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What to do with Sid, Ctd.

The great Tommy H chimed in on the last post with the following:

“Staal as a winger to Sid is not a bad idea, but I don’t think you are going to see it. Having the best 3 center combination in the NHL goes a long way, and we really haven’t seen it since 2010. I also would rather keep Staal with Cooke and Sullivan as Cooke compliments Staal’s defensive strengths, and Sullivan provides them with a pass-first mentality who is confident with the puck (especially in the last 10 games). I think putting Dupuis with Sid and TK could work (and maybe Jeffery!), but things are going to have to be tweaked moving into the playoffs.”

Assuming this is the way it goes, your first three lines become:

Kunitz-Malkin-Neal
Dupuis-Crosby-Kennedy
Cooke-Staal-Sullivan

In this configuration the scoring by line to this point of the year looks like: line 1) 87 goals (ha), line 2) 23 goals, line 3) 46 goals; where in my world it goes:  line 1) 87 goals, line 2) 38goals, line 3) 22 goals. Sid’s presence on the second line in Tommy’s scenario theoretically would create three lines with at least one extremely difficult player to stop. Distributing the wealth.

But would it actually work this way?

When Sid was blowing up the league at the start of the ‘10-’11 season he had Chris Kunitz on his wing. Kunitz provided a measure of on-ice protection for Crosby as well as a physical net-front presence that gave goaltenders fits and required the attention of opposing defensemen (and he’s got pretty good hands to boot). Staal plays a less net-front style of game but his size and his newly-discovered ability to finish plays requires similar attention from defensemen.

I get concerned with the idea of Sid on a line with Dupuis and Kennedy because  they aren’t particularly physical and they do similar things (with the exception being Kennedy has been somewhat of a shift killer lately and Dupuis has been all over the place). Who throws the checks on this line? Who gets into the dirty areas? I don’t want to see a line where it’s Crosby’s primary job to grind along the boards trying to create opportunities for Kennedy so he can shoot the puck into the goaltender’s chest. (Plus, when was the last time you saw Kennedy set up ANYBODY for a goal?)

The idea of Jeffrey being on a line with Sid is something I can support experimenting with. Jeffrey has a couple inches and about 20 pounds on Kennedy and has shown flashes of being a really effective player, although he is consistently scratched in favor of Eric Tangradi for reasons that escape me. (FUN WITH NUMBERS: In the 17 games Tangradi has played this season the Penguins have won 13, including 11 straight; a span over which Tangradi’s line is 0G, 1A, -1, 10PIM and 11 shots. I don’t know what this means, but there it is.) Additionally, the idea that Jeffrey will crack the lineup with another healthy body taking up a roster spot doesn’t seem reasonable.

(Thiswill be another issue for Bylsma; who to scratch on a nightly basis. Park? Asham? Vitale? I would not want to make that decision.)

For me this all boils down to putting Sid in the best position to succeed while keeping Jordan Staal involved as a key component of the offense. It seems to me Staal has benefitted from Crosby’s absence by moving up to the second line and getting to play with more offensive-minded players. I think Staal on a line with Sid will take some pressure off Sid while allowing Staal to reap the benefits of playing alongside the world’s best player, and in the process it  creates another line that is incredibly difficult to defend against. Teams sell out against the Malkin unit, putting their checking line and top d-pairing out against them as often as possible. Lately that’s been working.  A Staal-Crosby-Dupuis line would put an end to all that.

The good news is there doesn’t seem to be a wrong answer to the question of what to do with Sid when he returns to play. Maybe Sid’s greatest attribute is the way he makes everybody he is on the ice with better, so it makes sense to believe that no matter where he ends up things will work out.

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What do the Pens do With Sid?

March 6, 2012 2 comments

Honest, guys, I totally planned on writing a post about last night’s game. I watched the whole thing looking for something  interesting to write about, and I had this whole post outlined in my mind about how incredibly Marc-Andre Fleury played and how I believe his lateral movement is what makes him so hard to beat. I was going to unearth some rad YouTubes to support my thesis and I had a couple of articles to reference.

But then Sidney Crosby announced today that he has been cleared for contact and that he could return as soon as Sunday, and now all I can think about are the following three questions:

 

1) When Sid returns to action, who are his linemates?
2) When Sid returns to action, what line is he on? (The answer to this is dependent upon question 1.)
3) When Sid returns to action, what does the power play look like?

 

1)
I saw some jagoff on Twitter mention he’d like to see Sid paired with Dupuis and Sullivan. This is why I sometimes hate Twitter and the internet at large. Because people are allowed to talk on it who aren’t me and if you don’t think I know best about who Sid should play with then you are like, so totally wrong man.

The reason I so strongly disagree with this alliance is it returns Jordan Staal to the third line. There was a time when Jordan Staal was the ideal third line center with his size, defensive prowess, physical nature, and moderate offensive touch. But not so much anymore. Similarly to Geno, Staal has elevated his game this season to a height that many former critics of his believed he would never reach. Staal ‘11-’12 averages nearly half a goal per game and is on pace to match and possibly surpass his rookie season goal total — where he netted a career-high 29 goals in 81 games — in only 62 games. The last thing the Pens should be interested in is reducing Jordan Staal’s ice time.

Sullivan is having a disappointing season. His production is among the worst it’s been at any point in his 14-year career. One can argue that matching Sullivan with Crosby would likely increase Sully’s opportunities as teams struggle to contain Sid’s dynamic abilities,  and I can’t argue that. But should the Pens be concerned about helping Sullivan wake up or developing a line that rivals the Neal-Malkin-Kunitz unit?

On Sid’s other wing (it is not clear to me what wing Staal would play) would be Pascal Dupuis. The chemistry that Dupuis shares with Crosby is well documented, and if I’m not mistaken Dupuis spent some time on a line with Staal in ‘08-’09 when the Pens acquired him in a trade with Atlanta. That is to say these three players are not unfamiliar with one another, and this creates a line with an all-world wunderkind (Sid), a physical presence who dominates the ice and can protect the wunderkind (Staal), and a safety net of chemistry for the wunderkind who has good speed and is responsible defensively (Dupuis, although it should be noted that Sid and Staal are responsible defensively also).

2)
I suppose Staal-Crosby-Dupuis becomes the second line by default because — I didn’t forget to mention this, I just believe it to be that much of a given — Bylsma isn’t going to do anything to disrupt Neal-Malkin-Kunitz, even if it’s something as minor as changing their designation to “second line.” Crosby’s line is #2, and who actually gives a turkey because they’ll get about the same amount of ice time anyway and Crosby is a big enough boy not to get upset by being a second line center for the last dozen or so regular season games and the playoffs.

(Okay so I will address this. Neal was brought in absolutely positively and undoubtedly to be a Winger For Sid. The problem is he never got to play with Sid, developed instant chemistry with Evgeni Malkin, and both he and Geno are having career years. It was never supposed to be this way, but then Sid was never supposed to lose nearly a year and a half of his career to a concussion and broken neck. Sid and Neal will get to work together at some point this season, but you’re nuts if you think that just because Neal was brought here to play alongside Sid Bylsma and Shero are going to rearrange the whole team.)

3)
This was a much more intriguing question during the time leading up to Letang’s injury. The Pens power play was clicking at a rather phenomenal rate. (I can’t find the statistic, but at one point the Pens were something like 8 of 18 over the course of five games). Since Letang went down on February 29th (thanks for nothing, Leap Day William) the Penguins haven’t scored once with the man advantage. With this in mind it seems a given Sid will be on the first unit, and — for the sake of argument — I believe that even if Letang was healthy and the power play was still potent Sid would still crack the top unit. There is nothing to suggest that Crosby would do anything other than improve that group. I imagine a Crosby-Malkin-Neal-Kunitz-Letang power play unit in much the same way Bran Stark dreams of the days when he could scale the castle walls of Winterfell. (Woah. Sorry).

The other happy news is that Kris Letang has not been diagnosed with a concussion and felt well enough to engage in some “light off-ice workouts today.” Clearly Kris Letang means a great deal to this team — some would argue he’s more important than Crosby at this juncture (though I would not) — and getting him back would be a spectacular and unexpected boost for the Pens. For now, I’ll take satisfaction in hearing that this season might not be a total loss after all for the greatest player in the world, and I’ll hope today marks the moment when he can finally put this concussion business behind him.