The Pittsburgh Penguins lineup looks significantly different Sunday than it did Saturday morning. And could look different on Monday, too. The Penguins suddenly have some money to spend and needs in their lineup.
The team traded away Phil Kessel and his internal issues but did lose Phil Kessel’s production. There is a real chance the Penguins can improve without Kessel in the top-six. They did so in 2017-18 when Carl Hagelin and Patric Hornqvist saddled Evgeni Malkin. Hornqvist could again ride on Malkin’s right, and the Penguins will spend a month or two finding the right combinations.
First, we’ll layout potential lines (Yes, the lines will change and change often. The Penguins use duos, not trios. So we will see Simon or Kahun in and out of the top-six).
They are fast, there are some big bodies and grittiness. However, the Penguins are short on scoring. Any combination of Kahun, Simon, Rust, Aston-Reese, and Hornqvist on the right side is short of offense. Way short.
However, the Penguins left wings could be a strength. So much depends on Galchenyuk. He scored 19 goals last season but was a defensive liability (out of the frying pan into the fryer?). Much of the Penguins top-six now depends on Galchenyuk and that shouldn’t make the Penguins comfortable. A 19-goal winger who doesn’t play defense could be a better third liner.
McCann had a career-year on the offensive sheet and also popped 19 goals between Florida and the Penguins. Perhaps McCann boots Guentzel to the right wing so the Penguins can have McCann-Crosby-Guentzel. Or McCann takes the left wing with Malkin to provide the speed and puck retrieval like Carl Hagelin once specialized.
The lack of speed game on the second line is an interesting contrast to the remainder of the lineup, too. Perhaps Rust will slide up to the second line right side to provide that “touch to play against” speed element and Hornqvist will resume his chemistry with Bjugstad.
The Bjugstad-Hornqvist combination, especially with Simon was very good last season. Very, very good, even if they didn’t convert a proportional number of chances. With a healthy and reset Hornqvist, that last sentence could be a small footnote.
A healthy Aston-Reese could also be a big change for the Penguins. He showed well with Malkin last season and could slide up and down the lineup…if he’s healthy.
Last season, the Penguins had only two negative Corsi players in their lineup and Kessel is gone. Evgeni Malkin is not a great Corsi player but last season was an aberration. Surrounding Malkin with players who buy-in should do wonders.
If the Penguins are able to roll four lines with some cohesion, which they have not been able to do since 2017, they can mitigate their lack of scoring with an abundance of chances and suppression. The Penguins defense, as it currently sits, had a strong run from the trade deadline through the end of the regular season.
However, the Penguins defense doesn’t have much offensive pop, so it will be up to the Penguins forwards to maintain puck control and responsibility.
Two Penguins lines rolled in the 57% Corsi range, except the second line with Malkin-Kessel, and the fourth line with Matt Cullen which often covered the opponent’s top line. If the Penguins can have three lines rolling in the mid-50s, not only will we see the Penguins win a lot of games, but Matt Murray will post a .925+ save percentage.
Of course, Monday everything could change, too.