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Penguins One-Timers: Malkin, Rust, Where Does Rakell Fit?

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Pittsburgh Penguins, Rickard Rakell

The hours and days following an unimportant Pittsburgh Penguins loss have the same buzzing fan activity as a morgue or a Tuesday Pirates game in April. After an impressive run of five wins in their last six games, outshooting and outchancing various opponents, the Penguins looked lifeless. They never found their spark in a 4-3 shootout loss to the Buffalo Sabres at KeyBank Arena.

A better team than Buffalo probably would have run the Penguins out of the arena.

“I mean, you don’t want to use it as any sort of excuse, but I think playing back to backs is never easy. I mean, you have to give them credit, too,” Penguins defenseman Mike Matheson said.

Fair enough. Buffalo didn’t offer enough to get the Penguins dander up, and in the second of a back-to-back…it happens.

But in the process of the SO loss to Buffalo and the last six games, we’ve learned a good bit about what the Pittsburgh Penguins could look like after the final regular-season game, April 29, and the prospect might start to excite Penguins fans.

Even the most ardently unhappy, pessimistic commenters on this website were glowing after the Penguins dispatched the Columbus Blue Jackets 5-1 on Tuesday night.

The Penguins high-intensity puck pressure game, and linear attack are back, but this time with most of their players healthy.

Before we dive into it, I sympathize with all fans who exclusively watch games on television and watched that TNT broadcast on Wednesday. I caught the intermissions for the first time since October, and…that intermission yuk-yuk routine was nothing less than a disservice to hockey. The studio show includes great players and hockey people. The network must let them talk hockey.

My blood boils when hockey is treated as a sideshow, and network execs try to draw casual fans by avoiding actual hockey talk. You’ve got Rick Tocchet and Anson Carter at the desk. Both are very good at talking hockey to the betterment of the audience. Let them do their thing.

You don’t get that nonsense on Hockey Night in Canada.

–30–

3 Pittsburgh Penguins One-Timers:

1. Rickard Rakell on Crosby’s Right Wing

I floated the idea when he was acquired and did so again Wednesday morning. It’s possible. He’s a right-handed winger and comfortable playing on the left or right. However, Evgeni Malkin is left-handed. That means on the rush, Malkin would feed Rakell one-timer chances with backhand passes.

That’s not terrible, but not ideal.

“I would say I’m really comfortable playing both sides. I actually played left wing for the most part of my years in Anaheim, so I’m fine either way,” Rakell said Tuesday night.

Rickard Rakell, 28, played about seven minutes beside Crosby on Wednesday. It was a significant bump over the line with Evan Rodrigues, though they didn’t score.

“I thought (Rakell) was pretty good. In a lot of ways, I anticipated this one being a tougher one for him than (Tuesday). When you think about it, he’s traveling across the continent. He’s on the red-eye and didn’t get much sleep last night. He’s playing on adrenaline (Tuesday)…,” Sullivan conceded.

“I thought he competed hard. You know, we had some good shifts with Sid’s line. We tried him up there a handful of times. I moved him around to see where he might fit…”

Letting Malkin keep Bryan Rust adds much to the Malkin line. Crosby is naturally a puck devil. He fights for every puck and is one of the best gritty wall workers in the business. Rust adds that dimension to Malkin’s line and adds a healthy dose of offense.

Rakell’s skill with Crosby, while Rust adds dimensions to the Malkin line, might be the best balance.

Imagine this top-nine:

Guentzel-Crosby-Rakell

Zucker-Malkin-Rust

Heinen-Carter-Kapanen

Not bad, eh? Here’s the final verdict: head coach Mike Sullivan has time to figure out who has chemistry and let the players decide where they fit.

2. Malkin, Rakell, Matheson, and Beating Carolina

We’ll dive much deeper into this topic over the coming weeks.

It took nearly two months, but Evgeni Malkin is finally on his game, Wednesday night not included. Malkin is playing a strong, straightforward game. He’s attacking pucks on the forecheck, battling for space, and creating space with his skill and speed, as only he can.

Rakell, as noted above, creates an incredibly deep Penguins lineup.

In losing two of three games to the Carolina Hurricanes over the past month, the Penguins showed they were just a little behind Carolina. Sebastian Aho showed he could neutralize Sidney Crosby, thus making the top-line battles a wash.

That puts Malkin against Vincent Trocheck and Jeff Carter against Jordan Staal.

Carolina had the edge.

Now, I think the Penguins have the edge.

I also think the Penguins have the better goalie, Tristan Jarry.

And Mike Matheson playing his best hockey of the season shrinks the gap between the production of the very active Carolina defensemen and the Penguins defensemen.

Perhaps the Washington Capitals will catch the New York Rangers for third place, as Washington is a far better matchup for the Penguins (soft goaltending, less productive bottom-six). If the Pittsburgh Penguins draw the New York Rangers in Round One, Igor Shesterkin looms large, just as Carey Price did in the 2020 bubble.

Should the Penguins get to Round Two and get Carolina, they will be an equal. I didn’t think that was the case before the deadline.

That opinion is based on extrapolating the next 16 games. I reserve the right to upgrade or downgrade the Penguins’ chances.

3. Farewell ZAR & Simon

Hextall and Sullivan said thank you, too.

Both served the Pittsburgh Penguins well for the last handful of years. Simon was the constant goat for fans. And putting Simon into the lineup meant that Mike Sullivan was somehow oblivious.

Just as when (trigger warning) Jack Johnson found work elsewhere, I’m a little happy for the player not to put up with the stubborn social media criticism. Simon was on a two-way, $750,000 contract. He was making the minimum.

Be very confident, Sullivan put Simon in the lineup because Simon created offensive chances, puck possession and did everything but finish. Hey, not every player will score 20. Simon made the Penguins a better team when he was on the ice. It was that simple. No coach’s agenda.

Here’s a previously untold story of Zach Aston-Reese.

Last week, he talked about Brian Boyle and how tough Boyle is on the ice. However, Zach put a couple of words together that made sense in a hockey context but were also a pretty damned funny double entendre.

He winced immediately. In the small Penguins media room at the UPMC Lemieux Complex, a few of us tried to avoid laughing. I’m not sure if we made him lose it or if he made us lose it, but we were all laughing within a few seconds.

It was yet another self-effacing, enjoyable moment with Aston-Reese and, as it turned out, our last. I maintain he has 10-15 goal ability but gets tunnel vision and occassionally doubts that he has that much to give. To him, sometimes, he’s still the undrafted kid from Northeastern.

Perhaps Anaheim will push him to the next level. I hope so.

Fare thee well, boys. Enjoy SoCal.

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Chris R
Chris R
1 month ago

Thanks…it’s good to hear some positive comments about Simon and ZAR rather than the usual disparaging ones.

Robert Shoemaker
Robert Shoemaker
1 month ago

Dan, is there video of the ZAR slip up? You can’t tease us and not share what he said!

Robert Shoemaker
Robert Shoemaker
1 month ago
Reply to  Dan Kingerski

Dang, i love a good double entendre. I respect your decision.

Robert Shoemaker
Robert Shoemaker
1 month ago

I liked ZAR too, he led the team in hits, did he not? I have a feeling that his offensive output may increase in Anaheim. Simon was ok, i didn’t mind him like others did. For me, he was lineup filler, but good lineup filler. If he were a bigger player people would have loved him.

Paul
Paul
1 month ago

No need to overthink this one. Rust on Line One, Great chemistry. Plus, it’s what Crosby prefers.Rakell on Line Two with Kapaenen (for now). Rakell is at his best/most comfortable at the left side. As a newbie, give him the best chance to succeed. Have to find out whether Kap is all in for the playoffs. Zucker-Carter-Rodrigues has the potential to be a sneaky-good third line, which will have added importance in the playoffs.

Last edited 1 month ago by Paul
Katz
Katz
1 month ago

I would like to see O’Connor on the 4th line to give Boyle a rest for the playoffs. Boyle will be needed rested and healthy. Also it’s fine to try Rakell with a Malkin , it was time on day one. Agree ZAR has more to give, it’s a confidence issue just needed to have a Coach tell him to be uninhibited , hit with intent and shoot like Montgomery Brewster has to spend money. Sullivan runs a very tight ship , ZAR is a player who needs a free and easy Coach to allow him to try creativity and… Read more »

Last edited 1 month ago by Katz
Jason.C
Jason.C
1 month ago

When the pens are fully healthy I’d go:

Guentzel-Crosby-Rust
Rakell-Malkin-McGinn
Kapanen-Carter-Zucker
Boyle-Blueger-Zohorna
Sub O’Connor for Boyle at some games extras Rodriguez Heinen

Defense
Mathesson-Letang
Dumoulin-Marino
💪 Beaulieu-Friedman
xtra Petterson

Imagine that Dan!

Last edited 1 month ago by JcNorthStar
Kris
Kris
1 month ago
Reply to  Jason.C

Putting zOhorna in the line-up over any of the other players immediately cancels any hockey knowledge you might have expressed. Dude is a human pylon. If he’s playing with a healthy line-up, we are doomed and I would question Sullivan’s mental state.

Uros
Uros
1 month ago

Well then you’ve missed the important part of the intermission. Boyle can still dunk.

Zane Gearhart
Zane Gearhart
1 month ago

I’d like them to try zucker on the 1st with sid and Jake. Then have rakell on 2LW with geno and rust. Zucker played with Sid the year he was first traded to us, and in my opinion that was the best he has played. It’s worth a try

bbh
bbh
1 month ago
Reply to  Zane Gearhart

it’s not so much an opinion, as fact. Zucker scored 12 points in 13 games with Sid. Then the covid shutdown happened. that allowed Jake to get healthy but Jake hadn’t played with Sid in almost a full year at that point. Sid was hurt early in the year and Jake tore it up with Malkin. So when the playoff bubble started and Sid-Jake Geno-Zucker were not working, the adjustment seemed obvious… Healthy scratch Jarred McCann. Zucker has been a “bum” and GMJR a “fool” for trading for him ever since. *SMH* at this point splitting Sid and Jake would… Read more »

Mike
Mike
1 month ago

I agree whole heartly. TNT coverage is terrible. That Darren Pange he hates pittsburgh he did not say too many good things about the Pens. As for the intermission goes. If I were Gretzy I’d be embarrassed to be on this network. They bring on celebrites that have no idea about hockey. To much stupid topics they discuss. The camera coverage in the game. It kept jumping and a lot of chattering.

Alan Smith
1 month ago
Reply to  Mike

Who is going to bring NHL hockey to the public? I’ll bet it is easily the least watched pro and college sport in the country! New and average viewers don’t care about real hockey talk! The game was more boring then the annoucing and period breaks! Poor product!

Kris
Kris
1 month ago
Reply to  Mike

Yeah because Caufield’s “tele-strater” segments so damn informative. Please.

Paul
Paul
1 month ago

Hey, look — ZAR and Simon had two SOG in their Ducks debut! Didn’t score a goal, but their Corsi, Fenwick and xG numbers were OTC (Off The Charts). Did HexBurke give up too much for Ricky Rackello!?

Last edited 1 month ago by Paul
Rob
Rob
1 month ago
Reply to  Paul

Wow. A whole data set of one. Brilliant analysis

Alan Smith
1 month ago

TNT and ESPN are trying to bring NHL to viewers that don’t like or watch hockey! The game announcers are neutral and not bias like most home announcers! Good luck getting new viewers when the whole league is defensive play! Round and round they go giving the viewing public a big fat zero!

trackback

[…] Pittsburgh:  Where does newcomer Rickard Rakell fit? Should head coach Mike Sullivan keep Bryan Rust with Evgeni Malkin? And goodbye to Zach Aston-Reese. Pittsburgh Penguins analysis. […]

A. Lifeson
A. Lifeson
1 month ago

Malkin still was a minus -1 even though he had a lucky goal and in the ice for two goals against.

trackback

[…] head coach Mike Sullivan keep Bryan Rust with Evgeni Malkin? And goodbye to Zach Aston-Reese. Pittsburgh Penguins […]

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