One Improvement Each Pittsburgh Penguins Line Must Make
It's tough to judge the Pittsburgh Penguins on a line-by-line basis because they've had so many bodies coming in and out of the lineup due to injury this season. According to ManGamesLost.com, only three teams have racked up higher man-games lost to injury than Pittsburgh.
The Anaheim Ducks, Edmonton Oilers and Carolina Hurricanes all sport higher MGL counts than Pittsburgh. Of those three teams, only the Ducks sit firmly in a playoff position right now, which makes the Penguins No. 2 slot in the Eastern Conference all the more impressive.
Despite the fact that Pittsburgh is dealing with injuries to forwards Beau Bennett, Tanner Glass and Andrew Ebbett we're going to grade their current lines as they appeared on December 9 against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
All statistics appear courtesy of HockeyDB.com unless otherwise noted.
Chris Kunitz, Sidney Crosby, Pascal Dupuis
This is the only line that Pittsburgh has managed to keep intact for a majority of the season. All three players have been healthy enough to suit up for all 32 games of the campaign, which is one of the major reasons why this team has been able to survive with so many of its depth players out.
With Sidney Crosby leading the NHL in points and Chris Kunitz sitting in fifth when it comes to goal scoring, the top line has done a monstrous amount of heavy lifting for Pittsburgh. It's tough to pick out any one thing that they could improve on because they're so dynamic on a nightly basis.
On paper, Pascal Dupuis is having a slow year.
He has four goals and 11 assists which pales in comparison to what Kunitz and Crosby have been able to do. Dupuis brings more to the table than just point production, and he's been doing his job to help this line be successful regardless of what the stat sheet says.
That's really the only place this trio could improve though. If Dupuis gets going, then this line gets even more dangerous, which is tough to fathom.
Jussi Jokinen, Evgeni Malkin, Jayson Megna
For all intents and purposes, the second line has largely been a helicopter line this year. Jussi Jokinen has managed to stick as a top-six forward and has performed above expectations by adding nine goals and 10 assists. The left side isn't the important one here though.
When Evgeni Malkin is at his best, he has a bona fide finisher on his right wing. The player there doesn't have to be a sniper in the mold of Ilya Kovalchuk. Just a guy that can finish when "Geno" gets him the puck in the slot.
Petr Sykora posted 49 goals in 135 games while playing on Malkin's right side, and James Neal scored 40 when the center won the Hart Trophy two years ago. That's been the gaping hole on the second unit, and with Neal suspended for the next few contests, Malkin is going to have to continue to grind it out with Jayson Megna for the time being.
Once Neal comes back, look for Malkin to really take off. He's been on a tear as of late, but having a strong player on his right side will elevate his point total even higher. More so than anything, the issue with this line has been the lack of a steady right wing.
Chris Conner, Brandon Sutter, Joe Vitale
The bottom-six really misses Tanner Glass and what he does every night. He's one of the most prolific hitters in the NHL and is a tough competitor that really gives whatever line he plays on a strong identity and work ethic.
Without him, the job of the third and fourth lines shifts a bit. In this particular state, the Penguins just don't want to see the third trio of forwards undo anything that the top two lines have done. Malkin can score two goals every night, but if the third line is turnover prone, then it might not matter all that much.
While no one in this group is aggressively a minus player, only Joe Vitale currently holds a positive rating at plus-two. Brandon Sutter has been a minus player in each of Pittsburgh's last four contests, and that's certainly a trend that the team would like to see reversed.
Craig Adams, Zack Sill, Chuck Kobasew
The Penguins have scored 96 goals so far this season, which is good for fifth in the NHL. Almost all of those goals have come from either the first or second line, though. While no one is expecting the fourth unit to score at a prolific rate, a tally every now and again would be nice.
All told, these three players have accounted for five of Pittsburgh's 96 goals. Craig Adams is leading the charge with three lit lamps in 32 games played. Chuck Kobasew has two in 15 games, and Zack Sill has no goals or assists through five contests.
Again, no one is expecting the fourth line to be out of control, but some timely goals here and there would only add to Pittsburgh's already considerable scoring depth. Once the likes of Glass and Bennett are back and Neal is off his suspension there will be some trickle down.
At that point, perhaps the Penguins can get more than one goal per six games out of the bottom line.
Franklin Steele is a Pittsburgh Penguins Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report, and has fulfilled a similar role with the Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings in years gone by. He's also the NHL editor at FanSided.com and a featured writer on FanRag.com. Hit him up on Twitter to talk hockey at any hour of the day.