Being in the middle of the fanbase and a hockey team can be a tricky proposition. The team says one thing, an analyst says another thing, and fan opinion often veers into a third area. The Penguins fan base has the most potent blogosphere in the league, which is the greatest testament to active fans, hardened opinions, and lingering perceptions (Perhaps Kraft Hockeyville will begin blocking Western PA from voting. Otherwise every rink in the area will get a facelift and a Penguins preseason game). If the stream of social media comments is accurate, here are five things to change about current Penguins dogma.
1. Carl Hagelin Sucks!
No, Hagelin doesn’t stink, nor is he incapable of playing beside Evgeni Malkin. Hagelin is in a goal-scoring funk. And, in an ideal world, the Penguins would have a left wing with Hagelin’s speed, puck retrieval skills, and game awareness who can also finish.
Hagelin has been a fixture in the Eastern Conference Finals since 2012 with the Rangers and Penguins (that’s a lot of hockey), he also suffered a broken leg last February which was unreported until after the season.
Fans should notice Hagelin’s burst of speed has returned, especially over the past several weeks. His defensive responsibility is especially important playing with Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel, as well.
It’s hard to tell when Hagelin’s offensive touch will return. Michael Grabner spent three years looking for his lost hands before he rebounded (no pun intended) with 27 goals last year. Like Hagelin, Grabner is the fastest player on the ice and provides more benefits than simply scoring.
Since the Penguins are desperately looking to solidify their game, which includes never-ending puck pressure, Hagelin has plenty of value.
2. Matt Murray Isn’t Good! Jarry is Better! Trade Murray!
Perhaps the Marc-Andre Fleury fans are taking revenge upon the sect of the fanbase which would never allow “The Flower” a moments rest. Matt Murray’s flaws existed two years ago. They existed one year ago. Yet, the bearded “rookie” won two Stanley Cups.
PHN examined the poor statistics. But the argument isn’t about stats, it’s about what leads to the stats.
Funny things happen to goaltenders when a team leaves a goalie out to dry. Suddenly, saves which were being made become goals and the swagger becomes hope. The goalie’s technique breaks down as the beleaguered netminder tries harder to make big saves and the process becomes a spiral.
Jarry may well become the better goalie. He’s another real-deal kid. However, a little patience, a little work, perhaps a mental reset and, MOST IMPORTANTLY, more defensive help will have Murray on the track like a locomotive.
3. Riley Sheahan is Fine
Yes, Riley Sheahan has better offensive statistics than Nick Bonino this season and compared to Bonino’s past. Kris Letang also has a healthy point total this season. Does anyone want to say Letang has played well?
Sheahan has been solid on his side of the red line. His faceoff percentage is over 60% in the defensive zone. He has 14 points (4g, 10a) in only 35 games. On paper, Sheahan is the answer. On the ice, however, Sheahan doesn’t drive pressure, nor does he elevate his linemates in the defensive zone. Plus/Minus is hardly a be-all statistic, but even with 14 points, Sheahan has been on the ice for more goals-against.
On the fourth line, Sheahan seems to have captured something with Kuhnhackl and Reaves. In the last few games, Sheahan and his band of merry grinders have played in the offensive zone. Is Sheahan a third line center? No. However, a fourth line center who can cycle low and get the top units on the ice in the offensive zone is valuable…just not as the third line center, which the Penguins desperately need.
4. Jake Guentzel is Untouchable
Well, no. Guentzel may have captured fans hearts with a mighty offensive output last season, and a record rookie run in the playoffs, but Guentzel is a player primarily suited to score and to do so, he needs a talented center. In other words, Guentzel needs Crosby or Malkin more than they need him.
Again, toss statistics on this one. The Penguins have won the past two games without much contribution from Guentzel, who is dutifully playing pivot. Guentzel has a high value because of his production last season, but he is not irreplaceable…no matter how many jerseys fans buy.
5. The Penguins can Get By Without a Trade
Define “get by”? Sure, the Penguins will still exist, and there’s a better than 50/50 chance they make the playoffs even if they do not make a significant deal, but they will not win the Stanley Cup, as-is. The third line center position remains a gaping hole, like leaving your window open when it’s -2 degrees.
It is purely debatable if the Penguins need a trade to freshen tired legs and exhausted hearts. What isn’t debatable is the depth and talent of the Penguins competition. Compare the Penguins to the best in the Eastern Conference: The Tampa Bay Lightning and Toronto Maple Leafs. For the Penguins, the road to the Stanley Cup will go through one or both of those cities.
A solid third line pivot will allow Guentzel to play with Malkin, Crosby or even the new guy on the left side. It will allow the coaches to place Hagelin where he provides the most spark. A proper third line center will alleviate the offensive pressures on the Penguins two-headed monster AND provide insurance if one is injured.
It isn’t a question of “getting by”, it’s a question of the end game. If the Penguins want another Stanley Cup, they have to get better in relation to their competition.