New faces welcomed...right?
The Pittsburgh Penguins were making it known by the time the trade deadline approached that they were looking for very specific positions to fill. It was pretty obvious that another solid defenseman was necessary as well as a winger to bury Crosby’s passes.
The Penguins really don’t have any solid defenseman besides Brooks Orpik. While Rob Scuderi and the other defensemen are certainly great at their job, they aren’t the guys to make a hard body check that the crowd can respond to.
The resulting acquisition was Hal Gill from the Toronto Maple Leafs. The 6’7” 250 lbs lefty brings physicality to a blue line that hasn’t been as strong as the Penguins would have liked it to be. It cost Pittsburgh a second round draft pick for this year and a fifth round draft pick for next year.
With Malkin filling in for Crosby on his own line, it would be unwise to fix a line that isn’t broken. Sid will be in need of a new winger. This answer came from the Atlanta Thrashers and five-time All-Star Marion Hossa.
Hossa (26 goals, 30 assists, and 56 points in 60 games) is a high-caliber player who brings a lot of options to the table. He’s a clean goal scorer who puts himself in great positions to drill the puck in the net, but he can also make the ‘thread-the-needle’ passes to an open teammate across the ice. Maybe the best part about him is that he draws defensemen to him and leaves room for others to contribute.
But what Stanley Cup-quality team would be complete without the guys who work hard but still don’t get their names on all-star ballads? In the early 90’s, the Penguins had players like Mark Recchi (who, ironically enough, is in Atlanta). Another acquire from the Thrashers was a man of the same brand, Pascal Dupuis.
Dupuis, 6’1” 205 lbs., is a quiet player who can make a team pay if he isn’t watched (perhaps like a more experienced and goal oriented version of Jeff Taffe). He has made the Penguins pay playing against them in the past and much of the same is expected playing for them against the rest of the Atlantic Division.
It was the Atlanta deals, however, that has Pittsburgh fans buzzing, especially here at Faceoff Factor. It took Colby Armstrong, Erik Christensen, and the rights to last season’s draft pick, Angelo Esposito, to bring Hossa and Dupuis to Pittsburgh.
While Christensen’s skills can be matched by those of Hossa, only with more name recognition, it is Armstrong who will be missed, especially in the locker room. Many Penguins have admitted on numerous occasions that Colby held the team together on and off the ice. It’s hard enough to adapt in the locker room after a trade to begin with, yet alone when removing the guy that helps hold the team together.
Maybe more importantly, Armstrong was Crosby’s roommate and good friend. It shouldn’t affect his play, but it certainly could affect his mentality. Nonetheless, Crosby is still out to bring the Stanley Cup to Pittsburgh and won’t settle for anything less.
Last season’s trade deadline acquisitions brought physicality to the team, though not to the blue line. Gary Roberts and George Laraque were great additions to the team’s depth. This season, however, it appears as though all the positions are filled now and Pittsburgh can start looking toward a deep playoff run. This couldn’t have been done without the work of Ray Shero’s trades, present and past.
So with the arrival of Hossa, Dupuis, and Gill, what will the new lines look like?
Line one: Crosby and Hossa will certainly be paired up. The two of them could use a tough winger to watch their backs in the offensive zone and work the boards below the goal line. Maybe someone like Tyler Kennedy could bring that balance. He’s physical enough and can contribute offensively as well. It might be a stretch, but Kennedy most resembles Armstrong, who would have fit in perfectly with Crosby and Hossa.
Line two: no brainer. We’ve all seen how well Malkin, Sykora, and Malone have worked out. Why change it now?
Line three: Staal and Dupuis should fit nicely together. Both players are very talented and can make game-changing plays when least expected. Again, who the other winger would be is up in the air. Jarkko Ruutu and Jeff Taffe both fit in the ‘unexpected’ skills column and bring protection to the line.
Line four: Talbot, Laraque, and either Taffe or Ruutu. The center of this line will depend on which of the latter two plays on the third line.
The defense is a win-win. No matter whom you pair up, it will be a successful combination. The toughest question is who will the Penguins scratch as a result of seven active defensemen? That is a tough question that can only be answered after mixing the pairs up.
And, as we saw again last night, Fleury is just a few days from coming back to goal. A Conklin-Fleury combination might be a good thing for the remainder of the season. One of the goalies can rest knowing there is another reliable goalie taking his place.
There are some questions posing threats to the Penguins’ success.
Will Crosby be able to get back to how he was before the injury immediately?
How will Malkin and Staal respond to being moved down a line?
These shouldn’t interfere too much with the Penguins’ plans for success, but they could very well contribute. Most everyone knows the quality of those players at question and wouldn’t express much doubt.
Of course, Michel Therrien is notorious for changing lines, sometimes from game to game. So, there is no doubt that he can find the right line combinations if he doesn’t succeed at first.
All in all, the players on the roster now have great potential and, as long as their chemistry lasts, there is no reason why this team can’t bring Lord Stanley back to Pittsburgh.