|Mark Arcobello in happier days against the New York Rangers (photo by Gene Puskar)|
Everybody loves a good knee-jerk reaction: shortly after the Penguins' disastrous showings against the Washington Capitals and Nashville Predators, fans and bloggers alike (ahem, cough) thought that the proverbial sky was falling outside the Consol Energy Center.
Marc-Andre Fleury responded to the team's adversity by posting back-to-back shutouts, an effort that enabled Fleury to top Tom Barrasso's prior team mark of 7 whitewashes in a season.
Perhaps riding the crest of that feel-good success, the Penguins then did their best impression of a Weezer sweater and came undone against the Vancouver Canucks, losing by a final score of 273-0.
Okay, while Vancouver's Sedin Wonder Twins didn't exactly post that many points, the cumulative effect of the beatdown on the Penguins isn't that far off. Pittsburgh GM Jim Rutherford, who had picked up forward Mark Arcobello off of waivers from Nashville, apparently had seen enough of his recent acquisition and waived Arcobello again, setting off a curious sea of Penguin fan outrage.
In their minds, Rutherford and Johnston had given Arcobello every chance to succeed by playing him alongside Evgeni Malkin on the second line (to no great effect), but given his rather short leash, the acquisition and subsequent dumping of Arcobello hints at a more serious problem within the organization:
The Penguins' coaches and front office are beginning to panic.
Yes, it's only February and yes, the Penguins are in the thick of the division race, but Pittsburgh has largely floundered against the elite teams in the NHL this season as opponents have keyed in on a lack of player versatility that precludes the Penguins from adjusting to certain opposition tactics.
Indeed, "panic" in the form of a desperate roster move is the only reasonable explanation for Rutherford's Arcobello transactions, especially given that Zach Sill CONTINUES to be given a jersey on game day while Beau Bennett sits on the schnide.
The Penguins are pushing Bennett to move past his apparent injury PTSD and regain the confidence to enter high traffic areas of the ice, but the decision to sit Bennett and waive Arcobello while Sill remains active indicates that there's a very real degree of spaghetti coaching happening behind the bench, especially since Sill's skillset is woefully limited and provides nothing in terms of possession or offensive prowess.
More to the point, what exactly did Arcobello do/not do that Zach Sill does oh-so-well that made Arcobello so expendable?
The moves are all the more confusing given that Pittsburgh is finally getting healthy, with Patric Hornqvist returning to the lineup and Blake Comeau set to rejoin his teammates either tonight against Detroit or later this week. If the team's idea was to test Arcobello's ability to replace Sill in the lineup, then why didn't they scratch Sill and allow Arcobello to play alongside the players he'd likely play with in the first place? What was accomplished by having him play up with Geno?
Comeau was finding success (and a goal scorer's touch) alongside Malkin before going down with injury, but the acquisition of David Perron seems to have bumped Comeau down to the third line, with Malkin-favorite Nick Spaling claiming wingman status to #71.
Assuming that Perron and Kunitz stay on opposite sides of Crosby, that would mean that Comeau is paired with the likes of Steve Downie and Brandon Sutter on the third, and Beau Bennett would join Adams and the apparent world-beater Sill on the fourth.
Given the transparent line projections, why was Arcobello brought on board, if not for a desperate shot in the dark? Did someone in scouting see the second coming of Kevin Stevens in a guy with 12 career goals in just over a season's worth of games? Did Arcobello test highly on whatever "grit" gradient Rutherford's analytics team uses?
If the questions seem rhetorical (and sarcastic) in nature, it's because the Penguins' roster is the Mary Celeste and there's nobody steering the ship. Beau Bennett isn't a third or fourth liner— especially given his current aversion to contact— but it appears as though Johnston is the hammer, Beau the square peg and the fourth line the round hole.
It's fine that Rutherford took a chance and brought in a player to see if he would gel within the lineup, but it's not okay when every aspect of the waiver claim is self-defeating. Arcobello was never given a chance to fill a niche that actually exists within the lineup (fourth line stability), and the team is no closer to sorting out its Johnston Jigsaw Puzzle of line composition for the playoffs.
A scary thought: with the trade deadline rapidly approaching, will Rutherford make more knee-jerk roster moves (especially with a possible long-shot return of Pascal Dupuis), or will he learn from the Arcobello Debacle?