The Pittsburgh Penguins have not started the 2015-16 season very well. On the bright side, Phil Kessel is on pace to score 41 goals this season, but the Penguins are as well. Kessel was acquired to score goals and through two games, it’s easy to say that he has been the team’s best player.
After their first game of the season when they were shutout 3-0 by the Dallas Stars, their flaws were revealed. To this point, general manager Jim Rutherford’s strategy of loading up on forwards and going “young and cheap” on defense simply has not worked. But is it Rutherford’s fault that the teams has started slowly? From looking at what he had to work with, it really doesn’t look like it.
When you have promising young defenders like Olli Maatta, Derrick Pouliot, Brian Dumoulin and Adam Clendening, it makes sense to try and give them an opportunity to prove themselves. However, after just two games Maatta has struggled trying to bail out Ben Lovejoy, Dumoulin has improved but has the anchor known as Rob Scuderi around his ankles, Clendening has yet to play and Pouliot was sent to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.
The experiment is failing, but not because the young kids can’t play at a high level, but because the veterans they’re trying to play with simply aren’t any good. There are no excuses for both Lovejoy and Scuderi anymore. There was a very good reason why the Penguins traded Lovejoy away to the Anaheim Ducks in the 2012-13 season for a measly fifth-round pick. It’s finally been accepted that Scuderi simply cannot play at an NHL level anymore, yet he remains in the lineup because of his contract.
Then there are the Penguins’ superstar duo of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Both have been remarkably ineffective throughout the season. Crosby has yet to record a shot attempt in both games so far and Malkin, while having five shots on goals, has yet to look dominant.
How Can The Penguins Fix Their Problems?
The Penguins forwards are much deeper than they have been in years and that has been due to a lot of roster turnover. The changing of players and lines has often times made the Penguins look uncoordinated and sloppy. That’s to be expected when almost half of the roster is gone from the prior season.
Give the Penguins another 10-15 games to get acclimated to each other and develop chemistry. That will be a true indicator of what this team is capable of. However, in the meantime, head coach Mike Johnston must adjust his strategy. Fellow Penguins writer Mike Colligan has already hinted that he may be on the hot seat sooner rather than later if he does not.
It seems that Johnston has taken a tactic from the movie Miracle at the Penguins recent practices.
Start 0-2? Again. Again. Again. pic.twitter.com/MuETQ3ug8g
— Josh Yohe (@JoshYohe_PGH) October 12, 2015
One of the biggest strengths that Johnston possesses has been his ability to adjust line combinations and strategy rapidly. This was a huge issue for former head coach Dan Bylsma, he wanted to dictate play and force other teams to adjust to them, but that didn’t always work.
It seems that Johnston has already taken notice and it beginning to change line combinations.
Kunitz-Crosby-Kessel Perron-Malkin-Hornqvist Plotnikov-Bonino-Bennett will be your top 9 tomorrow.
— Josh Yohe (@JoshYohe_PGH) October 12, 2015
From the start, Perron should have been on the left-wing and Bennett should have been on the right. But for some reason, the Penguins third line was, Bennett-Bonino-Perron and it’s no surprise why they were completely ineffective. Perron prefers the left-wing and Bennett, while claiming to play both wings, is much better on the right than the left.
Sure, changing line combinations will undoubtably be a step in the right direction, but the Penguins need to swallow their pride. If the Penguins actually want to compete for the Stanley Cup, Scuderi, and maybe even Lovejoy, cannot be in the lineup. There are 29 other teams and Lovejoy could easily be moved to one of them. Scuderi on the other hand should either be watching from the press box or playing with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. Before you think that his contract will continue to keep him in the lineup, look at what the Flyers did with Andrew MacDonald and his $5 million cap hit. They demoted him, not because the $950,000 cap space would aid the team, but so he would not be a detriment to the team on the ice.
More than anything, the Penguins need to snap Malkin and Crosby out of whatever funk they’re in. They’re considered two of the best players in the world and it’s clear that Pittsburgh will only go as far as these two take them.
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