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Analysis

Projecting Pittsburgh Penguins Decisions and Healthy Lineup

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NHL return Pittsburgh Penguins Brandon Tanev
PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 16: Pittsburgh Penguins Right Wing Brandon Tanev (13) is mobbed by teammates after scoring the game winning goal during the overtime period in the NHL game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Colorado Avalanche on October 16, 2019, at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, PA. (Photo by Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire)

The Pittsburgh Penguins are finally beginning to resemble the team which began training camp. For most of the first month of the season, the Penguins have been a patchwork unit with experiments and rookies. Things were momentarily worse Saturday night when captain Sidney Crosby appeared to be injured when he was hit in the head by a deflected shot. Crosby returned and the Penguins are set to get Evgeni Malkin and Alex Galchenyuk back, too.

Soon enough the Penguins will be at full strength, at least at forward. Defenseman Brian Dumoulin’s status is still unknown but Juuso Riikola and John Marino had an exciting game Saturday in which they not only did their job but provided offensive pressure, too.

The strong game from the Penguins young defensemen only adds to the decisions the Penguins coaches will need to huddle over.

Sam Lafferty vs. Dominik Kahun?

Where does Lafferty fit? The Pittsburgh Penguins grinding rookie has earned significant ice time. Using ice time as a gauge for usage and thus most likely to be out of the lineup, Lafferty has consistently earned well more ice time than new Penguins forward Dominik Kahun. Lafferty has also well outscored Kahun, despite being deployed in roles with less offensive expectations (read, fourth line duty with less talented players).

Lafferty has six points (3g, 3a) in 10 games and earned an assist on Kahun’s first Penguins goal Saturday. Kahun has only three points including that ice-breaking goal (1g, 2a). The Penguins line configuration and if head coach Mike Sullivan feels he needs a top-nine winger could swing the decision towards the more offensively talented Kahun. If Sullivan chooses toughness, speed and grinding offense for the bottom six, Lafferty should get the nod.

Update: Kahun would need to clear waivers in order to keep Lafferty, which adds an obstacle to keeping Lafferty.

Jack Johnson vs. Juuso Riikola

Johnson played well Saturday beside Kris Letang. Johnson has also been a steady presence beside Marino, too. On the surface, Riikola is a long shot in this hypothetical. Johnson is generally accepted as one of the Penguins best, if not the best penalty killer and is by far the Penguins most physical defenseman. He is also the leading shot blocker, too.

Riikola made a positive impression in his first chance to play defense this season. His speed and jump out of the defensive zone was a tangible asset for the Penguins against Dallas. At 5v5, Riikola made a good case to be in the lineup. However, the Penguins shorthanded needs trump the yet unproven even-strength benefits.

My apologies for the cold water on the fervent anti-Johnson sentiment, but you know, truth and all.

Small side note, Marcus Pettersson will eventually need to improve his play. He has not been as stellar yet this season. Before the season, when PHN asked about defensive pairings, Sullivan called Pettersson one of the Penguins four best defensemen. The Pettersson-Schultz pairing has been very good on half of the ice but not so great on their own side of the red line.

Roster Decision: Ruhwedel?

The Penguins will eventually send down Joseph Blandisi and Adam Johnson. Then comes the decision. The Penguins will need to send one more player to the WBS Penguins. Sullivan will choose between carrying 13 forwards and carrying eight defensemen, which means Lafferty/forward vs. Chad Ruhwedel.

The decision seems like an easy one: Keep Lafferty on the roster and waive Ruhwedel. However, the Penguins have danced around that decision for more than a season. They carried eight defensemen for most of the 2018-19 season. Even when the team sent Ruhwedel to WBS on a conditioning assignment, they recalled Zach Trotman as the eighth defenseman.

The only players would not need to pass through waivers are defenseman John Marino and Lafferty but neither should be going anywhere. The Penguins forwards lineup would receive a greater benefit by keeping Lafferty than the blue line would benefit from serving Chad Ruhwedel another season of press box nachos, and Marino has earned his keep on the ice.

Pittsburgh Penguins Lineup Projection:

Guentzel-Crosby-Simon

Tanev-Malkin-Galchenyuk

Rust-Bjugstad-Hornqvist

McCann–Blueger–Aston-Reese

Defense

Dumoulin-Letang

Pettersson-Schultz

Johnson-Marino

In this scenario, Lafferty is the better option for the Penguins bottom line than Kahun. Lafferty is growing into his NHL game, is better able to defend opposing top lines with a gritty presence and has increasingly gone to the front of the net. Kahun isn’t out of the running, though. Now that he finally put ink on the score sheet, perhaps he goes on a run, earns more ice time and affirms his position in the lineup.

But those pesky waivers. Would the Penguins risk losing Kahun to keep Lafferty?

Of course, this is assuming the injury bugs leave the Penguins alone for a while.

Editors Note: The original lines omitted Jared McCann. That has been corrected. And updates have been added. We apologize for the error. 

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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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Zach Smith
Zach Smith
1 year ago

You completely forgot McCann

jessevereb
jessevereb
1 year ago

yeah that’s a real oopsy bro. trade bjugstad eventually and insert mccann. we need the fast Bottom 6.

jessevereb
jessevereb
1 year ago
Reply to  Dan Kingerski

yeah you’re right about that. it made more sense to me when they needed cap space and that’s not the case anymore.

Matt Luda
Matt Luda
1 year ago
Reply to  Dan Kingerski

I still have visions of Tanev-McCann-Rust speeding through my head . . .

Fjodor
Fjodor
1 year ago

That’s a bad piece of work, Dan.
You lost McCann. How McCome?
You missed that Galchenyuk prefers left wing and Tanev prefers right wing even though both can play either side.
Yet again Rust both prefers and is preferred to play right side, which is left without comments.
Finally you say nothing about Blueger, thought he is a rotation candidate with Kahun and Lafferty (both can play center well), given how he started the season.

BIG B
BIG B
1 year ago

It is or should be Kahun because we still have Lafferty for depth unless the Pens can trade him for a young player with potential who can replace Lafferty in the minors and be called up in case of injury.Keeping Kahun allows Lafferty to still be available but reversing it means you lose depth.

Kris F Peterinelli
Kris F Peterinelli
1 year ago

Just my opinion. McCann will play next to Malkin. the Tanev, Blueger, Aston-Reese grinding line has been one of our best. Also, if you are not putting Lafferty into the line-up then why keep him up to sit in the pressbox. Let him get some more time in Wilkes Barre and call up when needed. Kahun would be the scratch in your scenerio.

Hatrick Pornqvist
Hatrick Pornqvist
1 year ago

Let Riikola and Ruhwedel practice and travel with the team and enjoy the view from the press box. They aren’t served well playing in the AHL, abd it’s not worth the risk waiving them. I love Lafferty as much as the next guy but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t send the guy who will clear waivers down. He’s gotta be the first choice. Playing a few games in the AHL knowing the nhl club likes you isn’t going to hurt Lafferty in any way, so in the mean time get healthy, see what you have, maybe even explore some trade… Read more »

Hatrick Pornqvist
Hatrick Pornqvist
1 year ago

Guentzel Crosby Simon
Galchenyuk Malkin Tanev
Rust Bjugstad Hornqvist
McCann Blueger Aston-Reese

Dumoulin Letang
Pettersson Schultz
Johnson Marino

At some point maybe Lafferty gets in there, maybe Kahun, maybe there’s a trade. I really like Blueger but with the cap space we have maybe a 4C upgrade?

Zach Smith
Zach Smith
1 year ago

I was thinking the same thing. Blueger is great to have but McCann would be a fantastic 4th line center.

Cal
Cal
1 year ago

Its interesting what the team is going to do when healthy, do they make a move ? Moving Kahun may be a better choice than taking the chance of losing him on waivers. I still like the need for a heavy game player as long as the team speed is not compromised. Another scoring Right winger would be great. One thing we do know is that JR is not afraid of pulling the trigger on a trade. You know another trade is going to happen, its just who and when.

Zane Gearhart
Zane Gearhart
1 year ago

I dont see the coaches breaking up ZAR – Blueger- Tanev, at least to start with. They like having a line other then Sids that can play hard and defend against the other teams top line, which frees our top line to be more offensive oriented. So to start I see the following. The pairs in all caps stay together, then Simon, Rust, McCann, and Tanev will rotate as lines go cold

GUENTZEL CROSBY Simon
GALCHENYUK MALKIN Rust
McCann BJUGSTAD HORNQVIST
ZAR BLUEGER Tanev

Cal
Cal
1 year ago

Crap, I forget to mention the reason I wanted to post in the first place. KEEP BJUGSTAD! He is a very good 3C for the Penguins. Ahhhh…. now I feel better.

Edgar
Edgar
1 year ago

Do we have $4M in cap space? Chris Kreider HAS to be available. He looks like hell for NY. He’s 28, quick as hell, a good possession player, and tough as nails in front.

JICS
JICS
1 year ago
Reply to  Edgar

Can we please put Simon “somewhere” other than the first line (maybe WBS). With him there they are playing more like a shutdown line. We need a Scoring Line badly! Simon is NOT a part of a scoring line. Try Tanev, McCann, Kahun or……someone that might have some chemistry with Sid and Jake, and that scores a goal once in a while, at least!

Zach Smith
Zach Smith
1 year ago
Reply to  JICS

Seriously dude? Do you watch any of the games? Simon does the dirty work that leads to scoring chances.

Hatrick Pornqvist
Hatrick Pornqvist
1 year ago
Reply to  Zach Smith

I am a Simon supporter and am fine with him on the first line but I would also be fine with some other guys getting a look there to see if maybe they could finish more plays. His inability to score isn’t imagined, nor is his ability to drive possession. Sid and Jake do plenty of dirty work themselves too, and a guy like Rust, Tanev, or McCann could likely do what Simon does in terms of dirty work. They are all great forecheckers who don’t mind a corner and can work on the boards like Simon. Maybe they could… Read more »

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