Three Observations Heading Into Game 69 Between the Penguins and Red Wings

The Pens Nation Gameday Report

By: Casey Johnston (@PensNationCasey)

Sutter Not a Shutdown Center?

Lyle Kossis over at Pensburgh wrote a feature about Dan Bylsma and matchups, specifically the use of Brandon Sutter vs. Jordan Staal.  His finding was that Staal had been used in a shutdown role every year of Bylsma’s tenure while Sutter was only used in that role during his first season as a Penguin.  It’s an interesting piece that’s well worth a read; I just question whether the issue with the Penguins’ third line is a problem with Brandon Sutter or a problem with the wingers.  For most of Staal’s time as a third line center he had Matt Cooke and Tyler Kennedy flanking him.  Sutter also had those two last year and was able to have success playing against the other team’s best competition.  This year, however, Sutter has been playing time with Craig Adams, Tanner Glass, Chris Conner, Joe Vitale, Taylor Pyatt, Jayson Megna, Andrw Ebbett, Brian Gibbons, Jussi Jokinen, and Chuck Kobasew.  The Sutter-Glass-Adams combination was the most frequently-used line as they have played together 8.89% of the time.  To put that into perspective, Kennedy and Cooke were with Sutter 36.18% of the time.  During Staal’s time in Pittsburgh, 17.16% was the lowest amount of time he was with those two.  This is the first time since Sutter’s rookie season that he is not in the top-three of his team’s toughest competition-faced category.  If you want to know why, the answer might lay with the wingers.

First Line is Now a Fully Armed and Operational Battle Station

In roughly 20 games together, the line of Sidney Crosby, Chris Kunitz, and Brian Gibbons combined for 13 points at even strength.  In five games with Lee Stempniak, the line has combined for 15 points.  Tuesday’s game against Dallas saw that line turn a corner as Crosby and Kunitz had their most dominating game since before the Pascal Dupuis injury.  Combined they had 8 points despite Crosby having only 16:13 TOI and Kunitz and Stempniak having less than 12:00.  As the Penguins get closer to April, it appears that they will be going into the playoffs with a legitimate top six forwards corps.

What About the Bottom Six?

With Stempniak finding chemistry with Crosby and Kunitz and James Neal seemingly back to health, the biggest question mark heading into April is still the bottom six.  The bottom two lines are performing well in their defensive duties.  Six players who have skated on the third and fourth lines have less than 2.50 even strength goals against per 60 minutes.  However, the group is not playing against their other team’s top competition, leaving the top two lines to battle against their opponent’s top two lines.  The Penguins’ bottom six is also not scoring very often with only Brandon Sutter cracking the 20 point mark.  The addition of Marcel Goc and his 23 points (11g-12a) may help the scoring drought.  It may also give the bottom lines the identity that they have been lacking since the beginning of the season.  As the top lines find their game and the defensemen battle through injuries, the only thing left is for the bottom six forwards to provide the team with the secondary scoring that will be necessary if they want to go anywhere in the playoffs.