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Thursday, March 13, 2014

A Super Duper Replacement by @ExcitedBobErrey

Pascal Dupuis wasn't having the greatest season when tore his ACL against Ottawa in December.  After posting a career high in goals with 25 in the 2011-12 season then following that up with 20 goals in 48 games (a 34 goal pace over a full season), Dupuis only managed to score 7 goals in 39 games (a 15 goal pace over a full season).  After scoring 59 points and 38 points (65 point pace) those two seasons, he had 20 so far this year (42 point pace).  He had started this season off on fire, recording a point in 8 of his first 9 games, before going into a long slump he was starting to break out of at the time of the injury.  He had entered the Ottawa game on a 4 game point streak and with points in 6 of his previous 7 games, and when it looked like everything was starting to click his season ended.

Dupuis hadn't been producing at the same level has he did the previous two seasons, but it was easy to see the impact his injury had on his linemates.  In 39 games with Dupuis in the lineup, Sidney Crosby scored 20 goals (0.51 G/gm), 34 assists (0.87 A/gm), and 54 points (1.38 pts/gm).  In his next 23 games without Dupuis (through last week's SJ game) he managed 9 goals (0.39 G/gm), 20 assists (0.87 A/gm), and 29 points (1.26 pts/gm). Crosby went from 0.87 pts/gm 5 vs 5 with Dupuis in the lineup to 0.78 pts/gm 5 vs 5 without Dupuis, while his pts/gm on the powerplay stayed relatively constant (0.51 pts/gm vs 0.49 pts/gm). Kunitz experienced a similar decline in production over the same time periods, dropping in G/gm (0.51 vs 0.39), A/gm (0.49 vs 0.39) and pts/gm (1.00 vs 0.78).  His 5 on 5 pts/gm also fell from 0.62 to 0.52, though his power play pts/gm fell from 0.38 to 0.26 as well.

Top line RW had become a a gaping hole in the lineup, and while Brian Gibbons could bring the speed aspect that Pascal Dupuis added to the line, he lacked the grit and the talent that made Dupuis such a great fit.  The trade deadline offered a bunch of wingers who could fill the vacant spot, like Thomas Vanek, Matt Moulson, Marian Gaborik, and Ales Hemsky, but Shero traded a 3rd round pick to Calgary for Lee Stempniak. Stempniak hadn't been having the best season in Calgary, posting 8 goals and 15 assists in 52 games, but it was for a bad Flames team and his 5.6% shooting percentage was well below his 10.4% career mark.

Even with the struggles, what certainly appealed to Shero, other than the low cost, was how similar of a player Stempniak is to Pascal Dupuis.  He has good speed and toughness, and is willing to go into the corners and crash the net, something that's badly needed on this Penguins team. Unlike Dupuis he is a right handed shot, which will add some balance to the top line. Even in his short time in Pittsburgh, he's already starting to make his presence known, and it looks as if Crosby and Kunitz could bounce back from their midseason "slumps" in a major way. Since starting off on the 3rd line against San Jose, Stempniak has played 87% of his 5 vs 5 time with Kunitz and 91% of his 5 vs 5 time with Crosby. In those 3 games Crosby has 1 goal and 2 assists 5 vs 5 (1 PPG and 1 PPA), Kunitz has 2 even strength goals, and Stempniak has 3 even strength assists.

Even in a very limited sample it's easy to see that Stempniak brings an element to the top line that had been missing since Dupuis was hurt. His combination of speed and toughness compliments Crosby and Kunitz well, and he has enough talent to justify remaining on the top line.  Diving into some advanced stats, he's had a corsi relative of +4.9%, +3.2%, and +4.2% the past 3 seasons, which suggests that he'll be able to help drive the play on the top line. His PDO of 94.8 this season suggests that he's been getting some bad breaks, and that his points total could easily be higher than where it's at today. And one of the best things about picking him up at the trade deadline is that he bumps Beau Bennett down to the 3rd line, potentially creating a Bennett-Goc-Sutter line that would finally give the Penguins a legitimate 3rd line and would help shore up the problems that they've been having in the bottom 6. There's still a decent bit of regular season hockey and a long road to the Stanley Cup to go, but it appears that while Ray Shero didn't get the best player available at the trade deadline, he might have gotten the best fit.

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