My sincere thanks to everyone who contributed, on Twitter and elsewhere, to getting this mailbag off the ground. Some of the questions were submitted before the Pittsburgh Penguins’ 7-4 victory in Game 3 Saturday night and might have been phrased differently if they’d been sent in after it, but they still raised issues that are worth discussing.
This is the inaugural installment of an occasional feature in which I will answer questions and discuss observations offered by our readers.
Let’s get started.
Here’s one. How do the penguins get the second, or even the third line going? It won’t matter if I play goalie if they only have one line scoring.
— Chuck Bengele (@ChuckBengele) May 7, 2022
A: You absolutely are correct about that. One line, no matter how productive, can’t be expected to carry a team very far in the playoffs. That’s why it had to be so encouraging for the Penguins that six of their goals in Game 3 came from Evan Rodrigues (2), Jeff Carter (2), Brock McGinn and, of course, Danton Heinen, who got the game-winner in the third period.
Of course, the Penguins aren’t going to get a half-dozen goals from outside of the Guentzel-Crosby-Rust line on a regular basis, but it’s critical that there be some balance in the offense.
Q: A big decline in the Penguins PK towards the end of the regular season. Do you think the loss of Zach Aston-Reese is the reason? — Dave, Elizabeth Township
A: I think that was a significant factor in it. Aston-Reese had some trouble scoring goals — a lot of trouble, actually — but he was a solid defensive forward and was especially adept at killing penalties. There were other factors at play — Teddy Blueger still hasn’t consistently shown the form he did before his jaw was broken, and the penalty-killers’ general attention to detail was subpar for much of the stretch drive — but having Aston-Reese removed from the shorthanded mix definitely affected the group’s effectiveness.
Q: Hi Dave, Hope you are well. Do you think the Penguins are better off bringing up some younger fresh legs and resting Brian Boyle and Jeff Carter or does the experience and leadership they both bring help the team more? I’m on the fence because it’s still early in the series. — Brad, Hendersonville
A: Had it been my call, I would have dressed Drew O’Connor and sat Boyle Saturday because Boyle looked especially slow at times during the games in Madison Square Garden, but he bounced back with a solid showing in Game 3 and played a significant part in the penalty-killing that kept New York from taking the lead after the Rangers had tied it, 4-4.
Carter had another lackluster showing Saturday, despite scoring two goals, but even if he hadn’t, I still wouldn’t be inclined to sit him because the Penguins don’t have a spare center with the potential to generate the offense they can get from Carter.
The risk you run with young guys is that they will be overwhelmed by the moment or the stage on which they find themselves during the Stanley Cup playoffs if it’s not something they’ve experienced previously. Some young players thrive in that environment, but others don’t, and you sometimes don’t know which group a guy belongs to until he’s put into that setting.
Q: My husband and I have always appreciated your writing style from back when the Penguins wore the blue colors. I know that being in the press box way up high has its advantages. Such as seeing the plays develop better. But I like to sit down lower and get to feel the action better. I’m curious, when was the last time you sat in the lower bowl, and which do you prefer? — Mary, Bridgeville
A: I honestly couldn’t tell you the last time I sat in the lower bowl at a game; it’s been years, if not decades. Being that close to the ice gives you a real appreciation for how quickly things happen out there — Mike Lange is right. You really do have to be there to believe it — but I’ve always been partial to being a bit removed from the playing surface because I like to see how plays develop.
For example, in the pre-balcony days at the Civic Arena, I generally would stand at the top of Section C-16, which was in an end zone. (That would translate, roughly, to the top of the lower bowl in a contemporary building.) My perch there let me see what was happening and why, all over the ice, and probably helped to develop the approach I’ve taken to watching games since I began covering the Penguins in (good Lord) 1983.
How is the Angello hit on Motte interference and the Reaves hit(s) on Marino not? “Vulnerable position” is a cop-out. Is it just because refs are conditioned to seeing so few Pens who finish checks that when one does it MUST be a penalty?
— Il’ja Rákoš (@vchorashniy) May 7, 2022
A: The hit being referred to here occurred in the third period of the Rangers’ 3-0 victory against the Penguins April 8, when Anthony Angello hit New York’s Tyler Motte, who is about seven inches shorter than Angello and was slightly bent over and reaching for the puck at the time of contact. Angello hit him from the blindside and was assessed an interference minor, even though Motte had had the puck right before the hit.
While I got a chuckle out of your suggestion that referees figured it must be a penalty if a Pittsburgh Penguins player delivered a check, I really do sympathize with the job officials have to do. They’re trying to keep track of (usually) 10 skaters who can be all over a 200×85 sheet of ice, including some guys who are looking for an opportunity to violate a rule if they think the ref isn’t looking their way.
That said, the lack of consistency with which the rulebook is enforced can be exasperating for coaches, players and fans alike. Refereeing a hockey game is not a job I would want for a variety of reasons, and I respect those who take on the challenges of doing so, but it would be nice if we all knew what we could expect from the officials in a given game.
Q: Good day, Dave, and congratulations on the new gig. I want to see Nathan Beaulieu in the lineup thumping Ranger bodies and clearing the crease. But maybe that’s too risky at this point. What do you think? — Bill, Heidelberg
A: I completely understand the desire of some fans to add Beaulieu to the lineup because of the physical element in his game, which is something conspicuously absent from most of his colleagues on the Penguins’ blue line.
However, Beaulieu is a third-pairing guy who is coming off a significant injury, hasn’t appeared in a game in two months, and is with a new team, playing in a new system. Expecting him to step into the lineup in the middle of a playoff series and make a meaningful contribution might be a bit much.
That doesn’t mean Beaulieu couldn’t do it, but I don’t think it would be realistic to count on it.
Q: Do you think Shesterkin’s youth and arrogance can be used against him? I’d like to see the Penguins get in his face more to get him off his game. — Tammy, Upper St. Clair
A: Well, the Pittsburgh Penguins proved Saturday night that they can get to Shesterkin, who was pulled after allowing four goals in the first period. He looked to be off his game for most of the time before Alexander Georgiev replaced him, but the Penguins shouldn’t count on that happening again in Game 4. Or for the rest of the series, for that matter.
Shesterkin, after all, had a sensational regular season and is a favorite to win the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s top goalie. However, if the Penguins can get to him early in Game 4, they might be able to compound any self-doubt that was planted by his leaky performance Saturday.
Sid has always said that he doesn’t want to leave Pittsburgh. But if Letang and Malkin leave this summer do you think that impacts Sid’s desire to stay with the Pens for the remainder of his career?
— Luke (@missing_hockey) May 7, 2022
A: I think Crosby, who has a great understanding of — and respect for — hockey history, appreciates the significance of a player spending his entire career with one team, as Mario Lemieux did.
Crosby undoubtedly will miss Letang and/or Malkin if either moves on via free agency — hey, those guys have been teammates for 16 years and have accomplished an awful lot together — but he also understands the economic realities of the salary-cap era, and that roster turnover is inevitable after every season.
The bottom line is that I will be stunned — at the very least — if Crosby ever pulls on the sweater of an NHL club other than the one for which he has played since 2005.
Q: Jeff Carter was great in the playoffs last year and seems to be a bit slow right now. Do you think playoff Jeff Carter will be showing up soon? — Louise, Michigan
A: The Penguins’ chances of making it to the second round will be a whole lot better if he does. It might be a bit much to rely on Carter being a difference-maker in the series, but his history says he’s capable of contributing all over the ice and on both special teams.
Sullivan prefers finesse. Hextall prefers grit. How are the philosophical differences between sullivan and hextall likely to play out given the change in ownership?
— Ben (@wasawbee) May 7, 2022
A: I don’t expect the change in ownership to have any impact on the Pittsburgh Penguins’ offseason personnel decisions — it’s already been made clear that Hextall will have clearance to spend to the salary-cap ceiling — and it would be foolish for Hextall to bring in any player Sullivan wouldn’t feel comfortable using. (To wit, Ryan Reaves.)
It is imperative that a coach have players who can execute his system, whatever it might be, effectively. If the GM doesn’t like the kind of game his coach plays, he should get a new coach.