It's always a great break when you catch a team in the midst of a free-fall like the Carolina Hurricanes (they are 1-infinity-1 in their last 14 games). The Canes didn't roll over for the Pens by any stretch, but they have so little to play for and such shaky goaltending that as long as the Pens didn't quit, Carolina was going to give the Pens opportunities to get back into it.
|When did he become, legitimately, one of the best wingers in the league?|
We're hesitant to use the term "genius" to describe Ray Shero's trades, because they're less than two weeks old and it doesn't take a genius to identify guys with career resumes like Iginla, Morrow, Jokinen, and Murray and think they can be assets to your team. But last night was a chance to marvel at the magnificent utility of Shero's deals. The focus at the time of the trades -- and rightfully so -- was on what these new guys could do filling roles alongside the big boys. Little thought was given to how great these trades would be in the event that some of the big boys were missing.
If you planted yourself firmly in the contrarian camp that the Iginla and Morrow acquisitions were overrated because those guys aren't the same players as they used to be, you were asking yourself the wrong questions. Because, to point out the obvious, consider what the lines would have been last night without these trades compared to what they were.
- Line 1 with trades: Malkin-Iginla-Kunitz
- Line 1 w/o trades: Malkin-Dupuis-Kunitz
- Line 2 with trades: Jokinen-Dupuis-Morrow
- Line 2 w/o trades: Sutter-Kennedy-Cooke
- Line 3 with trades: Sutter-Kennedy-Cooke
- Line 3 w/o trades: Jeffrey-Bennett-Trevor Smith(?)
- Line 4 with trades: Adams-Glass-Bennet
- Line 4 w/o trades: Adams-Glass-Vitale
(We could do a similar analysis for Crankshaft's impact on the defense but Dan Bylsma inexplicably refuses to dress Simon Despres, opting instead to let Derek Engelland tread water for 13 minutes/night).
More thoughts after the jump...
- If everyone gets healthy, of course, there are too many deserving bodies for the 6 spots on the top-2 lines. But what seems to be working best so far is the Center-Scorer-Grinder model. Malkin with Iginla and Kunitz looks better than Malkin with Iginla and Neal, if only because Neal and Iginla's skill sets have significant overlap, whereas Kunitz brings something different to the table.
- Brenden Morrow was an awkward acquisition for a few games. Now he's getting into playoff Beast Mode.
- There is one potentially big issue to keep an eye on, and that's the play of Brandon Sutter. The assumption is that if everyone is healthy, Juicy J will drop down to a 4th line role, or bump TK off the 3rd line and play with Sutter and Cooke.
|Gettin' turnt up.|
Sutter shows some great flashes, has big moments, and looks bred to be a playoff warhorse. But his shift-by-shift and game-by-game consistency is anything but consistent. The truth is that Juicy J has looked better than Sutter and while it's only a few games, it's not like Sutter's play has made it inconceivable that he could be taken out of the top-9. Tyler Kennedy has been trying noticeably harder since the trades, fully aware that his ice time is not guaranteed. We should be seeing similar urgency from Sutter. We aren't.
We're still confident that Sutter will be better in the playoffs than he has been during his current slide. Plus he's a bigger body and could matchup better against top competition if he's tasked solely with that job. So it's too soon to advocate for a change like this. We're just saying it's on the radar.
- Beau Bennett on the 4th line is starting to make more and more sense. He looked great there last night, and minutes on the 4th line would get him matched up (most likely) against another team's worst defensive-pairing. When the Pens won the Cup in 1991, Jaromir Jagr skated alongside the likes of an already-aged Bryan Trottier, Bob Errey, Phil Bourque, and Jiri Hrdina. The team was too deep for him to skate on the lines he belonged, but he was way too good not to get ice time. Though he's not Jagr, the same may be true for Bennett. After all, many a big playoff goal have been scored by guys with young, naive legs.
- We all know what kind of player Jordan Staal is. That team is in a deep funk, and that's really all his play last night reflects. But raise your hand if you're really sorry the Pens didn't give him $60 million.
- Tanner Glass broke his streak of infinite games without a point. Except he didn't. The dream is alive.
- Oh, by the way, the Pens clinched the division. Brooks Orpik, who was somehow a +4 last night, summed it up perfectly: "If it was baseball, we'd be celebrating right now, champagne and stuff. A little different culture, I guess." As this NSFW (language) clip from Goon confirms, it is not, in fact, baseball.
- Finally, if you're bored at work, Artie Lange and Don Cherry discuss women's basketball.