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PHN Blog: What the Penguins Proved, What Fans are Missing with Zegras

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Pittsburgh Penguins, Mark Friedman

Mike Sullivan didn’t sugarcoat things or dangle a carrot for his team to improve. The Pittsburgh Penguins head coach said he loved his team’s effort after the OT win in Minnesota and was similarly happy after the Penguins’ loss in Colorado.

The thing Mike Sullivan would change when the Penguins rematch Colorado on Tuesday?

“The result,” he said flatly.

The Penguins went toe-to-toe with Colorado, the best team in the NHL in their 3-2 loss… Colorado earned their 104th point of the season and scored their 99th third period goal to beat the Penguins.

Yet, the Penguins had more scoring chances (30-26), fired 40 shots on goal, and carried the play for large stretches of the game.

New Pittsburgh Penguins Lines

Sullivan decided to experiment with the lines on Saturday, and his experiment had mixed results. He moved Jeff Carter from center to Evgeni Malkin’s RW. The bullies took that line’s lunch money, lunch box and popped them twice. The Malkin-Carter combo gave up two goals and was vastly outshot, 15-4.

The third line with Evan Rodrigues and Teddy Blueger had chances. Oh did Rodrigues have chances, but the invisible plexiglass shield, which exists only when he shoots, kept him off the score sheet. He had a 50-foot breakaway and a great rebound chance, but a goose egg on the score sheet.

I’ll take a third liner creating those chances. They will eventually hit the twin. Right? ….right?

The Penguins’ fourth line was not much of a factor. Anthony Angello drew in and the TV audience may have never known. Brian Boyle didn’t make much of an impact either, and the fourth line played about seven minutes.

“I thought it was just a really good hockey game. It was a well-played game on both sides. You know, we had a lot of looks. We had a fair amount of chances. We would normally convert on some of those, but they played extremely well,” Sullivan said. “Also, it was a real competitive hockey game. I just thought it was a real good game on both sides.”

However, it was the Penguins bugaboo of only the first line creating offense. The Sidney Crosby line was again stacked with Bryan Rust and scored both Penguins’ goals.

On the positive, the Penguins played very well, overall. More importantly, they must take the lessons learned and apply them to the New York Rangers on Thursday and the Washington Capitals on Saturday.

“I don’t really know the stats, but just a feeling–it felt like we were in their zone a lot more than they were in ours and felt like we had more chances than they did,” defenseman Mike Matheson said. “So yeah, I think we probably deserved to win that one. Right now, they’re looking like the best team in the league in terms of points. So I think it’s a good step in the right direction for us to know that we’re competing against teams like Minnesota and Colorado.”

The Metro Division four-point games are the ones that really matter. As intense and heavy as the games against Minnesota and Colorado were, they lacked a certain importance and desperation that only divisional games bring. The scrums, the extra hits, the ill-intent; can the Pittsburgh Penguins play in the middle of that circus?

The Tuesday rematch against Colorado will be fun. The Thursday puck drop against the Rangers will be the tell-tale.

Side note–the photo showing Mark Friedman clearing the net is a nice one. I’m curious if Sullivan is going to stick with him. Anyone who clears the net is an upgrade.

Fans are Getting it Wrong:

The other big issue this weekend was the lack of punishment for the actions and words of Jay Beagle. The Arizona Coyotes forward absolutely flattened Anaheim Ducks scorer Trevor Zegras and punched him for another “Michigan” goal.

Social media howled when the AZ broadcast used the words “skill it up” to describe the transgression.

 

Yes, the Arizona broadcast got it right. If you want to embarrass people, be prepared. In baseball, they throw at your head. In football, they twist your knee in the pile. In hockey, they punch you square in the face.

Do you think Mario Lemieux or Wayne Gretzky couldn’t flip the puck onto their stick and carry it? Sidney Crosby?

The players didn’t do it because it’s an insult to the game–it’s game-changing in several bad ways. Let me explain before you react: How is one supposed to defend the “Michigan”?

Suddenly, we have players playing with the puck above the ice. You can’t poke check it. Can’t block the shot. The goalie can’t read the shot. It takes the hockey out of hockey.

The only ways to defend it are to whack the stick, which is technically a penalty, or physically bulldoze the player while he attempts the move.

Never mind that players will be playing with sticks raised above the waist. If you take this to its logical next steps, players will use it to spin away from defenders in the neutral zone, get an extra step on the breakouts, and ways I can’t fathom.

Players will have to defend in kind. You’ll have players jousting over the puck. It’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye. In this case, literally.

The NHL didn’t punish Beagle for assaulting Zegras because that was the old-school way to deal with guys who tried to outsmart the game. I was wrong a few months ago–Lemieux didn’t “Michigan” early in his career in Boston. Instead, he flipped the puck over the net, off the goalie, and into the cage from behind the goal line.

He was promptly leveled with malice.

Either the NHL will have to make a rule against playing with the puck above the ice, or players are going to decide if they want it in the game. Who knows, maybe things have changed, and the players want that stuff.

I don’t like it, but it’s not “my” game. It’s not the fans’ game, either. It’s the players’ game, it’s hockey’s game.

The move has the potential to be like Michael Jordan playing above the rim in the NBA. Now, it seems the game is played above the rim. The NBA changed, and not really for the better. Short-term excitement became a long-term weakening of the game of basketball.

I played basketball almost daily during those years (I couldn’t drain a jumper to save my life). Overnight, the game went from chasing Larry Bird, and Magic Johnson’s no-look passes, reverse layups, and fadeaway jumpers to an obsession with dunking and going over people.

This may be the NHL’s moment like that.

The NHL likes frontier justice. It keeps everyone in check. The league was never going to punish Beagle for doing their work.

For better and worse, that’s the situation. Before you excoriate the league or Beagle, look at what comes next and decide if it raises or lowers the quality of hockey. I think it lowers it…but I’ll still cover it every day.

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Pittsburgh Hockey Now Editor-in-Chief, formerly 93.7 The Fan, Sportsnet Hockey Tonight, NHL Home Ice. Catch Dan tweeting @theDanKingerski and the official @pghhockeynow account.

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Ethan
Ethan
1 month ago

Rust should stay on 2nd line. I advocated it before he moved to 2nd and I’ll advocate even more now. He creates space for linemates. The problem then becomes who plays with Sid and Jake and I don’t have a great answer for that without Zucker. Heinen is one option, but he is like Guentzel-light so not sure both on same line gives you complement. I do know Carter should stay on 3rd with Kappy–he seems to help him. So I would move Rakkel to top, and slot Heinen (not ERod!!!! don’t do it Mike) in with Rust on 2nd.… Read more »

Dave
Dave
1 month ago

Sully needs to set his lines as Pens have been playing against top tier playoff teams. Carter slowed down Malkin line. Get Kap back on second line & let lines 3 & 4 find a way to chew up minutes. Bluger, Boyle , Zohorna looked good, now Z back on the bench. Is Sully afraid of size?

Kris
Kris
1 month ago
Reply to  Dave

Angello is as big at the human pylon and Angello also uses his size to actually hit people which is what I want from my 4th line.

Bachinga
Bachinga
1 month ago
Reply to  Kris

Angello was the least effective player on the least effective line deployed Saturday,,,

Rick
Rick
1 month ago

The Colorado team that Pittsburgh lost 3 – 2 was missing 3 of its top 5 players, Rantanen, Kadri, and Landeskog. They were also missing a pretty good D man in Girard. Sorry, not only did we lose to them, we lost to their B team. Not a whole lot to hang your hat on here.

Kris
Kris
1 month ago
Reply to  Rick

Well someone needs to tell Rantanen that there is a guy impersonating him in the current lineup who played 20:21 seconds and had a goal and an assist yesterday.

Might want to watch the game a little closer before making any B team type comments.

the Other Rick
the Other Rick
1 month ago
Reply to  Kris

Sorry, Kris, Don’t know why I put Rantanen’s name in there other than I was replying on the fly. However, that doesn’t invalidate my pathos over another loss to a playoff team. Our Penguins’ A team still only played Colorado’s B team and still lost. Yes, I wish there was something there I could say, hey that was great, but no, there wasn’t. You might want to be the one to check a little closer. If Pgh were missing Guentzel and Rust, you could have said it was B team vs B team or if Landeskog and Kadri were in… Read more »

Frank
Frank
1 month ago

Like it or not there is no rule against the “Michigan.” I also think you would find a surprising number of players could execute that successfully today and another meaningful number could perform it with just a handful of practices. No . .. I do not like it. It is really more of a trick than a skill. Very close to “Globetrotters on Ice.” The league may do something about it but for now players can do it . .. apparently at their own risk. But in the NHL violence trumps everything, so you have to know that many more… Read more »

Kris
Kris
1 month ago
Reply to  Frank

Get off my lawn!

Bachinga
Bachinga
1 month ago
Reply to  Kris

. It is really more of a trick than a skill.

You think skating near full and picking up the puck on the toe of your stick and wheeling to the goal and depositing it is a *trick* not a *skill*?

Frank
Frank
1 month ago
Reply to  Bachinga

Yes I do. I have seen countless guys pick up the puck while skating. I have no problem with the trick. Just call it what it is. But given the state of the NHL when you do it there is a reasonable chance the next trick might involve trying to remember what city you are in. I am guessing there is a 100% chance Crosby could do that. And a 110% chance you will never see him do that,

Bachinga
Bachinga
1 month ago
Reply to  Frank

You’re not to be taken seriously…

Jason
1 month ago

I like when guys can pull off the Michigan goal but you have to expect if you leave yourself open someone is going Bulldoze you right over and I like that too. Got to weigh the decision if you can pull it off and the best way to have guys not to try is to level them with a clean body check. Your skill level has to be more than if you can pull the Michigan goal off it’s if you can do that while not get blown up while attempting it. At least that’s my point of view.

William Stone
William Stone
1 month ago

Pitchers throwing at guys’ heads because they got their feelings hurt when the other team flipped a bat is the worst part of baseball. Guys who twist knees under the pile are the worst part of football. Not a very convincing reason for why Beagle’s actions here are “good for the game.”

Crazyhorse87
Crazyhorse87
1 month ago

Crosby’s line needs size for the play-offs, it’s just a matter of moving Guentzel or Rust to appease what works on either side to make it work for a net-front presence. Malkin’s line needs a Ron Francis type winger, maybe Zucker fits the bill, Guentzel and Rust would be an improvement along side Malkin. Carter and Kapanen seems to belong together, anybody with Blueger is just a matter of who works the best.

Jack McCrory
Jack McCrory
1 month ago

Sullivan needs to compose the lines and then leave them alone for a while. There’s constant juggling of lines mid game and that will never allow players to get used to playing with each other. just watch how confused Malkins wingers appear because They never know what the hell he’s gonna do.

Mike Kirkell
Mike Kirkell
1 month ago
Reply to  Jack McCrory

Rust knows. Guentzel knows. Rakell seems to know. Carter, on the other hand, is apples and oranges with Malkin. That said, Guentzel and Rust are with Crosby. So, throw crap against the wall and sees what sticks with Malkin and Rakell. Carter is “safe” in theory, but he’s not a fit. Rodrigues maybe could fit in theory, but he’s been a top 6 spaz for the last month or so. Heinen? Vanilla. Doesn’t move the needle. Kapanen? Ha! So, try the guys you wouldn’t think to try. The odds are against something sticking, but you don’t know unless you try… Read more »

Uros
Uros
1 month ago

OK, so hockey, which is a skills game, should bow its head to violence because what bully says is law? Do we want to condone violence because someone has skills? It’s just like saying some woman asked for it because of the way she dressed. And this should be a sport? Something where a stronger guy wins because he can beat you senseless and it’s not a combat sport? There’s a word for that and it’s sore loser. Does anybody want their kids to idolize sore losers instead of skilled people? A lot of fans want this, but that’s because… Read more »

Wasnt
1 month ago
Reply to  Uros

It was Detroit 11-2.
Soon as you start carrying a puck then flipping it with force it’s going to hit a face……so knowing that he deserves an ass beating I think

Kris
Kris
1 month ago

Is the play illegal? No. Then your comments about integrity of the game show how ignorant you are. It’s a legal play. If you are going to give him the time behind the net to do that, then you get what you get.

Uros
Uros
1 month ago
Reply to  Kris

Sorry, my bad for NJ instead of RW.

Last edited 1 month ago by Uros
Tony C
Tony C
1 month ago

Reasonable Rule: Placing your stick within twelve inches of an opposing goaltender’s carotid artery will result in a two-minute penalty.

Unreasonable Rule: Punching someone in the face is not subject to supplemental discipline if the victim was in the act of doing something relatively new to the game.  

The game has seen many novel ideas over the years… like wearing helmets, using composite sticks… and making a forward pass.)

Daniele
Daniele
1 month ago

It was also 5-0 Anaheim with 5 minutes left in the game at the time.

Wasnt
1 month ago
Reply to  Daniele

He deserved another ass beating then

Bachinga
Bachinga
1 month ago
Reply to  Daniele

Yea so? Did AZ stop playing?

Mike Kirkell
Mike Kirkell
1 month ago

Honestly, if the Pens are going to go anywhere in the playoffs, then one of two things needs to happen: Jarry needs to stand on his head OR the Malkin line needs to make the difference. Leave aside the Jarry part for a moment. Right or wrong, if Zucker is healthy, it’ll be Zucker-Malkin-Rakell. BUT, as long as Zucker is out, it’s incumbent on Mike Sullivan to experiment with the third wheel for Malkin and Rakell. It is NOT Carter. That line plays slow, and Malkin’s worst individual play this season has been with Carter. Rodrigues? Heinen? I hope nobody… Read more »

Last edited 1 month ago by Mike Kirkell
Jay95
Jay95
1 month ago
Reply to  Mike Kirkell

First, my apologies because this is LONG! lol I feel like the 2 best options are currently injured, as you alluded to. McGinn works well and Zucker was making a huge difference in Minnesota with his speed and allusiveness. I’m not against Rodrigues or Heinen though. Heinen is a solid player that I really want them to keep. He’s not the fastest, most skilled, toughest, but he does everything right and can score. Rodriguez? It just depends on which Erod we get. If he can start finishing again… He’d be huge in the top 6. But, I think the best… Read more »

David
David
1 month ago

Pens have played about .500 against the best teams in the league. That is not bad. But it still isn’t the same as playing the same team 4-7 games in a row. Until proven otherwise, Jarry is a question mark. Over the last month I haven’t seen him steal games on any regular basis, and I have seen big rebounds and a few softer goals.

Jay95
Jay95
1 month ago
Reply to  David

I’m going to agree and disagree to a point lol. Which, may actually prove your question mark take 🤷🏻‍♂️. I feel like Jarry is one of the best in the league at his position. He’s always had the talent, personality, and the ability to just remain mentally calm with anything thrown at him…except last year’s playoffs. I have sooo much confidence in his ability to stay calm and just play through tough patches. But, yeah, the fact that he had a rough patch last year at that moment is sort of mind boggling because of the things that I stated… Read more »

Taylor Thomas
Taylor Thomas
1 month ago

Comparing Zegras and The Michigan to Jordan and playing above the rim? Jordan changed basketball for the better. He was exciting, doing new things at new levels. He brought in sponsors and elevated brands that have significantly changed the landscape of basketball and sports in general. Isn’t that what hockey needs? Guys like Zegras and McDavid aren’t fun to watch because they fight, it’s because they have more skill than everyone and do things nobody else can. It’s called evolution and it’s required to survive. At some point the “old guard” is going to have to realize that most fans… Read more »

A. Lifeson
A. Lifeson
1 month ago

I just hope when it’s all said and done that Malkin take a substantial pay cut playing on average of only half a season the last 3 years that is if he finishes the rest of this regular season and also throw out the No trade clause as well. Crosby is worth a lot more and more important to this team than Malkin ever will be.

DiegoPittFan
DiegoPittFan
1 month ago

The pop up ads on this site are obnoxious

Bachinga
Bachinga
1 month ago

What you and the AZ neanderthals >STILL DON’T GET< after all of these years of the game moving away from routine muggings to speed and skill is that 1000s of kids practicing that move in their driveways whgile there are exactly 0 kids practicing like Jay Beagle…

NO ONE was a more vocal critic of the Jay Beagles and other hookers, clutchers, pickers and plugs than Mario was….

James Hubert
James Hubert
1 month ago

Crosby did it in juniors. There’s a video.

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