Friday, 28 March 2014

Preview: Penguins @ Blue Jackets 28/3

Form Book

Columbus Blue Jackets 

37-29-6, 80 Points, 4th in Metropolitan Division. 20-13-3 at Home. 5-4-1 in Last 10

Last Game: Detroit 2-4 Columbus, 25/3  

A pair of first-period power play goals for the Blue Jackets were cancelled out by a brace from Red Wings winger Gustav Nyquist. A disputed Cam Atkinson goal (see below) and a Ryan Johansen empty netter sealed the points for Columbus.


46-22-5, 97 Points, 1st in Metropolitan Division. 20-14-3 on Road. 4-5-1 in Last 10

Last Game: Penguins 2-3 Los Angeles

After goals from Chris Kunitz and Taylor Pyatt - Martin Jones somehow allowing the burly winger's shot to roll over his shoulder and in - erased a 2-0 Kings lead, Los Angeles took the lead for good on a heavy slap-shot from defenseman Drew Doughty. Pens center Brandon Sutter harshly had the tying goal disallowed for goaltender interference.  

Previous Meeting: Penguins 5-3 Blue Jackets, 29/12

James Neal had a hat-trick and the Pens scored three power-play goals as Pittsburgh won their fourth game in a row this season over their new divisional rivals. 

Team Stats & Rankings

Blue Jackets                              Penguins  

2.76  (14th)  Goals For Per Game          3.03  (5th)      
2.69  (14th)  Goals Against Per Game      2.48  (11th)
1.06  (11th)  5-on-5 For/Against Ratio    1.07  (10th)
17.3% (18th)  Power Play                  23.7% (2nd)
82.1% (14th)  Penalty Kill                85.6% (4th)
29.4  (20th)  Shots For Per Game          30.2  (14th)
30.7  (21st)  Shots Allowed Per Game      28.8  (10th) 
-1.3          Shot Differential Per Game  +1.4

Stat Leaders Comparison

Penguins                                        Blue Jackets

Crosby        96          Points        54      Johansen
Crosby        34           Goals        29      Johansen
Crosby        62          Assists       36      Wisniewski
Niskanen      +32       Plus/Minus     +12      Nikitin/Tropp
Crosby       22:04      TOI Avg (F)   18:45     Dubinsky
Niskanen*    21:16      TOI Avg (D)   24:30     J.Johnson

Probable Starting Goalies

Penguins: Marc-Andre Fleury - 34-17-3, 2.37 GAA, .915 Save%
Jackets: Sergei Bobrovsky - 27-19-4, 2.47 GAA, .919 Save%

EDIT (14:30 GMT): Bobrovsky (illness) is still not feeling 100%, according to @RobMixer, so Curtis McElhinney (9-9-1, 2.75 GAA, .909 Save%) will start. Ratings(as of 23/3)

Penguins                                                 Kings
Neal      60.7    5-on-5  Offensive Rating (F)   35.6    Tropp
Sutter*   31.2    5-on-5  Defensive Rating (F)   34.2    Jenner
Neal      62.9       PP Offensive Rating (F)     25.7    Letestu
Glass     40.4       PK Defensive Rating (F)     67.0    Calvert
Niskanen  23.4    5-on-5 Defensive Rating (D)    25.2    Nikitin
Bortuzzo  68.1       PK Defensive Rating (D)     19.0    Schultz

*Among active players.

What To Expect

Both teams are coming off games where they were on the opposite sides of contentious goals. Last night, Brandon Sutter was judged to have pushed Kings' goalie Martin Jones into the net along with the puck, so his potential game-tying goal was chalked off. It should not have been. The rule on goaltender interference states that a goal should be allowed if the attacking player is 'pushed or otherwise fouled' into the goalie. Drew Doughty's repeated cross-checks to the back of Sutter surely constituted 'otherwise fouled'.

Columbus' Cam Atkinson's goal against Detroit was allowed to stand even though he knocked the net off its moorings. Officials judged that Red Wings' defenseman Brendan Smith had shoved him into the net, rather than it being Atkinson's own action.

Generally speaking, the Pens competed well against a superior 5-on-5 team last night in the Kings. They got a pair of even strength goals and allowed two, though one was virtually a power play goal as it was scored moments after a penalty expired. What would have been good to see was the energy that the team played with after Sutter's disallowed goal throughout the whole game, not just for the last nine minutes of the third period.

Where Pittsburgh really fell down was in the special teams match-up, where they should really have held an advantage. The power play went 0-for-7, and generated few quality scoring chances, and the current failings of the penalty kill were exposed twice: one official power play goal for Los Angeles, plus the one scored seconds after the penalty ended.

Both the Pens and Jackets are slightly above average even strength teams, but again, the Penguins' special teams are streets ahead in results terms. Going up against Columbus' 18th ranked power play should give Pittsburgh's penalty killers a chance to get some confidence back, but Bylsma really needs to split up Orpik and Scuderi as a shorthanded pairing. Surprisingly, Robert Bortuzzo has been the Pens' most effective goal preventer when a man down. I'd like to see him play more minutes on the penalty kill.

And despite his great play as a 19-year old rookie, Olli Maatta looks like he could use a rest. Bylsma should scratch him for at least a game while he still has seven healthy defensemen. Unfortunately, Marcel Goc's injury last night may well mean Deryk Engelland's services are required up front against Columbus.

Ryan Johansen is the Jackets' most obvious goal threat with 29 on the season. Brandon Sutter having to center the second line in Evgeni Malkin's absence, coupled with Goc's injury, leaves the unedifying prospect of leaving Johansen and other double-digit goal scorers like Artem Anisimov (19), Cam Atkinson (19), RJ Umberger (18) and Nick Foligno (18) up against a checking line that could be centered by an under-performing Craig Adams.

One positive from last night's game was seeing points from Goc, Taylor Pyatt, Jason Megna and Brian Gibbons, with all four players providing some much needed energy. Bylsma could do worse than upping Gibbons' and Megna's ice time.

On paper, the Penguins have a good shot of sweeping the season series and sealing a playoff berth in the process. But the Pens' recent energy and performance levels, along with the seemingly never-ending stream of injuries (the team have lost a league-high 455 man games to injury, not accounting for Goc) mean there is room for doubt.

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Preview: Kings @ Penguins, 27/3

Form Book

Los Angeles Kings 

42-25-6, 90 Points, 3rd in Pacific Division. 21-12-3 on Road. 7-3-0 in Last 10

Last Game: Los Angeles 5-4 Washington (SO) 

LA came back from 3-1 down to take the lead in the third-period, only for highly touted prospect Evgeny Kuznetsov’s first career NHL goal to tie the game with 42 seconds remaining in regulation. Jonathan Quick stopped Kuznetsov and Eric Fehr in the shootout while Anze Kopitar and Jeff Carter scored to win it for the Kings.


46-21-5, 97 Points, 1st in Metropolitan Division. 26-7-2 at Home. 5-4-1 in Last 10

Last Game: Phoenix 3-2 Penguins

After twice trading goals in the first period, the Pens were unable to find an answer to a Mikkel Boedker goal midway through the second period. Phoenix’s winner came just as Jussi Jokinen stepped back on the ice after serving an ill advised retaliatory penalty taken in the offensive zone. Recently porous defensive pairing Rob Scuderi and Brooks Orpik were on the ice for that goal and Shane Doan’s earlier power play goal.

Previous Meeting: Penguins 4-1 Kings

Jussi Jokinen had three points (1G, 2A) and Jeff Zatkoff stopped 30 shots as three Penguins goals in the first period chased Jonathan Quick early.

Team Stats & Rankings

Kings                                     Penguins  

2.38  (27th)  Goals For Per Game          3.04  (5th)      
2.07  (T-1st) Goals Against Per Game      2.47  (10th)
1.25  (5th)   5-on-5 For/Against Ratio    1.07  (10th)
15.1% (25th)  Power Play                  24.4% (1st)
83.0% (11th)  Penalty Kill                85.8% (2nd)
31.6  (7th)   Shots For Per Game          30.1  (14th)
26.4  (3rd)   Shots Allowed Per Game      28.8  (9th) 
+5.2          Shot Differential Per Game  +1.3

Stat Leaders Comparison

Crosby        95          Points        59      Kopitar
Crosby        34           Goals        25      Carter
Crosby        61          Assists       37      Kopitar
Niskanen      +31       Plus/Minus     +27      Kopitar
Crosby       22:01      TOI Avg (F)   21:02     Kopitar
Niskanen*    21:14      TOI Avg (D)   25:59     Doughty

Probable Starting Goalies

Kings: Martin Jones - 10-5-0, 1.90 GAA, .923 Save%
Penguins: Jeff Zatkoff - 12-4-1, 2.55 GAA, .915 Save% Ratings

Penguins                                                 Kings
Neal      60.7    5-on-5  Offensive Rating (F)   27.8    Gaborik
Sutter*   31.2    5-on-5  Defensive Rating (F)   73.2    Toffoli
Neal      62.9       PP Offensive Rating (F)     12.7    Gaborik
Glass     40.4       PK Defensive Rating (F)     32.5    Stoll
Niskanen  23.4    5-on-5 Defensive Rating (D)    60.4    Martinez
Bortuzzo  68.1       PK Defensive Rating (D)     53.0    Voynov

*Among active players.

What To Expect

Dan Bylsma cancelled practice on Wednesday, and several veteran players called out the team for a lack of pride and passion after the defeat to St Louis. That should mean legs will be fresher. Whether that translates into a better effort against the league's best defensive team remains to be seen.

If this season's earlier meeting is anything to go by, expect Sidney Crosby to see a healthy dose of Kings' defensemen Drew Doughty and Jake Muzzin along with old adversary Mike Richards. With Evgeni Malking out of the lineup, LA can sit on Crosby, meaning someone else will need to step up to relieve the pressure. Secondary scoring has not been a strong point this season, so if Crosby is held off the scoresheet (he had an assist last time around) the Penguins might struggle for goals.

Los Angeles are one of the best even-strength teams in the NHL, but the Penguins hold a big advantage on special teams. The Kings also make a habit of outshooting their opponents, while the Penguins have been inconsistent in that area lately. I think the Pens need to get on the board early and often - as they did when they chased Jonathan Quick in the first period back in January - to make the Kings have to open up a bit.

In a spot of good news, the Pens have just recalled winger Beau Bennett from his conditioning assignment with Wilkes/Barre, so hopefully we will be seeing the back of Taylor Pyatt soon.