Big Lead Sports Bar

11/11/2008

Koz: GRADING THE PENS



by Koz
koz81@comcast.net

The first month of the 08-09 season has had plenty of ups and downs. In the spirit of sloppy third periods, I’m not going to proofread the last third of this blog post – just fair warning to you as we start. I always like the weekly grading of the Steelers in the Post Gazette, so figured I'd try that with the Pens first month. Thanks to NHL.com for the stats.

CENTERS: B

When one of your centers (Malkin) leads the league in points, that's really going to buoy your grade. Crosby hasn't really dominated a game other than the 4 point night against Toronto. I don't know what to make of all the undisclosed injuries, but I am eager to see the Pens win a few games they probably “shouldn't” just because #87 wills them to win. Also helping this grade is the NHL faceoff leader Mike Zigomanis. What a pickup by Ray Shero. (Read this next sentence with the movie announcer voice, may he rest in peace) In a world where faceoffs are more important than ever with all powerplays starting in the attacking zone, the Pens are winning more than half of their faceoffs and rank in the top 5 of teams in the league. This is even more amazing considering they've been consistently in the cellar for faceoff percentage for several years running. I haven't mentioned Jordan Staal yet, but for more on him see our bonus feature at the end of this post.

WINGERS: D

Satan has been a blessing, leading the team in goals and seemingly building some chemistry especially on the powerplay. Tyler Kennedy (5-4-9) has been a nice surprise, but six of those points have come in three games (the opener and in St. Louis and Long Island). Only Satan and Kennedy are “plus players” right now. Fedotenko has been slow to start and juggled around lines. Recently Talbot has had some good chemistry on the top line but it's only been a few games. Sykora was slow coming out of the gate, possibly due to injury. Dupuis, also apparently injured now, has only notched two goals in 12 games. Jordan Staal... well see below.

DEFENSE: C

Considering two of the top men aren't playing, you can't come down too hard on these guys. Brooks Orpik is earning his big contract extension and celebrating Halloween every night leading the league in free candy, er... hits. Young Alex Goligoski is understandably prone to rookie mistakes on the blueline but filling in admirably on the powerplay. Even still the breakout has suffered without some of the top puck movers in back, which has prevented consistent offensive pressure over long stretches.

GOALTENDING: A

The only thing keeping the Pens in some of these games where the offense has completely dried up has been the goaltending. Fleury and Sabourin have given the team a chance to win nearly every night, even when the rest of their mates seemed to be sleepwalking.

SPECIAL TEAMS: B

A good rule of thumb for special teams is if your powerplay and penalty kill percentages total better than 100%, you're doing pretty well. The Pens powerplay has come on lately and is clicking at 19% for the season. The penalty kill has been steady at 88.5%, which totals out well above the bar at 107.5%. The friendly confines of Mellon Arena are breeding a 28.6% powerplay success rate, which leaves a dismal 7% on the road. Credit the fans for this disparity maybe, but this stat must become more balanced or the Pens will continue to lose games on the road, unless maybe my mom and her cowbell start traveling with the team. The Pens have won two of three shootouts, but the goalies are winning them (allowing only 2 shootout goals on 11 shots). The Penguins must start putitng more pucks in the net during the shootouts to claim some easy points, especially given the gifted offensive depth available.

COACHING: C

During the terrible road trip a few weeks ago, some were grumbling about Therrien even though he recently had his contract extended and took the team to the Cup Final a few months back. Whatever your thoughts are, the team sits at a very similar record today as it did at this time last season. Yeah there's been inconsistent play, constant line shuffling and questioning of the system (see below) but does this look like a team hungover from the Stanley Cup playoffs? I don't really think so.

OVERALL: C

The inconsistencies, late game collapses and offensive droughts make you want to kick your dog, I know. But it could be much worse and given the state of the division, the Pens are in a decent situation. The Islanders are a joke as usual, Philly's defensive injuries make the Penguins' look fortunate, and Brodeur is dead. Only the Rangers stand in front of them and that's thanks to a smoking start (remember where Ottawa ended last season after a start even better than this year's Rangers). Be patient – it's a long way until April.

SPECIAL BONUS FEATURE -The last time I ever write about Jordan Staal.


I don’t want seem bitter about #11 because I think he’s got potential, but I’m 100% fine with him continuing his career elsewhere. Look (as P-E Obama likes to begin when making a point), every passing day Staal’s rookie offensive explosion seems more like an anomaly. He still plays nice defense but can’t seem to finish in front of the net and doesn’t play like a superstar…

OK… I’m writing this while watching the Islanders game and Staal just scored. That’s fine. I’m not going to let him toy with my emotions. I’ve been hurt too many times to allow him to tease his way into my favor. As I was saying, he’s not the commanding presence in front of the net that he should be and he’s still going to demand big money at the end of the season that the Pens can’t afford to pay him given other priorities. However, a team like the Islanders would gladly throw tons of money at a young guy with his “upside.” I suggest trading him soon and not waiting until March when his explosive rookie campaign is a distant memory. Get what you can now and let’s move on. He’s great as a third line center, but he’s not going to want to be paid third line center money.

And what was with that comment after the 4-1 loss in Phoenix? Those aren’t healthy quotes. There seems to be some general grousing that’s been going on here for a while, and I think Jordan will just be happier out from under the shadow of the Pens current nucleus. I mean the guy’s a #2 overall pick and he’s always the afterthought during any national Penguins broadcast like Fredo Corleone.

Let me restate that I really hope I’m wrong about this and would love to see Staal flourish and I root for him to do well. I expected much more out of him in his contract year and it just doesn’t seem to be happening. I’m just calling it how I see it. It really comes down to what money Ray Shero thinks Staal will require to stay. Anyway, I’m not getting on him anymore. You all know how I feel about him and let’s just move on.

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2 comments:

Steve said...

I think about 80% of the Pens fans agree with you about Staal. Those that don't are either overly optimistic/unrealistic, puck bunnies, or bought a Staal jersey and want to keep wearing it.

G said...

We've got a pile of puck-rushing Dmen here in Toronto, and could use a young two-way centre. A deal could work well for both sides.

Basically the only untouchables on the TO blueline are Schenn and Stralman, anyone else can be had.

Kaberle would look good in Pitt, is less than $5mil and would likely waive the NTC to play on a team with Crosby. Just saying.

However Kabs straight-up would be a tad too lopsided ... the guy has been an All-Star, after all, on a few occasions. Maybe Kabs for Staal + a 2nd rounder?