If we've said it once, we've said it a million times about the random weekend afternoon games against bad teams: you try to accomplish two things -- pad the stats and don't get hurt. The Pens hit all the checkboxes Saturday.
Having bookends like James Neal and Chris Kunitz is useful. The Geno to Neal play off the draw has replaced the Geno-push-the-draw-forward-and-tap-to-wide-open-winger-in-front as easily the most dangerous faceoff play in hockey.
|Would have owned 1988.|
About that defense, read on after the jump...
- The abominable defensive effort would not be a concern if the Pens were otherwise a shutdown team. Sloppy games happen, and when the opposing coach is stubbornly refusing to remove a goalie who is completely overwhelmed, it's understandable that the Pens would play a little loose to try to abuse said goalie. But for some reason, the whole is less than the sum of the parts the Pens have on defense. We used to revel in the notion that this team had no less than four no. 1 caliber defensemen, or at least four 1a's. Four guys who could eat 25 minutes a night and step up with a huge performance at any time. No longer. This team has one great defenseman, and it's Kris Letang.
Paul Martin is the object of a lot of outright vitriol from the fan-base and it's at least partially deserved. He is so far from a $5 million defensemen that we're close to refusing to go on Capgeek because we don't want to see it in print. But the Pens softness of defense goes a lot deeper than Martin, and the first guy people should look at, but it seems that no one does, is Zbynek Michalek. He makes $4 million, has 6 points in 35 games, and is a -10. The expectations for him are different from Martin because they were branded as having different strengths -- Martin more of a puck-mover, Michalek a shutdown shotblocker.
But here's the thing. It's turned out that Martin and Michalek are much closer in styles than anyone anticipated. They have the same strengths (occasionally taking the puck off people, blocking shots, some other stuff that's not that great) and the same weaknesses (no physicality, limited offensive skills, no mean-streak, etc, etc, etc), yet they've been part of the same underachieving defensive pairing for almost two years. Isn't it time to shake it up?
Maybe the hesitation is that the Pens don't want to relegate one of their big 2010 signings to the third pairing, but the truth is that a lot of times those guys are playing like third-pairing defensemen. This isn't a case for more ice time for Niskanen and Engelland, because they are also just mediocre. But maybe you get more out of Paul Martin if you put him with a physical player like Engelland? Or maybe you do that with Michalek? Whatever the case, it's worth mixing it up, and if/when the Pens make a trade for a defenseman, it can't just be with plans to slot him into the third pairing. Alex Ovechkin really doesn't want to face a Michalek/Hal Gill situation in May.
Tampa tonight. LGP. GTOG.