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Insider Only Pens Off-Day Notes: Eye on Division Crown; Letang/Norris Talk; Tidbits

Tough Stretch Looms for Pens

Heading into the stretch run, the goal hasn’t changed for the Penguins (41-22-8, 90pts): Winning the division and earning the No. 1 overall seed in the Eastern Conference.
Winning the division remains a longshot but Pittsburgh has kept pace with Philadelphia, remaining three points behind the conference leading Flyers who have two games in hand. The Penguins face the Flyers twice in their next six games.
To stay in the hunt for the top-seed, the Penguins have taken advantage of two of the worst teams in hockey, earning consecutive wins against Edmonton and Ottawa, posting back-to-back 5-1 wins, respectively.
Tyler Kennedy and Jordan Staal each had a goal and an assist, leading the Penguins past Ottawa 5-1 last night. Chris Kunitz added three assists and the Penguins also got goals from Matt Cooke, Ben Lovejoy and Zbynek Michalek.
Some inside the locker room felt that the Penguins 3-2 OT win against the Boston Bruins on March 5th, could be a turning point for them. They have won 4 of 5 but the schedule gets much harder for Pittsburgh from here on out.
The Penguins have an off-day on Wednesday and are not back into action until Sunday, before things heat up for them.
Over the course of their next four games, Pittsburgh faces the New York Rangers (37-30-4, 78pts) and Detroit Red Wings (41-20-8, 90pts) in back-to-back games on Sunday and Monday, than face the Philadelphia Flyers (43-19-7, 93pts) and New Jersey Devils in back-to-back nights on Thursday and Friday.

Time to end the Letang Norris Trophy Talk

For the Penguins to be a force in the playoffs, not only does Sidney Crosby need to return at somepoint in the post-season but Kris Letang has to get back to being the elite defenseman he was in the 1st half of the season.
Since Sidney Crosby has been sidelined (Jan. 6), Letang is a minus-11 in 30 games and since February 1st, Letang is also a minus-11 during that span and has only collected 4 points (21 games).
It hasn’t just been about the stats. His play has been erractic and a big turnover or two seems to be there just about every game of late from Letang.
It’s time for some of the local papers to stop the Norris Trophy talk and I’ve felt that for a few weeks now but the buzz around the league from outsiders is that he remains very much in the mix. One reason for that is most voters don’t see Letang play on a nightly basis and his play in the first half appears to be out-weighing his lackluster play for at least a month in a half now.

A great example of this is Kevin Allen’s (USA Today) newly released player rankings this week and Letang was third in Norris Trophy voting.
The power rankings were voted on by six USA TODAY staffers — Kevin Allen, Mike Brehm, Gary Graves, Mark Hayes, Chad Leistikow and Brad Windsor — plus USATODAY.com columnist Justin Bourne, Windsor (Ontario) Star columnist Bob Duff, Versus analyst Darren Eliot, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reporter Rob Rossi, Detroit Free Press reporter Helene St. James and Greg Wyshynski, editor of Yahoo! Sports’ Puck Daddy blog. First-place teams get 30 points down to one point for a 30th-place team. First-place players get five points down to one point for fifth place. The points are the total of all votes. Voting occurs every two weeks.
The numbers are still there for Letang (46 points, +10 rating) with the rest of the pack but following this team on a regular basis, it’s hard to keep Letang in the top-3.

Tidbits

*–With all of the talk of the Penguins shooting for the No. 1 seed in the conference, I’d rather stay in the No. 4 spot and face Tampa Bay in the first round than have a potential 1-8 matchup against the New Jersey Devils who have moved just 6 points out of a playoff spot.
*– With a struggling power play, there is always the sense that there is a need to shoot the puck more. What were seeing from the Penguins is a team looking to shoot more but they’re not getting quality shots.
A few examples from last night was James Neal and Kris Letang. At times both players appeared to be rushing pucks to the net when there was no front-net presence yet established, as the Penguins were just settling into the zone.
A few positives though, despite going 0-for-5, was that the puck-movement was better and that Alex Kovalev had an emphasis on shooting the puck, after coming into yesterday’s game with 11 shots on goal in 8 games.
The problem for Kovalev is that every shot he took, seemed to get blocked.
*– James Neal has 1 goal in 10 games with Pittsburgh and 2 goals overall in his last 21 games. Would like to see him drive to the net more with the puck and use his speed and size to beat defenders. He’s settling too often for that play of coming into the zone and crossing into the middle and shooting just inside the blue line.
*– Dustin Jeffrey had two assists in last night’s win and the Penguins improved to 9-0 when Jeffrey records a point.
*– Chris Kunitz and Tyler Kennedy have combined for 3 goals and 7 assists in the last two games.
*– The Penguins are off today and on Friday. The team will practice on Thursday and Saturday this week.
*– The team re-assigned defensemen Corey Potter and Steve Wagner this morning. Potter played pretty well, logging 16:43 of ice time and collecting 2 blocked shots.

Eastern Conference Top-8

1. Philadelphia 69GP: 43-19-7, 93 pts
2. Washington 71GP: 41-20-10, 92 pts
3. Boston 69GP: 39-21-9, 87 pts
4. Pittsburgh 71GP: 41-22-8, 90 pts
5. Tampa Bay 70GP: 39-22-9, 87 pts
6. Montreal 70GP: 38-25-7, 83 pts
7. New York Rangers 71GP: 37-30-4, 78 pts
8. Buffalo Sabres 70GP: 34-28-8, 76 pts

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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