Penguin Player Grades: After 27 Games

December 1, 2009 9 comments

We’re a third of the way through the season and the greatest assistant coach of all time with the last name “Kovach” thinks it’s time we all weigh in on what we think of everyone wearing a Pens jersey, and I agree.  Obviously I’ll start it off.  I encourage everyone to comment on mine as well as submit their own if they so choose.  So without further ado, let’s start with the forwards:

Note:  Sorry but I have to consider salary when doing this kind of thing, because after all X amount of goals, blocked shots, etc. look very different when you consider how certain players are expected to perform.  Also, I admit as I wrote and wrote I noticed a lot of what I said about each player pertains to my overall impressions of them but the grades do reflect only THIS season.  I’m sure if I do this when we’re 2/3 of the way through the season they’ll be much, much shorter!

FORWARDS

Sidney Crosby:  Just recently I sort of called out Crosby and his teammate Evgeni Malkin not for playing poorly, but not being dominant as often as they should given their responsibilities.  Recently though Crosby has been out of his mind, specifically in the last two games which were against the Rangers, scoring a total of 5G, 3A.  Also, he has 14 points in his last nine games.  He looks to be back in prime form and all of a sudden he sits four points behind Gaborik for the scoring lead (currently 3rd).  He’s really stepping it up, and despite a small lull earlier in the year, has not disappointed.  A

Bill Guerin:  Assuming the role of whipping boy for a lot of Pens fans this year, Guerin hasn’t been that great but given his age and price tag I don’t think he’s been horrible.  He’s on pace for 18 goals and 48 points which is about right but given his goal scoring acumen and the fact that he plays almost exclusively with Crosby it will be a disappointment if he doesn’t at least break 20 goals.  He seems to float a lot more than when he was initially acquired but again I’m a little wary of nailing him to the wall when he’s clearly at the end of the road in his career.  C+

Chris Kunitz:  I won’t nail Guerin to the wall, but I will do it to Kunitz.  This won’t even be as harsh as I want it to be since I’m giving him the slightest bit of slack due to him being injured.  Kunitz played a significant role in getting the Pens back on track last year, leading them to an undefeated five-game road trip immediately after he was traded here.  Since then you can’t say he’s been anything but a big disappointment.  He chipped in one single goal in last year’s playoffs in by far the easiest series the Penguins played and has not done much since then.  In 19 games this year he has a breakaway goal late in a 6-1 win and two other goals I’m 98% sure would’ve gone in the net anyways even if they hadn’t grazed him first.  Sure he hits a little and is okay in the corners, but at this point an extra $800k per year for Ryan Malone instead looks pretty damn attractive.  D

Evgeni Malkin:  A lot of yinzers might not be so thrilled with Malkin this year at a glance.  Of course this means nothing because those people don’t know shit, but coming off his playoff MVP performance last season I think we all probably expected more fireworks than what we’ve seen so far.  Some of it is due to Malkin missing 7 games due to injury though, and 25 points in 21 games is pretty darn good even for one of the best players on the planet.  Keep in mind he’s also stuck with inferior linemates in comparison to what Crosby has and that’s putting it lightly.  I’d like to see him tear it up a couple times in the near future much like Crosby has done recently but there’s plenty of time for that and again he has almost zero help on the wings so far this year.  A-

Ruslan Fedotenko:  Maybe the most surprising disappointment as of now has to be Fedotenko.  I wasn’t all too thrilled when Shero signed him but he proved to be an adequate fit on Malkin’s left wing.  This year he’s on pace for 12 goals which is simply not cutting it when you have an all-around superstar as your centerman.  The Penguins re-signed him for a meager $1.8 million but much like Guerin 20 goals is the minimum he should end up with.  If he falls just short they’ll probably still have gotten their money’s worth if not for the fact that Fedotenko has so far been completely invisible in almost every game this year.  It’s uncanny really.  D-

Pascal Dupuis:  Here’s an interesting one.  I say that because I have to assume I’m obligated to go only by what the player has done SO FAR this year, not including what I think he’ll do for the rest of it.  If that’s the case Dupuis grades out pretty well here.  His play is no better than what I usually expect from him (good skater, decent slapshot, but nothing else) but at the end of the day he’s got 7 goals and if he somehow reaches 10-11 for the year at least we can all say the Penguins got their $1.4 million worth, which isn’t much but still way too high for him.  Aside from him physically scoring goals it’s been the same Dupuis we’re used to:  ho-hum fourth line performance.  That being said, he’s still a fringe player with 7 goals and there’s no getting around it.  B

Jordan Staal:  I was worried that my grades would all be extremely tilted towards good or bad, but then when I remembered Staal it didn’t bother me anymore.  He’s not necessarily “bad” he just never lasts more than one game looking “good.”  We always criticize fans who judge players strictly on whether they scored or not on a particular night but I think it really is that way with Staal.  If he scores that’s great but if he doesn’t it’s rare that he does anything memorable through the course of three periods.  I admit I’m probably much harder on him than some people, but it’s difficult when I would say he mishandles the puck a handful of times every single game, carries the puck with his head down, and generally looks slow with his hands, feet, and mind. 

I’m not buying into the whole “he plays great defense” argument either.  Jeff Halpern plays great defense too and in his prime could muster as many points as Staal does now.  The difference is Halpern never made anything near $4 million per year.  He has a few years left to grow which coincide badly with his contract expiring.  Here’s to hoping Shero figures him out before that one way or the other.    C+

Tyler Kennedy:  Kennedy has only played 14 games yet he’s managed 6 goals so far this year, all of them coming near the beginning of the season.  I don’t have a whole lot to say about Kennedy except that he fits nicely on a third line.  He’s a small, quick player that complements bigger players usually designated to play the other wing and center positions alongside him.  You can bank on 15-19 goals from him in a full season and I’m sure he’ll hit 20 one of these years and go back down, but if he keeps finding ways to make an impact on the score sheet every few games there’s nothing to complain about and he’ll never hurt your team much.  I guess that’s a long winded way of saying I think he’s been “fine” so far and will be “fine” for the rest of the year……as usual.  B+

Matt Cooke:  Cooke has also proven himself worthy of a third line role since he was signed two summers ago and continues to perform at the same level.  He knows what his strengths and weaknesses are and this year he’s again proven to be good at drawing penalties, taking the body, and chipping in a goal every so often.  He has 5 so far and I’m sure if he only gets 3-4 more this season he’ll still have done his job.  A-

Mike Rupp:   I’ll try not to let the shine of Rupp’s recent hat trick cloud my judgment here but it still has to be factored in.  I said a lot about him in my last post about Monday’s Ranger game so I won’t repeat too much here.  To summarize, I don’t think anyone wanted Rupp when he was signed except Ray Shero, and as it stands right now he’s been the biggest offensive contributor to the Penguins outside of Malkin and Crosby.  With 8 goals before the halfway point and being rewarded accordingly with genuine ice time, Rupp has a legitimate chance to reach 15 goals by the end of the season and be the biggest surprise this year.  Notice I’m much more impressed with Rupp’s 8 goals than I am with Dupuis’s 7.  The reason?  Rupp actually has the skills to prove it’s not a fluke.  A+

Craig Adams:  Adams is Adams.  He plays on the fourth line, doesn’t screw up and is rarely noticeable.  I don’t think anyone should be dressed for a whole season and not pick up at least 3-4 goals, so I’d like to see him put a couple in before the season is over since he doesn’t have any now, but he does his job well killing penalties and never being a hinderance.  B-

Eric Godard:  I’m afraid I can’t give a player like this an accurate grade.  He offers nothing to the team except the willingness to get hit in the head.  I don’t really agree with the old school theory that every team needs a goon so if it were up to me the Penguins wouldn’t have a player like this, therefore I’ll just not grade him.

Chris Bourque:  Ummmmm………what to say about Bourque?  The Penguins picked him up off of waivers just before the season started and I had no problem with it at the time and I’m not sure I even do now, but he’s really struggling to keep up at this level.  Ray’s son is just not skilled enough to play with NHLers.  He isn’t strong enough and can’t skate well enough to make any sort of contribution, and even if he did possess those qualities he doesn’t have any other skills that would translate into any kind of point production.  He’ll be a healthy scratch once all the forwards are healthy again but like my dad has mentioned the Penguins will probably at least keep him with the big league rather than send him down, mostly as a favor to his father.  D

DEFENSEMEN

Sergei Gonchar:  Gonchar has played 16 games and contributed 13 points, which are his usual impressive numbers.  Now that Crosby and Malkin are officially piquing it would be great to see a full, healthy season from him to see what totals he would put up.  I don’t think 70 points would be out of the question.  Anyways, before and after his injury Gonchar has been steady on defense and deadly on the power play; in other words he’s done exactly what he’s been paid to do just like always.  He’s one of the more reliable defensemen in the league and while his defensive play isn’t flashy he’s experienced and doesn’t make a ton of mistakes.  This year I’ve seen him get confused briefly a couple times leading to good chances for the opposition, but the complaints are minor considering he’s still a main catalyst for the Penguins.  B+

Brooks Orpik:  Orpik was kind of a personal favorite of mine since he came up to the big club, but I soured on him slightly after his last contract was signed.  He makes a lot of money and in hindsight it was the right move to keep him, I just think he’s a lot less valuable most of the time.  In a chippy game he’s a great player to have and in the playoffs I would say he’s a “pretty good” player to have but most games I’m not that impressed.  He’s good for about 10-20 points a year which is well below par for a defenseman who makes $3.5 million per year and gets a bit of power play time.  To be honest his physical game isn’t all that apparent most of the time.  When he’s in a groove he’s a very imposing player to go up against but I just haven’t seen it as much as I would like and this year is no different.  Bonus points for being an unusually good skater though.  C+

 Jay McKee:  McKee was brought in to at least somewhat replace Rob Scuderi and I think he’s done a great job.  It cost the Penguins less than $1 million and his reputation of blocking a ton of shots has translated to what he’s done so far for Pittsburgh.  Unfortunately the NHL’s incredibly flawed website doesn’t list the leaders in blocked shots, but I know for a fact that McKee was in the top 3 a couple times this year and I assume he’s still near there.  A-

Mark Eaton:  Eaton never really did much for me at first but now I appreciate his role on the team.  He is a very good bottom pairing defenseman and can play in the top four for awhile if necessary.  He’s not very physical but he minimizes mistakes and plays well positionally.  He’s also contributed 3 goals so far this year and from this type of player any production is a bonus.  B+

Kris Letang:  Letang seems to be somewhat untouchable in some circles, and while I do like his game and what he brings I’m not sure he’s as extraordinary as some might think.  He’s an incredible skater and always knows what to do with the puck in the offensive zone, therefore meshing well with the most gifted Penguins.  He’s also been surprisingly good in his own zone even when he was initially called up.  This year though it’s been kind of the same story as last year.  Will Letang ever shoot more?  Will he ever mature into a legit power play quarterback?  It doesn’t seem like those questions will be answered this season, as Letang is on pace for a lousy four goals.  He’s on pace for about 30 points though, which is good considering he was injured and the fact that he’s amongst three legitimate power play defenseman on the Penguin roster.  I like him, I think he’s a good player but even though he’s young I don’t think there’s much room for improvement.  B

Martin Skoula:  Another nice surprise was the late preseason addition of Skoula as the Penguins’ seventh defenseman.  He really came in handy given all the injuries the blue line has sustained and has 3 goals to boot.  I admit after a couple games I still thought he looked really stiff but he’s gotten comfortable later rather than sooner and as of now can always step in and play regularly for a long period if necessary.  B+

GOALIES

Marc-Andre Fleury:  Steady as she goes.  That’s pretty much all you need to say about Fleury.  Like it or not he’s one of the best goaltenders in the league and if it weren’t for Martin Brodeur’s god-like status in Canada he would deserve the starting job in the Olympics as much as anyone else.  He never gets credit for saving the team’s bacon and keeping them in games, which he did a lot more early in the season than in the last month or so, mostly because he hasn’t had to.  We’re well past his emotional early days where he was prone to soft goals and this year he sits atop the league leaders in wins and will certainly stay in the vicinity all season.  He’s exhibited virtually no flaws so far.  A

Brent Johnson:  I have to say I was always a fan of Johnson.  I also have to say that after his multiple back injuries that I was half excited, half nervous that he would be employed as the Penguins backup goaltender this year.  All things considered I’m happy with the way he has performed.  I can remember one or two lackluster goals he’s allowed but he also brought his best game on most of the nights he was called upon to start.  As mentioned a couple goals bothered me but all in all a legitimate backup goaltender.  B

OTHERS

Deryck Engellund:  B

Ben Lovejoy:  C+

Nate Guenin:  C-

Max Talbot:  N/A




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Rangers Part Deux: 5-2 W

December 1, 2009 Leave a comment

I thought this was actually a pretty good game. The Penguins pulled away in the third period but for most of the time there were some nice offensive displays. Marian Gaborik looks to be feeling it just as much as Crosby lately, being all over the place and finding all sorts of ways to obtain the puck and put it in, and I believe he is the league’s leading scorer right now in points and goals. Crosby again delivered a great performance (2g, 1a) which was only overshadowed by Mike Rupp’s hat trick.

I just wanted to take a minute to commend Ray Shero on signing Rupp. When it happened over the summer everyone was scratching their heads because we already had plenty of fourth liners. Shero obviously had a good feeling about it because a player just doesn’t switch teams and eclipse his career high in goals in a season by accident. We’re not even halfway through the year and Rupp already has 8 goals, two more than his career high of 6. That’s a pickup that deserves mentioning, not that Shero hasn’t already had some good ones.

It seems like the Penguins are rounding back into form as guys continue to return from injury. I have a good feeling that at the latest Malkin will heat up when Crosby cools off.

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Quick Thoughts on the Last Two Games

November 30, 2009 Leave a comment

A little late on the updates lately, the holiday weekend was a little more busy than I thought.

First, the Islander game. I thought the Penguins looked a little stale and uninspired. On the other hand I can see why the Islanders are somewhat improved when compared to their usual basement dwelling selves. They seem to attack the puck much better and play harder in general. As much as I hate to agree with anyone on the Penguin broadcast, Bob Errey pointed out that since the Isles have Tavares and therefore a sign things are moving in the right direction, they have a reason to play hard and try to build something. I agree with that statement. It makes a world of difference in my mind when you have a discernable difference maker on the ice and you know it doesn’t have to be an exceptional night for every single player in order to come out with a win.

As for the Ranger game, what a night. Crosby dominated and Malkin has been really consistent as of late. That being said, I was happy with the result since I just commented last week about how one or both of them has to start having some great performances. The game got really chippy as the goal margin widened and when Matt Cooke blindsided Anisimov. In all honesty it was no different than the numerous shoulder to head hits that have happened this year. I’m not sure if they should be outlawed or not, given that it’s still a hit with the shoulder and sometimes difficult to pull up on, but obviously people are getting seriously hurt so it’s hard to say. I believe they ruled that next year all shoulder pads have to have soft caps on them, so that should help at least somewhat.

Back to the game. Getting Letang and Goligoski back was a breath of fresh air and slowly but surely everyone is getting healthy. The Rangers are obviously headed in the wrong direction, but interestingly enough Marian Gaborik has 35 points on the year which puts him in second place in the entire league. Given that he missed a bit of time with injury that’s pretty impressive.

Monday’s game should be interesting since the Rangers are still brooding over the last matchup. Cooke is suspended for 2 games so he won’t be able to participate.

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11/25/09-Canadiens vs. Penguins: 3-1 W

November 26, 2009 Leave a comment

I think this game showed how a team like the Penguins can overcome some significant injuries because of the top end talent they have, where as a team like the Canadiens just can’t. They’re very banged up at the moment and simply can’t keep up with most of the rest of the league. Regardless I don’t think the season has gone at all like they planned even before all the injuries hit.

The Penguins were in control for most of the game, especially after the first goal was scored. Montreal never really sustained a lot of pressure save for a couple situations around the opposing net and obviously the goal by Pacioretty.

It was another one of those game’s where I couldn’t help but feel for Malkin. Pascal Dupuis simply isn’t fit for anything more than a temporary third line role and Ruslan Fedotenko has been virtually unnoticeable except for scoring a handful of goals so far this year. Obviously Crosby will always be the Mario’s favorite child and with good reason: both players are pretty equal talentwise but Crosby sells more tickets and merchandise. It’s just a little ridiculous at times, for instance: The original plan was for Talbot to play on Malkin’s wing, but obviously Talbot was hurt to start the season. He comes back and whoops, Kunitz happens to be hurt so he goes on to Crosby’s line. It may have been a genuine coach’s decision but things like that plus the total disregard to find him quality linemates needs to change in the next few years. That’s a lot of time so no need to panic but players WILL leave if they have options and feel like they’d be treated better somewhere else. My point is it’s bad enough that he would be the center of attention and #1 franchise player somewhere else, so there’s no need to pile on by making his on-ice experience a living hell. That might sound dramatic but there’s really no excuse for the quality of his linemates. It would be nice to see a Guerin-type trade made to supplement Malkin’s talent for once and not Crosby’s.

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11/23/09-Penguins vs. Panthers: 3-2 W OT

November 24, 2009 1 comment

What a crazy game. I think that’s being polite, what with how the Penguins performed for most of the game. Sure, the Panthers are hot right now and there are some injuries blah blah, but I didn’t like much of anything in the way of how they performed tonight.

For most of the game we were treated to a team that looked to be in slow motion. The opposition are like rabid dogs as soon as a Penguin receives a pass, which usually isn’t a very good one. Weird choices on defense contribute to a goal or two, and at the other end the Penguins sometimes actually cycle the puck a bit only to have it eventually taken away, all the while not realizing that they’ve been going around in circles on the perimeter the whole time with no pucks penetrating the middle of the ice.

Maybe I’m embellishing a bit, but it would all ring true if they didn’t commit highway robbery and win this game in overtime. Yes, I realize it’s one game but we’ve seen this before against Ottawa just recently. The Penguins were lucky to not fall too far behind this time and pour it on late which they’ve had a decent amount of success doing in the past given their talent.

As always it’s only one game, and yes you can’t ignore the (still) notable injury list. The thing of it is there’s not much left to provide a shot in the arm for the forwards. Kennedy will play a nice third line role like usual, but Chris Kunitz has to at least stay on pace for 60 points in an 82 game season (given he’s missed some time). As far as I’m concerned, so far this year he’s basically been Matt Cooke with a fat paycheck. Not good enough. Also, far be it for me to question Crosby or Malkin but while they’ve played pretty well, neither of them have been dominant for a good long while. That’s what they get paid for and along with strong goaltending that’s what this team is built on. It’s a tough criticism, but as strange as it is to say, if Crosby and Malkin each only ring up about 90 points this year it’s not enough.

Hopefully the stabilization of the forward lines will be enough to get them focused and maybe result in a few more goals. Obviously the defense is ravaged right now so patience is probably the best approach when it comes to them.

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11/21/09-Penguins vs. Thrashers: 3-2 W

November 23, 2009 Leave a comment

I admit I watched this game on mute, which given Steigerwald and Errey not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. Anyways, I may have been a bit distracted.

It was nice to see Brooks Orpik back in the lineup, and aside from a slight meltdown late in the game I thought the Penguins played well. Ilya Kovalchuk wasn’t nearly as noticeable as he usually is, and giving up two goals late made the game look a lot closer than it really was (up until the last few minutes obviously). The Thrashers also gave up a lot of odd man rushes, which I would’ve liked to see maybe one more goal from the Penguins out of those but (cliche warning) at the end of the day a win is a win.

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11/19/09-Penguins vs. Senators: 6-2 L

November 20, 2009 1 comment

This was obviously a game that slipped away, and it’s funny how in this league if you let up or find yourself off balance for a few minutes, the game can take a dramatic turn.

The Penguins started well enough with Jordan Staal scoring his sixth of the season about a minute and a half into the game. They even managed one or two more odd man rushes but couldn’t convert. After that everything changed though.

I’d give most of the reason for this loss as credit to the Senators for playing a brilliant game. Their play in the defensive zone was impeccable, not allowing any Penguin forwards to enter the middle of the ice with the puck. On offense they buried their chances and while Sergei Gonchar was getting back into the swing of things and three minor leaguers were given regular minutes again due to injuries, had some great exhibitions of cycling in the offensive zone as well.

Overall you could tell the Penguin defensive corps was springing leaks. Again, with Gonchar playing his first game since being injured and some of the adrenaline wearing off of the AHL fill-ins since their callups it all amounted to a porous game in the Penguin zone. Brooks Orpik was questionable to play tonight so hopefully he’ll be back on Saturday to add some more stability.

On another note the power play continues to struggle despite Malkin returning. I’m not really sure what the complainers want Mike Yeo to draw up but I doubt there’s anything special he can do. There’s plenty of talent on the ice so the Penguins should be scoring power play goals 18-20% of the time regardless (they’re 29th in the league at 16.3% currently). I hate to beat a dead horse but just TRY splitting up Malkin and Crosby on separate power plays. Even if it’s just for one game. As they say, there’s only one puck. If that’s the problem splitting the two up will solve it and if not what’s the down side? I believe they’ve scored 3 power play goals in their last 30-40 attempts. It can’t hurt.

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