Inside Pittsburgh Sports


*Takeaways & Latest Chatter*

1. When Sidney Crosby is on like he is right now, the difficulty in defending him starts with the tenaciousness he’s playing with down low and along the wall. He’s bouncing off defenders and is near impossible to defend and get the puck off of. He’s coming out of 50/50 puck battles nearly 3/4 of the time.

2. One takeaway from the Penguins fast start was the line of Scott Wilson – Kevin Porter – Conor Sheary setting the tone on the forecheck. One scout noted what stands out most with some of the AHL guys in Pittsburgh is how well coached they’ve been (in the minors) and it “shows with the angles they take on the forecheck,” the scout noted. Lots of praise in the organization for the work John Hynes did last season with most of this group. Bill Guerin is also getting lots of praise around the league for the excellent job he’s done in teaching the little things.

3. *Matt Cullen was 19 of 23 (82%) on faceoffs vs the Ducks. Cullen has stepped up in a big way with Malkin out.

4. *Brian Dumoulin’s patience is his best attribute in what’s made him so effective this season. So many inexperienced defensemen often rush things with the puck. Dumoulin’s outlet pass to Phil Kessel that led to Carl Hagelin’s breakaway goal was a thing of beauty as he took a hard hit to make the pass. Late in the period like that quite a few defensemen would have just thrown the puck off the boards.

5. *Chris Kunitz playing better as the season progresses is a positive sign for the Penguins as last year it was the opposite. Over the final two months of last season (Feb 1-April 11) Kunitz had 2 goals and 7 assists in his final 33 regular season games. In just four games in the month of February Kunitz already has 2 goals and 5 assists. With a two point night vs the Anaheim, Kunitz has 12 points (5 goals – 7 assists) in his last 12 games.

6. *Kris Letang continues to be a points machine with two assists vs the Ducks, giving him 36 points in his last 31 games. How Letang’s season goes from here is going to be fascinating. What keeps Letang from evolving into a true No. 1 defenseman that the Penguins need him to be is the lack of consistency. His career has often been one of exceptional play for long stretches and then implodes for a stretch. Those bad stretches have often come at inopportune times (playoff series). Whether he can put it all together will be telling on how far the Penguins go.

7. *Penguins Even Strength ice time leaders among forwards vs the Ducks:

Bryan Rust – 16:09
Sidney Crosby – 15:55
Chris Kunitz – 15:36
Tom Kuhnhackl – 15:10
Oskar Sundqvist – 13:50
Patric Hornqvist – 13:39
Kevin Porter – 13:02
Phil Kessel – 12:13

Not a major storyline because the Penguins keep on winning but there’s been more and more signs over last couple games of Mike Sullivan being frustrated with Kessel’s play. Kessel was demoted to third line vs the Panthers in the second period and then received the 8th most even strength ice time vs the Ducks among forwards. Bryan Rust the third line right winger received nearly four more minutes than Kessel at even strength

While Kessel did pick up another assist in springing Hagelin for a breakaway goal, anyone could have that pass and the frustration from the coaching staff with Kessel is the lack of individual scoring chances he’s creating, sources say.

Some feel the battle level is not where it needs to be along the wall and that’s where it’s starting.

Despite what a computer may say, the concern for the Penguins should be is that scouts started noticing a big a drop off for Kessel in being able to create high danger individual scoring chances last season. A sign of a declining player…..

8.*Phil Kessel or Ryan Kesler, who you got? Both diminishing players have six years left on their deals, Kessel $6.8 million cap hit, Kesler $6.875 million. I posed this question to a scout of who the Penguins would be better off with considering the Penguins almost pulled off a trade for Kesler in 2014. The scouts response:To read this insider news, subscribe to get “Inside Access”!