by Tony on 01/15/09 at 11:21 PM ET
I really try to be an objective blogger rather than merely a Penguins homer. So in that vain, I objectively have to now ask this question.
24 hours after painfully watching the Washington Capitals run circles around the 1-2-2 trap that worked for exactly one game in Philly for the Penguins, it got me to thinking:
Let’s fast forward six weeks or so. It’s the beginning of March, the trade deadline is near, I’m hitting F5 (refresh, for those that are ignorant of those function keys) on about six windows constantly all day long.
Mike Zigomanis, Ruslan Fedotenko and the other Penguins’ walking wounded have been back for a few weeks now. And finally, Sergei Gonchar is ready to return. The team is finally healthy, and not a day too soon.
But, is it going to matter as much as some might believe it will ?? Because in my mind, there are many more problems with this version of the Pittsburgh Penguins than merely the significant loss of Sergei Gonchar.
Don’t get me wrong, Gonchar’s loss has certainly been a huge blow to the Pens. He’s one of the best powerplay quarterbacks in the NHL, and has been for several years now. He’s a consummate professional, a leader in the clubhouse, and a mentor to youngsters like fellow Russian Evgeni Malkin.
Without a doubt, Gonchar’s return will be a big boost to the once mighty but now stagnant Penguins’ powerplay, once ranked among the top handful of NHL teams but currently tied for 20th. Once back, Gonchar can take his rightful place back on the right point, moving Malkin down to the right slot where he is much more dangerous, and bump Sidney Crosby to the right goalline for his playmaking. Petr Sykora can stay in the center, and Ryan Whitney (even though it should be a righty such as Kris Letang) will probably remain at the left point. I’ll never win that argument, it seems.
It’s not just the powerplay, though. His defensive comrades could certainly use the help. All of his fellow defensemen are in the red, plus/minus-wise, other than Rob Scuderi, who took a shot in the forehead last night, and Alex Goligoski, who admittedly is a +6, but has not played well defensively lately. Gonchar’s steady defensive play (he was +13 last year) and ability to make good breakout passes (another aspect that’s been lacking this year) will certainly be a shot in the arm for the Penguins’ defense.
But Sarge (Gonchar’s nickname) can’t do it all. Gonchar can’t provide any help to the Penguins’ cycling of the puck down low, one of main weapons the Penguins’ forwards used to generate scoring chances last year. Gonchar can’t stand behind neither Marc-Andre Fleury nor Dany Sabourin when they give up questionable (read: soft) goals game after game. Gonchar can’t stand in front of the net to bang in rebounds of shots on net, like what was done many times last year from forwards such as Ryan Malone. And Gonchar can’t be the one who should be hustling to give a solid forecheck on a dump-in. So even when Gonchar returns, those aspects of the Penguins’ game will have to improve separately.
The Pens will start playing better, eventually. Gonchar’s return will help that, no doubt. Let’s be realistic, if that powerplay starts clicking again, that turns some of those losses into wins, and they should start looking at playoff slots, rather than IF they’ll make the playoffs. The Penguins are certainly not in the position that they now “throw in the towel”, “rebuild” or “tank it for Tavares”, as I’ve read on some of the message boards. For Christ sakes folks, the Penguins are only one point out of a playoff spot, only one point out of seventh place as a matter of fact.
But at the same time, as the season goes on and we see the current Penguins’ roster, I also believe that it’s painfully apparent that this group of Penguins that is currently put together is simply not nearly as good as last year’s bunch. GM Ray Shero’s signings of free agents such as Miro Satan and Ruslan Fedotenko simply just do not come close to replacing the group of players that departed after coming two wins away from winning the Stanley Cup, of course talking about Marian Hossa, Ryan Malone, Jarkko Ruutu and Ty Conklin, among others.
So the Pens will get better. How much better ?? Tough to say right now. The trade deadline on March 4th for Ray Shero should be extremely interesting now. Shero’s shown already that he’s not bashful to pull the strings. Don’t look for a blockbuster, though, the Pens simply don’t have the salary cap room for it.
One thing’s for sure though, it’ll be nice seeing #55 on the ice around that time, we’ll just see how much it’ll matter by then.
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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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