Filling out the Top 6


Feb 25, 2012; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Tampa Bay Lightning defender Brendan Mikkelson (29) fights against Pittsburgh Penguins center Joe Vitale (46) during the second period at the CONSOL Energy Center. The Pens won 8-1. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USPRESSWIRE

The sample size is low and probably too low to decipher how good or how not good the Penguins really are.  Look at the first two games, everyone was on the Penguins dick after taking out the hated Flyers and East favorite Rangers before losing to two lower stature teams like the Leafs and Jets  and we suck again.  It’s normal to think this way but it’s irrational. After scoring 6 goals in the Rangers game the Penguin’s offense has been mostly stifled with all goals in the past three games coming from superstars Sidney Crosby (3), Evgeni Malkin (1 on PP) and James Neal (1).   In a shortened season like this every two game losing streak is like a 4 game losing streak in an 82 game season and while it may seem rash to be debating decisions and changing lines so early into the season it must be a reality for all teams in the NHL.  With the lack of secondary scoring for the Penguins what can Dan Bylsma do to get the Penguins out of a rut?

Aside:  Rumors are abound that Shero is looking for a winger to play with Sid to move Kunitz back with Malkin and Neal as soon as possible but top 6 forwards don’t just climb out of the dirt.   Let’s shelf that idea because I don’t feel like going into all kinds of hypothetical if we trade this for that noise.

With a defense with a shoddy third pairing like the Penguins have they must rely on Offense (The top 4 are playing well over 22 minutes a game).  Is this a way to win the Stanley Cup?  I don’t know but it is the reality of the situation at this point.  So what’s wrong with the offense?   I think it’s a little we lost Staal but for the most part I think it’s the gap on the second line, or whatever you want to call it.  A line with Malkin and Neal isn’t really a second line but it’s whatever.  Last year the line with Malkin, Neal and Kunitz was one of, if not the best lines in the league.  With the return of Sidney Crosby and the failure in the offseason to acquire someone to flank Crosby it seemed necessary to move Kuntiz back to the first line with Crosby where he played since arriving in Pittsburgh.  I was all for it, I thought give Crosby Kunitz, and give Malkin Neal, those are the two best wingers we have but after the start of the season I find myself questioning the decision as should Bylsma but I think that should be the last option.

The Penguins started the season with Eric Tangradi on a line with Malkin and Neal.  Eric Tangradi has the size to instill hope in the fans hearts that maybe he could be another Kevin Stevens, but no he sucks.  By game 3 Tandgradi had been relegated to the 4th line and maybe he’s better off for it.  It’s probably hard to get into an NHL line up regularly for the first time and have the pressure of playing on a line with a 40 goal scorer and a 50 goal scorer.  If Tangradi can get something going maybe he can get another shot but that’s a huge maybe since he’s done less than nothing since first appearing the NHL.

The Penguins are now on option B, which is Tyler Kennedy on the second line.  Is Tyler Kennedy a second line player?  Maybe.  Is he a second line player with James Neal and Evgeni Malkin?  No.  Tyler Kennedy will shoot from anywhere on the ice as his first option without looking for other outlets.  Does it work for him?  I guess, he got a $2M a year contract out of it but is that any way to play with two of the top 10 players in the league?  You can answer that.  Kennedy is an above average third line player and it works when he’s the shooter on the third line and he has Sutter feeding and Cooke driving.  The third line has looked out of sorts since TK moved up and the second line hasn’t really gotten into any more of a flow.  (Granted they look better with TK than when Tangradi was on the line).  Sutter has had a slow start but I’m confident he will be the player Shero thought he would be when he acquired him that being said if you want him to get used to the water keep him with the same players so he can get into some kind of groove.

So what do they do?  I don’t know I’m not a hockey coach, but here’s how I look at it…When was the Malkin line at its best?  With Kunitz on the wing if necessary put him back.  But I would try option C first.  Option C being the following…  Who is the player that plays most like Kunitz?  My answer to that question is Joe Vitale.  He’s a second year player that has improved greatly over the course of last season and has made more steps this season.  He’s the new Max Talbot (who played with Malkin in the 09 Playoffs).   He always skates hard both offensively and defensively.  He crashes the corners and digs out pucks.  He has a pass first mentality.  He has the speed to keep up with Malkin and Neal.  He can throw his weight around and he can get dirty in front of the net.  In this option you keep Sutter comfortable with TK and Cooke on the third line. You have Glass and Adams working hard and defensively on the fourth line and you can keep 14 with 87 and 9.  What the hell do I know?  Not much.  But that’s what I would do.