Penguins in Search of Identity – Pittsburgh Penguins – PenguinPoop Blog

Penguins in Search of Identity

Shortly after the Penguins were brushed aside in round one of the 2015 playoffs, general manager Jim Rutherford formulated a plan. His intent…remake his team in the image of the Chicago Blackhawks, a speedy, ultra-skilled club that captured the Stanley Cup by rolling four productive lines.

Wasting little time, Rutherford acquired Phil Kessel from Toronto in a blockbuster trade and followed up with a flurry of savvy signings and acquisitions like Nick Bonino and Matt Cullen.


The Pens experienced a major paradigm shift when Mike Sullivan took over as coach. Go became the watchword. Employing a quicksilver style described by Matt Larkin of The Hockey News as “organized chaos,” the black and gold burned through the opposition en route to a Stanley Cup.

“It’s reading and reacting and understanding that the faster you can be, the faster you can do things,” said former Pen Chris Kunitz. “It puts your teammates in a better situation when they get the puck. Gives them more time to make that next play, catch someone else out of position.”

Although the Pens weren’t quite as dominant last season—especially after the loss of fleet defenseman Kris Letang—they still possessed enough depth, speed and firepower to bring home a second-straight Cup.

Which leads us to this past summer. Frustrated with the way the league turned a blind eye while stars like Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin absorbed undo abuse, Rutherford made an abrupt U-turn. At the 2017 Entry Draft he acquired bruiser Ryan Reaves from St. Louis.

While well intentioned, the move may have unwittingly robbed the Penguins of their identity. Especially when it became all-too-apparent that their newly acquired enforcer not only possessed a heavy right hook, but heavy feet as well. The departure of Cullen, a remarkably good skater given his age, didn’t help.

Overnight, it seems, the Pens morphed from a fast, four-line team into a hybrid group featuring three skill lines and a heavy (there’s that word again) fourth line.

If you’ll pardon my Pittsburghese, that’s where we’re at. No longer fast enough to employ a pure speed game, and not rugged enough to excel at a grinding game. In geographical terms, it’s sort of like being stranded halfway up the proverbial creek without a paddle.

So what’s the solution?

Given their struggles to win puck battles, the Pens could use at least one more forward, preferably a left wing, who’s at home in the dirty areas. However, the newcomer would need to produce and keep pace, a la the departed Kunitz. The last time the Pens added size for the sake of bulking up, it backfired. Remember Maxim Lapierre and Daniel Winnik?

In the meantime, the Penguins need to generate more speed with their present group. Adopting a chip-and-chase mentality, at least among the bottom six, would help. Turn guys like Carl Hagelin and Bryan Rust loose and let them do what they do best…hunt down pucks and hound the opposition into turnovers. Put opponents on their heels, for a change, instead of vice versa.

Working Josh Archibald, a veritable on-ice Road Runner, into the mix against skill teams might help, too. Even if it means sitting Reaves on occasion and possibly ruffling his feathers.

Getting pucks on net wouldn’t hurt, either.

“I wish our guys would adopt more of a shooting mindset,” Sullivan said following a recent win. “We pass up opportunities to put the puck on net when we’re in pretty good areas because we’re looking for that next play. A lot of times, that next play never materializes.”

Amen, Sully.

Goalie Shuffle

In the wake of the embarrassing 7-1 loss to Winnipeg, Rutherford called up Tristan Jarry from the Baby Pens and sent Casey DeSmith back to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

In five games with the Baby Pens, Jarry posted a 3.18 goals against average and .897 save percentage. Last season the former second-round pick recorded a sparkling 2.15 goals against average and .925 save percentage. He and DeSmith teamed up to win the Harry “Hap” Holmes Award.

DeSmith, who relieved starter Matt Murray on Sunday night, stopped 12 of 15 shots against the Jets in his only NHL appearance.

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  1. Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
    November 2, 2017 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

    Hey all,

    I was puzzling over why Carl Hagelin has been so ineffective offensively over the past couple of years. Especially since he was such a factor when he first arrived.

    A thought occurred to me. Are the Penguins predominantly a right-handed or right-side team? The more I pondered it, the more I think it’s true. Sid and Geno both seem to prefer the half-wall on the right side. Letang and Schultz, our top puck movers on ‘d’, are both right-handed shots.

    Does that skew the offense away from the left side? In my mind, the only time the puck seems to spend any appreciable time on the port side is when Kessel sets up there on power plays.

    It might explain why every left wing we get seems to fall into a black hole, production-wise. Remember David Perron? A decent player with good hands who absolutely dried up when he was here. Scott Wilson, likewise, struggled to find his niche. Now Hagelin.

    Indeed, our only left wing who enjoyed appreciable success was Kunitz. Probably because he spent a lot of time crashing the net or setting up in the slot. Not to mention a lot of time with Sid.


    PS–If we are, indeed, a right-handed team, you’d think it would set up our left wings for more back-door plays. Guentzel aside, that doesn’t seem to be the case.

    • the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
      November 2, 2017 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

      Hey Rick,

      Since Crosby and Malkin ae both Left handed shots it would be normal for them to favor the RW; they would naturally be stronger passing to the RW than LW. Back handed passing isn’t as easy or accurate.

      • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
        November 2, 2017 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

        Good point, Other Rick.

        That might at least partly explain why our left wings seem to morph into on-ice islands after a while.


  2. the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
    November 1, 2017 at 8:44 pm | Permalink

    Good news/Bad News

    The Good News, Just heard the Pens are making some changes to the line-up tonight,

    The Bad News, they are sitting Hagelin instead of Reaves.

    I pray I am just being a reactionary and Sullivan makes this work but;

    Opponents score 5.51 goals per 60 minutes even strength when Reaves is on the Ice, but only 1.63 goals per 60 minutes even strength Ice Time for Hagelin.

    This night could get ugly fast for Murray.

    I am no fan of this experiment, go back to your speed game. You should have sat Reaves for Archibald, but I fear pride goeth before a fall and you did trade away a 1st pick for this charismatic but under-performing, slogging RW.

    • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
      November 2, 2017 at 9:41 am | Permalink

      Hey Other Rick,

      I was reading your comments while sipping my morning coffee, when a thought occurred to me…admittedly out of the blue.

      I wonder if Hagelin can play center?

      I know playing in the middle is a totally different animal than playing wing. But my issue with Hagelin is, he seems so uninvolved at times. Playing him at center…at least in my mind…would place him more in the thick of things.

      Although he doesn’t seem to do much of it these days, he’s capable of carrying the puck. While I don’t know how well he distributes it, initially I’m talking about using him on the fourth line. We know he’s got speed and we know he’s responsible in his own end.

      Anyways…just a bizarre, out-of-left-field thought …


      • the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
        November 2, 2017 at 10:04 am | Permalink

        Interesting thought Rick. With the number of players who played Center in in juniors and minors and are now playing Left Wing, it would be interesting to see if a LW could be moved to C.

        You, as well as anybody who reads these posts, know I am not a fan of the Sheahan trade, but if Sheahan can start scoring and with McKegg to play 4th line C, I am not sure if I would switch Hagelin to C unless I had a LW to step in for him. Unfortunately, LW is not a strong position for the Pens. Hagelin and Sheary are really the only true LWs playing LW right now for the Pens and Sheary often plays RW.

        Guentzel came up as a C, but does play LW better at the NHL. Kuhnhackl and Rust came up as RWs but are playing LW and now the Pens are trying to switch Archibald to LW.

        I know Reaves is vey charismatic, I like him too, as a person, so my message isn’t all that well received, but it would seem to me the most/best logical move is to bench him and go with Archibald and maybe looking to move some players on to other teams to free up cap space (Letang if possible), to give the Pens more flexibility to bring up a young gun or two and bring with them some hunger to win the Cup.

      • the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
        November 2, 2017 at 10:13 am | Permalink

        Also Rick, right now, I am wondering how Dominik Simon would look on LW with big club.

        • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
          November 2, 2017 at 11:01 am | Permalink

          Hey Other Rick,

          I do hear ya’ about Reaves. I’ve commented on numerous occasions that, happy as I was to get him, I thought he’d bring more to the table as an all-around player. And when we play teams like Carolina and Detroit, I think it’s a no-brainer that he sits in favor of a faster guy.

          However, I do think he’s had an effect on the way teams play against us. Take last night’s game, for instance. With players like Milan Lucic, Patrick Maroon, Zach Kassian and Darnell Nurse, not to mention a handful of other 215-220 pounders, Edmonton is the very definition of a heavy team.

          While there’s no real way to quantify it, I think Reaves’s presence kept those guys in check. Especially Lucic and Kassian, who can get a little goofy with the rough stuff from time to time. Heck, we even outhit the Oilers (37-21). Remove Reaves from the mix, and I think it’s a different game, physically.

          Still, I’m not denying it’s a Catch 22. Obviously, Hagelin would have brought more speed, along with the ability to roll four lines, which, I feel, is crucial to our long-term success.

          That’s why I wish so badly the Pens would target and draft guys, forwards in particular, who have a certain degree of toughness to go with their skill. I confess, every time I think of Columbus and guys like Josh Anderson, Boone Jenner and Nick Foligno…Mack trucks who can skate and score…I turn 16 shades of green with envy. What I wouldn’t give for one or two of those guys.

          Wishful thinking, I’m afraid.

          Switching to Simon, interesting thought. He can play center or left wing, which would give us some flexibility. During his very brief cameos with the Pens, he impressed me with his board work, especially given his small frame (5’11” 176). He also seems to play well in traffic and makes nice, short passes a la Sid. Clever, too. Don’t know about his speed or defensive acumen, or his ability to take a steady pounding from bigger players at the NHL level.

          Still, he’s certainly worth a look.


          • the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
            November 2, 2017 at 11:42 am | Permalink

            Hey Rick,

            I hear you. I would love to get some of those bigger guys that can skate and score. I was recently looking at older drafts and I do believe the Pens passed on Jenner. Even more interesting than that, the year the Pens drafted Beau Bennett, Sheahan and Tinordi went in the first round, pretty much right after Bennett was drafted, now Bennett is gone and Sheahan and Tinordi are here.

            However, every time I start getting jealous of CBJ, I just start counting our Cups and theirs, well, their lack of, and then start to question why am I jealous? AS you mentioned Edmonton is a much heavier team than us but they only have 7 points this year and are falling into dangerous territory of not making the playoffs if they don’t right their ship. Considering how much McDavid and Drasaitl get paid they have a real problem. Winnipeg is another of those heavier team. If they hadn’t run into the Pens on the back-side of back-to-back games and blew our boys out of the water, they too would be on the outside looking in.

            That is why I am now taking a bit of a stance against players like Reaves, particularly now; with the concussion issue, old time slower heavier players just may be serious mill stones to any team employing them.

            Even the Pens themselves are perched precariously over a cliff that could lead to a freefall. Yes, they are second in their division, but that may only be due to the number of more games they have played. As some of these teams start catching up in GP, the Pens may find themselves fighting Philly for that last play-off spot, unless they get back to their speed game.

            • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
              November 2, 2017 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

              Hey Other Rick,

              Just have time for a quick comment. But I agree that the Oilers really shot themselves in the foot by signing McDavid and Draisaitl to monster deals.

              While I certainly understand the desire to do so, they had to part with a very capable player in Jordan Eberle to make it work.

              We’ve seen the effects of going top-heavy, first-hand, when we surrounded Sid and Geno with a bunch of Tom, Dick and Harrys.

              No matter how good they are, two guys can’t carry a team.


  3. Rik DeMarco's Gravatar Rik DeMarco
    November 1, 2017 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

    What about golden boy ..captain turn over Letang…he had 3 in the first 5 minutes and is a minus 10 but he is never mentioned…

    • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
      November 1, 2017 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

      Hey Rik,

      I don’t know if you’re a first-time commenter, but if so, welcome to PenguinPoop.

      I’m probably guilty of going easy on Letang, especially since he’s coming back from serious surgery. With a league-worst minus-14, there’s no question No. 58’s struggled thus far. He tries to do too much sometimes…perhaps partly in an attempt to re-establish himself, and partly due to Justin Schultz’s absence.

      The same thing happened a couple of seasons ago. He was minus-11 when Sullivan took over as coach. Thankfully, Sully was able to rein him in, and Letang was really effective down the stretch and in the 2016 playoffs. Hopefully, that happens again.

      FYI: some of our regular writers and commenters aren’t nearly as tolerant of Letang as I am. Phil Krundle, who founded PenguinPoop, has long been an advocate of trading him.


      • the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
        November 1, 2017 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

        As am I Rik and Rick,

        I would prefer to get a person to change before I change a person but I do favor a trade of Letang. I would have loved to see him play well enough to earn his $7.5mil but I am sorry, even at his best (and let’s face it, he has had some good seasons) he has never been a $7.5 mil Defenseman. He has eaten up cap space that could easily have been put to better use over the years and last year the team disproved the notion that Letang was needed to win the Cup.

        The problem is only Pens organization and some Pittsburghers think Letang is indispensable. The Pens will always have a hard time finding a trading partner. No one else wants to pay $7.5 mil for him.

  4. pen's 4ever's Gravatar pen's 4ever
    October 31, 2017 at 6:19 pm | Permalink

    Happy Halloween!!!
    I know a lot of fans don’t like Reaves.. but I do and think he should get a extended look up with Sid or Geno.
    By the way I knew the Sheary deal would come back to haunt us..tooo much for what he offers

    • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
      October 31, 2017 at 6:49 pm | Permalink

      Hey Pen’s 4ever,

      Always good to hear from you.

      I was thrilled when the Pens acquired Reaves. However, I was under the impression that he was a better skater than he appears to be. As much as I love his attitude and willingness to stand up for the team, I don’t think he skates well enough…or reads the game well enough…to merit an extended look with Sid or Geno.

      I kind of feel like the Last of the Mohicans concerning Sheary. I love his spunk and energy, and I think he does a real good job of finding openings and getting shots off. Having said that, based on the metrics Other Rick has shared, he’s obviously having a tough time in the ‘d’ zone.


    • the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
      October 31, 2017 at 9:29 pm | Permalink

      Hey Pen’s4ever,

      Please don’t misunderstand me, just like Rick B, I do like Reaves attitude and his locker room presence, but just as Rick B just wrote, he is nullifying that 4th line. He really hasn’t shown that he can play “Penguin” hockey.

      It appears that the team is still willing to try a few more experiments to get him to work out. Although I don’t see it happening, I do hope that they can figure away to make him effective so the team can start winning consistently, but the time is running short. They are rapidly approaching the 1/4 point of the season.

      As for Sheary, again, I really like the kids spunk and his ability to read the play offensively, but, like you Pen’s4ever I worry about his deal. I have no idea what JR may have actually tried to deal over the last several months, but I would have tried to deal Sheary while his stock may have been up a little (Sorry Rick). I would have tried to deal him in lieu of draft picks since he was a 20 G scorer last year and is young, to a team looking for someone who was still young and proved that they could score 20, hoping that team wouldn’t consider that Sheary only scored those 20 because he worked with Crosby and Guentzel.

  5. the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
    October 31, 2017 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

    Just saw a comment from the Pens last practice that the team used the following lines;


    Yes, the team does need a shake and I do like the make up on the second line, but as I wrote the other day, Reaves and Sheary are the 2 worst forwards when it comes to even strength defense in terms of GA/60, I realize they put their back against the cap wall now but what might be a better more effective shake-up would be sit both Sheary and Reaves. Unfortunately, they do not have enough space to call up anyone else and the players who need to sit are not on two way contracts.

    Also, on the good news front, the same article suggested Schultz could be back before the road trip is over (also Hunwick could be back too)

    • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
      October 31, 2017 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

      Hey Other Rick,

      Thanks for the preview of possible line changes. It stinks that we’re so tight against the cap that it limits our flexibility.

      For better or worse, it sounds like the team we’ve got is the team we’ve got…or something like that. Not wishing for an injury, but I sure would like to see Archibald get a shot. We could really use a shot of adrenalin.


  6. Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
    October 31, 2017 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

    Hey all,

    A thought just occurred to me. When our offense bogged down during the Ottawa series last spring, Sullivan put a puck hunter on each line…Chris Kunitz, Scott Wilson, Carter Rowney and Josh Archibald. The Pens immediately sprang to life.

    For one reason or another, none of those guys is playing for us now. Perhaps a subtle, but significant, change.

    We definitely miss Kunitz, or a player of his ilk.


  7. the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
    October 31, 2017 at 11:23 am | Permalink

    Hey Rick,

    Excellent Stuff! You know I am right there with you on this. The big question now is how to right the ship in mid-sail. How to get forwards that are getting comfortable back in their old shoes of East-West Hockey. And again, you bring up some good starting points; loose the hounds like Hagelin, Rust, and Archibald. Not one of those three will ever be confused with Jean Pronovost let alone Jaromir Jagr but they serve a great function in Sully’s system, a purpose other players do not. I wish Hagelin, Rust, and Archibald were snipers as well as fleet footed puck hounds, but even if the Penguins could get someone to trade us one of their better shooting speedsters, the Pens couldn’t afford much more under the cap without giving up one of their higher priced players. So let’s acknowledge these 3 limitations but understand that their assets have been shown to get the job done under Sully’s next man up Mantra.

    Let’s also not forget Rowney, when he comes back, he too can be a very effective bottom 6 forward, or mixed into other lines as a puck hound to compliment the player and sniper of that line.

    On “D”, well, we will just have to wait until Penguins management comes to the realization that most of the rest of the league has already come to on Letang.

    Given his (Letang’s) limited no trade clause, the Colorado trade that you alluded to would seem highly doubtful, but could I suggest Montreal as a partner, although with them winning a couple of games now, that possibility is drying up too. However, Rick, Jim, or anyone else who may want to weigh in on this, would you deal Letang for Galchenyuk?

    • Jim's Gravatar Jim
      October 31, 2017 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

      OTR & Rick,
      The one area the Pen’s has some advantage is their bank account. Every play off game is supposed to gross between 2 and 3 million per game depending on the series and the team’s location. 16 games to win it all. Probably more like 20-22 games given the competition in the league.
      That is a 45-60 million dollar pay off if you win it all !! ( And you all thought it was all about winning a stupid old trophy…That is what the NHL wants you as a fan to believe.Trust me when I say, it is all about the money for the NHL.)
      The problem in Colorado is they have no debt and they do NOT need the money so it has to be a player of equal value. Hard to do. Letang’s value is sinking especially if this Concussion issue blows up next year and players start to sue the league.
      So for me… in the NHL right now … Who needs money? Arizona needs a new rink. New York Islanders need some $$$ for a new home. Calgary wants a new home? Any of these teams are possible candidates for a trade if your check book is big enough.
      My money is on Arizona because they are desperate for cash and a new rink. Plus you could sell Letang on the idea that when we fail in Arizona we will relocate to QUEBEC CITY, where Kris you will be a rock star.
      Letang and a lot of cash for Oliver Erik-Larson and a big left winger or 2. They have lots. Lawson Crouse, Brendan Perileni ??,Max Domi,
      That is what i would do. Then look for a right winger to trade Resse for.

      My 2 cents..

      • the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
        October 31, 2017 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

        Interesting thoughts Jim,

        First, what is the real probability of Arizona to relocate to Quebec (I hope!)?

        If there is a real probability, I could see Letang allowing himself to be reunited with Tocchet and in Quebec, but I do think that a trade like that may hinge on Letang possibly ending up near home. Otherwise I would suspect Az is one of this no trade teams.

        My next question, Ehkman – Larsson is one of their better players, offensively, but like Letang struggling defensively, do you think that Tocchet’s relationship with Letang would make him lobby for flipping struggling defensive D men?

        If the Coyotes would go for that deal, the Pens would gain about $1 in Cap space Letang $7.5 mil vs Ekman – Larsson $6.5 mil, that would give them enough room to ask for Perlini who is big and fast ~$800K.

        I tend to think that is a good deal for the Pens, but would Az go for that? They have tons of Cap space available, so they don’t need to shed salary to make a flip between Letang and E – L. In fact, looking at Cap Friendly, they could take on Letang’s salary without giving anyone up in exchange, so only frustration with losing may prompt them to a change of scenery move.

        However, my last question is, E – K is a Left D, Letang a Right D. If you get Az to trade, who do you flip to the Right side; Cole, Maatta, Dumoulin, Hunwick (when healthy)?


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