Tag Archives: Pittsburgh Penguins

What Are You Doing, Sullivan?

Image result for marc-andre fleury free useThe 2016-2017 Pittsburgh Penguins postseason run has been a bumpy ride. The Columbus Blue Jackets battered the Pens throughout the first round and the Washington Capitals, clearly the better team for most of if not all of the series, couldn’t close out Pittsburgh in game seven. The defacto key to both series? Marc-Andre Fleury. Fleury outplayed two Vezina winners in Sergei Bobrovsky and Braden Holtby and handedly so. While Bobrovsky struggled to contain the Pens’ blistering offense, Fleury posted save percentages of 97 and 98 in the first two games, stopping 70 of 72. In one of Fleury’s best postseason performances, he thwarted 49 of 51 Columbus rubber pellets in the series-clinching game five win.

In round two, Holtby watched from afar as his teammates peppered the Penguins’ end for seven games and watched with frustration as Fleury continued to bail his teammates out. Holtby, on the other end and with little to do, failed to execute. In the second period of game four, Holtby gave up two goals on four shots. That is laughable and he, more than anyone, cost his team the series.

On the opposite side, we have a goalie that surely stole a series against a superior opponent, including a game seven shutout on the road. Fleury was as much a fluid gymnast in front of the net, contorting his body in every shape and form, as he was a magician, making pucks disappear before hitting twine. He has been the Penguins best player this postseason and is a virtual guarantee to win the Conn Smythe if they win Lord Stanley’s cup. The Penguins’ offense that was first in goals and third on the powerplay during the regular season has been on and off during this year’s run and it hasn’t mattered. Marc-Andre Fleury has been the best postseason goalie. Pekka Rinne is the only other candidate you could even make an argument for.

A goalie is the most integral part to playoff success. Goalies can steal a game or, a la Fleury, a series.

And never in my life have I seen the best postseason goalie in a calendar year get benched. Until today.

In an unprecedented move, coach Mike Sullivan will be starting Matt Murray in tonight’s game four. There’s no logical reasoning for this.

If anything has hampered the Pens during this series, it’s been the team’s inability to score. The Pens should have won game one, but went 0/5 on the powerplay, an ongoing problem. Injuries knocked Bryan Rust and Justin Schultz out of game two and there’s no timetable for their return. In three games, the once mighty Pittsburgh offense has scored three goals. The defense that has played quite well without headmaster Kris Letang completely flopped in game three, to an embarrassing level. Only one of the goals scored on Fleury on Wednesday could be attributed to him. The utter incompetence of the Pens defensemen that game was the singularity of that trainwreck and everyone who watched that game knows that.

Except Mike Sullivan. Mike Sullivan appears concerned with how to allow less goals rather than score more than one. That is the only rationale I can come up with at this point.

Look, Mike Sullivan is a wizard. I love him and he’s already on his way to being one of the best coaches in franchise history. Of all the issues this team currently has in front of them, goaltending has been the least of them. It has been since day one. It still is. Patrick Roy could have played goal for the Pens on Wednesday. It would not have changed the outcome.

So, to bench Fleury, your best player this postseason run, because of a historically bad period from your defense, makes not even a minute of sense. Matt Murray has always been Sullivan’s favorite and that will most likely never change, but head coaches are not afforded the graces of favoritism. One goalie has played the best postseason of his career. The other hasn’t played a full game since April 6. It doesn’t take a genius to figure this one out.

On the other hand, Sullivan is a genius and even he couldn’t figure out this “conundrum.”

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The Pittsburgh Penguins: What’s Happened and What’s Next

The Penguins excel year after year during the regular season and while the playoffs have put the Pens at a standstill time and time again, injuries, Fleury’s inconsistency and a knack of running into the playoff goalies of that respective year have been uncontrollable roadblocks for the team.

Nonetheless, coach Dan Bylsma was fired.

Coming off arguably his best season yet, a year in which the Pens had more man-games lost than any other team in the NHL, it seems illogical to fire a coach that was able to put together a 51-24-7 record and the fourth-most regular season/overtime wins in the league behind Boston, Anaheim and Colorado when he had practically half of his team on the injury list throughout the season. Playoffs are what matter, but you don’t make the playoffs unless you win during the regular season. Injuries are natural to sports and you have to overcome them, something Bylsma has shown he can do. Among the records he holds, Bylsma is currently the franchise leader in wins (252), win percentage (67%), playoff games (78) and playoff wins (43) in less than five seasons of coaching.

It just doesn’t make sense. If the Penguins are looking for someone to blame, perhaps they should read my post on their early exit. The players were to blame for their performance, not Bylsma or Shero.

The king of plus-minus, Matt Niskanen: a minus-two. He might be looking for big money this offseason but Niskanen faltered in the playoffs like a limping dog, which no doubt contributed to the team’s top-ranked power play failing to capitalize on chances. I’m a huge fan of Nis-cannon, as we like to call him, but if he’s looking for big money, I hope we’re not the ones to give it to him. We need defensive defensemen to repair a defense that had as many holes in the playoffs as the net’s twine.

The biggest reason the Pens failed to advance: Sidney Crosby. The captain of the team, Art Ross trophy winner for the most points in the league by nearly 20 with 104 and probable league MVP did not produce. He had one of the worst playoffs of his career, posting a minus-four and one goal in 13 games.

James Neal had more penalty minutes (24) in the playoffs than Kunitz and Crosby had points combined (17).

The players were to blame here, not Shero and Bylsma and if the franchise doesn’t drop some players and add some new ones this offseason and put the blame where it actually belongs, it won’t matter who the coach is because this team hasn’t fixed the real problem. If a car has a flat tire, you don’t replace the steering wheel responsible for superb handling. That car still ain’t going no where fast. You get out of the car and put on the spare. For the record, I don’t have a clue who we’re going to get to coach this team. Unless Mike Babcock from Detroit is on the table, I don’t see anyone else who has the expertise to coach this team.

Looking on to the offseason:

Neal may have been third in goals for the team (27) and accomplished that after playing in only 59 games, but LW Jussi Jokinen was more valuable to the team. He played in all but one of the team’s games and had 21 goals and 57 points, only four less than Neal and that’s with Neal having nearly 60 more shots on net. Couple that with Neal’s poor playoff performances, his talent for taking stupid penalties as I think I’ve pointed out above and his lust for suspensions for dirty play, I feel like the writing is on the wall. He’s becoming a puckhog and he’s not even good at being one. Time for him to go.

Kunitz led the team in powerplay goals and was one goal behind Crosby for the lead in overall goals. Crosby-Kunitz is one of the best duos in the league and the fact that Kunitz is being underpaid makes this guy an easy keeper.

Dupuis had his season cut short by an ACL tear but was at his best the year before. A first line of Kunitz-Crosby-Dupuis sounds very capable to me.

Of all the acquisitions the Pens made during the season, Stempniak was my favorite. He’s got a lot of talent, filled in well with the Crosby line and doesn’t take up a lot of salary. 11 points in 21 games ain’t too shabby.

After the year Jokinen had, (see Neal comments) Jokinen will surely be asking for a pay raise from his potential suitors. It might be a fluke so it’s important the Pens don’t overpay. I’d go $4 million, maybe $4.5 but that would really be pushing it. However, Jokinen is one of only five Pens who played 80 or more games this year. The Pens need to find players that can avoid injury and Jokinen is one of them. Jokinen-Malkin-Stempniak sounds solid.

There was talk at the trade deadline that Sutter might be on his way out, but it didn’t happen. I’ve heard some reports that management isn’t happy with Sutter but I am. He’s a good faceoff man and penalty killer and most important of all, he’s durable. Sutter was another one of the five Pens who played 80 or more games. The other three: Crosby, Matt Niskanen and old reliable Craig Adams. I’d go $3, maybe $3.25 million. Sadly, I think the Pens will let him walk though.

As for the defensive woes, a major overhaul is needed here. Matt Niskanen and Olli Maatta were the only two blue-liners who had a plus-minus in the top 100 of league defensemen.This team is crying out for youth and durability yet the team signed Rob Scuderi, a 35-year old defenseman far past his prime who missed 29 games.

Paul Martin might be 33 but he plays like a 40-year old. This year, Martin played as many games as Marc-Andre Fleury had wins (39). That’s not even half the season. Last year Martin played 34 games. In the last two years of Penguins’ hockey, out of a possible 164 games, Martin has played 73. That’s 44.5%.

That’s atrocious, especially for a team that continually struggles with a statistic known as man-games lost. This year the Penguins had the most: 529. That’s 108 more than second-place Detroit and twice as many as half the league starting with New Jersey’s 261 at the 15 slot. If you take the number of players on an NHL starting lineup (20) and multiply that by the number of games in a season (82), you get 1640. Now divide 529 by 1640. You’ll get 32.2%. Of all the games the Penguins lineup could have missed, they missed 32.2%. That’s nearly a third!

An easy way to solve this problem: get rid of the old and bring in the new. The Penguins had the 6th oldest team in the league at an average age of 28.1 years old. This team needs a Drew Doughty, a young, emphasis on young, talented defenseman who can make a significant contribution to the team defensively, emphasis on defensively, and be a consistent starter.

Narrowing our focus more,  it’s this team’s defense that’s old and defenses win championships. Only one top-10 defense didn’t make it to the playoffs: the New Jersey Devils. The Kings had the best goals against average during the regular season, the best defense in the league. They won the cup. The average age of their top six blue-liners? 27.8 years old. The Pens? 29.

Now, that doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it is. The Kings’ average is inflated because of Willie Mitchell, who’s 37. The rest of their starters aside from Matt Greene (31) are younger than 27. Meanwhile, the Pens’ average is deflated by rookie Olli Maata, bringing their average down to 29 despite Orpik (33), Martin (33) and Scuderi (35) all being in their mid 30′s. If you take Maatta out of the equation, their average blue-liner is 31. No playoff team or top-10 defense had a blue-line core that old except for the Montreal Canadiens.

If you take this “young defenses win” theory just a little farther, you see a strong correlation between youth on the back side and winning. What would you say if I said I could have correctly predicted a majority of the Stanley Cup playoff matches based purely off of the ages of their defensive core? You’d probably call me a loony and I wouldn’t blame you. Bringing the competitive edge of playoff hockey all the way down to birth dates is ridiculous, but stats don’t lie.

The playoff bracket at the beginning of the playoffs looked like this:

Ducks (27) vs. Stars (28.5)= Ducks (won)

Blackhawks (29.3) vs. Blues (28.8)= Blues (lost)

Wild (25.7) vs. Avalanche (28.5)= Wild (won)

Kings (27.8) vs. Sharks (29.5)= Kings (won)

Rangers (26.8) vs. Flyers (30.8) =Rangers (won)

Pens (29) vs. Blue Jackets (26)= Blue Jackets (lost)

Canadiens (31.5) vs. Lightning (29)= Lightning (lost)

Bruins (27) vs. Red Wings (26.7) = Red Wings (lost)

It’s hard to predict the first round accurately because playoff hockey is so different from the regular season. Nonetheless half of these are right based on nothing but birth dates.

Teams with defenses that average under 28 win. Teams that are above that golden line, without an incredible offense, do not. A lot of the teams that struggled during the playoffs (like the Avalanche, Blues, Sharks, Pens, Flyers, Lightning and Stars) all had a d-line that averaged above 28. Only one of those teams advanced to the next round and that was the Pens, who were playing the inexperienced Blue Jackets. Two other teams above 28 made it further, the Blackhawks and Canadiens, but the Blackhawks had a stellar offense, second-best in the league. The Canadiens are the only outlier.

On the other side of the coin, most teams under that 28 mark like the Kings, Bruins, Rangers, Wild, and Ducks all made it to at least the second round. The Blue Jackets (26) were inexperienced and the Red Wings may be young on the back end (26.7), but they’re ancient on the front end with Zetterberg (33), Franzen (34), Datsyuk (35), Cleary (35), Bertuzzi (39), and Alfredsson (41).

This is all information you can find with a little digging and computing on the teams’ websites on ESPN. It’s not rocket science, people. Start drafting defensemen and bringing in the young guns because Crosby, Malkin and Fleury aren’t getting any younger. If the Pens have a sports information department and know how to read, they’ll take my advice.

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The Greatest Sports City in the World

What is the greatest sports team? It’s a question that has plagued the minds of sports enthusiasts such as myself since professional sports became a thing. It’s a question that will never have a definitive answer. However, there is a consolation prize to another question: What is the greatest sports city in the world? Thanks to ESPN The Magazine, fans have been gifted with statistics over the last ten years that have allowed ESPN to rank every NFL, MLB, NHL, and NBA team. Founded on a combination of surveys and statistics, ESPN The Magazine is able to calculate what fans want from their sports teams. The formula they develop also differentiates fans’ needs by percentages. For example, fans rated fan relations as the most important element to a sports franchise while ranking coaching and title track at the bottom of the list. Therefore, fan relations composes 25.2 percent of a franchise’s ultimate ranking score. The total formula is listed below, all of which you can find, along with total franchise ranking breakdowns, here:

Fan relations: 25.2 percent; Courtesy of players, coaches and front offices toward fans and how well a team uses technology to reach them.

Affordability: 17.4 percent; Price of tickets, parking and concessions.

Bang for the buck: 16.8 percent; This information is developed with researchers at the University of Oregon’s Warsaw Sports Marketing Center to figure out how efficiently teams convert revenues from fans into team performance including postseason victories.

Stadium experience: 12.4 percent; Quality of venue, fan-friendliness of environment, frequency of game-day promotions.

Players: 11.3 percent; Effort on the field, likability off it.

Ownership: 10.2 percent; Honesty and loyalty to core players and to the community.

Title track: 3.6 percent; Championships won or expected within the lifetime of current fans.

Coaching: 3.1 percent; Strength of on-field leadership.

Now if you clicked on the link, you’ll see which teams were ranked high and which teams weren’t. What you won’t see is which cities have the best sports teams. However, with some basic arithmetic you can find out. Write down all the cities in the country that have at least three major sports teams. If they have more than three, write those down, too. Take the three best franchises that each team has, add the three rankings and divide by three, which will give you an average ranking of a team from that city. The city with the lowest average has the best franchises.

The results may surprise you. You’d think the cities with more teams would have an advantage because after all, that means they only have to pick the best three, which cancels out any mediocre teams they may and probably do have. However, that’s not the case.

It’s not Miami, who actually has the worst at an average ranking of 80.6 despite the Heat’s 25th ranking. It’s not New York, Los Angeles, Chicago or Detroit. The greatest sports city in the world in 2013: Pittsburgh. Below are the stats to prove it.

  1. Pittsburgh: Penguins (7), Steelers (31), Pirates (52)     Average: 30
  2. Tampa Bay: Rays (17), Lightning (30), Bucs (65)     Average: 37.3
  3. Chicago: Blackhawks (14), Bulls (42), White Sox (62)     Average: 39.3
  4. Detroit: Red Wings (13), Tigers (22), Pistons (84)     Average: 39.6
  5. St. Louis: Cardinals (12), Blues (26), Rams (85)     Average: 41
  6. Los Angeles: Kings (24), Angels (51), Clippers (55)     Average: 43.3
  7. Denver/CO: Broncos (15), Nuggets (43), Rockies (73)     Average: 43.6
  8. Atlanta: Falcons (20), Braves (23), Hawks (89)     Average: 44
  9. Boston: Patriots (39), Celtics (45), Bruins (48)     Average: 44
  10. Arizona: Diamondbacks (6), Coyotes (47), Cardinals (81)     Average: 44.6
  11. Minnesota: Wild (50), Twins (58), Vikings (69)     Average: 59
  12. Washington: Nationals (49), Capitals (68), Redskins (86)     Average: 67.6
  13. Dallas: Mavericks (29), Stars (70), Cowboys (107)     Average: 68.6
  14. Oakland: Warriors (32), Athletics (61), Raiders (116)     Average: 69.6
  15. Cleveland: Indians (44), Cavaliers (60), Browns (109)     Average: 71
  16. Philadelphia: Phillies( 59), Flyers (67), 76ers (94)     Average: 73.3
  17. New York: Giants (66), Rangers (76), Islanders (78)     Average: 73.3
  18. Miami: Heat (25), Dolphins (97), Marlins (120)     Average: 80.6

The stats back it up. Now is this a fool-proof system? No, it’s not, but it’s the closest we’re going to get to a concrete answer.

The Penguins were ranked as the best team in hockey, ranking second in fan relations and if you know anything about the Penguins, it’s that they know how to interact with the fans. The Pens were awarded fourth in ownership and stadium experience, which can both be accredited to Le Magnifique himself, Mario Lemieux, who bought the Penguins and the Wilkes-Barre Penguins out of bankruptcy in 1999. He was also instrumental in keeping the team in Pittsburgh and in negotiating the construction of the Consol Energy Center in 2007. The Consol Energy Center earned the Penguins a fourth place finish in stadium experience as well, showing that the new accommodations truly are a sight to see. The Pens were also ranked eleventh in players and tenth in title track, meaning the sights are set high for the Pens for the next couple of seasons.

The Pittsburgh Steelers, also known as the Sixburgh Steelers, were ranked eighth in ownership. The Rooney family is known for its high moral standing when it comes to signing players who demonstrate the highest ethical issues and those who fail to meet that standard are usually let go no matter what accomplishments that may make on the field. For example, Santonio Holmes won Super Bowl XLIII MVP, with some arguing he won the Super Bowl for the Steelers single-handedly. When Holmes was caught selling marijuana a second time, the Steelers traded him for a fifth-round pick to the New York Jets. The Rooney family is not all about the money as are plenty of franchise owners (looking at you Toronto Maple Leafs and Sacramento Kings owners). They want to win, but they also want to put appropriate role models on the field that people can look up to, something that, even if you’re not a Steelers fan, you have to admire. The Steelers were ranked fifth in title track because they are Sixburgh after all and the ninth-best football franchise.

Finally, we have the Pittsburgh Pirates, a team that went through one of the darkest periods of pro sports history when they had an MLB record 20 consecutive losing seasons. The epitome of losing could be found in Three Rivers Stadium for most of my childhood, which I think is why I’m not a Pirates fan or a baseball fan for that matter. It was one of the most miserable spectacles of sports performance ever witnessed that how the team did not go bankrupt or leave town I have no indication. However, the Pittsburgh Pirates have finally gotten their ownership and managing on the same page, a group of people who actually understand how to make a team, and have made the Pittsburgh Pirates into a contender again. The team ranked ninth in bang for the buck, tenth in stadium experience, and 18th in affordability. They were also ranked the 14th best baseball franchise.

Since the Super Bowl era began in 1967, only four times has a city had two of its three major sports franchises win a championship in the same year, the 1969 New York Jets and Mets and the 2004 New England Patriots and Boston Red Sox being two of them. The other two? The 1979 Steelers and Pirates and the 2009 Steelers and Penguins. Pittsburgh is the only city to win multiple championships the same year twice and there’s a very simple explanation to why this is the case. We’re Sixburgh. We’re the best. We are the City of Champions and until you do it twice, you can’t take that away from us.

 

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Pens Have Important Decision to Make: Vokoun vs. Fleury

Marc-Andre Fleury Saves the Day

Marc-Andre Fleury Saves the Day (Photo credit: wstera2)

Vokoun Looking Toward Corner

Vokoun Looking Toward Corner (Photo credit: clydeorama)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I haven’t been following hockey this year because I’m mad at the NHL for locking out again, as well as them failing to recognize that it’s not all about the money, so I’m on a hiatus until the next full season starts in October.

However, I have seen which teams are winning and the most recent news and the Pittsburgh Penguins have played fantastic, and that with starting goalie Marc Andre Fleury sitting on the bench and backup Tomas Vokoun between the pipes, who has played as if he’s a starter.

Vokoun’s play is most certainly something to be admired because of his age and because of his backup status, but it has caused a problem that I feel many people are overlooking. Naturally, the goal of every season is to win the Stanley Cup, but the problem I am referring to is one that could arise in the future. Fleury has been on the bench for the last seven or so games, which is understandable after his hard-to-watch performances. Something that I’ve thought though is will they give Fleury a secondhand chance. Obviously Vokoun is the hot hand and I understand why he’s started so many games, but if the Pens win the Stanley Cup and they do so with Vokoun and not Fleury, how is Fleury going to feel, knowing that he, the starting goalie, sat on the bench during a Stanley Cup run where the Penguins All-Star roster ran over opponents like a freight train? I don’t know about you, but if my team won the Stanley Cup and me, a starting goalie, didn’t get to be a part of it, I’d be pretty mad and might even consider leaving. Now I’m not saying Fleury would do that, but I’m saying it doesn’t sound like an insane proposition if you really think about it.

Vokoun’s 36 years old, meaning he probably has three years max left in the tank, and Fleury is this team’s future, isn’t he? You need to have an elite goalie between the pipes if you’re going to win the Stanley Cup and for the most part that even goes for teams that are incredible offensively and defensively. In football, defense wins championships, or so they say. For me, goalies win championships in hockey. They are the most important part of the defense, for me the equivalent of a quarterback in football. It won’t matter if you have Brett Hull, Wayne Gretzky, and Mario Lemieux all on the same team. If you have one of the worst goalies in the league on your team filled with All-Stars, I’d say the chances of you winning go down a lot. Is it possible to win a Cup without an elite goalie? Yes, but is it probable? No, I’d say it’s not.

For me, I’d say give Fleury the start Game One. If he plays bad, bench him for the rest of the playoffs as long as Vokoun is healthy to go. That way, if he leaves even after you gave him a second chance, you know that you did your best to appease him and you can move on with no regrets.

As Robby Baker of bleacherreport.com said,

Looking forward, the Penguins will have a tough decision to make. According to CapGeek, Fleury will have a $5 million cap hit next year. Shero will have to manage his money carefully as he looks to re-sign key players such as Pascal Dupuis, Matt Cooke, Craig Adams, Tyler Kennedy and Jarome Iginla.

I’d encourage you to read the full article, which you can do by clicking here, because he discusses the same thing I’m talking about with more detail since I haven’t been following much hockey this spring.

So, the Pens have an important decision to make: Is winning the Stanley Cup your number one goal or do you want to preserve your future as well?

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