No shortage of storylines heading into this game, is there? In this edition of Three Questions we get the scoop on some familiar faces with the Pittsburgh Penguins courtesy of PensBurgh's Hooks Orpik, who despite having a rather unfortunate name around these parts (at least to those with memories of 2006) is quite the swell guy.
With Evgeni Malkin concussed and on the shelf, and presuming the Penguins don't expect one player to completely fill the void, which player (or players) stands the best chance of seizing the opportunity and making an impact?
The best choice for a player getting a chance is Dustin Jeffrey. He’s a young player with talent and seems well-rounded, but doesn’t get many game minutes. Jeffrey’s scored two goals in the last three games, and though he just gets 3rd line minutes and only a little bit of PP time, he’s a guy who usually makes the most of his opportunities and is able to create (and finish) scoring chances. The other candidates getting more of a chance to step up are Brandon Sutter and rookie Beau Bennett, who are both getting a little more opportunity than they might otherwise if Malkin was healthy.
Maybe or maybe not related to the last question: assuming no more significant injuries, are the Pens content with their roster or do they feel the need to make a deal or two? Is there anything to the persistent rumors that they're chasing Jarome Iginla?
The Penguins all season long have been trying to find a top six forward. They play Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis with Crosby, their styles mesh. So they need a player than can complement Malkin and James Neal for the "second" line. At first they tried Eric Tangradi (5 games, 0 goals, 0 assists), he failed and was shipped to Winnipeg for a draft pick. They claimed ex-Hurricane Zach Boychuk on waivers but he failed to succeed (7 gp, 0g, 0a) and has now been a healthy scratch for the past six games and counting (with no end in sight).
They have tried Matt Cooke, who actually didn’t look too bad, but I think they know he’s mainly a 3rd liner. They’ve brought up their #1 forward prospect in Bennett and have been bringing him along slowly (mainly 3rd line action) and it remains to be seen if he’s a top six player this season. I think he’s young, and very good, but I have my doubts he can consistently produce points and that it’d be best for his long-term development.
The real issue I see is the price of a return. Last year Paul Gaustad was a rental and went for a 1st round pick. To me, a team isn’t going to trade a guy like Iginla or Brenden Morrow or Daniel Alfredsson for just anything, and the market is going to be pretty brutal since virtually all the teams will be in the playoff chase in the lockout shortened season. I’d think they’d like to load up and take a run for the Cup, but I don’t see them giving up a ton of assets to do it. I think the answers might have to come from within (Bennett, Boychuk) but I guess we’ll have to see.
But this is a team that sent 4 young, solid trade assets to Atlanta for Marian Hossa in a deadline deal, they’ve shown the moxy to gamble on a big time trade before. I wouldn’t be shocked if they pulled the trigger on a blockbuster, but it doesn’t seem like they’re going to make a big trade just to make a big trade like the Flyers or Rangers might do. Even if the Pens don’t land a star, they need to land the right player this time of year- like Hal Gill in ’08 or Bill Guerin in ’09 and not the wrong player like Alex Ponikarovsky in ’10.
I've been asked about Jordan Staal in these features more times than I can count, so I'll take advantage of my chance to ask the same question: how has Brandon Sutter fit in with his new club, and are the Pens getting what they expected out of him when they made the deal?
I’ve been impressed by Sutter and I think the Pens have too. I think he’s a fine hockey player and he’s doing everything they’re asking of him and been exactly as advertised. Before the Malkin injury Sutter was playing in Jordan Staal’s exact spot centering Cooke and Tyler Kennedy. Since the Malkin injury, things have been a little more jumbled but Sutter’s definitely getting more responsibility and opportunity.
Sutter’s point total is decent but not great (4 goals, 4 assists in 20 games) which is pretty much in line for his normal regular season pace of production. His shot, to me, is better than I expected and I hope he can work to get open looks more in the future, I think he has a little bit of untapped scoring potential still. All in all (As fans of both teams know) Sutter is not as good as Jordan Staal, but Sutter’s a very solid all-around player and one the Pens are happy and lucky to have in their lineup.