Friday, March 29, 2013

Get rid of charity point

By Jeff

Why does the NHL continue to reward losers who just take longer to lose?

Seriously, why are teams that losing in OT or the shoot out getting a point? It's the only major sport that does it. It's time to stop.

I just hate looking at the standings and seeing teams in the playoffs that wouldn't be there, or would be much farther down, if not for this charity point. Look at the Devils this year. They would be tied for 10th in the East if teams didn't get rewarded for hanging around but ultimately coming up short. Instead, they have seven overtime losses and would be the No. 7 seed if the playoffs started today.

The easiest solution is to get rid of the shootout and bring back ties. Then you get two points for a win, one for a tie and nothing for any kind of loss.

The shootout is not nearly as exciting as it initially sounded. It's actually quite boring, as half the players skate down slowly and practically stop the puck in front of the goalie before they shoot it. The whole thing just seems cheap and silly. So get rid of it.

But this will not stop inferior teams from playing for ties and the charity point. It ruins a game when you see a team perfectly content to not even attempt to win, as they fear their attempts will be countered and the other team will win.

That brings us to a no tie format, like the NBA. Extend the 4-on-4 overtime to 10 minutes. If we don't have a winner after that, then let's go another round and continue this format until somebody scores. Sure, it could screw a team over if they have a back-to-back, but it could also motivate them to try and win rather than settle for a tie or shootout.

It's just hard to picture the league continuing to grow if it doesn't get rid of gimmicks and rewarding teams for simply hanging around for 60 minutes.

Pens have no excuses

By Jeff

It's hard to say anything that hasn't been said recently about the Pittsburgh Penguins recent flurry of trades that brought in Jarome Iginla, Brenden Morrow and Douglas "Don't call me Dog. I prefer Crankshaft" Murray. I could speculate what the lines will be, what the chemistry will be like, how little it took to get a future Hall of Famer in Iginla, etc. But that has all been said and I have no wild insights that would differ from The Pensblog, Pensburgh, Empty Netters or any of the national hockey writers.

The only thing I have to say is the Pens have no excuse not to win the Stanley Cup this year. With the recent moves, they are the deepest team in the NHL at every position. They have two all-world players in their primes in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. They have a Norris Trophy candidate in Kris Letang (when healthy). They have two goaltenders who have had some struggles this year, but during the 14-game win-streak, have been as good as any one else in the league.

There is no reason this team should not win the Cup. I get that a hot goalie can change everything in the NHL playoffs, but with the firepower the Pens can deploy with three dangerous lines, they should be able to overcome anyone between the pipes.

The defense and the goalies have given up nine goals in their last 10 games. They have shown they can shut down the opposing team. If they fail again in the playoffs it's not because lack of talent. It would be a choke job, plain and simple.

But the playoffs are still a month away. While Cup expectations are looming and there is no excuse for not bringing home the Cup, there is also no excuse to enjoy one of the best runs in the franchise's history.

Other than the 2007-08 and the 2008-09 Cup runs, this is the most excited I've been for the Pens. the early 90's Cups were cool, but I was 5-7 years old. The Pens winning and losing didn't really matter to me much at that age. But ever since the X-Generation, I have been, like Ray Shero this year, all in.

I don't really care what the Steelers do in the draft, I'm not watching the Buccos in spring training very closely, and I didn't even enter any March Madness pools. It has been all Pens all the time, because we're witnessing one of the best teams the city has ever seen in any sport.

Just about every player in the lineup is playing at a level you didn't think they could. Pascal Dupuis has 17 goals in 35 games. Chris Kunitz has 20. In an 81-game season, they would be on pace for 39 and 46 goals, respectively. Crosby would be on pace for 129 points. It's crazy the level that line is playing at. Crosby has made cross ice or behind the net backhand passes look so simple, we view these actions as routine, when no one else in the league is doing it.

Brandon Sutter has made it easy to forget Jordan Staal. All he has done in replace of Staal is score four game winning goals, which is two goals shy of matching his career game winners up to this point.

The ageless Mark Eaton was signed to a tryout and then put on the big team midway through the season. He has helped solidfy the blueline and the Pens haven't lost a game in which he plays.

Hell, even head coach Dan Bylsma is getting on the action. He actually calls timeouts at appropriate times!

Take all this and then the team adds Iginla, who has scored 30+ goals in 11 consecutive seasons despite not having an elite center for any of those years. Whichever line he plays on becomes more dangerous.

This season has the potential to be the best Pens fans have ever witnessed. General manager Ray Shero did a hell of a job compiling a roster mixed with superstars and grinders who put team above themselves.

While I fear this could be '92-'93 all over, when the best team in the franchise's history fell short in the playoffs, I will not let that ruin the pure enjoyment I get from watching this team. That being said, if the Pens don't win it all, I might completely shut down until October.

Monday, March 25, 2013

In Shero we trust

By Jeff

The Pittsburgh Penguins shipped out their 2011 first round pick, Joe Morrow, yesterday for Dallas Stars captain Brenden Morrow.

Joe is a highly touted defenseman who is said to have great potential as a two-way player. Brenden is a tough guy who is supposed to be an excellent leader and lockerroom prescence, and he scored 33 goals just two seasons ago.

I have hardly seen Brenden play and have never seen Joe play, so I have no idea who wins this trade. I am just trusting in Penguins general manager Ray Shero, as he usually makes the right decision when it comes to moves like this.

The deal could work out great for the Pens. Morrow should fit in well with Evgeni Malkin and James Neal. If you look at the years where Malkin and his line has taken over the league in Crosby's absence, and you'll notice a trend. In 2007-08, Malkin played with the gritty, net-front presence Ryan Malone and sniper Petr Sykora. Crosby missed substantial time that season and it fell on Malkin's line to pick up the slack. They did. Malkin put up 106 points, Malone had a career high-51 points and Sykora had his best season since 2002-03 with 63 points.

Now look back on last year. Malkin played most of the year with the gritty, net-front presence Chris Kunitz and sniper James Neal. Malkin tallied 109 points and league MVP, and Kunitz and Neal scored career-highs 61 and 81 points, respectively.

It's not an exact science, but it appears that when the Pens surround Malkin with someone who crashes the net and a sniper, things tend to work out for all parties. Brenden is supposed to be of the Kunitz and Malone mold, so matching him up with Malkin and Neal looks like the second line should thrive, on paper at least.

Of course, this is pure speculation on my part. Like I said above, I've never really seen Brenden play. I'm just going by what national hockey media members and Stars bloggers are saying.

What makes me think this trade has a better chance of working out than say the Alexei Ponikarovsky and Alex Kovalev deals is Brenden's reputation as a hard worker and leader. Both Poni and Kovy came to the Pens with serious character question marks. Poni was a big body that didn't like going to the dirty places and working for garbage goals. Kovy has always been enigmatic with his effort. Those are the types of players that don't find success in this system.

The Pens operate a high-tempo, high effort offense. If you're not willing to work, you're going to be benched. And when everyone else is skating their asses off, it's noticeable when you're not going all out with them, which leads to the fans turning on you quickly.

On the flip side, from what I hear, Brenden is older than his 34 due to his style of play. It seems everyone wants to point out he is not the 2010-11 version of Brenden Morrow who scored 33 goals. If he comes in and struggles it will be disappointing, but can it really hurt the team that much? The Pens already lead the league in scoring. Brenden won't hurt that, and the potential he could reach with Malkin and Neal is scary to think about.

Joe may never be a top two defenseman in this league. Shero saw a chance to improve the team for a Cup run and who am I or any of us to question him? Remember how Luca Caputi and other highly touted prospects were traded away and never to be heard of again? It could happen here, and that's why we should trust Shero.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Kunitz > most of the NHL

By Jeff

The Pittsburgh Penguins are atop the Atlantic Division, and winger Chris Kunitz is a big reason why.

Kunitz came over in 2009 when the Pens were on the outside of the playoff hunt despite being in the Stanley Cup Finals the prior year. Since then he has been the most consistent player on the roster after stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

In his time as a Penguin, Kunitz has score 76 goals and 96 assists. Many will say he benefits from playing almost exclusively with Crosby, and when Crosby was out he was with Malkin. These people certainly have a point, but other players like Miroslav Satan, Ruslan Fedotenko, Max Talbot, Alexei Ponikarovsky and others who have played with the stars mentioned above have not found anywhere near that success.

This season is no different. In fact, Kunitz is probably having his best year of his career. He's fourth in the league in scoring. That's right, the undrafted Kunitz has more points than Alex Ovechkin, Claude Giroux, Eric Staal, John Tavares, Patrick Kane, Malkin, Pavel Datsyuk and both the Sedin twins.

How is Kunitz doing it? First, even if you don't watch hockey you can tell that Kunitz just knows where to be on the ice when he plays with guys like Crosby and Malkin. He finds an opening in the defense from the holes created in the defense created by the team's stars. Second, he understands that Crosby and Malkin are special talents. He makes sure he gets them the puck whenever he can. Third, he is getting pretty lucky! He has a career shooting percentage of 12.8. He's at 25.9 this year. There is no way anyone could keep up that pace.

Or could they?

Kunitz's shooting percentage is ridiculously high, but when you play with someone like Crosby, it doesn't seem impossible for him to keep it up. Crosby demands so much attention Kunitz has more opportunities where it's just him and the goalie. He also understands that Crosby and Malkin can get the puck on net in situations where ordinary men could not. So what does Kunitz do? He crashes the net and takes punishment in exchange for a chance to put it home.

Kunitz is not often mentioned with the league's stars because he's not flashy, but he will go down as the best move Ray Shero has made.