Welcome back, sir’s and ma’am’s. We’ve got a shorter mailbag this time around. Let’s get started.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.
Considering last night’s great 3rd line numbers, should that be a more permanent fixture in the Pens’ lineup? Or is one game just too small a sample size? OR or will Sullivan move 43-72 back to Crosby now?— Stuti (@stuti_rt) November 15, 2017
Though I know this question was asked after the Nashville Predators game, the third line, quarterbacked by Riley Sheahan, has been nothing but brilliant the past few contests. So much so, that it’s now gone three games in a row paired together without changes. So in regard to the sample size portion of this, let’s just answer it while being all caught up.
With Matt Hunwick finally returning from a concussion to the third defensive pairing, Sheahan and co. (which currently consists of wingers Conor Sheary and Patric Hornqvist) have commanded the ice and have been the line creating the most chaos lately. Before the tilt with the Chicago Blackhawks, 43-15-72 has put up numbers like 31-10 in shot attempts and 19-8 in scoring chances.
A lot of their success can be attributed to the skill they have breaking out of their own zone. Speed has always been a strength for the Penguins, but what this line uses as a complement to speed on breakouts is their fine-tuned, tape-to-tape touch passing through the neutral zone – even through the likes of traffic from the opposing team.
This catches the defense off guard and forces them to turn on their skates and haul ass to combat the speed garnered by the elite passing. Hell, remember Olli Maatta’s breakout pass to Hornqvist off the boards of the neutral zone to set up a perfect scoring chance by Sheary vs. the Sabres? If not, here’s another look:
That’s how you thread the needle.
This line has also caused strife for opposing defenses due to their ability to win puck battles and force the other guys to stay on the ice for longer shifts – ultimately tiring them out. This is where Sheary makes his money: on the forecheck. Longer shifts for this line also means more scoring chances generated. They’re no strangers to that.
But sadly, we may not see this combination on Wednesday night, as Sullivan switched up the lines once again Monday during practice in Cranberry.
Lines at today's practice:— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) November 20, 2017
Corrado with Rowney rotating in
We’re aware that Frank Corrado got re-assigned to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, but there are two other important changes to note with these new lines. Sheary and Hornqvist have played so well that they’re probably going to see top-line minutes again with Sidney Crosby, and Josh Archibald, a smaller guy known for his grit and speed, may have fiddled his way into another NHL start. He’s a guy that can cause fuss for defensemen in their own zone with a heavy push on the forecheck, something, as we discussed above, the lower lines have been successful in doing. It makes sense to see him brought back on the depth chart.
Should the Pens consider trading for Tyler Bozak?— Ken (@KB7124252290) November 16, 2017
Tyler Bozak has been a popular name in the trade rumors ever since the offseason. The right-handed, 31-year-old center from the Toronto Maple Leafs has been targeted by a few teams, and might just be revisted again as the midseason approaches. The question is: should the Penguins be one of them?
The main team pulling for Bozak is the Rangers, as they’re in dire need of a decent center (aren’t we all?) due to J.T. Miller not playing to New York’s ideal standard and them not having another guy they’re comfortable with throwing into that role. That’s probably where you’ll see him end up next year if something out of left field doesn’t happen at the deadline.
But what Bozak brings to a team is a skill level that’s short-term, and that has to be very appealing to Jim Rutherford’s three-peat hungry Pittsburgh Penguins. He currently has 10 points (four goal, six assists), and has a Corsi For percentage of 50.7%. With his age, he’s probably nearing the latter half of his prime, so helping out with another Stanley Cup championship run can be a factor that’d play nicely with this organization.
I’m also going to remind you that he’s a right-handed center, which would add a whole different level of line combinations for Sullivan to play around with. Every current center on the Penguins is a left-handed shot.
Bozak was responsible for tallying 18 points on the man-advantage last year and could assist the Pens power-play too.
The kicker is that at $4.2 million, Bozak isn’t exactly cheap. The question is whether or not a player of his calibre is worth it, and who and/or what Rutherford would have to give up in order to complete the trade. The Leafs are successful and still building for years down the road; I don’t see it working out without some hurt.
But, while I don’t see this happening, it’s still entertaining to imagine the hypothetical state of the Penguins via their future trades.
That’s all for now; keep your eyes peeled for our next mailbag tweet.