Is the Penguins’ Defense Good Enough? – Pittsburgh Penguins – PenguinPoop Blog

Is the Penguins’ Defense Good Enough?

Back in 1973 the Philadelphia Flyers drafted defenseman Larry Goodenough with their second-round pick. Cleverly nicknamed “Izzy,” Goodenough enjoyed some early success with Philly before fizzling later on.

pp0431It made me think of the Penguins’ defense. As it’s currently constructed, is the black-and-gold blueline corps good enough to anchor a Stanley Cup winner? Or will it falter down the road a la Izzy?

There’s no denying the Pens possess enviable defensive depth. No fewer than 11 d-men have skated for the locals this season—including prospects Simon Despres, Brian Dumoulin, and Philip Samuelsson. None have looked out of place.

While depth is an important piece of the Stanley Cup puzzle, other elements such as size, speed, physicality, offensive instincts and defensive acumen are required if a team is to capture hockey’s Holy Grail. Making a good first pass is an undervalued asset, as is the ability to read the play and keep the crease clear in front of Marc-Andre Fleury.

On paper the Penguins’ defense appears to have all the necessary ingredients. However, upon closer inspection there may be some holes. In nine games dating back to January 2 (and preceding tonight’s contest with Dallas) the team has leaked for 29 goals—or an unsightly average of 3.16 goals against per game. Ironically, the disturbing trend has coincided with the return of several seasoned veterans.

Here’s a brief glance at the present pairings:

Olli Maatta-Matt Niskanen: Hands-down the team’s best tandem, which is remarkable considering the 19-year-old Maatta had another year of junior eligibility and Niskanen was prime trade-bait. Thanks to their collective speed, instincts, and puck smarts they’ve emerged as a force to be reckoned with, although a lack of muscle may hurt.

Paul Martin-Brooks Orpik: The jury’s still out on last season’s shutdown pair. A classic case of a mobile, two-way type in Martin teaming with a backline hammer (Orpik), injuries have prevented them from fully developing their on-ice chemistry. They’ll get a chance to reconnect while playing for Team USA at Sochi in the upcoming Olympics.

Kris Letang-Rob Scuderi: The wild-card pairing. Ideally, a complimentary combo that features a gifted offensive performer and a stay-at-home Rock of Gibraltar. However, “Tanger’s” been error-prone and erratic, while “Scuds” has appeared out of sync and slow afoot since his return from a broken ankle.

Should any of the regulars falter or suffer injury, rangy Robert Bortuzzo and rugged Deryk Engelland are waiting in the wings. Each plays with an edge, and Engelland’s displayed a surprising flair for offense. Neither is capable of filling a top-four role for an extended period. If a top defender goes down look for Despres—exiled to the Baby Pens and deep in the organizational doghouse—to return.

There’s always the possibility that GM Ray Shero will alter the mix with a trade, although he’ll most likely peddle a defenseman for help up front. In any event, it’ll be interesting to see if the Penguins’ defense is good enough for a run at the Cup.

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  1. Zack's Gravatar Zack
    January 26, 2014 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

    I’m a big fan of Despres, and do not understand why he’s in the doghouse. He does make some mistakes, but they all have. Most notably the maddening ” no look behind the back drop passes” to the other team that Sid and Malkin love so much. I’d put Despres in over anyone not named Maatta or Niskanen. Bortuzzo would be in my top 6 as well. This team needs a spark from time to time, and Bortuzzo seems to be able to provide that.

    • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
      January 26, 2014 at 6:36 pm | Permalink

      Hey Zack,

      I agree with everything you say. With all due respect to Orpik and Scuderi, who’ve given their all for the black and gold and rightfully have earned a place of honor among the team’s heroes, I’d play Despres and Bortuzzo over them in a heartbeat.

      Frankly, I’m not thrilled with Martin, either, although he distributes the puck reasonably well on the power play.

      In particular, your observation about Bortuzzo providing a (badly needed) spark is spot on. He’s one of the few guys on the team who thrives on and initiates confrontations. You’ve got to have that element in the lineup or you wind up playing passionless hockey (the Dallas game is a prime example).

      • Zack's Gravatar Zack
        January 27, 2014 at 11:04 pm | Permalink

        Martin was fantastic last season. I think he may have been the best D all year. But it seems like he’s been average with flashes of his sometimes brilliant self of last season. It’s frustrating to watch.

        I love all our older vets, but eventually youth and energy need to be injected. I’m glad the cap dropped honestly, without that we may not have gotten to see some of the young forwards like Megna and Gibbons play. I’ve digressed a bit but had to get that thought out haha.

        And one last side note, I love Engelland on the fourth line.

        • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
          January 28, 2014 at 9:44 am | Permalink

          Once again, Zack, I couldn’t agree more with your comments. I thought Martin was terrific last year–and I confess to being one of the guys who wanted Shero to dump him for a bag of used pucks. Your description of his play this season is spot on–mostly average with flashes of brilliance.

          I, too, like our vets. Most of them are warriors who give their all for the Pens. But at some point in time you have to start integrating some youth into the lineup or the team begins to get stale.

          I do like the fact that Megna and Gibbons (who seems to blend pretty well with Sid and Kunitz) have gotten consistent playing time. (You and I seem to think alike … 🙂

          And I like Engelland at right wing, too. He gives us a physical presence up front, provides insurance in case a d-man goes down, and has shown a surprising scoring touch. Kind of a win, win, win with “Engo.”

  2. Connie's Gravatar Connie
    January 26, 2014 at 7:28 am | Permalink

    They’re good enough. It’s getting there. Give it some time for the chemistry to blend.


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