Something has changed for the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Conor Sheary. In these past six playoff games, he’s not only produced an uncharacteristically low two points and earned the lowest plus-minus rating on the team with -4, but his play has also declined significantly enough that he was moved off the first line. After spending most of the year on Sidney Crosby’s wing, Sheary has now been relegated to the Penguins’ third line.
What’s Going Wrong?
Sheary hasn’t been himself since the playoffs started. It goes beyond the stats; even just watching him, it’s clear he’s not performing at the high level we were used to seeing from him during the season. He’s stopped trying to score as much. He’s only had nine shots on goal so far this playoffs – the same number that Trevor Daley has attempted. Jake Guentzel has 17 in the same timespan. When he gets the puck, he’s shaky on it, offering the other team turnover after turnover. There were several times in Game 1 against the Washington Capitals alone where a sloppy pass from him resulted in a dangerous turnover to the other team.
This is a drastic change from the regular season. Sheary was not only producing two points per game and and finishing the season as the third highest scorer on the team with 23 goals on the season, he was also passing the eye test- he was fast and agile, the perfect match for Crosby’s quick-footed line. Now, something has changed. He’s slower. He’s not as confident on the puck. And now Patric Hornqvist has replaced him on the top line as Sheary’s average ice time per game has steadily decreased. For instance, Sheary played almost 18 minutes in Game 4 against the Blue Jackets; in Game 1 against the Capitals, he played only 12 minutes.
What Changed with Conor Sheary?
We can speculate all we want, but we know we won’t get answers until the Penguins’ playoff run is over as to whether Sheary is playing hurt or not. Look at Joe Thornton, look at Patrick Marleau and look at Patrice Bergeron. During playoffs, injured players tend to suck it up and keep playing, however damaging to their health that might be. So without answers, all we know is this: Sheary’s level of play hasn’t been at all what it was this regular season.
The question then becomes whether or not we expect to continue seeing Sheary in the lineup as the playoffs wear on. Sheary earned a spot as a starter in the regular season, there’s no question about it, but his declining level of play is quickly becoming a weak spot for the Penguins that the Capitals will love to press on. And with some injured players returning to the roster, his spot could be in question. Carter Rowney already lost his roster spot with the return of Chris Kunitz. Now, with the return of Carl Hagelin, another forward will have to be taken off the starting roster.
It’s undoubtedly heartbreaking for the Penguins that Conor Sheary’s name would even come up as a possibility to take off the roster, given how invaluable he was to the team during the regular season. Nonetheless, his postseason play is quickly becoming a concern.
Julia Stumbaugh is a student at the College of William & Mary.