Just Another Piece to the Puzzle

Anyone who is a Penguins fan can remember in 2009 when Rob Scuderi accidentally called himself the “piece” that the Penguins needed to win a Stanley Cup. Scuds, who would eventually be nicknamed the piece, became a crucial part to the Pittsburgh Penguins Cup Victory that summer. His save in the goal crease against Detroit still gives me chills. He wasn’t flashy or that great of a skater, nor was he going to knock you around. What Rob Scuderi did was provide the Penguins with a consistent, reliable, rock of a defenseman that could be trusted in any defensive situation.

Enter the 2013 season and examine the wildly inconsistent Pittsburgh Penguins. While holding a record of 19-8-0 might not appear as such, the Penguins have been plagued with subpar defensive zone play all season. They lack the ability to consistently shut down the opposing team’s offensive cycle and clear the puck, thusly, allowing more goals than any other current playoff team in the Eastern Conference.

It is an epidemic of lackadaisical zone play that seems to be the inevitable Achilles heel to the Penguins great chance of a second Stanley Cup in 5 years. The epidemic; however, is now starting to dissipate as the Penguins are starting to play a more complete game. While hopefully they have found their new “piece”

While the Penguins are always being pushed into the right direction by captain Sidney Crosby, who is arguably the league’s most complete hockey player, it is a simple addition of a former defenseman that has the Penguins reeling off victories. Mark Eaton was signed by the Penguins as a depth move, but has considerably changed the outlook of the Penguins since arriving.

Despite his first game in the lineup being a 7-6 shootout at the O.K. Corral in Montreal, the Penguins have been much better defensively with Eaton in the lineup. In the other four games in which Eaton has played in, the Penguins have given up a total of 10 goals (3-TBL, 4-Philly, 1-NYI, 2-Bos) for an average of 2.5 goals per game.  That average of 2.5 goals per game is much better than the nearly three goals per game given up by Pittsburgh before his signing.

Eaton is a simple player as well. He has yet to be a minus player in any game thus far, his plus 4 against the New York Islanders happen to mark his only game as a plus player as well. He has thrown just one recorded body check, has zero shots on net, and only averages just over one blocked shot per game. So how does a player actually have that much of an impact without statistically making that much of an impact?

Well, that is simple; he does what Pittsburgh was truly lacking early on in the season. He is a solid defenseman that doesn’t allow the opposition to freely cycle the puck through the defensive zone. He is a reliable, responsible, stay at home defensemen who is bringing a sense of solidarity to a Penguins defensive core that has struggled mightily to string together consistent efforts. He is not a major signing in consideration for a long term solution, but in a shortened season with little time to truly evaluate trade relations and future needs, Mark Eaton might possibly be the piece needed this season for Pittsburgh to get over the hump.

So far he has been able to help the Penguins adjust to a better game plan and his veteran leadership could prove to be a vital asset to the growth of players like Simon Despres and Robert Bortuzzo. Maybe this simple signing wasn’t so simple and just maybe there is more to these simple signings than we as fans initially think of. Either way; Pittsburgh is 6-0 since Mark Eaton returned to the Penguins lineup, including three against current playoff teams and two against Atlantic division rivals, so coincidence be dammed, the Pens might have just found another piece to their puzzle.