It seems like the Penguins have a disconnect. A gap, if you will, between the top 2 lines and the bottom two lines. It’s difficult to fathom how they got in this position. Injuries have been a factor but that’s not the only reason the 3rd and 4th lines suffer. The past few drafts have seen the Pens score big with their defensive picks but not so much at forward. Also, not to be ignored, is the fact that many who have left the Pens in recent seasons have left a void in the bottom two lines.
Brandon Sutter has been a fairly consistent presence at 3rd line center but from there, it’s been a revolving door of Taylor Pyatt, Chuck Kobasew and Tanner Glass at wing. Jussi Jokinen had some chemistry with Sutter but he has also fit well on the Malkin/Neal line. To his credit, Sutter is hard- working and is putting up similar numbers to the Pens’ last resident 3rd line center, Jordan Staal. He is not, however Jordan Staal.
While I’m on the subject, I may as well admit Tyler Kennedy and Matt Cooke are missed. Kennedy’s energy and Cooke’s toughness have not been recreated by any line combo. While Vitale and Glass are tough, they don’t have Cooke’s hockey smarts. Conner has been used on that line as an energy player but never seemed to bring the chemistry the third line needed.
The Pens have sorely missed Dupuis on the Croby/Kunitz line. The fact that Brian Gibbons has been the fill-in speaks volumes as to the lack of depth at forward. Still, the primary scoring comes from league-leading Sidney Crosby, Malkin, Kunitz, Neal and Jokinen. The offense is definitely front-loaded.
In the coming days, we’ll see how Ray Shero plays his cards and where he spends his money. Will he look to fill Dupuis’ spot on the first line or will he rebuild the third? Is he truly looking to return to the three center model? If history accounts for anything, when the smoke clears, he’ll leave us all slack-jawed with his trade prowess.
If I had any input, I’d ask for a Max Talbot-type player; a gritty third liner who adds energy every time he jumps over the boards. A guy who is tough on the fore check and fearlessly kills penalties. A guy with big personality who can bring it in the big games. A guy with the balls to “Shhhhh” the crowd after he got his ass kicked in order to spark his team.
As we approach the trade deadline, the Penguins feel less like a team under the capable control of Ray Shero and more like a team with control issues. Last year at this time the mantra was “Keep Calm and Trust Ray Shero”. This year, there’s nothing reflecting that sentiment; fans all over the net are arguing and fighting over who to trade, who to keep and when to fire Bylsma. We can speculate all we want but in the end, the best we can do is sit back and enjoy the ride as the Penguins, despite all their warts, sit at the top of the Metropolitan as the trade deadline looms.