[Editors Note: This new series “Pens Playbook” with Clint Hagmaier, is intended to give readers a insight into various Penguins topics from a actual hockey coaches' perspective. Our goal is to present the unique and technical-based analysis that only bench boss can bring. Clint will be here with a new article every Monday.]
Watching the postgame scrum with Mike Sullivan after the March 5th loss to the Calgary Flames, a reporter asked Sullivan if he was concerned that the team has troubles stringing together more than two wins in a row. First of all, what kind of question is that? Of course it’s a concern! If it wasn’t a concern, Mr. Sullivan would be on a couch somewhere with Mr. Johnston eating Cheetos watching Friends.
In all seriousness, it is a major concern for a team that is stacked with high end talent and is struggling to stay in the playoff picture. The consistency of the team’s play has been a concern all season...
What can be done better?
Where to begin in order to gain the stable play the Penguins need? It will sound like a cliche or like I’m bashing the guy, but honestly it starts with the captain. Yes, I know Crosby is now just over a point per game player again. Yes, I know he could easily jump from being sixth in the scoring race to second in the matter of a game or two. But consider this, when Crosby was on his eleven game point streak (and wow was it a heck of a streak) he was averaging over three shots on net per game. Since the streak ended, he’s averaging less than three shots per game. The old coaching adage is “good things happens when you put the puck to the net” and when 87 does that, the team is better for it.
The next area that needs cleaned up is the D-zone and more specifically around the blue paint. As good as Marc-Andre Fleury and Matt Murray are, they will at some point give up rebounds. Those rebounds cannot turn into second or third chances. When they do, the Pens waste energy and valuable time playing in their own zone and make it more difficult when they are at the end of their shifts to smoothly exit. This in turn keeps the puck off the sticks of players like Malkin, Crosby, Hornqvist, and Kessel. That works against the game plan of the Penguins coaching staff, which is puck possession. And who better than to have possession of the puck than those guys. If the Pens can clean up “The House” and protect it a little better, exiting the defensive zone becomes much easier and the team controls the game with their high powered offense more.
On a positive note
Under Mike Sullivan the Penguins have drastically reduced turnovers in the “No-No” areas (inside the blue lines and through the neutral zone). Which has really helped puck possession along with the cycling abilities of the 3rd and 4th lines. Also when Malkin's back in the lineup and feeling healthier he'll has gain more ice time. More ice time for Malkin equals more offensive zone attack time and more puck possession time. Malkin also means more security down the middle of the lineup. And as I have mentioned before the tandem of Fleury and Murray has really solidified the Black and Gold’s goaltending. Even in losses the goalies are doing everything possible to give their team a chance each and every game.
Finally, what is really great to see is Patric Hornqvist heating up. Hornqvist in his last five games has exploded with eight points. The puck is finally finding him in those “dirty” areas where he plays so well and it’s nice to see how his hard work get some validation. Even nicer if him and the team can ride that into the post season.
So you want to know…
Are you unsure or curious of why Derrick Pouliot was scratched for Justin Shultz? Why did the Penguins feel the need to call up Tom Sestito? Well, I can offer you my theories and why I would have done the same thing.
The Penguins staff watched the Flames do what every team in the NHL is now learning to do against the Penguins in order to beat them and that’s take the body. Bringing up Sestito adds a little toughness that the Pens have been lacking all season in their lineup. Playing against the Devils on March 6th, with the likes of Jordan Tootoo, Tuomo Ruutu, and Bobby Farnham, who are notorious for taking the body the Penguins felt the need to add some protection for their stars. Sestito did his job and instead of Devil’s players taking penalties and injuring Penguins stars, he took punches to the face and drew a power-play for his team. Props to you Mr. Sestito! Job well done!
As for Pouliot…well it could be a few different reasons why he was out of the lineup against New Jersey. One reason could be his D-zone positioning in the March 5th game. While yes, Pouliot was a plus 1, I saw a bunch of opportunities for the Flames that could have been prevented if he was in the right position. His positioning is a simple fix and he is still learning. Another reason could be the fact that the Pens were playing the Devils and that his play of late wasn’t showing signs of tolerating the Devil’s body banging forecheck. This is the least likely of the scenarios.
The most likely one however is, that Pouliot is a rookie and Justin Shultz needed to get in the lineup. It’s very simple, if a team makes a trade and hasn’t put that player in the lineup in a few games since attaining that player, they have to find a way to put him in the lineup. Pouliot’s game has showed signs of brilliance and signs of being a rookie. They brought Shultz here believing he can help solidify the back end and so the only way for him to prove that he can is be in the lineup, which makes Poliout low man on the pole. Don’t worry though, they’ll find a way to put Poliout back in the lineup. Just be patient.
Questions, comments, concerns? Feel free to do so in the comment section at the end of my write-ups or Tweet at me @coachhagmaier2. Let’s talk hockey!