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Tag:Sidney Crosby
Posted on: March 7, 2012 2:53 pm
Edited on: March 7, 2012 3:18 pm
 

Kris Letang: the missing piece for the Penguins



By: Adam Gretz

Pucks and Numbers: a weekly statistical look at what's happening around the NHL. This week: A look at the importance of Kris Letang to the Penguins' postseason chances.

When it was announced on Tuesday afternoon that Sidney Crosby has been cleared for contact, the next major step in his latest attempt return to the lineup, it sent a wave of excitement and optimism through the Penguins fan base.

It's not hard to see why. He is, after all, their captain, their best player, and the best player in the league when he's healthy.  With him in the lineup the Penguins should go from being a Stanley Cup contender to, perhaps, one of the top two or three favorites -- if not the favorite -- in the NHL ... if their lineup remains intact.

His return, whenever it happens (it apparently won't be before Sunday's game against Boston) will certainly have a significant impact on their chances. But, and as crazy as this may sound, there is still another player they are currently without that may be even more important for any sort of Stanley Cup run in Pittsburgh -- defenseman Kris Letang, who is currently out of the lineup after being hit by Eric Nystrom of the Dallas Stars at the end of February.

It's the second time this year he's missed time with a head injury, missing over 20 games with a concussion earlier this season after he was hit by Montreal's Max Pacioretty.

The Penguins have been without Crosby, minus the eight games he played earlier this season, since the beginning of last January, which is over a full calendar year and nearly a season-and-a-half worth of games, and they have still managed to be one of the top teams in the NHL.

In 65 games this season they are the third-highest scoring team in the league (in terms of goals per game) and have the second most points in the Eastern Conference, trailing only the Atlantic Division-leading New York Rangers. It's a testament to the depth they've acquired over the years and the 1-2 punch they still have down the middle at center with Evgeni Malkin (arguably the best player in hockey right now) and Jordan Staal, a duo that few teams in the NHL can match up with.

Even without Crosby they still have another No. 1 center, a darn good No. 2 center, and a pretty potent offense overall. One of the best in the league.

What they don't have without Letang is another No. 1 defenseman, and that's a pretty glaring weakness to have on a potential Stanley Cup team. Their blue line takes on an entirely different look without him, and it simply isn't anywhere near as effective. Just looking at the raw numbers this season: with Letang in the lineup the Penguins are 25-10-5, average over 3.2 goals per game, only allow 2.4 and have a total goal-differential of plus-31.

Without him those numbers drop down to a 14-11-0 record, 2.68 goals for per game, 2.56 against and a total goal differential of just plus-3.

Is Letang by himself worth that entire difference? Well, not exactly, because the Penguins have had other players out of the lineup at various times, but his absence is still huge given the number of roles he's asked to play, and the way he's able to perform within them.

He plays over 25 minutes a night, he is their power play quarterback, a regular on the penalty kill, and during even-strength situations he takes on some of toughest assignments on the Penguins defense, as the scatterplot below, which uses Corsi Relative Quality of Competition and Offensive Zone starts, helps to illustrate. The closer to the top left (meaning tougher opponents and fewer offensive zone starts) the more difficult the assignments, and the closer to the bottom right the "softer" the assignments.

PenguinsDefense

As you can see, the Penguins have a pretty set group of top-four defensemen that stand out from the pack when it comes to their 5-on-5 assignments with Letang, Paul Martin, Brooks Orpik and Zbynek Michalek. Everybody else that's played on their blue line this season has been relatively protected. And when Letang is out of the lineup, as he's been for 25 games and counting this season, one of those other players has to step into a top-four role, and the results aren't always pretty.

Letang not only draws some of the toughest assignments on their blue line, he also outperforms everybody else. He has a positive Relative Corsi rating (a sign that when he's on the ice the Penguins are controlling the puck far more than they are when he's not on the ice) and he is by far their leading scorer on the blue line despite appearing in just 40 games. Orpik is a great physical presence on the blue line, and Martin hasn't been anywhere near as bad as his many critics in Pittsburgh want you to believe that he's been, but none of them are as valuable to the Penguins blue line as Letang.

His ability to get the puck out of danger, lead the rush and control the game is unmatched by any other player on their defense.

Crosby's return will be huge news, and it will give the Penguins pretty obscene depth down the middle. But the return of Letang is what would potentially put the the Penguins over the top, on paper anyway.

I'm still convinced they could win without Crosby due to the presence of Malkin and Staal at center. I'm not convinced they can win without Letang (even with Crosby) because they have nobody else that can fill his skates on defense.

(Corsi, Quality of Competition and Zone Start Data all via BehindtheNet.ca)

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter and like us on Facebook.
Posted on: March 6, 2012 12:22 pm
Edited on: March 6, 2012 2:32 pm
 

Crosby cleared for contact, could play on Sunday

Crosby has two goals and 10 assists in eight games this season. (Getty Images)

By Brian Stubits

Sidney Crosby has one again been cleared for contact and could be returning very soon. How soon? Perhaps as soon as Sunday.

"I'll give myself days with contact," Crosby said. "We have two more practices this week. No sooner than Sunday, I would say, but I'm not going to sit here and put a date on it. It would be total guesswork. I just want to make sure I get through these days fine and that would be a great decision to make if I get to that point.

"The big step is contact. Hopefully, I can do that for a few days and get back out there."

If he does make his return on Sunday it will come against the Boston Bruins -- NBC already has it scheduled to be the national game of the week. The interesting angle there, of course, is that it was against the Bruins that Crosby played his last game.

Crosby has been practicing with his Penguins teammates for a while but there were no updates coming from the Penguins about his status until after the team's skate on Tuesday. That's when Crosby revealed he has been cleared.

You'll remember that Crosby played eight games earlier this season after sitting out for nearly a full year because of a concussion. He returned to the sideline later with what many were assuming was another concussion. It was later discovered that Crosby had a neck issue that was causing many of the problems since its symptoms can be very similar to those of a concussion.

If -- and this remains an If until Crosby is able to return for an extended time -- he is healthy, is there any question that the Penguins will be one of the favorites to win the Stanley Cup? They already have the second best record in the Eastern Conference with Crosby out for all but eight games thus far.

As he showed earlier this season, it shouldn't take long at all for him to get back into top form -- which makes him in my and plenty of other's opinions the best player in the league.

"I've been through this before. Contact is the big step," Crosby said. "It's nice to be symptom free, but it's not as fulfilling until you get out there. I just want to make sure that I take the right steps here and get back out there soon."

It might not be a great day for the rest of the league per se, but it's a great day for hockey.

More from Eye on Hockey

Crosby has 'soft tissue injury'

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter and like us on Facebook.

Posted on: March 1, 2012 5:43 pm
Edited on: March 1, 2012 5:52 pm
 

Kris Letang has concussion symptoms

PenguinsBy: Adam Gretz

When defenseman Kris Letang had to leave Wednesday's game in Dallas after being on the receiving end of a big hit from Stars forward Eric Nystrom, the biggest concern for the Penguins had to be whether or not their best blueliner suffered another concussion. He's already missed more than 20 games this season due to one concussion, which came after a hit by Montreal's Max Pacioretty. The Penguins have had their share of concussion-related issues this season including injuries to Sidney Crosby, Tyler Kennedy, Arron Asham and, as already mentioned, Letang.

Following Thursday morning's practice in Denver, where the Penguins will play the Avalanche on Saturday, coach Dan Bylsma revealed that Letang is in fact suffering from concussion symptons and will return to Pittsburgh on Sunday for more observation.

Nystrom received a two-minute for roughing on the play, and there was much debate as to whether or not he would face any supplemental discipline from the NHL. Brendan Shanahan, vice president of player safety, announced that Nystrom will not face any additional discipline.

Wrote Shanahan on his official Twitter feed, "Our view is that Letang lunges forward just prior to contact and although it appears that the chin is grazed by the side of Nystrom's arm, the right chest and shoulder of Letang remain the PPOC (principal point of contact)."

NBC's Mike Milbury and Jeremy Roenick were among the people debating (screaming at each is more like it) whether or not Nystrom should face discipline, and it's probably a shock to anybody that is familair with his opinions on these matters but Milbury was actually on the side of supplemental discipline. Roenick, however, wasn't hearing it as the video below (via wyshynski) shows:



It's a tough play to judge, and it's impossible to figure out what Nystrom's intent was, but it does seem a bit interesting that after facing mounting criticism earlier in the season for the number of suspensions he had been handing out during his first months on the job, the amount of supplemental discipline coming out of the NHL offices has slowed down considerably. You could argue that players cleaned up their act, but there have been plenty of examples of plays that drew punishment earlier in the season but have been overlooked in recent weeks and months.

Two such examples: Ottawa's Kyle Turris and his hit on Boston's Joe Corvo last week, and David Clarkson's charging incident on Monday night.

Either way, the potential loss of Letang for any length of time is a big one for the Penguins. With him they are a serious contender for the Stanley Cup. Without him ... they're probably not.

Previously at Eye On Hockey

Video: Letang injured after hit by Nystrom

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter and like us on Facebook.
Posted on: February 29, 2012 11:07 pm
Edited on: March 1, 2012 12:48 am
 

Winners & Losers: Penguins, Blackhawks, Leafs



By: Adam Gretz

There's always a winner and a loser in the NHL, and this is a new nightly look at some of the winners and losers in the biggest games and biggest situations across the league.

Winners

Pittsburgh Penguins: The Pittsburgh-Dallas Stars matchup is your typical, run-of-the-mill East vs. West game that takes place once, maybe twice per year.

There really isn't much of a history between the two teams, and it's not really a game that would (or probably should) get any extra attention on your schedule.

But man, something flipped the switch on Wednesday night as the two teams played one of the most physical -- and entertaining -- games of the season, with what appeared to be plenty of bad blood. The Penguins lost Kris Letang and Steve Sullivan during the game, and didn't necessarily play their best, but still ended up coming away with the 4-3 win in a shootout. That gives them another two points in the Eastern Conference standings and moves them three points ahead of the Senators (with two games in hand) and four points ahead of the Philadlephia Flyers.

The real concern for the Penguins now is the status of Letang, easily their best defenseman. With all of the talk about Sidney Crosby's absence this season (and back to last season) the Penguins still have plenty of scoring and depth down the middle, especially with the way Evgeni Malkin and Jodan Staal are playing. They can still be a Stanley Cup contender, if not one of the favorites, without Crosby, and have played like it.

They may not be without Letang. During his earlier absence the Penguins were 10-11 witout him.

[Related: Penguins 4, Stars 3 -- Kris Letang injured (Video)]

Chicago Blackhawks: February hasn't been the best month for the Chicago Blackhawks, and entering Wedneday's game against the Maple Leafs, another team that's been sleepwalking through the month, the Blackhawks were riding a three-game losing streak and falling dangerously close to the Western Conference playoff bubble.

After falling down early in the first period, the Blackhawks roared back and earned a 5-4 win thanks to a big performance from Marian Hossa, scoring two goals, including the game-winner ... which turned out to be an empty net goal late in the third period.

[Related: Blackhawks 5, Maple Leafs 4]

Ryan Miller: The Sabres goalie spoke out earlier in the week about his team trading Paul Gaustad to the Nashville Predators for a draft pick (he didn't like it), and in his first appearance since the trade deadline he played perhaps his best game of the season, stopping all 43 shots he faced, including 20 in the third period alone, as Buffalo picked up a 2-0 win over the Ducks to keep a small glimmer of hope alive when it comes to its playoff chances.

[Related Sabres 2, Ducks 0 -- Sabres trade Gaustad to Nashville]

Losers

Toronto Maple Leafs
: After slow start after slow start, the Toronto Maple Leafs finally had a fast start on Wednesday night in Chicago, in a game they absolutely needed to win, not only for their playoff hopes, but to keep some sort of sanity within the city of limits of Toronto. They actually jumped out to a 3-1 lead first period lead.

Things looked promising. And then they watched as the bottom completely fell out, resulting in a 5-4 loss to the Blackhawks. And just like that, things went from bad to total meltdown.

Toronto has now lost 10 of its past 11 games, with the only win during that stretch coming in overtime against the Edmonton Oilers, and remain four points behind the Washington Capitals for the eighth playoff spot in the Eastern Conference -- a playoff spot that no team seems to want.

Anaheim Ducks: The Ducks already slim playoff hopes took a big hit on Wednesday night, and thanks to the Stars gaining a point in a shootout loss, and Anaheim's 2-0 loss to the Buffalo Sabres, Bruce Boudreau's bunch now finds itself seven points out of the No. 8 seed in the West, and still in 13th place.

They put together a heck of an effort in the third period, firing 20 shots at Ryan Miller (and 43 for the game) but could never break through on the scoreboard.

[Related: Playoff Race]

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter and like us on Facebook.
Posted on: February 29, 2012 3:18 pm
Edited on: February 29, 2012 5:19 pm
 

Can Steven Stamkos score 60 this season?

StamkosBy: Adam Gretz

Pucks and Numbers: a weekly statistical look at what's happening around the NHL. This week: what it's going to take for Steven Stamkos to become the first 60-goal scorer since 2007-08, and whether or not it's even possible.

Steven Stamkos has been the one consistent bright spot for the Tampa Bay Lightning this year, and he is currently putting together the most productive goal-scoring season of his young career.

Through Tampa Bay's first 63 games he is leading the league with 44 goals, seven more than Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin as of Wednesday afternoon. Barring injury he looks to be well on his way to the second 50-goal season of his career, as well as his second Rocket Richard Trophy. (He shared the goal-scoring crown during the 2009-10 season with Sidney Crosby, with both players scoring 51 goals).

He has clearly taken over as the NHL's best, and most dangerous goal scoring threat.

But he also has a chance -- a very small chance -- to do something that only one player has done over the past 14 years -- score 60 goals in a single season. It's not going to be easy, of course, and it's probably going to take a great deal of luck along the way, but it's not entirely out of the question, either.

Scoring 50 goals these days is rare enough. Since the NHL came out of the lockout in 2005-06 only 10 different players have scored even 50 goals in a single season (Alex Ovechkin has done it four times, Dany Heatley and Ilya Kovalchuk have done it twice, Stamkos, Crosby, Jarome Iginla, Vincent Lecavalier, Jaromir Jagr and Corey Perry have all done it once).

Scoring 60 goals in this era is practically unheard of.

Ovechkin was the last player to reach the mark having scored 65 goals during the 2007-08 season. Before that you have to go all the way back to the 1995-96 season when Mario Lemieux and Jagr scored 69 and 62 goals respectively for the Penguins.

With 19 games remaining on the schedule for Tampa Bay, Stamkos needs 16 goals to reach 60 for the season. Twice in his career he's had 19-game stretches where he's scored at least 16 goals, including one such run earlier this season between games 20 and 38 for the Lightning, scoring 16 goals on 61 shots.

His best 19-game stretch came at the start of last season he averaged a goal-per-game over the first 19 games of the season. So it is possible, and he's done it before.

If he were to maintain his current shooting percentage for the season, a career-best 19.9 percent, he would need to generate somewhere in the neighborhood of 80 shots on goal over the final 19 games of the season to score 16 goals. That's a lot. Even worse, if he were to shoot at his career average of 16.8 percent he would need to generate nearly 100 shots in 19 games, which is just over five per game. That's nearly impossible. Especially if you add in the fact that he's already in the middle of a hot streak, having scored seven goals in his past seven games, which would mean he would need to finish the season with 23 goals in 26 games.

One of the biggest reasons we no longer see 60 (or even 50) goal seasons is the same reason goal-scoring as a whole is down across the league -- a declining number of power play opportunities.

Stamkos is at his most lethal to opposing teams when the Lightning are on the man-advantage and his teammates are able to feed him one-timer after one-timer from the circle. With the average NHL team getting just 3.5 power play opportunities per game this season, the lowest average the NHL has seen in over 10 years, and the Lightning actually well below that average at just 3.1 opportunities per game, players just aren't getting as many prime opportunities to put up huge goal totals.

And it's why the 60-goal scorer is nearly extinct in the NHL.

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter and like us on Facebook.
Posted on: February 27, 2012 5:53 pm
Edited on: February 27, 2012 6:07 pm
 

NHL Trade deadline winners and losers

The Nashville Predators were the 2012 NHL Trade Deadline's biggest winners. (Getty)

By: Adam Gretz

It shouldn't be a surprise that Monday turned out to be, for the most part, a quiet day as the 3 ET trade deadline passed.

Increased parity around the league and the fact nearly every team in the NHL still thinks it has a chance to make the playoffs this season reduced the number of true sellers to no more than four or five (If that). That, of course, made it nearly impossible to strike many impact deals, not to mention the sky-high prices teams were apparently putting on their players.

In the end, Rick Nash is still a Columbus Blue Jacket. Steve Ott is still a Dallas Star.  Roman Hamrlik and Mike Knuble are still Washington Capitals. Ryan Suter is still a Nashville Predator.

And speaking of the Predators, if they wanted to send a message to Suter and his partner in crime on the blue line, Shea Weber, not to mention the rest of the organization, the fan base and the NHL as a whole that they're ready to start going for it, they certainly did so on Monday.

Or attempted to, anyway.

The Predators were one of the busiest teams in the NHL over the past week, and after acquiring Hal Gill from the Montreal Canadiens last week for a couple of draft picks, they made two of the biggest moves on Monday by acquiring Andrei Kostitsyn from the Canadiens for two more draft picks, and then grabbed Paul Gaustad and a draft pick from the Buffalo Sabres for a first-round pick.

The Gaustad trade is a bold one. Perhaps even a little crazy given the price they paid for a role player that also happens to be an unrestricted free agent after the season. But he's a valuable player that is going to help, and now that everything has settled the Predators are a deeper, better team than they were at this time last week.

As general manager David Poile said "These trades have certainly given us a chance to play with the big boys this year."
NHL Trade Deadline
More NHL coverage


Winners

Los Angeles Kings: The Kings big trade came earlier in the week when they landed  Jeff Carter from the Columbus Jackets, giving the team the goal-scoring help it desperately needed, and reuniting him with his long-time teammate, Mike Richards. As I pointed out the night of the deal, the Kings were able to acquire Richards and Carter over the past year in two separate trades that did not require them to give up any of their own franchise, core players, which is pretty big score.

Buffalo Sabres: When word surfaced early on Monday that the asking price for Gaustad would be a first-round draft pick, there was some disbelief, as well as the assumption that as the day progressed that price would drop. The Sabres didn't back down from their demands and ended up getting the first-round pick they wanted for a player that had chance to lose for nothing over the summer.

They also addressed their need for young talent down the middle by striking what was perhaps the biggest deal of the day, sending Zach Kassian to the Vancouver Canucks for Cody Hodgson.

Minnesota Wild: In what was simply a hockey trade that saw two teams swap different types of defensemen the Oilers shipped Tom Gilbert to Minnesota in exchange for Nick Schultz. The Oilers traded an offensive-minded player for a defensive one, the Wild did the exact opposite, but ended up picking up the better player. Gilbert is going to help Minnesota a lot more than Schultz will help Edmonton.

Ottawa Senators: Saturday's addition of goaltender Ben Bishop is one of those deals that could sneak under the radar but provide a big return. Bishop is a highly regarded prospect and with Brian Elliott and Jaroslav Halak filling the position for the foreseeable future in St. Louis, Bishop wasn't going to get much of an opportunity. He might get it in Ottawa, especially in the short-term now that Craig Anderson is sidelined, and the Senators were able to get him without giving up much in return. Solid addition at a fair price at the right time.

Losers

Rick Nash and the Columbus Blue Jackets: The most shocking development to come out of the Rick Nash drama on Monday wasn't that he didn't get traded. For all of the rumors and speculation that followed his name over the past week, it's not a huge surprise that he's still a member of the Blue Jackets on Monday evening. The insanity really started to kick in when.general manager Scott Howson admitted in his Monday afternoon press conference that Nash initially approached the team and asked for a trade, putting the entire process in motion.

Why Howson would admit this is a mystery, but it's becoming pretty obvious that even though Nash will finish this season in Columbus, he's probably not going to be there at the start of next season. Especially now that his (current) general manager pretty much tossed him in front of the bus.

The only question that remains is whether or not Howson will be the man to make the inevitable trade over the summer. And given the return Columbus received on its two trades this past week, selling off Antoine Vermette and Jeff Carter for what amounts to Jack Johnson and some magic beans, not to mention the way he fumbled the Nash situation helping to put a nice bow on a season that only seems to get worse, it's worth asking who will be making that call from the general manager's office.

Of course, Nash isn't completely without blame in this mess either. His agent commented over the weekend that it would be best for a trade to be done sooner rather than later, and if Nash himself were really that desperate to get out of Columbus he wouldn't have limited the Jackets' potential trade partners by only offering to waive his no-trade clause for a short-list of teams, and one that his agent claims will not grow over the summer.

This appears to be a no-win situation for Columbus and its fans.

Chicago Blackhawks: The Blackhawks goaltending and defense has been a sore spot this season, and their only major move was to add Johnny Oduya from the Winnipeg Jets. Not sure if that's going to be enough.

Carolina Hurricanes: After re-signing Tuomo Ruutu and Tim Gleason, two popular names in trade speculation over the past month, the Hurricanes did not deal Bryan Allen or Jaroslav Spacek, two players that are eligible for unrestricted free agency after the season, which means they could possibly walk out the door for no return. It's still possible that one (or both) can be re-signed, which could be exciting ... if you're interested in keeping together a team that's currently 14th in the Eastern Conference. 

Teams that stayed quiet

Pittsburgh Penguins: For the first time under general manager Ray Shero the Penguins did not make a move on, or near, the NHL's trade deadline. With the way the team is playing right now and the makeup of its roster, with Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal leading the way, a move wasn't really needed. This team is playing well enough as it is, doesn't appear to have many holes and looks like a team that can be a favorite and top contender for the Stanley Cup.

But the mindset around Pittsburgh seems to be that the lack of a move is a positive sign that Sidney Crosby could be on the verge of a return, or that he will eventually be "the big addition" for the roster. That's all well and good, and if it works out that way, fantastic. But assuming anything right now regarding Crosby is a major stretch. Nobody knows for sure when he'll be back, and it's worth pointing out that his last return lasted all of 10 games. Still a lot of uncertainty around that entire situation.

Washington Capitals: The Capitals were expected to be one of the busiest teams on Monday, especially after their decision to move center Nicklas Backstrom to the long-term injured list, opening up a pretty significant amount of salary cap space ahead of the deadline.

In the end the Capitals did nothing, which seems to be a pretty big shock around the NHL. But is it?

The Capitals could have certainly used a center, but with the way this team has looked for much of the season it's hard to imagine there being a move out there that was going to help this team get over the hump this year. Why give up significant long-term assets to chase after the No. 7 or 8 playoff spot when a deep postseason run doesn't look like it's a legitimate possibility?

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
Posted on: February 12, 2012 12:18 pm
Edited on: February 12, 2012 12:21 pm
 

The value of Jordan Staal



By: Adam Gretz


The Pittsburgh Penguins were able to get one of their injured centers back this weekend, and while Jordan Staal's absence didn't have quite the same impact, intrigue or uncertainty of his teammate, Sidney Crosby, that doesn't take away from how important he has been on the ice for Pittsburgh, or how important his return to the lineup will be going forward.

Over the past month, since Staal was injured in a game against the New York Rangers during a colission with Mike Rupp, the Penguins were getting by with Evgeni Malkin carrying the load at center, and what was basically a patchwork group at the position behind him, a situation that has become all too familiar for a team that is built on the strength of its centers (when all are healthy) over the past two seasons.

That resulted in Malkin seeing a lot of assignments against other teams top lines and, honestly, required his line (along with James Neal and Chris Kunitz) to provide almost all of the offense. With Staal back, the Penguins once again have the player in their lineup that does a lot of their heavy lifting when it comes to drawing the toughest assignments, which can possibly help to free up Malkin's line even more and take some of the pressure off of them.

"Especially on the road there have been situations where it's been head-to-head for Malkin with the other teams top line," said coach Dan Bylsma before Pittsburgh's 8-5 run-and-gun win against Winnipeg on Saturday.

"Now with Jordan in the mix and his line, especially with [Matt] Cooke and [Pascal] Dupuis getting the opportunity to match up against other teams top lines, for the most part, it will free up Evgeni a little bit. Also, I think it's a tough matchup against Jordan as well, which can lead to situations where it might be advantageous to get Malkin's line up against different pairings and different people. Jordan brings a lot in that regard, he's going to be bring a big responsibility against the other teams top line, and it should be helpful in the match-ups and situations Geno's line can find themselves in."

And that's the beauty of Staal's role.

If you look back at his career with the Penguins, especially over the past three years, he's always been the center -- even when you include Crosby and Malkin -- that seems to draw the toughest matchups (using Behindthenet's Corsi Relative Quality of Competition), and this season has been no different. Even though he typically draws the most difficult assignments on the team, his line usually ends up coming away with the upper hand, not only in terms of goals for/goals against, but also in terms of controlling possession of the puck and keeping it in the offensive zone.

Looking at something as simple as On-Ice Corsi, which is simply the total shot-differential (goals, saves, missed shots, blocked shots during 5-on-5 play -- it's basically a way of measuring puck possession and offensive zone time) when a player is on the ice, Staal entered the weekend third in the NHL among players that have played at least 30 games this season, and he's been a positive player in that area in each of the past four seasons. And he's been able to do that while playing against top competition and starting a large percentage of his shifts in the defensive end of the rink.

In other words: When Staal's line is on the ice, the Penguins are keeping the other teams best players bottled up in their own end, which is a pretty good way of making sure they're being shut down. That's an extremely valuable role, and it's one that Staal has excelled in. He's become a big-time player, even though he's never been one that puts up huge numbers offensively.

His return to the lineup gives the Penguins another top-center to pair up with their MVP contender (Malkin) which could make them one of the favorites in the Eastern Conference come playoff time, even if they don't get Crosby back anytime soon.

(Corsi and Quality of Competition data via BehindTheNet.ca)

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
Posted on: February 6, 2012 1:57 pm
Edited on: February 6, 2012 9:43 pm
 

Still no timetable for Crosby return



By: Adam Gretz


There was some buzz coming out of Montreal on Monday morning as Penguins captain Sidney Crosby joined his teammates for practice at the Bell Centre ahead of Tuesday's game with the Canadiens. And while it appears that he's inching closer to returning to the lineup, he's still not quite there yet and there remains no timetable for his return.

Crosby said after the session, via Sam Kasan of the Penguins, that he will continue to skate by himself when the team returns to Pittsburgh this week and that he is still not yet symptom free, and that once he is, he will return.

So in other words: there's not much new regarding his status, other than that he practiced with the team as opposed to skating on his own.

In other injury news for the Penguins, head coach Dan Bylsma said that center Jordan Staal could return to the lineup within the next five to 10 days, which would be a huge addition to their lineup. He plays some of the toughest minutes on the team on a nightly basis, and was also having one of the best goal-scoring seasons of his career prior to his knee injury against the New York Rangers last month. 

Forward Tyler Kennedy, who was injured in the closing minutes of Sunday's 5-2 loss in New Jersey, is also returning to Pittsburgh to have his lower body injury re-evaluated.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com