Predicting the Pittsburgh Penguins' Lines for Saturday's Opener

Kevin JamesonCorrespondent IJanuary 18, 2013

Head Coach Dan Bylsma and Assistant Coach Tony Granato
Head Coach Dan Bylsma and Assistant Coach Tony GranatoBruce Bennett/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Penguins' roster is down to 23 men after yesterday’s flood of moves. What’s left is to figure out how the remaining players will fit in to the starting lineup Saturday. It seems that likely lines and defensive pairings for Saturday are:

Chris Kunitz - Sidney Crosby - Pascal Dupuis
James Neal - Evgeni Malkin - Eric Tangradi
Matt Cooke - Brandon Sutter - Tyler Kennedy
Tanner Glass - Joe Vitale - Craig Adams

Kris Letang - Simon Despres
Brooks Orpik - Paul Martin
Matt Niskanen - Deryk Engelland

Scratches: Dustin Jeffrey, Ben Lovejoy, Robert Bortuzzo

Some thoughts

  • The defense remains a mystery and what you see is an educated guess. In practice Friday, Letang skated with Niskanen, Orpik with Martin, Despres with Engelland, and Lovejoy with Bortuzzo. At this point, there is no way of knowing who will skate with whom come Saturday or even who, of Engelland, Lovejoy, Despres and Bortuzzo, will dress.
  • It’s easy to imagine a scenario in which Kennedy goes to the second line, Glass takes his spot and Tangradi is relegated to the fourth line. I would not be surprised if Bylsma rolls that line out for a shift or two tomorrow.
  • Tangradi gets a spot on the second line by virtue of Beau Bennett being sent back to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and Dustin Jeffrey failing to dazzle coach Dan Bylsma enough to earn the spot. Neither Tangradi nor Jeffrey looked particularly great playing alongside Malkin and Neal Wednesday night, but Tangradi can bang in front, and that will be helpful for taking some of the physical toll that would otherwise be directed at Malkin and Neal. I don’t know that he has the hands, speed or vision to keep up with the more complex offensive stylings of his linemates, but I suspect that if he can stay out of the way of Malkin and Neal and give goaltenders fits in front, he’ll be productive. If Dustin Jeffrey gets on the ice this season, likely it will be because Eric Tangradi is not hacking it on the second line, and that’s too bad. Jeffrey has shown more promise at the NHL level than Tangradi has, yet the Penguins are adamant at getting Tangradi in the lineup.
  • Lost in the hair-pulling over Jordan Staal spurning the Penguins to play with his brother Eric is the fact that Brandon Sutter is really, really good. His offensive skill set is deceptively advanced and he can clog up all sorts of space in the middle of the ice; as a result, he is likely see time on both the penalty kill and the power play. He looked to have good chemistry with Matt Cooke in the Black and Gold game Wednesday night, setting up Cooke for a couple goals while scoring one of his own. Though his other linemate …
  • … Tyler Kennedy scares me. Kennedy comported himself nicely on the score sheet Wednesday night, but it’s the way he played (and has played for seasons) that bothered me. The goal he scored on Vokoun was a short-angle top-corner snipe. This is a great shot if you can make it consistently. The problem is there are only a handful of players in the world who can, and none of them are named Tyler Kennedy. Kennedy has been and always will be a shoot-first guy, and that’s not always a bad thing. But at some point Kennedy has to rein it in and realize that taking shots from those kinds of angles is not smart policy.
  • The fourth line is as strong of a fourth line as the Pens have had in recent memory. Vitale is an excellent faceoff man and a bulldog of a forechecker. Craig Adams is as cerebral as he is hard-hitting and an invaluable penalty killer. Tanner Glass is an enforcer who can skate and handle the puck a little. I can’t see a situation like the last seasons when Arron Asham and Richard Park rotated in while Vitale and Adams typically played every night. Playing with the same linemates night after night will only prove to improve chemistry and consistency.

Does this look like a Stanley Cup winning lineup to you? It may be. My greatest concern for the Penguins is 18 games against an extremely good, physical and nasty Atlantic Division. The Penguins may emerge from these games and the condensed regular season too banged up to make noise in the postseason.

I expect the Pens will finish second in the Atlantic behind the Rangers, and (health permitting) both Crosby and Malkin will break the 70 point mark achieved by Jaromir Jagr and Eric Lindros in the 48-game season of 1994-1995.

After the first round debacle of last season, it does not seem sensible to make a prediction for how the Pens will fare in the playoffs. Suffice it to say if Fleury plays to his potential and the Pens stay healthy, they’ll be tough to beat.