Tag Archives: Ryan Reaves

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 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!!

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.

Subscribe on iTunes or listen below!

Meesh’s Weekly Pens Thoughts: Week 1

Well…after a year off, I felt like writing about the Pens again..so here we are! (No, there will be no postgame recaps or goal recaps, let it go.) This will probably just be a hodgepodge of random thoughts on a weekly basis.

Looking back at…

Opening Night

Beyond the banner raising, this looked like a typical sloppy and disjointed opening night of hockey and I tried to actively avoid coming up with takeaways. A few things that I did notice though:

    • Sidney Crosby is still ridiculous. Crosby was creating room for everyone on the ice all night. It was almost comical how frequently he would get control of the puck down low, draw everyone’s attention, and then throw the puck up to the point for a wide open defenseman. There was even one specific instance where Crosby had the puck in the corner and seemingly threw it to no one at the point…except Kris Letang was in the process of skating to that area and Crosby ended up making a tape-to-tape pass to a guy who wasn’t even in the area quite yet (and a missed pass would have gone all the way back to the defensive zone). Crosby’s superb passing drew my attention to my next thought…

     

    • Olli Matta looks confident. Maatta was the recipient of a few of those Crosby passes throughout the night and the biggest thing I noticed was that his head was up at all times, both in receiving the puck and deciding how to distribute it elsewhere. His speed is always going to be something I take issue with, but it’s much less of a hindrance when he’s calmly and confidently working with the puck (compared to a plethora of bobbles and misplays that we have seen since his rookie season). I probably lead the pack when it comes to not being patient enough with Maatta, but opening night showed me a few flashes of what he could turn into still.

     

    • Finally, there was Greg McKegg, an automatic fan favorite on name alone. I don’t like McKegg as a 3rd line center, but I do like his ability to fill in there as necessary on some short stints (hopefully this 3rd line center situation is only short-term). What impressed me most with McKegg was his skating efficiency. There’s no question he’s quick, but his pathways to pucks, puck carries, and open areas where pucks are likely to end up were noticeably direct and efficient. I love the idea of using him as a 4th line center (sorry Rowney), but I do think he’ll be in too far over his head in the long run in this role as a 3rd line center. Jesse Marshall wrote a nice article about him on The Athletic. While I’ll try not to be a free advertisement for The Athletic, I will admit that it’s the only paid subscription site for sports articles that I’m a member of and I’m sure this won’t be the last time I reference one of Jesse’s articles.

    Chicago Disaster

    Where does one even start with this game…I’ll get to Niemi later, but let’s start with assessing what the Penguins are right now.

    The 2017 Cup run was special. It was special in a lot of ways. Every Cup run is special. One of the things that made it special – the Penguins were frequently outplayed, scored opportunistically, and defied the odds repeatedly despite numbers, performance, and overall play.

    It was a recipe for success…that shouldn’t have worked (but, yeah, who cares, it worked).

    So take that weirdly successful team, remove some useful players, and tell the remaining players that they’re the best all summer after winning back-to-back Stanley Cup Championships. Now add back Letang to increase the high-end talent and increase the overall health of the group.

    The expected result should be a worse roster overall with the mindset that they can do anything and win at this point.

    That’s not how the NHL works. I love the 10-1 loss. I love that it was a clear message to the Penguins that the season has started and it’s time to get back to basics. And I love that it was such a clear message that no one anywhere could brush it off or ignore it – no one can walk away from a 10-1 loss with “Eh, we’ll figure it out, we figured it out each of the past 2 years and won the Cup both times.” That game didn’t happen in the past 2 years and everyone knows it.

    In short, what I saw in the Chicago game was a reckless team that wanted to play like they were the most talented group in the league that could do anything they wanted without repercussions instead of a team that was willing to play within their means and at their current team-talent level.

    Add to that: It was the 2nd game of back-to-backs and it was on the road, it was against a very motivated Chicago team that had been embarrassed in the playoffs and had been constantly asked about Pittsburgh’s success going into the game, no one is in true back-to-back shape this early in the season, and the Cup celebration had literally just ended the night before. The whole situation was ripe for a disaster for the Penguins.

    After that result, I don’t think we’ll have to worry about a Cup hangover or the Penguins getting lost on their journey anymore. We certainly saw drastic improvements against Nashville with fewer risks, better defensive gap control, and smarter breakouts/outlet passes. As far as I’m concerned, that 10-1 loss was more of a blessing than an embarrassment for the future outlook of the team.

    Antti Niemi

    Then of course, there’s this Niemi part. It’s impossible not to compare Niemi to Fleury given their roles and how loved Fleury is in Pittsburgh still (and how he’s playing in Vegas right now). The comparisons do continue on ice in some interesting ways in my opinion.

    I don’t think Niemi is or will be as bad as that Chicago game suggested. The entire team was awful, especially in the defensive end. The comparison that kept coming to my mind was how Fleury would unravel vs how Niemi was unraveling based on the play of the defense.

    I’ve always pushed the idea that some of Fleury’s worst performances came on account of him overthinking defensive lapses instead of just playing his position. When he would lose trust in his defense, he would suddenly be leaning pass on a 2-on-1 instead of playing the shot or he would try to kick rebounds to impossible areas that would hurt the entire defensive effort.

    Niemi, on the other hand, showed no anticipation for lapses. His awareness seemed to be lacking in general, and he appeared to make the assumption that certain guys would get picked up or proper rebound placement would be cleared out by the defense. However, the defense wasn’t in position for most of the game, leading to open guys that Niemi didn’t adjust to for shots and wasn’t ready for on rebounds. (Yes, I do in fact still look at every goal as a goal assessment and let me tell you, Niemi is definitely not the only one that would have been torn apart in that game.)

    (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

  • I’m not absolving Niemi of blame – he looked bad. I just think he looked worse from an effort and talent perspective after seeing so many years of Fleury flopping around and using his athleticism to anticipate breakdowns and make some spectacular saves. Niemi isn’t going to do that. He’ll be fine if the defense is fine, and it’s very unlikely that he’ll steal a game if the defense plays poorly.
  • Realistically, veteran goalies making $700k don’t steal games, they provide a breather for the starter. Despite what Rutherford has said about Niemi playing 30+ games, I will be surprised if he plays more than 20 (19 back-to-back situations), and I fully expect Jarry to get a call-up and start if Murray deals with any injury that lasts more than a couple of games. Regardless, I think Niemi’s worst performance is in the rearview mirror since the same can likely be said about the team’s worse defensive performance already. I also think the backup goalie position is one that could be upgraded cheaply later this season, so I can’t say I’ll stress over early bad performances.

    The Reaves Effect

    It took all of 3 games for a lot of people to really love Ryan Reaves. I will freely admit I didn’t like the trade at the time, and I’m still on the fence. One notable performance wasn’t going to be enough to sway me (I’m not sure how it’s enough to sway anyone honestly).

    I have to admit I still don’t see the *need* for Reaves. He’s entertaining – there is absolutely no question about that. The arena was going nuts for him throughout the night, chanting “Reaves! Reaves! Reaves!” multiple times. (For anyone who is anti-fighting – just look at how the arena reacts to such events and remember it’s all a business…).

    The Predators spent a significant amount of time pestering Crosby, and Sullivan eventually even put Reaves on Crosby’s line late in the game, but I question the whole deterrent idea behind all of this (it didn’t seem to stop the Predators).

    I actually wonder if it enhances the level of physicality and increases the potential for harm to star players.

    It’s easy to say Reaves defended his teammates and was put on Crosby’s line to protect him, but that’s not an every game occurrence. However, given the role Reaves has, it is an every game occurrence that hitting/physicality will increase with him in the lineup by his own play/style and it’s a possibility that opposing coaches will also dress a similar player to match Reaves. So as the overall level of hitting increases – does that actually put a player like Crosby more in harm’s way than he would normally be?

    Does an innocent forecheck from Reaves in the first period that ends with a big check on a star defenseman lead to a similar result for Letang? Who knows. Does Reaves on a line with Crosby prevent anyone from attacking Crosby? Who knows. (For the record – I personally say no, but it’s not like we have true evidence for any of this stuff; it’s impossible to know the mindset of these guys and what they might do, especially since so much of it is reactionary/not thought out.)

    In the end, I will be fine with this trade if Reaves limits the amount of bad penalties that he takes. I don’t think it was great asset management overall, but expecting perfect asset management is also asinine. Expecting his entire tenure to go like the Nashville game is also asinine.

    Just like with Niemi, be prepared for endless arguments and complaining from both supporters and haters!

    And with that, I shall end my first week of thoughts, which may have turned into rambling. These will get better as the season continues and I figure out my format.

    Thanks for reading!!

3/24/15: St. Louis Blues 3 Pittsburgh Penguins 2 (OT)

1st Penguins Goal (Comeau), Even

  • Pittsburgh Contributions
    K. Letang – skates into the corner of the Penguins zone to join a battle for the puck between Cole and Pietrangelo, then pokes the puck up the boards to Spaling along the boards
    N. Spaling – chips the puck up the left-side boards to Winnik at center ice
    D. Winnik – gets the puck at the red line and pushes it into the offensive zone as he also slips the coverage of Michalek at center ice, which leads to a 2-on-1 with Comeau, then he carries the puck into the left faceoff circle, keeps control of it as Lindbohm tries to poke it away from him, starts to fall as he gets to the bottom of the left faceoff circle, and makes a center pass as he’s falling to Comeau skating by himself through the slot
    B. Comeau – fires Winnik’s pass through Allen’s five-hole into the net
  • St. Louis Faults
    Z. Michalek – tries to step up on Winnik along the boards at center ice and loses him, leaving a 2-on-1 break going the other way against Lindbohm

2nd Penguins Goal (Downie), Even

  • Pittsburgh Contributions
    N. Spaling – steps up from the blue line and intercepts a bad pass from Bouwmeester above the right faceoff circle in the Blues zone, then passes the puck to Downie by himself on top of the crease
    S. Downie – takes the puck at the top of the crease with his back to Allen, turns himself to the right of the crease and pulls his puck to his forehand so he’s facing Allen, then lifts the puck over Allen’s left pad so it hits of of the bottom of his glove off of the back of his right pad, and bounces into the net
  • St. Louis Faults
    J. Bouwmeester – tries to make a pass up to Porter along the left-side boards, but his pass is too far off of the boards and goes directly to Spaling where Porter can’t reach it
    Z. Michalek – leaves the crease area early with Downie around the net as Bouwmeester makes the pass that goes to Spaling, which leaves Downie all by himself in front of Allen with time and space

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