I never thought so many people would notice if I took a little hiatus from my write-ups on here, but my DMs are almost slid into once a day asking when I’m going to start writing again.
Your answer is now.
I don’t mean to get too personal, I know you are all here for hockey talk. However, I have been going through a lot of things in my life and I just simply haven’t been able to get around to blogging. I know, it’s hard to believe there’s a real person behind a Penguins twitter account.
Anyways, I’ve got a lot of thoughts on the season so far, and I’m going to just start typing anything that comes to mind. I hope I can fill a few minutes of your day with some good content.
First and foremost, I have to address this absurd schedule the NHL has dealt to the Penguins. I don’t know the exact statistics off hand, but the Penguins have already had to play five sets of back to back games. They’ve lost all five games on the tail end of those. I get it, that’s annoying as a fan to watch your team lose every time, but let’s cut these guys some slack. They’re back to back Stanley Cup champions and the core of the team has played into the playoffs nearly every year since they’ve been in the league. Plain and simple, they’re tired.
The regular season hardly matters to this team anyways. They will make the playoffs, and that’s all that matters. I don’t mind the early season struggles. They will figure it out by playoff time, I would bet my bottom dollar on that.
Another thing to say about those back to back games is how wrong I was on Antti Niemi. I thought he would make a pretty decent backup surrounded by a good Penguins team. Whoof. The defense was certainly not good in front of him in most of those games, but in his final game as a Penguin, every save looked like a struggle. I don’t know what kind of favor Panthers GM Dale Tallon owed Jim Rutherford, but he did the Penguins a huge favor taking Niemi’s contract. I don’t think the guy is fit to play in the league anymore. He was a good netminder for the bulk of his career, but I think it’s just as simple as he’s washed up.
On the other hand, Tristan Jarry looked exceptional in his first start this season. I really love this kid. He’s got all of the potential in the world and he just looks so confident in himself. Jarry has been an absolute stud in the AHL in a while for now, and he completely deserves to prove himself at the NHL level. If the Penguins want Jarry to get playing time, so he can develop, they should do it at the NHL level. Jarry is perfectly capable of giving Matt Murray the rest he needs, and we’ve seen before that having two starting-caliber goalies is one hell of a perk. Soon enough, the Penguins could have one of the best goaltending duos in the entire league.
Speaking of potential, Olli Maatta has been a pleasant surprise this season for me. He still isn’t quite as quick as he was before all of his medical issues, but the hockey sense and vision is coming back to him. Sure, he still has his moments with some defensive lapses, but he’s been really good this year in my eyes. He’s got nine points in sixteen games this year, and any offense that Olli provides is a bonus. I’m more excited to see if he can keep up his defensive prowess. The Penguins sure could use the Olli Maatta we thought we were getting in his rookie year, and there’s no one rooting for him harder than me. This kid has more heart than anyone in the world.
Keeping it in the defensive realm, Justin Schultz is such a huge part of this team. Getting him back will help the Penguins transition game immensely. Having Letang and Schultz in the lineup at the same time has been a rarity for the Penguins, but they will be at their very best with both of their puck moving blue-liners in the lineup.
A lot of people have been asking me about Letang’s struggles, and whether or not I’m worried about him going forward. I’m not worried about Kris Letang’s talent. He will figure it out and he’ll be an elite force from the back end once again as long as he truly is healthy. The only thing I’m worried about when it comes to Kris Letang is his health. He’s been through a lot, more than most guys ever have to endure in an entire career. As long as he’s fully healthy, I think we will see the Letang we’re used to sooner than later.
I’ve had more than a few people ask me whether I think Justin Schultz is better than Kris Letang, and the answer is no. I think they do very similar things, and I think Schultz certainly has a lot of potential, but it’s hard to replicate the type of impact Kris Letang can have on a hockey game. The only thing I will say is that I think Schultz might be a better powerplay quarterback than Letang, because Schultz loves to shoot on the man advantage.
One last thing I’ve been keeping tabs on when it comes to defense is the Chad Ruhwedel/Matt Hunwick ordeal. The Penguins signed Hunwick for three years, which I even thought was strange at the time. Hunwick is an alright defenseman, but it looks to me that the Penguins like Chad Ruhwedel better anyways. Ruhwedel’s play has been pretty good and he’s cheaper than Hunwick. Ruhwedel also brings a right-handed shot to the equation, which definitely helps his cause. It will be interesting to see what happens when Hunwick is cleared to play, which could be as soon as next game.
Oh, actually, one more defensive thing. Brian Dumoulin is so good defensively. It’s amazing to me that he was the “toss-in” when Jim Rutherford was the GM in Carolina. Rutherford really set his future team up well. Dumoulin’s gap-control is a thing of beauty and I am confident with him going up against the opposition’s best forwards night in and night out.
I don’t have a lot to say about the Penguins stars. Crosby, Malkin, and Kessel are all going to be just fine. There’s really no need to discuss them too much. They have the ability to determine the outcomes of games single-handedly. I will say that Kessel has been just as good as the Penguins two-headed monster, though. Phil seems to be having a hell of time this season. He’s dynamite in overtime, and his work on the powerplay is nothing short of superb. He has nine power play assists off of the left half-wall. Remember when a certain Pittsburgh columnist was trying to sell you on the Penguins trading Phil just because he wouldn’t be able to play without Rick Tocchet?
The thing I love about Phil Kessel is that he can win back to back Stanley Cups for your favorite team, yet fans will still have negative things to say about him. This guy is a gem on and off the ice, and I feel privileged to watch him play in black and gold.
Riley Sheahan has been about what I thought he would be when we acquired him, and that is not a third line center on a Cup contending team. Sorry, but I just don’t see any way the Penguins go into the playoffs with Sheahan as their 3C if they’re serious about three-peating. Honestly, I’ve liked the speed and skill that Greg McKegg brings more than anything I’ve seen out of Sheahan.
I think we will see Jim Rutherford make another upgrade at the center ice position before the trade deadline. I would love to see the Penguins fleece Montreal for Alex Galchenyuk. Galchenyuk is a hell of a pure talent who has been beaten down by the horrible coaching regimes he’s played under. It could be a Justin Schultz type of deal all over again.
Galchenyuk is only 23, he’s only going to have a cap hit of $4.9M for the next three seasons. He could be well worth that for the Penguins, as he’s already scored 30 goals on an offensive starved Montreal team. I think he would thrive in an offensively-oriented system like the one the Penguins have. Galchenyuk’s value is at an all-time low, since Montreal has been sticking him on the fourth line. If Rutherford can snag him from the Canadiens, it could be another one of those low-risk high reward deals all over again, with the high reward being very likely.
I don’t think we are seeing nearly what team we will see in the playoffs. I have full confidence that Rutherford understands how rare a three-peat is and will make some moves to maximize the chance of winning the Cup for a third straight time. Let’s face it, GMJR is getting old. I don’t think he’s nearly as worried about the Penguins future as he is living in the moment.
With all of that being said, it’s great to be back.
Along with my write-ups on here, I should be getting back to live-tweeting regularly, along with in-game GIFs again.
If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading.
Tweet me anything else you’d like me to address that I didn’t already touch on and I’ll add it to this post.