The Pittsburgh Penguins begin an important stretch over the next six weeks. Yes, December and January hockey do count, even if some fans aren’t as interested. Points are needed to make the playoffs, of which the Penguins currently would not qualify.
In fact, the Penguins are just two points ahead of the Philadelphia Flyers, who also have two games in-hand on the Penguins.
1. The Penguins have 10 games remaining until their bye week. The Penguins will have six days between games, January 7 to January 13. Five of those games are at home and five are on the road.
Following the bye week, the Penguins will have another west coast trip through California, including the powerful Kings, Ducks, and Sharks. It won’t be easy. The Penguins have dominated bad teams–like Arizona and Buffalo–but have not cracked good teams.
That needs to change. They can point to shots, Corsi, but the truth lies in the shot charts–they’re not getting enough good opportunities against good teams. They’ll have to fight for space or…they’ll lose.
Missing the playoffs is becoming a possible reality. The Metro Division is good. While the Penguins are more talented than most, they’re not deeper. Nor, are they playing better.
2. In addition to fighting for space, the Penguins haven’t systematically suffocated any team with a forecheck.
It’s ok to dump it in once in a while, in order to put pressure on and/or counter-attack a team to break up a team which has packed the slot.
Rick Tocchet frequently advocated for such. It doesn’t appear that assistant coach Mark Recchi is a disciple yet.
3. The Tyler Bozak to Pittsburgh speculation won’t die because it makes too much sense. However, Sportsnet’s speculation this weekend that Cole and Hagelin could be the package doesn’t fit. The Penguins defense would lack any physicality if Cole was dealt and its hard to see Toronto taking Hagelin.
Also, that would be a $2 million balance heading Toronto’s way.
For Brian Dumoulin makes sense, though the Maple Leafs would likely prefer Olli Maatta. Maatta could be worth more than Bozak, however.
VGK’s Erik Haula and Ottawa’s Jean-Gabriel Pageau are the most exciting options. Both were nearly point-per-game players in 2016 as they filled in for injured second line centers (Haula in Minnesota and Pageau in Ottawa).
Both are also fine defensive centers, too. Penguins fans may remember how strong Pageau was during the Eastern Conference Final. Both VGK and Ottawa could be easier to deal with than Toronto, who must view the Penguins as an obstacle to the Stanley Cup.
4. If a shakeup does occur, Conor Sheary is an affordable, talented player. An interesting piece is Tristan Jarry. The kid is an NHL goalie already. A struggling team may include a goalie to get Jarry, and depending on the haul, the Penguins should listen.
Buffalo could be a very interesting player in a Penguins shakeup. Sabres GM Jason Botterill certainly understands the value of players like Sheary and has the talent to deal.
5. We had an interesting exchange with a Twitter follower, Saturday. While I detest the “you have an agenda” defense–this is sports reporting, not politics. I don’t have an ideological narrative to push–the stats merit discussion:
The 4th line is bad, no argument there.
The 3rd line is actually more productive at EV with Sheahan (.42 pts/gm) than it was last year with Bonino (.33 pts/gm). The 3C problem is a myth that the PGH media perpetuates. There is no lack of production from the 3rd line.
— Michael Crow (@mcrow1130) December 16, 2017
Over the past 14 games, Sheahan is tied with Crosby for a team leading 9 EV points.
Carl Hagelin has been involved in 4 of those goals, the most of any player. Not Kessel or Sheary or Hornqvist, but Hagelin.
Sheahan has been productive, whether it fits the narrative or not.
— Michael Crow (@mcrow1130) December 16, 2017
Stats. Stats can be twisted or provide a picture which isn’t true. Kris Letang is one of the leading defenseman scorers. Would anyone claim him to be playing well? In Sheahan’s case, the bottom line stats do not tell the story.
Sheahan’s shot chart–as we showed in the Sheahan column last week–is definitive. He isn’t playing with the puck in the offensive zone, at least not very often. Nor is he shooting often enough. However, Sheahan has been paired with very talented linemates who have been able to carry the play.
There isn’t a stat to quantify that. It’s why Nick Bonino commanded a hefty salary as a free agent, and Riley Sheahan will not. Sheahan has more ability. He’s shown it in the past. However, his game seems to have retreated to a vanilla, non-aggressive version.