If there’s one thing we’ve learned after so many years of standing by, watching the Pittsburgh Penguins disappoint so often in the second half of Ray Shero’s tenure, it’s that organizational depth is crucial to winning championships.
General manager Jim Rutherford gets it and has built arguably the deepest team in the NHL.
In Game 2, Monday night, Pittsburgh found themselves shorthanded at forward once again after Bryan Rust was injured by Senators’ defenseman Dion Phaneuf. Normally, as lines are shuffled to accommodate for the loss of a top six forward, the bottom six suffers. In this case, though, Pittsburgh’s bottom six continued to find success, especially their fourth line which remained unchanged. Head coach Mike Sullivan was smart in not tinkering with that group too much, outside of double shifting Sidney Crosby a few times in place of Matt Cullen.
In the midst of so many injury issues, the Penguins may have stumbled upon a bottom trio that could make a major impact in this series.
Scott Wilson Leading the Way
Wilson, following the Penguins’ 1-0 victory over the Senators on Monday night to tie the series at one game each, admitted to taking an entire shift without once looking for the puck. He was looking for hits and added that if they planned to hit Pittsburgh’s forwards, he’d return the favor. His team appreciated it and expressed their gratitude.
Just saw Scott Wilson awarded the helmet—yeah, that fits. Dude has been a 4th line monster in the playoffs.
Physical, fast, fun to watch
— Dan Kingerski (@Budmoonshine) May 16, 2017
“I don’t know if I was even looking at the puck out there that shift. That was pretty fun,” said Wilson, regarding the shift in which he tallied four hits.
Wilson finished the contest with a team-leading 10 hits.
Normally, high hit numbers are indicative of the other team having the puck too much but not in this case. It was a perfect approach to what the Senators were trying to accomplish. Wilson also added that to beat Ottawa’s dreaded trap, you have to attack them with speed. His line did exactly that and it’s reflected in the numbers.
According to NaturalStatTrick.Com, the trio of Cullen, Wilson, and Carter Rowney accounted for 77-percent of all shot attempts in their approximately eight minutes of ice time together. They also generated four scoring chances, while only allowing one against. And maybe most impressive, they accomplished all of that while only taking one offensive zone faceoff, as opposed to seven between the defensive and neutral zones. When your fourth line is mucking and grinding their way to those types of results, it creates a situation where the opposition has to account for them specifically, which likely means better matchups for your top lines.
Basically, it’s the epitome of what you want from your fourth line.
Rowney — a 27-year old who played his first NHL game with the Penguins this season — has ventured between the AHL and ECHL for the last four years, spending time with both the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins and Wheeling Nailers, respectively. All of a sudden, he’s playing in an Eastern Conference Final with the defending Stanley Cup Champions and doesn’t look even the least bit out of place.
It would be a crime to overlook his contributions.
Rowney tallied three goals and seven total points through 27 regular season games with Pittsburgh. He hasn’t scored in these playoffs yet, but he’s been very effective in a fourth-line role and as a penalty killer throughout his nine games played. Too often, teams fill these roles with individuals that prove to be liabilities. Rowney is proving to be just opposite, and he was a large part of this line’s success in Game 2 with his seven total hits — second on the team — and responsible play at both ends of the ice. If this trio continues to pressure the Senators and generates offensive zone time like they did on Monday night, the Senators will be in trouble.
Rowney, as well as Wilson, mentioned wearing down the Senators in their postgame comments on Monday night. They’ll look to do the same when these teams face off on Wednesday night at the Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa.