Depth is one of our most coveted intangibles. We aspire to have a great depth of knowledge. We’re all looking for the deeper meaning of life. Penguins coach Mike Sullivan wants to have a deeper lineup, and he thinks he has just that heading into the NHL season.
“We're certainly deeper this year,” Sullivan says. “When you look at the potential makeup of our fourth line, there are some good players on that fourth line.”
Sure, it’s great to have a good fourth line. But I don’t think a lacking fourth line is what cost the Penguins in the Stanley Cup playoffs last season. It wasn’t depth that cost the back-to-back champs their chance to three-peat. It was all of their stars’ inability to reach the heights of their potential.
Sidney Crosby, Patric Hornqvist, and Jake Guentzel combined for 24 goals and 53 points in 12 playoff games. They certainly weren’t the problem.
Phil Kessel, though, was putrid. His stats (9 points in 12 games) were misleading. He only had three even-strength points over two series. After being one of the team’s best playoff performers from 2016-17, Kessel was so bad in his third postseason with the Penguins that people were questioning if he was hurt. Maybe he was banged up. I think he was. The GM said he was. The coach wouldn't admit to it.
Evgeni Malkin burst into the playoffs just like the Penguins: dominant. He scored a beautiful, coast-to coast goal that showcased his wheels, skill, and pedigree. He wasn’t that same, dynamic difference-maker after an injury sidelined him at the end of a first-round series against the Philadelphia Flyers.
Derick Brassard was supposed to be the Penguins’ trade-deadline darling last season. He had been a tremendous playoff performer. But a couple of even-strength points in a dozen playoff games fell far short of “tremendous.” He wasn’t healthy. The Penguins can only hope injury was Brassard’s issue.
And then there was Matt Murray, a goalie who had done no wrong by backstopping the Penguins to their fourth and fifth titles. His save percentages were .923 and .937 in those Cup runs, but plummeted to .908 last postseason. Do the math. He was battling back from injury all season long, and had to deal with the sudden loss of his father.
Sullivan and general manager Jim Rutherford can talk all they want about depth, the fourth line needing to produce offense, whatever. They aren’t wrong. It would help.
But here’s betting that a healthy Malkin and Brassard, a rejuvenated Kessel, and more consistent Murray are the biggest keys to the team hoisting the greatest trophy in sports for the third time in four years.
--The Penguins ARE silly deep.
--Dumoulin is hurt, and Ruhwedal is the 8th defenseman. ZAR and Derek Grant are the "extra" forwards. That’s some serious freaking depth. Consider that the Penguins had Greg McKegg and Carter Rowney as the 3rd and 4th line centers when the season opened up last year. This year, they've got FIVE legit centers: Crosby, Malkin, Brassard, Sheahan, and Cullen. Guentzel could do it too, if need be.
--Brassard was brought in to be exactly was Lars Eller wound up being for the Capitals last season. I think he can be that guy this year. Eller had 18 points in 24 games including 7 goals. He moved up and down the lineup. Brassard can be an insurance policy if Crosby or Malkin gets hurt.
--I can't wait to see what Kris Letang can do after a full off season to train. With the Penguins depth on the blue line, I'd like to see his minutes cut back a little bit. Keep him healthy.