A clogged trade market, little to no salary cap space, and a couple of free-agent signings later, the Pittsburgh Penguins are coming into view. So, too, are the Penguins’ most fierce rivals in the Metro Division, so we can also begin to compare the Penguins to make projections and predictions.
As-is, the Penguins are going to be a wild team. Mark Jankowski figures to be given more than a fair shake to be the Penguins third-line center, despite scoring just seven points last season. However, the earlier offseason Penguins trade for speedy winger Kasperi Kapanen could make the top Penguins lines a juggernaut, or at least that’s the hope from GM Jim Rutherford.
Head coach Mike Sullivan got more than a little nudge from the organization when all three assistant coaches were fired (technically, not-renewed) after the season. He also might need a dose of stress medication as the Penguins constituted might score a lot of goals from the top two lines and have real trouble preventing goals.
Rutherford set about ticking all of the boxes, but their Stanley Cup odds are currently 19-1. Washington is 18-1. Philadelphia is 18-1, too.
Penguins Lines vs. Washington Capitals:
By the way–the salary cap info, updated daily news, and the Penguins lines can all be found on the PuckPedia.com team page. If we compare top lines and top pairs, the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals should have another brawl at the top of the division. We may argue for a slight readjustment of the lines, but the Penguins’ top-end talent is clear.
Washington adding Justin Schultz to their top-four defensemen … we’ll leave that to Penguins fans to judge, for now.
We love the Washington second line. It’s an absolute killer with Oshie and Vrana on the wings.
The Penguins top line ranks seventh against all other NHL top lines, and the Malkin line ranks fourth. Perhaps it is a statistical anomaly, or perhaps the Washington second line saves their best for big situations and the Penguins, but the Backstrom line is ranked only 11th, league-wide. The top line is ranked 16th
So, over the course of an 82 game schedule, or 52 if the Coronavirus shoves off the start until February, the Penguins top lines have an edge. However, head to head, we’ll take a full seven-game series, please, and thanks.
The Washington top pairs do not rank well, either. According to the Corsica Hockey player rankings, the top pair ranks only 20th, and the new second-pair is 23rd. In contrast, the Penguins top-four ranks 11th and 11th, respectively.
On the top end, the Penguins have a clear statistical advantage. Perhaps the entire Metro Division will be a shootout next season?
However, the Washington advantage is clear in the bottom six. The Washington third line, centered by Lars Eller with old-friend Carl Hagelin and Richard Panik, is the fourth-ranked third line in the NHL. The fourth line is ranked fourth.
The Penguins’ bottom-six lines are ranked 22nd and 19th, respectively.
That is a massive difference. Should Jankowski rebound to his rookie form, the Penguins will close that gap, but that is an “If” the Washington Capitals do not have.
Advantage: Washington Capitals
Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Philadelphia Flyers
PHN continues to downplay Philadelphia’s actual chances. However, according to the statistics, perhaps we should begin to take Philadelphia more seriously as a contender. Carter Hart is clearly close to becoming an elite goalie, which helps, too.
Each Flyers line ranks in the top 10. The top line is ranked fourth. The second line, centered by Kevin Hayes, is ranked 10th.
On paper and the ice, the Penguins’ top lines have a legit advantage over Philadelphia. The Penguins explosive offensive potential supersedes both the Philadelphia offensive pop and the second line’s defensive capability.
The defenses are similarly ranked, as Philadelphia’s top two pairings are 17th and 12th.
The Flyers bottom-six also rates very well. According to Corsica, despite Morgan Frost being penciled in as the third-line center, the Flyers third line ranks first in the NHL. Frost was the Philadelphia 2017 first-round pick (27th overall), but his NHL career hasn’t yet taken off.
Third line wingers James van Riemsdyk and Joel Farabee give the orange and black real punch, though. The Philadelphia fourth line with Michael Raffl – Scott Laughton — Nicolas Aube-Kubel ranks fifth. The line has a little jam, a little grit, and a little scoring touch.
Overall, the deeper teams will give the Penguins issues until Jankowski solidifies the line, or Jared McCann is forced back into the role. The Capitals, Flyers, and Penguins finished 1-2-3 in the Metro last season. They again appear to be the better team in the Metro, though the New York Rangers are gaining quickly.
All three teams atop the Metro have a top-six with aging players and career twilights approaching. This season could be the next to last year of the familiar dominance. The Pittsburgh Penguins rank well and match up well at the top, but the other teams have massive advantages at the bottom.
Fortunately, free agency and the offseason aren’t over.