Monday, February 11, 2008

So where do they go from here?

The Pens have several difficult decisions approaching them. Consider these:


The biggest and most obvious issue in the near future is to determine who becomes the #1 goalie, as well as the backup, when Marc Andre Fleury is ready to return.

Fleury is starting on a 3-4 game rehab stint at Wilkes-Barre. The schedule for the Baby Pens over the next week or so looks like this:
  1. Wednesday, Feb. 13 @ Norfolk Admirals
  2. Friday, Feb. 15 Philadelphia Phantoms
  3. Saturday, Feb. 16 @ Bridgeport Sound Tigers
  4. Monday, Feb. 18 @ Binghamton Senators
  5. Wednesday, Feb. 20 Hershey Bears
  6. Saturday, Feb. 23 @ Syracuse Crunch
  7. Sunday, Feb. 24 @ Hershey Bears
You'd think the Pens won't play him on both Friday and Saturday, so four games would put him ready to come back on Thursday, February 21st. The Pens play back-to-back games on February 23-24. They'll need a second goalie.

So, before Fleury is ready to return, do the Pens make a move with Sabourin or Conklin? When he returns, who is the #1 goalie?

Here's what I think is the likely scenario:
  • The Pens put Sabourin on waivers. If he clears, he goes to Wilkes-Barre. He's on a one-way contract, but at this point of the season, I think the team can stomach the cost.
  • Fleury and Conklin will both get chances to play, as the Pens have back-to-backs for two straight weekends starting February 23-24. Whoever wins the job with their play is the starter. The Pens need that to be Fleury. I don't think Conklin can carry them through the playoffs.
Roster Depth

The Pens have a laundry list of players who were a part of their lineup earlier this season who aren't now, mostly for injury reasons. They include:
  • Sidney Crosby
  • Gary Roberts
  • Tyler Kennedy
  • Adam Hall
The current lineup has been something like this:
  1. Malone - Malkin - Sykora
  2. Christensen - Staal - Talbot
The remaining six are something of a mish-mash:
  • Armstrong - Taffe - Ruutu
  • Laraque - Smith - Beech
(those first three guys are getting more of the playing time, either by playing in odd-man situations, or by being double-shifted)

Assuming there are no more injuries for the point of discussion, who sits when Roberts and Hall return? Does Kennedy come back from Wilkes-Barre?

Here's what I think is the likely scenario:
  • Roberts goes right back on the third line, allowing Ruutu to go back to playing with Laraque. I think that makes Laraque a scratch sometimes as well, especially when the Pens would be hurt by his lack of speed.
  • Hall takes the spot of either Smith or Beech. I think management would like Beech to show something that makes him worth keeping. He has some skill, but he has to earn a spot. If he doesn't, I think he's gone, or a healthy scratch if the team wants to give him a shot through an off-season cycle.
  • Little Tyler (thanks, Steigy) stays in the minors. I think Shero (and maybe Therrien) like having some size on those lower lines, and Kennedy just isn't very big. Everyone else is.
Where does Crosby go?

So, the last question is a nice problem to have - what do you do with Sidney Crosby when he returns? The top two lines are clicking really well. You want to leave that first line intact for sure.

Do you mess with the second line? Staal and Crusher are playing really well together and Talbot is the glue that keeps everything going. On the other hand, they like to play a cycling game and Sid is phenomenal along the wall. He could fit in there really well, as well as setting up Christensen for some great chances (see: Malkin and Sykora lately).

Do you put Sid with two other guys entirely, like Army and Beech (if he shows us something) to give the Pens two #1 lines and a killer third line? Therrien has been playing Staal's line in a defensive posture against the top units of other teams.

Here's what I think is the likely scenario:
  • As much as I like the idea of leaving the top two lines intact, I think you put Sid into Talbot's place on the #2 line (though that would probably make it the #1 line)
  • Talbot would play with Army and Roberts on the third line with Laraque, Ruutu and whoever else is left making up the fourth line (probably some combination of Taffe, Hall and either Smith or Beech).
Any way you look at it, though, these are all good problems to have. The Pens have some real depth right now, both in goal and with their forwards. The weak spot for the team is depth at the blue line, where an injury would really hurt them. That, however, is a topic for another day.

So what do you think?


daismog said...

I think if Crosby were ready to play tomorrow and I were coaching the team, I'd swap him in for Beech on the third line, probably swapping Ruutu with Taffe or Smith on the fourth line. The top two lines are doing too well right now to break them. I think that in some sense Therrien is hoping one of those lines starts to break down so that he has an excuse to put Sid in it.

I see Hall centering Ruutu and Laraque on the fourth line once he's ready to go.

So, the question is who can play the left with Crosby and Armstrong on (one of) the first line(s)? Roberts has to get first shot, but I wouldn't be too suprised to see Kennedy, Taffe, or Beech filling in there if he can't cut it.

Pat said...

@daismog - Yeah - having Roberts is a great point - I forgot about him when thinking about who to put with Crosby. You could do as you say and play Sid with Army and Roberts - you'd just have to be very aware defensively, as Roberts is a bit slower and Army likes to line up the big hit occasionally (taking himself out of position)