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Kingerski: Yep, Capitals Show the Penguins are Missing a Tough Answer

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Pittsburgh Penguins, Tom Wilson

We’re just going to play. Play our own game. Play the game that gives us the best chance to win. Those were the Pittsburgh Penguins and head coach Mike Sullivan’s answers to questions about the Penguins’ response to the Washington Capitals’ physicality and Tom Wilson’s near assault of Mark Jankowski on Thursday night.

Let’s not kid ourselves. Wilson could have pulled up, turned away, or otherwise not trucked Jankowski a full second after the puck was gone.

But he didn’t.

And, I’m an old-school type. I’ve learned my pucks from the hotbeds in Canada and the toughest minor league city in North America (Johnstown). I’m not expecting much agreement. Penguins fans are notoriously dovish. Sorry, but you know I’m not wrong about that, either.

So, the Penguins got a two-minute power play in exchange for Wilson nearly putting an unprotected Jankowski in the rafters. Perhaps it’s pure coincidence (it’s not), and perhaps it had nothing to do with the Wilson hit, but look at the Washington Capitals surge after the hit.

The game log graph comes from our friends at NaturalStatTrick.com. 

Pittsburgh Penguins game log

 

The Penguins chose not to address the Wilson hit in their postgame chat, other than to dismiss it.

“It doesn’t matter. The referees are going to make the calls. They’re going to call it as they see it,” Sullivan said. “We’re just going to play.”

Now, just imagine how the Penguins would react, heck, even how you would react if this were the Penguins’ on-ice response.

 

Vancouver chirped Wilson all the way to the locker room. Each Canuck was a foot taller at that moment. Maybe, just maybe, the Pittsburgh Penguins could use a little height enhancement rather than “just play?”

The Wilson hit may not have negatively affected the Penguins, but there is ample evidence to suggest it positively affected the Washington Capitals.

And that’s an often overlooked point when discussing physicality in hockey. The benefits are different in different situations, but there are benefits.

Tuesday night, the Penguins were outhit 26-5 in the first 40 minutes. Despite playing well, the Penguins trailed in the third period.

Perhaps with a little more rambunctiousness, the Penguins would get into the games faster? The team is tied with the Nashville Predators for the NHL lead with eight wins while trailing or tied after two periods.

The Penguins have been outscored 21-16 in the first period. If not for a recent surge, that stat was 19-11 last weekend.

But those are hard statistics drawn from a subjective situation, so disagreement is expected. Unfortunately, Penguins fans too often leap to the extreme and assume toughness means a fighter.

It doesn’t. Not anymore.

The Penguins appear to have the mental toughness down pat. The team didn’t cower on the bench, and in the third period, the Penguins worked the corners despite an aggressive crunch by the Capitals.

The overall hit count was fairly even, 24-21 in the Capitals’ favor. Zach Aston-Reese, Brandon Tanev, and others made a specific point to finish their checks.

But it’s not enough.

The Penguins need more pushback. They need the energy that comes from hitting their opponents, HARD, and sometimes, FIRST. The Pittsburgh Penguins need that mental boost that comes from hitting back or being able to hit back if or when they want.

Tanev is among the NHL leaders in hits, but he’s not a dangerous player.

“(Our response) was fine. We’re just going to play the game,” Sullivan said on Thursday night. “Teams are going to try to play physical against us. They always do. We’re just going to try to play the game that gives us the best to win.”

If you know one way that your opponent will attack, having an answer makes sense.

The Penguins have speed. Forwards Tanev, Kasperi Kapanen, Bryan Rust, and Sidney Crosby play the game at full speed. Sometimes faster. Defensemen P.O. Joseph and Mike Matheson are elite skaters and can race to spots that other defensemen only dream of.

The Penguins have talent, too.

When the Penguins last won the Stanley Cup in 2017, they too had several players who could hit back and play (our new favorite saying) “long pants hockey.” Ian Cole. Crosby. Chris Kunitz. Brian Dumoulin learned to clear the net front.

Still, that team was nearly pounded into submission on several occasions. 

Other teams have closed the speed gap. And the talent gap. Maybe pushing back as hard or harder would help, too.

On Thursday night, Tanev, Sam Lafferty, and Cody Ceci had three or more hits. That’s a good start, but the Penguins lack impactful hits, someone who can impose a physical will or someone who can protect teammates.

Oh, and that person has to be defensively responsible, preferably quick on his skates, and able to chip in between five and 10 goals per season.

There aren’t many of those players, but Washington has the biggest and badest of the bunch. Like the Boston Bruins and the New York Islanders, other teams in the East also enjoy a little tilly, too.

Fair warning, if the Penguins do find one, the stats may not reflect the benefit. Just as not finding one won’t specifically show up on the stat sheet either. Pushback and, in some cases, hit-back lies in the unseen feeling and emotion of hockey.

The Pittsburgh Penguins may benefit from a little of that, too.

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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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Katz
Katz
5 months ago

It’s OK to say we will just play our game . But you lost to the a Capitals in the second Round In part because you had no answer to Wilson

Your team was swept by the Islanders . And your team was embarrassed by Montreal.

So clearly there is something missing Coach. And your stubbornness is costing the team .

Go Oil
Go Oil
5 months ago
Reply to  Katz

Zach Kassian. Toughness, can play with
skill, penalty kills and can skate.
What can the pens offer?
Signed an Oilers fan.

Eric
Eric
5 months ago
Reply to  Katz

We did not lose to the islanders and Canadians because we were not tough! They lost because they played uninspired hockey and were ou coached! Carey price played our of his head!

Stephen Powanda
Stephen Powanda
5 months ago

I believe the biggest problem in regards to toughness is SULLIVAN! When JR got him Reaves he wouldn’t play him. He had to get rid of Cole. We need size and toughness now or we will be swept in the first round in the playoffs again if we even make them. The one blessing after this sweep would be SULLIVAN being FIRED!

Ether
Ether
5 months ago

What makes you think they will fire Sullivan? Tomlin still going strong decade and a half after winning only Super Bowl and that was still Cowher’s team essentially. Pittsburgh now where coaches go to get an early championship (or two) from a personality shift and then collect lifetime pensions.

Eric
Eric
5 months ago
Interesting and rather dumb. Sully is the architect of back to back I only cup championships in salary cap era. The more important question to ask is the relationship between Sullyand Rutherford, and if Rutherford collaborated on the players that Sully  would want. Althoug cole’s relationship with  sully Appeared to be strained, cole left because of financial reasons. There’s no way the Penguins could afford him.
Iwasiam
5 months ago

Sullivan’s attitude would fine in San Francisco but Pittsburgh people like to be defined by their blue collar take no s××t way, something like the steel curtain. But this play the right way or basically run for your life and they can’t hit what that cant catch is hard for the old school mill worker or for that matter a Man to be ok with. Yea we win games but how about winning the fight to. There’s times where we win but players end up out for games and I really dont feel we won but we’re taught a lesson… Read more »

Big B
Big B
5 months ago

Yes Sully is the prob.He had Reeves and Cole and forced them both out.He had Gudbranson and JAMIE OLEKSIAK and did not utilize them.He also could not or would not intergrate Brassard as well as being tuned out by Malkin for years.He fostered a bad relationship with Kessel etc.Either Sully has to go or Malkin has to go or upper brass has to intervene and change his approach.

Stweaver
Stweaver
5 months ago

I agree a big hit can lift the team doing the hitting more than discourage the team receiving the hitting. The NaturalStat graph was telling after Wilson’s hit. I’d like to see the same chart for the Pens after Lafferty drilled Chara a couple nights ago. My recollection is the tide turned towards the Pens after that.

Ricardo58
Ricardo58
5 months ago

Thank you for this article in particular! I appreciate your word choice of dovish. Speaking in general terms, if your similar in age to me and Jack Lambert is by far your most favorite Steeler of all time, dovish doesn’t apply to you or me. The Steelers of the 70s had plenty of skill and speed. They also had 58, 75, 31 etc who kept opponents honest. I always root for the Pens to have a similar roster construction. Sigh, they do not unfortunately. Go Pens.

Zane Gearhart
Zane Gearhart
5 months ago

Dan,
Any thoughts on a few targets the pens could go after to help the 4th line and give some push back, while fitting into Sullivan’s system?

Glenn
Glenn
5 months ago
Reply to  Zane Gearhart

Excellent question, Zane! I like the articles by Dan, but it’s always missing that extra bit. This is a good example. Who’s out there? What would it take them?

William Stone
William Stone
5 months ago

Dan, any names that you think could be the “long pants” answer via trade? And if we were to make a trade, would it be from the surplus of defenseman we have currently?

Steve
Steve
5 months ago
Reply to  Dan Kingerski

I have posted this in a few different comments and I am curious about an expert opinion. Anthony Angello has the size and he didn’t look out of place at the NHL level to me, but I don’t have the benefit of tape analysis and access to scouts and coaches. Is he a viable internal fit for this role until some teams become sellers?

Mark
Mark
5 months ago
Reply to  Steve

And..Angello had his chance to stand up and fight and NEVER DID… Now what????

Steve
Steve
5 months ago
Reply to  Mark

When did that happen? I am curious. Also, it isn’t just fighting. Wilson ducks Reaves whenever they play. Remember when Reaves was here? Wilson never fought him. Angello’s got the size but not every big player is physical, which is why I asked.

Katz
Katz
5 months ago
Reply to  Dan Kingerski

Yes there are some teams about to be sellers. But I’m not for adding by trading any draft picks sure. If a inexpensive addition comes for an expendable player OK

But this is Sullivan’s team and Sullivan should sink or swim with these players. It’s been two playoff embarrassments. If they fail to make the playoffs or exit in an embarrassment then let this new regime make their mark. Evaluate everything and deal with it make the hard decisions.

Last edited 5 months ago by Katz
Cal
Cal
5 months ago

If one compares to what Sceviour brings on the ice, there are plenty of great options to replace his minutes. Somebody mentioned Deslauriers in a previous post, he be fun to watch and lay out some uncomfortable moments for the opposition. There is that MacDermid kid in LA that can bring a shitload of moxie.

Rob McCosh
Rob McCosh
5 months ago

No superstar in the history of hockey has taken the abuse Sidney Crosby has. And Malkin hasn’t been protected from a lot of cheap shots either. I am hoping the change at the top with Brian and Ron will bring in a some answers and stop this crap. It has gone on too long. I love the way the Penguins play but you can’t let nuts from other teams pull this crap. Everyone knows your good players cannot retaliate or you let inferiors take your stars to the penalty box. Bring in some guys and send them after the stars… Read more »

Edgar
Edgar
5 months ago

The Pens have a lot of missing ingredients now. Kinda sad to watch, honestly. Not being able to crack the top 2 in the division for the past few years with 2 of the greatest players of all time.

Scott Maloni
Scott Maloni
5 months ago

Agreed

Scott Maloni
Scott Maloni
5 months ago

Sam Bennett, Foligno, Lowry. Any and all would help and could be available.

Eric
Eric
5 months ago

A lethal powerplay is usually the best deterrent to ugly hockey.

SoCalSteve
4 months ago

After blasting Tom Wilson for a late but clean check, you make the case that the Pens would LOVE to have him on their team.

I’ll take TW over the dirty stick work that doesn’t get called nearly enough.

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