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4 Penguins Quarter-Mark Thoughts: Vague Trade Scuttle & Addition by Subtraction

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Pittsburgh Penguins, Sidney Crosby, Jake Guentzel

There is vague trade scuttle floating about that Pittsburgh Penguins GM Ron Hextall is looking into options … just like every other GM. However, for Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman to bring it up on his recent 32 Thoughts podcast probably means there’s a little more heat than average check-ins. The Penguins’ stars are shining, the defensemen are turning around their seasons, and the bottom six lineup is significantly better with the less expensive configuration.

A Happy Thanksgiving to everyone. Have a pile of stuffing (not dressing) for me.

1. The Bottom Six shuffle, Kappy Out

It’s not fun to beat up a player who is already down. That’s for Twitter folks, who seem to revel in the macabre only to add two more cents. However, the Penguins lost Kapanen’s last eight games (0-6-2).

Ouch.

There are no easy answers, or the Penguins would have applied them. Nothing was left to do but make Kapanen and his $3.2 million salary a healthy scratch. The Penguins are not only 4-1-0 since sending Kapanen for press box nachos, but they’ve been a different team. The Penguins have been a defensive-minded (Chicago notwithstanding) team that has gotten production from their bottom two lines.

Brock McGinn was the third-line replacement for Kapanen on the Jeff Carter line, and the game is dramatically different. How many Grade A chances did the line have on Wednesday night? Five. They allowed none. ]

The resurgent line has also benefitted from a better fourth line. Teddy Blueger, Josh Archibald, and Ryan Poehling have created offensive zone time to pass off to Sidney Crosby and defend the opponent’s top line, saving some wear and tear on Crosby.

Gee willikers, Crosby has been filling the stat sheet and was the NHL’s No. 1 star.

“That line has established an identity with our team, just as far as how we deploy them,” Sullivan said. “We have ultimate trust in that line and their ability to defend. They get a lot of (defensive)-zone starts to play against other teams’ top lines if we need them to, and they do a really good job for us. They chipped in offensively on this latest road trip, which is even more of a bonus.”

It seems like Sullivan pulled the plug. Barring injury, Kapanen is a spectator; it’s a bewildering turnabout for a player whose rights were the subject of a trade bidding war.

2. D-Men Rebound Bodes Very, Very Well

The defensemen were a bit of a mess during their seven-game winless streak. Trainwreck might be more apt. Brian Dumoulin was getting beaten like a rented mule. Jeff Petry often zigged when he should have zagged. Kris Letang was making more errors.

Marcus Pettersson is the standout defenseman and is on the top pairing. Who saw that coming?

Pettersson’s confident emergence, combined with Petry jelling, and Dumoulin is working the third-pair role well with Jan Rutta. Sullivan and associate coach Todd Reirden have created a stout defensive corps.

On Wednesday night, Dumoulin and Rutta were able to keep Calgary out of the crease. Tristan Jarry saw more shots and made more saves.

Just like the bottom six, the Pittsburgh Penguins’ pieces of the puzzle were there. Sullivan had to figure out where those pesky corner pieces go.

It may not be praiseworthy in a few months. The foundation seems a little shaky, but it’s very good for now.

3. How Much Fun are Crosby and Malkin?

Sidney Crosby’s game is not the same as it was five years ago. Ever the tactician and hockey mind, he’s figured it out. Crosby and Jake Guentzel are even more dynamic than before. They’re making no-look passes on a nightly basis, finding passing lanes that don’t exist and filling the net.

Evgeni Malkin is resurgent. Yes, there’s always the nod to the ever-vocal minority of fans who bring the drop passes to nowhere. He does it, yep. He is also dancing through defenders, pouncing on loose pucks like he badly wants them, and serving scoring chances to Jason Zucker like a truck stop waitress dishes eggs and bacon.

There’s a constant stream, and it looks amazing.

Malkin is moving better. His confidence with the puck and within the game plan is high, too. He’s playing 200 feet. Go figure.

3A: Hello, Jason Zucker.

Zucker is also — finally — exploding on the scoring sheet. He’s healthy, and he’s producing. His point-per-game total has dropped to just below the mark with the recent defensive battles, but Zucker is reading Malkin and ripping shots from between the dots. He and Bryan Rust are also devil dogs on puck retrieval.

If only Zucker’s shot were harder, eh Jagr?

Dave Molinari asked the question — should the Penguins re-sign Zucker now?

The Penguins have not lost a game in regulation (7-0-1), with Rickard Rakell playing with Crosby and Rust playing with Malkin.

Hat tip to fans who were bonkers over the early switch away from those tandems. You had it right.

4. Mike Sullivan is Just Fine

There was some chatter from league sources: Mike Sullivan is done, and “his bag of tricks is empty.” He’s become too trusting, too chummy with the Pittsburgh Penguins’ star players, and could not effectively discipline them.

There was a litany of theories, and the longer that winless streak dragged on, the more plausible those whispers became.

However, even the PK is back in the 80% range.

It seems the reports of Sullivan’s demise were greatly exaggerated.

The Penguins are still missing some ingredients. They could use another spark plug and some jam. The team never seems more than one exhale away from another skid, but putting together a team without much freshness will do that. If Hextall is shopping on the NHL trade market, there’s the starting point.

No, we’re not going to rehash the offseason moves, not even signing Kapanen, though I suspect some of you are already typing. The Penguins’ quarter mark has been a wild ride of steep highs and cavernous lows. It’s better to rise at this point of the season rather than sink.

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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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Jackmccrory
Jackmccrory
10 days ago

Dumoulin makes too much money to be on the third pairing I’d like to see Smith up for awhile and maybe explore moving Dumoulin if it look’s doable

Kris
Kris
9 days ago
Reply to  Jackmccrory

Smith would be great, but putting him in for Dumoulin would be a disaster. Dumo and Rutta give us a shutdown / PK pairing. Smith is another offensive weapon. You bring up Smith and then Letang needs to go back on the penalty kill.

Problem isn’t Dumoulin. Problem is Joseph. He was completely dominated in the Calgary game.

Rob
Rob
8 days ago
Reply to  Jackmccrory

Yeah and Kapanen makes way to much sitting in the Press Box. At least Dumoulin earned his contract being an anchor for the Pens for years and still in the line up.

Steve Malik
Steve Malik
10 days ago

Send Kapenen somewhere, hopefully he never puts on a Pens uniform again !

Chase Cranson
Chase Cranson
10 days ago
Reply to  Steve Malik

Addition by subtraction he is an awful signing just put him on waivers Eh

Rob
Rob
9 days ago
Reply to  Chase Cranson

A Rodrigues signing looks better and better everyday and cheaper if it would’ve happened.

Rob
Rob
9 days ago
Reply to  Steve Malik

Who would want him unless he goes in a package deal or draft pick?

Dean
Dean
10 days ago

Dan, I am a big fan, but! It is articles like this that fuels the social harassment of players. The correlation to the losing streak to Kappy is a gross exaggeration of facts. Outside of 2 or 3 players the entire team played awful. But yet this article makes Kappy a scapegoat. Don’t take a shot at the social harassers on twitter when we can make a direct correlation to poor form by the media egging them on In articles like these. Just wait the irrational hate will spew out. It’s like we forget players are people. You are better… Read more »

Last edited 10 days ago by Dean
Vince Gori
Vince Gori
10 days ago
Reply to  Dean

Valid points. Kapanen was not the only player playing poorly during the losing streak. Simply removing him from the lineup is not the reason they are playing better. I am all for seeing Smith, but Dumo is not an issue on the third pair. Sadly, it isn’t easing to trade Kapanen without a sweetener, and no benefit to be had by waiving him. He will need packaged with other asset(s) like POJ, who despite showing positive signs is too wiry if you ask me.I say package them with a body from WBS and see what you can get. I am… Read more »

Irish Hammer
Irish Hammer
10 days ago
Reply to  Dean

These Penguins fans are famous for attacking certain players, while allowing so called stars stink up the ice. Friedman is one of the few hockey media with major insider (GM or Asst. GM) contacts. If he says Hextall talking, it’s true. Problem with Hextall is what we acquire if a trade conducted.

Knobman
Knobman
10 days ago
Reply to  Irish Hammer

I’ve been “attacking” Malkin and Letang for months. They play a loose game most of the time and will worsen with time. Sure, they will have good games or maybe a good season early on under their new contract s, but will hinder any rebuild on the fly that could have started this past off season.

Knobman
Knobman
10 days ago
Reply to  Dean

Kapanen sucks, but he wasn’t the only one during the losing streak. He provides nothing positive while in the lineup and should be traded ASAP.

Kris
Kris
9 days ago
Reply to  Dean

Sorry Dean but disagree. Were the Penguins not 0-6-2 when he was in the lineup? Was it all him, of course not. Problem is they are playing sound, 200ft hockey right now. Did Kapanen do that, NOPE. So he was a major part of the problem.

maybeTROLLn
maybeTROLLn
9 days ago
Reply to  Kris

dean wrote the softest take i’ve ever read in PHN comments

maybeTROLLn
maybeTROLLn
9 days ago
Reply to  Dean

odd flex to focus on that tiny bit of writing. he clearly writes about the team’s change of play, not pinning it all on kappy lol.

big fan of PHN, eh?

Jeremy
Jeremy
10 days ago

Something has got to give on the Kapanen front. Having a 3.2 million dollar player “find his game” in the press box is bad for everyone. Waive him. If someone claims him, perfect. If he passes through, send him down to WBS to save (Kap) space and play to stay in game shape. I would obviously love to trade him, but I doubt anyone takes him without a sweetener and honestly we need to hold on to our young talent unless its a blockbuster. Maybe retain salary, but with JJs buyout an albatross, as well as our tight cap situation,… Read more »

Last edited 10 days ago by Jeremy
Bean
Bean
10 days ago

The expert analysis from the PHN fan base continues. Archibald was a great signing that everyone moaned about. Jack Johnson won a Stanley Cup last year and looked pretty good in a Chicago sweater the other night but was the scapegoat for everything when he was here. No one seems to think Jeff Carter is slow as molasses out there and should be the one to be moved with Kapenen if possible.

Knobman
Knobman
10 days ago
Reply to  Bean

Archie was not a great signing. Hextall bungled the off season and ended up signing him too early and for too much money. He has a good game here and there and seems to be better with Blueger. Jack Johnson was terrible while a Penguin and mostly with Columbus. He wouldn’t have seen any ice time in the playoffs if Sam Girard hadn’t been hurt, but yeah he’s a cup winner.

Vince Gori
Vince Gori
9 days ago
Reply to  Knobman

And the Johnson bashing continues.

Alan Smith
9 days ago

So the injury list potential creates trade talks! Don’t you think the Pens are going to have any injured players coming this season? Kappy, Dummo, Carter and others will be needed to get through 82 games and the playoffs. What will they get in return if they try to trade anyone! Probably just someone else of equal or lesser value! Lots of teams are already missing players! Go Pens!

Derrick McEachern
Derrick McEachern
9 days ago

The big point that was missed in this article was the role that injuries play, and played in the penguins losing streak. I think the Penguins are very vulnerable to injuries. Losing Guentzel for a couple of games, as well as Letang and Zucker showed that. The other thing I think that has helped the Penguins in the win column over the last few years is four on four overtime and shoot outs. I’m guessing this format benefits the older talented Penguins in the regular season, and may inflate the win column. But neither four on four overtimes or shoot… Read more »

Kris
Kris
9 days ago

I’m still not understanding why we don’t just waive Kapanen? What could happen:
1) someone claims him before clearing waivers and the entire $3.2-million come off the books for both this year and next. (Best case, but probably not happening)
2) He clears waivers and we have to eat $1,075,000 of his cap hit, but free up $1,125,000.
I’d much rather have Hallander, Poulin or even O’Connor up as 13th man than Kasper the ghost player.

maybeTROLLn
maybeTROLLn
9 days ago
Reply to  Kris

that’s a rush since they are playing better as a team now. hextall is likely holding out to try and attain something, anything as a return.