The Pittsburgh Penguins and the rest of the Metro Division keep winning. Despite the Penguins surge and stack of wins over the past few weeks, they still trail the Washington Capitals by one, two or three points pending what they do with their game in hand tonight against the Nashville Predators.
Everyone has been asking IF the Penguins are playoff ready. That answer is a simple–yes. They’ve physically controlled the Nashville Predators, survived a good offensive push by the Dallas Stars, and even handily beat the Washington Capitals in their recent stretch. They’ve done it with consistently good hockey–honest hockey. So put that question to bed.
Where is Kris Letang?
The Penguins defenseman finished the game against Dallas last Saturday. He played nearly 25 minutes but has not been on the ice since. Head coach Mike Sullivan termed Letang day-to-day, but the injury has become mysterious. Sullivan’s refusal to elaborate didn’t help the mystery factor.
This is another example of a Penguins player finishing a game only to be out for a week or more afterward. Malkin has done it twice, too. Letang has not yet resumed skating, which should be somewhat worrisome for the Penguins. He was termed day-to-day after the Stadium Series game injury and missed 11 games.
I’ve not heard a whisper regarding his status. We’ve tried to ferret any info, but it’s not forthcoming. The Penguins did stack wins in Letang’s absence, but he certainly makes it a lot easier.
UPDATE: Head coach Mike Sullivan announced Friday morning that Letang skated on his own Friday morning. Players often skate with Penguins skills coach Ty Hennes when they are closer to returning.
Brian Dumoulin on the Right?
In Letang’s absence, Brian Dumoulin scooched over to the right side to pair with Olli Maatta. I’m not sure what to make of this. Maatta is one of the Penguins best six defensemen but will he and Dumoulin form one of the best three pairs with Dumoulin on his backhand?
Jack Johnson did yeoman’s work on the right side, but the puck movement greatly suffered.
This move seems to be necessary if Letang is not really “day to day”. Let’s see how it plays out, but count me as curious if the pairing will be better than Dumoulin-Zach Trotman. And the Penguins coaches should have the courage to pull the plug on Maatta-Dumoulin if it is not better than Dumoulin-Trotman.
In retrospect, we should have seen this move coming. It’s entirely “in the box” to replace the least ranking defenseman with Maatta and diminish the Left-Right dynamic.
Teddy Blueger vs. Dominik Simon
It’s coming. Poor Simon, he was vilified for taking ice away from Daniel Sprong and the coaches could be forced to choose between Blueger and Simon when Evgeni Malkin returns. Simon will immediately become an enemy of the fanbase. Every puck bounce, misstep or mistake whether it be real or imagined, will set Twitter ablaze if Simon plays ahead of Blueger. Pens fans are perfecting this scapegoat thing.
In Blueger’s favor, he’s been a very good penalty killer and been solid in the middle. In Simon’s favor, he is a better winger than Blueger.
Before you scream–“Simon can’t finish,” put Simon in context. He spikes the third line scoring chances and his 27 points are on-par with the contributions of Carl Hagelin. Yes, really. It’s funny how perception changes things.
Blueger has earned playing time in the middle, but I can’t figure out how the Penguins could make that work. Cullen to LW?
BTW–to advocate for Blueger, it isn’t necessary to bag everyone else. Just a heads up.
A Western Conference opponent in the final five games…on a Friday night. Saturday night off. Good grief. March should be exclusively divisional play or at least conference play.
Sportsnet has been trumpeting the NHLPA’s unhappiness with the current playoff format. Tough nuggies. Seeing Pittsburgh and Washington on a collision course and knowing Boston and Toronto will have to go through each other is like hot fudge on a sundae; it’s awesome, and without it, you merely have vanilla ice cream with some fake PR sprinkles.
Regular season scheduling should also focus on the immediate rivalries to begin and end the season (and take 10 games away while you’re at it).
Time to Give Matt Murray Credit
Since December 15 when he returned from his injury/reset, Murray has been a wall. Get these numbers: .942 save percentage. A 1.93 goals against average. A 3.02 goals saved above average; Murray has been in the negative of that category since the beginning of last season. An .876 save percentage against high-danger chances, which is remarkable.
Yes, Murray has whiffed on a couple of game-changing softies but if you focus on those, you’ll miss a goaltender who has recaptured his championship form. And those softies aren’t likely to continue.
Stats according to NaturalStatTrick.com