Chemistry is formed over time in the NHL. Playing with guys and getting to know their tendencies around specifics spots on the ice is crucial to success. Knowing where a guy likes to shoot, where he feels most comfortable handling the puck, and what his defensive zone breakouts consist of allow teammates to generate consistently effective plays without having blatantly obvious situations dictate play. This chemistry is typically formed over the course of the season, but something can be said for trade acquisitions who develop these tendencies early and provide an instant impact.
In Pittsburgh, they were lucky to see the type of production that they have seen from their trade acquisitions. They traded for three veterans who have never played for any other team. The three players combined for over 30 years of NHL experience and provided a needed element of grit and leadership. The problem was will they be able to produce enough to justify their trade value?
The first acquisition to discuss is a guy whose presence cannot truly be measured by pure statistics. Douglas Murray was sent to the Pittsburgh Penguins from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for two second round draft picks. It seemed like too much at the time of the trade, considering Douglas was run out of favor in SJ and has a track record of being a slow turnover machine. The stigma was instantly changed as Murray put on the Penguin Jersey.
Murray, in 11 games with the Pens, has scored one goal (his first in 146 games) and added two assists. This offensive production doubles that of his with San Jose, which he played 29 games, and his plus 3 rating shows his excellent presence while on the ice despite his mobility issues. Where Murray has truly excelled though is in the areas in which he was expected to produce. Murray has posted 30 hits and 33 blocked shots as a Penguin in just 11 games, which breaks down to about three hits and three blocks per game. This production is exactly what was missing from the Penguins line up and if this solid play continues there is no doubt Murray’s price will be deemed worth it.
The second player to discuss is the one and only Jarome Iginla. Iggy has scored four goals and added four assists in ten games with the Penguins, despite being placed among five different line combinations do to the clubs injury status. The change of scenery and inconsistent line play has yet to deter the veteran winger who is seemingly enjoying every minute of being part of a winning team again. Iginla is manning the power play’s point for the Penguins, with a mix of defensemen interchanging as the quarterback. His booming slap shot has found the net twice while a man up. Iginla has been a great physical presence with the club and provides around 1.3 hits per game.
Now moving onto the first player traded for, Brendan Morrow, we see arguably the best improvement of any of the players traded. In twelve games with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Morrow has played incredibly well, posting five goals and six assists while being a plus six while even strength. Morrow had equaled his offensive output in the dozen games he has been with Pittsburgh, posting six goals and five assists in 29 games with Dallas. He has been incredibly physical, registering two hits per game, and has even picked up a fighting major in part of his Gordie Howe Hat Trick against the Montreal Canadiens. Despite giving up a top defensive prospect for his services, Morrow has shown that his resurgence in Pittsburgh was well worth it. He has even indicated that a future with the Penguins is a great possibility given that his time in the NHL is winding down.
Finally, we address the man who has been lights out for Pittsburgh. Despite being acquired for just a conditional seventh round draft selection, Jussi Jokinen has been the most productive statistical producer of any Penguin acquisition. In just seven games Jokinen has scored four goals and had four assists. His offensive output is only second to his 58% faceoff win percentage. Despite being a healthy scratch and placed upon waivers, Jokinen is now taking the spot of Sidney Crosby as top line center and has produced admirably. The skill set shown on multiple occasions is one that many in the NHL have not seen from him in roughly two years. His slick hands and knack for scoring seem to be returning. Jokinen has been far and away the biggest surprise of any of the acquisitions. Probably the most helpful asset to Jokinen’s game is his ability to play all offensive positions, as heading forward into the playoffs, Jokinen will likely see time as a fourth line center and second/third line winger. His ability to kill penalties has also come into play and could force a player like Tanner Glass out of the lineup once the team returns to health.
Update – The Penguins updated health rumors show that Evgeni Malkin and James Neal are very close to returning. Both have resumed practicing with the team and could start as soon as Tuesday, April 23rd. Paul Martin is within one week of returning as well, despite the injury report listing him as two to four more weeks. His practice time has increased steadily over the past week and it looks as if he is set to return by the weekend.
The one player in which no one is sure about though is the most important. Sidney Crosby has yet to be cleared for contact, at least what has been made public, and is presumably trying to get back into game shape after losing roughly 6 pounds while on a liquid diet.
It is not clear as to who will be in the lineup come playoff time and what the line situations may be, but it is expected to contain the following forwards and defensemen.
Forward - Kunitz, Crosby, Dupuis, Neal, Malkin, Iginla, Cooke, Sutter, Jokinen, Adams, Morrow, and one of the following Glass, Kennedy, and Bennett. Most in Pittsburgh would like to see Bennett opposed to Kennedy and Glass given his excellent playmaking ability despite being just a rookie.
Defense – Orpik, Martin, Letang, Niskanen, Murray, and one of the following Eaton, Engelland, Despres, or Bortuzzo. This writer has lobbied for the consistent play of Simon Despres since the beginning of the season but it looks as if the veteran Eaton will be getting the first shot if healthy.
Also, congratulations to Marc-Andre Fleury on becoming a father this past Sunday!