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Penguins Q&A: Possible Shakeups, Fixes, and Power Play Angst



Pittsburgh Penguins power play, Kris Letang Erik Karlsson

TAMPA, Fla — Even though we suggested moving on from the coaching angst, fan sentiment seems centrally focused on discussing head coach Mike Sullivan and associate coach Todd Reirden. The weekly Q&A also touched on the on-ice product as well as players who could come available on the NHL trade market.

We’ll not belabor the intro today. Yes, I’m in 70-degree Tampa, and there are Christmas trees along the riverwalk to spruce up the Palm trees (pun intended). The food in Tampa is like the rest of Florida–some good stuff, some New York pizza, and lots of healthy choices.

I suppose if I had to wear a bathing suit more than once every 10 years, I’d eat healthier, too. Score one for winter on that one.

The sad or funny thing about all of this current negativity is that a few more power play goals would cure everything. The goalies have been brilliant. The 5v5 chances and scoring are at the top. They’re missing a few power-play goals, and the season would be dramatically different.

Here we go… Pittsburgh Penguins Q&A:

Yeah, I’m going to go ahead and disagree with you. I haven’t seen a lot of games on TV, but Mike Rupp brings something different to the table. He’s not going to be as excitable as Bob Errey–and I really liked Bob personally and professionally–but new people bring new things to the table.

No, I don’t know why the Penguins made changes. It surely caught folks by surprise.

Josh Getzoff is smooth as silk, and I think the radio side is letting Steve Mears flex his hockey muscles, too. The best advice is to listen closely and appreciate the nuances that Rupper points out and the energy that Colby Armstrong brings. I remember when Bob Errey first got the job, people wanted to bag on him, too.

I don’t know about that. Sidney Crosby is second in the NHL only to Jake Guentzel in even-strength points. The top line is getting the job done.

The Malkin line is ice, ice cold. They’re not creating enough, nor are they generating enough momentum. That trickles through the rest of the lineup.

Teams are taking the rush away from Malkin, and the big guy is forcing the issue. What looked great early in the season is no longer available. Malkin and Reilly Smith were electric; they created an inordinate amount of chances on the rush. Now, teams are getting in their way (opponents want to win, too). Malkin needs to simplify, and Drew O’Connor needs to come through by getting more loose pucks/dumped pucks.

But that’s not age-related. I also wouldn’t say Kris Letang looks old. He’s had a dynamite season to this point.

Yes. But it’s probably going to require a knock-down and drag-out team meeting. Everyone–I mean, EVERYONE–needs to be on the same page. This team is far too mistake-prone for an experienced team.

That simple game with the 1-2-2 trap/counter-attack they played so well a handful of times this season could be dusted off a few more times, too. Sullivan can’t take the stick out of the guys’ hands because they’re not built to play chalkboard hockey, but they also need to realize they can’t forecheck the daylights out of teams, either.

Without seeing your question, Brian, I asked Kris Letang a follow-up question Wednesday morning about mentally preparing for a simple game.

“Yeah, we do (have to mentally prepare to play simply),” Letang said. “We do have a lot of skill, but when you’re looking at (the Tampa Bay Lightning) lineup and the way they score goals and the quality of players, if you give quality chances to those guys, they don’t usually miss. That’s why your mindset, even in the morning, you start thinking about it — we’re facing them.”

The Penguins need to prepare themselves to play simply for the next six months, but that’s my opinion.

Radim Zohorna is a little bit inconsistent, and his game isn’t physical, so he must find ways to contribute when he’s not scoring. No question. However, he’s also a bit of a Dominik Simon type–you don’t notice the little plays he makes to set the offense in motion. He’s slick like that.

Zohorna has very good advanced metrics, all at 53% or better. So, he’s still on the right side of the puck. However, T, you’re right, the team could use a few goals from him and Lars Eller.

Zohorna needs to put some ink on the scoresheet, and he needs to be a little louder. Since Drew O’Connor was moved into the top six following Rickard Rakell’s injury, Zohorna’s game has dropped. I think those two are better with each other.

Lenny, I don’t know. That’s not a cop-out because I read the NHL trade rumors as much as anyone, but I never thought Dubas could get Erik Karlsson for the price he did. I also didn’t see the Reilly Smith trade coming either.

I will tell you that I think Chris Tanev, the gritty right-side defenseman from Calgary, would make a cracking fit. A John Ludvig-Chris Tanev pairing would be tough to play against.

I wonder if Ryan Graves is right for the Penguins. You’ll notice coaches are quietly shuffling Ryan Shea up with Letang (and Shea loves it. Can confirm).

The things I like are Bryan Rust in the bumper and Sidney Crosby down low. After that, I think Kris Letang has more chemistry with Evgeni Malkin up top, but adding Erik Karlsson to that mix creates confusion and hesitation amongst all five participants.

Coaches should pick one–Letang or Karlsson. I just don’t think a combo will work.

As for fixes, they need to simplify the thought process. Short quick movements, open man, shot. If the mid-walls know a shot is coming, they can cheat forward for a rebound or loose puck.

This is the power play. Even bad teams can score. They need to take a deep breath and just let it rip. And let it rip more.