It’s quite amazing how the NHL trade deadline could shape or reshape the Metropolitan Division. The Pittsburgh Penguins are not alone, as their aging rival, the Washington Capitals, are also scouring the NHL trade block for affordable help. The Penguins won a few games in a row after weeks of roller-coaster riding, loose, flat, and sloppy hockey, then slipped back into it for 40 minutes against the Carolina Hurricanes on Friday night.
Three games surely don’t fix or erase weeks of odd-man rushes, bone-dry secondary scoring, and more odd-man rushes.
And more, and more odd-man rushes.
The Penguins beat the New York Rangers and the surprisingly good Columbus Blue Jackets last week. But the problems still popped up. Turnovers at the blue lines. Missed assignments. Slow, agonizingly slow starts. Then looked like world-beaters against Tampa Bay, and none of those problems existed.
Teddy Blueger appears on track to rejoin the team within the next week, or so. Brian Boyle may bump Zach Aston-Reese or Danton Heinen from the lineup, or himself get some press box nachos.
It will be an interesting week.
Pittsburgh Penguins One-Timers
1. NHL Trade Deadline
PHN is hearing chatter around the league that Penguins GM Ron Hextall is kicking tires on bruising bottom-six forwards with Stanley Cup experience. A couple of names have popped up but from second and third-hand chatter. We can debate the need or space for such a player, but it seems funny that so many fans want the fourth line to be left alone AND want Dominik Simon out of the lineup.
Tough to distinguish gossip from fact this time of year.
A player to cool the temperature or make opponents back off would be helpful. Neither Carolina nor Tampa has one of those players. New York and Washington do. You may have noticed Brian Boyle flexed his muscle late in the Penguins’ OT loss to Carolina. Sebastian Aho and Andrei Svechnikov put the officials between themselves and Boyle.
But that’s not really Boyle’s game. Or Mark Friedman’s.
The Pittsburgh Penguins have gotten a good look at Carolina and lost both games. They got a good look at New York Rangers and will have an edge in any series against the Rangers because the Penguins are tougher in the greasy areas while being slightly more skilled. However, goalie Igor Shesterkin is simply ridiculous.
The hockey world remains in the dark if Hextall will stand pat, nibble, or go big. Since we’re two weeks from the deadline, the former two options are most likely. Dreams of sugar plums and Josh Manson might be too rich for Hextall.
We’ll discuss further, but moving Kasperi Kapanen is probably more outside speculation than internal emphasis, at least at the NHL trade deadline. This offseason is a more likely moment for such a big decision.
Affordable appetizers Buffalo LHD Robert Hagg and a grinder like Zach Sanford, whose previous trade cost was a B prospect and a fourth-rounder, are more likely menu items.
2. Where to put Brian Boyle?
Boyle really should remain in the lineup. Size, some snarl, penalty killing, and can take faceoffs.
Boyle is Mike Sullivan’s Sophie’s Choice when Teddy Blueger returns. My amateur opinion likes Boyle in the middle and the speedy Blueger on the wing. I like faster wings, but the two biggest problems with my thought are that Boyle has the experience to flip, while Blueger does not, and Blueger is a better center than Boyle. So…
Zach Aston-Reese seems to be the fulcrum. It comes down to him, Boyle, and Dominik Simon. Aston-Reese has provided almost no offense, something he admitted was a mindset. He focuses so much on his defensive responsibilities he almost forgets about offensive opportunities.
Boyle is a lefty, so ZAR might flip to the right side or take a seat. One goal into March is…rough.
3. Mark Friedman
The Pittsburgh Penguins wild child might give Sullivan a few more gray hairs. He might also energize the Penguins lineup.
His fight with Vincent Trocheck late in the third period broke nearly every rule. Don’t take penalties or put yourself in a position to take a penalty late in the third period of a tie game, don’t give the home team and crowd more energy, and don’t take yourself out of the play.
After Friedman and Trocheck scrapped, PNC Arena (different from PNC Park because a team will play at PNC Arena in April and May) was rocking. Mark Friedman is a breath of jolt of excitement, but he’s also unpredictable.
Unpredictability doesn’t lead to a coach’s trust. Friedman needs more of the activating, offensive game that he played against New York and less of the chaos.
Some chaos is good. Some is bad. Friedman, who has played only 32 NHL games, will have a minute to figure it out. And if he does, he should be a strong consideration for the top-six. He brings things to the Penguins lineup that Chad Ruhwedel does not, such as energy, offense, and sandpaper.
He remains a tantalizing prospective regular. There’s a great temptation to ride with Friedman, though Sullivan remains wary of his unpredictability. After the win in Tampa Bay, Sullivan was asked about Friedman getting under Pat Maroon’s skin and driving Corey Perry nuts. Sullivan’s answer was less praise and more warning.
“We want him to play his game. We want him to be who he is, but what he’s got to make sure he stays on the right side of the line. You know, the type of team that we have here, and the type of game that we’re trying to play, requires discipline in a lot of forms. And so, we don’t want to be a team that beats ourselves, and we want to be a team that plays to our strengths.”
If Matthew Barnaby and Darius Kaspiritis had a hockey child, it might be Friedman. But steadiness and reliability are more important. In other words, agitate, draw penalties, be you, but don’t take penalties. Don’t leave your station to make a big hit and stay within the system.
But it sure is fun to watch.