Tag Archives: Ian Cole

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!!

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!

4/20/15: ECQ Game 3 – New York Rangers 2 Pittsburgh Penguins 1

1st Rangers Goal (Hagelin), Even

  • NY Rangers Contributions
    J. Miller – gets the puck along the boards in the Rangers zone after it’s knocked away from a puck battle behind the net, then passes it to Girardi below the goal line as both teams look to change
    D. Girardi – holds the puck as everyone starts to move out of the zone and passes it across the zone to Yandle
    K. Yandle – starts to skate forward to exit the left side of the Rangers zone, then passes the puck through the neutral zone to Hagelin breaking into the middle of the Penguins zone
    C. Hagelin – splits Cole and Malkin coming off the bench as he takes the pass from Yandle, enters the Penguins zone on a breakaway, and takes a slapshot from the slot that just gets under Fleury’s left pad before he can get down to stop it
  • Pittsburgh Faults
    I. Cole – sees Hagelin breaking towards the middle of the Penguins blue line but doesn’t adjust to get the passing lane in time to prevent the breakaway
    R. Scuderi – makes an extremely sloppy change as he stares at the bench instead of keeping an eye on the play, so he’s caught on the ice by the bench during a slow change as Hagelin enters the zone for a breakaway

2nd Rangers Goal (Kreider), Even

  • NY Rangers Contributions
    K. Yandle – knocks Lapierre off of the puck in the corner of the Rangers zone
    D. Boyle – picks up the loose puck after Yandle and Lapierre skate past it, then makes a pass to Stepan skating through the Rangers zone
    D. Stepan – carries the puck to the Rangers blue line and passes it to his left for Kreider skating through the neutral zone
    C. Kreider – carries the puck into the left side of the Penguins zone, cuts through the middle of the ice in front of the defense, and passes the puck to Brassard at the outside edge of the right faceoff circle (cont.), knocks the puck out of the air as it bounces to the left of the net off of the backboards and puts it past Fleury before he can scramble to get to the post
    D. Brassard – holds the puck in the right corner and then passes it up to Girardi coming to the right point
    D. Girardi – moves the puck to Staal at the left point
    M. Staal – takes a slapshot wide to the left of the net so the puck bounces off of the backboards and back above the goal line to the left of the net where Kreider is
  • Pittsburgh Faults
    M. Lapierre – takes the puck deep into the Rangers zone but loses it when he’s knocked away from it by Yandle, starting the Rangers’ breakout the other way
    P. Martin – abandons his coverage area at the right point (out of the penalty box) to challenge Brassard in the corner, opens up Brassard’s passing option to the point and forces Crosby and Winnik to rotate, which they have no chance of doing in time to take away the rest of the play

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4/18/15: ECQ Game 2 – Pittsburgh Penguins 4 New York Rangers 3

1st Rangers Goal (Stepan), Even

  • NY Rangers Contributions
    R. McDonagh – gets the puck just inside the Rangers blue line as the Rangers are backing up while the Penguins change, skates the puck back into the neutral zone to the left side of center ice, then passes the puck to Miller entering the left side of the Penguins zone
    J. Miller – takes one stride into the Penguins zone and passes the puck through the middle of the zone across to Stepan skating by himself into the right faceoff circle
    D. Stepan – takes the pass, carries it to the right faceoff dot, then rips a wrist shot past the right arm of Fleury, off the post, and in
  • Pittsburgh Faults
    R. Scuderi – gets turned around as he’s situating himself in the defensive zone, so he can’t make a play on Miller’s pass and is too far away to step up on Stepan
    B. Comeau – is the last player to jump on the ice for the Pens and makes a straight line across the ice towards where Miller is getting the puck, which leaves the entire backside open for Stepan to skate through uncovered and untouched

1st Penguins Goal (Sutter), Powerplay

  • Pittsburgh Contributions
    I. Cole – gets a loose puck in the right corner of the Rangers zone after it was deflected wide of the net, then passes it to Sutter in the right faceoff circle below the dot
    B. Sutter – drops the puck back to Kunitz at the top of the right faceoff circle (cont.), gets positioning on Stepan as the puck falls into the slot and fires it into the net as Lundqvist can’t find where the bounce went
    C. Kunitz – wrists the puck towards the net from the top of the right circle
    S. Downie – blocks Kunitz’s shot, sending the puck up into the air so it lands in the slot
  • NY Rangers Faults
    C. Hagelin – in the penalty box for tripping
    D. Stepan – loses positioning on Sutter as they try to get to the puck in the slot and can’t tie Sutter up to prevent him from scoring

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4/10/15: New York Islanders 3 Pittsburgh Penguins 1

1st Islanders Goal (Cizikas), Shorthanded

  • NY Islanders Contributions
    C. Cizikas – wins a faceoff in the Islanders zone back to the corner (cont.), receives Clutterbuck’s pass in front of the Penguins blue line, skates it into the zone on a breakaway, and rifles a wrist shot over the left shoulder of Fleury into the net
    N. Leddy – gets to the puck in the corner off of the faceoff and throws it behind the net for Clutterbuck in the opposite corner
    C. Clutterbuck – gets the puck on his backhand, pulls it to his forehand as he looks up, then makes a pass from the corner of the Isles zone to Cizikas breaking in between Martin and Malkin through the neutral zone approaching the Penguins blue line
  • Pittsburgh Faults
    P. Martin – is slow to leave his area along the boards when Clutterbuck gets the puck in the opposite corner in the Isles zone, so he’s out of position as Cizikas starts breaking out of the zone and he never has any chance of catching Cizikas as he skates up for a breakaway

1st Penguins Goal (Scuderi), Even

  • Pittsburgh Contributions
    S. Crosby – knocks Kennedy off of a loose puck along the backboards in the Islanders zone, skates to the goal line to the right of the net, to the backboards, then to the goal line again as he evades Kennedy before passing the puck to Martin at the right point (cont.), gets the puck after Martin’s shot rebounds off of the glass to the right of the net, then throws the puck towards the crease from the goal line, causing it to slide to the bottom of the left faceoff circle
    P. Martin – takes the pass at the right point, move sit towards the middle of the ice, hesitates on a shot, then takes a wrist shot that goes wide to the right of the net towards Crosby
    R. Scuderi – gets to the puck at the bottom of the left faceoff circle and takes a wrist shot that goes off of the glove part of Halak’s blocker and bounces down into the net
  • NY Islanders Faults
    T. Kennedy – beats Crosby to a dump-in into the Islanders zone, but then gets knocked off of the puck by Crosby and can’t keep up with him as he skates around before passing to Martin; also loses the battle to Crosby for the puck when Martin’s shot comes off of the glass
    C. Cizikas – stays towards the middle of the ice away from Scuderi despite every other Penguin being covered by an Islander, so he’s slow to get to Scuderi when the loose puck comes out to him and Cizikas can’t get the puck or prevent a shot

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4/7/15: Ottawa Senators 4 Pittsburgh Penguins 3 (OT)

1st Penguins Goal (Crosby), Even

  • Pittsburgh Contributions
    P. Martin – intercepts Karlsson’s pass at the Penguins blue line and moves the puck to Hornqvist at center ice
    P. Hornqvist – enters the right side of the Senators zone and then passes the puck across to Crosby entering the left side of the zone
    D. Winnik – drives towards the net through the middle of the zone, forcing Karlsson to back up away from Crosby
    S. Crosby – carries the puck into the left faceoff circle, glides as he winds up for a slapshot, and blasts a slapshot from above the left circle that goes past Hammond’s glove
  • Ottawa Faults
    E. Karlsson – tries to make a pass from his own zone to the Penguins blue line, but has it picked off by Martin at the Penguins blue line, then commits too far to Winnik and gives Crosby a wide open lane to skate down and fire a shot from

2nd Penguins Goal (Bennett), Even

  • Pittsburgh Contributions
    I. Cole – steps up to the puck above the high slot as it drifts there when Hoffman loses the puck, hesitates on a shot as he skates into the high slot, then makes a pass to Bennett at the inside corner of the right faceoff circle
    D. Perron – shoves Hoffman in the back after he loses the puck so he’s down on the ice and can’t defend Cole stepping into the high slot
    B. Bennett – takes Cole’s pass on his forehand and knocks it towards the crease, then backhands it into the net before it hits Hammond, who is sprawled out on the ice at the top of the crease with no chance at a save
  • Ottawa Faults
    M. Hoffman – picks up a loose puck in the middle of the Senators zone after Perron loses it, but then he loses it as he tries to stick-handle and it drifts to the top of the zone to Cole for a turnover

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4/5/15: Philadelphia Flyers 4 Pittsburgh Penguins 1

1st Penguins Goal (Sutter), Powerplay

  • Pittsburgh Contributions
    B. Sutter – gets the puck along the right-side boards int he Flyers zone and holds it as the Penguins move into their setup, skates the puck to the right faceoff dot and then drops it back to the boards where Kunitz has taken his spot (cont.), gets the puck at the goal line from Perron, then turns towards the net and slides the puck past Mason’s stick in between his blocker and left pad into the net as he’s unopposed by any defenseman
    C. Kunitz – gets the puck from Sutter and moves it to the blue line for Chorney
    T. Chorney – winds up for a slapshot and passes the puck to the left faceoff circle for Cole instead
    I. Cole – looks to the net for a shot, but skates back out of the circle instead and passes the puck to Perron in the left corner
    D. Perron – carries the puck up the boards and curls to the top of the right faceoff circle, then passes the puck down to Sutter along the goal line next to the left side of the net
  • Philadelphia Faults
    M. Raffl – in the penalty box for hooking
    N. Grossmann – stays too far back from Sutter and isn’t even watching the passing lane across the slot, so he’s essentially defending nothing as Sutter has room to turn in front of Mason and score
    S. Mason – keeps his left pad tucked in under his body and puts his blocker on the ice to keep his stick down, but gives up room between his blocker and left pad for Sutter to slide the puck through

1st Flyers Goal (Voracek), Powerplay

  • Philadelphia Contributions
    C. Giroux – lifts the stick of Lovejoy and knocks him away from the puck in the left corner of the Penguins zone on a rebound
    B. Schenn – picks up the loose puck in the left corner and moves it back to Streit at the left point
    M. Streit – settles the puck down, moves it to the middle of the blue line, then passes the puck to Voracek at the top of the right faceoff circle
    J. Voracek – one-times Streit’s pass over the right shoulder of Greiss off the crossbar and into the net
  • Pittsburgh Faults
    D. Winnik – in the penalty box for cross-checking
    C. Adams – leaves his spot near the points to throw a hit on Schenn, but Schenn still gets the pass off to the point, which leaves too much room open at the top of the zone with Adams not there
    M. Lapierre – stays too deep in the zone  so he’s covering the passing lane between Streit and Voracek or any man either, allowing the pass to get through for the one-timer goal

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