“Adversity does not build character, it reveals it” – James Lane Allen
Just a few days into Mike Sullivan’s tenure as head coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins, the team is already dealing with adversity. Injuries are nothing new for the Penguins, who seem to be plagued by them every year, but their most recent loss was one they could not afford to lose.
Last night against the Washington Capitals, forward Beau Bennett was thrown into the boards by wing T. J. Oshie. In case you missed the game here’s the hit on Bennett.
It was later announced that the Penguins would be without Bennett’s services for four to six weeks. From watching the hit it appears that either Bennett’s shoulder or collarbone was hurt on the hit. Some believe this hit to be dirty and have said Bennett is just “injury prone” but in this situation there was very little he could do to prevent the hit.
Bennett is out 4-6 weeks with an upper body injury. -DP
— AT&T SportsNet™ PIT (@ATTSportsNetPIT) December 15, 2015
However, this was not the Penguins worst news of the night as goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury was not feeling himself after the 4-1 loss. It was later announced and confirmed that Fleury suffered a concussion against the Capitals, which means he is out indefinitely until the symptoms subside.
#Pens goalie Marc-Andre Fleury has been diagnosed with a concussion, confirmed by GM Jim Rutherford. Story will be updated momentarily.
— Jenn Menendez (@JennMenendez) December 15, 2015
Fleury has been the Penguins most valuable player this season and very few would argue that. Without his heroic play in the first quarter of the season, Pittsburgh likely would have a losing record.
Mike Sullivan’s Tall Task to Fix the Penguins
Just a few days into Sullivan’s tenure and he’s already without his top goaltender and one of his best right wings. Not only does he have to change the way the team plays, but he has to do so without some of the teams most productive players. It’s likely that a forward gets called up from the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins to fill Bennett’s spot in the lineup. Likely candidates include Scott Wilson, Dominik Simon and Conor Sheary, but at least Sullivan has experience working with all of these players.
If it were my choice I’d have Sheary on the next flight to join the Penguins, but he has been passed over before for Wilson.
Now we move to the more difficult task facing the Penguins and that is how do they replace Fleury? Logic would dictate that stellar goaltender Matt Murray would be called up to replace him, but there’s two edges to that sword. While Murray is the most NHL ready prospect in Pittsburgh’s farm system he’s also one of the only tradeable players remaining in their prospect pool. The Penguins routinely make trades and there isn’t any reason to believe that the 2015-16 season will be any different, as they just pulled off the miracle of trading Rob Scuderi.
If Murray is called up and assumes the starting role, the entire NHL will see what he can do and his status as an “untradeable” player could potentially waiver if the Penguins are trying to compete for the Stanley Cup.
Player personnel isn’t the only thing that Sullivan has to worry about. The Penguins can’t seem to score this season, as they are 27th in the league in goal scoring per game. In response, Sullivan has already changed up the Penguins lines and I’m in the minority, but this could really pay off for the team.
— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) December 15, 2015
Phil Kessel has been “demoted” the Penguins third line with Eric Fehr and Daniel Sprong. That line now features the Penguins best wing, in Kessel, and their most explosive wing, in Sprong. The thing about Kessel moving to the third line is that his best seasons came when he was the unquestioned trigger-man of the line he played on. He didn’t play well with Sidney Crosby and he was a little better with Evgeni Malkin, but he still was not producing at an elite level.
Since Kessel is a right-handed shot, it actually makes sense to play him on his off-wing. He doesn’t have a one-timer or a great slapshot so by keeping his stick facing the inside, it allows for him to pull the trigger faster with his phenomenal wrist shot.
Will these changes all pay off? Only time will tell, but Sullivan is pushing the Penguins in the right direction and despite adversity he has done a great job as the head coach to this point.