After bursting out of the gates with two decisive wins over divisional opponents, the Pittsburgh Penguins have cooled off a bit. Dan Bylsma should make a handful of changes to ensure his club is a contender for the Stanley Cup.
The Penguins are 12th in the NHL for most goals per game. That’s good, but they should be finding more success with the offensive talent they have in their top two lines.
One recent change the team made was moving Tyler Kennedy up to the top line with Chris Kunitz and captain Sidney Crosby. Kennedy has a dangerous combination of play-making skills and accurate shooting, and should be an interesting addition to the line.
Meanwhile, the elite tandem of James Neal and Evgeni Malkin continue to look for the perfect linemate. When Kennedy was switched to the top line, Bylsma and company moved Pascal Dupuis down to the second line. Hopefully he’ll bring the play-making skills goal-scorers like Malkin and Neal are looking for.
There are many strengths in the Penguins lineup as is. Should they make a few adjustments to accentuate those strengths and address some weaknesses, they could be a top contender for the Stanley Cup.
Dan Bylsma has been tinkering with the power play since the team’s brief training camp. The biggest change they made was moving James Neal to the point to play a sort of rover role.
Neal led the NHL in power-play scoring in 2011-12 with 18 goals; during that time, he played right up front. Granted, he’ll get different kinds of opportunities to make plays for himself and others from the point, but why fix what isn’t broken?
The Penguins also run the risk of allowing more shorthanded goals. Neal playing the point leaves Letang as the only defenseman on that power-play line.
Having an extra forward out there will likely result in a small boost in the team’s power-play percentage, but it probably won’t be worth the defense they’re giving up.
It’s also worth noting that Neal has only scored one goal on the Penguins’ 22 power-play opportunities this season.
Tanner Glass and company are reliable depth forwards.
The Penguins’ bottom line consisting of Joe Vitale, Tanner Glass and Craig Adams has been quite impressive through the team’s first five outings.
The trio has made a point of playing a tight, even physical game in the defensive zone. In their last three games, the fourth line has accumulated 20 hits while forcing some turnovers and blocking a handful of shots.
However, the line doesn’t even average 12 minutes of ice time a game.
Now, these aren’t Bylsma’s go-to guys for scoring. If the Penguins are trailing, it’s understandable that this line is left on the bench in favor of the top two lines.
The Penguins' defense has been questionable through the first week of the season. It fell apart in their home opener against the Maple Leafs, earning them a 5-2 loss. The very same thing happened in Tuesday’s 4-1 loss to the New York Islanders.
Throw in Fleury’s relatively inconsistent performance in the net, and it’d be well worth giving the bottom squad more ice time when the team is leading by at least two goals.
By picking up the slack on defense, the bottom line could go a long way in helping the Penguins hang on to leads.
James Neal isn’t the most defensively-minded player on the roster, but experimenting with him on the penalty kill is worth a shot.
When the Penguins traded Jordan Staal to the Carolina Hurricanes at the 2012 draft, they lost one of their best shorthanded players. Staal was a big, physical player and had a knack for scoring shorthanded goals.
At 6’2” and 210 pounds, Neal is also a pretty big player who can be a shorthanded scoring threat and force teams to think more defensively on the power play.
The Penguins have killed off just 80 percent of penalties so far this season. Experimenting with Neal on the PK could risk that percentage dropping even further.
If Neal can score a decent amount of shorthanded goals, the offensive threat he poses will make the opposition more cautious. That, in and of itself, could ease the pressure off the Penguins’ PK squad.
Also, Neal isn’t one to shy away from blocking shots. He doesn’t necessarily go out of his way to do it, but he will stand between a puck and the goaltender when he needs to. He registered three blocked shots in their 5-2 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs.