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The Penguins Bottom-Six Disaster



Riley Sheahan: Photo by Michael Miller

Talent. Depth. Despite the Pittsburgh Penguins abundance of centers and roster versatility, the team has thus far not yielded a consistent third or fourth line capable of positive contributions. Except for the Penguins four-game Canadian road trip in which Matt Cullen led a successful defensive line, the Penguins bottom six could be declared a Hazmat disaster. The injury to Derick Brassard has only exacerbated a bad situation.

Note teams and players don’t pay much attention to Corsi ratings. They discuss scoring chances.

So skipping past the miserable Corsi rating for Riley Sheahan (41 percent), he is underwater in scoring chances, as well. When Sheahan is on the ice, the Penguins are getting only 46 percent of the scoring chances and 43 percent of the high danger chances.

The goal differential is much worse. With Sheahan, only 28.5 percent of the goals scored have been for the Penguins. Sheahan has just one goal and one assist. Halloween may be over, but that stat is scary.

Those are just the statistics. The eyes tell a similar story. The third and fourth lines have been a punching bag opponents have used to gain offensive advantage and goals. The abysmal play has led to shortened benches, in-game deficits and placed the full burden on the Penguins top players to carry the full offensive responsibilities.

The hope for secondary scoring has been replaced by the hope not to be in a hole. In the final days of training camp, Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan admitted he shortened the bench last season because he didn’t have confidence in those players. But he was excited by the balance and options he would have this season.

So far, the Penguins bottom lines have not delivered. They’re not creating offensive zone time, not winning enough puck battles and they’re not making life difficult for opponents.

The rest of the bottom-six crew is also in the red and Sullivan could charge a few players like Daniel Sprong an admission fee because their play has forced Sullivan to relegate them to spectators for the final 20 or 30 minutes of hockey games.

Matt Cullen has been a step forward at fourth line center but his production is still underwater. Cullen’s goal differential is 40 percent, his scoring chances are 42 percent and the high danger chances are 42.5 percent. Removing the Islanders set in which Barry Trotz exploited the Penguins line by getting Mathew Barzal and Anthony Beauvillier against Sheahan-Cullen-Patric Hornqvist, Cullen has been a significant step forward from last season and a cut above Sheahan’s work.

But the Penguins still haven’t found a fourth line combination which works.

Sprong’s development has been reduced to praising individual shifts or shot attempts. While some fans insist playing with better players would enhance Sprong’s production, his inability to handle opponents lesser competition has forced the Penguins to ice the shooter for long stretches because he has not earned trust.

Sprong’s overall play has been one reason the Penguins fourth lines are a crater. He has shown recent signs of life. Perhaps as his play improves, the Penguins bottom line’s fortunes will improve. However, as Cullen pointed out Saturday:

“We don’t have time to waste.”

There may be further signs of life on the horizon. Center-slash-left wing Derek Grant is nearly even in all of his statistical categories. His play hasn’t been physical, and he hasn’t created an offensive push, but he is yielded better results in his limited time than the rest of the crew.

Expect a lot more experimentation to find combinations which work, especially in Brassard’s absence. What has to be a strength for the Penguins has thus far proven their weakness. And without Brassard, the Penguins are struggling to ice a competitive third line, too. There will be considerable experimentation ahead with Sheahan and Cullen.

40 percent of any offensive category shouldn’t be a high point. Not on these Penguins. Not with their lofty aspirations.


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Pittsburgh Hockey Now Editor-in-Chief, formerly 93.7 The Fan, Sportsnet Hockey Tonight, NHL Home Ice. Catch Dan tweeting @theDanKingerski and the official @pghhockeynow account.

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Don Stock
Don Stock
3 years ago

Why do you continually bash Daniel Sprong? He’s not scoring,I get it. But he is hardly the main cause of the Penguins woes. With the limited ice time he gets, and playing with basically defensive minded players, it’s unreasonable to expect him to light it up.I think he could be an offensive talent if used the right way. I seehim working hard and getting in good scoring positions, but his linemates rarely get him the puck.Hes on the team to score goals not be a checker.

3 years ago

I have bashed Sprong but he has made improvements as the season has progressed.

My issue or concern is Brassard, he seems to be injured or not playing well because he is injured, so far that is what has kept the bottom 6 in a state of funk.

The trade for Brassard so far not working, he has to get on the ice and play for an extended period of the season to fully evaluate.

3 years ago
Reply to  Dan Kingerski

Thanks Dan, and by the way I enjoy the Pittsburgh Hockey Now info. I live in Florida and the staff really keeps out of town Pens fans in the loop.

Dean Yellets
Dean Yellets
3 years ago

Numbers are great, however determining what they mean may be far more difficult. Because a more talented player “Sheehan” has a worse statistics then a less talented player “Grant” in the short term does not mean that Grant is better the Sheehan or Sprong for that fact. If you watched the games, Grant is like playing with an anchor. When the pens control the puck in the defensive end he has no speed to create offense. By time Grant get’s to our blue line, Sprong is often at the other teams blue line. This is not ideal for controlling the… Read more »

Nathan Yep
Nathan Yep
3 years ago
Reply to  Dean Yellets

Grant may not be the fastest centerman, but he gets the job done. He’s had a few looks and I don’t think it will be long for him to get his first as a Penguin. I think that once Brassard gets back into the lineup, Sullivan can try moving Grant to the wing and play with either Malkin or Crosby. Like I said earlier, he’s not the fastest or the most skilled, but I’ve seen how he played for the Heat and how he held the title of “AHL’s leading scorer” for a short time. I think it’s worth a… Read more »

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