Six One-Timers: Penguins are Fighting for Their Season
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Six One-Timers: Penguins are Fighting for Their Season

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Pittsburgh Penguins Score Evgeni Malkin

Hope for the best and plan for the worst. The Pittsburgh Penguins find themselves in a precarious situation for the next six weeks, or more as they stare at life without their best player, captain, top center, and all-time great Sidney Crosby. It’s not going to be easy. Goal scoring was already hard enough, now they must do it without Crosby. The Crosby situation is only one of several which hang above the Penguins heads like an evil mistletoe.

The six-goal outburst against the Toronto Maple Leafs brought smiles to the locker room and everyone breathed easy for a game. Secondary offensive players finished their chances. Bryan Rust and Dominik Kahun each had three points and Evgeni Malkin was dominant.

However, not every player is producing at expected or even acceptable levels. In fact, one of those players strolled into the arena just before 5 p.m. Saturday. Perhaps he had a good reason, but it’s not usually a good look for a struggling winger to just beat the deadline as his teammates are already in the hall playing soccer and warming up. More than PHN noticed and more than PHN was surprised by the time of arrival.

Those are also the things which raise eyebrows in the wrong places, if there wasn’t a good reason (hey, we all get flat tires, take a wrong turn, get sick, or the dog takes a little longer “walk”).

1.  The Penguins season is absolutely in jeopardy. There isn’t any question. It’s unlikely the Tampa Bay Lightning will remain mired in their funk much longer, and Toronto is far too talented to slide too far down the standings. A coaching change may finally spark that team (and cost Toronto ownership a truckload of cash).

Carolina is starting to get in gear. The Philadelphia Flyers are already stacking wins and are in the top three of the Metro Division.

Don’t let the St. Louis Blues near-mythical comeback last season fool you. Six or more points behind in January aren’t easy to overcome, in fact, trailing at the Christmas break reduces playoff chances to below 25%.

The Pittsburgh Penguins cannot afford to let things go sideways.

2.  The fan’s temperature has been curious. Many are placing more expectation on Sullivan and expecting the Penguins to hold the fort. Trust me, it’s not that easy. As you’ve witnessed in the last week, scoring goals is a skill. The Penguins have a lot of good hockey players, but not a lot of goal scoring skill. One commenter on our site asked: How Barry Trotz or Craig Berube succeeded without talent, and the answer is quite simple. The New York Islanders and St. Louis Blues had far more talent than the Penguins currently have in a sweater.

That’s not a knock on players like Sam Lafferty or even Brandon Tanev, who have each proven their worth, but it is to say don’t expect points from them every night. Any offense is purely a bonus. Teddy Blueger and unfortunately Zach Aston-Reese are also in this category, too.

“I’m getting chances, so there’s nothing to get frustrated about,” Aston-Reese told PHN. Our fun video chat will publish tomorrow.

Realize the Penguins second and third-line centers are Jared McCann (a better winger) and bubble NHL player Joseph Blandisi. Respect for both, but those are some big shoes to fill for players who wouldn’t fill those roles on other teams.

3.  The Penguins power-play was simple and ruthlessly effective Saturday night. They only got one chance but packed a game’s worth of shots into just one. It was bombs away from the point and dig for rebounds.

RedBeard's Pittsburgh

That’s exactly how it’s done. No coaching, no schemes needed. Players making plays. PHN asked head coach Mike Sullivan and the point-men about the change. We also asked Justin Schultz, Juuso Riikola, and John Marino about the simple look power play.

Without giving away the story, Sullivan’s comment was music to hockey lover’s ears, “I hope it becomes a habit, not a trend.”

4.  Count me as increasingly impressed by Jack Johnson’s recent play. He’s activating. He’s pushing the offense when possible. He has two points in the last two games without Sidney Crosby, i including his first goal of the season. Not coincidentally, Johnson sneaked into the offensive zone and was uncovered in the left-wing circle.

Success breeds confidence. Confidence breeds more success. Johnson has been the right veteran counter-balance for Riikola and John Marino and has been a valuable asset to the team. Any trade talk around the defenseman is probably null and void.

5.  Why doesn’t Tristan Jarry get more starts?

“Just working harder. That’s been the big thing. Last year, they wanted me to improve my practice habits, and going to (Wilkes-Barre/Scranton) I had the mindset that I wanted to get better every day,” Jarry said.

Jarry has talked openly, and did so again Saturday night, about the coaches telling him to improve his practice habits. OK. The kid has done that, and he is stopping pucks at a brick wall rate. Let’s see a little more, eh?

Jarry’s stat line reads: 2-3-0. 1.99 GAA. .938 save percentage.

That’s really, really, good.

6.  There was a hole in Canada’s heart and mine Saturday night without Don Cherry and Coach’s Corner. I hope “cancel culture” is happy. I hope the silence was a wake-up call to the rest that we do not need to silence someone we disagree with. He neither incited violence or, in this case, belittled anyone. He said new Canadians should honor those who gave their lives for Canada and it upset him to see new Canadians not honour them. As usual, Don was brash, gruff, and not smooth with his words.

We’ve reached a terrible tipping point in which “incorrect” opinions cannot be held without a great penalty. Do most Canadians of all stripes and colors agree with Cherry? No. But can most adults understand that’s his opinion and doesn’t have to be theirs? Yes.

His was a voice for the soul, history, and passion of hockey. He was a window into the game for many of us. And most adults were smart enough to allow him to say what he wanted because, in addition to things we didn’t like, he spoke volumes about the thing we love.

You don’t have to agree with me. That’s the beauty of this. You don’t have to agree with me to be my friend, to read my columns, or to discuss anything else. I am afraid to write this and afraid of the Twitter backlash. But that’s also why I did. This isn’t about agreeing or disagreeing with Don Cherry. This is about the ability to agree or disagree with each other.

7.  Evgeni Malkin is on his game. His game is coming. He may reach those heights he desperately wanted to reach again. His game is worlds better when he takes care of the puck and plays 200 feet. He is truly one of the best of his generation but always falls short in public opinion because of the Sidney Crosby shadow, but also because of his occasionally sloppy play.

He could be the Pittsburgh Penguins life preserver.

Look out, NHL. This could be fun to watch.

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Pittsburgh Hockey Now owner, formerly 93.7 The Fan, Sportsnet Hockey Tonight. Catch Dan tweeting @theDanKingerski and the official @pghhockeynow account.

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21 Comments

21 Comments

  1. jessevereb

    November 17, 2019 at 1:17 pm

    I agree with you a cherry. I’m glad you included that.

  2. Cal

    November 17, 2019 at 3:00 pm

    IMHO Cherry said what most of us Canadians would agree with, respect those who gave their lives so you can enjoy yours today. It seems sometimes that our ultra-sensitive culture misses the whole point. Now, that will be the last non-hockey post from me. Cheers!

  3. RobertU

    November 17, 2019 at 3:21 pm

    Dan, you should really leave the politics out of your articles. It’s getting embarrassing. You’re a really great hockey analyst. Not so great at political or business analysis though. Cherry’s comments were a problem for the business – because far more customers in the hockey market disagree with him than agree with him – which is why he’s gone. That’s called knowing your customer and offering a product in line with your customers’ wants. It would be a good lesson in marketing for you to heed.

    I for one am glad that clown is gone. He was embarrassing for the sport. He said dumb things and wore even dumber things. He added a mean-spirited, nasty voice to the dialogue, with rarely any actual analysis. He made every segment about himself and his imaginary version of reality instead of about the game. For all your talk above about respecting differing opinions – do you really think Don Cherry respects others’ opinions? C’mon man.

    One last note…and it’s sad this needs to be noted in 2019, but there are some things with which it isn’t okay to agree. Xenophobia, homophobia, and misogyny are all those types of things. They are unacceptable b/c they are viewpoints that cost real people their lives every day. Cherry espoused all of those repeatedly, with complete impunity for years. That’s what this is really about, not your oversimplified “differing opinions” take on it. It was way past time for him to go. His thumbs-up bud should go as well. Please take a marketing lesson from Cherry’s former employer and stop with the politics. It’s really not a good look for you or your business.

    • dweth2

      November 17, 2019 at 4:44 pm

      When you get out of your parents basement maybe then you will understand true sacrifice.

    • Dan Kingerski

      November 17, 2019 at 5:33 pm

      Just as I’d prefer other commenters not insult you, I’ll challenge you to move beyond easy labels and critically examine what they really mean. If you read my comments closely, there are no politics, only those inserted by the readers. That was intentional, but the warning about labels and silencing opposition applies to everyone because eventually everyone will be on the other end of the popular opinion.

    • CommonSense

      November 17, 2019 at 7:34 pm

      People like you are the reason Canada n USA are in decline RobertU. Go crawl in a hole.

      • Dan Kingerski

        November 17, 2019 at 9:51 pm

        While we appreciate comments on the site, we do not like, enjoy or condone such negative comments. That was too much.

    • Hatrick Pornqvist

      November 17, 2019 at 10:30 pm

      Robert, as a Canadian who has watched Don Cherry almost every Saturday night for nearly four decades I would suggest your comments show that you don’t know much about the man whatsoever. He’s not the person you are describing, not at all.

      There’s nothing wrong with calling out immigrants for not wearing poppies. There is no bigger champion for veterans than Don Cherry and he has gone out of his way forever to highlight their sacrifices and call for their respect and gratitude.
      To be fired for voicing his opinion on the subject, on Remembrance Day, is disputable and a sad sign of the times.

      People are allowed opinions like that. People fought and died for the right to express them. There are many countries on this planet where people’s voices are suppressed and they do not have those very rights.

  4. BIG B

    November 17, 2019 at 4:37 pm

    I wonder how many social justice keyboard warriors who wanted CHERRY fired voted for Trudeau even after his black faced antics came to life, yeah that is justice but only for those who oppose the left.Look at Jess Allen on ctv’s the social with her comments but did she get fired?

  5. donttreadonme

    November 17, 2019 at 5:15 pm

    Dan,
    I’ve been following PGH HOCKEY NOW for some time and been planning on subscribing just as long. Happy to report that I just did. Thank you for expressing exactly what you’re feeling. It’s a complete breath of fresh air.

    All too often, and far more prevalent today than ever before, every comment is parsed for a political correctness kill shot. Not just regarding people in the public square, but also folks at work, at the restaurant, and at the hockey game. Hell, I was verbally accosted on a cruise ship for having the temerity to claim that the U.S. is experiencing one of its greatest economic runs in its short 200+ year history.

    No one is without flaws, and it’s pathetic that such a generalized comment by Mr. Cherry forced the end of his career.

    I’m looking forward to following PGH HoCKEY NOW from a closer view and cheering on the team that brings us all here for a common respite.

  6. Hansen

    November 17, 2019 at 8:04 pm

    @RobertU
    Your full of crap.I like how you say its good for business to give the customers left views but I don’t see the media or entertainment industry giving us right points of views in area’s of America where the majority are right leaning people. All you want is everyone to think and talk exactly like you and your viewpoints and anyone who differs should be removed from society.

  7. Hatrick Pornqvist

    November 17, 2019 at 10:52 pm

    Here’s the man who spent his career sitting next to Don on Coach’s Corner, speaking from the heart about what happened. My wife and I, along with the rest of the country of Canada, were glued to this, many with a lump in their throat and tears welling in their eyes. Watching it might give some much needed context.

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=XaCV1M52nFI

  8. GonzoGeorgism

    November 18, 2019 at 11:58 am

    I think you’re actually being way too pessimistic. All of the volume-related puck possession analytics are looking excellent for this team- right back to where they were around the second half of 2015-16 when they were at their fastest and most dominant. Their work on both sides of the ice has been outstanding. This is despite the fact that their zone start percentage has actually been below average at 49.5%- which suggests to me that they have yet more room for improvement from an execution perspective and can be even better. All of this, while a few key players at a time have been injured for the whole year.

    Maybe there are some issues with finishing goals right now- but I’ll take my chances there while having elite skating, work output, and defense (and Evgeni Malkin on the roster) until they are relieved by returns from injury.

  9. Edgar

    November 19, 2019 at 3:33 pm

    Great article on so many levels. Love the Cherry stuff cause, yea, agree with him, or not, isn’t the point.
    But, my main focus in on point number 1 which I agree as well. I think the playoffs are in real jeopardy this season. I just don’t see enough high end talent.Even with Crosby healthy all year I would think we were a little short for A cup win.
    I’d sign Sully to a 5 year deal and let him be. Guy has been great. Better than great. And I’m a Dan, or Michel basher.

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