Penguins Update: Newbies Fitting In – Pittsburgh Penguins – PenguinPoop Blog

Penguins Update: Newbies Fitting In

It’s taken a little while. Over a third of the season, to be precise. But it looks like the Penguins’ newcomers are finally beginning to feel at home.

Indeed, Matt Hunwick, Ryan Reaves and Riley Sheahan are showing definite signs that they’ve grown more comfortable with their new surroundings, not to mention coach Mike Sullivan’s up-tempo style. And while the numbers don’t necessarily reflect it, they’re gradually making their collective presence felt.

Take Thursday’s 4-3 overtime victory over the Islanders, for example. Sheahan celebrated his 26th birthday in grand style, pouncing on a turnover and beating Isles goalie Jaroslav Halak with a beautiful top-shelf wrister to stake the Pens to a 3-1 lead, snapping an eight-game goalless drought to boot.

“Empty-netters are nice, but it’s not the way you picture your first one,” he said, referring to his initial black-and-gold tally against Ottawa on November 16. “So to get one tonight definitely felt good.”

The big center also paced the Pens in shorthanded ice time (4:14) and helped snuff out four Islanders power plays, while winning 10 of 17 faceoffs. All told, the Notre Dame grad’s won an impressive 56.5 percent of his draws since arriving from Detroit in a trade for Scott Wilson on October 21. Not too shabby.

Heck, he’s even put together a nice little scoring run. Over his past 11 games, Sheahan’s registered a highly respectable seven points, fueling hopes that he may, indeed, be extricating himself from the black hole he’d stumbled into over the past year.

Fellow newbie Hunwick also seized the spotlight on Thursday night. Filling in for the injured Justin Schultz during overtime, the speedy defender jetted to the front of the net and whacked a loose puck past Halak…with a little help from Islanders forward Joshua Ho Sang.

Hunwick’s game-winner—not to mention seven shots on goal—earned him first-star honors, one notch ahead of No. 2 star Sheahan.

Matt’s Steel City start, rocky at best, was interrupted by a five-week stint on IR due to a concussion. Since returning to the lineup on November 18, he’s tallied two goals and an assist to go with a plus-3. Along the way, the Michigan native’s nudged his Corsi from the low 40s to a more palatable 47.8 percent, mitigated to an extent by the lowest number of offensive-zone starts (43.5 percent) among the Pens’ regular defensemen.

Although Hunwick has a way to go before he matches his exemplary postseason play with Toronto last spring, he’s gradually finding his game.

Likewise, it’s been a bit of adjustment for Reaves, the larger-than-life heavyweight whose taste for the rough stuff is eclipsed only by his rollicking sense of fun. Early on, he bore more than a passing resemblance, in both form and function, to another fellow who wore No. 75 around these parts, Steelers legend ‘Mean Joe’ Greene. Skated about as well, too. Now he seems to be catching on.

While his output (three points) leaves something to be desired, the Winnipeg bomber’s effectively neutralized foes who might otherwise feel emboldened to take liberties, just as Jim Rutherford anticipated when he acquired Reaves last the summer. He’s even helped our boys display a little swagger.

Off the ice? The prank-playing bruiser may be an even bigger hit, especially with his relentless teasing of Phil Kessel.

Who knows? Maybe the Pens’ scoring ace is rubbing off on his tormentor as well. Did you see the burst of speed Reaves put on when he steamed in on a breakaway the other night, to say nothing of the release on the shot?



In the wake of injuries to Schultz and forward Tom Kuhnhackl, the Pens recalled left wing Dominik Simon and defenseman Kevin Czuczman from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

Simon, who also plays center, was a fifth-round pick of the Pens in 2015. He ranked second among WBS scorers with 16 points in 20 games. A former Islander with 13 games of NHL experience, Czuczman paced all Baby Pens defenseman with 14 points.

To make room, center Greg McKegg and defenseman Frank Corrado were sent to the Baby Pens.

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  1. the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
    December 9, 2017 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

    Hey Rick,

    Good write-up. As I wrote a couple of days ago, I am grudgingly accepting Reaves and Sheahan, however, I am still on the side of benching Hunwick.

    Perhaps we have been spoiled here in Pgh with so many years of having a solid 3 – 4 Cs; from Crosby-Malkin-Staal-Talbot to Crosby-Malkin-Bonino-Cullen we were very, very deep. Perhaps in my expectations of Sheahan was too high. Perhaps the only way the Penguins could have continued to be that strong down the middle was to have kept a couple of 1st round picks over the last couple of years and used them to get a good young center that they didn’t have to pay an arm and a leg for. Maybe JR could still bring a Galchenyuk in at the deadline, but I won’t hold my breath And in the same vein, maybe I should curb my expectations and not think that Sheahan’s production streak will last the rest of the season either.

    In the end, even though we have to pay a lot more for Sheahan than for Wilson, and the Penguins did need to sneak players through waivers back down to WBS to adjust for some injuries, they were able to make adjustments to the roster without losing anyone in waivers and Wilson, although a contributor to the Cup win last year wasn’t a central figure.

    In Reaves case, I grudgingly accept him. I still would rather have had the draft pick and either Hague or Kostin waiting in the wings. I also think that he does drag the team down a notch in over-all execution. Aside from the burst of speed you talk about, Reaves does usually arrive a day late and a dollar short which in the end makes the 4th line marginal. However, I am loving the fact that there still are a lot of players who still have played every game so far. Teams aren’t straying over the line as far as they used too in previous season so even though I think that we paid too much and that the difference between now and if we had actually used Sestito could have still negated the need for the trade, the Pens are enjoying exactly what the wanted from Reaves, insurance from the lack of effective/quality officiating.

    However, in terms of Matt Hunwick, as I wrote yesterday, I still don’t see any value in him. Yes he did score the game winner in OT, but the Pens had to go into OT because of his defensive liabilities. he was on the ice for several of the goals that enabled the Isles to force that OT.

    I think it is interesting that the Pens sent Corrado down to bring up Czuczman. Czuczman is having a good season down in WBS so I am not questioning bringing him up, I am really wondering why the team brought Corrado up in the first place only to have them have to send them back down.

    Simon does play Center down in WBS but I will be surprised if he plays any here in the ‘burg. Like Guentzel, I think he will thrive more on the Wing. I am hoping he does thrive with his opportunity, but I am hoping that results in freeing Sheary up for trading. His defense still puts him in my doghouse. I am not necessarily suggesting he lacks the knowledge or desire but he does lack the size and disappears when push comes to shove in the play-offs and the refs put the whistle away. Simon isn’t exactly the second coming of Artie, but he is an upgrade in size.

    • Mike's Gravatar Mike
      December 10, 2017 at 12:33 am | Permalink


      I don’t want to say I said so but “I said so” Lol. Sheahan scored
      again tonight – Simon had a nice debut with (2) helpers.

      Pens are going to be fine and ready come April – They need to make
      one significant move and thats picking up a 3rd line center.

      • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
        December 10, 2017 at 9:29 am | Permalink

        Hey Mike,

        With Sheahan coming on a bit (although there’s no guarantee that’ll continue), I’d say a more pressing need is to fix the imbalance on defense.

        Maybe it’s because Schultz is out right now. But the pieces just don’t seem to fit.

        I’ll agree with Other Rick on one count. Not that I dislike the guy, but I wish we’d been able to land a bigger, more physical player than Hunwick over the summer. Other teams find it way too easy to set up around our net. And we have a dreadful time clearing our zone at times.

        I feel like we need a guy back there to make the hard plays. Probably won’t happen, given the Pens’ preference for puck movers.


    • Mike's Gravatar Mike
      December 10, 2017 at 12:52 am | Permalink


      I wasn’t on board when the Pen’s decided to sign Hunwick in Free
      Agency but I think his game is steadily improving as he becomes more
      comfortable with Sullivan’s system.

      Its hard to take aim at Hunwick’s defensive liabilities when Letang is a
      ( – 15 ) and Dumoulin a ( – 10 ) going into tonights game. I said this in an
      earlier post the new Pen’s players just need a little time to fully grasp
      a new style of play than what they’ve been accustomed to.

      Until we hit the 1/2 way point in my opinion Reaves, Sheahan and Hunwick
      get a pass.

      Rick – please for the sake of us Hockey fanatics don’t mention Sestito in
      the same sentence as Reaves – “No comparison” – people in the league
      fear Reaves – I like Sestito he’s a great team guy but gets very little if any
      respect around the NHL.

      • the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
        December 10, 2017 at 4:52 am | Permalink

        Hey Mike,

        You are a voice of patience in this season of turmoil. I remember your statements about Sheahan. His two goals over these last two games were solid goals, last night coming off of a lot of hard work by Simon, but he was a -2 for the night. He was on the ice for three of the goals against.

        In the same vein, and I hate to say this, in this stretch of three games against play-off contending teams the opposing teams have skated away with 5 of a possible 6 points, not a very good omen for the future.

        I really do hope you prove right Mike, but for me the evidence still seems a little equivocal.

        I know there are Ryan Reaves fans out there, and as I said, despite my opposition to his acquisition, the team is getting exactly what the wanted from him, a relatively healthy team, comparatively free from the injuries sustained by gross, over the line, dangerous play that NHL officials tend to let go by. I am not questioning Reaves as the reigning heavy weight in the NHL, nor am I suggesting that Sestito could challenge him for that title, but I do remember the games that Big Tom did play for the Pens over these last couple of years and cowardly bullies like Washington’s Wilson also skated softly, with his tail between his legs, when he was in the line-up.

        Although, I have no doubt that Reaves is by far the more feared of the two, if hockey players are affected by fear which I am not so sure (bullies maybe but not hockey players. Reaves has had his share of dance partners this year and he has absorbed some pretty solid hits, getting set on his wallet a couple of times, once last night, can’t remember who, and several other times this season, including another by CBJ bad-boy Dubinsky) and considering that Sestito never was given any regular ice-time to compare the difference between them too, I do apologize, I can’t help wonder if the that difference would have translated into any real difference in W% or injured players.

        Perhaps neither Hague nor Kostin will ever really pan out in the NHL making all of this moot, since my biggest complaint about the trade is the loss of one of those draft picks but in truth, I still would really prefered to take the shot on one of them.

      • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
        December 10, 2017 at 9:43 am | Permalink

        Hey Mike,

        Not that it’s a biggie, but I’m going to side with Other Rick on the Reaves-Sestito comparison.

        While I wholeheartedly agree that Reaves is the reigning heavyweight champ and a real beast, Sestito isn’t a creampuff. Among today’s enforcers, I’d rate Tom about average, maybe a slight notch above in terms of fighting ability. He’ll win some and lose some, but generally be competitive.

        What I liked about him was his attitude. He went straight at guys…most notably Washington’s Tom Wilson…and neutralized him pretty well. In terms of skill, I think Sestito may be a notch above Reaves, who to me has been a little bit of a disappointment in terms of output.

        It’s pretty much a moot point at this stage…the Pens are obviously committed to Reaves, and I have no problem with that. But for the record, I don’t think Sestito’s the stiff some make him out to be.



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