Pittsburgh Penguins Friday Round-Up: Comeau’s Return, Trade Rumors, Coaching Decisions and More


The Pittsburgh Penguins rounded out a hectic week with a Thursday night shootout victory over the Ottawa Senators at the Canadian Tire Centre. The Penguins find themselves generally healthy and playing impressive hockey, but still suffered a 5-0 drubbing in Vancouver on Sunday and forfeited a 3-goal lead in Ottawa before eventually coming away with 2-points after a shootout goal by David Perron. This past week was full of ups and downs, as well as rampant trade rumors as we near the NHL trade deadline of March 2nd

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A huge bright spot for the Penguins this week was the return of Blake Comeau, who missed 20 games due to a broken wrist. Many wondered if he could continue his hot streak that he was enjoying before getting injured, and he answered with three points and five hits in his first two games back. It’s clear how much Pittsburgh missed his physicality, as well as his ability to play a scoring role on the second line with Evgeni Malkin. Comeau’s return, paired with the recent return of Patric Hornqvist, has allowed Head Coach Mike Johnston to get a good idea of where his team is heading into the final push of the season. It will allow him to balance his lines and get a good idea of where the Penguins’ shortcomings remain. That’s also where Jim Rutherford comes in, as he’ll be able to address those shortcomings over the next couple weeks before the trade deadline.

Who Pittsburgh should target is a hot topic, as expected this time of year. We all know that we can forget about Evander Kane as he was recently dealt to the Buffalo Sabres. I originally wrote this article highlighting some realistic targets that could really help the Penguins come playoff time. Since then, Daniel Winnik from the Toronto Maple Leafs has also been added to that list as reports have pinned Pittsburgh as a good fit and very possible landing spot for Winnik before March 2nd. Rutherford is said to be targeting a bottom-six forward and a veteran defenseman, which means Winnik would make a lot of sense. Mike Santorelli is also a name that is being thrown around in conversations about the Pittsburgh Penguins, and with 29 points in 55 games played, I’m sure you can see why. He also only carries a 1.5 million dollar cap hit, which is similar to Daniel Winnik’s 1.3 million.

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Two things have remained constant in trade talk regarding the Pittsburgh Penguins. One of those constants is that Jaromir Jagr remains a possibility. However, I don’t believe we’ll see this happen, as Jagr would be a tough fit for this roster. My question is where do you play him? We know that Chris Kunitz is all but cemented on Sidney Crosby’s left wing, which means David Perron is your top line right wing. That also means that Patric Hornqvist will be your second-line wing, as he doesn’t seem to have the versatility to play either side. That being said, do you acquire Jagr and play him on your third line? It isn’t out of the question, but very unlikely and he wouldn’t excel with Brandon Sutter.

The other constant is that the Toronto Maple Leafs are clear sellers, and they have a lot of pieces that Pittsburgh could use. We’ve already discussed Winnik and Santorelli. I’ve also mentioned Cody Franson as a possibility and my favorite defenseman available for what the Penguins need. However, there are multiple defensemen that are possibilities according to reports from earlier today. Jan Hejda, Jeff Petry, and Scott Hannan are all names that Rutherford is kicking the tires on.

My opinion is that Rutherford should be focusing solely on defense. With Christian Ehrhoff’s recent concussion and Olli Maatta’s injury they are going to need more depth on the back end going into the post season. There are splash defensemen out there, such as Andrej Sekera and Cody Franson, but considering the play of Simon Despres and Derrick Pouliot the Penguins may not need a splash player. They should feel content adding a depth defenseman, preferably a veteran.

Feb 7, 2015; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Thomas Greiss (1) makes a save against the Vancouver Canucks during the second period at Rogers Arena. Mandatory Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

Another area of concern for me, which I don’t believe they’ll address with a trade, is Thomas Greiss and the backup goaltender situation. Greiss has been bad, plain and simple. He has allowed three or more goals in eight straight games and nine in his last two outings. I don’t believe Marc-Andre Fleury will collapse in the postseason like he has in years past, but what if he does? Do you trust Greiss to step in and spell him successfully? I sure don’t, and believe that because of this Fleury may be the most important player on this roster at this point in the season. And thankfully, he’s still playing at an elite level and recently earned his league leading, franchise record eighth shutout of the season.

Moving on to coaching, Mike Johnston has made a few very questionable decisions as of late. I haven’t been very critical of Johnston this season as I feel he has done a remarkable job so far. But his decision to continually scratch Beau Bennett and not let him play through his slump is disheartening in my opinion. I can understand scratching him for a game to send a message, but a young kid isn’t going to learn how to deal with a slump by watching from the press box. Along those same lines, Brandon Sutter has been dismal since the first quarter of the season, but continues to anchor the third line with no repercussions. Sutter is still highly regarded with a lot of teams around the NHL and is a name that I’d move before the deadline if Jim Rutherford can find a suitor. Looking at the numbers (and I know you can’t base your decision 100% on stats), Nick Spaling is a very capable center that has better possession numbers, a similar faceoff percentage, and one more point than Sutter so far this season. I’d place him between Bennett and Downie and ship Sutter out of Pittsburgh. It will clear some cap for a bigger name acquisition as well.

The Penguins are off until Sunday when they will clash with the Chicago Blackhawks. Visit us here at Pens Labyrinth for your game day preview, and for more hockey talk you can find me on twitter at @michael29angelo or by using the follow link above.  Thanks for reading.