The Pittsburgh Penguins haven’t had the opportunity to run their entire lineup out into game-action this season.
Of course, is this campaign any different from previous years?
It’s utterly baffling as to why Pittsburgh can’t stay healthy, and that’s been the case again this season. Losing forward Pascal Dupuis till the 2014-15 campaign, the Pens’ lines will be missing at least one full-time player for sure come postseason time.
Defenseman Paul Martin and forward Beau Bennett are both believed to be on track to return prior to the playoffs, however, blueliner Kris Letang and goaltender Tomas Vokoun face uncertainties. Although the team still remains positive that Letang and Vokoun can eventually be re-inserted, their injuries pose as obstacles, considering their respective timetables are unclear.
If I had to place a wager, I’d say Vokoun is closer to returning than Letang, but, as I said, there’s no confirmation that’s the ultimatum. Nonetheless, should all four be-a-go for the Pens’ playoff push, each of them, obviously, will be huge additions.
Now, if they all make it back, there’s going to be current players scratched, due to how imperative those four are towards the lineup. It will also give Pens’ fans a chance to see what they can do, given we have yet to witness a full, healthy roster.
Here’s how I envision – or would prefer – the lines stacking-up in the playoffs, if Bennett, Letang, Martin, and Vokoun return:
- Kunitz – Crosby – Bennett
- Jokinen – Malkin – Neal
- Goc – Sutter – Stempniak
- Glass – Vitale – Adams
- Letang – Scuderi
- Maatta – Niskanen
- Engelland – Martin
Let’s discuss the top-line first. Bennett was slotted as Crosby’s right winger before he went down with injury, and although he hadn’t produced much in the 12 games he’s played, it’s better to place him with the team’s best player for swifter progression.
If Bennett comes back and is penciled on Sutter’s line, I have a hard time believing he’ll be effective. The third-line has been a sanctuary for most skaters so far this season, and despite the idea that the pairing could perhaps use Bennett’s scoring touch, as I referenced earlier, he too was having difficulty tickling the twine.
So, Bennett to the top-line works best in the long run.
However, if the team’s looking for third-line continuity, Goc and Stempniak could provide that jolt.
Goc is listed as a center, and since being acquired, has played that role on the fourth-line. In my opinion, that’s not going to maximize his productivity. Skating with Craig Adams and Tanner Glass won’t pan-out because both of them aren’t scorers.
Since the squad needs their third-line to start consistently burying biscuits, tab Goc for the left-wing duties – regardless of his natural position. He can also help in the face-off circle, something I feel Sutter’s had issues with this season.
And while Goc is on the third pairing, why not put Stempniak with him?
Stempniak is the newbie – but so is Goc. Considering all the other players have sufficient chemistry – attributed to them being together all season – why break that up? The real dilemma here, from my understanding, has been trying to get Sutter going. And because the organization was unable to reel-in Vancouver Canucks’ forward Ryan Kesler, I’m assuming Goc and Stempniak were brought-in to repair the third-lines’ ineffectiveness.
Stempniak was on the third unit for his first Pens’ game last Thursday, and then auditioned on the top-line – where I presumed he’d be – in Friday’s outing. It’s inaccurate of me to judge where he fits best because he’s only been on the roster for all of a few days, but as it stands, down the stretch, he’s more valuable on the third-line.
To recap: Goc and Stempniak to the third-line to build chemistry between them both, considering they’re new, and to increase Sutter’s potency.
Moving on to my defensive pairings.
I have Letang in there, but should he fail to return this season, obviously there are multiple other candidates.
Orpik has not been good. The more games I watch, the more I feel he hasn’t been the same since Bruins’ forward Shawn Thornton sucker-punched him. Orpik, more than often, has been caught standing still. That’s taking nothing away from the guy’s work ethic, it’s just he’s not doing the job right now.
Engelland on the other hand, has.
I know, I know, Robert Bortuzzo has instilled tremendous toughness and grit to the lineup. But does the same not go for Engelland as well?
Honestly, and factually, Engelland has been a better scorer than most of the third-fourth line players. That, and he brings essential size to the lineup. The way Engelland’s played this season, I don’t see how he doesn’t deserve a spot heading into the postseason.
I think Bylsma should give it to him.
Do I believe he will? No.
Orpik is going to get the call, but he shouldn’t. He’s been a mainstay for Pittsburgh his whole career, and contributed immensely through the years, it’s just his time may be up.
The rest of the defensive pairings are explanatory. Maatta and Niskanen have been the team’s biggest assets on the blue-line, while Martin and Scuderi are tremendous leaders.
The lineup isn’t going to play-out like this. It could, but this is my interpretation of how it should look – based on performance.
Who knows, Bennett, Letang, Martin, and Vokoun could all miss the season. That’s not what I’m hoping, nor think will happen, but it’s a possibility.
However, if they’re ready to step-in, those lines give the team it’s best chance at lifting the Cup.