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10 Thoughts: Maatta fixing Letang? Sprong, Fleury

Various nuggets about the Pittsburgh Penguins: why Daniel Sprong's low icetime isn't unheard of, Olli Maatta should be really good for Kris Letang, Beau Bennett, Marc-Andre Fleury and trade talk continuing.

Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

A couple random thoughts floating around..

#1: A lot of Penguins fans have consternation over the usage - or more accurately the lack of usage - for Daniel Sprong. And it's true that Sprong isn't playing much, just 15 of the team's 27 games so far this season and even when he is playing it's only 9:03 per game, with 8:29 at even-strength.

But, did you know in 2006-07 (on a team that was much thinner), Jordan Staal only played an average of 10:42 per game at even-strength? Staal, also was a much better two-way player (and he got 3:02 SH time per game as a result). And he scored 29 goals that season too, but still didn't log a ton of ES minutes.

It's tough for an 18 year old to get a lot of ice-time, even if they're a stud and good enough to play in the NHL at that age. If games are close, even if Sprong is dressed, don't expect him to get much ice-time. Which isn't to say he should be a scratch in almost half the games (no excuse for that) but when it comes to the 3rd period of tight games, no NHL coach is going to be playing such a young and unproven player.

#2: It's early but so far this season:

  • Penguins record with Rob Scuderi in the lineup: 12-10-2
  • Penguins record with Scuderi not in the lineup: 3-0-0

Mike Johnston should probably see if this developing trend continues. Obviously there are many more factors to winning or losing than just Scuderi, but it's clear that the team is stronger with #4 not on the ice.

#3: Can Olli Maatta get Kris Letang out of his funk? There are many disturbing stats about individual players on the 2015-16 Penguins so far, but arguably the MOST frightening stat is 0.70. That's Letang's Goals For/60 at 5on5. (So if you don't know advanced stats, it would mean if Letang could somehow play all 60 minutes of a game, the Penguins would score 0.70 goals based on the amount of goals and time he's spent on the ice so far).

Letang from 2010-15 was at 2.86 GF/60, an elite number that ranked 3rd among NHL defensemen in this time period. This year, he's 207th out out 208 defensemen to have played 100 minutes. Just an insane turnaround to go from almost literally the best in the whole league at being on the ice for your team scoring to being the absolute worst.

Anyways, it's early (only 48 minutes together) but Maatta/Letang this season are at a much more respectable 2.46 GF/60. Encouraging considering the terrible, terrible numbers Ian Cole (0.48 GF/60 in 251 minutes) and Rob Scuderi (0.0 GF/60 in 94) have had playing with Letang.

If Maatta can help Letang be better offensively - and one would think he definitely should - it will go a long way to helping the Penguins be a better team.

#4: Marc-Andre Fleury is on pace to play 70 games this season, a career high. Beginning with last night's game the Pens started a stretch of playing 7 games in 13 days in the lead-up to the team's 4 day Christmas break (Dec 22-26). It will be interesting to see how much Johnston leans on Fleury in this stretch.They already played him in back-to-back games over the weekend, seems likely MAF's workload isn't going to be lessened anytime soon, even if Jeff Zatkoff has played well.

#5: It's funny (the sad kind of funny) that Beau Bennett set his career high in goals at 5. Right now is the chance of a career for Bennett, playing top-line with Sidney Crosby and initial results are good. Now just stay healthy and keep going. Now just stay healthy...

#6: The Penguins just finished a 12 day, west-coast road-trip and they get less than 48 hours from the time the Colorado game ended to when the Kings game Friday night will begin. Not much favors from the scheduler, it will be interesting to see if Pittsburgh suffers from the classic "letdown in the first game home after a long trip" thing.

#7: Just feels like Sergei Plotnikov is about to break out soon, doesn't it? The rookie doesn't yet have an NHL goal, but his possession stats are off-the-charts and he's getting chances too. As a 4th liner without a ton of ice-time, but along with Matt Cullen, how great is it to actually have a productive 4th line that can carry their own weight? Still so refreshing.

#8: Per Bob Grove, only 6 power plays opportunities in the last 3 games for the Pens. Hopefully that turns soon.

#9: Darren Dreger is reporting the Pens are "working hard" for a trade for a defenseman. But as Elliote Friedman pointed out, only 1 trade (and a minor one at that) has been made all season. It won't be easy to pull off. Most of Rutherford's trades have worked out well, but let's hope he doesn't force the issue. Between Maatta/Letang and Dumoulin/Lovejoy the Pens have 2 pairs capable of playing well. Cole and David Warsofsky haven't been bad together, and there's the possibility that Derrick Pouliot could move into the Warsofsky spot. What kind of defenseman are they looking to bring into the fold?

#10: For on the ice contributions, replacing Pascal Dupuis merits watching closest for the 2+ minutes a night he was penalty killing, leaving the Pens with only 3 good, regular PK'ers in Cullen, Eric Fehr and Nick Bonino . It should be a relatively easy role to fill, since Dupuis wasn't taking any faceoffs. Last night Chris Kunitz got the lion-share of the work, but will the 36 year old be able to keep his energy on the 1st line and in a PK role?

The Pens have said they will rotate the responsibilities, but one I would suggest would be Bennett, who has improved away from the puck and is positionally aware enough to fill shooting and passing lanes. Plus adding some more ice to Bennett ought to help him get in a groove and boost his confidence for his role on the first line. Bennett isn't going to make anyone forget about Dupuis, but it seems like something he could grow into and help the team even more.