There are a couple of things that can help give the Pittsburgh Penguins a much-needed boost in the second half of the 2022-23 season. A significant trade to help fix an area of weakness (like a third-line center) is at the top of the list, and paying greater attention to detail defensively is probably right behind it.
But they also need some players already on the roster to have a big second half. So let’s look at a couple that could help make-or-break which direction the season goes.
It is not an exaggeration to say that there is not a more important player on the roster right now than Jarry.
We know the importance of goaltending. We know how not having it in the playoffs can sabotage a good team or flip a series in a completely different direction. The Penguins not only need Jarry to play well in the second half and in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but they also need him to actually play.
It is not just a matter of production. It is a matter of availability.
When Jarry has played this season he has been excellent, owning a .920 save percentage in 22 appearances looking like a goalie that is deserving of a new contract extension after this season.
But he has also been injured in some big moments the past two years, and while that is ultimately a lot of bad luck, it still has a huge impact on the team.
The Penguins are simply a different team with Jarry on the ice this season, and it shows up significantly in their record.
When he plays, the Penguins are 16-5-5, which comes out to an incredible 116-point pace over 82 games.
When he is not the goalie of record? Only 8-11-4. That is a brutal 71-point pace over 82 games.
But let’s look at an even larger sample size. Over the past three years they play at an 111-point pace per 82 games when he is in the lineup.
It is only an 83-point pace when he does not.
You always have to expect there to be a better record with your starting goalie than your backup, but that is a dramatic difference and shows just how important Jarry can be.
Given the lack of depth behind him and how bad DeSmith has looked at times, they not only need Jarry in the lineup they need him playing at a high level.
Kris Letang and Jeff Petry
Petry was a major part of general manager Ron Hextall’s retooling of the defense this offseason, and for the most part I think he has been pretty good. Could be better. Could be worse. But I think overall he has been a positive addition as his underlying numbers are mostly strong and he has helped form a really good pairing alongside Marcus Pettersson.
What intrigued me the most about Petry was that he seemed to be a legitimate upgrade on the right side for the second defense pairing, and somebody that could give them a strong 1-2 punch on the blue line. Ideally, when both Petry and Letang are healthy, the Penguins could have at least one of them on the ice for close to 80 percent of the game.
That SHOULD be a good situation.
But both players have missed significant time this season due to injury and the Penguins have only had 25 games with both of them in the lineup.
While both players are capable of playing better than they have — and the Penguins will need them to play better — they are still a better team with them in the lineup. A significantly better team. Since the start of November the Penguins are 9-3-2 when both Letang and Petry are in the lineup.
This is probably more of a Mike Sullivan thing than a Dumoulin thing, but it largely comes down to how much playing time he gets and what sort of role the Penguins put him in.
It stinks to see happen, but Dumoulin is not the player he once was and the Penguins need to recognize this.
Whether they make him a healthy scratch and try to find an upgrade, give internal players more of a look over him, or simply reduce his role the Penguins can not have him playing between 20 and 25 minutes per night, nor can they have him playing on the top-pairng.
He is simply not that player anymore, and teams have not only been able to exploit that this season, they will continue to exploit during the stretch run and into the playoffs (assuming the Penguins make it there). Sometimes that bad matchup is all it takes to derail a series.
When these situations reach this point I have a hard time placing the blame on the player, because I have no doubt Dumoulin is doing everything he can to play to the best of his abilities. It is not a question of effort, or hockey IQ, or smarts, or desire. It is simply a matter of “can he still physically do it?”
There is enough evidence over the past two years to suggest that maybe he can not.
That is on the coaching staff to recognize and adjust.
Entirely on the coaching staff.
Ever since he has arrived in Pittsburgh Kapanen has perpetually been an X-factor in my eyes.
All of the talent is there.
All of the tools are there.
The effort is there.
It just never, ever comes together the way you want it to come together.
Through it all I still keep patiently waiting for him to make the impact two different general managers have hoped he can make.
The Penguins’ top-two lines are clearly set, and they are clearly very good. They are pretty much carrying the offense at this point. When they score, the Penguins win. When they do not score, the Penguins tend to lose. They need more from the bottom-six, and until the Penguins do something to address that from a roster perspective Kapanen is the one player in that bottom-six group that actually has the talent and ability to maybe do something meaningful and impactful. Sometimes he does. We just do not see it anywhere near enough. If they can see it a little more often in the second half, especially if they get him a center to help drive that line, maybe he can still make an impact.