Scenes from Monday’s Penguins practice
Fun with numbers: Philadelphia’s Claude Giroux ranks seventh in the NHL scoring race with four goals and 18 points in 14 games, but his 6.2 shooting percentage is the worst among the league’s top 60 point-getters and 266th among forwards.
Forty-eight forwards are averaging more ice time than Sidney Crosby, who leads the Pens with 18:44 TOI per game. Last season, Crosby skated 21:58 TOI, most in the NHL. Can it be that easy? Can the reduced ice time in October and November come back to help keep the stars hopping in April and May?
The following players are seeing less ice in 2014-15 than 2013-14. Evgeni Malkin (20:03 in 13-14, 18:20 in 14-15), Chris Kunitz (19:09, 17:58), Pascal Dupuis (17:41, 16:26), Paul Martin (24:34, 21:53), Simon Despres (16:44, 13:47).
Keeping the 35-year-old legs of Kunitz and Dupuis fresh makes a whole lot of sense. Kunitz set a career high with 68 points in 2013-14, but scored only 13 points in his final 24 games. Dupuis is coming back from major knee surgery, something that needs little explanation.
Malkin’s numbers, along with Crosby’s, will likely increase as the season progresses. They bear watching, at a minimum. Martin has been playing more with Olli Maatta sidelined. Prior to then, coach Mike Johnston seemed intent on slowly phasing out the impending free agent. Despres’s sample sizes are small for both seasons. There’s little doubt he’s been more effective this year than last.
The top-six forward ice time formerly known as James Neal has seen a drop from 18:26 to the current Patric Hornqvist’s 17:48 – not that the two player’s ice times are directly relatable. Incidentally, Hornqvist’s time is actually up over last year, when he averaged 16:51 with the Nashville Predators. That might be something to track, too.
Brandon Sutter (15:46, 17:49), Kris Letang (24:14, 24:43) , and Olli Maatta (18:29, 19:59) have all seen increased minutes.
Perhaps the Penguins should keep Beau Bennett in bubble wrap and quarantine him until say, the trade deadline. That way the team knows it has a healthy player coming its way near the postseason. Kidding aside, Bennett piled up five assists and a plus-4 rating in just two AHL Wilkes-Barre games over the weekend. The soon-to-be 23-year-old winger just needs to stay healthy, as one can gleam from his career statistics.
Links ‘n At
Penguins defensemen playing at high level early in season, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports.
Players pointed to Johnston’s system. Defensemen often struggled with the complexities of former coach Dan Bylsma’s system. Earlier this season, Scuderi pointed out that Johnston’s system offers defensemen “two choices,” whereas Bylsma’s system often resulted in “four choices.”
“I think the biggest thing with this system is that we have the ability to … make decisions,” defenseman Robert Bortuzzo said. “If something’s not there, we don’t have to force it. We can turn back and give it to our partner.”
I think Despres and Bortuzzo are just happy to be in the lineup after bouncing around last year — apologies to Scott Harrington. Simple is better, especially on defense, and the d-corps can read and react rather than thinking before reacting.
Winger Bennett playing above AHL competition while awaiting call-up from Penguins, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports.
Conventional wisdom says Bennett will slot into the Penguins’ top six when he makes his return, perhaps taking over for Blake Comeau on Evgeni Malkin’s wing. Bennett, however, isn’t necessarily lobbying for that spot.
“I really enjoy playing with (Brandon) Sutter,” Bennett said. “We have really good chemistry. Positive guy. I’ve really enjoyed playing with him preseason and a little bit last year. He’s one of those guys that’s always in the right position, and I know where he’s going to be. If that’s the slot I can eventually work into, I’ll be really happy.”
It’s not that Bennett desires a lesser role. It’s that the third line is being featured more prominently under coach Mike Johnston.
“This year, Sid and Geno have been around the 16- to 18-minute mark. Last year, they were getting 21 to 22 every game,” Bennett said. “The minutes are more evenly spread throughout.”
The minutes reduction for Crosby and Malkin might really come in handy for the playoffs.
Center of Penguins’ third line doesn’t mind giving more, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.
“To me, having watched him play over the last couple years, he’s a very good defensive center, but, at the same time, I think he can produce more offensively,” said coach Mike Johnston. “A part of the challenge for him this year is to pick up his numbers offensively. You start to see that lately.
“You don’t want to give up his defensive side of his game, because I can play him against anybody. I know every night he’s good in his own zone, end. He’s one of our top penalty-killers. [But] think you’ll start to see his numbers go up.”
I voiced my opinion on Sutter and the third line in the following tweet.