Teddy Blueger, the Pittsburgh Penguins’ fourth-line center, has missed the first four games of the season after suffering an injury in practice on Sept. 28. He has been temporarily replaced by center Ryan Poehling, who joined the Penguins in July via a trade with the Montreal Canadiens. Josh Archibald and Brock McGinn make up the rest of Pittsburgh’s fourth line, which has not been very impressive thus far.
What Does Blueger Bring to the Table?
When Evgeni Malkin was injured at the beginning of last season, Blueger racked up a ton of ice time and scored seven goals in his first 30 games. The stage was set for him to have a record-breaking season, however, on Jan. 23 he suffered a broken jaw against the Winnipeg Jets and was unable to get much going after he returned. He ended the season with nine goals and 19 assists in 65 games.
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Even if the offense wasn’t there, no one can deny that Blueger excels defensively. He has become a key player on the Penguins’ penalty kill, an area in desperate need of help already this season. During the 6-2 victory against the Arizona Coyotes on Oct 13, the penalty kill was 4-for-6. In a 6-2 victory over Tampa Bay on Oct 15, it went 3-for-4, and on Oct. 17, the Canadiens scored a power-play goal in overtime to win the game 3-2. Blueger brings an aggressive, in-your-face style to the penalty kill that has been missing without him on the ice.
Blueger has also become great at playing in the neutral zone, as he makes himself available to receive passes for zone exits. He is also a reliable playmaker who can set up his linemates for quality shot attempts.
Penguins’ Fourth Line Struggles
McGinn is the only veteran on the fourth line, and so far, he has struggled to develop chemistry with his new linemates. He has been invisible up to this point with just one shot in three games. His lack of production could be the result of playing with a new center, but McGinn has to find a way to contribute more.
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Archibald has also been pretty quiet over the last three games, but he is no stranger to the Penguins’ system. He made his NHL debut with the Penguins in 2015-16 and was part of the Stanley Cup-winning teams in 2016 and 2017. After spending five seasons split between the Coyotes and the Edmonton Oilers, Archibald signed a one-year deal with Pittsburgh in July, but so far, nothing about his game has stood out. However, he does bring speed and physicality to the fourth line. The Penguins know he will turn into a solid depth player once he develops chemistry with his teammates.
Poehling, who is currently replacing Blueger as the fourth-line center, is starting to find his rhythm. He was relatively quiet through the first three games and did not have much of an impact, but on Oct. 20 in the 6-1 victory over the Los Angeles Kings, he scored his first goal as a member of the Penguins. He is starting to show glimpses of the potential he displayed in Montreal and will hopefully continue to trend in the right direction as the season moves along.
Penguins Trying to Build Momentum
The Penguins’ fourth line is at a slight disadvantage as the only trio who came into the season without shared playing time. All three forwards have plenty of NHL experience, and head coach Mike Sullivan knows it is only a matter of time before they start clicking. However, with Blueger’s status listed as day-to-day, there is no promise of when he will return, so Poehling, McGinn, and Archibald must continue to build trust on the fourth line until then.