The Pittsburgh Penguins have lost seven of their last ten games. Only last night’s game did the Penguins earn the loser point for making it to overtime. It’s not quite time to panic. They are still three points clear of the Carolina Hurricanes for the final playoff spot and only three points back of the second place Capitals. The Penguins have two things to look forward to. The return of Evgeni Malkin and the return of Justin Schultz.
Evgeni Malkin has made bad turnovers and his even-strength scoring isn’t where it needs to be. When he’s out of the lineup the team is crippled. Geno does more than just put up points. He creates. He’s one of the best in the league at it. Having Matt Cullen in your second line center slot is pretty bad.
How bad? His line had a CF 3 and CA 16 last night. That’s a great way to neuter Phil Kessel who is one of the Penguins few reliable offensive weapons right now. Having Bjugstad on the wing with Malkin out screws up all the other lines. You can’t elevate Cullen from the fourth line. He isn’t good enough anymore. Here is the chasm
The frustrations with Malkin are similar to the ones people have with Letang. The gaffes are obvious and annoying and sometimes really hurt. The fact is they do so many of the other things great that their other teammates can’t do. The creation is worth way more than the terrible turnovers over a large sample (a hockey season). We are getting a good look at life without Evgeni Malkin and it isn’t great.
Also, Mike Sullivan needs to show some creativity with how he rolls the lines. Phil Kessel played 1:33 with Sidney Crosby last night at 5v5. I’m tired of the uninspired choices. Sullivan never uses TV timeouts or the ends of periods to get creative with the forward combinations to maximize their potential. This is something Dan Bylsma was really good at and it really isn’t all that complicated.
Justin Schultz is almost ready to rejoin the team. This will help the forwards out immensely
DO NOT PLAY JACK JOHNSON WITH JUSTIN SCHULTZ WHEN HE RETURNS
There are couple of things that should be set in stone with the Penguins defense:
Kris Letang, Brian Dumoulin, and Justin Schultz should always be in the top four
Jack Johnson should never be in the top four (or six)
I am fine experimenting with Brian Dumoulin away from Kris Letang… as long as he is with Justin Schultz and Olli Maatta is up with Letang. Otherwise keep the top pairing together and put Maatta with Schultz. If Maatta can’t handle either of those roles it is time to move on from his contract and let Pettersson do it for way less money.
Things aren’t going to be any easier tomorrow. They get to play the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Thanks for reading!