Someone call an exorcist. Seriously. I’m not kidding. The Pittsburgh Penguins are not just bitten by the injury bug, that bug is having a picnic with a few million of its closest friends. Evgeni Malkin, Nick Bjugstad, Bryan Rust, Alex Galchenyuk have been suffering through painful vacations and they might get even more company on that beach. Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan announced Tuesday that winger turned second-line center Jared McCann is now day-to-day with an injury.
At this point, if you saw Iceburgh floating above the covers or spitting pea soup, would it surprise you?
Without McCann, the Penguins would be missing three of their top-six forwards and five of their top-nine. In rough numbers, that is 95 goals and 240 points which are out of the Penguins lineup.
4. Does anyone know where the crowd went during the Penguins win over Anaheim last Thursday?
I’m sure a few people have to get home to relieve the babysitter, be at work super early, or have to answer the bat signal for a troubled Gotham, but thousands of people bailed with nearly five minutes to go in a 2-1 Penguins win.
It is a superficial counter, “They bought a ticket, they can do what they want.”
That argument neither addresses the issue or the consequences. It’s like answering the impeachment issue with, “Trump is the President,” or the outspoken NBA intelligentsia’s deference to communists with, “The NBA is a basketball league.”
Experiment: The next time you’re at a game, watch the crowd during a late-game stoppage. People leave en mass, but it starts as a trickle then quickly escalates. You can see fans turn, first to the apparently bored departees, then to the person, or people, they are with. The exodus builds momentum. By three minutes to go against Anaheim which was a tight game and a good victory for the Penguins, no less than 5,000 people had left which amounts to 25-33% of the crowd.
Now, to the real issues. It becomes a dampened atmosphere and detracts from what is one of the best parts of the fan experience–celebrating a win. Other NHL cities struggle with this problem, too. Though, as someone who regularly deals with folks from around the league, Pittsburgh has a reputation as one of the worst offenders.
Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin won’t be around forever. Perhaps Penguins fans will push back on the emptying arena trend before it becomes an empty arena at the beginning, too.
But yes, those who buy a ticket can do what they want. And?
3. Expect a heater from Zach Aston-Reese.
The young player cannot be called streaky because each of his previous hot streaks was not followed by a cold streak but ended by injury. Three times in his career, Aston-Reese has begun to pile up points and praise-worthy performances and three times those have been halted by injury. Aston-Reese has not come back strong from those. He needs a spark, then off he goes.
Two goals Sunday night should do the trick. There are few more likable players in the Pittsburgh Penguins locker room than Aston-Reese but there are new players pushing for NHL jobs. His longterm position in the lineup is not yet guaranteed. Aston-Reese kills penalties and plays a complete game, but a few more goals wouldn’t hurt.
2. There has been a recent conversation around Dominik Kahun and revisiting the Penguins trade of Olli Maatta.
No, Kahun has not established himself in the lineup with only one assist in six games and general invisibility. Dominik Simon has well outplayed him. And so has Sam Lafferty. However, let’s not canonize Maatta who had little trade value. Penguins GM Jim Rutherford got a good return for Maatta, which primarily was salary cap relief to retain players such as Teddy Blueger and help sign Brandon Tanev.
1. Speaking of Turbo, he has been solid.
It’s nice to see and hear Penguins fans gravitating towards a gritty player who many initially rejected. Tanev has three assists in six games but was also a part of the recent McCann lines which were utterly dominated over the weekend. He doesn’t deserve to wear the L over that situation, but it does show his limitations. Tanev is a pounding, high energy bottom-six forward. The Penguins will have a need for that type of player for at least the next six seasons.
That’s the good news.
The bad news is the Penguins cannot possibly maintain this offensive explosion with a cast of Sidney Crosby, Jake Guentzel and players who make $1 million or less. We don’t yet know the ending of the story for the 2019-20 Pittsburgh Penguins, but the foreword has been written by William Peter Blatty.