Everyone knows that Rob Scuderi struggled mightily last season. The player himself even admitted it. After the usually durable player- who hadn’t missed a game from 2009-2013- broke his ankle early last season, he never could get back on course. Even though he came back in December. And had a long Olympic break.
Regardless, the hope was that Scuderi would bounce back in 2014-15. The Penguins knew they would lose a handful of veteran defensemen in Brooks Orpik, Matt Niskanen and, to a lesser extent, Deryk Engelland, and needed a player like Scuderi- a veteran who’s been a good penalty killer and could offer some experience for what should be a younger than usual core of blueline.
So far, that’s been the case, with Scuderi spending 86 of his 100 even strength minutes so far this season with Simon Despres, making up the Pens third pair.
Early returns have been encouraging and yesterday coach Mike Johnston was talking about Scuderi after practice. "He's had a very good start to the season," Johnston said. "With his positional play, it doesn't matter who he's playing against. He's in good position all the time."
The Trib did a nice write-up about his early season performance, proclaiming even "The Penguins are aware Scuderi faced plenty of criticism last season from outside the dressing room. They're also respectful of the veteran's game and excited about its direction".
Should they be happy about it? Let’s look at Scuderi’s early season numbers and see
Only Olli Maatta and Kris Letang look good here, but it’s interesting to see Johnston’s usage of Scuderi and Despres. He’s protecting them with offensive zone starts and lesser competition, giving Maatta/Letang o-zones and tough competition and the Paul Martin / Christian Ehrhoff duo the defensive starts. It’s not encouraging that Scuderi’s still in the red despite good starts, but it shouldn’t be surprising. This isn’t an offensive minded player or one that is capable or comfortable with the puck on his stick. His role is to be that positional defenseman.
With a nod to what we’ve learned about sample sizes and over-reactions in this day and age, let’s put it into focus. On one hand, it is a small sample and the season is only 8 games in, so it can all go south in a hurry. However, in every category Scuderi so far is improved this year over last year. He’s on the ice for more goals for, less goals against and more shots are going towards the other team’s net.
It’s too early to say that he’s bounced back, but it’s probably fair to say that Scuderi has at least stabilized after such a poor season last year. What will it mean going forward? With Maatta about to be out for surgery and possible treatment of his thyroid issue, the Penguins will need Scuderi to keep playing well. Robert Bortuzzo is about to return but the Penguins will need all of Scuderi’s veteran presence and passable play in order to carry on.