Penguins Have Incentive to Bench Jussi Jokinen

Jussi Jokinen and Beau Bennett finally got their first game action against Ottawa in Game 4 on Wednesday night. Neither player scored in Pittsburgh’s 7-3 rout, but they made up a very…interesting fourth line alongside Craig Adams.

Adams couldn’t be more different than Jokinen and Bennett.  He’s a blue-collar, hard-working guy and has been a constant on the Penguins’ fourth line since he was claimed off waivers from Chicago in 2009.

Jokinen and Bennett are dynamic offensive players.  They’re creative and are a threat to score any time they’re on the ice together.

I thought Adams-Bennett-Jokinen might look awkward together as a line, but they were actually fairly effective in Game 4.  In fact, it’s hard to believe players with the skill level of Jokinen and Bennett aren’t able to crack a playoff lineup.

Jokinen played well in Game 1 of the first round against the New York Islanders despite taking a knee from Marty Reasoner:

Jokinen was more or less invisible in Games 2 through 4 before eventually moving to the press box for the rest of the series.  The Penguins are not offering injury updates during the playoffs this year, but the Tribune-Review’s Rob Rossi sensed that Jokinen was still feeling the effects of the Reasoner hit:

It’s also worth remembering the details of the Jokinen trade.  Carolina is picking up the tab on $900k of Jokinen’s $3 million cap hit for this season and next, and there is also a conditional pick involved.  According to Bob McKenzie, if Jokinen plays 25 percent of Pittsburgh’s playoff games AND Pittsburgh goes to the Finals, Carolina gets a seventh round pick.  If Jokinen plays 50 percent of Pittsburgh’s playoff games AND Pittsburgh wins the Cup, Carolina gets a sixth round pick.

Jokinen has played in five of the Penguins’ 10 playoff games so far — exactly half.

It doesn’t make sense to bench a player you traded for just to avoid giving up a low pick, but if Rossi was correct about Jokinen’s injury and there’s a choice between dressing a healthy Tanner Glass or a banged up Jokinen, the pick might be a factor.

On one hand, sixth round picks aren’t very valuable.  Among players drafted in the sixth round of drafts from 1988 to 1997, only nine percent have gone on to play over 200 games in the NHL.  On the other hand, Penguins GM Ray Shero and Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford wouldn’t have wasted time drawing up detailed conditions if they didn’t care about the picks.

Jokinen’s biggest contribution to the Penguins lineup is his faceoff ability.  Brandon Sutter has improved on defensive zone draws in the second round, but he’s still struggling on the left side.  We identified this as a critical need for the Penguins prior to the Jokinen trade and he’s delivered when in the lineup.

Jokinen’s 63.8% win rate ranks fourth among all players with over 30 faceoffs in the playoffs.

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Ottawa coach Paul MacLean has been getting a lot of attention on the off day for his very brief press conference following Game 4.

“Um, it’s uh…I think everything’s right here,” MacLean said pointing to the stat sheet. “It’s 7 to 3. See you in Pittsburgh. We’re going to Pittsburgh, and we’re coming to play. Have a good night.”

A savvy move by a head coach nominated for the Jack Adams Award this season.

Whether or not MacLean heard Daniel Alfreddson admit that Ottawa probably couldn’t beat the Penguins three straight times or Marc Methot admit they’re “up against a monster”, the press conference antic distracts negative attention away from his inexperienced players and onto him.

You can’t play this card too often as a head coach, but in a critical spot — like the Senators are in now — it’s the right lever to pull.

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(Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports)

(Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports)

Good read here from Laura Falcon on why the Penguins should stick with Paul Martin on the top powerplay unit:

“He can get pucks on net

Martin may not weave pucks through bodies like Sergei Gonchar once did, but I think he’s the next best option.

The Pens have plenty of players who can rip the puck from the top of the circle and get it by most NHL goalies. Craig Anderson has been chased twice this series, but he has been seeing the puck well and the Sens have done a good job blocking the Pens’ chances.”

After Milan Michalek scored another shorthanded goal for the Senators early in Game 4, it was a guarantee coach Dan Bylsma and powerplay coach Todd Reirden would move Martin onto the top unit for additional defensive support.

Martin is also the Penguins’ best puck distributor on the powerplay.  He doesn’t panic under pressure and allows the top unit to click.  As Falcon alluded to, he isn’t afraid to take a little off his shot (which is a lot harder than prior seasons) to make sure it gets through traffic.

The Penguins ability to move the puck on the powerplay last night was impressive.  A performance like that can quickly lead to overconfidence and arrogance though.  As crazy as it sounds, if the Penguins win Game 5 and advance to the Eastern Conference Finals, it might be in their best interest to have the powerplay struggle a bit to keep them grounded.

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Chris Kunitz only played two shifts after the halfway point of Game 4 and seems to have suffered an undisclosed injury.  Earlier in the series, I noticed that Kunitz looked slower than usual so he may have been fighting through a strain for more than one game.

Kunitz plays a very physical style for a player that’s only 6-foot, 190 pounds and injuries have been an issue throughout his career.  He’s stayed fairly healthy the past season or two, but an abdominal tear led to surgery in January 2010.  Those injuries can sometimes be reoccurring which would be a frustrating setback for one of the Penguins’ most underrated players this season.

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Stop back tomorrow when we’ll take an in-depth look at the goaltending styles of Marc-Andre Fleury and Tomas Vokoun, and when or if the Penguins will ever go back to Fleury as their starter.

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Email: MJColligan@TheHockeyWriters.com
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Mike Colligan

Mike Colligan

Managing Editor
Mike Colligan is an NHL analyst at Forbes SportsMoney and The Hockey Writers. Email: MJColligan@gmail.com
Mike Colligan

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