Sunday, February 17, 2013

Pens Beat Sabres 4-3; Maybe they do have a first line?

By Finesse

We spend so much time worrying about the winger Sid doesn't have that we often fail to appreciate the winger he does have.

Pascal Dupuis has gone from a throw-in piece of the Marian Hossa trade who had 0 points in the Cup run of 2009, to an incredibly effective and efficient "winger for Sid."  He doesn't snipe like James Neal, and he doesn't put up numbers at the pace that Hossa would have but he works as hard as anyone in the league and it pays off time and time again.  His speed makes him not only one of the most relentless forecheckers in the league, but also one of the fiercest "backcheckers" while the puck is still in the offensive zone.  Even if the opponent gets the first pass by the first forechecker, Dupuis is picking pockets by the blue line and mopping up every loose puck.  And now he's added the Finish to his game.

What a player.  And what a line.

A few other brief thoughts after the jump...

- Pens are 8 for 32 on the power play since Paul Martin first manned the point in the 5-2 win over Washington on February 7th.  If the Pens ever finished a season with a 32% power-play, they'd have the President's Trophy locked up by March 15th.  Kudos to Bylsma for bucking the conventional wisdom that your best defenseman (Letang) has to also man the #1 PP unit.  Or maybe it shouldn't be conventional wisdom?

- But lets give Letang credit where it's due.  His assist on Dupuis' second goal was the best backhand pass we can remember by a Penguin not named Sidney Crosby.  He's playing terrific.

- Same for Flower. The healthy competition from Vokoun is suiting Flower well.

Making a case for Da Onus in this year's playoffs.
- It's frustrating to watch Beau Bennett get juggled among lines on every shift.  Bylsma, we presume at the direction of Shero, is often way too quick to change line combinations just because a line has a bad shift.  The luxury of having two #1 centers is that you can sacrifice one of their lines (Malkin's, in this case) for a game to let Bennet have a legit opportunity to play 15-18 minutes with the same two people.  And the best part is that if Bennet is who we hope he is, it wouldn't be a sacrifice at all.

- Maybe Bennet isn't the answer to the gaping black hole on Malkin's line.  In fact, we don't know what the answer is.  But we do know what it's not: Tanner Glass.  If he was offered $1 million to interfere with his own teammates, he couldn't have done a better job than he did on one shift in the second period.

- The Prime Minister.


  1. The way Crosby, Kunitz, and Dupuis are playing right now is exactly why we advocated putting them together immediately when Sid came back last spring. The conventional wisdom at the time, you'll recall, was that you just couldn't break up Malkin, Neal, and Kunitz. Under any circumstances. What nonsense. What have we learned? 1) No line combination should ever be set in stone; and 2)GTOG has a memory like an elephant.

  2. A few games ago, Bob Errey semi-called out Malkin for the fact that no left winger on his line had registered a point all year (up to that point). On the one hand, it was ridiculous -- you can only be expected to do so much with the dead wood that is Eric Tangradi (and Zach Boychuk). On the other hand, Malkin is coming off a year where he was the undisputed #1 player in the world. I know you're an advocate of putting Dustin Jeffrey with Geno, but putting that aside for a moment ... do you assign any percentage of blame to Malkin and Neal for the fact that they haven't been able to get ANYTHING out of their other linemate? I'm leaning toward only 5% of blame because when they had a real winger last year (Kunitz), they were unstoppable. But still ... 1 point in 16 games from the left wing spot?

  3. First of all, I always enjoy our conversations in the comments section of our blog post when there are no other comments. Second, I think there are a couple of things going on with Geno's line. It's important to note that Geno and Neal haven't really done much at even strength either. Can't put it all on Boychuk and Tangradi. That said, Boychuk and Tangradi sucked. But Geno has produced at an MVP level with no top tier players on his line, so there is no way in my mind that his inability to produce much with only one of the best RW's in hockey on his flank is anything but a short-term fluke.

  4. I do put at least a significant chunk of this on Geno and Neal. What I see as the reasons?: First, Geno's shooting percentage is terrible. You have to think it comes up eventually as some puck luck evens it out. Unfortunately, Geno is Exhibit #1 of allowing frustration to get to you, which isn't going to help that happen any sooner.

    Second, I think that Geno and Neal are fulfilling more defined roles as passer/shooter: Geno has no goals; Neal has no assists. Why? - I know know. Maybe Geno trying to force things to happen and feeling the need to be the playmaker? I just know he needs to start evening it up a bit. He's puts pucks in when he's thinking like a sniper.

    Last, they can't seem to get any sustained pressure. Perhaps this is all or mostly because Kunitz is really important to the forecheck. But they can't get out of the defensive zone either - hence the poor +/-. Perhaps they are getting assigned to play head-to-head against top lines rather than the primary checking line more often than last year? Vice-versa? Perhaps they just need to be better defensively - or get a winger for the left who has strong defensive skills. You can't score when the only time you spend in the offensive zone is the PP. Honestly, this makes me wonder if Bennett is the right fit, much as I want to see him succeed. Given the time Cooke has seen there in the last couple of games, I guess this is DB's assessment.

    The guy who should take some blame that you haven't mentioned?: Bylsma. The constant in-game line changes can't possibly help anybody. At this point, I have to think any guy consistently - Bennett, Cooke, DJ - is better than the game of musical chairs we see every game.

    1. I always agree about Bylsma. I don't think he's a bad coach, but he escapes criticism way too often. Therrien has the Habs leading the EC right now. Food for thought when thinking about the Pens's only Cup since Mario.

    2. You both make great points. Two thoughts:

      1) I still hold off on making final judgments about that line because I think the immediate return from the Staal and Michalek trades is incomplete. As we've talked about, Shero must have had a plan for more immediate help than Sutter. Right now he has cap Sutter and cap space. I assume (hope) that will turn into something more to help the team this year because we all know the team isn't far away from the Cup.

      2) It's impossible to complain about Bylsma's regular season record as a coach, but in the past three years he has not shown that he can out-coach a good coach in a 7-game series. Whether he did that in 2009 remains up for debate, I guess, but I do think that the further away we get from that run, the more the legend of Mike Therrien grows. And I don't know if that is entirely fair to Bylsma. The Pens were bad under Therrien in 2008-09 ... sure, we can complain that the players quit on him (which they did), but that's also an indictment of Therrien's ability as a coach. It's not all X's and O's. Then DB took over and went close to undefeated and, in the biggest accomplishment of all, beat Mike Babcock's Red Wings team that was one of the most talented (and well-coached) teams in recent memory.

      This year's playoffs, assuming full health, should answer the questions about DB once and for all.