Penguins Closer Look (Special Teams/Goaltending)
Is fifth place overall a terrible place to be when it comes to the Power Play? When it comes to many teams I would have to say no, but if you have Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, and Kris Letang on your team that may be conceived as underachieving. Last season the Penguins improved from being 25th the season prior to being 5th overall with the man advantage, yet many still believe that this is underachieving. Last year was a big year for the club in many aspects, multiple players had career years and it seemed that Malkin was able to reach a level of play Pittsburgh hasn’t seen since before Crosby went out with concussion symptoms. Personally I feel the team overachieved in almost every aspect of the game during the regular season, except maybe defense during the second half. The fact that the power play was able to improve as much as it did with out Sidney Crosby in the line up was a relief, but with Crosby back to full form this season, may we see a PP that is unable to find its groove once again?
2011-2012 PP STATS
PP Rank: 5th in the League
Goals: 57 PP%: 19.7
Last Season Compared to what we may see this year.
Last seasons PP unit consisted of Malkin, Neal, Kunitz, Letang, Sullivan. This line had every aspect you need in a Power Play line, grit with Kunitz in front of the Net and tenacious board play, Neal with his wicked shot, Geno the play making sniper, Letang with his slowly improving shot from the point, and Sullivan with his great puck moving and transition skills. It is no wonder why Neal was number one in the league in power play goals with 18.
With Sullivan no longer on the team that leaves one spot open on this Unit and without a doubt Crosby will be the man to slide into that spot, unfortunately though some rearranging will have to take place to accommodate his skills. Crosby is most proficient on the half boards to the left of the goalie, in his career he has tortured many players in that position, but so has Malkin. Geno’s shot from the top of the circle (right outside the half wall) is one of the most dangerous (maybe second to only Steven Stamkos) in the league, so the question is who do you put in that position? We know Kunitz, Neal, and Tanger will all stay in their respected positions, but where do Sid and Geno go?
Prior to last season there was a BIG debate (mostly between fans and analysts) of where each of those Players should be. Geno took the point while Sid took the half wall. It was most ineffective if you were to look at the stats, in ’09-’10 PGH ranked 19th on the PP and ’10-’11 ranked 25th. So what will they do. Unfortunately I foresee the team using this same unit and very rarely straying from this. Instead of changing Geno or Sid they will move around the other players or swap them with different ones. Maybe that works, but history has proven otherwise.
What I feel they NEED to do
Split Crosby and Malkin, Have two Good units compared to one GREAT unit. If Malkin can put up 12 PPG and Sid puts up 12 PPG, that is better than both of them getting six because they are incapable of playing on the same unit. We know Crosby makes any player become capable of more than they ever have, so keeping the top unit with Geno intact and adding a hot player to the mix could prove to work, where as Crosby’s unit could be the likes of Dupuis or Bennett, Kennedy or Tangradi, Letang and Martin. That could be a solid unit as well and will be just as dangerous BECAUSE Sidney is on the ice.
What do you think, should they stick all their eggs in one basket, or should they spread it out and make the other teams have to worry that much more?
What about the Penalty Kill, two seasons ago they were the #1 PK in the league last year they dropped very slightly to #3, but with the big man Jordan Staal out of the picture there is a slight possibility that the team may drop once again.
2011-2012 PK STATS
PK Rank: 3rd
GA: 33 PK%: 87.8
Despite having one of the worst defensive units in the second half of 2011-2012 the Pens were still able to put together a very effective Penalty Kill, the core of the unit was Jordan Staal, Matt Cooke(left), and Kennedy, those three players have had some of the best chemistry over the past 3 or 4 seasons, but this year Staal must be replaced and the man for that job is Brandon Sutter. Sutter played this role while on Carolina and should be expected to here. Though he may not have the size of Staal he is very capable and very dangerous while a man down. I would expect to see him paired with Cooke and Kennedy most of the season not only on the third line, but also on the PK.
One thing that does concern me for the PK is the lack of shot blocking defensemen on this team, Michalek was the best one we had last year, yet Shero traded him away for prospects. Orpik and Engelland are sure to see time on this unit, but neither really block shots all that well, so where does this leave the team? It’s really up in the air at this point, I am sure Bylsma has some idea of what they will do, but with Despres and Bortuzzo set to partake in the shortened training camp possibly one of them can fill that void missing on the blue line.
What I think they should do.
The Penguins have roughly $9 million to play with, get out there and try and find a SOLID Defensemen, I know the plan is to sign Letang and Malkin to long term contracts this off season and with the Cap dropping next season it will be difficult to keep a lot of these players around, but make an effort. Prove to the city you are going for it all this season, giving up one or two prospects and a couple draft picks will not hurt as bad as you may think in the long run.
Fleury – GP:67, W:42, L:17, GAA:2.36, SV%:.913
Goaltending may be the single most important aspect in this shortened season, and Pittsburgh may have the best one two tandem in the league. Fleury though coming off of a very disappointing early playoff exit last season, has always been a player that can bounce back and remind everyone why he was chosen first overall in 2003. I expect Fleury to put up improved numbers from last year, and would not be surprised if he made a run at the Vezina. Tomas Vokoun(right) was a great pick up by Shero and company, he is nearly a 20 year veteran who has proven to be solid when called upon, in 48 games last season his numbers are very similar to those that Fleury put up. The coaching staff has already stated that these two goalies will see nearly equal amount of time due to the shortened schedule. I expect that Vokoun will be the reason Fleury performs well this season, he will push him to be in top form night in and night out.
What I think they should do.
Nothing, stay with the idea of playing them equally as they are both capable of handling big games. Don’t be afraid to hurt ones feelings either, if one is not playing well let them know it and give the other a chance, no need to worry if the other is ready or not.
So there it is folks over the past week we have taken a look at the Penguins roster, what are your expectations, are the Pens the Cup Contenders others are making them to be, or do they have a lot of work to do? You be the judge.
Check out my other Articles from this week.