Apr 6, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins center Brandon Sutter (16) during the second period against the Colorado Avalanche at Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

The Key to Pittsburgh's Cup Hopes: Brandon Sutter

 

The Pittsburgh Penguins have a great team – on paper.

Since capturing the heavy hardware in 2009, Pittsburgh’s failed to meet expectations over the past four postseason tries. Which is bewildering, given they have two of the top-three players in the league, experience, and perform in arguably the weaker conference.

It would be obvious to state the Pens’ goaltenders must step up for them to make a run at the Cup this postseason, considering they – specifically Marc-Andre Fleury – have been mortifyingly underwhelming in recent years.

However, other than that realization, the Pens’ secondary skaters need to provide quality scoring chances if they have any shot of getting back to the Stanley Cup Finals. And that’s why Pittsburgh’s third-line center – Brandon Sutter – is key to their Cup hopes.

Yet to blossom offensively into what made him an 11th overall pick, Sutter was invisible for the 2013 ride. In the 15 games he played in, Sutter collected just three points (2G, 1A) and skated to a minus-1 rating. Which isn’t the best backup support for the Pens’ top-six players.

Granted, it was his first postseason ever. But that means Sutter’s got no excuses this year.

Speculated to be apart of a package that would have landed Vancouver Canucks’ center Ryan Kesler at this past trade deadline, it appeared that Pittsburgh didn’t have time to wait around for Sutter’s game to find itself, and felt that perhaps he wasn’t the man for the job.

Since the deal fell through, Sutter lived to fight another day as a Penguin. However, there’s still no signs of his ability to put points on the board. While Sutter’s contributions on the penalty-kill have been much appreciated, he needs to turn up his offense.

In the playoffs, you need three scoring lines – not two. And no matter how effective the top-two pairings are for Pittsburgh, they can’t put all the weight on their shoulders, ’cause becoming over-reliant tires the Pens’ go-to’s out.

Rewind back to the ’09 Cup, the Pens’ had a guy by the name of Jordan Staal – who was dealt for Sutter. In 24 games that postseason, Staal garnered nine points (4G, 5A) and fired a massive 58 shots-on-goal. If Sutter could just replicate the pellets Staal torqued at the net, he’s bound to put up those type of numbers.

I wouldn’t normally say that offense wins Cups, because I’m a firm believer in the whole defense wins championships phrase. But in Pittsburgh’s case, offense couldn’t be more imperative to their hopes and dreams. It’s what makes their team.

Just look at their roster – they’re filled with twine ticklers. It’s just a matter of can they consistently produce on a game-to-game basis? If Sutter is one of those players lighting the lamp, Pittsburgh could be unstoppable. Of course, that’s if he generates any offense.

The one thing going for Sutter, is that over recent tilts, he’s been arguably the best player for Pittsburgh. Being without multiple star players towards the tail end of the regular-season in various games, Sutter, from my perspective, has really made his presence felt.

And because the playoffs are set to start on Wednesday, having Sutter on top of his game is very beneficial for Pittsburgh. For his sake, Sutter better push for a good performance in the playoffs, because he’s due to be a restricted free agent, and Kesler’s name could surface in trade speculation once again.

Wednesday’s round-one opening game against the Columbus Blue Jackets can be seen on the NBC Sports Network, and is set to start at 7:30 p.m.

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