Examining The Acquisitions
When a team finds success in the NHL on a consistent basis, it is very difficult for GM’s to tinker with said success in order to find greater success. It is the easiest explanation as to how the NHL has witnessed such playoff parity. In the modern cap era it has become even more difficult to place a team on the ice that has a continued shot at a championship. So with all of this in perspective, is it possible that we see a Stanley Cup champion this season that has also won the cup within the past five seasons?
It is the question that seemingly everyone in the NHL is waiting to see. With Pittsburgh and Chicago pushing the boundaries of greatness, the NHL might finally witness a team win a second cup in a short span of time.
This article will be focusing on what the Penguins have seemingly accomplished in their recent acquisitions and how GM Ray Shero has tinkered with his team, even in the midst of historic success.
In addressing the Penguin’s needs, Ray Shero had to identify the difference between success at the moment and success in the post season. While the Penguins have adapted their game to find success defensively and at the same time continue their offensive prowess, it was clear that depth moves were needed to continue this pace throughout the playoffs.
The first addition of Brenden Morrow brought Pittsburgh a veteran winger who is as rugged as they come. The 5’11, 200+ pound forward is known for being strong along the boards and in front of the net on both sides of the ice. Take his presence last night against the Winnipeg Jets. On Evgeni Malkin’s wing, Morrow provides the screen while Malkin’s puck possession forces the defense to move out of position. The constant shift allows for open shooting lanes for one of the league’s top snipers in James Neal. Once identified, the Jets had adapted and started to move towards James Neal. Once space cleared, Malkin crashed the net, deflecting a puck off of his skate and into the net.
It was the open space of the play that created the scoring opportunity, but it was the constant puck possession that created the open space. In many ways, Morrow is the missing piece to this line’s consistent play. While extremely dangerous before, it was very open to allowing odd man rushes and inconsistent play. Morrow’s game plan does not need to change, for it is his existing play that compliments these two forwards greatly.
Shero had also acquired the rugged and physical defenseman Douglas Murray from San Jose on Monday. In just one game with the Penguins, despite the lopsided score, Murray showed the Penguins exactly what he can and cannot do within the system. Murray was slow down low, but provided the Penguins a solid presence in front of the net and along the boards. He made it extremely difficult for the opposition to establish zone time and create scoring chances. Murray was also a shock in the offensive zone in this game.
By the comments of many in San Jose, Murray was no help at all in generating offense. His size and speed would simply not allow it. In Pittsburgh’s system though, Murray was found multiple times at the point, alone. He showed that with his booming hits also came a very strong shot. Murray had taken roughly five shots last night, placing two of them directly on net and three other that were deflected on net. Playing with Matt Niskanen, a smaller fast skating offensive defenseman, Murray was a great compliment. When Niskanen would pinch down the boards to play the puck, Murray would move into the center point position, accepting the quick pass and moving the play back towards the net. In the case last night, Murray made a great spinning pass from this spot to avoid a check and moved the play down to James Neal. This play eventually set up Malkin’s goal and showed that Murray had the abilities to adapt into the Penguins system.
The Penguins also added another veteran in Jarome Iginla. As many watched last night, enchanted by the great chemistry of this team, there was one question that continued to pop up. Where does Iginla fit in the current lineup? Iginla is a big body that has a knack for scoring and his game is consistent in that he does a few things extremely well and sticks to those things throughout the game. As of now, it can be assumed that the Crosby/Kunitz/Dupuis line will not be split so we can also assume that Iginla will play on the third line. This will push Tyler Kennedy to the fourth line, moving scoring potential to a defensive minded line. In playing with Brandon Sutter and Matt Cooke, Iginla would not be forced to play out of role. He could focus almost specifically to adding a strong offensive touch to this line.
Matt Cooke and Brandon Sutter currently have a combined 14 goals and 15 assists for 29 points. They are both strong fore-checkers and play a pivotal role of penalty killing. This key defensive mindset gives Iginla line mates who are responsible, yet offensively strong enough to aid the team in scoring goals. Brandon Sutter will end up being the biggest reason to have Iginla join this line. Despite the struggles of Tyler Kennedy and the safer/defensive mind set of Matt Cooke, Sutter has been on pace for a career season when it comes to point production. This move can result in consistent depth scoring for Pittsburgh and no one can truly put a price on how important it is to role three lines that can score.
While Iginla would see less ice time on a third line, it is crucial to point out that his line mates are penalty killers and so is Crosby’s right winger Pascal Dupuis. This will allow Iginla to play alongside Crosby and Kunitz after times of penalty killing, giving him adjusted minutes outside of his normal line. Take in consideration that Iginla is also a great power play specialist. His shot could be used either on the top power play or the second power play, which would give Pittsburgh two legitimate scoring threats while up a man. These adjusted minutes should provide Iginla with plenty of opportunities to score and allow him to adjust to the Penguins system over the next month.
Providing that Pittsburgh is done making trades, we will see some configuration of these lines in the future-
Along with defensive pairings that should be considered in this notion-