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Insider Only Morning Pens Buzz: Offensively challenged Pens have game to build on; X’s & O’s; My take On Crosby Situation

Morning Pens Buzz

The Pittsburgh Penguins dropped their sixth straight game, losing to the Washington Capitals 1-0 on Wednesday night at the Verizon Center. The Capitals got a 30-save shutout performance from goaltender Tomas Vokoun, and Jason Chimera scored 15:25 into the first period for the lone goal. Washington improved to 22-17-2, 46 pts on the season, while Pittsburgh fell to 21-17-4, 46pts, falling out of the top-8 in the Eastern Conference.
The Penguins have embarked on their worst losing streak since Sidney Crosby’s rookie season, the 2005-2006 season when the franchise lost 10 straight in January 2006, and ended the season with the second worst record in the league.

POSITIVES TO BUILD ON

Unlike Tuesday night, this was a game that the offensively challenged Penguins can build on. The Penguins were much more aggressive, dictating the play at times and got to their game down low in the offensive zone, playing a puck possession game. “That’s how we’ve got to keep playing,” head coach Dan Bylsma said. The Penguins though just didn’t get the bounces and had 0 power play opportunites.
“The effort was there from everybody tonight,” Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik said, via the Tribune-Review. “The effort was probably maxed out by all 20 guys.”
Pittsburgh make some tweaks to their lineup with Dustin Jeffrey and Paul Martin returning to the lineup, and Joe Vitale being a healthy scratch.
The offensively challenged Penguins have scored just six goals during their current six game losing streak. Their big guns in James Neal and Chris Kunitz have gone cold, and other key players in the Penguins top-9 have also gone cold. Neal is pointless in six games — Kunitz has 1 goal in his last eight games, — Pascal Dupuis is pointless in his last six — Matt Cooke hasn’t scored since December 10th, span of 14 games — Steve Sullivan has 1 point in his last seven games —

X’s & O’s

1-2-2: Defensively, the Capitals did an excellent job with their gap control and not giving the Penguins time and space when Pittsburgh was entering the offensive zone. Washington clogged the neutral zone and by standing up at the blueline, the Capitals forced a lot of turnovers in around their blueline and quickly pushed the play the other way.
Jason Chimera’s goal was a prime example of that.

How the Play Developed: Evgeni Malkin came through the neutral zone with command of the puck but up against a wall of Capitals at the blueline as Joel Ward steps up on Malkin just inside the blueline with Jeff Halpern trailing the play as a backchecker — Ward poke checks the puck up the ice and Halpern beats Zbynek Michalek to the puck finding a breaking Jason Chimera all alone who beats Marc Andre Fleury low blocker side for his 14th of the season and eventual game winning goal.
What Went Wrong: With the Capitals collapsing to the middle of the ice towards Malkin and a backchecker right on Malkin in Halpern, it’s a play where Malklin has to dump the puck in and go after it on the forecheck.
There were two other miscues on the play: On a crossing play with Malkin at the blueline, defenseman Paul Martin coming down the right side got caught pretty much going for a skate and losing track of the situation going too low in the offensive zone — Martin was trapped leaving Zbynek Michalek as the lone defender back on a potential 3-on-1 break.
Michalek though made a huge blunder on the play, aggressively going right at Halpern on the sideboards who had a clear lead to the puck and by doing that, Michalek left the entire middle of the ice wide open. He never sensed the situation and the right play there is to back off on going for the puck and take the middle of the ice and playing the 2-on-1, soon to be 3-on-1 as Ward was joining the rush.
Those type of mental mistakes such as not reading the situation is what continues to be frustrating with Michalek’s play.

MY TAKE ON THE CROSBY SITUATION

Sidney Crosby sure does love trips to Florida. Let’s rewind to last season. On March 30, 2011, following a practice Crosby didn’t skate in with the team, GM Ray Shero held a media session and announced that Crosby was cleared by doctors earlier that morning to begin practicing with the team on their upcoming trip to Florida. —
Now Crosby who hasn’t been traveling with the team much on the road, joined the Penguins in Washington DC last night for their upcoming two game road trip to Florida to get some sun and will be skating by himself and not with the team. It is believed Crosby hasn’t skated since December 7th.
It’s a little odd from the standpoint of why wouldn’t he just stay back, continue his off-ice training at the Penguins facilities and skate by himself in Pittsburgh. Crosby also hasn’t spoken to the media for weeks but will now do so on Friday morning in Sunrise, Florida where there might be five members around at the most.
“I don’t think he’s anywhere close to coming back, so you can’t really wait for him,” defenseman Brooks Orpik told reporters after Washington game. “The guys that are going to pull us out of this aren’t Sid or Letang, it’s the guys in this room.”
Nonetheless, frustrations are mounting among fans and even some media members due to vague information from the team and people are questioning whether the Penguins are actually calling the shots.
The Crosby situation is different than most players from the standpoint of how many different parties are involved in the decision making process. When a player like Arron Asham has a concussion or even Kris Letang right now, there isn’t outsiders (agent, family) actively involved and playing pivotal roles in the process.
Crosby being the leagues best player also has the luxury that lets be honest a 4th liner doesn’t have. When a marginal player is cleared to play from a concussion, he might not feel 100% but I’ve had many agents tell me it is in the back of the players mind that he has to get back on the ice or someone else is going to take his job.
What caught my attention from HBO”s 24/7 series was Mike Rupp’s comment in I believe the second show when he was returning from injury, saying in so many words, that you don’t wait until you’re 100%, but you get back in the lineup when you reach the point that you feel you won’t hurt the team out there. I’m sure that’s the mindset of 3/4 of the players in the league.
With Crosby passing his impact test last month, the big mystery is whether Crosby is actually cleared to play and that question is being posed from some media members like Mark Madden of 105.9 the X.

“Sidney took a hard hit during our game against Boston Monday night and wasn’t feeling 100 percent,” Penguins General Manager Ray Shero said on Dec 7.. “He saw Dr. Micky Collins of UPMC today and took an ImPACT test, which showed no problems. However, we all think it’s best that he sits out the next two games as a precaution, ” Shero said at the time.

If he actually is cleared from a concussion test standpoint, we’ll never get answers. When Crosby speaks on Friday and after that, everything will be scripted before hand like it always is, with the team and Crosby on the same page. This won’t be a Terrell Suggs type of media session. The company line will remain the same: “When Sidney’s cleared to play, he will return.”
Whether people agree with it or not, because of his stature, Crosby has the benefit of being as cautious as he wants until he feels 100%. I’m not saying I believe he is cleared to play from a concussion test standpoint and is taking the cautious route until he’s 100%, but you can’t blame some if they feel that way, regardless of what Crosby and the team say.

About The Author

William DePaoli

TIOPS Insider

William DePaoli is the President/Founder of Inside Pittsburgh Sports LLC and can be reached at wdepaoli@insidepittsburghsports.com

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