done that yet.

So let’s get to that…

Back-to-Back Games

This seems like an *eye roll* topic, but I do buy into the effect of back-to-back games early in a season. Most players only played in half of the preseason games and the pace of those games is certainly not even regular season pace. The level of competition is lower and there are a lot of guys who probably don’t care. Practice also does not simulate game pace. Any time a player returns from injury, everyone talks about getting into a few games and getting up to game speed and getting into game shape.

The way I see it, most guys are getting into game shape through the first few weeks of the season. It’s probably not a huge deal for fresh team vs fresh team and tired team vs tired team, but I think it widens the gap significantly for fresh team vs tired team early in the season compared to later in the year when everyone is theoretically in peak game shape (injuries aside).

So while Niemi hasn’t been anything special in his first 2 appearances, let’s not forget that his 2 games have been the latter half of back-to-backs. Not only have they been the latter half of back-to-backs, but they’ve come against 2 strong teams (Chicago and Tampa Bay) the nights after the team has played against two tough opponents (St. Louis and Washington respectively). Add to all of that, the Penguins have had to travel both times.

Niemi can’t steal games + exhausted team playing in front of him = painful game to watch with losing results.

Another situation playing a factor in how this team is going to play in back-to-backs is depth usage. It has to be noted – Ryan Reaves played only 3:25 in the Tampa Bay game. He wasn’t the only one with interesting usage – Carter Rowney only played 6:25 after playing 14:04 the night before. Game flow will obviously play a big factor in these times, but it only handcuffs a tired team to not use the entire lineup.

With 19 back-to-back situations (2 down, 17 to go!), upgrading the forward depth is just as important to me as replacing Niemi if he can’t do the job. There’s a fair chance that the success of both Niemi and the bottom-six go hand-in-hand.

Moving on from the world of Niemi and tired Penguins…

Everything Penalties

The Good: Faceoff Violations (refs are attempting to enforce players squaring up and not moving going into the puck drop). This was a concept that annoyed me during the preseason but I have been impressed with how quickly linesmen have enforced it and players have adjusted. Actually, I should say I’m impressed with how quickly the puck has been dropped after a guy has been waved out of the circle. I fully expected this focus to be an annoyance, but it has been smoother than expected.

The Confusing: Penalties for Offside Challenges. I don’t mind the concept of penalties for offside challenges (it was downright hilarious in the Flyers-Predators game), but I don’t understand why every wrong challenge isn’t penalized. If the intention is to create a punishment for silly challenges, why shouldn’t that apply to interference challenges as well? For that matter – how far away are we from every scoring play just being automatically reviewed at the league offices? Not that I ever expect the NHL to be consistent about anything, but this limited-scope penalty is a weird one to me.

The Annoying: Slashing Penalties. Every slash is actually a slashing penalty now. One-handed, two-handed, on the stick, on the hands, etc. – it’s all a slashing penalty now. I like the penalty, but now I’m curious about 2 things: 1) how long will players take to adjust, and 2) will enforcement die off through the season (and what happens when we get to the playoffs?!). Yes, there are a lot of penalties being called right now, but I like the idea of a cleaner game that provides skilled players with a better chance of doing something special. I’ve seen what Crosby can do with the puck when getting whacked repeatedly on the hands, now I want to see more of what he can do when players stop doing that. I think many players will struggle with this adjustment though (think about how many guys still hook with their stick parallel to the ice when that’s frequently called) and I fully expect the calls to die off as the season continues. I don’t think the league wants a special teams oriented game, and if the players don’t adjust as quickly as the league would like, I think the league will adjust for the sake of the product they want (which has always been flawed, so there’s no point in having high expectations there). This will be an interesting topic to revisit in a month.

Let’s close this out with some roster thoughts…

Random Player Thoughts

Olli Maatta – I mentioned it in the last post and I’m going to bring it up again – Maatta looks confident and it’s making a significant impact on his game. It’s great to see him getting points (2g, 4a in 6gp), but I’m more impressed with how he looks as he’s getting them. His head is always up at the blue line and he’s taking some great low shots from the point because of it. His pinches into the offensive zone have also led to a few extended shifts. The main thing about how he’s pinching – there’s no hesitation. He’s quickly taking his first stride down the boards and getting to pucks first because of it. He will undoubtedly get burned soon because that happens to every defenseman, but it’s a stark difference from him hesitating and then not getting to the puck while also getting caught flat-footed in transition.

Justin Schultz – Revisiting the back-to-back discussion, I thought Schultz looked especially bad in that game against Tampa Bay. He was beat to the outside as he was skating backwards at least 3 times and he also got caught unaware that a guy had already snuck behind him for a bank pass off the boards. Schultz isn’t expected to be a star defensively, but his defensive awareness has seemed a little low so far this season. He also got lucky a couple of times against Florida when he was unaware Trocheck was behind him but Trocheck couldn’t handle the pass, and when he left Hunwick for an odd-man break against but nothing came of it. The only reason I don’t think we’re talking more about Schultz is because his mistakes haven’t led to goals against, but that’s going to happen soon if he plays like he did in the past couple of games.

Evgeni Malkin – Now revisiting the game shape discussion, I wonder where Geno is in terms of game shape right now. He hasn’t played well, and he’s addressed the fact that he hasn’t played well, but the question is why? He seems to be lacking any sort of burst to me. His ability to take over a shift, let alone a game, hasn’t made an appearance yet. His ability to finish a play seems to have disappeared too – not in terms of scoring, but just that extra push to force a turnover in pursuit or avoid a turnover while being chased. I think this situation is just a matter of being patient, and Geno will get there within a couple of weeks, but it begs the question of whether it’s time to start managing Geno’s minutes more carefully. It would have been an easier question with the forward depth of past years, but it’s far more difficult to address with the current bottom-six. Geno’s season-long performance may very well hinge on the 3rd line center plan.

Sidney Crosby – Ridiculous hockey player. I’m just going to end every post with that.

 

Thanks for reading!!