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Penguins Scoring Woes; Where are Carter and Blueger Lines?

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Pittsburgh Penguins, Jason Zucker, Kasperi Kapanen

The numbers are staggering. Pittsburgh Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan shuffled his lines before the Saturday showdown against the Vancouver Canucks not on a whim but a near extreme lack of production. From goals to scoring chances, the Penguins are currently a one-line team.

And that doesn’t bode well.

Of course, Evgeni Malkin has been skating and will eventually rejoin the Penguins lineup. Things should improve. Of course, things can’t get worse than the Penguins second line and its faint pulse of production.

Unfortunately for the Penguins, Sidney Crosby rounding into form coincided with top-line RW Bryan Rust’s lower-body injury. The Penguins top line has not only persevered without Rust, but it has also elevated with Evan Rodrigues.

But moving Rodrigues to the top line pulled the rug from beneath the middle six. Go figure.

Sullivan put Kasperi Kapanen on Teddy Blueger’s line and promoted Danton Heinen to the second line with Jeff Carter and Jason Zucker. After shuffling the lines, the Penguins scored a pair of 5v5 goals on Saturday night against the wilting Vancouver Canucks.

“I thought we generated a fair amount of scoring opportunities. And so, we certainly had a lot of looks at the net. I thought we had a lot of shots on goal,” Sullivan said. “I thought every line had opportunities. So I think that’s progress.”

Progress might be kind. The goals belonged to the top line. The Penguins other forward lines were essentially even or behind, except for the Sidney Crosby top line, the predominant offense driver.

The Crosby line had a 13-3 scoring chance advantage. The Teddy Blueger and Jeff Carter lines eeked by at 7-5. Neither scored, and the Carter line had zero high-danger scoring chances, according to NaturalStatTrick.com.

Kasperi Kapanen

Although Penguins fans have delivered it with some sugar, Kapanen has deservedly been the lightning rod for criticism and angst. Kapanen has five goals this season, but that includes a three-goal game. He has goals in just three games this season and was benched for most of the third period in the Penguins 5-2 loss to the Edmonton Oilers on Dec. 1.

For the win over Vancouver on Saturday, Sullivan dropped Kapanen to the Penguins third line with Teddy Blueger and Brock McGinn.

“I thought Kappy was…yeah…I thought he was–he was better tonight. You know, it’s a little different look playing with Teddy and (McGinn), but those guys are gritty payers. They’re straight-line guys. They’re workers. Quite honestly, they’re workers,” Sullivan said. “They hunt pucks, and they force turnovers, and they still have some offensive instincts. So I thought they got Kappy the puck in certain areas tonight. He had a couple of good looks. He had one in the first period that was right in the slot…”

It wasn’t quite a ringing endorsement as Sullivan and the team tries to get Kapanen to his A-game. Thus far this season, the Pittsburgh Penguins have seen anything but.

The statistics are brutal.

Penguins Lines–All Crosby

The Penguins top line with Guentzel, Crosby, and Rodrigues not only had all of the goals on Saturday, but they had one less scoring chance than the Carter and Blueger lines combined (13-14). The Crosby line has dwarfed the middle two lines combined.

**Crosby Line Scoring chance ratio last five games: 61-24.

**Middle six scoring chance ratio last five games: 46-44.

The Crosby line has three goals at even strength over the last five games. That’s not a ton, but it’s still better than the rest of the Penguins lines.

The Carter line has just one goal. The Blueger line has one goal, too.

That’s a gaping hole in the middle of the Penguins lineup. The middle-six has essentially gone dark, which makes me somewhat regret the piece from about two weeks ago: “E-Rod and Penguins Bottom-Six Flip Script.”

Of course, the Pittsburgh Penguins Blueger line is doing its job. The team does not rely upon them for offense, and when they chip in, it’s a bonus. In the last five games, the Blueger line has nearly as many scoring chances (21) as the Carter line (25).

One interesting side note, Sullivan has more often deployed the Carter line for defensive zone faceoffs against Vancouver, but that was a one-off.

If you had Evan Rodrigues on the shortlist of Penguins MVPs through 25 games, pat yourself on the back, but it’s true. Perhaps no skater has been more consistently productive than Rodrigues. Removing Rodrigues from the bottom-six in various roles has inexplicably gutted the Penguins offense.

Add the lack of Pittsburgh Penguins offense to the list of problems between the Penguins and a firm playoff spot. It’s somewhat unexpected that Zucker, Carter, and Kapanen cratered, but at least they’ve been consistent. Excluding brief bursts, the line doesn’t have much to show for their effort.

And so, the experimentation has begun.

The lines will get another good jolt when Malkin comes back later this month or next. Perhaps Malkin can kickstart Kapanen’s season, but that would also require Kapanen playing a better brand of hockey which goes between the dots more often and plays with the puck below the dots.

If things don’t improve, it will be a long couple or few weeks before Malkin returns. And after Malkin returns, the Penguins will still rely on Kapanen or Zucker, or both, to up their game. The middle-six has not been good enough, and the numbers are staggering.

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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.

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C Daniel
C Daniel
1 month ago

I hope Geno does have an immediate impact, but realistically he’ll take a few weeks to get going, while the opposition will be trying to topple him (and unfortunately with long legs he does have a higher centre of gravity than some). I think I’m going to have my fingers crossed for quite a while.

Ethan
Ethan
1 month ago

Dan acts like fans have been kind to Kappy. What we/me see is a scapegoat for many underproducing players. Dan continues to “sprinkle sugar” on Zucker like when he called him “essential” a couple weeks back. Well this fan (and I am sure I’m not alone) said the 2nd line wasn’t working over a month ago–and that it was Sully’s job to try to fix it instead of simply singling out Kappy. This ex-coach would work with Kappy to get him to drive deep to the net instead of spinning to the boards on rushes! Let ERod do the spinning… Read more »

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[…] Penguins scoring woes; where are Carter and Blueger […]

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[…] Despite defeating the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday night, the Pittsburgh Penguins are struggling offensively. The Crosby line is carrying the weight right now, but the Carter line and the Blueger line need to step up. Kaspari Kapanen has been the center of negative attention for his lackluster play, given his potential to score. The Penguins are going to need to see all lines rolling to have success, as they wait for certain players to return from injury. (Pittsburgh Hockey Now) […]

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[…] Dan Kingerski explains why the Penguins are struggling to score goals this […]

Robert Shoemaker
Robert Shoemaker(@rob71)
1 month ago

For me the solution seems simple. Move Rodrigues off the top line and put someone else there. Try ERod with Carter. Move Zucker up or move him down. If Zucker isnt producing with Carter, try him elsewhere! They invested a lot to get Zucker so they need to find a place in the lineup where he can score points. Hasn’t worked with Geno, hasn’t worked with Carter either. Put him with Blueger or Sid. You can pretty much put anyone with Jake and sid and the line will still produce. Just have to figure out what works and doesn’t with… Read more »

Last edited 1 month ago by Robert Shoemaker
Justin
Justin
1 month ago

Once everyone is fully healthy (long shot I know) I’d like to see

Guentzel Crosby Carter
Heinen Malkin Rust
Zucker ERod Kapenen
ZAR Blueger McGinn

I think with these combos you distribute talent, put a line that you know clicks back together (ERod line) and add some size to the top line. IMO the biggest wild card with these combos would be Carter meshing with Crosby and Guentzel and if Heinen can keep up production with elite talent.

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[…] The Penguins issue concentrates on the middle lines. The Jeff Carter and Teddy Blueger lines have scored one goal each over the last five games. The Carter line only has a couple of points in that span and is within a few chances of even. […]

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