DK'S GRIND

Kovacevic: Penguins’ recent results masking rut

The Penguins keep winning, but a deeper dive shows they’ve taken some steps back in the past half-dozen games.

Amalie Arena reflects the downtown Tampa skyline. - DAVE MOLINARI / DKPS

TAMPA, Fla. — With all due respect to all 82 games’ worth of fun all through the NHL winter, the regular season still doesn’t amount to a whit next to what follows.

Same applies to the outcomes.

So take this, please, in the appropriate context, but the Penguins have won four of their past six games, including rollicking results over the Bruins, Flyers and Capitals … and candidly, they haven’t been anywhere near their best. Not in any of them. Nowhere near what they’d been before.

It’s been equally evident to the eye — particularly in embarrassingly lopsided third periods against the latter two — as it has via advanced analytics: The Penguins’ five-on-five play, generally the most important indicator of a team’s overall performance, has been the NHL’s second-worst over these past half-dozen games, as gauged by a pathetic 42.86 Corsi For percentage. Broken down, they’ve been outscored by 13-9, outshot by 154-111, and given up 48 high-danger scoring chances while generating 37.

The only team in the league a with a lower Corsi For percentage in that span?

Yep, the Red Wings.

Tristan Jarry and Matt Murray saved the collective bacon in the past two games and others, and that’s always welcome, but it’s a lousy formula for success. Jarry made 12 saves on high-danger chances against Philadelphia, Murray 10 in Washington. And this behind a team that, for the full season, still ranks fourth-best in preventing such chances.

Fortunately, the solution, at least as I see it, is clear-cut in scope: Play at the far end.

This isn’t just about defending well. It’s about attacking with the same vigor and sustained efficiency. It’s about gaining the blue line, pushing deep, cycling smartly, crowding the crease before shooting, then retrieving the puck with the same passion. Like a full roster of Bryan Rust, if you will.

I asked Mike Sullivan here if the five-on-five’s got another gear to reach.

“I think we do,” he replied. “You know, I think we’ve had our moments when we’ve played extremely well. I think we can do a better job controlling momentum. When we throughout the course of games when teams push. We’ve talked about that with the group over the last couple of days.”

Taking a breath and smiling slightly, he added, “But you know, I think this group is capable of great things. They’re a terrific group of players. I think they play well as a team. They play hard for one another. And it’s the team game that makes us. As I say to the guys all the time, when we play together, we’re a lot harder to play against. I do think we’re capable of more we’re going to continue to push this group to, to try to get to another level.”

Evgeni Malkin, for his part, insists it’s still there.

“We’re playing like a tight group, and we’re playing 60 minutes,” he said. “In the third period in Washington, people probably say they played better. But they needed to score two goals, and we played better in the D-zone. It was like a playoff game.”

That’s fair, but when the evidence runs to the current extreme, it’s not lying. The forward push has been lost, to a degree. And that’s understandable. As Kris Letang told me in Winnipeg way back in October, “This is a demanding way to play.” He spoke it not as a complaint but with pride, and it’s still the best summation of this Sullivan system I’ve heard.

It’s tough. It’s taxing.

It’s also the only way to play. For this team, anyway.

Not to be that guy, but the Capitals have a better, deeper roster than the Penguins minus Jake Guentzel. And the Lightning, the opponent here tonight at Amalie Arena, are that much better, deeper than the Capitals. That matters. Barring upsets, those two teams and the Bruins are the ones the Penguins will need to beat in April and May, and all are currently better.

They’ll remain that way, too, unless both of the following occur:

1. Jim Rutherford needs to replace a significant percentage of Guentzel’s elite ability to sustain an attack. I doubt seriously he’ll land some 40-goal finisher — and I’m not sure I want that since it’d surely cost a first-round pick — but it’s got to be, at a minimum, someone who helps in this one regard. That player isn’t Dominik Kahun, isn’t any of the younger kids, isn’t anyone internally.

2. Resume playing the right way.

That’s on everyone. It’s fallen off these past few games, regardless of personnel. And if anyone thought the Flyers and Capitals had begun to expose that, wait till they see how the Bolts will blow it to smithereens.

• The NHL doesn’t have a team better than the one based here. And these twin terrors are just the tip of it:

If the visitors don’t spend the evening circling Andrei Vasilevskiy, those numbers up there will rise exponentially. With company.

• There’s no reason for Juuso Riikola to sit in favor of Chad Ruhwedel, and not just because it forces either Ruhwedel or Justin Schultz, both righties, to play on his wrong side. Fact is, Riikola was more than solid in Schultz’s absence, and his overall five-on-five work through the 28 games he’s played has been second among the team’s defensemen only to Letang’s, though it’s worth emphasizing that Jacques Martin tries to keep him from starting shifts on defensive-zone faceoffs.

Bottom line: He’s been good, and he’s only getting better. Sitting him feels like preferring the veteran, but that tiebreaker really shouldn’t apply here.

“It’s not the ideal scenario,” Sullivan conceded here yesterday. “But under the circumstances, we feel that these are the best six defensemen, that we have in the lineup.”

We’ll see.

• Doesn’t matter who starts in goal. Not tonight. Not Saturday in Sunrise. Not until Game 1 of the playoffs. Sullivan’s blessed with two options both playing at or near his best. He’s got everything to gain, including managing a busy schedule ahead, from simply rotating them. So, Jarry vs. Lightning, Murray vs. Panthers, etc.

• Which isn’t to suggest they’re having matching seasons. They aren’t, as Taylor Haase breaks down today.

• It’s got to be uplifting for Guentzel, Brian Dumoulin and all the injured players to be on this trip. The team hasn’t announced this, but they’ll have a beach day in Fort Lauderdale when they get to the other side of the state, and having everyone around is exactly what a class hockey management would do.

• I have no idea which ‘media’ is being referenced here, but if it’s Pittsburgh media, this statement is miles off the mark:

I don’t ever speak for anyone but myself, but if anyone in the Pittsburgh media ever had any issue with Phil Kessel, it’d be news to me. And it definitely didn’t apply to me. I had a blast with the man. Never a bad experience. Never a bad thought.

The hard irony of the statement above is that Kessel was often rough on the Penguins’ media relations staff, as witnessed — and reported — on multiple occasions by multiple outlets.

Kevin-Colbert-pittsburgh-steelers-smile

Kevin Colbert. – MATT SUNDAY / DKPS

Kevin Colbert’s one-year extension qualifies as news inasmuch as it hadn’t existed until yesterday, but that’s about it. He was never leaving the Steelers this soon and, when the day comes that he does, it’ll be to retire to his backyard barbecue. He’s a lifer.

Also, in spite of his ordinary-Joe persona, he’s as driven as they come. He’s not about to walk out on a team that he and others rightly see as a real contender if Ben Roethlisberger’s back to full health. No one’s better equipped to address the remaining needs, and no one’s better connected to the head coach to grasp those needs.

It’s a good development nonetheless. Obviously. Imagine the alternative.

• The Steelers’ defense already is better than any we saw through the NFL playoffs, right through the Super Bowl. And that’s with all due respect to Nick Bosa and the 49ers, but they don’t have a Minkah Fitzpatrick or a T.J. Watt, and the Steelers have their Bosa — albeit older — in Cam Heyward.

• Where’s it written in stone that Javon Hargrave can’t be kept?

No, really, what’s so expensive that needs to be added to the offense?

Bud Dupree will cost a mint, but that’s largely covered through Antonio Brown’s departure. And I get that the Steelers could use a reliable running back and tight end. But the latter would come with Vance McDonald being cut, which brings savings, and the former who’s most likely to be a second-round draft pick who’ll make rookie minimum.

Don’t risk it with this defense. Find a way. Hargrave’s legit.

• Hard not to be happy for the Chiefs, for Andy Reid, and really, for one of the most passionate, vocal and identifiable fan bases in the NFL. Unless you’ve been at Arrowhead, you won’t fully appreciate that. For those people to remain that hardy over a 50-year drought, that’s what fandom is all about. Congrats to one and all.

• Wait, the Red Sox dumped one of Major League Baseball’s elite talents because they wouldn’t/couldn’t pay him?

And Bostonians are aghast at this, calling for new ownership?

And the Dodgers and their endless billions continue to brazenly boast of their entitlement as only they can?

Why, it’s almost as if there’s something spectacularly wrong with the game’s economics that we’re even taking about this sort of stuff. You know, rather than just all teams having an equal chance through the salary cap as they do in every other North American professional sport.

Crazy.

• For the billionth time, to everyone everywhere who cites a ‘salary floor:’ There’s no such thing as a floor without a cap, no such thing as a cap without a floor, no such thing as either without expanded revenue sharing.

There’s never a need to qualify wanting a cap ‘so long as there’s a floor,’ as I read and hear too often. One can’t exist without the other.

• Good on Ben Cherington for making more changes to the Pirates’ development staff than we’d realized until the full list was released yesterday. But good on Cherington, too, for not feeling the need to throw people out just because they were Neal Huntington’s. As I’d written many times over the years, the Pirates also had many terrific people all through their system. Most of the trouble was atop baseball ops.

They’ve all been fired, if you haven’t heard.

• I hadn’t realized until the past couple weeks, based on info I’ve gotten, the extent of the damage done by Frank Connelly alone. Saving this for a Friday Insider soon. Suffice it to say for now that he didn’t exactly stay in his lane. (No DUI pun intended.)

• The degree to which offseason activity influences people’s predictions for the coming season is insane.

Remember the Browns winning the Super Bowl?

Yeah, me, neither.

The Pirates have unquestionably had a dispiriting offseason, barely doing a thing beyond trading Starling Marte for prospects. I respect any resentment on that front. People lost patience forever ago, and rightly so.

But this nonsense about losing 100-plus games and other equally dire forecasts … I mean, did everyone forget this same group’s performance through the All-Star break a year ago?

Look, I’m not being naive here. I didn’t see 2020 as some leap-into-contention opportunity. But I’m nowhere near seeing a disaster, either.

• Center field’s got to be addressed, though. Can’t be weak there. No excuse for Cherington, certainly not financially, to let this be. This is one move that must be made with a 2020 focus.

notre-dame-pitt-panthers-basketball-south-bend

Notre Dame’s Nate Laszewski avoids Justin Champagnie Wednesday in South Bend, Ind. – GETTY

Tough loss for Pitt last night at Notre Dame — the Irish shot 10 for 27 beyond the arc, including a 7 for 13 first-half effort — but Justin Champagnie’s ascent continues unabated: 20 more points, plus 11 rebounds and a steal. He’s now averaging 11.8 points per game and, more striking, doing it all.

And this, too: Next time you’re at the Pete, as I was over the weekend, keep a specific eye on how he grasps the ball. He’s got mega-sized hands, and he’s able to swallow up rebounds and passes alike, even when it’s with a single hand.

Kid’s a freshman. They’re all young, actually, and only improving. This whole season’s represented a nice stride forward for the program.

• I’m running out of superlatives for how Jeff Capel carries himself. He’s confident, magnetic, authoritative and authentic. Rare blend.

Dave Molinari and I are headed to the rink here today. I’ll take the rest of the Penguins’ Florida trip, then return across Alligator Alley for the opening of spring training. Genuinely looking forward to that, too.

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mike
mike

Playing at the far end requires hard work. It requires also the people to play at the far end. This is not complicated. Total buy in of a scheme requires all pieces to work. The Pens CAN NOT PLAY UP-CLOSE HOCKEY. Playing at the far end requires the Pens to control play. They CAN NOT PLAY CLOSE!! No skilled quickness, ouch!!!

brighttlight
brighttlight

Looking forward to the Coonelly dirt! Hopefully in tomorrow’s insider!

Kirbster1193
Kirbster1193

Man DK you really made this article feel like there’s no reason to hope the Penguins can win the Stanley Cup because Jake got hurt.

David King
David King

Enjoy the trip, DK!

lizard_kingbb
lizard_kingbb

Easy explanation: lack of forward depth is hurting the Pens now. Notice, Sully’s no longer rolling 4 lines? Kinda hard to press in the O zone full aht for 60 minutes without doing so. Really need Kahun and Bjugstad back ASAP and of course a GMJR trade and YES, trade the 1st rounder if necessary. They can’t be “all in” and straddle that fence at the same time. Real chances to win Cups are hard enough to come by.

rrflyerhater
rrflyerhater

Excellent points, Liz

TheWolf
TheWolf

Well done. 25% or so of first rounders dont even work out, and if they do, its years later. Jakes loss just cannot be met with “Well… we’ll just sort of all soak it up and play harder” Nah man. Gotta be- not replaced because 40 goal scores dont grow on trees- but bolstered. And i dont know how they figure out how not to get thugged into the press box with ZERO answer (come playoffs), but thats a different problem for a different day

lizard_kingbb
lizard_kingbb

Yeah Wolf. Don’t want to give up that 1st but just may have to. Toughness? Deslauriers is under $1M cap hit and probably could be had for a mid-level pick. Tough as nails veteran depth guy that could log 4th line minutes and give Wilson and others of their ilk all they could handle.

bilbobagins
bilbobagins

What % of short term rentals work out?

bm37857
bm37857

Is there a meetup at the arena tonight?

DanP
DanP

I’m not sure how a 100+ loss season for the Pirates is “nonsense.” They lost 90+ last year with a historic collapse in the 2nd half fueled somewhat by injuries but more by a starting staff that couldnt go 5 innings and perhaps the worst bullpen I’ve seen in 50 years of watching baseball. As Kinger87 points out, they were still a sub .500 team with a ridiculously bad run differential in the first half portending the 2nd half misery. I enjoyed the 1st half as much as anyone, but it proved to be the mirage. They still have the same garbage pitching staff. They’ve jettisoned perhaps their best all around player. And all they’ve added are a bunch of sub .250 hitters and plus 5.00 ERA arms. The fact that they are “not rebuilding” is even more dispiriting. To think that this group is not 7 losses below the 93 loss laughingstock losing by double digits every night is more nonsensical to me.

Paul Cross
Paul Cross

“did everyone forget this same group’s performance through the All-Star break a year ago?”

I don’t think this is going to be anywhere near the same group. Correct me if I’m wrong.

kinger87
kinger87

This! 👆🏻

DK the Cherington Apologist
DK the Cherington Apologist

We’re losing 100 games. Of that I am certain. Whether or not I can stomach watching at least 80 of them…

kinger87
kinger87

“But this nonsense about losing 100-plus games and other equally dire forecasts … I mean, did everyone forget this same group’s performance through the All-Star break a year ago?”

Well, considering they lost 93 games last year, lost arguably their best player to trade this offseason, best pitcher turned out to be a rapist and pedophile, and have made no moves to improve the major league roster, I’d say it’s perfectly reasonable for a dire forecast in 2020. I mean, my goodness, Jacob Stallings is this club’s starting catcher! Please forgive my lack of exuberance heading into spring training.

And they were 44-45 at the Break last season, let’s not make it sound like they were playing at a .602 clip as they did in the first half of 2015.

Last I checked, no pennants are being handed out in early July. 5 of the past 10 seasons they’ve played sub .500 in the second half.

Yinzguys
Yinzguys

No Jameson Taillon or Vasquez. They should improve at third when Hayes comes up. With the starting pitching they have its hard to envision this team being any better than last year with whats been hurt, traded, and incarcerated.

chrisinindy
chrisinindy

Yeah Kinger, there’s really no reason to think the Bucs are as good as last year, not losing Marte and the guy who was once the best closer in all of baseball, there just isn’t.

I’d say 100 losses would be no surprise at all.

Zebug
Zebug

I’d still be surprised, I think the pitchers are going to see a markedly improved season just due to new approaches and actual teachings by the pitching coaches using technology.

TheWolf
TheWolf

Firing everybody was great. Giving up your best player and doing absolute jack squat to improve the roster for this year is not. Give me three good reasons this team doesnt lose 100? Hell, as things stand, theyre practically bracing for disaster.

dmburcic
dmburcic

Did you see the Pirates run differential going into the All Star break? Wasn’t pretty and predicted a down turn. Wasn’t expecting such a down turn.

They couldn’t pitch last season and haven’t really done anything to improve (Hoping Kuhl is ready and going to take a step forward after TJ is crazy). Oh and they lost their second best hitter.

MSPPENSFAN
MSPPENSFAN

I could not agree more. Rikolla sitting is insanity. The one thing that makes sense is he is sort a of a trade package

Wild Bill
Wild Bill

Which “he”? Maybe it’s Ruhwedel who is being showcased to be traded. Honestly, think it’s more likely Sully is just more comfortable with Ruhwedel, which I wouldn’t be.

SyBase10
SyBase10

Since yinz’r inta stats an’at…ut’s Pens record on’ese Florida trips an’at?

SyBase10
SyBase10

Downcups but no answers…typical Yinzer response…

412LGP
412LGP

And it’s dahncups!

412LGP
412LGP

Maybe if you would ask it like this,
since yinz are into stats n’at, what is da Pens record on Florida trips n’at.

Durbo7
Durbo7

I laud the Dodgers are able to do what they do because unlike a lot of the high payroll teams they have the superior farm system to keep reloading. We have neither.

rrflyerhater
rrflyerhater

They also were able to massively lower their payroll of late…they only had $88 million committed for 2021

chrisinindy
chrisinindy

Baseball with a salary cap? What kinda talk is that? The MLBPA would never allow any such thing. The union would probably demand a player strike on the mere thought.

Also, do ya think for one second the LA’s or the NY’s want to share any single bit of their ginormous mountain of TV money? Without revenue sharing, a salary cap really doesn’t work.

One might easily imagine what a league MLB could be with financial balance and talent equality but, you have a better chance of seeing (insert your deity here).

rrflyerhater
rrflyerhater

Every single mlb team can easily afford a $150 annual payroll…every one

Zman
Zman

“Easily afford a $150 annual payroll…every one” Oh so now you have audited every MLB teams books have you? Your propensity to make comments like this as if they are cast iron truths when you have no documentation or knowledge to support it never ceases to amuse me.

suitcasejohnny
suitcasejohnny

Hearing Letang talk about how demanding the game is, with pride… that’s hilarious. Watch that Capitals game again, and see how much of a spectator he was. Standing next to a guy in front of the net, just watching him shoot the puck. Gliding back on the backcheck when the play got behind him, which it did often. Waving his stick at passing players with the puck. The rest of the team is playing a demanding game. He’s just been a passenger for the last few.

Str8steel
Str8steel

“It’s a good development nonetheless. Obviously. Imagine the alternative.” Was that a shot at Mikey T?

chrisinindy
chrisinindy

I think it’d be highly unlikely that this is a shot at HCMT.

pierre
pierre

I get it, we won’t get a cap; therefore there will not be a floor. I always use the NFL and NHL floors as examples (perenage wise) of what minimum required salary expenditures might bee…simply an example, an idea of how far below cap minimums the Pirates actually are. Everyone says the players’ union would never support a cap; yet, I’ve also read theories which indicate no cap would increase the average player’s salary…especially older average players i.e…. less huge overpayments would leave more money for the rest of the players.

Confluence66
Confluence66

I understand Sullivan’s rIght way to play is tough and taxing on the Penguin players but if it isn’t tougher and more taxing on the other team then why would Sullivan use it? It seems we only got half the story.

lnicklow111
lnicklow111

Nick Bosa had 12 QB pressures in the Super Bowl long with the sack and forced fumble. He’s setting records as a rookie for QB pressues. No offense but comparing him to Heyward isn’t fair to Heyward (who’s great). They have a TJ Watt and it’s Nick Bosa. Armstead had 10 sacks and is comparable to Heyward at 9. That bullet is all together bad.

Also the Pirates o/u right now as constructed is 71.5. They stink.

Randy Steele
Randy Steele

Grind-bending stuff, as usual.

DMFer
DMFer

Great analysis. Agree about Riikola, not only is he a better fit in terms of the righty lefty issue, he also brings a little more grit. I’ve come to believe that Crosby and Simon belong together and Simon may come along like Rust did and become more of a finisher. Sort of expected that the Guentzal scoring void would be made up by committee (Kahun, Simon, McCann) but it would be great to get an established scorer at wing and a bonus if that player brings a little physical element but at what cost? In GMJR we trust.

Raul Mondesi
Raul Mondesi

How would the MLB go about implementing a cap and a floor? With contracts like Bryce Harpers out there how would they account for something like that without completely destroying current rosters and breaching players existing contracts? This wouldn’t be an issue for the Pirates because they’re bums who don’t pay anyone, but for teams like the Yankees and Dodgers implementing a cap would be a logistical nightmare. It would level the playing field which in the long run would be excellent for the sport but it would be a bumpy start. The only way I can see it happening is if they set the cap to begin in 2030 or the end of the longest active player contract.

Rainmanoly
Rainmanoly

Great Grind! I agree with almost everything you wrote. I say almost everything because I didn’t read the baseball stuff or the college stuff….. and there’s one more thing I’ll get to…..

I live waayyy out of market. So, I have NHL.tv to follow our Pens. Since about week 2 of Sully’s tenure as head coach, way back in December of 2015, I have heard from other teams announcers that Sully’s system take a ton of energy. It is extremely hard to play. Real easy to take that fact for granted…..

Now, the only thing I disagree with! I trade the first rounder. Sid and Geno aren’t going to be around much longer then 3 yrs. I just don’t believe you simply retool when they are gone. It was an extraordinary set of circumstance that allowed the Pens to get them. Take a couple more shots, and then, start the rebuild.

Rainmanoly
Rainmanoly

One thing though. Sid has had some good numbers since his return. He has done some amazing things, OT game winner for instances….,. But am I alone in thinking Sid hasn’t been Sid?

The effort and skill have all been there. So, what is off? IMHO, it’s his line. I just don’t see the chemistry between him and McCann. (That’s not a knock on McCann either! You guys know I love the kid! I love the way he plays, and his mom has MS and my wife has MS… etc) Your first line has got to set the tone. It needs to be the best line.

The Penguins have always gone as their Captain has gone for as long as I can remember. When the first line is off, meaning Sid is a little off, it trickles down to the whole team. Sully’s challenge is to get Sid going. Then, hopefully the rest takes care of itself.

wisertime
wisertime

Malkin playing at a higher level than Crosby, helps make it more apparent that Sid seems a bit “off”. Crosby hasn’t been at his best this season, but he has been very good at times. Maybe he isn’t all the way back from injury or it could be age is starting to set in. Not having Guentzel on his line doesn’t help either. Malkin on the other hand, just keeps rolling along with whoever is on his line.

Rainmanoly
Rainmanoly

I don’t know wise. It’s not Crosby….. It’s his line. They aren’t driving procession and cycling int the offensive zone they way we are used to seeing…. Part of that seems like Crosby and McCann naturally float toward the same spots on the ice.

Hockeymn25
Hockeymn25

This is exactly why a good winger needs to be aquired. Jakes 40 goals have to be accounted for, one way or another….

rrflyerhater
rrflyerhater

He has not been himself…no one will acknowledge it…but he’s seemed “off”

Doesn’t see that relentless drive/extra gear we see every few games out of him

DiegoPittFan
DiegoPittFan

Dejan, nice job. Your best Pens observations of the season. The Pens haven’t looked the same since Crosby returned. Nobody associated with this site – writer or subscriber – other than you could state that fact without Fan Boy Nation coming unglued.

BeachBurgher
BeachBurgher

You could have stopped short of the insults and still have made your point.

bringerofpaintoyourface
bringerofpaintoyourface

For those clamoring for implementation of a salary cap and floor, always remember that Bob Nutting would be the face of the salary floor every single season. He’d set up a permanent address there.

Zebug
Zebug

that’s ok, it would still be better than being $100-150 million less than the big spenders. a $20-30 million difference is much more palatable

Neil Bittner
Neil Bittner

Any issues with the Pens can be traced back directly to that God awful play list of music they listen to in the room.Ive never been more disappointed to read an article in my life! That looked like something my teenage daughter would listen to. No wonder this team lacks the toughness of many other contenders. They’re listening to awful, wimpy music!🤣
Where’s the rock, the metal?
Wanna fire up the Swedes?
Give em Avatar, not Abba!!!
Geez

Earl
Earl

OK, boomer. 🤣

Hockeymn25
Hockeymn25

he’s joking earl…

Earl
Earl

So am I.

chrisinindy
chrisinindy

That certainly wasn’t a play list that I’d put together, but who cares what swill they listen to?

Paul Cross
Paul Cross

Yep as long as I don’t have to hear it, who cares?

JKMonster
JKMonster

They can listen to Tiny Tim or Barney if it helps them lift the Cup. I don’t care as I don’t have to listen to it.

chethejet
chethejet

Pens will move Galchenyuk and that opens up two forwards to add. Hopefully some things shake out by the TDL. Like Smith from Nashville if available and at a decent cost.

MCM
MCM

I am not saying it’s Sid’s fault. Not at all. But there has been a noticeable dropoff in the Pens’ play since he came back. I suspect most of it is human nature, the feeling that they all don’t have to work quite as hard since the hero has returned. It’s subconscious, but quite likely there. Hopefully it’s just a bit of a “whew” moment and they will pick it back up soon. They are lucky to be winning some of these games, but you’re right, it’s masking some poor play. And that feeds into the feeling of “ease,” too.

Demuss
Demuss

I agree and hope it is not to be seen in Geno this season.

DiegoPittFan
DiegoPittFan

Not only are you correct but You’re so brave to post that observation. Somewhere there’s a full grown man wearing a replica Crosby jersey having a canniption

rrflyerhater
rrflyerhater

Most of us that actually watch the games and understand (not zman or SOTG) see this/get this

Zman
Zman

#101

Swede
Swede

So, no salary floor without a cap and vice versa. I’m curious, what are the floors in the NFL and the NHL? Have any teams ever gotten remotely close to either floor?

rrflyerhater
rrflyerhater

It’s happened in hockey

Vic Arpeggio
Vic Arpeggio

But…..but…..”STFU! A win is a win!” Or so I hear everytime the Pens play badly but still win. No, bad patterns develop that get exposed, and then exploited. If you want this team to make a run at the Cup, they’ve got to play the right way. There is no substitute.

nightsky73144
nightsky73144

#FreeRiikola
I don’t get the playing of Ruhwedel over Riikola, especially considering that they’re forcing a Dman to his wrong side. Perhaps it’s PK duty; but, I believe 5 on 5 play suffers from this choice. Riikola has a better shot, is more physical, and is at least as good on defense as perennial 7th man Ruhwedel. It is perplexing, as now is the perfect time to get Riikola more playing time, AND he acquitted himself well before Schultz returned.

rrflyerhater
rrflyerhater

Sully loves ruhwedal…he’s being loyal to him

DiegoPittFan
DiegoPittFan

#americanborn

Hockeymn25
Hockeymn25

AGREED! #FreeRiikola

Paddy
Paddy

Losing Guentzel really hurts, and Dumo too. Difficult to replace talent like that but at least Dumo will be back soon.

Leo Walter
Leo Walter

“ I’ll take the rest of the Penguins’ Florida trip, then return across Alligator Alley for the opening of spring training.” You just had to rub it in, didn’t you ?

Titan35
Titan35

DK, spot on about KC. I have been to Steelers games in 11 other cities, and so far Green Bay and KC are 1 and 1A. Both were absolutley spectacular in every way. From the welcoming fans to the historic atmosphere. I could not recommend a trip to KC for a game more.

412 in the 865
412 in the 865

Completely agree about KC (haven’t been to Lambeau). In my 20 years of going to away games, KC remains my favorite spot. Was very happy for them to win the SB.

rrflyerhater
rrflyerhater

Great take on the pens, DK…

I don’t know about any of the advanced analytics bunk…but the simple eye test knows they’ve splayed badly since Crosby came back. Probably fatigue…but there’s something else there too.

They cannot wait for IR guys to return to look at trades…not enough time. Rutherford is in a tough spot.

And Betts/Red Sox thing is not what the out of town media is playing it as. The Red Sox didn’t go “cheap”…they guy has raised his demands by $100 mil each of the last off-seasons and he’s going to FA…they took the opportunity to do damage control…it’s the right call.

Marc
Marc

I don’t think it’s since Crosby returned; seems more like since Jake left

SyBase10
SyBase10

Was going to offer same observation…

rrflyerhater
rrflyerhater

It’s possible…just trying to pinpoint the calendar…not because of the players involved

DiegoPittFan
DiegoPittFan

Crosby’s second game back. After crushing the Wild they seem to be a different team.

bpol10snyc
bpol10snyc

Probably both!

Nick E
Nick E

Champagnie reminds me a lot of a raw Kawhi Leonard. I think this kid going to be a big time talent.

OtherMK
OtherMK

Who are the new position players, and what are their batting averages? Who are the new pitchers, and what are their ERAs? Then what did we lose? 100+ losses is not impossible, and seems more likely than 82+ wins.

Pens77
Pens77

For the readers who are so defensive of the Pirates & Nutting, what is it that Other MK wrote that isn’t absolute truth?? I get a sense that nutting has his marketing dept. respond to anything negative that is written about his sorry, poorly run organization.

SyBase10
SyBase10

Great thoughts/observations as usual…I keep hearkening back to the 16/17 season when goaltending sustained them through several bouts of “ennui” in the play of the forward lines at various points of the season…I will note, however, the Pens, that season, emerged from that ennui around now and went on a tear…here’s hoping history repeats itself…

Groat2Maz2Strangeglove
Groat2Maz2Strangeglove

Dejan,
I take issue with Alex saying yesterday that Pirates “would improve to 72-90 because of better coaching.”

Think of the multitude of injuries Clint Hurdle and the 2019 Pirates endured:
——Jameson Taillon
——Chris Archer
——Trevor Williams——lingered
——Gregory Polanco
——Cory Dickerson
——Starling Marte for last month & 15 days w/ Erik Gonzalez collision
——Jason Martin——separated shoulder & surgery
——Francisco Cervelli——big loss
——Elias Diaz illness at start of season—never really recovered
——Nick Burdi
——Edgar Santana
——Kyle Crick and his broken finger
——Keone Kela
——Josh Bell for last 3 1/2 weeks
——Bryan Reynolds at end of season
——Erik Gonzalez (a blessing but a starter at the time)
——Chad Kuhl——all season with Tommy John
——Felipe Vazquez——his spiritual injury leaves a huge hole AND takes him out of baseball!
——Lonnie Chisenhall——a loss for the ages!

No wonder Pirates won only 69 games. Hurdle would have won more in 2020 with most of these healed

SlackerGeorge
SlackerGeorge

Re. Pirates and 100 losses. Take heart. Someone’s gotta be last.

There’s no dynamism in this offense. Lots of rally killers and few extenders. Until that changes…

Keep Josh Bell until he stops hitting or breaks a toe with one of his errant throws.

John Cangelosi
John Cangelosi

The buccos have some pieces in place. The reason I see a potential for disaster again is the pitching. Yes, they could all improve, but they all could be real bad too. Kuhl is unknown, Brault is mediocre, Williams may have been figured out, Archer is a 4 or 5 at this point in his career, and Musgrove goes a month at a time throwing softballs. And the bullpen is worse. I do plan on going to some games Mitch Keller throws though.

Zebug
Zebug

The other unknown that could go into the positive territory is the change in pitching philosophies and coaching. How many times did we see a pitcher leave Pittsburgh to go on and have a much improved season? How many times have you heard the pitchers themselves talk about what they were doing to add a different pitch and it sounded like it was 100% on their own with zero guidance from anyone else. I can easily see the pitching staff performing much better than last year (though losing one of the best closers in the game will certainly hurt)

kr70
kr70

The Dodgers attitude almost makes you glad Houston cheated.

efejr
efejr

This is so true. A few years ago the dodgers had two of the top ten payrolls…the payroll for their team and the payroll for the players they were paying to play for other teams. It’s egregious.

doctorfoge
doctorfoge

You got that right. Dodger fans deserve all the pain they get, they’re insufferable.

meadowmaker
meadowmaker

I continue to be impressed by how Cherington is focused on fixing management first then concentrating on who is going to play. It appears he realizes that having players to develop doesn’t matter if you don’t have people in place to do the developing. Finding management has to come with the same thought for talent as it does for finding players. Nutting seems to be funding these management changes without too much heartburn.

Pirate fans will need to be patient for a real turnaround, as hard as that is to accept. A real turnaround not just kicking things down the road. I can wait for that.

amishmafia
amishmafia

Excellent post!

Sid_4_Prez
Sid_4_Prez

“There’s no reason for Juuso Riikola to sit in favor of Chad Ruhwedel”

I’m going to preface by saying it’s not a great reason, and I’d play Riikola over Ruhwedel, but a possible reason that Sullivan might have for not playing Riikola is with Schultz back he only has 4 defensemen that he trusts killing penalties (JJ, Letang, Marino and Pettersson) without Ruhwedel. If one of those 4 picks up a penaltry during the game then he’d have to use Riikola or Schultz. Doesn’t seem that he likes that option.

Now I would go ahead and play Riikola in the regular season until Dumoulin returns and give him all the 5 on 5, PK and PP (he’s got a great shot) experience he can get. You never know when it might be needed later.

Sid_4_Prez
Sid_4_Prez

“And that’s with all due respect to Nick Bosa and the 49ers, but they don’t have a Minkah Fitzpatrick or a T.J. Watt, and the Steelers have their Bosa — albeit older — in Cam Heyward.”

I agree with most of this, but I think your comparisons are off, mostly b/c it’s hard comparing a 3-4 to a 4-3 defense (though both teams used a lot of sub packages). But Watt/Dupree compare pretty well to the DEs of the Niners in Bosa and Armstead who were their sack leaders. Heyward I think compares better to Buckner playing the interior DL position more.

On the back end, Fitzpatrick is definitely the wild card in the Steelers favor. Haden and Sherman are sort of a wash, older guys who played well but prone to getting beat occasionally, though for Sherman it really didn’t happen until the playoffs. The big Steelers advantage was having Nelson on the other side. The biggest weakness of the Niners defense was the CB opposite Sherman. It’s similar to when the Steelers had Burns starting at CB.

SyBase10
SyBase10

Rudy moves the puck better out of the Defensive zone and I believe that is the more compelling reason to keep him in there…Rikola has that Euro instinct to try and carry the puck up and it’s gotten him into trouble…it’s a given that Rikola is better in the offensive zone but his skills there are unneeded at this point…

SyBase10
SyBase10

Posted these for the downcuppers:

Ruhwedel:

https://www.hockey-reference.com/players/r/ruhwech01.html

Rikola:

https://www.hockey-reference.com/players/r/riikoju01-advanced.html

All things being equal, Ruhwedel possesses the puck better and moves it up quicker…

Joelatron
Joelatron

Other than the obvious Jake injury IMO there are 2 big factors to the Pens recent play:

1) JJ/Letang pairing. Serviceable- yes, treading water- yes, holding back Letang/Sid 5v5 performance- also yes. The with/without Corsi for JJ and Letang is crazy. Dumo’s return can’t come soon enough so JJ can return to appropriate usage.

2) recently: Kahun injury. The forward lines were fixed post Jake, and Kahun’s injury upset it all by changing up wingers for Sid and Geno. Running 3 lines + WBS/Galchenyuk token mins only works when the 3 lines are running as intended…and only 1 out of 3 currently is.

Pens are 1 trade and 2 injury returns away from having 4 very scary forward lines, and Dumo’s return fixes the back end. Ride it out and hope GMGR gets the winger he wants ASAP!

MCM
MCM

I totally agree on the JJ/Letang pairing. 58 is lugging a piano around on his back right now.