Penguins look weak after All-Star weekend
By: Wyatt Silverman
The last two weeks have not been so kind to the Pittsburgh Penguins. The team has come out with a 2–4–2 record, including 2 shutout losses in their last 3 games. Starting this stretch out with 3 straight divisional losses, they dug themselves an early hole, and did very little to get out of it.
First off, the team had two bad regulation losses to the Islanders and Rangers, followed it up with an OT loss to Philly, lost in the shootout to the Blackhawks, beat Winnipeg, got shut out by Washington, beat the scuffling Devils in OT, and yesterday, lost 4–0 to league-leading Nashville.
This track record against successful teams doesn’t look great, although it is useful to consider the impact of Evgeni Malkin’s absence. His offensive dominance this year is obviously missed, but his effect on Mike Johnston’s lineup construction has been quite important as well.
Without Malkin, Brandon Sutter has moved up to be the temporary 2nd line center, and he’s been exposed as inadequate. Followers of advanced statistics have been underwhelmed by Sutter for quite some time, but his occasional offensive production has helped keep the heat off him. Because of injuries, he has been playing with much better wingers than usual, as well as getting substantial power play time.
The production hasn’t matched the personnel; Sutter has 1 goal, 1 assist in this 8 game stretch. Even if you only account for the time he’s spent with Patric Hornqvist, Sutter should absolutely have gotten more then one assist. His possession metrics have also been quite poor. On the season, his Corsi % is 47.5, second-worst among all forwards who receive regular playing time. For someone considered an elite third-line center, Sutter should not have someone like Zach Sill as his closest comparison.
The issues with Sutter have been compounded by the recent trade of Marcel Goc for St. Louis forward Max Lapierre. Acquiring Lapierre isn’t intrinsically a bad move, because despite his poor statistical performance, he has attributes that stereotypically help win playoff series. On the other hand, losing a useful player like Goc is problematic. Goc has been an extremely successful penalty killer, and has performed adequately at even strength, despite being anchored down by awful players like Craig Adams and Zach Sill. His usage makes him appear “useless” to the casual observer, but his history suggests that he’s capable of producing well. Just give the man some decent wingers.
Coming up next, a statistical comparison of Sutter, Goc, and Lapierre. Dom Galamini recently developed a new visual tool that he calls “HERO Charts,” and I’ve really enjoyed using them to scope out various players. These charts display Corsi (a measure of puck possession that uses shot attempts while a player is on the ice), as well as offensive numbers, adjusted for 60 minutes of play. It then shows if a player is meeting standards to be considered an appropriate fit for the first, second, third, or fourth line.
All sourced from http://ownthepuck.blogspot.ca/2015/01/horizontal-bar-graph-player-evaluation.html
Anyway, now Goc is gone, and remaining players like Marc Arcobello will need to step up. Malkin is projected to return for Wednesday’s game against the Oilers, and Blake Comeau is also expected to return sometime in the next week or two. Adding them will definitely help the lineup take shape.
The Penguins are about to take their annual Western Canada road trip. With games in Edmonton, Calgary, and Vancouver, the team hopes they’ll be able to get back on track.
Young defenseman Derrick Pouliot will be traveling with the team, and should get a shot to prove himself as an NHLer. Scott Harrington’s weak performance has opened a spot for Pouliot on the roster, and Bortuzzo’s has opened a spot in the active lineup. Ideally, Pouliot will get a chance to play significant minutes alongside Paul Martin. The two players complement each other well stylistically, and Martin is perhaps the best defenseman on the team to help develop a young player.
Furthermore, with Letang-Despres and Martin-Pouliot pairings, it would allow Johnston to shelter the weakest pair, Scuderi-Bortuzzo.
This road trip will be a big test to see if Mike Johnston can steady the ship. There have been some definite warning signs for this team, but I don’t think it’s time to panic. Especially given that Malkin is returning, I feel comfortable giving the Pens time to pull it together. Hopefully they don’t disappoint.