Third Line Identity
It’s not a secret that the Pittsburgh have two of the top offensive lines in the National Hockey League.
In fact, last year, the Crosby unit topped the league in even strength scoring. That’s an accolade that’s fairly impressive considering Sidney Crosby’s jaw injury gave the rest of the NHL about a month plus to catch up to their pace.
While the Evgeni Malkin unit wasn’t able to trump that, the chemistry between Malkin and Neal continued to blossom. Adding Beau Bennett to the mix gives you a viable arsenal of weapons that is going to do considerable damage this season.
But one thing the Penguins might lack right now is that traditionally gritty third line.
For the better part of the last few years, either Jordan Staal or Brandon Sutter have centered a unit that featured both Matt Cooke and Tyler Kennedy; two players who seemed to be the perfect fit for those areas.
Cooke lead all Penguins in even strength goals against numbers up to the Bruins series, his linemate Brandon Sutter not far behind him. Veteran Brendan Morrow also platooned on that third line as well. Whatever the recipe was, it worked. The Penguins stymied some major offensive powerhouses in the playoffs, and got a little bit of zone time out of it as well.
Now, the identity of that line is under considerable question. Let’s take a look at the viable options.
Brandon Sutter remains. We know what he brings to the table defensively. We can speculate on injuries in the post-season until we’re blue in the face, but the bottom line is that the offensive production wasn’t there.
Matt D’Agostini has arrived. The reason D’Agostini is here on a one year deal is because his inconsistencies away from the puck and in the defensive zone launched him into Ken Hitchcock’s doghouse in St. Louis. That’s not what you want to hear about a guy that’s likely to play on a unit who’s goal is to shut down the top line of opposing teams. That being said, the goal scoring prowess is still there. And he’s not far removed from a 21 goal campaign with the Blues.
Chuck Kobasew walked into Pittsburgh on a try-out deal. In the interim, we’ve seem him drive to the net, score a few goals, and even get some time on the penalty-kill. With the Penguins cap situation being in complete limbo, it remains to be seen if he can make the team.
Jussi Jokinen turned everyone’s heads this weekend with a natural hat-trick performance against the Blue Jackets. The game also featured Jokinen dishing pucks out to top line forwards and creating great scoring chances throughout the game. Jokinen is an interesting case. While he’s not traditionally thought of as a bottom six guy, and he lacks some of the grittier traits you’d like to see in a bottom six guy, his defensive acumen is there, and you’d be hard pressed to find a guy that can contribute offensively like he could in a potential third line role.
Whatever the case may be, we’re going to learn a lot about Brandon Sutter this year. This is his unit, and the success of it will flow through him.
The Penguins need their third line to be as good in the offensive zone as they are in the defensive zone.
With all the superstars locked up, one thing that cannot happen to the Penguins is for them to become top heavy. The third line will have to forge its own identity.
And that’s regardless of who Brandon Sutter’s counterparts are.