Tony Ferrante oragnized a roundtable of Pens bloggers over the summer to discuss the Penguins and he’s at it again. This is the second installment and Tony was gracious enough to allow us to participate once again, one-third of the way in to the season. Below are the list of bloggers that are participating in the second installment:
Sean Leahy (SL) – Going Five Hole, Chris Wassel (CW) – The Program, FrankD (FD) – Pensburgh, Stephanie (ST) – The Steel City Sports Fan (Penguins Edition), Hooks Orpik (HO) – The Sweater Ted, Greg Wyshynski (GW) – Puck Daddy, Yahoo! Sports Blogs, Chris Gates (CG) – Pittsburgh Puck Talk, Seth Rorabaugh (SR) – Pittsburgh Post Gazette’s Empty Netters, Matt Bodenschatz (MB) – Faceoff Factor, Brian Metzer (BM) – Hockeybuzz.com, Jesse Marshall (JM) – Faceoff Factor, Pensblog Staff (PB) – The Pensblog, Tony Ferrante (TF) – Kukla’s Korner/The Confluence.
2. Do you believe the Penguins’ oft-injured blueline will be healthier and stronger for it as the team heads into the playoffs? How would you sort out the defensive logjam when Gonchar and Whitney are healthy ??
(SL) I think they’ll be healthier. Aside from Gonchar who may be only a few weeks into his season when the playoffs roll around, Whitney will have a couple of months of play under his belt and help solidify the blueline. My top six defensemen would have to be Gonchar, Whitney, Orpik, Letang, Goligoski, Scuderi. I like what I’ve seen in Goligoski so far. Boucher, Eaton and Gill can all use the revolving press box door and add to the depth come playoff time should the injury bug hit again.
(CW) The tough questions keep coming. I like that. Now Gonchar probably won’t be back for another few months while Whitney appears to be coming back sometime in the next week or so. When Gill comes back….Eaton will be the odd man out probably….unless the Penguins have a change of heart. Whitney should be back before Eaton…so the first question may be when Gill comes back…what happens then? To go back to the first question….I have real concerns about the blueline as it is constructed now. They acquired Philippe Boucher who has been injured (briefly) already. Goligoski and Letang have done nicely but I still think guys like Eaton and Gill are too slow for some of the smaller, faster teams in the East. That would worry me going onward. Shero may need to make a deal to get a puck moving defenseman that can play a little D as well. A fast moving physical force on D would not hurt either but one thing at a time.
(FD) Oh definitely. To think the Pens will have two defensemen on the blue line come January who have yet to take hits into the boards, log miles on the skates and limit pucks to the shins/legs/etc. is at least something to take out of the rough start to the season. Not to mention the Pens’ power play will take a healthy boost with Ryan Whitney’s return and hopefully reach epic proportions with Gonch back on the point. When they return, I’d say Alex Goligoski will get a demotion and perhaps Michel Therrien will start treating Philippe Boucher like last year’s Daryl Sydor (ie. frequent scratches). If another demotion is needed, it’s likely the Pens will look to drop a forward like Taffe or Minard, if they’re still with the team or it’s necessary at the time.
(ST) They will definitely be much better heading into the playoffs because of all the returning injured players since they can only build on the good foundation they’ve created without all of them. However, in the meantime, the Penguins are making the most out of the loss of top players by bringing up players from WB / S and creating tremendous amounts of quality depth which will allow them to be in good shape for a long time (or create good trading values). When the top players do return, I’m still not quite sure what they’ll do, but I think it’ll come down to sending Goligoski back down or trading one of our high profile D-men to create enough room under the cap to acquire and try out another winger for Sid. I tend to lean more towards sending Gogo back down even though he has developed into a really good defensemen and an asset on the powerplay, I believe Whitney / Gonchar will be more effective since they had a more comfortable presence.
(HO) Through sheer numbers the Penguins ought to be OK defensively, even a guy like Ben Lovejoy didn’t look too out of place in a limited capacity. But something has to give when Whitney and later Gonchar return if there are no significant injuries. Mark Eaton seems like he’s an odd man out, but Alex Goligoski has really established himself as an NHL player. That’s why acquiring Phillipe Boucher—a right handed defensemen who can move the puck is curious. Could it mean the Penguins might dangle a guy like Kris Letang or even Goligoski if the return was a young not-a-rental winger? Stay tuned. Also, when someone suggests trading Letang, remind yourself he’s still just 21 years old, much younger than the usual defenseman can count on cracking a good NHL lineup.
(GW) Thereʼs no question that the injuries have told us something about a few players. Alex Goligoski has been a revelation on some nights, a liability on others. Kris Letang, with three power-play points and 12 points overall in 30 games, hasnʼt come close to filling the role many assumed he would with Gonchar and Whitney out. Assuming everyoneʼs healthy, itʼs Gonchar, Whitney, Orpik, Gill and Scuderi. Goligoski is the wild card; hereʼs a kid playing 20 minutes a night, right? Do you keep him in the top six, or do you get more out of Letang in a more limited role?
(CG) Such has been the case in the recent past with this team. Especially last year when Sidney Crosby and Marc-Andre Fleury were out for extended periods of time. I’d expect the same to happen this year, but maybe not to such a dramatic extent. I believe that, once Sergei Gonchar and Ryan Whitney return to the lineup, the Penguins will have window of time where they will get worse before getting better. I think having so many young players see time on defense this year will benefit the team more in the coming years than this season. However, I also believe that Whitney and Gonchar’s eventual return will lead to as strong of a defensive unit as we saw at the end of last year. It will just come with some growing pains.
(SR) Injuries are always impossible to predict or account for. I’d have Gonchar, Whitney, Letang, Boucher, Gill and Orpik with Eaton as the seventh defenseman. I’d send Goligoski back to Wilkes-Barre to develop some and try to move Boucher, Gill or Scuderi since they’re all UFA after the season. I only hung on to Eaton since he would be tough to move with a two-year deal.
(MB) It’s so difficult to predict how healthy and strong a blueline will be, which makes this question a tough one to answer. What I will say is that I think, as the season progresses, we’ll see the Penguins pull together and play a stronger defensive game, as they did last season. That, obviously, starts on the blueline. As far as the logjam is concerned, my top-six (if everyone was healthy) would be Gonchar-Orpik, Letang-Scuderi, and Whitney-Boucher, with Eaton and Gill as the extras.
(BM) If the Penguins have significant depth at any one position, it is defense. Ray Shero’s plan has always been to have upwards of 10 players in the organization who could play NHL minutes on the blue line. Through shrewd AHL signings (Ben Lovejoy, Danny Richmond) and retaining players such as Mark Eaton he has given himself enough depth to get through the injuries that ravaged his defensive core. Ryan Whitney is very close to returning and Sergei Gonchar’s rehab is right on course. Each will significantly upgrade the Penguins transition game that has struggled mightily and give a jolt to the power play. Though it hasn’t been confirmed for me, many people are whispering that it could be Alex Goligoski that gets sent down to Wilkes Barre-Scranton when all defensemen are healthy based on his two way deal and the fact that he will not have to clear waivers. I also wouldn’t discount a trade…possibly Mark Eaton, though he has many fans in the front office.
(JM) Right now guys like Letang and Goligoski are getting some serious looks. The coaching staff is relying on these guys in key situations and they’re logging big minutes, I think it’s been great for their development and could really put them ahead of the curve. Ultimately, despite his solid play, Goligoski will be the odd man out. I’d expect to see a starting six that features Gill, Gonchar, Whitney, Scuderi, Boucher and Letang. Mark Eaton, although improving, hasn’t played consistent enough hockey to stay on the ice. For what it’s worth, the return of Gonchar and Whitney should also aid a group of Penguins forwards that have been missing their mobility on the blueline.
(PB) The blue line will be the dark horse for the playoff run. Every analyst will forget what this blue line is capable of after having not been fully healthy all year. One of the young d-men may be leaving at the deadline.
(TF) It’s going to be very interesting once Gonch comes back. Not only will we see who will get seats in the press box, but it may also show who may be trade-bait, since it should be around trade deadline time. Barring any other major injuries before Gonch comes back, I would think it would be a combination of Gonch, Whit, Letang, Orpik, Gogo, and Scuderi. Gill has disappointed me so far, as has Eaton. I think Boucher could be this year’s Sydor, filling in for whomever is struggling at one time.
Chris | PPT