Monday, January 21, 2013

Areas for improvement after the opening weekend

As nice as the four points were over the weekend, there are always things to work on.  Here's what jumped out at me as areas for improvement:

  • Geno shooting - through two games, he has just two shots total (and three missed shots - have to hit the net).  He does have four assists through two games, but I think he'd open things up even more for he and James Neal if he forced the opposition to respect his shot first and the pass second.
  • Second line winger - It is still early, but Eric Tangradi is not playing the minutes you'd expect from someone playing on Malkin's wing.  Some of that is due to HCDB's excellent inclination to get Sid out there with Geno and Neal after TV timeouts and penalty kills, but you'd like to see them get someone they're not afraid to put out there regularly.  Maybe it's took early to make that kind of call.  I'm not sure they have a guy in the system who is ready and able to play on that wing.
  • Discipline - Providing 4.5 power plays per game is too many.  You're going to get burned doing that over time.  Players have to keep their heads as the season rolls on, because they're only going to get more fatigued.
  • Thin defense - there are four guys that have played most of the minutes in Martin, Letang, Orpik and Niskanen.  I'm not sure that Niskanen will be up to the task all year long.  I'm worried that he'll be exposed.  Despres and Engelland are playing just over 10 minutes per game - you'd like them to be playing 13-15 to take some heat off of the top 4.  This is another area that will need to be watched closely.  If Martin falters or Niskanen struggles, the Pens will have to look to their bench (Lovejoy or Bortuzzo) or maybe Wilkes-Barre in the form of Joe Morrow.  Either way, I'm missing Michalek.

Penguins off to fast start after strong opening weekend

The Pens opened up the 2012-13 season with two straight on the road, in Philadelphia on Saturday and in New York on Sunday.

They came away with four points, and even better, won both games in regulation (meaning, they prevented their division rivals from earning any points).

Things went about as well as you could hope for - here are the positives I took away from the first two games:

  • No injuries -  Seriously - this is #1 for me given that these guys had almost no training camp and most of them were not used to game speed just yet.  I don't know if it's just me, but I still get nervous every time I see Sid get hit hard.  Not sure that feeling will ever go away.
  • Distributing the minutes for the forwards - Every forward played less than 20 minutes in both games.  Geno only played 16:50 in each one.  Admittedly, it is much easier to roll the lines when you have a lead, but for the opening weekend, it was good to see everyone get into the flow.  The lowest minutes total for either game was Dustin Jeffrey in game 1 with 8:49.
  • Glass - Tanner Glass has fit in very well with the team so far.  I don't think people realized what the Pens were getting when then signed him, ostensibly to take Aaron Asham's spot on the roster.  Glass is the #5 forward on the penalty kill (Adams, Cooke, Sutter and Dupuis are the top 4), and he brings a physical presence.  He also plays much more than Asham did and is a much better overall hockey player.
  • Goaltending - Fleury and Vokoun give the Pens an excellent 1-2 punch in net.  There's no question in my mind that Flower is your #1 guy, but Vokoun gives them the best backup they've had during Crosby's tenure with the team (no disrespect to Brent Johnson, but he's no Vokoun)
  • Power play - Remember all the talk before the season about James Neal on the point, and how disjointed the power play looked?  Starting out by converting four times on eight chances kind of kills that line of thought, doesn't it?  Even if one PP goal was a empty-netter, and two others were by the second unit and / or off of the rush (Dupuis' goal).

All things considered, you probably could not have scripted a better start to the season for the Pens.

The Maple Leafs will be in Pittsburgh on Wednesday night.  Hope the magic continues.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

NHLPA makes questionable call on rookie cards

According to multiple sources (link), the NHLPA has decided that the 2012-13 hockey cards will only contain rookies that made their debut during the second half of the 2011-12 season.

In case you don't know why that is significant, here's some background:

One of the biggest draws in trading cards are rookies.  Everyone wants to own the first card produced for every great player.  Take a look at the base rookie card for Sid, from 2005-06 Upper Deck:
Sidney Crosby 2005-06 Young Guns Example 1
Sidney Crosby 2005-06 Young Guns Example 2

In other words, if you want a Sidney Crosby rookie (and the Young Guns cards are generally considered to be the base rookie worth getting), you're going to pay about $250.  If you want one that has been professionally graded and has a decent grade, be prepared to pay much more than that.

This came from a pack of cards that cost about $3.00.

Obviously we're looking at the most desirable rookie card since Mario Lemieux (or maybe Patrick Roy), but the point is that rookies drive the sales on most products.

So when the NHLPA says it will prevent the normal rookies (ie, last year's draft picks like Neil Yakupov) from appearing in 2012-13 hockey cards, they are seriously harming hockey card sales for this season.

Upper Deck, one of the two licencees that can produce hockey cards, is primarily doing hockey cards these days - it is their only remaining major sports license.  I can't imagine this going to help them.

It also means that if you buy hockey cards, you can expect to pay more in 2013-14.  Why?  Because it will be a year with a double rookie class.  That same thing happened after the last lockout, and the 2005-06 card sets are loaded.  I don't think 2013-14 will contain both a Crosby and an Ovechkin (plus a TON of other really good players), but it will drive demand and ratchet up the box prices on the secondary market.

I can't see how this is a good move for the card companies (Upper Deck and Panini).  If I were them, I'd rather have been able to have a strong second half of 2012-13 and then had a normal 2013-14.  They aren't likely to charge a higher base price for their product, and they certainly aren't going to make up the lost sales on what is essentially filler for the rest of this season.

Very curious.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Penguins power play short-circuiting before season starts?

Head Coach Dan Bylsma has reconfigured the power play.  He has Sid and Geno on the same side (the right), with Sid a the goal line and Geno on the half-wall.  Letang is at the left point, Kunitz is in front of the net.  The most controversial move is putting James Neal at the left point.

When is the last time you can remember Neal winding up for a big slapper?  He has a deadly wrist shot, or maybe even a half-slapper, but the classic booming shot?  Nope.  I'm not saying he doesn't have it, but we haven't seen it.

Neal also hasn't shown any affinity for covering up on defense, especially when you consider the offensive skills of Kris Letang.  Le Game is prone to jumping into the play, and while his recovery speed is among the best in the game in my opinion, you'd probably rather have someone that has some defensive skill on the other side.

Dejan Kovacevic has a great article articulating the reasons why this isn't the best idea.  He also says the power play hasn't looked great in the first two days of camp.  His suggestion is to bring back Sergei Gonchar from Ottawa to fill the right point as a starting point - you should go read the article to see what else he says.

I agree in spirit with Dejan - James Neal is too dangerous to be playing the point.  I'd much rather see him in the slot as much as possible (or, as Dejan suggests, in front of the net with the freedom to move to the slot).

Here's where we differ - I think the Pens have a few internal candidates that are defensively responsible enough to play the left point.  I'm thinking specifically of Ben Lovejoy.  Maybe you put him on the right point so he isn't on his backhand to keep pucks in the zone, but he would be a good compliment to Letang.  I'd also take a look at Simon Despres if he makes the team.

Nether guy has the offensive game, but both would provide some defensive stability.  Keep them out high and covering up against short-handed rushes.  That would even give Sid, Geno and Letang more room to move around (as those guys like to do).

Of course, I'd also be a big fan of bring Sarge back to Pittsburgh.  I'm just not sure what you'd have to give up (hopefully not much) and who would sit.  Please don't even suggest sending out Paul Martin for Gonchar - Martin is a better defensive guy than Gonchar is right now, and it isn't close.

Not Dead Yet!

I haven't put anything up here in quite some time.

During the lockout, I was honestly thinking I was done with the NHL.  Millionaires versus billionaires. No one seemed to care about anything but squeezing the other side for as much as humanly possible, just because they could.  I couldn't have cared less.

Then a funny thing happened - once the lockout ended, I started getting excited for hockey again.  Next thing you know, I'm checking what time the Black and Gold scrimmage is on Wednesday (7:00 on Root Sports, in case you didn't know) and planning my weekend around the games in Philly and New York.

Damn you, hockey - I'd have far more free time if you didn't suck me back in!

So, expect regular posting on the blog again, for whatever that's worth.  Maybe I'll even dust off my stats work and see which refs are still Jabronies...

The title of the post says it all.