The Pittsburgh Penguins scored four third period goals to beat the Anaheim Ducks 7-4, Friday. It was a shame to watch John Gibson play spectacularly well but suffer that fate. It was also interesting to watch Daniel Sprong charge the Penguins defense like a bull towards the red cape. The kid never lacked confidence but he had a little chip on his shoulder Friday night. With six goals in 16 games, he’s scoring though his single assist in Anaheim does start to put him in young-Brandon Pirri territory.
Lost in the shuffle Friday, the Penguins skipped their third line in the third period. It was close to a benching. Derick Brassard and Phil Kessel played just 52 seconds in the final 10:33, which is when Kessel scored the game-winning goal. On the shift, Anaheim trapped the third line into the defensive zone. Only at the end of the shift when Kessel chased down Jacob Larsson to create the turnover and goal was there any value for the Penguins.
Mike Sullivan tapped that line only twice more, including a 14-second micro shift. They did not see the ice at all in the final few minutes. The Penguins rode Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin down the stretch. Matt Cullen took a shift with the boys, too.
You don’t need me to draw you any conclusions for you about Brassard and the Penguins. It’s been a star-crossed challenge.
Overall, Brassard played just 12:46 which was less than Cullen’s 13-plus minutes of work. With power play time, Kessel notched a satisfactory 15 minutes of ice time and flashed his crunch time prowess for the game-winning goal.
But the situation with Brassard is getting worse. Of the Penguins skaters, he and linemate Riley Sheahan were on the ice for the fewest 5v5 scoring chances (4). In contrast, the Penguins top line generated 14 chances.
The Penguins will be without Zach Aston-Reese and Patric Hornqvist for some time. Aston-Reese figures to be out several weeks and Hornqvist could be out days or weeks, or more with his second concussion in as many months.
A sputtering third line is a luxury few teams can afford. The Penguins will need Brassard to step forward. Now is the time. The Penguins well know what they have with Kessel and that relationship will always have a few rocky points but both sides count on Kessel providing the highs, as well. Brassard-Kessel hooked up and looked very good against Chicago last Sunday.
“I thought it was one of their best games,” nodded Sullivan.
They followed their high performance with an abysmal showing against Florida, Tuesday.
Brassard was not very good against Anaheim, while Kessel had good moments. Check out the PHN Extra Report Card for more detailed evaluations. Brassard’s time is likely coming to a close in Pittsburgh. He’s an unrestricted free agent on July 1 but has only 13 points (7g, 6a) in 35 games. Those aren’t numbers befitting a player with that much talent.
The trade deadline is six weeks away. A contender can’t have a third line center on the bench during gritty third period minutes. Those minutes are supposed to be a third line center’s time to shine, not watch.
Brassard is a high hockey IQ guy with an intense streak and big game chops. It’s time for him to show everyone the game which last year made him one of the most sought after players at the trade deadline. Vegas so greatly feared Brassard’s presence with Winnipeg they made the Penguins acquisition possible by kicking in $2 million of Brassard’s salary.
Imagine, another team paying part of a player’s salary simply so their rival couldn’t have him. Yet, the Penguins still aren’t getting a bargain. It’s time to see “Big Game Brass,” or he’ll be watching more third periods for the remainder of his Pittsburgh stay. It’s that simple.