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Molinari: Penguins Need Fresh Approach to Old Issue

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Pittsburgh Penguins, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang

The average Age in the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Opening Night lineup Thursday figures to fall somewhere between Stone and Bronze.

Go to a hockey game at PPG Paints Arena this winter, and you just might see an AARP meeting break out.

Indeed, if Ron Hextall would make a deal to acquire Methuselah, his new teammates might nickname him “Kid.”

This isn’t just a veteran club; some of these guys have been around since the NHL expanded to the Original Six.

Consider that of the eight players who make up the top two lines and No. 1 defense pairing — Jake Guentzel, Sidney Crosby, Rickard Rakell, Jason Zucker, Evgeni Malkin, Bryan Rust, Brian Dumoulin and Kris Letang — three are 35 or older and only Rakell (29) and Guentzel (28) are under 30.

An experienced group? No doubt.

Accomplished? Just count the Stanley Cup rings.

But none of that makes longtime members of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ core — guys like Crosby and Letang and Malkin — immune to the effects of being in their mid-30s.

Oh, being well-conditioned — something for which Crosby and Letang, in particular, have been renowned for many years — helps, but getting older has an impact that can’t be ignored. Or shouldn’t be, anyway.

One obvious way to mitigate the effects of advancing age, especially on players accustomed to playing big minutes, is to be judicious with their ice time.

Sounds simple enough, but that won’t be as easy for Mike Sullivan and his staff as it might seem.

Not when they will have to try to balance that objective with trying to win games to earn a playoff berth in the ultra-competitive Metropolitan Division and Eastern Conference.

There’s no question that some of the Penguins’ oldest players will have to fill prominent roles if the team is to be successful, but the reality is, while the temptation to lean hard on guys who often have produced in high-pressure situations is completely understandable, it also could turn out to be counter-productive in the latter stages of the season.

That doesn’t mean it will be necessary — or even wise — to limit the Pittsburgh Penguins’ 30-somethings to fourth-line or third-pairing minutes; just that conserving some energy for them could pay off when the stakes are highest.

Here are a few things Sullivan could do to limit the wear-and-tear on the veterans whose performance will do so much to determine how the Penguins fare this season:

*** Keep Rust off the penalty-kill. He’s outstanding when the Penguins are down a man, in part because he’s a constant threat to score a shorthanded goal, but those are awfully hard minutes for a guy who already figures to log plenty of ice time. They’re dangerous ones, too, and the Penguins don’t want to lose a top-six contributor for multiple weeks because he blocked a shot with his foot or hand or face.

*** Get Kasperi Kapanen going. It’s not as if the coaching staff hasn’t thought of that, but Kapanen has the skill to be a regular on one of the top two lines when he plays to his potential. With Jeff Carter in the middle and Danton Heinen on the left side, the Pittsburgh Penguins have the potential for a third line that could make frequent appearances on the scoresheet if Kapanen’s game is in synch. And a productive No. 3 unit could lighten the workload a bit for the units centered by Crosby and Malkin.

*** Trust the bottom-six — especially the No. 4 line — to protect leads and hold their own in tight games. Sound defensive work is a big part of what got guys like Teddy Blueger, Brock McGinn and Josh Archibald to this level, and they should be capable of performing well in such settings. If they can’t, and an inordinate amount of that responsibility then has to fall some of the older forwards, the Penguins are doomed over the course of an 82-season, anyway.

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tbart
tbart
1 month ago
  • please tell me that Methuselah is not a defenseman
GBG
GBG
1 month ago
Reply to  tbart

If he were Hextall would keep him and waive Friedman. Probably pair him with another statue, Petterson.

Ethan
1 month ago
Reply to  GBG

A statue doesn’t fall over

Vince Gori
Vince Gori
1 month ago

Dave loved the article, your sarcasm is in high gear today I must add!

Rob
Rob
1 month ago

The penguins have 4 solid lines at forward and should not be afraid to use any of them. Also, if Petry and Pettersson play to their ability, the top 2 defense pairings can get almost equal playing time, thus taking a couple minutes from Letang and Dumoulin.

Alan Smith
1 month ago

Four lines is critical and when healthy the Pens are as dangerous as any with quality players everywhere! Like the forwards chasing down defensive players and forcing bad passes. Just play four lines the whole game and hope they can score 3 or 4 a night! Teams like Tampa and Carolina wait the whole game looking for turnovers to score. When they play defensive teams just play like they do, it’s a little boring to watch, but I’ll bet they can win games like that by one goal! 82 games is a lot so just win two of every three… Read more »

Michael Hanczar
Michael Hanczar
1 month ago

Amen brother Dave!

Black N gold
1 month ago

Get Letang off the number one power play. Kris just wont shoot the puck and Jeff Petry has a cannon !

Jeff Young
Jeff Young
1 month ago

Is it just me or did the $1M increase in JJ’s buyout cause all sorts of worries and issues with the POJ/Smith/Friedman situation?

Joe Ignatius
Joe Ignatius
1 month ago

I always enjoy your insight and how you present it.