In this addition of Around the Atlantic, we compare the 2008-09 Penguins, the current squad, to Stanley Cup finalists of 2007-08.
First we look at the lines:
Mark Eaton (D), Darryl Sydor (D), Gary Roberts (LW)
Philippe Boucher (D), Eric Godard (RW), Alex Goligoski (D), Bill Thomas (C/W)
The 2007-08 depth chart is more or less how it remained during the Penguins playoff run, really the only time during Michel Therrien’s reign the same four lines were regularly deployed. The 2008-09 depth chart on the other hand has remained pretty much the same since Dan Bylsma’s second or third game. The way the Penguins are playing, it seems as though they will continue on this hot streak into the playoffs and the lineup should remain the same.
At first glance, one notices that while the top line does not have the pedigree of a Marian Hossa in his physical prime, Chris Kunitz is considerably more effective alongside Crosby than Dupuis. Bill Guerin has instant chemistry with Crosby and while he does not do the little things that Hossa does, he never whiffs a pass put on his plate. Guerin has averaged 3 shots a game since becoming a Penguin, Kunitz 2. The Crosby line plays a traditional North American style of game where the level of play is up-tempo all-out all the time. Crosby is a deft enough puck-handler that he does not need to dump the puck into the zone. With Dan Bylsma’s system, it is more common to see Sid float a pass past a defense and retrieve it than wrap the puck around the boards. Kunitz is the first man in to battle the puck and Guerin’s two jobs is to provide defensive support along the right side and to get open. Once in the offensive zone, Sid dangles the puck and distributes it to the open man. If Crosby is unable to properly distribute the puck, then they resort to cycling it down low, looking for an open man in the slot or around the net. Traditional North American hockey.
Ruslan Fedotenko is a step down from Ryan Malone. But Malkin is a better player this season than he was last. So it is a wash from a talent standpoint. But the Malkin line plays a considerably different type of game this season than they did last season. In 2007-08, Malkin played the same role as Sid does on his line. However, Malkin is a much different type of player. This line is referred to as the Penguins Euro-line and understandably so, they play a very east-west style of game. The as linemates, the common goal is to get Malkin the puck then get open. Sykora plays very well in the right slot, lining up on his off-hand for a one-timer. Fedotenko plays very well down low and around the net. He is not overly physical but does not shy away from contact.
The bottom half of the roster is where things look much different. Jordan Staal is much better than he was last season. He has spent the entire season alongside Cooke and Kennedy, had has been dominant on the forecheck. Kennedy is stronger and healthier than he was last season. Cooke’s physicality down low perfectly compliments the styles of Staal and Kennedy. Kennedy is very dominant in the right corner of the offensive zone. As long as his play is concentrated around the net and in the right corner, he will be an extremely effective forward. Cooke looks to blast people and if he was not able to play the game at a pretty good level, he would be regarded in an extremely unflattering manner among peers and fans. Even as a pretty good player, he is not the most popular person in many circles. Still, he brings a physical presence to the bottom pairings that has more goal-scoring ability than Ruutu. Cooke’s presence also allows Talbot to play center – a much more effective position for him.
The fourth line is where the team starts to really show improvement. Dupuis has scored as many goals as Laraque, Hall, and Ruutu combined. Talbot has already scored 10 goals. Depending on the look the team is going for, they can swap Adams or Dupuis for Godard. In the playoffs, where there is not much fighting, Adams is a much better option than Laraque, who is primarily an enforcer.
The defense is about the same. With Whitney getting traded to the Anaheim Ducks, two of the pairings were shuffled. Having said that, the defense is liberated under Dan Bylsma. Eaton, Orpik, Scuderi, and Gill have all frequently jumped into the play. Orpik has skated stronger and played even more physical. Scuderi has played a more physical brand of hockey this season as well.
One of the major changes however has been Kris Letang. He has finally looked like the blue-chip prospect he would only show flashes of in the past. He is poised with the puck, probably the best skater on the Penguins team, and has been given the greenlight to rove around ala Mike Green.
Marc-Andre Fleury had an eerily similar season to last although not nearly as serious an injury. At the mid-point of the season Fleury went down with a groin tweak for several weeks. Upon his return he was a bit shaky. After about a month though Fleury fell into his groove and has been an elite level netminder.
Since Dan Bylsma took over the Penguins have averaged close to 4 goals a game. The PK has become aggressive, and the man-advantage finally looks just that. Not whatever monstrosity was on display for most of the fall and winter.
So the Penguins of 2008-09 are better than last year’s squad in some respects. They are most assuredly a deeper team. Jordan Staal has finally emerged as a force, doing his best Keith Primeau impersonation since Bylsma took over. Malkin is better. Crosby is healthier and as a result, better. They do not have Marian Hossa anymore. But who said anything about needing him?
About the Author
Written by Ian Altenbaugh