1. Watching the Penguins – Devils game over this morning, you would have thought the Penguins were playing the 2000 New Jersey Devils based on the Root Sports Telecast and that Kris Letang got his leg blown off on the non tripping call late in the game.
At the forefront of the Penguins issues right now is their inability to dictate the style of play. The first forty minutes, a very bad Devils team with a great goaltender were able to dictate the style and tempo of the game. Even with the Penguins missing Evgeni Malkin and Patric Hornqvist, they still had a superior team on the ice than New Jersey. It’s like mentally the Penguins have just accepted that the league has evolved into tight checking games and there’s little the Penguins can do to push the pace and open things up offensively. Just listen to comments from Jim Rutherford who now believes the best thing for Sidney Crosby is trying to make him into Anze Kopitar.
The last four months the Penguins have averaged under 3 goals per game, 2.14 in December, 2.83 in January, 2.58 in February and now 2.22 in March.
What will be telling whether the Penguins make a deep playoff run or not is whether they become a team that starts dictating the style of play to their strength’s (skating, creating off the rush) not the other teams strength’s and try to win 2-1 hockey games.
2. Former NHL referee Kerry Fraser who always love to chime in on the Penguins, continues to claim the Penguins have developed a bad reputation with referees. “The Penguins have earned the undesirable reputation with several of the referees for having too much to say,” Fraser says in weekly segment on TSN. “As a team, they need to turn off the tap on their own as they move toward the playoffs. The referees’ patience has already worn thin.”
“When players engage in excessive whining and complaining, as it appeared the Penguins did in the first period, the referee will stop the ‘drip’ and shut off the tap by imposing a penalty. Teams can develop a reputation for whining no differently than players do for diving and embellishment.”
Everyone knows Fraser does not have a good past with the Penguins but he might actually be on to something, though, it’s impossible to truly know if their so called reputation of being whiners is having an impact on a lack of calls. Just something that’s impossible to prove.
3. Like the football program, Pitt Basketball has become a stagnant program. Their window of evolving into an elite program appears to be long gone under Jamie Dixon and it remains to be seen if they’ll get back to level they were at from 2003-2009. Fortunately in college basketball you have a chance to bounce back very quickly, unlike the football program where unless Urban Meyer is coming through that door, the program is going to continue to be what it is. That’s no knock on Pat Narduzzi, just the way it is.
Under Dixon, Pitt has advanced past the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament just once since 2009 and some key ingredients of a Jamie Dixon type basketball team, great point guard play and great team defense have been nowhere to be found.
Dixon has never been a coach that consistently recruits NBA type talent and that’s not going to change, but when Dixon teams were at their best, they had do it all point guards in Brandin Knight, Carl Krauser and Levance Fields who despite not being NBA players, just had that mystique about them where they could carry a program on both ends of the floor and the rest of the pieces would fall into place. That type of player has been missing.
4. Jeff Locke is making the decision for the Pirates on who the No. 5 starter will be very easy as it will be Vance Worley’s job but there continues to some sense around the team the Pirates will find a way to keep Locke around as insurance for Charlie Morton who’s returning from hip surgery and Morton is just one of those pitchers you never know what you’re going to get on a year to year basis. Morton is making $8 million this season, Locke just the Major League minimum. Many believe the Pirates hope to move Morton’s contract at somepoint this season, were Worley to emerge as a legitimate No. 4 starter and Jameson Taillon becomes an option in second half this season.
5. In an interview where he was clearly asked about Mike Wallace, Maurkice Pouncey called his former teammate a coward, than hours later backtracked on social media.
“First of all, in my opinion, he’s a coward,” said Maurkice Pouncey in an interview with CBS 4 in Miami. “I never want a guy on my team like that to walk out on your band of brothers. Forget the things that don’t happen in the game. Say, you don’t get the ball a lot, or you mess up and they pull you out. Forget all that. It’s about playing for your brothers.”
Athletes rarely think first before speaking and than it’s the media’s fault when something they say they want to backtrack on. The Pouncey’s were right about Wallace in their initial comments. He should be looked at as a coward for quitting on the Dolphins late last season.
MIN Receives: Victor Rask
CAR Receives: Nino Niederreiter
Trade Buzz: Thursday’s 1-for-1 trade of young underperforming players saw the Minnesota Wild acquire center Victor Rask from the Carolina Hurricanes for left winger Nino Niederreiter. Carolina did an excellent job of being able to get out of the Rask contract, who has three years remaining with a $4 million cap hit. Rask has 1 goal, 5 assists on the season, mirrored in a 22-game goal drought. The logic here for Minnesota is taking the chance on a playmaking center who can help fill a top-9 spot longer term if the Wild move on from Eric Staal. Minnesota is also playing the card that a change of scenery will benefit the 24-year old who posted a career-high 21 goals, 48 points in 2015-2016.
Niederreiter’s trade value was stunted because of his contract, where he has three years left on his deal with a $5.25 million cap hit. Niederreiter is a player who is extremely hard to play against, drives possession well, and has three 20 goal seasons over his last four full seasons. Injuries (18 goals in 63 games) kept him from a 4th straight 20-goal season in 17-18. The Niederreiter acquisition also sets up as great insurance for the Hurricanes if they can’t resign Micheal Ferland. In the short-term, Carolina’s center situation is a mess with Jordan Staal sidelined with a concussion, but they’re getting the better player who fits the identity they’re trying to establish upfront, especially on the wings where they’ve identified the need for Patric Hornqvist type players.
The Penguins (25-15-6, 56 pts) on Tuesday night dropped to the final wildcard spot in the Eastern Conference. The Islanders (26-15-4, 56 pts) 8-2-0 in their last 10 games, continue to hang around in the Metropolitan Division and is it finally time to start buying into the Islanders as having sustainability in race for a top-3 spot in the Metro?
The possession numbers, 5th worst in the NHL, have been poor all season for the Islanders, but the Barry Trotz effect is working to counter that with the 2nd-best Goals For% (57%/+23) at even strength in the NHL. With the Islanders you continue to wait for the goaltending to start trending down but it hasn’t to this point. Robin Lehner is 13-7-0 with a 2.16 GAA, .928 SV% and Thomas Greiss is 13-8-1 with a 2.62 GAA, .918 SV%. These numbers hold where NYI is getting .930 and .920 type goaltending, the Islanders will continue to sick around.