Derick Brassard is struggling with the Pittsburgh Penguins’ aggressive system and his linemates.
The Penguins are the most diametrically opposed team in the NHL to Brassard’s former squad, the Ottawa Senators. The Senators recoil from puck battles to fortify their defensive stance. The Penguins go all-in for the puck. The Senators trap. The Penguins aggressively forecheck.
Senators philosophy and head coach Guy Boucher programmed Brassard. Now, the Penguins are hustling to reprogram their trade deadline bounty but time is running out. Only 12 games are remaining in the regular season.
Thus far with the Penguins, Brassard has abandoned forechecks to retreat defensively and occasionally drifted high in the defensive zone. Those are hallmarks of Boucher’s Ottawa system which overly emphasizes defensive posture and often deploys the center at the top of the defensive zone for aggressive transitions.
On Saturday, Brassard had nine shifts in the first 30 minutes against Toronto. In at least three of the shifts, his positioning was needlessly conservative or different from other Penguins pivots.
He was high in the zone when Kasperi Kapanen scored the first goal, Saturday. He abandoned forechecks for defensive positioning, too.
Brassard and Phil Kessel do not have any chemistry.
Brassard has just two points (1g, 1a) in his first seven Penguins games, which is below even his average Senators output. Kessel has eight points (2g, 6a) in the same seven games, including five points at even strength.
Mostly, the pair of missed each other by a step or zigged when they should have zagged. Puck possession metrics bear out the struggles.
Phil Kessel is a 50 percent Corsi player without Brassard. Together, the pair is a 44 percent puck possession duo, according to NaturalStatTrick.com
If puck possession and Corsi aren’t your things but scoring chances are, then things are equally bad. Together, Brassard and Kessel have only 44 percent of the scoring chances and 42 percent of the high-danger scoring changes. In other words, when they are on the ice, the other team is getting a lot of opportunities.
In the locker room, Brassard has expressed excitement for the Penguins way of doing things and acknowledged it is a difficult transition. He also said, “I’m feeling better every game,” after the Penguins bottled the Dallas Stars.
Twelve Games to Find It
The Penguins have 12 games left, beginning tonight in New York. They have 12 games to solidify their lineup. And, they have 12 games to prepare for a Stanley Cup run which appears to be even more difficult than the last two.
Brassard will be an integral cog in the machine which will fight for the opportunity to earn the label “dynasty.” Perhaps it’s time to try Brassard with other linemates. The speed game of Bryan Rust or Conor Sheary could serve Brassard well. Maybe Patric Hornqvist‘s simple net-front presence would ignite Brassard’s natural playmaking style.
Necessity has been Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan‘s best friend this season. Injuries and ineffectiveness forced Sullivan to juggle lines, and through the fog, a few terrific combinations have emerged, including Carl Hagelin and Evgeni Malkin.
Kessel should no more be locked to Brassard than Sheary locked to Sidney Crosby. If Hornqvist or Sheary happen to be the guy who ignites Brassard, the Penguins will be OK with whoever rides shotgun on Crosby’s right.
Kessel could play beside Hagelin and Malkin. That line exploded in 2016 before Malkin’s injury put Nick Bonino between the wingers and gave birth to the ‘HBK Line.’
It’s time to find who has chemistry with Brassard. And it’s time Brassard adopted the system and the attitude. The clock is ticking. The playoffs will start whether the Penguins are ready or not.