The Pittsburgh Penguins survived a first-round ouster – now what?
With their second-round opponent set to be either the New York Rangers or Philadelphia Flyers, it’s imperative Pittsburgh has all their artillery inserted into the lineup.
And due to the uncertainty surrounding Brandon Sutter’s injury in Monday’s series-clinching Game 6, it turns out to be a bittersweet victory.
Words cannot express how effective Sutter was against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Criticized for his lack of offense and nearly dealt at the trade deadline, Sutter has arguably been Pittsburgh’s best player in general from March on through the playoffs, and seems to finally be breaking out for the Pens.
Funny how things play out.
However, amidst killing off a penalty in the second period of Monday’s game, Sutter crashed awkwardly into the boards, and thereafter limped to the bench. In noticeable pain, Sutter needed help hobbling down the runway, and did not return, casting a cloud over his second-round availability.
If Sutter is unable to perform, Pittsburgh finds themselves in quite the pickle.
While the Pens certainly have the forward depth to fill-in for Sutter, it’s going to be difficult to replicate Sutter’s efforts so far. So, the Pens truly can’t replace Sutter, but, of course, Pittsburgh possesses players that they can settle with.
Jayson Megna is probably option number-one. Megna’s a natural center and has experience playing in games this postseason, which is convenient. However, Megna’s been a wing-man for most of his stay in the NHL, so, adjusting back could go either way in terms of effectiveness.
Another route Pittsburgh can go, is bringing Marcel Goc up to the third-line and making Craig Adams the fourth-line center, while keeping Megna on the wing. Let’s also remember Brian Gibbons, who missed the final four games of the ‘Jackets series due to an undisclosed injury, could be healthy come the second-round as well.
But there’s more to Sutter’s outstanding playoff performance so far than just his five points (3G, 2A), which ranks him tied for fourth-most on the team. For starters, the guy was aggressive on the forecheck. Pressuring opposing puck-handlers, Sutter created various shorthanded opportunities and forced turnovers in the neutral zone due to his heavy heckling.
Sutter was also tremendous on the penalty kill for Pittsburgh in round one. Placing second among Pens’ forwards in shorthanded time (3:12), Sutter has done an exceptional job blocking shots, dishing out a persistent dose of checks, and clearing pucks. Not to mention Sutter’s extremely valuable in the face-off circle.
During their first-round matchup with Columbus, Sutter won 49.6% of his face-offs, which is nearly half, and what you’d want out of your third-line center. Pittsburgh is going to be able to punch in a sufficient substitute should Sutter miss time, but, like I said, his absence will be felt one way or another.
Sutter’s been one of the more reliable skaters Pittsburgh has. Piling up an astonishing 529 man-games lost – per mangameslost.com - which was a league-high by far, Sutter’s missed just one tilt all season, and therefore been slotted to contribute almost regularly.
So, I guess, given the amount of injuries Pittsburgh’s endured, another ailment was only inevitable.
Hopefully Sutter’s pain is bearable enough to play. But if not, there’s alternatives.