Last trade deadline, the Pittsburgh Penguins seemingly pulled off a heist by trading defensemen Robert Bortuzzo and a seventh-round draft pick to the St. Louis Blues in return for defender Ian Cole. He played extremely well in his limited time during the end of the regular season and was heavily relied upon during the playoffs. The Penguins liked what they saw from Cole and decided to reward him with a three-year/$6.3 million contract.
Over the offseason, the Penguins top pairing lost a crucial member as Paul Martin left in free agency to sign with the San Jose Sharks. That left superstar defender Kris Letang without a defensive partner and the Penguins had limited options to fill his spot.
Ian Cole and Kris Letang Cannot Remain Together
The solution that head coach Mike Johnston found was to play Cole and Letang together as the Penguins top pairing. Through twelve games played, Cole and Letang are both a team worst -5 skater rating and have looked out of sync with one another. Once you dive into advanced stats, the union of Cole and Letang desperately needs to be ended.
While the two are on the ice for the Penguins, they score .53 goals per sixty played and allow 2.38. Their corsi for percentage is 45.6% and their goals for percentage is just 18.2%. Those numbers are absolutely horrendous and Letang has not been the limiting factor on the Penguins top pairing.
The sample size is just 27:15, but Letang’s numbers are much better. The Penguins score 2.20 goals per sixty and allow 4.40 per sixty, but his corsi for is at 60.4%.
Cole while apart has not been any better as his corsi for is 35% and no goals have been scored while he was on the ice.
So what does all of this mean? Letang has had a positive impact on Cole’s play, but the duo is not getting the job. This is not to say that Cole isn’t a good player because he is and was last season, but the way that Johnston is using him has not been effective.
That Letang/Cole pairing isn't working on any level. Get rid of it
— Ryan Wilson (@GunnerStaal) November 6, 2015
It’s time for the Penguins to remove Cole from the top pairing and give another player a shot. He’s a fine top-four defender, but he, like Ben Lovejoy was last season, is in over his head playing against top competition.
Now who do the Penguins replace him with? Frankly, there are not a lot of options, but the best one is giving Olli Maatta a chance with Letang. He’s been stuck playing with Rob Scuderi and it’s been an anchor on his performance. Although Maatta has struggled this season in returning from shoulder surgery, he will improve as the season progresses
We’ve seen Lovejoy struggle in the top four and I doubt he will get a chance, Scuderi cannot play above the bottom pair and Brian Dumoulin has been solid alongside Lovejoy. Maatta looks to be best option the Penguins have if they want to solidify their top pairing. Last season, the Penguins scored 2.76 goals for per sixty and allowed 2.30 with Maatta and Letang as their top pairing. The duo also posted a 56.6% corsi for rating and excelled in all situations.
The Penguins have been limited by their blue line this season and goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury cannot always keep the team competitive. Changes need to happen and they need to happen now. Putting Maatta or even Dumoulin next to Letang might not be a perfect solution, but the Penguins need to see what they have before heading to the trade market.
Thanks for reading! Feel free to leave your comments below or tweet me anytime@MPityk
Michael Pityk is an analyst who has written for numerous sites since beginning his professional career. He’s acted as a credentialed member of the media for the Philadelphia Phillies, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Pirates and the Pittsburgh Penguins. His work has been featured in Sports Illustrated, The Sports Journal, MSN, PensLabyrinth, Montreal Hockey Talk, ESPN Pittsburgh, The Hockey Writers, Todays SlapShot and The Bleacher Report. He formerly was the editor of Pens Labyrinth and an analyst for The Sports Journal. Michael presently acts as an NHL Analyst for The Hockey Writers