Penguins Search for Right Mix on D – Pittsburgh Penguins – PenguinPoop Blog

Penguins Search for Right Mix on D

It’s a no-brainer, right? If you want to be a puck-possession team, you need defensemen who can move the puck.

pp0505On that count our Penguins get high marks. Kris Letang, Christian Ehrhoff, Paul Martin, and Simon Despres handle the puck with equal parts ability and aplomb. As do Olli Maatta (shoulder surgery) and hot prospect Derrick Pouliot.

There’s a flip side to loading up with so much skill. Friday night’s 6-3 loss to the Islanders was a prime example. New York forwards camped in the slot with impunity. It’s not the first time the Pens’ blue-liners failed to provide clear sightlines for Marc-Andre Fleury. It won’t be the last.

The price you pay for a quick, agile defense.

Not that the Pens’ back line is totally bereft of gristle. Despres takes the body with surprising consistency. And Letang throws an occasional check. For the most part, however, the black-and-gold defense is built more for the transition game than net-front traffic.

It’s a shortcoming that could cost the team come playoff time.

Dressing Scott Harrington over Robert Bortuzzo won’t help. Obviously the Penguins’ brass is high on Harrington. Yet it seems they’re trying to force feed the Kingston, Ontario native into the rotation.

I’m not sure it’s warranted. Coincidence or not, the Pens are 2-5 in the seven games Harrington’s played. In his past five games he’s a minus-9. The former second-round pick may one day develop into an effective stay-at-home defender a la Rob Scuderi. Thus far he seems overmatched.

I’ll take Bortuzzo. He’s no All-Star. But he’s big, fairly mobile, and plays with an edge. On a team stacked with finesse types, he’s my choice for No. 6 defenseman.

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  1. January 20, 2015 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

    I’m not sure your assessment of Bortuzzo is accurate. Scott Harrington however is an all-star. #pens #penguins

    • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
      January 20, 2015 at 11:25 pm | Permalink

      Regarding Harrington, make that a minus-11 in his last six games.

      I’m really not trying to dump on the kid. He actually looked more in sync against Philly, and he skates backward very well. I’m just not sure if he’s NHL ready.

  2. pen's 4ever's Gravatar pen's 4ever
    January 18, 2015 at 8:01 pm | Permalink

    I have said it since he left, but the Pen’s need a BIG, strong D-man like a Hall Gill, we haven’t had one since and it shows in front of the net, like today against the Rangers, no one to clear the front of Fleury.

    • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
      January 19, 2015 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

      Hey Pen’s 4ever,

      Funny, but I never truly appreciated Hal Gill while he was here. Then we played Montreal in the 2010 playoffs when he was with the Canadiens. And I noticed how he took away one side of the ice simply by stretching out his stick.

      The guy I always liked (and wished we’d have gotten) was John Erskine of the Capitals. Big, tough, and ornery. He could fight AND skate a regular shift on ‘d’ without embarrassing you.

      Alas, those guys…and old-style power forwards like Gary Roberts…are a dying breed.

  3. January 17, 2015 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

    Hey Rick,
    Right now it looks like Despres is the most well rounded defenseman the Penguins have. Early in Despres’ career the Penguins “said” that they sent him down to work on his offense, but it’s possible he was sent down to work on his physical presence.

    Harrington is 6’2 but plays like he’s 5’8. If the Penguins could get him to throw his body around like Despres does now, the two of them would be a pretty intimidating pair in the future. Bortuzzo is definitely the man until Harrington gets some grit and that could be a year or two.

    The Penguins could also stand to give David Perron some training on playing as hard on defense as he does on offense. He brings the Edmonton mentality that needs fixed fast. -35 over the last three seasons… ouch.

    • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
      January 17, 2015 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

      Hey Phil,

      Always great to hear from you…:)

      I’m with you a 100 percent. I LOVE Despres. Even though he isn’t piling up a ton of points, his outlet passes are a sight to behold. And he’s way more physical than I ever imagined. Every once in a while he’ll have a brain cramp, like he did against Tavares last night. But for the most part he’s been a tower of strength.

      I’m fearful Rutherford may use Simon as trade bait if he goes shopping for another forward. (Martin won’t bring anything as a pending UFA and JR won’t deal Pouliot.)

      That would be a tragic mistake. With his size and overall skills, Despres could be a cornerstone defenseman here for a long time.

      Harrington looks a step slow…like he’s having trouble adjusting to the speed of the NHL game. He wouldn’t be the first young defenseman to have that problem. The only way he’ll overcome it is to play.

      Still, I much prefer Bortuzzo.

      Got a good laugh out of your comments about Perron. Man, can he fire the puck! But I think he and Sid and Kunitz were a combined minus-7 against the Isles…despite scoring all three Pens’ goals!

      Can you say “fire-wagon hockey?”


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