Rob Scuderi made his return to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday after signing as a free agent to address the weaknesses on the team's blue line that were created when the veteran defenseman left the club after its Stanley Cup triumph in 2009.
After watching his defensemen struggle mightily against the physical Boston Bruins forwards during an embarrassing sweep in the 2013 Eastern Conference Final, general manager Ray Shero had to upgrade his blue line with a player of Scuderi's caliber.
The Penguins have plenty of defensemen who move the puck well, excel on the power play and rack up points consistently, but the lack of a shutdown player such as Scuderi who prevents the opposing teams' top scorers from taking over during the playoffs has been a real concern over the last four postseasons.
In that time, Pittsburgh's ability to keep pucks out of its net has been average at best without Scuderi.
The Penguins do not have a goaltender capable of stealing important playoff games and bailing out the team's defensive mistakes.
In that situation, surrounding the goalie with as much defensive talent as possible should be the top priority. Shero has failed to adopt this strategy since his team won the Stanley Cup, and after the conference finals, it was clear that his approach had to change.
Scuderi brings a physical presence to the Penguins blue line as a stay-at-home defenseman who wins puck battles, logs 20-plus minutes per game, blocks shots, clears traffic from the front of the net, makes the smart play and kills penalties.
He doesn't panic when opponents aggressively forecheck and will make a good first pass out of the defensive zone to ignite the talented and speedy Pittsburgh offense. This was an area of weakness against the Bruins when the Penguins were worn down physically by the Boston forecheck, which led to costly turnovers.
Scuderi is also the ideal defense partner for Norris Trophy finalist Kris Letang. The young defenseman plays a high-risk, high-reward style of play that results in a lot of offensive production (league-leading 38 points during the regular season), but it also leaves him out of position at times and allows the opponent to create high-quality scoring chances.
Pairing Letang with a responsible veteran who will cover for him when he joins the rush in the attacking zone gives the Penguins some important balance and protection in the neutral zone.
His leadership is another important quality that will positively impact the Penguins in the playoffs. Over the past two postseasons, Pittsburgh has unraveled and lost its composure several times. As a veteran leader on the ice, Scuderi won't allow his teammates to be bullied and frustrated by the opponents. He will help the team maintain its focus better.
Following Scuderi's departure from Pittsburgh to join the Los Angeles Kings, a club he helped lead to a championship during the 2011-12 season with strong defensive play, the Penguins blue line lost a lot of the toughness, defensive skill and shot-blocking prowess that made the team so difficult to play against in its championship run four years ago.
But Scuderi might not be the same dominant defensive player he was in 2009, because he's now 34 years old and has played a lot of hockey over the last four years (335 total games including the postseason).
With that said, he instantly becomes the Penguins' best defensive defenseman based on his skill set and makes the team's blue line more talented, tougher and better equipped to win in the playoffs.
Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. He was also a credentialed writer at the 2011 and 2013 Stanley Cup Final, as well as the 2013 NHL draft. All quotes obtained first hand.
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