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Bylsma Continues Game of Musical Muckers

Seems like a decade ago when the Penguins had a pretty damn formidable 3rd line of Matt Cooke, Jordan Staal and Tyler Kennedy.  Throw in Max Talbot in there as well for good measure.

Call me crazy, but in this schmuck's opinion, it may have very well been those four guys that allowed the Penguins to hoist Lord Stanley's Cup on June 12, 2009 at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit.

It was the 3rd line's job to attempt to shutdown the Wings' own "two-headed monster" of Pavel Datsyuk (admittedly hobbled) and Henrik Zetterberg.  And, as we know, it was Talbot, and not Sidney Crosby nor Evgeni Malkin, who provided all of the offense in Game 7 with his two goals that glorious night.

Now, of course, they're all gone.  Some to richer contracts, some to greener pastures.

Now, five seasons removed, is it just me or are the Penguins still trying to find even a decent third line, much less a bottom six?

Yeah, things are starting to roll again for the Pens as all of their horses on offense are healthy now.  So, yeah, some might say I'm reaching.  I'll grant ya that.

But due to whatever reason, I always seem recently to pinpoint the Pens' bottom six, starting with their 3rd line, that may ultimately be the Pens' Achilles heel.  Maybe not now, but come playoff time, when it really counts.

GMRS and HCDB have regularly tinkered time and time again with ham-n-eggers on both the 3rd and 4th lines.  And with only a few exceptions, they've stuck to the Bylsma script of:

1.  Short

2.  Fast

3.  Skinny

Jayson Megna.  Chris Conner.  Brian Gibbons.  Harry Zolnierczyk.  Joe Vitale.  Chuck Kobasew.  Zach Sill.

And on and on and on.

The advantages are pretty obvious.  The Penguins game is a speed game.  Theoretically, HCDB wants that speed to provide a good forecheck on the opponent's defense, thereby generating turnovers and chances for the Pens' high-flying wingers.

Thing is, I'm just not seeing it.

While the speed is there, I'm not seeing not much else with that bottom six.  I'm not seeing any deterrent.  I'm not seeing any intimidation.  At all.

I'm envisioning a hypothetical Eastern Conference rematch vs. Boston.  Do you really think this bottom six matches up at all with a team like the Bruins, assuming both of them get that far?

I mean, strictly statistically speaking, the Pens are among the top group in the NHL in the hits category.  Tanner Glass is finally doing something, and is among the league leaders in hits.  But that in itself isn't nearly enough to cut the mustard when it comes to any form of playoff intimidation.  Now, the Pens top two forward lines?  Oh yeah, those boys can be intimidating, especially how they're rolling now.

So I guess what I'm saying is that I'd like to see GMRS toughen up the Penguins at this year's trade deadline.  We'll just have to see about that.

Other nuggets:

  • 87, 71 and 18 are pretty good.  Film at 11.
  • Marc-Andre Fleury is still performing well, as I thought he would.  After all, it's still the regular season.  Once again, this is all gravy until the playoffs start for MAF.
  • Pascal Dupuis' lack of scoring has gotten a little concerning.  He's busting his butt just as much as he always has, but not only hasn't he scored, he's not even generating scoring chances.  That said, I'd be shocked if HCDB pulls him off the 1st line for any length of time.
  • Like many others, I remain baffled as to why Robert Bortuzzo continues to be healthy scratched.  At the very least, he should be given some games replacing Deryk Engelland.  But no.
  • Statistically, the Pens are performing closely to how they did last season, in things such as:
    • 8th in Hits
    • 9th in Blocked Shots
    • 17th in Missed Shots
    • 29th in Takeaways (!)

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Comments

Avatar

Tony,

Agree with everything you said.  Ray Shero, by signing pretty much every top-level forward /defenseman to a big contract and letting the smaller pieces go, has made a conscious decision to have a top-heavy team.  I’m just not sure, in a salary cap era, you can thrive by paying that much money to a relatively small group of players.

Compounded with the utter failure to draft any forwards of note in Shero’s entire tenure (inexcusable, in my view), it leaves the third and fourth lines bereft of anyone who poses a threat—whether that threat is to be physical, to be pesky, or to actually score a goal once in a while.  I have the same thoughts about a Boston/Pittsburgh matchup that you do.  How can you not, really? 

Given what tends to happen in the playoffs (a focus on shutting down the top lines, meaning the grinders and lesser lights often come to the fore), this all means to me that the Pens are built for regular season success and playoff failure.  (And the Fleury factor contributes to that pessimistic forecast for me, as well).

I’d like to be wrong, but this seems kind of obvious to me.  You said it so well.

Posted by Lex Talionis on 12/04/13 at 04:20 PM ET

Tony's avatar

Yeah Lex, I thought about including the top-heavy contracts, especially Malkin and Letang this past offseason, in the article.

I get to typing too fast with these things… wink

Posted by Tony from Virginia Beach, VA on 12/04/13 at 04:33 PM ET

Avatar

Wing fan who agrees with your take. Malkin was a worthy Conn Smythe winner but Stall was great in both finals. Told some Pittsburgh friends they would regret dealing him, salary cap or not.

Posted by mc keeper on 12/04/13 at 04:41 PM ET

Evilpens's avatar

Staal Is VAQSTLY VASTLY overrated Teams put their Best Line On either Sid’s Line Or Gino’s Line & Best D Man Pairing on whichever line didn’t get the teams checking line

Leaving Staal’s Line go up against other Teams best Offensive Line & usually Best Offensive D Man Pairing ! Notice how Staal is doing on a top 2 Line detail in Carolina Problem is as Lex said Refusal to draft Wingers & refusing to even sniff Russians & Now signing Letard to a Ridiculous contract & then signing a 34 Year Old Scuderi to a 4 Year 3.5 Million $ deal to Babysit Letard completely stalls the Young D Men they have Drafted

Posted by Evilpens on 12/04/13 at 05:27 PM ET

Lindas1st's avatar

Hopefully the salary cap will increase over the next few seasons and the Pens can add better forwards to bottom 6.

Posted by Lindas1st from New England on 12/04/13 at 05:53 PM ET

Evilpens's avatar

as for Dupuis this is why I didn’t want him resigned, He & Kunitz are 3rd Line Ham & Eggers that Sid demands them be on his line, I love Dupuis’ effort but his hands are bad & who knows when a guy loses that ability sometimes it happens all of a sudden & sometimes it is dragged out over time, Sure looks like Dupuis has hit the wall to me

Posted by Evilpens on 12/04/13 at 05:54 PM ET

Lindas1st's avatar

BTW, Staal was good in his role as a third line center on a team with 2 first line centers. His given role in Carolina is totally different and IMO he’s not that type of player. Some fans think he’s the player he was during that 29 goal rookie season, which was an aberration. He was playing wing on Geno’s line. He’s a checking center good for 40 points a season. Not a PPG centericeman .

Posted by Lindas1st from New England on 12/04/13 at 05:59 PM ET

Tony's avatar

EP, what you’re saying may be true NOW, but when the Pens won the Cup, he was fantastic as the 3rd line center.

Posted by Tony from Virginia Beach, VA on 12/04/13 at 06:25 PM ET

Evilpens's avatar

oh he was Tony ! But that is what he is & I am very thankful he turned down that deal that Shero offered him, He is Not worth 6 M a year in Carolina or Pgh.

Posted by Evilpens on 12/04/13 at 07:19 PM ET

jaromirblogger's avatar

I agree with your assessment regarding the 2009 Cup-winning third line. Rob Scuderi on the backend was also absolutely vital to their success that year. I also share your suspicion that the Pens won’t be able to return to glory again until they have greater depth.

Posted by jaromirblogger on 12/05/13 at 01:47 AM ET

Avatar

Staal wasn’t a cap casualty. He was a “want to raise my kids down the street from my brother” casualty. Contract he signed with Carolina was identical to Shero’s last offer. Short of flipping Malkin for Eric, there was nothing Shero could have done to keep Jordan.

Tony is right that the bottom six is a huge concern going forward. Every player but Glass is a problem. Any forward unit on the ice needs to be looking for some type of advantage. If you can’t out score the other team, annoy them. Or tire them out. Bruise them. Frustrate them.

Kennedy Cooke and Staal did all of that AND out scored the other team. They’ve not been replaced by anybody who does one of these things, let alone all.

Posted by larry on 12/05/13 at 03:24 PM ET

Avatar

Evilpens, if you don’t mind I’m going to start using “Letard” to refer to Letang. Name really fits haha

Posted by larry on 12/05/13 at 03:27 PM ET

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Welcome to The Confluence, a Pittsburgh Penguins blog since 2006.

Originally at Blogspot, then at MVN, TheConfluence has over 1500 articles reporting Penguins news as well as jumping on my soapbox to opine constructive Penguins criticism.

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