By: Casey Johnston (@CaseyR82)
Defense Gets Act Together
After giving up 10 non-regulation goals in their last two games, the Penguins went into Nashville and played a sound defensive game, allowing only 16 even strength shots against Marc-Andre Fleury, allowing one goal, and killing all four of Nashville’s power play chances. With the injuries to Paul Martin and Kris Letang, the Penguins have begun to drop down the rankings in goals and shots against. The team needed a game like they had against Nashville to remind themselves that not every hockey game has to end with a 6-5 score. It’s an important reminder as the Penguins get ready to face San Jose and Anaheim, two very difficult opponents who will not be afraid to expose the Penguins’ defense as Chicago did.
Forget the Big Name, Give Me Depth
After aggressively pursuing Ryan Kesler, Ray Shero came up short on the big center but landed some much-needed depth forwards in Marcel Goc and Lee Stempniak. Goc was fourth among Panther forwards in goals against per 60 minutes with 2.63 (min. 20 games played). He led Florida in faceoffs taken with 1090, winning 52.8% of his draws. He started 42.3% of shifts in the offensive zone. Whether he plays beside Brandon Sutter on the third line or centers the fourth line, Goc makes the bottom six harder to play against.
Stempniak was the fifth-leading scorer among Calgary forwards with 23 points (8g-15a) in 52 games. He has a Corsi rating of -5.12. Don’t let the negative number discourage you; that’s the fifth-highest on a bad Calgary team with T.J. Galiardi leading the team with a Corsi rating of only 1.21. If Stempniak meshes well with Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz his numbers should go up.
Acquiring these two forwards adds a little more roster flexibility for Dan Bylsma. Rather than force a guy like Brian Gibbons onto the first line, he can slot Stempniak there and try out Gibbons on the third line until Beau Bennett or Jayson Megna return to the lineup. Having two extra forwards going into the playoffs may help lessen the blow of losing out on Kesler.
The Sharks are currently sitting in second place in the Pacific Division and fifth place in the Western Conference. Their 85 points would put them in second place in the Eastern Conference, just a point behind the Penguins. If the Pacific Division is not the toughest in hockey, then it’s a very close second behind the Central Division. However, the Penguins have managed to roll through the Pacific with a record of 8-1-1. They beat the Sharks 5-1 in their only other meeting this season. They beat the Ducks 3-1. They beat the Kings 4-1. That’s the top three teams in the division that the Penguins have beat rather handedly. If the Penguins make it out of the Eastern Conference, there’s a decent chance that the team representing the West in the Stanley Cup Finals comes from the Pacific. Two games in the regular season is not a large enough sample size to judge how a seven game series would go, but the Penguins have shown that they can skate with some of the best in the West.