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Monday Mailbag: Metro matchups, forward line changes, praise for Greg McKegg

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This week’s mailbag discusses how the Pens match up against other teams in the Metro, how they’ve quelled the top-heavy issues on the forward lines, Greg McKegg love, and more!

NHL: Nashville Predators at Pittsburgh Penguins Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome back to the second edition of PensBurgh’s Monday Mailbag, where I’ll be answering any and all questions you have dealing with the Penguins, the NHL, or whatever else that happened to pique your interest throughout the week.

For first time readers, here’s how it all works:

Throughout the week, don’t be shy about throwing my way your burning questions, hottest takes, or most interesting debate topics – NHL-related or otherwise – here in the comments, on Twitter @Pensburgh using #PensburghMailbag, on the site’s Facebook page, or directly to me via e-mail at kaitd3@gmail.com. There’s a solid chance I’ll answer just about anything that’s interesting, just make sure it’s appropriate and abides by our community guidelines.

We’re officially three games into the 2017-18 regular season, and we finally got to see our newly altered back-to-back champions play after more than 100 days off. With a 1-1-1 record, a lot of things immediately stuck out — some good, some...not so much.

This was sort of answered in the games against Chicago and Nashville last week, but in a different direction than you were thinking, and a direction I hoped Sullivan would go in.

I for one thought the original placement of the top two forward lines of Guentzel/Crosby/Sheary, and Rust/Malkin/Kessel was entirely too top-heavy for this year’s team. The Penguins are still wildly talented, but that talent needed to be dispersed more than it was to start the season. Especially with how lacking the bottom-six are in comparison to the top.

Rust moved to the top right wing, Sheary got bumped down to the third line with McKegg and and Wilson, and Hagelin got paired with Malkin and Kessel.

After a historically disappointing performance against the Chicago Blackhawks, Pittsburgh came out with a more focused demeanor in its Stanley Cup Final rematch against the Predators. While watching the game, it was like a completely new team was flying across the ice — a team that resembled the championship-calibre Penguins we all know and love. I tribute that to spreading out the talent, and it clearly was a recipe for success. Sullivan’s a master at pairing the right guys together, it just took a couple games for him to figure it all out.

I’m not “terrified” of the Flyers at all. Not only is this team projected, at best, to finish fifth or sixth in the Metro division, they basically shot themselves in the foot when trying to solve their goaltending dilemma by signing Brian Elliott, the exact clone of god awful Steve Mason, to a two-year $5.5 million contract. Last year, when Elliott was with the Calgary Flames, he posted a .910 save percentage. He also only averages a career SV% of .913. That’s bad. If Elliott doesn’t figure out how to keep the puck out of the net this season, a playoff berth will be out of Philadelphia’s reach for the second year in a row.

Moreover, their captain, Claude Giroux, may officially be past his prime, and he has five years remaining on a contract that’s gobbling up a $8.5 million cap hit. His hip injury is a decent excuse for why he’s declined so much offensively for the Flyers, but after coming off a career-low statistical season where he only scored 14 goals, another regressing performance would not bode well for this organization.

This team is still in rebuild mode. What Philadelphia can rely heavily on for any potential success this season is the excellent goal crease threat of Wayne Simmonds, who averaged 31 goals and 57 points in the last two years, the strong blue line play of second-year guys Shayne Gostisbehere and Ivan Provorov, and the future of its young players and rookies, like Nolan Patrick, who might perform well enough to throw himself into Calder Trophy candidacy.

Bonus Question! If the Flyers don’t worry you, what other teams in the Metro do?

While I think the Carolina Hurricanes have made excellent trades and pick ups in free agency, I still think they’re on their rebuild. This season will be where they finally start trending upwards. My real concerns however lie with these two teams:

The Columbus Blue Jackets made a bunch of moves this off-season, specifically one that managed to land Artemi Panarin, an extremely skilled winger from the Blackhawks. He’s paired with assists master Alexander Wennberg and All-Star Cam Atkinson on the top line. From there down, the Blue Jackets have captain Nick Foligno and Brandon Dubinsky down the middle, paired with really impressive guys alongside them. They’ll be a tough team to beat this year, and will definitely be one I keep my eye on as the season progresses.

The Washington Capitals have also sprinted out the gates, with their superstar Alex Ovechkin tallying two hat tricks in two games. Though the roster was thinned out a bit in the off-season, Washington is still packed with elite forwards that can score at will. However, what I think hinders the Caps is their defense. They lost Shattenkirk in the summer and are still paying Brooks Orpik way more money than he’s worth. I believe it will be their Achilles Heel whenever postseason comes knocking.

McKegg has continued his fantastic play from preseason into the start of this year, and I’m really excited about the progression he’ll make as he gets more and more games under his belt. He already notched an assist in the opener against the St Louis Blues and continuously outraces the opposition in an effort to create scoring chances every time he’s out on the ice. You can’t help but notice the effect he has.

So to answer your question, I don’t think McKegg is the reason we need a 3C trade, it’s more because of Carter Rowney. Rowney’s basically the placeholder until Rutherford can come up with something good enough to propose to other teams. The Penguins will need to trade for a third-line talent eventually, especially by midseason, but once they do, McKegg will probably remain on the roster and get knocked down to the fourth line. His skill level makes more sense there.