This Year Vs. Last Year

Any one else getting super hyped for Thursday?  It really started to hit me today that the Penguins play a REGULAR SEASON game this Thursday.  Can’t wait.

Anyways, let’s delve into the 4th article in 4 days: this year versus last year.

Jim Rutherford made some bold moves in the offseason.  He traded Brandon Sutter for Clendening and Bonino, he traded a bunch of prospects for Kessel.  He acquired Fehr, Cullen, and Plotnikov via free agency.

This guy is not messing around.

He wants a Stanley Cup back in Pittsburgh.

However, we must also note the Penguins lost plenty of talented players in the offseason.  They lost blue-liners Paul Martin and Christian Ehrhoff, they lost bruiser Steve Downie, and they lost Blake Comeau, who showed a lot of success with the Penguins…just to name a few.

So the question is: how different is the Penguins lineup this year as compared to last year?  Are they better?  Are they worse?  Well let’s check it out:

Below is last years Penguins opening night roster.

Note: these line combinations may not be exactly correct.  But just go with it:

Forwards

Kunitz – Crosby – Hornqvist

Comeau – Malkin – Dupuis

Spaling – Sutter – Downie

Sill – Goc – Adams

Defensemen

Letang – Martin

Maatta – Ehrhoff

Despres – Scuderi

Now, let’s compare this team to the team Mike Johnston will be sending out on Thursday night, line by line. (Note: this is based off of what my predictions are for the lines.  This can be found in my previous article, click here)

FWD 1:  Kunitz – Crosby – Hornqvist  VS  Kunitz – Crosby – Kessel

Not terribly too much has changed here.  The main difference is that Kessel is on a line with Crosby and Kunitz rather than Hornqvist.  Hornqvist is a great player, but Kessel is an elite sniper.  “Crosby to Kessel” should be a popular phrase this season.  This line definitely upgraded, although not as much as others believe it or not.

FWD 2: Comeau – Malkin – Dupuis  VS  Plotnikov – Malkin – Hornqvist

Well, Malkin is a constant on this line, but his wingers have once again changed.  Comeau is gone, but he is replaced with Sergei Plotnikov, who I think can do just as much, if not more damage, than Comeau did with Malkin.  Additionally, Hornqvist, who played on the first line last year, will get to see some time with Malkin.  Hornqvist is definitely an upgrade to Dupuis on this line, even though Duper is a terrific hockey player.  This line also has clearly upgraded from last year.

FWD 3: Spaling – Sutter – Downie  VS  Perron – Bonino – Dupuis

Okay, this line got a HUGE upgrade.  Downie was a solid player for the Penguins, but he took way too many penalties to be legitimately effective.  Sutter was also very strong for the Penguins, but Bonino, who replaces Sutter this year, has better upside offensively and better possession numbers.  And Perron vs. Spaling?!  Yeah, I’ll take Perron on that one.  Huge upgrade for the 3rd line.

FWD 4: Sill – Goc – Adams  VS  Bennett – Cullen – Sprong

Ha ha.  Ha.  Do I need to even analyze this one?  Sill, Goc, and Adams were all a complete joke.  Yeah sure, Adams and/or Goc could kill a penalty or 2.  But does another team even feel somewhat worried if that line was out on the ice?  I wouldn’t be.  On the other hand,  Bennet and Sprong but had fantastic preseasons, scoring 3 goals each.  Both have looked great, and Bennett looks as good as he ever has.  If he stays healthy (knock on wood), he may have a breakout season, even if he is on the fourth line.  Cullen will put up decent numbers as well, but not anything special…then again, he will probably put up as many (if not more) points and Sill, Goc, and Adams did all of last year, because it wasn’t many.

Rutherford really put some focus in the bottom 6 forwards and he did his job well.  The Penguins are rolling with 4 lines that can score.  Even if the Rangers put Staal and McDonagh against Crosby’s line, the Penguins have 3 other lines that know how to score goals.  It should be fun to watch.

Let’s take a look at the defensive side:

Def 1: Letang – Martin  VS  Letang – Maatta

If you noticed, I have Letang with Maatta to start this year rather than Letang with Scuderi, which I put in my article I posted yesterday.  I did not think they would start the season together, but Mike Johnston has come out since then to say that they will start the season as the top pair.  I do not necessarily agree, but let’s go with it.

I see this comparison as a washout.  Letang is still Letang, and Maatta is upcoming.  He might not have Paul Martin’s experience, but he has the hockey smarts, and I think him and Letang should blend well.

Def 2: Maatta – Ehrhoff  VS  Cole – Dumoulin

Well, we hit our first bump in the road.  I think the Penguins had a better 2nd D pair last year than they do this year.  Cole and Dumoulin have played well together during the preseason, but both of these guys are seen as “bottom 6” kind of guys.  They would really need to step it up to be considered a top 4 pairing.  On the other hand, I do see Ehrhoff – Maatta as a top 4 pairing, so the Pens downgraded here.

Def 3: Despres – Scuderi  VS  Lovejoy – Scuderi

Oh.  That was awkward.  Scuderi is the constant, and the change between Lovejoy and Despres was due to the trade of these players, straight up.  I don’t mind that the Penguins traded Despres for Lovejoy, but they should have got more value back for Despres, who is only in his 20’s and has decent potential.  Therefore, based off of that, I would say the Pens downgraded just slightly on their third D pair.

Overall, the defense downgraded.  However, Rutherford decided he wanted to let some of the young guys play.  We will just have to see how things work out.

On a side note, regarding defense, I have heard rumors circulating that Rutherford wants Dustin Byfuglien… but it is way too early to talk about trade rumors.  We can discuss that later if it really becomes something that is legitimate.

That being said, don’t be surprised if GM Jim Rutherford goes after a top 4 defenseman, because that is one of the only spots where the Penguins are really lacking right now.

Overall, considering everything, the lineup definitely improved.  The defense did downgrade, but the upgrade of the offense way overpowers the losses on the blue line.  If the Penguins want to be successful, they need to learn how to score goals, and win the high scoring hockey games.  That is how this team is built, and it is how they should play.

Once again, thanks to those that keep up with my blog!  Tomorrow (or technically, later today) I’ll be writing an article regarding the NL Central vs. the Metropolitan Division.  It should be a good one.

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This Year Vs. Last Year

Projected Lineups

Article 3 of 7, here we go!

The Penguins made their final roster moves today.  Technically, they reduced their roster to 25 players, but forwards Eric Fehr and Tom Kuhnhackl are currently injured, which puts them at the NHL limit of a 23.

Let’s talk about who went where after the final roster cut.

  • No shock here, Derrick Pouliot was sent to the AHL along with forwards John-Sebastian Dea and Bryan Rust.  Dea and Rust were destined to stay in the minors starting from the beginning of training camp.  Both of these players could be NHL ready in a few years, but the Penguins lineup right now has no space for these guys. On the other hand, many predicted Pouliot to be a top 4 defenseman this year going into camp.  I am a huge Pouliot fan myself, but he did not show any promise in preseason action.  This could have been the result of having a mindset of having a spot locked up, or it could be simply that Pouliot isn’t ready.  He has great talent, and he’ll see NHL action this year for sure, but he will start the season with Wilkes-Barre to help his development.
  • Although this was not a huge shock, it was the most shocking move the Penguins made today: they released Sergei Gonchar from his professional tryout contract.  Because of this, defenseman Tim Erixon will make the roster, since Pouliot also did not make the roster.  Although Gonchar did not play great during preseason action, not many of the Penguins defensmen played well overall.  Many thought Gonchar would stick around to be able to mentor the young defensemen such as Clendening and Pouliot, and also because he is one of Evgeni Malkin’s best buddies.  Malkin attributes a lot of his success to Sergei Gonchar, but he will not be with the team this year.  Either way, Gonchar will always be remembered by Penguins fans everywhere.  I would love to see Gonchar stay with the Penguins in some type of managerial role, but who knows what he wants to do.  Thanks Sarge.
  • This may be shocking to some, but if you’ve been keeping up with my blog, you’re not shocked at all: Daniel Sprong made the Penguins roster, as did the wrecking ball himself Bobby Farnham.  I’ve talked enough about Sprong, but I am very excited to see him in NHL action.  He has at most 9 games to make a good impression, and if he does, he could be with the Penguins all year.  If not, we get a glimpse of what is to come.  On the other hand, there is Bobby Farnham.  He may not be skilled, but he plays with some crazy passion.  He is 5′ 10″, but he doesn’t care.  He would engage in a fight against a 6′ 6″ monster if he had to.  He is a guy the Penguins are going to need, and he is so good at getting under opponents’ skin.  Finally, it is time to Free Farnham.

After the final roster cuts, here are the players that remain on the Penguins roster:

Centers: Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Nick Bonino, Matt Cullen

Left Wings: Chris Kunitz, David Perron, Sergei Plotnikov

Right Wings: Phil Kessel, Patric Hornqvist, Beau Bennett, Daniel Sprong, Pascal Dupuis, Bobby Farnham

Defensemen: Kris Letang, Olli Maatta, Ian Cole, Brian Dumoulin, Ben Lovejoy, Adam Clendening, Rob Scuderi, Tim Erixon

Injured: Eric Fehr, Tom Kuhnhackl

The Penguins had some very interesting line combinations in yesterday’s game.  They split Crosby and Malkin on the power play, they played David Perron on the 4th line, and they split Letang and Maatta.  I believe most of this was just a result in trying to find chemistry, but who knows.  Anyways, here are my predictions as to what the opening night roster is going to look like:

Forwards:

Kunitz – Crosby – Kessel

Plotnikov – Malkin – Hornqvist

Perron – Bonino – Dupuis

 Bennett – Cullen – Sprong

(Farnham)

In regards to the forwards, the first 2 lines seem pretty obvious to me.  I don’t think those lines change, and Mike Johnston used these 2 lines in the final preseason game.  I believe Perron moves up to the third line to play with Bonino and Dupuis, since Perron is just too skilled to be considered a fourth line guy, even though he hasn’t looked great in the preseason.  This leaves Bennett and Sprong to play with Matt Cullen, which is almost unfair to these guys.  Both Bennett and Sprong had terrific camps and preseasons, but there is just no other place for these guys to play.  But hey, a fourth line of Bennett, Cullen, and Sprong is impressive.  I think Farnham is scratched for opening night, but don’t be surprised if we see him in game action soon.

Defense:

Letang – Scuderi

Maatta – Cole

Dumoulin – Lovejoy

(Clendening – Erixon)

In regards to the defense, I actually think the Penguins will keep Letang and Maatta split.  Why?  Because you don’t put Crosby and Malkin on the same line.  The Penguins have 2 terrific defensemen in Letang and Maatta, but everyone else is pretty much considered a 5th or 6th defensemen (besides maybe Ian Cole, who could be considered a 4th defenseman).  That being said, why stack one line, and leave the other 2 D pairs hung out to dry? I put Scuderi with Letang only because I think this would allow for Letang to hop up into the play more, being that Scuderi is a stay-at-home defenseman.  Olli Maatta will likely play with Ian Cole, that is if Scuds plays with Letang.  The 3rd D pair was very hard to determine, because Clendening has had such a great camp, but I would be shocked if they hold Lovejoy out of the roster.  However, Clendening will get his chances even if he doesn’t play.

Goalies:

Marc-Andre Fleury

Jeff Zatkoff

In regards to goalies, well, that one was easy.

Keep in mind these are my personal predictions.  This does not mean these will be the lines on opening night, this is just my hunch.  We should find out more and more as the week progresses, because the Penguins will have a few practices, and likely practice line combinations that they want to see on opening night.  They want to, and NEED to, develop some chemistry, but that just comes with reps and reps and more reps.

Also, don’t be surprised if they put Crosby and Malkin back on the same power play unit, but I guess we will have to see.

As always, thanks for keeping up with me!  Tomorrow I’ll be writing an article about this year’s team vs. last years team.  You won’t want to miss this one.

Projected Lineups