PHN Blog: Next Penguins GM Task Becomes Clear
LAS VEGAS — The Pittsburgh Penguins are simultaneously light-years from being a Stanley Cup contender and not that far.
And in the Hubble telescope view of the Stanley Cup from which the Penguins are currently viewing it, the next Penguins GM has a clear task.
Depth speed. Depth speed. And more speed.
And some of it must have some size.
Sidenote #1: Don’t be surprised if the Penguins ownership takes a run at Toronto Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas. Even hockey circles are talking about the possibility.
In March, coach Mike Sullivan said the game is evolving into “more of a puck pursuit game.” Except for Florida, the dominant teams emerging in Round Two have impressive forechecks built on speed but also size and the ability to finish on the rush when the game turns in their favor.
The Vegas Golden Knights and Carolina are the templates. The Seattle Kraken aren’t far behind, either.
And the Penguins have some of those pieces to begin construction, perhaps with Ryan Poehling and Drew O’Connor on the fourth line.
None of the above playoff teams are led by superstar centers. Jack Eichel (Vegas) and Sebastian Aho (Carolina) are legitimate top-liners, but they’re not the types that dominate games. The Carolina Hurricanes are looking like the beast of the East and their style is puck possession created by blanketing forecheck.
Vegas has incredible depth, and their style also feeds sustained pressure.
“Look at (Chandler )Stephenson’s goal. We got (Edmonton) in the middle of a change. You hem them in,” Vegas coach Bruce Cassidy said Friday. “That’s the game we’re talking about. Now, it looks like a rush chance, but at the end of the day, it’s usually about good O-zone pressure. Put them on their heels a little bit.”
A new Pittsburgh Penguins GM will have to balance the analytics, which show the Penguins should have scored a lot more goals with the fact they didn’t
The new Penguins GM will also have to address one of the most prominent reasons the Penguins missed the playoffs was a near season-long trend of bad third periods. The team had the third most lost leads in the NHL (22), according to MoreHockeyStats.com, and nine of those were lost in the third period.
The Penguins’ lack of depth, combined with an inability to get on the forecheck to reverse momentum, created rippling effects. A defensive line should shine in those situations, but instead, the spotlight shined on the Penguins’ deficiency.
Carolina is impressive because once they get the puck, they don’t give it back. They have speed throughout their lineup. Vegas has a heavy bottom-six that can skate. They’re defensively responsible and chip in goals (Cassidy dropped Stephenson and Mark Stone to the third line for increased offensive balance and defensive prowess).
Mike Sullivan doesn’t have such tools or luxuries. The Penguins were similar to the Edmonton Oilers; all the talent was concentrated amongst a few players.
“A lot of lines that are good puck possession lines don’t necessarily score. They don’t have top-end finishers. It’s hard to put them all on one line,” said Cassidy. “…If they can wear the other team down, leave (the puck) in a good place for the next line going over the boards, that’s a win for us.”
The Penguins didn’t have many of those “wins” in their bottom six until late in the year. Nor were the bottom lines defensively superior.
However, here’s an advanced stat that made me look three times: Mikael Granlund had an expected goals-for rate of 57.5% (xGF). I’m not sure how to integrate that into anything.
Another common theme amongst the still-active teams above is the lack of an elite goalie. As Cassidy noted Friday, “You look at the guy in Jersey (Akira Schmid). I don’t know what his history is, he’s carried them into the second round. Now you’ve got (Stuart) Skinner, (Laurent) Brossoit,” said Cassidy. “It might be that year … some of the top names, (Andrei) Vasileskiy, (Ilya) Shesterkin, (Linus) Ullmark had a great year; they’re not around.”
Depth goalies, unheralded netminders, and otherwise average tendys fill Round Two, with the probable exception of Dallas Stars goalie Jake Oettinger.
Sidenote #2: The hockey explanations from Cassidy are incredible. He talks about Xs and Os, coaching tactics, and the game more than any other coach in the league. He spoke for 15 minutes after Game 1 and didn’t hide his tactical strategy for Connor McDavid. He even talked about what he expected Edmonton coach Jay Woodcroft to do.
And so, the next Penguins GM must evaluate the Penguins “shoulda scored,” against their lack of scoring, and one area that must be heavily and immediately addressed is the depth speed. Getting on the forecheck, getting the puck, and passing off the momentum to Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin would significantly elevate the Penguins immediately.
There are more areas to address, such as the net-front presence on both ends of the rink or a better blue line, but returning to a speedy forecheck throughout the lineup would cover a lot of ills.