Penguins Update: Toughness Still an Issue – Pittsburgh Penguins – PenguinPoop Blog

Penguins Update: Toughness Still an Issue

January 28 at the Verizon Center in Washington. Six minutes to play. Then-Pens defenseman Christian Ehrhoff attempts to ram Alex Ovechkin into the sideboards. With an almost excuse-me sweep of his forearm, the Caps’ superman turns the tables and flattens the black-and-gold defender. Ehrhoff sustains a concussion.

There were other incidents like this one in 2014-15. Such as Blue Jackets behemoth Ryan Johansen making road kill of Sidney Crosby at center ice on the opening shift on March 1. Or the Coyotes’ Shane Doan launching Kris Letang into the end boards like an unguided missile on March 28, resulting in another concussion. One that doused any hopes for a Cup run.

You get the picture.

Fast-forward to the summer. Penguins GM Jim Rutherford did a lot of good things. Reinforcing the team physically wasn’t one of them. Indeed, our Pens seem more vulnerable than ever. Only free-agent winger Sergei Plotnikov has a documented history of aggressive play.

It’s a far cry from a few seasons back, when the Pens iced one of the toughest teams around. Wanna’ mess with Sid or Geno? Meet Mike Rupp. Take a run at Tanger?  Have a knuckle sandwich, courtesy of Mr. Engelland.

Now our stars have to fend for themselves, as Crosby did when he fought Columbus disturber Brandon Dubinsky last February. What if he’d broken a hand—or worse—bouncing a punch off of Dubinsky’s rock-hard helmet? Heaven forbid.

I realize the NHL has entered an enlightened age. Heavyweights have gone the way of the dodo. Fighting is on the wane. Even Filthy McNasties like the Bruins and Flyers are embracing a kinder, gentler style.

More to the point, the Penguins want to emulate the Cup-champion Blackhawks. They want to roll four lines. They don’t want to carry a knuckle-dragger who might score a goal, say, every 24 games. Which is what they got from “skilled” fourth-liner Andrew Ebbett last season.

Still, does it make sense to hang your stars out to dry? That’s what JR and Company are doing by forsaking any real semblance of a physical presence. Take Letang, for example. The super-skilled defender has sustained three documented concussions over the past five seasons. After Rutherford dealt Robert Bortuzzo and Simon Despres at the trade deadline, opponents ran at Tanger with impunity.

Think our foes will let up this season?

And what about Marc-Andre Fleury? Given the less-than-imposing nature of the Pens’ defense, the acrobatic goalie may need a chainsaw to cut sight lines through the forest of opposing forwards stacking up in his crease.

A rugged defenseman would help.

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  1. Larch's Gravatar Larch
    October 8, 2015 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

    Even the blackhawks, hardly a brutish team, employed the services of Bryan Bickell for 6 seasons, and also had Daniel Carcillo during the last cup run. And neither were there to score 20 goals. lol. The penguins are insanely soft. And it will cost them. They are likely to lead the league in injuries as usual. Crosby had higher production by miles and was healthier by far during the “Eric Godard Era”.

  2. Jim's Gravatar Jim
    August 21, 2015 at 10:00 pm | Permalink

    I appreciate your point of view,however I do not believe the theory that injuries just happen,and for some unknown reason the Pens seem to get a higher percentage of them as a team than others.(Sid,Geno,and Letang )
    I make two points.
    1.When we had 6’4″ 225# Jordan Stall and crazy Matt Cooke, they played against the top lines and took much of the abuse that has been directed at Crosby and Malkin.Stall often played 25+ minutes a night,more than Crosby or Malkin did.Sure Stall scored only 25 goals a season,but he prevented at least 75 goals a season from being scored upon and took all the abuse that is being directed at Sid and Geno.He and Cooke could take it. Sid and Geno can not.You may not like Cooke’s style of play,but he kept the other teams honest most of the time.Plus he could score 20 + goals every year. We miss them both on our team.
    That is my first point, that the team as currently configured is not the same team when we had Stall,Cooke,Roberts,Gill,Rupp,Martin,ect.We lost that edge.
    My second point is that the organization has NO depth,as compared to the other elite teams.We have never been able to develop any forwards that could serve as a top 3 star level or even a top 6 level player on an elite NHL team in the past 7-8 years.Why? Our drafting philosophy was flawed.
    Phil Kessel will score 40 goals this year…mostly on the power play. But we still do not match up well against the elite teams in the league in a 7 game physical series.We need to get younger, bigger, faster,and stronger as a team, starting with our defense, before we will ever raise the cup again.
    A fourth line that plays 8 minutes a game as compared to having Stall playing 22 minutes, Sid at 20 minutes, and Geno at 18 minutes,this makes more sense to me.Fourth lines are great for depth, injury,developing young talent, or having a PK specialist.However, 3 strong lines that play well…That is my answer.

  3. Levi's Gravatar Levi
    August 21, 2015 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

    Malkin and Crosby missed a combined 167 games during the Rupp/Engelland era. Having them did absolutely nothing to protect them. Having Steve Downie did absolutely nothing to protect Letang. Despres?? Nobody was scared of him. Injuries happen, I’d much rather be a “soft” team with a 4th line that scores 20 goals than a “gritty” team with an awful 4th line that doesn’t contribute offensively and does nothing to protect star players. I can’t believe people still believe that having a tough guy is going to make anyone think twice about taking a cheap shot.

    • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
      August 21, 2015 at 10:50 pm | Permalink

      You and I are obviously on opposite sides of the hockey universe.

      Granted, hockey is a game of speed, skill and creativity. It’s also a game of physical confrontation. As a team, you’d better be able to win at least some of those confrontations.

      Nowhere in my post did I suggest, as you hint, that the Pens go out and acquire a one-dimensional enforcer. I recognize that the game has evolved to a degree. I did mention Mike Rupp and Deryk Engelland. For the record, Rupp averaged 11 goals during his two-year stay in the ‘Burgh. Or about half the production you’re expecting from your soft-serve fourth line. And Engelland scored six goals in a swingman role two seasons ago. Both provided a ton of intangibles.

      Your assertion that having a tough guy–or a team with tougher players—never dissuaded an opponent from taking a cheap shot is strictly a matter of opinion.

      The bottom line? The Blackhawks have won three Cups in the last six years. Their first Cup team featured bruisers like Dustin Byfuglien and Andrew Ladd. The last two have generally been undersized teams that emphasized skill and puck movement over brawn. However, they also featured players like Andrew Shaw, who would skate through a brick wall to earn two points, and crease-clearing defenseman Brent Seabrook. Hawks Captain Jonathan Toews is as mentally tough as they come.

      Don’t forget. The other recent Cup winners—the Kings and Bruins—played a physical style.

    • Mike's Gravatar Mike
      August 22, 2015 at 10:06 pm | Permalink


      The first thing I would like to say is “your way off base” – You must have someone that is respected around the league as an enforcer on your bench so that players like Crosby, Malkin, Letang, etc….etc… can play there game without
      be intimidated – The guys you mentioned in my opinion were never feared by
      other teams in the league – Rupp couldn’t fight and Engelland who was a gamer is a mediocre fighter at best. If Rutherford does not address the lack of team toughness with both a winger and defenseman it will be curtains again come playoff time.

      • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
        August 23, 2015 at 9:55 am | Permalink

        Just to bring things full circle. The type of player I covet is Nick Foligno of Columbus. Tough, aggressive, drives the net, scores…and drops the mitts when push comes to shove. He’s my idea of a hockey player. One I wish we had.

        With the exception of an all-too brief window in the early 2000s when the Pens drafted and developed guys like Brooks Orpik, Tyler Kennedy, Ryan Malone and Max Talbot, they almost NEVER select players who combine skill with snarl. Instead, our developmental pipeline is littered with speedy little guys who have virtually no chance of making a real impact in the NHL.

    • Larch's Gravatar Larch
      October 8, 2015 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

      When Crosby and Geno began having their “injury runs” is exactly the same time when the team softening was in progress and some of their still existing tougher type guys were put on short leashes. Like Engelland, who pretty much said exactly that, during his last two years in Pitt. Its the management/owners desire to see fighting out of the game that is hurting the team. Now more than ever with antifighting joke gm Jim Rutherford at the helm. And now, not just having a couple of tough guys that have handcuffs on by management, but now they have none at all period. Not a responsible move or good recipe to put the team over the top. The fact their best years were with a crazy guy, with a big mean streak and one of best fighters in the league is no coincidence. The stars were healthy, they were in two cup finals winning one and were more productive than any time since, Crosby scoring as many as 51 goals. Now hes getting in the twenties even when he makes it a full season? And missing significant time every other year. Pathetic.

  4. Jim's Gravatar Jim
    August 21, 2015 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

    I could not agree more.
    Well said Rick.


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