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:
Kunitz – Crosby – Hornqvist
Comeau – Malkin – Dupuis
Spaling – Sutter – Downie
Sill – Goc – Adams
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.