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Penguins One-Timers: Malkin vs. Trocheck, a Blue Line Problem

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Pittsburgh Penguins game, LA Kings, Evgeni Malkin, Jan Rutta, Jason Zucker

There exists a dichotomy of reality and perception amongst the Pittsburgh Penguins fanbase that is unique to this season, and perhaps this fanbase. While fans in most cities overhype, overestimate or generally think too highly of their team, the Penguins seem to be playing before a 90% full house that is otherwise disappointed the GM didn’t go nuclear.

It’s quite unique.

One broadcast colleague noted the seven-game winless streak was a month ago, yet it seems to be referenced more than going 13-2-2 in the last 17.

Honest question: have four playoff losses permanently soured everyone?

Pittsburgh Penguins One-Timers:

#1: From Commentor Wesman33 on Monday morning:

“Since the Penguins are on a roll and Crosby is on fire, let’s stir things up a bit. Remember when it was craziness to re-sign Geno and Vincent Trocheck was going to be the savior and much better option? … It seems (Trocheck) has been dropped down to a third-line center who has 18 points (only eight of those 5v5) and is a minus-9. I thought Geno would be terrible 5v5 and only get PP points. I know it seems like a month since he scored a goal, but my bet is he gets one tonight. Looks like Hexy maybe made the right choice, at least short term for sure.”

Response: Well, Wessman33, can I have the lottery numbers?

You were spot on. Evgeni Malkin not only scored on Monday night, but he brought the house down with the dramatic game-winner. Further, the sequence that led to the goal was an example of how hard Malkin and linemates Bryan Rust and Jason Zucker were defending.

Coach Mike Sullivan also praised Malkin for a backcheck in the middle of the third period that nullified a Dallas rush.

Let’s be honest, on the average Monday night game in mid-December against a Western Conference opponent, in the final minute, Malkin is not the center you want in the defensive zone. Yet, he flexed that d-zone prowess he saves for big games and won it.

From a fan and media perspective, the game was a bit of a snoozer, but Malkin’s line was the exception.

Trocheck scored on Monday night, too, but your point is well taken. When I ran the numbers last summer, before Malkin signed, Trocheck should have been a slight improvement to the Penguins though it was close. When Malkin signed a 35+ contract with a higher AAV than Trocheck got with New York, yes, even my eyebrow raised.

Trocheck has 20 points (10-10-20) in 30 games. He’s centering the third line with Chris Krieder and Jimmy Vesey.

In 29 games, Malkin has 29 points (9-20-29).

Malkin is having a comeback year. His knees look good. His line looks good, and he’s doing things that, respectfully, Trockeck cannot. In this moment, the difference is stark.

#2: From Commentor Joseph Iwasevic

“The salary cap is a joke compared to other sports. NHL players deserve more.”

Response: Allow me to put on my economics and business owner hats. The NHL players get 50% of the revenues. Things like the escrow account and unpredictable revenues sometimes delay that balance, but eventually, half the beans go to each side.

That’s on par with other capped sports, and it actually might be 5% more than baseball players get. Some estimates put MLB player revenues at 45%.

But the NHL could make MORE money.

Unfortunately, the NHL’s thinking and business plan are flawed because it is based on traditional sports thinking that doesn’t fit the current new world. More product = More revenue, right?

Not always.

When supply outpaces demand, returns go DOWN.

The NHL could INCREASE its revenues by playing fewer games, with a heavier emphasis on divisional games.

Don’t believe me? The TV ratings for the 2020-21 season, with only 56 games, were 20-30% HIGHER than 2021-22.

I believe the NHL could make more money with about six, maybe 10, fewer games. Since about half the league loses money on regular season home games, playing less would limit losses, eh?

For hockey fans, the novelty of seeing Connor McDavid every year is superseded by good rivalries and hate. Seeing McDavid every other year is just fine, and may add some luster to the visit. Not even Pittsburgh sold out for McDavid and the Oilers this season.

And every Saturday night should be a division battle.

But the NHL salary cap is probably the most necessary and simple to follow in sports. The revenue disparity between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Arizona Coyotes is proportionally equal to that of the Yankees and Pirates, yet there are more teams in the NHL closer to Arizona than Toronto.

Unlike baseball, hockey isn’t popular enough in the U.S. to sustain that many teams without a chance.

#3 The Pittsburgh Penguins’ blue line needs more speed

There are a couple of glaring weaknesses in the Penguins’ lineup that will likely cause them trouble in the second half of the season. One of them is the speed on the blue line.

After a terrible start, Brian Dumoulin rebounded but has looked achingly slow again playing beside Jan Rutta. They were blitzed by the Buffalo Sabres, who specifically attacked them at every chance. Buffalo’s game plan clearly circled Dumoulin-Rutta as an attack point, and the Buffalo forwards seemed to be more aggressive when they were defending or had the puck.

Kris Letang and P.O Joseph stand well above the rest of the defense.

That’s not to downgrade Jeff Petry or Marcus Pettersson. But it is a knock on the unit as a whole that skating is not a strong suit (Pettersson has been especially good this season. Petry is clearly talented).

One wonders how the unit will fare on the road against New Jersey, New York, and Carolina.

And before you ask, no, Ty Smith isn’t the answer yet. We received a good report on him — he’s genuinely focusing on his defensive zone coverage, which in the preseason was messy and unreliable. However, our report from the inside also indicated he was leaving some meat on the table offensively to focus on defense.

He’s still putting it all together.

There’s a big difference between learning on the job in the AHL and facing the New Jersey Devils speed rush with an NHL game at stake. That’s not to say he won’t be the answer soon, but it is to say he’s not the answer now.

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.