Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Pens beat Carolina, 5-3; Tanner Glass is still pointless, plus thoughts on Shero, Sutter and Juicy J

By Finesse

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
So in evaluating these deals, don't compare 2013-Iginla to 2004-Iginla or 2013-Morrow to 2008-Morrow or 2013-Jokinen to 2010-Jokinen.  Compare them to 2013-Trevor Smith, 2013-Joe Vitale, and 2013-Dustin Jeffrey.

(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.
Where is the law that Brandon Sutter is guaranteed a spot in the top-9?

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.


  1. I don't see why a discussion about Sutter as a 4th line center even needs to happen. I'm not quite as low on his current contributions as you guys are (though I'm hardly high either).

    But line #s don't much matter on this team. We pretty much have two #1 lines when everyone is healthy. Why can't we have two #3 lines too? What difference does the label make? 4th lines generally end up just playing each other, while the 3rd line goes up against the top line of the other team when they can. If they are defensively responsible enough - either the 3rd or 4th line could go against the other teams top lines or just outscore their counterpart.

    So what difference does it make. If everyone is healthy (fingers crossed), you could have:
    (or 9-87-12; 14-71-18)

    and then:
    or some combination thereof. (Adams prob has to stay in to PK; I hate to see Bennett get bumped for TK, but I bet that's what would happen.) Make one primarily defensive - one more offensive. Or balance both. Whatever. Neither would qualify as a 4th line.

    If Neal can't get back, things would change obviously, but not the bigger point. Just find 4 lines that work together well. It'll end up being top line against top line in the playoffs anyway, since it always does and Bylsma refuses to play match-ups.

    1. I take your points, but this is not a team that will roll four lines a la the mid-90's Devils. When you have as much star power as the Pens do in their top 6, those guys will get a disproportionate amount of the ice time (when healthy). As a result, there just isn't enough TOI to go around for 4th liners to see anymore limited minutes a game. So as a practical matter, it does make a difference if you're on the third or fourth line, because on most nights that will determine whether you see 10 or 15 minutes of ice.

      Sure, in theory you could split 3rd and 4th line time equally, but Bylsma has never done so.

    2. Brandy -- I agree that labeling the lines with a number isn't always necessary, but like Artistry suggested, line numbers are more of a shorthand for ice time.

      Sutter only has one goal in his last 13 games. He's averaging 16:38 in ice time. He's gotten opportunities to skate with good wingers, too, as Malkin and now Sid have each missed time.

      The good news is that the team has been fine without a ton of contribution from him. Jokinen just gives the Pens an option if Sutter continues to not contribute offensively. Maybe Sutter's ice time drops to 12-15 mins and Jokinen in the 15-17 range if Sutter keeps slumping and Jokinen keeps playing well. Point is, Bylsma has flexibility and Sutter's performance hasn't necessarily been good enough to shield him from being one of the guys "flexed" into fewer minutes.

      (Also in full disclosure -- sometimes we write about these things just because we like to get out in front of potential story lines so that we can later come back and say that we said it first. This allows us to raise a little banner in our own heads and on gchat with each other).

    3. Fair enough- but there's no reason you can't give that ice to the 3/4 line playing better during that game. Or mix and match the lines (which will happen) and reward the individuals who are playing well. It can very from game to game. Bylsma certainly does that

      No one should be guaranteed a certain amount of ice - not even the big boys. And I see no reason why Bylsma wouldn't do a more even split if he had a 4th line worth a damn - which he hasn't ever had.

      And ideally - we win with Sid/Geno, etc, playing 18-21 min vs. 22-24 min. Saving them the wear of those few minutes a game if we have a solid lead - and giving it to the 3/4 line guys (if you have 3/4 line guys that can handle it) - would certainly make a difference at the end of a long playoff run. That's why depth matters.

    4. In any case - I think the more interesting question is who gets on the ice at all. Is the staff actually going to sit Bennett for TK? Or Adams or Glass? They seem compelled to get Glass on the ice, despite him having done nothing all year: perhaps because he fights? I can't figure out another reason.

      Ditto with Engelland, who hasn't played well at all. It infuriates me to see Despres sitting for him or Bortuzzo - especially when we are in desperate need of someone who can move the puck - occasional bad decision or not. It's just intolerable. And they justify it by saying that Bortuzzo is in because Car is good at playing around the net. And of course, he got his ass handed to him in front of the net on the 3rd goal. That was awesome.

      Are we really going to have to suffer through the playoffs with either Engelland or Glass wasting space in the name of deterring the other team from getting nasty? Does that really even work? Pens have plenty of grit and physically without them.

    5. I think you'll see Glass for at least the rest of the regular season. Pens are in a pretty great spot, standings-wise and -- this is the saddest thing in the world, but still -- will try to get him a point before the season is over. If (maybe when?) the Pens clinch the #1 seed, Glass will see PP time. As annoying as that will be for us, it's also probably part of the reason the Pens and Bylsma are seen as a destination team.

      If everyone is healthy, I don't think Bennett plays. I'd like him to, but not sure who you'd actually sit. The coaching staff likes TK and he has been decent in the playoffs. I can tell you, though, that I'd like Bennett to be the first reserve instead of Glass or Vitale.

      As for the D, it's not certain that any of Engelland, Bortuzzo, or Despres will play if all are healthy.

      Oprik, Niskanen, Murray, Letang, Eaton, Martin...

      Who would this coaching staff sit from that group?

      If Martin misses time in Round 1 and Engelland or Bortuzzo plays instead of Despres, then there's a problem.

  2. Glass is chasing history. If your Byslma, you can't get in the way of Glass's (is that the correct possesive?) epic display of futility. I would also start putting glass out there during shootouts and powerplays to further showcase his talents.

    My prediction is that Sutter will come on strong the next few games and cement himself as the 3rd line center going into the playoffs. JJ does provide some nice insurance though.

    Regarding BOBO, he deserves a jersey every night and I think it would be a shame to see the Pens not give him a shot to play in the playoffs.